Love and Loss

Kani with Rio and his band

Kani (center) with Rio and his band

I recently lost a friend. And that loss hit me harder than I expected.

I was sad when I got the email that Sidney, a beautiful 12-year-old buckskin mare, had died after a brief bout with colic. We weren’t particularly close, although I would say Hello when I saw her and she would greet me, and I always had the feeling she wanted me to call her Heidi instead of Sidney. I thought fondly of her, but I thought more about Kama Kani, who was powerfully bonded to Sidney. I wondered how he would do without her; she was his anchor, his bridge to the rest of the herd.

I didn’t have to wait long to find out.

Less than a week later Kani passed as well. I read the email that morning and wept, with a profound sense of… a lot of things. Maybe I should say I felt many things, especially a sense of the profoundness of this particular moment.

For one thing, I realized in that moment not only how much I loved him, but how much I owed him. He was pretty wild and nervous when he arrived at the ranch yet, while I was cautious around him, I was never afraid of him. And he rewarded me by being the first horse to ask me for Reiki. He taught me what I could do by asking me to do it, and he taught me to recognize the Ask. We grew to trust each other. That story, and the journey it launched, became my first published article.

Kani gave me confidence.

Kani lived most of his life in isolation from other horses, so he came to the herd in a state of… arrested development. Socially retarded. Even though he was an adult, he was like a gangly teenager, learning how to be in the world. Like a teenager, he quickly fell for Sidney when he arrived, and they became a bonded pair. But since he didn’t know how to interact with a herd and didn’t have much confidence, he got pushed around and had low status in the herd… until Rio arrived and carved out a mini-herd-within-the-herd, one that included Sidney – and Kani. Because where Sidney went, Kani went. Rio accepted Kani as part of the package, and Kani’s status in the herd increased.

When Kani came to the ranch, he arrived with the information that he was 18. He also arrived with his ribs showing and an unhappy stomach – for which he asked me for Reiki. But a year later, a visiting dentist said that, based on the condition of his teeth, Kani was likely closer to 30 – making him one of the elders of the herd. It also meant that most of the grass and hay he ate wasn’t getting chewed well and was passing through him mostly undigested. He was immediately put on a routine of twice daily feedings of mash. He appreciated the food and the attention, and he quickly got in the habit of leaving his pals and coming in willingly. And as he started getting more nutrition and his gut felt better he calmed even more and asked me for Reiki less often.

One day I was visiting the herd and I watched as Kani realized he could move Rio and the others – and he did. And they let him. He moved them around the pasture, having a ball. Again he was like an awkward, gangly, blossoming teenager, realizing what he was capable of and discovering his power. Yet he was an old man. I watched him, and my heart filled with joy.

Kani gave me joy.

I will also never forget the day Sharon and I went out to the pasture to bring Kani in for his evening feeding. It was one of the rare occasions that he and Sidney were separated, as she was in the barn recovering from a deep cut on her leg. We found Kani grazing contentedly with Rio and his band, put a halter on him and coaxed him away. I led him down the hill, and we got across the tiny creek at the bottom with no trouble. We headed toward the barn, and then something spooked him and he started circling me while I held on to the lead rope. I saw the two newest members of the herd pass us, and I realized they must have goosed him as they passed.

I managed to calm him and we headed off again toward the barn… until we passed the two newbies. Enjoying the realization that they were higher in status than someone, they came up behind us and moved Kani again. He stayed with me and didn’t bolt back to his pals, but he left his body and started circling again. This time, despite my best efforts, I couldn’t stop him. I started to get dizzy, going around with him. Sharon stepped in and I handed her the lead and stepped out, like a couple of girls jumping rope. She was also unable to stop him. Suddenly Michele, another member of the ranch team, appeared and stepped in and took the lead rope. She stood stock still, passing the lead from hand to hand around her, not turning with him, talking calmly, and suddenly they were moving forward to the barn.

He could have hurt us, but he didn’t.

And just like that day in the paddock when he trusted me enough to ask for Reiki and I trusted him enough be in that paddock with him, Kani gave me his trust, and I gave him mine.

On one of my last visits with him, I saw him with Sidney, apart from the others. I headed over to them, and he came to greet me. He didn’t ask for Reiki; we just stood together, enjoying the sunshine while Sidney slowly moved away down the valley, grazing. I scratched the hollow above his eye, and then he turned and followed Sidney.

Many times in the week after Sidney died, I held Kani in my thoughts and scratched that hollow above his eye.

So I wasn’t surprised when I saw the email with just his name in the subject line. I read the story of his decline and peaceful passing, and I wept as I thought about all he gave me. I wept as I pondered this equine version of those human love stories about life partners who pass within months, weeks or days of each other.

It occurred to me that he was not unlike the clients I worked with as a Job Coach, all of them challenged in some way, many of them unsure of themselves when we met, all of them delightful and earnest and brilliant. I thought about going to work with them, learning their jobs just one step ahead of them, learning things from them, and being so proud of them as they kept showing up and made places for themselves.

As Kimberly Carlisle, co-founder of The Flag Foundation for Horse/Human Partnership, which had adopted Kani, wrote,

“Though I grieve them both deeply, unlike the raw, too early departure of Sidney, Kani’s passing was bittersweet. Though he had lived alone for most of his 30 years, in his 18 months with our herd he had become a complete horse — more confident, balanced, trusting and expressive.”

I pondered all of this, remembering my time with him, and suddenly Kani was here with me. He looked around my apartment, and sniffed at my collection of pictures of roads. Pictures of going places.

After years of being alone in one place, Kani, you got to go places. You are going places.

Life is full of mysteries, and this is one. Sidney went first, and quickly… one day after Kani’s health began to decline. He passed less than a week after Sidney. Did he go because he was pining for her? Did his compromised health make it hard to survive his grief? I think there is something else to consider. What if… knowing that Kani would linger here and refuse to pass when it was time rather than leave her, Sidney chose to go first so that Kani would be free to go?

We’ll never know.

What I do know is that theirs is one of the great love stories. Sidney was a miracle horse, fighting to recover from a malady that almost killed her, coming back to meet Kani and bond with him. And Kani’s is a story of second chances, proof positive that it’s never too late to have a happy childhood.

That night I had a dream about a horse. I was standing in the elevator lobby at a hospital where I used to work, and a black and white tweed horse (yes, black tweed with light flecks, not Kani’s copper red hair) stood with me. The elevator door opened, he kissed me on the cheek, and got on the elevator to go find his beloved.

Good-bye, Kani and Sid. My life is better for having known you.

Another New Friend

0314151550Today I walked to the neighborhood grocery store to buy a pie. Usually I walk along the main street, Laurel Ave, but today I turned a block early to walk down a quieter neighborhood street.

About halfway there, I passed an older house with a big yard tucked in between apartment buildings. There was a sign on the parking strip that said “Plant Sale,” but I didn’t see any plants that weren’t in the ground, or any people. So I went on to the store and bought my pie. (Because Pi Day.) (Peach.)

On the way back, I went the same way and when I passed that house there was an elderly woman in the front yard with a handful of weeds she had just pulled. I stopped and asked about the plant sale, and she took me around to the back yard. As we walked along the driveway past a garden that was filled with giant angel wing begonias, various succulents, and ground covers including what looked like a variegated creeping charlie, she explained that she had too many plants and needed to get rid of some.

We went around the corner of the house and there was a fabulous back yard with raised beds with flowers and vegetables, a tiny greenhouse at the back, and planters all over the patio with various black succulents, kalanchoes, and many things I recognized but don’t know by name. She said nearly everything in a pot was available. (Except for the heuchera that she was giving another chance after coming back to life in a new spot.)

I picked out two kalanchoes with bright orange flowers in mustard-yellow oval pots. She said the two would be $20; I said that was perfect, since that was how much I had. I also asked about one of the smaller black-leaved succulents, and she said it was $3. I told her I would give her the $20, take my groceries home and come back for the plants with $3. “No no no,” she said, “you can have that one too for the $20.” She let me take the small black-leaved plant with me. As I left, I thanked her and shook her hand and introduced myself. “I’m Sue,” I said. She smiled and said, “I’m Maria.”

I came home, dropped off the groceries, and took cuttings from my prized angel-wing begonia and dragon-wing begonia. I wrapped them in wet paper towels, put them in a bag, and went back.

When I went around to the back of Maria’s house, she was there with the two kalanchoes in a box – with another small plant tucked in. This one was a vine with dark leaves and bright red tubular flowers. “I thought you’d like this one too,” she said. “It’s so pretty. And I have it everywhere.”

I thanked her and gave her the cuttings, which she loved. When she saw me pick up the box and start to leave, she said, “Wait, are you walking? Maybe I should have my husband drive you home.”

“No, it’s ok,” I said, “it’s just a couple of blocks.” I thanked her again and headed for the gate.

She walked me out to the front and said, “Come by any time. If I’m not out here, just knock on the door.”

I think I will.

My New Best Friend

DSC_0829-1024x681 - Version 2I have to tell you a story.

I had a job interview a few days ago, one I was very excited about. I had made it through two cuts after submitting a cover letter and answering ten essay questions. I went into it – and came out of it – very excited about the opportunity, working to help grow a small company to the next level. Their materials talked consistently about two things near and dear to my heart: Community and Curiosity, and it would challenge me to use skills acquired throughout my career.

The interview went pretty well; I felt like we had pretty good rapport. He had me start with questions for him, and I was ready. This isn’t his first startup; what had he learned from launching previous companies? What did this job really entail? The description hadn’t been very detailed.

I liked his answers. Thoughtful. Honest.

He asked me about my strengths, and my challenges. I talked about my organizational skills, my abilities to build and improve processes, my communication skills, my facilitation skills, my relationship building skills. Regarding challenges, I’ve had to learn to deal with conflict using the tools I coach others on. Keeping my writing short and succinct. Living with my voice. He asked about my voice, and I explained it has been diagnosed as Spasmodic Dysphonia, a neurological condition that is similar to stuttering, except it affects the vocal cords. I have had some success with speech therapy, and I have chosen not to pursue the recommended medical treatment – there is no “cure” – Botox injections to the vocal cords. It can be challenging, I said, to get on the phone, to do Skype calls, but it doesn’t stop me.

We went on. He asked, What am I passionate about? I told him I’m passionate about building things. About solving puzzles. Holding the space for people to do their best work. Almost as an afterthought, I added, “Working with horses. I am also a coach, and I incorporate horses into the coaching process.” He made a note, and told me he had just hired someone for another role who also works with horses. He said, “You’ll probably get along.” That was encouraging.

At the end, he asked the Million Dollar Question. This is a start-up, he said, and we expect everyone to give it everything they’ve got. What do you think about that?

I was ready for that question, as it was my only concern. I told him I had worked for start-ups before, and worked in a variety of roles where I put in long hours. And it had taught me the importance of setting boundaries, of reserving space to do the things that feed me so that my work is sustainable. So I am careful about setting boundaries, and I encourage others to set boundaries too.

He kind of grinned – or maybe it was a smirk, this is a guy who sends emails at 10pm and 5am and on Sundays – and said it was always interesting to see how people responded to that.

We wrapped things up, and he promised I would hear from him by the end of the week.

I sent him a Thank You note by email, thanking him again for the chance to talk. And I reiterated that, while they couldn’t have “everything I’ve got,” what they would get would be really damn good.

I was cautiously optimistic. But he was interviewing 11 other people, and I suspected that my unwillingness to work 100 hours a week would eliminate me.

Much to my surprise, I got a response later that afternoon. He thanked me for my time, and said,

“There’s a lot to like. On reflection, I think the speech condition must be a non-starter for us. I need you forward facing in many many situations and roles, and with people much less sympathetic than myself.

Best to be straight about that.

It’s possible at some further point that there are additional roles, but for now, presentation in diverse situations is too critical.”

I was stunned.

I had to read it several times.

Not because he cut me.

But because he cut me because of my voice.

And he might be willing to hire me in the future if he could hide me.

I sat with it for a little while, then sent him a reply. I thanked him for his honesty, and said I understood – and that I had to push back. I pointed out that I don’t let my voice stop me, and I lead meetings, conference calls without video, and even workshops – all very successfully, because of my facilitation and presentation skills. Making a lot of cold calls would not be a good fit, but when it comes to facilitating meetings and building relationships my voice has not been an issue. In fact, it has been an asset in two ways: I tend to not waste my words and I have been told that my being “soft spoken” causes people to lean in and pay attention.

Then I got furious.

And had a good cry.

I was stunned. And angry. And disappointed. He went for my underbelly. That’s not “sympathetic.” He could have just said there was someone else who was a better fit. He could have said he really needed someone willing to give it all they’ve got.

But he didn’t.

He revealed himself.

*  *  *

Four different people checked in with me to see how it went, and I told them. Each one was appalled, not just for my sake but because, as each one of them put it, “I don’t think that’s legal. Did he really put that in writing?”

Yes. Yes, he really did.

I had another good cry.

The next morning, he replied to my reply, saying,

“Of course I trust you won’t let it stop you! I’m only saying that I personally found it a distraction.”


I wrote a response, saying (among other things), that I actually expected him to tell me he was looking for someone willing to work 100 hours a week, or that he had a candidate whose skills were a better fit, and I would have understood. But he had self-selected himself out of the people who appreciate me for the quality of my character and skills rather than a physical characteristic. I suggested he consider getting sensitivity training before someone else with a distracting physical characteristic reacts less kindly to being excluded.

But just before I hit Send, the wise Voice In My Head said, “Just walk away.” So I saved it to Drafts. I sent it to one of the dear friends who was appalled on my behalf, someone who has been a hiring manager herself, because I was torn between wanting to get The Last Word (and maybe even helping him somehow) and just walking away. She sided with The Voice In My Head.

So I let it go. I took a long hot shower and went to an interview with a different company – which went very well and we are going to the next step. Then I spent the rest of the day sending invitations for my new series of retreats and workshops.

*  *  *

I have sat through many tedious corporate compliance videos in my career, but I now understand first hand that this is why the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 are the law of this land. They were enacted to help us become comfortable with being uncomfortable, so that we could look through the differences that distract us to see each person’s gifts and abilities.

These laws don’t cover everything. But if we are able to cultivate a willingness to look past certain attributes, that helps us be willing to look beyond all kinds of distracting attributes to really see the person.

* * *

But that’s not the point of this story.

Even though this episode hurt, it gave me a great gift.

It has given me the chance to reflect and articulate how my voice has been an asset in various ways, including helping me exercise courage and compassion for myself – and for others. I applauded myself for all of the times I have chosen to get on the phone, to lead the conference call, to schedule the workshop. For all of the times I haven’t let fear of my voice stop me.

It also has helped me to appreciate more than ever the people who haven’t been “distracted” by my voice and who have valued what I bring to the table, including people who have asked me specifically – and repeatedly – to use my voice in leading workshops, moderating panel discussions, facilitating team meetings, leading difficult conversations, coaching them through rough spots, asking powerful questions, and speaking truth to whatever is happening.

I am immensely grateful for all of the people who are more interested in what I have to say than in how it sounds.

They are my tribe, these people who see Me.

He is not. He can only see my “distracting” voice.

I am grateful that he revealed himself.

I am grateful that I, too, have been revealed. I got to watch myself handle this differently than I might have several years ago, when I might have taken the bullet and let it make me feel Less Than. At one time I did let my voice hold me back, let it reinforce some story that I’m not good enough. But I have chosen, and worked, to not hold myself back. I need not be ashamed – of my voice, of anything. There is no secret to hide, to hide from.

And I’m grateful for something else.

When I received the diagnosis of Spasmodic Dysphonia five years ago, I chose not to go with Botox shots in my vocal cords for a variety of reasons. Some people do; good for them. But I do not. Because…

…Botox. It’s a poison. Eew.

…I can still sing. And no one could promise that the Botox wouldn’t give me a different speaking voice but take away my ability to sing. I’d rather sing.

…Botox doesn’t work for everyone, and when it does it is temporary. It also causes people to effectively lose their voices for approximately a week after each shot. I’d rather have some voice all of the time.

But most importantly, I chose not to go down that path because for ten years I had increasingly hated my voice. I saw it as The Enemy. But when you hate one part of yourself, you hate Yourself. I didn’t want to live like that anymore. I wanted a truce. I wanted peace. I wanted to make friends with my voice again. And I felt like shooting it with poison would be stabbing my voice in the back.

That’s not what you do to your friends.

So I have spent the last five years making friends with my voice. Taking it everywhere I go, being willing to be Seen. And Heard.

And this week I realized that my voice has paid me back handsomely with a great gift.

By showing me what I’m really capable of.

That’s what friends do.

Today I can say, loudly and clearly,

My Voice. And I. Are Friends.

Comfort Angel

Peanut M&Ms. This happened because of a divine craving for Peanut M&Ms.

I’d been working all morning on a project for the hospital and had eaten lunch at my desk (again – a sacrifice I happily make in order to have more Writing Time in the morning), and suddenly I just couldn’t sit there any more. I needed a break. I needed Peanut M&Ms.

Which I’d have to take a long walk to get, since the shortcut to the cafeteria has been closed during construction of the new hospital. I didn’t care – something was needling me to get up and get moving.

I came out of my building, a small building on the hospital campus, and immediately noticed a woman on the front porch of the MRI building next to my building. She was leaning against the railing, bent at the waist, arms on the railing. Head hanging.

Something in me recognized her body language. And what her body was saying was,

Help me, please.
Just let me breathe for a minute.

I walked by. Wondering. And Knowing.

Knowing she was waiting for someone. Someone inside the MRI building.

I walked by. I was tempted to stop.

I walked by.

I headed for the cafeteria. I didn’t quite make it – I stopped at the espresso cart and bought a brownie instead, from a woman whose English I couldn’t understand and who couldn’t understand me (“No, not oatmeal cookIE, brownIEEE…”) but who was clearly very happy to see me.

I turned around and headed back, around the building, across the parking lot between the MRI building and my building.

She was still there.

Leaning against the railing, head resting on her arms.

I changed direction and headed toward her, but meandering around the perimeter of the parking lot. Indirectly, like I do with the horses. Like I did with customers at the store. Indirectly, so they wouldn’t feel me coming and spook. Until I was right next to her.

She raised her head, and made like to move out of the way.

“Excuse me,” I said. But instead of moving past her, I stopped next to her. “Are you OK?”

She stood up a little straighter, and nodded.

“Yes, I’m OK. I’m waiting for my husband,” she said, nodding toward the building. “I’m trying to be strong.”

I nodded. “Would you like a hug?” I asked.

She hesitated, then nodded. I took her in, and when she tried to pull away, I gave her another squeeze before letting go.

She came up with tears in her eyes. “We’re here to see if his glioblastoma is back,” she said. “They take the pictures, and then we go see the doctor to find out what they show.”

“I understand,” I said quietly. Boy, did I. The hope. The dread.

I wanted to say, “Don’t worry, everything is going to be all right.” Because I know it will be. But probably not in the way she wants.

So instead I asked, “Can I get you anything?”

“No,” she said, “Thanks.”

“I’ll keep you in my thoughts,” I told her, and we parted. Both of us with tears in our eyes.

And she was in my thoughts all afternoon, as I beamed her love and courage while I worked on my spreadsheets and formulas. I beamed faith that Everything Is Going To Be All Right. Because I know it’s true.

Even if it’s not the outcome you hope for. Everything is going to be all right.

Maybe she was able to stand up a little straighter. Maybe a little breeze of grace blew through her and she was able to take her first deep breath in… days.

Maybe the entire reason I got this job six months ago and had a craving for Peanut M&Ms that turned into a brownie was for that moment. That encounter. That chance for her to be Seen. To know that she isn’t alone.

Maybe that’s the entire point.

Of everything.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /

The Spark Plug Wire That Connects Us

“Hey Brian, long time no see!” I joked as I walked into the auto repair shop. It was only Tuesday, and I had just been in on Saturday to have The Corvette smogged – only to find out that it needed to have some significant work done to pass the inspection. I could have had it done on Saturday, but Brian had recommended I come back during the week when The Experts were on duty.

So there I was, making another 40-mile trip each way, so The Experts could work on the car.

I had asked Brian if someone could give me a ride to a local cafe so I could hang out and use their WiFi to work, which I had pre-arranged with my boss. To my surprise, the chief Expert himself came out to drive me over (and inspect the car at the same time).

In the mile or so drive to the cafe we talked about some other repairs I had deferred (and had planned to do this month, until this new work came up) and he suggested I purchase a particular part myself to save money and told me to bring it in and they’d install it for me. He also noticed, and diagnosed, a sound I’d been hearing, and suggested they look at it next time.

“You know,” I told him, “I lived here for 13 years until I moved to San Carlos a few months ago. I come back to you guys, not just because you know this car, but because you always treat me well. You’ve got good guys working for you.” He didn’t say anything, he just nodded.

As I got out of the car, I said, “I’d really appreciate it if you can keep the work within the estimate, this is all I can do until next payday.” He promised they would.

I had spent the last three days getting used to the idea of deferring the other work on the car yet again, and to the possibility that the cost would be higher than the estimate. If it was, I might be living very frugally for a couple of weeks. I knew it would only be for a short time – just the week before my accountant had predicted I would get a tax refund that was, ironically, almost exactly the amount of this repair, and I had an unencumbered paycheck coming up. But still. It was a surprise, and one that was fraught.

When Harry, the chief Expert, came to pick me up five hours later, he assured me The Corvette was all set and running fine. “Oh,” he said, “and one of the spark plug wires needed to be replaced. You have to buy them by the set, but I had one lying around, so I just used that one and didn’t have to charge you for a whole new set.” See, that’s just one reason I drive 80 miles round trip to these guys.

We got back to the shop and, as we got out and Harry handed me the keys, he paused to admire the car. “It sure is a pretty color,” he said, “look at that gold fleck in the sun.”

“You know, it was broken into last year and got all scratched up, and Brian over at B&D Autobody repainted the rear end for me. He did a great job.”

“Oh yeah,” Harry said, admiringly. “He does great work, you couldn’t have picked a better guy.”

“Well, it was Brian who originally referred me to you guys,” I told him. We shook hands, and he headed around to the back of the shop.

I walked into the office, and this Brian greeted me. “So, are you coming back on Thursday?”

“No, I’ll be back to finish the smog certificate either this Saturday or the following Saturday.”

“I was joking,” he told me. “Since you were just here a couple of days ago I thought maybe it was becoming a regular thing.”

I laughed. He handed me the bill, and it was less than the original estimate. “Awesome!” I said. “Thank you!”

We finished the paperwork, and I asked, “Do I need to call before I come for the smog test?”

“Nah,” he said, “You can just come over. In fact, you can just come have coffee with us if you want. Any time.”

He wasn’t joking.

I was so happy that I had to go for a drive. Of course. So I went to my favorite park, and just sat on the bench and was grateful for a while. Then I took out the bill, for some reason, and compared it to the estimate to see where it was different.

They gave me a discount on the labor. Not because it took less time than they expected. But because they appreciated how much I appreciate them. That’s basically a tank of gas for me, out of their pockets.

There are opportunities all around us to connect. If we see them.

Who do you appreciate? When have you felt appreciated?

Please tell me in the comments.

Image courtesy of…Me! Yes, that’s The Corvette.

Skin and Bones and Memories

The other day I was reading an excerpt from “Writing Life Stories,” by Bill Roorbach with Kristen Keckler, PhD, and this paragraph struck me:

“And—I’m just realizing this—memory is what people are made of. After skin and bone, I mean. And if memory is what people are made of, then people are made of loss. No wonder we value our possessions so much. And no wonder we crave firm answers, formulae, facts, and figures. All are attempts (however feeble in the end) to preserve what’s gone. The present is all that’s genuinely available to anyone, and the present is fleeting, always turning instantly to the past.”

People are made of loss.

That’s a powerful statement. I feel the truth of it in my chest, in my heart, in my belly. Even as part of me resists it.

And. The present is all that’s genuinely available to us.

People are made of loss. Of disconnection. The good news is, Memory is how we maintain connection to what – and who – has gone away. Grief is the emotion of that disconnection, and Joy is the emotion of connection. So memories can make us laugh through our tears.

And. The present is all that’s genuinely available to us.

One of life’s paradoxes, where more than one thing can be true at once.

I have learned to embrace that paradox – to embrace the grief, with its happy and sad, and to embrace the here and now. Fiercely.

At least sometimes Fiercely. Sometimes Fiercely is required, and is its own satisfaction. And sometimes gentle Relaxing Into It is possible. Even necessary.

We are made of memories. All we have is The Present.

I have learned that when I am able to embrace both the loss and the Here and Now, without hiding, then I am able to also release.

More paradox. Sorry. *winks*

PS, March 31 2014: And then there’s this timely post from Wayne Wirs to consider: Paradox resolved?

How would embracing this paradox change anything for you?

Please tell me in the comments.

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick /

New Normal

“New normal.”

I dislike that phrase.

It makes me uncomfortable.

Because it’s new. And it’s dissonant. Normal should feel comfortable, because, well, it’s normal. But New Normal is new. And new can be fresh and shiny and invigorating. And – Or – it can be scary and uncomfortable. Like new shoes that haven’t quite been broken in yet. Like a room full of faces I haven’t met yet. Like a room full of faces with one important face missing.

It is better than the chaos out of which it has settled.

It is a soft (hopefully) landing for the other shoe when it drops.

It is landing in Oz, which is better than the tornado, but is still new and full of the unexpected, both helpful and beautiful and frightening and dangerous.

It is going back to Kansas and everything is the same… except for Dorothy.

*  *  *

I had an important realization several years ago, when writing “Remember to Look Up.” I realized that when we make a comeback, the place we come back to is usually quite different from the place we started. Different from where we were when disaster struck.

We come back to a new normal. There. A new normal. End of story. Everything should be fine, right?


The term itself is deceptively simple.

Because how can you come back to someplace you’ve never been before?

The “new normal” is uncharted territory.

And the traveller has been changed.

These thoughts were prompted by a recent conversation with a dear friend, and by reading a poem the next day by a person whose heart had been broken – shattered – into a million pieces. Both spoke of how nothing will ever be the same. Their loved one is different – or gone. And they, themselves, are different. Nothing will ever be the same.

*  *  *

For most of us, most of the time, every day is a New Normal. We just don’t realize it because the change is so gradual.

But after a cataclysm of any kind – death, major illness, natural disaster, breakup, job loss, even Awakening or Enlightenment, the list goes on and on – the change is significant, and follows a major shift or a period of chaos.

The situation is different.

The world is different.

The people around us may be different.

Our worldview, our expectations, our dreams, our abilities, our illusions are different.

We are different.

The New Normal isn’t normal when we get there; it becomes normal as we settle into it. And that can take a long time.

And may require grieving for the Old Normal.

For the one who is gone. For our innocence. For our old beliefs and dreams. For _________.

“Mount St. Helens will never be the same. But the hills around it have turned green again and life has returned to the mountainsides.”

The new normal may be better than the old normal, but it still takes getting used to.

The new normal may be worse than the old normal, but it’s better than the chaos.

Either way, the old normal must be grieved and released. That is when the new normal really takes hold.

The good news, or the bad news, depending on your outlook, is that even this new normal is only temporary.

Have you ever found yourself at a New Normal?

Please tell me about it in the Comments.

Pocket Watch

Yesterday, as I waited at the Crosswalk With the Fake Button And The Light That Changes In Its Own Sweet Time, I noticed a grizzled old guy in a white t-shirt and jeans. I noticed him because he had a silver chain going to the watch pocket of his jeans. Nobody does that any more. Which made me curious, did he really have a pocket watch? What did it look like? So I went over and stood next to him as we waited for the light to change.

He started talking to me – First about not crossing against the light because he’d talked to a guy who’d gotten a $250 ticket… the cops hide just around the corner and watch, he said. (Mental note.) Then I commented on the watch chain, and asked if he really had a pocket watch. He pulled it out and showed it to me: Nothing fancy, just an old Timex. He has a collection of watches, he told me; in fact, he thought he even still had his high school graduation watch… somewhere… “I wonder if it still works,” he wondered out loud.

The light changed and, as we crossed the street, he told me about the weird (his term) things he collects in addition to watches. Probably the strangest, he said, was his collection of axes. Axes? Yes, axes. He has everything from very small hatchets to very large axes. He has about 50. He’s currently searching for one used by the lumberjacks in the redwoods. The axe handle is more than 40 inches long, and the axe head weighs a ton. (He told me how much but I don’t remember.)

“You’d think those guys had to be big and tall to use an axe like that,” he said, “but I read that on average they were less than 5’7”. They must have had big burly arms, that’s for sure.”

He went on to tell me that he has lots of hobbies in addition to collecting axes. For example, t-shirts don’t have pockets any more, so he makes leather pencil holders you wear on your belt. (He showed me the one he was wearing.) He also makes leather jewelry, and Native American jewelry with bone beads.

All this in the space of less than a block and up an elevator.

We said good-bye as he got off the elevator. “I enjoyed talking with you,” I told him. And I did. Although I didn’t get to do much talking. I’m glad I was curious about that watch chain.

Curiosity leads to Connection.

When has Curiosity helped you Connect to someone else?

Image “Old Pocket Watch” Courtesy of Aleksa D/

I Finally Get It

I finally get it.

Thanks to tripping over a blog post by Julie Daley, I just had an insight into something that has been puzzling me. Puzzling me, in fact, since I accepted the calling to work in the world of Grief. Since I realized that working in the world of Grief is really working in the world of Connection.

The puzzle?

Where does Curiosity fit into it?

Curiosity, which has been my focus, my bandwagon, for several years. My joy, my playground. My secret weapon.

Grief. Connection. Healing. Curiosity.

“One of these things is not like the others,
One of these things just doesn’t belong,
Can you tell which thing is not like the others
By the time I finish my song?”*

A puzzle. And my fear, at the bottom of the puzzle, was that Curiosity didn’t belong here any more, and I really didn’t want to give it up as a topic. Because it’s fun to explore, to write about. Because it is important.

“Three of these things belong together
Three of these things are kind of the same
Can you guess which one of these doesn’t belong here?
Now it’s time to play our game.”*


Now I see that it is like the others, and it’s so obvious to me I wonder how I didn’t see it before.

In her post, Julie wrote about knowing and not knowing, about admitting what we don’t know, and owning what we do know. And something in what she wrote reminded me that Curiosity is what connects us to others. Curiosity is what is happening when we reach out to someone else, when we admit we don’t know, and we’d like to.

Curiosity is what bridges the gap between me and you.

Curiosity is what powers my reaching out, my desire to Connect with you. I don’t know, and I’d like to. To connect with Life. I don’t understand, and I’d like to.

Connection and Loss, Joy and Grief, are intimately intertwined. So Curiosity, as a fundamental aspect of Connection, is part of that dance.


And I have to laugh, because I have known this all along. After all, one of my handles is “Believes Curiosity and Wonder can save the world.”

Grief. Connection. Healing. Curiosity.

They are… connected.

I know it in my bones.


Does this resonate with you? What do you know in your bones?

Please leave a comment.


*That’s right, Sesame Street. “Three of These Things” by Joe Raposo and Jeff Moss, c 1970.

Happy Birthday, Bruce!

Happy Brithday, Bruce! You would have been 65 today, and it would be a significant event.

You probably wouldn’t want a big party, but we would observe the day somehow… a drive through the country, a visit to a lake, the first eggnog of the year, orange cranberry muffins (you’d only eat the top – that’s what “muffin top” means to me). Breakfast for dinner, sushi for breakfast.

I remember one year Aunt Norma asked me what you’d like for your birthday. She told me she was thinking of getting you a shirt. I told her how you asked me early on in our relationship to promise I would NEVER buy you clothes for your birthday or Christmas. You had told me how you had gotten clothes as presents as a kid, and how you thought those were rotten gifts – you wanted TOYS. So I always made sure you got fun stuff. Aunt Norma was surprised – but she didn’t buy you a shirt. I helped her get you a juicer, and you loved it.

I also remember how you asked my mom to send you gift certificates from Lands End so you could pick out your own gifts – flannel shirts, turtlenecks, and so on. But the last few years you used those gift certificates to buy my Christmas presents: Shearling slippers, a monogrammed spa robe. You felt bad about being so disabled you couldn’t work and earn money to spend – to contribute, to spend on me – but the gift certificates were yours, so you used them on me. And you asked me to promise not to tell her. Oops, too late now.

I wish… I wish we had talked about death, dying. We didn’t. Not much, anyway. Even though we knew it was coming. I had my own baggage, and I stupidly feared that talking about your death would somehow damage your will to live.

I was wrong. I know that now.

You were always better about admitting you were wrong than I was. It took me a long time to learn that, and you were a good teacher.

I want you to know… I’m doing OK. Better than OK. It’s been a long process, with a lot of healing, a lot of choices. It took a long time for me to remember more than your last days. To remember the fun. The life.

To feel more than the searing loss. To feel your presence more than your absence.

The presence that made me laugh. That held me. That once wrote, “Remember my eyes, they’re just for you.”

Happy Birthday, Bruce. I hope, I believe, I know, you are out there. Dancing. Standing straight and tall. Helping people and animals. Watching over me as I learn to live. As I learn to love.

Happy Birthday, you awesome spirit. I wish more people had known you like I did.


Susan T.

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