Isn’t There Another Way To Learn This Stuff?

Published in The Ferndale Record-Journal, February 24, 2010

I’d rather write about that giant, 42-pound rabbit in the news, or Shaun White’s spectacular snowboarding performance at the Olympics last week, or even about our unseasonably glorious weather.  But the subject that won’t go away is loss.

I don’t do well with change. I like things in neat little rows, lined up for my perusal and comfort. But because I live and breathe, I, like my fellow planet dwellers, experience pain, loss, and sorrow.

It’s easier to not think about it, to lose myself in TV or online games. Because when I dissect it in my mind, I weep. It’s draining, emotionally, mentally, and physically. I just want to get to the other side of it, and on with however my life is going to play out.

Grief is tricky because it sneaks up on you. You can feel fine strolling down the toothpaste aisle in the drugstore when out of nowhere, sorrow (lurking just under the surface) washes over you and brings you into scary submission.  It has its grip on you again and there’s nothing you can do about it. You just have to ride it out. Or, you can deny it and soldier through. However, unacknowledged grief has a way of coming back later with a vengeance.

I know this because I’ve been there—many times.

It’s the compound levels of sorrow that get me. One major loss is enough for anyone, but when several life-altering events occur at once, you feel like the earth has stopped moving. But, of course, it really hasn’t and you wonder how those other people out in the world who don’t even know you, can possibly go on like nothing has happened.

At these times I can look into the eyes of others and know that they’re grieving, too. Or if they aren’t at that moment, they were, or they will be. To be alive means you’re going to probably, at some point, experience an aching, emotional paralysis.

I know it’s temporary. Soon a new “normal” will take the place of the old one and the past isn’t forgotten, but filed away, and if we’re smart, learned from.  But the transition is almost never easy. Each loss is like a death—all of which require healing time.

Without them, I’d never change. I wouldn’t venture into new lands or territories. I’d stay put and think my life was just fine, thank you.  But that’s not the way it plays out for any of us.  There’s always sorrow, just around the corner, ready to teach us something new, make us look at things in a different light, and if we’ll let it, make us grow into stronger humans.

I like comfort, ease and routine as much as anyone, but where does that leave me? Stuck in a life that requires little effort and keeps me wrapped up in myself.

Grief, loss, and sorrow can be our great teachers. They choose everyone sooner or later. There are no exceptions, and we never know when to expect them.

All I know is that when they arrive, they sear my soul and cleanse me with fire in painful ways I wouldn’t choose on my own.

For that reason alone, I don’t welcome them, but I appreciate the gifts they bear.  Now all I need to do is open my eyes and heart long enough to see those gifts and absorb the lessons.


Hats Off? No Problem Here

Published in The Ferndale Record-Journal, February 10, 2010

It’s not on my “bucket list.”  If I don’t ever do it before my number comes up, I’ll be OK.

But sometimes I wonder what it would be like to be a hat person.  I’ve always wanted to be one. You know who I’m talking about, right?  One of those people who wears hats effortlessly, casually, and looks good doing it.

I’ve exerted a valiant effort in this arena, but there’s always a glitch. The hat either looks like it’s been secured to my head with Krazy Glue, or it’s perched up there like a bird’s nest.

It feels itchy against my scalp, my hair looks weird coming out from under it, and I get the feeling people are alarmed at how ridiculous I look.  In short, hats look unnatural on me. Or maybe, more correctly, I look unnatural in them. Either way, it doesn’t work.

Maybe my head is unusually large. Or maybe I’m just self-conscious. I can’t seem to ever quite get it charmingly askew enough.  And let’s face it, that’s the key.

I have children who wear hats, I work with people who wear hats, and I’m a friend of many hat wearers. I wonder if they catch me studying them to discover how they do it so unassumingly.

My angst includes all kinds of hats. I haven’t been able to make an intimate connection with any of them.

Winter head coverings are the exception.  When there’s snow on the ground, I feel entitled to look as odd as necessary to keep warm. I have a couple of cold weather headpieces that I keep on hand just in case.

Once, in a fit of team allegiance and boldness, I bought a fitted cap at the Kingdome before a Mariner’s game, and wore it proudly, if awkwardly. I thought, of course, that a baseball cap at a baseball game might work for me, no matter how bizarre it looked.

After my friend pointed out that it appeared as though I was preparing to perform heavy construction, I took it off, dejected. Meanwhile I looked longingly at other fans that wore caps with impunity.  Apparently, even at an event that encourages the wearing of hats, I couldn’t do it right.

A few years ago, after a trip to Florida where I saw a lovely woman wearing a white baseball cap, I decided I should try again. Yes, the white cap would make all the difference. I would become one of “them.” My ponytail would cascade perfectly out of the back opening. I was finally going to be a living, breathing hat person.

I wore it twice. It hangs on the knob of my bathroom door, along with its brothers before it.

Why do I keep trying?

One summer my sister and I took a bicycling trip in the San Juan Islands. We bought hats at the drugstore in Friday Harbor and wore them all over town.  Mine was a multi-colored, tie-dyed, baseball cap. No logo, no swoosh—just a wild hat that I wore out loud.

I was happy, and warm sun was against my skin. My muscles worked hard on that trip and I felt strong, confident.  I was also away from home and people who knew me. Wearing a hat? No risk at all.

Clearly, it was a vacation hat. But for that little window of time, I was a hat person. And I’ve never forgotten how much I liked inhabiting that moment.

Because of that experience, hats and I will collide again. And one day, maybe after some practice wearing them around the house I’ll go public.

No heavy construction involved.