Living as if there is always a tomorrow…

Today was a 9.9 day. I saw the blue sky from my bed as I awoke and I knew it would be stellar!

Arriving in my seat at the dining room table after brewing the perfect cup of tea, I awoke my computer to look on a Facebook page for a picture of my 14 year old who had surely survived her first night at YEA Camp (Youth Empowered Action) in Charlton, MA. I was hopeful that she would experience a week of passion-building, consciousness-raising excitement. I was feeling good!

The phone rang next to me and I saw my sister Cyn’s familiar name on the screen. Family, she is but since she’s not too frequent in her calls, I had a flash of warning before I said hello. “Have you been on Facebook yet?” she asked.

“Not yet, why?”

“I think our cousin David died.” “I don’t know for sure, but it looks like it by his son Jake’s posts.” she said.

It was not for almost 3 more hours that I knew for sure what had happened. No one was returning her calls and Google searches pulled up nothing.

I was already dressed for a morning bike ride, having been granted a “do whatever you want day” by my lovely wife. It was her way of sharing the “burden” of having been gone almost 2 full days of every week for the past 2 years to care for her ailing dad. We are always trying to keep a balance, it seems, of energy, patience, and time. Time, I believe, is the most valuable and also the most elusive…

“I’m going to go for a ride,” I said. “There’s nothing else I can do right now.”

“Please be careful!” she said, as she does and has, for 18+ years.

“I always am.” I responded, as I always do.

When I head out on a ride, or plane trip, or anytime I feel like I might be in danger (for as far back as I can remember), I have surrounded myself in my mind with white light. I can visualize it swirling around me and protecting me. I ask my spirit guides to keep me safe, and today, I added, “It’s not my day. It’s not my time!”

This morning as I repeated that ritual, I felt uneasy. I thought of the speed at which we can go from alive to dead, one minute our flame burning brightly, the next, extinguished. It isn’t fair and it causes pain, mostly felt by those left behind. And then I think about the fact that I strongly believe that everything happens for a reason, yet there are many more questions than I have answers.

No one knows for certain what becomes of us when we die; I believe we’re all mostly just afraid of the unknown. Certainly, we must get a better understanding as we age? I fear we just amass more questions.

All I know is that time is moving at a speed that I cannot fathom and control and that unless I can find a way to slow it down, my flame will be blown out in what seems like an instant!

When I was young, I planned to live until I was 100, but by the time I was 40, I’d revised that to “90 or above would be fine.” Now, I’ve lowered it again and I’m aiming at 85. That gives my kids plenty of time to have kids so I can meet them all, which is something that I never got with my own parents.

My 2 youngest, “the babies, the twins, the little ones,” have just gotten back from a week of overnight camp. They have somehow grown into teenagers at only 11.5 years old, look a foot taller, and seem almost ready to venture out of the nest on their own. Not really, but they do seem much more grown up this week!

“Can we go for 3 weeks next year?” they pleaded

“Really? How would I be able to live without you for 3 weeks? Wouldn’t you get homesick?” I said.

“Well, maybe a little, but it would be fun! Please, Please, Mommy & Mama?!” they chimed.

I thought to myself, “No, that would be impossible. That’s like being one of those parents who just want to get rid of their kids and send their kids to boarding school. Out of the question! Two weeks, maybe, but it’s expensive!”

“We’ll see”, I said, as I mumbled ever so quietly… “never going to happen!”

They keep growing, even when you’re not around. At camp they do things for camp staff that they don’t do at home. Like brush their teeth on the first request as they herd their way towards the makeshift outdoor sinks. They go to sleep on schedule, get up early for extra activities, and try new foods. They bring their dishes on their trays to the dishwasher area! They clean up after themselves…And they make friends with kids who may grow up to be lifelong friends, tethered to each other through distance over the years, and reunited in old-age. These are memories that last a lifetime.

My cousin David died almost instantly from an aneurysm on his brain stem. I doubt that he felt any pain, nor had time to realize how dire it was. One moment he was there and the next he was gone. He had just turned 50 a day before, and left his parents, 2 siblings, 3 grown boys, a lovely girlfriend, 2 ex-wives, and the rest of us relatives reeling with the suddenness, the sadness, and the questions. I still see him as a young boy like it was yesterday, with taped up broken glasses and all of my sisters and his sisters teasing him because he was the only boy and we could.

A few nights ago, before our daughter went to YEA camp, she came to our bedroom where I lay, alone (on a night when the wife was at Dad’s), armed with her computer to show me a hair straightener that she wanted to buy.

“It’s only $79.00” she said. “Can I get it?”

“$79.00! Your hair is gorgeous. You don’t need a hair straightener! And that’s a lot of money!” I said

“It’s not $150.00, like some of the others! Please? I really want it and need it!” she whined.

It went downhill from there. I wasn’t going to buy something that cost that much when we had just dropped a good chunk of money on new school clothes. She continued to whine and I stood my ground. She didn’t even want to consider looking on ebay for a better price on a used one. I finally just told her I wasn’t going to argue about it anymore and to go to bed!

10 minutes later, I called her back in…

“You know,” I said, if you had come in here saying “Mommy, there’s something that I really want to buy, but I don’t have enough money for it. Is there any way I can work it off?” I would have listened with much more open ears. Instead, you came in here like a spoiled teenager expecting that you would just get what you want! We talked more, and she quickly realized her mistake and apologized. The next morning, she was up and dressed and had eaten breakfast and was ready to tackle the jobs I’d given her. I told her she’d be sore the next day, tired of stooping over to cut saplings on our back hill but would be pleased with herself when she accomplished her goal. 3 hours later, she texted me pictures at work to say she was done!

What was most enlightening about our talk that night, was that in appealing to her to think about being more of a go-getter and to work harder and to find a passion in life, she said to me, “You just want me to be a politician! You want me to be political!”

“Whoa, what?” “Hell, no I don’t! Politicians have to lie a lot, and they don’t do a lot of what they say they’ll do. The good ones are few and far between. I’d never want you to be a politician!”

“I just want you to be passionate about something!” I said. “I gave you life. I gave you a flame that burns inside you, but it’s up to you to fuel that flame!”

“Finding a passion is as easy as setting up a lemonade stand at a busy intersection on the bike path to raise money for your friend whose sister is dying of leukemia!” “You make signs and posters with her picture on it and you raise thousands of dollars, not because people care about the lemonade, but because they see your passion and want to donate!”

“Passion is getting your school to stop selling water in plastic bottles, but instead to encourage kids to bring refillable bottles in and have filtered water dispensers in hallways!”

“Passion is going out once a week with your siblings to pick up trash along the bike path!” It’s your future and your kids’ future that needs to be saved, and I’m just trying to get you to care about that. It’s getting tougher and tougher for people to live in this world and kids need to see that their choices now can make a difference. You need to help be that difference!

We’ll see what Saturday brings when she comes out of camp “empowered” in some way. I’m hoping that she’ll have learned some skills that she will use to fire herself up about some cause and to energize others to do the same. It’s not like she hasn’t had examples!

Life starts and life ends. What we do here in the time that we remain, matters. Instead of living each day as if it were my last, I want to treasure my time and live as if there is always a tomorrow!

R.I.P.

R.I.P. David Cassinelli

Thanks for reading!

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Changing Tides and Good Tidings!

My youngest children, my twins, turned 10 last week. I don’t believe that I’d thoroughly prepared for that milestone as it had gotten shuffled between the craziness of life, sports, school schedules and the harried holiday season. Sure, I’d remembered presents but it has always been a flurry of gift-buying at this time anyway for the large family and extended family, so it wasn’t like I was totally unprepared. It was more an emotional wake-up to no longer having kids under 10, which put me in a different parent category. It may just be in my paranoid mind, but there seems to be less sympathy for parents who have older kids vs. younger. It’s as if other parents think that we somehow lose our memory of how hard those years were and that we can’t possibly “really know” what parents of toddlers are going through. Again, maybe just my imagination,but as a parent of twins, let me tell you that those young years are indelibly etched in my mind!

At ten years old, the gifts have moved quite a ways from crafts and toys, to clothesĀ  and whatever’s new in electronics. When we had the family birthday party, minus both of the older sisters for the first time in their lives, it was different, for sure. There were 4 minor things for them to each open, one after another of mostly clothes that they had picked out themselves. Before they had received their main present, my wife decided to play a bit of what seemed like emotional torture on them as she asked our daughter if she had a nice birthday. “Yes,” she beamed, which made me even more uncomfortable for her. What if she was secretly hoping for something she hadn’t gotten but was afraid to seem disappointed? I could wait no longer and instructed their 12 yr. old sister to fetch their surprises. I had worked hard to find them both gently used iPod touches on eBay, outfitted them with new cases, and wrapped them up tightly and repeatedly so that the suspense would be prolonged. The excitement and surprise were beyond my imagination and their thankfulness made me proud. Of course they were from both my wife and I, but I also knew that electronics aren’t her thing, so the blissful time then (in my mind) would probably not last long(in hers)!

Several days later and we’ve got app addicts. After we give them a week to work out their excitement, they will need them confiscated every day before school, before meals, and before bed. They may even go to a reward system sign-out sheet if after a week this drug-like desire does not wane. “No, I do not want to FaceTime with you while I’m making dinner.” “Yes, I’m an adult, when you get to be an adult you can take your itouch into the bathroom with you too, but right now, it stays out here!” And, “yes, I’m coming up to put you to bed soon but just let me finish down here before you text me again!!” We’ve created monsters. A new generation of soon-to-be adults who will no longer be able to communicate without abbreviating!

Ten years ago, on the day that my wife gave birth to our twins, the most vivid memory that I have was in the pre-dawn hours when she woke me to say that her water had broken and she was in labor. We were ready with a bag packed and contingency plans in place for our then 2.5 yr-old who was asleep upstairs, but we had not planned on a snowstorm that night. I got up like a flash, ascertained that my wife was capable of getting ready to leave by herself, and dressed to go out and get the car warmed up. At no time the previous day were there warnings of an impending snowfall, so imagine my surprise when I opened the garage door to see at least 8 inches of white stuff blocking our exit. I quickly ran back into the house to tell my wife, call the neighbors for help, and to quiet my panic. No answer across the street. No other friends would be able to get to the house to assist unless they had a plow. Did we have a plow company to call? I didn’t handle that job, my wife did. I didn’t want to panic her… “Honey, I’m just going to go back out and shovel us out a bit.” “No, it’s not bad. I’ll be done lickedy split!”

I returned to the task, which seemed insurmountable at the time, but resigned myself to making quick work and getting to the hospital safely. I surely didn’t want to deliver them at home and knowing that a C-section was pending gave even more fury to my shoveling!

As I looked down the street, my eyes seemed to be playing tricks on me. I saw one golden light haloed by the falling snow. It was moving towards me ever so slowly, quietly, but coming nearer until I could see the outline of some sort of tractor. It was our new plow person, a farmer, apparently, who my wife had just the day before arranged to plow us that winter! I didn’t know him then, but he will be forever known as our angel who guided us by plowing the entire 2 miles to the main road. We still don’t know how and why he was there at that time with that singular purpose, but we are grateful that our treasured spirits were watching out for us and got the message to him!

We attended the annual family Christmas at my in-laws the other night. It has been a zoo every year for 16 of the years I’ve attended as the 8 children, 24 grandchildren(probably more…) and increasing numbers of grand kids and great nieces/nephews under 3 were underfoot in the small house. It seems that every year at this festivity, we mark the day with the memory of one who is no longer with us. It is a reminder to me of my own pending mortality as I imagine the day when these new parents will be seasoned parents and maybe even grandparents, mourning the passing of us middle-agers.

New babies arrive, older relatives die, and the cycle goes on. At the other end of the spectrum, my wife’s dad, who in his mid-eighties is the oldest and the patriarch of the family. He has been spiralling downhill in the last year and will likely be the next to go. The loss of a friend or relative near a special holiday or occasion seems to leave a permanent damper on one’s soul. I/we could use to get through this season with no more sorrow to add to an already emotion-filled time.

As the Christian holiday approaches, and those who are religious as well as those of us who either practice another religion or cling to the residual effects of an upbringing laden with spiritual overtones, I hope that we can all remember the joy as well as the memory of those who have passed and who will forever be in our hearts!

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanza, Mele Kalikimaka!

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