Addendum to a Suicide…

“Death is my redemption,” she whispered…
~ Dianna Hardy

Today, celebrity chef and traveler Anthony Bourdain was found dead … suicide. Three days ago, designer Kate Spade. Robin Williams. Ernest Hemingway. Diane Arbus. Dana Plato. George Reeves. Junior Seau. Jeanne-Paule Deckers (The Singing Nun). Many others. We sometimes forget that these stars and superstars were more than celebrities, more than a face on a television set or a competitor on an athletic field, or a reclusive artist, designer,  singer … they were people. People who played as children, laughed when tickled, wept when their first lover broke their heart, and learned to drive at the hands of a nervous teacher. They got good grades and they failed some courses, too. They teased their friends, they talked back to their parents. They danced to their favorite music, probably ate dozens of ice cream cones and skinned their knees. They grew up to love others and to find a way to express their soul. But did we pay any attention to that? Or did we only see the facade, the mask of celebrity-dom?

Today many on social media are expressing sadness at the self-inflected death of Mr. Bourdain … someone who seemed to “have it all”. What I find more tragic – not only about his death, but about all of the other thousands of people who choose to end their life every year – is that we often fail to find the time, or make the effort, to see behind the mask, the smiles, or the laughs. Do we know the meaning of the tattoos they proudly wear, or why they wandered into the world of drugs or alcohol? Do we know why they chose the profession they did, or why they moved across the country, or the world? Do we know of the darkness or the tears; the fear, the pain? Do we care for anything beyond the persona we see on a 52″ screen or a concert stage … or past the idle “hey, howareya” we unthinkingly ask as we pass a friend on the street?

Many are posting the National Suicide Hotline number (1-800-273-8255), and while it may help some, few will reach out and call in that moment of desperation and blackness. I have walked that tightrope twice in my life, and it is a space – a blackhole – like no other. It is not a place of rationality.

The truth of the matter is that it is up to us, individually and as a collective, to help … to connect more, and more often. To connect deeper and with real meaning. To take the time. To make the the time. Just because someone seems to be widely admired or “loved”, “have it all” or supposedly has thousands of “friends”, it does not make them any less human; it does not mean they are not hurting inside, or worried, frightened, or lonely. We need to look past ourselves, to look past our own tiny little world, and into the hearts of others … before it is too late. Before they get to that moment in time from where they can never return.

Reach out … every day … to someone. To your friends, to your family. Talk … and listen. Listen to their stories, their heartbreaks, their loves and losses. Listen and learn about their moments of joy, their accomplishments, their proudest hour. Ask questions, learn about them. Connect. Stuff is just stuff, and it can all disappear in a heartbeat, or with a match. Things can be rebuilt, re-bought, re-made. A living soul cannot. Reach out. Now. Please….

An addendum to the “Addendum”: I realize this may seem to have nothing to do with “The Ride”, but I recently wrote to the question of why I do what I do. And this connection is exactly why … it is the point of why I ride.

 

A Mother’s Day Missive

“We are born of love;
Love is our mother.”
~ Rumi

Something a little different today; something not necessarily pertaining to “The Ride,” but rather, a story of love from me to you, on this Mother’s Day.

*******

This is my mother. It is my only photo of her; it’s not the best, as it’s from a newspaper article written around 1989. But it’s all I have. She was an artist, a singer, a writer, and wrestled all of her life with many demons: Bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, and alcoholism, among others. We had a rather brief and very challenging relationship – she never wanted children and I was seen as nonessential … and moreover, as the wretched roadblock between my father and her. She left us immediately after I was born, only to reappear in our lives a decade – and several husbands – later when I was 10. The following six years were incredibly difficult, and I could easily fill this blog with many stories of her abuse and hatred toward me. Our last stormy encounter was in 1973, and she passed away in 2003, having never spoken another word between us in those 30 years.

So, why do I write this now, on Mother’s Day? Seems odd, right? But, you see, there is much more to this story … especially for those who understand and believe that lifespirit, and love and forgiveness, are never-ending. Keep reading….

In the summer of 2012, I was sitting in my apartment reading, late one afternoon. I felt an ‘odd’ sensation, and looking up from my book … I saw her standing there. Or rather, her lifespirit. She was young and beautiful and healthy; and had a peaceful, loving expression on her face … an expression that I’d never seen on her before. I was stunned and silent – I’d not given my mother a thought in decades – but at that moment, and without a single word exchanged between us, I knew that beneath all of the disease and broken chromosomes and chemical imbalances she waded through all her life … she, her Spirit – the true essence of her life beyond what we know and understand in this world – did indeed love and care for me. In the passage of a nano-second, forgiveness and joy reigned. I understood completely and fully that none of the abuse was “her” fault, but rather were the manifestations of the delicate balance of our physical nature … a broken or missing gene/chromosome here and there, the learned patterns of generations prior, the on-again off-again nature of the drugs meant to “control” what we deem as mental illness. It was not she who did not love or care for me … not the Spirit or Soul of this woman who was my mother … but rather her humanness, her mortal-ness, and it was beyond her control. When that is fully realized, forgiveness comes oh-so very easily. And it did. I smiled … deeply, completely. Compassionately. She smiled in return, as she slowly faded from view.

Yes, it would have been nice to have had a different, “better,” mother … my life certainly would have been easier, and my standing joke is “Next time around, I’d like to know what a normal life is!” …. but, this lovely, emotionally challenged woman also gave me gifts I never would have had, had I not known her: Strength, resilience, intelligence, an artistic bend, a love of words, theater, art, education; and a desire to live Life fully to its last beautiful breath.

Happy Mother’s Day, one and all.

The Siren’s Song…

“Perhaps the truth depends on a walk around the lake.”
~ Wallace Stevens

So very delighted to have had the article, below, was published in the March/April issue of “Life in the Finger Lakes” magazine … in full color, with additional photos. It speaks to why I decided to return to Upstate NY after the long meander of The Ride. What was it that called me back, in spite of having seen some of the most incredible areas of this country? Read on, to find out…

“As I crossed the invisible border between Pennsylvania and New York, beginning the final leg of an almost-26,000 mile journey begun two years ago, tears stung my eyes and blurred my vision. I eased onto the shoulder of the road, rolled down the window and smiled. Two years since I’d seen this land … these lakes, these waterfalls, these trees. This lush greenest of green! The scent of a thousand flowers filled my nostrils, and the damp air clung to my skin. I’d been meandering this incredibly beautiful country for two years; I’d photographed and stayed in some of the most amazing places from the Atlantic to the Gulf to the Pacific – and yet I chose to return to the Finger Lakes. Why? Why leave the towering red rocks and other-worldly arches of Utah, the white powder of saline deserts, the colorful striations of ancient earth upheavals, or the massive 800-foot-high gorge of the Rio Grande? Why turn around at the great redwoods of the northwest and head for the fat oaks and maples and dancing willows of the northeast? Why say not now to the craggy snow-capped Rockies … and yes again to the gently rolling hills and flat farmlands of this region?

Let me start by telling you that I am not originally from the Finger Lakes, or even New York State. I was born in Philadelphia and lived most of my life on both sides of Pennsylvania. My father’s family, however, was from the Geneva area, and after visiting once when I was ten, I told myself I would live there one day … and it only took another 37 years to reach that goal!

It’s funny, though, how life can take us on some surprising journeys, and just 13 years after I arrived here, a friend’s sudden death along with a looming 60th birthday catapulted me into the adventure of a lifetime. Within just a few weeks of her passing, I’d decided to sell everything I owned, toss a few remaining clothes in the car and set out to meander the country. Little did I know I would wander for two years and 26,000 miles, and even further removed from my mind was returning to New York.

Yet there is a siren-song that beckoned me back … a song Seneca Lake sings silently to many of us who lived here. A magical melody reaches out from her denim depths, singing to those who listen. Her cobalt-blue waters, topped with frothy, bobbing white hats on windy days, her deep musty perfume; her endless shoreline painted with vineyards, crisscrossed with farms, dotted by thick woods. Her friendly, simple and happy people … a mix of races, religions and occupations. To drive the loop from Geneva to Watkins Glen – perhaps stopping for a sip of wine and a breathtaking sunset – is a perfect way to spend a long, lazy Sunday afternoon.

But there is something deeper. Though all long-past now, many generations of my family were from this area, and I truly believe that it’s a part of my DNA. Studies have been done recently on DNA memory – specifically regarding early trauma suffered by our Indigenous people – and they found that there is indeed a change, a memory, imbedded in the subsequent generations’ genetic makeup. If this is true, could it not be so for those of us with familial history tied to an area? Could, in essence, the waters of these lovely lakes have become a part of our chromosomes? I truly believe so.

So many I know who choose to leave – for any number of “logical” reasons – always seem to come back. A year, two, maybe a decade … but they come back, even if just for a little while. Perhaps there is indeed a magic, a bewitching spell, cast on those who take the time to walk along the shores of these captivating sirens. A magic that cannot be denied, and a magic that lasts a lifetime.”

Seneca Lake, NY

**********

Once again, I have to say that it truly is a pleasure and an honor to be freelancing for such a fabulous magazine. If you enjoyed this one, I hope you’ll take a moment to read my previous articles,”The Simple Things” and “Where We Love Is Home” … and perhaps take a few more to enjoy some of their other offerings. It’s a beautifully done publication filled with information, history, and photos of this incredibly lovely region of the country. 

The Gift…

“For it is in giving that we receive.”

Wait,” he said, as he held out his fist, fingers curled around something that must have been terribly small. “Don’t leave yet. I want to give you this.” I extended my palm, and he slowly dropped a tiny piece of metal into it.

****

We were standing outside of the courthouse, after what had been a brutal few hours for me. I was being deposed about the accident that took Angela’s life over two years before … and the five-minute intersecting of two lives that later became the catalyst for The Ride. (see page: What was The Ride if not familiar) Though I’d only returned to New York a few weeks before I was ordered to appear, I was there – reluctantly; I’d gotten a call from the attorney the day after I arrived home, telling me I had no choice in the matter … I had to show up in Ithaca, 70 miles away, the morning of the 31st. Or risk being subpoenaed, or worse. I’d never been involved in a suit before, never been questioned by a cannibalistic lawyer, never been inside a courthouse except for tours. Two hours after I opened the door to the conference room where a single deposition – mine – was to take place, I left feeling exhausted, battered, dirty and angry. I’d simply been a by-stander … a woman on her way to work, riding a bus that will forever remain frozen in time in all of our collective memories. I was there that day and on that bus, at that tragic moment, due to a series of unforeseen coincidences and circumstances. I never should have been … it wasn’t my usual bus. But I was, and because of those fateful events, Angela and I shared a few brief moments of breath … and of spirit … together that forever changed my life. And now, 28 months later, I was sitting in a room being repeatedly questioned about my memory and capability to judge whether Angela suffered those last minutes. As the challenges continued, growing more demeaning with every query, objections flying back and forth, I grew frustrated and short tempered. When it finally ended, all I wanted to do was shut that door and go home. As fast as I could.

But he had other ideas. “He” was Angela’s husband. As he held the door open for me, he was apologetic – he had never wanted me to go through that, he said. “You were there for her, and I know she knew it.” He thanked me again as I began fumbling in my purse, almost forgetting that I’d wanted to give him the photo of Angela I’d carried the last 23 months: A photo that came with me as I explored 26,000 miles of this amazing country, and the photo of the woman whose spirit and heart I felt riding along side of me through every one of those miles. I wanted to give him the photo, and tell him what I did and why … share with him where she had been with me. Though I was shaking, I managed to find it and handed it to him. “I want you to have this. I want you to know what happened after the accident…” He quietly interrupted me and said, “I already know.” Her daughters – who I’d only met briefly at the wake and never saw again – had been following The Ride, he said. I never knew … they never contacted me, but they’d been silently shadowing that most amazing journey of Angela’s and mine.

He and I chatted a few minutes and I turned to go. I was spent from the morning, and wanted to be home. “Wait,” he said urgently, as he held out his fist, fingers curled around something that must have been terribly small. “Don’t leave yet. I want to give you this. I made it … for Angie. I inscribed her name into it. She used to carry it on her keychain …. and I want you to have it.”

I held out my hand, he held his over mine, and as he opened his fist, a tiny piece of metal dropped into my open palm. “And oh, by the way,” he said as I walked away, “Angie loved to travel….”

Whispers of the Wolf…

“If you don’t go out in the woods, nothing will ever happen and your life will never begin. Go out in the woods, go out.”
~ Clarissa Pinkola Estes

One of the most important – and most painful – lessons I learned on my journey was to trust fully, completely, in my intuition and my instincts. Even when the whisper is so very small. We always seem to say, “Oh yes, we must!” But how often do we really do so? How often do we have those subtle “inklings” but choose to ignore them because of some perceived logic, or emotion … or perhaps what we think we “should” do. How often do we drown the song of intuition with our own desires?

I’d always been pretty good at listening to those knowings, but on my journey there were a few times I ignored it. Most were inconsequential and easily righted, but I came to realize there was one in particular that changed everything: A moment when I knew, as I stepped from the car – not listening and heeding the voice in my heart, asking if this really was what I wanted – that I had changed everything originally intended by the heavens. From that day on – though still yielding many wonderful moments and memories – The Ride and I were never the same.The journey that had begun in June 2017 veered from its original path, and never fully returned. There is a price to pay when we don’t listen to those quiet whispers. But, the heavens still offer surprises…..

Exactly a year ago one of the most amazing gifts of the entire journey came 9 months after that detour … an opportunity to sit with the wolves. Had things not happened exactly as they did, I would not have found myself in an enclosure, crouched low, hands buried deep in fur, my face lavished by wet kisses, being loved on and exchanging breaths with a full-blooded wolf … my spirit dancing with his far beyond the boundaries of the time and enclosure. And yesterday, for some silent reason, I picked up a book I’d put away long ago and in turning the pages, stumbled onto a story of a wolf … and of intuition. A story of the connection, and of listening. It seems ironic – or rather, not – that at this time when I am sifting through the lessons learned on my journey, and making decisions about the future, I unwittingly turn to a page that bridges past to the present, speaking to lessons learned. That day, one year ago, I believe I walked away from that enclosure with far, far more than just incredible memories … rather, I think perhaps I walked away with an eyelash……

*******

The Wolf’s Eyelash

If you don’t go out in the woods, nothing will ever happen and your life will never begin.

“Don’t go out in the woods, don’t go out,” they said.

“Why not? Why should I not go out in the woods tonight?” she asked.

“A big wolf lives there who eats humans such as you. Don’t go out in the woods, don’t go out. We mean it.”

Naturally, she went out. She went out in the woods anyway, and of course she met the wolf, just as they had warned her.

“See, we told you,” they crowed.

“This is my life, not a fairy tale, you dolts,” she said. “I have to go to the woods, and I have to meet the wolf, or else my life will never begin.”

But, the wolf she encountered was in a trap, in a trap this wolf’s leg was in.

“Help me, oh help me! Aieeeee, aieeee, aieeee!” cried the wolf. “Help me, oh help me!” he cried, “and I shall reward you justly.” For this is the way of wolves in tales of this kind.

“How do I know you won’t harm me?” she asked – it was her job to ask questions. “How do I know you will not kill me and leave me lying in my bones?”

“Wrong question,” said this wolf. “You’ll just have to take my word for it.” And the wolf began to cry and wail once again and more. “Oh, aieee! Aieeee! Aieeee! There’s only one question worth asking fair maiden, wooooooooor aieeeee th’ sooooooool?”

“Oh you wolf, I will take a chance. Alright, here!” And she sprang the trap and the wolf drew out its paw and this she bound with herbs and grasses.

“Ah, thank you kind maiden, thank you,” sighed the wolf. And because she had read too many of the wrong kind of tales, she cried, “Go ahead and kill me now, and let us get this over with.”

But no, this did not come to pass. Instead this wolf put his paw upon her arm. “I’m a wolf from another time and place,” said he. And plucking a lash from his eye, gave it to her and said, “Use this, and be wise. From now on you will know who is good and not so good; just look through my eyes and you will see clearly. For letting me live, I bid you live in a manner as never before. Remember, there’s only one question worth asking fair maiden, wooooooooor aieeeee th’ soooooooool?”

And so she went back to her village, happy to still have her life. And this time as they said, “Just stay here and be my bride,” or “Do as I tell you,” or “Say as I want you to say, and remain as unwritten upon as the day you came,” she held up the wolf’s eyelash and peered through and saw their motives as she had not seen them before. And the next time the butcher weighed the meat she looked through her wolf’s eyelash and saw that he weighed his thumb too. And she looked at her suitor who said “I am so good for you,” and saw that her suitor was so good for exactly nothing. And in this way and more, she was saved, from not all, but from many, misfortunes.

But more so, in this new seeing, not only did she see the sly and cruel, she began to grow immense in heart, for she looked at each person and weighed them anew through this gift from the wolf she had rescued. And she saw those who were truly kind and went near to them, she found her mate and stayed all the days of her life, she discerned the brave and came close to them, she apprehended the faithful and joined with them, she saw bewilderment under anger and hastened to soothe it, she saw love in the eyes of the shy and reached out to them, she saw suffering in the stiff-lipped and courted their laughter, she saw need in the man with no words and spoke for him, she saw faith deep in the woman who said she had none, and rekindled hers from her own. She saw all things with her lash of wolf, all things true, and all things false, all things turning against life and all things turning toward life, all things seen only through the eyes of that which weighs the heart with heart, and not with mind alone.

This is how she learned that it is true what they say, that the wolf is the wisest of all. If you listen closely, the wolf in its howling is always asking the most important question – not where is the next food, not where is the next fight, not where is the next dance? – but the most important question in order to see into and behind, to weigh the value of all that lives, woooooooor aieeeee th’ sooooooool? wooooooooor aieeeee th’ soooooooool? Where is the soul? Where is the soul?

Go out in the woods, go out. If you don’t go out in the woods, nothing will ever happen and your life will never begin. Go out in the woods, go out. Go out in the woods, go out. Go out in the woods, go out.

~ Clarissa PinkolaEstes, Ph.D.

The Greatest Gift…

“The greatest gift of life is friendship…
and I have received it.”
~ Hubert H. Humphrey

And it is a gift whose moments often bring the softest of tender tears to the heart and soul. Although “The Ride” itself has ended, there are so many wonderful moments to look back on, and I hope you’ll allow me to share a story of this one – one of true transcendence from what probably were the most cherished few hours along the journey….

Judy and I were high school friends – well, in reality, she was far more than that to me. My childhood and especially my teen years were difficult at best; actually they were often terribly frightening and brutal. I was beaten by an angry father and suffered through many years of extreme emotional and physical abuse at the hands of a schizophrenic mother. I recall more times than I can count being tossed out of the house early in the morning, clad only in my jeans and sneakers no matter the weather – rain, snow, heat – and told not to come back until the evening, when it was time to do my chores. Due to a number of reasons beyond my control I had few friends or places to go. Judy and her family, though they had their own challenges, would take me in, feed me, give me shelter and warmth. I could always knock on their door, and it was always open to me. She and I – and a couple of other kids at school who were a bit ostracized – would gather at lunch in the stairwells, playing guitar and singing songs of peace and hope to come. It was a circle of calm in turbulent times, both personally and politically. In many ways she and her family saved my sanity, and we developed a bond that existed beyond a need for words or constant contact. So when I began my journey in June of 2015, I’d hoped with all of my heart to have a chance to see my old friend, as I knew I’d be stopping briefly in Pittsburgh – where I’d gone to school, and where she still lived. It had been many years since I’d visited that city and it took a while to get my bearings, but on a day that will forever be beautifully etched into my memory, we reached across the bridge and closed a decades long gap.Another friend from high school was playing mandolin at an Irish Pub in town that night – I was to go with him, and she would join us there after work. I’d not seen Judy in 43 years … since our graduation day. I waited nervously – how had she changed? Would we still be friends? Would the connection still be there? The minutes ticked by insufferably slowly. It was almost time for the band to start, was she coming? Had she changed her mind? After innumerable heart-stopping openings and closings of the door … nope, not her, sigh … the long awaited moment finally came. It honestly was if a slow motion Hallmark movie … we shouted and screamed and ran toward each other, caring little about what anyone saw or heard, or the stares and mouths agape. Embracing, rocking, not ever wanting to let go again, tears streaming down both of our faces. We spent the next few short hours catching up and talking … yet, in many ways we didn’t need to. And then we said our goodbyes once again.

There are connections that lie beyond the realm of words, but rather live and breathe in spirit beyond. The greatest gift in life is friendship … and indeed, I have been blessed and honored with this most incredibly beautiful of gifts.