My first Aunt Rose
My first Aunt Rose, or Rosie as we call her, is 86 years old and she is in the sunset of her life. We found out last week that she has stage 4 lung cancer that has metastasized to an alarming degree. Chemo is no longer an option and the treatments she will undergo are meant to make her comfortable in the remaining months of her life. We are all heartbroken by the news because we love Rosie very much and because it feels like losing my grandmother Sadie (her sister) all over again. She looks just like her – they both remind me of Bette Davis with those gorgeous doe-like eyes and soft rounded features. I look at old photos of them and my jaw drops. They were and are stunning, as beautiful inside as out.
My Aunt Rosie is only 14 years older than my mom so they are more like sisters than niece and aunt. They are so close that she was the maid of honor at my mom’s wedding. She’s also my brother’s Godmother. And she holds the title as my family’s original yogini. Last year we lost my Uncle John, Rosie’s husband. While I was at her house before the service, she showed us an exercise book that she’s used for many years. It was published years before I was born and depicts daily yoga exercises for better health. I never knew she practiced. I guess I was meant to be a yoga teacher – it’s in my genes and my name.
My second Aunt Rose
I never knew my second Aunt Rose. She was the first child of my paternal grandparents, and she died when she was just three days old. Their three children who followed Rose were all boys. My dad once told me that every year on Rose’s birthday my grandfather would cry all day. This tough, gruff Sicilian man who survived the Great Depression and so many other difficulties, in Italy and in his adopted country, never cried about anything except the death of his daughter. Before my older brother, Joey, was born, my grandmother bought my parents a tiny pink dress in the hopes that Joey would be a girl. (But make no mistake – they both adored Joey.) My grandmother died the year before I was born, but my grandfather was still among us. When I was born, my parents gave me the name Rose, and when they told my grandfather he was so happy. He couldn’t wait to meet me, but we never got the chance.
The night I was born, there was a heavy snow storm. My grandfather was shoveling out his car so he could drive over to the hospital to meet me. He pushed himself too hard and had a heart attack. He was rushed to the hospital, but never regained consciousness. He died the next day without getting the chance to hold me, the little girl he had been waiting to have for almost 50 years.
What’s in a name? In my case, a lot. A lot of love, and dreams, and honor for two people – one who has lived a long, happy life and one who never got the chance she deserved. I’m proud to carry them both with me.
Life’s too short. Period. We’ve got a tiny window to soak up everything this world has to offer and then find a way to give something back to make it a better place than we found it. The trick to really having an impact of goodness? Surround yourself with people who believe in love and compassion and kindness just as much as we do.
Ditch the energy vampires, the negative naysayers, and the people who care more about what they have than who they are.
Find and keep the dreamers, doers, believers, and thinkers close. They will support and sustain you no matter what circumstances life throws your way. Life can be a tough haul from time to time. The people in our lives make that haul easier to bear.
About a month ago I started writing for igokids.com, a site with the mission to be the go-to resource for parents, families, and caregivers about everything kid-related in New York City and beyond. I’ll be covering all kinds of activities from museum exhibitions to theater shows to family-friendly restaurants and events for the young and young-at-heart. My first post is now live and highlights the Museum of Mathematics, a one-of-a-kind place where kids and adults alike can play with numbers. Check it out by clicking here. If you have ideas of places and events in NYC that you think I should review, please let me know!
This picture reminds me of fireflies, those glorious heralds of summertime. I grew up in a rural area and during the summer, fireflies were everywhere. Even now I still find them comforting, with their bright behinds that help them perform their “now you see me, now you don’t” routine. They remind me that magic is everywhere, even in the most unlikely of places, even though we can’t see it all the time.
Just like this photo shows, the magic is most often found in the people around us. If ever you need to see its glimmer, look your friends and family in the eyes. Listen to their dreams. Know their hearts. That’s all the magic you’ll ever need to inspire your own pursuits.
To all the mothers everywhere, whether your kids have 2 legs or 4:
the light that is in me honors the light that is in each one of you.
Whenever I hear Billy Joel sing “New York State of Mind”, I get a little misty-eyed. Call me a sap. This is my city and I love any and every tribute to it. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a loony bin here and you need to be a little crazy to call this place home. When God doled out the crazy genes, or at least the ability to tolerate and even revel in it, I got more than my fair share.
Just as it’s good to step away from work to feel more energized about it, it’s also good to step away from our homes to appreciate what they offer. So off I go to the sunny skies and sandy shores of Florida, one of my 4 annual pilgrimages to see my family, horse around with my nieces during our spontaneous the-world-is-our-dance-floor dance parties, and shop with my mother and sister at places like Target and Publix, the stalwarts of suburban life where everything closes by 9pm and Ellen DeGeneres is queen. It’s such a different pace of life than mine in New York, and I welcome it.
Also, my pup, Phin, is there while I hunt for and settle into a new apartment that’s quieter and more spacious for the two of us. I wish I could tell you I am more excited to see my family than my dog, but it’s just not true. They’re even-steven. I miss his fuzzy face on a minute-by-minute basis and can’t wait until he’s with me again full-time. In the meantime, he’s being lavishly spoiled by my mother, a devout dog lover who thinks canine-liness is next to godliness. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, folks.
I’ll also be rounding the bend into year 37 on the 17th while I’m in Florida. My sister asked me what I’d like to do for my birthday. Honestly, I just want to relax as much as possible, take a few long walks, barbecue, and watch cartoons with the people I love most – in that order. The older I get, the more fun I find in the ordinary.
While I’m away, my posts will be considerably shorter, composed mostly of images and a few words. I hope you enjoy them as much as I’m prepared to enjoy Florida.
Ten years go, John Wood embarked on a courageous journey. He left his job at Microsoft for one simple reason: so that “children everywhere have access to literacy and books in their mother tongue from a young age.” Sound audacious to you? It did to Charlie Rose as well. “Every child,” Charlie repeated in an interview with John. “Every one, without exception,” John said.
It is that kind of resolve, focus, and elegant vision that I find so exhilarating and inspiring. As a nonprofit founder, fundraiser, and a consultant who works with a number of nonprofits, I also know how hard it is to identify and maintain. John will not be deterred. It is his commitment to the children of this world that has allowed Room to Read, his nonprofit, to open 10,000 libraries around the world in 10 years. 10,000. It is astonishing.
In 2007, John wrote the book Leaving Microsoft to Change the World: An Entrepreneur’s Odyssey to Educate the World’s Children. Today, his new book, Creating Room to Read: A Story of Hope in the Battle for Global Literacy, goes on sale. It has valuable information for everyone who has ever cared about a cause or mission, for-profit, non-profit, or otherwise. It’s a story about the value of a dream and the determination to make it real. John talks about his all-star team, their site evaluation process, and what it truly means to work side-by-side with people you want to help in pursuit of a common goal. In equal parts, he gets down into the details about his fundraising and management philosophies and then shares his powerful emotions such as his misty-eyed moment when the 10,000th library opened in Nepal with his parents by his side.
John’s story is inspiring for all of the goodness he conveys though he is not shy about the hardships he, his staff, and the communities face. Global literacy is a battle in every sense. Moving into Africa was a particularly harrowing decision and an even more harrowing process. His team literally risked their lives to make it happen. In countries like Cambodia, 43% of grade-three students in his country could not read at an age-appropriate level. Statistics like this led Room to Read’s mission and activities to evolve. It wasn’t enough to build libraries and furnish them with books. First, they had to teach people to read. Without literacy programs, the libraries would be of zero value to half the population.
Once I cracked open this book, I couldn’t put it down. Nose pressed against the pages, I would look up and realize that hours had gone by. After a while, I stopped using my highlighter because I was highlighting every sentence. John Wood and Room to Read are paving the way toward a brighter future. Thank goodness he left Microsoft to change the world. With this book, I’m certain he will inspire many people to take up a cause that matters and make it their life’s work. And we will all be better off for it.
Today there is so much emphasis on presents. My focus is on presence – mine and that of all the beautiful people around me. Wishing you a day filled with everyone and everything that makes you happy.
Yesterday, marked the 20th anniversary of my father’s passing. I’ve been alive longer without him than with him. To even fathom that 20 years has passed makes my mind numb. I remember that evening so clearly that I could recite my actions and thoughts of each minute. I think of it in frames of a film, a shutter action happening in between each. There’s some soaring music in the background that rises and falls in waves like water.
That night I was viscerally aware that I was literally closing one chapter of my life and opening another one with my bare hands. The door between those chapters was heavy and awkward. I knew that once it shut behind me that there was no going back. That feeling is lodged in my heart in a way that used to feel painful and now is just familiar. It’s become one of my oldest friends.
Nothing happens in isolation. As soon as my mind turns those events over a few times, it just keeps going and I follow it along as an audience member, as if I am watching a performance of Sleep No More. At first it slowly trudges to the wake and funeral, to high school graduation, to leaving my hometown, to college and everything that would unravel and then coalesce in that time.
The speed of the frames in my mind picks up rapidly after that. As a young 20-something I thought I would go into politics and instead opted for a career in theatre, moving from D.C. to New York to life on the road. That would lead me to Florida, back to D.C., on to graduate school in Virginia, and then back to New York where I’ve made my home for the past 5 and a half years. That journey flashes with so many characters and scenes and travels across the globe, some happy, some sad and everything in between. It makes me dizzy if I think about it for too long.
I used to feel so much a part of that narrative. No matter how much distance I got from December 1, 1992, I was still that character, playing that role. I was this way because my dad was that way. I played the victim card, the martyr card, the lost card, the hopeless card, the trapped card. I let the role write the script instead of writing it myself.
It took a long time for me to understand how that’s a clear and certain road to disaster. No one wins in that scenario, least of all me. And it took me even more time to realize that it didn’t have to be that way. The beginning of a journey influences its course but it doesn’t define it. It is within our power, responsibility, and right to own the narrative of our lives.
We can fold, toss those old worn out cards into the center of the table, and walk away. It’s okay to leave it behind and continue on in a different direction. It’s healthy to do so. It’s required if we intend to do anything extraordinary with our lives. We can honor our past, our roots, and not feel shackled to them. What happened, happened. There’s no changing it. What happens next? Well, that’s up to us. It’s always up to us.
Wherever my dad is now, I hope he folded his hand, too, walked away from the table, and set out on a new course that was brighter than the one that was here among us. Every soul deserves that chance.
I recently saw The Way, a movie that records the trek of a grieving father, played by Martin Sheen, along the Camino de Santiago through the Pyrenees from France to Spain taken in honor of his son, played by Emilio Estevez, who died along the trail. It’s a beautiful story of love and loss, misunderstanding and faith, harm and healing. It made me think about the motivations behind pilgrimage and the importance of a purposeful journey. A pilgrimage provides a bridge that carries us from the life we live to the life we choose.
In a way, my trip to India was a bit of a pilgrimage in that I went there with a purpose – to better understand the practice of yoga by seeing its roots. I didn’t have a specific place I was trying to go, just a feeling I was trying to capture, a thread I was trying to find and weave into my living.
I would like to take an actual pilgrimage as illustrated in The Way, some kind of trek through the natural world that leads to a specific destination for a specific purpose. I’ve got some loose ideas but I’m taking suggestions, too. In this time of great change in my life, a true pilgrimage seems apropos.