Every year I expect December 1st to get easier, and it doesn’t. Today is the 26th anniversary of my father’s passing. Over this many years I have released a lot of the anger, and have found a way to wish him the peace he couldn’t seem to find here, wherever he resides now. There’s some grace in that forgiveness, some healing.
This day will never be painless. It will ache, sometimes uncontrollably, and I must make room for that. It will always be unresolved and unfinished. It will always be hard. And maybe it should be. Maybe it needs to be. Like it or not, it’s an annual reminder to me that we are not infinite on this plane and in this form. Our time is precious, irreplaceable, and so it is to be treasured and valued by us and by those we welcome into our lives. Our time is a gift we give and receive constantly. It will be used no matter what, and so our job is to make sure it’s put to use in the best way possible.
I hope today and every day that your hours are filled with the people and things you love.
If there’s something you’re burning to do, do it now. Last night I learned that a man I greatly admire, someone who was an enormous help to me during my job search last year, passed away of a sudden heart attack. He went out for his morning jog, in seemingly perfect health, and didn’t come home. He was only 49 years old.
His advice and introductions were a tremendous source of encouragement to me at a difficult time. I had just moved back to New York after two years away, was doing a full-time job search, and was dealing with a heavy dose of change and uncertainty. Though I wore a brave face, I was constantly worried about just about everything. The first time I met him in person, I was having a particularly low day.
I went to his office and despite the fact that he was insanely busy, he gave me so much of his time. He was completely relaxed and didn’t rush me at all. I felt right at home talking to him, as if I had known him all my life. That’s the kind of person he was. He listened to my dreams, and immediately started introducing me to everyone and anyone he knew whom he thought could help me.
When I got my job offers, he helped me think through them so I would make the best choice. All of his advice was spot-on. The last time I saw him, he gave me a big hug, and said, “You know it’s all going to be okay. It always is. You just keep working hard and it’ll work out.” And he was right.
The best way I can think to honor him is to follow his advice to the letter. And I will. Don’t wait to do what you love. You never know how much time you have.
As I think about my own storytelling projects, I am reminded of my introduction to it when I was a young child.
I grew up in a rural area where Native American culture is still very much alive. We had a family friend who was a Mohawk chief, Chief Black Bear. We would often go to visit his trading post. He was a very tall, solid, regal man. I was fascinated by him. I remember the jewelry, items fashioned from animal skins, the art, and the tobacco pipes carved from natural items. I have no Native American heritage in my blood, but I somehow felt very much at home in his culture. I still do.
One year for Christmas, my mom bought me several books about Native American history. The way they live and what they believe makes complete sense to me. They take care of the planet and each other. They believe in the connectedness of the heavens above and the Earth below. And their storytelling—that’s what captivates me the most. They make deep wisdom palpable, even to a child.
Yesterday I learned about how some members of some tribes welcome people back from war. There is a recognition that they must have transition time. They go with the medicine man for a number of days to literally and figuratively have the blood washed away. The trauma of war is recognized and processed. They deal with this in the light so that it doesn’t get subsumed into the shadows. They grieve. They’re cleaned. They’re healed so that they can return whole.
Setting war aside, if we just look at our own grieving process today with any lens, we often don’t allow space or time for it. We are supposed to move on quickly and in earnest to sunny skies and smiles. We are told to let it go as quickly and cleanly as possible. Though truthfully we hang onto things inside of us. We don’t always give ourselves time to adequately mourn our losses and reflect on what we’ve learned. And so it piles up, and up and up and up until we literally collapse under it. We do ourselves a disservice all in an effort to get on with it. Except we haven’t gotten on with anything. We are playing a role, and eventually we will have to leave the stage and all of our grief will be there waiting in the wings. And we will feel alone and isolated and ashamed of it. And we will bear it until we can’t.
Our society is dealing with massive public issues now, issues that have been ignored and swept under the rug for too long by too many. Of course they now seem unwieldy. Look how much time they’ve had to grow unattended. We cannot and should not shrink away from dealing with them now, no matter how large they loom. If we don’t recognize and set ourselves on a course to solve them, that task will fall to the next generation and the generation after that. Bringing them into the light is painful, but it is the only way to create a better tomorrow. Have faith, and let’s get to work. We can do hard things, together.
There is a major reckoning that takes place when someone who made you leaves this planet, regardless of what your relationship was with that person. For me, that reckoning took two decades; longer than the time my father and I knew each other.
It only resolved after two decades because of my work with Brian. And it was work. It was not fun or inspiring work; it was, however, necessary. I did what I had to do to free myself. That was my only goal.
My father left this world without the two of us knowing or understanding each other. For a long time, I thought that was a sad fact. Now I realize how vital it was to my development; the day he died, I started to become who I am now. It was the day I began to build something from nothing. It is one of the two days I think of as life days, days when everything in my life shifted and there was no way to shift back.
I tell you this story not for sympathy or even empathy. I am long past the stage of needing or wanting either. I have adjusted, healed, and moved on. My point is that you may be in the midst of something difficult now, something that feels like it may break you, something that makes you feel like you may never be whole or at peace. You are in that empty room I walked into 25 years ago today. The space can feel overwhelming. The emptiness can feel like a void. It’s not, I promise you. It’s a canvas, a blank page, a stage. You will build something there, something that is totally of your own design. And there is no rush. You do what’s right for you, when it’s right for you. I look forward to seeing your masterpiece. Happy December 1st. I love you.
This week I was comforted, as I often am, by the words of Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne. “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
My family faced a sad loss on Tuesday. Our dear family friend, appropriately named Faith, passed away. At the incredible age of nearly 85, she lived a happy, fulfilling life of service. I was lucky to know her and she remains one of the kindest people I’ve known.
She was there for all of the milestones in my childhood, the good and the difficult. Birthdays, Sunday dinners, graduations. Her smiling face was there, camera in-hand to capture it all. She was a constant source of love and support. I think of her as one of my many aunties who helped me realize what kind of life I could have if I worked hard and was good to others. She instilled in me the sense that I mattered, and what I thought and felt and did was valued and valid.
When I heard she passed away this week, I was so sad. I felt a little light go out, but it was only a blip because immediately I felt that same light reignite, brighter and warmer than ever before. I’m sad that she’s gone from this plane and I’m so glad that she crossed over to a place free of pain and discomfort. I’ll see her on the other side, eventually, a long time from now. And I am as grateful for that as I am to have known her in this lifetime. RIL – Rest in Love.
I’ve been talking to a lot of friends this week. It seems that 2015 was a tough one for many people. Disappointment is a painful feeling because it leaves us both hollow and confused. I’d take just about any emotion over disappointment. It’s a tough one to get through and get over, though it’s also a gift in the truest sense of the word because it means a truth, however painful, has been revealed to us. And with truth we can create something new, forge a different path, and become a better version of who we are.
So if 2015 was a tough year for you, if you had your fair share of disappointment, think of it as fuel that can help you build a brighter 2016. Someday, we’ll look back and say this is the year that had to happen.