Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Many. The Humbled. The Mothers.

This has been a Mother's Day for reflecting.  When you spend as many years as I have in a crowded boat, rowing with one hand and passing out food, lifejackets and warnings with the other, the day you find yourself no longer steering is a day of mixed emotions.  If everyone can swim, I could actually close my eyes and take a nap.  If everyone can swim, do they still need me in the boat?

My new vantage point affords me views of scenery I was previously too busy to notice; music I did not have ears to hear.  But the most extraordinary gift which has come from my place in the back of the boat is the ability to see my fellow travelers.  Some are still steering and passing out cookies, some have moved on to outright sunbathing and others, like me, are offering sporadic navigational tips and learning how to let someone else be in charge.  Each one a heroine, they offer inspiration no sunset can equal.

My friend Alicia Zurlo left a note and a pie on my doorstep in 1996.  I had five little children and she had just given birth to her third son.  Within two weeks we forged a relationship that felt like it had begun before we were born.  It probably had.  She brags about her friends' children, doesn't have a jealous bone in her body, and within two years of getting her realtor's license, was selling millions of dollars in homes...because she actually listened to people telling her what they needed.  She will be the friend I call if I am ever jailed in a foreign country because there will be NO STOPPING HER from figuring out what to do, and the way she practices her faith, the way the love of G_d infuses her being, is a gift that she gives to all around her.

Motherhood found me early, but it found my two sisters, Sally Otsuka and Rebecca Forristall (soon to be Arterburn) later, and oh, they have made up for lost time.  For years they loved my children like they were their own and when Kyle Otsuka arrived on the scene there was no question that he would be the brilliant, hilarious go-getter that he is.  On June 5 Becca will inherit a family--husband Todd and daughter Elyse and to see the way my career woman sister has stepped into this new role is to see that love really is the answer.  They are the most generous women I know, these two sisters who have carried me through dark days, and demonstrated over and over that sacrifice is a gift that can be given with grace and joy.

Laura Denison and Elaine Myers are the two women I think of when I hear the beatitude, "Blessed are the gentle for they will inherit the earth."  It is a frightening thought to consider falling into the hands of people suddenly bequeathed terra firma, but then I remember these two and I know everything will be all right.  They are listeners, peaceful warriors who managed somehow to raise incredibly different children in a way that gave each one freedom to assume their own lovely space in the universe.  Elaine makes you a cup of tea when you arrive and then offers you chocolate, and Laura takes you into her world so effortlessly that within twenty minutes you are not a guest, but a family member, opening the refrigerator and napping on her couch.

With six children, Kris Unruh is one of those women who has the loveliest boat on the river and yet says to people who are bailing water in rustbuckets, "Let me come over there and help you.  I'll just climb in for awhile until you're all ok."  And when you point out to her that your vessel of death is headed for white water rapids and she might want to get out now, she just goes on smiling and repairing boards and making you feel like your boat is just as nice as hers--or will be, because by God, she won't go anywhere until it is.

Almost three years ago Susan Satterlee practically held me by the hand for daily walks during some of the hardest days of my life.  "Sometimes you just have to walk out of the corner," she told me on the worst ones.  A lesson that served her well not long after when she learned that her son Andrew had a brain tumor.  We walked through speculation and MRIs and diagnoses; surgeries and chemo, radiation, and healing.  I watched her do the thing we mothers fear the most, with trembling steps, and then with bold faith.  "Will we accept good from His hand and not evil?" asked Job.  The answer, in her case, was a resounding yes to both, and a faith that grew into a mountain.

"And what more shall I say?" as the writer of the book of Hebrews wrote.  There is Gina Vescovi, whose life and home are like some exquisite art project; Irene Flannery who loved Jack Flannery with every fiber of her being in a way that gave "in sickness and in health" new meaning, and then raised their two beautiful children with hands that blessed God and served Him fearlessly.  I see La Donna Mabry who has gone on ahead, having bequeathed to the world a daughter who walks with the strength and intellect deserving of her mother's legacy.  And Ghana Fickling and Annie Presley who lost mothers at tender, tender ages; so much loss, so much too young.  Yet, the seeds those women planted--words that were whispered, prayers offered up, courage infused through hands no longer remembered--oh the pride those mothers would feel to see these two great women.

And then on this Mother's Day, there is my own mother, Sara Kate Forristall, who put in at the Wakenda Creek near Carrollton, Missouri and one day found herself in the Pacific Ocean.  She was a small town girl for 50 years, but when the going got tough, the tough got going.  She has seen hardships so hard, heard swearing so shocking, witnessed lives that she could not have imagined, and yet it has neither jaded her, nor caused her to turn her head away.  At an age when many have shifted into neutral, she is still growing, leaning into the sunshine, navigating her boat into uncharted territory.  There is no proverb greater than an example.

And no gift more precious than to know we are not alone.  The five passengers in my boat, Daniel, Hannah, Mary Glen, Rayner, and Matty, have been the greatest blessing I know.  To them, to my fellow travelers, and to the One who filled the river, I raise my glass.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Happy Birthday George Clooney. I agree with you about Up in the Air

I subscribe to a few blogs out there in internet-land.  I don't know these people, but I'll tell ya, they are REAL writers; people who are up and crackin every morning, probably at 5:00 am before they head out to their demanding day job where they ALSO write tappity tap tap.  Come quittin' time, they hustle their laptop and good ideas back home where they efficiently prepare a well-balanced meal while running through their mental rolodex for the next wonderful piece they will start working on just as soon as they get their children into bed.  These people are everywhere and sweet Jesus, do they try my patience.

Like virtual postmen, they fill my mailbox on a daily basis, cheerfully updating me with writing awards, side-splitting stories, and quirky family members who often have minor celebrity affiliations.

Meanwhile I have squinted at this blog like a coal miner on his first day at a recently cited hole in the ground, "It's real easy," say my fellow laborers, "Just start digging!  Oops, not there.  We've got a gas leak!  Try a little to the left.  Oh that's where the roof caved in!  Hey, there's a good spot.  Yeah, that two inch by two inch section right there!"

Needless to say, I'm not one of those folks who writes well through the pain and complications of life.  And so, today my eye landed on its harmless 2x2 square.  Happy birthday dear George.

I am a movie geek.  I raised my children on classics, foreign films, Shakespeare, war movies, and the occasionally child-appropriate indy.  I read movie reviews and energetically discuss what I've seen with equally passionate friends.  But I'm also an egalitarian.  I give two thumbs up to The Parent Trap and The Best Years of Their Lives; All About Eve and The Sandlot.  What I do not like, is hype.  And so, I saw Up in the Air somewhat reluctantly, on a recommendation from my movie geeky son, and because I truly did love Jason Reitman's delicious, Juno.

I adored Anna Kendrick.  Every twitch of her eyelid rang true.  And, unlike a lot of people, I liked the trip home for the wedding because when has Amy Morton not delivered?  But George Clooney in a one-bedroom that looked like my first apartment on its worst day?  Um, no.  Ricky Gervais maybe.  Richard Jenkins, maybe. But the reality of life is that people who look like George Clooney don't wind up in lives that look like that.

Which is why the ending (spoiler alert for the two people who haven't seen it) just totally pissed me off.  Vera Farmiga as a warm and wonderful potential girlfriend dispensing advice to clueless young career women?  You betcha.  Vera Farmiga as an unrepentantly cheating wife and mother, angrily chastising George (what was his name in that movie?) because SHE'S the grown-up?

I'm going to stop now and take a deep breath before I blogswear.

Which brings me to the ending--a thwarted George in that situation does one of two things.  He calmly burns her house down.  Or he turns on his heel and never once looks back or tells himself he cared.  But George just looked like he was searching for something, anything, in the recesses of his mind that felt like getting unceremoniously dumped.  He didn't find it.

And yet the critics couldn't get enough.  It was a confessional, they wrote breathlessly.  It was revealing, they flushed, right after leaving their interview with the man himself.  And all I could think was--the rest of us are not doing so well if we think that was George's true to life story and he really is heartbroken about being alone.

He didn't win the Oscar.  Jeff Bridges, in a performance that, even in memory is so painful it makes my skin hurt, won in a landslide that included George Clooney's vote.  You gotta appreciate a guy who knows when he's beat.

And yet.

On a flight to England, bored and twitchy out of my mind, I watched a movie for which I would never have bought a ticket--The Men Who Stare at Goats.  It is completely weird.  The story line is herky-jerky and the sarcastic friend who lives in my head just couldn't stop saying, "Really?  Are you kidding me?"

And then after all that weirdness, there's George.  Betrayed and betrayer.  And emanating from that man like radioactive waves is one of the greatest portrayals of heartbreak I have ever seen.  Even my sarcastic friend was silenced.

Life is funny.  We get on the highway looking for the next big thing and find ourselves in the desert for years.  Dismissing the gas station in a one-horse town, we stop to use the bathroom and come face to face with a truth that defines our destiny.    George and I will never meet, but it's nice to know we all have that in common.