Archives for posts with tag: love

When I was a little girl, we made May baskets at school, which were usually a cone made out of construction paper with a paper strip looped on the back as a hanger. Each year, I took them home, filled them with flowers from the yard, and carefully walked to the neighbor’s house. As I recall, I mostly walked to the same neighbor’s house, Myrtle Anderson’s, hung the basket on her door knob, knocked, and then ran away. They were not so random acts of kindness.

I have long enjoyed giving gifts to people. I notice the things that people like over the course of the year and file it away in my mind for future gift reference. Sometimes I give people gifts “just because”. When I was in college, I had a boyfriend who was often awkward about accepting gifts from me. They were small things, really. I knew that he liked to play cards so when I took a ceramics class and made him a mug decorated with a heart, a club, a spade, and a diamond. It was just one of the things that I made. The rest I kept for myself. When I asked him when his birthday was, he wouldn’t tell me. It was one of many arguments that he and I had over seemingly really silly things. He actually told me that I didn’t argue enough. Anyone who knew me when I was in my early adulthood would appreciate the uniqueness of this characterization. He was not comfortable with affection or gifts. When he told me that he thought we should break up, I didn’t argue. I agreed.

The following fall, I met the man who would become my husband. As I’ve written in the past, John was dating someone else at the time and in the process of a somewhat messy break up due to the fact that his girlfriend was out of the country for two years, on a religious mission. They communicated by letter. Their relationship had been in poor shape when she left.

John and I started dating the following spring. Our first kiss was on April 25th, 1988. I decided to make a May Day basket for him. I went to the University Bookstore and bought two colors of paper. (Hubby tells me now that he thought I used blue and green. I don’t remember.) I carefully measured and drew lines on the paper as a guide for cutting. I wove the strips into a basket; I remember it being surprisingly large. I made a handle for it and filled it with tulips.

I was excited when I made the gift as I often am when I am making something for someone I love. There is an enthusiasm full of hope and energy. But I was also nervous that he wouldn’t like the gift or would feel that it was “too much”, that I was “too much”.

I walked into his apartment with it. I greeted him with, “Happy May Day!” He smiled, “Thank you, those are beautiful.” Then he gave me a kiss. In short, he acted as if I had given him a somewhat random act of kindness that he very much appreciated. He acted like giving a gift to your boyfriend was a normal and healthy thing to do. This is when I learned that he could accept my love. I hoped that it would last for a long long time.

John is leaving tomorrow for an eagerly awaited ten day trip to the canyon lands of Utah. He is traveling with his stepfather, Don. They will have a marvelous time and I am very happy for him. They have not taken a trip, just the two of them, since 1993 when they went to Tanzania together.

I woke up this morning, missing him even though he hasn’t yet left. When I noticed that it is May 1st, I thought back to the basket and the flowers. So as part of my walk, I stopped at the Thriftway and picked up six bunches of locally grown tulips. When I gave them to him, he thanked me and remembered our first May Day together.

May 1st means a lot of things. To some it is just the first day of May. To others, it marks the day of a birth or a death. To others, it is a time to advocate for workers. All of these things are true. To me, it marks the newness of spring and the joyful discovery of love given freely and freely returned.

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One of the recent activities on Facebook has been for women to post five photos of themselves in which they feel beautiful. It is framed as a challenge.

I think it is good for women to recognize their beauty as we so often do not appreciate it in ourselves.

But what is beauty, anyway?

I didn’t feel beautiful for the majority of my life. There were moments, of course, during which I did.

But what is beauty, anyway?

Is it aesthetics?

What are aesthetics, anyway?

Well, most people agree on a certain set of guidelines for determining who and what is “good looking”. Looking healthy has something to do with it. Looking youthful has something to do with it. Looking fertile has something to do with it. Looking just enough out of the ordinary to be striking but not too much as to look alien, has something to do with it. Tradition has something to do with it. Looking non-threatening has something to do with it.

We could say that human aesthetics don’t really matter. But is that really true? Look at Michelangelo’s David. Look at Boticelli’s Venus. One only has to look at two pieces of art to realize that there are aspects of the human form that are aesthetically superior to others, at least as aesthetics are subjectively defined. Plus, if we are to say that aesthetics in the human form do not exist, then it is fair to argue that aesthetics in other forms, also do not exist like in trees, mountains, or other natural forms.

Beauty, though, is not the same as aesthetics. It can include aesthetics but it can also go beyond the visual. Beauty has meaning as well as looks. Beauty is also not the same as “pretty” for the same reason.

Beauty has meaning and the meaning is usually related to a virtue, like love. Love of people, including ourselves, love of animals, love of nature, love, couched in marvel of the best aspects of our planet Earth.

Love is always beautiful but it is not always pretty. Conversely, what and who are aesthetically pleasing, are not always beautiful.

Now, coming back to the Facebook challenge. It was to post photos of when one FELT beautiful. I have never felt beautiful when I was unhappy. It wasn’t that I necessarily felt ugly, though at times that was true, it was just that the unhappy feelings predominated.

The times I have felt the most beautiful, are mostly times that I also looked pretty. It was like the aesthetic aspects were the icing on the cake. But I’ve felt beautiful without the icing. Here is an example:

Here she is, Miss America!

Here she is, Miss America!

Do I look pretty in this photo? No, I don’t and I’m not going to go over the reasons for that. But I felt beautiful. That photo was taken by me last September. I had been walking six days a week for nearly a year. It was pouring down rain that day. I didn’t want to go for a walk. But I did it and it was actually really fun. I felt beautiful because I had taken care of myself and not just survived my walk but thrived in it. This felt like a triumph of my body and mind that had been through so much through my cancer treatment and reconstruction. I felt strong and there are few things that feel more beautiful than feeling strong and capable in one’s own body after a cancer diagnosis.

But there have been times in my life when I felt beautiful and looked pretty. I have written about a number of those times in my blog, times that have been captured on film. A photo of my kissing my newborn girl on the cheek while she smiles blissfully. The photo I shared recently that my husband took during a lovely evening out. Those were times, incidentally, when I was totally in the moment with a person whom I love.

My aesthetic beauty will continue to fade. I would be lying if I said that this is 100% okay with me. But it’s still okay. I have a lot of beauty in my life. I have a lot of meaning in my life. I have a lot of love and I hope you do, too.

I remember when I was starting grad school in my 20’s. One of my classmates was from the sunny city of Miami. I noticed that although she was actually younger than me, she had crow’s feet, those wrinkles people get around the corners of their eyes. I figured that since she already had them, I would get them fairly soon. But I didn’t.

The first wrinkles I noticed were above my left eyebrow. I can lift my left eyebrow above my right, just like Spock on Star Trek. I did it A LOT as a teen and a young adult. My younger brother and I laughed about it a lot. It was something I did when I was being silly and having fun.

Wrinkles are signs of aging. The first time I looked at myself and thought, “I’m not young anymore” was in my late 30’s. I was looking at the backs of my hands. They weren’t as smooth as they used to be. In other respects I still looked young. I’ve done a lot of work with my hands over the years. Writing, gardening, knitting, cooking, and caressing loved ones. My wedding and anniversary rings are on my hands.

When I was putting on make up this morning I saw them. I have crow’s feet that don’t go away when I stop smiling.

I’ve done a lot of smiling in my life. And I’ve squinted at the sun when I was in the mountains, the tropical rainforests,  and kayaking on the sea. I spend a lot of time outdoors, which makes me happy. I spend a lot of time with people who make me happy.

The lines I have, by and large, are not remnants of the bumps in the road of life, the wrinkles we have to smooth out. My wrinkles are from the best bits. They show the happy and productive moments that I have enjoyed. If I am lucky, they will continue to broaden and deepen, I hope.

When I was young my face was smooth. Now the lines tell a story, one that is meaningful and full.

Life lines is what they are.

Warning: Smiling can cause life lines! (Also, I told you that my husband puts his camera close to my face.)

Warning: Smiling can cause life lines! (Also, I told you that my husband puts his camera close to my face.)

Yesterday, I was reading through my posts for 2013 as a review. I’d had a good and productive day. I was happy all day. And then I came to my post from August when I was hit with grief over the anniversaries of my mastectomy as well as the death of my friend, Gina. I remember that day in August. I cried for hours, which is something I have done less than a handful of times in my life outside of the two times I had clinical depression.

Yesterday I cried for about 20 minutes and then I actually felt good again. I’m not one of those people who usually feels better after crying. I mean I know that it is necessary to express grief but I still usually feel exhausted and cotton headed after I cry. The grief startled me because I found instantly found myself loudly and sloppily crying. The intensity of my grief felt like the day Gina died. And my worries about my own mortality, especially the prospect of dying before my daughter is grown, only intensified it.

I’m of the opinion that life is complex and there’s usually not one reason why something happens. But I will say that viewing a series of black and white photos of a husband and wife over the course of the wife’s treatment and later death from breast cancer, likely was a catalyst for this latest crying jag. One of the photos is a head shot of the pair in bed, holding each other, each with a look of utter bliss. It’s a beautiful and happy image. And it reminds me of my husband and I. John is a very affectionate man. He hugs me in his sleep and if I awaken in the middle of the night and put my arm around him, he makes a sigh of contentment and holds my hand. And I don’t mean that he sometimes does this. He always reaches for my hand, every time over the past 23 years. So I looked at that photo and immediately inserted myself into the image. And this woman who was born in the 70’s died. And you can see the progression of her illness in the photos with each photo showing loves and losses in the most poignant way. I found myself thinking, “That could have been me. That still could be me.” I didn’t dwell on the thoughts but I had them nonetheless.

I had nightmares that night. (People, when you wonder why I am careful about watching intense, violent, and/or scary films. This is why. They have given me nightmares since I was about 6 years old.) In one, I was at a parade that included some past beauty queens, women who were now middle-aged. They were beautifully dressed but instead of being on a parade float, they were lying in open caskets on wheels! Even in the dream I thought, “What on Earth? What is this supposed to symbolize about women, beauty, and aging?” And then later in the dream, I was at the funeral of a relative. I don’t remember anything except she was a woman in my family. I remember having grief during the dream about missing my grandmother who died in 1993. In the final part of the dream, my daughter was acting completely and utterly out of control. As rebellious and angry as she could be. It was terrifying.

I am a genuinely happy person. One who has been through a lot. And lots of people have been through a lot in their lives with different impacts and different ways of coping. I am a person who feels things deeply but I am also a deep thinker. And I feel both positive and negative emotions as well as having positive and negative thoughts. I feel happy and calm most of the time. I think part of these intense moments I have of sadness and fear come from the enormity of what I have to lose, my family, my friends, my independence, my capacity to help others as a psychologist.

Today’s New Year’s Eve resolution is to remind myself of the strength of my connections, my connections to myself through my own self-awareness and the purposeful way in which I try to lead my life. My connection to my daughter who is doing so well and so happy right now. My connection to my husband who loves me so dearly that he reaches out to me even when he is fast asleep. Who trusts me so deeply that he allows me to be very open about the ups and downs of our relationship as well as our own personal shortcomings. My connection to my parents; I can’t imagine how hard it must be as older people, to worry about your child’s health and mortality. When my friend, Preben got cancer over five years ago, while still in his 30’s, I noticed that his parents started visiting him much more frequently. I told him half jokingly, “That’s what you get for getting cancer and scaring your parents.” My connections with my extended family have also strengthened. I have some wonderful cousins and sister-in-laws and my brothers have actually nudged themselves out of their comfort zone a little to be a bit more affectionate with their sister.

My friendship connections over the past year and a half have seen the most change. I have made a number of new friends who have startled me with their intense and generous kindness. I know that some of them will come and go but I think that a good number of them will be lifelong friends. I have had old friendships that have evolved into something much deeper than they were in the past. But I have also experienced some lost friendships and some that have been made weaker by my cancer. This mixture of bitter and sweet, of gains and losses, is somewhat dizzying to a person like me who craves consistency and solidity. But I have learned to cope with chaos in my life. I want to be happy and I know chaos happens no matter what I do. So what is my choice other than to try to make peace with it, live along side of it, and accept that I sometimes lose my footing.

Finally, today I remind myself of my reconnection with nature. I spend time outside every day. I have been able to travel to the mountains and to the sea. I am outdoors during good weather and in bad. Even in the most exposed and vulnerable parts of nature, there is beauty. I feel a strong spiritual connection to everything when I walk. It is both intensely personal and beautifully communal.

That is today’s resolution. Tomorrow is a new day and a new year. I wish all of you good things in 2014: moments of joy, moments of peace, and fortitude among the suffering and chaos. Thank you for your connection and support. Xoxoxoxo.

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George Lakoff

George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (cnms.berkeley.edu).

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