“Retired,” says the LinkedIn profile of a law school classmate . “Retired!” I immediately write in my message to this man I haven’t seen in 30 years. “Not fair! I want to be retired. I’m jealous … you won.”
I’ve been longing to retire for at least a decade by now, to replace billable hours with something more enjoyable. Jealous he’d achieved that status before me, I thought back to the competition we’d had against one another through all three years of law school, taking turns being Number One. His LinkedIn profile seemed like a taunt — telling me that he had the final win.
He wrote back today. Yes, he said, he had retired. Because an illness had nearly killed him, and made him to sick to hold his job.
I wish I could take back what I’d said. Instead I craft a reply that apologizes for my thoughtlessness, knowing that no matter what I say it will not be quite enough to make things right.
Now I know how lucky I am not to be retired, when not working is forced upon me by my body giving out. I feel both stupid and lucky, embarrassed and grateful. Fortunate to have the ability to work, terrible to hear of his illness, relieved he’s on the mend, and reminded that the grass is not always greener on the other side.
Our 6 a.m. walks are one of the best parts of my day these days. The weather is perfect, the sun just up, the breeze still with a hint of coolness from the last remnants of evening, few people out and about, so little need to wear the mask I carry at all times. We live 1/2 mile up the hill from the start of Sunset Cliffs. Ideal at sunset, obviously, but beautiful in the morning as well.
From Gentle Chirps to Loud Squawks
The wild parrots that frequent our area were out in force at dawn, squawking to bring in the new day. We passed several of them on our way down the hill, and two in particular flew close enough to touch, then perched on a tree branch to give me an opportunity to admire them before flying off in a search for food. The parrots are a colorful addition to the neighborhood, and noisy as heck at sunrise and sunset. No melodious tunes from their throats, but they are a joy to look at and it’s just cool to have them perch nearby, so unexpected among the softer grey and brown birds I typically see.
Music and Movement
When we made our way down the hill to the cliffs, there were only a few people about. One of them, which you can barely see in the photo below, had found a quiet spot just over the water and was playing his guitar. The tune didn’t carry far enough for me to hear, but it was magical nonetheless. A few steps further a woman had set up her yoga mat and was practicing by herself. I often say I’m going to bring my mat down, but am too embarrassed to do so knowing others will be watching. One day I’m going to be unselfconscious enough to enjoy the breeze and beauty of an ocean-side practice without worrying what other people think.
My Partners in Crime
My husband, a huge Earth, Wind and Fire fan, patiently waited for me to walk down closer to the water, to breath in the ocean air, to be close enough to be feel the power and energy of the crashing waves, to fill me up for the day ahead. Our dog was not so patient for my picture-taking, but is the most wonderful dog in the world. A rescue from Tijuana, she is loving and kind and doesn’t let the big dogs bully her but never acts aggressive toward others (except, for some inexplicable reason, our postman).
Admiring My Neighbors’ Yards
On the way back up the hill, I enjoyed capturing images of my neighbor’s yards. Some are filled with roses and picket fences and remind me of the English countryside. Others are wooded, with beautiful shade trees looking serene and stately at the same time. About half are more typical of southern California, with bougainvillea climbing the fence, and succulents displaying a water-wise landscaping encouraged in our climate. My favorite this morning was the cactus growing in the back of a house under construction down our dirt alley. Easily missed, but with a solitary beauty.
Signs Along the Way
Finally, I noted the signs along the way. From graffiti on a Neighborhood Watch sign to a generally ignored warning not to feed the birds. My favorite is the brightly colored Justice for All’s wisdoms, and the gratitude expressed in a thank-you for those risking their lives.
It was only about 3,900 steps on my way to 10,752 so far, but with much to experience along the way. The more I remind myself to pay attention — to think about what sounds I hear, what sights I see, what smells I notice — the more aware I am of each step I take along the way in my one wild and precious life, the more I love and appreciate my day.
Wishing you many beautiful walks in your neighborhood!
Listening to the podcast this morning, I loved Tom Hanks even more. I also realized that I did not think that “everyman” is as nice and kind as Tom Hanks seems to be. But I always thought my father was that man — with a huge heart and a desire to be kind and do good, with lots of love for everyone and a belief that life is good. He would wake me in the mornings singing “Oh What A Beautiful Morning,” and I would run to jump into his arms when I heard his truck pull up at the end of each day, so full of joy that he was home, because he made me feel protected and loved.
What should have been a happy, uplifting story about the kind man that Tom Hanks seems to be was, to me, a heartbreaking one. It broke my heart because my father, who used to say that Hanks was his very favorite actor, now will not watch a movie or TV show with him in it.
I don’t know why, exactly. When Dad announced he wouldn’t watch anything with “that man” in it, I was too shocked to ask for an explanation and I already knew it would have something to do with Hank’s supposed “socialist” or “liberal” leaning which my father now sees as such a threat. I dare not bring up politics with him because it will just end in a fight and when he made the statement I was into week 2 of living with him to help figure out how to deal with the coronavirus and my Mom’s recover from an emergency hip replacement. I hadn’t lived at home in 42 years, and my Dad thinks a Costco and grocery store run are a daily necessity, and this is in Texas where I was not at all sure people were taking necessary precautions and he has an underlying heart condition as does my Mom.
Our nerves were already on edge not only because of all of that, but because the drugs she was taking had Mom calling us at 4 a.m. every morning from the Rehab Center telling us to come and get her out of that “hellhole” (a newly built, pristine, well-reviewed center we visited each day to speak to her via our cellphones through her window). We had a lot of adjusting to do, and our nerves were raw, and our political views are strongly held and contrary to one another.
To see my always kind, loving father turned into a man who cannot stand to watch the nicest, kindest actor play nice, kind characters anymore makes me cry. Politics and the desire for power and control have created too much divisiveness, so much mistrust, an overabundance of anger and hate.
What we need are more Mr. Rogers in this world. What we need are more Tom Hanks.
The first time I tried to learn French was in high school. It was my favorite class, but not because of the subject matter or the teacher but because my best friends were in it with me. We delighted in entertaining ourselves and not in doing the hard work of learning a foreign language, no matter how much I dreamed of traveling to and living in France. Nonetheless I managed to learn enough in high school to coast through the semester of French in college. It was easy, and I got in the habit of not studying.
About half-way through the second semester, with the class now conducted entirely in French, I first realized that I had absolutely no idea what was being said. I could not answer a single one of the questions the teacher directed at me with anything other than “Je ne sais pas!” It was true. I did not know. I did not know anything. And at this point I was lost.
Rather than doubling-down, as I should have done, or hiring a tutor, which would have been another brilliant idea, I simply fumbled my way through the rest of the year, barely seeking out a passing grade, my standard answer for all questions in or about French remaining the same — je ne sais pas, I do not know.
But one thing I do know is that I love France. Walking the cobblestone streets of Paris, spending the day in the Cluny Museum and the next one in the Louvre. Exploring the Dordogne region, from ancient cave drawings to medieval castles to the gorgeous wines produced there. Soaking in the depiction of life in 1066 through inspecting the Bayeux Tapestry, or walking the beaches of D-Day in Normandy. I love it all.
So, after ignoring the golden opportunities of my high school and college classes, I decided in my 40s to try again, this time with Rosetta Stone. Then, in my 50s, with the podcast “Coffee Break French,” and, at 58, through my local university’s extension courses . Again, in frustration, I gave up. But I have re-started my efforts yet again. Now, at 60, I listen each day for 30 minutes to Pimsleur and I diligently add on teaching myself from “French: Learn in 4 Simple Steps” to get the grammar right as well. It is so hard! I am determined to finally get this right. To one day be smart enough to understand the question being asked of me in French, and brave enough to risk ridicule for mispronouncing the words to answer with something other than Je ne sais pas. I will know. I do know. Je sais…allons-Y!
A year ago I drafted this post — the intent being to journal during my 10-day trip to Scotland and England, a trip made to attend TEDSummit Edinburgh. I had intended to add more photos, and in the end I got so busy I never wrote another blog post after the first day, and never posted the one below. Even though it’s now a year old and I won’t be doing any traveling anytime soon, I thought I’d post it now. It’s nice in this time of self-quarantine to remember the lovely trips I have made over the years, and when my biggest travel worry was whether or not my flight would make it off before a rainstorm.
A gamble — re-route, or risk it?
An email from Delta arrived the night before our departure, advising that weather may play havoc with our flight and offering to waive fees if we wanted to re-route or cancel our flight to JFK. It was the night before a long-planned trip to Scotland, when all airports on the Eastern seaboard were light up red, so re-routing didn’t seem like a promising option, and cancelling was not in the cards. We risked it, our flight took off amid lightening just in front of the worst of the thunderstorm, and seven hours and one Ambien later we arrived in rain-soaked, historic Edinburgh, Scotland.
You Never Know Who You’ll Find!
Just before take-off, browsing Facebook one more time before I lost my connection, I saw that Kim, a woman I’d worked with two years ago and hadn’t seen since, was in Edinburgh as well. One text exchange later, we shook off our jet lag long enough to meet up with her family just a few blocks from our Airbnb. We hadn’t seen each other in San Diego for years, yet through the magic of Facebook posts we managed to reconnect while both of us were passing through Scotland, and I met her (wonderful) family for the first time.
A short walk along a cobblestone lane led to our Airbnb for the week, a one-bedroom unit in a Georgian townhome in New Town that is perfect. It’s quiet yet a 5-minute walk from a variety of restaurants, a grocery store, a pharmacy, pubs, whiskey bars, the Leith Walk, the Convention Center and more! Our living room is fit for a Queen, and it will be a shame if we leave before having some new-found friends over for a drink and conversation around the fireplace.
We quickly unpacked and settled into our comfy bed and settled in for a well-deserved sleep before the Pre-TED event hosted by Virgin Money scheduled for the next day.
Pre-TEDSummit Gathering, aka “Getting to Know You, Getting to Know All About You”
Richard organized us for a pre-TEDSummit gathering to get to know one another before the huge group arrives later in the week, and we spent the morning introducing ourselves and bonding and preparing for the week ahead. Thank you Virgin Money for sponsoring and Richard for organizing! I snuck out for a Book Lover’s Tour over lunch, and only after we started walking to our first stop did I realize that I’d done this very same tour four years earlier. Oh well! I know should be very well-versed in the locations associated with Conan Doyle and Robert Louis Stevenson, and the cafe where J.K. Rowling sat to write. After the walk I toured the Writers’ Museum with its exhibits on the aforementioned Robert Louis Stevenson as well as Walter Scott and Robert Burns. Inspired, I made a pit stop at Waterstone’s Book Shop and then met my husband for dinner at Makar’s – The Gourmet Mash Bar Company. They have a full menu of mashed potatoes, a great selection of beers, and won UK TripAdvisor Best Everyday Restaurant 2018. Go in and check it out!
I learned to speak when I was very young. And I also learned there were rules on what I could and could not say, if I wanted to be good, if I did not want to get in trouble. I learned I was not to brag, or “back-talk” (otherwise known as saying what I felt if it differed from what I was supposed to feel or what my parents wanted to hear).
That still, small voice within is stuffed so far down — covered up with so many layers of protective coatings reapplied day after day and year after year that it’s hard even now, after a decade spent seeking my own truth, to hear my truest self.
Even when I want so badly to live authentically, to speak my truth, to give wings to my soul’s desires, to live boldly and bravely and honestly, to be raw and vulnerable and simply me, freed of a lifetime’s worth of society’s coatings, I find I don’t know how. I read a poem, do a meditation, hear an inspirational speaker, see an Instagram quote that speaks to me and truly believe that this is it — that now I understand, that now, finally, I will get started on living my best life. That I will use my time efficiently, that I will spend my days “in the flow.” That I will stop endlessly scrolling through twitter or keeping up with email or wondering where the time has gone when I look up and see my well-planned morning is now afternoon. But the next day ends up the same. I still feel the spark of that latest motivation taunting me — “see,” it says, “you’re still the same. You still haven’t figured out how to do life differently, more expansively, more truthfully. You’re still wasting your one wild and precious life.”
What DO I want to say? Is there really some voice inside that I’ve never been free or brave enough to let loose? No bullet journal or Todoist or other tool has so far managed to get me on track. Perhaps by rambling and searching and putting out into the universe what comes into my head in this blog I will find my way. I’d love to have you along for the ride.