Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A touchy subject

I read once that women experience the world through our sense of touch. When we're clothes shopping, we tend to touch the fabric before we look at the price. I've noticed that I walk through clothing stores with my hands touching everything as I wind through racks. When I see a little kid, my first impulse is to run my fingers through their hair (I try not to do that with complete strangers).

Today was my day to get all my annuals in their summer homes. I bought $175 worth of plants and sweated (is that a word?) my way through the trays until they were all done. There's a lot of time to think while you're planting but mostly I thought about how I love to work with my hands.

I never wear gardening gloves, though I have tried them. I like to be able to feel the dirt in my hands. Connecting to the earth isn't something we do much anymore and I revel in those moments. Plus I like to know when the soil "feels right" for the plant. I'm its caretaker for a few months, after all.

When I wanted to learn how to quilt (something I wanted to do for many years), I decided to make them all by hand -- hand-sewn and hand-quilted. Yeah, it's a long process, but I love the feeling of the fabric in my hands and the needle and thread between my fingers. It makes the final product just that more personal - especially when it's being given as a gift.

I'm not sure how chefs and food preparers can stand having to use sterile gloves. I've worn them when serving food at our church fundraisers and they are so uncomfortable. Plus, it disconnects you from the product. When I cook and bake, all my senses are used to get it right. I can't imagine not being able to feel a garlic clove as I chop it, or test the temperature by sticking the tip of my little finger in (there's still no better way to test temp than that, in my book).

I use my hands all day by typing on the keyboard but I don't really feel anything. Not the way nature intended me to. I'm very conscious of not replacing touch with electronics. Virtual hugs on Facebook are nice and all, but they'll never be as magical as the real thing.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

How long to sing this song

It was almost 25 years ago that U2 sang Bad at Live Aid but it still seems like yesterday. That's probably something everyone my age says - "seems like yesterday".

Live Aid was an amazing moment in musical and social history. It was to be my generation's Woodstock, only better. Better security and a better cause - money into the hands of the starving instead of money into the hands of concert promoters. All the acts played for free and there was a feeling of change and empowerment among  those of us who saw it on television, listened to it on radio, or experienced it live. I think I still have the t-shirt somewhere. Too sentimental to throw it out.

I probably still have my U2 concert t-shirt from months before that, too. My little sister, Lisa, and I went to see U2 at what was the Worcester Centrum in I believe the spring of 1985 (pre-Live Aid). I was 26 years old and working as a customer service clerk in a rather large company. I would meet my future husband a month after Live Aid.

Lisa and I were huge MTVers back then and became hooked on bands like U2 and the Police (to name a few). My sister was in her teens and I used to take her and her friend Sara to concerts when the parents allowed. Because I was working, I couldn't get to the ticket office (this was pre-internet days, remember) and stand in line the day tickets went on sale for the 1985 gig. So my mother went for us.

That's how cool my mother was and is. I can just see her standing in line with all the leather jackets and high-heeled boots wearing her white sneakers and windbreaker. She got great seats for us and Lisa and I were ready to rock.

U2's album "The Unforgettable Fire" was released in the fall of 1984 and the Worcester gig was about 6 months later. It was and is still one of my favorite albums. It was a break from the previous "War" album that produced some hard-hitting, banner-waving songs like "Sunday Bloody Sunday". Unforgettable Fire covered many more emotions and did so beautifully - both lyrically and instrumentally.

Lisa and I had seats at the stage-right corner and about halfway up the stands of what isn't a huge venue by today's standards. We were surrounded by teens and twenty-somethings like ourselves and we all seemed to know that we were going to experience a once-in-a-lifetime event.

When people asked me then and even now what that concert was like I say it was "a spiritual experience". I've never been to a concert like it since. Ron and I saw U2 in 2005 and, although it was an unbelievable show, we saw it from private box seats and never really felt part of the whole vibe. The seats were great and we were blessed to have a good friend offer them to us but it didn't compare to the 1984 experience.

If you watch the 1985 video I've embedded, ignore the fashion and the hair. Just focus on the performance. Bono doesn't perform so much as he welcomes the audience into a very personal space. There is no way you can stand in the middle of a U2 audience and not feel like you're high. And that has nothing to do with the waves of pot smoke floating around. This was uncommon back in the 1980s when there were a lot of "hair" bands and overly produced video bands (remember Flock of Seagulls?).

U2 was a breath of fresh air and seemed almost too good to be true. We know now that they really are who they say they are, but back then, they were ground-breaking.

The concert Lisa and I saw was amazing and I remember so much of it in great detail, but it was the ending that really stuck with me.

Bono and the boys ended the concert with the song "40". Bono leaves after he gets the crowd chanting the line "How long to sing this song?". Then each musician left one by one leaving the crowd still chanting. 40 is a song that is both sad and hopeful at the same time and I've always loved that dichotomy. Sort of reminds me of the Book of Psalms.

There was no applause at the end of the concert. The house lights came up and our section, along with others, filed out almost-silently singing "How long to sing this song?". None of us wanted the concert or the feeling to be over. We chanted until we were out of the arena.

There aren't many bands who can affect an audience like that. I'm glad that U2 decided to stay together and continue to produce such amazing music. It was music that we all needed to hear after the me-generation of the 70s when we thought we'd lost our sense of community and connection to a greater purpose.

25 years is a long time to remember the details of a concert especially when I had been to so many before and after that. I hope that current and future generations find the kind of uplifting and personal connection in music that Lisa and I did. And that U2 doesn't retire until I'm gone - or at least until I can get lost in the live experience with them again.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Music hath charms

I belong to a small singing group made up of fellow church members that sings (hopefully, well) at local nursing homes and assisted living facilities. We call ourselves the Voices of Light Chorale.

Everytime we perform, I get a lump in my throat. It's hard to stand in front of a room full of people for whom this event is a big deal. We sing songs they know so they can sing along. We sing songs of the spirit. Sad songs and foot-tapping songs. All of it appreciated.

On the way home from today's performance I found myself wondering about my future. I have no kids and a husband who is five years older than me. I always swear that I will "check out" before I get to a point where I need to be institutionalized. But, if I don't get that timing right, I may be part of that audience some day.

My thoughts changed from sadness and fear to downright laughter when I tried to picture what a chorale would sing in a nursing home for my peer group. Now, we sing a lot of old Broadway show tunes to mirror our audience's younger days.

If that trend continues, then 30 years from now, chorales will be performing some very different music in nursing homes. Personally, I don't want to hear Michael Bolton songs when I'm being held captive in a home. That's akin to torture to me. But can you picture a chorale belting out Nirvana and Pearl Jam songs? How do you harmonize to Cobain's screaming?

I'd give my right arm to hear a church chorale sing Prince's "Sexy M.F.", wouldn't you? Now that's a nursing home I could live in.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Less is more

I've never understood why products that have less of something end up costing more. For example, why is decaf coffee more expensive than caffeinated coffee? If there's less caffeine in it, shouldn't it cost less?

And diesel fuel. Supposedly, diesel is the closest thing to pure petroleum. Yet, it'll cost you more to fill your tank with diesel than regular gasoline with all its additives.

Ron watches his sugar intake and buys sugar-free products. They are all more expensive than products that contain sugar. How can not adding a main ingredient add to the price? It makes no sense.

Fat-free and gluten-free foods, and fragrance-free detergents are also more expensive.

If companies can charge more for doing less work, why can't I?

Monday, May 10, 2010

No regrets

I've got this philosophy about life -- I don't want any regrets. I know that's hard to do. We all make mistakes and we all miss opportunities. But I try.

My hero R.W. Emerson said "An opportunity missed is an opportunity lost." I don't completely agree with him. If you miss an opportunity and do nothing to rectify it then, yes, it's lost.

I don't know how much time is too much time to address a regret. It may depend on the incident. But I think that as soon as your conscience or gut tell you that someone may have been hurt by your actions, that's when it should be addressed. The longer you wait, the harder it is.

Some people can move on and put lost relationships in the past. I'm not one of those people. I want to hang onto everyone I've ever loved or shared my heart with.

My biggest fear in life is that I'll be sitting in the nursing home in my 80s and thinking back on my life. I'll be struck by things I either didn't say to someone who was important to me, or things I said or did that were hurtful. And then I'll be filled with sadness that I didn't change things when I had the chance.

I had a couple of friends who died young. Friends who I was very close to in my youth but had had a falling out with. One lost friendship was all my fault, the other was a mystery to me. Both of these friends died not knowing that I loved them. Why? Well, partly because I was stubborn, but mainly because I thought I had time. We were young, after all, and mortality was something generations away from us.

I'd picture myself bumping into them while out shopping or out at a local restaurant. We'd hug and laugh about our stupidity and everything would be back to normal.

That didn't happen and I live with that regret. So, now, when I feel a friendship is reaching a critical point, I go into communication mode.

Not everyone wants or knows how to communicate in the brutally honest, soul-baring way that is my style. To me, it's always better to speak what's difficult to say than to not say it at all. As long as the message comes from a place of love and healing, and not of anger and self righteousness, it's all good as far as I'm concerned.

So, when I'm faced with a moment when I could do what's "easy" and let a friendship die, I become that 80-something woman in the nursing home, thinking back on her life.

And then I make that phone call.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Spring cleaning

I bought some new summer clothes yesterday and found I had no room for them in my rather small closet. Today, I took some time getting rid of clothes that either don't fit or are out of style. Considering I wear mostly jeans and LL Bean-type clothing, that's not a lot.

My closet, as I said, is quite small so clothes are really jammed in there. I normally reach for the same old things and wear them to death. But as I was moving the hangers to expose each piece of clothing, I found things I forgot I had. It was then that I started to get serious about what would fill that large black trash bag on my bed. 

Some of the clothes were no-brainers. I'd keep them because they were in good shape, they fit, and I wear them all the time. It was when I got to the part of the closet that is not easily reached that I started feeling torn.

There was the shirt that my uncle Phil gave me the Christmas before he died at 45. A heartbreaking death for me. He wasn't much older than me and we were more friends than relatives. I haven't worn the shirt since 1999 but still can't bear to throw it out. So there it stays.

I found old company logo shirts from miscellaneous projects I worked on. I kept one from each company and tossed the rest. I know the chances of my wearing those remaining golf shirts again is next to nil, but I worked hard at those companies and, with the exception of my resume and the friends I made there, these were my only tangible reminders.

There were the shirts that I bought either on or for vacation trips. Each one held fond memories. I kept the ones that still fit and put the rest in the bag. I've got pictures and stories from all those trips that can replace the clothing.

The pants were another story. The sizes were all over the map. I thought about my weight struggles over the years as I pitched all of the pants that were more than one size away from my current size. All the while feeling ambivalent because I know my history and wondered if I was throwing away things that may fit, unfortunately, a year from now. In the end, it made me feel empowered to toss those size 16 and 18 jeans - a good incentive to keep my weight off.

As I tied up the bag stuffed with old clothes, I reflected on the thought process I just went through. Deciding on what to keep and what to let go is something we do every day. It could be facts we collect on our jobs that ultimately don't become part of the final result, or people we meet that we feel are fine as acquaintances but don't click with enough to count as good friends. 

But it was the sentimental piece of the process that I found the most enlightening. What memories do we value? How much do we hold onto even though it doesn't fit who we are anymore?

Memories are powerful forces in our lives. Forces that nudge both smiles and tears. There are times I wish I could clean out my mind like I do my closet. It should be easier to get rid of moments that are yesterday's bad fashion statements and keep only what makes me feel good about myself when I look in the mirror.

I came to the conclusion that, although convenient and tidy, I don't want to treat my memories like my closet. I am me because of everything that was given to me or chosen by me - even if it no longer fits.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Here's to friendship

I'm just back from my monthly dinner with friend Kathleen. We met almost 10 years ago at a really wacky company. I was only there for 2 1/2 months and we really didn't start hanging out together till my last couple of weeks there. In fact, I think our first night out was the day I was fired. Yes, I was fired. It's a great story and I'd do it all again. A blog post for another day...

When I was a kid, I used to think that having more friends was better than having a few close friends. Now I have both scenarios yet see the value in quality over quantity.

I find it comforting to have a few very close friends to whom I can trust my heart. They love me unconditionally. They stand by me no matter what I tell them. They never judge. And they are completely and lovingly honest. If I say anything even close to bullshit, Kathleen calls me on it.

I wish I could be as courageous with everyone I know. It is courage, after all, isn't it? To risk saying something that someone needs to hear and still feel that it's worth losing the friendship? Or is it being that secure in your friendship that you both know that what is said, is said out of love?

Honesty doesn't mean callousness, however. I don't want someone to take my emotions and discount them as silly. But friends like Kathleen can take my story and help me see the lesson in it. And sometimes that lesson isn't pretty. Most of the time, it is eye-opening and I am always so happy to have her perspective.
When the lesson is completely discussed, then comes the time for laughter. For without humor, a lesson becomes a lecture or a self conscious moment. Humor gives you perspective and an ability to laugh at your humanness.

I think that's a friend's greatest gift. Helping you to take your life moments and turn them into pearls of wisdom. Then laughing with you when you realize that it is just one moment in your life that doesn't define you.

And when that's done, she orders chocolate bread pudding with whipped cream and nuts - with two spoons.