Death defying…

“I’m not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” – Woody Allen

Once kitty’s in the garden, winter is officially done. Finally! The snow is melted, the rain has stopped, the sun in shining and my blue sky has returned:

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After three long weeks, I hopped on Ole Bessie and went for a ride along my go-to place, trying desperately to pick up where I left off with my training.

Giant puddles littered the parking lots, making for some good splashing. Mud splatters on my back always prove I’ve had a fun ride. A bright red “flower” sun, higher in the sky for the season, casts cool shadows. Colorful boats wait their turn to sail. Multiple signs telling us what we can’t do, but not letting us know what we can. A tree has grown into and intertwined with a fence…

I love seeing nature take over man-made things. It’s proof that we will not prevail, G-d’s reminder He and his creations are so much more powerful than us. Despite human intrusion, at some point a tiny seed planted itself under this fence. A sapling grew into a tree that adapted to its environment, regardless of the twisted pain necessary in overcoming the obstacles in its path.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the people in my family “don’t do sick.” This is something I learned from my father (and it’s not necessarily a bad thing).

I remember my father having a hernia operation before his father died. Despite the obvious discomfort, he went to his father’s funeral and then came home and mowed the lawn. Two weeks after giving birth to my daughter, I too was mowing the lawn. Two days after having a hysterectomy, I came home and vacuumed my house. This mentality also finds itself in every moment of my life. Looking back, most of my life has been fairly uneventful and I’ve coasted contently over tiny ripples in this life’s ocean. But, damn, when those big moments happen, it’s like getting hit with a tsunami every time. Each time, I find myself twisting and turning in the wave, unable to catch a breath, waiting for the water to calm. Each time I remind myself, “Tie yourself to a tree dummy!” like they did in that movie that scared the s**t out of you when you were little…the one that you saw before being caught in a riptide at age six…the one that kept you from going into the ocean until your 30s, thanks to your daughter’s love of water.

Maybe it’s just our way of stalling death. We’re fully aware of its presence, looming over every breath, watching and waiting to be given the go-ahead. And while death hovers, we sit and wonder when it’s going to happen, where we’ll be, what we’ll be doing and how we’ll die. I can’t say that I’m “okay” with it, but I know it’s going to happen…just not for a few more decades please…

This is also how I’ve dealt with the death of others in my life. Yes, there is a process necessary after losing a loved one, but once that process is followed, it’s time to move on. You are still alive. You must continue to live. Cycling has been a more recent coping mechanism – no better way to live than feel the strength of your own heart beat and your lungs breathing heavily while the wind passes through your body…besides, I’ve had a landscaper since 2004, so now I don’t get to mow the lawn anymore…

In our class this morning, the rabbi told us of a person who complained about something “tragic” having occurred on Purim years back and that they couldn’t possibly enjoy the pomp and circumstance of the holiday knowing what happened on that day. Saturday will be the fourth anniversary of my father’s death. He died on the seventh day of Passover. It was also April Fool’s Day, the day after Easter Sunday and the birthday of our best friend. Yes, I will be sad, but I will not allow Passover to be a somber time because of his death. We will call our friend and wish him a happy birthday – because he is alive and we are grateful for having him in our lives. Not only is it easier to remember this anniversary, I chuckle at the thought that my father would die on April Fool’s Day…it’s so like him…

Toward the end of my ride later in the day, I noticed a woman running across the street several yards in front of me. She was petite and thin, wearing a frilly pink dress and a taupe-colored winter jacket with faux fur trim. I imagined every reason why this pretty little dressed up woman would run out of nowhere – she was being chased by some crazy guy…or her boyfriend just broke up with her and she needed to get away…or she really really needed to pee and was running to the port-o-potty…As I got closer to her, I noticed she was also wearing flip flops. Impressed and amazed that someone could so easily run in flip flops, I again thought about how dire her situation must be that she needed to run away wearing only flip flops. As I passed her, I glanced over to look at her face – is she crying? is she grimacing? is she horrified? None of the above…her face was lit with passion, a giant grin intermittently broken by laughter. What a beautiful sight! This woman was simply happy. Of course I then tried to imagine why she was so happy…and was envious of her joy…

“It’s my life
It’s now or never
I ain’t gonna live forever
I just want to live while I’m alive”

It’s My Life – Bon Jovi

“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.” – Forrest Gump

Something remembered…

In 1983, Mother’s Day was on Sunday, May 8th. That was the day I presented those 18 roses to my mother that I don’t remember buying or giving. Not too surprising is that I didn’t remember this date either…it was a very long time ago…

Exactly two months later, on July 8, 1983, I was on a plane with Michael headed for Phoenix, Arizona. I didn’t remember the exact date until now. I do remember that we decided to stay a little longer because my sister Kathy was getting married on July 3rd. I also remember most of the flight and how Michael calmed my nerves for my fear of flying. Michael knew a lot about planes…I mean, A LOT! He could tell you anything you wanted to know (or perhaps, not want to know) about airplanes, from their mechanics to their design. On a layover in St. Louis, I remember Michael buying this postcard, filling it out and mailing it to my parents, all right there in the airport:

The picture side shows a stick figure of my brother standing on a bridge over the Mississippi River shouting, “Egad! Someone help!” Below, in the river, you’ll find a stick figure of me screaming, “Eeee!” On the other side, Michael writes:

“Alice got so depressed having to stay here in St. Louie for an hour, she decided to end it all! Why should I stop her?? I LOVE my sister! Yech! Luckily there’s so much sludge on the river, she floated to safety! Ha-ha! Ho-ho! Hee-hee! Har-Har! Love and kithes, Mike and Ike! (a.k.a. Alice)”

“11AM 8 July 1983”

He also apparently liked the stamp he chose, writing “Nice” with an arrow.

But, alas, Arizona was not a good choice for me at the time…and, in the end, I had to sell my road bike and my guitar to buy a plane ticket home…but that’s another story for a different time…

“Searchin’ through the fragments of my dream-shattered sleep
I wonder if the years have closed her mind
I guess it must be wanderlust or tryin’ to get free
From the good old faithful feelin’ we once knew”

Carefree Highway – Gordon Lightfoot

“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.” – Forrest Gump

Things forgotten…

This past Saturday, my daughter turned 18 years old. It was also the Jewish holiday of Purim. She wasn’t pleased. What should have been an important birthday milestone, her day was trumped by the holiday.

At Purim, as told in the Megillah Esther (the Book of Esther), we follow the story of how the Jews came dangerously close to complete and total annihilation. In a nutshell, the story takes place in Biblical Persia where a Jewish woman named Esther unwillingly becomes the king’s wife after he has his former wife put to death because she refused to dance naked for his buddies at a banquet he was holding. Being an orphan, Esther was raised by her uncle Mordecai, a man who refuses to bow down to Haman or the king. He later discovers a plot made by two guards planning to assassinate the king, resulting in Mordecai receiving all kinds of accolades by the king and his court. This situation ends up pissing off the king’s viceroy, Haman, who decides that since Mordecai is a Jew, he wants all Jews to be killed. Haman devises a plan to cast “lots,” or purim (singular pur=lot) to help choose the date for extinguishing the Jews. Unbeknownst to Haman and the king, Esther is also a Jew. Mordecai convinces Esther to tell the king about her true identity and manages to save the Jews from inevitable annihilation. In the end, Haman is the one who is put to death by hanging.

As per Jewish law, lest we forget, we are commanded to listen to the reading of the Megillah Esther (the Book of Esther) on the eve as well as the morning of Purim. We also celebrate our survival. Aside from the prescribed seudah (third meal) on the afternoon of Purim where we dress up in costume and eat and drink until fully intoxicated, some people also have additional parties after the reading the night before. This seemed to be the big thing this year…of course, being that it was my daughter’s very important 18th birthday. Everyone had somewhere to go or somewhere they had to be, further shortening my daughter’s list of friends who could come to our home and celebrate. With all the holiday hoopla, her birthday was somewhat forgotten

My 18th birthday is also forgotten. I’m not sure what I did or how I celebrated. I had already been a year out of high school and working full time in order to save money for a move to Arizona with my brother Michael who was stationed there by the United States Air Force.

Disney
Disneyland, California – 1983

I vividly remember those few months prior to moving, but I still don’t remember my birthday. I also don’t remember this:

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After bringing my parent’s bedroom furniture home following the death of my mother, I went through and emptied what was left in the drawers of each piece. In the upper right hand drawer of my mother’s dresser, I found this small card under a layer of socks and multiple unopened packages of pantyhose. Apparently, the first Mother’s Day after turning 18, I bought my mother 18 roses and gave them to her. I don’t remember this either. I don’t remember coming up with the idea, nor do I remember buying the flowers or handing them to my mother. Then it dawned on me – I didn’t remember, but mom did…and it evidently made a big impact on her. For 32 years my mother kept this card in her sock drawer. It brought instant tears to my eyes and I immediately texted Kathy with a photo of the card.

I may have forgotten many moments in this life, but the one thing I hope to never forget is how to ride a bike. Now, if I could just get the weather to cooperate, my body won’t forget either…

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“Well, you know that I love to live with you
But you make me forget so very much
I forget to pray for the angels
And then the angels forget to pray for us”

So Long Marianne – Leonard Cohen

“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.” – Forrest Gump

Alternate plans…

Falling a little behind in my training, no thanks again to Old Man Winter, I was stuck in Week 4 of Phase 2. Although yesterday ended up being a nice day, today was supposed to be much nicer – sunny and 64 degrees…but I woke up to rain and 40s…Willing to defy the rain, I donned my florescent yellow slicker and told Old Bessie to brace herself for the worst. After last year’s weather fiasco ride with the Five Boro Bike Tour in New York City (pouring rain and 40 degrees the whole day – and that was in May), I figure I need to train in every kind of weather possible. I don’t think I’ll have to worry about snow in June, however, but you never know…

So today I rode 2 1/2 hours, resulting in 28 miles – not a great ride, but it is more than half of what I will ultimately be riding. I decided to stick close to home in case the rain got crazy and I needed quick shelter or wanted to get home quickly.

I love passing this wall, although it’s actually the base of a train trestle. Every few days someone comes along and paints new messages and pictures over the old, leaving layers upon layers of colorful graffiti.

And then, of course, there’s my go to place:

Thankfully, the rain did not return and I was able to ride the whole 2 1/2 hours (although I was secretly upset that I didn’t go with my original route planned for today’s “beautiful weather”). Quickly becoming bored riding around the Cooper River a couple of times, I decided to make a turn onto a street I’ve never been down. After wandering the backstreets for some time, I found myself on the main street of Haddonfield, New Jersey, a quaint historic town a little over 140 years old.

First, I must say…thank goodness for Wawa! Even when they don’t have a public bathroom, they’ll let you use the employee bathroom…phew! I love the little ma and pa type shoppes lining the street, each one unique and offering things you don’t find anywhere else in the area. Then I noticed the Seward Johnson sculptures “on loan” from the Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, New Jersey. Those little old ladies on the bench have been making the rounds throughout southern New Jersey and the Philadelphia area.

http://www.groundsforsculpture.org/

“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.” – Forrest Gump

Waiting…

“How much of human life is lost in waiting!”

Prudence – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thanks to Old Man Winter deciding to return this week, poor Ole Bessie sat in the garage and waited…

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Bessie sits, head held up strong, waiting for her adventures to continue. She commiserates with the garden tools who are waiting for spring to arrive. She gazes at the framed landscapes painted by my husband years ago and waiting to be reassigned to a blank wall. She tells me how the snow shovels are waiting for that one big snowfall that has yet to arrive this winter and how the suitcases are waiting to travel someplace exotic. Old 78 records wait for someone to adopt them and holiday decor waits for its day to shine. And Bessie, like my two crazy cats, sits by the door, waiting to be let out again…

“I don’t wanna wait in vain for your love…”

Bob Marley

“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.” – Forrest Gump