Weren’t You 18 Just a Few Years Ago?

My oldest daughter is 35 years old today, which is surprising considering I’m 39, or at least I still think like I’m 39 and not what I thought 54 would be like when I was 39. Anyway, I wrote this column in 2001 when Carlene was 18 (and I was 37) when she was a senior in high school and wondering where she should go to college. I love this girl to pieces, and I wish for her the same things now as I did then.

Blackbird Fly (published in The Clarion News, May 2001)

“Blackbird singing in the dead of night / Take these broken wings and learn to fly / All your life / You were only waiting for this moment to arise.”

You asked me, “What do you want, Mom? What do you think I should do?” And it was clear by the tone of your voice that you expected me to say something customary like, “I just want you to be happy,” but with a choked-up guilt-ridden undertone that said “…but keep in mind I’d be happy if you stayed here in Clarion.”

Weren’t you surprised when I didn’t?

I don’t have eyes in the back of my head for nothing, my daughter. Yes I want you to be happy, but I’ve learned a thing or two about you in these 18 years and I know the life you’ve secretly dreamed about for years will die if you don’t leave this town, your home, and see for yourself what lies beyond these hills.

You have an adventurous spirit and a cautious heart. The combination has served you well so far and you must trust it won’t let you down in the future. You’ve learned there is no monster under the bed, no boogey man in the closet, no sandman, and no such thing as ghosts, yet you know there are bigger mysteries to solve, other truths to uncover, out there somewhere all your own. To not live where your heart and head can be free or to deny yourself that place of self-discovery would be placing yourself on a certain and predictable course, and God knows after years of listening to me tell you what the world is like you’re entitled to discover the world for yourself.

So…what do I want? That’s a question I’ve been thinking about and trying to answer since you were born. This is what I’ve come up with so far:

I want you to be happy in your own skin, to be at peace with your decisions, to love God, and to visit the Rocky Mountains in the winter.

I want you to drink good wine and see the midnight sun and walk along the Champs-Elysées with your best friend.

I want you to have babies when you’re ready and visit your grandparents once a year. I want you to never forget your sister’s birthday and to go to Jasper once in awhile and place flowers on your dad’s grave.

I want you to never know an overdue bill, an IRS audit, or a broken tailpipe you can’t afford to fix. I want you to concentrate on what you do that makes you successful and to not dwell on failures.

I want you to come home from wherever you are when you’re homesick and to go back again feeling stronger for having been home again, because I’ll always be here for you and you can wash your clothes while I make you manicotti and chocolate cake. Your room will still be purple and I won’t rent it out or turn it into the hot tub room like I threatened.

You see, I don’t care where you go to college as long as you get the education you need to be what you want to be.

I don’t care where you lay your head at night as long as it’s warm and safe and, when it’s right, with the person who loves you more than life.

I don’t care what you do for a living as long as it doesn’t hurt other people, that it envelops your God-given talents and gifts, and that it gives you satisfaction and affords you the kind of home you can relax in at the end of the day.

I trust you. I have faith in you. But mostly I love you, and love is the reason I can let go. I’m going to hurt for awhile and I’ll probably cry all the way home after helping you move into your dorm, but I don’t want you to feel you’ve caused me pain because you will not have. Love is just like that sometimes.

I’ll miss the smell of your perfume floating up the stairs after you leave for school. I’ll miss hearing you tell me good night and feeling your kiss on my cheek before you go to bed. I’ll miss seeing your face every day, our spontaneous talks in the kitchen and the way you play with the dogs.

But while I’ll miss you very much, I know I’ll still be your mother when you’re frustrated, your mom when you need advice and your mommy when you need money or just a hug.

Your moment is here, my girl, and you’re ready to fly. And that is truly what I think you should do.



Books and Boycotts

There’s little else I want to do during cold weather than make soup, and curl up in my heated throw and read. I recently finished The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (loved it!), and just downloaded another Catherine Ryan Hyde book, When You Were Older that I hope to start today.

I know some of you have very firm opinions about how you prefer to read. I used to fight the digital format, purist that I was, but I now go either way. Digital or bound, doesn’t make much difference to me, unless I know I’ll want to make notes in the margins, then I prefer the bound kind. I just bought a used copy of Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir by Natalie Goldberg because I know I will dog ear and highlight the bejeebers out of it. If you’re interested in the writing process or you love poetry or you are curious about Zen meditation, Natalie Goldberg has written it. If you love Anne Lamott (and who doesn’t?), I think you’ll like Natalie, too.

Getting back to Catherine Ryan Hyde, I first heard of her after reading Christina Baker Kline’s incredible book, Orphan Train. While sometimes Amazon and other book sellers get it wrong with recommendations, they got it right when one of Hyde’s books came up as a suggestion. Walk Me Home is my favorite so far, followed closely by Worthy, Say Goodbye for Now, and When I Found You.

Just like fashion, I’m hardly ever up on the literary latest and greatest. I’m usually a good 3 to 200 years behind. It’s why I didn’t realize that A) there was an actual book called Pay It Forward, published in 2000. I thought it was simply a good idea and something a lot of people do; B) that it was written by Hyde; and C) that it was a made into a movie shortly after publication.

In a rare move, I decided to watch the movie before reading the book. Usually I do the opposite. The movie was available to rent online, and in the small promo picture on the TV screen I saw Helen Hunt next to someone who looked like Kevin James. The problem is that it wasn’t Kevin James. It was Kevin Spacey, someone who’s work I’ve long admired, but in light of sexual assault allegations against him, I’d decided to boycott. I realized my mistake five minutes in during Spacey’s first scene. After a few choice expletives, I thought, ‘Do I stop watching or do I keep going?’

I chose to keep watching, but I couldn’t escape the allegations. How could such a gifted person behave like such a douchebag?

Like many of you, I’ve been asking that question way too often lately.  After listening to Al Franken’s farewell to the Senate, I read that Mario Batali, too, had been accused of sexual misconduct. So I asked my Facebook friends if they, too, were tired of all the allegations. An interesting conversation ensued. My daughter wrote, “I’m struggling with all this. There are actors and comedians and singer and artists whose work I truly enjoy, but who are also total assholes in real life. Right now I’m boycotting these people, but there will come a time when I will want to enjoy their work again, and I’ll have to figure out how to deal with that.” My sister wrote, “Maybe after they’re dead we can enjoy their work? Kind of like Picasso. I always have to separate the man from his work and that is often very difficult to do.” That reminded me of why I struggle with listening to Miles Davis. He physically and psychologically abused his wife, Cicely Tyson, on numerous occasions. Not cool.

I think this is something many of us struggle with, so I put the question to you: Has the myriad sexual misconduct/assault accusations waged against actors, writers, and others in the entertainment business affected what you read or watch? Please leave a comment.

Also, feel free to recommend a book or two! What are you reading, and in what format?

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes. Turn and Face…What’s Changed. It’s OK.

Many of you “met” me years ago through my Lynn’s Weigh blog, the space where I wrote about (mostly) weight and all the issues surrounding it (the good, the bad, the recipes, the exercise). I believed then, as I do now, that there is no easy fix for the physical and emotional complexities of weight, both gaining and losing.

I also believed, and I don’t anymore, that I would always be in control of my physical and emotional world if I regularly (obsessively?) did ABC. In doing so, I would maintain the results I’d worked so hard for: a (too) thin body and the (faux) happiness that it brings. I believed I had to be a certain way – the Lynn’s Weigh – in order to have a voice in the subject of weight, and when the physical changes and the weight gain started about four years ago, I felt I’d let everyone down – my readers, my children, my boyfriend, my doctors (some of whom kept the People magazine in my folder to inspire other patients). But mostly I’d let myself down.

And so these last 2½ years since absorbing Lynn’s Weigh into Zen Bag Lady and not writing, I’ve been quietly trying to make peace with my physical and emotional changes without laying blame, feeling guilty, or being angry and frustrated.

And the results? I fail miserably sometimes on all points. But I don’t fail all the time. In fact, I fail less today than I did a month ago, and less a month ago than six months ago, and less six months ago than a year ago. In widening my field of vision, I was supported by and found comfort in the words of former weight loss bloggers Jeannette Fulda and Shauna Reid, both of whom wrote pieces in 2017 that spoke directly to me.

In April, Jeannette wrote: “These days the internet seems like a much more misogynistic, judgmental place, like a flood of tourists have swarmed the local bar and you never know what asshole is going to show up, start a fight and then breeze off, never to be seen again.”

We see this all the time everywhere these days, way more than when we all started blogging in the 2000s. Some people have no filter, no compassion, and no common sense. Words hurt, especially mean and hurtful words that come from some anonymous little puke hiding behind a computer screen. People say to ignore it, but I’m not emotionally built that way. I never have been and I never will be. I’m fine with constructive criticism that comes from a place of love and concern, but it takes me an inordinate amount of time to unfeel the pain of hurtful and untrue words. While I didn’t have many trolls on Lynn’s Weigh and none on Zen Bag Lady, “coming out” like this, with the (not so surprising) revelation that I’m not the same person I was 2, 5 or 12 years ago, might cause some people to gloat or to throw my past words in my face. But I’m going to take that risk because speaking up for change rather than staying silent and hidden is worth it. As Jeannette reminded me and everyone else, “people have the right to change”.


In September, Shauna wrote: “What I struggle with is contradictory. First there are the feelings of failure for not remaining the After photo, like that invalidates any value of the book (The Amazing Adventures of Dietgirl) entirely. I wrote about the After photo struggles on my blog for awhile, then slinked away from the topic. I avoided people and places. There’s been so much shame and fraudy feels… Then there is the part of me that is so bloody done hiding and ready to make peace with it all.”


Sometimes I look at my After photos with a bit of regret, but I don’t regret the journey one bit. Like Shauna and Jeannette, I hope my words helped people on their own journeys. Gaining weight after my journey has been humbling, especially given the myriad physical shitstorm that’s been my life the last several years. But looking at the Afters also reminds me that nothing is permanent.

I don’t owe the Internet an apology. However, I would like to continue the conversation with all of you in this different chapter of my (and your!) life. You’re not the same folks you were 2, 5, 12 years ago, either, right?

So what’s new with you? What has changed? What have you held on to? Leave a comment, and please don’t be bothered by the fact that I have to “approve” (or not) all comments. While I’ve learned I am not in complete control of my physical or emotional life, I can definitely control what gets said on my blog 🙂

Also, I dusted off my old Twitter account. I’m @TrixieB1963 (after my beloved childhood book heroine, Trixie Belden), if any of you want to stalk me and I you.

Thanks for being here again. And welcome if this is your first trip here! Namaste.

In 2018, Maybe Poetry Can Help

The Internet can be a brain suck, for sure. Then there are sites like Dictionary.com that can inflate the brain, sort of. For instance, the word “pajamas” comes from the Persian words pah, meaning “leg,” and jammas, meaning “clothing”. The British spell it as “pyjamas.” If I were in London, I’d still be in my “pyjamas”. But sadly I’m not. In London, that is. Here in the U.S., I most certainly am still in my “pajamas”. Happy New Year to me.

And Happy New Year to you! Have you made any resolutions? Established any goals for 2018? Still in your jams? I made no resolutions, but I do have a goal: to see The Moody Blues inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April!! I’ll stand in the parking lot if I have to, but I need to be there. IT’S ABOUT DAMN TIME THEY WERE INDUCTED! Whoever thought inducting Dusty Springfield, Kiss, and The Animals before The Moody Blues needs some serious musical educating.

Looking back over 2017, there are several more things in my Best Of grab bag than I thought there would be, given how discomfited so many of us felt last year at this time. I had little hope for 2017, but a lot of good things happened. Jim and I had fun growing our on-the-side antiques business at a local antique mall. Zuzu the Wonder Dog moved in. I completed the fifth of six semesters of my master’s program (Graduation: May!).

And I solidly fell in love…

… with poetry.

I had the great fortune of teaching a poetry workshop this summer at the Indiana County jail. I’d taught a few classes in the women’s block, but this was the first time that my students were from two men’s blocks, and the first time the topic was all poetry.

I’ve always liked poetry, even though I have zero patience for epic poems like “The Faerie Queene” or the Sylvia Plath-ish ones that make me want to bang my head against a brick wall. But poetry asks us to pay attention to a moment for a moment. It gets in your face and says, “Look at me! What do you see?” It turned out that reading poetry with a group of men in jail was not a bad way to spend summer vacation.

Since then, I’ve fallen in love with poetry, and I wake up to a poem every morning in my email, thanks to Poem-A-Day from poets.org – another non-brain-suck website. While not every poem is a wake-up call or invites contemplation, each one is someone’s attempt to make sense of some part of their world. What speaks to you might not speak to me, but that’s the whole point!

I really like this book: Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry. It’s a collection of poetry selected by Billy Collins when he was poet laureate (2001-03). Collins’ own poetry is accessible (meaning it shouldn’t usually make you want to bang your head against a brick wall). I use his work in my classes, and his Ted Talk is a lot of fun. It’s not a brain suck, I promise.

Suffice to say, poetry will help get me through 2018. I hope it lends you some comfort, solace, and contemplation, too.

Below are a few of my favorites. Please send me some of yours! Add them to the comments.

Introduction to Poetry by Billy Collins

Grief Calls Us to the Things of This World by Sherman Alexie

Losing the Narrative

A shattered bottle tore through my hand last month and split 
a vein until every finger was purple and I couldn’t
make even a tentative fist. I used the other hand to indicate
I’m okay. 
How unwise I am, how polite in a crisis.
In triage, an overheard photo of someone’s lover 
almost 3000 miles west made me seize with longing 
when I spied a palm tree in the background.
I understand what it says about me 
that my body lustfully wishes to place itself where it was never safe.
I have put enormous energy into trying to convince you I’m fine and
I’m just about there, no? 
Besides, decades on, poorly healed bones help me to predict rain!
though it’s true I like to verify weather
with another source because I tend not to believe myself.
I’ve been told repeatedly that I don’t understand plot but
it would be a clever twist, wouldn’t it, if in the end 
I realize it’s me who does me in.

Copyright © 2017 by Lynn Melnick. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 26, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem:
“I injured my hand rather gruesomely last spring and it took a longer than expected time to heal. That injury triggered memories of earlier, more traumatic injuries, which got me thinking about how my instinct is to always reassure everyone I’m okay, whether I am or not.”
—Lynn Melnick

Navigating Fear

I learned to drive on the flat terrain of Minnesota, and developed a kind of invincibility about driving in winter weather. When I moved to western Pennsylvania in 1991, I acquired a somewhat healthy respect for the the hills and curves, but I was still that driver who thought that winter driving was more of a nuisance than a hazard. Spinning out of control on an icy US 322 in 2006 changed that pretty quickly, though.

I was driving home from work in a heavy snowfall in our old Dodge Caravan. My dog, Jake, was sprawled out in the back. Crawling down a hill, I hit a patch of ice which sent the van spinning around and around and around in circles until it finally stopped in the right lane, facing the wrong direction. I managed to turn around and park on the shoulder as cars swerved to avoid hitting me. A man pulled up behind me and came to my window to ask if I was OK. I could barely speak, and I was shaking horribly. He asked me where I was going. I told him I lived in Clarion, and he said, “Follow me. I’ll make sure you get there.” It was like he hooked a tow rope to my front bumper. I didn’t take my eyes off his back lights for 15 miles as he guided me slowly over hills, bridges, and ice patches, and delivered Jake and me to the town’s limits. He simply waved as I turned in the direction of home.

In the 12 winters since, I’ve become that driver I used to dread to get behind, the one driving 20 mph down a snow covered hill, the one I’d yell at from inside my car, “If you’re too afraid to drive, stay home!” I never considered that the person ahead of me had little choice but to be on the road, and that whatever the reason was, it was more important to them than their fear of driving in the snow.

Now I want to slap anyone who says to me, “You grew up in Minnesota! You should know how to drive in this stuff!” I know HOW to drive in the stuff. That’s not the issue. I am AFRAID to drive in the stuff. This isn’t like my fear of flying, where I can pop a Xanax, chase it down with a glass of wine, put on headphones and shut my eyes.

They’ve grown in 2 1/2 years!

A few days ago, on Christmas morning, I was in bed hanging on tight to my phone as I checked the road conditions from Daughter #1’s house, where I had spent the night, to Daughter #2’s house an hour away, where my four grandchildren were waiting anxiously to open presents. The route consists of five miles of back roads and 55 miles of interstate. There was a winter weather advisory in effect, and it had indeed snowed a few inches, and the wind was blowing 30-35 mph. My stomach was in a knot as I got ready to leave, but no one else seemed to anticipate or worry about the potentially hazardous road conditions (at least to the degree that I did). I don’t often give voice to my fear because it feels so…irrational, so I said nothing.

Until I got to Sheetz.

Zuzu is 13 months old. While she looks like a Gremlin, she’s half French Bulldog, and a quarter each Pug and Jack Russell Terrier.

Sheetz offers free coffee on Christmas Day, and so per the tradition, my daughter and her husband, driving together in their vehicle, were going to stop there before getting on the interstate. I left a few minutes ahead of them, and, white-knuckled, drove in the direction of Sheetz with my little dog Zuzu in the back. The roads were slippery and snow covered. It was snowing, and the wind caught my Jeep every once in awhile and knocked it to the side or the middle of the road. Every mile I grew more anxious, and here’s what was going through my mind: I am letting everyone down. I am a big baby. I am pathetic. I am ashamed. It’s just a little snow! Snap out of it! When I finally pulled into Sheetz, I started to cry.

I called Daughter #1 and told her I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t drive any further. And like that kind man who guided me home that day I spun out of control, she told me to hang tight, they’d be there in a minute. When they pulled up alongside me, my son-in-law smiled and said, “Hey, there’s no crying on Christmas!” and my daughter said, “Get in the passenger’s seat. I’m driving.” I took a deep breath and reminded myself that it’s OK to be scared. It’s how I react to fear that can cause the bigger mess. A mindful moment is one breath of goodwill that can soften the conglomeration of feelings that seem to all mesh together into one tight ball.

When gripped with fear and the berating is knocking, may we all remember the words of the poet Pablo Neruda: “You start dying slowly / When you kill your self-esteem; / When you do not let others help you.”


I’m baaaack! At least I think so. Maybe. We’ll see.

For more than nine years (2006 to 2015), Zen Bag Lady and Lynn’s Weigh were spaces for me to talk out loud, contemplate, negotiate, vent, and convince (mostly myself), and they acted as dressing rooms in which to try on different perspectives and attitudes that may or may not have always fit. I morphed Lynn’s Weigh with Zen Bag Lady (see my About page), because I realized that they are and always will be one and the same. They are timelines of change, both within and outside my control.

I’ve wanted many times during this 888-day hiatus to post a new blog, and to do that I thought I would have to explain the spiral of changes that have transpired, changes which still leave me a bit breathless. Revisiting some old posts recently, I see that explaining stuff isn’t why I blogged. I blogged because I had something to contemplate, negotiate, vent about, and try on. Putting myself out here again isn’t comfortable, god knows, but maybe no one will notice.


I recently heard someone quote Benjamin Franklin: “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” I’d heard that quote before, many times, and I certainly can’t argue with it. But old Ben was wrong. There are way more certainties in this life. Emotional and physical spaces will always be in flux, and our bodies and perspectives will change, even if we desperately hang on to dogmas and calorie counters. Even when we think we’re stagnant, we change. That is for certain.

And so here I go again… (you’re welcome).

New blog tomorrow.

It’s Like Riding a Bike

Who cries when they buy a bike?



I cried when I bought this used southwestern-goldish-color 5-year-old Schwinn Voyageur 2 at a local bike shop on Monday. AND I cried when I got her home and hoisted her off the bike rack I bought (that cost more than she did) and the handlebar smacked me in the cheek. Happy tears/pain tears…either way, I now have a bike-friend again.

My previous bike-friend was a men’s Giant hybrid I called Bike. (Creative, I know.) We were together for 7 years. I knew all her idiosyncrasies. Bike gave me confidence. Strength. She helped me think. Bike made me feel less lonely and isolated after my divorce. We went on adventures to places I’d never gone alone before. She encouraged me to take chances.

The last time I rode Bike was in March 2013. I rode 3 miles on my favorite trail when my right knee gave out. It just…stopped working. I’ve had surgeries, I’ve had babies, and never have I felt the kind of pain I felt in my knee that morning. I was on crutches for a week, but when I felt better, I was afraid to ride again. Bike stayed perched in the garage, ready for another adventure, but I ignored her.

I moved in January 2014 and stored her in my boyfriend’s barn. But I was beginning to feel optimistic about riding again when I wrote “I Believe” on January 29, 2014. I was so sure that I would ride Bike again.

Four days later, Bike burned in a fire that destroyed the barn. Gone with Bike was a bike rack, helmet, lock, odometer, trail maps, tubes, tire levers, air pump, and the $5 and package of Kleenex I kept in the bag.

This is all that’s left of Bike.


In spring 2014, I developed hip pain and I reasoned that was why I didn’t go biking. Truth was, I was mourning Bike and I didn’t have it in me to test drive a different bike. What if I failed? What if it hurt? What if I made a fool of myself? Bike would have told me to try anyway, but I couldn’t.

I had my hip replaced, which took away the reason I “couldn’t” ride. A local trail runs parallel to a road I frequently drive on and when I saw other people biking I got that twinge in my heart, that yearning to be them. Still, I wallowed in feeling cheated. My hip, my bike, poor me. It got to the point of ridiculous. It was a month ago when I went for a short walk on another beloved bike trail that I climbed out of the self-pity enough to ask, ‘What if?’

Like a person you love who dies, I believe Bike would want me to do what it was that made me happy. Given my propensity for adopting shelter pets, I went to the bike shop and test rode that somewhat beat up Schwinn. The minute I started pedaling, I felt free. I could see joy. It’s like I had a physical purpose again and a partner who would challenge me to take down that “I can’t” wall I’d built.

That evening, I practiced taking my bike on and off the new rack on the back of my Jeep. I researched local trails and decided on one not far from me. Tuesday morning, I drove to the trailhead, nervously watching my bike bob up and down on every bump in the road.

I felt like I was on a blind date. I tried to be cool by unloading my bike like I’d done it a thousand times. I attached my water bottle, loaded my bag, calculated my computer/odometer thingy, locked up the Jeep, only…when I got on my bike, I had no idea where I was going. I followed the signs, and after a stint on a road and a turn on to what the sign said was the trail, I rode slowly up a moderate incline. At the top, I saw this:


Another steep grade…only steeper! Weeeee!!!! Yeah…but I’d have to come back up eventually.


I negotiated briefly with my id and super ego and decided to give myself permission to walk my bike back up the incline rather than ride up, even if someone was watching. Judging. I hate that part. Defeated, I acknowledged that A) it’s been over two years since I’ve ridden a bike, and B) I’ve gained a new hip and a few pounds and I have not been exercising like I used to. My body’s in a different place and so humility was my best friend at that moment. Swallow it and move on.

The temperature was about 84 degrees and the humidity was at least 1000 percent and the trail was mostly exposed with very little shade. Plus, I’d selected to first ride the uphill part of the trail, but it was a little more uphill than I had bargained for. I got 1.5 miles in and decided it was best to turn around. I felt sad at first; betrayed, embarrassed. And then I stopped in this place and had a little talk with myself:


“Lynn, here’s the deal. You have to push yourself slowly because you’re not in the same physical condition you were in two year ago. No, you won’t break any land speed or distance records, and you won’t be saying ‘passing left’ anytime soon. You’re starting from the bottom. You have no place to go but up.”

I had to think through the real reason that I love to ride a bike: it’s not for physical fitness as much for psychological fitness. I need to ride a bike. Without it the last few years, I’ve become more of a small self, an isolated self, an egoic transient wandering from fear to fear. I crave the movement, but moreover I crave the butterflies, the dragonflies and the indigo buntings, and swerving to avoid the chipmunks who skittishly venture out on the side of the trail. I crave the smell of the woods, the feel of the humidity clinging to my arms, the breeze that cools my skin. I need these things, and now, I am again part of them.


Today I went to a new trailhead. On the West Penn Trail I experienced that exhilarating fear of wild, of no one around, of a bear could come out of nowhere and I was completely alone. I rode without my headphones, listening to the air and staying hyper aware of my surroundings. I heard every bird and every crush of the limestone beneath my tires. Three miles in, I turned around, even though I ached to go another two miles. I knew my legs would question that choice on the way back, and I wanted to do what was best for all of me. I put in my ear phones and turned on “…some music to start my day…” “More Than A Feeling.” Great tune.

When I got back to my Jeep, I was totally high. So happy and sweaty. A man was securing his bike on his car’s bike rack and he offered to help me load mine. I declined, thanking him and telling him that I had to get used to doing this again. We talked about the trail for a few minutes and I was reminded of another reason I love biking. People on the trails are usually really nice people. I’ve missed that camaraderie of like-minded people. We are like ships in the night. “Good morning!” we say as we pass each other. “Passing left!” It’s like a secret handshake.

I’m still part of the fraternity/sorority of people who love bike trails, even though my thighs, arms and neck are asking me why. I just rub them and say, “You’ll get used to it.” I will press on because I am not the same person I was three days ago. I am my old biking self. I am the person I’ve missed for two years. My goldish-color bike isn’t Bike, but I think Bike would approve of her replacement.

I need to give a name to this oldish-new friend. “Salvager,” perhaps. God knows she’s gathered all that was missing, and has assembled the bits and pieces of my former self into a funky collage. We have places to go tomorrow and I’ll think more about her name, but she’s truly earned her status of BBFF (best biking friend forever).

The Luckiest People in the World

On the outside, it looks like I’ve done a lot of nothing the last three weeks. I power watched five seasons of “Nurse Jackie” and the new BBC series “Broadchurch,” and I’m well into season two of “Parenthood.” I read six issues of “Arthritis Today,” four issues of “Birds and Blooms,” two books, and every blog entry since October in my Feedly feed. I’ve played countless rounds of Hearts, Canasta, Backgammon, Cribbage, and Words With Friends, and I’ve listened to nine weeks of “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” podcasts.

But when I look really close, I see I’ve also done something that makes me very, very uncomfortable, and I’ve lived to tell the tale.

Barbra Streisand sings what I’m talking about better than I can write it.

“People who need people
Are the luckiest people in the world”

To need is lucky? I’ve never considered my “needs” as a lucky thing. When I need something or someone, it feels inconvenient at best and weak at worst, unless, of course, I can equally compensate the person helping me. But when you go through something like a hip replacement, and you can’t drive or tie your shoes or climb stairs or sit on a normal toilet seat, you need “a village,” and unless you’ve got a lot of money, that village is your family and friends. As I considered the surgery and the recovery, that didn’t feel very lucky to me.

So, I mentioned I’ve been power watching “Parenthood.” The show’s theme song is Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young.” After 25 episodes, the song’s message finally sunk in:

“May you always do for others
And let others do for you”

The doing for others part is a cinch. I want to help. I want to be needed. Doing is my thing. But the “…let others do for you” part isn’t so easy, because it’s not about paying forward or banking goodness. It means allowing others to love and to care for you without expectation of payback. Period.

When my friend Debbie drove an hour to visit me a week after my surgery, and she brought Panera and we ate in Jim’s bedroom because I was too uncomfortable sitting in the dining room…that’s letting others do for you. My massage therapist texted me just before she left to visit her family in Germany for Christmas: “I’ll be back on the 31st and can help you and will be glad to do it…It can’t be one bit easy to have such a major surgery, and I’m sure it wears on your emotions! I’d cry all the time!” She not only brought her table and equipment to my house for a massage this week, she insisted it was on the house. Letting others do for you.

And then there’s Jim. As if taking me home from the hospital and knowing that for the next three weeks I would need him to tie my shoes wasn’t enough, he called 911 when I had a vasovagal response the night I got home from the hospital, despite me telling him “I’ll be fine!” The paramedics couldn’t find my blood pressure at first, and when they did, it was 77/44. He stood at the foot of the gurney rubbing my feet, and he told me this is what people do when they love someone.

He hauled my four-legged potty chair to every holiday function. He built a non-skid stepstool so I could get into his pickup. He’s in the process of rebuilding his garage that burned in February, but he came over immediately when I caused a second-floor power outage when I attempted to run two space heaters (in separate rooms, in my defense) and I couldn’t get down the rickety 100-year-old stairs to trip the breaker. He takes me to the grocery store and physical therapy, and gets me out of the house when it’s the last thing I want to do but need to do.

“And let others do for you.”

We really are damn lucky to need people. It took a new hip for me to really get that.

Need, people! Don’t be afraid. It’s OK. Uncomfortable at first? Absolutely. But try it on. Be grateful. They want to help you as much as you want to help them. “Thanks. Couldn’t have done it without you” is the best thing you can ever say or hear in this life.

Good Gravy

In the All Saints Episcopal parish cemetery on Pawleys Island, South Carolina, Dorothy M Elerbe is immortalized with the words: “She made good gravy.”

I’ve heard some pretty boneheaded things when someone dies. My “favorite” top two are: “God needed another voice in his choir” (barf!) and “He/she wouldn’t want you to be sad/cry” (liar, liar pants on fire!). Name ONE person on this planet who honestly doesn’t want to be mourned when they die? To know that there will be at least some small demonstrative expression of grief from those who care about them most?

I do! I want tears! Lots and lots of tears. I want Kleenex stock to go up slightly when I pass.

However, I know that to be worthy of another’s tears, I need to have made good gravy while I was alive.

Like many of us, I often spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about or acting upon things that don’t really mean a lot in the grand scheme. Given this truth, my tombstone would look something like this:

“She lost a lot of weight…a lot of times.”
“She intended to write a really good book.”
“She thought about volunteering.”
“She hated winter.”
“She rarely left the house without makeup on.”

Not exactly the kind of stuff that brings tears to people’s eyes.

As anyone who practices mindfulness or meditates or prayers for insight knows, “practice” comes with a price. An often sticky, uncomfortable price. It was recently – through being present with someone I love very much and listening to his words without thinking of my response as he was talking – that I became aware that I’ve been keeping spontaneous joy and love locked up tighter than gold at Fort Knox. Whether it’s been for the sake of pride or out of fear of vulnerability, I’ve become less trusting of my feelings and more influenced by chronic pain and what others think of me. I love those who are easy to love and don’t engage the tender parts of those who are difficult or those who could hurt me.

How simple it is to pick up and snuggle 18-month-old Audrey when she runs to me, or read to 3-year-old Mae while she sits on my lap. That stranger in line at the grocery store who is struggling to use her debit card? No love for you! Those far-away loved ones whose opinions or actions differ from mine? No compassion for you!

This isn’t to say I spend every day judging or waving my cane at the neighbor kids: “Get off my lawn, you little bastards!” But I could certainly use Dorothy M Elerbe’s gravy recipe to help me open up and love a little more than weight, makeup, intentions, or even “Downton Abbey.”

There’s a dry board on my refrigerator on which my niece used to write uplifting phrases. Before she moved back to Minnesota, she wrote: “Never give up on something you can’t go a day without thinking about.” I will to keep that there because it reminds me to stick with my novel. But above it, I am going to write, “She made good gravy.”

About Last Night…

There have been moments in my life when I’ve sensed the presence of a deceased loved one. While warm and bittersweet, I understand those feelings to be resurrected memories of the connection we had when they were alive; me consciously sating some need I perhaps hadn’t completely identified. I don’t believe those vague presences stem from a visit by their spirit.

That’s why I can’t explain what happened last night.

I often employ the “Just ignore it, it will go away” approach to healthcare. But after a months-long battle with hip pain – in which the last few days I’ve been barely able to walk – I finally mentioned it to my doctor. She ordered x-rays, and as I wait for the results, I’m living with limited mobility and a crap-ton of pain which makes me feel trapped, angry, alone, and scared, bordering on the edge of self-pity. And I hate self-pity, especially in the middle of the night.

Jim and I were at my house last night, and he fell asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow. My bed tends to envelop us like a taco and I knew my hip would not be comfortable within such limited space, so I got up and limped to the spare room where I lay awake, playing Canasta on my phone.

After a few hours, I found a comfortable position on my side, facing the wall. Hugging the top of the body pillow I’d tucked between my legs, I started to fall asleep, but not before Jim walked in the room and – saying nothing – placed a hand on my shoulder and one on the back of my neck and kissed my head, just above my ear. I felt safe and loved and more than that, I wasn’t afraid anymore.

I woke up at 4 a.m. when again, Jim came in the room.

“Why aren’t you in bed?” he whispered. At some point while I was sleeping, I’d rolled over on to my back, and Jim sat down on the edge of the bed and stroked my hair

“I couldn’t get comfortable and I didn’t want to wake you,” I said softly.

“You can wake me up anytime.”

“I know. But you knew where I was. You came in around 1, remember? You kissed my head.”

“This is the first time I’ve been up,” he said. “I didn’t know you weren’t in bed until just now.”

“What do you mean?” I started to cry. “But I felt so safe. I was finally able to sleep. I thought it was you.”

“No, it wasn’t me.” He moved his hand to my leg, covered in three layers of blankets, and began rubbing the top of my hip. “But someone wanted you to know they cared.”

When I’d crawled into that spare bed, it didn’t occur to me to reach out to anyone – dead or alive. I was entirely alone, physically and mentally. I made no effort to meditate or pray. I was resigned to my fear and went through every scenario I could think of for how – or if – I would walk normally again. I assure you, I was in the throes of self-pity. My mind was all about me. I had no conscious thought to partner with a departed loved one or god or anyone else.

Whoever or whatever touched my shoulder and kissed my head knew better than me what I needed, and gave me the one thing I could not give myself: peace. And even skeptical me knows not to attempt to explain, justify, or otherwise dispute such a gift.

How about you? Have you experienced something like this before? Leave a comment if you’d like to share your story.