Gifts of Hope

Last Saturday gifted me with surprises. I wasn’t searching for hope, yet it still slapped me silly with its glorious presence.

After my husband left for his weekly golf game, I blinked my eyes open and realized there was no coffee in the house. I must have coffee, so I pulled on my clothes, grabbed my journal and phone, and walked the three blocks to our neighborhood coffeehouse. I brought my steaming cup to one of the outside tables, and then settled in to watch customers and write a little. I soon noticed a group of women and their dogs gathering at a nearby table. I caught bits on conversation pertaining to the proliferation of gun violence, and yes, I found myself eavesdropping. I turned around to comment, and then, surprisingly, I was invited to join their circle. I spent the next hour listening to these wise women discuss subjects close to my heart. One, an immigrant from a small South American country, gave me insight to the crises in both of our countries. As I rose to leave, one said, “We’re here every Saturday morning. You are welcome to join us.” I had accidentally stumbled upon hope, at a crooked, black rod iron patio table just blocks from my house.

After I walked home, caffeinated and rejuvenated, I decided to hop on my bike and ride down to the historic part of town. My first stop was the small Saturday farmer’s market that is located in a parking lot close to the river. I wandered the different booths, admiring fresh produce and baked goods. One of the last vendors had rocks, crystals, and sun catchers. I admired her work and we chatted about how she collected most of her beads from old jewelry and the prisms from dumpster diving expeditions. I wanted to purchase two of her sun catchers, but she informed me she didn’t take credit cards and I didn’t have any cash. Stupid move on my part when visiting a farmer’s market, by the way. The artist then said, “Take ‘em. You can owe me.” At first I shook my head. “Oh no. That doesn’t seem right.” She replied, “I do it all the time. Most people pay me back, and those who don’t, oh well. They still have my art.” After some hesitation, I picked out my two favorites. She wrapped them up, and then wrote her name and phone number on a small piece of paper. I told her, “Oh, don’t worry. I will be back next week.” She said, “You seem like an honest person. I can usually see it in people’s faces.” I smiled. I will return next Saturday with what I owe her, and will purchase more of her work. This quirky, open-hearted, trusting soul handed me hope at the farmer’s market.

I stuffed my new treasures in my wicker basket and rode down to my favorite outside restaurant, The Bike Stop Cafe, one part restaurant-one part bike rental/repair shop. I left my bike alongside others at the rack, and went inside to order my usual lunch: a veggie sandwich with an iced tea. A breeze was blowing in off the river, and bikers and young families were scattered throughout the patio. Halfway through my sandwich, a man behind me stood up and said, “A man knocked over two bikes. He did pick them up, but then took off. You might want to check if yours is okay.”

I glanced over at the rack, and my first panicked thought was my bicycle was gone. “I think my bike has been stolen,” I gulped. My ten-year old tan Schwinn from Target. The one with the wicker basket and clanking gears. My grandma bike that takes me to bookclub, the neighborhood grocery, and the mail room. I adore that bike. I flew to the rack, but quickly realized that whoever had knocked over the bikes had just moved them. My basket must have become dislodged in the fall because it was now hanging from one of the handlebars. But here’s the amazing part. Just before this discovery, many of the diners were ready to go after the alleged perpetrator. “I think he rode up to Main Street,” they said. “We may be able to catch him.” All these strangers, without even blinking, were willing to run after my nonexistent thief. After checking to make sure everything was working and returning the basket to its rightful place, I waved at the crowd and said with an embarrassed smile, “Thank you. I’m good. You can go back to talking among yourselves.” 

I headed back down the trail, pondering the morning. All I wanted when I woke up was coffee, yet I also found a table of intelligent, social justice-minded women, a generous and trusting artist, and strangers looking out for me. In a world swirling in the language of hate and conspiracy theories, hope just danced with this girl on a sunny Saturday morning. It is easy to become mired in the mud of despair, but often hope tiptoes into our lives, presenting us with the possibility of hot coffee, true human connections, and smiles.

“I dwell in possibility.” ~Emily Dickinson

When I first turned on the trail, I spied this guy slowly making his way across the gravel toward the river. I stopped my bike to snap a photo. He froze, but didn’t retreat into his shell. I said to him, “You’ve got this, buddy. Keep going.” On my way home, there was no sign of him. I’m confident he made it safely to his destination, this little guy with his determined hard-shell self.
Hope.

Not if. Not when. Now.

live.

This past weekend a young friend of mine posted a photo on social media of herself and her four month old daughter on a train ride at the zoo. Her caption began, “I wasn’t going to post this because my first thought was “I am fat.” She then wrote she worked through her doubts because she’s acknowledging motherhood is hard, post baby weight loss is difficult, and postpartum depression is real, but these moments she has with her baby are precious and she wanted to capture it. I am glad she decided to own the photo because it is beautiful in its exquisite spontaneity. 

When our bodies make humans, they go through amazing transformations. We grow babies for nine months, and when these fully formed people arrive, we quickly learn our old selves no longer exist. Our new reality is motherhood: soft bellies, curdled milk, elastic waisted pants, and leaky boobs. The first few months are foggy. Our bodies rebel against us as we cling to these needy little beings who depend on us for their very existence. We try to lose the weight yet the comfort of the couch and a bag of Oreos sing their siren songs while we catch a few quiet moments between feedings. Photos of celebrity and royal mothers quickly bouncing back to pre-baby weight fill our feeds, making us feel unworthy, (even though we know they spend thousands on professional trainers and chefs, and are always on the trendiest diets.) So, we hate on ourselves, on our bodies, on what we think we see when we look in the mirror.

My babies are in their twenties. It has been years since I’ve sung them lullabies or pushed their strollers. I’m way past menopause, yet body image is still a struggle. I look down at my soft belly and sigh as I try to fit into a pair of jeans. I’ve deleted images of myself, thinking I looked fat and old. I’m currently on a weight loss program, but I’ve hit a plateau that is discouraging. Many of my friends are on the same journey. With our childbearing years behind us, we feel our bodies betray us each time we step on the scales. We pluck gray hairs, spend unspeakable amounts of money on “anti-aging” products, and learn how to do the “turtle” with our chins when our pictures are taken. Photos of fit celebrity women in their sixties and seventies fill our feeds, making us feel unworthy, (even though we know they spend thousands on professional trainers and chefs, and haven’t eaten a carb in years.) So, we hate on ourselves, on our bodies, and on what we think we see when we look in the mirror.

So, how do we love ourselves now? Not when we lose the weight or if we go to the gym five days a week. Now. What if we love our bodies for the astonishing things they have done over the years. Yea, those things. Remember? Our miraculous bodies have fought illnesses, birthed and fed babies, worked grueling hours, endured sleepless nights of worry, ran races (often after little ones taking off across playgrounds), built empires (even if they were assembled with Legos), and planned, cooked and cleaned up thousands of meals. How about we love on our alleged “flaws”? What if we see our curves and our wrinkles and our gray hairs as medals of honor? 

I will acknowledge this isn’t an easy task. In fact, it is gargantuan in its heft. We’ve been wired since before adolescence to see our size as our worth. I suggest we take our bodies back. Tell society, those damn Kardashians, every single asshole who has cat-called us, and our mirrors to fuck off. Yup. That’s right. I said it. Fuck off. Let’s own those jeans, our boobs, and the right to see our power. Let’s eat healthy, walk those miles, but enjoy a piece of the damn pie. When we look at a photo of ourselves, let’s not judge. Instead, see the beauty and the strength presenting itself to the world.

Are you with me? Let’s own this shit.

“Worthy now. Not if. Not when. We are worthy of love and belonging now. Right this minute. As is.” – Brene Brown

Years ago when I first viewed these photos, I saw only the double-chins, big thighs, and bellies. Now I see the beauty, the strength, the fierceness. Hallelujah.

Featured

live. love. breathe.

live.

“All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

love.

“It takes courage to love, but pain through love is the purifying fire which those who love generously know. We all know people who are so much afraid of pain that they shut themselves up like clams in a shell and, giving out nothing, receive nothing and therefore shrink until life is a mere living death.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

breathe.

“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

We live. We love. We breathe.

Every moment, of every day. 

We live. We experience pain. We sit with grief. We dance in joy. All is living. Every bite of food gives us sustenance, yet we savor the flavors. Each sip of wine reminds us of the soil where the grapes were nurtured. Family recipes speak languages of communal stories. Our rituals awaken our memories as we gather for weddings, baby showers, and funerals.

We love. Every great writer has attempted a definition, an example, a story of love, but it is often undefinable. No one has the quintessential explanation of love. It is something deep and mysterious that awakens our hearts. Our first crush. That high school relationship. A good friend. Our wedding. Those babies. With love, though, comes a precarious tightrope walk, filled with the fear of losing it. We wrap our arms around it, often with suffocating consequences. This love of ours is scary, but it is also marvelous in its luminosity. Love makes our days sparkle and our nights sigh with delight.

We breathe. The average human takes 12 to 20 breaths per minute. We take our breath for granted until we can’t breathe. We marvel at its wonder. Breath gives us life. It is a direct link to our hearts. When we are calm, our breathing slows. When we are scared, we often can’t catch our breath. Breathing is the hub of the wheel that connects us to everything that is sacred.

Our lives. Our loves. Our breath. All are who we are in this world. We weave ourselves to one another with tenuous filaments of fragile moments. Life is a lovely, breathless dance, one to experience in all its pain and glory and bitterness and joy.

live.

love.

breathe.