I was over forty when my grandmother said, “You didn’t have an easy childhood.”

20150620_154629It was the first time she’d admitted it. She was edging around the perimeter of what was unspoken between us for nearly twenty years. Her daughter. My mother.

It could be that, at her age, she was facing her  the guilt of her own complicity. It could be that, at my age, she figured I would have experienced enough complexity in life, and could understand that love almost always entails a choice between two kinds of pain.

Maybe she said it because it was finally safe to do so; finally safe to believe I wouldn’t use her compassion to prop up my self-esteem, label myself a victim, and cultivate my own warm, little martyrdom.

Maybe her coldness, and her trivialising all those years were based on a kind of hard wisdom. A shove towards something better. I can’t know.

It still makes me happy that she said that. She acknowledged what we had in common, a childhood that “wasn’t easy”, and a necessary strength.

“You sound like you’re just next door. I wish you where here,” she’d say often, and then she’d always follow up with, “No. I don’t really. You’re better off where you are.”

A few years later, she no longer recognised my voice on the phone. I lost her before the rest of her family lost her. I learned of her death via Facebook.

I didn’t go to her funeral. She wouldn’t have liked that: “You’re better off where you are.” Pain is unavoidable, but there is no reason to court it. My grandmother was a practical woman.

“Honey, you know I love you, but, most of the time, I have no idea what you are talking about.”

We had little, and everything, in common.

I miss her. Though I will never be certain of how well I knew her. There were stories in those later years: told in fragments, like a surreal soap opera, an episode a week, two hours each Sunday. She told me about her husbands, about being a single mother of four in the 40s, about her complex relationship with her sister, and how she never forgave her mother.

She had stories about my mother and my father. About what came before what was never spoken, the big, black swath in my life that matched the big, black swath in hers. She never picked at wounds, but seemed to have found a way to walk away from them. Something I’m not always willing to do, to leave parts of myself behind like that. Lies of omission.

There were barriers. I don’t recall her ever hugging me when I was in pain. Our most intimate moments were over the phone once I was an adult and living overseas. Once I was a mother, myself. But what made it through the barriers was real. That’s what matters: taking what you get, and being grateful.

I have yet to write her eulogy. My story is too entwined with hers still: reflections through generations, like repeating images in facing mirrors. But now there’s empty space. It’s a good thing. A painfully good thing, like love always is.

The last time I kept a blog, I was training for a marathon. I was making major changes in my life, at a point where people generally decide to do it, or not. Midlife crisis, they call it.

I made more changes than I had anticipated, because change never happens in isolation. But there is no such thing as a midlife crisis, really. No one can predict a midway point to any destination. There are, however, lookout points all along the way. If you take the time to pull over, get out for a minute. A rest stop.

It wasn’t the first time I had experienced a “crisis”: took on major challenges, took off into completely unfamiliar territory. It wouldn’t be the last time. Won’t be.

Things are different now, though. Now, four years after running a marathon, I’m restless again. But this time, I’m looking backward as well as forward–and no longer afraid to do that. There are practices and beliefs I’d once nourished, things I’ve dropped or forgotten, that I now understand the value of. For example, the potential for faith. All kinds of faith.

I once knew that living is dying; we should remember that fact, in order to die in a way we choose–no matter how death might take us by surprise. There is a man in Denmark who lives each day dying well. And, I hate myself for my first thought after listening to him: I need to move to a place where I can dig a pond, like he did; where I can fashion my life like his. I use the word fashion deliberately, for all it is worth. I am even considering his eccentric knit strawberry hat.

I am still there. Here. Stuck, trying to make meaningful change, to find meaning, without giving up my life and making a pilgrimage to someone else’s belief system.

Someone asked me not long ago, if I was still running. I take that as evidence I have stopped proselytising. I take that as evidence in my progress towards becoming (authentically being) what I choose to be.

I am still running. Like so many others, asking myself questions I’d stopped asking for a while.414066_359311840791185_1987797442_o-2

And telling myself that the solution is not to buy a knit strawberry hat to wear on my runs.

(Check out the mini documentaries in the links!)

DSC_0384I was listening to radiolab‘s podcast on memory. Thinking about memories as neural constructions, as bridges. In my case, most often, fragments of bridges.

Or hand-me-down bridges, with their romantic patinas.

When not left to our own imaginations, our stories are told to us. Bit by bit, angle by angle. Point of views, like dreams, blending into one another. We piece details together to create our single narrative, but can never be certain of whose truths we are repeating.

I jumped up and down on the concrete steps of my grandparent’s house, to make the frogs jump out from under them. I was three. I was wearing a white romper. What little hair I had was curled at the ends. The world was black and white then.

I remember a broom. But no one ever contextualised that part of the story for me: the broom is like a random illustration tucked into a children’s book. There is a possibility that only the broom is my own memory. There is also a possibility that the broom is some kind of emotional symbolism that I put there because I saw Cinderella years later, and fantasised about chores and fairy god mothers, while sweeping concrete steps. The broom may have come from the photo, corners tucked into place, beside that photo in an album somewhere: my grandfather sweeping the drive.

Rebuilding bridges with what material is at hand. We are resourceful engineers. We create what is useful, and what is necessary.


I was thirty the first time I went to Rome. I cried when I saw The Sistine Chapel. An acquaintance thought I has having a religious experience. It was so much more complicated than that.

There was the fact that I was there. A bit of trailer park trash whose greatest ambition was to get to New York City someday. I had something akin to survivor’s guilt.

And there was the fact of the chapel itself. Not the one I’d seen in photographs and documentaries. But here, just following the Nippon restoration, was a Sistine Chapel in Marvel Colors.: royal blues and stop-sign reds. It was a metaphor for expectations. An example borrowed nostalgia versus the garishness of reality. Garish because reality can be defined as a bombardment of the senses. The loudness of being in the world.


In Vermont there are covered bridges. When I went there for the first time, in my early forties, I recognised the landscape. I walked through the Children’s Home, where my grandmother grew up. The soft green walls. The now-empty halls. There is a bridge we had built together, between the neurons in my grandmother’s brain, and the neurons in mine. Even now, a bridge that stretches outward from my mind to wherever matter becomes energy.


DSC_0540-2A not-so-random fact: some of the bridges in Paris are collapsing under the weight of expectations.