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Archive for the ‘Bravery’ Category

Battle: Part 2 of 3

I have been 35 for nearly a month, and it has not looked like anything I imagined.

I am part of a large cohort of humans whose 2020 looks much, much different than they had planned. I was supposed to have lost more weight instead of gain back what I lost at the end of 2019. I had scheduled to race in Austin and Philadelphia and remove them from my bucket list of running in America’s 50 largest metropolises, rather than rehabbing a knee injury via Zoom physical therapy. For the first time in my professional life, I am unsure of my job security as an educator, as I suspect that any job cutting may come at the expense of specialists. My family has had biennial reunions since 1992, and now only God knows when we will reconvene with our matching shirts and high decibels in a hotel lobby. I lost an Uncle to Covid 19 whom I typically only saw at those reunions and have yet to be able to properly memorialize him because of stinking Covid 19.

What do I care about? How do I honor God from my couch? I hate to say that I want to be true to myself because my best self honors God, but He made me with certain strengths and weaknesses; if He made me a square I’m not supposed to mess with circle business, you know?

Yes, I care about being healthy, especially given the pandemic and my proximity to my parents and grandmother, but I do not have the emotional energy that I had last August to go ovaries to the wall with a disciplined eating regimen. I am volunteering to do some data entry with a campaign I support, but you know what? Sometimes I just want to take a nap. I was asked to step into leadership with a professional organization, and listen to this – while I am the first to advocate why my existence as a music teacher is essential, for some reason when I think about doing the work that facilitates student experiences, I think to myself – how important is this right now? There are people calling for the military to be in the streets; maybe the concerto competition can wait?

As I read my own words, I see a common thread. I’m not trying to tickle my own ivories, but come on – apparently God has blessed me with the spirit of a helper. Isn’t my moral responsibility to my family first? Can I really serve them if I am not my healthiest self, which means I gotta be right with God and perhaps not ordering baklava and pralines and eating with little restraint? Or am I being too hard on myself? Life has come at me pretty freaking fast in the past year, and I cannot fight every single battle that comes my way! I think part of adulting is accepting that my arsenal does have limits – but isn’t part of growth increasing my arsenal?

I WILL help – after I get a cookie.

cookie monster

The Trouble with Listening

listen and silent

I keep a poster with this saying in my classroom, among others in a similar vein, to help visually remind my students that listening is the first element in being a learning musician. We absorb and enjoy this aural art with our ears. I ask of them daily – “Is it possible to talk and truly listen at the same time?” Thankfully, I don’t teach too many smart asses who say yes, and I believe that they actually get it. Most of my students are empaths to whom I can say, “When you have something to say to me, don’t you want to know that I am paying attention to you? Doesn’t everyone deserve the same?” When we really listen to one another’s thoughts and the music we make together, it is then that we can fully experience the beauty of our work.

Even a 5 year old can grasp this. Why is it so hard to put into practice?

On the 4th of the month, I have great concern that my Fabruary may turn into Flabruary. I have not run since Saturday. I had a run planned yesterday but I chose to get a massage instead because my entire body feels tight. Even as I tell myself that I am listening to my body by not running for a few days, I feel like a loser. I fear losing the great progress that I made in Shamuary. I wonder if I am simply a weak person who cannot handle the training load I have put upon myself. You know I cannot cope with having peaked at 34.

“You know what I need to do?” I said to myself this evening. “Read my blog!” I am feeling like I have never been sore in my life and I logically know this cannot be the case. While it feels like the end of the road for my progress, I understand realistically that progress is rarely linear and it’s more likely that I simply need a bit of recovery. I put “injury” in the search box and what do you know, I have experienced the need to alter my plans more than once.

Perhaps we find listening difficult because it feels passive. We feel as though we will miss something if we don’t immediately act or speak. We feel a pressure to contribute and make our abilities known – so much so that we overlook the cost of pausing to observe and absorb. I wish my body felt like a million dollars so that I could confidently take on what is in my running plan this week, but she’s trying to tell me something and it sure ain’t “do your 11 mile run on Friday.”

I still fully intend to be fearless in 2020. My body is reminding me that sometimes bravery requires the willingness to stop, listen, and adjust.

Shamuary Sunset

By God’s grace, I made it, y’all!

The first month of 2020 is already behind us – but it didn’t end before I did my best to stick to my plans. I give myself an A on my running and a B minus on my eating. I am down a few pounds since the year started and I ran 55 miles this month. Most notably, I suddenly feel comfortable sharing the ups and downs on my race times. I am not sure what clicked in me yesterday as I was updating my race calendar, but I started scrolling through my Garmin app and updating it with past race times. I felt pride over times that once shamed me. I started running in 2013 and my calendar only goes back to 2014, but over the course of the year I intend to not only fill in my race history but detail it with the good. There is no bad or ugly because I am still here.

It is incredible that I started running when I was 28 and this year I will be 35 with no intentions of slowing down. Yes, I meant to make that pun! I want to push my boundaries and peel away the fears that keep me from being open about my abilities. I’ve been fighting trim and I’ve been fighting fat but dammit, I am still fighting.

Here’s to Fabruary! May it be a great one!

Heh. May. That’s when I turn 35.

after-every-sunset-comes-a-sunrise-followed-by-breakfast-the-most-important-meal-of-the-day-funny-quotes-online-slots

I do love the sunset – and the sunrise – and breakfast! Yay!

Shamuary Plans

From good old Merriam-Webster:

Shame (noun): A painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety.

Last night (last year, heh) 3M sent me a link to a commercial she had seen. In it, a woman’s effort, or apparent lack thereof, in an intense spin class is shamed by both the instructor and the other participants. The happy ending shows the woman cycling by herself in the gym, free of the judgment of others. I told 3M that I didn’t think the premise was so bad, as much as I train alone; that perhaps the woman needed the encouragement to try harder. She did, after all, look much more at peace on the cycle at the end of the commercial.  Can peace really produce results?

I have been thinking about how much differently I train since I have been married. I moved away from my group and my training has been much less structured. While I can say the most negative emotion elicited by someone else was annoyance, I have often (irrationally) feared shame when training in groups. Yes, I intellectually understand that all sane people are focused too much on themselves to have the time to judge someone else in the moment. For me – the mere act of joining a group induces shame. To ask for help requires consciousness of shortcoming. It’s right there in the dictionary!

I have decided, for the month of Shamuary, that I am willing to sacrifice the peace of solitude for the potential to progress more. I meant it when I said in my previous post that I want to be fearless, and the only thing that haunts me more than my shortcomings is their public airing. As we speak, I am making plans to join a local running club again, where I may have to explain my two year absence, OR cope with the fact that I kept to myself so much that no one remembers me. Feeling shame for being human is one of satan’s shams. Not today, devil. Not this Shamuary!

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Hashtag Silver Lining: can’t feel shame if you are unconscious.

One More Time

I amuse my students in rehearsals by telling them the only time they shouldn’t take me literally is when I tell them, “One more time!” This is a “lie” that all music teachers tell, I say. They groan, but they know that doing it one more time will bring them closer to a result they can appreciate. One more time can be the difference between a confident performance and a reluctant one, or it can be the space between a solid, harmonic ending and a stumble across the finish line of our song.

As 2019 concludes, I find myself making resolutions – one more time. Like my students, I groan because I am tired. I wish I could have it all right in this moment, but I don’t. There are many who scoff at new year’s resolutions because of the natural tendency to allow ourselves to lapse, but that is not the fault of the calendar. Why would we fault each other for trying to be the best versions of ourselves? This is a difficult thing to do, all year long!

Even when my students need to play one more time, I make a conscious effort to tell them what they are doing well. I want them to know that celebrating their strengths and managing their weaknesses can happen concurrently AND that I love and appreciate them and their effort. I deserve the same for myself, do I not?

I am thankful that at the end of 2019 I am a tad less cynical than I was at the end of 2018. This is despite not meeting my goal of running 1019 KM, or running a 10 miler with the best Mentor ever, and still being fat. I definitely have to work on this healthy human thing one more time. Look at my 2018 running stats:

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Compare them to my 2019 stats:

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Look how much better I did! Yay, me! Yes, I’m still fat, but I did lose 20 pounds and managed to only gain one pound in November and December – no small feat, between a trip to Jamaica, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Garmin gave me this badge today:

Screenshot_20191231-180819_Connect

I am stoked that I have finished the year strongly. I tell my babies all the time that even if we have a rough start, we can have a strong ending and that counts for a whole lot. I love that Garmin has marked this badge as repeatable, for Lord willing, I will have another strong finish. The tricky bit, as you can tell from 2 years of training logs, is the middle. I want to approach 2020 fearlessly – unafraid to set new goals, but perhaps more importantly, unafraid to RESET old goals.

Happy New Year! One more time.

Front Row Seat

Yaya’s funeral was today.

I know. That was fast, right?

A timeline:

April 9 – discovery of tumors in lungs, pancreas, and liver after complaint of pain in sides.

April 12 – PET scan to determine if tumors are benign or cancerous.

April 15 – return to PCP who confirms she has cancer.

April 22 – meeting with oncologist who says the average life expectancy is 3 to 4 months, but he has seen as long as 1 year and as short as 2 weeks.

May 6 – last breath taken.

I have never experienced anything like this, and while there have been many nights with little sleep, I have seen God working in many beautiful ways. She was lucid the entire time. She only complained of nausea 2 days before she died and we solved that with stool softener, as opposed to the excruciating, debilitating pain that often comes with cancer. I didn’t anticipate that I would spend my birthday writing an obituary, but I wouldn’t have it any other way – it was truly a pleasure to ensure that she was recognized properly. Moreover, when I needed love the most, people in my life were already primed to give it to me because it was my birthday. God spared her by not allowing her to suffer and spared me the additional sorrow of having to share the day of her death with the day of my birth.

We spent her last weekend making sure all of her needs were met, summoning hospice nurses when needed. On Friday, Yaya had said to her regular nurse, “See you Monday – if I am still here.” She insisted that Pete not leave my brother-in-law alone because she felt she was going to die soon. I went back home and brought enough things for us to stay for the weekend. I will never forget the angel of a nurse that God sent both on Saturday and Sunday, who warned us that her death was imminent. Yaya was ready. She had spent the previous weekend giving us her things. She had told me she was tired and that we were going to be okay.

Pete and I each had one of her hands as her breathing slowed to a full stop at 4:10 AM. She was peacefully in her bed, just as she had wished. She knew we loved her and we knew she loved us. I stared in disbelief, as I had been in and out of her presence all week, checking for the rise and fall of her chest as she appeared to sleep. She still looked like she was only sleeping, but now she had achieved full healing.

I knew church today would be strange. I have had many family members die, but this is the closest I have been to the deceased – both for her death and in terms of relation. I always think of Gerard Manley Hopkins Spring and Fall to a Young Child at funerals – with each passing day, and indeed with each passing, my own is closer. In the busy-ness of life, it is easy to forget that we are mortal and one day will take our last breath. I hope not only to honor my mother-in-law’s life, but her death as well.

I will always cherish this ring she gave me.

Can I Get Hope With That?

I come from a very large family. My Dad is #6 out of 10. My mother is #6 out of 9. I have grown up celebrating this family reunions – some more organized than others – and now that I am in my 30s, there is a lot more gray at these reunions than I remember. Have you ever seen a sign like this at a workplace –

Days_Without_Accident Lord. I feel like someone is always either going to the hospital or coming out of the hospital. Perhaps there were never really carefree days, but 20 years ago – even 10 years ago – it didn’t feel like there was always something wrong with somebody I care about.

Adonis’s Mom went to the doctor last Tuesday complaining of pain in her chest. They ran some scans. Tumors on her pancreas and lungs. We went to the doctor two days ago for confirmation after a PET scan, and sure enough, it appears her cancer is advanced. We do not go to the oncologist for further information until next week, but her doctors have recommended hospice and palliative care for her.

I have cried almost every day since getting the news. She is 90 years old, but I am still not ready to let her go. I am not going to eulogize her here because dammit she is still making jokes and seems at peace with the whole situation, but I wish I weren’t having to think about this now – for several reasons. I don’t want her to suffer, but as long as she is doing pretty well, I want her here on earth. Adonis loves her to pieces and I’m doing my best to be here for both of them.

She even made me laugh on the way home from the doctor, who had said that one of the signs that her time is limited would be that she would be losing weight from lack of appetite.  We stopped at McDonald’s to grab something quickly. She got a quarter pounder and a large fry, and when we arrived home she shared with me and added salt to hers. I don’t know if she did that for our sake, but she ate half of the fries and half of the burger. So there it is. As long as there are fries, there is hope.

Marvelous

Lady J is on her way home!

In my previous post, I was in the air headed north, and I am blessed to be headed the opposite direction, returning to my family and work. Our flight was delayed three times, only to be moved forward again (take away – if they say to be at your gate at your original time, they mean it), leaving plenty of time for questions. What is the cause of the delay? Weather? Maintenance? Is this going to be the type of flight where I will be wondering if my affairs are in order?

At take off, of course, I smell something strong. “Oh my gosh this could be it.” The flight attendant had said we could anticipate a smooth flight once we were at cruising altitude and I am here to tell you WE HAVE NOT REACHED IT YET. The most important question remains –

Should I relax and enjoy it? 

I always get window seats because I have a tendency to get claustrophobic and I love marveling at creation. Right now, I see nothing but a wing jutting out into cloudy darkness. I’ve written in this space many times that while I intellectually grasp that there is not a method of travel more statistically safe than this, I do not find myself clenching on car, bus, or subway rides. And yet, being up here is still marvelous. It is incredible that in mere hours I can be in a completely different part of the country, visiting people that I love. How wondrous that people have worked and are working continuously to make this more efficient and comfortable. In moments, I am going to be able to hit the publish button from 35,000 feet in the air. Plus, someone is going to come down the aisle shortly with some excellent snacks.

I have always looked at the term “first world problems” skeptically, because it seems like a way to dismiss the emotions of others. As a woman of faith, I’ve had no problem that cannot make me look toward the Lord for guidance. Dammit if some bumps don’t remind me to make sure my priorities are right. These bumps are nothing if not “self-inflicted,” as I wouldn’t be feeling them if I hadn’t wanted to have this amazing getaway.

Update: THIS PILOT IS A LIAR HE SAID THE BUMPS WOULD END AT CRUISING ALTITUDE AND IT WAS DEFINITELY FAKE NEWS

person in parachute gliding above mountains

I ain’t ready.

I suppose even the turbulence is marvelous in its own sneaky way, as I have no choice but to surrender to His will and the crew’s expertise. What could be healthier than remembering how little control I have?

More marvelous travel, please!

No Regrets!

Mommy has no choice but to shake her head and smile when I do something, like eat a plate of food that she has obviously set aside for herself, and she calls me out. My response is inevitably, “No regrets!” It’s not like I am going to lose her love, right? The food was calling my name.

I feel similarly about life at times. The world is my Mom’s plate for the taking. I write from about 10,000 feet, on my way to see The Mentor and run a race with her in her current home city of Washington, DC – one of my favorite places in the world.  I am insanely blessed to 1) have an amazing friend like her, 2) have the means to visit her, and 3) have a job from which I am able to take time to visit her. As I gaze out of the window and see God’s beautiful creation, I am made to smile.

Of course, since I am myself, I am unable to feel pure joy. We COULD crash any minute, you know. Also – am I working hard enough? Do I really have any discretionary income – you know, considering? Have I had all of my fun? Live update: we have made it to the gate and as long as I make it back (seriously, Lord, I’m kidding) my loan payment is still due. I will say this – my student loan debt has made me less afraid to die. But I digress, however slightly.

Am I living a life that brings the Lord glory? What am I doing? Is God happy when I am traveling and being the tax and spend Democrat that my Daddy says I am? Perhaps even more importantly, am I using my working days in a manner that pleases Him? What if I am doing everything wrong? How can I be sure that I won’t face Him some day and be greeted by a divine face palm?

At work, I seek to inspire others to tap into their capabilities. I want them to feel comfortable exploring, excited about creating, and willing to collaborate with their classmates to do so. I suppose God could find my desire to facilitate such things pleasing, though I feel I fall short often.

Sadly, my money goes to church with more frequency and predictability than I do. I was baptized in a white evangelical church where I received (and do receive, when I go) solid teaching, but it is difficult for me to cope with the fact that this demographic is the one that is MOST supportive of – well, you know. To be fair, I haven’t really been afraid in the last few years to schedule a race on a Sunday or train or just sleep in. Can I really not afford to give God a concentrated few hours a week? If what we value is reflected in our finances, how much more so with our time?

How much would it suck to be having a good ole time down here like an idiot and being doing it wrong? How can I know I am okay, so to speak? I want to nourish my relationships, professional and personal. I want to challenge myself to grow. I want to see things I’ve never seen before, but I want to do it all in a way that pleases Him. This is the only way I will surely have no regrets. I wish I knew exactly how to do it.

 

‘Επαιξα και εχω νίκησα. Recital Report, Part II

I played and I have won. Heh.

I was expecting to go first because I am – let’s just say, new, but I was wrong. I was second, hah! There was a quartet who played twice in the program so I was the first soloist. I still think I was practically right 😉

I walked onto the stage and adjusted the bench. I thought about putting down the music stand but I didn’t feel like messing with it, so I left it up though I played from memory. I started with my first chord and felt relieved that the piano felt decent. No other instrumentalist has to gamble the way we do! I felt my feet shaking as I was pedaling, but I just took deep breaths and did my best to tell the story. I moved my body to the music I was making and it felt very natural.

On Bended Knees is a slower piece, and I have found over the years that those types of slower tempo pieces are my favorite to play. I felt the same way when I performed in 2014 and I can report confidently that there is no change! While I may not have to worry about my fingers running away or getting tripped up, I do I have to work to stay in the moment mentally – not letting myself think too far ahead. Enjoying every melodic and harmonic moment was key. Key. Heh!

There had been a part as the middle of the piece comes to an end where I had been having some memory trouble, and it happens to be one of my favorite moments of the piece. I had thinking that I wanted this moment to be absolutely perfect as I played, and guess what. It was! I smiled as I relished the chord before continuing. I wanted Burleigh’s lush harmonies to fill the room and I couldn’t have done better. The piece was coming to a climax when I heard a child cry out. “Shut that kid up!” I thought to myself. “This is my time!” The kid was shut up, and I was able to reach the pianissimo ending without interruption 🙂

I got up and was met with a thankful audience. I bowed and returned my seat, where I was able to enjoy the rest of the concert and relax. I am in a group of some talented teachers! It was nice to meet musicians and exchange compliments and respect. It makes me want to play more and more! I hope I make it happen!

thza66n3s7

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