Certain scents hold sway over me. The smell of cinnamon, for example, propels me back in time to where I hover just outside my childhood home’s kitchen in wait of my mom’s proclamation that her heavenly cinnamon rolls are ready to eat.
It’s not only scents that have this power over me. Certain songs, too, yank me straight out of now, depositing me firmly—as long as their strains whisper their magic in my ears—in times and places that would, without music, be strictly memory.
I walk up to my mom’s house and see that she’s out working in her yard. I greet her, give her a hug and tell her I have to “powder my nose,” but that I’ll be right back.
When I step back outside, my mom is smiling while explaining to a passing stranger, “My daughters introduced it to me. Isn’t it so hopeful? When I listen to it, I feel like anything is possible.” I stop and savor the moment from the porch, unwitting to the fact that a song already much beloved by me will someday be one of two roads that lead me to a place where I again stand in my mom’s presence.
I hop off the bus on which I have pretended to study law all the way between UCLA and Hollywood. I do the same as I wait for the music to begin. Once it does, I sit through song after song, hopeful that one of the songs Gary sings will be “Mad World.” When I hear the song’s first notes, I suppress the urge to exclaim my delight. In the candlelit darkness of The Hotel Café, I close my eyes and am lost to the haunting melancholy of that song. If I am very lucky, I do so with the knowledge Mack will be driving me home soon after I reopen my eyes.
I tell Eric I’m sad I missed his last show, but that my youngest sister wouldn’t have been too understanding if I went to a concert instead of her wedding. Eric hands me a CD of the show and tells me it’s not the same as having been there, but that this way I won’t have missed it completely. He then asks with endearing awkwardness, “Is that weird?” I reassure him it is a lovely gesture, not weird.
A handful of days later, I think of this exchange after I pack my dog into my car and begin a sixteen-hour drive that will, if I am lucky, lead me to say a final goodbye to my “Grampa G” while he is still alive. I put Eric’s CD in my car’s player and skip straight to “Bitter Honey,” which is my bittersweet company through that day’s drive.
I stop for a few hours of sleep in Williams, California. I walk my dog for a few minutes before we return to the car. As the sun rises on that walk, I take this picture. Minutes later, I continue my flight northward. I pray I will be in time to hug a man who took many years to accept hugs, and more years still to welcome them.
I drive southward a few days later, weeping as I try to understand how Grampa G can no longer have a physical home on earth. I listen to “Bitter Honey” and understand that in a song and a picture, I will always be able to find my way back to the blessed moments where I clasped one of Grampa G’s hands between my own as I thanked him for waiting for me.
My family and I are attending a church conference in Montana. I am so captivated by this song that I stake out the TV room on my dorm floor in a state of constant anticipation for its next play. I scowl a wordless threat at anyone who so much as looks in the direction of either the remote or the TV’s control panel. I issue politely couched threats to anyone who tries doing more than justlook at them. In doing these things, I retain dominance of the room save when I am forced out by pesky community-building gatherings.
I am sixteen years old. I have moved out of my mom’s house, again. I have just enough money to pay rent for a bedroom out in the boonies, but not enough money to buy myself a bed. As I lie on the floor trying to sleep, I am as terrified as I am exhilarated until To Go Beyond II starts playing. I hear it and know the thrill of being, for its duration, carried straight to heaven.
Sixteen years later, I continue to believe for so long as the song plays not only that there is heaven, but that my mom dances there eternally. For a few minutes at a time, I am able to bask in the light of her peace, a kind I understand she could never have found on earth.
What songs move you, and to where?
Like many things, memory of how Georgette (Georgette Sullins’s blog) and I crossed blogging paths is lost to me. However it happened, I’m grateful it did.
Apart from having a fascinating–and, luckily for us, documented!–personal history with space expoloration and current life full of teaching-related adventures (yes, those are possible!), she’s a thoughtful, supportive commenter. Knowing she’s out there ready to share such comments has been and will hopefully continue to be a huge part of my comfort publishing sensitive entries.
Recommended post: “Guess what?” II
The key never moved. It’s amazing to me how in a house of four kids and two busy parents the key was never lost, misplaced or mysteriously disappeared during our weekly routine or the moves to different states. Usually the key lay on the mantel under the clock or was carefully placed inside the back door of the inner workings. Thankfully this assured our household that time would march on and the strains of Westminster, Whittington or St. Michel would continue to maintain the rhythm of our household.
The key belonged to a mantel clock that my father kept wound from Sunday to Sunday for many years. It was an eight-day clock. We grew accustomed to hearing the chimes at the quarter, half hour and on the hour for many years. We knew it was the start of another week when Daddy would crank the three mechanisms: one to wind the hour, the other to wind the minute hands, and one to keep the chimes ringing.
It was my gift to him and my mother after they arranged to send me to Spain for a summer. The trip was a dream come true for me and I wanted to thank them in the most special way that I could. I reserved some money for a very special purchase. Since I was in Europe, I planned to find something very practical, and something that would remind my dad of having lived with his family in the Dutch embassy. Daddy had told us of the clock his father would wind up once a week, and the chimes that would ring throughout his house. I told my aunt and uncle of my intentions and so in the city of Sevilla we looked through the stands at the Jueves (the flea market), the shops on and around Calle Sierpes (the shopping district), and around the Barrio de Santa Cruz. All the vendors asked right away, “¿Cuál timbre?”, “Which chime?” Their question confused me and made me second guess my decision to look for the clock, because I hadn’t given any thought to which chime I wanted it to play. I asked my uncle, “What chime did Papi’s clock (his father and my grandfather) play when they were children?” “I think it was Westminster,” he answered.
So we searched for a clock that would chime Westminster. Although I was in Spain, we found the chime but the prices were exorbitant for me. Then, one day my aunt told me she had spotted one at just the right price. We went with cash in hand and bought it on the spot before it could be sold to someone else. I couldn’t believe my luck when I found out the clock could be set to three different chimes. Surely, one of those chimes would be the right one.
At the end of my summer stay, my uncle boxed it up carefully for the trip back home. He tied a rope around the box so I could carry it more easily on the plane. He even punched holes through the box so the customs officials could tell it was a clock and it wouldn’t need to be opened. “Guess what?” I said to my parents as they looked at the box when they met me at the airport. “We found it in Sevilla and it chimes!”
I couldn’t wait to get home to find a place for it. At the time we lived in Florida so there was no fireplace mantel. For a time it rested on the top of the television. Later, when we moved to a colder climate, it found its proper place on the mantel. The tradition continued for weeks and years. Daddy thanked me by taking pleasure in winding the clock every Sunday night. During the week we were not disappointed. The chime played clearly and predictably. However, we had to laugh over the weekend because by Saturday and Sunday the sound of the chimes had slowed down, sounding tired, in need of their weekly cranking by the key.
Side note: Before the clock ever entered our house, I had learned a song at church. The lyrics were sung to the melody of Westminster chimes, “Oh Lord our God, Thy children call, Grant us Thy peace, And bless us all.” With or without the key, with or without the clock, I used to sing it to myself. It has become a spontaneous prayer when I’m reminded of the familiar melody.
Used with permission. Georgette Sullins and Georgette Sullins’s Blog, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Georgette Sullins and Georgette Sullins’s Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
On September 19, 2008, 14-month-old Nathan Coleman was beaten to death by his mother’s boyfriend. His tiny body was discarded in a Dumpster behind my apartment. Read more…
“Only three miles left! How’s that feel?”
“Like hell,” I spat through gritted teeth.
Rightfully not taking my grumbled response personally, the lady laughed and offered up some orange slices. I offered the heartiest thanks I could muster as I nabbed these while
cruising crawling up a molehill that felt like Everest.
I hadn’t planned to run that first marathon. In fact, I’d only started running because I figured I could complete an entire run in the amount of time it would take me just to travel between gym and home. Pacing wasn’t an important part of the running I’d been doing before I started the 2004 L.A. Marathon, which I did for no greater reason than that my roommate said a couple weeks beforehand, “You’re running so much, you should run the marathon!”
I started the marathon the way I started most my runs: with as much speed as I could muster. I raced through the first ten miles at a 6- and 7-minute per mile clip. I was on top of the world!
Around mile 17, I learned how running a marathon is not like going for a two-hour run around your neighborhood. You’re in it for the long haul, not just for as long as you feel like running.
Around mile 24, I was barely moving. I was so lost in the effort of making it one more step (and praying I’d pass out so I could stop running), I didn’t have enough energy to believe in myself.
Fortunately, others not only believed in me but vocally urged me onward. Someone would yell, “Almost there, 6287!” and I’d think, “You know, they’re right! I am almost there!” I’d push myself back up toward speeds almost qualifiable as running speeds, and keep them going for a full minute or two before I flagged again.
When downtown Los Angeles came into sight, my fists flew up in an unplanned demonstration of primal glee. Right after that, I thought, with a lot more swearing, “I don’t like the telescoping lens effect in horror movies and I like it less here. @#$)@#*%!”
I kept running.
By the time I rounded the last corner, a block seemed like an eternity. Keeping up a crawl was taking everything I had.
“6287,” someone shouted. “You’re looking tired!”
No sh!t, Sherlock, I thought graciously.
“You’re looking tired, but you’ve got this! Sprint it! I know you’ve got it in you!”
I couldn’t see the person who yelled this encouragement, but I believed him. I looked at the finish line looming and thought, “Hell, yeah, I can do this!”
I steeled myself and I ran. I didn’t crawl, I didn’t doubt, I didn’t do anything but run.
I crossed that finish line and I wept like a little girl who’s told she’s never going to have ice cream again. Ever. But my tears had a different source: I’d done it. And I’d done it, in part, due to orange slices, high fives, and people shouting me on when I didn’t have enough room in my heart to believe in myself.
It’s been ten months since I ran my half marathon in Portland. In those months, until this morning, I’ve run only twice. The first run was twelve minutes; the second, sixteen.
This morning I told myself I’d run fifteen minutes. Instead, I ran twenty. I doubtfully ran even one-tenth the distance I covered in either marathon I’ve run, but it was a challenge nevertheless. It’s always a challenge coming back to something after a long break. Am I still good for this?
I thought of all those folks who cheered me on when I so needed it. I thought, too, of all the kind words you have shared when I needed them here, and the way you did the same in response to Darla’s raw, personal, breathtaking reflections on gratitude.
Your words mean something. In the end, it’s the runner herself who will or will not find what it takes to finish that marathon, or to push the “Publish” button no matter her doubts. But I believe more and more each day races are finished with the support of the people whose faith in us helped us overcome our own doubts before and during, and whose Gatorade and movie marathons afterward remind us that we’ll make it through the challenges to come, too.
Thank you for that, dear readers.
Thank you, “Sherlock.”
Darla (She’s a Maineiac) and I first connected over her recounting of tough experiences that have nevertheless failed to roughen her soul. Her words are as open as they are transporting; through them, you’re gifted, for a moment, with the opportunity to see the world absolutely, exactly as she sees it. Be warned: You might not want to go back to seeing through your eyes after seeing through hers.
Recommended post: The Thread
Loving Spirit, Mind and Body
“I’m serious,” I breathed deep as my trembling hands held out the stick for my husband to inspect. “It’s positive.” Again. My body heaved with a sigh that sunk straight to my core. The look in my husband’s eyes mirrored mine. Disbelief. Fear. Hope. I felt his arms envelope me and I was soothed for a moment by their comfort. “Okay,” he whispered. “It will be okay.”
“I know it will,” I smiled. “I just know it.”
As the next few weeks dragged by, I found myself almost holding my breath, like somehow by sheer willpower I could stay pregnant this time. I gingerly crept around, careful not to overexert myself so I might hold onto that blissful feeling of a little life blooming inside of me. The thought of repeating that dreadful moment when I felt my baby’s tiny flickering light slowly drain out of my body and soul only to be lost forever was almost too much to bear.
I had felt the familiar deep sting of my body betraying me years before when we’d tried for two years to get pregnant with our firstborn, my son. At the age of 30, I was diagnosed with severe endometriosis during surgery to remove a giant cantaloupe sized cyst along with my right ovary and fallopian tube. I cursed my defective body. How could it have failed me so cruelly? Feelings of anger and jealousy found their way into my heart as much as I tried to shamefully push them away. My bitterness only burned with more intensity as I watched my friends and family get pregnant with relative ease. The surgeon said my remaining ovary was covered in endo adhesions and scar tissue. The chances of getting pregnant were slim, but not impossible. I was done with the heartbreak. We began to explore other options. Yet, the very month we gave up, I got my positive and my beautiful boy was born on a chilly autumn night that September.
And now, as I stood shaking and holding out that positive pregnancy test for my husband to see, we had already gone through the hell of miscarriage two cycles in a row trying for our second child. Maybe this time would be the charm. Maybe this time my baby’s light would continue to twinkle and shine. Maybe this time I’d see the heartbeat flickering on the ultrasound machine. In the middle of the night, I’d sneak over to the window, look up at the moon and pray, tears rolling down. Could God hear me? I would squeeze my eyes shut and whisper to the darkening sky. Please let my baby stay! Please!
After a multitude of blood tests, my obstetrician prescribed one baby aspirin and a mega dose of B vitamins a day to battle the blood clotting disorder I was diagnosed with after the second miscarriage. He assured me I could carry this pregnancy. Every morning, I held the tiny pill in my hand, marveling that something so small and simple could sustain a life inside of me. Yet, I didn’t feel the suffocating worry lift until my fifth month when I looked up at the computer screen and saw the incredible 3D image of our baby sucking her thumb. “She even looks like me!” I gushed. I knew it would finally be alright. A few days after Thanksgiving, November 28, 2006, my daughter was put to my breast, her eyes wide and twinkling. I was floating in pure joy.
Today, that baby is almost five years old. She spends her days dancing and singing and sprinkling a bit of her sweet self everywhere she goes. My son is nine and is the most loving, sensitive and sincere little boy on the planet. I am blessed.
Now when I look in the full-length mirror, do I see the ugly C-section scars or the lumps, bumps and sags? Do I focus on what is “wrong” with my body? Or do I see something beautiful? Yes, it was my body that I felt had betrayed me once. But it was my body that carried these glorious babies, enabling me to feel their kicks and wiggling toes. It was my body that endured the endless hard labor and painful surgeries and helped to deliver these incredible souls into this world. It was my body that nursed them when they were hungry. And it’s my body that holds them tight, strokes their hair and rocks them to sleep at night.
As I get older, I love my body a little more each day. The number on the scale doesn’t hold power over me any longer. I am careful to treat my body like the amazing thing it is, with love, respect and kindness. It houses my mind, my soul, my spirit. Why bother putting it down or viewing it in a negative light? I am thankful each day that I can simply stand up and walk across the room so I can wrap my arms around my family. I can watch them play and dance. I can hear them giggle and hoot and holler. I can hold them close, breathing in their warmth and love.
Yes, I am truly grateful for this tired, creaky old body; wrinkles, gray hairs, sags, bags and all. It is what makes it possible to live in this world and to share this experience with those that I love deeply.
What more could I ask for?