The Lies We Tell Ourselves

A few months ago, I blogged about getting hit by a car as a pedestrian in a parking lot near the end of November, injuring my left wrist, arm, and shoulder. This accident happened after I’d signed up (and paid) for mandolin lessons at the Center for Irish Music. I decided to attend the first lesson anyway. I hoped to keep moving, unlike with the other injuries in my 40s (there have been more than a few). I’ve discovered lack of movement results in other kinds of harm on top of the initial injury.

At the first lesson, I was surprised to discover I’d be learning the traditional Irish way–by ear, with no music. I’ve always told myself I can’t learn by ear. I had a difficult time even memorizing my piano recital pieces back in the day. I’ve also spent a lifetime telling myself I’m incapable of learning a stringed instrument (yes, I know a piano is technically a stringed instrument). I felt like a pre-faiulre after leaving that first lesson with a recording of an Irish polka, played by my instructor, Todd Menton (of Boiled in Lead) from which I was supposed to learn the tune. I was sure I’d be returning my lovely rented mandolin and seeking a mercy refund the following week when I showed up completely unable to play the polka.

But I tried anyway. I listened and watched Todd’s fingers on the string. I listened and played a few notes. I got those down, then I listened and played a few more. Somehow, note by note, I discovered I could learn to play by ear. I returned to my second lesson ready to play the polka.

I learned a jig in the month of December and then, started in on a reel. I think it helped that I recognized the underlying structure of these Irish tunes from all the years I’d watched my daughter train and perform as an Irish Step Dancer.

At the end of December, I fell on the ice and the tendon of my right thumb separated from the bone (or something like that); I was put in a splint for a few weeks. Fortunately, the bulk of this happened over the holiday break. In mid-January, I gradually built up the strength to pick with my right thumb and index finger again.

While my life temporarily went to pieces following the death of my ex-husband, I felt encouraged by how I’d inched my way towards healing in one small area.

In February, I learned a slip jig–my favorite of the Irish tunes and the only form original to Ireland (not imported from Poland or England or Scotland). In March, just before the craziness of Covid-19 (and just before we started figuring out lessons via Zoom), Todd sent me home with a recording of a hornpipe. I am going to put a video of me out here playing that hornpipe, not because I’ve reached anything close to perfection. I put it out here only to encourage you to challenge the lies you’ve been telling yourself all these years.

My very imperfect rendering of Little Stack of Wheat, an Irish hornpipe

Grief is More Than Sadness

The world has changed dramatically, since I last dared put down words in this journal. It takes courage, this committment to stringing together coherent words in an unstable world. When I last wrote, the novel coronavirus or, COVID-19, had already made its jump to our species; most of us, however, remained blissfully ignorant of what was coming.

Change comes, individually and collectively. change Can ripple Gently across the surface of a life in progress. It can also come with tsunami-level force, rearranging everything.

Since I last wrote, my individual life has undergone adjustment. On December 27, 2019, my ex-husband and his wife were sitting at my dining room table, eating the meal my 27-year old daughter (home for the holidays) helped me prepare, because my right hand was still in a splint from a fall on the ice. My older son (who lives locally) and his girlfriend joined us for dinner. My husband camped out with our younger son in the basement because second son (half sibling of my older two kids) had a nasty cough.

I hadn’t yet chosen my 2020 word, heal. But, already, the kind of healing I didn’t know I needed was in motion.

The day before our scheduled dinner, I’d debated canceling the invite, because of my injury or because of my younger son’s contagion. But the same nudging that prompted the invitation back in mid-December wouldn’t let me cancel. This meal, I thought, would be the first of many; this meal, I hoped, would serve as the beginning of a broader reconciliation. Instead, the meal would be the last time I’d see my ex-husband.

The father of my older two children died unexpectedly on January 7, 2020.

In January, I held my older two children as they grieved their father; I extended my hand toward their stepmother as she mourned. Late at night, deep inside, I grieved too. I wasn’t grieving my first marriage, long since spent. I wasn’t grieving the man I’d rarely spoken to in recent years, our days of active co-parenting having gradually faded as our children grew into capable adults. Although I was tremendously pained that my children had lost their father so young, I wasn’t sad, per se.

But, I am learning, grief is so much more than sadness.

Grief is raw, unbridled anger. Grief is claustrophobic fear. Grief is waking up at two in the morning with your heart on fire. Grief is feeling like someone shredded your epidermal layer with a cheese grater. Grief is losing your voice and not knowing if it will ever return. Grief is confronting, head on, one’s powerlessness over the uncontrollable. Grief is hammering against the well-meaning people trying to cheer you up or talk you out of your emotions. Grief is carrying a bucket of ice in your gut that can extinguish moments of hope. Grief is the mandatory path one must walk to reach the new version of your life, the one so different than the one you wanted. But grief is also your connection to the life you’ve lost.

Grief belongs to you; it is your right.

More change and grief work came for me in February, after my father was diagnosed with advanced and aggressive prostate cancer. I was still reeling from the news when I began obsessively reading reports of COVID-19, the virus making it unlikely I’ll be seeing my immune-compromised father anytime soon, the same virus now changing your world and mine.

As our shared losses mount daily, know that Our collective grief is real. I claim my word of the year for you, for me, for the world: Heal.