Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year to Me

It happened at a Barry Manilow concert.

Yeah, you read right. 70s crooner Barry Manilow. Not someone I'd normally fork out dollars to see, but my good friend Mark is a DJ who often gets free concert tickets, the operative word being free. More enticing was the thought of spending catch-up time with Mark, whom I first met when we were high school freshmen back in '73. He is, in the most literal sense, my oldest friend and one of my dearest.

But when the concert date rolled around, I wasn't really in the mood. I hadn't realized that the event fell on my mother's birthday, a day that leaves me melancholy. It's been three years and I still miss my mother--my best friend, coach, counselor, and confidant--more than words can describe. At first, I kept waiting for the pain to subside, the hole in my heart to heal, but now I realize that it never will. As my BFF Pam explained, having lost her own beloved father years earlier, a loss of this magnitude simply becomes a part of your DNA. You learn to live with it.

And so I've been living with it, never feeling quite like my old self but accepting this as the new normal. Okay, fine. 

That's why I kept our date and went to the concert with Mark. We were in the nosebleed section (because the seats were comped and hey, beggars can't be choosers), which rendered Manilow the size of a flea. Not only that, we were so far to the right of the stage that we could only see the singer's famous profile, missing all the entertainment taking place in back that the rest of the arena was enthusiastically responding to.

But it didn't matter because the nosebleed section was having a party of its own.  Several DJs from Mark's station were sitting near us and a fun bunch they were. We fed off each other's energy, standing at every song, waving our glow sticks in the air and singing at the top of our lungs, "Oh Mandy, you came and you gave without taking..."

To my surprise, I was genuinely having a good time, feeling a lightness in my heart that's been absent since the day my mother died. That's when, out of the blue, in the middle of a random song, it hit me. An epiphany so dazzling and bright, it was no less blinding than if someone had beamed a flashlight directly into my eyes.

In that packed arena of roughly 10,000 Barry Manilow fans chanting, "Copa, Copacabana!" I felt my mother's presence as intimately as if she was sitting right next to me, shoulder-to-shoulder. And like a cartoon bolt of lightening aimed toward my head, it struck me that it pained her to see me sad, heavyhearted, trudging through a life colored in shades of gray. This wasn't what my mother wanted for the daughter in whose birthday card she once wrote, "Every day I thank God for giving me a daughter like you."

On this lively evening, watching me wiggle and jiggle to ""Bandstand Boogie,"  I felt it -- my mother's joy at my delight. I saw it--the ear-splitting smile on her face. And I realized that on this day, her birthday, I had given her the greatest gift of all: my happiness.

Wow.

Since then, the lightness in my heart, that inkling of joy, has remained. Lingering like a soft, gentle light. Because ultimately, her gift was mine, too.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Nun and the Menorah

I love this story that ran in Leah Garchik's column from today's San Francisco Chronicle...it's a beautiful example of embracing and celebrating all faiths, instead of trying to dilute them to the point of oblivion.

"Jon Levinson of San Carlos, who is Jewish, says that every winter, he and his wife host neighbors, most of them not Jewish, at a Hanukkah party. They serve traditional Jewish foods, light a menorah, play with dreidels. (Note to lovers of English: My spellcheck suggested that "druids" would be a good substitute for "dreidels.") This year, when one set of neighbors couldn't be there, the Levinsons sent them a plate of traditional jelly doughnuts and Hanukkah "gelt" (foil-wrapped chocolate).

The next day, the neighbors' 14-year-old son, Mark Bechtel, brought the treats to his religion class - where there's a daily prayer - at Sacred Heart High School. For that day's prayer, his teacher had the class recite the Hanukkah candle-lighting blessings in English."

Amen to that, with a Merry Christmas and chag sameach!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Picture That!

So there we were, me and Olivia, on a misty Sunday morning at Leo Ryan Park in Foster City, near a scenic lagoon to have our pictures taken.

Oh trust me, on this chilly winter day I would have much rather been at home, snuggled up on the sofa, reading the Sunday Chronicle and enjoying my morning latte. But I needed pictures of my girl, not just for future Pet Tales columns, but also for my annual Christmas card. When my manager Sharon, who happens to be a brilliant photographer, agreed to take pictures, I jumped at the opportunity. 

But Olivia had other plans. She was excited, curious, a little nervous and extremely frisky. She had no interest in posing for pictures. How could a dog be expected to stand still when there were geese on the lawn, ducks in the lagoon and birds in the sky! Not to mention flirty squirrels, giggling children, ambitious joggers, and even two Standard Poodles, one black, the other white, both sporting hot-pink painted toenails.

And I expected Olivia to pose for pictures? What was I thinking?

Sharon's camera whirred nonstop, capturing Olivia's every move as she wiggled and squiggled, anxious to play, sniff and explore. This was so not the "catwalk" my girl had in mind.  After two hours, Sharon and I agreed we'd probably gotten all we could from Olivia--in these foreign surroundings my playful pup was just too distracted to stand still for the camera. And so, we shrugged and called it a day.

But it turned out that amidst the hundreds of photos that Sharon took, there were several that captured Olivia. Her spunky spirit, affectionate nature, and--the pictures most meaningful to me--the bond that we share. Because that bond didn't come easy. It was a rocky road and initially I had my doubts, but today?

The proof is in the pudding--or in this case, pictures. I wouldn't trade my girl for the world.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Classic "Deer" to My Heart

There are columns to write and blogs to post and bills to pay, plus books to read for my two book clubs, ingredients to purchase for two different potluck dinners, not to mention the floor could use a good sweeping, thanks to Olivia's recent massive shedding, and I wouldn't need to buy new socks if I'd just take a minute to simply sew those teeny holes in the heels.

And oh yes, I still have holiday cards to address and presents to buy and decorations to hang, and I'm about to burst a blood vessel because good lord, Christmas is in less than three weeks and I've done nothing yet. Nothing!

So why did I--a fifty-something adult-- spend a precious evening watching "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer?"

Because growing up in the 60s, this Christmas classic was the TV highlight of the holiday season for me and my younger sister, Jenny. From the comfort of our bunk beds, we'd watch it on a tiny black and white TV our dad bought us. I remember how deliciously petrified we were of the scary-looking Bumble, and how frightened we were for Rudolph, Hermy and Yukon Cornelius when they drifted off in the dark on a chunk of ice to get away from the growling Bumble.

And 46-years later, I still get teary-eyed when a humbled Santa asks, "Rudolph with your nose so bright, won't you guide my sleigh tonight?"  Or when the hopeless toys on the Island of Misfit Toys hear the jingle-jangle of Santa's sleigh and leap with joy when they realize he's finally coming for them.

When I phoned Jenny tonight to tell her that Rudolph was on, my brother-in-law answered the phone. "Oh yeah," he replied. "We've already watching it." 

That's why everything else can wait. This was indeed an evening well-spent.
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