For Philip’s Birthday

This year, on this day, November 19th, Philip would have turned seventy-three. Seventy-three—an age hard to fathom from where I sit so uncomfortably near to it. How did we get this old? I’m five years younger than Philip and have become accustomed to my sixties. But seventies? Isn’t that an undeniable border-crossing? A first step beyond middle-aged?

In my inner images of Philip, the man I carry gently tucked into the corners of my soul, he is forever young. The vulnerable man-child who, at our first encounter, reached for me, pulled me into his arms, and whispered, “Ahh, it’s you.” The rapscallion charmer who toasted me with a wink at our picnic wedding, acting more like a flirt on a pickup than a bridegroom. The whimsical dreamer, ever walking us into our next adventure.

“We carry within us the wonders we seek without us.” I read this quote from Thomas Brown (in Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening. 2000, 2020) and thought of Philip’s never-ending longing for his place on the planet. Was he mistaking the wonders without for those within? Do we ever find home? Is there some coordinate on a map where we belong, where we finally inhale reflected recognition and exhale a resounding relief? Ahh … here it is. We are home.

 But must we accept that the inward turn is the only way to go (or stay)? Might there be another way or a combination of ways for some to attain the inner life? Would Philip ever have been able to nest, to settle into a physical place? Or was he bound to wander, to seek? He who otherwise spoke and wrote incessantly of the longings of the soul for the inward-facing life. He who chose to walk slowly so to be with a place. He who–rather than explore the tourist sites of a new town, preferred to sit on the city’s riverbank, savoring a ripe peach, and, from a contemplative distance, view an ancient cathedral.

Were his wonders solely within? He was also inclined to pack up his picnic, catch the next train, map out the route to the next destination, hail the next boat-taxi. He sat in the prow of the boats we took on Lake Atitlan in Guatemala like a happy dog with his ears flapping back in the wind, scenting and anticipating what was to come in the next port.

Was this impossibly contradictory soul happiest when he was on his way to the next possibility? A nomad, a gypsy? The one who takes to the road to find himself and his solace. Is it an absolute that salvation lies only in a turning within? Or are some of us destined to traverse a more roving, a more transient path on our way to that inner home?

Perhaps, we should have invested in a gypsy caravan (a small RV? A houseboat?) and spent our years wandering. Maybe it would have been a life of staying only long enough to imbibe the beauty and awe of a place, traveling with John Ruskin’s two aims for art: to find beauty in the particularity of each locale and/or to make sense of pain. Our vagabond life—a work of art.

In our simple rolling or floating home, we might, ironically, have found our ground in movement, in flow. Rather than seeking the one place to settle, perhaps, we were more akin to the traveler, Levison Wood, who feared that “getting stuck in one place meant a loss of momentum and with that the prospect of getting stuck in one narrative…” (An Arabian Journey, 2018). Possibly, had we shifted our narrative, no longer seeking a singular home, we might have found more satisfaction in the unsettled, more fluid way of life we’d unwittingly adopted. Perhaps, a narrative embracing a life on the road or the water would have allowed us to build our inward home, one we would furnish with all the splendors and sorrows of the wide world. In many ways, we’d already done this. Yet, the story of finding our place on the planet may have blinded us to an alternative way to see it. How powerful–these stories we tell ourselves. These tales we live by.

Mark Nepo says, “Seeking in the world has always been a way to mirror … where we need to work inwardly.”  Perhaps, our way home would have been worked in flux, in search. Possibly, it was a multifaceted narrative, one of external change and diversity—mirroring back an interior journey rather than a settled existence.

Nepo quotes Saint Francis as saying, “You are that which you are seeking.” Maybe Philip was a seeker mistakenly looking for a place to settle. What he was seeking was the beauty that would ease his pain. Perhaps, a beauty that could not be held still or planted in one spot.

So, my wanderer, my gypsy soulmate, on your Birthday, wherever you roam and wherever you rest, I wish you love. I send you all the love I have found to furnish my inmost home in this time when I’m still here … and you have gone on.

A Beautiful Book

Dear Friends and Readers,

HamnetI am delighted to have published a response to this captivating novel in which I’ve recently been deliciously immersed. The author, Maggie O’Farrell, transported me into a captivating world far from our time and place (Elizabethan England) yet reflecting so much that matters here and now, inwardly and out. The novel I read and loved is called Hamnet. For anyone who enjoys historical fiction, please, don’t miss this book. I won’t say anymore so that you will, I hope, read about it in my review on Christine Christman’s website, Goodwords Inc.

Here’s the review

Christine’s website provides a rich and bountiful resource for readers. Take a wander around it at your readerly leisure:  https://www.goodwordsinc.net/

The book reviews give you more than a good summary and taste of what the books are about. To focus my review, she asked me to respond to the following questions:

  1. What did I learn about myself?
  2. What did I learn about my world?
  3. What new possibilities did this book help me imagine?

Attempting to respond to these points gave me an opportunity to reflect more deeply about the book than I otherwise would have. I hope you enjoy the review enough that it makes you want to read the book. It would be a great book club book.

Wishing all and each of you well and staying relatively sane in these challenging times.

Posted with love,

joan

Announcing … Audiobook Version of Life with an Impossible Person

At 5:35 a.m., a single ray of sunlight sneaked through the crack in the curtains. It sent just enough light into the room to rouse me from the tail-end of a dream in which a locomotive crashed through and devastated my dream-home.20200524_055336

Waking, I lay still, catching my breath, finding the morning, re-claiming the day-world. Eyes still closed, the light beyond my eyelids gratefully transformed the strange train-wrecked dream-world back into the golden peace of familiarity and a summer morning.

Breathing myself into the break-of-day, I opened my eyes.

Across the room, the ray of light landed with precision on the photograph of Philip that sits above my desk. A sunbeam spotlight lit his face while everything else remained in dusky darkness. Good morning, my love.

The words to an old song stirred in the cave of my memory.

But all I have is a photograph. And I realize you’re not coming back anymore.

What song was that? If Philip were here, he’d sing it instantly, no problem retrieving words or tune. His inner storeroom of old songs was remarkable.

I opened the curtains. Sunlight filled the room with light, dissipated sorrow. More and more, I learn to let the emotions of grief ebb and flow. The sorrow has mostly taken on a sweetness that’s gentler, easier to live with.

Later in the morning, thanks to the Internet, I found Ringo Starr and George Harrison singing the song, “Photograph.” I cried and sang along. Cried for Philip not coming back anymore, cried with the nostalgia of the music and those familiar voices.

I can’t get used to living here, while my heart is broke, my tears I cry for you. /I want you here to have and hold, as the years go by and we grow old and grey. /Now you’re expecting me to live without you, but that’s not something that I’m looking forward to.

Here’s the link to the song if you want to travel back to wherever that tune and those beautiful zany boys take you.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IhDKHo2wapM

And here’s my good news. The audiobook version of Life with an Impossible Person is now available on Amazon, Audible, and iTunes. Or you can use this link. Please, go there and listen to the Free Audible Sample.

https://www.amazon.com/Life-Impossible-Person-Memoir-Transformation/dp/B08BJC1ST6/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=joan+heiman&qid=1593316653&sr=8-1

The narrator, Katya Jadwick, is an actress with an exceptional ability to place herself fully inside the characters and the story. We have collaborated throughout this last year as she worked on the recording. The result is a reading that has the power to move me to tears, laugh out loud, and ache with longing. Her performance lifts the words off the pages and gently carries the listener into the scenes and emotions of the book.

Katya also happens to be the grownup version of the little girl I met when she was three years old.  Philip carried her on his shoulders, sang, and recited poetry to her. We had the great good fortune to be close to her through her childhood, her teens, and into her young womanhood. She has infused her love for Philip and the depths of her soul into the reading, and, hence, touches the heart over and over again. This performance is a beautiful gift to me, and I believe to all who will listen. Katya’s reading is a spoken-word sunbeam sneaking through the curtains, lovingly illuminating Life with an Impossible Person. Heartfelt thanks, Katya.

Smoking Vicki

 

Another person in my building died last night. Living in a building for seniors, I am increasingly less shocked, if no less sorrowed, by death. Is this a good thing?

I didn’t know Vicki well. Still don’t know her last name. My friends and I referred to her as Smoking Vicki … This to distinguish her from the other Vicki With the Little Dog. That’s the way we remember names in an 11-story building filled with people who joke about memory loss.

Smoking Vicki – who sat in her car to smoke — was someone I learned to look for. Someone I stopped to talk with. She had answers to my practical problems or questions: Where do I go to buy new tires? What time should I get to the courthouse to avoid waiting for hours to register my car? Where’s the closest UPS store? The cheapest carwash?

But I also gave her my book when I learned that her husband had died, too, years back. She read it, sitting in her car, smoking, and crying. Commiserating about the challenges of caring for complicated and difficult men as they made their way towards death, we laughed through our tears. We talked of picking up the pieces, of carrying on when the reason for carrying on had died.

Smoking Vicki was ready for a laugh, a story, a frustration. She was kind, thoughtful. There for those in need. She drove and sat in the emergency room with a resident after he’d fallen off his horse. Went to the store for Saltines or Fresca when stomach flu’s hit. Always aware of what was going on in the building and who needed what. No big deal. No flap. No hesitation. Ready to help with words and deeds.

Curious and intelligent, she listened with interest and one more question rather than waiting to reply. Still working on herself, she was usually reading when I’d approach her car window. And she’d look up, stop reading … welcoming and eager for conversation.

She’d lost 40+ pounds in this last year. Was up at 4 a.m. and off to the gym by 4:30 to get her treadmill time in while most of us were rolling over for that last sleep.

Smoking Vicki was always “coming up to the final day of smoking.” Tuesday is the day, she’d tell me. This is the year I’m going to beat this damned habit once and for all. But now, instead, the final day of smoking has come up on Vicki. The smoking struggle is over and done.

Having watched my mom struggle through her final year … maybe two, I’m getting better at standing back, finding a kind of peace underlying my tears … or is it resignation? I hear myself say, Better … kinder … for her for death to come so quickly. But for myself and even more for her friends like Carol (not Cleaning Carol but Blue Van Carol) and Ruby and all the others who called Vicki friend or mother or sister, the loss is – as loss must be – yet another break of the heart (as another grieving friend wrote recently).

We are resilient and fragile, courageous and frightened. We face loss, accept death even as we grieve it. And, hopefully, we are (on good days) a little stronger, a little more compassionate, a little more appreciative of our lives and our loves.

Rest in peace, Vicki. I will miss you, am grateful for having crossed paths with you.

October 16 … Birthday Tribute to Winnie

Joan kissing Winnie.JPG

My mother was born on October 16, 1923. She died less than a year ago, on December 2, 2018, and would have been 96 today.   Her name, Winnie (Winifred Marion), was so endearing to me, I lovingly, whimsically called her that as often as I said, Mom. (In later years, she’d often introduce herself to new people, saying, I’m Winnie, as in Winnie the Pooh. So, I think she came to feel the giggle and pleasure of her name, too.)

So, here we are … on her birthday (how has a year gone by?), and I’m feeling the need to honor her in more than thought. Hence, this blog post.

At her funeral, my brother asked his two children – Winnie’s beloved grandchildren who always called her Winnie-Mom — to speak in her memory. He suggested that he and I let them speak so we wouldn’t have to battle tears in front of an audience. I was exhausted and sorrowed by her final days – though only grateful to have been present. So, gladly accepting my brother’s generous proposal, I listened to my nephew and niece with deep gratitude and love as they struggled through their tears. They were brave when I wasn’t, and I hope they know how grateful their dad and I were to them on that melancholy day. Their eulogies were heartfelt … moving … filled with their love for her.

In the few days between her death and the funeral, I stumbled about Winnie’s apartment in that odd state of emotional incomprehension that tends to protect us in the first hours and days of loss. Grief for Philip (who died three and half years earlier) reemerged, bundling itself up with Winnie’s death and leaving me weary to the bone.

But then, I found, tucked away in a zippered compartment in Winnie’s handbag, the Mother’s Day card I’d sent her seven months earlier.  That she’d been carrying it with her since May brought on yet another bout of tears along with the grateful tenderness that had deepened between us in the final years of caring for her in her weakening body while she continued to care for my grieving soul.

Ultimately, I tucked the card in the zippered compartment of my purse, not sure but thinking I could possibly read it at the funeral. However, when the time came, my mouth stopped working, my body felt leaden and nailed to the pew, and, well … it didn’t happen.

In honor of this birth date, therefore, I want to share the words that she’d secreted away and carried with her in her final months of life.

*****

May 2018

Dear Mom,

Thanks … for all you are … and all you do!

Happy Mother’s Day

I want to thank you for …

  • Encouraging me to write (handing me a blank journal as early as elementary school).
  • Showing me the wonder of books and how they invite us into so many new worlds.
  • Teaching me the value of kindness.
  • Sharing your love of art, music, and theater.
  • Giving me a safe and happy home, a secure ground from which to venture out.
  • Being there when I was hurting.
  • Being there when I was happy.
  • Teaching me to be tolerant, open-minded, and fiercely fair.
  • Supporting my dreams.
  • Teaching me how to dress tastefully 😊.
  • Loving and tolerating Philip … in all his Impossible-ness.
  • Your generosity beyond measure.
  • Your love that never faltered.     

Wishing you so much love and ease on Mother’s Day and always. Ever yours, joan

*****

Some of you know I’m currently working on a second book based on the three years (2009-2012) Philip and I spent in Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates) where I taught at a women’s college and felt as though I’d stepped onto the wildest, no-exit roller-coaster ride I couldn’t have imagined. Some also know the content for this book was another gift from Winnie. After writing to her nearly weekly (to appease some of the guilt I felt for leaving her on the other side of the world), upon our return, she showed me the boxes holding all my letters. “You have a book to write,” she said with both glee and gravitas.

I’ve been slowly making my way through letters, postcards, and photos over the past months. Transcribing the large basket filled with those that were hand-written, and finding, copying, and pasting those I’d saved in an, unfortunately, less than orderly fashion on my laptop. Ultimately, there will have to be an enormous culling, but for now, I’ve spent the past months being awed and entertained by the adventures and misadventures Philip and I had in Abu Dhabi, as well as on our trips to England and Europe during summer and winter breaks.

If Winnie hadn’t thought to save the letters, my memory could never have reproduced so many of the details of those three richly challenging years. But more surprising perhaps than being reminded of the many little and big incidents I’d lost to time are the many instances in which I found solace in confiding in her. The letters were therapy and Winnie the therapist/confidant. With her as my audience, I regained equilibrium and perspective because that’s who she was and what she’d always given me.

I hope it won’t take yet another three years to get to the bottom of the basket and create something resembling a book. But, for now, and on her birthday, I want to express my heartfelt appreciation for the person I was so graced to have beside me and behind me for 66 years of my life.  I couldn’t have asked for a more loving or loveable mother.

Happy Birthday, 2019, Winnie. With all my love and gratitude. Always.

IMG_1213
Winnie’s last visit to her beloved Nassau County Museum where she volunteered for 17 years.