I am a singer, a writer, a mother, a teacher. I am learning to live life differently at this new stage of life. Adventures, food, music, books, friends, religion. Everything is interesting. Everything old is new again.
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People who do not live in Florida tell me that I live in paradise. And in some ways it is true. The sun shines almost all the time, tropical and sub-tropical flowers bloom almost all the time; bougainvillea, oleander, bird of paradise. The scent of orange blossoms and blooming magnolia trees is intoxicating. Sunrise and sunsets are heartbreakingly beautiful.
I am, however, averse to the wildlife here. There are bugs the size of my hands, there are alligators in almost all bodies of water, there are snakes. There are tiny lizards that rule the world. There are a ridiculous number of different types of frogs. At certain times of the year the chorus of their voices at night is intense.
But it is the flowers in New England where I rarely get to go in full summer that speak to me. In part their voice is the voice of memory. Tiger lilies, day lilies, hosta lillies, black eyed susans, daisies beautiful ferns, purple spikey alyssum, bleeding heart, blueberries, raspberries, peaches, cherries, the blooms of the apples to come.
I have become accustomed to sunshine and warmth. I have lived in the sun for many years, although not in the same place. I do not mind visiting the cold, walking in the snow with a frosty nose and cold feet. The weather cannot stop me from going where I want to go. Despite my willingness, I have no great desire to live in the cold and grey. I have so far found no incentive to permanently leave this almost paradise. There are others, to find or visit. We shall see.
It is amazing to see, in places where no soil appears, growth happens. Things grow; life flourishes where there is nothing apparent to nourish it.
And so it is with humans. Time and again we see the struggle to survive, to grow, where there is nothing to nourish. Children love abusive parents, starving parents find a way to feed starving children. People continue to plant, and hope for growth, where the ground is unforgiving. People who grow up in abject poverty rise to great leadership. A child who learns piano on a tabletop becomes a concert pianist. People innovate in the hope of making growth more viable; look at Israel, a blooming country in the desert, a testament to human persistence.
We grow or we die. And so it is with our very selves. The physical is obvious, the emotional, intellectual and spiritual less so. Faith dies but we continue to mouth the words, attend the services and fail to seek a renewal of faith. Marriages die and we stay because it is easier, familiar and the alternative is too scary. Our minds atrophy but we sit in front of the television instead of seeking revitalization, new inspiration.
And yet, despite our own worst efforts, we grow. And if we put some effort into it who knows what might happen. Like the plants in the unforgiving stone wall, we struggle to grow no matter what.
I sat down to a meal of fried chicken in a soul food restaurant in Montgomery, Alabama. Despite the stares of other patrons I was totally ready to tuck into mac and cheese, collards and pecan pie along with that beautiful chicken.
I picked it up in my fingers and, in that moment, it struck me how lovely it is to eat with your hands.
On any given Friday night we tear a challah with our fingers and disregarding germs pass the pieces from hand to hand, sharing the taste of Shabbat and each others’ fingers.
I recently ate a bowl of steamed mussels, aromatic with tomato, garlic and sherry. With it some toasted crunchy French bread. I tried to start with a fork, hoping to appear more ladylike, but no. They deserved to be eaten with fingers, crunchy bread soaking up the “soup” in the dish. And then you have to lick your fingers, all pretense of ladylike abandoned in the moment.
There is a sensuality to food eaten mindfully, savored. It is even better with good conversation or music, eaten slowly between paragraphs. But it is most viscerally sensual when eaten with your fingers, no intervening metal. And if you can, get someone else to lick your fingers.
The twisting narrow road is lined with sea worn stone walls overwhelmed with flowers. The road is so narrow it feels unsafe as we drive on what to me is the wrong side. The island is small but this trip takes us most of the way along its beautiful length lush with greenery and adorned with spectacular homes. As we navigate the ups and downs the bluest sea is mostly to the right of our small van transport.
There are flowers everywhere, some I could name, some I could not; oleander, bougainvillea, hibiscus, jacaranda, exora, plumbago. I could spend weeks here just looking at the landscape and of course, the sea.
We took some very hard curves, what felt like switchbacks, until I lost my sense of in what direction we were headed. And then, like magic, the sea appeared on my left in a suddenly opened view of that amazing clear blue water.
I looked out the window at the blue sky, a mirror of the sea – or the other way round – at puffy cumulus and moored sailboats with their white sails furled. And what I thought was “what a fine day.” And suddenly, I was simply overwhelmed with the wonder of my life. I was amazed that I was really in this beautiful place and I started to cry with a feeling of gratitude for this amazing life. It has been a long time in the making, but it is amazing. I have been to places and done things I never thought possible. I have given and received love from absolute strangers who are strangers no more. I have shared my joy and my pain with others who understand. I am writing. I am singing.
As I looked at the sea and sky and flowers all I felt in that moment was pure gratitude. I did not summon it, it just happened. How rare to have that pure and strong a feeling, and to know what it is.
There is magic, on a late summer night, sitting with your toes in the sand. The stars twinkle above befriended by a perfect half moon. At my back the sound of the waves lapping the shore and before me a perfect vertical bonfire raising its glowing ember arms to the velvet sky.
We are a circle of friends, sharing our joys and sorrows, our triumphs and disasters knowing that we are loved no matter what. What feels a shame to us just gains a smile, a soft silence, a hug; until we know that it is no shame. In this moment of acceptance and serenity we can feel and acknowledge our own growth. We are no longer bound by fear and self.
And in the circle, and the night, and the ocean and the fire, we are new -just for this day, this night, this moment. There is no need to look ahead or behind. We are present. Life will always bring new joys, new sorrows, new trials and triumphs. But in this moment, we are are safe in our own skins. A group of friends sitting on a beach. The magic is we are healing, together.