Regrets and Remembering

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It’s been 7 years today since my father died. How it’s been this long is something I cannot understand, because on that morning, it felt like the entire world stopped spinning and all time ceased. In some ways, I suppose, it actually did. I’ll never be the same person I was before this day. Some part of me is frozen behind a transparent wall that separates me from evolving into who I would have been without this loss. I lost more than my father that day – I lost myself. Ever so slowly, I’ve gotten small parts of myself back, and yet I know there will never be a time when I get back the comfort I lost that day. Each year that passes, a new phase of loss takes over, and while it always focuses on something a little different, the feeling is the same: I’m physically and mentally exhausted and I find myself wandering aimlessly. On one of my recent wanderings, I started obsessing over things I regret when it comes to my dad. They aren’t huge regrets; luckily I have none of those (well, maybe one: right after he died, I cried for days when I realized my last Christmas gift to him had been a toaster…a toaster! I regret that damn toaster like you wouldn’t believe.)

If I Could Go Back I Would:

Take More Photographs – And by “more” I mean “way too many;” because now, I look back, and I don’t have nearly enough photos of my father and I together. We live in an age where there is a camera at your fingertips about 99% of the time – bust it out no matter how much people piss and moan – they’ll thank you later. Bonus points for taking candid’s of people you love when they don’t even know you’re doing it – when they’re being their authentic selves. Those captured moments are priceless and sadly, photographs tend to last much longer than we do.

Ask More Questions – I don’t know what age I was when I figured out that my parents were actually human beings, but now that I know they were individual people with a history of their own before I ever came into existence, I really wish I asked my dad more questions. I yearn to know him as an adult. Get to know your parents at every new age you enter – the man I knew my father to be when I was 12 years old, was different than the man I knew him as when I was 24…and I’d sure love the opportunity to get to know him now that I’m in my 30’s; because as we mature, so do the questions we ask.

Say “I Love You” More – As in, way too much. I come from a family where we say “I love you” constantly. I exchanged these words with my parents probably ten times in a day – and I STILL wish I’d said it to my father more. Tell people you love them. Say it until you’re blue in the face and they’re looking at you strangely wondering if something is very wrong with you. Just. Say. It.

Ride The Damn Motorcycle – My dad was a pretty cool guy. He hiked, he camped, he knew how to fix anything, he could cook up a feast, he knew every answer in Jeopardy, he loved riding motorcycles…the list goes on. As life goes, my dad let go of some of his beloved hobbies as he got older, riding motorcycles being one of them. As a gift, not long before he died, my mom surprised him with one. As in, went out and bought it behind his back and put it in the driveway on a beautiful summer morning. It was a completely insane gift that he never EVER would have bought for himself (You guys were a really good match, Mom…I see that more than ever now), and I will NEVER forget the open-mouthed look of surprise on his face when he saw it shining in the driveway. My regret is this: He asked me a thousand times to let him take me for a ride on it – but I always refused. I always shook my head violently whenever he’d beg, saying “It’s so frickin’ cool, Ash!” I know it would have made him so happy to take me for a ride, and there’s nothing I’d like more now than to climb on the back and bite back my fear. The point: If you can bring joy to your loved ones by saying “yes:” Just. Say. Yes. Say “yes” to being part of the things that make their heart happy.

(On a related note: Buy. The. Motorcycle. Life is too short to deny yourself the things that make your soul feel joy.)

Say “Thank You” More – I’ve always been grateful to my parents. Growing up, we didn’t have tons of money, and I saw how hard they worked to give us everything they could. Now that I’m older, I see the DEPTH of what they did for us. I can appreciate now, more than ever before, the extent of their love. For example, I now realize how completely EXHAUSTED my dad must have been, working the hours he worked, but he’d come through the front door every night, briefcase in hand, smiling – ready to play monopoly, backgammon, cook dinner, or watch movies with us. I’d love to say “thank you” not only for providing us with a home and food, but also for “man-ing up” and putting in the extra effort when I’m sure he wanted to collapse. Hell, I don’t even have three kids and when I get home from work, I can barely summon the energy to feed myself. So, find gratitude in the littlest things, which are really the biggest – and (here’s the important part) speak that gratitude out loud. I was still too young when my dad passed away to thank him for the things I’d thank him for now.

Every day that we’re on this earth with the people we love is a blessing and when you think of how fast it can all change, it becomes too big to comprehend. But, every single sacred moment that you’re in the presence of those most important to you is an opportunity to LOVE them – and I mean “love” as a verb, an action. Don’t let it overwhelm you. No act of love is too small. In fact, it’s the smallest things that end up being the biggest.

Missing you, daddy.

– A

The Post in Which I Argue With a Brilliant Dead Man: The View Looking Back

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Henry David Thoreau once said:

“NEVER LOOK BACK UNLESS YOU ARE PLANNING TO GO THAT WAY.”

I’ve seen this quote in countless places: classrooms, journals, Facebook posts, Instagram, Pinterest, articles and inspirations…you name it, I’ve seen it there. Google Image it…you’ll understand what I mean. If you haven’t seen this quote before, I’m not judging you, I’m just gently telling you to climb out of the cave you’ve been living in.

I completely understand the message old Mr. Thoreau was trying to convey: The more we focus on what’s behind us, the higher the possibility of regressing.

But, you see, while I understand the message……..I’m also calling “bullshit.”

I see things a bit differently. (I should note that as I’m typing this, I’m thinking, “Am I really about to argue with the writer of Walden right now? In a public forum?” Please blame my boldness on the glass (es) of wine I’ve had. But, alas, I wanted to write honestly about what led me to these thoughts and this was it.)

Before you judge me, let me share with you what led to this epiphany. Ironically, I’m even going to bring nature into it and how it brought me to this realization:

I seek the woods.

I am at peace when I am alone in nature.

I yearn for the outdoors. I can see the trees around me, and sense the open space, and feel the air, and taste the earth, and smell the dirt. After growing up with miles of woods surrounding me, it’s ingrained in my soul to seek nature…

It’s where I find my center.

It’s where I do my best thinking.

It’s where thoughts and inspirations, quite literally, flood my brain; so much so that I’ve actually had to start recording myself on my phone when new thoughts hit me so I don’t lose them.

Living in LA, there’s not a whole lot of places you can go to immerse yourself in nature and this has led me to become an even more avid hiker. While LA lacks in the nature department compared to New England (let’s be honest: everywhere lacks in that department compared to New England, and this is something Thoreau would agree with, no doubt), it has no shortage of amazing hikes. The trails are winding and dusty and filled with luxurious and coveted quiet spots among the City of Angels.

Today, I went hiking in Malibu. I’ve done this particular hike about 20 times. It’s incredibly challenging and when it’s hot enough out, there are actually points where I think to myself: “I’m absolutely going to pass out on the trail and someone is going trip over my lifeless and dehydrated body.” But I ALWAYS make it. And I always take the hard way up. And I always pound through as fast as I can without letting my eyes leave the next peak.

Yet, today was different.

I did something I’ve never done.

I looked back.

I turned my body around on the trail and I looked behind me and lost my breath as I realized I’d been missing half of the view.

Because, man, that view…It was breathtaking.

That view made me realize how amazing my body is; how perfectly and powerfully it functions and how strong I am. It made me realize what I’d conquered.

When we’re in the midst of a climb, it’s easy to forget to stop and take in the progress we’ve made. It’s hard to pat ourselves on the back and say, “Damn, you’re gettin’ through it, kid” when we never look back at where we’ve been.

It’s easy to forget that we’re in the midst of conquering a mountain.

So, as I climbed and my body hurt and screamed for me to stop, I looked back, and it encouranged me to push forward, because I couldn’t believe what I’d already done. I couldn’t believe I’d started out at the very bottom and now had a breathtaking 360 degree view of the ocean and mountains because I was so high up.

In my waking life, I’m still climbing that mountain. I’m still conquering the hills that make my soul hurt and scream out for me to stop. I still ache with uncertainty and missteps and lack of direction.

But….I’m looking back.

I’m looking back and I’m seeing that I like the view of what’s behind me.

It’s breathtaking.

I’m seeing that I’ve come so far. I’m seeing that even though at times, I get lost in the climb and focus soley on putting one foot in front of the other, I’m still climbing. I’m still getting to a higher place and gaining view of an incredible perspective. And at NO POINT, am I worried that I’m going back there…to what’s behind me.

….And that, put as simply as possible, is why I don’t agree with one of the writers I’ve admired since I was in the 7th grade.

Every good thing is a good thing because we have something less than good to compare it to.

I’m afraid that if we ignore what’s behind us for fear of going back, we’ll never realize how far we’ve come. We’ll keep finding ourselves exerting so much effort and not really taking the time to give ourselves credit for what we’ve already accomlished. Let what is behind you serve as motivation to continue climbing. And if you’re at the bottom…well, darling, there’s no where to go but up.

Create your view from the top…then look back at all the things behind you – not with the intention of returning to them, but with admiration for the perspective that you’ve gained.

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Love,

– A

Love, Loss, Liberation

 

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What if we could never lose the people we fall in love with?

What if we could keep them forever?

Wouldn’t that be magnificent?

To get to just know they’ll always be ours?

How much heartache have we all felt over the course of a lifetime in letting go of and “losing” someone we love so much?

What if there was a special potion that would make it so that you never feel that loss? A potion in a beautiful little vial you could buy at a candle lit shop at the base of a snow covered mountain, concocted in limited amounts by a beautiful old woman with magical looking eyes?

Would you take the journey to buy it to ensure you’d never feel that loss again?

I’ve reached a point of understanding that has really allowed me to come into a new sense of what love is about and I want to share it with you, because it’s liberating.

To convey what I’m wanting to say about love, I need to rely on some words, first, by my favorite author, Paulo Coelho.  Read these once.  Read them twice.  Read them as many times as you need to until you realize the full magnitude of them.

“People give flowers as a present because flowers contain the true meaning of love. Anyone who tries to posses a flower will have to watch its beauty fading. But if you simply look at a flower in the field, you’ll keep it forever, because the flower is part of the evening, and the sunset and the smell of damp earth and the clouds on the horizon.

That is what the forest taught me. That you will never be mine, and that is why I will never lose you. You were my hope during my days of loneliness, my anxiety during moments of doubt, my certainty during moments of faith.”  – from the novel Brida

I feel like, throughout my life, I’ve always sought to posses people if I love them.  We all do. I think it’s a really “human” thing to do. We put labels on our relationship that denote different levels of possession. Whether it’s friendship love (best friend), or romantic love (husband, girlfriend, wife), we are always seeking to make the person belong to us in some way, which is inarguably, very romantic.

They are “ours” and we are “theirs.”

We go through life, acutely aware that someday we may lose this loved one.

And, let’s face it, we always do.

Sometimes it’s mother nature that takes them away from us, and sometimes it’s something more complicated like conflict of beliefs or infidelity or mismatched signs of the zodiac. Or the fact that they like raisins in their oatmeal cookies and you don’t.

While this idea of love equating possession is romantic, I really like the idea that love isn’t about possession at all.  If we realize that we can’t possess people, it means that we can never really lose them.  And that is quite freeing, because I know whenever I “lose” someone special in my life, I’ve felt like I had to mourn the loss of them.

I’ve been seeking to look at life through new eyes in the past few months, and I think this is one really important aspect of that.  I want to look at people I love as though they are flowers.  I want to admire their beauty, and gaze at them, and know they’re part of what’s going on around me.  I want to leave them planted, right where they are, for if I pick them and try to keep them, they’ll fade away.  But, as Coelho says, “…if you simply look at a flower in the field, you’ll keep it forever…you will never be mine, and that is why I will never lose you.”

There is no magic potion, simply shifts in your way of thinking.  If you’re going through a break-up, and you’re feeling a loss of someone important and you’re hurting…remind yourself:  We cannot possess people, and because of this, you haven’t lost this person at all, and you never will.  They’ll always be yours.

I’ll leave you with another quote about the same subject from another one of my most beloved authors that echoes the same sentiment…in possibly even more beautiful language, if that’s possible:

“You see love liberates. It doesn’t bind. Love says “I love you.”  I love you if you’re in China, I love you if you’re across town, I love you if you’re in Harlem, I love you. I would like to be near you, I would like to have your arms around me, I would like to have your voice in my ear but thats not possible now. I love you, so go. Love liberates, it doesn’t hold. Thats ego. Love liberates.” – Maya Angelou

Love liberates.

If you’re hurting, if you’re going through it, as they say, I hope this helps to change your way of thinking and ease pain you feel, even if it’s just a little.  I know it has certainly helped me and changed the way I think.

Now, let’s collect all of the candy hearts and cards saying “Be Mine” that get handed out at Valentine’s Day and replace them with “Be Free.”

Love,

A