Thursday, November 21, 2013

First love

When I was a young child I lived near an open field where sometimes, under the black night sky, I would stretch out to study the expanse of sparkly stars and wonder, what's beyond you? What comes after you? It was  incomprehensible to imagine anything bigger.

"Heaven," I decided. "That's where Heaven is."  Lacking any better description of Heaven, it made sense to me.

A week ago, sad over new and  lingering memories of my brother as a younger and younger person, happy and healthy, I looked to the sky again.



"A little help here, please."


"Fine. Tell God I need him then."

Heaven is a busy place during the holidays, apparently, because God was tied up as well. I put those memories of retro-Bill away, reasoning that this stage of the goodbye process, was probably the last.

"Gone, then," I decided.

More than thirty-five years ago, when he was in high school, my brother fell in love with Robin, a girl nobody ever forgot - especially my brother.  She was small and lively,  with a laugh in her voice and joyful eyes that  made people feel lucky to know her - particularly my brother. It changed his life to find her, and they were inseparable. They shared interests, had the same friends, lived big, lived in full, like there was no tomorrow, also known as, today.

Eventually, life happened, distance happened, time passed. They went their separate ways, took different paths. Nobody saw or heard from her again - including my brother. For as long as I knew him, until he met his son years later, no other relationship lit him up like that.

He never did show up for our meeting last week, and for the first time since we lost him, I could not sense his presence. Gone, then.

The next day, Robin found me on Facebook.

She'd learned of his death in a high school newsletter and she was crushed. Not because she'd harbored hopes of reuniting - she hadn't. And not because she isn't happy in her life now - she is. But, was she the love of his life, as he was hers? Yes, I told her. Nothing else came close.   

Because, however great are the loves that follow, however lasting, or fateful  or tried and true - none will do to our lives and hearts what the first one does.

It comes with a life span, first love does; a beginning and an end. Its memory is perfect and intact, it occupies a special place  in our histories forever,  a bright, high sun over everything that follows. It is the end of a diving board, when taking a little risk to go further is first required and then becomes involuntary.

First love is proof that at least once, you possessed the capacity to connect without a thought for the why, how long, and "if" of it.  There is longing without reservation, adventure without caution and communication that is pure and not parsed.  There is knowing you may reach the end of the ride someday without believing it for a second.

First love is the cleanest thing in the world.

I don't believe anyone forgets, or doesn't love, their first love, a little bit, for the lifelong memory it creates of who we were and of what we can mean to someone else.   

For anyone who laments that it came, and then went without the right send off, take heart. If you were ever lucky enough to experience this starter-love, and wise enough to let it go while it still had the power to shape your future, you did it right.   

If you haven't fallen in love yet, take heart.  It can't be rushed, there's no deadline, and you can't ask for it. No serious love - whether it's the first or the last - responds to invitations.  

And then, one night, one day, one afternoon, you will suddenly realize that without  meaning to, trying to, or even wanting to, you've already opened your heart to someone who wants to be nowhere else.

There is only one  thing that will come of this company which is to answer  all your questions about everything in the world that matters.

If you've already experienced this, you're better for it.

If you haven't,  lucky you, it waits.

Thank you Bill, and Robin, for showing up.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The algebra of happiness - giving up stuff I'm just not good at

Life is a lot of things, but mostly,  life is a a big algebra equation.

I am bad at a few things. I'm bad at cooking fish. I'm bad at "fast" dancing. I'm bad at giving speeches.

I gave fish a shot but it never took on its cookbook image, all browned and seasoned next to a scrumptious side. No. Fish that I prepare just looks tired and sick, and practically begs to be put out of its misery. A while back I  thought about the algebra of this: Even if I could perfect fish cooking it wouldn't matter because I don't particularly like fish. So, I don't do it anymore.

"Fast" dancing is required infrequently enough to fake it when I have to.  And, where I would have to, would be in a setting where people are thinking too much about their own dancing to notice. So I do it, do it badly, and don't really care.  That algebra works.

The  speech thing has always been my hill to conquer, something I've created a little space for in my skill set but can't seem to fill.  

Ironically, one of the things I do very, very well is coach teenagers at the Boys and Girls club to speak in public, requested as they often are to tell their stories before all kinds of audiences.  It works because I draw from my expertise as an audience member, not a speaker. As a speaker, I myself could use a coach.

I follow this simple prep route when I've been asked to give a speech or present myself as a specialist of any kind:  I organize what I'm going to say, edit out the fillers,  practice in the car, in the shower, in my head, out loud before the mirror, and think about absolutely nothing else until it's over.

That can take days. But that's how I deal with it. By dealing with nothing else.

Speech giving is my  crook in the alley; the thing I can't always see coming. While I certainly avoid those bad neighborhoods, "opportunities" to speak still pop up and, even knowing how worked up I get, do I politely decline?  No.  When I'm asked to speak, I think about that space in the skill set and accept the challenge to hone and polish and lay this skill alongside the others. Perfect it even. Bake it to a delicious, golden brown and season to taste.

Seven or eight times out of ten, I nail  it. Then, I enjoy a half day or so of euphoria when I return to my other neglected duties, and love with all my heart that no other such challenge looms in the foreseeable future.

That algebra doesn't work:  days of obsessing in return for a half a day of euphoria. I really can't adjust either side of that equation - half a day of obsessing, or days of euphoria, so I am thinking that speech giving should go the way of fish making.

I would be nervous about this if I were thirty. When you're thirty, you just know, in all those years that remain, you're going to have to face your crook in the alley more than once. Maybe several times.

But one of the ever joyous benefits of not being in my thirties is that I make decisions quickly about how to spend my time and do little that doesn't keep that equation in balance.

So, most of the time, it's like this:  Effort and expectation = Benefit and happiness

However, when it comes to public speaking,


See what I mean?

So, with that, I am embracing one of the quickest decisions ever: done with speeches, something I will miss as much I look forward to it.

That algebra works.