New Beginnings and Miracles All Around!

When I walk into Staples, I am instantly aroused. The pencils, the pens, blank notebooks, sticky notes, whew! I love all of it. So, naturally, going back to school, or now getting my kids ready to return to school, is a very exciting time of year for me. I love making resolutions at the start of the New Year and I am a sucker for the promise of new blooms in Spring, but Autumn rings true as a time of new beginnings for me. I feel most invigorated and most inspired as the leaves begin to show signs of turning colors and the crisp scent of fall wafts through the air. This year, I am wide open, eager to welcome whatever this fresh start brings.

I have also been feeling nostalgic as my son Alexander prepared for kindergarten with great anticipation of joining his older brother, James, at “his” school. We do drop-off, as opposed to riding the bus, and today, when he leaped out of the car, I don’t think he could have been any happier. He was thrilled this morning when I confirmed that he would be going back to school today. So anyway, the other day my mom came over and we listened to some of her saved voice mail messages from the past (please tell me we are not the only saps who do crazy things like save old messages). With her summer tan aglow and her blue eyes sparkling, she said, “oh, this is one of my favorites.” I listened as my very own voice began to speak. I was crying. I said something like, “Hi Mom, this is Anna (sniff). James started kindergarten today. He got on the bus and he didn’t even look back (sniff, sniff)…” So many things came to mind. First, the image of my husband Dan and I coming home from the bus stop that day and literally sobbing together on our love seat. Second, disbelief that that little kindergartner would be entering fourth (say it with me, FOURTH!!!) grade this year. And third, both disbelief and disappointment that my dad wouldn’t be here to share in Alexander’s first day of kindergarten as he was for James. I pictured my mom sharing the message with my dad and both of them reflecting on the fact that their first grandchild was ready for kindergarten. That he got on the bus and didn’t even look back.

I know, I know – my dad is still with me. I do know that, I swear. But even with that knowledge, I yearn to hear the enthusiasm in his voice when I share these bits and pieces of my life with him. I want confirmation of his pride in Alexander, and frankly, in me. He was a great cheerleader, my dad. He would be (is) so proud.

With all my anticipation of a new beginning at the start of the school year – for my kids and for me, I find myself feeling sad too. And as with so many things I’ve experienced since losing my dad, I find that this is a time where bittersweet is about the best we can do. Do I sound like I’m whining?

Enter miracles. Yesterday was the first day of school and the morning was filled with miracles. I got up, showered, and made a delicious, nutritious breakfast for my little ones (as opposed to throwing a granola bar and string cheese at them with five minutes left before we have to run out the door). Then, I marched them outside for a First Day of School photo shoot. Nobody complained (I began to think something strange was afoot, bud didn’t dare question it). Everybody smiled. Everybody posed. I was in Mom Heaven.

We got in the car and Somewhere Over the Rainbow was playing on the radio. This has to be one of my all-time favorite songs. I was a somewhere over the rainbow kind-of girl as a child. The Coffee House version, by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’ has become one of the songs that remind me that my dad is always here with me and it has come on the radio at the most opportune times. As we pulled out of the driveway, we stopped to talk to our new neighbors. They were sweet and smiling and my heart was simply singing with joy. Then I heard my dad’s voice singing. My daughter had found my husband’s iPad on the floor of the car and somehow found her way to my dad’s recordings. AND, he was singing Summertime, which was my lullaby when I was a little girl. Let’s not even get into the fact that I have no idea how the iPad got left in the car, or how Sophia could have possibly found Summertime, especially since she usually goes right for Beyonce’s “I’m a Singlet” video. At that point, I knew my dad was speaking to me.

Sophia said, “This is a Papaw song!” Putting to rest my fears that my little girl, who wasn’t quite two when my dad died, would have no memories of her Papaw. Then she said, “Mama, my butt is shaking and my legs are swinging!” I look back to see her moving to the music, Alexander glowing, and James clapping his hands and swaying his head back and forth. I was in awe. There was no doubt in my mind that my dad was with us. I so much as heard him say, “I’m here. And I’m proud.”

Later, I told Alexander that I wanted to tell him something very special. He looked up at me with his big, blue eyes and I said, “I have been really sad that Papaw isn’t here to see you start kindergarten because I know he would have been so proud of you.” He nodded and I continued, “And today, when we heard his song, I knew he was with us and I know that he is very proud of you.” Heart-melting smile from ear to ear on that kid. God, I love him. There must be so much wisdom in that little five year-old head. And even later, when we got in the car to attend his orientation, These Are Days was on the radio! This was the song that Dan and I danced to at our wedding. And through the years, it too has come on the radio when I’ve needed comfort the most.

So that is my morning of miracles. Later, when I was feeling extremely disgruntled, along with my tired out, over-stimulated children, and trying to get dinner together, a penny from heaven appeared out of nowhere in the middle of the counter. Nope, we didn’t save a life or cure a disease yesterday morning, but we were definitely in the midst of miracles. I spoke out and someone “up there” was listening. This all reminds me that we are always surrounded by miracles. Big or little, there are messages for all of us, everywhere, saying “you are never alone. I am here with you.” And all of that makes me even more excited for this new time of new beginnings…what’s next?!

Beautiful Days

I’ve had some really neat opportunities lately to gather with large groups of friends, family, and mostly strangers. These are opportunities that weave in and out of my life frequently, really, but for whatever reason (three kids, large dog, messy house, mounds of laundry…?), I don’t always notice the magic contained within them. Thankfully though, I’ve been paying attention. I’m so excited about these miraculous little moments, that I had to share…

It all started at a U2 concert a few weeks ago. I was with my husband, Dan, and a group of our very dear friends. The concert was held in Spartan Stadium, which is, to be frank, sacred ground. Dan and I met at Michigan State University our sophomore year, so naturally MSU holds a special place in our hearts. It’s where we fell in love and decided to take on the world together. Over the recent years we have made many memories tailgating with friends on campus and attending football games. We are MSU fans, yes, but first and foremost we are Spartans (there is a difference). And, we take that very seriously. And, we have lots and lots of fun.

I like U2, but I wasn’t a huge U2 fan when we planned to attend the concert. For me, U2 was secondary to a night with great friends in East Lansing. I love music, but I don’t usually remember lyrics or bands or any of the important details. I hear a song and I love it or hate it, and then each time I hear it after that, I remember what was happening when I first heard it, or when I heard it again and again, or the way I felt back then. A lot of U2 was played in college and hearing their songs reminds me of that time in my life. It was such a carefree and exciting time. I felt like an adult, but I was really still so sheltered from the rest of the world, from reality, from true responsibility. So anyway, there we were with our MSU friends in Spartan Stadium and life couldn’t get much better than that.

I cannot remember which song Bono was singing when I looked around and felt something magical sprout from deep in my soul. I was surrounded by thousands of people and whether or not we were presidents of our local U2 fan clubs, we were all there in Spartan Stadium for the very same reason: to hear U2. We swayed together, we sang together, we came together as one for a few hours on a summer night, and it was beautiful. A Beautiful Day, according to U2.

I tucked that moment in my heart and life went on as usual until last weekend. For the last several years Dan and I have made the trek from wherever we are in Northern Michigan to Glen Arbor for the Independence Day parade. The first year we were in Glen Arbor for our family vacation. We liked it so much, we keep going back! In all fairness, I don’t recall meeting a parade I didn’t like, but this parade is special to me. I’m sure it has something to do with my kids going crazy about it, plotting their candy grabbing strategies, and talking about all the fun for days afterward. It’s also something we’ve been lucky enough to share with my mom and we’re all about making new traditions. There is also a Spartan float (truck) and well, we know how much it means to me to be a Sparty. As we stood there in the sun, my husband, my kids, my mom, and me, with hundreds of other people, watching the parade go by, my soul started to stir once again.

I didn’t care much for history when I was younger, and I’m nowhere near a buff now, but somewhere in between lies a place of deep appreciation for the past, gratitude for the present, and trust in the future. I like that place. I love connecting the pieces of the past to the present and thinking about what is to come for me, my family, my community, my state, my country, my world…our world. The stories, people’s stories of how they began, and what motivated them, and where they went with it all fascinate me. Standing on M-22 in Glen Arbor, Michigan on July 4, 2011, it felt as if all of it – past, present, and future merged into one single moment. A fantastic moment where all of these virtual strangers came together to celebrate independence. We weren’t individuals or even parts of groups with which we typically identify. We were one. The military vehicles carrying Veterans and service men and women and their families, the flags waving in the wind, kids clad in red, white and blue, and my favorite – a young woman, stopping us all in our trackes, as she beautifully belted out the Spangled Banner from the Boon Doggies float, these are reminders of what it takes to gain independence and to keep it – they connect all of us to one another and to our shared history as Americans. Another beautiful day.

The third and final moment in this story occurred last night. This was more of a series of moments though. Dan’s cousin, Michael, was set to marry his bride, Jennifer. Dan and I dropped the kids off with one of their beloved grandmas and headed to Saginaw for the ceremony. Already, the feeling of oneness began to set in as we rode and I thought about how wonderful it would be for Mike and Jenn to experience their wedding day surrounded by friends and family, just as Dan and I had almost 14 years ago. I don’t know Mike that well and I had never met Jenn, but I was very excited for them. It was neat to think of myself, so many years ago, being welcomed to the Oginsky family with many of the same people around me, and to imagine Jenn having a similar experience.

Once the music started and the moms were escorted down the aisle, I was a little misty-eyed. I know I’m not the only sap who cries at weddings. When Jenn’s dad delivered her at the end of the aisle, I saw her say, “I love you Dad.” My eyes flooded. For a split second, I thought I was going to lose it and I knew I would probably be one of the few who completely loses it at a wedding, especially someone else’s wedding. But then that a bit of warmth spread from deep in my soul and I was overcome with gratitude. I threw up a prayer of thanks, grateful for Jenn and her dad that they had that moment, and grateful that I too had had that moment with my dad, even though her declaration reminded me that the hug and “I love you” I yearn to give my own dad now isn’t going to happen.

Jenn was beautiful, Mike looked handsome, and their bridal party, friends, and family sparkled in the radiant glow of the love shared by the bride and groom. It warms my heart thinking about all the different people who traveled to the wedding to share in the love and the beauty of the day. Again, separately, we were family, we were friends, we were the people who worked to make it all happen, but together we were one in Jenn and Mike’s love. I am grateful to have been part of it, to have been touched by that love. Another beautiful day.

I trust that these profound moments of connectedness will continue for me, and I hope that I will recognize them. I hope that I will remain open to these moments – to being touched by something. To the little spark in my soul that comes from singing in unison with thousands of people in a place that I love, from standing with my family cheering for the Glen Arbor Kazoo Corps in the Independence Day parade, and from witnessing the marriage vows of two people in love. All in all, it makes for some truly beautiful days.

Nothin’ But Love

Valentine’s Day has me thinking about love. I have always been a fan of letters and words, whether reading them or writing them, I find them fascinating. I even enjoy the sounds associated with writing words, the scratch of my pencil against paper, the flow of a wonderful pen, or my fingers tapping the keyboard.

My sister Sarah was born when I was six years-old. I was so upset when I found out that my parents gave her more letters in her name than I had. I couldn’t believe the injustice. I wanted to change my name to Elizabeth. I was desperate for more letters. So, the fact that you can say so much with one simple word – love, comprised of four little letters, l-o-v-e, is like magic to me.

I thought it would be worth consulting Wikipedia, to see what it has to say about the word love.

Love From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Love is the emotion of strong affection and personal attachment.[1] In philosophical context, love is a virtue representing all of human kindness, compassion, and affection. In some religious contexts, love is not just a virtue, but the basis for all being, as in the Christian phrase, “God is love” or Agape in the Canonical gospels.[2] Love may also be described as actions towards others (or oneself) based on compassion.[3] Or as actions towards others based on affection.[4]

The word love can refer to a variety of different feelings, states, and attitudes, ranging from generic pleasure (“I loved that meal”) to intense interpersonal attraction (“I love my partner”). “Love” can also refer specifically to the passionate desire and intimacy of romantic love, to the sexual love of eros (cf. Greek words for love), to the emotional closeness of familial love, or to the platonic love that defines friendship,[5] to the profound oneness or devotion of religious love. [6] This diversity of uses and meanings, combined with the complexity of the feelings involved, makes love unusually difficult to consistently define, even compared to other emotional states.

My heart is all a flutter! One little word can mean so many different things! And, I can say I love Colin Firth, lattes, and my husband without minmizing my love for either one (specifically my husband). Love has no bounds. There are no restrictions on what I love or how much I love it.

In the days after my dad’s death, the thing we kept coming back to was love. I felt surrounded by love in ways that I had never experienced. My dad was a blues muscian and songwriter. In 1998 he wrote the song, Nothin’ But Love. I have heard him perform that song many times. I always thought of it as a love song in the romantic, passionate love sense. As we planned his funeral, gathering pictures and selecting music, we listened to Nothin’ But Love quite a bit and after a few days we were nodding our heads thinking “Wow, Dad is right…there is nothing but love.”
This is how the song goes:

If you’ve never had the blues, you’ve got some blues coming,
If you’ve never had the blues, you’ve got some blues coming,
You might not be singing ’em, but you’ll be hummin’ em…

Ain’t nothin’ but love, can take your blues away, ain’t nothin’ but love can take your blues away, you might not live to see tomorrow, better make some love today…

You’ve got some blues coming, you know it will be hard…
You’ve got some blues coming, you know it will be hard…
It don’t matter where you live people, the blues’ll come in your backyard…

Ain’t nothin’ but love can take your blues away, ain’t nothin but love can take your blues away, you might not live to see tomorrow, better make some love today.

My dad was right on. We will all face some type of hardship in our lives and it will be hard. And, nothing but love will help us to overcome that hardship. Love will strengthen us and carry us through whatever life brings us. Our love for others, their love for us, our love for God, God’s love for us, no matter what form it takes, love lifts us up in times of need. Even love for our pets, for travel, for reading, for writing, for music… Whatever we love, that love has the power to take our blues away.

On a side note, in an ironic twist of fate, my dad slipped away in his workshop in my parents’ backyard. He wasn’t kidding when he said the blues will come in our backyard.

My dad’s wisdom from beyond is a treasured gift for all of us who loved him. He has reminded me through his music that love will carry me through. I know, it’s easy for me to say, I live with a loving husband, three little cuddlebugs, and a gigantic yellow dog. It’s easy for me to scoop up someone in my house and hold them close when I need some love. Although, even that comes at a cost as I discovered yesterday when my daughter whacked me in the face with a plastic Spiderman.

So, what do we do when there is no physical presence to love? No body to hug? Life can be lonely at times. When there is nobody around and I feel detached from other sources of love, I sometimes feel a little lost. Even in a crowd, it is easy to feel lost, alone.

This is where I’m learning to turn inward. Who can love me better than I love myself? If I love myself.

This is one of my soapbox moments… Practicing self-love is not selfish. Say it with me, practicing self-love is not selfish. This is not my opinion, it is not a belief I hold dear to my heart, or an abstract social construct, it is the truth. It is a fact. I would never tell my son James that he is selfish to take time out of his busy 8 year-old life to play baseball so why do I feel selfish when I carve time into my schedule to practice yoga or go for a walk? Somewhere along the way I learned that my job is to take care of others. At some point, I learned that I can only succeed at that job, or any job, if I neglect myself. Maybe you can relate. It’s hard to turn inward for love when the self-love well has run dry. What I find when I do take good care of myself and when I do make time to fill that well with love, is that I love everybody else much more deeply and fully.

Even alone, we can know love. In the words of my dear old dad, “you might not live to see tomorrow, better make some love today.” It’s all about love, so love a little! One simple little word with multiple meanings makes the world go round. Nothin’ but love…

1.^ Oxford Illustrated American Dictionary (1998) + Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary (2000)
2.^ Deus Caritas Est, Roman Catholic encyclical by Pope Benedict XVI
3.^ Fromm, Eric; “The Art of Loving”, Harper Perennial (1956), Original English Version, ISBN-10: 0060958286 ISBN-13: 978-0060958282
4.^ Fromm, Eric; “The Art of Loving”, Harper Perennial (1956), Original English Version, ISBN-10: 0060958286 ISBN-13: 978-0060958282
5.^ Kristeller, Paul Oskar (1980). Renaissance Thought and the Arts: Collected Essays. Princeton University. ISBN 0-691-02010-8.
6.^ MascarĂ³, Juan (2003). The Bhagavad Gita. Penguin Classics. ISBN 0-140-44918-3. (J. MascarĂ³, translator)