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Sunday, November 9, 2014

Walking in the Dark

Dear Mom,

There have been a few funny little synchronicities in recent days. As usual, I wish you were here to share them with. But I find myself feeling really blessed and grateful at how available and supportive your friends have been to me this year.

It's funny -- I had lunch with my former colleague Cathy and her boyfriend on Friday. They're closer to your age than mine, but we had the best time. (Or I did! Hopefully they weren't just pretending to humor me...but I don't think so, as we practically shut the place down.) Cathy remembers you fondly from the time we ate lunch together in Charlotte.

We lunched at a restaurant called Robert on top of the Museum of Arts and Design in Columbus Circle.

It was fantastic! I was so proud of myself for discovering it. Great views, great food -- it's in a very popular area but seems to be a hidden gem. I joked with them that I love hanging out with retired people -- they've been my best playmates during my funemployment.

And it does feel fun having this delicious dose of unscheduled time, being able to explore the things that excite me, to read the things I'm curious about, to consider the identity I want to embrace, and the baggage I want to shed. It's scary at times -- especially when articles like this one go viral, and I listen to the voices of fear. But it's mostly exciting and energizing, and I feel grateful to have had the courage and the ability to seize the opportunity to take some time away from a traditional office.

A colleague at work even helped me "rebrand" myself online. LinkedIn is such a big venue for networking these days, and I wanted to put a new face out there, to ensure my digital profile felt authentic and updated and accurate. One of my old teammates is a very talented photographer, and I asked if he'd help me get a spiffy new head shot.

I'd had the same photo on LinkedIn for ages -- one that, my friend Laura gently informed me this week, looked like something straight out of the Sears Portrait Studio. It was a bit tragic, I'll admit.

But check out the new ones!

I wish my friend the photographer wasn't moving to L.A. I think I could have given him lots of referrals! Neil said the last one looked like an author photo for a book. Here's hoping!

We timed the shoot around the afternoon light in Tribeca, and it's getting dark by 5 these days. I snapped this one afternoon as I wrapped up a jog in the park.
I'm actually really enjoying these short days and early nights. After spending so much of the year roaming the world and living out of a suitcase, it's good to be settled down again. I've been cooking more and had company for dinner three nights last week. I made curried broccoli soup for Neil, chicken minestrone for Leigh Ann, and spaghetti and meatballs for Laura. Fortunately, I'm stocked with festive cocktail napkins for my guests, thanks to Miss Patsy and Julia.
And, I read an absolutely delightful book that helped me really embrace this season of extended darkness. 
Here's one of my favorite passages: 

"I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is really only one logical conclusion. I need darkness as much as I need light.” 

What I took away from her book is this: we're so afraid of the dark -- as a society and as Christians -- that we do anything we can to keep the lights on. Well, unfortunately, that's just not natural. It's not how the earth works, and it's not how humans work. We need sleep, we need times of winter and incubation. And every now and then -- we need to get our hearts broken, and then we need to let them heal. 

Life is about birth and death. Creation and destruction. New things cannot be born if old things do not die, and we cannot truly know what it means to hold a treasure if we do not know what it means to lose one.

One of the most interesting facts she reveals is that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV, also known as the "Psychiatrists' Bible," recommends that patients who show signs of grief for more than two months (e.g., sadness, insomnia and loss of appetite) may be diagnosed with depression and treated with prescription drugs. 

Seriously?! Sometimes I'm astounded by the extent of our "there's a pill for that" culture. 

This low tolerance for sadness means, she writes, we often keep the "dark emotions" like grief, fear and despair filed away with other shameful things like personal bankruptcy or sexual deviance. "If you have ever spent time in the company of the dark emotions, you too may have received subtle messages from friends and strangers alike that you were supposed to handle them and move on sooner instead of later." 

I'm sure not everyone will love this book as much as I did, but it was perfect for me to read right now. (Leigh Ann and I have been fans of BBT since we read her book "Leaving Church," and she spoke at Aunt Tillie's church in October.)

And -- forget my take -- what better spiritual stamp of approval than Oprah's?!
Barbara Brown Taylor was today's guest on Super Soul Sunday. It's a great discussion, and I believe it will run again next week at 10 a.m. Eastern on OWN. 

Oprah asked her to define what she means by darkness: 

"Darkness is a place of unknowing, where I am out of control and I may be vulnerable to danger, and I may be vulnerable to divine revelation. It is the place where I am least able to protect myself and, therefore, may be most opened to being transformed."

Well, hello! Bingo! Maybe I should ask if she's been petting any cheetahs lately?

And similar to Sheryl Sandberg's observation that careers are jungle gyms, not ladders, life is, BBT notes, more like a navigating the water in a sailboat than riding along on a train. 

Oprah: Enjoy the smooth sails while they're up!

Barbara: Yes! Yes, and then enjoy the storms if you live through them. Because they'll make the best stories later. 

Here's hoping that's true...



Friday, November 7, 2014

How to Pet a Cheetah

Dear Mom,

I was a bit surprised and embarrassed by the number of comments I got on Facebook this week when I changed my profile picture to this shot from South Africa:

It was mostly things like...

Wow! That's awesome! You are a brave soul!
For real? You know that's not a kitty cat, right?!
Did they drug him?
You look so calm!
Is that the "before" shot?! 

As I started to read the comments, I was embarrassed! "It was no big deal," I thought. "It was practically a Disney photo op!"

But then I stopped to think -- was I selling myself a little short? How do you draw the lines these days between humility, a humble brag, and shameless self-promotion?

Having been so fortunate to travel to so many exciting places, I am occasionally chagrined at the way some of us "collect" fabulous photos and experiences of our global adventures. And, for people like me, who enjoy extended chapters of being single, with the time and funding to indulge our wanderlust, there can occasionally be a bit of Keeping Up with the Joneses and suble one-upmanship.

I'll see your Machu Picchu, and I'll raise you Kilimanjaro! 

You backpacked through India? Oh, that's nice. I did all of Southeast Asia, and I started a food program for orphans in Bangladesh. 

You stayed at the Four Seasons? Did you get that big suite in the corner, with the butler, and did they still have those little croissants they bring in at sunrise? 

I'm exaggerating, but you have to laugh at times at the subtle boasting that goes on in lots of aspects of life. Those of us who are fortunate enough to be well-educated travelers try hard to prove we're not just on the same old beaten path.

Or, avoiding the been there, done that, got the t-shirt syndrome that takes the shine off of new discoveries. That jaded "anything you can do, I can do better" attitude that makes frenemies throw subtle elbows and engage in clever digs.

You're at Versailles? You must take the gare west to a small town run by midgets, look for the restaurant in the old farmhouse, and ask for the asparagus soup. It's not on the menu, but tell Pierre I sent you. 

Okay, I mostly made that up, but it's not terribly far from the pompous comment on a dear friend's fantastic photo in the Hall of Mirrors last year.

But that's Facebook. Back to real life.

On safari this summer, I wanted to knock one of my seatmates right out of the vehicle. Our terrifically handsome guide stopped to show us a particularly lovely bird.

Speaking of particularly lovely -- here's another shot of that dreamy guide.
Anyway, back to the bird. Now, funny thing about birds. I've not been able to explore this scientifically, but I think there is a DIRECT correlation between aging and becoming more interested in birds! Toward the end of my time in Charlotte, I became so infatuated with birdwatching, I couldn't help but laugh at myself. Was I a 30-something spinster already, a granny before my time?

Maybe it's because birdwatching could be the American equivalent of being on safari? Complete with appropriate "costume"?!

Or -- who knows --  perhaps being tuned into birds is a sign we're tuned into life? Taking the time to stop and notice the things around us that are, in fact, rather lovely and remarkable and worthy of wonder?

Things we don't bother to notice when we're running from place to place with our trusty list of terribly important things to do?

Anyway, this was a spectacular bird! I didn't have a great camera, but here's a glimpse. It was terrifically colorful, almost a cartoon version of a bird worth watching.
We stopped to take photos, and the woman beside me sighed audibly. She might as well have let out a big fart, but she let this loose instead:

"I saw enough birds in the Galapagos to last me a lifetime," she said dismissively.

I hate to be ugly in writing about anyone on the Internet, but this lady was one of those people who seemed to have a nasty, negative take on pretty much everything. She'd been raining her sour attitude on us all morning.

"Really?" I wanted to say. "You paid thousands of dollars to travel to Africa, and you have something better to do than to enjoy the beautiful creatures who inhabit this place?"

Now, granted, prior to the brief bird stop, we'd had a pretty magical morning. We'd watched lions feasting on a fresh buffalo kill. We'd seen rhinos amble across the road in front of us. We'd hidden in a viewing shed to watch giraffes sipping water.

So, the bird wasn't exactly a highlight, but still.

I'm sure I annoy people at times with my Lemonade Lynsley approach to life -- the idea that if we just dig enough we'll find the bright side of most bad things. And I've certainly done my fair share of complaining about life's adversities and inequities. But I simply cannot stand people who are jaded and grumpy on vacation. Or -- people who sit around on vacation planning their next vacation.

Can't we all just enjoy the moment for a moment?

So, back to that cheetah shot. I'd been loath to make it my Facebook profile photo, as it seemed sort of trite. It happened when our group visited a facility that rescues and rehabilitates wild cats. And we all sort of moved through the cheetah petting opportunity like an assembly line.

Or did we?

Looking back and remembering that moment, it was, after all, a bit scary. I lingered a bit with one of those "okay, I know this is safe and hundreds -- or maybe thousands?! -- of people have done this, but WHAT IF I am THAT ONE UNFORTUNATE TOURIST who just smells and/or tastes really delicious?!"

There were two cheetas in the enclosure we were allowed to enter, but one of them didn't seem to be in the mood to play with tourists that day. So, the guide left that one alone and gave us a safety briefing with the more willing participant.

Once we'd been given a few key points, the most important of which was to approach the creature from behind, the bravest, most eager members of the group went first.

Occasionally, the cat would get bored and move around, so we'd let it settle down again before the round robin continued. 
I took pictures as my roommate Jeanette had her turn... 

And was my turn! By that point, I'd contemplated just taking a pass, as it felt like such a staged photo op. To be blunt and foul, it was almost a sort of tourist gang bang. (Oops! Maybe I do have a bit of that jaded Galapagos lady in me after all...)

But that attitude seemed (a) snobby and (b) a waste of good money. So, I carefully took my steps away from the group and toward the animal.

I wouldn't say it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, but it was pretty neat, and the fur felt really, really cool -- much thicker and coarser than I'd imagined.
And maybe, for just a minute, I was a kid again.

Is your dog friendly, Sir? What's his name? Is it okay if I pet him? 

Remember what it was like to be little and to want so very, very badly to reach out and pet an animal? To touch that soft, luscious fur? To walk that balance beam between your fear and your curiosity? To go outside of your comfort zone, take a chance, and pray that you wouldn't get bitten? 
After the big cheetah petting event, we saw some servals and bobcats, and we watched some wild cats leap up and catch some raw meat for their dinner, which was pretty cool. 

So, as you can tell, I'm not quite sure what to make of my terrific photograph. Was it just a photo op? Wasn't it a bit unfair that a few of the braver souls who went first didn't get quite as brilliant of a shot? It seems like a complicated little souvenir, an unlikely confluence of elements: luck that the cheetah was so perfectly posed, a little bravery on my part (but not as much as it appears), generosity from the cat sanctuary and its supporters. 

I love both the photo and the story it tells. Because the truth is, when you are bold, when you take risks, when you step inside the fence and face the wild, you will sometimes be ripped to shreds. 

But sometimes, you'll end up with a cool picture, a surreal experience and a fun story. 

In the end, isn't life a lot more fun when you take a chance and pet the cheetah? 



Sunday, November 2, 2014

All Saints Sunday

Dear Mom,

Thinking of you with love, laughter and longing today. I figured All Saints Sunday was the right day to end my self-imposed blog-cation.

Here's a roundup of happenings since we last "spoke."

Rosh Hashanah. Okay, technically this was in late September, but you would have been tickled with this one. Jason and I amused ourselves by celebrating the Jewish New Year. We met at Katz's Deli for a lunch of corned beef and pastrami sandwiches. He had a friend in town for the weekend. That place is awesome! We will be back.

Pink Reeboks. Remember how much you loved your 1980s "pink Beepbops"?! You were so fond of them, you even got them resoled! I found some updated ones on Zappos. They were the perfect footwear as I traveled to Charlotte for Race for the Cure.

In the Park. Jogging can feel so therapeutic! One day, as I jogged in the park, I saw a dad with a jogging stroller...his son was a bit ahead on a scooter.

The photos didn't really capture it, but it was an amusing little show to watch. The kid was scooting along dodging in and out of traffic -- at times a bit recklessly. I alternated between feeling appalled and impressed by his dad's lackadaisical attitude.

It just felt like a funny little metaphor for parenting -- that balance between letting your kids roam and explore, while keeping them close enough that they don't hurt themselves. I guess everyone finds their own right balance.

Falling In. It's such a treat to watch the leaves change in the park, and I always think of you when I'm around Bow Bridge. It's a bittersweet season on all sorts of levels, though. You were supposed to come to NYC in the fall of 2012, the fulfillment of a bucket list dream. And then we found out your cancer was back. I know you wanted us to focus on all the many trips we DID enjoy, but I imagine I'll always feel a bit melancholy about this season.

A Answer. On that note, though, you would have loved following along as Elly has settled in at Duke Divinity School. Another Quincy gal finding her way through the Gothic Wonderland! Hopefully she won't mind my sharing this lovely post:
North Carolina has given me knew meaning of the word "autumn". Moving here I thought, "Yea, sure the leaves change colors." But gosh the leaves are BEAUTIFUL and the air is CRISP and it feels WONDERFUL! Even the smell of everything. And the sound of the hardened leaves crunching when you step on them. And even the layers of clothes that people fashion inspired by the colors and textures of the nature around them. And the sunlight's warm touch in the cold air. There's so much more life to autumn than I thought before. Maybe the winter will be unexpectedly beautiful too? I hope so, because I cannot mentally prepare myself for snow.
I informed her that in my not-so-humble opinion...seasons rock, and Florida is entirely overrated. (See Ecclesiastes 3 for Biblical backup!)

Quotable. Got a free life coaching session on the street one day outside of a big advertising conference. Loved this! It was one of those little NYC serendipities.   

Race for the Cure. We had a blast in Charlotte doing Race for the Cure in your honor. You were very loved and very missed. I could write a lot about it. But I know that you know. So, here's a quick slideshow.

Thank You, Jesus. Leigh Ann and I didn't need any "peacemaking" during the race festivities. But...just in case...Ranie Claire stayed with us, once again serving as Jesus to keep Mary and Martha on their best behavior. Amid all of the sadness and loss and laughter since you got sick...there has been a whole lot of laughter and tears in our deeper friendship, sisterhood and kinship with Ranie and Miss Betty. If that's not proof of God's love, I don't know what is!

Clarice came up early on Friday to help us prep for the brunch on Saturday. Once the food was under control, she and I really amused ourselves buying the perfect paper plates (pink and orange...they were very cool!) at Blackhawk. Then we spent entirely too much time getting a coordinating flower arrangement.
 Then we toasted our party planning success!
Ranie was in charge of our "swag bags" for the event -- pink bandanas, pink fanny packs and CSS stickers. We considered more outlandish options (Babs had some great ideas) but decided to  use one of your favorite slogans and KISS ("keep it simple, stupid").

Florida Field Trip. From Charlotte, I flew to Tallahassee and had a nice long visit with Dad. Aunt Sandy also treated me to a few solo days at her lovely condo. The Curry family took me out to lunch one day...and sent me home with pimento cheese for dinner. So thoughtful! Sometimes food really is love.

After my beach trip, Dad and I drove over to Jacksonville to get his new car serviced. I chatted with a nice gentleman at the dealership, asking if he had any good lunch suggestions. We ended up at the Cummer Museum of Art. What a neat place! I didn't drag Dad through too much of the museum, but the gardens were just lovely.

Funny thing -- a photographer asked if Dad would mind sitting by a reflecting pool, as he thought Dad's red shirt would make a neat visual element. We started chatting with him...turns out his son lives in Tallahassee and work in Quincy as the manager of AJ's Chicken! Yet another Quincy small-world moment.
Now that I've finally written this up, I can email him the link and ask if he'll send the shot he took.

Also On Display. Here are a few of the photos I took of the exhibits inside the gallery as we buzzed through. The fashion exhibit was actually better than one of the Costume Institute shows Travis and I saw at the Met.

Still Life. I found this painting and the accompanying description rather fascinating, as it reminded me of your "still life" lessons in Enrichment...

Halloween. This could be its own separate post, but it's already dark outside (gah!), and I need to wrap this up. Here are "the boys"...

Here's my friend Nicole and her family in Atlanta. (One of her friends commented "the family that slays together stays together." HA! Seriously, I think this could win some kind of contest...)
Here's your little namesake, Destiny La'Cheryl, playing Minnie Mouse.
 Here's Mr. Dick enjoying the annual pumpkin patch field trip with his great-grandchildren...

El Dia de Los Muertos. I spent some time on Google yesterday looking for images I thought you would have found interesting or amusing.

This one seemed somewhat appropriate but totally creepy...
This one made me laugh, as I cannot think of anything you'd find more antithetical to the concept peaceful eternal rest than a f'ing mariachi band in a graveyard...
I think this is a cake?! Gross!!!
These seemed fun and funky without being super creepy, but they also felt too obvious... 

So, I picked this one...
But honestly, it was really this one that amused me most and made me think of you. 
I was going to watch "Frida" with Salma Hayek in your honor. Or...the entire original Spanish series of the soap opera that the CW has remade as "Jane the Virgin." 

But sometimes, as you would have said, "Ya just need a little no-brainer." So, I watched a bunch of episodes of Scandal, followed by Magic Mike. 

Travis and I made it to church today, and then Adam and I had lunch. Church was really lovely. I know you were honored at Centenary too, and Leigh Ann lifted you up in Charlotte. Last week, I started watching a PBS program called Finding Your Roots, hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. It's about ancestry and identity and place...all themes that feel really ripe and resonant for me these days.

Along similar lines, I watched a movie I so wished you'd been here to discuss.
I'd seen a little clip about it on Entertainment Tonight; Oprah hosted a garden party at her estate for the cast and crew, her attempt to give it some publicity. 

I guess sometimes even Mama Oprah's golden touch doesn't do the trick? It seems to have flown under the radar, which I think is a shame. It's a rather fascinating look at society, identity, place and change, all themes that feel so resonant for me these days. And perhaps it's one of those self-fulfilling prophecies, but these "signs" keep popping up, little miracles that make me feel like the universe is giving me little nuggets and clues. 

Someone on my street left a few books out on the stoop, a sort of "one man's junk" giveaway, so I helped myself to this. 

Even as I feel a bit adrift in a year of intense change, I'm amazed at how supported and rooted I feel at times. It's funny and counterintuitive, but your illness and all of that time in Quincy really strengthened me and grounded me in ways that feel so necessary yet unimaginable, they're almost impossible to articulate.  

And I could go on...and on...and on and I tend to do. But why not "save it for the book"? Because you already know the rest of the story, don't you?