If not now, when?

One American woman. Twenty acres and a 1650 farmhouse in Tuscany. Random introspection and hilarity, depending on the day.

31 July 2005

A gift of 37 days

It was today that I realized today I had been ‘on’ – with people nearly 24/7 – nonstop -- for pretty much the entire month. It was not until today – no one to need anything from me, no fixed time to wake up, no one to ask questions I have to find a polite answer to, no one to entertain, no one to be pleasant to, no one even knowing I’m here, with the quiet of the countryside and the breeze and the occasional din of a weekend motorcycle or bike team passing on the street.

Of course, the flip side of all of that is true; also --- there is no one to talk with, to reflect with, to sit and enjoy the quiet and beauty of the sunset with, content to just BE. For me, today, I am convinced that I wouldn’t be good company anyhow. Too fried and raw from the foray, too emotional from the changes. Although the right people would get that and let me just sit.

And so sit I do. It's pleasantly chilly tonight, the kind you only get at altitude in the summertime. The sky tonight is cantaloupe colored, fading to a yellow, just a tinge of green, a turquoise, sky and then deep midnight blue. It’s a rainbow of colors an hour after the actual orb dipped beneath the far mountain. The bats (pippistrelli, as ye regular readers know – good friends of mine!) are winging their way around, their silhouettes dancing against the end of the evening sky.

Sunset has gotten earlier – almost a half hour so, I would say – since I was here last. It’s still my favorite time of day, dusk. Something magical always seems about to happen. Colors are more beautiful. People seem more elegant. Time for just a moment seems to slow.

Tonight, at dusk, I am finally opening a gift. Lovely Lady R sent me a gift weeks ago – after my visit, and I was too … everything … (busy with life in DC!) to glance at it. It is the gift of a blog by a wonderful writer and friend of hers, Patti.

Patti’s blog, 37 days, asks the question: what would you be doing today if you only had 37 days to live?

Her answers to that are brilliant, insightful, introspective, thought-provoking, tearjerking, laughoutloud funny, well thought, quirky, and generally things-that-make-you-go-hmmmmmmmmmmmmm. And that’s the point. Patti is a teacher of many things, among them the life lessons that should be so obvious but aren’t about how to interact with others. She’s amazing. I met her once, years ago, at a conference we both attended. We nodded politely at each other, I'm sure. We didn’t realize then that we had a mutual dearest friend in Lovely Lady R, and I think now that perhaps I wasn't really ready to appreciate her magic, wisdom, and her gift of insight. Life gives you the things you need when you need them.

The answers to this question are the backbone of her posts. There is a theme and a message that I (in my scattered random blogdom) envy greatly! She also closes each post with a challenge. Their titles fascinate even standing solo … but can deceive you into thinking this is just another feel-good 1000 ways to be happy exercise: it is most clearly not. It will provoke you and prod the deep regions of your brain. Most recent challenges: Say WOW when you see a bus, Pop up your Nimrod, Burn those jeans, Hand one another along, Stand on your own rock, Roll on the floor, Find your saxophone, Stop at every lemonade stand, Redefine normal , Always rent the (red) convertible, Catalog your debris , Dance in your car , Live an irresistible obituary... and so many more.

In one of her many posts, Patti says that she wants to be Eve Ensler when she grows up. She says, “I’m going to speak out and be energetic and articulate and have something important to say. I’m going to pay attention to what’s going on in the world as if the fate of the world depended on me paying attention. I’m going to have a point of view and an opinion without waiting for other people to tell me what it is. I’m going to do the work I know I need to do, that I must do, that I’ve been waiting my whole life to do, without waiting for an audience. I’m going to sit up straighter and I’m going to make people hear me. I’m going to ask a lot more questions and I’m going to pay attention to the answers as if they really mattered. I’m going to really, really listen to people when they tell me their stories. I’m going to raise my voice if it needs to be raised. I’m going to lend my voice to people who have none. I’m going to figure out how to be an effective advocate for others. I’m not going to care anymore whether people like me when I speak my truth. I’m never going to ask for permission again. And, as Ensler said, “I am going to hold who I am in the face of anything.”

And so, if Patti wants to be Eve when she grows up, I will settle for being as articulate, fascinating, aware, and emotionally connected – and as willing to give of herself -- as Patti is. I hereby add her to the list of WOMEN I WANT TO BE LIKE IF I GROW UP (headed, most notably, by The Mom, Lovely Lady R, and Beatrice – each in their own ways, and certainly not in ALL ways, lest they get big heads or feel that I'm stalking them!). But in Patti’s honor, I’m starting my list here … of things I would do if I only had 37 days to live.

Be honest. About how I feel. About what I think and want. Say ouch when I am hurt. It doesn’t mean being impolite; it’s just that the squelching of my own feelings when someone steps upon them intentionally is no longer an okay way to be. Because if you go through too many years just letting your feelings get stepped on, you develop callouses, and callouses lead to not feeling. And feeling equates to BEING, and not being, my friends, is not okay. So in a weird roundabout way, Be Honest means let yourself feel what you feel, and be willing – nicely – to let others know. Be okay just BEING.

Let people be who they are. When you’re honest and in the midst of being you, sometimes people can’t handle it. Don’t try to change them. And sometimes, that means letting them be – just exactly who they are -- albeit a little further away from your life. Be okay with that. Things change. People change. It’s not bad, it just is. Some of my most magnificent friendships have come from accidental encounters, and some of my best changes have come from loss. It’s the natural way of things.

Okay, okay – I know I have to say ‘Move to Tuscany’. Except that 37 days would not be enough. Because, for me, now – (not before), I realize that it’s not in the DOING of the thing ... (though 'take a risk' should probably be on the list); it’s in the BEING there. REALLY being there. Learning the rhythms. Respecting the unknown. Facing that which is scary and learning to appreciate it as normal. Understanding and learning things from which you did not come. Rather than just move here, I need to BE here: to learn to be still here (in the words of the Eagles), and discover what it has to teach me. I have so much to learn.

So many others come to mind: Don't insist on being right when it really doesn't matter. Talk to strangers. Say thank you more to the people who make a difference and never ask for anything in return. Forgive (I'm working on this one, really.) Surprise people by welcoming them into your life (I have new renters at my apartment, I believe in part because when they came to look at the place, I had just opened a bottle of champagne, so I gave them both a glass while they toured. That just might be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.)

Wear the big hat. Too often, we don't do things because we are afraid of how people will look at us, of standing out, of not being one of the crowd. Yet every time I wore the 'big hat' for an event, I had compliments thrust upon me. The hat itself is a paper bag that it looks like a nursery school class made a project out of. Yes, it's freakishly large. But it's not the hat itself - it's the confidence it takes to call attention to yourself. To dance to your own music no matter how goofy it is. To break outside of 'safe'. I looked different when I wore the hat. I FELT different. I walked taller. I smiled more. It's inexplicable. The hat had seen horse races, easter brunches (ooh, my poor tolerant friends!), birthday parties, gay bars (where it was ALWAYS well received), parading down 17th street just for kicks. The hat was worn for its last time the evening of and after my yard sale. It was a part of the DC life, and I left it perched atop a trash pile out front of my house when I left, knowing it would find a good home. As I came through the airport back to Italy this time, I found a sleeker, more sophisticated hat: a wide-brimmed, black and white striped, slightly floppy, hat-of-fabulousness. Still a statement, but a more elegant one, a bit more evolved, subtle and quiet than its sibling the paper party hat. As I came off the plane in Rome (with fresh 'bed' hair), I put it (and my sunglasses) on. I imagined myself looking like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman (HA!) And lo and behold, people stopped me. They say nothing other than "great hat" with a tone of admiration. And I straighten my back a little and smile. "Thank you, I love it."

Order the tiramisu. While it is heresy to say (living in Italy) that I am not a Tiramisu person; insert your word here for ‘Tiramisu’ and the story is the same: 2 ½ years ago, I was at a dinner here in Italy with a small group of women (mostly strangers to me), and Beatrice, who had just finished her first round of chemotherapy and was facing the eventual prospect of having her left hand amputated. Her fight with cancer was in its early stages and cast an obvious aura over the group that week. One of the women in the group was obscenely aerobics-video-cover fit (at 50 something years old), and makeuped, sprayed and plasticsurgeried to the hilt, to the point of caricature. She was also – it is fair to say – significantly annoying in persona to those of us who had come to ENJOY the trip. (‘Are you going to eat THAT?!?, oh, that’s DISGUSTING!!! Oh, no, I couldn’t – you know, *I* watch my calories.”) Blah, blah, blah. It was on this night that Fratello Guido proclaimed that the restaurant we were eating at – with a spectacular sunset view on a spring night in Tuscany – had the VERY BEST tiramisu that he had ever had (no small claim for a Tuscan!). In our small group of 8 women, we ordered two pieces – ‘to share’. When the plate got to ‘Fitnessa’ – her response was “Oh, no – I have told myself that I can have dessert when I am 70.”

The table went silent. Beatrice, one round of chemotherapy under her belt and heavens knows what else in front of her, broke the silence with her stage-perfect timing and inflection: “And what makes you think you’ve got that long??”

(just let that sink in for a moment.)

The happy postscript on that story is that I like to believe that there really IS a ‘hidden law’ (as Capt. Silver Fox would say) and that just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen: everyone gets what they have coming to them, somehow. Fitnessa had a surgery go a bit awry on her (not fatally awry, just enough to teach her that messing with mother nature doesn't always pay)... And Beatrice, blissfully, is living a happy healthy life in remission, giggling with her new granddaughter every chance she gets, and will be here to visit in September: taking nothing for granted and enjoying every bite of Tiramisu.

And the list will continue; perhaps as a regular '37 days' tribute feature. Thanks, Patti, for making me think.

Be Honest. Let People Be Who They Are. Move to Tuscany *(Learn to Just BE). Don't insist on being right when it doesn't matter. Forgive. Say Thank You More. Welcome people into your life. Talk to Strangers. Wear the Big Hat. Order the Tiramisu. Ask ... If not now, when?


Blogger green gazelle said...

Ah beuno....welcome back to blogsville. Knew you'd mentioned traveling; didn't realize how many days that might entail; checked back for fresh material 'most frequently.

It was almost sad really, like walking up and knocking on a door with eager anticipation of the visit...to have the sounds of silent emptiness as the only response.

It was also OK to miss no one answering the door and wondering when to expect an answer while living as completely within myself as possible. I actually knew it was WHEN not IF this bloggy thingee would return to active duty.

I'll take a forkful of that tiramisu. gg

7:15 AM  

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