First Comes Love…

“I thought I knew what love was. What did I know?” ~Don Henley

01_Robert-Indiana_LoveI first told a girl I loved her in 4th grade, when she stabbed me with a pencil and decided to go out with my enemy. These three things were unrelated. Or at least I think they were. I never really asked her to explain. I was too busy drowning in my tears, in the relative safety of my room, trying to forget her. Trying to forget love.

Love means many different things to many different people, but to me it means being always appreciative. That girl who I said I loved, she didn’t appreciate my love. To her I might as well have told her I was an albino for all she cared, but it was 4th grade, and I gave her a mulligan for it. She never came back to take me up on the idea of a second chance, which was just as well.

To me, when you love someone you show it. Not by flowers and candy, because anyone can get flowers and candy, but by being there, by letting them know you’re there, whether they admit to needing you there. Love means coming through for someone else even if they don’t realize that’s what they needed. It’s doing the little things because there really are no little things when it comes to love.

I’ve learned that love needs to be patient…

I realize now that I didn’t really love that girl in 4th grade. It was never really love because I had no idea what love was back then. What I felt for her was sheer infatuation, that kind of Romeo and Juliet feeling that would have petered out had they not been in a volatile situation that pushed them toward each other… and toward the abyss. That girl was lucky she didn’t reciprocate my infatuation because I’ve always been prone to exaggeration of emotion. Thank god she looked the other way.

But I’ve learned a lot over the years, because of heartache and a plethora of other issues and mistakes, on both sides. I’ve learned that love needs to be patient, that it isn’t about the physical, that the physical comes along for the ride when it is indeed requited, that it’s better to have loved and lost than… well, not quite. It’s better to love and keep loving, because love can shift. It can change, not precisely with the wind but sometimes it is buffeted. I’ve learned that love is complicit, if just because it makes you more vulnerable than anything else ever could.

Love is revolutionary, no matter how often it occurs…

I’ve been sparing with the word itself. Even with my closest of friends it took a while before I felt comfortable enough telling them how I felt. Even with my closest of relationships I haven’t been the first one to say it, not usually, not because I’ve been afraid but because I’ve been resistant. I’ve been resistant to the way saying those words changes things. It doesn’t change things for me. I already know how I feel long before those words escape my lips. But it changes the relationship in subtle ways that only I can tell.

Or maybe they can tell too. Love is revolutionary, no matter how often it occurs, no matter how many people know the feeling. It acts. It doesn’t react. But love is worth it, even when it’s not returned, because without that feeling life is just not as good. And I don’t mean the romantic love. I mean all the many forms of love that can shift and change, that can undulate around you like a snake, but that can keep you safe and warm, secure in its comfort.

But what do I know?


7 Lifetimes

life-864390_960_720“Time is a proverbial loop, a series of deja vu moments that intertwine and end up back where they began, except when they don’t.” ~Theodicus

Personally, I feel like I’ve lived 7 different lifetimes, and while I was experiencing each of them they seemed like they were the only one, that there would never be another. In that way each of them has surprised me, except for the first, because it was all I knew until the second arrived.

In each lifetime there are people who overwhelm me with their intensity and their conversational nature. They see me better than I see myself, and they give me insight into both myself and the world around me. I change because of them, and that change has pushed me forward toward being a stronger, more self-fulfilled human being.

There are also people who act as antagonists to my main character, but somehow they too make me a stronger, more self-fulfilled human being.

In each lifetime there is a solid plot, even if I don’t recognize it for what it is until I’m on to the next one. There is a firm beginning, some kind of climax, and a resolution that most times seems negative in the experiencing of it. I say negative because it is this resolution that usually shoves me violently into the next lifetime, as red as a newborn, and lost for what I should do next.

There is generally a love interest in each lifetime as well, some yin to my yang, someone whom I generally overwhelm with my generous personality. I say generous but I mean gregarious. I mean larger than life, and while I know most people can’t handle that I don’t know any other way to be. And sometimes my love interest isn’t interested in me in return, or sometimes she is unavailable. Sometimes I have been unavailable as well. But love doesn’t adjust.

Each lifetime is different, though. Sometimes one lasts for a year, while another makes it only to 4 months, while yet another stretches into 13 years. The older I get the easier it is to see the line before I get to it, to read the signs that say another lifetime is coming, so I should gird myself with everything I know about me. It signals a change, a shift in my own thought process that can be positive. I have to keep that in mind.

Because I tend to be pessimistic — I mean realistic — about those shifts in my own thought processes. I have been known to let myself go, but I can’t afford to do that, not anymore. Life is a lot shorter than it was when I was living through that 1st lifetime, when the entire world was wide open to me, before so much heartbreak on both sides. Now I have to remember why each one ended, so that I can stop it before it happens again.

Because 7 is my lucky number, and if I can make this one my last lifetime I will do everything in my power to do just that.


The Thin Line

My daughter Madeline has Down syndrome, and I’ll admit I knew almost nothing about it when we first found out. For the vast majority of my life it didn’t affect me so I didn’t bother to get information on it. Instead I lived in a sort of dream world where I thought that since it hadn’t affected me then it wasn’t going to affect me. So when she was born I had a lot of catching up to do. I still have a lot of catching up to do.

But I’ve found out several practical things about having a child with Down syndrome (DS) that the books don’t talk about, either because they don’t know, or because there is really no way to make you understand if you don’t have a child with DS. Here are a few…

  1. The simple things are the most important.
  2. Get used to fighting battles with ignorant people.
  3. There is a community for support.
  4. Every single individual with DS is different.
  5. DS doesn’t define Madeline.
  6. Daily routine is a must.
  7. There are many programs, grants, and monies for those with DS.
  8. Sometimes it’s okay to sit in a room and cry.
  9. Being informed is 2/3rds of the battle.
  10. There’s a thin line between ordinary and extraordinary.

Fighting with the educational system to get inclusion for Madeline has probably been the biggest battle we’ve faced so far, and that we continue to face even now. She’s in first grade, and she has an amazing teacher and support staff, but it’s taken a lot of effort on our part to make sure everything was in place and is being enforced so that Madeline can truly be included with her typical peers. I hate that word — typical — by the way, because it implies that Madeline is “other,” that being typical is the right way to be. It’s just one way of being.

When she first started school we had already gone through tutoring for speech, and had received monetary support for other supplements to make the transition to school that much easier. And she spent three years in a pre-school program at UCP (United Cerebral Palsy) to assist in her social skills as well as to help her with routine. Those years were dynamic, and we noticed a lot of progress she made in that system, where she was in class with typical peers as well as those with disabilities. That was true inclusion, and we hated to leave after those three years were up, not just because of the time spent there but because of the unknown that awaited us on the other side.

Enrolling Madeline in a typical elementary school was a bear, to say the least. From the very first CSE meeting, where the principal was off-putting, comparing the school to a car dealership and us to consumers looking to purchase what he was selling. It was a stressful time, not just because of that meeting, but because of what it portended — that our child was welcome in the school, but that the school was only going to be able to provide so much for her.

We requested a 1 to 1 aide, and they gave her a shared aide, saying that it was more feasible that way. More feasible for them, of course, but we gave ground on that one, preferring not to make too many waves and waiting to see if the shared aide would indeed work. It did not, and they caved only a month into the year, getting 1 to 1 aides for both children who had DS in that one kindergarten classroom. We were vindicated, but we did not gloat. Instead, we settled in for what we realized even then would be a series of challenges to get our child through elementary school and beyond.

Because there’s a thin line between ordinary and extraordinary, and our child is the latter. We just need to keep making sure others can see that as well. So we fight, and we celebrate each small victory along the way to where we want to be, and where we want her to be.


“Shared” Experience

first-date-at-cafe“That which we call shared experience is never truly shared. We see the world through a lens constructed from individual prior knowledge, and therefore it colors even those times when we are not alone.” ~Theodicus

I love that saying about there being three sides to every story: my side, your side, and the truth. But that statement is inherently incorrect at its core. The truth is always shaded by personal experience, and your truth is not mine, but does that make yours any less valid than mine?

A boy and his father went fishing at the lake one summer day. They caught three fish and drove back home in silence. To the father it was a companionable silence born from a bonding experience between the two. But to the boy the silence was fraught with accusation because he knew his father’s expectations, and he felt like he had messed up several times that day. They had gone through a “shared” experience, but each of them took something different away from it.

That can be both a blessing and a curse, though, having an experience that cannot ever truly be shared. It’s a blessing because even if one of you takes it as a negative, you can see the positives in it. It’s a curse because no matter how special the experience might be to you it could be unsatisfactory to the other person involved.

Jessica and Tommy went out on a date tonight. They had dinner at a nice Italian place, saw the latest romantic comedy, and he walked her to her apartment. They kissed goodnight and he started walking home, analyzing the date as he went. It ended with a kiss, so he figured the night went well. Jessica closes the door and hopes he doesn’t call because to her the date was a disaster. The goodnight kiss, to her, was a kiss goodbye. They had the same experience, and did the exact same things, but they reached entirely different conclusions based on that “shared” evidence.

Truth is variable. The truth in every situation is a fluid construct, shifting to accommodate individual thoughts and previous experiences. But can we still enjoy these shared experiences? Definitely. We just need to be honest with each other instead of trying to spare feelings, or assuming that the other person feels the same about the experience that we do. It all starts with communication, just like everything else, with a real sharing of ideas and feelings. That’s what can transform those “shared” experiences into actual mile markers on our road to understanding each other.


Tale of Two Cities

My birth city. Philadelphia.

It was the best of times, it was the better of times. Or something like that. It’s been said that people either love the place they grew up in or they hate it. So many people spend so much time trying their hardest to “escape,” to get out and move on with their lives, because they don’t appreciate the place that raised them. While others are quite content to live and grow old in the place of their birth, around the people who have always been around and who will always be around.

I’m a bit different. I love where I grew up but I don’t still live there. Philadelphia is the most amazing city in the world. I was just there last weekend, and every time I go back it both reminds me why I love it, and why I still miss it so much. Of course I haven’t lived there since late 1998, a span of over 15 years, but it’s still a version of  “home” that I treasure more than almost any other place in the world.

There’s just something to be said about that Philly atmosphere, even though I’ve never had one of those famous cheesesteaks (it’s the first question I get asked whenever anyone finds out I’m from the city of Brotherly Love). I mean, that Philly vibe is one of the most unique I’ve ever been around. I liken it to being a fan of a football team. You might adore the team, but when it does something stupid you scratch your head and complain. It doesn’t mean you don’t still love the team. You’re just so invested that you feel a part of it, even when you have no say over it. Continue reading “Tale of Two Cities”

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