One picture of me. From me. To you. Please read on, I have another gift to give to you. But first, let me tell you a little bit about my time spent in the past nearly three weeks. This post is meant to be a beginning of my story, I don’t think there is an ending to come for some time. Keep in mind, I will never do anything half-assed, nor am I quick about getting it all out all at once, so thanks in advance for being patient with me. Patience is something I have struggled with continuously at every turn of my loss, so I know from experience the effort it takes to do it. It’s a lot to ask for, especially if you are like me and want to just get to the point already. You are invited to listen, to read, there is so much more for me to share. Patience.
On June 30th, our family journey to Ontario, Canada, to fulfill Jon’s last of three ashes requests began. I took pictures over the next six days. Other than the drive up, I actually wrote very little while there. All words and thoughts were floating on the same choppy liquid-surface in my mind like those dead mayflies on the lake, some stuck together to make bigger forms, others floated away and disappeared under constant waves. My mind was numbed with a steady trickle of alcohol, the rocking sensation of the boat that followed me to dry land, and I was anxious being in close-quarters with fellow-grieving family members without being able to go for a run or a bike ride. I found a flight of steps that led to the docks to use for sprints, but I had an unfortunate fall while running up, so that didn’t last for long. Lesson learned: drinking a beer before stair-sprints is not advisable. Our island had really spotty wifi that would not connect in our cabin at most times when I found a quiet moment wanting to check up on the rest of the world. So in lieu, I took pictures, I spent time with family and resolved to be “present” as best I could, and I went fishing. I think I only caught four fish over the whole week, my only claim-to-fame is that I caught the first fish of the trip. A nice walleye. Other than that, I caught mostly rocks.
I found some refuge being in the boat when we would go at full-tilt to our fishing spots through the day. Driving the boat was also somewhat of a thrill. It was kind of like my skateboarding, but with a positive outcome of no wrecks. I need to feel speed, vibrate from sound, and have the rush of foreseeable risk-taking. It’s how I now know I’m alive. I will say, while I was following our other boat in front of me, I encountered speed wobbles in boating. It was hard at first for me to keep up, and I was trying not to get caught bouncing in the wake. I was concentrating on figuring out the hand-eye coordination of pulling the steering handle to my left toward me to go left, and then pushing it away from me to turn right. A lesson in opposites. I managed, but when there were times needed for reverse, those rules would be the opposite of opposite, and I would get them mixed up going forward again. If you’re confused about what I just described, now you see my point.
I went for a run last night at my gym. While running, I thought about how best to organize all of the photos, which stories of my heart and mind mattered to share, and especially if any of it is worthy to take the time to write about. As I stared ahead in thought, I found myself seeing the running lanes on the track like it was for the first time. It’s funny to me because most things I relate to biking now, and I notice the four lanes look like my chainring, but instead of three gears, there are four. When I run, I usually use the third outside lane, kind of like using my third gear on my bike. Parallel disciplines, but it’s the same damn fractal of my life in a different scale all over again for me. I decided to run in the fourth outer lane for the rest of this workout, and I’m wondering what it’s like to have a fourth chainring on a bike, if that’s a thing even. I’m going to ask about that when I take my bike in to my shop this week for a little gear tune-up.
So why only one photograph today, knowing that I have so many to share? To start, I love looking at faces: photographs of faces, artwork of faces, and especially real faces. I like looking deeply at all the little nuances that make up a person’s uniqueness. I feel in my mind that I can “know” a person by looking in their eyes, learn of their life’s journey by following clues in the lines on their skin, and see what’s in their heart by looking at the hidden corners and finding features that hold secrets and true feelings. Faces matter a lot to me right now, especially because I’m trying to understand new people that I meet and see in those I know what they are trying to say when words are not, or cannot, be spoken.
My life is all about “process” right now, my design education coming full circle. Did you know the best way to know you are experiencing good design is when you don’t notice it? Truly great design just “is” and it makes sense: you like what you see, feel, and experience, there are no glitches, stopping points, or frustrations. When designing, I may not be so concerned about the end-product or solution, but more about the journey of the process in getting there, to discover the set of something that explores possibilities, looks-at and lays-out things from as many angles as my mind can think up. So where am I in my “life’s process”: my re-entry after loss, you ask? I’ve met a few new friends, I’ve reconnected with old friends. Family is getting to know me now, we are all meeting each other on the side of grief and shaking hands, our emotions still sometimes raw. The upside is, as I’m adapting to seeing my life and other people with my new grief eyes, I’m also learning new things about myself as I am now. The “highs and lows” revealing what makes me laugh, what excites me, how my life works with or in contrast to others. New friends are helping to shape and see the “new me,” old friends and family are reminding me where I’ve been, who I was then, what’s similar, and especially what will never be the same.
I think a lot about love. Why not? If it weren’t for love, I would have never had something so precious to lose, I wouldn’t be in this predicament in the first place. In fact, today I had a new question on my mind: so what do you do if you’re not in a life fulfilled by love, a happy marriage or blissful partnership? More so, do you love fully, is this something you, yourself, need? Do you even want to love? Is your heart open for that? How do other people deal when their desire and openness for love goes unmet? There is no question concerning an answer for my own life — I want so much to live again with love: fully, completely, madly, as much if not more than before. Its form is unknown to me, and yet I am willing to take the risk, to hand over the keys when the time comes. This is a whole research project in my mind. One of many, actually. As I try to figure out “me,” I look to others and their examples of lifestyle and coping skills about love and many other topics. It’s been a while since I had to pay close attention to anything else besides my little world. I’m trying now to reach out. I’m trying to get some answers. Process.
So, back to my photograph, this one in a series since loss, the ever-evolving face of me. This one is special, taken on the 4th of July, one day after the official arrival to our island somewhere in Lake of the Woods, and the day before our ashes event. We all had just returned from a full day out on the connecting lakes and waterways. Our family of six and our two merry guides enjoyed a day of fishing including a legendary “shore lunch.” It was a beautiful sunny day, I had leaped out of the boat to swim, the water was the perfect temperature of cold with occasional warm currents swirling around and through me. After we all arrived back to our cabin, a short rest was had by all before dinner. My hair was made wavy from a lake-water wash and air-drying by the breezes that played with it. The sun had kissed my cheeks and nose, bringing out freckles and a rosy-glow. For the whole day, I was never still, my mind and body were in sync doing new things and had been equally active, now equally exhausted. I’m alone laying on my bed, the two pillows beneath my head are fluffy and brand new, the window to my right is bringing in light of early evening: still bright but the sun is waning in intensity ever so slightly, just starting to need rest. I still feel like I’m on the boat, but it’s a feeling that mixes well with my beer that I had just cracked open. I feel the day all over me as I lay here. I’m in no rush to get to dinner, I’m in the moment of it all. Present.
And in this moment now, I am ready to make my point, and share my gift to you, freely given with my sincerity and hoping you accept it with as much meaning as you have capacity to hold. I want to give you a version of the “Buddha’s smile.” To receive it, first lay down some place comfy for you. Next, look at my picture and concentrate on my expression. Notice my eyes are fully open, but relaxed, I am not only looking at you, but in to you. Can you look at me the way I’m looking at you? Let your mouth find a smile like mine, no tension to your lips, but a curve of a smile at each end that continues in to your cheeks. The weight of the air gently presses softly against my skin, smoothing out tension and keeping those lines that show the length of my life lived up to this point to come forward. Do you feel the air now on your face? Let it hold you, caress your forehead, sweep across the entirety of your cheeks, and find its way in to your hair. Hold this expression and feeling for as long as you can. Do you feel lighter, do you feel less of your weight that you carry?
As you continue to lay there now, I also have a wish to give just to you, to place in your heart if you’ll have it. First, I wish for you to take time to think about not exactly where you’re going, but just enjoying your life’s journey. Savoring every moment, being “in” the moment whether it’s a “high” or a “low,” either is part of the larger journey. There are lessons at each end, and in between when least expected. Next, I wish for you to find joy in your “process work” of the life you’re living. Let it emerge from inside of you like a candle’s slow burn. Don’t rush, design your life with thoughtfulness so that you may live it from every angle. Make your life count, worth all the pain of it, see through to the next day even though you’ve got so many hours left of the shitty one you might be in. A long time ago, when I was lost in my very early twenties, I found a saying for myself to see me through rough times: “every day has a beginning and an end, there are only 24 hours in a day, no two days in a row will be exactly the same.” I thought of this after our trip to Canada. I was reminded through these words that “now” is only a point in my longer journey, not the only point in which I stand fixed forever. I was overwhelmed with coming back to this house, back to my source of loss, my decisions, and the gaping hole filled with nothing. I had captured a positive moment in my portrait, my selfie above, to help me remember what “being present and at peace” looks like when I’m having a rough time. So I can remember to hold on, savor the burn just a little longer, while thinking of another angle. Now I pass it all on as my gifts to you: Patience. Process. Present. Peace. ~Paula