Wednesday, December 30, 2009

My motto for 2010. Beauty & Power

I love mottoes. If you know me at all, this is not surprising. I love quotes and sayings and Storypeople stories. I love the way words can come together to create beauty. And, as 2009 comes to a close, I came across a quote I had saved for myself some time ago and had forgotten. It's a good one. Very "Olivia" as some would say. I've adopted it as my motto for 2010.

"I have been waiting for so long to finally admit to myself that I am amazing, and I really am. Everyone is beautiful in their own way and they get even better when they decide to be powerful and they decide to rock."~Girls Rock Movie

My mom asked me the other day what my New Year's Resolution was going to be. And, to be honest, I really hadn't given it that much thought. I didn't want it to be the ever-recycled "I'm going to lose weight". I really want 2010 to be my year. To be a great year. To be a powerful year. So, I'm dedicating 2010 to loving myself. To finding all of those bits and pieces that make me amazing and celebrating them. Because life is too short to wait any longer. And life is too beautiful to not find my own inner beauty. I owe myself that much. I know I could be better, stronger, and more powerful if I would just give myself the chance to try.

I wish you all your own beautiful and powerful 2010. I hope this new year is all you want it be and more.

"Y aunque para las uvas hay algunos nuevos, a los que ya no están te echaremos de menos. Y a ver si espabilamos los que estamos vivos y el ano que viene nos reímos."

Friday, December 18, 2009

Yes, Virginia

Yes, Virginia

I thought it would be a good time to share this one....
Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus

Editorial Page, New York Sun, 1897

We take pleasure in answering thus prominently the communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of The Sun:

I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, "If you see it in The Sun, it's so." Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?
Virginia O'Hanlon


Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a sceptical age. They do not believe except what they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.

He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The external light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.


Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus?Thank God he lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!!!


From The People's Almanac, pp. 1358-9.Francis P. Church's editorial, "Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus" was an immediate sensation, and became one of the most famous editorials ever written. It first appeared in the The New York Sun in 1897, almost a hundred years ago, and was reprinted annually until 1949 when the paper went out of business

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Camp Sunshine Weekend: Sydni & me.


I believe in angels. I've met quite a few in my lifetime. I've been blessed that way. This weekend, I met several more. Among them, was Sydni.

A few months ago, I sent in an application to Camp Sunshine to volunteer for one of their weekend sessions. Camp Sunshine is a camp for severally ill children and their families. It's an amazing place and I have been wanting to go for some time, but their camp schedule, my work schedule and getting to Maine, had been making it difficult. I was accepted as a one-to-one counselor for their December weekend which was for children with brain tumors and their families. I had no idea what a one-to-one counselor did, but I didn't care. I knew I would figure it out when I got there. I've volunteered at Camp Sunshine and similar camps before and also volunteer fairly regularly at the Ronald McDonald House; I was confident I could handle it.

When I arrived at Camp late Friday morning, I received my volunteer information packet and was informed that my one-to-one camper was a 5 year old named Sydni. I was told that she was in a wheel chair and that she was non-verbal due to brain injuries during surgery. No problem!, I thought. I can totally handle this and I eagerly awaited Sydni's arrival.

Friday evening, Sydni arrived. I met her and her family at dinner. And to say I was unprepared for the extent of her disability is an understatement. I won't go into the extent of it here, it's not the place and not the point (I promise). But, that Friday night, I left dinner feeling completely overwhelmed. I was afraid that I had gone in over my head. For someone who has been in the "cancer world" for a long time, my fear and sadness and feelings of complete helplessness, shocked me to the core. I got to my room, closed the door and broke down in tears. I knew I would get through the weekend, but as I admitted to my mom, it was going to be a really hard one. And, as I admitted to myself, it was going to be a great deal more emotionally draining than I could ever have imagined. I was afraid.

And then, Saturady came. My first full day with Sydni. Mom told me she likes to be rocked and sung to. She likes you to be close to her so that she can see you (she's also visually impaired). She likes to laugh. She helped me lift her onto my lap as I sat in the rocker. And, my day began. We rocked. I sang (or tried to). Sydni laughed a lot and smiled and cooed along with my songs. I've met a lot of angels in my life. This weekend, I met a very special one. Sydni. She may not be able to talk, or see well or interact with the world as most people do, but her soul is beautiful. She smiles and everything is better. "Being with Sydni is the best therapy", her mom said. And I couldn't agree more.

Some of you will read this and think that I am strong, and brave and giving for spending my weekend with Sydni, but it's not true. Not true at all. I am weak and scared. Sydni is the brave one. She is the one with all the strength. I learned more about the human spirit from her in one hour, than I could ever have thought possible. She gave me the strength to get through the weekend. If Sydni can laugh and smile and sing despite all of the odds against her, I realized, that I not only could too, but I had to. That's what angels do. They teach you to go beyond yourself and your limits to something more. They are what makes the world beautiful. And, Sydni makes the world magnificent.

I spent this weekend rocking and singing and smiling and laughing. I could not have done any of this without Sydni to lead me.


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

PS, New York

PS- New York, love isn't something you vote on. If you're actually out of ideas, if you actually think this is a "problem", here's my list of projects for you: fixing our public school & health care systems, addressing crime & hate, helping the homeless & hungry, not to mention the less than stellar MTA I take to work daily. Tackle that. Leave love alone. Thank you.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Apparently I have a fan club.

I live in Whitestone (what I call "Bumble"). Whitestone is a smallish (by NY City standards) town that's part of Queens. Technically, it's part of New York City, but if you've ever been there, you wouldn't think it.
Let me explain it this way. It takes me 1.5 hours to get to work. My commute consists of two trains and a bus. It may sound horrible, but it's really not. I read, listen to my ipod, think of nothing, text friends. I am very used to my commute. Last night, on my trek home, I took the N train from Union Square, switched at Queensborough Plaza to the 7 train, got off at the last stop (Flushing) and went to the bus stop to wait for the Q16 home. (You know you live in Bumble when the subway doesn't run in your neighborhood, at least in NYC anyway, or so some of my friends have shared.) The bus came, I got on.

There was nothing special or different about my commute home last night. Nothing different that is, until I rang the bell to get off. And as I am stepping off the bus, I thank the driver and he says: "No running today?". It takes me a minute. "Running?" I think to myself. And that's when I remember that my now longer run outside is essentially the bus route I take home. And I want to burst out laughing that anyone would remember me running. Let alone one of the many, many, many bus drivers working the route. "No", I reply with a smile, "I'm going to run tomorrow morning." And he says, "I see you running all the time." And with that, I smile, thank him again and I get off the bus, walk the few blocks home, open the door, and burst into a fit of laughter as I am trying to explain to my mom what just happened.

You see, when I first started running, I was incredibly self-conscious. (Let's be honest, I still am.) I know I don't run "like everybody else" and I didn't want people to stare at me or notice me. At. All. And it took me a while to convince myself that nobody would ever notice. And that even if they saw me, I grew to convince myself that after a moment, they would continue on with whatever they were doing and never remember.

Well, as my friend, Andrea, can attest, this theory was dispelled in Belfast. In Belfast, I had all of the security guards in the dorm area asking me about my runs and how long they were and when did I run and why didn't they see me run that morning, etc., etc. whenever they saw me. Andrea and I grew to coin them my running fan club. It was pretty funny.

When I got back to New York, I again convinced myself that no one would notice. This is New York City after all...people make an effort not to notice anyone here. And, after 4 years of thinking that no one really sees me or my weird running style (or the many times I fall and scrape my knee open), a New York City bus driver tells me he sees me running all of the time. So, apparently, I have a running fan club in Whitestone. It may only be one person strong, but that's fine with me. It's nice to be noticed, but I am still, self-conscious, after all.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Long overdue.

It's been a long while since my last post. I know. I was thinking of updating sooner but I really had nothing to share. My days have been full of the usual lately-- running, working, hanging out with friends. All good but nothing to really inspire me to write. Just because I think it's awesome I am now regularly running 7 miles doesn't mean others do, right?

I was going to write at the beginning of November too (ie- earlier this week) but I was busy with work and getting home late. And then, on Wednesday, I found out that Ylaria relapsed again and I was just too sad. I don't want to dwell on that sadness here. I just want to ask you to keep Ylaria and her family in your thoughts and prayers. They need it more than ever.

In closing today, I want to share my top 5 from yesterday. Because I haven't done it in a while and because it's important (and oh so necessary) to remember the positives.

1. I saw Ylaria at the Ronald McDonald. It was really fun to play in the playroom and hear her laugh. She always makes me smile.

2. I donated platelets. My hemoglobin was 14 (which is REALLY high for me!). It was awesome!

3. The weather was beautiful. I love this time of year where it's nice and crisp outside and the holidays are in the air (it's NOVEMBER already!)

4. I was constantly reminded that I have the most amazing friends. Ever.

5. I woke up!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Carrying Christi

"I carry you with me into the world, into the smell of rain & the words that dance between people & for me, it will always be this way, walking in the light, remembering being alive together" ~Storypeople

The quote above was my motto for this year's Christi Run. They were the words that I repeated to myself over and over and over again as I ran. They were the words that kept me going. And, on the handful of times that I wanted to slow down and take a break, I would say them under my breath and run on. They were my constant reminder that I wasn't running for myself on Sunday. I was running for Christi. For her family and for her friends and for all of the children that, like Christi, have stared cancer in the face and fought like hell to the end. I really do love running and I run as often as I can because I love it. But once a year, on my Christi Run, I don't run for me.

I felt that I really was carrying a piece of Christi with me over 6.5 miles. And, I also knew that I was, in fact, not running alone. Christi was by my side. She was with me as I ran over the hills, and felt the crisp fall breeze and admired the beautiful trees. She was there. And it really did make all the difference.

Thank you to all of you who donated, to all of you who sent messages of encouragement, to all of you who believed I could do it. You’re the best.

Love & Hugs.

Friday, October 9, 2009

It's been a while....

I haven't blogged in a few weeks. Why? you may ask. To be honest, mostly because I haven't really felt like it.

I have been doing a lot of running lately which has been great (yes, at 4:40am). I recently bought myself this little Nike+ ipod thingy that you attach to your ipod and it tells you how long you've run, in how much time and your pace. It's pretty awesome. I'm in love. Is it shameful to admit that it's one of my motivators for running in the morning now? It's like a new toy that I just can't wait to play with. Except better because it forces me to work out, which has to be a good thing, no?

And my run. Goodness! It's on Sunday. I am all ready, though. I have some good running shoes, a running shirt I created on zazzle, and loads of energy. And, it looks like we're going to be getting some nice weather. It'll be in the 60s and a partly cloudy. I was sort of hoping for rain (because I love to run in the rain) but sun is always good. Besides, I need to remind myself that the last time I ran in the rain, I got stuck in a complete downpour and had to turn around and go home because I quite literally couldn't see anything. It was pretty awesome, though. If you've never had a chance to run in the rain, I recommend it. It's fun to splash in puddles. :o)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Remembering Christi

Today marks three years since Christi earned her angel wings.

If you've come across my blog today and need some comfort, I am including one of my favorite poems. It's a gentle reminder that Christi is everywhere. Her artwork can still be seen in the stunning sunsets and beautiful snowfalls. She paints the rainbows after storms and crafts the clouds that float above. Her spirit is everywhere.

When I'm Gone

When I'm gone from your side,
And all your tears have dried,
Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow;
I am the diamond glints on snow;
I am the sunlight on ripened grain;
I am the gentle autumn's rain.

When you awaken in the morning hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds circled in flight.
I am the soft star that shines at night.

And when you stroll in the evening hours,
And smell the aroma of beautiful flowers;
There'll be no need to sob and cry...
I am not there, I did not die!
~ Unknown


I like to think that in joining the "Christi Crew", we all took a piece of her with us. And she of us. Love does that. It's how Love wins over death and distance and time. Christi lives on in the love, action and courage she has inspired in so many. In the words of Storypeople, Christi, "I carry you with me into the world, into the smell of rain & the words that dance between people & for me, it will always be this way, walking in the light, remembering being alive together". We will never forget you, most brilliant Christi Thomas. We'll continue to carry you in our hearts forever.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

For Christi


Dear Friends,

I am writing today, not because I have anything particularly exciting to share; let's be honest, that's a rarity in my case. I have been doing well lately, keeping busy, trying to balance work and fun. And, of course, running. I've been doing a lot of running lately. It helps keep me energized, focused, sane (or as sane as I'll most likely ever get, but some insanity is always necessary, no?)
And now that it's September, my runs have taken on a more special purpose. With only 3.5 weeks until what I have officially titled, the 3rd Annual Christi Thomas Run, Christi has been on my mind more than ever. I actually have a picture of her at work because looking a it makes me happy, and I like being happy. I've included it here for you because I believe in sharing Happy. It's one of my very favorite Christi pictures, though as Jennifer can attest, the "Favorite Christi Picture" category is extensive. I love this picture for three main reasons. One-- Christi looks so very happy. And, seeing her happy and feeling how happy she must have felt when that picture was snapped gives me that warm and fuzzy feeling. It makes me heart feel her joy. And her spirit. Two-- I love the fall and this is a fall-looking picture. Three-- The ponies. I mean, seriously, who doesn't love ponies?!? And look at how many there are. So, my first challenge in this email, is to look at the picture, sense Christi's joy, feel the autumn, see the ponies and I guarantee that however your day was up until this point, it's a million times better now. Christi had a way of bringing sunshine into everything-- from lemonade stands, to schoolwork, to chemo. Life gave her some pretty rotten lemons and she made the sweetest lemonade.

Christi is especially on my mind when I run. When the alarm goes off at 4:40am, I think of her and I remember her words ("
"Determination is what keeps you going. It's like a best friend." Said by Christi, age 7). And I find whatever determination I can muster at 4:40am and get my morning run going. She's the best friend running beside me when I want to stop and the one helping me up when I trip over myself and fall. I'm in good company at 4:40am. So my second challenge in this email, if you can, is to ask you for a donation (of any amount) to my cause (http://active.com/donate/christirun2009). And whatever amount that you give, if anything at all, just know that in giving you are sharing Christi's spirit with others. The funds go to dance scholarships and academic scholarships and care packages for other children struggling with cancer. The arts, academics, helping those in need-- even though she was only 9, I can say without hesitation that these were Christi's passions. Her passion deserves to live on, even if her body could not. Know that in contributing to these causes, you're giving a piece of Christi to someone else. Someone who may never have even known her. And in sharing her spirit in this way, she lives on. We still miss her, but this is a comfort, a vital comfort.

And my third (and last) challenge, as I sign off tonight, is to remember to tell those you care about that you love them. It may be hard, but from experience, it's harder living wishing you could have told them just once or even just once more. Christi loved with her whole heart. She lived with her whole soul. And because of that, she changed a part of the world. I'm convinced that if we all learned from her love and her living, this world would be a much better place.

I know this post may be a bit too personal for some (and some of you may be thinking that all I ever do is make you cry), but know that I am this honest because I honestly believe in what I write. And because I love Christi. And you.

Olivia

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Toast

I was walking home from the bus stop a few nights ago. It was late and rainy and I was coming home from a long day at work tired. I was walking in the drizzle, enjoying the quiet night and noticing how dark the evening was-- a sign that fall is on it's way. My mind was calm and I was appreciating the moment when all of a sudden, out of nowhere, I smelled toast. Really. The smell was with me outside in the rain and it remained with me for about a block. And out there in the rain, with the smell of toast in the air, I remembered my grandfather. My Abuelo.

Toast always reminds me of Abuelo. He would toast his ham sandwiches in the toaster oven and the smell would permeate the entire house. It's so interesting the things, memories, and spaces people leave behind when they fly away. The pieces of themselves that remain with the living. I am sure that for Abuelo, the toast was just something he loved to eat. It was something he did so regularly that I doubt he ever put much thought into it. And yet, for me, it's so much more. I smell toast and I think of him; I see him in my mind for a moment and I remember how I loved him.

On that night, I remembered how I loved to hold his hand. When we were sitting together watching TV or driving home after a family meal, I would often take his hand in mine and hold it. We wouldn't say very much at all. It's not the words that I recall. But I remember holding his hand. It's that memory that makes me both miss him and brings me comfort all at once. Abuelo had thin, bony hands. When you held them, you could tell that they had known hard work and sacrifice, and strength and love. I always felt safe when I held his hand. And so very, very loved. I miss holding his hand. And when I smelled the toast that evening, I felt...I knew...that Abuelo was there with me. Walking me home in the rain and the wind and the night. And I was comforted.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Manny's smile


Ok, I am NOT being sad here. I just have to share this picture of my brother because this is exactly how I remember his spirit and his smile. The picture was taken on his last birthday. We had to celebrate it in the hospital, but we still had an awesome time. And, of course, his favorite cake was there.
Have you ever seen a bigger smile?


Thanks, Jennifer, for adding him to KCC. It means the world to me. And, your request for a photo of him had me looking through old albums and finding photos (and memories) I had forgotten. I promise to share more later.

Hugs,
Olivia

Friday, August 28, 2009

Hiking in Shenandoah



At the end of last week, I took a few days off from work so that I could go down to Virginia and go hiking with a good friend of mine. We went to Shenandoah National Park where we did a lot of hiking, relaxing and reading. It was a much needed unwind and I absolutely loved getting the chance to catch up with Christina-- we hadn't seen each other in 2 years!

We're hoping to get a chance to go back some time in November to do more hiking in cooler weather. (We're both more fans of the cold, really.)








Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Words to live by.


If you know me, you know I love quotes. I'll admit it. I'm a quotes girl. I love how words can work so beautiful together and inspire the mind to ponder and the heart to feel. I love quotes.

When I find a quote I really like. When I read words that touch my soul. I write them down because I want my mind to remember them and my heart to live them.

In early 2003, I met Christi. If I am the quote-collector, in life, Christi would be the quote-creator. Angela would share a "Christi quote" in journal entries and as I read them, I was humbled to learn such wisdom from someone so young, and I was inspired to live them out.

Tonight, I miss Christi and I wanted to take a moment to share some of her wisdom with you. I can't take any credit for the words listed below. I simply compiled them. Angela shared them. Christi spoke and lived them. And because she's no longer here to speak them herself, I wanted to share some of Christi's spirit with you. My hope is that in reading them, your mind will ponder and your heart will feel. And, in living them, you will take a piece of Christi with you into the world. I know I have. It has made all the difference.

1.31.03- "Enjoy what you've got while you've got it because you don't know how long it's going to last."

2.7.03- "It doesn't matter what you look like on the outside. It's what's on the inside that matters."

2.14.03- "Everyday is a special day!"

2.22.03- "You don't know what's going to happen, so just make the best out of whatever happens." (Again, this quote isn't about her cancer, but about not being able to get back from a museum this week in time to watch her new favorite TV show - PBS's Cyberchase. It was rush hour and we couldn't get a taxi so we missed her 5:00 show. The next day she asked if we could take a fast subway train instead and we did.)

3.14.03- "Always do your best."

4.4.03- "Kindness gets kindness back."

4.25.03- "You can do anything if you put your heart into it."

4.30.03- "Something bad can turn into something good." (She made this comment after we got lost driving back from the science center. Christi was happy to learn about boroughs as we drove through Brooklyn and Queens trying to get back into Manhattan. The next day she asked if Tiffin was a political subdivision of Ohio and therefore a borough. We were floored with how well she was listening to Daddy explain it the day before. Amazing!)

5.3.03- "I want to do nice stuff like people do nice stuff for me." (This was her response to the boy in the other bed receiving his 3F8/beta glucan treatment whimpering in pain. She wanted to make him a card. Sadly, this four year old lost his father one year prior to his 6/02 diagnosis. Our hearts are heavy for him and his family. Also he, like Christi, still has some disease and therefore can't go to transplant yet either. We pray for a NED status for this precious child.)

5.11.03- "Sometimes bad things happen to good people." (Shayla was asking if she was going to get cancer if she ate too much candy and the above quote was part of Christi's lengthy explanation to Shayla.)

5.18.03- "No one's life is perfect." (Christi's explanation to Shayla when Shayla was upset that she couldn't do an art project quite right because her hands were too little.)

5.28.03- "Be happy with what God gave you." (This is what I looked down and heard my daughter tell me after she overheard me complaining to another Mom in the hospital's playroom about my curly hair being even curlier because of the day's rain. The fabulous volunteer Christi was playing with hugged her and told her that she likes how she thinks. I immediately quit complaining.)

10.8.03- "Sometimes things don't turn out the way you want them to."

1.31.04- "When I close my eyes and open my heart, I feel that God is near."

4.18.04- "Christi's Comment: After receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, Christi leaned over to me in the pew and whispered, 'That wine wasn't half bad.'"

4.18.04- "Late this afternoon Christi looked up and said, 'There's a cross in the sky.' When we all gathered to look she said, 'I think it's Grandpa Vince.'"

9.14.04- "People always tell me how brave I am, but I don’t have a choice. I have to get needles in my arm and take my chemo so that I can get better. I think the brave people are the people who don’t have to get pokes, but who do so other people can get blood transfusions and live. Thank you to the Red Cross who make blood transfusions possible for people like me."

10.2.04- "Determination is what keeps you going. It's like a best friend."

Friday, August 14, 2009

Running for Christi


It’s time for the 3rd Annual Christi Thomas run! This year, I will be running a 10K on Sunday, October 11th.

My very special friend, Christi, lost her battle to neuroblastoma, a very aggressive form of childhood cancer, on September 19, 2006. In an effort to honor Christi’s memory, and to share her spirit with others, I am running to raise money for the Christi Thomas Memorial Fund and Kids Cancer Crusade, two organizations that were established in Christi's honor.

Running is a small way in which I can keep Christi's spirit alive. I want to help, I need to help, in any way I can to keep Christi's name resounding in the universe.

When someone you care about passes away, their name, their spirit, their gifts become so very fragile, and it becomes so very essential to keep these pieces of them alive and to share with others—because they themselves no longer can. Simply because Christi is no longer here does not mean that her legacy should not continue to inspire others. Contributing to these organizations is one way in which I can achieve this. Christi deserves to be remembered. And the world deserves to know Christi.

The Christi Thomas Memorial Fund provides scholarships for children in the area to go to college. It also donates books to the local library, provides scholarships to the local dance program and has a partnership with the UPenn Animal Shelter for their pet program with the Philly Ronald McDonald House.

Kids Cancer Crusade provides care packages, organized outings and emotional support for children with cancer and their families.

Please consider donating to these very worthy causes. Your support is appreciated. Thank you!

http://active.com/donate/christirun2009

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Hitting the Rewind

I went to a training for work today. At one point we were discussing youth development and one of our activities was to close our eyes and "hit the rewind", go back in time and remember what it felt like when we were a certain age. When the facilitator walked over to my table, she said "you'll be the 10-12 group". Meaning? I had to close my eyes and remember what it was like to be 10-12. What was happening in our lives? What was our relationship like with our parents? With our siblings? What did we do for fun? What were we afraid of?

What was I doing when I was 10-12? I closed my eyes and all I saw was Manny. What was I afraid of? I was afraid he would die.

I'm not saying I didn't get together with friends or worry about getting good grades or fight with my sisters or disagree with my parents. I am sure I did all of these things. But. I. Can't. Remember. Them. And, when you ask me what it was like to be 10 or 11 or 12, all I can think of is my brother.

I was 10 when he was diagnosed. We visited him in the hospital a lot. We bought in trays of food on holidays and birthdays. We laughed at the "time channel" (a channel that was literally just a clock showing the time). There were always more people in the room than the hospital was supposed to allow-- no one ever bothered enforcing the rule. He tried to surprise us when he would come home unexpectedly from the hospital. He introduced the now famous banana milkshake. We played basketball outside. The hoop was nailed to the side of the house and the wall would shake when the ball hit it. We almost set the basketball on fire once when it landed on the BBQ grill. We watched wrestling with him. Not because we liked it really but because we wanted to be with him. What we were doing was largely irrelevant. It's the being with that we wanted. That's what I remember at 10.

When I was 11, he was fighting a losing battle to AML. One of my last memories of him was New Years Day 1995. We had just come back from my aunt's house in NJ. He sat down at the dining room table and I did what I always did; I followed him. We sat. And then, he started to cry. To sob. Because he was afraid of dying. I stared at my hands. My mom came in and sat next to him and told him that we were doing the transplant to save his life. He cried. I stared at my hands. If there's a moment in my life I could take back, it would be that one. In the do-over I would get up and hug him and tell him he was my hero. I would hold his hand instead of staring at my own. But we don't get do overs in real life. Two months later, Manny died. I remember my mom telling me. I remember screaming. I remember crying. I remember my aunt coming to hug me as I fell out of my chair. I remember my heart and how it hurt. How it felt like someone was literally tearing it apart. It was the first time I realized that a heart could actually break, could shatter, when part of it is taken away. I remember all of this from when I was 11.

At 12, I was trying to pick up the pieces. To move on without leaving him behind. I was sneaking up to his room to see if his clothes still had his scent. I was snuggling on his bed holding his stuffed monkey, James. I was trying to figure out how he could get his toothpaste so foamy when he brushed his teeth, and attempting endlessly to get mine to do the same. I was going down to the basement to the closet door where my mom had penciled in all of our measurements to see if he was still taller than me. I started writing. Words helped. Pencil to paper. Memories, what I had of them, were put into words. My brother became words. It's how I tried to save him from being forgotten. And myself from missing him so much. So I could remember the Olivia I had been and the life I had had when my Manny was living it with me. That was me at 12.

When they asked us to open our eyes again, I was still stuck in 10-12 year old Olivia's head. Has that ever happened to you? It happens to me every time I think of my brother. I'm always 11. He's always 14. And, the longer I sit and think of him, the longer I close my eyes and remember his face or how it felt to hold his hand or how he laughed when I hugged him hard-- the more real he becomes in my mind-- the harder it is to come back to 26 year old me and the longer I get stuck in that place in my memory where my brother now lives. He becomes more than just the words I put together. I'm usually pretty good at stopping myself before it starts to hurt too much. I can remember a moment, a gesture, a feeling and then stop before the memories become too painful. Usually. But on other days, like this one, I sit and remember and I forget to be careful. I remember so much and he becomes so clear that when I open my eyes, it's like I've lost him all over again. And it'll take me a few minutes or even hours to "snap out of it", whatever "it" is. That's how it was for 20 minutes this afternoon. Hard.

And, when the group came to sharing their experiences as 10-12 year olds, it took everything I had to not say: "Actually, I was 11 when my brother died. I don't remember how it felt to be in school or what I talked about with my friends or if I cared about boys. I just remember that I went to the hospital a lot and everyone was trying to save my brother's life. And then on a crappy day in March, he died. I hate March." I can't put into words what that felt like. And it wasn't the time or the place to share my brother. (That's what I do here) So, I shrugged, said the trip down memory lane had been a difficult one, that there were some family problems, and that I had dealt with them by writing. None of this entirely untrue. And the facilitator smiled and said that it made sense. When you're in that age group you're just starting to learn how to process and internalize thoughts. It made sense that I would think and write about my problems. And when the others in the group shared, I simply smiled and nodded. 20 minutes later I was 26 again.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Thanks, Irene!

Irene, thank you for sharing this video!! I just saw it and I absolutely love it!

Smiles,
Olivia

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

For a laugh

It has come to my attention that this blog has been rather depressing lately. Or, at least, that it's made some readers sad. So, I thought I would lighten the mood and share one of my favorite "funnies". (You can click the title of this post to get to the video too.) This probably my favorite youtube video and it makes me smile every time I watch it. Here's to making you smile today.

Love,
Olivia


Saturday, August 1, 2009

Happy Birthday.

Happy Birthday, Manny.

It's hard to believe that you would have been 29 today. You've had more birthdays in Heaven than here on earth. That's not easy for me to wrap my mind around. It's impossible, actually. When I think of you, you're always 14 and I'm 11. We're stuck in a time capsule.

Except you're gone and I'm here.

I tell myself you're in the sky, but there are times, like this one, when I don't want to search for you in the clouds. I want to be able to run up to your room and give you one of those hugs you loved so much. Your birthday makes me want to bake a chocolate cake with vanilla frosting and drink a banana milkshake. I wish I were spending this time thinking of what gift to get you rather than trying to put into words what 14 years of missing you means. Those words simply don't exist. There are some that come close: Love, Memory, Laughter, Smile, Brother. But, I'm in a selfish mood right now and I want you the person, not you the memory.

But because I find comfort in words. And because they are the only thing I have to give you. I want to say:

Happy birthday, Manny. I love you & I miss you.

I'm going to bed now and when I wake, I will look for you again in the sky, in the sun and the rain and the trees and the wind. I'll look for you in my heart, the one place you never left at all.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Deeper Well of Memory

I went to Barnes and Nobles on Saturday. Nothing new. I bought two books. Also, nothing new.

One of the books I purchased was created from an NPR series called: This I Believe. The "This I Believe" series created a forum for everyday ordinary and extraordinary Americans from all walks and ways to share their life philosophies. They sought to answer the question, "What do you believe?" and to share that answer with others. It's been a thought-provoking read. I've enjoyed the journey so far and I am so thankful to those who have shared of themselves in these pages.

I plan to write my own "This I Believe" essay one day. It's an important thing to think about: what you believe. And it takes courage to put it into words.

For now, I just want to share one particular essay that touched my soul. Not because I think it is above the others; they are all equal. But, because it's a topic I can relate to so well: Memory. My soul found comfort in the author's words.

I believe that memory is never lost, even when it seems to be, because it has more to do with the heart than the mind.

At the same time my 44-year-old husband, Ed, was losing his life, my mother was losing her ability to remember. As Ed's lungs filled with cancer, Mom's brain was becoming tangled in plaque. She forgot how to start the car, whether or not she had eaten and which family members had died — including my father.

I became afraid that one day I, too, would be unable to recall my husband, not because of Alzheimer's, but simply because my memory of him might fade. So from the day of Ed's diagnosis until his death a year later, I set out to memorize him: his crooked smile and vigorous embrace, his woodsy smell and the way he cleared his throat when he reached the top of the stairs. I knew I'd always be able to recite his qualities — kind, gentle, smart, funny — but I wanted to be able to conjure up the physical man in my mind, as fully as possible, when he was gone.Back then, I thought memory was a deliberate, cognitive process, like remembering multiplication tables or lyrics or where the keys were. Unable to rescue Ed from cancer, I was determined to save him from the only thing worse than dying:being forgotten.

Later I learned that memory has a will of its own. You can't control it any more that you can influence the weather. When it springs up, a person loved and lost is found, if only for a few seconds.

Recently when I was driving, I had a deep and sudden sense of Ed and the way it felt to have him next to me in the car. My body softened as it used to when we were together seven years ago, living a shared life. I wasn't remembering his face or the way he walked; the careful details I had stored had nothing to do with this moment in the car. Looking in the rearview mirror, I recognized in my own face the same look I once saw on my mother's face in the nursing home. I had asked her a question about my father, and she became confused about his identity. Yet, as she sat there, dressed in a shapeless polyester outfit, she briefly appeared young and radiant, her face filled with love and her eyes misty. Her brain couldn't label the man correctly, but that was not important. It was clear to me that her husband was vivid in her heart, a memory even Alzheimer's could not crush.

I believe there is a difference between memory and remembering.

Remembering has to do with turning the oven off before leaving the house, but memory is nurtured by emotion. It springs from a deeper well, safe from dementia and the passage of time. ~Christine Cleary.


God works in mysterious ways. I was having a normal day. It was nothing special. And then, I read Christine's words. And I fell in love with them.

Memory is so important, it's the lifesaver when you feel like you're drowning. The light in your darkest night. My brother lives in my memories. It is there where he laughs and hugs and is with me. Manny is alive in my remembering. The specific events, the exact words, the precise moments, may be fading with the passage of time. But I'll never forget what really ties me to my brother. What makes him my Manny. My heart will always remember how I love him. And, in the end, like the beginning, it's all about love.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Being like trees

We grow a lot faster than trees, he said, so we miss a lot of stuff.
~ Storypeople

As some of you know, I love Storypeople. Love them. I get a quote of the day emailed to me every morning. It's a great way to start the day and I definitely recommend it. You can sign up here. Yesterday, this quote above came and it really made me pause and think. I really do miss a lot of stuff. And, the worst part is that I don't even realize it. I'm so busy going from one point to the next, checking something off my to do list or just stuck inside my own thoughts that my life passes me by and I'm hardly a part of it. My life.

I've always loved trees. I love them like I love the sky. I read For One More Day by Mitch Albom once, and in it, there was a character who was talking about carving her prayer into a tree. When asked why she carved her prayers into trees, she replied: "Trees spend all day looking up at God". Trees spend all day looking up at God. At the sky. Their majestic.

So, today, after another long day at work, I am saying my own prayer. To be more like the trees.

Monday, July 20, 2009

A little list.

I feel compelled to write tonight mostly because I haven't written in a while and not necessarily because I have very much to say. Work has been busy but good. There are some rough moments but I am getting through them. We're nearly at halfway point with the summer program, so that's exciting. Time flies when there never seems to be enough of it, it seems.

I tend to like to list things these days, so I'll do that now. I don't have much to say really, but I'll list some happy things.

1. The weather. It's been nice. (Knock on wood), we've escaped the horrible humidity NY is known for in the summer. At least for now. I've really enjoyed spending time outside reading, being with family and just enjoying the nice weather.

2. I'm doing things. Outside of work. Little things that make me happy. I'm relaxing, I'm reading, I'm shopping, I'm spending time with friends and just not letting unnecessary stress get to me. It's been good. I'm slowly learning the art of real self care. The only trick is not to let it slide into self indulgence and self centered-ness. It's a fine balance.

3. I'm running again. After many months of on and off again injuries and illnesses, I am running and it's been really great. I don't think I'll be doing another half-marathon any time soon, but I'm getting on that treadmill most mornings and going out for some great runs outside on the weekend. I really love running.

4. I'm being. For the most part, I've been happy this summer. Not for any particular reason really, but I am laughing a lot and crying very little. It's been nice.

5. I'm noticing the sky more. I love the sky. It makes me happy. It reminds me of Manny. I've been remembering him a lot lately.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Sky-seeing

The sky was beautiful tonight. I noticed it most as the sun was setting and I was walking home. It was comforting. I needed to see a beautiful sky tonight. It's my little reminder that I'm never really alone at all. Beautiful sky.

I'm still here...

I'm still here. I promise. This last week was insane. Our summer program started at work which led to many 11 hour work days and lots of exhaustion. I've been living on coffee through it all and I'm glad to say that I survived it fairly well!

This weekend was great. I was able to catch up on some much needed sleep and spend a lot of time with family. On Saturday, I went to New Paltz with my mom and sisters. We did a lot of driving and a saw some beautiful scenery. (ok, so we got a little lost, but it wasn't so bad!) We went to a local farmer's market, grabbed lunch and then walked around New Paltz before heading home. I've really been enjoying the road trips we've been taking lately (we spent July 4th weekend in the Poconos). Truth is, I've been working a lot lately. A. lot. And getting out of NYC is just what I need to feel better and re-energize for another week.

The weather in NYC has really picked up lately which is nice. It's been in the mid-70s mostly, sometimes hitting the 80s and it's my perfect summer weather. I hate the humidity and heat that NY summers usually bring so there is no complaining from me! Added to this nice weather is the fact that it's finally stopped raining. I've been trying to run outside, and just be outside more. If I can get home before too late tonight, I will definitely fit in another run before going to bed.

In all, this summer has been good to me so far. I'm seeing friends, doing some weekend travelling, spending time with family and relaxing. Work is busy but good. I can't complain.

I hope you're all doing well.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

I just want you to know....

It's been awhile since I've blogged. Mostly because work has really been kicking my butt lately and I am just exhausted. But, before I crawl into bed tonight, I wanted to thank you for taking the time to read my blog. For the loving, funny, understanding and comforting comments you leave in response to my (many) rambles. Some of you are family (or should be), some of you are friends (of the very best kind) and some of you are strangers (who became friends through writing). You are all amazing. You are all unique. Your words mean so much to me. You mean so much to me.

I promise to write more soon. But for now, I just wanted to thank you. Because your words matter. You matter. More than you will ever know.

Smiles, love & fluff,
Olivia

Saturday, June 27, 2009

My Sister's Keeper

Every now and then I like to go to the movies on my own. It sounds strange to some, but I really enjoy my "Olivia time" every now and then. A friend once told me you have to learn to be your own best friend in life. It's true. Not easy (as you may have noticed from previous posts), but it's true. So, on occasion, I take time to do what I want, by myself, simply because I've learned that I can't wait for others to do what I want. And, some times, doing it alone feels just as good. And, it may even be just what's needed.

All of this is to say that on Friday, when I was able to leave the office at 1pm (yay half days!), I decided that I wanted to go to the movies and see "My Sister's Keeper". It was a movie that hit close to home, very, very close, but I loved it all the same. And, in watching the movie, I felt that I could understand more of what my brother went through. His pain and fear and strength. My parents never talk about my brother anymore. Or that time in our lives. It's understandable. The pain is overwhelming, even so many years later. But, I have so many questions. So many things I want to know. Most, I have to deduce from my better understanding of AML now or simply imagine on my own. It's what I do to fill in the blanks. And to try to put together more pieces of my brother; so much of him seems to be slipping through my fingers as time passes.

I know there are many who wouldn't be able to see a movie like that. My mom is one of them. But, for some strange reason, I find comfort in the sadness. In feeling, despite the fact that I know it's fiction, that someone else has been in my place, felt my pain. It's comforting to know I am not alone.

I'm not really sure what this post is about today. I miss my brother. The changing seasons always make me miss him a little more. Seeing the movie brought so many emotions to the surface.

I have a brother. He was the most amazing, brave and inspiring person I know. I miss him. And, he's everywhere. Just like the sky. Just like love.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Remnants of a War

The Human Rights Watch Film Festival is going on now. I went to my first movie (I got the movie pass for 5 films) on Tuesday. I went to see the independent film, Remnants of a War. The film discusses the aftermath of the Lebanon-Israel War in the summer of 2006.

Did you know that Israel dropped 1 million cluster bombs on Southern Lebanon during the war? One. Million.

35% of them failed to detonate.

Cluster bombs are highly unreliable. While they are relatively cheap to make, they don't always work. The cluster bombs that do not explode on initial impact can explode later, at any time. A six year old Lebanese child died in 2007 after finding a cluster bomb, mistaking it for a toy, and playing with it. The cluster bomb (essentially a bomb that contains many, many, many smaller bombs in it) exploded in his hand. This death is only one of the many deaths that continue to occur throughout Lebanon as a result of the cluster bombs littering Southern Lebanon. The majority of cluster bombs Israel used in 2006 were American. Many of those used in 2006 dated back to the Vietnam war. Old. Unreliable. Deadly. Not a good combination.

Teams of cluster bomb clearance experts have gone in to Southern Lebanon to train the locals on how to find and destroy these bombs in the hopes of preventing more deaths. Their work was made even more difficult because Israel refused to release their military target maps for years. The military target maps would have shown the detonation teams where the cluster bombs were dropped. Israel finally released them last month. Unfortunately, some of these teams have been disbanded due to lack of funding. Their work is not complete. Unexploded cluster bombs still litter the landscape.

Following the war in 2006, and the devastating effects the cluster bombs had on the Lebanese people, the Cluster Ban Treaty was drafted. While the Cluster Ban Treaty has received worldwide support from numerous countries, Russia, China, Israel and the US have still not signed. The main US argument is that cluster bombs remain an important arsenal for the US army. The weapon is unreliable and yet, the US refuses to ban their use during war.

The end of the documentary nearly brought me to tears, one of the Lebanese they were interviewing was speaking, and he said:

"Would the Americans...accept to live like this? Just as they love life, we love life. Just as they like to live with dignity, we like to live with dignity".

People are still dying, three years after the war. This needs to change. Civilian lives cannot continue to be lost. No one deserves to live with the fear that every day-- walking their dog, working on their farm, driving their car--could be their last. Please call your Senate and House representatives and tell them to support the cluster bomb ban.

I love life. I like to live with dignity. I am no more simply because by a geographic fortune, I was born in the US. My life would be no less worthy, my dignity no less significant, had I been born in Lebanon. We must not turn a blind eye to this injustice. As history has shown, it could be us tomorrow. By speaking for the people of Southern Lebanon today, we give voice to our future tomorrow.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Being Gentle.

Some of you may know that I've been seeing a counselor for nearly a year now. Some of you reading this now may even be the ones who encouraged me to take this step. I can't say it's made everything 100% better, but it certainly has helped. Last year was a rough one. Nothing particularly catastrophic happened. I was just sad and lonely and frustrated. Sad when I wanted to be happy. Lonely even when I was surrounded by people I loved. And, frustrated because I didn't know what was "wrong" with me or how to "fix" it. It wasn't a great place to be. Sometimes, I find myself in that place again, but the stints there are much shorter, more manageable and not nearly as emotionally exhausting as they were. It's progress.

In my first session, I was asked what I wanted to get out of my therapy. I replied without hesitation, "I want to love myself." Because that's what I want. I've wanted it for a long time. I want to love myself every day. Not because of anything I've done or what I look like or any great challenges I've managed to overcome. I want to love myself for the simple fact that I deserve to love myself unconditionally. Just because.

This isn't to say I hate myself now. I don't. But I don't love myself either. On a regular day, I'm more indifferent than anything else. On a good day, I don't think I'm half bad. On a really good day, I like myself. On a bad day, well, let's just say, I'm not in a happy place with me on a bad day. I'm a perfectionist. And, my own worst critic. It's a volatile combination. A friend once told me I have a bad coach (The "coach" being that inner voice inside your head.) because I confessed that my own inner voice is usually pretty negative. I'm working on being more positive with my thoughts. On being more gentle with myself. On loving myself unconditionally.

And as I was waiting for the train home in Penn Station a few nights ago, I read this quote and I thought it would make a great new motto for me. A new mantra. And because I think it's so true. And because I know we all need to be reminded of this truth from time to time, I am sharing it here with you.


Be Gentle With Yourself.
You Are A Child Of The Universe,
No Less Than The Trees And The Stars.
In The Noisy Confusion Of Life,
Keep Peace In Your Soul.
~Max Ehrman

It's great advice. One I really need to remember.

Monday, June 8, 2009

It's Monday...

It's Monday, I'm tired and got very little sleep last night. (I've been having a lot of trouble sleeping over the last few weeks), and to boot, OTH is over for the season, so there's really nothing to look forward to today. And because I was feeling a little negative, I decided to post 5 happy things. (Any incoherence here is strictly due to sleep deprivation.)

1. I went for a good run on the treadmill this morning. Knock on wood, those shin splints are nearly healed.

2. I was able to listen to a lot of news this morning and I'm listening to more now as I do data entry at work.

3. I already got my first text from Jennifer today which means I won't be lonely.

4. I started reading the newest issue of The Economist today. It makes me happy.

5. I woke up!