Monday, August 25, 2014

Listening

Last night it felt so good to get into bed, close my eyes and listen to nothing but the silence of the night. I can remember a time when after getting into bed and closing my eyes, I felt as though they were still open. I felt as though I had spent the whole day trying to look through walls – walls, which even with my eyes closed, were still right there in front of me.

I’m not sure what was different about last night. Maybe for a moment I understood that the answers I’m looking for are not on the other side of those walls. Or on this side either. Maybe for a moment,  I realized that the answers I was looking for were deep down inside myself and all I needed to do to find them was to close my eyes and listen to the silence of the night.



Walk a Mile In My Shoes

I was forty the first time I tried to walk a mile.  As a child, I was hospitalized with rheumatic fever (an event covered in my memoir Rude Awakening). When I left the hospital a year later, the doctors told me I would never be able to participate in sports. But when I was forty-something and fiercely out of shape, my youngest daughter challenged and goaded me until I agreed to walk a mile with her.  I wasn’t too sure what I was in for, but as we drove to a nearby park with a mile long track, I reasoned that it couldn’t be all that bad.
 
We were two or three minutes into it when I started complaining. My daughter tried to distract me, but I wasn’t falling for it. “Are you sure this is only a mile?” I asked after the first two minutes. She assured me it was just one mile around the track. But I didn’t believe her. “This can’t be just one mile,” I said a minute later. “No, Mom it is.” she told me again. Five minutes into it, I felt as though I’d been walking an hour.

“I don’t think I’m going to make it,” I told her two minutes later while searching for the end of the track.  “Really I can’t make it.  I can’t go one step further.” “That’s okay,” she said cheerfully, “we’ll just turn around and go back.”

I turned around then and happily, if unwittingly, walked the other half mile back to where we started.

Twenty years later, for some reason I can’t quite remember - oh wait, I remember now – I fell in love (which is another event covered in my memoir) - I started walking again. Slowly at first. A mile here and a mile there.  And then more consistently. A mile a day and then two miles. Before I knew it, I was walking two, three or four miles a day. Then it was five, six or seven. One day I decided to try for ten. And I made it. Ten miles around the same track I had hated twenty years earlier. I was amazed. Ten miles took me three hours and twenty minutes. But I loved it, every step of it. It felt so good being athletic

Sometimes I’d break it up into two five-mile walks, one in the morning and another in the evening.  I fell in love with the weather and taught myself to tune in to the nuances of the day, those subtle but inevitable changes that came with each hour.  When it rained, I had the park all to myself, alone with my umbrella. 

In the months before Christmas, I lost twenty pounds. Sometimes on weekends, I would walk as many as twenty miles.  I loved the way it made me feel - about my own abilities and about everything around me. I loved the way long walks cleared my head and made me feel relaxed.

Those miles did more for my self-esteem and me than anything else did, before or since. And now at seventy-one I’m ready to start doing it again! Good God, if only I could fall in love all over again!


Flip-flops

   
     Flip-flops!    The name says it all.

     Did you know that flip-flops have been around since 4000 BC?  (Weren’t they the footwear of choice those decadent Romans wore with their togas?) Did you know that soldiers returning from Japan brought modern flip-flops to this country? That was in the 1940’s, but flip-flops didn’t become popular here until the 1960’s. (That’s because nobody in their right mind would have worn them in the Forties and Fifties. Flip-flops are casual wear and nobody understood casual before 1964 when the Beatles grew their hair long just for the hell of it.) 

     Did you know any of this?  Of course you didn’t and neither did I. In addition, I just didn’t give a damn. Until recently, I was too blissfully content in my ignorance. Having grown up in the Fifties, I had never even worn a pair of flip-flops. 

     Then along came that June day when both my daughter and I finished working at our respective school districts. It was a beautiful summer day - one of those glorious days when it was hot, but not humid. There we were with our first full day of freedom. 

Naturally, we decided to spend the day doing absolutely nothing - with a little bit of shopping thrown in for fun. We had just left one store in the mall when my daughter, upon seeing a pair of flip-flops in another store window, exclaimed, “Let’s get pedicures!”

     “Why?’ I asked. 

     “Because it’s summer and you need a pedicure to go with you flip-flops.”

      “I don’t wear flip-flops.”

      “But you need them to wear while you get your pedicure?”
     “What?” but she was already sailing through the front door of the shoe store, expecting me to follow. 
     “Mom, look at these she said pointing to a pair of hot pink flip-flops with soles thicker than the ones on my sneakers.  “Try these on.”
      “I can’t.” I said.  “I only wore flip-flops once and that little do-dad thing in the middle drove me nuts.”
     

     “But you need them,” she insisted.  “Besides this pair won’t hurt.  They’re good ones.”
    
      “How much are these?” I asked a salesman thinking maybe I could squeeze out a ten dollar bill for them. 
    
        “Sixty,” he said blithely. 

     “Dollars?” I shouted wondering how something that almost did not even exist could cost so much.  Everyone in the store had turned to look at me as half a dozen emotions including shock, incredulity and amazement appeared on my face.  Embarrassed, I turned to join my daughter who had already broken into gales of uncontrollable laughter that propelled both of us out of the store, into our car and up the highway to a discount department store. 

     But after purchasing an inexpensive and bland pair of flip-flops and getting a pedicure, my mind kept returning to the sixty dollar pair that would have looked perfect with my hot pink, perfectly painted toenails.
    
     “Hmmm….” I said looking down and wiggling my toes, “maybe those Romans weren’t so decadent after all!”

      
                                       


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Art in the Park

Last Saturday was a perfect day, a beautiful day for a book signing in the park. When I mentioned the signing to a friend of mine she gasped and asked, “Were you all alone in the park?” I laughed. “No, it was an art in the park event,” I told her, “and I was surrounded by people displaying their homemade and ingenious crafts.”

“My craft is writing,” I called out to anyone walking by my table where my book and a couple of toys from my childhood – like jacks and a kaleidoscope - were displayed.

I marveled at the number of people who showed up that day in Mondauk Park Commons, where parts of my book had been written.  And I marveled at the number who stopped and listened as I told them about Rude Awakening.

As I sat talking to one elderly man, who was about my age, he suddenly told me his wife had passed away in April and, remembering my own loss, I felt my heart move toward him, although I had to laugh when he told me he was a mathematician and “not at all a reader.”   

As the hours passed I marveled again and again at the things people freely shared with me about themselves until midway through the day when I realized that just like me, everyone is looking, not for a new art or craft, but for someone to see them, someone to hear them because where one connection is broken, another must be forged.


Sunday, August 17, 2014

Rude Awakening Defined



Hi. My name is Toni McCloe and I am.

Wait! What?

There seems to be something missing here. Did I not complete that sentence? Let me try this again:

Hi. My name is Toni McCloe and I am a mother, a grandmother, a great grandmother, an author, a democrat (who sometimes votes republican).... It seems there is an array of endless possibilities, an infinite way to end that sentence. And yet...

If there is one thing I have learned in my not quite seventy-three years on this earth, it is not to complete that sentence, not to define myself in terms of externals because externals can be ripped away in an instant. Can be blown away with a word, a wind or a whatever.

And even when I first learned to define myself as, I am, my mind still wanted to fill in the blank and what I came up with is: I am alive. And then one day not so long ago I learned that even that can be stripped away in an instant.

So now I am back to I am because when who we thought we were is no longer relevant, when who we thought we were no longer exists, what we are left with is a rude awakening.





Saturday, August 9, 2014

Time Out

A little while ago, I was feeling down and decided to take a walk in the park. Halfway through I sat on a bench, closed my eyes and listened as two birds, one on either side of me, took turns calling out to one another. I heard too, the roar of a plane in the distance, the whoosh of traffic moving through an intersection, and the footfall of other walkers as they moved along the trail behind me. I kept my eyes shut and listened to the sound of my own breathing as it quietly, steadily moved in and out of my body.

I opened my eyes, put on my headphones, and went back to my walk, watching as a father pushed an infant in a stroller and a mother jogged behind a child, little more than a toddler, riding the tiniest two-wheeler I had ever seen. Then I took a deep breath and listened to Phillip Phillips telling me I am not alone and I remembered that life is good.