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Friday, July 25, 2014

Crazy Love

I went to a perfect wedding last Friday night. My friend Theresa’s oldest son, Phil, was the groom and the very beautiful (inside and out) Sonia, his beaming bride.

Everything about the wedding was beautiful. The wedding gown was beautiful. The bridesmaids were beautiful. The mother of the bride was beautiful. The mother of the groom was doubly beautiful. The church was beautiful. The guests were even beautiful. And best of all, the beautiful day was blessed by the bride and groom’s fathers in heaven who kindly zapped the humidity right out of the forecast.

I think I've been to 100 weddings in my life. Being married to a conscientious journalist has taught me to (somewhat) verify facts before I print them. So, I sat down and scratched out a list off the top of my head. I hit a wall at 56 then came up with 20 more. I'm certain there's another couple dozen I've simply forgotten about. But, regardless of the exact number, suffice it to say, I have witnessed many a marriage .

I have been to all sizes and shapes of weddings. My friend, Brenda, got married in a rooftop ballroom at the St. Regis Hotel on Central Park on a snowy night in December. My college roommate, Sue, exchanged vows with Larry on a Boca Raton beach with guests donned in flip-flops, shorts and sundresses. My soul sister, Ann, rode on the back of a motorcycle to Las Vegas, saying “I do” in a wedding chapel and threw a backyard party when they got back home. My blood sister, Nancy, had two wedding receptions. The first, a sophisticated country club affair, immediately followed her Friday the 13th ceremony, offering passed hors d’oeuvres and big band tunes from a tuxedo-ed five-piece ensemble. The next day we flew to Wisconsin for a party in her future ex-husband’s home town of Chippewa Falls, climbing over snow drifts to get inside the VFW hall. Debbie and Lou’s reception was at Otto’s Diner, Betsy and her twin sister Pam had a double outdoor wedding (one marriage lasted, the other mercifully didn’t). In the middle of Madge and George’s wedding at the Embassy Suites Hotel, the fire alarm went off and we all had to evacuate. Bob and Michelle’s fairy-tale romance culminated with a fall wedding in Ocean City, one of those rare Indian summer days that allowed for dancing outside all night long. My spouse and I were wed in a big, beautiful church and had the reception at the now defunct Bentley’s Restaurant, choosing a barely edible brunch in exchange for a bigger guest list. I insisted on a morning wedding so there’d be  plenty of time for a four-hour reception in the afternoon followed by a keg party lasting into the wee hours of the night.  

I’ve been to weddings with traditional vows and weddings with garbled vows. I’ve been to weddings with all kinds of music, from bands to DJs to cellists to teenagers spinning records on a turntable.  I’ve been to weddings with incredible spreads and weddings with chips and crudité on plastic-covered tables. I’ve been to weddings that never should have happened (i.e., the bride who had one last fling the night before) and weddings that were made to last.

But, despite the massive amounts of weddings I’ve attended, on Friday night I realized that Phil and Sonia’s was a first for me. It was not the biggest or the boldest. It was not the weirdest or the wildest. And despite consuming 10,000 calories at the cocktail hour alone, it may not even have been the wedding at which I consumed the most amount of food. I certainly have drunk more at many a reception, but youth is no longer on my side. This wedding was different because it was the first of my friend’s kids to get married.

Maybe it’s because I’m a month away from my long-anticipated empty nest. Or four months from my own 25th anniversary. Or maybe it was because I was at the wedding without my ever-loving spouse who was pedaling his bicycle ride across Iowa. But this wedding hit me harder than most.

Sonia’s and Phil’s love story was told in a heart-felt toast by Charlie, cousin and closest buddy of the groom. Of course, Anthony, who has made an appearance in many of my stories, was involved. He was a sixth-grade boy with a beautiful teacher whom he wanted to show off to his brother and cousin. The rest is history. Anthony and Charlie are still single. Phil is not.

As Phil and Sonia danced to Crazy Love, I got goose bumps thinking about the timelessness of love songs. I thought of all the young couples I know and wonder how many of them will make it to the altar. And how many shouldn’t.

When Phil led his mother to the dance floor and they hugged their way through Josh Groban’s You Raise Me Up, I got a lump in my throat knowing that one day in the not too distant future, one, two or all three of my own kids may get married. I will welcome their wives, or whomever they choose to love, into our family with an open heart. And, like my mother before me, will forever embrace any man brave enough to make my daughter his bride.

But in the meantime, I will watch from a distance as Phil and Sonia waltz their way through life. And I will wish for them all the good that love has to give.

I hope they will always remember how happy they felt last Friday night. And when they’re not feeling it, that they fight to get it back.

I hope they will always feel as special as they did on their wedding day and know in their hearts that what they have doesn’t come easy.

I hope they will always feel loved, by each other, and by their friends and family who share their joy.

I hope they will always feel as rich as they did when they tore open their envelopes, even if their wallets are thin and their bills are big. 

But most of all, I hope that many years from now, when their kids and their friends’ kids get married, that the two of them will be there together, hand in hand. And that they will hold each other tight and smile, knowing just how incredibly lucky they are. Because only the lucky are given the lifelong gift of Crazy Love.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Bucket Lists

I don’t have a Bucket List. After all, I have done just about everything I’ve ever wanted to do. However, if I were pressed, these would be the kinds of things that would top my list:
  1. To be rail thin (while still consuming massive amounts of pretzels and ice cream)
  2. To write a best-seller
  3. To have central air conditioning
  4. To be rich enough not to cringe with every “Mom, can I borrow the credit card?”
  5. To live in a house with a master bathroom
  6. To have a newly-paved driveway
  7. To live long enough to become a beloved grandmother (but not yet)   
  8. To own a refrigerator with a working ice maker and shelves that are not duct-taped together
  9. To enjoy my kids’ financial and emotional successes
  10. To own an ocean-front house on an astro-turf beach
 But, alas, these are not the things on which Bucket Lists are built.

No, I should want to go skydiving, climb Mt. Kilimanjaro or swim the English Channel to make my life complete. Or perhaps, as my friend Penny suggested (see my last blog for explanation on my old friend’s new name), I should zip line through a jungle and bobsled down a mountain in a poor Caribbean country that can’t possibly have the same caliber of sue-resistant safety precautions found in our conscientious USA.

In the weeks before our cruise, Penny and I talked about shore excursions. I suggested the Bob Marley Bus Tour which promised reggae, rum and an insider’s view of the Jamaican country side. Penny countered with the Tranopy Adventure.

“Go ahead, google it,” she suggested.

And so I did.

The tour starts with a 15-minute chair lift ride up Mystic Mountain, offering amazing views (if you’re brave enough to open your eyes) as you dangle 700 feet in the air over the canopy of the tropical rainforest. 

You then zip-line half-way down the mountain, “flying through the canopy on a series of cables and pulleys that are interconnected on both tree and land-based platforms.” If you live through that, you return to the chair lift, ride to the base of the mountain, loop around and head ever-so-slowly back up to the summit where you hop aboard a bobsled and “hold on as it plunges through 3,280 feet of twists and turns down the mountain.”

I had but three words for Penny.

“You’re surely joking.”

I went on to read some reviews mentioning “the vertical drop, the rickety bridge and this is not for you if you are afraid of heights.”

I am afraid of heights.

I last rode a chair lift on my honeymoon in Montreal. I wept the entire way to the top of the mountain. My spouse laughed at me. Once, while hiking in the Poconos, I came to a three-foot wide bridge with no railing spanning a deep ravine. I took five steps and froze. I tried crawling, holding hands, looking straight ahead, but nothing worked. I ended up tacking an extra mile onto my hike to avoid the perilous crossing. And when I took a 70-floor elevator ride to the observation deck at the top of Rockefeller Center, I couldn’t look down.

“It’s time we start doing Bucket List things,” Penny argued.

There was not a single thing in the Tranopy Adventure Tour that would have come anywhere near my Bucket List.

But Penny has a sense of humor and the next thing I knew, I received a text confirming our spot on the tour. It wasn’t cheap.

“I paid for it so you wouldn’t wimp out,” Penny said.

And for some reason, I didn’t.

As the eight of us gathered anxiously on a worn wooden platform, donned in our harnesses, helmets and disposable shower caps (to avoid Jamaican lice, said the guide), I tried to reason my way through what was about to happen. The wire could snap, my sweaty palms could slip off the handlebars, I could slam into a tree. Statistically speaking, I was probably safe. But statistics don’t keep your knees from knocking when your life is entrusted to a kid who answers your "Am I going to die?" question with "Yup!" a split second before he kicks the milk crate from under your feet and sends you zipping through the jungle. 
I’ll admit, once I got going, it was kinda fun. Until, of course, I came to the end of the line heading 60 mph (which was probably more like 20), straight into a tree which was smack in the middle of the next platform which was suspended in the air. With no pillars gripping the ground. I screamed at the top of my lungs and the guides giggled as they zapped the brakes – some sort of contraption made of a pulley and a wooden block – in the nick of time.

What I didn’t realize was there were four more longer and faster zips to go, including a two-story straight-down drop followed by a walk across a swaying wooden bridge high above the tree line.

But, I did it.

By the time we rode the bobsled which they promised couldn’t derail, I was happy as a kid on a roller coaster. 

And by the last trip down the mountain, I found myself swinging my feet and even looking down over the side of the chair lift. I saw a mongoose scurrying through the rainforest as well as many, many big, big spiders weaving intricate webs an arm's-length away. I saw our cruise ship in the distance and the beautiful clear blue sea. I saw green, green leaves and tall, tall trees and waved to tourists as they passed above us on their trip up the mountain. I barely even held on.

I can’t say I'll never be afraid of anything again. Or that I'll ever actually enjoy putting my fate in someone else's hands. And I can promise you that I will never, ever jump out of an airplane. For any reason.

But I am proud of myself for doing something so totally out of character. I'm prouder still of Penny for prodding me to do it, knowing how I can get when my heels are dug in deep. But like all good bosom buddies, she also knows how far she can push and just what will motivate me to step outside my comfort zone. 
"OK, so it might not be on your Bucket List," she said. "But I bet you could write a blog about it."

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Making friends for the world to see

I hope the day will be a lighter highway,
For friends are found on every road.
Can you ever think of any better way
For the lost and weary travelers to go?

Making friends for the world to see,
Let the people know you got what you need.
With a friend at hand you will see the light,
If your friends are there then everything's all right.
-Bernie Taupin / Elton John

My friend Patty, who from this point forward I will call Penny in order to protect her privacy, simply cannot understand the value of Facebook. Granted, she holds a position where she shouldn’t display wanton cruise behavior on social media sites that anyone can see. But, then again, don’t we all?

I look at every life event as an opportunity to make new friends. I ask a lot of questions and get a lot of strange looks, but defend my inquisitive nature as being nothing more than that. I genuinely care about people and want to know everything about them. I can’t understand why anyone would be offended by my barrage of personal questions and only wish someone, anyone, would ask half that many questions of me. I would take it as the highest compliment.

When Penny and I arrived in the dining room on the first night of our cruise last week, I nearly shrieked with delight at the friendship prospects that abounded. We were seated at a table for ten with a bunch of females from totally different walks of life. Clearly our paths would never have crossed had it not been for the cruise, but I barged right in anyway and did my best to create friendships out of our dissimilarities. 

Faith and April are cousins from Baltimore who work for the Baltimore City Police and an airline company. I’m pretty sure they love Jesus more than I do. They are a good ten years younger than I and compared to them, I am a very, very old mother on track to be an ancient grandmother. April wakes up at 3 am every day, just about the time I’m on the second of many nightly trips to the bathroom. By the time I get up in the morning, she’s finished her lunch break.

Aimee and Ashley are college friends who brought adorable Tennessee accents and sunburned shoulders to the table. Aimee, who looks like Amy Adams, is an intelligence analyst, a job way too intelligent for me to understand. And Ashley is a first-grade teacher, a job way too difficult for me to ever undertake. I know because I had one first-grader three times, but never twenty of them at once. Aimee and Ashley are young girls with old souls, loving both Justin Timberlake and The Golden Girls.

Olga, originally from Ukraine, once worked as a youth counselor on a cruise ship so had lots of inside scoop. She flaunted her status, and long golden curls, to get us a free bottle of wine from the maitre d’. Olga worked hard for a Master’s degree, but even harder for United States citizenship. Her eleven year-old daughter, Mary, is the sweetest thing I ever did see. Theirs is an all-too-familiar tale of a hard-won battle that kept them apart for far too long far too many times.

Damara works in an ER and is as pretty as a princess. When I touched her baby’s footprints tattooed across her side, her eyes bulged at my audacity, but she continued to smile. Marlene is a singer, so I was immediately star-struck. She has dreadlocks and piercings and many, many musical tattoos. Damara and Marlene are thirty, give or take a year or two, and each have a unique style that reinforces my lack of hipness.

As different as we were, we did have one common connection – social media. We hadn’t been off the ship for an hour before my first friend request came in. And shortly thereafter, all ten of us, I mean nine (because poor Penny continues to extol the virtues of privacy) were connected.

“You mean to tell me, the whole world can see my picture without my permission?” Penny raged.

“Yup,” I answered, searching eagerly for more.

“What if I don’t want my picture plastered all over Facebook?”

“Too bad,” I answered, thumbing through my Instagram timeline.

“What’s wrong with just looking at a photo album?”

“Nothing. But people in Miami can't see it at the same time as people in Chicago or New Jersey."

“Exactly,” she responded.

I tried to explain to Penny that being just a click away opens up a whole new level of friendship.

One day, I want to look on Facebook and see that Ashley has given Alvis her heart. That she didn’t allow her parents’ problems ruin her own chances at love. And I hope I’ll see that Aimee is “in a relationship” with the blind date she’s meeting next weekend. In a year or two, maybe I’ll see pictures posted of them on their wedding days, one as a bride, the other beaming behind a bridesmaid bouquet.

I’ll check in with April and Faith in years to come and see pictures of adorable grandchildren and more vacations taken together. After putting her mother through the wringer, I’ll learn where April’s daughter decided to go to college, keeping my fingers crossed that she opted to live away from home. And when I look at Faith’s timeline, I’ll always remember overhearing her say, “Who wouldn’t love Betsy?”  Those words will stay with me a long, long time.

I’ll look for the vegetarian pictures to disappear from Olga’s pages and hope they are replaced with a genuine man who is ready to give all of his heart to Mary as well as her mother. And as I follow Mary on Instagram and watch her grow into a beautiful and confident young woman, I’ll smile knowing she’ll never have to live without her mother again. Until, of course, she wants to.

I’ll sneak peeks at Damara walking hand-in-hand with her little daughter who she will teach to be open-minded and accepting of all kinds of people. I will see Damara’s big smile and hope that she knows how much she is loved, because it is clear that she is. And Marlene, Lady M, has already blown me away with her stunningly beautiful profile picture. I can’t wait to see Twitter crash as her music tops the charts. Because any ultra-cool Spanish, hip-hop rapper likened to a female version of Pitbull who can respect a frumpy middle-aged woman confessing to know every single word of every single Taylor Swift song, well girl, you have won my heart.

And as far as Penny’s concerned, I hope one day she joins us on social media. But if she doesn’t, that’s OK. With over 40 years of friendship under our belts there’s not a whole lot we haven’t already shared.

Speaking of which, Private Penny was relieved that I never shared the story of our first cruise that I promised to tell on our last night together.

Maybe I’ll post it.

Or maybe, I’ll just wait until we meet again.