life's other half

Being Reminded Of Life’s Other Half

Last weekend we remembered and rejoiced the life of a young man who died in an avalanche last winter. His tragic passing rattled any sense of security I was feeling about my own children on the mountain, out doing what they love and the possibility…

There, under the spectacular azure sky painted with swirling clouds, surrounded by oak trees and rolling expanses of green grass, we were reminded of life’s other half – the part where we question, and cry, and consider why.

life's other half

Carson was a young man, just entering adulthood, happy, healthy and loved. He was exploring life – creating a life – to be lived on his terms.

He was a man I’d watched over the years, sharing my school, karate and ski racing communities.

I remember him from karate classes, his tall, skinny frame clad in a white gi as he willed himself through an arduous black belt test with my son. I remember his legs in horses stance for what seemed like hours, trembling with determination.

I remember his curly, dirty blonde hair and shy glances when I’d see him in the hallways at school. Never his teacher, I still tried to draw him out and connect when I could. He was a shy one back then.

I think about him on the ski race course, carefully navigating slalom turns with the concentration of a scientist studying his experiment. I can see his mother’s smile as he watched him cross the finish line, or persevere through the final round of push-ups, sweat dripping off his face and legs and arms quivering under the pressure.

And looking up at the clouds, I think about the lessons we learn through life’s other half.

His service, full of music and love, reminded me of those ordinary moments we spend with people we love, and that in the face of their absence, we realize how prophetically purposeful they can be. Songs we loved, poetry we aligned with and talks along the beach or on a mountain top that at the time we knew were special, but when in the midst of life’s other half we realize were profound.

Carson’s memorial reminded me of my gratitude for the extraordinary in the ordinary every day. For the love of family, friends and community that surround us. And for the generosity of the universe, to open up the skies, to fill them with clouds and sunlight, and the reminder that we are all here for such brief, sparkling, exquisite moments together.

I hadn’t seen Carson for awhile. I was happy to hear he’d joined up with the ski team again, now as a coach, and he was happily living and working in Tahoe. In so many ways, he was just a regular human, finding his way and discovering who he was.

He was living life generously, with delight.

I am not saying that we should love death,

but rather that we should love life so generously,

without picking and choosing,

that we automatically include it (life’s other half) in our love.

This is what actually happens in the great expansiveness of love,

which cannot be stopped or constricted.

It is only because we exclude it that death becomes more and more foreign to us and,

ultimately,

our enemy.

It is conceivable that death is infinitely closer to us than life itself…

What do we know of it?

~ Rainer Maria Rilke

http://www.pasta-recipes.com

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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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In Our Most Ordinary Days

In our most ordinary days we have moments of happiness, moments of comfort and enjoyment, moments of seeing something that pleased us, something that touched us, moments of contacting the tenderness of our hearts. We can take joy in that.
ordinary days
in our most ordinary days
I find that it’s essential during the day to actually note when I feel happiness or when something positive happens, and to begin to cherish those moments as precious. Gradually we can begin to cherish the preciousness of our whole life just as it is, with its ups and downs, its failures and successes, its roughness and smoothness.

~ Pema Chodron

I celebrate the extraordinary in the ordinary, the touching of my feet to the floor every morning, the opportunity to watch my children and my students smile and grow every single day. The moments of happiness, even in times of grief, and what is essential to focus on.

That’s where I am in this moment – striving to remember the deliciousness of that first sip of coffee in the morning, the surprise April showers pattering outside my window, the joy of my teenage son waking on his own – early, even – and the solid curl of loyal, black doggie fur pressed against my lap as I write.

As we watch the world struggle to agree, as we mourn the loss of musicians who have made us feel joy in the smallest of moments and the lowest of times, as we yearn for simplicity and understanding, please cherish the ordinary moments of happiness right in front of you.

That’s where we start.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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The Only Thing You Shouldn’t Miss-According To Oprah & Me

The other night I sat at our dining room table, across from my daughter and her forever friend, A. It was late, and everyone else in the house had long since gone to sleep. As tired as I was, I couldn’t pull myself away from the moment – the chance to look across at them, remembering their fourth-grade sleepover faces and times before life threw boys and jobs and college and adulthood in their path.

I could see it in their eyes. They’re feeling the insidious creep of growing up, the heaviness of choices that at times seem overwhelming and exhilarating all at once.

I wasn’t exactly sure how much to say. I didn’t want to sound preachy or teacher-like. They both passed my 8th grade English class long ago.

So I listened. I hesitated, I looked in their eyes as they shared their fears and hopes, and finally, I took a breath and broke in.

Life isn't always a clear path ahead.
Life isn’t always a straight path ahead.

“I’m proud of you, you know,” I said, pushing my glasses to the top of my head. “It takes guts to listen to your heart. It takes a lot of courage to admit that the path you’re on isn’t the path that you want – that where you thought you wanted to go when you were 17 might not be the destination you want to head in right now. And that’s ok.”

They both looked down and back up at me. “Thanks, mamawolfe,” A. replied. I couldn’t tell if she was going to smile or cry.

“Life isn’t always a straight path. In fact, for most of the people I know, life was a curvy, squiggly, up and down and all around kind of a journey – especially in college. The idea that someone could know enough about themselves to make a decision about their future when they’re only 17 is crazy – you should know that decisions can be changed, courses can be altered, and if you listen to your gut and trust the journey, everything will work itself out.” My words hung there for a minute until the corners of their mouths started to turn up, their eyes met mine, and by the end, the three of us had exhaled.

I watched as they hugged and whispered goodbye, promised to see each other soon and that they would miss each other.

The only thing you shouldn’t miss

Later that night, after I’d tucked my girl in and kissed her goodnight, I was browsing online and came across Oprah Winfrey’s quote, “The only thing you shouldn’t miss is what matters to you”.

I know – you’re saying ‘easier said than done, Oprah’ right about now, aren’t you?

Of course, we shouldn’t miss what matters to us. Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it. Why would we spend our time paying attention to those things that in the long run really don’t mean a thing?

But why do we miss it so often, then? What does matter most, I wonder?

These are the kinds of things I think about when I’m taking my dog for long walks. Or lying under the air conditioner on a hotel room bed, alone. Or when my hands are immersed in sudsy, grapefruit scented warm water and I’m unconsciously scrubbing the remnants of last night’s pasta sauce off the Teflon coated pan. Definitely when I’m elbow deep in dirt and weeding in my garden.

One thing you shouldn't miss- spring flowers in your garden.
One thing you shouldn’t miss- spring flowers in your garden.

When I was in my twenties, what was mattering most to me? Did I even know?  I remember feeling like my two girls did tonight – the fear, the insecurity, the cold sweats and second thoughts and absolute stupefaction over what life had in store for me once I graduated from college.

I stumbled alone, crossing my fingers and hoping the Universe would reveal the shortcut I needed to take to get where I thought I should be. It wasn’t a straight line for me, either. The circuit was tumultuous, terrifying and exhilarating, for sure, and for the last 25 years, I’ve towed the line in teaching.

All along, I’ve been trying to figure out just what Oprah reminded me of – what matters most.

Maybe it’s turning 50 this year, or perhaps it’s been watching my daughter move away and my son battle health challenges that has cleared the path for me. Because today, more than ever, I’m realizing that the words I shared at my dining room table were words I needed to remind myself – “It takes guts to listen to your heart. It takes a lot of courage to admit that the path you’re on isn’t the path that you want.”

The passageway of my life is narrowing with age, but widening with perspective. I know now, more than ever, that listening to my intuition and trusting the journey is the route before me.

I know that like the crack of daylight at dawn, it’s the glorious moments of each day, the little extraordinary ordinary moments that offer a glimpse into the world, are what matters to me.

These are the only things you shouldn’t miss.

The only thing you shouldn't miss
Just an ordinary, extraordinary moment with my two babies- what matters most.

 

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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The Reasons Why I Didn’t Write A Book Last Summer

“What I want most this summer is simply to spend time with the ones I love. To have more days just like this one. Enough presence of mind to pay attention. And enough presence of heart to make gratitude my song, acceptance my refrain.”

Katrina Kenison

I didn’t write a book last summer. In fact, I didn’t even write a single word of a book. The boxes of letters remain untouched, unopened and unread in the same position that they began the summer, eager for my attention and begging to release their stories. But like so many things during the eight weeks or so when I detached from teaching and attached to myself, the book never materialized. The stories remained in their envelopes.

This was going to be the summer I finally did it, the summer when the story that’s been forming in my head for decades would finally find its way from my ruminations to my laptop. I’d even taken those first steps – I’d declared my intention, out loud, to a few friends and even some strangers. I’d moved the storage box from under my desk to my writing space, thinking that if I looked at it every day I would obviously make it happen.

June coast summer

But somehow, as usual, life got in the way. At first it was because Lily was home for only a week in June, and we needed to adventure to the coast and take long walks along the creek and go for Dutch Bros coffee even when we really didn’t need it. I told myself it was OK, I was just ‘detoxing’ from teaching and that the summer days would hover in front of me, intimidating me with their silence just as soon as she left for Oregon. I convinced myself, as I counted down the days until she left, that I would straighten out her room, lay down the letters and get to work. I bought a new journal and found my favorite writing pen, and instead of writing my words, I finished reading stories written by Barbara Hambly and Tara Conklin and dreamed of what the Civil War must have been like.

Carmel surf summer

And it was July, and the heat smacked us over the head like a battle weapon. So hot I couldn’t think or breathe and instead of settling down in front of the air conditioner to write, I bolted for the beach – I took my boy and my dog and sat in the fog and watched him board and swim and somehow even managed a little sunburn. I devoured Robin Oliveira’s book about Mary Sutter, a Civil War nurse, and cried through Lee Woodruff’s retelling of her husband’s tragic accident in Iraq.

And then John started to feel ill and life turned inwards as it often does when he can’t manage or work or talk very much. We went inside for a few weeks and spent our energy figuring out how to navigate chronic illness when it consumes your life. It felt a bit like hell. I read some more – Kim Edward’s The Lake of Dreams helped me disengage when I needed to step away.

Chelsea market summer

Still, the journal remained unopened, calling to me in a voice I couldn’t answer. I went to New York City for the first time, hopeful that surrounding myself with writers would ignite the story, would retune my ear to her whisperings and somehow, something would appear on the page. Instead, I walked Central Park in the heat, devoured gelato in Chelsea Market, went to bed early, and filled my head with thoughts about equality and kindness and my introversion kicked in big time. I escaped the city with my oldest girlfriend, watched the fireflies at dusk, hiked a mountain and ate Thai food with her sons. Oh – and I met an actor on the airplane home.

Big Sur Summer

In August, I covered my new journal with lavenders and blues and sea glass and butterflies. I read about the somewhat scandalous hidden life of Edith Wharton. I stayed in bed late, listened to NPR and when Lily came home, I relished every single ordinary moment together. August 3 came and went, and I celebrated one year of healing since Cameron broke his leg and ten days of both babies sleeping under the same roof. My girl and I escaped to Carmel and Big Sur, riding with the windows down and hiking in the sun. I spent a peaceful night alone at Tahoe and dashed off to a long weekend of hiking, family and gratitude in Yosemite.

Utah summer

And before I knew it we were loading the rental car, driving across the desert and depositing Lily back at school – this time in a house. We spent a few days shopping and unpacking and hiking and laughing and suddenly it was time to go. Those ten hours driving home across the Salt Flats were long and tedious and when I walked into the house I simply cried, not only because she was gone, but also because the summer was, too.

Then, I cleaned. Every room in the house. I cleaned her room and moved in new bookshelves and lugged the boxes of letters onto her desk. I placed the journal alongside and vacuumed the floor, straightened her duvet cover and cleaned the glass on her dresser. I walked out her sliding door into the garden and noticed the Russian sage alive with honey bees and a red-breasted hummingbird just leaving the tall crimson tube of a Canna flower.

summer Big Sur

I breathed and reminded myself of all that I did do this summer, and realized that those things, as small and ordinary as they may seem, were exactly what I needed to do. They were exactly what I wanted to do; those moments of paying attention, of walking alongside those I love, and of feeling gratitude for the gifts the Universe has presented me with. This was supposed to be the summer I wrote a book, but instead, I created the stories of my life, every single extraordinarily ordinary moment. And for that, I am truly grateful.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Leaving Her At College The Second Year

I’d been driving in the dark for only about five minutes when I realized I never took her picture in front of her new house. Or in her new bedroom. Or her kitchen. Or her yard.

And I started to cry as I watched the lights of Salt Lake City fade in my rear view mirror.

Leaving her at college the second time wasn’t easier – it was just different.

I wanted to believe my friends who said not to worry, that the freshman year is the hardest. I wanted to believe that I could leave her this year and I would be OK with it.

I wanted to believe that I could do this part of ordinary, everyday life, without breaking down.

Turns out, I couldn’t.

***

It all went pretty well for the days leading up to the ‘last’ day. I’d occasionally have to bite my lip when the thoughts of leaving her all those miles away crept into my brain – like when we were in the housewares section of Target and all I really needed to do was find a curtain rod, and instead, I found the overwhelm of this phase of life smashing my heart to pieces.

It made me feel dumb. Weak. Not at all like the confident woman I am most of the time.

When it comes to leaving my children, I find my kryptonite.

The second year is different; gone is the security of dropping her into a dorm where there are RAs and reasonable expectations. The second year means she’s on her own – her own house, her own food, her own hours.

Suddenly she’s thinking about Costco and stocking up on food. She’s wondering where she’ll find a laundromat, and how many baking sheets she’ll need to furnish her kitchen. She’s suddenly confronted with deciding on a major, finding a job and roommates.

The second year no one is watching her.

The second year the adrenaline is gone.

The second year she’s on her own – unless she calls for help.

Sunrise Over Salt Flats

***

It’s been a couple of weeks since I backed out of her driveway and made my way across the desert, through the mountains and back home. I’ve been able to walk through her bedroom door, pick up her discarded socks and make her bed. I’m thinking of moving a few things around in there, actually. I don’t think she’ll be back around long enough to care.

She’s sent some photos of her new bedroom – photos are hung on the walls, and the duffel bags are all unpacked. She seems comfortable. I’m relieved to see the carbon monoxide detector we bought her is still plugged in – I know she thought we were crazy, but our girl in a basement apartment? Imagine the dangers…

Life seems to be settling down a little bit; last night she sent photos of her homemade pizza dinner, and today, a quick Snapchat from the Farmer’s Market – I could see she had a bag of fresh corn in her hand, both eerily familiar to the patterns she left back at home.

I still keep my phone on at night. I still smile when I get a text or an Instagram glimpse into her world, but now, after collapsing back into my old routines, I’m second guessing myself. Maybe this second year she will be OK – even if no one is watching her. Maybe the adrenaline will be replaced with pride. Maybe, on her own, she’ll remember what we taught her after all. And maybe she won’t even need to call for help – she’ll just let us know how extraordinary her ordinary life is, back in college for her second year.

I wondered if I could do this ordinary, everyday life, without breaking down. Without her.

Turns out, maybe I can.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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