Elderly Love Part 2

 (Continued from previous post)

Aunt Jackie did a double take in the middle of her generic hello when she clearly realized it was my mom, “WELL HEY! Oh my goodness, it’s so good to see you!” My mom pointed to herself, “it’s Lydia,” she said. “I know it’s you,” Aunt Jackie quipped like how dare you think I don’t know.

“And this is JJ!” My mom pointed to me and I pulled my face mask down for her to see. “JJ!” She yelled, “JJ! WHOOO look at you, JJ! Great Scott!” I remember Aunt Jackie saying “Great Scott!” long before I ever heard Doc Brown say it on Back To The Future. She repeated back to us what we said to her, so we still weren’t entirely sure if she fully knew who she was talking to, after all, it had been three years since we’d last seen her, and things were getting more “fuzzy” back then.

The three of us sat silently for a moment all looking at each other, the Golden Girls still playing in the background. Aunt Jackie put her hand on my mom’s knee, “Pawleys Island,” she said with her slow Southern draw. My mom and I looked at each other as if to say she knows! We both got emotional. Our hometown of Pawleys Island was Aunt Jackie’s favorite place to visit. She loved the ocean and made annual trips with her own group of golden girls to soak up the sun and salt water. “That’s right,” Mom said, trying not to cry. “You lucky birds,” Aunt Jackie said.

I told her we had just come from Pawleys Island, “don’t say it too loud,” she said, “people might get jealous.” Already she was off to making us laugh. “Did you get in the water?” she asked. “Yes, JJ did, she went surfing,” Mom said. “She went to what?”

“Surfing, she went surfing,” Mom said, and I added, “in the ocean.” Aunt Jackie sat back in her wheelchair, raised her eyebrows as if she finally processed what we had just said, “that’s an ugggly thing for you to saaaay in front of me!” We both laughed and she asked if the water was cold, “it was freezing,” I said. “Oh!” Aunt Jackie took a sip of her coffee, “then I won’t feel so bad, ah ha haha!”

Aunt Jackie’s laugh is just as classic as her Southern accent, a much more sophisticated Phyllis Diller type laugh (and more enjoyable to listen to, in my biased opinion, but it has tones of the Diller cackle in it). As an old school Southern woman of devout faith, Aunt Jackie would die if she knew I compared anything about her to Phyllis Diller.

“So what have you been up to?” Mom asked. “What have I been up to?” Aunt Jackie repeated back as if it was obvious, “this!” she said, “this is what I’ve been up to… sometimes I move over there, or over there” and she pointed to different spots in the sitting area, “but mostly I just sit here and they roll me around wherever I need to go.” We laughed at her sense of humor about it, but also knew it must be hard to live confined within the walls of a place you can’t leave.

“It’s okay though,” she said, “most people just sit around here until the end, but not me, I’m busting out of here soon.” She nodded her head as if to say you know what I mean? and took a sip of her coffee. We laughed at the thought of Aunt Jackie busting out of assisted living. “Well if anyone can do it, you can,” I said.

“Yea,” she agreed as she nodded, “there’s a two-way highway right out front of this building. The only problem is, once I get there, I can’t figure out which way to go!” Mom and I were rolling in laughter. “Well tell me about the children,” Aunt Jackie said, “there’s one of the children right there,” and she pointed to me. Mom told her all about the kids being grown up, some married, some dating, one with a dog. The dog is what most excited Aunt Jackie, “Ohhhh, tell me about the dog! Now, what kind of poochy!?” We told her all about my brother’s corgi and she responded with “ooooh how cute” to each detail. She told us she had a dog but could’t remember her name. “Claudette,” mom said. “Who?” Aunt Jackie asked. “Claudette, that was the name of your dog.” It didn’t seem to ring a bell, Aunt Jackie shrugged, “well if you say so!”

I later found out the dog’s name was Tallulah, so both Mom and Aunt Jackie had a little memory slip there, but at least Aunt Jackie remembered what her dog’s name wasn’t. She told us about her horse, Solomon, who died 20 years ago but she seemed to think it just happened. “I think they did something to him,” she said, convinced that someone had prematurely put her horse down. This was where her memory was “fuzzy,” she clearly remembered things, but the order of events was disoriented. “I remember Solomon,” I said, “we used to ride him with you.” She looked surprised so I pulled up an old picture I had saved on my phone of my sister and I riding Solomon, Aunt Jackie standing beside us. Aunt Jackie gasped, “Oh! there he is,” and she began to mimic kissing the picture, “mwah mwah mwah, oh I love him so much.”

“I think they did something to him, you know?” and she sat silently for a moment as she thought about it. We weren’t sure who she meant by “they,” but it was clear that though the memory was fuzzy, it left an impression. After talking about Solomon for a while she asked about the children again. Mom went through and told her about each of us again, a little less detail than the time before, but included the part about the dog. “Ohhh, tell me about the poochy, what kind of dog!?”

The longer we stayed the more obvious her lack of memory became. She was sharp in that she could remember stories from her childhood, stories from our childhood, and pretty much anything we would remind her of, but where her memory failed was by the time we finished talking about a topic, she’d have forgotten we talked about it.

Aunt Jackie pretty much helped raise my dad, who’s own parents were always traveling as music evangelists with Billy Graham, America’s Preacher back in the day. Generations now don’t really know him, but any generation my mom’s age or older tend to have an idea of who he is. He prayed with every America president from Harry Truman to Barack Obama, my grandad always at his side.

Aunt Jackie started as my Granddad’s secretary, but quickly became a caregiver to the five children who grew up with a dad the whole world knew, who’s own children barely knew him. That’s another topic in and of itself, and there’s been peace and resolve made about that. I only bring it up to say, Aunt Jackie was just as a vital role to the family as a parent or grandparent to all of us. With all my grandparents now passed, she’s the closest thing I have left to a grandmother. She’d never accept the title grandmother though, “it sounds too old,” she’d say, so much like my dad called her when he was growing up, we’ve always called her Aunt Jackie (despite her being the same age as my grandmother).

I showed her all the pictures from when she worked with my granddad and Billy Graham, she remembered all of them and gasped with delight at each picture. I got to a picture of Billy Graham kissing me on the cheek, “this was at Nana’s funeral,” I said. “Who’s funeral?” she asked. “My Nana, Bille Barrows.” She sat back with a look of shock, clearly remembering who but not quite remembering that she passed. “Where was I?” she asked. “You were there,” mom said. “I was?” She asked with a sigh of relief, “okay good.”

It didn’t dawn on me that with the order of events being fuzzy, it might overwhelm her to know who of her friend group wasn’t around anymore. Aunt Jackie is one of the last ones left from the generation of friends who poured into our family over the years, having long outlived her husband, but she didn’t seem to notice. Probably a blessing and a curse, to not remember, there’s a sadness in the sweet memories not being there, yet a gratitude to not relive the pain all over again.

“Well what else can you tell me?” Aunt Jackie would ask, trying to think if there was any news she hadn’t heard yet. “Well what do you want to tell us?” Mom asked. “What do I want to tell you?” Aunt Jackie asked, “about what?” “About life,” Mom said, “if there’s something you’ve learned about life that you’d want us to know, what would it be?”

Aunt Jackie paused, “now I’m thinking, which is dangerous, but I gotta think.” She looked around the room and then looked at my mom and I, “don’t take life too seriously. Everything doesn’t have to be serious all the time. Just enjoy it,” she said. We agreed that life should be enjoyed more, which was humbling coming from a woman in a wheelchair at an assisted living facility.

“Do you want to tell her about your comedy?” Mom asked me. I proceeded to tell her I was a Stand Up Comedian, “Oh I love it!” She said. I explained to her that my sets included stories about her, “I always tell people about Aunt Jackie!” She laughed, “Ohh, don’t tell them everything!” I proceeded to show her my clip from Dry Bar Comedy where I tell everyone about my great Aunt Jackie. She needed me to repeat the punchline, “what’d she say?” when she heard the audience laugh. I retold her what she had said to me so long ago about how to be an artist when I grew up, “just get married and then you can doodle all day long!” She laughed hard at her own advice, “you can,” she said.

I recorded most of our time with her, and my mom recorded me showing her my Stand Up clip. It’s footage I’ll treasure for a long time.

Before we left she made one last declaration, “As for me and my house,” I was certain she was getting ready to quote scripture, “I’mma blow this pad first thing, you know!” We all laughed and she looked at my mom, “ain’t that right?”

I don’t have resolve for this post. We left on a happy, high note. I was so glad we had decided to make the trip. But it’s never as simple as leaving the facility and moving on with your life, well, it is and it isn’t. I still think about her being in there, alone in the sense of not with family or friends anymore. She had a whole life that looked so different than where she is now, all of it changed merely by the aging process.

I think about my own parents and what the aging process will look like for all of us one day. I even think about my own 98 year old self, wondering where I’ll be and if I’ll even make it that long. I hope to remember my husband, and yet I can’t imagine living without him should I surpass him. He knows, however, that if I die before him, he’s getting in the casket. “You coming with me,” I joke.

I over processed the whole visit on our drive home. I’ve thought about it for days after. Yesterday I re-watched the footage while laying on the couch and I heard Aunt Jackie say again, “don’t take life so seriously, just enjoy it.”

I sat my phone down, got up and put on my shoes to leave. “Where are you going?” My husband asked as I headed for the door. “I’ve been sitting around long enough, I’mma blow this pad!”

I went for a walk in the cold air, warmed by the sun, and I simply enjoyed it.

fear has a seat

Hi Family! Well, it’s been a while, a LONG while, and I apologize.

The last we spoke about my book (or I wrote) it was Christmas time and I was in South Carolina packing up my childhood home and saying goodbye to my last Christmas in that house. Sorry to get all sappy so soon. The process was long and hard, but good and necessary and ultimately I’m glad I was at home to help my mom, be with my grandmother and get to know my brother better.

I’m back in California and this year looks incredibly different from last year. I’ve embarked on a journey of pursuing art (in all forms) and have rediscovered my love for creating not just with words but with color. I’ve been painting like a mad woman and even went mad for a little bit as I tried to figure out the difference between work and play when you do something you love. I didn’t know I had a little diva in me until I got to the point of thinking my friends weren’t as important as my time painting. I never want to forget the importance of people and that no amount of money will ever replace them.

It’s hard because painting is how I am trying to make a living, which I love AND it also requires a lot of work outside of a 9-5 job. BUT painting non-stop isn’t what will define me as a painter, it’s what will define me as a workaholic and no different from the people who are slaving away at their jobs missing out on life and the people in front of them. I love painting, but it’s not my foundation nor what defines my value and I have to admit over a short span of time I managed to forget that. HOW DOES IT HAPPEN SO QUICKLY!?!

That said, I’m still trying to figure out how to make this all work. People on social media would see me as having a blast… and that’s true… I am having so much fun living out who I was created to be and functioning the way I was wired to function as a creative. AND, I’m also scared. I’m scared because for as fun as this all is, there’s no safety nets or guarantees. It’s like surfing… fun when you catch the wave, scary when it’s not guaranteed you will and the big ones take you under. The ocean is beautiful and its power is scary.

I go from selling high end art pieces and feeling safe to three weeks going by without selling anything and uncertain as to whether or not I will be able to pay rent. It’s scary to be down to the wire with no funds in the bank account. But I gotta say, it’s worth it when you get that message at midnight that someone wants to buy a painting they just saw. A sigh of relief never felt so good.

Fear is a necessary part of the process, of any process. To not have fear is to not be human and to miss out on the exhilarating feeling of the fear being silenced as the LORD comes in with the last minute save. In order to be excited over provision, one must have first experienced the fear of being without.

I have welcomed fear as part of the process, part of my humanity, but (as I learned recently from Elizabeth Gilbert) I tell fear it is not allowed to make any decisions. I’ve recently painted a chair for fear to sit in while I am in the room painting. Fear creeps in and tells me I’ll never sell anything, I’m broke, I’ll never be able to do this. I thank fear for its concern, recognizing that maybe its just trying to keep me in check the same way it did when I was in the water that day and the waves were too big for my strength. “Thank you, fear, I’m just painting, no one is going to die, you can go have a seat.” This is my new practice instead of beating myself up or giving into fear. Maybe fear isn’t such a bad thing, we just have to know how to handle it.

All of this to say, that is what I have been up to and much of it has to do with the process of my book. As some of you know I submitted it in its completion back in December. It has failed the content evaluation three times. Each time I sanitize my voice a little more to meet the high standards of the Christian publishing company. With this last attempt I decided I couldn’t sanitize my voice any further just for the sake of being published. I have no interest in being published just to publish, I have an interest in sharing the cold, hard truth about the goodness and toughness of life. Everyone wants to say Jesus saves but nobody wants to say why or what from.

So, I’m having a hard time trying to figure out what to do. I am past the point of getting a refund and I’ve tried to submit to a few traditional publishers but with my last attempt came the cold, hard truth that nobody really knows who I am to care enough about what I have to say. Ouch. Rejection is a part of the process, I get that, but it doesn’t make it any easier.

So I’m praying, and any of you who are willing, asking you for prayer too… about what to do next. I want to be willing to learn and flexible to change what I need to, but I also want to value my voice and the truth God has set me free to speak.

For now, I paint and I pray and I tell fear to have a seat.

Love, J

simple wonders

I’ve been gone for three months. My travels have taken me from San Diego to Israel for a time, a stop in West Virginia for a while, as well as Chicago, on to North Carolina before hiding away at my childhood home for the holidays on the beaches of South Carolina. It was a beautiful and chaotic time, but I suppose that’s how traveling can be, beautiful and chaotic… as well as life, life can be like that too.

My extended time away was not premeditated, it just sort of happened and it might have kept happening had it not been for a dear friend who decided to get married on New Years Eve in San Diego. It was her wedding that called me home, and so I packed up my travels, flying halfway across the country, landing in Texas and hopping a ride to drive the rest of the way back to California. It’s safe to say I love to travel. I love being in the act of it, anticipating where you are going, being present where you are, finding the balance between the two and making room for both. Sometimes I take the long way to the grocery store just so I can travel a little bit longer.

Truth be told, I could have passed up going to my friend’s wedding for the sake of travel, but deep down something in me knew that something about this life had more to do with people than it did with how many locations I could get to in one road trip, and so unlike myself, I hurried home.

I made it just in time to see my friend walk down the isle. She was every color of beautiful, in part because the colorful tattoos all over her body made the white in her dress shine an extra shade of bright, and in part because you could tell her heart was about to explode with joy as she held her breath to walk towards the man she wanted to spend the rest of her life with. She made her way down the isle, caught a glimpse of me in the audience, and as if to be further surprised by joy, she mouthed “Oh, JJ!” She held back tears and smiled. My heart lept and everything about rushing home was 110% worth it.

“Relationships,” I whispered to myself, “people. There’s something about people that I know this life is about. Even when it doesn’t seem like it matters, it does.”

We danced the night away at her wedding. She shares the same affection I do for 90s hip-hop culture, so between Mariah Carey and Boys to Men, we could have broken the concrete floor with how hard we danced. “Dancing,” I whispered to myself, “there is something eternal about it. I feel too alive when I do it for it not to last forever.”

We sent my friend and her husband off in style, with sparklers and chants and fist pumps to the air, or to God, whichever your preference.

The wedding reception ended with a long night still ahead of us. In eager anticipation of welcoming in a new year, my friend and I wanted to keep dancing, but seeing as how we aren’t as young as we used to be, we get tired earlier in the evening… I’ll speak for myself. Knowing we didn’t feel up to bar hopping but didn’t want to go back home, we drove out to Shelter Island to get the perfect view of the city. The moon hung low over downtown San Diego, nearly touching the tops of the tall buildings.

We made plans to come back out one night and take pictures, which is still sitting patiently on our to-do list. After driving up and down the little island we noticed a hotel still lit up for Christmas with welcoming doors. People were walking in and out, some on smoke breaks, some on cell phones, and figuring it must be some kind of New Years Eve Party, we decided to venture over.

There was an older man sitting out front who noticed us looking in the windows, “just walk in like you own the place, turn to the right, go all the way back and there is a live band with dancing.” Perhaps it was obvious we  wanted to be involved with what was going on but didn’t actually know what was going on. “OH! Thank you!” we said, and with that I adjusted my jacket to make it look like I owned the place, opened the door and walked in.

We crossed through the lobby without anyone saying anything, “it’s working,” I said to myself, almost laughing as I passed the right we were supposed to take and walked straight back to open a door to a private party. I opened the door with an “I own this place” smile on my face and was greeted by a bouncer who responded to my owner’s smile with “do you have a wristband?”

“OH!” I said out loud (and “dang it” to myself). Just as I was about to explain myself, my friend grabs my jacket and tells me we were supposed to go right. “Oh, we were supposed to go right,” I said to the bouncer whose facial expression did not change. We adjusted our route and made our way past a dinning room full of older to elderly overdressed people. It felt very clear that we were outsiders as we kept walking, pretending like we knew where we were going.

Eventually we found the room with the live band and dancing. It had the vibe of a company party, business people letting loose for one night, my friend and I being thirty years younger than everyone in the company. I watched while the band played Stevie Wonder songs and older-to-elderly people got down on the dance floor, “this is gold,” I thought to myself. “We’re totally staying here,” I said to my friend. “Oh, absolutely we are,” she said, and our friendship made sense.

We danced until the ball dropped with perfect strangers imperfectly dancing. We welcomed in the new year with people thirty years our senior, and even though we didn’t know each other, something about the whole thing felt eternal; all of us celebrating together for one cause as if we were family. Perhaps it was the dancing, perhaps it was coming together of different generations, perhaps it was Stevie Wonder.

It was the best New Years I can remember having in a long time. Maybe at some point we all say that. Maybe there’s a point in which some people never say that. I tend to forget that New Years isn’t just some holiday in which I deserve to have a good time. Having fun on New Years Eve isn’t a right, for some people it’s just another night of trying to figure out how they are going to make it through. In those moments of realization I feel helpless, crippled by anxiety over the state of humanity, which is the exact type of thought you’re told to put away on occasions like New Years. After all, you don’t want to be Debbie Downer at the party. I don’t know where the balance is between living your life and keeping aware of the lives of others, but I think it might be somewhere in between gratitude and time and action.

I’m grateful I had such a good New Years, because not everyone gets one, I’m even grateful I allowed myself to have such a good New Years. Had I have sat on my worries about the state of the world, I would have missed out on the people right in front of me, not only my friend who I had the time of my life with, but also the people who’s story I don’t know, who may have had a hard year despite what their expensive dress says.

People are people, rich ones, poor ones, nice ones, mean ones, and sure, I’ll admit some of them are easier to love than others, but people are still people. Loving the poor and treating the rich like dirt is the same heart condition of loving the rich and treating the poor like dirt. People are people, with stories the likes of which we have no idea. I think most people are the way they are because of their stories, and I am increasingly convinced that listening to someone’s story will change the way you see them.

I’m grateful for where I am at in life, I’m trying to be present in the places I find myself spending time, and I want to do something when it is in my ability to do so to help other people, which doesn’t always mean giving someone money (in part because I don’t have any). I’m trying to embrace the life I’ve been given, allow myself to become more of who I was created to be, and in so doing, setting other people free to be them… something I think people need more than money… the freedom to be themselves.

Now that I am back in San Diego with a new year ahead of me, I am excited about what is to come, nervous too, but mostly excited. I set out to go for a walk the other day and less than a minute into my walk I ran into Richard, my seventy (+) year old neighbor. He asked over and over again how I had been and where I had been and said he was worried about me. Three months is a long time and I didn’t get to see him before I left, “I thought something had happened to ya,” he said, “I went down to your coffee shop and asked about ya.” Richard and I visited with each other often. The first time I met him he helped me put air in my bike tires. The second time we went for a bike ride all over the city.

Richard told me he how worried he had been, “I thought something happened to ya,” he said over and over again. “I didn’t know you were leaving… are you glad to be back, it’s good to be back, right?” he asked, almost nervous I might leave again. I felt both happy that Richard was so anxious to see me, and sad that I had not told him I was leaving. Honestly, I didn’t think it mattered, only because I had forgotten that when it comes to people, even when it doesn’t seem like it matters, it does. I didn’t realize what our frequent run-ins meant to him. I felt happy that Richard would care so much about me, and sad that I would be so careless with Richard. “I want to be more intentional with people,” I thought to myself.

Richard invited me in to share some ideas with me. As he asked what my plans for myself were, he said he had an idea. “Can you play a guitar?” He asked. I said I could. “Can you carry a tune?” he asked. I said I could… well enough. “You start practicing everyday, get yourself 25 minutes worth of material, you think you could do that… be in front of people for 25 minutes?” I laughed thinking about where he was going with his idea, “yea, between stories and jokes and singing, I think I could last 25 minutes.” “Good,” he said with excitement, “now you get yourself an act, practice everyday, record a little demo and send it to people. You start driving up the coast in your van and send the demo to people to say you’re coming, then you can perform in places all the way up to Oregon.” He laughed and smiled as he carried on planning my “career” as a performer. “Not everyone can do it,” he says, “but you could, you got the personality, you could do it!”

I noticed a guitar in the corner of Richard’s living room, “do you play?” I asked. He said he did as he laughed and waved his hand, “not so much anymore, but I used to.” I asked if he could teach me a thing or two on the guitar. “You don’t need a teacher,” he said, “if you got the basic skills, which you do, right?” I nodded. “Then all you have to do is practice everyday. So many people want to move on to the next thing and do all this fancy stuff, but they never master the basics, so they never really learn to get better, they just find new tricks.” I thought this to be true to my life in many ways, always anxious to move on to the next bigger and better thing without really taking the time to invest in understanding the basics, like loving people well, sending them thank you cards and letting them know you’re leaving town and won’t be back for a really long time, not to worry.

I asked Richard if he would play his guitar for me one night and he agreed that he would. He went back to talking about my plan to drive up the coast and perform in music venues and coffee houses. “And listen up,” he said, “you get paid to do this… no freebies! People are gonna want you to perform for free, but you say no. I mean, every now and then a freebie is okay, it’s good to give back, but you can’t do all freebies, you gotta get paid.” He smiled and stared off into the distance as if he were reliving a dream, “yea, you could just drive up the coast and play at night, it would be wonderful.” I agreed that it would. “I’d do it myself,” he said, “but I’m too old.” He laughed at the thought. “Think about it,” he said before I left, “you could take your van, plus you’d be good at it, you’d make people laugh.”

I thanked Richard and gave him a hug before I left. We planned our next bike ride. I walked to the coffee shop where I used to work and was greeted with hugs and screams of excitement. “YEAAA!!!” my friend yelled, “I’m just so excited I want to pick you up and pace back and forth with you in my arms!” So she did. My heart felt happy and loved. I walked to the bank to pray there’d be money in my account, also to deposit a small check, which was an answer to prayer (a combination of human initiative and divine interaction). I thanked God.

I walked down Newport Avenue, the main street in town, and I took in those fresh feelings of returning home. I took note of everyone I walked past, seeing some familiar faces hidden in the herds of tourists. I high-fived a friend and coffee shop regular coming out of his shop. I felt like I was right where I belonged. I walked to the end of the street that dead ends at the ocean. Everything had it’s place, the seagulls, the buskers singing at the ocean’s edge, the surfers gliding across the water, even the tourists walking aimlessly around taking pictures. Everything seemed to be just as I left it, and everyone seemed to belong, even the tourists.

I took in a deep breath to smell the salt water. I thanked God that I was alive and that I lived in Ocean Beach, California.

Last year was tough, despite what social media suggests, but I’m sure that could be true for many if not most people. In many ways I was nervous to come back to California. I was nervous to have a repeat of last year, and seeing as how that was the last thing I wanted, I almost resorted to not coming back. While it’s always an option to leave when the going gets tough, it’s also a way to miss out on the goodness of life, some of which is so simple you could easily miss it.

Rejoicing at my friend’s wedding, sitting in Richard’s living room, hugging my co-workers, high-fiving my friend on the street, smelling the ocean air are all simple joys I would have missed had I have not come back to California, not to mention prolonging panic mode as I tried to figure out what to do next. I so easily forget that my past experience doesn’t have to define my present one and that while I might have made mistakes before, it doesn’t mean I’m destined to repeat them. Prone to, yes, as humans we are all prone to repeating our mistakes, half the battle is being aware of that, but destined to? Absolutely not.

And so for now, I am home, enjoying my neighbors and living the adventure of doing every day life with the people around me. It is an odd combination of simple and wonderful, but I think that is what the best stories are made up of… the simple wonders that take place when you love the people in front of you.

May 2016 be a year of simple wonders for all of us.

 

richard

My friend Richard.