lessons learned while un-blogged

Yikes. This year I completely un-blogged.

It would be easy to proclaim that I’ve been too busy or that I made a decision to unplug or that I’ve had nothing profound to say. All of those things have been true at one moment or another, but really I haven’t been writing at all for reasons that have nothing to do with any of that.

This year has been all new for me. There has been lots to say. And most of it has felt too personal, too intimate to write about and publish online. I feel different when the wind blows over me, as if I’ve shed a layer of myself and the layer that is bared is tender and unweathered, unused to being exposed. I don’t know how to write about this time. It feels a bit too much like stripping off my clothes in public. It feels like that tipping point when I laugh so hard that I begin to sob.

So, I un-blogged knowing that there are some things that need to be kept just for me. But while I’ve been not writing and settling into my first, delicious year of marriage, I’ve learned and been reminded of a few things:

-I need to let my friends know the good stuff and the hard stuff; I need them through it all.

-Spanish cheese is delicious but if I eat too much of it, I can’t sleep.

-Just because someone isn’t near me, doesn’t mean they aren’t close to me.

-Dear friends can be made in the strangest places, even in the lobby of a hotel in Santa Cruz.

-When living overseas, a check-in text from someone I love feels like a good hug.

-Hot water bottles are magical. So is the rose tea that Holly gave me.

-Everyone has something to teach me.

-Watching videos of puppies or hedgehogs or baby sloths is strangely awesome.

-Saying out loud what I am grateful for is like giving myself a present.

-I am powerless but I keep on breathing.

-Everyone is going through something, so I can be kind and gentle and listen and not take myself too seriously.

-John Steinbeck’s East of Eden is a masterpiece.

-Letting people in expands my life.

-Being married to Andrew is my favorite thing.

-And, as Rayne has been saying for years: Love Is The Best.

 

 

i do.

I got married on a Wednesday. In India. In a tiny little room, on a dusty little street, I stepped through a crowd of people, maneuvered my way around and over a cluster of mothers nursing their babies, kicked off my glittery sandals, sat on the floor in my bare feet and married Andrew.

As far as Wednesdays go, this one was pretty cool.

I love weddings. I love the buzz and the bling and all that weddings represent, the excitement, the hopes and dreams of two people setting forth on their lives together. I love the dancing and the speeches, the feast and gathering with friends and families. I’ve stood up with friends as a bridesmaid. I’ve read Bible passages and poems and even shared my own words at weddings. I have relished the opportunity to share space at the altar with friends as I’ve facilitated ceremonies celebrating their love. But my own wedding? I never really thought much about it. Getting married has never really been a thing for me. My little girl dreams weren’t of white gowns and wedding bells, but of jewel-toned, far-away places, windy roads, wandering and wondering.

A few months ago I was walking home from the vegetable market and was stopped dead in my tracks by a powerful feeling. It was a hot, hazy day; the street was bustling with cars and tuk-tuks and cows and people and motorcycles. Music poured out of a crackly speaker at the temple and my arms strained under the weight of the grocery bags.

The heat and the sound and the smell and the dust…I had dreamt of that very moment, of walking on that very street. And so it was months later on a hot, hazy day as I left the quiet bubble of my car to find myself surrounded by hundreds of people all in the same place for the same purpose. There, on another little road, in the heart of a city of 5 million people were guests and grooms and brides in bright colors adorned with flowers and jewels, just like me.

On that little road, this bride looked through the crazy crowd of brides and grooms and spotted her groom. He was looking for me, glowing amidst the sea of people. Andrew was waiting to marry me. We’d each been wandering and wondering around the world until we found each other. I broke into the biggest smile I have ever smiled and hurried through the throngs of people; I couldn’t wait to marry Andrew.

In our quest to keep it simple, we got married on our own. Our only witnesses were six amazing folks who helped us get here, settle here and thrive here. And while we missed our families and friends as we stepped out onto the road as husband and wife for the first time, we were met, instead, by India. By the colors and crowds and chaos that brought us together in the first place. Grooms clamored to shake Andrew’s hand. Brides peeked at me and smiled, touching my decorated hands gently with theirs.

We were tiny. We were larger than life.

Our intimate, hybrid Hindu/Western ceremony was one of hundreds of ceremonies that were held on that dusty street that auspicious day.

We circled the altar, hand in hand. We exchanged garlands and tied turmeric around each other’s wrists. We prayed. We offered gratitude to our parents, our brothers, our friends and to all those who support and love us. We sat next to each other and looked into each other’s eyes as we exchanged our vows. We kissed (much to the Brahmin priests delight!) and laughed and cried.

Our ceremony was one of thousands held in temples throughout Chennai that day, one of millions held in India. And while they may not all be love marriages, ours surely is…

Each day of my life has led me to this one. I am grateful for them all, but Wednesdays will forever be my favorite.

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full heart

Today is kind of a big deal.

The beach is packed with women sitting together in their finest, brightest, jewel-toned saris, with men clustered together in crisp shirts, hoisting an altar above their heads, beating drums and ringing bells. The little shrine at the end of my street is decked with palm fronds and endless strands of jasmine; a pujari blesses the tiny elephant idol and prays with my neighbors.

The streets are strung with lights and music blares from every Ganesha temple in town. Today is the start of Ganesh Chaturthi, a celebration of India’s most beloved god, the remover of obstacles, he who brings fortune and heralds auspicious beginnings.

In the hubbub of it all, I am overcome with my own kind of gratitude to the great Ganesha. I may not bear an offering of coconuts and bananas and will likely pass on carrying my idol through the streets of my neighborhood before immersing him in the ocean. Instead, I let the celebratory breeze blow in and reflect on a year that has passed so quickly and think about the year that has yet to unfold.

I have never been more aware of my own heart as I have through this year.

On July 23, 2013, as excited as I felt to fly off to India, I felt my heart break a bit. I began a new chapter in a new place with a new cast of characters. It was a year filled with challenges, change and crazy adventures. The roller coaster of feelings and freedom and facing myself in a new space left me, all at once, exhilarated and exhausted.

I felt the rawness of being exposed in a new way, of being vulnerable and far away and all alone. I felt the sadness, the regret, the selfishness creep in on days when I was missing something in my family: Taj’s spy party, Rayne’s 21st, Naiyah’s India party, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, tea and the Sunday crossword with Mom or a random Tuesday night dinner at 130 Kenyon. I felt people drifting away from me and I said goodbye to a love that held me close for many years. I came face to face with my privilege and life of plenty in this land where so many are hungry, thirsty, ill and without access to the very basics needed to survive.

India broke my heart wide open.

And, by the grace of Ganesha, the opening let new light in.

I found friends here who saw my tender heart, embraced it and trusted me enough to share theirs with me. My community here has taken shape and we care for each other through shared experiences, letting each other in and with lots of laughter. The opening created space for new experiences with my parents as we traveled together in India, Sri Lanka; we rewired and strengthened our connections. It allowed light to shine on friends at home who have been and continue to be my anchors. I found some quiet and worked at acceptance and letting go, of grieving what was gone and welcoming in the new.

India reminded me that today is always a big deal and amidst all of the chaos of life here and all of the change that comes with a new chapter, I found clarity. As the obstacles were removed and the dust settled, there, standing right in front of me with his own new-found clarity, was my person.

This year, on July 23rd, with my heart wide open, I let go of my vision of myself as a solo-artist and said yes to living my life with love, a ridiculous amount of laughter and real, honest sharing within a true partnership. And, here I am, back at the beach pad celebrating with gratitude as I venture into year-two of this life filled with auspicious days. Filled with Ganesha in all of his glory! Drums and bells. Bright colors and throngs of people and  flowers and fruit! Dust and dirt and hard rain and hardship beyond hardship.

I am happy to call this place home today and can’t wait to see what the gods and goddesses have in store this time around.

Good old India.

Ganesha

stepping away

I’m wearing close-toed shoes for the first time since I moved.

It’s still sandal weather here but I’m flying out tonight and it will be cold where I land. There’s sure to be a lot less traffic there and no cows lazing about in the street; possibly drivers who stop at lights and signal when they turn. I’m sure there will be lines at the cashier in shops and lots less garbage on the side of the road. I think there will be cafes galore, delicious wine from this region and that, croissants and more cheese than I can possibly dream of.

I will walk those streets and explore with a new set of eyes.

I’m pretty sure where I am going I won’t see crowds of schoolgirls on the street corner in the morning all dressed in plaid with looped braids and strings of jasmine in their hair. I won’t walk by beautiful, intricate kolams carefully drawn in chalk on the sidewalks lit with candles and adorned with marigolds and rose petals. Or women walking down the road in bright, beautiful saris, chattering in Tamil, on their way to buy bananas. There probably won’t be firecrackers blasting every night in celebration of a festival and surely there won’t be a tiny lit-up shrine to Ganesha at the end of the road smelling of freshly burned incense.

It feels weird to be leaving (even for just a few days) a place that, not so long ago, felt so weird to arrive in.

The last time I was out of India, I’d never been in India before.

Shoes and wine and cheese and orderly lines and things that made sense were my normal. I had never seen a man ride down the street on an elephant or cows lying in the middle of the highway or a woman with an incisor reaching down to her chin. I had never seen colors so bright or flowers so fresh, used with such purpose and sentiment. Before I came to India, I had never been this far away from home for so long. I hadn’t a clue about Hinduism or Jainism or Sikhism or how many religions and languages and cultures and traditions thrive in this country. I had never seen such extreme poverty and inequity. I had never been in a place where complete ugliness and pure beauty were so obviously enmeshed. I had no idea that I would have so many questions…

What was once my normal doesn’t feel so normal now. I am walking on new ground.

Some of the things that I thought I needed are no longer things that I need.  There are things that I thought that I knew that I just don’t know anymore. I have been cracked open and all of my insides are exposed and I can’t imagine what it would be like to put that all back in and tuck it away. I am, all at once, amazed and terrified.

Stepping away lends itself to seeing from a new perspective…

My desert-worn toes clad with Rajasthani rings wiggle inside of my shoes.

Change is complicated.

(Cheese is good.)

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strange little wonderful

When I was 21, I took my backpack and went to Europe. I was alone and trying to get comfortable with that feeling of being myself with total strangers. I tried in Brussels and wound up eating mussels with my mom and stepfather who happened to be in town. I tried in Munich while hoisting a stein of amazing beer at Oktoberfest with about a million other people. I tried in Salzburg while humming Doe-A-Deer as I skipped down the street with my hostel-mate.

The more I tried, the stranger I felt.

And I tried again in Vienna at the Wiener Staatsoper, grabbing a front row in the cheap standing area for an opera.  

At intermission, a fellow American tapped me on the shoulder and asked me how I was enjoying the show. She’d lived in Vienna for years and asked me to coffee afterwards. Before we ventured from the opera house, she offered to show me the best view in town and whisked me up the stairs to the balcony of the historic building. Together we looked out over the city, all lit up at night, twinkling and vast and for the first time in weeks, I wasn’t trying to be comfortable, I just was. 

We skipped coffee and, instead, ventured on a night walking tour of the beautiful city. We talked and talked and shared the stories of our lives. Mine was pretty short at that point… and then we parted with just her recommendation that I return to the opera tomorrow night. When I asked why, she said, “You’ll know when you hear it.” And, she was right. The Marriage of Figaro was on stage and my name was sung in opera all through the night.

It was a gift.

I was meant to be there that night; I offered to show some fellow standing strangers the amazing view and wound up traveling with two of them for months afterwards. They are dear friends to this day.

And, so I didn’t flinch the other night in Bombay when a stranger approached me on famous Chowpaty Beach amidst the crowd. He commented that I was brave to be eating bhel puri from the streetfood stall. Toothless and rocking an Alaska t-shirt, Madhu offered to show me around the beach scene and reminisced about his childhood days there and his daughter’s childhood days there. He asked about my family. We decided to walk together along Marine Drive after we’d watched the sun go down over the city.  Madhu is a retired teacher, a psychology enthusiast, a world-traveler, a retired Indian Navy man, a husband, a father, a walking enthusiast and a good, old soul.  He challenged me with ethical riddles as we walked, admiring the sea as we pondered choices and why we choose what we choose. 

When we got to the end of the 3 mile walk, Madhu offered to show me the best view in town. He took me into the Trident Hotel, a fancy, swanky type place and we paused for a bit in the lobby before venturing up to the very top floor where the lights were out. We each leaned up against the glass and peered out at the amazing view of the “queen’s necklace,” the lit-up waterfront that curves around like a sparkling jewel. We were silent and it was a gift.

Madhu told stories with great details just like my dad. He was born exactly one month to the day before my mom. I know his favorite places in the world and his deepest hopes for his daughter. He knows who I have left behind in coming here. And after lots of questions, he understands why I am here and what I believe about the goodness of people.

I told Madhu on the elevator heading back down about my night in Vienna. He remarked on how vivid the memory still is for me these 17 years later. I told him that I would always remember this, too.  

The moment a stranger becomes a friend is far too incredible a gift to forget.

new kid

I walk down a hall of palm trees to get to the cafeteria from my office at my new school.

Sometimes I see lizards. Or kids playing floor hockey in the outdoor covered gym. Sometimes I see Jeff in his cowboy hat speaking enthusiastically to an adorable group of first graders. Or twelve ladies with scissors cutting the little patches of grass by the performing arts center.

I walk down a hall of palm trees.

Designed to let air flow through the open campus, my new school is a lush, green, pristine oasis in the middle of  noisy, dusty Chennai.  The structures are simple and the grounds are gorgeous.

It is a truly beautiful place for students to learn. The kids are settling in to the new school year and the crazy marathon of school mania is in full-swing: spirit week is underway, progress reports are due, meetings, meetings and more meetings, homecoming this Friday, big swim meet on Saturday. School is school no matter where you are in the world.

I am still finding my bearings.  After nine years of being Glam and knowing the intimate details of my students lives at Classical, being new is…hard. I had grown used to having answers, my phone ringing off the hook, to walking down the hall and noticing a scratch in the paint that wasn’t there the day before.  I am used to knowing the name of every single kid in the building and likely knowing their mom’s name, their address and what their loves and hopes and fears were.

And now, I am new.

I ask a million questions and can go an entire day without my phone ringing.  I have a mere 104 students on my caseload. I am slowly learning each of their names and even know a thing or two about a few of their dreams for the future. I am Ms. McGlamery or Ms. Susannah or Ms. I’m-sorry-I’m-not-sure-of-your-name-yet and I speak too quickly and use too many colloquialisms and idioms for non-native English speakers.  I am challenged and on my learning-edge and so grateful to be in a space where I feel supported while I am completely lost.

I remind myself that I was once new at Classical.

I remind myself that my relationships with DaJavon and Jelan and Ashleigh and Alex grew over years, that I was just plain Ms. for months, that my kids were once kids that looked at me with skepticism and that Farron only started calling me Glam-Glam because calling me Susannah was awkward at school and we were too close for the whole Ms. McGlamery thing.

On the days when I am drowning in questions, I just need to sit for a while with students to find my footing again… because the new is kind of amazing. And the new kids…are totally amazing.

My kids have lived in places I dream of visiting: Kuala Lumpur, Sao Paolo, Budapest, Delhi, Seoul.  A majority speak more than one language; many are learning English while swimming in the deep end of AP classes and the many demands of a rigorous academic program.  Some of them leave school at 4:00 only to go to another school where they study their native language and prepare for college entrance exams until 9:00 at night before going home to do homework.  My kids are from Korea, Malaysia, India, England, France, Italy, America, Japan, Indonesia. They wave or bow or thank me each time they leave my office. They are vibrant and quiet and stressed and reflective and wonderful and trusting.

My new kids are slowly and quietly working their way into my heart. In them I see the same excitement for life, the same passion for learning and the same desire to trust that I found in my Classical kids.

Sanjay reminds me of Marco.  Naranjana laughs like Asha.  Dongsu makes me think of Marcel when he’d linger after reading group to tell me something sweet about his sister.

My kids in Hartford. My kids in Chennai…Lucky me to have all of these amazing people in my life.

Tropical, global-nomad Glam-Glam is in full effect.

LITB: from india to ireland

Dear Rayne,

Welcome to the land of magical creatures, delicious breakfasts, lush green landscapes, endless stonewalls and the nicest people on the planet. I am sure that Ireland will unfold itself to you without hesitation and you will soon let go of your new-to-town nerves and find your groove.

Breathe deeply in your new space.  Remember everything that you smell: the city smog, the ocean, the dusty roads. See with new eyes: the green, the crumbling castles, the thatched roof cottages. Sit for a while with people with sparkling eyes lined with crow’s feet and listen to their stories. Eat fish & chips out of a newspaper cone and drink warm Guinness and sing in a pub with new friends.

Savor every moment!

Explore!

Through it all, be yourself.  You are stronger than you know.  You are smart and funny and incredibly observant. You are insightful and kind and you show people your open heart.  You are brave, humble and quietly make your mark wherever you go.

There will be some moments where you will wonder why you did this. There will be some moments where you are surrounded by people and feel completely alone.  There will be some moments where nothing seems to makes any sense.  When that happens, hold that arrowhead in your palm and know that you have taken a step that feels so scary now but will surely change your life forever.

You have made a conscious decision to grow.

You have chosen courage over comfort.

Hold that arrowhead in your palm and know that you are snuggled in between continents by people that love you from the deepest parts of our hearts.

I am so proud, so inspired and so excited to hear your tales.

Love,

Aunt Saide

PS: Don’t forget, Love Is The Best.

raynecityhallfountain

 

 

 

 

be here now

Before I moved to India I spent a lot of time thinking about shoes.  Ask my friend Denise, she’ll tell you.

I obsessed over open-toe vs. closed-toe, the benefits of a rinsable, recyclable sandal, whether I’d need sneakers or sport sandals (yuck!) and everything else shoe related one could possibly obsess over.

When I was done with shoes, I moved on to over-thinking about pants, about toiletries, about exactly how much contact solution a girl might need before she can hit up Target again in a year.

And now I’m here.

I am here where it’s dusty and sandy and wet and dirty and hot and all at once smells wonderful and then, in an instant, terrible. I am here where the roads end without warning and the traffic is insane and there are no rules but there are so many rules and there are cows in the streets and the same dog is everywhere and the people… the people!

Women draped in bright saris, loops of jasmine in their hair. Men in lungis with wild hair and mustaches galore. Knobby-kneed children in finely pressed school uniforms walk in groups giggling and swinging invisible cricket bats.

Tuk-tuks barrel down the road, tooting horns, blaring horns, birds, birds and more birds, the lovely, loopy lilt of people speaking Tamil in the streets, waves crashing outside of my bedroom window.

Everything is new. My senses are on serious overdrive and shoes and pants and all that other stuff I was trying to control?

None of it matters.

I’m here. Now.

street scene

listen.trust.grow.fly.

I ask my kids at school a big question when they are at a crossroads.  It’s not anything major. It’s not even original.  Some of them roll their eyes. Some of them spout out some ideas about what that might look like. Some of them go inside themselves and really think on it.

Last Spring I asked an 8th grader the question.

“This is your one life, what do you want it to be?” and while he sat there wrinkling his nose and rubbing his buzzcut, I thought to myself, “My one life.  my one LIFE. My ONE life. MY one life. MY ONE LIFE!!!!!!!”

My life? It’s kind of amazing. It doesn’t fit into a box, but it’s kind of amazing and I want it to continue to be amazing and I want to continue to grow and change and be excited and feel grounded and laugh my head off and love deeply and be moved by encounters with strangers and have adventures in places that rock me right to my core.

And, then, I remembered that the kid sitting across from me in my office was still there.  He wasn’t sure what he wanted his life to be yet but he knew that there were things he wants to do and that someday he’d like to have his own car and go to a real NFL game. And that made me remember that there are things that I’ve always wanted to do that I haven’t done yet and I’d better get to it.

Last Summer I felt my heart beating faster when I started thinking about a new adventure.  In Autumn I felt myself light up inside when I’d look at the world map that hangs above my desk at work.  This Winter I took the plunge and accepted a job offer at an international school in Chennai, India.

And today it’s snowing and I have never seen anything quite so beautiful.

That’s what happens when I do what is real and right for me. Everything becomes more beautiful.

I walked in the snow just now thinking about how this might be the last blizzard I see for awhile. About how my life in Hartford is so rich. I thought about my dad’s kitchen table that he made out of the tiles from the kitchen in our old house on Annawan St. and how much I love to sit at that table with him.  I have love and comfort and stability and the waitstaff at the coffee shop hug me when I come in. Hartford is my home; my people are here.

And because of that love and comfort and richness and that little 8th grader with the buzzcut, my wings emerge. I choose to do what moves me. What makes me feel alive. What challenges me and takes me out of my comfort zone and enables me to grow into a different space.

Being grounded is about how you stand on the earth no matter where on earth you stand.  I am moving to India. I am following my heart and my dreams and my gut. I am moving on from an amazing job that has allowed me to grow in ways that I never could have imagined. I am letting go of things that I thought that I needed that no longer serve me.  I am moving away from people that make my life amazing. I am trusting that love will transcend time and space and challenges and that the people who love me will love me through this.

My one life…I am flying with the feeling of following through on something that I have always dreamed of. The discomfort feels comfortable. Strangely, I feel grounded as I take flight.

And these wings? They look pretty good on me.

tree

hope for aching hearts

Today the unthinkable happened.

Sandy Hook: Tragedy. Chaos. Pure Craziness on a beautiful, crisp Friday morning.

Somewhere along the way, somehow, something very wrong happened and someone’s life became such a mess that he took it upon himself to destroy the lives of others. Innocent people.

This isn’t new. It happened earlier this week in a mall in Oregon. It happened in a movie theater in Colorado this summer. It happened in a Sikh temple earlier this year. It happened…

Today it happened in my backyard; in Connecticut. It happened to little kids. Kids the same age as my nephew. It happened to educators; people who have given their lives over to helping others. THAT is my backyard; in fact, kids and educators? THAT is   my front yard.

And when something awful happens so close to home…

Anger. Sadness. Confusion. Helplessness. All of this swirling around and around…I’m not quite sure what to do with how I feel about this and I am an adult. An adult with some pretty seriously intact emotional wherewithal.

So, where does a tragedy like this leave our kids? Likely, angry, sad, confused and feeling helpless. (We really are just bigger versions of them in so many ways.)

I’m not an expert on kids. I don’t have my own. But I do spend a lot of time with other people’s kids and I can’t stop thinking about them and kids all over the country tonight. And here is what I hope for them in the coming days…

I hope they get hugged by their parents. Long and true hugs; the kind that feel like ending the hug is unthinkable. I want my kids to know that they are loved, deeply and unconditionally and not just because something bad happened today.

I hope they can talk with their families and loved ones about all that has happened; that they can get the information they feel they need without getting too much information that might make them hurt more. I hope they can have conversations about this tragedy, honest conversations, so they can move through the muck, put it into context and process what has happened in a healthy way.

I hope they have someone who will listen to them. Someone who will listen to their hurt, their confusion about how something so terrible could happen; someone who will listen to their fear and just be there for them without telling them not to be afraid. If they are afraid, than that is theirs to feel. I hope someone will just hold that fear with them so it doesn’t feel so heavy.

I hope they have at least one adult who can put aside their own anxiety and anger and sadness to just really be there for them.

I hope they turn off their TVs and choose to spend their time with people they love doing things that they love, rather than being saturated with all of the craziness on TV. We need the media, but sometimes, it’s just too much for our hearts. Kids’ hearts need less media, enough said.

I hope they will know that if they are ever so troubled that they feel like they might break, that they reach out. That they come to a parent or an aunt or uncle or neighbor or teacher or school counselor or friend and say, “I need help,” before things get out of hand.

I hope they will look at all of this ugliness and see a little bit of something good. Because in all of this tragedy there is a whole lot of humanity; there are a whole lot of people flooding a grieving community with love. I hope they will see how people hold other people up, how strength isn’t about muscle, it’s about heart.

I hope they will know that their innocence, their wonder, their youthful energy is still in them, even though it feels like it’s been lost today. That their strength is what reminds us that while all seems crazy in this moment and while sometimes life goes off the rails, the world is full of goodness and compassion.

My heart aches for the families of Newtown and for children all across our country whose lives will be forever changed by what happened today.

I know that my heart is just one in a collective of hearts, billions, that ache tonight.

We are a collective; a community of hearts, so, let’s be there for each other. Not just because something bad has happened, but every day.

Let’s really be there for each other every single day.

xoxo

 

 

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