I write because it reminds me of where I've been and gives light to my current path. I run because it keeps me moving forward. And I welcome you here because I believe it's through community that we truly find God's grace in the midst of our struggles.
Five years ago this was the week that changed my life. I put Domani to sleep last night and talked with him about that MLK Day 5 years ago when his dad and I found out he was on the way. I told him how nine months after that he was born and how incredibly happy I am to have him in my life. Without prompting, we both looked up towards the picture that hangs framed above his bed.
He told me that he loves it because it's beautiful. I told him I love it because it has all three of us in it - me, his daddy, and him - to which he responded, "that is why I think it's beautiful".
Some day I will tell him the story of the rest of the week. About how two days later I got an unbelievable call from Joe that he was in the emergency room and and how two days after that we listened in a fog to news about his stage 4 cancer. This week in January will never quite be the same for me. I will always remember.
I realized last night though as I was reading through Anne Lamott's newest book, Small Victories, that this remembering is a helpful thing for my spirit. Not only does it help me keep close those parts of Joe which I know are important to carry with me, but it is helpful for my well being to remember the ways that I have been brought through difficult circumstances.
In her book, Lamott talks about the death of her best friend Pammy (also to cancer). The following passages struck me because they are so close to my own experience:
"All those years I fell for the great palace lie that grief should be gotten over as quickly and as privately as possible. But what I've discovered since is that the lifelong fear of grief keeps us in a barren, isolated place and that only grieving can heal grief; the passage of time will lessen the acuteness but time alone, without the direct experience of grief will not heal it...I'm pretty sure that only by experiencing that ocean of sadness in a naked and immediate way do we come to be healed - which is to say, we come to experience life with a real sense of presence and spaciousness and peace."
"I felt very lonely. I thought maybe I wouldn't feel so bad if I didn't have such big pieces of Pammy still inside me, but then I thought, I want those pieces in me for the rest of my life, whatever it costs me."
I do want to remember. And to feel. It's how we truly live.
My 34-year-old husband was diagnosed with cancer the same week we found out we were pregnant with our first child and WE GOT THROUGH THAT WEEK. Not only did we get through it, but we lived some fabulous moments together in the time that followed and today, 5 years later, I have an a amazing kid cuddling up with me on this MLK Day. An abundance of memories and an abundance of now.
There is a moment that probably summarizes my year better than anything I could come up with here. It's the Beatles cover that The Afghan Whigs used to close out their song Lost In The Woods during this year's tour.
I still get chills when I listen to the end of the live version of this song. It's just 100% true about my place in this world right now. Even when I feel like things are spiraling out of control. Even when I feel alone. Even when I feel like life has dealt me the shittiest hand possible. I have to admit it's getting better. It's getting better all the time. And for me, Greg Dulli brings it home in a way that no one else could.
"I have to admit it's getting better. It's getting better all the time. I have to admit it's getting better. It's getting better all the time. I have to admit it's getting better. It's getting better all the time. I have to admit it's getting better. It's getting better since you've been mine. Getting so much better all the time." This ending comes into my brain during hard moments. It sits in my soul and lets hope find a path in through the darkest corners.
This year has been packed full. There have been beautiful mountain moments and dark valleys. There have been many days that have been over before I felt like they even began. Here are some glimpses into 2014 in a rough order of occurrence.
- At the beginning of the year, on a day when I was wading through a difficult heartbreak that was unknown to almost everyone, a friend shared a quote on my Facebook page that came at the perfect time: "It's not what's happening to you now or what has happened in your past that determines who you become. Rather, it's your decisions about what to focus on, what things mean to you, and what you're going to do about them that will determine your ultimate destiny." It was from Anthony Robbins and like many random interludes over the course of my year, it got me through.
- In February, we won an affiliation vote among the membership of Camden Council 10 and welcomed them as the newest members of CWA in New Jersey. This was a huge bright spot for me at work as it was a pleasure to work with the leadership of Council 10 and to welcome 1,500 union members in Camden County into CWA.
- A much needed trip to Miami with a good friend allowed us to escape the Northeast snow in early March. I once again ran the half marathon there and Domani and I took in a Mets Spring Training game.
Dinner in South Beach while everyone else was in snowy NJ
- There was the 40 bags in 40 days Lenten discipline which brought organization to my home and sanity to my soul. During Lent, I was able to "create space" both literally and figuratively.
- There were many priceless moments with Domani. One of my favorites was in his Sunday School class. He was asked by his teachers to name some things that are important to him for an art project. They pulled me aside afterwards and recounted to me in part, what he said: "my mommy and my daddy are important to me. My daddy died and he is in heaven, but he is important to me." The finished art project also included God, Buzz Lightyear, Superman, Toy Story, and his cousin Catherine.
- At the first regular season Mets game of the season, I happened to share the elevator to my seat with Mr. Met. It wasn't much of a season for my Mets, but for that first game of the season...Day made.
- In April, I made my first trip of the year to Chicago, this time for the Labor Notes Conference. It was a great chance to spend time with old and new friends, brainstorm strategies, and get in a run in one of my favorite places - the trail along Lake Michigan. Oh, and of course a selfie at The Bean with my friend, Julia!
- This year, the Afghan Whigs came out with a new album and it was fabulous. I listened to it the first time via livestream in my office in mid-March and by the time the official release date rolled around on April 15th I already knew all of the songs. My copy arrived from Subpop a few days before the 15th and I was thrilled beyond belief. The only thing missing from the first official listening party was Joe. It still makes me a little crazy that every time I think I know which song would be his favorite, I change my mind, but I guess that just means our guys have put together another great album.
- This year we lost a heartbreaking union organizing campaign in Olean, NY where I had been working intensively with committee members for over a year. It still stings and I'm anxious for the time to be right for another effort there, but I carry with me plenty of inspiration from the workers on that campaign.
One committee member testified at a hearing during the day,
went home and made all of these cookies, and then dropped them
off to us before she went in for her shift the next morning so we
would have them during the final day of testimony. A-MAZING.
- The Afghan Whigs. Live. For me, it started with a three show whirlwind in May and ended with 7 more shows throughout the fall. Brooklyn. Boston. Baltimore. Chicago. Orlando. Washington DC. Philly. NYC. Back to Brooklyn. Salt Lake City. Not only did I get to see plenty of my friends from "The Congregation", but I also got to see shows with my cousin Alyssa, Joe's cousin Tony, and my sister Naomi. In Baltimore, Malinda, Sheila, Melissa, and I took in the show from the front row of the tiny Ottobar and were treated to an encore of Bulletproof/Summer's Kiss/Faded. The NYC date featured Charles Bradley as the opener. The second Brooklyn date included Usher as a surprise guest, Greg Dulli singing Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic in the crowd, and a bonus encore. It was an amazing year of music and fun with friends.
The Afghan Whigs with special guest Usher at MHOW in Brooklyn
- In early June, I accompanied a bank worker to Brazil as part of a campaign I am working on. This was my second trip to Brazil and it was an incredibly memorable and productive trip. We were able to make lots of important connections and share stories about what was going on among workers in the U.S. in their attempts to organize and improve conditions. While I was there I was even able to meet up with a fellow Afghan Whigs fan who I had only known through Facebook before. I'm so thankful for the hospitality shown to us in our travels and for the opportunity to do work that includes global solidarity.
- This year there were also four wonderful weeks of World Cup soccer games. Domani and I had fun cheering for USA and Brazil and watching as many games as we could. Domani perfected his "I Believe" chant and enjoyed munching on goodies whenever we went out to watch a game. He always impressed anyone around us with his attention to the game and cheering.
Cheering for Brazil with Domani
- While there were plenty of tough things about work this year, I was able to help on an organizing campaign with an amazing group of 60 workers from Planned Parenthood in upstate New York who fought hard to win their Union with CWA. They worked with us all summer and on September 25th won union representation in an overwhelming vote.
- Over the summer, I became an aunt again. My sister and her husband had their second girl on the 4th of July, beautiful little Courtney. There was something amazing about seeing my son get to hold her and the huge smile that came across his face every time he did. Priceless.
- On August 9, I finally defeated my nemesis - the 5k - and achieved a new PR after trying for almost a year. In August in Asbury Park, I beat my previous time by 8 seconds, running a 23:21. One month later I beat that time by running a 22:25 at the Pier House 5k in Long Branch and by the time I braved the snow to run the annual Turkey Trot in Princeton I had it down to 22:11. Perhaps in 2015, I can break into the land of 21 minutes.
5k in Long Branch on Labor Day - 22:25
- There was a truly special vacation in Sandbridge, Virginia with my family. We watched the sunrise, went out to eat together, biked around the Island, played in the ocean and built sand castles, took some gorgeous family photos, played some games, and just enjoyed each other's company for a week. I also got in some great training runs and some much needed reflection time at night overlooking the ocean.
One of my dad's sunrise photos from vacation.
With my sister Naomi before our family photo shoot
- A Greg Dulli quote at just the right moment in September served as a reminder of all that is actually important. "I want to enjoy my life, enjoy my friends, enjoy my experience, because the inevitable waits for us all. And you can either sit around in fear waiting for it, or you can take it on with all you got." With that, I realized that I had been spending my year taking it on and, even more importantly, that I didn't want to let up.
- Sometimes there are days like April 17th, October 7th, and December 4th which for no predictable reason are the worst days imaginable. On those days I am thankful for the ability to run, the magic of random shuffle on my playlist, and people who jump in however they are needed, perhaps by posting things on my FB timeline like "There is not enough holy water to cleanse this cursed, satan spawn Tuesday. Only wine can cleanse this beast." Some days these are the only things that get me through.
- I dreamed big this year, making two separate attempts to qualify for the Boston Marathon. This meant two intense training cycles and plenty of races to test out my progress along the way. I spent more of my year in training than not. On my first try, the New Jersey Marathon, I improved my time by 12 minutes and became a sub-4 marathoner (3:55:16).
My second attempt came after an aggressive training regimen which included 6 days a week of running and ended at the Philadelphia Marathon on November 23. I knocked another 22 minutes off my time and qualified for Boston with a 3:33:22. I still can hardly believe that is my marathon time and I start to tear up anytime I think about what I've done. There's no way to summarize the "I'm Shipping Up to Boston" feeling except to read the whole thing. It probably goes without saying that it was a high point of the year for me.
- Some of the most exciting work I've done this year has been alongside the organizers of NJ Communities United. I was reminded of just one piece of that work when this article came out right before Christmas looking back on "The Year in Activism" and highlighting an action put together by NJCU in Irvington, NJ. The action was a memorable one - with its homemade Wells Fargo stagecoach and the coming together of homeowners, bank workers, the labor movement, and community leaders - but indicative of the consistent, kick ass organizing work being done year round by the organizers and members of NJCU.
Protest arts and crafts!
- Domani and I visited my sister Naomi for a week that included Halloween. Naomi and I got to catch an Afghan Whigs show in Salt Lake City and we were able to all do some trick or treating together, something that I don't think we have ever been able to do. Getting away to Idaho and getting to see my sister was a highlight of the year. We just don't get to spend enough time together and Domani loved being with her.
Running in Idaho was wonderful - from 13.5 miles on Halloween
Halloween fun with Aunt Naomi, the gnome
- At the peak of my Philly marathon training I ran the Trenton Half Marathon as a final test of my progress and achieved a nearly 5-minute PR. With a 1:39:19, I placed 3rd in my age group and 12th among all women. There was no feeling like crossing that finish line knowing I had run an amazing race AND was strong enough to keep going, with energy in the tank to push forward to Philly.
Running back into NJ, listening to Bruce
- This has been my first year as a member of the Raritan Valley Road Runners and I have enjoyed getting to know other runners through the club. One of the most fun runs I was able to make it out for was the 9:10:11am run on 12/13/14. A little nerdy? Yes. Any chance I was going to miss that one? No way. I plan on running even more with the team next year as I've registered with USATF and started signing up for some races to run for RVRR.
- In December, Joe's friend Sam sold his car which wouldn't normally be a thing of note except that it used to be Joe's and for that reason carried with it plenty of memories and emotion. Domani and I were able to take one last ride in the car before it was sold which was special and the story of the sale certainly left me thinking that there were some cosmic forces at play. The guy who bought it lives a block away from where Joe grew up.
- This marked my first Christmas tending to all the Christmas Eve and Christmas morning duties alone. It was just me and Domani in the house and all went just fine. It wasn't easy, but it was time for us to find our own Christmas rhythm and I think we have done that. I had a relaxing evening and we had a special morning together.
Christmas morning selfie
- I ended 2014 and ushered in 2015 by running a 5k with my friend Malinda in Philly. I was happy to spend the night with a fellow mother runner and to run with midnight fireworks going off all around us. It wasn't my best 5k (the two gin and tonics I had before the race *may* have had something to do with that!) but it was a lot of fun. I'm not particularly excited about 2015, but I do believe "it's getting better all the time" so there were smiles after the race and there is still a smile now.
Post-race Happy New Year selfie
I used to hear about new music from Joe. Anything new that I have started listening to since he died has come through suggestions of my fellow Afghan Whigs fans or has been an artist I have heard at a show. In December, Joe's friend Rita introduced me to Vintage Trouble and I haven't been able to stop listening to them. Their song "Not Alright By Me" grabbed me from the first time I heard it and has inspired me into this New Year.
At my lowest points in 2014, I have struggled with wanting to just check out from feeling and being and doing life in all its difficulty. I've wanted to just skate by. The part that grips me most in this song as I move into 2015 is that which reminds me to keep feeling:
"Pull on the rope that lifts the sun back to the sky
Something hit me deep
On my sunset walk through the streets
I could see and hear
But I couldn’t feel or breathe
From tuning out this static world
I’ve lost the sense of peace
And that’s not alright by me
The LA Times and Channel 5
And New York Magazine
They stain my soul
And I know you know what I mean
They tear apart the hopeful heart
Til it doesn’t bleed or dream
And that’s not alright by me
Pull on the rope that lifts the sun back to the sky
Hold a hand. Cry on a shoulder.
Listen in the wind and open up your eyes.
And feel again.
Where the roads cross
And time stands still
I’m frozen in my tracks
Against my will
The streetlight is dimming
And it won’t shine again until
I say “It’s not alright by me”
Not alright by me
Not alright by me
Not alright by me
Not alright by me