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Paris 2018

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It was mid-morning on a bright sunny day in September, 14 degrees Celsius in West London. We had been sitting around in our pajamas catching up and sharing stories of the goings-on in our lives over tea. The kitchen door was open so the cats could come in and out like the welcome breeze. My sister’s flat always felt like home to me. Her husband had already gone out for the day, but we were lazily preparing to head out to St Pancras International Train Station for me to board the Eurostar train to Paris. I had never been to Paris before, nor traveled through the tunnel under the English Channel to France. Of course I had been in France before, but never to Paris and never by myself.

The people in London walk so fast all the time. They hurry past you on the escalator like they are saying, this is MY city and YOU are in my way! I could have been on another planet compared to where I live on a Barrier Island in the Gulf of Mexico, twenty-five miles west of Tampa Florida. Rush-hour had ended, but the Tube was busy. A quick hug and kiss on the cheek and I entered a security checkpoint. I only had my rucksack, jammed  full of what I thought I needed, and my purse. My suitcase, safely stored back in my sister’s bedroom behind the door, awaited my return. There were no issues as my bags passed through the x-ray scanner, my passport accepted, and online tickets printed back home, checked by French Customs Officers. The lines moved quickly. I looked back a couple of times and saw my sis smile and wave to me amid the hustle and bustle. I reciprocated. That feeling of belonging is such a beautiful, timeless thing.

Soon I claimed my window seat facing the direction of travel. I had planned the details of this trip from my sofa several months before. Today it was really happening. I plugged in my phone and pulled out the lunch packet I had grabbed at Pret-A-Manger at the station before boarding. It felt like I was a kid again going on a school trip without my parents. Primal excitement pulsed through me. The train started moving!

We flung along the track at an amazing one hundred twenty-five miles an hour. Quaint English country scenes flashed in the window and were quickly replaced, like in a video game, by brief moments of nothing. Short tunnels punctuated the tracks with darkness as we hurled in and out of them going faster and faster. A longer tunnel sucked us in and then another even longer one, without fanfare. Are we in France? I have only ever read about wormholes in the universe, but I imagined this to be a slow-mo version of what it could be like to travel through them. Suddenly, no more wind turbines in view and the electricity pylons took on a more stylish shape. We are in France, I concluded as the world of Claude Monet opened out before me. The romance of French country images kissed my eyes. My  imagination soared.

We arrived on time at Gard Du Nord train station in the center of Paris. A little dazed, I made my way out into Rue de Dunkerque and Paris greeted me like a recurring childhood dream. That’s when my heart abandoned me. My inner compass shifted. I took a few steps forward and turned to look up at the majestic white stone facade from the 1860s. This train station is said to be the busiest station in Europe or indeed the world outside Japan. It sees 214 million passengers a year and it looked to me like they all gathered there for my arrival. Not surprising, the leading city in the world of beauty, fashion, and couture, gave the station a one billion dollar face-lift in 2015. The majestic beauty and sheer enormity of it with glinting statues along the top, took my breath.

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Bundled into the back seat of a car, the hotel sent to meet me, I quickly discovered it is not a good idea to look through the windshield while being driven through the city. For as hectic as the inner-city commuters are in London Paris people have them beat by the power of ten. Add to that equation many high-speed scooters traveling randomly through an absolutely unorganized traffic flow. Meanwhile, a slew of quintessential Parisienne al-fresco-cafes, squashed onto narrow strips of sidewalk between tall buildings and congested traffic, harbored clutches of afternoon espresso drinkers and cigar enthusiasts. Yeah, this was Paris alright and my pulse leaped.

Endless red-lights on skinny avenues, piled high on each side with white limestone buildings in the Romanesque,  Baroque, and Medieval architectural styles, choked me through the center of Renaissance Paris. A few minutes later, the route opened into rambling tree-lined parks that suddenly appeared and disappeared just as quickly. I saw a sign which read, Avenue des Champs-Elysees. Overwhelm filled my senses to bursting as the car cut through this city thick with history. We crossed over the river. Oh! My! It’s the Seine! Then I saw it – my first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower piercing high up in revolt onto an iridescent blue sky.

I checked-in to my eleventh-floor premiere room – with complimentary robe and slippers – did I do that – must have checked the wrong box when I booked it! Oh well! I dropped my bags and hurled myself onto a comforter atop crisp white linens, and tried to center my self. Wine, I will have wine with dinner tonight for sure, I thought as I flicked on the remote and the TV started to spawn out Homer Simpson dubbed in French. Oh brother! Reaching in my purse I pulled out my pre printed ticket for 7:45 pm no-waiting ascent of the Eiffel Tower. Pinch me I must be dreaming. The hot shower felt so good against my skin and the provided shower gel filled the space with a spicy fragrance. I pulled on a change of clothes, but no perfume. I had entered the world-center for such and planned to load-up with perfume right there in France. I would buy the newest one! At the front desk the concierge gave me directions to the meeting point on my ticket and off I strode into a warm Paris evening.

Two short blocks from the hotel I joined a joyful group of sightseers at the designated office where our Tour Guide joined us and lead us toward the enigmatic iron marvel, the iconic symbol of Paris, the Eiffel Tower. As we walked, he divulged all the specs and secrets of its inception and history, but my brain had already been saturated that day and besides, my heart was in charge of me by then. I did not retain any of it. Pinch me again! We passed effortlessly through the large crowd gathered at the base and through the security checkpoint to board the elevator. Did I mention I’m not good with heights! Yikes!

Slowly the crammed carriage slid up the rail to the first floor and on to the second. The sun was just about to set as all of Paris stretched out in every direction below us.

It had been a beautiful day, but the evening air had a chill to it. Lines to the gift shops and restaurant were long, but I waited to fill a bag with purchased trinkets to take home. While I was busy doing that, the external lights came on. Magic filled the air and Paris came alive. On the way down, sparkly lights randomly darted all over the tower in some sort of orchestrated light show – amazing!

On the ground, I realized abruptly; darkness had fallen. Oh No! Suddenly aware of my isolation, I shuffled through the crowd in the general direction of my hotel only a block and a half away. Voices of friends back home telling me not to go out alone after dark swirled around in my head. Many of the people around me seemed to be headed in the same general direction where I was going, so I kept close to a middle-aged couple, smiling and nodding my head agreeably like Diane Keaton in many of her films, and moved fast. Before I knew it, I was back at my hotel. It was already 9:30 pm. I headed for the dining room to be ushered to a romantic little candle-lit table in the Jardin-restaurant amidst an array of fragrant flowering shrubs. I ate well; fresh fish and leafy greens with a couple of bites of garlic bread, all washed down with sips of the recommended white. Brie on toast-pieces with a little red berry garnish complimented the meal. I took my glass with me and the elevator whisked me up to my cloud where I slept a beautiful sleep.

I was already awake when my alarm went off the next morning. I ran from the shower to silence it. Saturday came fast and I had my tickets for Le Louvre and the Hop-on Hop-off City Big Red Bus Tour out on the dresser all ready. Continental breakfast fit with my schedule and before long I was heading to the taxi stand outside the front lobby of the hotel. We got there fast. Once again, a Tour Guide escorted the group along a few tight avenues and into the world-famous square. Morning sun glinted on the glass pyramid as we neared the entrance.

Security behind us and armed with our maps we descended the escalator into the heart of one of the most famous museums in Europe. Crowds of people congregated here and there along the many huge hallways and inside gigantic rooms aligned with art works of all kinds which included life-size marble statues and framed art masterpieces bigger than my house. My ultimate rendezvous, however, burned in my heart forcing me through long hallways and off into anterooms galore. Finally I looked at her – the one and only, the Mona Lisa. Was she looking back at me? What a thrill!

I ate lunch in one of the many cafes in the museum and wandered through the floors and up and down stairs and escalators in awe until I had no appreciation left in me. Fascinated by the shopping mall two floors down, underneath the museum, I made a couple of purchases before attempting to leave. I got lost. Since I had travelled from the USA to London only a few days before and hit the ground running, Jet-lag started to weigh me down and I could not find the way out. A few seconds of almost panic slammed me amidst gilded furniture and ornate rugs. I couldn’t breath. I found the information desk and made it out exhausted. Up on the streets, the temperature had climbed up with the sun to 26 degrees celsius, just under 80 farenheit. Paris was abuzz and in full swing with tourist hoards and the regular weekend shopping circus combined.

When the Hop-on bus showed up – I did just exactly that – I hopped on. Glad of a seat and a little breeze flowing through the open windows, during what had become a humid ‘last day of summer’ in Paris. I hooked up my ear buds to the overhead gadget in preparation for guided tour commentary. There might not be much of the Hop-off part of this joy-ride going on here today, I thought smiling contentedly to myself. And off we went. I chose my language and, in perfect English, the French male voice described each building and monument on the tour. Passing in front of my eyes were Notre-Dame Cathedral, Moulin Rouge night club, Trocadero Museum, and Arc de Triumph Monument. I  was in heaven.

Beautiful music complemented the soundtrack between stopping points in the form of Gary Moore Parisienne Walkways. The solo guitar tore through my blood and rendered me senseless plunging me into an unreal dream state – I fell in love with Paris right there.

I perked up on Champs-Elysees as the tour guide told us it was the most sought after area for leading designers to have their flagship stores. I looked and looked and even got off the bus to look some more, but it was too hot with droves of people and I could not find Channel nor Dior anywhere. I got back on the next bus for the end of the line. We headed back to the Eiffel Tower where I disembarked for the night.

After my ten-hour day of pure tourism I was dragging. Dinner became a sleepy affair in the hotel dining room and off I crawled toward the elevator and up to pack. From the eleventh floor window, Paris sparkled all around as the Saturday night party people came out to play, while this weary traveler crept under the duvet to rest and prepare to leave in the morning. An all-consuming sleep came easily and took me away.

Again I had set my alarm to wake up early and check out by 9:00 am to get to the station in time for the train back to London leaving 12:55 pm, with required check in 45 minutes before departure. Not many people were at the desk so check out was a breeze. At 9:30 I stepped  outside to the taxi rank, but to my astonishment found no taxis! In fact, there was no traffic at all, anywhere to be seen. The entire area around the Eiffel Tower hotels and roads, along the banks of the River Seine on both sides, were closed off with barricades! Help me God!

I took off hurrying as fast as I could, fully loaded with my stuffed backpack, shoulder purse, and several gift bags of souvenirs clutched in my clammy grip. The temperature had climbed up already to a balmy 26 celsius. As I got to the bottom end of the road I saw people running in groups with brightly colored shirts on behind a barrier. OMG! It was the Paris Marathon – a very worthy cause, but less than perfect timing for me. I hurried along the side of the barrier in desperation.

Four blocks later, there still was NO way to cross the road. I was struggling painfully along in the same direction as the runners, but found myself weaving through thick crowds gathered on sidewalks to watch the marathon. Making little headway, I back tracked a bit and crossed over the river via a footbridge. On the other side, I started to climb up a hill, three blocks long, to reach a road where I could see moving traffic glinting in the sun. Thank you Jesus!

At the top, a taxi appeared, but it had its red light on, not green like I needed. It was already 11:08. Suddenly, the taxi pulled in and people got out of it. Thank God for marathon spectators! I asked the driver if he would take me to the train station. He nodded and flashed a grin at my ‘pigeon French’ as I clambered into the back. It was a mad dash through Paris with seconds to spare. It felt like I was in a James Bond movie. I had previously discovered it’s best not to look through the windshield when riding in a taxi in Paris. The previous day, I had planned to go to the station in a more leisurely manner and take pictures of the many designer stores I had been informed lay just off the Champs-Elysee, but instead found myself strapped into the back seat of a taxi with a formidable G-Force as Channel, Gucci, Dior and other glamorous store fronts whizzed past me. Not in tourist mode anymore, I had fallen into survival mode, slammed by panic same as I had been the day before when I couldn’t find the exit two floors underground in Le Louvre. Unable to even muster an ounce of energy or enthusiasm, to reach for my phone and start snapping pictures, I surrendered to the will of the Universe. Paris had me in her clutches; her spell forever cast.

We got to the train station with a couple of minutes to spare – I dashed in to the Duty-Free shop and exchanged the last of my Euros for a bottle of Dior Joy – eau de par fume! This was to be her parting gift to me because that is precisely what Paris gave to me on this visit – joy.

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Pieces of Me

I recently went back for a visit – back to my starting point on this planet, to my home town in West Central Scotland where I was fortunate to reconnect with my family, my lifelong friends, but most importantly I reconnected with my self. Had I gone back in time to a place where life seemed simpler, my initial hope, or was I about to discover that the place hadn’t changed at all – I had!

Just as the Earth pivots around the Sun my soul continues to pivot around my childhood home in memories of clean air, wellness of spirit, and familial emotional ties that bind. Initially, I observed the passing of time, however slow, had left its mark on old buildings in the town, excitement in the unexpected vibrancy of emerging generations of new souls rooted there, and in the soft lines on faces and silver strands of hair in the people I hold most dear in this world. Times had changed in my home town, a discovery which challenged my foolish heart.

Warm welcomes rekindled abandoned feelings of belonging and love enabling my weary soul to pull on its old comfy slippers and sit by that fire for a while. Fortified by this deeply personal evolution, I ventured out to seek places in my memory where, through my lifetime, I had left pieces of me. My first stop – the family home. I casually drove over there and just sat quietly in the car outside for a long time as many memories from my childhood, young parenthood, and married life flashed around me turning the inside of the car into a glittering snow globe, of sorts. The gable ended building, dressed in a new coat of fresh paint and gravel chips, acknowledged my presence. Undaunted by overwhelming emotion rising in me, I headed over to the graveyard to say hello to the old and young kin-folks now residing there. I felt them.

In other parts of town I visited all four homes where I had raised my children. One where we brought them home from the hospital when they were new-born, the next where they first started Primary School and another where they attended High School, and ultimately, where it all fell apart. Somehow, the details of that last episode no longer matter – I am finally at peace with it. I gave the best years of my life to raising my children, something I will never regret. It comforts me to know that their continued success is evidence of my love and nurturing through some of the worst times of my life. They have persevered through the changes, as have I. My kids were and will always be the best thing that ever happened to me. I have drawn tremendous courage from having them in my life. They have inspired me to continue as they, in turn, overcame obstacles in their own lives and have grown to be balanced caring adults. For a long time I avoided going back to look at the pieces I thought I had lost, however, in going back I have found healing, belonging, and bounteous love. Those early seeds of thought and conviction I had dropped on the ground have since flourished and grown into tall trees deeply rooted in the culture and history of my hometown.

Back in my current home, I am grateful to wake up everyday and continue to dedicate my life to the care and healing of my fellow-man. The challenges of an Intensive Care Nurse are just that, intensive. I have found that in this life everyone is exposed to physical or emotional pain at some point on their journey. Loss and gain are not always delivered in equal measure, however, if harnessed in a deliberate and thoughtful way, our responses to these forces can become an integral part of building empathy towards others, to be the bigger person. If someone is able to take the energy from a negative experience and turn it into something positive then the world stands to benefit from the unbridled potential within that action. Humankind is capable of many things, but we can make mistakes on our quest to pursue true happiness and unwittingly, drop pebbles into someone else’s pond. Most mistakes can be forgiven whether or not they are acknowledged by the perpetrator, so in my lifetime I have decided my heart will accept the apologies I never got and freely give the ones I feel I owe.

One of my all time literary loves, Kahlil Gibran a Lebanese born American poet and philosopher, wrote poignant notes on this matter when he said, “Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.” Another gem of his, “How shall my heart be unsealed unless it be broken?”

Life’s experiences mold us and expand our understanding in ways we cannot fully imagine unless we have the opportunity to reconnect with a previous version of ourselves. Therein lies our peace, grace, and dignity – the glue necessary to find and bind all of the pieces of ourselves back together again. And for this opportunity I am truly grateful.

Putting on the Ritz

         When I got to London, the weather was typical for late Autumn in Shepherds Bush, dry, overcast, and breezy. My sister’s flat was up on the second floor. She wasn’t home so I followed her directions to locate the key and let myself in. I struggled up the narrow stairway, dropped my bags in her bedroom, and opened the window in the living area. I struck my head out into a quick rush of wind, breathing in the freedom of a short business trip away without my husband and teenage sons. I loved my sister’s cozy flat and her neighborhood with tree lined avenues crouched between rows of Victorian, proudly standing, terraced homes. All around, small articulate front gardens popped with color and twirled with gusts of leaves scratching around fallen pink geranium petals. Mostly, the houses were three or four stories, and over the years, had been converted into flats.

I loved my job, and this was my first ‘all expenses paid’ adventure to the big city by my Edinburgh based interior lighting company. The Covent Garden area of London, loaded with architects and interior designers, had recently been added to my sales patch already covering Ireland and the West of Scotland. I was good at selling stuff, but in that world, you are only ever as good as last week’s sales figures. In my new found celebration of success I decided to show off a bit to my younger sister. The next morning, we would go out and have tea at the Ritz, utilizing my shiny new company credit card.

Sure enough, in the morning, the taxi picked us up and we shot off into town. The weather had turned wet and a bit colder forcing us to pull on coats over our best outfits, mine not that fashionable! However, the hackney cab pulled up outside the Ritz Hotel, in Piccadilly, and out we bounced laughing and carrying on like a couple of giddy girls. We pretended to get stuck in the revolving door joking and having a great time to ourselves. We went around a few times. When the door eventually threw us into the foyer, time froze. The four string quartet continued to play, but pinky-up women in chiffon hats and jewels looked at us with such disdain. Formal morning wear was the preferred attire! Oh dear! The Maitre d’ approached us with the same courtesy as he would royalty, however his acknowledgment of our lesser stature, in a room filled with duchesses and dukes, was rather palpable. He lead us to our table, pulled out or seats and when we sat, pushed then back in for us. He then reached out gesturing for our coats. We timidly gave them up and he walked off holing them at arm’s length, like we had just handed him a dog’s bed. We burst out laughing again drawing a few more harsh looks. It felt like breakfast at Downton Abbey and we were the scullery maids being waited on by Carson

The menu lay atop bone china and highly polished actual silverware, it felt heavy. Our waiter showed up and bid us good morning. He motioned to a waitress, dressed in a black long sleeved dress with white frilly apron and hat, to place fluted crystal, with orange juice and champagne on her silver tray, in front of each of us. His appearance resembled a window display at Harrods or Selfidges. He wore a black jacket with long tails and striped gray pants with white shirt and, get this, white gloves. He had one arm behind his back, the other bent across his chest with immaculate white linen napkins hung over it. He shook out the napkins one by one and placed them on our laps. We dared not move or respond in any way. He took our order, my sister chose white crab sandwiches with India tea, I chose salmon sandwiches with Earl Grey tea. In a flash, or so it seemed, our tea and sandwiches arrived and the waiter poured out tea from individual silver teapots. He bent forward asking, “Will there be anything else Madam?” We shook our heads and he walked off ending the ritual, for now.

Gracefully, we dipped our hands into the doily laden china and drank down the booze. Turning our heads as we ate, with pinky fingers up, we surveyed this genteel place as the classical music played on.

We started a rather intellectual conversation of our own and morphed ourselves into the aristocratic environment like chameleons. It seemed to be working. Paying no mind to previously learned impulses and behaviors, we proudly ate postage stamp sized sandwiches, slathered with watercress and cucumber, with expensive knives and forks afforded by this luxurious upper crust establishment.

That’s when it happened. My sister glared at my tea plate with an alarming look on her face! The waiter was coming to clear away the dishes. I glanced at my plate. Oh God! I ate the doily! The outer edges were still crisp, pretty, and lace, but the center was gone. I ate it! Oh no! How can I hide it. Quickly I threw my napkin up over the table, to cover my embarrassment. The waiter picked up each napkin by the tips of his lily white gloves and shook them. My face burned in total mortification as he omitted a punishing ‘Tut tut,’ under his breath.

When he returned with the bill, I gave him the credit card and a nice tip, by way of ‘hush money.’ He nodded a faint forgiveness in my direction. We left our seats under the same formality as we had taken them. With our coats returned to us, we took the stairs to the ladies’ room and immediately burst into fits of laughter. What a relief to be out of that stuffy stuck up world where one is judged by any departure from expected protocol. It felt as though we were in time out for bad behavior. Out through the revolving door we went, laughing and spilling fancy soaps and lotions from our pockets onto the wet sidewalk, while inside the music played on.

We hailed a cab and were gone. Over the years since, I have developed a fondness for Earl Grey tea, but never drink it without thinking about my sister, whom I love dearly, and our brush with aristocracy, while putting on the Ritz.

White Peaks

Go Skiing they said! It will be fun they said!

Even though I am from Scotland, a land known for it’s breathtaking mountains and snowy white peaks in winter, I had never ventured onto white powder before. It was January in Nevada and the Heavenly slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains were calling. Not to me, but to my fiance an avid skier. The trip, hurriedly arranged, took us from Tampa airport to Las Vegas, to Reno, where we packed into our rental four-wheeler and headed south. There were four of us, my fiance and I, his son and his buddy, both in their mid-twenties. Part way, we stopped and the men got out to wrap chains around the wheels, to keep the vehicle from sliding on snow-packed and steep roadways, as we wound our way through the foothills. This was a serious snow trip!

Lake Tahoe resides partly inside the great state of Nevada, but also edges the California state border. I had never been to either one before and got pretty excited. When we waited in town at the light, snow started falling. I glanced to my right where a sign read, ‘Welcome to California!’ It was a magical moment and my inner child delighted at the sight of pretty snow flakes falling, not seen since my childhood in West Central Scotland. I was in California, the land of Hollywood, make believe, and the place where dreams come true! This was going to be epic.

We parked at the Lodge and got all checked in. People were running in the snow wearing only white robes and slippers. I remember looking on in awe as they dropped their robes and, with only bathing suits in frosty temperatures, slipped into an outdoor hot tub. Steam rose up like a veil. I thought, OK it’s California and people here are a bit different, right? You will never catch me doing anything like that – ever! Fools!

Our accommodations were cramped, for four people, but manageable. The boys slept on the couches in the living area while the ‘older couple’ luxuriated in the small bedroom, with closet space and a tiny bathroom attached. Outside the swimming pool had been covered with a thick blue tarp, it’s winter coat I imagined. No-one was in the hot tub so we stuck our fingertips in! Boy, it felt good compared to the biting wind chill that evening.

All gussied up in our glad rags, we ventured out and down into the underground tunnels linking the Casinos to the town. We strutted through spectacular playgrounds of the rich and famous like we owned the place. Everything sparkled and exhilaration hung in the air. I felt like I was experiencing my fifteen minutes of fame, which everyone is supposed to get in their life, in a world I had only ever seen on television. Enthralled by the absolute luxury of the interior design palate, the visual explosion of perfection and ambiance exposed me to new levels of possibility. I was captivated. The others headed for the bar and gambling tables. We all had a go at both. Inside a dinner theater we saw the Pointer Sister perform. The live show was nothing short of sensational.

Over dinner, my fiance, a double black diamond skier, suggested I should attend the beginners class for a few days to get used to the moves etc, on real snow. I had taken lessons at a local sports shop in Florida before our trip, however, striking the poses, with straight back and bent knees, on a plush white carpet rolling upward on a slope toward you, while you are adorned in all the designer gear, does not in any way prepare you for the real thing. Terrified at the prospect of ever going up the mountain, I acknowledged my lack of skill and agreed. To my horror, I found out, rather quickly, that the toes together snow-plough position, to stop you, is in no way helpful when you are going backwards, at a good clip, downhill toward the other beginners who don’t yet have the skill to even get out of the way. Disaster!

Then the scariest part surfaced, having to grab onto a rope, conveyor belt of sorts, while standing with poles under my arm, to be pulled back up the hill without falling! What had I done to deserve this! The beginner’s course had been set out like a Westminster Dog Show for adults in skis on the side of the hill. We were in small groups, each with a personal instructor who took us in turn to ask safety questions and run us through the bends and twists. In conversation with the group instructor assigned to me I discovered he worked at a local hospital as a Nursing Assistant. In an attempt to bargain with him, and manage my assignment, I told him I was a Nurse, but not just a Nurse, a Charge Nurse, and also working on a Baccalaureate Nursing Degree! It was no good though, I didn’t get a shred of mercy for that. Neither he nor the mountain cared what I did for a living! So what if I saved a couple of lives here and there, this mountain posed a tangible threat to mine. Afraid of everything, I continued to try and pass the beginners class as the formidable white peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountains loomed above me. After four days of that, I was let loose to do or die!

Meanwhile, the guys were having the time of their lives on snow boards and skis up on the caps, hurtling down through moguls and telling outrageous tales of victory, dares, and disasters over dinner. I had nothing to add. Soon after I joined the others and became one of the white robe/white slipper people hurrying to the hot tub at the end of a day on the slopes. Soaking in the hot water soothed many pulls and strains to my muscles and joints, but mostly to my pride. Funny thing was we didn’t feel the cold afterward.

The next morning it happened. Up on the mountain I confronted my deepest fears. The chairlift tipped us out onto a slippery mound and I just kept going. Let me tell you people, there is no feeling in this world worse than the ground moving under you feet and you have no control over it! In a standing position, my body moved forward and downward with the momentum of a snowball rolling down a hill, with two long sticks clicked onto heavy rental boots strapped to my legs. What was I thinking!

My soul fled up into the great blue yonder for protection. People were there chatting, on a flatter surface between the mound and the ski-slope, and I was headed straight for them! Oh! No! Higher up on the mountain, it seemed, was where the elite gathered to compete in conversation about personal bests and skill level. I heard my voice yelling “Nice place to stand people!” as I shot through the gathering without crashing. Oh!God! Bridget Jones, in the movie The Edge of Reason, in that ski scene, had nothing on me.

Thankfully, my fiance waited a bit further along and out of earshot of that cringing squeal. Terrified, I summoned every drop of courage in my body and started down the slope behind him. He had suggested I get my skis in behind his and hold onto his belt and he would take it slow. He yelled out left! right! left!, when we had to lean in and make a turn. The air was thin and crisp. As we descended, I think there were birds singing, but all I heard was my heart banging in my chest, my ears under a thick hat and muffs. Somehow we made it down. Hoping to live long enough to keep all my promises to God for that, I headed back to the chair lift with him and repeated this endeavor a few times over. On the last run he continued to yell out to me, left! right! left!, as we made turns in together, but somehow I didn’t have enough strength or something and my skis didn’t pull the same way they had before. Next thing I remember he yelled in desperation, “left … left … left …” Crash!

My head hit the snow and his head hit mine. We were on our backs, inches from a deadly drop on the edge of the mountain! After a minute or two of stunned realization he pulled me up and we checked each other out for obvious damage. There was none. I truly loved this man and trusted my life to him. One time, on the edge of a mountain, we both did exactly that.

On another day we decided to have lunch in a restaurant up in the heady heights. Fear of the decent kept me from enjoying one bite or one sip. I didn’t want to leave the fireplace it felt so cozy and romantic inside, but leave we did. The views outside took my breath. Quiet peaks adorned in white mantles rose up into this celestial place as far as the eye could see. A bright blue sky above us seemed to mark the entrance to heaven, that’s why the resort is called Heavenly, I guess. I will never forget the stunning beauty of it with Lake Tahoe far below us like a sapphire in the snow. But wait! What! My skis were gone, someone had taken the wrong ones! Oh God! Even my fiance looked concerned by this. Skis are personally fitted and determined by the height and weight of the renter. What now!

We contacted the Ski Resort by land-line inside the restaurant and a guide was sent up to meet us and escort us safely down! The young man arrived and assured us it would be alright. He would help us scramble up onto the top of the chairlift mound, which is not designed for arrivals, only departures. Luckily we were all three of us able to position ourselves to get onto the next empty arriving chair and off we went. Wait a minute, we had to face the other way! I hadn’t felt vertigo going up because we were facing into the mountain. Oh God! I didn’t have much fight left in me, but I mustered enough to stifle the sheer panic rising in my chest. The guide told us, when we got to the bottom, he would motion to the controller to slow the lift down so it would be easy for us to get off. I had no skis, just the heavy boots while the men both had skis on. This sounded like a good idea, only the young woman operating the lift was happily chatting, with her back to the window, to someone inside the booth and didn’t see any of the hand signals sent her way. Oh God!

Next thing I know, the two men scooped me up under my arms placing me in front of the chair on solid, but slippery ground. The chair caught up with us and hit me on the bottom, then again, and again, and again. Slipping, and struggling to escape on ice, we continued this pantomime for several more feet until we were clear. In the hot tub that night, we laughed about many things. I said that probably the Florida shop with the plush white rug should place a couple of bags of potatoes and unopened bags of flour underneath the carpet to simulate the real thing for first time skiers like me.

I have not been back on powder since that January trip, and doubt if I will ever do it again, but I cherish the memory of it dearly. It was scary, wild, strenuous, and very beautiful. Most of all it was fun. Some memories of it still scare me or make me shudder, other aspects make me laugh out loud, even to this day. Sometimes in winter when I close my eyes, I can see those White Peaks piercing the bright blue ceiling above Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Love

 

LOVE tugs on your heart with a gravitational force that takes your breath and makes your eyes swell, but what is this strange enigmatic emotion and what does it mean in real life. Love can drive us to take action toward outcomes we never could have otherwise imagined. It can cause us to soar to heady heights and, with equal fervor, break us down and deliver us into an abysmal pit of grief.

Is love a single emotion or does it travel exclusively in the company of its cousins namely guilt, obligation, and expectation. Do we go willingly into love or are we ambushed by it and its posse of bandits; fear, dread and remorse, who come clad in thorns and strung on the veritable scented flower. Should we weigh the bad against the good or just go for it with hope, optimism, and joy! Invariably, for me, it has always been the latter and I have been stung by the thorns, but changed forever by the giddy perfume of the flower.

When I first studied nursing, and entered the humbling halls of learning, I journeyed through every aspect of care of the human body in the functional dimensions of daily care and beyond where I found a little snippet – a gem of and an ode to – love. In Human Anatomy and Physiology Lab, we were told that cardiac cells beat away at different rates in Petri dishes in the lab, but, when they are put together in the same Petri dish, they beat in unison. This little nugget caused me to wonder what if my family, and people I love, were in my Petri dish with me, figuratively speaking, and our hearts all beat at the same time! That thought gave me great comfort at a time when I was an ocean away and couldn’t be with them.

The Oxford English dictionary defines love as, “A strong feeling of affection.”

Merriam-Webster tells us, “Love is a feeling of strong or constant affection for a person.” So what happens if it is not constant. Does that mean it wasn’t love!!

What about when you feel love for someone else, but it isn’t reciprocated and what if you find yourself in the opposite situation where someone professes their undying love for you, but you don’t feel anything at all – awkward!

Perhaps we choose to believe we were conceived in a moment of pure love. Probably we were born into a loving home and grew up in an affectionate loving environment. Maybe not everyone, but most. Is that where our expectations of love are formulated. What if our love role-models are a bit remiss in their ability to express love and nurture us, or the outward environment we are born into is predominantly governed by the more negative traits of obligation and judgment. Is it likely then that our expectations of love become somewhat skewed or would that experience, overall, provide us with an extra ability to overlook shortcomings in our future. 

Love has been the catalyst of countless great written works of poetry and story telling throughout the ages. Many, compelled to express love in their own inimitable way, gave us everlasting jewels like Wm Shakespeare, the world renowned Bard of Avon, in his first published poem Venus and Adonis, when he wrote, “Love comefortheth like sunshine after rain.” 

With over fifty honorary doctorate degrees, Maya Angelou defined love this way, “In the flush of love we dare be brave. And suddenly we see that love costs all we are. Yet it is only love which sets us free.” 

Oscar Wilde, the Irish playwright Novelist and Poet wrote, “It takes a great deal of courage to see the world in all its glory and still to love it.” 

The great Ernest Hemingway told us “We’re stronger in the places that we’ve been broken.” 

Best known for her radical critique of 18th century British gentry, Jayne Austen wrote, “You have pierced my soul, I am half agony, half hope…I have loved none but you.” 

Edgar Allan Poe, known throughout the world for his poetry and short stories said, “The most natural, and, consequently, the truest and most intense of human affections are those which arise in the heart as if by electric sympathy.”

Roald Dahl, the Welsh born short story writer, poet, and screenwriter, simply stated in his children’s book The Witches, “Love is more meaningful than anything else.” This single statement speaks to the value of love in any life.

James Joyce, the legendary Dublin born novelist and poet, expressed love beautifully in his story, Araby, “...and yet her name was like a summons to all my foolish blood.” This has to be my most treasured expression of romantic love ever.

When you’ve lived in this world for any length of time, you come to see that love can potentially survive in most every situation, even where there is hate, fear, and dread. Often it’s a two sided coin. No-one can have it all and live in a Pollyanna type of situation except – maybe for a short period of euphoria in the early stages of a new romance. However, eventually the other stuff starts to show up and we have to decide at what point we accept, or, limit it.

Balance is not only the natural order of our human existence, as in homeostasis where the body is constantly enforcing a system of checks and balances, but it is also the natural order of the universe. A shiny dime will ultimately have a tarnished side too. If you want the whole dime then you have to take both sides. Life is a trade off, not always good, happy, and loving; not always ugly, hurtful, and uncomfortable, but perhaps the challenges we encounter in life are what make us stronger. 

Love is a gift, a gain, in every form it takes whether between parents and a child or among siblings, extended family members, or between friends. Love between two people can last a lifetime in a platonic or in a romantic relationship. Love can be a currency to be both received and given. It can be shared with those we hold most dear, but be aware that not everybody will reciprocate and share their love with you!

Love can also be a torment at a time of great loss when someone we love leaves us. At some point we all leave the ones we love. No-one can live forever and be around us, but we get to keep the love we have, or had, for and from them forever. Love transcends time and space.

The greatest form of love can be the one we foster for our own life – love for our self. This love is not dependent on anyone or anything external. It is our birthright, however some people might find this concept difficult to imagine and it may even take them an entire lifetime to reach understanding and realization of it.   

In the environment where I choose to work most everyday, I get to witness love a whole lot. Not everyone who comes in to the intensive care unit gets to leave the way they, or their loved ones, might want. My colleagues and I devote our time to evaluating, assessing, and delivering care to those stricken with illness. We also spend considerable time with their loved ones encouraging, supporting, and directing them as best we can.

Sometimes we have to tell people it’s not that you lost your loved one, but that you had them.  We all take love for granted, it’s a habit, we all do it. We seem to prefer to concentrate on what we don’t have or what we want. Sometimes it’s good to look around instead of forward or behind.

When your head hits the pillow at the end of your day, go deep inside your mind and find that place where the magic happens and your fountain of love lives. Allow it to flow out and wash you and the ones around you. Swim in it, bathe in it everyday. 

Love begins inside you. It’s yours, give it away freely so more will grow in its place.