Monday, January 18, 2010

Holding My Breath Underwater

Ever since I was a kid I’ve loved swimming. I am that person who can stay in the water for hours on end, while my skin gets wrinkled and my lips turn blue, before I even consider getting out. While some kids were great at the front crawl or standing on their hands, my talent was the number of seconds I could hold my breath for underwater. I always bugged anyone who was around to count for me, but usually it was my Dad that would do it without a complaint. Sometimes he’d count really fast and make it seem like I had been under for half an hour, and other times he’d challenge me by counting the “Mississippi” way.

When I was in my early twenties I took an amazing job working at Club Med, Huatulco, for six months. Although I mostly worked in the mini club with the kids, I sometimes helped out a friend at the snorkeling shack as well. Even though I would teach the guests how to snorkel wearing all the equipment, I never used the actual snorkel for breathing when we went out into the ocean. I didn’t need to because of how long I could hold my breath for. Even when I took a few scuba diving lessons during employment in Club Med Ixtapa a year later, I was having trouble with the tank, because I was so uncomfortable with excess air coming at me. I tried to assure the instructors that I didn’t need to use the oxygen tank, and that I could go down to the bottom of the sea holding my breath for ages, but they didn’t want to take that chance on me.

So here I was finally figuring out how to breathe easy on land, as I blogged about 2009 being one of the most difficult years of my life, and trying to find the silver linings amongst all the heartache I had already encountered. Then what happens to me within the first week of 2010? My dad dies! It’s as if the forces of the universe were like “Hey, we keep trying to knock her down and she keeps getting back up. Let’s give her the biggest whack that we possibly can.” So they did, and I have never fallen so hard in my life. Will I be able to get up after this one? I’m not sure yet. Only time will tell.

There have been a few strange issues surrounding my Dad’s death. First being, we still don’t know what caused his death. My parents had been on a three week cruise, and they docked in San Diego on January 3rd, preparing to come back to Toronto the next day. That night, my dad was having trouble breathing and my mom called an ambulance right away. In that small pocket of time between getting off the ship and coming home to Toronto, my dad passed away of congestive heart failure due to an unknown reason. We are still waiting on the blood work. At the moment, all I can do to get through this right now is to understand that it was his time and not an accident. The guy went on a three-week vacation, had the best time of his life and then died with my Mom, the love of his life of 47 years by his side. If we could choose our own death plans, I’d say sign me up for that one, because the way my Dad died is a hell of a lot better than some of the other alternatives.

In the hours that followed my father’s death, I found myself trying to hold my breath a lot, which is much harder for me to do when I’m not in water. I had to make some of the most heartbreaking phone calls of my life to people who loved my dad and needed to be consoled. One was to my Aunt Lois, my dad’s sister, who was on a cruise ship that was ironically headed towards Haiti, right before the earthquake. She got off in Puerto Rico and flew home. It’s uncertain what her fate would have been had she not had to come home right away.

It’s now been exactly two weeks since I received that phone call from my Mom, and after making it through the funeral, where I gave the eulogy, and the shiva, where hundreds of people were coming through our house every day. I am somehow still standing.

To be honest, I was going to throw in the towel on this blog. I just felt so destroyed and didn’t think I could continue writing about things, that in hindsight, don’t seem as important anymore. However, an old friend/camp counselor of mine emailed me when she heard the news about my Dad, and encouraged me to continue to try and find the silver linings within all the unfortunate circumstances that I have been hit with over the past year. She believes in my theory that the silver linings are always there, even if it takes a while to find them. So although this has completely thrown me for a loop, and I can’t even be sure that I am making sense anymore, with time I will try to find the silver lining as best as I can.

I will tell you this, I miss my Dad more than I ever thought possible. It is the worst pain I have ever experienced in my life, and it saddens me that I am going to have to find someone new to count the seconds for me, while I continue to hold my breath underwater.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

What's This All For?

     Happy New Year! Okay, so it’s 2010 and I am still living in the past. I had originally wanted to start “My Silver Lining,” back in October, but due to unfortunate circumstances, it was not possible. I then thought I would be able to rush through December, getting everything that happened to me in 2009 written up before the year ended, except I landed a job on a movie set that was filming in Hamilton. Since the commute back and forth for three weeks drained me, I was still unable to get it done. So instead of sweeping 2009 under the rug, I’ve decided to just keep on going with my stories. I believe that one of the great things about life is that at any moment you can start fresh, meaning that my new year can start happening whenever I’m finished figuring out the old one. It doesn’t have to begin on January 1st. Before I continue writing blog entries about the happenings of what is now last year, I wanted to write about some eye opening movies I watched over the holidays.
     When I logged onto Facebook this morning I came across 5-10 statuses that read something like this: “Mary Jo Sue says: 2010 is MY year.” To these people I shake my head and say, stop jinxing yourself because you never know what is waiting for you around the corner. On day one of a new year, no matter how positive you'd like to be, you can't really assume it will be your best one yet. Instead, get off your narcissistic asses and get moving. Make it the year that you will take action and find meaning, rather than another year where you think you deserve everything to come to YOU. Otherwise, trust me, it’s probably not your year.
     My Baba had a Yiddish phrase that she used to say anytime ludicrous things would happen in this world. Whether it was in the news, like a murder or a plane crash, or in her own personal life, like a friend or family member’s sudden death. My Baba would turn to me, or whoever happened to be around and say, “Pusterade?” (I apologize if the English spelling is totally off). The translation of this is, “What’s it all about?” or “What’s this all for?” A deeper meaning could be, “All that work, and this is what you get for it? Yikes!” The past year, when it was so hard to stay positive, I was constantly thinking “Pusterade?” I mean, why bother to try so hard when I kept getting shot down anyways. I happened to watch three movies over the Christmas break, that shed some light for me, and put a few things into perspective. I realized that, although I had fallen victim to some unfortunate circumstances, it didn’t mean my whole life’s path was wrong    
     My friend Erin, who I have known for over twenty-five years, bbm’d me on Christmas eve, telling me to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I am almost embarrassed to admit that I had never seen this classic movie before. I turned it on and instantly fell in love with the protagonist, George Bailey, a man whose imminent suicide on Christmas Eve brought about the intervention of his guardian angel, Clarence Odbody. George Bailey had lived his whole life for other people. When his father died, he gave up his dreams of going out into the world, to stay in town and take over the family business. However, when the Great Depression hits, George loses everything. His whole life’s work goes down the drain, and bringing that dulling question to his mind: Was it worth it? (Pusterade?). Luckily for George, Clarence shows him all the lives he had touched and the contributions he had made to his community throughout his life. When it’s all said and done, George Bailey looks at his wife and his kids and realizes how much love he has in his life. He sees that life did give him back what he put in. To me, George Bailey is the perfect example of the saying Blossom where you are planted. There are so many circumstances in life that prevent us from being where we dream of, but if along the way we can still find meaning to where we have been placed, then in the end it will have been worth it. Just like George Bailey, sometimes we need people to help us see what we can’t see on our own.
     The next movie, also a recommendation from Erin, was “Last Holiday,” starring Queen Latifah. In this movie Queen Latifah plays Georgia Byrd, a woman who lives a very rigid life, never stepping out of her bubble, until she is diagnosed with a very rare disease. With only three weeks left to live, Georgia cashes out her life and takes a last vacation in Europe. She stays in a four star hotel, and trades in her crummy clothes for haute couture. Georgia really whoops it up, experiencing a type of joy she had never known even existed. As her vacation comes to an end, Georgia stops in front of a mirror, all glammed up, and looks at her reflection. She smiles as she sees her happy self, and says, “Next time...we will laugh more, we'll love more; we just won't be so afraid.” I thought this was an amazing message and a great recipe for life. The truth is, you never really know when that plug will be pulled on you, so it is important to find ways to make yourself happy. Having friends that died when I was a teenager, made me understand how short life can be. I have never wanted to have any regrets about not trying things because I was afraid to. The great thing about Georgia Byrd was that although she may have come to that awareness too late, at least she recognized what it was like to live happy. Many people never do.
     The third movie I watched over the holidays was “Gray Gardens.”  This was a movie that I actually worked on, when it filmed in Toronto two years ago. It was a very memorable set for me to be on, due to my rival teacher in the city trying to sabotage me on it. It was also probably one of the only shows where I never had a chance to read the script. I was only there on the days the kids were, which happened to be during the filming of the earlier scenes. I got to watch the fun stuff being filmed, like when Jessica Lange, who is probably one of the classiest and nicest “stars” I have met, sang and danced “Tea For Two,” at the party. When I finally sat down to watch it, last week, I’m sure I was just as horrified as anyone else who has seen this movie. I even had to question if that was really Jessica Lange, as Edie in her later years (great job, makeup department!). I was most intrigued by Little Edie, played by Drew Barrymore. This poor woman was so stuck under the control of her mother, who made Joan Crawford seem like Angelina Jolie. However, Little Edie’s spirit was amazing. Despite the emotional abuse she had to endure, she never gave up hope of being a famous actress. There were so many moments while watching this, where I looked at this pathetic woman, wearing her headscarves, and thought, “Pusterade, Little Edie, Pusterade?” But afterwards, thinking about it, I realized how many people feel stuck doing what they thought they had to do? We grew up in a society that believed that we needed to follow in the footsteps of our parents and grandparents, so that we can move in a circle. At this moment, I can only think of a handful of people that are living outside the box. People that resisted the voices in their heads, that had tried to prevent them from stepping over that line and taking action. I know that I have been teetering back and forth on that line for years.
     I remember reading an article in a magazine a few years back, saying that if you want to be happy in your life, you should be doing whatever it was you dreamed of doing when you were a child. It goes back to that question that adults always ask kids. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” If you actually managed to follow your childhood dreams and are in that place you hoped you would be, I applaud you, and I hold you in the highest respect. If you are not, then I suggest you blossom where you were planted. But, if none of this has sunk in at all, then I suggest you keep your facebook status and answer this one question for me: “Pusterade?