Heart of an Artist

To know the love of an artist is to experience evidence of his passion all around. His pottery fills the kitchen cabinets, his photography brings life to the once dull walls, his sketches spill the sacred stories of his heart, his woodworking marvels make lovely spaces that were empty before, his hand-painted cards serve as reminders for milestones passed. His vision brings beauty to the mundane; his inventive hands make ornamental the ordinary. As a creative, he has no choice but to express his runaway imagination, even at the expense of exposing his deepest vulnerabilities.

How fortunate am I to keep the company of an accomplished artist who decidedly decorates my world with gifts he gives so generously. His uncanny ability to take a lump of clay and breathe life into it, or pick up a pencil and dream paper worlds into existence is a unique gift. Where words may fail him, color and form become him.

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Support the passions of your partner–whatever his medium may be. Celebrate his strengths. Illuminate his talents. His aptitude will be amplified exponentially within the walls of your home and of your heart, magnified in the most unexpected ways.

Promise Me

2Q4A9823.HRPromise me you’ll never leave me, you’ll learn to love me indefinitely. Promise me you’ll listen to my language, and speak in a tongue I will understand, too, so we will never grow apart. Tell me we will never tire of time together, for years to come, for adventures not yet lived, and stories still untold.

 

October Fifteenth

I remember first moving to Florida from California. The kids and I arrived late evening August 10, 2007. We drove from the airport in Orlando, and by the time we reached Vero Beach, it was dark outside. I had no bearings, no real experience of Florida. Nothing looked even remotely familiar. Mostly I remember how stifling the humidity was getting off the plane across the sky bridge. The heat greeted us with a hostility I will never forget, those first few steps into MCO.

The air was thick as cotton and felt just as fibrous as it passed my lungs. We unloaded suitcases from the car, tired from the flight. I could not get over how hot it was, even after the sun had long set. I felt as though the heat might suffocate me when I woke the next morning in an unfamiliar house. It was a beautiful one, on the beach, but nothing about it was me. I slept late that first morning, tying to adjust to the time change, but wanting desperately to cling to the one familiar thing I knew. Running.

I laced up my shoes, kissed my people goodbye and headed out along a route I knew nothing about. I remember being greeted by the grip of the August heat as soon as I passed through the threshold. The ocean was an emerald green, nothing like the sapphire Pacific I grew up with. The air was far too thick to entertain the briny smell of the seashore I knew my whole life. The palm trees were a very different species from one coast to another. Nothing about the landscape reminded me of home, but I was sure I would find my stride–as long as I could run.

I soon learned, however, just how difficult it was to workout in the heat. The humidity was staggering. The heat index was over 100 that August morning. I just couldn’t breathe. I think I ran a pathetic five miles, stubbornly refusing to walk even a step. After a discouraging out-and-back under as many overgrown oaks I could find for coveted shade, I stumbled back through my front door, falling through the foyer into air conditioning, crawling through the living room and right back out the French doors where I collapsed into the pool in every stitch of my sweat-soaked clothing. Expecting instant refreshment, I learned even the water wasn’t cool. The sun had spoiled it to an easy 89 degrees. I remember lying on the bottom of the pool–fully clothed–trying to return my heart rate to something acceptable. At least it was wet.

Days went by and I wondered if I would ever climatize to this unfamiliar tropical life. The Sunshine State was an understatement. The heat was relentless. Hostile. Hateful to newcomers. Having lived in the temperate Mediterranean climate of Southern California my whole life, I could hardly walk from my car into the climate controlled grocery store without feeling like I might succumb to heat stroke. The wall of heat that greeted us every time we stepped outside, day after day, was just so miserable to me. It was an awful enigma I could not make sense of, that people would choose to live this way.

August burned on. School started for my daughter and I began to meet other moms at her elementary school. I felt paralyzed by the sauna all around me. Everything about the weather influenced our new routine. What was a way of life for the locals was downright distressing for me. More time spent indoors as a means of heat avoidance was foreign–fearful even. I voiced this concern to others and was told the same repeatedly.

“Just wait until October 15th.”

“Something magical happens on October 15th.”

“It’s like a switch flips and it becomes fall overnight October 15th.”

I felt a faint sense of hope. Surely the PTA Moms must know what they’re talking about. Most of them were born and raised here.

I joined a local running group, the Sunrunners (how appropriate). Unfettered by the climate, they ran year-round. Most of them didn’t even carry water for the standing six-mile weekday bridge loop. I struggled under the unbearable weight of excessive warmth. I drummed up the courage to express this to my innermost running circle after our first week together.

“October 15th is coming,” one said.

“Instantly it gets cooler,” another agreed.

“Hold on until October 15th,” said a third.

I looked around at the emphatic nodding heads. It was like they were imparting common knowledge I most certainly must already know. I figured if my new running friends swore by this sacred date, it must be true. I began to mark down the days on my calendar.

August passed, and the heat remained relentless into September. I would walk out to my mailbox to pick up the post and the mailman–sweat dripping from his brow–would greet me.

“I’m really looking forward to October 15th.”

I pitied his unfortunate predicament: an open-air Jeep, doorless, offering him no solace from the searing sun.

The grocery store clerks would chirp happily at checkout as means of small talk as the weeks wore on.

“I sure am tired of this heat. I can’t wait until October 15th.”

I took my kids to the pediatrician for their back-to-school well checks. The medical staff in the office spoke amongst themselves about October 15th almost upon us. It was mid-September by now and still just so miserable outside. The red Xs on my calendar continued the countdown. I started experiencing stomach issues while running in the sweltering heat. I felt as though I lived in a constant state of dehydration and my digestive track was rebelling. 

September finally passed and the cicadas seemed to express their discontent, growing increasingly angry in their obnoxious protest of incessant chatter. I began running with electrolytes, something I had never done before. I wasn’t any closer to acclimating to my new life. In addition to ever-present humidity was another calamity I had not been previously acquainted with: rain. Almost as relentless as the heat, it seemed to always be pouring with rain–but only when I was loading groceries into the car, or navigating the library parking lot with small children and an armload of books to return, or whenever heading out for a run.

October 1st arrived at last and when it was not raining, it was hot as ever outdoors. As we inched closer to the anticipated date, I became increasingly anxious, just simply tired of the oppressive heat outside. All. The. Time. I woefully missed my old life of living outdoors year round without a thought of high temperatures or torrential downpour or mosquitos. The PTA Moms were planning Halloween parties, excited for October 15th to officially usher in the fall season. 

I woke up with so much hope that first October 15th, but the thermometer registered 80 degrees before the sun even came up. The mercury climbed to above 90 that day, and I assessed everyone around me a liar. October 15th was no different than the oppressive day before it, and the forecast called for several more days of the same heat. Why did these people all fool themselves into believing that somehow October 15th would be more manageable? It was a conspiracy. A boldfaced lie. There was nothing magical about October 15th. I had no choice but to continue my death marches in the Amazon heat indefinitely.

As the years have gone by in Vero, I’ve come to understand that every year brings with it something new each October 15th. Call it “climate change” or “weather patterns” but the truth is Florida just hands us whatever it feels like giving on any given day, any given year. Some years since my first as a Florida resident, October 15th has been cooler and suggests the start of a more reasonable season. Other years, it’s been the ongoing familiar scorching heat to which I am now accustomed, and we are resigned to sweating well beyond workouts. We make our way to work sticking in skirts, our backs cemented to dress shirts. Habitually, I shower three times daily, at minimum.

Life marches on, and as the years pass, I have all but forgotten what it’s like to run in cooler climate. I’ve somehow learned to embrace the heat and all its misery. Stomach issues have become my reliable training partner and heat exhaustion is just part of any race. I dare say it’s almost a tolerable challenge to religiously run even when the heat index is upward of 106. If I am honest, I sort of even enjoy the suffering by now. I have learned to love the landscape.

This morning I woke up earlier than usual and let the dogs out back. October 15th and the air was a cherished cool. There was a faint hint of a breeze. After nursing a quiet cup of coffee, lost in my head about the workday ahead, I headed out to meet Lisa for our standing run. Under a clear, starry sky, it was 71 glorious degrees. There was a day in my former life that I used to think 71 was too hot to run, but now I welcome it as an unexpected gift. And with the beautiful sliver of a silver moon that hung in the still-dark sky, I couldn’t help but believe the cooler air was an agreement to begin a more reasonable season as we head into fall when all things begin to turn. 

Little Girl, Please Don’t Go

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There aren’t many times I regret not taking a photo, mostly because I usually don’t let an opportunity for an image go. I don’t often care if I feel awkward or if it’s inconvenient; as a photographer, I am always considering light and composition and how they influence the life happening around me. I almost can’t consider life without conserving as much as possible through a lens.

Tonight, I desperately regret not taking the image because it was beautiful and it was fleeting.

My girl asked me to have dinner last minute tonight. Her brother is with their dad and she is alone housesitting. She reached out to me like a friend, looking for company, wanting to connect. I left the gym and met her at Chive to share a salad and stories of the day. I love how chatty she was, her eyes light and bright and excited when talking about her new school schedule. She spoke of art and traveling and teachers and portfolios. She has always seemed so adult to me, but tonight somehow, the conversation reminded me of just how mature she is.

Her hair fell in soft ginger waves around her face, her ringlets less restricted as of late without product. With every day that passes, she seems to become more one with the earth. I admire her commitment to all things natural. Her eating habits are impeccable and she suffers no hydrogenated oils. I sat across the table from her, listening to her animated accounts, feeling distracted to think these days are so limited now that she is a senior. I envied her perfect complexion and thought about how I should drink more water.

Her eyes took a cue from the pale green wall behind her in their hue, heightened by the last of the golden light through the window as the sun sank lower in the evening sky. We opted for a quiet table in the corner, that really wasn’t quiet at all. Tuesday night is Kids Eat Free at Chive, but the screaming babies and wild toddlers were irrelevant. The little ones among my now big one were somehow apropos.

As she spun stories of her day and her varied plans for the future, all I could think of is how very grateful I am for this compassionate, warm, wonderful human. She is beautiful, to be sure, but it is a beauty that begins as a light deep within and seeps through her tiny pores, pausing at the freckles haphazardly dashed across her cheeks, screaming out her wide luminous smile she offers without hesitation to all.

Time waits for no man. I would even argue it sprints as if to test our emotional endurance. I wish I would have taken people more seriously when they warned me how quickly the years would go.

I wish I would have taken that image of my girl tonight at dinner, sweet face framed with soft curls, complete with perfect nose.

 

Good Dog

2Q4A4372.HRYou are hardworking, impeccably observant, and fiercely loyal. You seem content to watch from your safe corner and take it all in, on-call and deeply insightful, but often reluctant to participate. All the while, you never neglect the implications and consequences of any associated action. You behave in a distinguished fashion, studious, decisive and methodical, punctuated with casual sarcasm and nonchalant humor, perhaps to deflect any suggestion of sensitivity. You seem very much a rule-follower. You are deeply concerned with following the letter of the law and checking all of the boxes. I am sure this is what makes you proficient in your career and why you have earned the seat you occupy.

This makes for a difficult dog life in many ways, however. You are not carefree in the capacity in which I know you, though perhaps bound by the confines of your professional persona. You aren’t one to blindly jump off a dock to chase a soggy tennis ball, or delve headfirst into unchartered territory. In my mind, you remain largely reserved, assiduously serious, conservative in mannerisms, and socially reticent. You do not appear to be recklessly playful, but show some lenience toward trainability. Maybe this is not the dog you are outside of the walls, but this is the limited, opaque picture I have seen, like trying to make sense of faded slides in a vintage slideshow, void of sound or subtitle.

Clearly, you must be willing to entertain some element of risk or you would not have pursued a passion that ultimately became your career, a fascinating dichotomy. You appear impossibly complicated and regretfully uncomfortable in the company of some, choosing instead to assign yourself the easier blanket label “introvert” because it’s viable. You have a fantastic smile when you choose to implement it. You have a gentle temperament, despite your intimidating frame. You embarrass far too easily, obviously endearing, but probably frustrating for you, betraying your working dog, deliberate demeanor. Of all of your dog qualities, what you perceive you lack in unconditional acceptance, you seem to make up for in kindness.

 You are a good breed.

Love Came Quietly

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Love left me lost for a long time.

But then love came softly. It crept gently into my consciousness like a quiet dream. Love returned like a familiar friend. It dabbed my bleeding heart. It hushed the doubting whispers and soothed my terminal attitude. It reassured my hopelessness. It comforted my resignation. Love wanted to make peace.

Something about you makes me want to love you.

Lost Boy

To the man who gave me two thumbs up and smiled approvingly as you ran toward me on top of the bridge this morning, I wonder if you stop for the same reasons?

I stop at Cole’s memorial everyday I run past it because I am a mother who loves a boy, too. I know how deep and steady that love runs, carved into my heart like a river wears through rock. I know to love a boy child is different than even the love of a girl one. I stop because somehow my obsession to keep running is quieted when I feel my legs might buckle under my stride if I can’t stop to honor his memory. I stop to pray for Cole and thank him for the lessons his life has taught me.

I only knew Cole in small stories, like when he would come into the snack room at school. I volunteered every other week, so much of the story is missing. My memories of Cole are like a book I think I read, but then regrettably remember I never found the time to pick up. I mostly remember his tousled hair and lopsided grin. They told me how down-to-earth and easygoing he was. Cole didn’t care to impress- he just did because of the kid he was. I took for granted that he would grow and go into high school like his classmates and go on to college like the rest of his peers plan to do. Their stories are still unfolding.

After the accident, I began measuring time in terms of “before Cole died” and “after.” Autumn is when things begin to die, but not in Florida. We don’t know winter. How could we become acquainted with death? Cole’s death disturbed me in ways I could have never dreamed. I found my mind was unruly and wouldn’t settle down, running in exhaustive circles all night. His death stirred in me the agonizing pain of regret and grief and loss. Nothing felt safe anymore. I questioned my ability to make good parenting decisions. Was I endangering the lives of my children by allowing them to ride their bikes? Walk to the park? Sleepover at friends’ houses? Eat solid food? Go out the front door? Tie their shoelaces?

I would tell that man running toward me, stranger that he is to me even in this small town, Cole didn’t die in vain. Every day, I squeeze my kids just a little bit tighter. I kiss them and tell them I’m so grateful for them. I don’t run with my back to traffic much anymore and I teach my children to do the same. I would tell thumbs-up runner that I admire Cole’s parents, that they still acknowledge a good God. I would tell him that my faith is too fragile to understand why he was taken from us so soon.

I would tell my fellow bridge runner that I stop to honor a boy who lost his life to a senseless accident, one that has torn a small town apart and left a gaping hole of misery for too many to make peace with. We soldier on, but we still look for signs and wonders and clues. We want an answer. We don’t understand why we lost a boy on a bridge that night. I would tell him I appreciate his kind gesture, but I’m not looking for approval for my quiet ritual. I’m looking for peace and offering my condolences to a family reluctantly of four now, as a mother who loves a boy, too.

 

Protector

He was ruggedly handsome. A man’s man, a fireman. He wore calloused hands and arms as thick as the hoses he lugs for a living. Unassuming and humble, quietly observant, he was content to sit in the shadows and admire his wife at work. But when we invited him into the photos “for fun”, he willingly kicked off his shoes and pulled on a pair of jeans to match. His arm around her, but almost more notably, around her beloved dog, it was immediately apparent he is the protector. Clearly he adores her. I sort of think this is what love looks like.AmyFlick