Tuesday, November 24, 2009

New York State of Mind

Billy Joel's song "New York State of Mind" is running through my head at the moment . . . because Kevin and I will soon be departing for NYC this coming Monday, to visit his family and take in some magical Manhattan moments. Each trip is practically a lifetime of experiences in a very brief span. I can see why people love the city. They most assuredly have the most interesting and strange happenings. It certainly leaves a mark on you, for better or for worse.

I personally could never live there, as much as I enjoy visiting. I am a small town girl (gratuitous Journey song plug) and have lived in them my whole life until the time we got married. I was born in Rochester, Minnesota (which is no small place) but only lived there for a year before we moved to Indiana, with the start of Dad's ministry career. So from year 1 until year 25 I had grown accustomed to the slow-paced sway and quiet style of the small town. I loved it. I still do. I'm a quiet person generally, and hate business and chaos. Let's put it this way: what many people consider a blast and a good-time (a.k.a "the party life") I consider it a migraine waiting to happen. I have a low threshhold for such things. If that makes me a boring, old-fart, than so be it! :)

The first time I went to New York with Kevin was August of 2003. I was extremely nervous. I was heading to the Big Apple for the first time and I was also meeting some of his family members for the first time as well. I really wasn't sure what to expect. I suppose I kept picturing what I had always seen in the movies -- the glamourized version of New York City. Umm, yeah, it's really not like that. The streets are much smaller and more narrow than I had expected. Everything is crowded and busy. It's a very exhausting place to be.

Kevin's parents and brother all live in the Bronx, which is where he was born and raised. Now, the other burroughs are vastly different from Manhattan. It's still crowded enough and busy. But it's not nearly so overwhelming. You get the feeling that you're in the "neighborhood," which is pretty cool. We stayed with Kevin's dad for the first night or two during that first trip. The first couple days we stayed within the Bronx and finally ventured into the city to visit Kevin's uncle, aunt, and cousin, and then to go to a comedy club (Caroline's to be exact). I vividly remember stepping out of the subway (that's a whole other lifetime of experiences there!) and emerging from the station stairs and seeing the vastness of Manhattan for the very first time. It was evening, and was mostly dark, just that slightly lighter hue of blue before it turns fully black. I stared up at the skyscrapers the same way I tilt my head backward to check out a sky full of stars. If my mouth wasn't actually open, it might as well have been. I was completely overwhelmed. I felt this rush of panic wash over me and suddenly wanted to be home. I had this thought of, "What the hell am I doing here . . . a small-town, simple-life girl?!"

Well, I was there because I was in love. And I had to expand my horizons in order to show that love, and allow myself to become inundated with new experiences and become a more opened person. I knew it . . . but let me tell you, it took me awhile to get adjusted!

We had a great time with his family. I've got to throw this in here . . . all of Kevin's family has been really wonderful to me from the very start. They've all treated me with love and kindness and made me a part of their family. I feel very lucky to have the in-laws that I do, and I know many people can't say that, which is why I feel I must. It could've been very easy for them to resent me, since Kevin moved away from all of them to be with me. In a way, I felt really guilty. But they never treated me as if I'd done wrong to them.

Later that evening we headed to Caroline's comedy club. Before the doors were open for the main room, we had to wait in their lounge. It was dark and terribly crowded. I was surrouned by all these people, drinking and whooping it up with their friends. They all seemed so incredibly comfortable and uber-extroverted. I felt myself shutting down more and more. I don't think I could've crawled inside myself any more than I did that night. I was like an ostrich that not only stuck my head in the sand, but my entire body. I was not comfortable. Poor Kevin. All he wanted to do was show me a good time and create an amazing trip, of the likes I had never seen before, and all I could do was shut down?! Well, we can't always perform swimmingly all the time, can we? ;)

The rest of the trip we stayed in Kevin's uncle's old apartment in Tuckahoe in Westchester. They had moved to Manhattan and were still trying to sublet this apartment. Luckily, they were generous enough to let us stay there. Westchester is a beautiful and cozy area. It's a great place for a vacation. However, if the entirety of your activities is not in Westchester and IS in the city, than it can be rather tiring taking the Metro trek every day, in addition to the subways, cabs, and buses that you take while in the city. Oh yeah, did I mention the walking?! You do an awful lot of walking!! Bring comfortable shoes if you should ever visit. :)

I stupidly wanted to look fabulous and so wore heels to make a journey into the city on one such day. And even before we got to the Metro station in Tuckahoe my feet were hurting and I had the makings of one hell of a rubbing burn on my inner thighs. We hadn't even started the day! I had to stop and get some baby powder to help.

Kevin had planned all sorts of amazing activities for us, including another comedy club (Comedy Cellar in the village) and a Ghostbusters sites trek (the firehouse station where they filmed and the library), a taping of Colin Quinn's "Tough Crowd" on Comedy Central, for which we originally stood in a wrong line for, finding out several minutes later that it was a line for Jason Mraz. He was so very thoughtful in wanting to create a memorable experience for me. And he did. It just didn't go exactly as he had planned.

We were out from the late morning until 11pm to 1am basically each day. It was insanely hot and humid that week, and I was getting completely worn-out and exhausted. I believe it was Thursday of that week, we were to go to my very first Broadway show (yay!) to see 42nd Street. I was in the middle of getting ready, finishing my make-up and hair and suddenly the power went out. Ohh great . . . I kind of chuckled about it and wondered if it would take long for it to come back on. Little did I know just how long it would take. It was maybe 20 minutes or so and we heard some murmurings and movements out in the hallway. Kevin went out to see if everyone's power was out, which it was. The neighbor lady across the hallway told him that she had a turkey in the oven. Kevin told her that we were supposed to go see a show and the lady offered to tap dance for us.

We got a hold of Kevin's uncle, whom had dropped us off after our trip to the Bronx zoo earlier that afternoon, and he and his wife and daughter trailed back to the Tuckahoe apartment to check on us. It was looking like the show wasn't going to happen that night. In fact, the power was out until the next morning. It was the big black-out on the eastern seaboard of 2003. Well, nothing could be more memorable than that!

Despite our plans being dumped we ended up having a really great time together, the five of us. We went out to eat at an Italian restaurant in Tuckahoe. Somehow, even without power, they were able to still safely prepare food. And we ate in a dark restaurant with the soft glow of a few small candles. Honestly, that's one of the coolest things I've ever done! There is nothing like that feeling of an occurrence that everyone, including complete strangers, is sharing with you.

The rest of the evening we all sat around the apartment (which was very very hot, since there was now no AC) and just talked. The next day when I woke up the power was on. I went to the bathroom to get cleaned up, looked in the mirror, and flinched back when I saw a bright red spot on my left eye. I had a broken blood vessel, which most likely happened during our flight to NY, and just took awhile to finally show up. I looked quite amusing. It was ugly, for sure. But it almost felt like a battle scar, something to feel proud of for making it through my first trip to NYC.

That afternoon we headed back to Kevin's dad's place. Unfortunately, the power was NOT on there yet. So we lugged ourselves and our luggage up four flights of stairs to his apartment. After a little while we took a walk around the neighborhood to see if any restaurants had power . . . we were starving. Well, good ol' Burger King was the first place with power we could find. And I had never adored air conditioning so much in my life!!

The next day we left NY and headed for home. By this time I was feeling terrible. I had a fever, the chills, and I had not an ounce of energy left in my cells. All the heat, humidity, business, and running around had caught up with me. I turned to Kevin and said while chuckling, "Don't ever do this to me again."

And he hasn't. :) Despite all his wonderful intentions that first trip he definitely learned my limits, and has since adapted his plans. I wish that I could've dealt with it all much better than I did, but I did the best I could. Every trip since then has gone much smoother. Each time we go back I enjoy it more and more. I've gotten used to the largeness of everything, the crowds, the subway, the tiring nature of getting from point A to point B (which always has multiple sub-points in between). One of my favorite moments was from our trip in December of 2004. One night after going to another comedy club we went to see the tree at Rockefeller Center. We leaned against the upper edge of the skating rink and watched two middle-aged ladies clinging to one another's sleeves, bobbing back and forth, trying to avoid a spill, while laughing hysterically. It was hilarious to watch, and gave me such a feeling of warmth. We walked around a bit to take in all the beauty of the giant lit snowflakes and trumpeting angels by the walkway. All the while, it was softly snowing. Hmmmmm, that was truly a magical Christmas moment for me!! It felt almost as if it were stolen from a movie.

I'm psyched because this year we will be going to see a matinee show of the Radio City Music Hall Christmas program and then go to Rockefeller Center to see the lighting of the tree. I can't tell you how excited I am for this!! It's times like this that really make you forget all of the stress and turmoil of your daily life. It's not often that this happens. And when it does, I want to soak it in as much as possible. I want live in the moment and let it take me away like Calgon.

As much as New York can be exhausting and dirty and loud, it can also be simply amazing. It can change you. Now, I am not the kind of person that believes every person should live in the city, and if you don't, you're lesser than. But I do believe that everyone should step outside of their safe places and open up to new people and new experiences. It broadens your mind. It gives you new perspectives. It gives you a more well-rounded understanding of people and of life. It makes you a better person. It made me a better person. Because of Kevin I have had to step outside of my comfort zone time and time again . . . and I am so grateful! I have met all sorts of people that I may not have met without him. I have been opened up to new ways of looking at the world through him. I married a Jewish guy from the Bronx. Who in the world would've thought that that was my future?! I never would have. This has all been something that I never expected and never ever planned. And it has been, without a doubt, the best thing to ever happen to me. If my life had played out like I had planned, it would never have been so sweet. The best things in life are the things that you don't expect.

I am so thankful for the opportunities that I've had to become broadened. I feel more richly fulfilled through them, and know that it is because of them that I have been able to feel more comfortable in my own skin and more adaptable. I can't wait to find out what new unexpected surprises are in store for this trip. Whatever happens . . . I know it will be memorable!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

From Buds to Blossoms . . .

I'm taking a break . . . I'm supposed to be writing some portions of an e-book that I am writing for a client, about her experiences going through cancer and her process of healing. I've been working on it this afternoon and have made some good progress, but I keep feeling this well of emotions creeping up on me, feeling like a surging, swirling tempest, ready to pour out. I know then, that it is time to write . . . and not write for someone else, or write something logical, sensible, or rehearsed. It is time to write with pure freedom and raw emotion. Even though I may not have had this feeling much for a few years, I remember it all too well.

I've been listening to the soundtrack to "A Beauitful Mind." It is one of two of my favorite albums to listen to while I work. The other is the soundtrack to "Amistad." There is something about each of them that not only lulls me into a calm, focused state of being, but that also quakes awake my creative juices, even though I've listened to them each over a thousand times. Some music just does that to you. Not to mention that they each seem to stir my emotions to the surface, ready to handpick and cradle in my palm while I examine it. Do you ever turn your music up to a relatively high volume and just let it completely wash over you? There are many things that I do that with, and you should really try it with these two soundtracks. They're simply put: beautiful!

I spoke with my brother, Jeremy, this morning and he told me that my six year old niece, BryAnna will be having her first surgery tomorrow for ear reconstruction. It's almost funny that they call it "reconstruction," since BryAnna was born without external ears, and will soon be getting them for the first time. She was born with Treacher Collins Syndrome, which is mainly marked by facial anomalies, such as one eye being slightly droopy and ear buds, instead of full ears. She has had a food tube and traech since she first came into the world. She has overcome each of them in her own tenacious way . . . eating and drinking orally and learning to breath and speak, at times, while using a special device that "plugs" her traech hole. She has overcome many many odds and I know will continue to do so.

On the day she was born I had just driven home from a day of classes at Indiana Wesleyan University. I pulled up alongside the curb in front of our house and began to assemble my books and bag, when my dad suddenly appeared by the passenger door. He opened it and knelt down. He paused. I noticed that his eyes were pink and puffy. Something was wrong. "She's in the hospital," he said, his voice shaky and unhinged. "The cord was wrapped around her neck four times and she has a collapsed lung."

I had no idea what or who he was talking about. I could barely get any syllables out of my mouth to ask him to explain. I think all I managed to say was, "What?"

I stumbled into the house, looking for Mom. She was crying. We embraced for a moment and then we all said, "Let's get to the hospital."

And off we drove . . . ready see BryAnna for the first time.

It was one of the most emotional and exhausting days of my life, and everyone else's life in our two families. I remember all of us circling around Mary's hospital bed, praying, and holding hands. There was much sadness and fear in that room, but there was also much love.

Shortly after we arrived they began to transport Bry to Riley hospital. Eventually Jeremy and my dad followed. It was terrible to be split apart in that moment, most especially for Jeremy and Mary. Then, and so many times since then they have proven how strong they are, and I marvel at their fortitude and stamina. I don't think I could do what they do.

That day I only briefly saw BryAnna as they wheeled her out of the room. She was a pink blur that whizzed by. I saw her for really the first time the next week, when we went to see them all at Riley. She was tiny and fragile. She had cords that seemed to drip out of every part of her body. I honestly didn't know what to expect, and it was more impactful than I could have imagined. Here was this tiny, precious being, completely unaware of all that was to come, all that she would have to endure. I felt my body go weak as I noticed the things that made her different. I felt anger toward myself for even noticing. I loved her, that was for sure. I didn't ever even have to see her or know her to love her. But when I did get to meet her for the first time, I felt such passion for this little girl. And I thought, "What in the world will I be able to give to her? How will I be able to help her?"

Bry was born on December 4, and was still living at Riley over Christmas. Mary and Jeremy came back home to celebrate with family, but it was a very lonely holiday. Their hearts, of course, were back in the NICU. In the ensuing months I got chances to hold her and take care of her. I was so afraid of hurting her or moving her in the wrong way. She was much more fragile than any baby that I had held, and I was terrified that I would do something wrong.

What started off as a frail, quiet baby has turned into a feisty, exuberant, sassy, and boisterous six year old. If you couldn't see or sometimes hear her differences, you'd never know that she was any different from any other first grader. She has more spunk and more spirit than any Olympic team, and more courage and determination than any army. We are all amazed by her. Everyone who comes into contact with her is amazed and touched. She has touched more lives in her short six years than most of us could hope to do in a lifetime. She will always be an inspiration, simply because she is a fighter. And I wish that I were more like her in that way. She puts me to shame.

BryAnna loves everyone and knows no stranger. And I'm so thankful for the relationship that Kevin and I both have with her . . . and with her sister, Nikole. We are incredibly close with them, and I am a better person because of it. They both mean more to us than they will ever realize, and the same goes for our other niece and nephews. Kids have such a powerful way of showing you the best parts of yourself. They see who you are at your core. They may not know all your deep, dark secrets, but they are able to see the true soul of who you are.

That is my wish for Bry . . . that the people in her life always see her beautiful spirit and loving soul, no matter what her outsides may look like. And I wish, more importantly, for her to see that in herself, always. To not ever feel lesser than or inferior because of her differences, but feel more beautiful because of them. She may not look the same as other kids, but to me, she is absolutely beautiful! Whatever differences I noticed in her the first time I saw her, quickly faded away, and I just saw her. And anyone that knows her, knows that that is a beautiful thing!