Push the Boys Into the Ditch; My Grandma’s Perfect Love Advice.

Do you ever go through something that is both presumably necessary but incredibly hard and subsequently feel the weight of the world baring down on you as if the gravitational pull changed and it was all on account of you doing something possibly stupid but possibly necessary? Me either, life is easy and fun!

While my health has to continued to sustain for reasons I can’t entirely know for sure, I’ve had some personal experiences which are difficult and painful and every time these things wash over me I examine why life has to be hard (as if I actually expected it to only be easy) and then I wonder does life actually have to be this hard or am I just doing it wrong?  I don’t know the answer to that one. I guess we can only learn as we go. I find myself telling Monty to never fall in love because it leaves a mark on every part of your life and ultimately it changes you, whether you wanted to or not. But then I watched the neighbor dog humping his owners leg and considered that obviously the alternative isn’t so much more grand. Though there’s an appeal to that leg–it’s not going to keep you up at night with heartache and strife. Or maybe I’m too quickly assuming here, maybe I should ask the dog.

Yeeeeah Legs!
Yeeeeah Legs!

Of course this fantasy that life would be easier and less painful without this or that is just that: a fantasy, a slight rejection of reality. But maybe more detrimentally, it presumes that somehow as humans we know better, and we know the answer to what would make life easier or more tolerable. As if life isn’t some ridiculous, complex mystery that has an infinite amount of working parts we as finite humans can only momentarily grasp, if ever at all. And I’m not struggling with an idea that every human for thousands of years hasn’t experienced pain from and questioned the value of. We’ve all been through it. Wondered if the pain in the end was worth the utopia in the beginning. I like this quote about it: “Love is the voice under all silences, the hope which has no opposite in fear.” by e.e. cummings. Would I really choose an option where falling in love wasn’t part of the equation? Duh, no. That’d be insane and cowardly and boring. Love is a remarkable gift, with perhaps its best quality being that of illumination. I like how sometimes it picks us, even when we’ve turned our backs on it or given up on the idea. I like that it takes us places we wouldn’t go on our own. I like that it makes even a worn-down curmudgeon feel giddy and silly and do things he thought he’d never do. I’m thinking of my grandma now, who at 86, has a man named Harold (a few years her senior) who is madly in love with her. I saw it with my own eyes. They would marry if only she’d accept.

Harold had been living at her facility for a few years when she moved in. He has a military haircut I imagine he’s had for 50 years. He speaks concisely and says what he means. There is density to both his physique and his words but a subtle softness you pick up on behind it. Harold had been sitting at the same table in the cafeteria for years, often alone, seeming annoyed by even the thought of socializing and especially at watching others partake in it. Sometimes he looks like he wants to press mute or fast forward on the whole charade; a sentiment I’m familiar with. He eats and drinks the same thing at his meals every day in a very particular order–part of the routine involving peeling his fruit and sharing half of it with my grandma. The ending involves hot tea with a lemon at a very high temperature that if not fulfilled, as sometimes happens with new employees or forgetful old ones, gets sent back. He waits. Sometimes he scoffs, others he sits in silence. I ate with them a few times last summer and couldn’t help but think of Jack Nicholson ala As Good As It Gets, with a little less show but just as much intensity.

Harold would be the last guy you’d expect to get all doughy-eyed and follow a girl around like a love-sick puppy. And yet, here he is. Three years in to my grandma’s stay at The Atrium, Grand Junction’s finest assisted living home, and Harold has fallen over in love with her. I’d like to say I’m exaggerating for literary purpose but truly I am not. I saw it with my own eyes. It started as a joke in the family– OOooooh Grandma! Hanging out with Harold again?! Grandma has a boyfriend! Hehehehe! And then slowly it was revealed to all of us that for him it wasn’t some crush, he’d truly fallen for her. He switched tables to sit with her. Even thought that meant there’d be a certain amount of socializing. He comes over all the time to watch Westerns at her apartment. He on the couch, she on the recliner. Of course half the time they fall asleep 10 minutes in, but no matter. The man has it bad. And something about it completely excites and inspires me. It turned the tables on rules I had stupidly self-made on love and life and age. Very stupidly. I am constantly discovering how much I don’t know. But I love this story. I love that the employees there asked my grandma what she had done to Harold. What happened to the old crotchety man rolling his eyes in the corner? Now he was partaking in group activities? Calling her on the phone? Feeding the ducks? Switching tables?!! While my grandma tries to insist they’re only friends, (oh my God life never changes) and that she finished that phase of her life after my grandpa died, it’s clear she’s enjoying the time with him as she should.  Albeit rejecting his proposals and insisting he partake in more bridge games. I love it all. They’re is something truly hopeful in all of it. Anything that flips our predefined notions on their head can only be a good. It’s illuminating. I imagine it’s that way for Harold, too.

Harold, My Grandma, and her best friend Myrtle, playing cards on a wild Friday night last summer.
Harold, My Grandma, and her best friend Myrtle, playing cards on a wild Friday night last summer.

Maybe it’s different for her. She clearly likes him being her friend and enjoys the companionship. Perhaps in this last stage of their lives, my grandma’s old stoic German ways will prevail and she’ll reject the romantic advances and they truly will be just friends. At 90. And that’s fine too. Of course I’m secretly hoping that one day she’ll weaken, she’ll let him sneak a kiss. Maybe she already has. I don’t know. But watching this all unfold fills my heart up with something good. Something hopeful. My grandma’s advice to me has always been that boys like girls who are mean to them; that she hardly ever let a boy get too close or too much from her. To work on your own life and don’t design it around some boy. And I knew as a young woman she had a lot of interested suitors and broke her share of hearts. In fact she pushed her first boyfriend into a ditch when he tried to kiss her, which she said of course, only made him try harder. And that’s been her advice to me; to push the boys into the ditch and watch what happens. Honestly I take her advice to heart. I love listening to her old stories. Her simplicity about life. She is a very happy person who loves her life, and so for me her advice carries a lot of water. I know they don’t have the internet at the Atrium, but Grandma, if you’re reading, give Harold a kiss for me. (I mean you can’t push the man into the ditch–he’s 90!!) For whatever reason watching the two of you, and specifically him, has been a very good thing for me, and I’ll probably always carry it with me.

Health, Happiness, and Boys In the Ditch

Grandma Selfie Yeah!
Grandma Selfie Yeah!

Even When It’s Bad It’s Good

The Holidays rock. They just do. I feel worlds away when I talk to someone who doesn’t like Christmas. Or Christmas music. Or trees. Or gift-giving. Or ELF. (On repeat!)

Is it excessive? Sometimes. I can admit that. And has Christmas in our country become overly commercialized and sensationalized with the meaning lost in mall crowds, and could we have a long discussion about that over the dinner table? Yeah, we could. But I don’t like going there. I’ve never engaged in the War On Christmas propaganda that inevitably resurfaces each year. And it’s not in the name of denial, but because every year, for a small fleeting time, regardless of my health or where I am personally, the Holidays are a small but hopeful light at the end of a year–where I see more good in the world than bad. Often it’s a reason to become softer, reflective, and thankful. Or do something kind you wouldn’t normally do. If for no other reason than “Well, since it’s Christmas.” I love hearing those words. And I love the simple reasoning behind them.

For my immediate family, Christmas is always the time we give to ourselves to be a family. There are four kids in four states. There are grand-children and extended family and friends who might as well be. But I like that it’s been our staple. Usually it’s not a question of who will be attending Gelpi Christmas but where we’ll be making the noise. And we do, make a hell of a lot of noise. When it’s not me making it, I sometimes plug my ears. :) Life is busy. The work for all of us is different but tiring in its own way. It’s easy to get distracted and let time go by without realizing how many months have passed since we’ve had any genuine interaction. It’s easy for face time to turn into FaceTime and phone calls into text messages and those to turn into Facebook and Facebook to turn into emojis. I mean really, instead of writing this blog post I basically could have just put…photo-7

But emojis can’t replace real emotion in writing, just like emails aren’t as personal as phone calls and text messages will never compare to feeling the weight of a hug from someone you love. Admittedly, as the technology advances, it does help increase the amount of contact time between all of us.  And thank God for it, because as secluded as my life sometimes gets, sometimes my iphone feels like my only window into the outside world. Technically I met my youngest niece Harlow over FaceTime and spent some virtual “feedings” with her. And I’m extremely impressed and grateful by what can be accomplished over a 2 x3 screen on my phone. It truly is, extraordinary. But still, holding her for the first time beat out those “virtual hangouts” by a long shot. Nothing like the smell of an infant, or getting her to smile.  Or watching my niece Olive dance in circles to music or watching my parents enjoy grandchildren or playing cards with my grandma or my siblings annoy the hell out of each other. In a good way, of course! This year my 87-year-old grandma surprised us and came to California for A Very Gelpi Christmas. Show an old woman the capabilities of the iphone and try not to marvel at how far we’ve come and what we’re capable of. It’s a new world, and it’s changing all the time.

Every year at Christmas I always reflect on the previous Christmas. Where was I at this time last year? What has changed? Are things better or worse? And where can I do better? That’s the novelty of an upcoming new year. As they say, It’s never too late to live the life you want to live, and I am always striving to live better. To be a better me. Last year at this time, I was struggling immensely in my health. I had improved from the bed-ridden state but was still feeling awful day-to-day. It was a struggle not to be permanently supine. I found socializing exhausting and far from any fun. It was not one of my better Christmases, but I still enjoyed the tradition of it all, like always. Right after Christmas I relapsed again. I was stuck in Colorado, in and out of bed and freezing my ass off in their record Winter. I remember thinking in my darkest hours and sleepless nights, when the weight and relentlessness of my situation felt too heavy to bare, that this, like all things, would end. One way or another. It was a matter of physics. Time is one of the constants of the world, and it would keep going and eventually things would change. Winter would turn to Spring and at some point I’d lift my head with ease. I wouldn’t be bedridden in Colorado for the rest of my life, even if it felt like it. I remember reciting Winston Churchill’s quote: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” That’s what I did, and at last, the physics of the world did what it always does. Winter passed. I was given the opportunity to live in a happy house with a lot of windows; just Monty and me. And my health very slowly improved from what it was. And I have truly never felt luckier or more grateful to be where I am. Things aren’t perfect. I’ve still a ways to go. And it’s never far away in my mind that this illness can hibernate and reemerge as if on its own agenda. Sometimes for no reason I can think of. But for now, I’m so improved from this time last year. And it feels good to know, that the reassurance I felt at night but could not see was real. The hardship wasn’t forever–the sun came out and I survived. It’s easy to be disillusioned and overwhelmed by our thoughts in hard times. But how important it’s been for me to remember, to everything, there is a season.

And for me, the best will always be this time of year.

Happy Holidays Yall. Hope it was a good one.

Health and Happiness and photo-7

The Eighty Year Old Twenty Year Old

How come no one ever warned me about how hard your twenties are?

Well first, let me say hi. I returned last week from a medicinal tour of America. Yeah! I had to see my doctors in Colorado and Miami–Which means I had to take part in modern American air travel which means I felt like crap a lot. I went to Colorado and felt absolutely terrible the whole time I was there. The funny thing is, despite feeling awful, I had a really great trip. I stayed with my grandma at her assisted living residence. But judging what my days were like and what her days were like, you’d guess I was the 83-year-old and she was 28. She lives a very active, involved, and social life. She wakes up by 5 and it seems like she doesn’t stop until she sits in her recliner chair at night. She can hardly keep her eyes open through the news. Me, I slept mostly. She brought my food at normal food hours and finally after being completely fatigued and short of breath for 3 days, my uncle Mike hooked me up to her oxygen tank she uses at night.  So I looked like this most of the time.


Air please thank you.
Air please thank you.

The extra oxygen helped, but I was still out of sorts the whole time. Weak, Dizzy, Fatigued Yada Yada Yada. Luckily my grandma is one of the easiest people to be around. We talked a lot while I was there. I love hearing her stories. I love how happy she is at her age. I love that grandmas exist. I used to fear growing old, but watching her, I don’t anymore. In fact, I’m ready to stop being young and stupid.

I ask about a warning I never got because this Saturday I will turn 29. The last year of my twenties. It seems typical to freak out a little when the big three-oh approaches on the horizon. I sense that a bit. But at the same time, my twenties have been really hard. And nobody warned me! Though I don’t know who would, and it wouldn’t really make a difference would it. There’s been tragedy and heartache and some things I didn’t think I’d find my way out of. But, alas, I survived. I laugh because the more people I ask about their twenties , the more I hear people say that those were some of their toughest years. In fact most people said their 30′s were great and my grandma insists your 40’s are the best. Hers were anyway. I don’t know what makes them so, tortured, your twenties. Mine have felt mostly uphill. You know how babies go through the “terrible twos”? Well maybe your twenties are the adult version of that. I think it’s an odd time. You’re no longer an adolescent at all, but the college experience isn’t quite a real-world experience. I went to a University of 30,000 people, but still, it felt like a bubble. After leaving, it felt a little, anti-climatic? It’s like you’ve got all these credentials to prove that you’re an adult now, and the world expects that from you. But there’s still so much to figure out. Then again, I guess everyone is still trying to figure it out. The most important thing is to figure yourself out. I guess by your 30’s you’ve got a pretty good grasp on who you are, and that makes things easier in general. Have you ever hung out with someone who is unsure of themselves, who needs approval for everything? It’s exhausting, and it stems from not having a good hold of themselves. Sadly, we’ve probably all been there. I have to say that not really having my own home or my own money sort of stripped down my identity. I had to start over in a way. It was humbling but it also helped me get to know myself better. When you lose all these external things, it forces you to go within.

Then again, I can’t deny that my twenties had some amazing parts to it. I fell in love for the first time. I lived in France. I published my first article. I traveled and I made incredible, life long friends. I wrote a blog that became bigger than me. It’s had its perks. But I must admit, a part of me is banking on it getting a little easier in my 30’s. Like I’ll really get to enjoy all the wonderful things I’ve gathered with me along the way. A girl can dream.

A few days ago, I found a journal that my dad kept. It feels like I found lost treasure. Of course it’s always extra special when you’re reading someones written words after they’re gone. I read it with such a sense of wonderment. I was only 12 when he died, so I wasn’t really able to experience who my dad was an adult. I feel sad to have missed out on it, but at the same time, reading this journal has helped me to know the man I wasn’t able to know as a kid. I admit I completely idolize my father. It’s easy to do–he was a wonderful person and anyone who knew him would tell you that. He was a lot of people’s best friend. I’ve only ever heard of the wonderful things he did and the amazing person he was. I remember him yelling only once, and that was at my sister for not eating the disgusting buckwheat pancakes he cooked for breakfast. That night he bought her yellow roses, apologizing for having gotten upset.

In other words, he was Mother Theresa. And I often wonder if I am living up to how good he was or how generous he was. Furthermore, I compare other people to who he was, setting a really high bar particularly for the men in my life. Which is for the most part, good. It’s fine to have high standards. But sometimes I wonder if the bar is set so high that no one could live up to it. I need to remember that my dad was still human. He got upset sometimes. He judged people sometimes. He even cursed at our dog Bacchus while throwing rocks and chasing him down the street in his suit and tie. He slipped up like we all do, and I need to remember that. Reading the journal has brought to light the very human nature of my dad that I sometimes forget was there. The best part was, in the journal he describes each of my siblings and me and what makes us each unique. There on the last page were his words about me. Reading them was such a gift. It felt like I was sent an early birthday present, from somewhere over there. :)


Anyway, I’ve become a little distracted. I try to write but I just feel more an urge to read.  Which is OK so long as this doesn’t turn into a writing breakup. I need to stay focused. But it’s been gloomy and grey and rainy out–so it’s perfect read and nap weather. Know what I mean jellybean? Anyway, all this reading and napping jazz has me worn out. I’m off to dream world.

Health, Happiness, Twenties.

Help and Thank You

It’s been almost 7 days and 12 hours that I’ve gone without internet and I am gently reminded just how much a product of the multi-tasking, turned-on tech generation I am. I think going this long without wi-fi is my generations equivalent to camping. I’m pretty sure they call this roughing it. And I’m pretty sure my parents would call me a pansy.

This is an easy problem to fix, as most public restaurants and coffee shops have free wi-fi these days but since I’ve basically spent the last seven days IN BED or using some other piece of furniture as though it is one, I haven’t been able to take my little coffee shop trips like I’d planned.

I’m not exactly sure what’s going on, but since the day after I arrived here, I’ve been crashing about an hour after I wake up. Apparently my adrenal glands aren’t functioning properly and I’m bottoming out after I wake up. And not just “Gee I’m sleepy I think I’ll lay down for a bit” kind of crash. (Since becoming sick I have no idea how a power nap works. I just know 15 minutes could never ever ever ever be enough when I’m in a crash.) It’s more like hitting a brick wall where the only thing to do is go back to bed. If that sounds depressing, well, yeah, it is a bit. But there is no such thing as faking it. I made it to dinner at my cousins Shawns house after three days in bed but didn’t feel like I could keep my head up to play cards after dinner. And we ALWAYS play cards after dinner. That’s what you do in Colorado. That’s what you do when grandma is around. And that was just one of many things I’ve had to miss out on since arriving, which is very challenging emotionally for me. I’m the youngest of four, so basically since birth it’s been my prerogative to just not miss out on anything. But that affect right there is one of the hardest parts of this illness, many times even harder than the physical pain itself.

A few nights ago after spending the last two days straight in bed, I felt like I started to lose my mental strength. My siblings had left to go visit with old family friends who I’d really like to have seen but I just couldn’t make it happen. When I’m sick like that I’ve always felt it’s best to be alone since I’m not a ton of fun to be around and basic “sounds” really bother me. But then after everyone left, I got sad and wanted them to come back again. All of my siblings are here and we have taken over my grandmas little house. My brother has been sleeping on an air mattress in the middle of the living room–and this has really worked out for me, because I basically get to be in bed while simultaneously hearing to the conversations and sounds and chaos that ensues when more than one Gelpi is in a room together.

The truth is, I find myself looking for an answer to all of this and there often isn’t one. There are a lot of questions I have about my life that most of the time I am able to let go unanswered. But during those times like a few nights ago, I can’t escape the questions so easily, and I feel anger about them because it simply doesn’t make sense to me. I was angry that most of my vacation has been spent lying down. Angry that I was missing out on my favorite activities. Jealous of other people’s health. Angry that I rarely get to see all my siblings at the same time, and now here we are all together but I can barely get out of bed. Marc Nepo says it’s our job to make sense out of our pain. So that is what I tried to do the other night as I did the only thing I promised I would do that day–take a bath. Big day for Mary!

During dark times like that, I don’t often have big revelations or hear the voice of God. I just let myself feel the pain and then remind myself that tomorrow is another day and say some prayers. There are two prayers I say when I’m all out of juice and all together they make up three words. And here they are: “Help” and “Thank You.” When I’m too tired to spell it out for the universe, (and let’s get real, I shouldn’t have to spell it out for the universe) those are the prayers I say, and honestly it feels like enough. The help prayer is for strength and the thank you prayer is for my family, particularly my siblings. They have taken phenomenal care of me since arriving, and my sister Amelie has been force feeding me protein every two hours. Even when I’m cranky and don’t feel like moving, talking, or eating. They bring me home leftovers and pick up my prescriptions and lie to me when I ask them if the party I missed out on was any fun. Each of them is an invaluable gift to me. Sometimes I think about my life and think maybe I’ll never get married. Maybe I won’t find “The One” or my soul mate or whatever they talk about on Sex and the City. And then I watch us at work together and it hits me that maybe I don’t need that. Sometimes my mom and siblings feel like all the soul mates I could need. (Monty too of course) That being said, I’m sure they’re all hoping that one day I’ll be able to sustain myself and won’t require an air mattress in the middle of their respective living room floors and I am hoping for that day too. But there is just a lot of love between us and often I feel like my glass is overflowing with the stuff that matters. And pain and exhaustion aside, that feels pretty good. At the end of the day, you ask yourself; do I have what I need? And I do. I have modern medicine and the smell of my grandmas house, 10 more minutes of free wi-fi and unconditional love and the answer is clear. Today was hard, but I had enough.

Health, Happiness, Enough.

Trusting the Battle

I’ve received quite a number of emails over the months and read many responses from people who ask how I stay so positive, happy, and humorous among illness and all the things I’ve lost. It makes me smile to read emails like that because it’s sort of like “Oh, haha, these people think I’m happy and have my shit together.” The truth of the matter, is that happiness is something I work at, every day. I mean that. I’m not a naturally chipper person. Especially in the mornings. Most days I don’t feel incredibly alive until about 7 pm. I don’t have a ton of friends or a blooming social life. I am OK with that as I’ve always been someone who enjoys solitude. But I just don’t want to give the impression of “The grass is always greener” over here. I’ve gone through a lot of heartache and despair. I’ve just made it out on the other side. But I still struggle with optimism and simple joy. Writing here has enabled me to find the lessons that were hiding beneath the tears and sickness and loneliness. So sometimes it appears that I’ve got it all figured out and wake up whistling the tune to “Oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day…” I don’t. I work to find the beauty and meaning of every day of my life. And many times, I fail.

I have been prone to periods of despair throughout my life, especially last year. One day in February, I cried almost the entire day. I kept thinking I would run out of tears, and I never did. As soon as I’d finish blowing my nose and wiping up my face, I’d sit down just to have the tears return and my heart go back to aching. That night, my mom brought in tomato soup to my room and made me eat even though I had no appetite. There I was at 26 years old, being spoon fed by my mom. It was humbling, but also a really beautiful moment to know that even in all of the isolation I felt, someone was still there to feed me, when I didn’t have the strength to feed myself. She talked me through the pain and the tears, many of which were falling in the orange liquid in the bowl and making little ripples like a rock in a pond. I remember how sad and hopeless I felt that night, distinctly. But, I made it through, with the help of my mom. It wouldn’t be the last day where I felt like I was drowning in the sadness of my own story. But each of those moments when I reflect on them now, were revealing something quieter, and not as easy to see. In my anger that I had to move back in with my parents, I missed the fact that I was lucky to have somewhere to go and have someone to take care of me. In the sadness of losing my job, I skimmed over the idea that staying there would’ve made me sicker, possibly to the point of no return. Last year revealed many moments that at times would suffocate me, if I looked only at those moments. But life isn’t isolated that way. In every moment of darkness, something else is revealing itself, if we choose to see the whole of it. A lot of times, I had to stop feeling sorry for myself and take an honest look at the way things were. This was not easy, and it still isn’t easy. It’s work. Like Nepo says “This is the trick to staying well isn’t it; to feel the sun, even in the dark.”

I still struggle today in finding the meaning of my life. But further than that, I struggle with general happiness. I sometimes slip and get stuck in a hole. At times it feels easier just to be depressed or angry. And momentarily I guess it’s OK to feel those things, I just know that the only times I’ve been able to move forward is when I choose to look honestly at my experience and try to see what it has to offer, not what it has taken away. Staying mad, staying sad, saying ‘It’s not fair’ just keeps me in the hole. And who wants to live in a hole? It’s dark down there!

Everyone is fighting their own battle, whether it shows on the outside or not. We often assume everyone else is happy, has an easy life, and could never understand our struggle. I often felt that way last year. But that thought is not only our ego trying to isolate us, it’s false. Peel back the layers of any person, and you’ll see the battles they’re undergoing and the scars they carry. I have mentioned this before, but it is something that has stuck with me for a while. Trust your battle. Trust that the life experience you were given is exactly what you need. The lessons you learn will become the whole worlds lessons. Wayne Dyer says to find the lesson, you have to actively ask each experience “What is this here to teach me?”

So that is what I’m working on; not only to seek the lessons of my experience, but to try and live each day happily and with ease. Again, it’s something I have to work at. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in the questions and mysteries of life, that I miss the simple pleasures. I could spend all day wondering and fearing whether the sun will rise tomorrow, and wrapped up in that anxiety, I miss the sunset. I’m going to try and trust my experience and my battle. I’m going to stop wishing for a life that isn’t mine. And I’m going to try whistling that tune “Oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day…” every morning. Because my grandma always whistles that tune, and I’ve yet to meet anyone happier.

Health, Happiness, and Battles.


How to be Sick.

Merry Sickmas!

I was going to write Mary Sickmas, but sometimes an abundance of puns can be off putting if you know what I’m saying. Anyway, Merry Christmas! I am a little late. It’s been a chaotic week, and as I sit here writing this the chaos ensues. My brothers and sister and their significant others are currently on a search for the best Sazerac in New Orleans. (The official Nola Drink) This means that when we all meet up for dinner later everyone should be good and loaded and the meal should go nicely. I wanted to go on the hunt with them but my legs were starting to give up after breakfast so I took the old lady bus home. OK it wasn’t a bus. It was just a car with my 82 year old grandma and my mom, who weren’t in the mood to walk down Bourbon Street in search of alcohol. Maybe by 2012 my mom and I will be well enough for those types of adventures. Maybe even Grandma, too.

This year we did something a little different. Since our humble home can’t house all the DAMN KIDS comfortably and their significant others and my grandma AND Monty, the siblings rented a house on St. Charles Avenue for us all to crash in. It’s a beautiful house, built in the 1800’s with all the modern renovations you find in those interior decorating magazines. It’s nice. The street car passes in front of the dining room window. And every time it does my brother Nick raises his arms in the air and yells “STREEET CARRR!!” Somehow he hasn’t grown tired of doing it yet.

It’s been a really great Christmas mainly because all four siblings are in Nola to celebrate it. But the icing on the cake is that my grandma was able to make the trip down South from Colorado. She’s kind of a hot commodity in the family being that she has six kids, 15 grandkids, and I don’t know how many great-grandkids. I lost count. Her name is Mary too, and she is someone I really look up to for a variety of reasons. Namely, her optimism–which is something increasingly hard to find and at the same time it’s totally contagious. You find yourself smiling more at simple things when you’re with her, or taking note of scenes that typically you’d never stop to consider. If I were going to give her an award, it would be “The Most Pleasant Person on the Planet Award” because that’s what she is. Undoubtedly. On the way to dinner on Christmas Eve I asked what she wanted for Christmas this year. She closed her eyes and thought a moment and then said “Ya know, I can’t think of a thing. I have a perfectly happy life!” And she wasn’t just being sentimental. She says outrageously kind and positive things like this all of the time. I don’t think it strikes her that that type of thinking is rare. She’s always been that way.

Grandma Bell. She's wearing a nightie made in the 50's. No joke.

I loved her response though. How many times I am asked what I would change about my life, what I want, what I don’t want, and ideas fly out of my mouth like a verbal bulleted list. As though I’d been rehearsing what other life I may want. When asked what people want, whether it be for Christmas or just in life, seldom do people say “I don’t want anything.” And if they do say it, it often means “I definitely want SOMETHING, but I’m going to say I want nothing. But if you get me nothing, there will be Hell to pay!” I’ve been thinking about what being content really means. For so long after getting sick and losing so many things, I’d play over and over what I had lost, what it had cost me, what I wasn’t doing, where I wasn’t going. Like a rolladex of veritable “If only’s” the cycle would start, and that type of thinking is bad news. It’s also really hard to stop. It sortof self-propels itself. More recently I’ve been realizing that the idea of happiness is so much more simple than I pretend. It doesn’t have to be some far off dream. There are plenty of sick people who are happy. Plenty of poor people, plenty of people working mediocre jobs, and plenty of people who have lost in some way who are happy. That says to me: happiness is already available. The question is, are you accessing it? I don’t think this is an easy process. And I think I had to experience the pain and grief of the things I have lost this year. But at some point, the focus has to change, my energy has to change, and inevitably, I will change. Only I can do this, nobody can do it for me.

Sometimes I think the way to handle a big tragedy is the way in which you handle a small tragedy. For instance, when my grandma spilled some of her drink on her shirt at dinner, she said “Oh Fiddle Faddle!” Then she wiped it up, asked for another drink, and continued the conversation. It’s funny that sometimes even small episodes like this can ruin a dinner or a night just as much as locking yourself outside or finding out you have cancer! Obviously the consequence of one is more detrimental than the consequence of the other, and yet the way humans react to things, it’s hard to know sometimes whether someone spilled their drink or someone has died.

Last night as I went to sleep my thoughts took a noticeable shift. For so long I go to sleep thinking how to get better how to get better how to get better because the thinking is that when I am better is when I will be happy. But last night these words occurred to me: How to be sick. If I learn to master being sick, I can find happiness now, I don’t have to wait for it. It doesn’t have to be conditional. Of course I will continue to try to get better, to keep up with everything the doctors say, and make healthy decisions. But I don’t need to rely so heavily on potential change in order for me to start rocking right now. I think my grandma has encouraged this type of thinking, so I am very grateful she was here to spread some of her magic on us and New Orleans this Christmas. That lesson made a great gift.

Health, Happiness, and Merry Sickmas!

**Excuse the Dr. Phil tone of this post. I’ve been watching a lot of Oprah.