“As the Parade goes by…”

November 27, 2011

As of two weeks ago, I had no plans for Thanksgiving.  What I always do when that happens is to turn it over to God – “I’m counting on you to come up with the right place for me to be to enjoy your bounty in just the right way,” and I let it go.  He always comes through.

This year was no different.  A few days after I said my prayer, my new/old friend Tommy called me, “What are you doing for Thanksgiving?” he said.  “Nothing,” I replied.  He immediately invited me to join him with his cousin and his very close friend at a Thanksgiving luncheon at the New York Athletic club – not too shabby, the oldest and most prestigious club in the city, if not the world.

Tommy had a request.  “You know, I’ve never been to the Thanksgiving Parade.  Don’t you know someone who lives along the parade route where we can go for a half hour and watch some balloons?”  I have to admit that I was instantly entranced at the possibility, “Yes, wouldn’t that be great?”   I hadn’t been to the parade since Josh was little — and my own growing up years in New York always included sitting on a blanket, curbside on Central Park West, from 8AM on the morning of Thanksgiving day to watch those floats and balloons and bands go marching by, each of the four of us taking turns sitting on my father’s shoulders for an even better look.  I think he loved it as much as we did.  We went every year until I was 10.

Tommy looked up the parade route on the Internet and found that it passed right by 59th Street and Seventh Avenue, the corner on which sat the NYAC.  We agreed to meet at 11AM and see what we could see.

I couldn’t wait.  And, when I did arrive, Tommy was already there, having scoped out the best viewing spot – and Boy! Was it worth it!  Just as I took my position among the crowd, I could see Kermit the Frog turning onto Central Park South and heading towards us.  I was as excited as all the kids atop adult shoulders around me, “Look, Daddy, look! – there’s Kermit!  Kermit the Frog!”  He was huge and green and rubbery and legs and arms gangly hanging down while waving in the air – and, there I was, “Look, Tommy, look! – there’s Kermit!  Kermit the Frog!”

The balloons kept coming – I spotted the blue Smurf from far away and was dancing up and down until he turned onto Seventh Avenue and I could get my picture and my excitement in sync.

Oh, My God!  How lucky I am to be here!  I feel the hot tears on my chilled face – it only takes a few big balloons, Santa on a float, and the happy faces of children all around me to remind me that I am so very, very blessed;  so very, very thankful.

Once Santa and his reindeer passed by, the parade was over – at 59th and Seventh, anyway.  It still had another 25 blocks or so to go to get to Macy’s and the closing ceremonies; but, for me, the parade had worked its magic, the child had emerged, and I was back again to simpler times, arms wrapped around my siblings or holding my father’s hand in the crowd.

I smiled at a child on her father’s shoulders.  She smiled back at me.  It was an innocent moment.  I thought, “I know what that feels like, to be so safe, to experience something so magical.”  It’s all mixed up together:  balloons, turkey, brothers and sister, cold weather, the smell of my father, hanging onto his hat or his chin or anything else of him I could grab, Mom cooking at home, someplace to belong.

The parade disappeared from view and Tommy and I walked into the club and met his friends and we had a glorious Thanksgiving repast.  We held hands and said a prayer and each of us said what we were thankful for.

It was a wonderful day, better than anything I could have dreamed up on my own.

God works his magic, I tell you – if only we let him.

I am so grateful.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Deliciously yours in the Bounty of it All,  Linda

“If the only prayer you ever say in your whole life is ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.”   Meister Eckhart, theologian, philosopher, and mystic.

NOTE:  I took the picture of Kermit that appears in the header (I’ve put it here now that the header has changed):  Yes, he was that close! 

And here’s my picture of Smurf:

© Linda Ruocco and “Spiritual Chocolate”, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Linda Ruocco and “Spiritual Chocolate”  with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Thank you.

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Josh was four years old and all he wanted for Christmas was a toy record-player.

We spent hours composing our letter to Santa Claus, enumerating all the ways that Josh had been such a good boy that year:   helping Mommy and Daddy, putting his toys away  after he was finished playing,  and helping homeless people in the street… 

We walked hand-in-hand to the post office, mailing our letter to “Santa Claus, North Pole” and marking it “Urgent – Please read upon receipt” across the back of the envelope. 

A few weeks before Christmas, we were invited to my brother’s house in New Jersey for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  Ralph has four girls, and the two youngest   – Jackie and Julie – were only eight months older than Josh – beautiful redheaded twins who adored Joshua — and he loved being around them. 

This time, though, Josh seemed upset that we were going to visit “the girls”,  as we called them.  With each passing day – each day closer to Christmas – he seemed to get more withdrawn.  Every now and then, he would ask me, “Do we have to go to Uncle Ralph’s for Christmas?” 

I didn’t get it.  I said, “Oh, Honey, you’ll have a great time!  You and the girls can play with all your toys and we’ll all be together!  Won’t that be fun?”  He looked down to the floor and walked away… 

Finally, after about four of these exchanges…  I followed him out of the kitchen into his room to find him sitting in the middle of the floor, just looking down at his hands… 

“What’s the matter, Josh?”   He looked up at me with tears in his eyes and said, “Mommy, I don’t want to go to Uncle Ralph’s for Christmas.” 

This time, I paid attention and didn’t brush it off… 

I sat down on the floor, next to him.  

“Honey, talk to me.  What’s bothering you?”  

With that, Josh put his arms around my neck, leaned into my chest, and started crying in earnest, “Mommy, how will Santa know where I am if we go to Uncle Ralph’s?   He’s expecting me to be here…”

I wrapped my arms around him and rocked him….  

“Oh, Honey, Santa knows EVERYTHING!    He’ll know where you are!” 

He looked up at me, eyes wide, “He does?  How will he know?” 

I thought for a moment.  I knew this was a very important question – for him and for me… 

“Josh, there are things we know, not because we can see them or touch them…  but, they’re real just the same.  We know these things in our hearts…  and I know that Santa knows where you are because you are in his heart…  Not just at Christmas time, but all year long – even when you’re  not thinking about Him…    You have to believe…” 

We sat there a little longer while Josh thought about this… He wanted to believe me, but I could see he wasn’t quite there yet…. 

“I’ll tell you what, Josh…  Why don’t we leave him a note?  Just in case he accidentally forgets…  I don’t think he will, but, if it will make you feel better, we can do that.  What do you think?” 

He thought that was a great idea…   

On Christmas Eve morning, we prepared to go to my brother’s house.  My husband, Fred, had taken all the presents – including the coveted toy record-player – down to the car and put them in the trunk the night before. 

Josh brought me a piece of paper and a crayon to write the note to Santa… 

“Dear Santa,” I wrote carefully, “Just in case you come here first, I just want to let you know that I am at my Uncle Ralph’s with Jackie and Julie.  Please bring my presents there.”  And, just in case Santa didn’t know how to get there, we gave directions, “Just look down from your sleigh and follow the New Jersey Turnpike…” 

While it was all I could do not to smile, I realized that this “crucible of doubt” was going to be a turning point for Josh – this was very serious business. .. 

We set up a little table between the fireplace and the tree – where Santa couldn’t miss it – and laid out His usual milk and cookies — the “bread and wine” of Santa devotion — and placed the note carefully between the glass and the dish…

We left for New Jersey.   But, not before Fred went back upstairs, “to go to the bathroom,” poured the milk back in the carton and left the glass where he found it, grabbed the note, and put the cookies in his pocket.

Josh had a great time that evening, playing with his cousins. As hard as they tried to stay up and sneak a peek at Santa, all the kids finally couldn’t keep their eyes open.  Off they went to bed. 

The next morning, I heard the excited screams as all the kids ran down the stairs.  I heard the whooping and hollering and crying out in delight at what they saw under the tree. 

I rolled over and said to Fred, “C’mon, wake up… we have to get these pictures…”   We pulled on sweats and walked out into the hall…. 

There was Josh, standing all alone at the top of the stairs.  The sounds of Christmas laughter  and the smell of cinnamon-Christmas-something were wafting up the stairs to us… 

“Honey, what’s the matter?  Why aren’t you downstairs with the others?” 

His soulful eyes looked up at me and he whispered, “What if Santa forgot me….?” 

I walked to him, kissed his cheek and took his hand, “Honey, remember what I told you?  I’m sure that Santa didn’t forget you…  He knows everything…” 

We walked down the stairs and into the living room where all the kids were tearing open packages and laughing… 

I went to the tree and picked the package I knew contained the record player.  I looked at the card to see whose present it could be….  “Oh!  Here’s one for you, Josh!”

I read aloud:

“Dear Josh, I know you’ve been such a good boy this year.  Merry Christmas, Love, Santa…” 

Josh ran to me and reached up for his present.  He dropped to the floor, and I sat with him, watching his face as he ripped open the wrapping… 

“It’s my record-player!” 

He looked up at me and then  straight into the camera that Fred held, and said…

“Oh, Mommy, you’re right!  Santa DOES know EVERYTHING!” 

Yes,  my dear, sweet child….  He does…. 

As I breathed in the tree lights,  beautiful sights, laughing sounds, and evergreen smell of Christmas, I silently thanked the SomeOne Else who really does know everything….  “Thank you, thank you… for this… for this moment… for this child….  for this family…  for all this Love…” 

Merry Christmas to all, and to all….  I wish you the greatest gifts…  Faith, Beauty, and Love… Miracles, creation, and Joy…

Believe. 

Deliciously yours in the Wonder of it All, Linda 

“Now, faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”   Hebrews, 11:1 

This is Josh at that “Ah-ha!” moment about Santa, with Julie and Jackie in the background and me and the record player in the foreground.  The Big Eyes tell the whole story….

“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight.  The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.” 

*Note:  The title and this excerpt are from the famous editorial published in the New York Sun on September 21, 1897, entitled, “Is there a Santa Claus?” written by Frances P. Church.  Here is the link to the full editorial:  http://beebo.org/smackerels/yes-virginia.html

© Linda Ruocco and “Spiritual Chocolate”, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Linda Ruocco and “Spritiual Chocolate”  with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Thank you.

candle1A  personal remembrance of 9/11…

I woke up that morning and did what I always do – rolled out of bed, went to the bathroom, brushed my teeth, meditated, and turned on my computer.  The first thing I saw on my screen was a tiny picture of both towers with smoke coming out the side of one — and a headline that said, “Plane hits World Trade Tower.”  My first thought was, “Wow!  The pilot couldn’t see that?”  It was early enough that there was no mention of terrorists in the paragraph that followed. 

I ate breakfast – and I headed for the living room and my television.  I clicked it on – just in time to see the first tower go down. 

I couldn’t believe my eyes…  I couldn’t move, I couldn’t pull myself away from the TV screen… 

It was lucky I turned on my computer so early…  It was my link to the world outside.  That computer line stayed open all day because it had already been established.  After the towers went down, neither of my phones worked.  I worried all day about my family, about my friends…    After the day was over, I would find no less than 8 messages from my son, each one more troubled than the one before, and lots of voice mails from all over the country.    

The voice on the television called for blood donations in anticipation of all the casualties.  I lived on the next street from the blood bank and soon the line curved around the corner, under my window, to curve around the next corner again. I have a mildly rare blood type and so I thought to do what seemed to be the only thing I could do  – I went to the front of the line and spoke to the guard there, told him my blood type, and made an appointment to come back the next day.  They were so over-loaded with donations right then, but rare blood was being taken on an appointment basis.  

When I went back the next day, they told me that there was no need to donate – they had more blood than they could use.  

The television screen showed well made-up gurneys outside hospitals, in preparation for all the bleeding and hurt who would surely fill them soon.  That image would soon haunt us in the days afterwards as they stood there,  pristine and empty.  

By Thursday, I could no longer sit in front of my television, watching replay after replay of the towers collapsing.  I called the Red Cross to volunteer.  They took my name and told me they would call me back.  I waited all day.  They didn’t call. 

On Friday morning, I heard the announcer on television say that the National Guard had taken over the armory at Lexington Avenue and 26th Street, and the victims’ families were urged to go there rather than to go anywhere near Ground Zero.  I decided to go to the armory to offer whatever help I could.  After all, I thought, I was a spiritual minister – I could pray with them, I could comfort them, I could do something 

The taxi couldn’t take me right to the armory – the street in front of the building was blocked off, and there were people everywhere.  I walked the last block to the front door.  There were guards lined up across the entrance, blocking the way in through the massive doors in front.   I walked up to one of guards, told him that I was volunteering with the Red Cross, and he let me right in.  No one asked for identification, so one looked in my bag.  I didn’t know it then, but those days would soon be over… 

I walked into the huge, cavernous room that is the main hall of the armory.  There were people everywhere.  High on the right wall, there was a huge television screen, playing the same news channel that I had been watching at home.  I wondered if everyone who had missing family members really wanted to watch the frequently replayed scenes of the towers smoking and then collapsing. 

Over the next few days, I would come to appreciate that huge screen on the wall as the only information available, and – as it was grounding for people at home to watch the television updates – so was it grounding for the families who had come to find out something – anything — about their missing family members — only to find that information was in the form of where their loved ones weren’t

The Red Cross table was in the far right corner of the room.  I announced myself and my intention to help.  The man behind the table asked me what I could do.  I explained that I was a spiritual minister and a form was shoved into my hands.  I filled it out, noting that there was a list of societies, orders, and credentials for me to check off.  I belonged to none of them.  When I handed my form back in, the man looked at it and told me that I could not be a minister under the Red Cross rules.  Not satisfied with that answer, I wanted to speak to someone else. 

What happened next would always after strike me as the intercession of God in an otherwise “not-going-to-happen” situation. 

It seems that the manning of the table was in the midst of a shift change.  The man who didn’t want me was leaving  and someone was taking his place.  As he got up from his seat to go, he handed my form to the woman coming in and said, “She wants to be a chaplain.”  

The woman took the form, didn’t look at it, and put it down in a pile to her right.  She called over to another woman, got her attention, pointed at me and said, “Chaplain!”  A yellow placard vest with “Chaplain”  printed on the front and back was handed to me, and I was instructed to put it on.  Then, she told me to go and stand near the front door and be on the lookout for anyone who was upset or seemed to be in distress. 

That was it.  I was a chaplain.  

As I walked to the front of the huge room, what I noticed immediately was that hardly anyone was crying.  While there were families sitting together, leaning on each other, many people were watching the screen on the wall or walking around in a daze.  The shock of what was happening was so palpable, but it had not yet given way to grief. 

A man came running up to me and a few of the other volunteers and told us that they were short-handed in the “hospital room” downstairs, and we were to go there right away.   Hospital room?  I was puzzled, but ran to follow him… 

I moved down the stairs to the right of a long line of people that started at the top of the stairs, snaked down the steps, across the hall, and into a room.  We walked up to the man in charge at the front door.  He explained that he wanted a chaplain at each of the stations where the members of the families would go to seek information.  

I looked into the room to see a series of tables arranged around the room in a big rectangle, with the chaplains and other volunteers sitting in the inside seats.  As an outside seat was available, a person from the front of the line would go to sit in the vacated seat.  I soon found out why this was called “the hospital room”. 

In front of each of the volunteers was a fat white binder about two inches thick.  The man in charge explained to me, “That is a list of everyone who has been admitted to the hospital.  They will give you the name of the person they are looking for. You look up the name.  If it is there, it means that they were admitted to the hospital.  If the name is not there…..”.  His voice trailed off.  

I asked if people were still being admitted to the hospital.  He turned and looked at me. He sighed and said, “Today is Friday.  It happened on Tuesday.  Anyone who was injured was admitted to the hospital right away.  Most of them have already been released – most of those people were injured running away from the collapse.”  He looked towards the line,  “Many of these family members have been in here already.”  As I turned to walk into the room, he said,  “We can’t say anything more than that.  The name is in the book  — or it’s not…” 

I stayed in that room all day and all night.  I suppose I must have eaten or gone to the bathroom…  I don’t remember….  There was only to stay present with each person who came to me, each at their own stage of grief – some dazed, some angry, some crying…   Some were sure my book would be updated soon and their loved one would be found, their worry would be over, their lives could continue…. 

All I could offer was a word of comfort, a touch, a prayer… listening to them as they tried to sort this out for themselves….. 

Some were ready to move onto the next stage of grief.  One woman was.  She was older, Spanish, fragile looking.  I asked her name.  “Maria,” she said (not her real name).  Her voice was so low, I could hardly hear her.  “Who are you looking for, Maria?”  She gave me the name of a man.  I looked in the big, white book.  The name was not there.  I looked up at her, “He has not been admitted to the hospital.”   

She put her head on the table and sobbed quietly.  I leaned across the table and put my hand on her arm.  “Who is this you’re looking for?”  “He is my husband,” she said. “He is my husband for 32 years.”  I got up and came around the table and held her in my arms.  She cried softly for a few minutes and then lifted her head and dried her eyes.  “That’s it, then,” she said.  

I thought to say, “You don’t know that.  Come back later.” But, I couldn’t say it.  I knew that, at some point – a different point for every person – each would have to come to that inevitable conclusion and, if Maria was ready to do that now, I could not take that away from her. 

I said nothing. 

At some point, someone noticed that I was there a long time and told me to go home.  It was 2 in the morning. 

I was exhausted, but couldn’t go to sleep right away.  I needed to decompress.  Over the next few days, a ritual evolved.  I would go home,  shower, change into a clean t-shirt and PJ bottoms, and sit at my computer… 

In the middle of those nights, I purged myself onto long emails to my friends, reporting on what was going on here, what I saw at the armory, what people were saying, what they were doing, how we were holding up.  

I sounded stronger than I felt. 

When I wrote about what I was doing, what all the volunteers were doing, I found that it really mattered to me that people were comforted, that they had enough arms around them, enough shoulders to cry on, enough people to talk to — and that those people, like me, would simply listen as the speakers worked out whatever they had to work out for themselves.  It wasn’t easy to simply listen…  AND  that is what there is to do when people are hurting….   

What I did see for myself was that being a care-giver filled me up and used me in a way that I never felt before –  it gave me a peace that money couldn’t, that my “success” never did.  It seemed strange to me to think this:  in the midst of the tragedy, I found purpose, a sense that I was contributing to people, that I was making a difference in their experience of this awful time, that I could be a source of love and comfort, and perhaps that love and comfort would register somewhere in their hearts so as to contribute to their healing… 

In one of my email “newsletters,” I offered a Sufi teaching: 

Past the Seeker as he prayed came the crippled and the beggar and the beaten. And seeing them…he cried, “Great God, how is it that a loving creator can see such things and yet do nothing about them?”  And God said, “I did do something.  I made you.” 

Months later, I would receive an email back from one of my high school friends, to whom I had sent that Sufi passage.  She had forwarded it to her friends — and her friends had forwarded it to theirs around the world.  Someone in Nepal read it and sent a message back to me — through all the different address lists – to tell me that message had touched her most of all… 

…that people were helping people, that many were comforting others, that there was hope for humanity if that could happen…. 

Amen to that… 

Deliciously yours in the Goodness of it All….  Linda 

“Lord, take me where you want me to go
“Let me meet who you want me to meet
“Tell me what you want me to say
“And keep me out of your way.”        

….The prayer of Father Mychal Judge, Chaplain of the Fire Department of New York City, who died while administering last rites on September 11, 2001.  Father Judge was victim #001, the first official victim of 9/11.

© Linda Ruocco and “Spiritual Chocolate”, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Linda Ruocco and “Spritiual Chocolate”  with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Thank you.

“By the Sea…”

August 12, 2009

WomanOnTheSandHi, it’s Linda here again… and this week’s story is a bit nostalgic… a sweet taste, savored long ago, that still lingers…. stirring up memories of love that once was….and, somewhere, still is…..

There is a time for everything in life…. a time when we fall in love, we get married, we have a child…

Sometimes that beautiful story continues. Often, there are bumps along the way and life takes a turn that we don’t expect. It can be challenging to leave behind what once was… and, yet, there is no future in life until we let go of the past, the beautiful times as well as the tough times….

Only when our space is “clean” can there be room for something new…

Here’s a story about letting go of one of those beautiful times… and how we can do that with love….

Years ago, just before I married my husband, Fred, we had the opportunity to rent – and then buy – a house on the beach in Westhampton, New York. One of Fred’s colleagues had just taken a job in Ohio and was not going to be able to use the house that he had rented — with an option to buy, no less. He called Fred and said, “Go out there and take a look at it… If you like it, I’ll turn over the lease to you…”

The next Saturday – a cold, clear day in February, 1976 – we traveled out to the Hamptons to take a look. The long drive ended with a desolate stretch along Dune Road, passing boarded up cottages and empty driveways — to arrive at a burgundy cottage, high up on pilings, boarded up like all the others, with a rickety staircase climbing up to the front door and a high dune on the ocean-side that prevented us from seeing what lay beyond…

Like kids, we jumped out of the car and ran up the stairs, trying to peek inside – to no avail. It was a worn house, small – but the air was crisp and the sky was blue – and we whispered about how good it would be to spend the summer at the beach…

And, if we liked it? Well, it was a very inexpensive house – as all of them were then… and we could afford it if we didn’t buy an apartment in the city…. we had such freedom to choose!

When we couldn’t see inside from the front door – or even crack the board on a window a bit… we decided that we’d go under the house and climb the dune and see what the ocean looked like from there…

We scrambled up the back of the high dune – it must have been 15 feet! – and pulled each other up to the top to see a back porch that was also old and weathered…. and then we turned around….

It was beautiful… breath-taking, really… the ocean stretched out before us in an endless expanse of sea and sky… the waves rolled in a rhythmic pattern from left to right, curling foam to crash upon the white sand.…

We looked at each other and we knew this was it…. this was our house…. we hugged and we kissed and we loved and we gave everything in our hearts to each other and to this house…..

When we got home, Fred called his friend – “Yes, we’ll take it….”

We got married in May and moved into our beach house for Memorial Day weekend…. It was old and worn inside, but we didn’t care… it was warm and it was cozy and it was ours….

It would be impossible in this little story for me to tell you everything that happened in that house… the wonderful times with friends, the beautiful sun-filled weekends, the runs along the beach with the sea breeze moving us along and lobster roasts in the sand…. How we spent every weekend there from May to October every year, loving every moment of it…. so that, even in the cold of winter, when we never went out there, it lived for us in the background of our minds — as the love nest that it truly was….

When we lost our first baby in May, 1978, that summer at the beach house was a time and a place of mourning that turned into a haven of healing and love for both of us…

When Josh was born the following year, we brought him home — after 8 weeks in the hospital and a scary time when it was all about transfusions and intensive care for him — and intensive care followed by my mother’s death for her – we headed out to the beach house, in the middle of October, even though the season was over and the road was quiet and the town was empty — and we slept in our room, with Joshua in his Moses-basket by our bed….

We were at peace there…

As I look back on it now, it strikes me as odd – and strangely synchronistic: how our lives together — and what happened to the beach house — seemed to mirror each other…

Fred and I drifted into a troubled and confusing time… and the beach house suffered from winter Northeasters that left it standing precariously on three less pilings… and listing dangerously to one side – not unlike how our marriage was standing…. scary to look at, dangerous to enter, and doomed to fall into the ocean if we couldn’t fix it….

Try as we did, both the house and the marriage collapsed…. a series of winter storms in 1993 finally took the house out to sea…. the same winter that Fred and I no longer had anything left to stand on either…

After the last storm, we went out to look at where the house once stood. The road – what there was of it — was blocked, the rest of the area was flooded so that the only way out to where the house used to be was by barge — a big one with wheels that rolled into — and then floated on — the ocean… I couldn’t look… it was too painful to see it all gone…

We left the beach that day and didn’t go back… There were community groups and lawsuits to work on rebuilding the beach – and the meetings and the legal trials, once again, were much like the discord that now existed between Fred and me…

It was hard to remember how we were together before… as it was hard to remember how beautiful it had been in our house at the beach….

Over several years… and little by little, the beach was restored – lawsuits won by the community, a new town created, Westhampton Dunes, and an agreement by the government to manage the beach over the next 30 years to keep it from drifting away again…

In those same years, Fred and I mended our own hearts and – even though we chose different lives – what emerged was the foundation of real love and affection that always lay under the surface of our problems – those problems that were really defenses — against what? We don’t remember now…

Years later, when the beach was beautiful again, I went out to look at our land…. it had sat barren and empty for a long time. The lawsuits won, the area was going through a building boom and there was our beach in the midst of framed-out houses and newly planted dunes…

Waiting for a new life….

Neither Fred nor I could let it go….

Shortly after that, a developer called and made a nice offer for the land. Fred and I had been separated for years – we knew that we would never build on that land again. AND… knowing that it was in the background… that it was there… spoke of something unfinished….

Something incomplete….

It was time to let go…

We took the offer…

The week before we closed, I went out to the beach by myself… I brought a notebook and a pen and a folding chair. I opened the chair and sat there all afternoon, writing in my book – anything that I could remember about everything that ever happened in that house.

One memory was emblazoned on my heart…

The spring after Joshua was born, we opened the house early and started bringing him out there every weekend. One night, I was holding him in my arms, rocking him to sleep in an antique rocker that we had in our bedroom….

Our house was a strange shape… the master bedroom jutted out onto the back deck, facing the ocean – and the main house was at a right angle to the bedroom doors that opened onto the deck…. Sitting in the rocking chair, holding my baby – I could see both the ocean – and — if I looked a little to the right – I could see across the deck, into the living room where Fred was sitting, reading his book.

It was a perfect moment.

I felt a love wash over me that I had never felt before…. there was nothing there BUT love… I looked down at Joshua, his little eyelashes fluttering on his soft, sweet cheeks and my heart filled up and overflowed… I lifted my head and saw Fred and was overwhelmed with love for him – I turned towards the ocean and watched those beautiful waves rolling in curls onto the sand and the moonlight glistening on the ocean…. and all I could think was, “This is it… This is bliss… Thank you, God… You have blessed me…. I have everything I could ever want in my life…. I am so grateful…..” and the tears rolled down my face – I was that happy…..

And… that was a long time ago…

As I sat in the folding chair and looked at my little plot of beach – that same beach that was the place of my fondest memory and my deepest love…. I knew that what I wanted for whomever would live there was exactly that….

Love.

I took a stick and made the Reiki symbol for “love” in the sand. I climbed up the dune, one last time. Standing there, facing the sea — with the sharp, salty breeze brushing against my face and blowing my hair back — I blessed the sky, I blessed the beach, I blessed the ocean…

I said good-bye…

I packed up my folding chair, my notebook, and my bag… I turned and left…

I have a new life now, a different life…. A life I love… and, I am blessed that I had that life… once, a long time ago….

As for Fred and me? Well, real love never dies…. it changes, it looks different… but it is always love… We are friends now and that is a gift….

Deliciously yours in the Beauty of it all, Linda

“A time to build up, a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time for every purpose, under heaven”

…”Turn, Turn, Turn”, The Bryds

LindaOnFrontDeckTrimmedThis is me, on the front deck of our beach house on Dune Road in Westhampton, in the summer of 1983. It was a beautiful time — for Fred and Josh and for me, for our two other children from Fred’s first marriage, Brian and Cindy, for our house, for our friends who came to visit….. With love, always…. xoxo

 

 

© Linda Ruocco and “Spiritual Chocolate”, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Linda Ruocco and “Spritiual Chocolate”  with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Thank you.

 

In a world of material beauty, it is often challenging to stay present to the real beauty in the world: love, compassion, kindness — without which the world would surely be a sad, dark, and lonely place…

I remember that my mother, in her vigilant attempt to keep me free from false pride about my own face or figure, would remind me that these were not the important things of life. If one of my parents’ friends would make a fuss about my looks, my mother would take me aside and whisper in my ear, “Just remember, Linda, beauty is as beauty does….”

Still, I spent most of my life enamored of beautiful people, beautiful clothes, and beautiful places and things… I spent most of my career in the fashion business where those things are one’s stock in trade – equally important to any merchandising or marketing talent one might actually have….

I left the fashion business years ago, not without some longing and regret, but always knowing that there was something else for me to do, something new for me to learn, something more for me to “get” about life…

How much I had changed became clear to me when I volunteered at the armory in New York City after 9/11 to work with the victims’ families — Here is a story that captures my altered view of the world….

I was sitting with a family whose husband and father was among the many who had not appeared anywhere after four days…. most people there were left without certainty about what had happened to their loved ones… and it was for the volunteers to sit with them, pray with them, get them some food – be there for them…

I heard someone say, “There’s Elizabeth Taylor!”

I turned, and, sure enough, there was Elizabeth Taylor with an entourage of about three or four people. She had on a long caftan and was walking with a cane. She was speaking with the men in her group and looking around the cavernous hall.

I had seen her in person many years before. When I was at Bloomingdale’s, I had been invited to a fund-raising dinner for an AIDS benefit. I don’t think it was called “AMFAR” yet – it was in the early days of the AIDS pandemic. It was a very elegant, star-studded, fashionable affair.

Elizabeth Taylor was the main draw.

I kept trying to get near her. She had always been my favorite actress, ever since I had seen the film, “National Velvet”. Her affair and subsequent marriage to Richard Burton was the tabloid fodder of my growing-up years. One time, I even drew this sexy black mole near where I had seen that she had one, and, at fifteen, I dyed my hair black and did everything I could to have her hairstyle, her make-up, her face. Alas, those are gifts one is born with, and so I eventually grew out of that phase. But, I never stopped admiring her in the years after I had given up trying to be her. If anything, she had gained more of my admiration for her continued work for AIDS victims.

I spent the whole time at the AIDS event trying to position myself to be near enough that I could see her up close – I wanted to see those violet eyes, that crowd-stopping face. I wanted to hear that whisper-y, sexy, Elizabeth Taylor voice just once in my life!

She had been heavy at some point prior to the event, but now was a very petite, slim woman with enormous breasts – a feature I had never noticed before. I attributed that to her beauty. Her face was so beautiful, and, of course, those eyes! No one in the magazines ever seemed to emphasize the rest of her figure except to report on its weight fluctuations.

I was about ready to give up hope of getting close to her when I was tapped on the shoulder by one of her bodyguards and asked to step to the side. I did and turned around – and there she was.

She was walking in my direction — She stopped to talk to someone about two feet away from me. I was stuck to the ground — I couldn’t take my eyes from her face.

People were pushing me to get near her. Usually, I would have let people get in front of me rather than stand my ground and possibly get trampled.   This time, I pushed back.   No one was getting between Elizabeth and me!

She turned back toward me — her bodyguard touched her arm to urge her onward. As she was turning, she looked right at me. It could only have been for a moment, but it was enough.

I saw them. I looked right at her face — and I saw them. The violet eyes. I felt as if I was close to some fabulous jewels that not everyone would ever get to see and I was one of those lucky ones. Her eyes were all I COULD see – and, they were violet. Beautiful, deep, purple-y violet.

She looked right at me.

As she walked by, she was mere inches away…. I couldn’t believe that I had actually been that close to her. ..

Everyone rushed past me to keep up with her, but I was rooted to the spot. Finally, I turned in time to see her being swept out the door.

Now, here she was again – older, heavier, clearly walking with difficulty, even with her cane. But, the face – there was no mistake. That was Elizabeth Taylor.

She kept looking around and her eyes finally settled on the family I was with. She walked towards us. I was sitting with my arm around the mother of the group. Elizabeth came over and sat down right next to us and then turned her attention to the rest of the family. She started talking to them. The mother had been crying and I had been comforting her — even we stopped to listen.

Her sexy, whisper-y Elizabeth Taylor voice somehow landed for me now as sweet and mellifluous, gentle and loving…

I don’t remember everything she said. She told them that she was so sorry and that she wished that she could do something. She took her hand and put it on the daughter’s cheek. She asked them questions about their father. She listened as they spoke. They asked her to sign their placard with his picture and she graciously did so.

She turned back towards the mother and said something to console her. Then she lifted her head and looked directly into my eyes. I looked back into hers. We were just being there together: Two people, wanting to help, wanting the pain to go away, wanting to make a difference…

I saw her eyes well with tears….

Her bodyguards helped her up and led her away. She looked around as she headed for the front door. She stopped a few more times and spoke to more people, but not for long.

And then she was gone.

It occurred to me…. I hadn’t noticed what color her eyes were…

I’m sure they were as violet and as beautiful as ever….

Something had shifted for me, though…. the beauty I saw that night was her transcendant beauty — a beauty of the heart in service to the world…

As my mother would say, “Beauty is as beauty does…..”

Deliciously yours in the Gorgeousness of it All…. Linda

“The ideals which have lighted me on my way, and time after time have given me new courage to face life cheerfully — have been Truth, Goodness, and Beauty”. . . . Albert Einstein

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen, nor touched … but are felt in the heart.” … Helen Keller

© Linda Ruocco and “Spiritual Chocolate”, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Linda Ruocco and “Spritiual Chocolate”  with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Thank you.

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I have been speaking with lots of my friends lately about the miracles I always see in my life – real miracles – those things that just weren’t going to happen any other way.  For me, they seem to happen all the time…

I remember one of the first times it happened for me — or perhaps the first time I noticed? — that what I said I wanted to happen – simply showed up. Let me share that with you now…

I used to own an apartment in a building designed by one of New York City’s premiere pre-war architects, Emory Roth.  It was one of a group of six buildings he designed in 1926 – three on the North side of the street and three on the South side — all pretty much the same, with just a few minor facade details from building to building to make it interesting.  The buildings were separate cooperatives, but they all got together and planted the same trees, the same plants, and – at Christmastime – they all decorated those trees with thousands of tiny white Christmas tree lights – it looked like a fairyland!   The block is known to be one of the most beautiful in Manhattan.

I was renovating my apartment and was trying to do as much as I could myself.  The apartment was old and had been painted so many times that a chip in the wall revealed myriad layers of paint colors – how many lives this apartment must have had!

I had fourteen doors in the apartment, all covered with the same rainbow layers of paint.  I wanted to remove the paint down to the bare wood and start all over again – that way, I could remove all the bumps and “grapefruit” effect that paint-over-paint creates.   I couldn’t use a heat gun – many of those old paint layers were most likely lead-based paint and that would have been too dangerous.

I discovered a product called “Peel-Away”, which is a paint remover that doesn’t smell and works great!   This stuff is amazing – you spread it on like icing on a cake, leave it for a while, and it liquefies the paint.   At that point, you could simply take a paint scraper and lift all the layers of paint off at one time to the clean wood beneath. It was like magic!

When I worked on the first door, I didn’t realize that you couldn’t leave the product to dry on the wood – you had to take it off as soon as the paint “melted.”  I didn’t realize that, or I was lazy, or both – when the “Peel-away” dried on the wood, the entire door warped and was unusable.

I learned my lesson, and I was careful with all the other doors.   I finally finished them all, and it was time to replace the door I had ruined.   I figured, “I’ll just order one door. How much could it possibly be?”  

I measured the door – it had to be a “right-opening” door and it had very odd measurements: 79-3/8” high, 29-5/16” wide, 1-5/8” thick.

I called every door store I could find.   It turned out that my door had to be custom made because no one made doors that size anymore. In fact, when I checked all the other thirteen doors in my apartment, not one of the doors was the same size as any of the other doors!   All the doors in the entire apartment had been made separately – no automatic pre-cut doors in 1926!   I couldn’t believe it!   The cheapest price quote was $865.00.   That was more than it would have cost to have all my doors scraped by a professional!

I was discouraged. After all that work, I had saved myself nothing.  I just couldn’t deal with how stupid and careless my mistake was – how it had cost me extra work and extra time — and I gained nothing…

I was so overwhelmed just thinking about what I had done. A “dark cloud” descended on me….

The only thing I could do right then was to meditate.   I had been doing Transcendental Meditation every morning since I was 28 years old.   Sometimes, when the world felt too “heavy”, I would do another session later in the day as well.   I could always tell when I needed it – when my thoughts were confused or I was sad or I was agitated. I would get this dazed, tired feeling and that was it. Off to my room I would go and disappear for 20 minutes.

This was one of those times….

I plopped myself onto my bed and sat up against my pillow.  I had a thought before I closed my eyes and took my first deep breath: “How am I going to get a door without it costing me so much money?”   My mind turned off and I entered into a place of peace and calm.

I opened my eyes later and took a deep breath – I didn’t remember thinking about the door while I was in my peaceful state, but when I opened my eyes, I thought, “I need a door. I’ll just get a door. Big deal.” 

I relaxed back onto my pillow and prepared to get back into my day.

I glanced out the window. My apartment was on the second floor and, from my vantage point sitting on my bed, I could clearly see across the street to one of our sister buildings.   There was a dumpster there – “Someone across the street must be renovating,” I thought.

As I stared out the window, I saw two men coming out of the service entrance of the building across the street – CARRYING A DOOR!

I sat bolt upright in my bed – “That’s my door!”  I jumped off the bed, ran out of my bedroom, grabbed my carpenter’s tape measure off the coffee table in my living room, dashed out the front door and down the stairs – I didn’t want to wait for the elevator – I had to get to those guys before they flung the door into the dumpster and maybe damaged it or even broke it!

I ran across the street, yelling, “Wait! I have to have that door!” They stopped, put the door down and set it up against the dumpster. They looked at me, puzzled. I ran to the door and pulled open the tape.   I took the measurements:   79-3/8” high, 29-5/16” wide, 1-5/8” thick.     It was a “right-handed” door.

Exactly the same as the door I had ruined…

I paid them to bring the door up to my apartment. They leaned it against the wall in the living room and they left.

I fell into a chair and just stared at it for a long time – how had that happened?    It was just too perfect to be pure coincidence, but my mind boggled at the idea that it could be anything more…

That was a long time ago…

Since then, I’ve had so many miracles just like that in my life. I think of something, I pray, I let it go, and whatever that is – appears….

I’ve  even tried to manipulate it a bit….  looking for the evidence, saying, “God, did you see that?  I did something good……”  That NEVER seems to work…..  That’s just the ego, up to it’s old tricks…

There’s no surrender in that….

When I stop thinking about it “working” or what I have to do to “make it happen”, AND let go of the fear and worry about that it won’t happen, or what will happen if it doesn’t happen, or how can I do this so it WILL happen….  and… well…  just do what is before me to do….

What there is to do is to have faith and trust that it will all work out the way it’s supposed to….    My prayer isn’t “Can I have this?”  but  “I know You know what is right for me…”  I am always graced with some wonderful “gift” – sometimes, even greater than what I could ever have thought to ask for on my own….

I have come to believe that we are here to create, to have abundance, to have joy and love, and to be at peace…

God opens that door….  All we have to do is to step through….

Deliciously yours in the Mystery of  it All, Linda

“There is no order of difficulty in miracles.  One is not ‘harder’ or ‘bigger’ than another.  They are all the same.  All expressions of love are maximal.”

“A Course in Miracles,”  Text, Chapter 1, Principles of Miracles.

© Linda Ruocco and “Spiritual Chocolate”, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Linda Ruocco and “Spritiual Chocolate”  with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Thank you.

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We often think of allowing God into our lives for the “big” stuff:  illness, financial crisis, sadness, loss, job promotions, relationships  – and we feel that WE should handle the “little” stuff.   I’ve come to find that the more I let God into my life on every level, the more blessed my life becomes.

Here’s one of my favorite stories.   Six years ago, when I was looking for an apartment, I looked at one place after another – and became very frustrated.  I’m sure that my attitude had a lot to do with why I wasn’t finding what I wanted.   I had always owned my apartments before – and what I was looking for at that time was a rental.   There was something about rentals that I didn’t like — maybe because it meant that I couldn’t afford to buy at the time, maybe because most rentals are boxy affairs in post-modern buildings and I’m a pre-war gal, or maybe it’s the high fees that tenants have to pay in order to find a good rental in NYC.   Whatever it was, after looking only a little while, I became discouraged.

One night, after a particularly trying day,  I was in one of my frequent conversations with God, and I said, “You KNOW how much I hate this. Please take care of it for me?  Find me a great apartment in a building You know I’ll like – and please send me an email.”  I laughed as I said the last part…. but, I always figure that God can do anything – and He has to talk to us somehow – why not email?

Two days later, I DID receive an email from my then spiritual coach – and friend – Aleta St. James.  It was an eblast to her entire email list and it said, “A friend of mine has a two bedroom apartment in the Sutton area that she has to give up. Whoever sees it first, gets it.”  I called Aleta immediately to get the name of her friend – and, I said, “Aleta, didn’t you remember that I was looking for an apartment? You sent this to EVERYONE!   They’re ALL going to want it!”   Aleta was so apologetic – she had forgotten….  “Call Amy right away!”  she said.

I called her friend with the apartment.  Amy told me that she had had several calls already.  My stomach churned – you know that feeling?   When we feel like we’re going to lose something if we don’t hurry?   I reminded myself that it was no accident that I asked God to email me with an apartment – and I got an email about an apartment.     So, I comforted myself — if He wanted me to get this apartment, 5000 people could want it and I would get it – no sense worrying about it!

I took a deep breath and let it go….

I walked over to the building that afternoon.  It’s a gorgeous pre-war building, a block away from where I lived when I was younger — so I already knew – and loved – the neighborhood, one block from Sutton Place.    It had a beautiful Tudor lobby and a doorman.  I took the elevator to the second floor. I knocked on the door of apartment 2C.

Amy opened the door and invited me in.

We chatted for a few minutes and then she said to me, “Don’t you have a sister named Laura?” I said that, yes, I did.   Then she said, “You may not remember me, but about 15 years ago, I was a good friend of hers.  I was going out with her husband’s best friend, Michael. Do you remember me now?”  Slowly, the recognition washed over me – “Of course, I do!  How wonderful to see you again!”

As she showed me through the apartment, we caught up on what she had been doing since I had seen her last – and, with her  little daughter playing in the living room, I could see that she had been up to quite a lot.

I LOVED the apartment – pre-war, not quite 2 bedrooms, more like 1-1/2 bedrooms, but perfect for me to have a little office at home, huge bedroom – and, overall, the apartment was about 1100 square feet. I was thrilled. Most one-bedrooms in Manhattan at that price are small boxes.

The piece-de-resistance was the tiny second “bedroom” that Amy had made into a nursery – she brought me in there and I gasped. The room was a fantasy painting of a garden with leaves and vines and flowers and bees and butterflys and even little ladybugs on some of the leaves – she had had the room hand-painted in order to create a garden “wonderland” for her little girl.

It was obvious that I loved it all.  What was not as obvious was that the more I loved it, the more anxious I became that I wouldn’t get it…..

I took a deep breath and said silently, “Dear God, this is the one. Thank you.”

Amy turned to me and said, “Since I know you, if you like it, I won’t show it to anyone else. But, you have to act fast because I do want to rent it within the next couple of days.”

Fast?   You have never seen “fast” like I was moving around in the next few hours. I had the application in, my employer letter over to the managing agent, my checks written and the lease signed by noon the next day.

I got the apartment.

And…. that’s not the end of the Mystery…..

I hadn’t been to church in so many years I couldn’t count them… Sometimes, an occasional Easter Sunday and, perhaps, a Midnight Mass at Christmas time…. Right across the street from this apartment is the Archdiocese office building for New York City – and tucked in the side of this big office building is a little chapel of a church called St. John The Evangelist – with 6 rows in the front and 8 rows on the side – just the kind of intimate setting I would have preferred in a church  –  if I had thought about it  at all!   The entrance was directly across the street from the door to my building.   A few months after I moved into the apartment — in a time of deep crisis — I ran across the street to seek comfort – and found it – and stayed.

Someday, I’ll tell you more about that. For now…. it’s enough that I felt led to this place – to live and to grow and to be devoted and to feel connected.

I live in that apartment to this day…. I sit here now, in my little jewel-box of an office, with its garden-fantasy-painted walls and its view out onto First Avenue in Manhattan…. and I feel safe…. and treasured… and protected by the Divine… I’m at home here.   I do love it so much…

I am so blessed…

Deliciously yours in the Mystery of it all, Linda

“You are still My holy Son, foever innocent, forever loving, and forever loved, as limitless as Your Creator, and completely changeless and forever pure.  Therefore, awaken and return to Me.  I am your Father and you are My Son.”   Text, p.445, “A Course in Miracles”

© Linda Ruocco and “Spiritual Chocolate”, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Linda Ruocco and “Spritiual Chocolate”  with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Thank you.

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