Tag Archives: Aunt Susan

2014: The Ox-Bow Incident (sans rustlers)

Have you ever run a road race? Now that I have fully embraced the notion that somebody has to be last and it’s not the end of the world if it’s me, I really really enjoy them. The best part is seeing the finish line up ahead. Except seeing it doesn’t always mean that’s the end.

One summer when my Uncle Paul and cousin Kirsten were in town and I was home from school, we decided, as a family, to go out and run the Dexter-Ann Arbor 5K. It was a blast. Ab and I putzed along somewhere near the back, but my Uncle Paul is a pretty devoted runner and he was lined up near the front of the pack. My brother Tom lined up with him, but was pretty disgusted when they got going and Paul seemed to him to just be putzing along at a pace hardly better than the one Ab and I had set. Tom could do better, go faster. And he did. As he came around the bend toward the finish line he was thrilled and started sprinting– piece of cake! Except that what he was completing was only the first, and smaller, of two loops. And he was TOAST. Paul passed him up shortly after that and poor Tom had to drag himself another two miles only to cross that same finish line again.

Thank goodness for rachelv.blogspot.com ... the place I kept all my pictures before Facebook was a big deal.
Thank goodness for rachelv.blogspot.com … the place I kept all my pictures before I used Facebook… and Instagram… and Under the Tapestry.

That was a fun day. I couldn’t stop laughing. I laughed so hard my cheeks and my abs hurt.

Oh how I love that story!

Fast forward a few years to a St. Patrick’s day while living in the metro DC area and I decided to run a little St. Patrick’s Day 8K through downtown. A super fun run, as any downtown DC run tends to be (for a nerd like me), that ended right at Freedom Plaza on Pennsylvania Ave. I was rocking it that day. And as I came down the final straightaway, I could hear music and see the balloons arched over the finish line and I was keeping up with a big pack and feeling great and… turning left? away from the finish line? what the?!

Just like Tom, except not quite so bad. There was just a little out and back down a side street to account for the distance we hadn’t quite made. I was fine, I still finished, and still in good time (for me… good time is relative in running, remember), but not quite when I expected or how I expected.


Twenty Fourteen

Did you ever have to read The Ox-Bow Incident in school? I did. I only remember it very vaguely. Pretty sure there was a lynching and it was awful, but what really stuck with me was what an oxbow actually was. In the context of a meandering river, anyway. And maybe that’s what 2014 was. An oxbow. A bend in the path. An extra two mile loop or out and back down a side-street that I didn’t see coming.

I expected a positive pregnancy test in 2014. I expected to be a mother. I could see the balloons over the finish line and hear the music. But there was a bend in the road and here I am on December 31st, out of sight of that finish line once again.


Twenty Fifteen

I don’t know what the finish line is going to look like when I do get there. I don’t know if the balloons will still be inflated or the music will still be playing. I don’t know how long it’s going to take or how difficult the journey is going to be to get there. Maybe it’ll be a quick out-and-back… maybe it’ll be a two mile slog on tired legs… maybe something else entirely. Maybe the oxbow will cut itself off and form a free-standing lake. It’s impossible to tell at this point.

What I do know, though, is that the course I’m on is not as limiting as I’ve made it out to be. My single minded focus on “I want to have a baby” has really limited the life I’ve allowed myself to live for far too long (flare for the melodramatic, once again). I’ve made small steps outside the lines in the last few months, but I could, and should, go further.

For example, my therapist recently asked me what I hoped to have accomplished one year from now, assuming I still wasn’t pregnant. I had no response, but immediately burst into tears. That was pretty telling. (He keeps kleenexes in his office for moments like those. It’s all good.)

So in 2015, we’re taking a bit of a break. I’m going to give my body and my mind a rest. I’m doing other things… I’m running, meditating, and reading. I just got a new full color, hardcover book full of photographs and amazing text about women healers of the world– so excited. So much learning! And being. And learning to just be.


When I announced my non-pregnancy the other day (oh snap, it would have been darkly hilarious to do a photo shoot with the negative test… I can see that now. maybe next time), my Aunt Susan said to me, “I can tell you for sure: life is an interesting line, but rarely a straight one.”

And in that comment, she summed up my 2014 perfectly.


Incidentally, I’ve always had something of an affinity for straight lines. Maybe that’s why this whole meandering business is so difficult for me. Once upon a time, I even got intervented on for it. (Intervented is not a word, but I don’t think to say “intervened” really sums up what it’s like to have an intervention in your honor.) My friends Danielle and Stephine teamed up with my mom to ban me from purchasing any more horizontally striped shirts. (In all the colors. From Old Navy.) In retrospect, it was a good call. Still a good call. It was kind of all I wore for most of high school. I had to switch to solid colored polos after that. (Confession: I’m wearing horizontal stripes right now. Not kidding. Relapse.)


Man, I’m cool.


Anyway… here’s to accepting 2015,  however it may come! Happy New Year!!


Unrelated, but awesome, picture of super Curls!
Unrelated, but awesome, picture of super Curls!

Thanksgiving 2013

Every Thanksgiving, my Aunt Susan writes a letter about the things she’s grateful for and sends it far and wide to family and friends.  It’s amazing every year, but this year it was really something special, and I think it captures both the tragedy and the beauty of a really important moment in the entire history of this family to which I am lucky enough to belong. Such an important moment that I asked if I could share it with all of you, and she agreed.

Thanksgiving 2013

Here’s the setup to my widest, highest, deepest gratitude this year: Dad falls into the Venice canal, nearly drowns, lands helplessly in a hospital where he and my mom cannot understand the language or culture. Despite the dire, frightening adventure the ensued, a crazy up and down, live maybe-die maybe, topsy-turvy mess of decision making, as easy to navigate as the streets and squares of Venice, itself, I find myself at Thanksgiving swimming in a pool of residual nightmare, grace, and gratitude. Gratitude?!? Yes, absolutely, gratitude!

In this morass of emotion, I know I am so fortunate to be working for Howard who didn’t question my assertion that I needed to hop on a plane and be gone for an ambiguous amount of time. And fortunate to be married to and loved by Ed who didn’t question any of my insane requests, like paying my parents’ bills from his own accounts, or my more reasonable needs for him to speak softly and calmly to me across the distance any time of day or night when I panicked about my own limitations. I’m fortunate to have family and friends who understand the power of a random, personal message of encouragement sent just to me in the midst of the crazy story. And fortunate that my mom is wise, capable, open, loving, and determined.

But listen, the truth is I am most fortunate that I got the opportunity to witness something profound.

I have always known that my mom and dad’s love for one another is fierce and just between them, all their own, impenetrable by us kids, unfathomable enough, really, that I gave up thinking about it in the pursuit of my own grown up life, no doubt as it should be… but in this Venice thing, I was given a ringside seat to examine it all. It’s a rare thing to be given the opportunity to stop the manic spin of life to contemplate the very essence of that which makes it worth living. So rare, in fact, that most of use never get the chance – and so I wish to share this picture with you. 

Imagine a scene of a stark white room, gleaming floors, and tubes and machines hooked up to my dad who the doctors say do not have the odds on his side. It’s my mother’s job to bring him home alive or in a box. These are the only two actors in the story, because all the rest of the players are living different lives which will not be so much altered by the outcome. Sure there’s help, and people who wish for the best outcome, but the job really belongs to Mom and Dad. Luckily, these two have one powerful thing that tipped the balance: Love.

What love looked like from my ringside seat, was a zillion small and unrelated things – love is showing up – is insisting to the doctors who cannot understand you that you will be standing by that bedside longer than the hour they wish to grant you. Love is knowing that even if you don’t feel like it, it’s important to look nice, to put on the lipstick and dress with care and add the touch of jewelry, “because John notices things like that and it matter to him.” Love is being prepared to let him go, if that’s his path, but to stand and hold his hand and will him to stay bound to the earth even if he doesn’t feel like it. Love is doing these things even when he doesn’t appear to know that you are there. Love is weighing out if it’s more important to show up with a fever and hide a ferocious cough, or to stay in the hotel and hope like hell you’ll get better soon – and then deciding your presence is the most important thing and that his need is greater than yours; that being there is more consequential than any germs you are bringing with you. Love is acting well beyond your comfort zone on his behalf and insisting, even when you’d like to curl up in a ball and wait for sanity to return to the planet you inhabit. It’s as simple as gelato and as complex as the emotional landscape of a 47 year marriage.

I stood with my parents for hours watching them communicate with their eyes. Even when they finally could use words, the real flow was eye to eye, heart to heart, tear to tear, touch to touch. They know each other. They trust each other. They understand that when one needs, the other will deliver. They know what it is to love and to be loved.

So on this Thanksgiving, for me, it’s quite simply this: I am filled with gratitude for the gift of witnessing my mother pull my dad back from the razor thin edge between life and death with love. The gift of the invitation to think of all the complicated and simple ways that love exists in the world I live in and just how much that matters.

Take a moment. Look around your Thanksgiving table and pay attention to the familiar visible and invisible proof that you are loved. That you belong. That every single action you take matters to someone. Give and accept love like life depends on it. And know that I send you an abundance of mine.

With an overfull heart,


I cry every single time I re-read these words.  I cannot even describe the way my heart felt this spring– when I heard the news that my grandpa had fallen into a canal, that he was in an Italian hospital, that he was in the ICU in an Italian hospital, that my grandma was alone in Italy while my grandpa lay unconscious in the ICU in an Italian hospital, unable to even breath on his own.  My heart was simply broken.  And my family was in crisis.  But my Aunt Susan, my amazing Aunt Susan, got on a plane, went to Italy, and was there.  She was support, she was a lifeline, she was a witness to something really amazing.

Her message serves to remind me of where I come from– I come from love, a big family bursting at the seams with love, founded on love, and constantly giving of love.  My grandfather’s ordeal is proof positive that love is truly the most powerful thing on this earth– more powerful than disease, more powerful than distance, more powerful than accident or injury.  Love never fails.

And for that, for this family, for this boundless, unending, powerful and beautiful love, I am eternally grateful.

Wishing you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving filled with love.

And maybe a slice or two of pie and some leftover turkey for sandwiches on Friday… because it is Thanksgiving, after all.