Billy Joel famously sang “Leave a Tender Moment” alone back in the 80’s and I thought about that phrase this week as I tried to push feelings away.
Hey! I’m busy! I don’t have time to get all misty right now…
Ah, but I am alive. And so are you.
We are not machines, though it can feel like it sometimes. Especially when you realize hours have passed by and your to-do list isn’t any shorter than when your day started.
We zero in on “get it done” mode and pay no attention to those pesky feelings behind the curtain.
Despite trying to ignore the interruption, sometimes a feeling visits you. One that is tender and swathed in lovingkindness. It nudges your soul, penetrating your stonehearted busyness so inconveniently.
So easy to push it away.
My Google mini takes one song suggestion and regales me with a day’s worth of music; some are songs I haven’t heard or thought about in years.
I plug away at my computer making work happen, largely ignoring the background noise.
Then, involuntarily, I felt my heart squeeze. A tender moment interrupted “machine-mode.”
It was this song by Stevie Wonder:
It’s a tender song, evoking all the feelings of the love we have for family and friends. And since Aunt Mary’s transition, the need to say these three words while we can is top of mind.
When you stop and let a tender moment breathe, your heart swells. Tears can spill. But oh, how alive you feel!
And then you make the phone calls. Or texts. The “these three words” messages that let someone know they starred in your tender moment.
I’m with Billy Joel.
Leave a tender moment alone.
Thank you, Mark (and so many of you) who “hold up the light.”
And if you’re experiencing a setback, don’t forget to consider the comeback!
My interpretation? Our dreams sustain us through difficult times. They are unsinkable corks, bouncing up as lifesavers (sometimes despite our best efforts to drown in our sorrows.)
Like flowers yearning to break through the cracks of cement, these resilient buggers called dreams stretch onward and upward.
“A dream deferred makes the heart sick…”
Oh, boy (or oy vey!) I’ve had some sick hearts over the course of 56 years. From not getting the part of Dorothy in the 4th-grade play (and instead, cast as the Lion) to watching my younger friends marry during my single 20’s and 30’s, life dumped some #$%^@ on some of my dreams.
“…but desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” – Proverbs 13:12
Beating out thousands to land a job as one of the original QVC Show Hosts! Finally walking down the aisle to a packed church cheering the end of my single days!
Some of you quizzically read those last two lines, knowing that I was unceremoniously dumped by the shopping network and cut bait on an unfulfilling marriage after 14 years.
Hey, weren’t those dreams fulfilled supposed to be trees of life?
Well, they were. For a season.
My tears dried after losing the part of Dorothy. Life went on. Life marches on! What mattered SO much once is just (as my friend Roseann likes to say) a pimple on an elephant’s ass.
Gotta love my spicy Roseann-isms.
Thoughts of dreams stirred my soul this week when immersed in a Sex and the City marathon. The show begins in their twenties with invincibility fueled by cosmopolitans and a fabulous foursome of friends. Over the course of a decade we watch breakups, losses, cancer, babies and so much more that Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte could never have imagined.
Had they a crystal ball, they might have avoided most of their adventures to avoid pain.
And so might have I, as I pondered this photo from my past:
This photo captures the moment in time when I prepared to graduate from college. Already working in my chosen field, there was no doubt in my mind I would be the next Diane Sawyer.
It was my dream to write and speak words. To use them skillfully to inspire and inform.
Also, to be fabulously wealthy and famous. (Look, I’ve never claimed to be Mother Theresa.)
Oh, had I a crystal ball I would have definitely bypassed that QVC audition, kept driving past the church (that ended up being a cult)…
…but in the choices made to avoid pain, I would have lost some of my best stories. And my best friends.
I may not be Diane Sawyer, but I’m really glad to be Brenda Viola.
Yes, Viola. I loved my ex, still hold affection for him, and love that last name. It fits!
Just as I have changed over the years (my taste for pitch black, sky-high hair replaced by golden highlights), my dreams also evolved. Some have come true! (Published author, anyone?) Some remain to be fulfilled.
But that’s the beauty of life.
I believe the dreams of our hearts are Divinely planted. And they must grow! They will materialize in perfect form when the gestation period has ended.
But aren’t we supposed to learn lessons from disappointments?
And once learned, we move forward. To think that life is meant to be a constant string of lessons learned from heartbreaks runs counter to the idea that God (Source, the Divine, All That Is) is good and life should be happy.
I believe life should be happy.
Perhaps my message today is if you are pregnant with a dream, don’t abort it.
Turning your back on your dream is to turn away from your very self.
Your dreams are intertwined with your gifts and answer the question, “Who am I?”
They light you up. You feel most alive when expressing from that deep, holy part within you where the dream lives.
This is what you were made for!
John Russo croons a standard from the Rat Pack. My sister, Shirlee, acts on a moment of inspiration and whips up a calligraphy masterpiece. Artists are brave souls!
I have friends who claim they don’t have dreams. Oh, but when they express their gifts, they so beautifully live their purpose.
Maybe that’s a better word…purpose.
But I’ll stick with dreams. And I hope you stick with them, too.
On this topic of how what we want evolves over time and how when WE change, everything changes, here’s this week’s video:
It is the dark tunnel known as snowbird season in Sarasota. We snobby native transplants hate it. Traffic is tripled and it takes forever to get from point A to B (or to snag a table at your favorite restaurant.)
This is the price we pay for living in paradise, but the light at the end of the tunnel is knowing snowbird season doesn’t last forever.
So, too, with the tunnels of our lives. The dark seasons of our souls are just that – seasons.
Where I get off track (and maybe where you do, too) is when I take the tunnels all too seriously. Instead of distracting myself with a better-feeling thought, I build monuments to the dark ones and envision my future around their bleak paintings.
As if the tunnel times are the end-all story of my life.
When they’re just seasons.
These, too, shall pass.
Oh…but when you’re IN the midst of a tunnel time? Let’s belt out a rousing chorus of “Ain’t No Sunshine…”? Only Bill Withers’ soulful voice perfectly captures the depths of despair. Wailing is apropos.
Milk that darkness for a day or two and it can spin into weeks of not wanting to leave the bed and face the world.
Oh, you do. Because you HAVE to. The lottery tickets haven’t paid off yet and there are people, places, and things requiring our attention.
Have you ever felt like you were walking through quicksand?
Such has been my experience for about a month now. I tried to pin my mood on the new moon, which is supposed to influence the emotions of sensitive people.
But the new moon wasn’t so new anymore. So how to explain this malaise?
And in trying to figure it all out, it seemed I dug a deeper hole.
And then it dawned on me.
This is just a season.
When you’re in the frost of winter in your soul, it can feel like the buds will never sprout again.
Friends, don’t be so hard on yourself. (It never makes matters better.)
Faithful Mark, my loving partner, always wants to make things better. When he sees the dark storm clouds hovering over me, unlike some who would run for cover, he seeks ways to offer light. And I hope the story I am about to tell you sheds light on any darkness you might be feeling.
When I thought I couldn’t even remember how to feel happy again, he said, “Come outside for a minute.”
Still in my bathrobe, with Phyllis Diller hair sticking out and sleep in my eyes, I mustered enough oomph to shuffle out to the lanai.
And there was our avocado plant. Purchased as a housewarming gift nearly a year ago, it always looked healthy, but never offered hope that it would ever bear fruit.
At first, I didn’t see it. But I looked again, and there was not just one, but a whole family of baby avocado buds.
Just like when the Grinch’s heart melted because of Cindy Lou Who, mine stirred with a lately-unfamiliar feeling.
“…and the Grinch found the strength of ten Grinches, plus two!”
Sometimes, it feels like NOTHING is happening. You’ve planted the seeds, watered, fertilized, and weeded them. And nada.
As if it’s Groundhog Day and it’s the same ‘ole same ‘ole and it’ll always be the same ‘ole same ‘ole.
You can feel like all of your effort is for naught. That all of your believing was just a pipe dream. That you should just settle for ordinary since CLEARLY this season of discontent is on an endless loop of auto-replay.
But take heart.
You may not see progress, but something’s getting ready to sprout.
I promise you, it’s getting ready to sprout.
Because there is an end to every season. Even a dark season of the soul.
The treasures you will mine in this fertilizer of darkness will richly serve you when the fruit arrives.
Keep looking for the sprout. It’s coming.
And celebrate the coming change. Because seasons always do.
The passage of time offers clarity of perspective unimaginable when in the thick of distress.
This past week, I enjoyed a full circle experience and could savor with glee what once had been completely unsavory. More like gut-wrenching and heartbreaking.
In fact, if you looked at my life as if it were a stock market chart, the particular juncture I revisited would have equaled my greatest crash.
Ah…but the passage of time offers the gift of perspective.
It’s not the time itself that heals all wounds, but what you DO with the time.
In a whirlwind of excitement, I’d beat out thousands to win a slot as one of QVC’s original show hosts. I moved from New Jersey to West Chester, PA, signed a lease for a new apartment, and settled in to be the star I knew I was born to be. Heady stuff for a twentysomething who’d been making $75 a week as a reporter for a local cable TV news show.
Then, out of nowhere (and after three months of being put on a diet, having my hair shorn so tight it looked like a boy cut, and my wardrobe dissected) I was unceremoniously laid off.
A moment that so sucker punched me, I burst into tears and begged them to at least give me a position in the control room. I had bills to pay!
Determined to not go home with my tail between my legs, I did the only thing I knew how to do to survive.
I waited tables.
It was the breakfast/lunch shift at the Penn’s Table Diner in West Chester. Bleary eyed and dejected, each morning I arrived at 5 AM to fresh-squeeze the orange juice and try to remain sunny-side up when my life was so scrambled.
At the end of each shift, covered in syrup stains, I converted my dollar tips and change into larger bills to ensure I could keep my apartment for one more month.
My ego had taken a huge hit. My perspective at that point in time? Brenda, you’re a failure. One week I hosted a show reaching ten million viewers. The next, burning my hands on hot plates and only noticed when late providing coffee refills.
Still, it served as a testament to my resilience; to my desire to survive independently. Those nearly eight months sustained me until, finally, a position in communications was once again secured.
And, after 30 years, life brought me full circle.
This week, in town for a work conference in…you guessed it, West Chester, PA, I revisited the Penn’s Table Diner. As I sat at the counter with 30 years of life experience since my last visit. I savored my new perspective, sipping a steaming cup of coffee and waiting for my omelet to arrive. Tears of appreciation welled up in my eyes.
When the Okaloosa County Public Library System asked me to present the keynote address at their staff education day, I looked the area up on the map and said, “There’s no way I’m driving to this one!” A good 5+ hours away, the Niceville Community Center was sort of in the middle of nowhere, between Destin and Ft. Walton. In no way would I turn this into a mini-vacation; it would be a quick “in and out” flight.
Still, I wasn’t willing to risk being late for the engagement, so I took a later afternoon flight out of Sarasota and booked a room at the Niceville Holiday Inn Express. All I needed was wifi and a place to rest my head before hitting the ground running in the AM.
No expectations. Certainly no great expectations. This was, pure and simple, a quick gig for which I was grateful.
But Niceville opened my heart with their…well, niceness.
Who shows up to a hotel greeted by a desk agent saying, “Well hello, Miss Brenda! We’ve been expecting you!”?
Victoria seemed genuinely delighted to welcome me, and in the process, charmed me. As we went through the normal ritual of checking in, she smiled and said, “Now have I got a TREAT for you!”
Her glee in delivering the news was drum roll worthy! This woman was so excited to tell me that she was upgrading me to a suite, she actually paused before the big reveal.
All I needed; all I wanted was a bed and wifi. Instead, I got a TREAT. And the treat wasn’t’ actually the suite. It was Victoria’s enthusiasm to be, well…nice.
I smiled as I unpacked my overnight bag, finished some work, and caught up on e-mails. My stomach growled. Wow, it HAD been a long day, and I was hungry — but my options didn’t seem promising.
There was only one option within walking distance – a Ruby Tuesday. I haven’t been to Ruby Tuesday in years! I had vague memories of a good salad bar, but in the recent decade I’ve become a chain restaurant snob. Give me a little, independent, family-owned joint. I eschewed franchises, but hunger prevailed.
As I entered the door, I waited for perhaps 30 seconds for someone to greet me. She did as if seeing a long lost family member returned to the roost. “Oh honey I am SOOOOO sorry you had to wait! Let me get you a nice seat…”
Of course it was a nice seat. I was in Niceville, and it seems EVERYTHING in NIceville is…well, nice.
Food snob – ha! That was the yummiest salad bar, sirloin and sweetest sweet potato I’ve devoured had in AGES. Was it the food? Or was it that everything was so surprisingly…NICE?
The walls came down. This was not going to be a “get in and get out” experience. From the waitress who I observed hugging her regular customers to the bartender who treated the gang assembled as family, Ruby Tuesdays was THE place to be. Because everyone embodied NICE. And Niceville warmed my cold traveler’s heart.
Which was the perfect lead-in to a rousing keynote speech, delivered with heartfelt appreciation for the NICEness of the people of Niceville.
I was nicer because of them.
Reluctant to leave after my second session, Dealing with Difficult People, (are there any difficult people in Niceville?) I waited for my Uber. While the librarians enjoyed the sunshine and dined alfresco on boxed lunches, we told each other our stories of how we ended up in the Sunshine State. I waved goodbye to my new friends, convinced that my driver would also be…NICE.
Yep, an array of candies and toiletries (!) awaited me in his white Dodge Caravan. Doug told me his life story on the way to the airport; a story of leaving his high-paying corporate job to tend to his elderly mom’s health. A decision, he said, he’d never regret.
I agreed. And considered just how big a tip I would give him.
The nice-ness I experienced in my Niceville experience opened my heart. Nice will do that far more than any fancy restaurant or big city shindig.
Real time update: Writing gloriously interrupted by the sound of cheers as the entire airport stops what they are doing to applaud soldiers just returned home from Afghanistan.
Sheesh! My heart swells!
Fun side note: In the middle of my first presentation, it felt like a jet soared right outside of the Community Center and the sound almost made the building quiver. I asked the audience, “What was that?”
“Oh, that’s just the sound of freedom flying.”
The Kauffman EOD Training Complex and EOD Memorial are close by, in Walton County, Florida at the Eglin Air Force Base.
Let freedom ring! And may nice-ness prevail, not just in Niceville, but everywhere.
When TRUST has been broken, how do we avoid becoming hard and bitter?
I came face to face with this question this week as I suffered a disappointment regarding a new friendship.
Full disclosure, my friend was equally disappointed in me.
Two sides, neither willing to yield.
My stubbornness? Born of a newfound desire to not abdicate what I deem precious to make others’ comfortable. To value my soul enough to give it voice and not dismiss my feelings is THE point of my current journey.
Perhaps as I find the balance and rhythm of my new life, I will be more willing to yield, but for now, it is critical that I not.
Here’s why: Because I know that in yielding that first important thing can come a slippery slope of acquiescence; the path to losing myself again.
I refuse to.
And in my friend’s unwillingness to give my refusal space, there came a parting of the ways.
Here’s the kicker: I have written about my carefulness to engage in new friendships. When you have quality, beautiful people already in your life and you’re not needy, you have the luxury of being more discriminating about those whom you choose to spend time.
This person had checked off all the boxes that were important to me: Depth, kindness, spirituality, humor, self-awareness…and I let them in.
Then, the great impasse. The argument with no resolve. The parting of the ways.
One side of me says, “Why even bother? Who NEEDS this?!”
The other side knows that in each encounter are lessons to be learned.
That in the decision to “Get busy livin’ or get busy dyin'” comes the promise of disappointment, hope, pain, joy – the entire kaleidoscope of feelings.
I’d rather live and feel…even if the feelings are sad for a season.
So back to the question, “How do you avoid becoming HARD?”
The freshness of the disappointment was wrapped in a sense of innocence lost. Could I ever be so willing and open with someone new? Had I lost my capacity to try again? Would I become hard – or stay soft?
The answer sank into my heart and was a soothing balm to my soul:
“You stay soft when you put your trust in God, not in people.”
If I put my trust in people, I will always be disappointed. Because they are human! They are as flawed as I am. But to accept that the Universe is unfolding exactly as it ought; that some relationships are just for a season and that there are rich lessons to be gleaned from each one? That comforts me enough to put myself out there again. And again.
Then I hear the words to Kesha’s song “Rainbow”: “What’s left of my heart’s still made of gold…”
But in the dark, I realized this life is short
And deep down, I’m still a child
Playful eyes, wide and wild
I can’t lose hope, what’s left of my heart’s still made of gold
You’ll find a rainbow, rainbow, baby
Trust me, I know life is scary
But just put those colors on, girl
Come and play along with me tonight You gotta learn to let go, put the past behind you
Trust me, I know, the ghosts will try to find you
But just put those colors on, girl
Come and paint the world with me tonight.
You can hear it here:
The rainbow was God’s promise that he would never send another flood that would destroy the world. Yes, there are floods…but they will not destroy you.
Keep living, my friends. Take the hits – and stay soft. What’s left of your heart’s still made of gold.
And now, my video take on the word TRUST and a new Word of the Week:
Don’t you love when friends turn into sisters and brothers?
This week I was reminded of how my circle of friends has widened since moving to Sarasota. My first six months were spent in tears of loneliness. Would I ever find my tribe?
I’d go to get my nails done and actually look around for potential friends. (You know, like in the children’s book, “Are You My Mother?” only the “Are you My Future Friend?” version.)
Thank GOD for my main posse, who were my anchors during those stormy (and lonely) months. Renee the kind comforter; Anita the soulful listener; Cynthia the sassy sophisticate. They never failed to “show up” for me. Because they are so GOOD at being sister friends, I made the mistake of comparing everyone new that I met to them. Who could measure up?
Then there’s my sister sister, Shirlee, who is an earth angel. I won the sister lottery when I was born, and she’s a gift that keeps on giving me tidings of comfort and joy.
There are the friends you hardly see at ALL (unfortunately)…but they are THERE. If I needed Cindy or Roseann, Judy, Linda, Hilary or Antoinette, at a moment’s notice they’d drop everything on a dime to lend their wisdom or kindness without judgment.
When I finally began to relax (and stop whining), a new bouquet of budding friendships emerged. Five-foot-nothing, southern belle Kyle instantly became a huge connector and cheerleader who never fails to make me smile. Karen, who I always introduce as my “two-time-published author” friend has proven to be a true go-to for impromptu adventures and rich conversations. My new across-the-street neighbor Darcy looks like Blake Lively (and I won’t hold that against her) because she makes me feel like her most favorite person in the world (and who doesn’t love feeling like THAT?)
I’ve got two Kim’s – my cousin as well as a long-lost friend from ages ago who came back into my life this year. You couldn’t find two bigger hearts so full of love.
There’s all of you out there that I’ve never met, but you have become my sisters. Suzan Alexander, can you feel the love?
I can’t forget the guys. John, my brother, sings Sinatra to me and no matter what my week is like, it heals or lifts my heart. Eric, my favorite collaborator, is always learning new things and sharing them with me, while being a genuinely kind man. Doug, who calls me “lass”, notices new shoes and hairdos (and, along with the other Sarasota Lounge Lizards made Sarasota finally feel like home.)
That really is what our sisters and brothers of the heart do for us. They make us feel at home in this world.
We go back with them…and we go forward.
I say all of this with a heart full of gratitude and love along with a little fear and trepidation that I have certainly left someone out who should be named. If you were omitted, part of the reason I love you is because you are so wonderfully forgiving.
I count on that breath of kindness from my sisters and brothers. No matter how much is in your bank account as you read this, if you have at least one sibling of the heart, you (and I) are rich.
Now for the new Word of the Week!
Hmmmmmm! I’ll admit to a teeny buzz-kill when I pulled the word OBEDIENCE. However, if history continues to repeat itself, I’ll find some nuggets in the week ahead for which I’ll end up being grateful.
Who are your sisters and brothers of the heart? And how have they impacted your life?