And at every moment, angels.

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How blessed are we to have angels
who show up when we need them?
(And even when we think we don’t?)

Angels who are as obvious as the ones we love…
and as subtle as the stranger who knocks at our door.

In the moments we celebrate.
In the moments we find gratitude.
In the moments that challenge us.
In the moments that wreck our hearts.

At every moment, angels.


©2014, Jen Payne


The FIVE YEAR Mark!

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It’s hard to believe it has been FIVE YEARS since I quit smoking. Five years, today!

It ranks in the Top Five of my proudest accomplishments, sharing space with starting a business, buying a house, visiting France, and writing a book. It is that big.

It is that big because it was not just about quitting smoking. Quitting smoking is not just about quitting smoking.

Quitting smoking is about making a commitment to being healthy — mind-body-spirit healthy — and deciding to change your lifestyle so completely that smoking is no longer an option.

Quitting smoking is about making peace with the empty space — and the fear, loneliness, sadness, and grief that tends to congregate there. Everyone has an empty space. Everyone. And nothing fills it up — not cigarettes or alcohol or shopping or sex…or even cookies. You just have to make peace with it.

Quitting smoking is about the long haul. It’s a marathon event that might be helped by pills or patches or programs, but in the wee hours of the morning, it’s just you and the long, quiet road ahead. You have to feel safe there.

Quitting smoking is about support. Friends and family and loved ones who support your effort 100%. Who don’t let you slide, cheat, reconsider. Who cheer you on with love and atta-girls and encouragement — the day you quit, the week you quit, the month you quit. And yes, even five years after you quit.

But ultimately? Ultimately, quitting smoking is about loving yourself enough. Finally.


To Fred, MaryAnne, Martha, Bob, Carol, Dale, the folks at K&G, Mary, Pamela, Rhonda, Stef, Steve, Tara, DeLinda, Melissa, Doreen, the wonderful women from my Sharing Circle, Dr. Brainerd, Dorothy, David Sedaris, Pat and Betty at CVS, and everyone who stood witness, I thank you from the bottom of my healing heart and lungs.

If you want to stop smoking, please read this book now.


Expectations

I thought it would be different. There are a number of people traveling to Austin on the 6:20 flight this morning, more than I imagined as I drove through Hartford at four and pictured myself alone in the terminal.

The man across from me wears snakeskin boots, but I am certain he is not a Connecticut line-dancing cowboy. His skin is too leathered for such foolishness, too wrinkled with worry about the ranch, the cattle, the injuns. Or so I imagine. Perhaps I do that too often—judge books by covers, weave stories before I know truth.

At first glance, the cowboy seems gruff, but I catch a smile on his face when he waves to a girl asking questions.

“Is that our plane?”

“Can we go inside?”

“What if it crashes?”

They’re the questions we’d all ask if we were young and unfettered in our anxieties. To speak them out loud now would be inappropriate, so we sit in quiet unease.

Her pointed finger leaves a mark on the frost-coated window. The radio said 27 degrees, my sister says it’s 75 in Austin.

“Is that sock weather?”

“Should I bring a jacket?”

“Jeans or shorts?”

It’s hard to know what to expect when you’re someplace else.

There’s a hodge-podge of folks waiting here this morning, young students and older couples, corporate types, and that one character who stands out just enough that we all look again, at least once.

The man I saw in the food court earlier sits next to me. His hair is thin at the top and I notice a hint of gray — he is about my age. Dress pants and a pale blue button down. Is he on business or traveling home for the holidays? I picture both and wonder.

His cologne is familiar, and I think of my lover yesterday, smiling down as I rested my head against his thigh. It was a broad smile that caught me off-guard, and I laughed as he pulled me towards him for a kiss. It’s the first time I have thought of him this morning, and I think I miss him. I want to think I miss him.

Wouldn’t this man in the button-down have seen me off this morning?

Kissed me passionately as if we were parting forever?

Shooshed kindly at the tears I cry whenever I leave familiar?

A line is forming now in this corner of the terminal. First class is boarding, and the rest of us gather our things to wait.

In a line at the coffee shop last night, my friend turned to me and said, “You expect too much of people.” My blush of surprise was as if she’d slapped me across the face.

“You are very loving,” she continued, “but you expect people to love you the same way in return. It disappoints you when they can’t.”

“I thought it would be different,” I said, shrugging my shoulders to change the subject. “I hear it’s 75 in Austin. Can you imagine?”

• • •

Photo, Morning Terminal, by Connecticut photographer Ellen Bulger. Click here to see more of her work.

From the archives, while I work on finishing my book. ©2008, Jen Payne.

The Shedding of Old Skin

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The definition of ecdysis comes from a Greek word meaning to strip off, and refers to the process by which reptiles moult or shed their skin. To my ear, it sounds strikingly similar to exodus: ecdysis. Perhaps it is an exodus — the dead skin leaving the body?

It takes a snake from several days up to a week or more to fully shed its skin. This natural process is directly related to growth: the more a snake grows, the more often it will shed. On average, a healthy adult snake will shed it skin 2-4 times a year.

Humans shed skin, too: 1.5 million skin cells every hour with a new skin surface every 28 days or so. But it is not the same type of transformation — the same obvious extrication from old to new.

I found myself thinking on all of that when I spied this fabulous remnant of discarded snakeskin along the trail last week. I stared at it with the same fascination I did this video of an actual snake moulting: http://youtu.be/xmCflSFk4t0.

Call me strange, but the visceral reaction I had was akin to watching someone stretch or yawn, and I found my body screaming: I WANT TO DO THAT TOO!

I don’t want to wait 28 days for a new skin! I want to shed this one now!

You’ll have to forgive me. The past month has been full of growth, full of things I am letting go of and leaving behind: things I’ve needed to say for years, concerns I’ve been carrying for months, objects returned to rightful owners, and amends made after way too long.

I keep using the word “closure,” but I suspect that’s not exactly accurate. Closure implies shut and done. But I feel like I am still carrying something, holding memories of these old stories and definitions I no longer need, that no longer fit this body, this being.

I know there are new stories to tell now. Other beginnings to find and endings to discover. I guess I just want proof. I want to look in the mirror and see that all of this — this — has changed. I want something tangible that shows my exodus from that chapter of the story to this new one. I want to look down and see my old skin, my old self, discarded there, neatly wound up around itself like this snakeskin left on the trail.

Save for throwing myself against a tree or writhing along gravel, it seems I have no recourse but to allow the natural process of this shedding. Give the old skin time to work itself off. Be kind and loving and patient to the process. Honor the transformation.


The Afghan

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“This,” my friend says, “is lovely.”
Lovely is never a word
I use to describe the ugly afghan
crocheted by my grandmother
and dragged out of storage
when guests sleep on the sofa.

It is avocado green and orange,
milk chocolate brown,
and amber gold,
like the yellow my parents
painted the kitchen
of our new house.

“She picked each color herself,”
my friend explains,
as she carefully runs her fingers
up and over the zigzag pattern
with awe and affection,
though she never
met my grandmother.

It is the color palette
of my seventies family,
when Mom and Dad
were almost-happy still,
my sister played with Barbie
by the sliding glass window,
and my bangs were
appropriately feathered
away from my face.

“She thought about
you and your family
with each stitch.”

I could see her then,
sitting in her green recliner,
counting stitches like
the beads on her Rosary.
“Love Boat” on the Sylvania,
drinking instant iced tea
while a cigarette smokes
from the ashtray.

It was after her husband died,
and she traveled with her dog Coco,
bringing Shoo Fly Pie and
Moravian Sugar Cake from
Pennsylvania to our house
in Connecticut.

That Christmas,
she crocheted ponchos for us, too,
and took me to Hawaii
to see my Grandfather’s name
carved in marble at the
Pearl Harbor Memorial.

The same deft hands
that crafted this blanket
raised son and daughter
independently in the fifties;
folded in prayer
for neighbors and friends;
and prepared feasts
with love
for grandchildren.

“So much thought went into this,”
my friend continues,
as we carefully fold the afghan
and place it on top
of the antique hope chest
in the corner.

“Each stitch, each row,
holds love and memories.”


Poem from the archives, while I work on finishing my book. Words ©2009, Jen Payne.


Words, Always

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There will always be things to say.

I will always have words for you.

Word of love and gratitude.
Words of hope and joy.
Words of comfort and support.

I will have words that share stories. And words that tell memories.
I will have words to lift you up. And words to keep you close.

I will have words on Wednesdays. And words on Fridays.
I will have words in October. And words in May.

There will always be things to say.

I am a writer. There will always be words…for you.