Only Connect

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Lindsay Pontius and Mary Beth CoudalAt the end of August for her birthday, Lindsay (Pontius) and I began writing our seven rules for living at the Yacht Club, also known as the Bistro du Lac. We did this four years ago. At that time, our number one rule was Pile on the People. This time around? Only connect. This is from Howards End.

It is so easy to disconnect. As a writer, I always choose a seat on the outside of the circle. I have to consciously make myself sit at the table. (Reading Sandberg’s Lean In helped.)

I find the sidelines are a good place to watch the action. But do I really want to watch the action? Don’t I want to get in the game? I know I’m mixing metaphors here — a seat at the table and a play on the field. But you know what I mean.

I read Howards End in grad school or maybe I read it for book club. My book club’s been together for 10 years so sometimes I forget where and when I read what.

I do remember the Ivory-Merchant movie of Howards End. It was my first official date with Chris. We saw Howards End at the Paris Theatre. Oh, God, the Paris is like the Ziegfield — such a gorgeous movie theater.

It was my exhusband Jim who told me, “You’ll love this movie.” He was good at knowing what I’d love. Or maybe I was just good at listening to him and letting him tell me what (and who) to love. But with Howards End — what’s not to love? He was right.

Any way, on my first date with the man who would become my second husband, I went to a movie recommended by my first husband.

davidComing out of the Paris, I ran into Diana and David. And Chris was a little ways behind us. So David, playfully, suggested that we pretend he and I were an item.

He said it’d be funny to make Chris and Diana laugh And so, David sort of dipped me on the sidewalk on 58th street and we pretended we were making out. And now — how many years later?! 20? — David died last year, and Chris has Parkinson’s.

And well, it just goes to show, “Connect, only connect.” It’s the message of the movie and the novel and hopefully, this blog post.

Pretend you are making out with someone. Pretend anything. It’ll be funny. Take a seat at the table. Get in the game. Because who knows where you — or anyone — will be in 20 years?

I have digressed. Lindsay and I, over champagne, talked about learning this lesson from her husband Sandy who died of cancer more than ten years ago. She learned you must live fully while you are alive.

That’s why the last time Lindsay and I made rules for living, our number six rule was, “Live every day as if it were your last.” We were inspired by Sandy’s life.

What’s your legacy? What do people remember about you? Were you playful? Were you kind? Did you connect?

Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, And human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect… -E.M. Forster, Howards End

Seeing My Life as an Adventure

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the view from my office

This year I will notice the sun. My life is enshrouded in office dullness. I want nothing more than light — the shine and vitamin D of the sun.

In my sadness, in my busyness, I rush by, failing to notice the sun, the sky, the birds, the laughter, the people.

The sun is now setting; the day is gone. I noticed in a meeting earlier today how everyone ducked their head into their laptops as if their computer screens were a shield, protecting them from what? Each other? Very few of us made eye contact.

New Year’s Resolution: I will notice the color of people’s eyes.

I will be a people person, not a screen person. I will listen more deeply.

I often have something to say; I open my mouth quite easily. There is hardly a topic that you can mention that I don’t know one fact or have one statistic about. I have an opinion on everything.

I do not know everything. There is wisdom in not knowing, in noticing. There is quiet. There can be lulls in conversations. Usually when there’s a void, I tend to jump in. I hate the chasm. Like in a Harry Potter movie, a wide open space must be jumped across. But what if the wide open space simply was a place to meander, to linger.

I am so tired of being the engine that makes every little thing go. “I can’t do it, I can’t do,” I sobbed the other night when I couldn’t sleep. Yes, literally sobbed. The worries of my day multiplied, work worries times Chris’s decline times the kids growing up.

But what if I just stood at the side of the chasm and did nothing? I could stand there like a spelunker at the side of a cave. I have loved a mystery, an adventure. What if — ah, this is good — I saw my life as a quest?

I saw myself as going after something — I am Dorothy in the land of Oz, trying to find her way home.

I open to the chasm. I walk the yellow brick road. I am an adventurer at a crossroads. I am looking this way and that. I am listening for clues. For the sound of a waterfall or the barking of my dog ToTo.

I am not alone, yet I must make my quest alone. And when I come out the other side of the chasm, I can look back and think, I have come far, I have crossed that. Or maybe I’ll just fall into the fiery pit and be burnt to a crisp. That, too, happens in an adventure story.

But to see life as a journey, as a quest, this is the path to follow.