I was sick with a high fever in a beautiful hotel room in Dublin at the turn of the new year, 2011. My mom emailed me to tell me that my gramma was in the hospital very sick, and they weren’t sure yet what was wrong. I wasn’t worried, though.
See, I happen to be one of the lucky 27-year-olds in the world who has all of her grandparents still alive and kicking it. And of those four, Billie Jean, aka Gramma J, is the youngest and spunkiest. She’s the one who drinks the teas her Chinese medicine doctor prescribes, practices Reiki and does Qi Gong. I’ve always just assumed she was going to live to be 120 and we’d be sitting around eating her infamous sugar cookies until 2050.
Billie Jean at 16
After numerous tests and continued time in the hospital, doctors discovered Gramma J had lymphoma. As soon as I got back to Colorado, my cousin Lo and I drove to Kansas City through the middle of the night (or rather she did most of the driving) to surprise Gramma J with a visit at the hospital.
I wish you could have seen the look on her face when Lo and I came into her hospital room. There was a blank stare for a full second before her eyes flickered with recognition and then immediately filled up with tears. We dropped off flowers and candy bars (dark chocolate Milky Way, her favorite), but more importantly we hung out and shot the shit. Lo and I each made little critters out of blown-up sterile gloves while Gramma J made a couple lewd (and hilarious) sexual references and lamented about how she was so sick of Lucy (the monitoring system she was hooked up to).
Gramma ain't taking no shit from that machine!
It’s scary seeing someone you love sitting in a hospital bed, knowing they’ve been there for a few weeks already. It’s scary when you don’t know what is happening or what will happen, even if your mind hasn’t even completely acknowledged yet what exactly is happening.
I was proud of my lil balloon guy for Gramma
That acknowledgement hit me the next month, when I was in Italy. I sat in beautiful giant churches and lit candles for Gramma J and another friend’s gravely sick father. One afternoon I accidentally stumbled into a really fantastic yarn boutique and decided to pick out some yarn for my mom to crochet a hat for Gramma J. Chemo was the next step in treatment for the lymphoma, and I thought it would be nice if she had a hat made from some Italian yarn.
I searched through all of the colors and started conversing in my own head about which to choose. Purple is a very royal and magical color, I thought, and since my gramma is the most magical person I know, that will be perfect. Then I started testing textures of the yarns. I need something that will be soft on Gramma’s head, I contemplated. Need something that won’t be scratchy on Gramma’s lil’ bald head…
And that was it. That was the moment that everything hit me. The seriousness of the lymphoma, my gramma’s mortality, how far away I was, how I didn’t know what to do to help, that there was nothing I could do to help… except for pick the right kind of yarn for my mom to make her a hat that wouldn’t be itchy on her little bald head. Of all the words that had been used to talk about Gramma J for the last month – “cancer,” “lymphoma,” “hospital,” “chemotherapy” – the words “little bald head” was the one that finally elicited an emotional response for me.
Gramma J's lil bald head (it was so fuzzy!)
At this point, not only was I hiding in what may or may not have been the back storage room of the yarn shop, I was also worried that because I didn’t speak Italian, the beautiful little old ladies in the shop wouldn’t be able to understand why I was desperately trying not to snot on the merino, or why I was walking through the shop holding a skein of purple yarn like it was the most devastatingly precious treasure on the whole planet. And because I had finally started feeling the whole gamut of emotions I had been waiting to feel for so long, I could not stop my eyes from dispensing the borderline-projectile tears of someone in hysterics.
I purchased my skein, bought a huge bowl of gelato and a bottle of wine and went immediately back to the hotel room, where I spent the rest of that rainy day indulging. I had chosen that particular bottle of wine because one of the words in its name was “Bene,” which I knew meant “good.” But by the time I was halfway through that beautiful bottle of red, I recognized the first word – “Tutto.”
It’s all good.
From that moment on, each new glass I poured and each new flavor gelato I began enjoying had the prelude of a toast out my window overlooking the main street in Bologna. “TUTTO BENE!” I would shout from three stories up, lift my glass, send some love to Gramma J, and then sit back and enjoy.
By the time my friend got back to the hotel from work, I don’t think he knew the extent of my emotional day, other than I was sitting, giggling on the bed with an empty wine bottle, a purple-stained mouth, and a tiny little neon orange spoon.
Gramma J and my cousin Steve at the Light the Night Walk
Fast forward to Thanksgiving this last November. Gramma J has been kicking ass with her blood tests and scans, and her hair has grown back (quite beautifully, I must add). We stood in a circle holding hands and remembered those who are no longer with us, each quietly whispering from within our hellos and I love yous to a hushed list of family and friends who have continued on. I stood next to my gramma, my arm wrapped around her shoulder as hers was around my waist, and I held her shoulder tight into my ribs. Then we thought of all we had to be thankful for, and I held Gramma J in a little tighter.
“I’m so strong,” she said, quietly. Then, a little louder, with what may or may not have been a foot stomp. “I am so STRONG!”
I turned in and held her, knowing we’d soon be crying, any minute now. “I wasn’t sure I’d even be here…” I squeezed her a little tighter and realized I had feared the same thing.
In all my life, I can never remember being so thankful for anything on Thanksgiving. Standing there with my beautiful, strong and resilient gramma and feeling how THERE she really was are probably the most profound examples of gratitude I have ever experienced on that day.
It’s now been a year since her diagnosis, and after a visit to the doctor today, her blood tests and scans are all fantastic. Way to kick ass, Gramma J.
Team Jacobson at the Light the Night Walk
I’m proud of my family. I come from heaps of love and support and laughter. And I think one of my most recent favorite realizations as I made fun of my mom for being the spitting image of her mom is that if I’m as much like MY mom as everyone tells me, then that means when I grow up, I’m going to be a lot like Billie Jean. That sounds pretty great to me, and I couldn’t be happier about it.
((12/22 – links have been updated and are now working, I promise!))
I had just gotten home from almost a month on Maui last December when I came to Studio Shakta to teach my special Christmas Eve Restorative Yoga class. I had taught it the year before, but considering I hadn’t been teaching for a few months, I wasn’t expecting a huge turn out.
bluebird christmas tree
I showed up an hour early to begin preparing for what I assumed would be a dozen students. I only had enough props for maybe 15 complete set ups, but figured it would be more than enough.
Students started showing up for class about 20 minutes before. And they kept coming. And coming. And coming. More and more, and mostly people I had never met before, they came through the door until we had thirty-four people signed in for class.
There was simply no more room at the inn, as it were, and a few of my teacher friends gave up their spots on the floor and became my Anjali Elves – my assistants who would help me manage this suddenly huge class.
Because we had no more props (and I refused to turn anyone away), I borrowed people’s jackets to roll up as bolsters, tucked people who knew each other under one shared blanket next to each other, and propped heads up with bunched up scarves. When I would ask someone if they could spare one of their props to share with someone who had just come in to the room, no one once ever said no or even looked upset that they would have to give something up. It was incredibly beautiful, and it took all my control to not become overwhelmed by the heaping amounts of love pouring through that room.
My friend (the incomparable Peggy Dyer) recorded the class on her voice recorder, and just shared the file with me yesterday. And so, I present to you, the full-length Holly Anjali class from 2010. Please enjoy it and forward it along to your friends and family.
Find a nice, quiet space to set yourself up in. Maybe even under your Christmas tree!
The volume of this class is soft, so you might want to use headphones to be able to hear everything.
Lie on your back and cover up with a blanket.
Roll up a big fluffy blanket or pillow and tuck it under your knees.
Put a washcloth or eyepillow over your eyes.
Try to follow along with the instructions given through the class – or just stay there for the duration of the class! Do what feels good and allows you to relax.
Remember: Less is more. Let yourself be still and quiet. Know that all the moving around you hear in the recording is from the 30+ beautiful souls who attended class, and let that love permeate through your being as you enjoy some quiet time.
As is long since become tradition, each Thanksgiving provides a reason for reflection of gratitude through a list. It’s an easy way to remind yourself of how lucky you are; to keep connected with all that there is that is good in your life. This practice does not have to be exclusive to every third Thursday of November. In fact, it is probably much more effective to growing and sustaining your spirit if it is done on a regular basis.
In any case, for the past few years, I wake up on Thanksgiving day, pull out my phone and spend the first few waking moments of my morning texting some of the people I love most with why I am so thankful for them. I used to go through my phone and text almost everyone on there, but now I have so many people in my address book that I have to be content to celebrate my multitude of friends and be thankful for the fact that I have more people to thank than I have time to do it in.
I never send these texts in hopes of getting anything back, but I’m always humbled and touched by the responses I receive. Ultimately, when you tell people you love them and why you love them, you open up this line of communication that is unrivaled in its level of importance in a relationship. To communicate your love and gratitude is to speak to Love itself, and to have someone likewise confide in you of their returned love is to hear Love speak directly back to you. And for that opportunity to speak of Love, to Love, through Love and from Love is one of the things I am most grateful for.
Other things I am thankful for:
That my grampa just came home, turned on the tv to a Charlie Brown movie, and left it there.
Warm farts in a cold car. Or, alternately, seat heaters.
People who know the difference between your and you’re.
Getting to visit my family in Kansas City four times this year. (a new record since 1998!)
Getting to see my best friend three times this year. (also a new record, since 2005!)
That I still have my teddy bear. And that I am totally comfortable with admitting that I tuck Balanca into bed before I leave for each trip.
Each and every one of the 40 flights I have been on in the past year.
My hilarious little sister, who laughs at all of my jokes, even when they’re not that funny.
Every time I see an old couple walking down the street holding hands. It gives me hope in a long-lasting, growing and adaptable love, and faith that I can have the same.
To have learned that I alone can make myself happy through the choices I make. And when I make the choice to live a happy life, it inevitably inspires those around me to take the same step.
A great book.
A hand to hold.
Catching up with friends over a cup of coffee, cider, chai or sushi.
To have started planning for my 30th Birthday Adventure with my closest Sistercousins, which extends to my sisters from other misters.
Being able to say I have played in both the clear waters of the Caribbean and the lively waters of the Pacific in the past year.
A family that loves and supports me.
Being able to touch my toes.
An opportunity to work for a job the prioritizes adventure and lets me work from wherever I am.
Another Thanksgiving with all four of my grandparents, including my gramma, who is kicking lymphoma’s ass.
Long walks with my gramma, talking about the things that are really important in life.
Not having to work retail on Black Friday anymore or wait tables on Christmas Eve.
The most incredible, strong, courageous and inspiring women who are my dearest friends.
A Very Gaga Thanksgiving. Seriously. I’m watching it with my grandparents right now. Grampa thinks she’s a kook, and Gramma is intrigued.
Homemade ILoveYou cards from my cousin, to remind me that she does. Not that I ever doubt it.
I’m incredibly thankful for the fact that my gratitude goes on and on, and I could literally spend hours and pages trying to list them all, and still not feel like I’ve covered it all.
Tomorrow will be one year exactly since I left my job and went straight to the airport to take the red-eye flight to Boston to load up my cousin’s two-door Jeep Cherokee and move her happy ass out to Colorado. Taking an 8+ day roadtrip across the country was THE perfect way to kick-off what became a year of travel and adventure all over the place.
Naturally, I decided to make a video montage using footage I’ve accumulated over the last year of adventure. Please, join me on this nostalgic look back over the past year.
The song in the background is a little ditty I wrote last September that I’ve been holding on to for the perfect debut opportunity! (:
When I first was trying to decide on my website address, I struggled with “Little Bluebirds.” I was afraid that if I made bluebirds my schtick that I would be committing to it – and I didn’t know if I wanted to end up with dozens of knickknack bluebird kitsch.
A friend of mine from high school stopped by my house the other day to give me little birdcage with a handmade porcelain bluebird that she sat in a nest of grass. She saw the birdcage and thought of me – so she MADE the little bluebird.
Shannon walked into the studio the other day with a sweet little bluebird paperweight. I let it rest in my lap when I drive back and forth from Denver to Boulder.
My friend (and blossoming Anjali Restorative teacher) Elaine gifted me a sweet statue of a girl with bluebirds resting on her outreached arms. It sits on my altar.
My momma gave me a bluebird pin that had been hers for years upon the completion of my third teacher training. I’ve lost it a zillion times in the past year – but it always finds its way back to me.
Joyce taught the MOST beautiful Anjali Restorative class themed on bluebirds on the last day of our Anjali teacher training – and I bawled for hours.
I’ve learned that through these genuine expressions of friendship and love that they’ve shared with me, it reaffirms the original little bluebird that was placed so deeply in my heart to begin with. It’s not that they are giving me gifts that I know they love me – it’s that they’ve been listening to the things that I’ve said, and that it’s made a little impression on them. That I can express the love that was shared with me to others is an incredible accomplishment – one that I continue to practice, time and time again. It’s not always easy to share openly, to love freely and to have passionate faith in love – but sweet dammit, I’m going to keep trying.
I’ve had a couple of friends now pass to me this poem by Charles Bukowski. Perhaps it’s time to share on…
There’s a bluebird in my heart that wants to get out but I’m too tough for him, I say, stay in there, I’m not going to let anybody see you.
there’s a bluebird in my heart that wants to get out but I pour whiskey on him and inhale cigarette smoke and the whores and the bartenders and the grocery clerks never know that he’s in there.
there’s a bluebird in my heart that wants to get out but I’m too tough for him, I say, stay down, do you want to mess me up? you want to screw up the works? you want to blow my book sales in Europe?
there’s a bluebird in my heart that wants to get out but I’m too clever, I only let him out at night sometimes when everybody’s asleep. I say, I know that you’re there, so don’t be sad. then I put him back, but he’s singing a little in there, I haven’t quite let him die and we sleep together like that with our secret pact
and it’s nice enough to make a man weep, but I don’t weep, do you?
Who would’ve thought a 78 year old Jewish woman from the Bronx would be the love of my life?
Three years ago, I was working at a doctor’s office as a part-time aide. I pulled patients’ charts for the next day appointments, scanned medical documents, and organized incoming faxes for the doctors. But undoubtedly, my favorite duty was calling patients to remind them of their appointment. Most of the patients were well past retirement, and sometimes I would have to yell for them to hear me. Sometimes they would think I was their daughter. Other times, they would tell me all about their incontinence, flatulence, son or daughter – or their son’s flatulence and their daughter’s incontinence. Some would hang up without saying goodbye or thank you, and others would simply not understand why I was calling them.
Then there was Roslyn. She was my favorite. She would call me Booby, tell me I’m a doll and that she loved me. And for whatever reason, she turned into one of my favorite people in the history of the world. She would come in about every two weeks, and her appointment was always at 3pm. Every time I’d see her name on the schedule, my heart would jump and my hands would shake as I went to call her number. I wanted to talk to her for hours, and just listen to that quintessential NewYorkJewish accent call me affectionate names I’d never even heard of.
I always got off work at 1, so I had never met her – until my last day of work.
I waited around for two hours after my shift. When she arrived, everyone knew I was anxiously awaiting her, so they hollered at me to go meet my best friend. I peered around from behind the shelves of patient file folders into the waiting room – and there she was. I walked up in front of her and nervously stammered, “Hi, Roz, I’m Elizabeth, I’m the one who…” and she interrupted with a, “I know who you are, doll,” grabbed my hand, and pulled me to sit down with her.
We sat and held hands, like old friends, or family, or even some random 70something sitting with some admiring 20something year old super-fan.She asked me why the hell I was leaving and I told her I was working two other jobs and she promised to come visit me. We talked about school and the future and how her granddaughter is about to write her master’s thesis and how her late husband used to teach plant pathology at the university. She pointed to her oxygen tank and told me she was coming from her lung therapy appointment – only to cut herself off, mid-sentence.She squeezed my hand extra-tight, and looked me square in the eye with so much genuine love.
“Darling, I wish you all the little bluebirds in the world.”
And it was at this point, like a goon, I started crying. Why? I don’t know.Couldn’t tell you. Call me my emotional mother’s over-emotional daughter, but sitting there holding hands with my idol, she was everything I’d hoped her to be (minus the blue hair, diamond studded cat-eye glasses, and sequined sweater I’d always imagined). She told me this job at the office was too boring for me because I was too smart for it. And she told me she always talks about her peaches-and-cream that calls from her doctor’s office. That she’d miss me something awful. And that she loved me.
Turns out, I meant as much to her as she meant to me, however that happened and under whatever weird circumstance.
And maybe that’s why I couldn’t stop crying. Why even now, a few years later, I am overwhelmed with unexplainable emotion when I speak of her.I met this strangely amazing woman who gave me a kiss on the cheek and called me her dear, dear friend, and I never have ever, EVER doubted her sincerity or love.
At the time, I was in need of the realization of the person I wanted to be. I was a mess of an existence; maxed out working five months without a day off, sixty hours a week between three jobs, stressed out, on edge, depressed, and coming to a boil. Meeting Roz was like popping a zit of emotion or something gross like that, with all of this nasty stuff I’d been bottling up inside of me for absolutely no reason coming to a head and struggling to be freed.
I want to be like Roz. When it comes to the rest of my life, I want to be like Roz. I want to be that person you know nothing about other than notes in their doctor’s chart that you sneak peeks at every time you pull it to make sure she’s doing okay and find yourself so moved by her genuine kindness and whatever magic little spark there is inside of her that you feel it in those two minute phone conversations and it makes you infinitely better for holding her hand for five minutes.
As I sat there next to her, I couldn’t even find the words to tell her she was my favorite person – or maybe I did, but I was so wrought with emotion that I may have not said a single word the entire time. I called my mom crying to tell her I met Roz, tried to mask my emotion when my boyfriend answered his phone briefly, cried while I filled up my car at the gas station, cried while I drove home, cried on the couch harder than I’ve cried in a long time, and am even crying again now as I write this.
Have you ever fallen deeply in love with a stranger? Even if it was only for a brief moment – like watching a little boy tenderly kiss his baby sister in the shopping cart at the grocery store. Or seeing a married couple in their 80s holding hands as they walk down the sidewalk. Or making a new friend and connecting with them so passionately, that after a week you can’t imagine living your life without them in it. I happen to believe that we each have a series of Soul-mates that we are meant to cross paths with in our lives. They each have a different lesson to teach – sometimes with a beautiful feeling, endless fits of laughter, or an inexplicable familiarity; sometimes in the most painful of ways. They touch us in a way that can’t be put to words.
These Soul-mates aren’t here as missing pieces to our life’s puzzle. They’re mirrors – they reflect back to us pieces of ourselves. Sometimes, it’s the part of us that we don’t want to be reminded of, and those are the people that usually drive us nuts. But what Roz reflected back to me of myself was powerfully touching to me. She showed me the compassionate, powerful, loving woman I longed to be. The way she spoke of her late husband made me realize I was not in the relationship I wanted to be in.That I was too smart for all these random mindless jobs I was trying to distract myself with. Her kiss reminded me of the pure love I have to share with so many people yet in my life.
And she reminded me that dammit, I’m worth all the little bluebirds in the whole wide world.
Who has touched your life? Pay reverence to their memory, and know they’re always with you.