my balanced life (or my broken heart beats)


I’ve never understood how a heart can be broken and still keep beating.  And yet, here I sit once again, heart broken and still beating.

Carrie and Herman Wandall

Checking Facebook is mindless and automatic.   Glancing past the inanities of our every day life as a way to pass the time, fill an overactive mind always seeking new information.

Sometimes buried in the food porn and relationship updates, I stumble across life-changing, heart-breaking news.

Hello Family and Dear friends,

Our dear Carrie will not be with us as long as we would like. Please send your love, visit, call, send a note or what ever way you would like to show Carrie your Love. Thank you all again for all that you have done for Carrie and I. We are both eternally grateful for all your love and support. Love to all Herman and Carrie

Herman and Carrie, who personify Sufi poet Hafiz’s “A Love Like That”.  Carrie, who has fought so valiantly to beat ovarian cancer.  Carrie, who will not be with us as long as we would like.

Carrie standing in the surf

Last time my heart was broken, Carrie healed me. Saved me, really. I wish there were a way to return the gift she gave me.

Heal her, save her, the way she did for me.

I have a hard time imagining my world without Carrie.  Without yoga classes and healing Reiki sessions.  My world is different, I am different, for having met her, for having spent hours in her yoga studio.

Carrie’s love, her legacy, will live on. The lives she touched will touch others, passing on her legacy to all we touch.

Carrie had a way of blanketing people in love and peace.  In my darkest, most painfully heart-broken days, I knew if I could just make it to her yoga studio, I’d be okay.  I’d survive another hour, another day.  Even when I was too beaten to do anything but child’s pose, life was better if I could just get there.

Now it’s our turn to send a blanket of love and peace to cover Carrie as she finishes her journey on earth.

Our turn to cover Herman with a blanket of love and peace as he says goodbye to his love.

Heart broken but still beating.

My balanced life (or everything happens the way it’s meant to happen)

 Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forward.  Soren Kierkegaard

I had dinner with Sweetness and three of her girlfriends in Charleston this week.  Smart, beautiful girls with their whole lives in front of them.

As we sat at the bar waiting on our table, one of the girls told me she’s graduating in November.  The worst possible month to try to find a new job.

I assured her everything happens the way it’s supposed to happen.

That doesn’t mean we understand why things happen the way they do.

It doesn’t mean things happen the way we want them to, necessarily.

But they do happen the way they’re supposed to happen.

When I graduated from law school twenty years ago, I was pregnant with Sweetness.  She is one of those babies who was planned for, tried for and given up on.  Then she came along, in her own sweet time.

The plans her daddy and I made for our lives changed the instant the doctor said, “I know why you’ve been so sick.  You’re pregnant.”

Plans to move from Camp Pendleton to Florida to take the bar exam and find a job.  Plans for her daddy to get out of the Marine Corps and go to school full time.  Plans to buy a Miata because if I couldn’t have a baby, I should at least get a convertible.

Morning-noon-and-night sickness made studying for a bar exam impossible.

A new baby on the way convinced her daddy to stay in the Marine Corps.  I don’t remember having a vote in that decision, but twenty years later, I know it was the right one.

A two-year hiatus between graduation to my first job as an attorney.  Two years of explaining to people, yes, I’m a lawyer.  I graduated from law school.  I just can’t practice law in this (or any other) state until I take the bar exam.

Looking back, the time I spent at home with Sweetness was the best time of my life.

I look around my life now, my big, wonderful, glorious life filled with love and laughter, and I know I wouldn’t have this life if Sweetness hadn’t come along exactly when she did.

That other life, the one we planned out so carefully, probably would have been a nice life, too.  But I wouldn’t trade it for this life for a second.

Having the opportunity to tell this sweet girl not to worry, things happen the way they’re supposed to, is an opportunity to remind myself as well.

I was married for twenty-three years because that’s the way it was supposed to happen.  I don’t know why, but I know that’s true.

I left my marriage after twenty-three years because that’s the way it was supposed to happen.

Coach came into and out of my life in less than six months.  Lessons learned.  Purpose fulfilled.

Life is a giant puzzle.  Thousands of pieces fit together to make the whole.  Any given piece may make no sense.  It’s only when we fit the pieces together that we see how everything works together to give you the life you have.

Kierkegaard said, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forward.”  Looking back twenty years, I understand clearly how things worked out to give me the life I have today.

Question:  Do you believe things happen the way they are meant to happen? 

adventures in dating (or a pretty good catch)

Love stories have always been my favorite.  Especially the stories that aren’t stories at all.  It tickles me to listen to other people’s love stories.  It encourages me to know love finds people, whether it’s late in life like my client Meredith who found a beau at 70.    Or whether they found it thirty-three years ago, like Linda and Fernando.

sun setting on the intercoastal waterway

Linda told me about how she and Fernando found each other as we floated on the intercoastal waterway.  The sun was a slowly sinking red ball as she told me about how she met Fernando when her son was ten years old.  She’d been divorced since he was two.  She dated but she didn’t introduce men to her son.  She swore she’d never be married again.

There was something different about Fernando.  They met at a party.  By the time she realized he was a younger man, it was too late.  They were smitten with each other.

Linda had been dating another man for about three years when she met Fernando.  It didn’t take her long to realize Fernando was the one.  She says that other fella told her he’d never been dumped so fast in his life.

Fernando is half Cuban and half Colombian.  Linda is West Virginia country girl.  Fernando is younger and had never been married.  Linda was a divorcee with a child.

His family didn’t want him to marry her because she was a Gringa.  Her family didn’t want her to marry him because he was Latino.

In spite of that, they’ve been married thirty-three years now.  They have two beautiful daughters.  Fernando has been a father to Linda’s son.

Fernando is quiet and exact.  An architect by trade and personality.  Linda is vivacious and outgoing.

They are a testament to the saying that opposites attract.

Linda and Fernando

Linda and Fernando

As the sun set, we looked toward the back of the boat, admiring her handsome man.

He’s a pretty good catch,” she commented.

I wholeheartedly agree.

Question:  Have you found your Fernando yet?  Did he sneak in when you least suspected it?

adventures in dating (or miss independence)

lit sparklers

Three years ago this month I leapt madly toward independence.  It was like jumping out of a tenth floor window of a burning building.  Sometimes, it doesn’t matter if there is something waiting to break your fall.  Where you are is so bad, you have to take that leap of faith.

Asking for a divorce was the scariest thing I’ve ever done.  I tortured myself with self-doubt.  What if I was wrong?  What if he was right, and we were supposed to stay together?  What if the separation destroyed our kids?

What if I went through all the pain of the separation and then ended up with someone else exactly like the one I left?

What if I ended up ALONE?  I couldn’t imagine a fate worse than being alone.

I found a dead Monarch butterfly on my back patio around that time.  I saved it, wrapped in tissue in a Premier Jewelry box.  Whenever I was tempted to call my ex, I’d pull the box out.  I’d remind myself that if I stayed in my marriage, my soul would be as dead as that little butterfly.

Three years later, I look back on the woman I was like she’s a character in a book I read. Her grief is a distant memory, more like something I’ve watched on TV than lived firsthand.

Her anger and bitterness a distasteful chapter in a book I never want to read again.

power to choose

I’m thankful for my beautiful children, who worried about me and took care of me as much as I took care of them.  We grieved together.  For a family lost.  A husband and father absent.  For what could have been.  And never was.

As I write these words, tears pour down my cheeks.  A reminder that maybe the pain isn’t as distant as I thought.

I’m thankful for my friends who remind me of Jeremiah 40:31.  But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. 
They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” 

My friends stood next to me.  They soared with me when I could.  They ran with me when I couldn’t.  They walked with me when that’s all I had left.

A couple of times in the last few months, I’ve thought to myself, I love being single.  Or, I like being single more than I ever liked being married.  It’s taken most of the three years to get to this point.

Being alone doesn’t scare me anymore.  I know there will always be people in my life.  Family to love.  Friends to lean on.  Boys to play with.

It takes time to get to this place.  And it’s a good place.

Maybe it’s because I’m in this place that Nature Boy finally found me.

Nature Boy is my biggest surprise.  He drifts in and out of my life like an unanchored boat.  When he’s around, he brings peace and stillness.  He soothes my soul.  As I soothe his.

Five years before I met him, I pointed out his sailboat to my photographer sister.  She snapped the pic and it’s been hanging in my office ever since.  From my desk, if I look left, there’s a picture of Sweetness.  If I look right, there’s a picture of Nature Boy’s sailboat.

Serendipity?  Fate?  Whatever brought Nature Boy to me now, I’m in a good place to enjoy it.  Enjoy him.

Question:  Have you declared your independence yet?  Or are you happily dependent?

adventures in dating (or it’s never too late to find your soul mate)

cardinals and a blue jay for bird watching

My clients are delightful.  My favorite client this week was Meredith.  She makes seventy look impossibly young.  In the middle of our real estate closing, she told me that after being alone for nineteen years, she’s met someone.

My favorite stories are about how couples find each other.  Meredith lives in Sun City, which is an active living community for people who are over fifty-five.  Widow women run amok in Sun City.  Single men (and their waist lines) barely stand a chance.  It’s really quite cutthroat.  I thought I knew how Meredith’s story would go, but I was wrong.

Meredith divorced nineteen years ago. She has two grown sons.  After her divorce, she became a career woman, an outside sales rep.  Between her career, her art and frugal living, she did just fine.  She did not need a man to take care of her or to support her. 

She was always open to dating.  She picked a church that was known for it’s large singles ministry.  But nobody ever came along who really tickled her fancy.

Last year, she got to the point where she would rather stick a hot poker in her eye than go on another blind date.  She made that point abundantly clear to her friends.

One of Meredith’s friends from church went on a blind date.  Joe seemed very nice, but too old for her.  She told Meredith that the entire date she just kept thinking he’d be perfect for Meredith.

Meredith conceded to trying one more time.  She and Joe went to lunch and he really did seem as nice as Meredith’s friend promised.

Joe’s wife was diagnosed with breast cancer when their boys were little.  Because of her illness, he primarily raised the boys.  After her death in 2002, he sold the family home and followed his youngest, single son around the country.  They were companions.  They went to amusement parks and traveled.  Until the son met a woman two years ago and got married.

Meredith and Joe’s second lunch date was the Friday before Valentine’s Day.  Joe showed up with a dozen roses.  Meredith decided she’d found a keeper.

Joe told Meredith he knew she wasn’t the type of woman to call a man.  But if she found something interesting, please call him.  After being married for years to a man who really didn’t want to do much of anything with her, it was a delight to find a man who said he’d do anything except the opera and chamber music.

Soon, Meredith and Joe were scheduled to attend a birding event together.  Joe was on his way out of town, so he asked Meredith to get the tickets.  He’d call when he got back into town.

As time got closer to the event, Meredith hadn’t heard from Joe so she called him.  He assured her they were still on.  She suggested that if he had binoculars and rubber boots, that would be good.  They’d be slogging through the marsh looking for birds.

Joe called the day of the event.  He couldn’t find his binoculars or his rubber boots, so maybe it’d be best if she just went without him.

Meredith took it in stride, found a neighbor to take his place and had a great time.

Within two weeks of their Valentine’s weekend lunch, Joe informed Meredith that he couldn’t see her anymore because he was in a committed relationship with someone else.

Meredith thought that was that, and went back to her previous premise that she was done with blind dates.  She has her artwork, her children and grandchildren, and her friends.  She is frugal with her money and doesn’t need a man to complete her or to take care of her.

Flash forward to December.  Meredith’s phone rang and the caller ID displayed Joe’s  name.

Meredith thought to herself, “That turkey.”

Joe wanted to take Meredith out again.  She rather aloofly let him know she was leaving the next day to spend Christmas with her children in Atlanta.  He said that was fine and asked when would she be back.

He called while she was still on the road heading back from Atlanta.  She had a holiday open house to attend, and because she hates going to those things alone, she invited him to go with her.  Her friends loved him.

They have been inseparable December.  They’ve gone kayaking.  He’s teaching her to golf.  They got their fishing licenses.  Her grandson adores him.  He’s been good to his word about doing anything, as long as it isn’t opera or chamber music.

Joe tells her God brought them together.  Meredith tells him he’s lucky God gives second chances just like she did after he dumped her.  Joe asks her if she’s ever going to stop reminding him about that.  Meredith assures him she probably won’t.

I love their story.  It reminds me it’s never too late to find your soul mate.

Meredith reminds me of myself.   We’ve surrounded ourselves with good friends.  Found activities we love.  Our lives aren’t dependent on finding a man to complete us.

But if the right man shows up, if our soul mate appears on the horizon, we are both ready to welcome him into our lives, our hearts, our homes.

Meredith’s story delights me and gives me hope.

Question:  How long did it take you to find your soul mate?  Or, like me, are you still looking?

adventures in dating (or is it too late yet?)

elderly couple in love

I met the cutest couple recently.  George found Faye in the receiving line at an engagement party.   Faye’s engagement party.

When it was George’s turn to lean in and kiss the prospective bride, he whispered in Faye’s ear, “Is it too late yet?”

As soon as she was done with her duties in the receiving line, Faye pulled her mother into the kitchen.  After discussing how expensive the engagement party was, Faye’s mother encouraged her to wait a little while before breaking up with John.  The fiancé.

Faye waited two weeks before calling George.  First he asked her to dinner that evening.  Then at dinner he asked her to marry him.

That was fifty-eight years ago.  Faye is still as beautiful at eighty as she was at twenty-two.  George is still as tall and handsome at eighty-two.  He still has a hint of the once-dark, curly hair that caught Faye’s eyes.

John, the ex-fiancé, ended up being married five times.  Faye tells me he was too serious.  Not very much fun to be around.

George, on the other hand, has quite the sense of humor.  Every time George made me giggle, Faye leaned over and whispered in my ear, “See why I said yes?”

I agreed with her that he was quite a catch.  There’s something about a man who can still make you giggle like a schoolgirl after fifty-eight years.  Something priceless.

Imagine how nice it must be at eighty to look back on your life and know, without a doubt, that you made the right choice.  You spent your life with your soul mate, who showed up just in the nick of time to rescue you from a lifetime with the wrong man.

I wonder where my George is.  If he’s still looking for me.  Wondering where I’ve gotten off to.

He’ll find me, sooner or later.  When he does, he’ll make me giggle like a schoolgirl.  The way George still makes Faye giggle, all these years later.

When he finds me, I hope I’m as brave as Faye.  I hope I embrace what he offers with open arms and all the optimism in my soul.  I hope.

Question:  Have you met your Faye or George yet?  How did you know?

is it time to cut your anchor yet?

My friend, Chris, is a fisherman.  The kind of fisherman people pay to take them deep-sea fishing.  The kind who enters tournaments and gets paid to fish.

deep sea fishing boat

A few days ago, he was out with a group.  It was a stormy, windy day with rough, choppy seas.  The kind of day only tourists and fanatics will tolerate.

They dropped anchor for a while, as fisherman are wont to do.  When it was time to head home, the anchor got hung up on something on the ocean floor.

When the ocean is rough and your anchor gets caught on something, it can capsize the boat.  Drown you and your passengers.

After trying to get the anchor loose, Chris did the only thing he could do.  He cut the rope and left the anchor on the bottom of the ocean floor.

Chris tied a buoy to the line before leaving it.  When he went fishing again a few days later, the buoy led him right to his anchor.  He pulled the formerly recalcitrant anchor up out of the water and brought it back onboard.

Life is a lot like that anchor.  We get hung up on expectations of how our life is supposed to be.  Or an idea of how someone should think or behave.

The more we fight against the pull of our expectations, the more likely we are to capsize.

Sometimes we have to cut the rope on the anchor of our expectations.  The marriage we thought we had.  The career we worked to achieve.  The life which turned out not to be the life we thought we were getting.

The very act of cutting our expectations loose allows us to float away and re-evaluate before coming back again.

Sometimes we return and find our anchor waiting, rope floating on the surface of the ocean.  We get a second chance.  We can pull our anchor up like Chris did and try again.  Rebuild a relationship.  Revitalize a career.  Redefine a life.

Sometimes, the anchor is gone.  Sometimes it remains hopelessly stuck.

It takes fearlessness to cut the rope and drift away from our anchor.  It takes bravery to come back to it.  It takes courage to find a new anchor, create a new life, allow a new love.

A few years ago, I left a lucrative law practice.  I had great partners and wonderful benefits.  It wasn’t perfect, but it was good.

I left because I was offered a named partnership in a smaller firm.  It seemed like an opportunity to provide greater financial security for my family.

The timing of the partnership coincided with the downturn in the economy that most negatively impacted my division of the practice.  What should have been an opportunity for financial freedom nearly pulled me under.

When I cut the anchor on the first partnership, it was like cutting a perfectly good anchor in a calm sea.

When I cut the anchor on the second partnership, it was an act of desperation to prevent professional and financial capsize.

I floated away from both of those anchors and started my own law practice.  Five years later, I’m still manning the helm of my own boat.  I decide when to draw up the anchor and move to more responsive waters.

Three years ago I cut the anchor that was a bad marriage.  We were as volatile as a stormy sea.  Staying in my marriage would have capsized me.  Staying with the wrong man was drowning my spirit.

Some anchors are irretrievably embedded in the ocean floor.  We tie ourselves to them over and over again, trapped in a cycle of unhappiness.  Always straining against the current.  Always being tossed about by waves of chaos.

When we are stuck in that cycle of turbulence, it’s easy to forget life wasn’t always like that; doesn’t always have to be like that.

If we are brave enough to cut the rope and loose the anchor from our boat, we can sail away into a new life.  A new chance at happiness, prosperity, success.

sailboat on the may river

Copyright Carita Banis Westbrook

We can steer our boat into calmer seas with clear blue water that is as still and perfect as glass.

We can put up our sails and feel the wind in our face as we skim the surface of the harbor.

We can find love again.  Love with someone who is willing to stand next to us on the bow, faces pointed into the wind together.

All we have to do us cut the anchor and sail away.

Just sail away.

Question:  What have you sailed away from?  Were you able to sail back and reclaim it again?