Happy I’m Alive

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, is in a small boat photographing Cayuga Lake and thinking of the flooding in Texas and the people who lost everything.I’m in a boat the size of my Prius. On Cayuga Lake in Ithaca, New York. Here, the weather was calm and sunny while Texas got blasted with Hurricane Harvey and epic flooding. The TV images still swamp my mind: boats floating between houses; the elderly couple supported by strangers as they trudged through knee-deep water to reach the rescue boat; tops of cars like small islands in oceans of flooded streets; the dog walking alone carrying a bag of dog-food in his mouth as people evacuated their homes holding whatever precious possessions they could carry.

On CNN I watched as evacuees were interviewed in busy shelters, one after another reporting, “I’m just happy I’m alive.” They’d lost their homes and belongings, beloved pets, neighbors, the feeling of safety, their dreams… their way of life. Some lost loved ones. Some lost everything they had. So much suffering and loss. Yet after all they’d been through they were grateful, “happy to be alive.” Hopeful. There was something more to look forward to, to live for.

The way I see it, loss can scar your life or be its reawakening. You can drown in your troubles and be swallowed up forever in disaster. Or you can allow it to fuel you, make you stronger, make you do something to help yourself and others.

How much hope and energy are you willing to invest in an uncertain future? Nothing is guaranteed. Anything is possible. The future depends on what life throws at you as much as what you choose for yourself. And the road to recovery can be long and rocky.

Six years ago I lost my daughter in a storm called cancer. And here I am floating in a boat, watching the water and surrounding green hills, and finding a million things that make me want to sing. My life is sad and it is beautiful. Many days I am only a breath away from a flood of tears. But I, too, am happy to be alive.

 

How has the hurricane hit you? What is the storm that stands out in your memory, that changed you?

 

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Anxiety Addiction Intensifies for First Radio Interview

Robin Botie photoshops her anxiety addicted self at her first radio interview on Tish pearlman's Out of Bound Radio Show.Looming fear. Stress. Dread. My name is Robin and I am addicted to anxiety.

It started way before cancer or my daughter dying, and long before I knew about global warming. Even before the last election, I was hooked on worrying. Always poised for danger, I feel lost without something to worry about; as soon as one anxiety is resolved I replace it with a new concern. I confess: being anxious is my normal. It excites me; it numbs me. Most of the time it consumes me. And this past week it totally possessed me.

Fortunately there wasn’t much notice before I learned I was to be interviewed by Tish Pearlman for her Out of Bounds Radio Show. But I suffered several sleepless nights, wondering if I would be able to focus and keep my train of thought. What if Tish asked me something I didn’t know or couldn’t remember the answer to? Bad enough that I struggle to remember words even when I’m not under pressure, what if I got tongue-tied? All week I panicked in full force fight-or-flight mode, considering canceling yet preparing for every worst-case scenario. On Interview Day, armed with seven typed pages of notes, I trudged up the stairs to the Rep Studio.

And yes, during the interview, all the things I worried about happened. The blanking out, the forgetting, the trouble concentrating…. And as I struggled to understand and respond to one of the questions, I remember telling myself, Okay, this can be edited out. But when the interview was over I forgot to mention it. Relief spread over me like a warm fuzzy blanket, and I sat there, speechless, as Tish smiled, letting me know I could go.

Later, in the middle of that night I woke up horrified, remembering that one particularly embarrassing response that had nothing to do with anything I wanted to say. The entire remainder of the long night, I couldn’t get the thought out of my head until I emailed Tish in the morning, and she emailed me back, No … don’t think we can edit it out.

So now I’m inviting you all to tune in and see if you can find that embarrassing part of the interview. Because sometimes, to get over extended anxiety attacks, it’s best to take deep breaths, tear the insulting idea up out of the dark depths of your sensitive psyche, acknowledge your emotional disruption, and then blast the whole issue apart by sharing it all over Facebook for the world to see.

BROADCAST DATES and TIMES:

Sat Sept 2  at 3:30pm pm: WEOS-FM ( 90.3 & 89.5 Geneva/Seneca Falls region) Live Stream: WEOS.org  for those out of region

Sun Sept 10 at 11:30am: WSKG-FM (89.3 Binghamton, 90.9 Ithaca 91.7 Cooperstown/Oneonta, 91.1 Corning/Elmira, 88.7 Hornell/Alfred)
LIVE STREAM: WSKG.org    for those out of region

After broadcast, shows are available at www.outofboundsradioshow.com

What craziness keeps you awake nights? What advice can you offer for dealing with excess worrying and panic attacks?

 

 

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The End of an Era

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a restoration of a photo of her young children, now the end of an era.My mother’s house in Massachusetts had sold, and I was desperately searching the shelves to take away something to remember all the sweet times over the twenty years in that place. Tears welled as I took a final glance around, said goodbye, and went out the door for the last time.
“It’s the end of an era,” friends kept telling me, when I arrived home sad and dazed. I thought about that. I tried to envision all my personal eras: childhood on New York’s Long Island, college and graduate school upstate, two decades in business designing my world as Silk Oak, and the years spent raising my babies into adulthood. But the “end of an era” meant far more than simply the loss of this time and place. Something bigger was ending.

For as long as I can remember, there were adults in my life I looked up to, ones higher up than my parents. There were important people who took care of us and I trusted them. Kind Doctor Strauss, the firemen who stopped our boiler from exploding, the tall policeman who occasionally visited PS94 to talk to us about safety, my teachers, … my President. The ones who had my best interests in mind. I felt safe and secure because I was in what my father called “the best country in the world” and we had really strong leaders. Later, I got to vote for some of my leaders. How amazing when the ones I voted for were elected; how much faith I had when the other team won, that we would still be lead judiciously even though under another brand of wisdom. Those days when I casually wondered what a World War must have felt like, or when I didn’t have to consider that I might possibly be a next target of racism or discrimination – that was an era.

Losing my mother’s place where I loved spending long weekends is sad. Losing the ceramic bird and beautiful white blankets my mom said I had to leave behind for the new owners is mildly heartbreaking. But losing my security and the trust that my leaders are looking out for me – this is indeed the end of life, as I’ve known it.

 

What does “the end of an era” mean to you in your life? What helps you deal with disappointments and worries in the world today?

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Blooming and Blossoming Aunts and Uncles

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York photographs a lotus pond thick with lotuses at all stages of life.I’m running out of aunts and uncles. Last week my beautiful, brave Aunt Ilse died. Now I’m down to one aunt and one uncle. Plus another aunt who is really my first cousin once removed. Somehow, while I was mooning over all my cousins’ children’s babies wishing I could hold a grandbaby of my own, I hadn’t noticed the shifting of our family tree.

It used to be there were enough of them to fill every holiday, enough aunts and uncles to have favorites. My cousins’ parents. They weren’t at all like the parents of my friends. No, these adults were mine, as in My Aunt Bope and My Uncle Max. They showed an interest in me; perhaps they were seeking similarities to their siblings. If I did something remarkable, like get married or have kids, they gave me gifts. They gave my children gifts. They always seemed happy to see me. And at each stage of my life, I’ve loved being in their company. But over the years they’ve been disappearing.

There were only a few days between the joyful family event that brought my tribe traveling west to Colorado and then south to Ilse’s funeral in Florida. In between, in Ithaca, I met up with my photographer friends at a lotus pond. We took pictures of young shoots emerging from the muddy pond bottom, new pointy-leaf buds, and unfurling blooms already pinked out or still green like their stalks. Some of the flowers had petals opened wide and falling. There were old dried up, naked pods standing tall or bent downward. The pond was thick with lotuses at all stages of lotus life.

Stages. Changes that happen between life and death. The shifts I’ve made from thinking in terms of my tiny shrinking family (my single child left, one remaining uncle, one of this and one of that…) to considering the whole family forest. My cousins and my cousins’ children are now aunts and uncles. They branch out with partners and step-kids and “extendeds.” Thanks to all their blooming and blossoming, our tribe continues to grow.

And maybe it will be my funeral they gather at next. Or maybe, I’ll soar up into the sea of clouds above the magnificent flowering earth, and be the one to outlive them all.

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An Unexpected Moment of Joy

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, at peace, watches the sky and is grateful to be exactly where she isA feeling came over me like a brain wave. A flush of contentment, an inner spread of bliss. Like sweet fortified wine seeping through my entire system.

There was no reason for this. I’d traveled from Ithaca to Denver via Detroit. I should have been cranky. And I had been most of the day. But then, fifteen hours after boarding the early morning plane I found myself sitting on a folding chair on the lawn outside Temple Emanuel in Denver, with my sister and cousins and a hundred or more strangers hanging onto cellphones, children, and dogs. Under a graying evening sky we sat, listening as the temple’s cantor played her guitar and sang like an angel, and asked us to rise-if-able, and be seated, and rise-if-able again and greet those around us.

This was not a scene I’d usually find comfortable. But sitting there in the gentle breeze I forgot about how many hours I hadn’t slept. I forgot about the harsh descent into the dry brown desert surrounding Denver International, and the haze that hid any possible view of the nearby Rocky Mountains. My sore back and restless leg syndrome grew faint and almost disappeared. Soon it no longer mattered that I couldn’t see the mountains or any decent-sized body of water. Something in the music or in the air had squelched every ache and disappointment. I melted back into my chair and smiled at the kids playing quietly with dogs as the cantor continued her songs. At peace with the world, I watched the sky, grateful to be exactly where I was.

I even joined in some of the singing.

And even though the people were singing in praise of God, and even though I myself had not spoken to God in many years (or even checked in briefly to see if anything had changed in our relationship), I’m pretty sure if I lived anywhere near that mile-high-in-the-sky city of Denver, I’d be going back to the Friday evening services at the temple every week to recapture my moment of pure, perfect happiness.

 

When and where did your unexpected moment of joy happen?

 

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The Life Changing Event of my Son’s Birth

Robin Botie of ithaca, New York, restores an old photograph of herself showing her young son an ocean, in Photoshop.The person who changed my life, as much as and maybe more than my daughter who died, is my son. My first-born. On the day my son was born, my most life-altering event (next to my own birth) happened: I became a mother.

That I became a mother at all is a wonder. Motherhood was not on my to-do list until it was almost too late for it to happen. I was too busy trying new things, trying to find myself, be an artist, become a teacher…. I wanted to travel the world. But when I birthed my son, my world was immediately and utterly funneled into his eyes and the sweet space directly around him.

He doesn’t like when I write about him. So, mostly, I don’t. But I think I can tell you about how terrified I was, at the beginning, to bathe him or cut his nails. I still remember how scary it felt the first time I strapped my son into his car seat and drove to the supermarket. How I wrapped wool blankets around him as he slept, until the hair on his head matted down in sweat. How I kept checking to make sure he was still breathing.

My beautiful amazing boy grew to be bold and strong. Fearless. A completely different creature from his mother. When he finally left home, I stayed up late nights waiting for the familiar chirping sounds of him communicating on Instant Messenger. From faraway deserts riddled with improvised explosive devices, I messaged him back, “Watch out for the giant spiders out there” and “Eat lots of protein.”
“You’re a wimp,” he always says, eyeing the dog squirming in my arms. And I’m sure he’s really saying that to me, I’m a wimp. Yet I know being a mother is the bravest thing I’ve ever done.

It’s his birthday today. And it’s the anniversary of the day I came to know what it means to love someone more than myself.

Early on I showed my son a beach and he led me to the ocean. Ever since, he’s been traveling the world, trying new things, phoning home from distant shores and making me speechless in awe. Making me proud.

 

Who changed your life? What was your most life-altering event?

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