Big Summer Potluck 2011

I have said time and time again that The Universe gets me to the places I need to be at the exact moment that I need to be there.  I may not even realize in the moment that something profound is happening. Or there may be an awareness that washes over me that I need to pay attention.  I may not know why, I just know that I do.  And at a later time, the why makes itself known.

I have also made a confession or two here on the blog.  They have been tongue in cheek confessions but it would not be dishonest to say that I use this platform the way some people use religion.  Through this blog I have found a community that is overflowing with love, understanding, support, and encouragement.  Being in the presence of the people I have met as a result of BAH brings me peace and lifts me up.  It touches me deeply to share time in their presence and to share a meal of communion with them, in a way that religion and church never has.

So it really should not have been unexpected that at some point in my life these two bricks in my foundation should intersect.  And on July 30th, in a converted barn in rural Pennsylvania, at Big Summer Potluck 2001, that’s exactly what happened.

My cell phone was put away.  I wasn’t checking email or tweeting.  I made a conscious decision to be in the moment…to give up control.  I was listening to Shauna Ahern speak.  We were at a blogging event so ostensibly her remarks were about this activity we all engage in.  And yet, it was so much more.  I can’t speak for anyone else in that room, but as Shauna’s words reached me I heard her telling me that it’s ok to be vulnerable, to face my fears, and not to let myself get in my own way of finding happiness and success. Not just in blogging, but in life.  That sometimes there are thing that you absolutely have to say and trying to ignore them will simply give them more power.  In that moment, I knew why I have struggled so mightily with finding the words for BAH.  I have been trying to ignore the words that needed to be said because they scared me.  In my mind, I could pick out on one hand when I was truly being authentic instead of merely filling space to get to a recipe.  And I thought that was where the lesson ended.

Then at lunch, in a completely unrelated conversation, I finally admitted to myself that I was filled with sadness because I did not have a single happy childhood memory of a time with my parents.  They had divorced when I was very young. I had absolutely no context of them together.  And through my experience as their child, I could not wrap my mind around what had brought them together in the first place.

It was being out of my normal routine, away from the usual barriers that I put up to avoid this truth, that I finally acknowledged it.  There was no laundry to do, no dishes to wash, no food to cook.  Once those were stripped away and I was surrounded by these people who valued me for me that I could finally have the courage to admit to my own profound sense of loss and regret. It was powerful in a way that I could have never anticipated.  And I thought that was where the lesson ended.

Later in the afternoon, Penny De Los Santos spoke about capturing moments and making pictures.  She spoke of patience and waiting for the moment and being able to connect to another person through the camera.  She painted vivid pictures for us with her words instead of her photographs.  There were tears in the room as she painted these pictures.  Tears of humility and vulnerability.  Tears of acknowledgment. Tears of sadness.  And then I thought that was where the lesson ended.

We shared in a wonderful dinner.  We raised our glasses to one another and the sense of community that we shared.  We hugged…we hugged a lot.  And we cried….both quietly during presentations about our own fears and anxieties and openly during one on one conversations.  This was no mere “blogging conference”.  This was more.  It was a retreat.  It was spiritual.  It was people being vulnerable and human and asking for acceptance and validation.  And through the tears, there was comfort and acceptance.  I felt validated and accepted for me…that I was a good person worthy of good things.  And I thought that was where the lesson ended.

At the end of the day, back at the hotel, I finally pulled out my phone.  And I saw a string of missed calls and messages from family members.  And I knew that whatever had been said in those messages was not good.  Both of my parents were terminally ill.  One was in hospice care and the other had recently undergone another round of treatment to try and prolong the inevitable.  It was merely a question of which parent it was.

It was my mother.

We had a difficult relationship.  I had drawn a boundary over the years.  We did not communicate.  I made a point of not being in the same place as she was if I could.  I could not reconcile my sense of empathy for her as a person with my sense of disappointment for the pain that she had caused me a a parent.  I knew that she was terminally ill.  I had struggled over the last few weeks about whether I should go and see her. I got updates through my siblings.  I drove my grandmother to see her only child in hospice, but I did not go in.  From the outside it looked as though I was cold and uncaring.  But I protected myself…I carried too much hurt at her hands.  I could not imagine what words she could ever say to bring me to a place of forgiveness.  I thought that her death would merely be a physical end to the emotional relationship that I had walked away from years ago.  I expected it to be easy.  To be a relief.

And then suddenly, I was faced with the reality that I knew was coming.  Her life had ended.  And in as much as I place my faith, whatever it is I have, in The Universe, I knew that I was where I needed to be to get that news.  I was not alone.  I was surrounded by people who could never possibly understand the significance that their presence played in that moment.  I was surrounded by warm embraces and hugs that forever linked me to the people behind them.  I reached out to my community and they gave me unconditional support.

I reached out to a friend who knew me; knew the situation and the dynamic.  As I sat on the floor of the bathroom, sobbing, she gave me a safe space.  She gave me refuge to say that I didn’t know how to feel.  And the next morning, surrounded by the people who are my community, my tribe, they collectively embraced me.  Both those with whom I had shared this information and those who had no idea…who thought the sunglasses at breakfast were because I had enjoyed my wee box of wine too much the night before.  And I thought the hard part of the lesson was over.

I drove home and got back to my life. To the dirty litter box and the dirty laundry.  To the messages in my voicemail and the dishes that needed to be put away.  To my grandmother who now had lost both her husband and her only child.  And my heart ached for her loss; not for my own.  I could not fathom how forsaken it must feel to lose the people you love; to outlive most of the people you know.  I did not sleep that night.

I drifted between dozing off and realizing that I was wide awake.  The minutes passed like hours and the hours were days.  And in the morning, with the sun streaming brightly through the window, the world had kept moving on.  Death didn’t stop it.  Tears didn’t stop it.  It just kept going.

As I left the house that morning, I realized that I hadn’t brought in the mail when I got home the day before.  Opening the mailbox, there was a bright yellow envelope.  Canary yellow.  Sunshine yellow.  The return address was my mother’s.  I took it and walked to the car not knowing what to expect when I opened the envelope.  When I did, the typewritten words on the page made me angry at first.  I had no idea that someone could reach out from beyond the grave to try and manipulate my feelings.  But as I read further, pieces of a puzzle that I hadn’t realize I was working on fell into place.  Halfway down the page, I read:

“I don’t know if anyone has told you this or not, but your mother has been talking to you on your blog for years…All those stories about her mother were actually stories of her childhood and your grandmother.  She did not do this to hurt you.  She did it because she wanted to be close to you  and it was the only way she could have any contact with you.  She is very proud of you and all that you have become…”

I didn’t even have to read the name that was given in the letter to identify her on my blog.  In my heart, I had known.  There was always something familiar about her.  Always something that didn’t quite add up with the comments that she would leave and the facts that she would give.  There were moments in our correspondence through the blog that I nearly came out and asked her who the hell she really was.  But I never did.

In that immediate split second, I heard Shauna’s voice in my head saying that our first instinctual response is our true response and that everything after that is our internal editor trying to create a socially acceptable response.  And my first response was that without knowing what I  needed to hear, my mother had finally given me the validation that I needed.  That by doing what we essentially all do and being someone else online, she had finally been able to speak to me in a way that I could hear and cut beyond the anger and hurt.  I could see her as just a name on a comment and not be weighed down by a lifetime of a disappointing relationship and unmet expectations.

The irony is that it was easier to be the best version of myself, the person that I hope I really am, to someone with whom I have no intimate relationship.  It was easier to be free and kind and caring towards someone who I didn’t associate with pain and neglect and contempt.  And while it makes me sad that the two of us could never be these people to one another in real life, I am so profoundly grateful for the knowledge that she  wanted to and found a way to connect with me in a way that actually did respect the boundaries that I had established.

As a parent, and as a person, she had many flaws.  And as a daughter, and a person, I have many flaws as well.  But as two people who corresponded through my blog, I think perhaps we were able to be the best versions of ourselves to one another.  If I can take the gift that she gave me and finally get to a place of forgiveness, then I think the second half of my life could be much happier than the first half.  If I can consciously make an effort to let go of the weight that I have carried for forty years, then maybe I can see the happiness in the small, quiet moments and recognize them for being the perfection that they are.  And maybe, just maybe, I can be a little more forgiving of myself and those closest to me.

If you have read this far, have stuck with a very stream of consciousness rambling with very little editing (and no spell check), I thank you.  This post is not so much about the events and activities of Big Summer Potluck 2011 as much as it is about me selfishly using this space to finally say that I have been sad and angry for a long time and that a weekend in a converted barn in rural Pennsylvania took me a few steps further on my journey to moving beyond that.  That was the lesson. That was my church where The Universe knew I needed to be.

To those of you that were part of that weekend, I thank you for your support, even when you didn’t realize you were giving it.  To those who knew and hugged me extra long, you will always have a special place in my heart.  To Shauna, who sparked that first moment of realization, I would not have had the courage to say these things if you had not shared your story with us.  I hope that through my words, I have painted as memorable a picture as Penny De Los Santos did.  In their own way, both of these incredibly strong women inspired me.

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43 Responses to Big Summer Potluck 2011

  1. Jen Schall says:

    Simply amazing. I am speechless after reading this, Wendi. Thank you for your honesty. Forget the 8 second hug, I want to give you an 8 minute hug right now!!

    • Wendi says:

      Honesty is scary Jen. Both in what other people may construe it to be and what it makes me realize about myself. And I can honestly say that if these events hadn’t happened at the same time, I don’t know that I would have ever had the courage to be honest with myself.

  2. Oh Wendi, I can’t find any words right now. I promised myself I wouldn’t read any recaps until I had finished writing mine, but I had to read this. sending mutltiple 8 second hugs your way whenever you need one.

    • Wendi says:

      Ethan, your comment made my heart smile. And that is a very good thing.

      • Oh Wendi. There are so many things I want to say to you. But probably the most important is, never forget that you are not alone. So many of us are there and if we know you are there too, we’re always willing to reach out a hand and help each other along. Never forget what a wonderful person you are–you’re touching lives everyday and this is a better place because you’re in it (messes and all). Many, many hugs.

  3. Wow. I get what you’re saying about The Universe and being where you need to be when you need to be there. I am just amazed by the events that unfolded in one weekend–and how, despite the hurt and anger, there was that connection all along through the blog. Amazing how the world works. I’m glad you were able to get the support you needed this past weekend. May the healing continue.

  4. I am so glad you were with us, Wendi. Just so glad. Thank you for sharing this, for this open and honest post. You heard Shauna and Penny. You really took away that message. Don’t be afraid, bring down the wall. Share. We are here.

    I’m so sorry for the loss of your mother, for your grandmother’s loss of her daughter.

    (((HUGS))))

  5. I was on Foodblogs and opened your post. I wanted to go to the Potluck but found out about it too late, and it was full. Although not entirely about the weekend, your personal story was just what I needed to hear. Very moving. Great post

  6. Tracy says:

    Wendi, I felt very quiet inside while reading this. I could feel your pain. The words were pulsating with it. I’m sending a hug—and know that I’ll take care of releasing some of those tears for you, right now. So smile a bit today and take as many deep breaths as you can.

  7. JenniferA says:

    What an amazing story, and what an amazing person you are. You took what Shauna said, grabbed onto it, and became it, times 100. I read this with tears in my eyes, but in the end my heart is full with the belief that now you will find some peace. You are a good person, and a giving one. And as Erika’s mom told me last year at BSP, when you give to the universe, it gives back to you one hundredfold.

    Take care, my friend. ((((((((80 second hug))))))))

  8. jacki says:

    This is the most beautiful thing I have ever read. I’m sad to have missed the Potluck this year, but I’m happy for you and the life changing realizations you have made. You’re a wonderful writer, and I’m sorry for your loss. It’s good that you’re finally healing, though.

  9. flakyartist says:

    This is beautiful. I know the courage it took to write it. You don’t realize what a blessing you have been in my life. (Or how you’ve jammed my keyboard up with tears this morning!)

  10. I love you, Wendi. I’m so proud of you–you just threw your heart into oncoming traffic. I’m glad to have read this.

  11. Karma says:

    Wendi this was beautiful and sad at the same time. I’m so happy that I had the chance to meet you and although we really don’t know each other, I hope you can accept my heartfelt sympathies. There is a picture of you in my wrap up post where you look as though you are trying to make a decision; it seems rather aprepos today. {hugs}

  12. Theresa says:

    Wow, what a moving post. I’m so glad you have this online platform to share your story in such a cathartic way and to have made a meaningful (if unintentional) connection with your mother. Thanks to the Universe for putting you were you needed to be! I hope you continue to heal and find peace through your loss.

  13. theminx says:

    Wow, Wendi – what a courageous and simply amazing post. Hugs to you!

  14. Lan says:

    oh wendi, you mean so much to this food community and to me! i am so ever thankful we met thru this crazy food blogging thing and even more so that we are friends in Real Life. kudos for your honesty – raw & real. here is to you on your way to Healing and Positive Living. i am with you every single step of the way, with original cheers, fattening sweets and possible snark.

  15. Jenna says:

    Wendi–wow, thanks for sharing your story with us. I had no idea you had that kind of pain in your background. I feel like I have so much more insight into you. How powerful that your mom was using this very space online to communicate with you in the only way she knew how.
    It sounds like you’re on your way to finding peace–I hope that you’re able to reach the summit of that hourney in your own being. Sending hugs your way!

  16. Wendi says:

    I wish I had the words right now to respond to each and every one of you who has left me words of encouragement. Please know that I am savoring and holding onto the strength that you are sending my way.

  17. Erika says:

    My dear Wendi. I was one of those who didn’t know. The rawness of your words is palpable, and I just want to reach into my screen and give you a tighter embrace. I wish you continued strength, healing, and peace.

  18. Very compelling! Admire you for finding the path to share this. Food blogging can be a very lonely place….and at the same time a very loving community. May you find what you are searching for. Blessings!

  19. Winnie says:

    Wendi,
    I really don’t know what to say, other than I feel honored to know you. Truly.

  20. Wow. One of the most openly honest posts I’ve ever read. Period. I have the greatest admiration and respect for your ability to express your deepest feelings and vulnerabilities like this. It’s something I’ll probably never be able to do.

  21. Margaret says:

    I’m deeply touched by your honestly and thank you for sharing your story with us. I wish I have half of your courage. I am so sorry about your mom’s passing and wish you the best. Even though I don’t know you well enough but I can tell you’re an amazing person and love by many of your peers. Sending you much love and peace as well as hugs!

  22. I am so sorry for your loss. During Sunday’s breakfast, all the joyful inspiring moments among the group made me fail to detect the sorrow within you. I’m glad this blog gives you the courage and platform to reach out to a community (and your love ones) that loves and supports you, just as you are.

  23. Brooke says:

    Wendipants, I love you.

  24. Tracy says:

    Oh Wendi. How I wish I had known so that I could have hugged you longer! What you wrote is heart-wrenching and beautiful at the same time, and I know it took a lot of courage to publish it for the world to see. You are a lovely person and I am so glad to know you. Sending lots of love and hugs to you!

  25. robynski says:

    (((HUGS))) I try to think I know just what you mean, as my relationship with my mother is strained to put it lightly. I’m so glad you shared. And I’m so glad you went to BSP2. The Universe does know! I’m glad you were surrounded by everyone there.

    May you find peace in the coming months.

  26. James Hoyas says:

    Wendi,
    I have known you for many years and have never seen this side of you. I am touched and moved… You have brought comfort to me when I have needed it and in many ways you were the spark in me! Continue your journey of discovery and know that with your flaws, you are loved! We all have them… It is OK!! I wish you peace…. Always…. Love, Jim

  27. Wonderful insight and generous. Thank you for sharing your story with all of us. I too find that I learn the most about my “self” when I am fully present and when I capture the events on paper. How honest and appreciated you are. Please know that your words, your story will resonate with many … for we truly are all connected. I’ve enjoyed being one of your blog followers. Thank you.

  28. Dear Wendi – I am very late to read your moving post. It was truly heart-wrenching. I’m very sorry we didn’t connect more over the wknd but it seesm that you were surrounded by a continual flow of 8 second hugs. Sending one your way right now, with the hope that we will meet again soon.

  29. Wendi darling,
    I remember a point on Friday night (it may have been the Swedish Fish vodka) where I knew I had made the right decision to come to BSP2…I was hoping to find people like you (and Colleen) who were so welcoming and funny and awesome right from the get go.

    I am wishing you small moments of peace this week and no matter how many hugs you need, I’m ready to give ’em!

  30. Wendi darling,
    I remember a point on Friday night (it may have been the Swedish Fish vodka) where I knew I had made the right decision to come to BSP2…I was hoping to find people like you (and Colleen) who were so welcoming and funny and awesome right from the get go.

    I am wishing you small moments of peace this week and no matter how many hugs you need, I’m ready to give ’em!

  31. Dear Wendy,
    Tears are welling up as I digest your post. I am so sorry about your mom. Thanks for writing so vividly about your experience. Your raw, messy, vulnerable story is amazing. I have to reread it to understand clearly. We don’t get to choose our parents, but we get to choose how we place them in our lives. Thank you for your courageousness. :: BIG HUGS::

    XXXOOOJAX

  32. Have being yor step mother for over 30 years, I always felt I was missing something. I tried my best to be fair to all 3 of you. I hope & pray I did not fail. I read this once. I really need to read it again. I am truly relieved your Mother was reaching out to you in her own way. I pray that during your journey that you can take the gift that your mom give you and finally get to a place of forgiveness and know your second half of your life will be much happier than the first half. The weight of 40 years will not be easy…..I know it is very deep. Layer upon layer. I have all the confidence in you that you will be a little more forgiving of yourself and those closest to you. I will always be here for you and love you with all my heart! I am sending hugs forever your way and please don’t hesitate to call. I will share this with your Dad when the timing is good……….,<3

  33. Pingback: Big Summer Potluck, Part 2

  34. Kristen says:

    Wendi – I got tears, chills and a lump in my throat reading through this. Knowing your mom was leaving comments on your blog is just… well, I don’t even know, but what an intimate way for her to connect with you really the only way she knew how.
    Your post is a gift to all of us dealing with any kind of relationship that may not be perfect. I admire your strength to be so open and raw with us. Thanks for sharing your gift. Love you!

  35. Wenderly says:

    Oh my goodness. I had no idea Wendi…what an incredibly beautiful post. I wondered why you had your sunglasses on at breakfast, wish I would have given you a tighter hug sweet girl. Sending you an 8 second hug x 100. And wishing you all of the peace and love and joy that life now has to offer, now that you know you can silence that editor’s voice. Let the healing begin. xo

  36. Sweet Wendi, I didn’t know all of this, but I knew your heart was aching. I’m happy for you that your journey to healing has begun and you’re sharing all of this with others. Even if it helps one other person in a similar situation…

    Hugs to you dear friend!

  37. Julie says:

    Wendi,
    I don’t think I have ever visited your blog and I did read your entire post, I hopped over from Bread and Putter. I’m in tears and am not sure exactly what to say but you have described in many ways my relationship with my Mom and I have been grappling with what to do and what to say and how to act. I have realized a while back that with every upset and every disappointment, I respond with the pain and anger from the past. I do keep a distance in order to not get hurt but also to not cause hurt myself. Anyways, I’m rambling, your post really touched me. Thank you and I hope to attend BSP next year.

  38. Wendi, I don’t quite know what to say – after reading this, I hope the writing of it helped in your healing and I hope so very much that like you said…that the next half of your life…you CAN let go your past and live every, singel, precious moment to it’s max. Long ago I decided that the things…all of the things, big, little, happy, sad, tragic and more are what make us who we are. We take what we can from each and every moment and use it going forward. the universe often has funny plans for us that not until much later unfold and become clear…giving us that a-ha moment. I hope you are doing well, and that you are at peace and begining to blossom, a bit each and every day going forward, you deserve it 🙂

  39. liz2024 says:

    Wendi-

    You are NOT selfish to write about this on here. This is YOUR blog. I am sad to know about the relationship you had with her and am sad to know she has left this world. I have been facing difficulties with my father all year and have only seen him once because of the pain he and my mothers divorce is causing. I don’t know the next happy event where both of them will be there with me… So this too causes me sadness deep down.

    It’s amazing that your mother communicated with you on here. It’s amazing. I hope you are healing a little bit every day since that weekend. Sending you big BIG hug from me.

  40. Wendi,
    I finally had a moment to read your story. I have tears in my eyes knowing what a powerful gift your mom left you with…the power to move on, yet to look back and have a trail of memories and moments laced throughout your blog to always give you a hint of who she was at the core. You are an amazing woman, with a story so powerful it can change other’s lives, not to mention a gift with words. Keep the stream of consciousness coming, it’s beautiful.
    My life is richer for knowing you!
    ~Kristin

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