All writers, I believe, write "for" someone -- that singular person who reads our words from their heart, feels our ideas with their whole soul -- that person whom we know "gets" us. For me, as I have begun to live and write myself back to joy, that person has been Mary Wright.
Today is Mary's 83rd birthday, and because she now lives in Texas, I am not there to celebrate it with her. So, instead, I am going to celebrate her in this blog. Because, for most of the past decade, when joy seemed like a far-away cow with very long horns, Mary Wright was there to shepherd me, in both the quietest and most glorious of ways, back to the best parts of myself.
I met Mary eight years ago, when she walked into my gallery for reasons that she still can't quite explain — even to herself. Her husband of 63 years had passed away earlier that year, and she had spent six months just sitting, reading, feeling his absence, dipping her toes in the murky and unfamiliar waters of life without him. But one day the thought came to her to drive over and ask for my help getting her home ready for a design tour.
Her unwavering Yes! to that thought changed both of our lives.
I've never believed that we meet people by chance, but rather that everyone comes into our lives for a reason. So, of course, Mary's Yes! did not go unanswered. Although I was usually out of the gallery with clients or on job sites, I was there that afternoon Mary stopped by. After we chatted for a bit, she asked if I could look at her place as soon as I could. As fate would have it, I had an unusual opening in my schedule the next afternoon.
So began our creative collaboration. From what could have been a month of fabric shopping and furniture rearranging, we have built a deep, lasting, extraordinary friendship! Three weeks after having met her, we were walking down the street when an odd thing happened: I suddenly saw the two of us as though I was filming the scene from a distance. I saw our smiling faces and our genuine enjoyment of one another's company and, in that instant, I understood that we had been brought together to help one another heal. As clearly as if I had been given instructions, I knew that I was there to illuminate the next steps on Mary’s path out of grief and back to joy. And then the thought came to me: “I am doing with this Mary exactly what I used to do with my mother (not coincidentally, of course, also Mary)—but this Mary sees me for who I am, not who she wanted me to be. . .” And that’s when I knew that Mary would help me heal some of the very deep mother wounds I had been lugging around for decades.
That said, it was months before Mary would even agree to go to lunch with me. Like me, she guards her time, her heart, her trust. But slowly, very slowly, we let one another in, as we began to talk about the many mutual passions we shared — poetry, literature, art, design, cars, travel, prayer, adventure, and God.
It wasn’t long before I realized that I had found an extraordinary new friend, who just happened to be thirty years my senior. I think most people thought that Mary was a kind of mother figure to me. But I firmly resisted that appellation for years. . .because to me, calling someone a “mother figure” was damning them with very faint praise indeed.
I said to myself: Mary was nothing like my mother. She never expects a thing of me, never judges me for my actions or friendships, exaggerates my failings or condemns my dark places. Where my mother had been terrified of my big free spirit and tried to rein it in with “common sense”, when I told Mary I wanted to jump, she grinned and said, “How high?!”
And yet, in so many other ways, she reminded me very much of my mother—with her high standards, innate elegance, steely backbone and definite opinions. But instead of seeing this Mary through the fractured glass of expectations through which my mother and I saw one another, I was given the gift of seeing her and being seen by her through the reflective lens of love. If I understand what it means that Love Heals, it is because Mary has shown me how.
She invited me into the Wright family. Her daughter, Carol and I have become particularly close, and found so much in common. We have collaborated on two projects together that have brought us both joy, adventure, creativity, and laughter. I absolutely adore Carol! Mary’s daughter-in-law Kathi and I have shared our spiritual paths with one another. Her sons and grandchildren have all welcomed me with open arms at family occasions and holidays. And because none of them lived in New Mexico, I was able to repay them for their kindness by being with Mary through few accidents and health scares (once even beating the ambulance to the emergency room after my number was the only one Mary could remember after falling in a parking lot).
For someone who was raised in a metaphysical household that had little contact with the medical establishment, it was all a brave new world to me. Mary is a Harvard-educated nurse practitioner with a Merck Manual Mind about medicine. But what could have been a stumbling block to our friendship, instead became another conduit to joy for us both. Never was that truer than when the doctors feared that she had MRSA in her leg. Not knowing MRSA from meningitis, I blithely told her I would come over three times a day to help. I bought green gloves that made me feel like an extra in Creature from the Black Lagoon, along with other colorful hazmat materials, and swabbed away in what became, for us both, a delightful excuse for us to talk about the meaning of life and to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that laughter can cure almost anything. . .and fast!!!
You see, laughter is one of the things at which Mary is a past master. She has a wicked sense of humor, a gleeful grin, an elevated elucidation of irony. After all, her life motto is “Oh what fun!” And she lives it — no holds barred! No exceptions to the rule. I’m not sure, but I feel fairly safe that even our MRSA episode managed to land up in her “Oh what fun!” file.
As I’ve said more than once, I firmly believe that, as we get older, we have the choice of whether we expand into our lives or contract into our fears. But Mary has beyond expanded; she has exploded. Every day, Mary has shown me all the ways in which I want to age — with curiosity, an open heart, irreverence, joy, humor, and love. Mary lives her Yes! with her whole heart. Oh what fun!
Of course, all of my friends fell in love with Mary, and everyone loved to hang out with her — someone their mothers’ age without their mothers’ baggage. This was particularly exemplified by her choice of movies, which was usually far more adventurous than ours. . . as I learned after attending an indie film about the porn industry with her. I was mortified through most of it, glad we were sitting in the dark during some of the very graphic scenes. Mary enjoyed every minute of it, saying she’d always been curious what went on in that world. When she wanted to see what all of the fuss about the movie Blue is the Warmest Color was about, I was out of town, so two of my friends took her to see it. They told me that, as the sex scenes went on and on. . .and on and on, they got more and more embarrassed about being there with an 80-something-year-old. So, as they walked out of the theatre, they decided to make light of it by joking about how long the scenes had been. To which Mary wryly replied, “Sex always seems like it goes on forever, if you’re not the one having it.”
A line for the ages.
Because of Mary, I began to crawl my way out of some very dark places that had threatened to take away my joy for good.
Very early on in our friendship, she had told me the story of knowing that she needed to go back to school in her late forties to become a nurse practitioner, and that the only school she wanted to go was Harvard. With Carol still in high school, her decision raised some eyebrows. But she stuck to her guns, knowing — just as she had known as a 19-year-old that she could not pursue her parents’ dream of her becoming a teacher but instead needed to become a nurse — that she had to listen to her own truth and live it.
At a time when I was trying to find the courage to live my own dreams, that story became my lifeline. I began writing, taking classes, and eventually even enrolled in seminary, with Mary cheering me on each step of the way. With her encouragement and whole-hearted support, I began to venture out further and further out into the world, writing and photographing all along the way — always for her. With each new adventure — ziplining above cloudforests, trekking through ancient rice paddies, rappelling off waterfalls, driving countless back roads — Mary was with me in spirit. . .as slowly, oh so slowly, I began to find my way back to my joy.
But I often found myself wishing that Mary had been younger and a bit more mobile, as she would have been an amazing travel companion. And finally I got my wish, when I took her to Las Vegas to see the Cirque du Soleil. She told me that she was eager to try gambling, and so every day we went to a different fancy casino to try our luck. Now, the thing is, I loathe Las Vegas, and I have never understood the appeal of gambling. So, I wasn't a terrible good playmate. I enjoyed our ladies lunches and oohing and aahing at the over-the-top decor of the hotels far more than going into the casinos. But if that’s what she wanted to do, then I was going to make it happen. After two days of losing money, I had had it. It all seemed like a racket to me, and I said so: “You know, if we’re going to toss money down the drain like this, we might as well get something for it — like an Hermes scarf at least.” Five minutes later, we were in the Hermes store choosing scarves for ourselves. For each of us, they became our talismans of joy - mine of one of the most joy-filled trips I have ever taken with a dear dear friend. For Mary, buoyed by her ability to handle all of the sightseeing we had done in Vegas, she invited Carol and Carol’s 10-year-old daughter Dana to New York to see Dana’s first Broadway show. She sent me this photo of her in New York, with the only caption possible: Oh What Fun!
All of these reasons for which I am so deeply grateful to Mary would be more than ample motives for me to write this birthday blog about her and how she helped me discover this Daily Practice of Joy. But that’s not the real reason. . . not by a long shot.
The real reason is this: There were many many times over the past eight years when I lost my light almost completely. When the darkness and despair felt so real that nothing else seemed possible. When my self-loathing threatened to subsume what seemed like the last remnants of love. When even my most deeply-held belief that God is Love came with an asterisk . . . *except for Victoria Price. In those darkest of times, as I tossed myself under bus after bus of workaholism, financial overextension, loneliness and isolation, until I almost gave up hope that I could ever find my way back to myself, I would think of Mary. I would think about how she saw me — always always in my highest light, always always as my best self, always always in pure love. And I thought about her high standards, her inability to suffer fools, her deep-rooted pragmatism— and I thought to myself, “If Mary sees me as being worthy of love, as being capable of doing all the things I am afraid I will never do or be, then it must be true.” So, I am going to act as if. Act as if what she sees is what I believe. And I am going to put one foot in front of the other and be the me that Mary sees.
I have always loved this poem by Galway Kinnell:
This past April, I celebrated my birthday by spending a glorious Sunday with Mary in the gorgeously flowering Japanese Botanic Gardens in Fort Worth. On that weekend, many vendors were there to display various aspects of Japanese culture — from sumi’e painting to calligraphy, from bonsai trees to kimonos. On a whim, Mary and I decided to have our picture taken together in beautiful vintage kimonos. As we stood together looking over the koi pond in our flowering robes, I felt such immense gratitude for my amazing friend, who had always kept her faith in me, never wavering in her belief in my inner joy. And I felt, absolutely felt, the words of that poem — that I had finally begun to flower again from within.
So many of you have shared with me that the journey we are taking together through this blog has been helping you, too, to remember your joy and begin to practice it in your lives. I am always so grateful to hear that my healing is being mirrored out to others, who are beginning to find their way back to joy as well. All I am really doing is paying forward, in some small way, what so many people have done for me over the years. . .in particular, one woman named Mary Wright, who I am SO grateful was born 83 years ago today. Because Mary saw through all my masks, never believed that the darkness could consume my light, reminded me every chance she could to live my own Oh What Fun! By gently shepherding me back on the road to joy, she retaught me my own loveliness. What more can any of us do for one another. . .but to retell one another in words in and out that we are lovely, until we flower again from within, of self-blessing.
Oh What Fun!
Happy happy birthday dearest Mary! And many many many more!