I haven’t posted a gratitude list since 2013. I can’t believe it’s been that long. I feel like I should post one every year day. A lot of the time I choose to bitch and moan instead. But today, Christmas Day, I’m sitting by the fire next to one of my favorite people, Nyla, the middle little person. The day has been filled with laughs, cuddles and love of family. I’m blessed. So here is what I’m grateful for today;
I’m still here
I’m here for another Christmas
My family doesn’t mind being with me
I have the resources to provide Christmas dinner
My grandkids are happy even without gifts
My home is warm
My home is safe
I’m at peace.
So that’s what I’m grateful for this Christmas Day. And as fellow blogger Ann Koplow reminds me in her daily posts which always end in gratitude, I’m also grateful for the folks who read this blog. Thank you. I hope your holiday season has been joyful and peaceful and happy new year to you all.
Btw, do you notice I decorated the snake lamp? The grandkids said the face isn’t very jolly. LOL!
So, I decided to challenge myself in the time between Thanksgiving and the end of the year. I don’t usually go in for personal challenges because they feel so pop culture-ish to me, like I’m channeling Oprah or something. But I got a loud wakeup call at Thanksgiving. I was told my attitude had become a bit negative. Actually, my offspring very pointedly said to me, “Mom, you’re so negative!
At that point I wanted to line them up for a group slap. But instead, I took a walk among the falling leaves in my favorite nature preserve and thought about it. Damn it, they were right! I had become a glass half empty person! I’m not sure when it happened, I would suspect gradually over the period of the last couple of years. I know I’ve had periods of darkness before, usually brought on by depression, sometimes situational but my kids meant that I’d developed a general negative disposition that wasn’t part of my character before. I thought about why it happened and I couldn’t help but notice that it seems to happen to a lot of women my age, especially women like me who don’t have partners. The kids are gone, there are no career goals left to reach and let’s face it, this culture emphasizes youth so every time I look in the mirror I’m reminded that I’m no longer the cultural ideal or the desired demographic. I think all that weighted me down and I think it weighs on my friends too. I realized that when talking with them it was about our health issues, who had died and who the most annoying people in our lives were at any given moment. And when I was out talking to strangers; clerks in stores, people in lines, etc. my remarks, although sometimes very witty, many times referred to things I wasn’t happy about. That’s why I decided to challenge myself by taking the six weeks until the end of 2014 to make an effort to stay as positive as possible.
Now, I don’t believe in the adage “fake it til you make it” so the challenge for me is genuinely being positive. Don’t get me wrong, gratitude has never been my problem. I’m grateful all day long, but I’m also the kind of person who will say “I’m so grateful I’m not dead because I should be.” Yeah, I’m grateful, but not positive. So I reframed my gratitude. I believed and decided to find things in my life every day that could lead me to say “You know what, life is good. I looked for things I could hang on to and pass on to others as benefits of our time in this life.
I have to tell you that in the weeks since I made the conscious choice circumstances have changed along with my outlook and I’m surprised. (I guess skepticism was part of my negativity.) Some very nice things have happened to me since Thanksgiving. I have to believe that opening myself to positive energy has made a good difference. For one thing, it’s made a difference in the way I treat other people and therefore the way they treat me in return. I was in a package delivery store just before Christmas. I told the obviously stressed clerk to take his time and I joked with him that I wouldn’t watch how my box was being handled. He smiled and I noticed his body visibly relax. Then he wished me happy holidays. I experienced the effect of being positive in that moment and at other times as well, so much so that I’ve decided to continue the challenge into 2015. I guess I’d forgotten again that we always have access to the absolute, big L Love from which all positivity comes. This challenge reminded me and I’m grateful!
The question concerns a woman I’ve known since college. (So it’s been longer than either of us would admit.) We were roommates in a dorm that was problematic for us as it was single gender and not very diverse. We became very close in the two years we lived there together. We shared similar backgrounds and a number of interests, especially literature. We felt safe enough with one another to reveal our ambitions concerning men and careers. We would lay in our twin beds at night describing our fantasies, born from youth and hope, about what our husbands would look like, where we’d live and which jobs on which magazines we’d get. And we both always assumed we’d remain friends. Back then, she was incredibly smart, strong, popular and a very talented writer. I admired her and I always felt enriched by being in her company.
Then bad stuff started happening to her. Really bad stuff. Tragic stuff. She suffered unimaginable losses that caused her to develop mental health issues. Among other problems, she became a hoarder. And her losses continued. Over the period of a few years, she lost a job, a house and her parents. She couldn’t tolerant the pain. I witnessed as her attitude changed so much she seemed to become a completely different person. A hard, not nice person. I understood why and how the transformation happened but she was no longer the person I had known and loved.
I wasn’t sure how to handle what was happening to her. In all honesty, I have put more than a little distance between us. I have discussed before on this blog that feeling compassion toward others is sometimes hard for me. I’ve learned from studying Buddhism and mystical Christianity that in order to be genuinely compassionate, one must put aside the sense of self, beyond empathy and beyond sympathy. That’s the hard part for me because I am seriously self-centered.
Unfortunately, this friend’s behavior was hurtful during a very difficult period in my life. I knew it was part of the change in her personality but truthfully, it broke my heart and I didn’t know if I could forgive her. I understood her but I needed space to re-evaluate the relationship because it was proving to be too difficult for me to get past the hurt she’d caused. My rational mind conveniently told me I didn’t need to feel bad if I decided to let the friendship go because I didn’t know her anymore. I asked myself how I could really be a friend to a stranger. Apparently, there were others who felt the same way because a couple of people who at one time orbited around her chose to leave her sphere.
Now she is seriously ill with cancer. This is not territory for my rational mind; this is the land of my heart. This is the time for me to reflect on the love I gave to this woman who was my friend but even more so on the love I received. I feel that although I don’t know this person anymore I’m required out of compassion to stay and give the appearance of a friend. But in my heart I know that isn’t real compassion. She is the same person with whom, for years, I thought I shared the unbreakable love bond of an authentic friendship. In her world and in her mind we are still connected, if in a way that only makes sense to her. I’m not sure I feel connected to her at all anymore so maybe I’ve changed more than she has. And I have to acknowledge that she still loves me in her own way. Yet the truth is I’ve let resentment of her fear and bitter neediness taint and diminish my love.
.Can I be a friend to this person I no longer know? She’s changed and maybe I’ve changed too. Maybe we need to have a different, changed kind of friendship. Maybe if I re-acquaint myself with her I’ll discover something new about love and compassion that will help us both. I’ll keep you posted.
I just returned from an 18 hour stay in Boston. I was there for the beautiful funeral of a good friend who greatly enriched my life. It was a profound juxtaposition to the dinner the night before with my cherished family. I gave thanks for all of it which reminded me of my gratitude list. I obviously need to add to it (Nyla’s face!) but I’ll reblog it for now.
The Divine One’s Love The Divine One’s mercy Love The love in my heart My kids Olivia The memory of Bill Memories in general The roof over my head Constant affirmation of my sensibility: it really is The One Absurdist humor Humor in general Music, always and forever The music of my roots The big one: hot water on demand London Things that grow in the ground I saw Barack Obama elected president My health My health insurance My safety Each new day I don’t go hungry Good food, of course The ability to say, “I don’t know” My kids grew up safely The sky The ocean Songbirds Nature in general My sibs My friends My cousins Freedom from want The human body heals itself The fact that thoughts are private The human voice The ability to read The ability to write I don’t have fertility issues anymore I’m not…
Yesterday was my wedding anniversary. They’ve been very difficult to get through since my husband passed away. Unfortunately, the passage of time doesn’t make them any easier. While I was reminiscing, I re-read this piece I wrote. It was published in my writers group online magazine (http://atableintheback.blogspot.com) earlier this year but I want to share it here too.
How I love the ocean.
When I was young my mother would make a lunch, pack us up in the car and drive from Boston to Gloucester, Massachusetts on Sunday afternoons. Mom had a bad case of wanderlust so for her gazing out at the ocean meant plotting possible places to land. I must have inherited my love of the sea from her. She’d park along the shore road so we could get out and walk. The shoreline in Gloucester is glorious and the air is salty and brisk, no matter the season. I loved running along, challenging the grey water and annoying the fisherman from the enormous rocks at the edge of the water.
When Bill and I were dating and had money to burn, we vacationed in Nassau in the Bahamas. We went to nighttime barbeques hosted by hotels on the beach where we danced in the sand under colored lights strung from poles. In the daytime we rode horses in the blue waves and white foam of the tide. We lay in the sun holding each other. For us, the beach was romance.
After we married and had children, Newport R.I. became our family getaway spot. It was only an hour and a half from our home so it was easy for us to go there on day trips to swim and enjoy the seaside. When the kids were in elementary school we spent their spring vacation weeks there. We’d get a time-share right on the water where I’d stare at the yachts on the horizon late at night, relaxing and losing myself in the their rocking on the waves.
The ocean has always been one of my best friends. Right now I’m sitting on a different beach looking out at another lovely ocean view. I thought coming here to Cancun would be good for me. I thought seeing the sun and the ocean in a different place would rejuvenate me. I bought this e-reader so I could read on the beach. It’s supposed to symbolize that I recognize my vacations have to have a new take on an old theme. I feel foolish using it though. It doesn’t make me less of an old woman sitting alone, passing the time.
I know I should be grateful that I have memories but I miss those good times on the water and I miss everyone so much. Mom and Bill are gone. The kids aren’t kids anymore and they’re off making their own memories. It’s a gloriously sunny day and I’m sitting here watching plucky seagulls hop across the sand but Bill isn’t here to make jokes about them. I see children up the shoreline playing in the surf and I wish they were mine. The beauty here seems cruel because I don’t have anyone to share it with.
It’s such a beautiful day and I’m here wrapped up in my sarong and my own arms. But this is my “new normal” as my therapist calls it. It’s my new reality and I’ll have to get used to it. So I’ll be taking a walk along the beach, leaving a single set of footprints behind me.
How should I tag this post, who knew, never again, don’t let this happen to you?
That little person I play with 4 to 5 times a week told me she likes butterflies. We’ve laughed and pointed when we’ve seen them in the park, flying their colors while weaving back and forth in the air. So who would have blamed me for thinking a trip to the Butterfly Pavilion at the National Museum of Natural History would be a treat for both us. It seemed to me that seeing live butterflies up close and personal would be big fun and educational.
You have to understand, that person doesn’t take trips easily. She can be squeamish and demanding. It turned out she needed TWO pairs of arms to reassure her that the museum was a good idea, because of the butterflies, which she likes. She decided she would be happy to go although she seemed to have some reservations.
So off we went yesterday to the exhibit (I thought it was last week but then I realized it was just that yesterday seemed like it was a week long.) Anyway, I paid and we went. We had to go through the butterfly airlock. It’s to keep the special butterfly air and the butterflies from escaping into the rest of the museum. We emerged from the airlock into the beautiful terrarium-like butterfly space where they have lovely blooming plants and pretty butterflies everywhere. That was supposed to be the major pay-off for packing up all that person’s belongings and walking them and her 2 long city blocks while she gasped for breath in the cold wind. I wanted to see the look of wonder and joy on that face. I had my camera open and ready. Don’t get me wrong, the little person seemed interested, amused even, by the butterflies as long as the weren’t too close and she could look at them from someone else’s shoulders. Remember the special butterfly air I mentioned? They keep it special by blowing mist into the room through pressure hoses. That person didn’t like the mist at all. It came on every three minutes. So the butterflies heard three minutes of screaming followed by three minutes of laughing followed by three minutes of screaming followed by three minutes of laughing. You get the idea. For the sake of the butterflies we cut our visit short. (Do butterflies have ears?)
After that the little person found the room with all the big color photos of animals. She enjoyed that much more (even though she swore to me she likes butterflies). She ran in her silver pretty shoes from photo to photo identifying the animals. There was a Ba and a Ca and even a Ma and she knew them all. There was a bench where she could also sit and watch a little animal TV, an activity she knows well. She felt very comfortable in that exhibit so who cares that we could have seen it for free at anytime beside the very early morning appointment we had to keep with the butterflies.
I’m going to go ahead and call the trip a success. That little person took a really, really long nap when we got back home, I’ve dropped the big idea of dressing up as the Easter Bunny and that special mist did wonders for my complexion.
Seriously, the Butterfly Pavilion is a fabulous place (http://www.butterflies.si.edu). One of the volunteers told me that many kids react to the noise of the environment maintenance system so if you want to take a little one, consider their sensitivity level before you go. The Smithsonian museums are unbelievable national resources. I’m having the best time checking them out.
In my post “The Love in Loss” I talked about the power of Love. Because of the time of year, because of the death of my stepdad and because of the shooting in Connecticut last week I’m going to continue to speak to that power.
I actually used the term power of Love because of a great song that’s been one of my favorites for a long time. “I Have Learned to Respect the Power of Love” was a modest hit by Stephanie Mills back in the 1980s. I think it’s about romantic love but to me, it’s about all Love. From the first time I heard it my heart was touched in a “feeling the Holy Ghost” kind of way. I missed my highway exit once while I was sing along to it. Every time I listen to it I want to testify. These are the lyrics to the first part of the song:
I was a victim of my foolish thinking
Carelessly I’ve risked my love and my life
There’s no self-pity I admit I obliged
Overpowered by love I pretended to be blind
Faith has survived all the doubts I’ve summoned
My heart has stood all the failure and loss
Helpless I cannot further be driven
I’ve learned to respect
The power love…….
How beautiful is that? Say Amen? I absolutely relate to the foolish thinking that leads to careless risk part. That could be the title of the first half of my life. But then I was thinking about the idea of being overpowered by Love. I feel like the Love we need to pay attention to and live by can be overwhelming. I’ve talked in this blog about how I can’t show as much compassion as I’d like. I think it’s because there’s too much negativity inside of me to get over in order to be that compassionate. I guess I feel like my love can’t outmatch my negativity. But I’ve come to realize that my love with a little “l” can’t. It’s only when I participate in the larger Love with the big “L” that it’ll work. And that participation takes getting over the petty sense of myself. That’s the part that’s overwhelming.
I thought about that this week in terms of the shooting of those babies at the elementary school. Like everyone else I was blindsided by how terrible an act it was. How do the parents, the community and the nation get over that much horror? Then I saw the footage of the prayer services held that night. The collective prayers sent up demonstrate the power of Love. They provide the pathway to the Love that can overpower that kind of hate. Witnessing all those people earnestly praying for the comforting of others (for a lot of them, others they don’t know) was so encouraging to me. Those people in that moment put themselves aside to give Love through prayer. I know the effect that kind of positive energy can have because I’ve felt it in my own life.
Just as the lyrics say, our hearts can stand all the failure and loss if we have faith in Love, even when we feel as helpless as we did this week. It can survive all the doubts we have about ourselves, about others and about the condition of the world we live in. It’s hard to hold on to though, when it feels like our daily lives are filled with nothing but failure and loss. But there have been so many good and spiritually blessed folks who have come along to remind us of the truth of the power of Love. Mother Theresa and the Dalai Lama come to my mind immediately. Who just came to yours? And for those of us who celebrate Christmas, Jesus of Nazareth is supposed to be the number one bearer of that exact message.
So since it’s the season we’re supposed to be thinking about it and because we really need it at this challenging time, let’s sing along with Stephanie; “I’ve learned to respect the power of Love, (Yes I did!)”
THE FATHER WHO RAISED ME FROM THE AGE OF 12, MY STEPDAD, PASSED AWAY TODAY. I’ve experienced the loss of several loved ones in the last few years, my husband, my mother, my biological dad, a cousin, an aunt and now “Gramps”. I didn’t have this blog when the others transitioned. This post is for all of them.
Loss through death is the big one, isn’t it? It affects us more than any other type of loss. It’s accompanied with so many complicated feelings besides pain and sadness. I have also felt guilt, confusion and anger with each passing. When my husband died I was blessed to have the insight of two very wise people (a friend and a therapist) who taught me about the Love in loss. They showed me that all those feelings were/are really products of the power of the most important feeling and of course, that’s Love. It’s the power of Love that keeps our loved ones with us in a very real way. The pain in our hearts when we think of those who have transitioned is where we are blessed to keep them through the power of Love.
My stepdad wasn’t a perfect man but he had a quiet strength of character (He had to be quiet and have strength to be married to my mother!) He was also a man of immense faith. He taught me to have faith in that power of Love. That’s why at this time of his passing I’m sitting in gratitude instead of grief.
Now that my move is complete and I’m officially a permanent resident of Virginia, I can return to my spiritual practice. I’d like to say that I was practicing all along but that would be a lie. I was intermittently distracted during the move from the main components, which are:
Prayer/meditation– Prayer is never an issue for me but if conditions are right I can go from a gratitude prayer to swearing in a heartbeat. (That’s the reason I stopped praying while driving.) And I wasn’t in a place to quiet my mind enough for meditation while negotiating the issues around moving.
Living in the moment- Impossible for me while moving because I’m an obsessive planner which requires thinking ahead.
Community- I’ve only been here a little while but I’ve made progress by joining meet-up groups.
Yoga- Let’s just say it petered out mid-summer.
Compassion- This is the one that’s the hardest but it’s the most important to me. You see, compassion isn’t so much a component to my practice as it is the goal. I’d like to come to and stay in a place of love and compassion because I feel it’s the state that’s closest to the divine. Unfortunately, as I’ve pointed out in previous posts, when dealing with people in challenging situations it is not my go-to position. (My posts that deal with this are; “Stumbling on Pebbles” and “Bowing at Easter”.) So, I’m going back to “The Bow”.
For those readers who don’t know, “The Long Journey To The Bow” is an article that was the subject of my very first blog post. (December 2010) It deals with a Buddhist take on love and compassion. Basically it says that the sense of self contains the,
worlds of comparing, evaluating and judging.…the cessation of conceit (of self) allows the fruition of empathy, kindness, compassion and awakening.
I re-read the article as many times as I can to remind myself of what compassion looks like. As I said then “I have to be willing to bow to my fellow beings without the intellectual exercise of judging one way or the other.” Fortunately for me I also discovered a Catholic priest by the name of Richard Rohr of the Center for Action and Contemplation, who, curiously, shares that definition of compassion and speaks eloquently to it. Reading his daily meditations also helps me bow. He has said,
The enormous breakthrough is that when you honor and accept the divine image within yourself, you cannot help but see it in everybody else, too, and you know it is just as undeserved and unmerited as it is in you. That is why you stop judging, and that is how you start loving unconditionally and without asking whether someone is worthy or not.
When I first read “The Bow” I was living a “greater than, less than” life in my own home and in my larger circle. I’m blessed to have been able to re-orient myself. Obviously, this blog bears witness to that process. What I didn’t realize until recently is how many others there are that embrace and try to live with that mindset. Now I understand that if it weren’t for the fact that there are so many folks “bowing” to our fellow beings, this world couldn’t possibly continue. Stevie Wonder expressed it best as the song “Love’s In Need of Love Today”. He begs us all to take our love and compassion and “send it in right away” so hate won’t take us out.
So as I attempt to return my practice to the forefront of my everyday life, I’d like to ask you if you have a spiritual practice. If being compassionate is an important part of it, how do you demonstrate it? Does your life allow you to be as loving and compassionate as you’d like to be? Do you find it as hard as I do to “send it in”? Thanks and I bow to you.
(The article “Long Journey To The Bow”: appeared in Tricycle Magazine. It’s on my blog roll. Fr. Richard Rohr’s quote is from his book “The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See”. I’ve added his website to my blog roll. “Love’s in Need of Love Today” is from Stevie Wonder’s album “Songs in the Key of Life”. I’m grateful for all three.)
The Divine One’s Love The Divine One’s mercy Love The love in my heart My kids Olivia The memory of Bill Memories in general The roof over my head Constant affirmation of my sensibility: it really is The One Absurdist humor Humor in general Music, always and forever The music of my roots The big one: hot water on demand London Things that grow in the ground I saw Barack Obama elected president My health My health insurance My safety Each new day I don’t go hungry Good food, of course The ability to say, “I don’t know” My kids grew up safely The sky The ocean Songbirds Nature in general My sibs My friends My cousins Freedom from want The human body heals itself The fact that thoughts are private The human voice The ability to read The ability to write I don’t have fertility issues anymore I’m not poor I don’t live in military state Newport The Internet happened during my lifetime This breathe Springtime Summertime Seasons in general Who am I kidding, I’m so grateful for TV I can afford not to steal My broken ankle didn’t cost me the ability to walk The window at work That I write! (How did this get so far down on the list?) Really good smells Babie’s faces Olivia’s face