12/5/2018 – A Christmas Card from Home by Way of Heaven

This morning began with a series of text messages.  Texting is not my preferred mode of communication, and I don’t use it often, so when a series of “dings” occurred in rapid succession, it was a sure sign that something was amiss.  Indeed, My Aunt Fran went to heaven this morning.

I sent a short message of condolence to my cousin and read the same from other cousins as they came across my screen.  I brewed a cup of coffee and sat in the quiet living room, not quite sure how to feel.

I grew up with many loving aunts and uncles, but Aunt Fran was a favorite. She taught Sunday School and Children’s Church.  She had a room in her basement full of little toys that she would give out as rewards for good behavior. For many years, she regularly cut my hair while I sat on a chair in her basement and she even allowed us to roller skate on the concrete floor.  Sometimes Fran would “kidnap” me for a day. Friendly’s Ice Cream Parlor was a short walk from her home, and we would go together and she would buy me a sundae that was so big that I couldn’t finish it.  Aunt Fran bought me my very first tea set, long gone now, but I remember it well.

Aunt Fran was a talented story teller.  Whether the story was from the Bible or from her youth, Fran had a rare talent for making even the ordinary exciting.  I particularly remember her re-telling of the story of David and Goliath.  She played each role, picking up smooth stones and putting them into a pouch for her imaginary slingshot, and then carefully fitting each one into the pouch to slay the giant.  A day with Aunt Fran was magical.

Mom and Fran were constant companions during the years that they shared at the Apostolic Christian Rest Home in Mansfield.  Each had her own small apartment just across the street the other.  Fran couldn’t see, and Mom had a hard time walking.  Mom was Fran’s eyes, and Fran was Mom’s legs.  They were a good team.  They complemented each other; they needed each other.  Even when Mom’s illness had progressed to the point where she could no longer truly care for herself, she wouldn’t leave Fran.

When cooking a big meal became too much for Mom several years ago, I began cooking Christmas dinner and transporting it to Mansfield, where we would serve up a feast in Mom’s small apartment.  We always invited Aunt Fran, and she always came down the hall, usually bearing gifts, which were often treasures from her own apartment that she no longer used for herself.  I use one such gift – a cast iron skillet – daily, and the lamp made of pink Himalayan salt glows in my study.

In the final year or so that Mom and Fran spent together, Fran’s hearing was failing, and her mind wasn’t working as before.  Last Fall, I was staying a few days with Mom prior to bringing her home with me because Mom had grown too weak to get herself in and out of bed.  She became very sick the night before we were to leave for my home, and I had to call an ambulance.  I called Fran’s apartment, too, but there was no answer.  Although I asked other family to let Fran know what had happened, she was convinced that I had stolen Mom away in the middle of the night without even letting them say goodbye.  No amount of persuasion by myself or others involved could ever convince Fran that I had, in fact, wanted her to know what was happening and even had tried to reach her.  As far as I know, Fran never forgave me.  I had never known Fran to be angry, but angry she was.  That night, I not only knew I was going to lose Mom, I lost my Franny, too.

Forgiveness is a lesson that took me more than 50 years to understand.  I’m doing much better with it, but I still struggle with forgiveness regularly.  It’s easier to understand it than to master it.

I struggle often to let go of the hurt that I cause myself with other people’s words and deeds so that I can just love them – unconditionally – regardless of if they apologize or even feel bad for their “wrongdoing.”

I struggle to forgive myself for the times that I fail – whether it’s the dumb thing I did in second grade, or one of the times that I failed so completely that people I love won’t forgive me even though I’ve apologized.  I struggle to let go of that pain, too, and just love them – unconditionally – regardless of if they return that love or even acknowledge my existence.

When I am having those particular struggles -the ones where I struggle to forgive myself – I slip into a mindset where nothing I do is good enough.  I don’t write because “who else would ever want to see it.”  I don’t post pictures of my knitting or of my teacups because “people will just think I’m looking for attention.”  I don’t play the piano because I’m rusty and I make a lot of mistakes, and I struggle to get on the treadmill because I’m slower than I was in 2016.  Forgiveness is the key to happiness, if you ask me, because letting go of pain frees up so much energy to just enjoy life and to just enjoy living.

This morning I forgave Fran for being angry with me, and I forgave myself for not foreseeing that my failure to reach her myself would cause hurt so deep that it would destroy a 50-year bond.  I allowed myself to weep, and to imagine Fran and Mom, reunited.  I believe that Fran, moments after her death, was restored to perfect health with perfect hearing and a sharp mind, and that she understood perfectly when Mom told her that I had, in fact, tried to phone her.

I made it to the office this morning a little late, but pretty much on time.  All day, my memories have kept spilling out my eyes and down my cheeks.  I’m not one given to loud crying generally, but my eyes have grown very leaky since I reached “a particular age.” It’s one of many reasons why I don’t bother with makeup.

When I arrived at the office, my mail was piled on my desk.  On the top of the pile was an envelope with a handwritten address.  A bright red cardinal appeared on the postage stamp in the upper right corner – a lone pop of color on a black and white document.  It’s said that the sighting of a cardinal is a message from a loved one in Heaven.  I saw a post to that effect on Facebook yesterday, so it must be true!

I looked at the return address and saw Dalton, Ohio 44618.  Home!  No matter how long I am in Vermilion, which I love, my heart screams “home” when I think of Wayne County.  In the envelope was a beautiful letter from a beautiful lady who has always been special.  We haven’t seen or talked in more than 30 years, but today, just when I needed a lift, her letter landed on my desk on a morning when I was down, not only because my aunt died, but because the stubborn needle on the scale just won’t budge no matter how strictly I diet or how many miles I run right now.

She shared some of her memories of my parents which I had forgotten about, but which flooded back.  She told me how much she’s enjoyed reading the little blog posts that I share.    She talked about my writing about struggles and transparency and told me that I make a difference.  She put a smile on my face.

I keep coming back to that cardinal on the stamp, and the idea of a message from a loved one in Heaven. The letter left Dalton, Ohio, a mere 50 or so miles away, on November 28th and arrived here on December 4, a day when I wasn’t in the office.  I didn’t personally receive the letter until I got to my desk on December 5- six days after the letter left “home.”.  The pony express would have been faster!  That dear lady closed her letter with “God’s grace and blessing on [my] journey.”  In God’s perfect time, a letter landed on my desk at least 4 days late, carrying with it a message of love and hope and friendship.  I feel like it also carried with it a message of forgiveness from Fran, and perhaps a “hi, I miss you,” from Mom, stuck to the letter with the glue on the cardinal stamp.

My friend from back home had no idea what I would be struggling with on THIS day on the day that she mailed the pretty Christmas card with the beautiful letter inside.  She simply listened to the call she felt to reconnect.  In doing so, she made a difference.  In this day of instant messages and texts and emails, it is such a thrill to open a card or letter and read a message meant just for *ME*.  Had she emailed, instead, I never would have received the message with the red cardinal at just the moment that I needed it.

It is possible to smile through tears.  I know, because I’m doing it right now.

Love,

Be

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Common Ground vs Middle Ground

Common Ground and Middle Ground aren’t the same. Common Ground is the set of things that we share. We’re humans, we’re parents, we love coffee, or we love dogs. Finding common ground is a strategy used for team building and conflict resolution. It is a form of connection that builds bridges.

Middle Ground is compromise. If your land is on the north bank of the river and my land is on the south bank of the river meeting in the middle of the river is somewhere between your camp and my camp.

Nobody has to win or lose to find common ground. We may share the common ground of loving dogs but be on different sides of a political issue. Nobody loses a thing to find common ground.

Middle ground involves loss. If you stay on the south bank and I stay on the north bank of the river, we have not moved to middle ground. If we both wade out into the river, we both leave our camps.

Middle ground is not always right. Sometimes it’s downright dangerous. Sometimes, if we wade into the river to meet half way, we’ll both drown.

Finding common ground is rarely wrong.If we’re going to heal the divide in this country, it starts by finding common ground – finding out where we are alike and where we agree. After we’ve found common ground, we may have issues where we can find middle ground. There may be issues where we will never find middle ground, because there is only right and wrong.

five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes.  That’s one year.  I buried my mom a year ago today – right about now.  I have known a lot of loss and pain in my life.  I’ve lost pregnancies, been divorced, buried a husband and my father.  I’ve been through plenty of tough times.  I thought I had a pretty good handle on grief.

I had the bright idea to start blogging my journey through grief on a day by day basis – I thought that I could somehow write a primer that might help others through coming to terms with the loss of their parent.  I was so arrogant as to sit down and write out a timeline of topics that I would write about – the lessons that I would teach myself about grief on my timetable.  I can laugh at the audacity now.

I didn’t write all of those blogs.  I didn’t write many of them.  I found the list not so long ago and threw it away.

When you are grieving, sometimes the minutes creep by so slowly that you think morning will never arrive.  Sometimes you open your eyes and realize it’s Friday and you haven’t finished the Monday to-do list.

The only way out is through.  I made it through five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes.   I made it through a year.   I’ll make it through the next one, too, and the one after that.  Such powerful lessons of love I have learned.

I didn’t write those blogs, but I filled journal after journal.  One day, perhaps soon, I’ll read them through.  Perhaps there will be something of value to share. Perhaps they’ll make good kindling for next summer’s campfires.  Only time will tell.

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes, for me at least, has been  a time to process the changes.  I’ve let go of so many ideas that no longer served me.  When something irritates or annoys me, I ask myself if it would matter in a year.  If not, I do my best to let it go and use my energy for something more productive than worry.

I’m back to singing silly songs at inappropriate times (but not in court).  My smile isn’t a mask hiding sadness or depression – it’s real these days.  I no longer have to stalk joy like it’s a rare animal in a dark jungle.  Joy sits on my shoulder and sings again.

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes – measure in love.

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?
In daylights, in sunsets
In midnights, in cups of coffee
In inches, in miles
In laughter, in strife
In five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure a year in the life
How about love?
How about love?
How about love?
Measure in love
Seasons of love
Seasons of love
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Journeys to plan
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure the life
Of a woman or a man?
In truths that she learned
Or in times that he cried
In bridges he burned
Or the way that she died
It’s time now to sing out
Tho’ the story never ends
Let’s celebrate
Remember a year in the life of friends
Remember the love
Remember the love
Remember the love
Measure in love
Measure, measure your life in love
Seasons of love
Seasons of love
Songwriters: Jonathan D. Larson
Seasons of Love lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

 

 

947 lives

I sat down to write a blog about something that happened yesterday.  I clicked on a different URL than I usual, and it took me to the “reader” side instead of the “writer” side of the portal.  There, I was invited to join 947 people who follow this little blog.  947.  That’s nearly 1,000.  It’s a pretty big number.

I know that some of those “follows” are people hoping that I will “follow” them back – and they’ve never read a word.  Other people may read a post when I link to it on Facebook or LinkedIn or twitter, but not “follow.”

I don’t know what I may have written that has helped someone else.  How would the world change if each of us could reach 947 people and give them some love, some hope or simply make them feel as if whatever emotion they are experiencing is normal – that they will get through it.

Some of these 947 people have reached this page because I tried and failed to run a half marathon at Walt Disney World (the FIRST time) and they, too, wanted to know what happened if the balloon ladies pass you (click here to find out).  That post has by far the most views.

Speaking of views, as of the writing of this little article, my posts have been viewsd 6,456 times.  It’s not a big, big number, but that number is larger than the number of people who I have interacted with in real life since 2014, when I found the courage to begin writing on the internet.

I’m reminded of the first time that I ran the 10K race at the Cleveland Rite-Aid marathon weekend.  As I crossed the finish line, a woman asked my name and said, “you’re the woman who lost all that weight, aren’t you?”  The connection I shared with her at that moment were more special than the shiny medal I received for finishing.

Another time, I wrote about finding painted rocks at the beach, and how happy they made me, and the woman who let them in secret saw me running and became my friend.

My third grade teacher has read my words and continued to make me feel as loved and supported as she did 43 years ago.

Years ago, I had a small circle of friend online with whom I shared poetry.  My profile said, “I am an artist.  I paint pictures with words.”

When I logged onto this site, I was given 947 gifts in an instant.

Write on.

love,

~Be~

 

 

What is Success, Anyway?

I had the great pleasure of meeting some wonderful people on a recent trip to Colorado.  One of them felt like a “new old friend” – one of those people who for no readily-apparent reason I just instantly like and can talk with easily, as if meeting with an old friend.

Like me, she’s had setbacks, including painful injuries.  while admittedly, I don’t know all that much about her, but she is smart, pretty, and has accomplished a lot in her trips around the sun.  She told me, quietly, that she doesn’t think she’s successful.  I asked her, “what does it mean to be successful?

She told me that she’d have to think about it.   It told her that I would, too.

Dictionary.com lists three definitions for the word “success.”

  1. the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors; the accomplishment of one’s goals.
  2. the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like.
  3. a performance or achievement that is marked by success, as by the attainment of honors.

I don’t really feel that any of those definitions defines what I look at when I attempt to define “success” as it applies to me or to those who I encounter in daily life.

If I accomplish one set of goals, I may have achieved success, but am I still “successful” if I simply stop there?  Are the possession of wealth, position and honors a good measure of success, really?

Is my success as a lawyer determined by my financial gain or by the number of people whose lives I touch?  Is my success as a measured by keeping my children alive to adulthood, or must they thrive on their own in an adult world?

I didn’t feel very successful as a young adult.  I don’t know what my personal measure of success was at 28, but I do recall that I was nervous about meeting my biological grandparents because I was divorced, a single parent and overweight.  I didn’t consider that the fact that  I was employed, working hard and buying my own home may have looked like success to my grandparents.

As a 33-year-old undergraduate student, I tutored a young man in math.  I was not a top math student, but my scores were higher than his, so I learned how to solve the problems and then I taught him to solve them, too.  We both passed the class.  That was definitely a success.

My personal framework for success is evolving.  At one time, I would have deemed myself a success having received a college degree.  When I attained that goal, I was proud for a moment, but I still didn’t feel successful.    Now that I have a BA and  JD and my own law practice, I feel successful when I win an argument and I don’t feel successful when I compare my paycheck to that of a colleague working for a big firm.

Since my conversation a month ago with my new, old friend, I have put some thought into answering the question of, “what is success?”

I’ve trained for two half-marathons.  In both cases, I logged hundreds of miles in training.  I did not finish my first attempt.  I did finish my second attempt.  Was I a failure the first time and a success the second time?  If “success” is measured by completing a race, then that is the case.  Although I felt momentarily defeated when I was “swept” from the course on that first attempt, I was proud of having successfully completed a training program, losing a bunch of weight, and gaining a lot of self-confidence.  I overcame a lot of obstacles in order to chalk up that failure.  Overall, that experience, and the fire it lit under me to finish the next time was definitely a contributing factor to my later “success.”

Speaking of that weight – I still have a sizeable amount to release.  am I a success for having lost over 100 lbs and keeping most of it off, or must I reach that elusive “goal weight” to be a success in the health arena?  Do my A1C, resting heart rate and blood pressure measurements contribute to success?

I’m very much a success story in some arenas.  In other areas, I’m a desperate failure.  I choose not to focus on those because I can only fix one or two things at a time.

One person who reads my musings may call me a “thought leader.”  Another recently told me I was full of Bull***t.  Guess which one I listened to (and then look back at the space between my blog posts in recent months…)

For today, I will define “success” as living a life consistent with my values.  That’s a higher bar than one would think some days.

What is “success”?  Do you feel successful?  What will it take for you to feel like a success?  Leave em a comment.  Let’s have a conversation.

Embracing the Dark

My “brand,” for want of a better term, has been “comfort and joy,” but the truth is that I have been doing my best to load heavy on the “joy” part.  I find joy in colors – in wild, bright, nearly-neon shades of pink, orange and green.  I have teacups in every color of the rainbow.  I wear eyeglasses that are splashed with many colors.  I love color.

I’m currently listening to “Learning to walk in the Dark:  Because Sometimes God Shows up at Night“, by Barbara Brown Taylor.   The author’s soothing voice is a reminder that life isn’t always colorful.  We have spent generations filling our world with light – chasing away the darkness.  We’ve lost the ability to take comfort in dark things – dark places. Her voice came at me through several podcasts in a short time.  On an impulse, I turned in an Audible credit and downloaded the recording.  I’m so glad that I did.

I’m the first one up in the house most mornings.  I flip on every light switch I pass, filling the house with the artificial sunlight emitted from all of those high-efficiency LED light bulbs.  The author asked questions, and I pondered, “When was the last time that I truly sat in the dark?  When did I last watch the night sky and watch for the stars to appear?”

It seems that August and September each lasted about 10 minutes. Here I sit, already part way through the month of October. My beautiful summer garden has begun to turn brown around the edges.  The petunias are bearing their last blooms; the herbs are going to seed.  Winter is Coming (sorry).  With Winter comes long nights.  With my windowless office, it is far too easy to arrive at work in the dark and leave in the dark.  I must be intentional, some days, to glimpse the sunlight at all.  The vibrant orange roses I purchased a week and a half ago have finally turned brown.  I rinsed the apple-green vase and stored it away.

Emotions can be dark, too.   We can confront dark emotions without being consumed by them.  I’m amazed by the videos of dangerous creatures – night creatures – like wolves and bears and foxes that make their way into backyards and play in the pool or on the trampoline.   I find delight in watching their apparent joy.  Had those homeowners been frightened by the beasts and turned on the security light, flooding the yard with artificial sun, the animals may have scurried away into the forest.  Instead, they sat back and allowed something magical to happen, and those videos have brought happiness to thousands, like me, who will never experience the sight.

In the wake of my mother’s death last year, I pursued joy like a drug.  I purchased yarn in bright colors, hoarded away in quantities it will take many months to deplete.  I asked for (and received – thank you, darling) a room painted a yellow (called “joyful,” no less) in which I could sit and do happy things while looking out the window at happy colors.  Honestly, the room hasn’t received much use.

No, I’m not currently depressed.  I’m just coming down off of an artificial high.  I’ve never used recreational drugs, but I’m told that some so completely deplete serotin – the happiness hormone – that it’s difficult to feel happy after coming down from the high. Those same substances, administered by a professional, can be used to combat serious issues like PTSD. Like those drugs, “Joy,” I think, is best in small doses.  It’s much more special that way.  Seeking out joy is hard work.  An item is only novel a time or two, then unless it is connected to a special memory, it begins to lose its magic.  It becomes another pretty thing to sit on a shelf and dust.

Instead of running from garden to lake seeking perfect sunrises and sunsets (filled with fuschia and orange), I’m going to take a look around at all of the perfect,ordinary, taken-for-granted blessings.  There is beauty in ritual – in the mundane.

I’m not swearing off of joy – I’m just trying to find a rhythm – to get back to appreciating the ordinary.  To enjoy comfort while at the same time allowing darkness  – sadness, melancholy and longing – to creep in where I can watch them from a safe distance.

My dear aunt and uncle in Arkansas recently sent me a gift – a video of my mother and her siblings in 2009.  One sister had already taken up residence in heaven – but the rest of them sat and told stories about growing up – about Christmas and toys and the poor family who stole milk from the cows because their children were hungry.

That DVD sat on the table in the foyer for more than a week.  I was afraid of it.  I don’t know if I was afraid of seeing my mother’s face and hearing her voice.  I don’t know if I was afraid that she might say something about me and my failures as a daughter.  I can’t truly describe the nature of my fear.  I just know that I felt it.

After moving the disc from one room to another, I finally popped it into the computer, sat back with a pot of tea, and watched it end to end.  I allowed the tears to come.  I allowed the grief to come into the yard and bounce on the trampoline.  I allowed myself to laugh at the funny parts, too.

Like the wild animals playing on the swingset, though, dark emotion is a wild creature that for those of us who have found our way back from depression must be respected for the wild thing that it is.  Like the woman filming the black bears, I can watch sadness from the safety of the kitchen window, but it would be foolish to invite it into the house and give it a place at the table.

I would never go out into the yard if a bear was there, but I might brave the night to see how close I could get to a fox or a raccoon.  I would face fear of the dark for the potential experience of seeing something special up close.

If you never go out into the dark, how will you ever see the stars?

 

 

 

 

 

This Magic Moment

One in a rare while, something completely magical happens.  This weekend contained one of those moments.  My husband I bought an old beat-up camper a few years ago.  We’ve enjoyed many adventures over the past several summers as we have towed the camper from site to site and state to state.  Our youngest son is 18 now, and assures us that he can be trusted at home to tend the dogs and make sure the house doesn’t burn down.

This weekend my husband and I took the rig to a state park campground close to home.  Unlike the park we have favored over the past two summers, this park has little in the way of amenities.  Our campsite had no power, water or sewer hookups.  There is no swimming pool or fancy tile and marble bathhouse.  There is, however, an abundance of forest, trees and a beautiful lake for kayaking or canoeing (an adventure we have yet to begin).

We arrived Friday afternoon.  Our site was level, but “boring.”  Two porta potties and a dumpster were across the street instead of the beautiful river across from our “usual” favorite spot away from home.  We set up the trailer and pulled out the chairs, rug and table for our patio.

While I was in the rear of the camper, I saw a tiny weathered path leading into the trees, and I followed it.  Inside the cluster of evergreens was a clearing.  The opening was a domed sanctuary like no other, and wherever I looked inside the evergreen aviary, there were birds.  There were bright yellow goldfinches and black and white woodpeckers.  There were red feathers and blue feathers.  The sun shone in bright beams through the timbers, and as I moved through the clearing, seemingly dozens of little birds flitted about around me, filling the air with colors.  It was a scene straight out of a Disney movie.  I took a seat on a fallen log and nearly started singing songs from Cinderella.

Some time later, I reluctantly returned to the campsite, certain that I would never experience anything like this again in my lifetime.  I went for a run/hike later that evening with more magical encounters (for another blog, perhaps) and slept soundly.

The next morning I awoke early and set off for a pre-breakfast walk in the early morning quiet.  Dots of brilliant yellow dotted the ground outside of the camper.  An entire flock of goldfinches were enjoying the morning light alongside me.  As I moved along the road, so did they, lighting on the ground a few feet away and then flying ahead again.

I tried to photograph my walking companions, but the images were grainy and blurred. The image exists only in my memory.  I moved from one row of campsites to another and the birds stayed behind.  I found trees with dozens of holes drilled by an industrious woodpecker.  I climbed a staircase formed by the roots of a benevolent tree.  I wandered through an expanse of forest that I immediately deemed “the tree graveyard,” as dozens of fallen trees littered the forest floor while health trees reached up all around.

I frequently run through the woods.  Why, then, I asked myself, do I not experience this magic on a regular basis?  The answer was at my fingertips – or perhaps my earlobes.  I was walking for the sole purpose of being in nature.  I wasn’t looking at my pace on my watch.  I wasn’t listening to a podcast or a running coach through wireless earbuds.  I was exploring a new landscape.  New trails and terrain required my constant attention to avoid a nasty fall.

How often are we so absorbed in the artificial world that our technology creates around us that we fail to see the flock of birds, or to hear the crickets at nightfall? Do I miss seeing the doe and her two babies crashing through the woods just ahead of me because I am concentrating on my stride and cadence?

I pay attention to these statistics because I want to be faster.  I don’t want to finish dead last in my next race – but at what cost does the potential improvement come?  What would happen if most days I simply ran for the joy of running instead of trying to beat my personal record around the trail loop?

When we fill our ears with music and look at the device on our wrist that vibrates every 30 seconds to remind us to MOVE FASTER, what magic do we miss?  I’ve reserved the same campsite for next weekend.  Do you think the birds will remember me?