Truth be told

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Some of the most difficult things I’ve had to come to terms with over the years are:

  1. Life isn’t fair.
  2. You can still fail, no matter how hard you try.
  3. Not every problem can be solved.

Like most children, I learned the first one pretty early on. I wasn’t happy about it, and I’m still not, but I certainly know it’s true. Over the years and into adulthood, it led directly to a distrust of the idea of the Christian God, or any god worth believing in, cuz in my mind, what would be the purpose of a god if not to make life fair?

I was drawn to Buddhism, and more simply, mindfulness, because it starts out by telling you that life is hard. Period. No illusion. No Santa Claus god. No notions of good and evil, fair or unjust. There is only us, here now, and this life and being kind. Embracing everything and then letting go, cuz none of it matters ultimately. It’s all in the past. There is only what is, not what should be. Not only what’s fair, but what isn’t. All of it. Everything.

The second one hit me square in the gut almost 20 years ago when I lost my business and had to get a job and file for bankruptcy. Like most American kids, I was raised with the idea that if you worked hard enough, you could achieve anything. The American Dream! I was living exactly the life I wanted, the one I had worked for, for a while, and then BAM! It was gone. I was stunned. I had been so determined. I had worked so hard and I wanted it so much, surely that would make it so.

Nope. I fell to earth and landed on my butt with a resounding and painful thud. It took me a long time to come to terms that what I had been told and what I believed to be true all of my life to that point was not true. There it was again: Life is not fair. Add to that: It doesn’t matter how hard you try, you can’t make it so.


Even though I had struggled with depression since I was a teenager, that event and finally realizing that fundamental truth about life was the thing that made me decide I couldn’t go on. Prior to that I believed the I was the problem, Not life. That I was doing something wrong. I had hope that someday I would get it right and then life would be what I hoped it would be, what I thought it could be. What I thought it was supposed to be.

I always knew that people suffered horrible lives, especially in other countries and in other times. I was an avid reader and some of the books I read were about really difficult lives, but I guess I always thought they were just unlucky or they didn’t work hard enough, or something. I don’t know what I thought. Maybe I didn’t really think about it, or maybe I just thought that it would be different for me because…I don’t know.

I was absolutely convinced growing up that despite all evidence to the contrary, I would have a wonderful life once I got to be an adult and could take control of my life. I was raised in the Christian church and I fell for all those stories in Sunday school about right and wrong and God helping good people and punishing bad people. I believed all the stuff in school, too, about the American Dream and Manifest Destiny, George Washington never telling a lie, and Abraham Lincoln walking through the snow for 1000 miles to return a book cuz it was the right thing to do.

I had fought through the depression over and over again because I believed that I could have the life I wanted if I just worked for it. Then, suddenly that was all a lie and I felt betrayed and stupid and that there was just no point in going on with this ridiculous unfair life – in which bad people thrived and good people got screwed. Knowing that there was nothing I could do to change that – no matter how hard I tried – was more than I could take for a long time. It took 10 years of medication and 3 years of therapy to get me past it.

The third thing – that for some problems there are no solutions – was the last bastion of earlier life to fall. Living again with my mother and her health problems finally beat that one down. Not only are some of her medical challenges baffling, even to her doctors, but more simply, the challenge of living with her and caring for her has become less of a problem to be solved, and more of a truth to be accepted.

It just is.

She’s not a problem to be solved. She’s a person. My difficulty at times with this situation can’t be solved, either, it is just part of my life, something I have to embrace and then let go of, just like everything else. It’s another step on the path for both of us. We’re traveling together on this journey.


Not a problem, not fair or unfair, not good or bad, just what’s happening now and no matter how hard I try, I can’t solve it all for her, or for me, or for anyone. We celebrate the good things and mourn the losses, but ultimately it’s all the same. What is, and what was, and what will be.

Us. In it together. All of us just doing the best we can to accept the truth.

Life is hard. And beautiful. And painful. And amazing. So big sometimes it crushes us, and other times lifts us to great heights. It’s everything and nothing.

And that’s the truth.

Loud and clear

The universe seems determined to show me all the ways in which I don’t measure up this week. There are a lot of them, and I’m painfully aware of them all, but I try to look past them and just do the best I can with what I’ve got. This week, however, I keep running into those walls at every turn and I’m a little bruised.

Those obstacles are people-related, mostly, with a few work failures thrown in. As I said, nothing I’m not aware of, and if you know me, chances are that you’re aware of them, too. The work troubles are new, the people thing, not new at all. I’ve tripped over myself coming and going over that one all the time, all my life.

I don’t know why. I like people, and I’m friendly. It seems to be that like some snakes or toads that have markings to let you know they’re dangerous, I send out some kind of signal that folks pick up sooner or later that lets them know that I’m different in some way. With two notable exceptions, I have trouble keeping friends, and consequently, I’m lonely and feel left out sometimes.

It’s something I’ve come to terms with for the most part, though, and luckily I enjoy my own company. Most of the things I like to do are solitary pursuits, so not a big deal most of the time. Every now and again, though, I hit that wall hard and this week I’ve run into it multiple times.

As for work, I seem to have outlived my skills. I was not wildly talented at what I do to begin with and now 25 years later, the expectations have outpaced my creative ability and my skills in some cases. The young people who run things now have no patience and no respect for experience; they have their own ideas about how things should look and be done, and they’re not interested at all in what I think. I think that’s probably as it should be, but it’s hard to take being treated as if you have no value after working so hard at something for so long.

So that’s really what it comes down to – being treated as if I have no value. I tell myself over and over that I am fine, doing the best I can, and that I’m worthwhile. The message I get over and over from other people in most areas of my life repeatedly, however, is different. This week that message has been particularly loud. And clear. It’s been hard to take.

Ironically, though, when I go home to my mother I’m reminded that I have a lot of value in her eyes. That hasn’t always been true, but it is now, and that’s a good thing. So the hardest part of my life has been the best part this week. Maybe that’s the message I’m supposed to be getting from the universe – that I’m where I’m supposed to be, doing what I’m supposed to be doing, and the rest of it isn’t important.


The beat goes on

Remember those really old Kung Fu movies in which the sound track was a beat or two behind the video, so the actors’ mouths were not in sync with their voices? Or you know those dreams where you forget to set your alarm for the biggest test/appointment/job interview of your life and you wake up in a panic and realize you’re late, but you can only move in slow motion and you get further and further behind?

That’s exactly how I feel today: out of sync, a beat or two behind. I didn’t sleep well last night or the night before and I’m feeling it today. I treated myself to some comfort food for lunch, and a visit to the chiropractor perked me up a bit, but still I’m just not that interested in being a functioning human today. The workday is almost over, though, so after I go grocery shopping, unload and put away the groceries, make dinner, and do the dishes, I’ll be able to slump in a chair, which is really all I’ve wanted to do all day.

I’m tired, and a little cranky, and by the time I get in bed tonight, it will have been a long day. They’re all long days lately. I wish I could say that I’m just sailing through, on top of everything, multi-tasking and having a grand ol’ time, but that’s not the case. I’m making it through, and everything’s getting done – mostly – but I’m not Doris Day and this isn’t a movie. This is just imperfect, exhausting, fabulous life.

I have good days and not-so-good days, and both are okay.

There was a time when I wouldn’t have been able to accept the not-so-good days; I beat myself up mercilessly for the things I didn’t accomplish perfectly, and even worse for things I didn’t accomplish at all. The message I got growing up was that if you’re not perfect, you’re nothing. The definition of “perfect” had everything to do with other people, and nothing to do with me, but I didn’t really get that. I heard their voices in my head, so I thought those expectations were mine.

Turns out – no, not so much. By the time I realized that, however, I was in my 40s and then I had to figure out what I thought of myself, and what I wanted for my life.

I still hear those other voices, but I’ve gotten better at telling them to quiet down, and then telling myself that everything’s okay just as it is. I’m not perfect today. I’ve been a little anti-social, I gave into my desire for comfort food and enjoyed every minute of it, and I’m feeling a little sorry for myself that I have so much to do yet tonight when I’m so tired.

Tomorrow I’ll probably be better, but if I’m not, that’s okay. I don’t like feeling cranky or anti-social, or sorry for myself, but that’s just the way it is today. Good things happened, too, and I’m remembering to try to be aware of those things – I made it  to work, I got some stuff done. My crankiness didn’t get in the way of any of the conversations I had today, lunch was really, really good, and the sun is shining.

Today was everything – all of it. Good and bad. Not really good and not really bad. Just a day. I showed up, and today that was all I could manage. Maybe tomorrow I’ll be fabulous, maybe not. I’m okay with it all. I have learned to treat myself with compassion and that has made all the difference. Life is hard. We all deserve a break. Sometimes you have to give it to yourself, if no one else will.



Every bloomin’ thing


Ahhhhh, Spring.

First bike ride of the season on Friday after work. I didn’t go fast or far, but it was wonderful, just the same. Yesterday I liberated the purple bike from the trainer and put it next to its siblings in the garage – no more indoor riding this year. Thank goodness. Nothing I love about bicycling has anything to do with being indoors or stationary.

When I got home, mom and I took a walk around the block and in our neighbor’s yard – the one in which they tore down the house this winter – we saw a little bunny. She was hopping back and forth to a bush on the property, under which, several years ago I had found a bunny nest while raking. So we thought maybe she had been born there last year and was now tending her own nest. Maybe there’s been a bunny nest right under our noses for years and years and we weren’t aware! A metaphor for life. I love thinking of her out there taking care of another generation – the future. New beginnings everywhere.

Too cold and windy for a ride yesterday, so I took a nice long walk and had the most amazing encounter with a deer that stayed with me all day. It was a young deer, a doe, I’m guessing, and while she was wary of me as I approached, she didn’t run and she didn’t seem to be afraid. I spoke to her softly, and she cocked her head so she could get a better view of me. We stood and talked like that for 60 seconds or so, then I said goodbye and thank you and quietly walked off. I didn’t hear her crashing through the brush behind me, so I don’t think she ran away. Very cool.

I have been trying to focus on good things lately – trying to train my brain to be aware of everything, not just the bad, which seems so pervasive lately – and these encounters felt like gifts in return for my attentiveness. At least I choose to see them that way, in order to convince the grey matter that there are rewards for positive thinking that are way better than for negative and fearful thinking.

Cuz I’m always scanning for danger. Always. That’s been the default my whole life – not without reason – but especially lately. Probably most people do that. Life is big and scary. But it’s also big and wonderful and lovely and awesome, and that’s the part I overlook so often cuz my brain is wearing itself out looking for the icky stuff.

Part of living in the moment  – mindfully living life – however, is trying to be aware of everything. All of it. The good and the bad, the scary and the wonderful. So I’m trying to expand my vision. There are sooooo many good things! Nature alone is the source of countless amazing, beautiful, awe-inspiring things, and you can’t beat Michigan in the Spring and Summer for being in nature. And **bonus** walking and biking – outside in nature – are wonderful and good for me! Win, win, win, win, win.

Welcome, Spring. So good to see you again.

Another step forward


I was listening to a talk by Dr. Christine Carter today. I’ve heard her speak before, and I read her blog, but she said something in this talk I’ve never heard or thought about before that really resonated with me.

She pointed out that being comfortable is a relatively new thing for human beings. For the most part, our ancestors led mostly uncomfortable lives by comparison to ours – long days of manual labor, the constant threat of disease, early death by our standards. Even creature comforts like a warm house, readily available food, and comfortable clothes were not something they could take for granted.

Pleasure was an occasional thing. Not the focus of every day and every activity for most people. Folks were much too busy just staying alive to make pleasure a priority. Certainly they found pleasure in life, but it wasn’t the focus or the expectation. Those who survived were those who could tolerate and survive physical adversity. Until relatively recently humans didn’t have the luxury of considering their mental health – about whether they were happy or comfortable or leading a meaningful life – they just lived. They got through each day doing what needed to be done to survive to the next.

In some countries, this is still true, as well as for the poorest in this country, to some degree. But for most humans living now, life is relatively easy in those terms – our basic physical needs have been met and in many cases, exceeded. Now we are free to spend our time and energy pursuing pleasure – and we’ve gotten very good at it. Sugary foods, mind-altering substances, shopping, the internet, gambling, TV, porn, etc. are all readily available.

The trouble is that we’ve confused pleasure with happiness. They are not the same thing, and we’ve lost sight of the distinction. We’ve become addicted to pleasure, but we’re unhappier than ever. We’re too comfortable and we’ve become complacent and dissatisfied because it takes more and more to meet our need for pleasure. The “high” wears off too quickly. It’s not the robust, sustaining happiness we really need and that we think we’re reaching for. Pleasure is merely a brain receptor thing, not a soul thing. It doesn’t feed us fully – quite literally, pleasure provides only empty calories.

This was quite a revelation to me this morning, let me tell you. It caused me to evaluate my perception of my situation with my mother yet again in these terms. I realized that some of the things I’m missing by devoting so much time and energy to her care are things that really only bring me short-term pleasure, not necessarily happiness, and that being without them for a time isn’t that big a deal.

Further, my anxiety stems from the fear of discomfort in this situation. I’m not comfortable having her rely on me for everything. I’m not comfortable going to the emergency room every few weeks. I’m not comfortable being unable to solve all her problems. I’m not comfortable having another person, especially her because of our history together, determine the course of my days. I’m uncomfortable spending so much time with her because I’ve always been uncomfortable with her.


Life is uncertain. Life with my mother is, and always has been, uncertain. This is something I’ve struggled with all my life – I am never safe from having to deal with her. She has always been ill, she has always been needy. She has always been a big source of discomfort. All of my life.


I survived, didn’t I? The discomfort hasn’t killed me to this point, and it won’t going forward. As Dr. Carter said in this talk, human beings have survived for millennia being uncomfortable. I can make it through a couple of months, or in this case, years. Being with her and taking care of her now is still the right thing to do, and the fact that it makes me uncomfortable doesn’t change that. Having less pleasure in my life makes it dull, but that won’t kill me, either. What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger is a real thing – adversity helps us learn and grow as humans. It’s hard-wired.

Having said that, there are a couple of things that I’ve identified in the past couple of months as being necessary to my health and well-being – my long-term happiness – and mom and I are figuring out ways together to insure that I have time and energy for those things. So that is easing the discomfort to a great degree and has raised the pleasure quotient at the same time. It doesn’t remove the uncertainty, but that’s just the way it is. Life is uncertain for everyone, all the time. Even under the best of circumstances.

This too shall pass is true of all of life – the good and the bad. The pleasure and the discomfort. The trick is to be happy through all of it. In each moment joy is available to us, and if we reside there as much as possible, focus on what’s good, even joyful, in each moment, we tilt our brain scale toward happiness. That’s a lot easier to say than it is to do, but it’s worth a try every single day.

In another talk I heard yesterday, Geneen Roth said she tells her students to list everyday the 5 things that aren’t wrong. It made me laugh when I heard it, but it resonated with me because it’s related to gratitude, but it’s not as hard as gratitude. Sometimes I find it hard to feel grateful for really difficult things, really difficult days. Often I look back on those times and realize what I’ve gained from going through those uncomfortable experiences and then I am grateful, but in the moment, not so much.

But even when everything seems to be falling apart, there are things that aren’t wrong, that are still wonderful and helpful and beautiful – friends, pets, books, flowers, bicycling – and focusing on those things and knowing they’ll be available to us again at some point, is very comforting.

I may not always be able to list 5 things on any given day that I’m grateful for, but certainly I can think of 5 things – even really mundane things like the hot water heater is still working – that aren’t wrong. A shift in thinking is sometimes all it takes to turn things around even when you’re the most uncomfortable and feeling low.

So. I learned a lot this week, and that makes me happy.

I’m grateful without reservation for these and other teachers who offer their wisdom and insight to us daily. Thanks to the Awake Network and the Shambala Mountain Center who sponsored Mindful Living Week, I have been able to listen to these speakers and others for free. What a gift. Definitely tops the list everyday this week of things that aren’t wrong, and how appropriate during this time of new beginnings.

Happy Spring.

Fuzzy thinking

312645_1988371195600_758685913_nI have two cats, Clare and Grace. They don’t like each other much, even though they have lived together since they were both kittens. Clare likes to ambush Grace with some regularity, usually on the stairs, and Grace falls for it every time. I think she knows Clare’s waiting for her – she’s always in the same place – but it’s a game, so what the heck? Breaks up a long, boring day.

Today at lunchtime, Clare saw Grace heading through the den on her way upstairs, so she scooted through the living room quickly to get in position. She waited…and waited…and waited. I have no idea what Grace was doing in the den, but in a few minutes she wandered back into the living room.

It took Clare a few minutes to realize her plan had been foiled, but when she did, she sauntered back into the living room, grabbed a toy and plopped down on the floor to play. Grace walked past her on her way upstairs and that was that.

That is exactly what I’m trying to get to in my life: immediate acceptance when things don’t go as planned, and the willingness to move on to the next thing without looking back. Totally in the moment, totally in the flow of life. A lofty goal, and one I will never achieve totally, but I’m working toward it everyday now.

It’s the default for animals, of course. They are, for the most part, free of worry about the future, as well as regret over the past. Humans…not so much. In fact, almost not at all. Anxiety and depression are pervasive among humans. Life is hard, and our brains are hard-wired to alert us to that fact. The fact that it’s not hard in the same ways it used to be – we rarely encounter animals that mean to kill us anymore – doesn’t matter. That wiring is in place and it works very well. Too well.

Granted, some folks are more prone to anxiety and depression; either we’re born with faulty brain components which overreact to life’s difficulties – real or imagined – or something happens to us which causes the wiring to short out or the chemistry to be thrown out of whack. In my case I think it was a combination of both.

Whatever the cause, my life has been shaped by depression, mostly, but since menopause, anxiety has joined the party. It’s very popular there in Brainland, and is  now selecting the music and serving the drinks. The life of the party, and the life of my life.

I could take medication, but I don’t want to. I took drugs for depression for a number of years. They saved my life. After 10 years or so, though, the side effects outweighed the benefits, and I weaned off of them. I don’t regret that decision – it was the right one for me at the time and it still is. I had been through therapy and was going through peri-menopause – consequently I was in a much healthier place at that point, and depression no longer ruled my life as it had when I was younger. Therapy had given me tools to deal with my emotions, and menopause had stemmed the tide of hormones.

After I moved in with my mother and I was post-menopausal, the anxiety moved in, too. So it’s been about 5 years now, and I’ve been looking into natural remedies and coping techniques. That’s how I came to mindfulness. It’s been on my radar for a long time. I was a yoga practitioner and a regular meditator many years ago, so it has been like welcoming an old friend to revisit those teachings.  Mindfulness is more than just meditation, though, and my practice now is more meaningful.

Gratitude and self-compassion are part of my mindful journey now, but when I was a young woman, both of those concepts were utterly foreign to me. I wasn’t ungrateful, necessarily, but I didn’t really think about gratitude in the real, tangible way I do now.

Self-compassion was the farthest thing from my mind as a young person. I was very hard on myself – and on other people. Very judgmental, beating myself up for everything that didn’t go well, certain there was something different and terribly wrong with me. There was, of course – my brain didn’t work like most other people’s – but that wasn’t something people acknowledged or talked about then. I, and probably most everyone I knew at the time, thought I was just immature and lazy, terribly needy and self-centered, difficult to get along with, and an unforgiving perfectionist.

It took decades of suffering for me to finally learn just to give myself a break. It took being ready to end my life to get me into therapy, and it took 3 years of therapy to get to the point where I could accept myself as I am: flawed.

Not perfect. Just like everyone else.

What a relief. That was quite a few years ago, and since then I’ve been trying to keep my head and my priorities straight, manage the anxiety, be kind to myself, stay well, and take care of my mother.

This winter life with my mother got a lot harder, and I found myself at my wit’s end again. So I started reading and watching videos about mindfulness and taking baby steps toward meditating with regularity. Life is not much easier yet, but I am starting to feel better-equipped to cope with the daily twists and turns, and that helps keep the anxiety at a more manageable level.

I simply try to focus in the moment. In each moment there is safety and sanity, and as long as I stay there and pay attention to what’s happening now and how I’m feeling now, anxiety doesn’t have a chance to sneak up on me and start spinning everything into chaos.

Is mindfulness the cure for anxiety? No. It’s a way of thinking about and experiencing life that makes you more aware: of your mind, your body, other people, the planet, life. Studies have shown, though, that being more mindful can fundamentally change the way your brain works, including calming the centers that send the erroneous danger signals to the rest of your brain and body all the time. So though it is not the intention, mindfulness has the effect of calming anxiety.

That’s a side-effect I can live with.



I’m not wealthy, but I do have 2 houses – one I live in and one I own.

I live in the house I grew up in with my mother. I moved back in 2012 following the death of my father. I had been living in the house I own for 3 years when that happened. I still own it, and currently it sits empty as I’m reluctant to rent it and I don’t want to sell it.

My mother’s house is on a reverse mortgage, so after she’s gone I’ll be moving back into my house. In the meantime, I go there regularly. I do my laundry there every 2 weeks (long story) and in the summer I walk there from work to eat lunch on weekdays. A couple of times a year my best friend comes up and we stay there.

It’s a great house. I keep the lawn and the flower beds up as best I can and I keep the inside clean. It’s pretty small, but it’s perfect for me and I love it. I look forward to living in it again.

Last year, just before Halloween, I got new neighbors next door. They’re renting. I rented for most of my life, so I’m reluctant to judge anyone based on that, but so far they’ve been a disappointment. I don’t know them, and have only spoken to them a couple of times, briefly, as one of us was coming or going. They’re an older couple, and I’m sure they’re nice people, doing the best they can, but like many people I encounter lately, they’re inconsiderate of those around them. They’re hardly ever there when I’m there, so it makes it hard.

The first thing that happened was that they gave their plow guy the wrong address and he plowed my driveway. Okay, not the end of the world, even though he gouged my lawn in several places. I don’t have my drive plowed for that very reason, and because it’s expensive for the little bit I’m there in the winter. But mistakes happen, so okay. They sent their grandson over to apologize one day when I was there. Whatever.

Then the plow guy started plowing their drive, but pushing the snow onto my lawn. I wanted to say something to them about it, but I was never there when they were, so I let that go, too. Yesterday I was over at the house raking and mowing and discovered that he gouged that part of the lawn pretty badly, too. Lovely.

Strike 2.

At some point this winter I noticed snowmobile tracks in the snow in my backyard and saw 2 snowmobiles parked in their backyard. Hmmm. Yesterday I found a 2′ x 2′ patch of dug up lawn and tracks through the rest of the lawn that lead over to their house.

Strike 3. YOU’RE OUT!

So now I have to think of the best way to deal with this. I hate to leave a note on their door, but as they’re never there, I think that’s the only option. I’ll be nice, but I need to make it clear that my property is off-limits. Period.

What gets me is that I have to tell people who should know better that it’s not okay to destroy my lawn. What’s up with that? I don’t know my neighbors’ name or anything about them, really. I hope they don’t have guns. I hope they don’t retaliate. I hate that I have to think that way. It makes my little Aquarian heart sad. But there it is. I hate confrontation, but I can’t let this go on. Apparently it’s not obvious to them that it’s not okay to wreck my place.

I get that people are not always good neighbors. After all, there is that saying that “fences make good neighbors,” and we don’t make up adages for things that happen infrequently. I’ve lived a lot of places and I’ve had less than perfect neighbors before. I’m tempted to think this is a new thing, but I know it’s not, though I do think it’s getting worse. Courtesy in our society is breaking down, in my opinion, and that’s hard to take sometimes.

I’m not naive, but I am an optimist, and my heart gets broken easily sometimes. This is one of those times. I feel disrespected and treated as if I don’t matter, and that’s a real hot button for me. The difference for me now is that I intend to let these people know that it’s not okay to treat me that way. I wouldn’t have done that even a few years ago, because I thought I didn’t matter.

They’ll either stop or they won’t, and if they won’t I’ll have to think about what to do next. But right now this feels like a win already – just standing up for myself is a victory, for which I’m very grateful. I have no control over the outcome, but taking action to try to stop someone from hurting me is better than doing nothing. Also, knowing that I’ve reached a place where I’m able to respond, rather than retaliate is satisfying, too.

Baby steps, but I’m getting there. Thank goodness.


What a ride


My 97 year-old neighbor died last summer, and her memorial was this weekend. Her family had been our neighbors for 50+ years; almost all of my life. Her daughters were like older sisters to me. Our houses were 20 feet apart; our families were close in proximity and close in feeling. Now the house and Jean are gone. Her daughters sold the house soon after she died, and after Christmas this year an excavator came and knocked the whole thing down.

Almost 100 years old.  An orphan in England, she joined the RAF as a young woman, met and married an American serviceman, and immigrated to the US after WWII. She had six children, countless grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She worked hard, raised her kids, loved cooking and gardening. She had a picture of Queen Elizabeth in her living room.

And now she’s gone. There’s a big hole in our neighborhood. Something that has always been there is gone. Such a long and full life, and now it’s over. Life keeps moving on.

So on Saturday I attended a Catholic mass for the second time in my life. It was dedicated to Jean and her husband Clem, and following there was a buffet and family get-together in another part of the church. Four of her daughters and their kids and grandkids were there, and also another 50+ year neighbor couple, who I hadn’t seen in person for a number of years even though they still come back for the summer every year.

I was raised in the Episcopal church, so the Catholic Eucharist was familiar, though I didn’t really participate. I just don’t believe anymore, so I found it hard to say the prayers and sing the hymns. I sat in the pew and focused on being present and respectful, and I thought about Jean and Clem and the memories I had of life next door to their family, and about how much has changed.

In his homily, the priest mentioned that he would be performing a baptism following the mass. It struck me that in one part of the building we would be celebrating a very long life completed, and in another part a new life was being welcomed to the world.

There it was – the whole thing – start to finish – in one small church on a Saturday afternoon in May. Life keeps moving on. What will that baby see and experience in her life? What will life on this planet be like in 97 years? I wonder what the world was like when Jean was baptized in 1920? Could anyone then have imagined the way her life unfolded?

And the house that had always been there – what will fill that space? In another 10 years, who will remember the big yellow house and the big family who lived in it? Most likely there will be another house, another family. That’s the nature of life – it’s fleeting, and so are we. Nothing lasts forever, not even memories once there’s no one around to carry them anymore.

So I guess that’s what’s so appealing about religion, right? It reassures us that we will go on beyond the physical, beyond memory, even. Presumably God knows who we are and will remember us forever. In the mass Saturday, the priest proclaimed the “victory over death!” and everybody said, “Amen!” That “victory” is comforting when you fear death, fear loss of those you love.

So the mystery of life is less of a mystery to the believers, I guess. I’m not one of them, so I guess that means for me the mystery is unsolved. Lately I’m content to leave those questions unanswered. In each moment is the opportunity to experience life directly and appreciate what’s present and that’s where I want to be. In this moment. I have fond memories of the past, and I love to ponder the possibilities of the future sometimes, but mostly, I like being right here, right now.

Someday maybe, someone will be looking back over my life at the end and remembering me, and that would be nice. Maybe someone will even celebrate that I was here. There will be a point, however, where I am completely erased from memory, and that’s okay, too. I will have enjoyed my ride, but when it’s over it’ll be time for someone else to take my seat and have their turn. That is as it should be. Like a roller coaster, life blows by in a flash. The only way to get your money’s worth is to experience and appreciate it moment by moment. It’ll be over before you know it.

RIP Jean. I hope you got your money’s worth.

Mother’s Day isn’t all cards and flowers

My birthmother lives less than 100 miles from me. I know who she is, where she lives, and she know where I am, too. We’ve corresponded – almost 10 years ago – through an intermediary before we knew who the other was.

She doesn’t want to meet me, and has not contacted me since we stopped writing in 2009. I wrote to her a couple of years ago to inform her that my address and phone # had changed. I’m always hopeful that she’ll change her mind. I received no response.

She has 4 other children and other family in the area. I have 2 brothers, two sisters, several nieces and nephews, and an aunt that lives close by, as well. I don’t know any of them. My aunt showed up as a “Close Family” DNA match on a few months ago, but she hasn’t contacted me. I don’t know if she knows who I am or not. My birthmother wrote that she hadn’t told anyone other than her current husband when they married in the 1960s. My aunt was probably too young to have been aware of what my bmom was going through then, so it’s entirely possible she didn’t know about me. Apparently she doesn’t want to know.

I don’t understand it. I just wanted to meet her. That’s all. I have a family, and honestly the whole idea of “mother” is fraught with peril for me. That’s not what I want or need, either. I just wanted to hear her voice, see the way she walks, the way she moves her hands when she talks. I wanted to know if I am like her.

I know I don’t look much like her. I have her coloring and that’s about it. My face is my birthfather’s almost exactly, and my guess is that’s why she doesn’t want anything to do with me. He hurt her, and I get that. I’m not him, but I’m sure I’m all wrapped up in those bad memories. Hard to process that I’m an adult with a life now; not the baby she had to leave behind. In our correspondence, I got the sense that she is not that self-aware, and that she put that experience out of her mind – quite literally – some time ago, and hasn’t looked back.

She doesn’t feel like she owes me anything, and I agree. I don’t imagine we have much in common – I know she’s very involved in her church, and she’s very conservative politically. Ditto my sisters, who are soccer moms and live near their mother. My brothers both live out of state, and I don’t know much about them. Thanks to the internet, I know where they all live and what they look like. I’m grateful for that.

My birthfather is dead. He died in 1999, after a shortened, difficult life. He never married or had other children. He died of alcoholism. I have been in touch with his oldest brother, who was very gracious and sent me my bdad’s senior picture. He was a veteran of the Vietnam War, and my uncle said he was never right after he came back. Very sad.

All of my bgrandparents are dead. My birthmother’s mother died just a short time before we started writing. Her brother died a few years ago. He was old enough at the time of my birth to know what was going on, so bmom’s secret died with him and my bgrandparents, except for her husband, who I’m certain she didn’t tell about my recent contact.

So I know alot, and that has been a great thing. Just knowing that there were actual people involved in my birth made me feel more like I belong here, which I didn’t much as a kid. I’m a genealogy nut, so I’ve traced both families back as far as I can, and that’s been cool, too. The DNA thing was profoundly satisfying. As it turns out I really am the whitest white girl in America – 100% England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. Knowing that meant a lot to me.

But it’s not enough. I want to meet her. I want to look in her eyes, smell her perfume, see her smile. That’s all. No one needs to know; just an hour or so, in a neutral town where no one knows either of us.

But she can’t do it. She has rejected me once again. This time it’s actually me she’s said “no” to. I’m a person now, not a baby she never saw or felt a connection to (her words).

On the shows like “Long Lost Family” and on the internet people get all dewy-eyed at the thought of a “reunion.” People hug and cry and express love to people they’ve just met and everyone feels all warm and fuzzy about it.

But this is the reality for most of us. No reunion, no happy ending. No cameras rolling.

Just the emptiness of rejection all over again.



Pausing on the path


I don’t believe in a god per se,  but I do believe there is order in the universe and I believe in karma. I would say I don’t believe in a personal diety or guardian angels. I used to. I was a card-carrying Episcopalian for most of my life and I was a believer, baby. I was in the choir – literally and figuratively. I believed in everything, actually, not just the Christian stuff. I believed there was truth in all of it, though like the elephant in a dark room, we can only see the pieces close to us and can’t make out the whole. I still believe that. But as for the god who knows and cares what’s going on with me?


But here’s the thing – every now and again, the universe speaks to me. I can tell you about a number of times a message came to me at exactly the time I needed it, or something happened that opened my eyes to something important, etc. I’m sure everyone has experiences like that. I’m not willing to say definitively who or what sends those messages that do indeed seem completely personal – like someone or something is paying attention and wants to help, but I’m willing to acknowledge that it exists. I have no idea where it comes from, but I suspect it’s something within me…

Cool to think about, but a topic for another time.

Today, I’m processing the most recent incident of this “message sent/message received” thing. First, this from a blog I read this morning – one I read everyday:

“Remember how far you’ve come, not how far you have to go. You are not where you want to be, but neither are you where you used to be.” ~Rick Warren

And 10 minutes later, this tidbit from a transit in my horoscope (Jupiter sextile MC):

…you will be able to understand how your past has affected the present, and you will learn to gain control over parts of yourself that used to control you. This increase in self-knowledge may be accompanied by or may come to you through an increased religious or spiritual self-awareness.

This is EXACTLY what I’ve been thinking about for the past couple of weeks. It’s what I write about everyday in my journal lately – how living with my mother as an adult the past few years has explained so much about my childhood and has helped me come to terms with and appreciate who I am and all I have overcome.

I was feeling kind of hopeless this morning, but this perspective – especially the first quote – has lifted my spirits. Yes, I want to focus on the here and now, and not get bogged down in thinking about the past, or caught up thinking about an imagined future. But every now and again it’s good to look back and see how far you’ve come. Especially if you’re lagging and the path ahead seems overwhelming.

I’m going to rest today in the knowledge that I’m closer to the person I want to be than I ever have been before.

I’m going to celebrate how hard it has been and that I haven’t given up. I’m going to give myself a pat on the back and revel in the beauty of this crazy life; filled with gratitude for all the experiences and gracious souls who have helped me and taught me along the way.

Tomorrow I’ll go on. And the day after that, and the day after that, and…

Because I know I can. There is more to go, and I’ll be ready for it.

Today, though, it’s time to rest.