In the middle

Life is not so much about beginnings and endings as it is about going on and on and on. It is about muddling through the middle.

This has been a good week and I’m enjoying life in the middle. Not really muddling all that much, though, and that’s what’s made it feel so good. I have felt comfortable this week resting in what is – who I am, what I’m doing, and the way in which life is unfolding in every moment. Content to be present and able to welcome life as it comes. It wasn’t a kidney stone week, and that helped, for sure, but it wasn’t easy-peasy, either.

It was just regular life – some happy things, a couple of scary things, some annoying things, some sad things, and one or two downright disheartening things. Nothing extreme on either end of the spectrum, just the regular stuff, and a little bit of Spring thrown in to give the heart a leg up to start.

Doesn’t happen all that often, and I know it won’t last that long, but for the last few days I’ve felt steadfast. Ready. Willing to go on. Hopeful, even, that somehow everything will work out for the best – even if it’s not what I want, whatever happens may be just what I need – if I just get out of my own way and just let things be.

That’s not easy, and I’m not usually very good at it, but this week it was like a gift. It’s been effortless. I’m grateful for it cuz the week before that nearly sent me spiralling into the abyss. I was muddling through, frustrated with the again-ness, beating my head against the wall of familiar intractable problems – at work, at home, with the house and my health – and so so so discouraged.

I kept getting out of bed and facing the days, though, getting through, and somehow, now I’ve gotten over that wall. I can’t honestly say I know what changed, but Tuesday it was all just different. I was different. I surrendered. Instead of giving up, I gave in. Instead of apathy, acceptance. Another layer of resistance peeled away; scraped off by the abrasion of life.

So I’m reminded that all I have to do is show up. Be present. Muddle through the middle, as Anna Quindlen says. What matters is the middle. Rest easy in the knowledge that everything passes, and then comes again. That’s just the way it is. There is only now, and me, and what is. There is no way to live life so perfectly that there are no problems. Somehow I keep thinking that I’m going to get to a place where everything is all right all the time. Rationally I know there is no such place and that there is no way to get there. There is still a part of me that’s not convinced, though, so there’s more to learn.

My challenge is to welcome the problems as lessons, the again-ness as the opportunity to learn them well; to reach a deeper level of understanding and acceptance over and over again. That’s why I’m here, and that’s what’s best for me, even though it doesn’t always seem so.

I’m probably not ever going to fully accept that, but I think I’m getting better, and this week I had it knocked. Next week I’ll probably trip all over myself again and fall flat on my face. Whatever. I know I’m doing the best I can, and that my intention is on track, and that I’m heading in the right direction. That’s all that’s necessary.

Just muddling through until I get to a good place to rest for a while. I’m happy to be here.

Now.

 

 

 

The home stretch

Compassion - Kornfield

I can’t say this about very many days, but I know exactly where I was at this time on this day 21 years ago. I know because it was the day my life started to unravel. Just a little thread that day; I didn’t realize that it wasn’t easily repaired and that ultimately everything would come apart. I would lose everything that mattered to me, including a business I put heart and soul into for 5 years. I would end up in bankruptcy court and the judgment would be harsh. It would take years to recover financially, mentally and emotionally.

But that was all still a long way off on this day in 1998. That day I was starting a new job waiting tables at the Country Club. I know it was this particular Saturday because the first day I worked was on the afternoon of the Kentucky Derby that year. I was working as a waitress, serving wealthy people who came to watch the Derby and drink mint julips in the lounge with their rich friends. I think of that afternoon every year on Derby day. I’ll never forget it, for lots of reasons.

First, never in my life had people been so rude to me. I had worked in restaurants on and off since 1976, but I had never waited table. I wasn’t very good at it, and the people I was waiting on were not very understanding. It was a LONG afternoon. It sucked, but I went back the next day, and the next night and on  and on for a couple of months because I had to.

I had a business, and a client who didn’t pay on time and I was in financial turmoil. I had to do something to keep myself and the business afloat, so I took that second job at night and on weekends to bring in some cash. During the day I did client work as usual, and at 4 o’clock almost everyday I put on my uniform and sturdy shoes and went to work serving privileged and unpleasant people.

I hated every minute of that job. Every single second. The chef was a tyrant and the members were unkind and dismissive. I had one man tell me he thought I should go get a job at Burger King because that seemed to be more my pace. This after he had known me a half hour, and because I had made a mistake on his wife’s drink order. Please, just shoot me now. What would make you believe it would be okay for you to say something like that to a complete stranger? And what makes you think it’s so easy to work at Burger King, asshole? Money does strange things to people.

They were all like that. I would like to report that most people were kind, but that would not be true. With the exception of one couple who were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary and had obviously saved up for a special dinner out, every single person I waited on for the two months I was there was simply unkind and impatient at best and verbally abusive at worst. I’ve never been so happy to leave any job in my life, and I’ve had a lot of jobs.

I left after two months because I got a job at a different restaurant in town where I could make more money and where I knew a lot of the staff. It was better, and I stuck with it until Thanksgiving that year. The extra money helped and I thought I would be okay then, but the writing was on the wall and two years later I would have to admit it was there and that it was true. I closed the business and got a “real” job doing graphics work for Acme Health Services. I’m still there today, and it has been a good thing, though it has taken me a long time to see it that way.

It`s been a long road. It was hard and on any given day I would have said that I would never recover all that I lost that summer and after. But here I am, and I’m okay, and if I need money like that again I know exactly what I won’t be doing. I’m grateful for the experience though, for several reasons.

  1. It humbled me. I took the job cuz I thought it would be an quick way to make money. I never considered that I wouldn’t be good at it. As I said, I had worked in restaurants on and off for 25 years at that point, bussing tables, hostessing, and even as the bookkeeper one summer. I thought I knew everything there was to know about hectic dining rooms, eccentric staff and rude clientele. This experience opened my eyes about just how horrible human beings can be to another when they believe they are superior to someone else.
  2. It taught me that sometimes you just can’t have what you want, no matter how hard you try to get it. For a long time that made me REALLY bitter. I carried around a chip on my shoulder about that experience and the client who had done me wrong and caused me to have to go to those lengths to survive. It got too heavy, though, that chip, and I finally laid it down. I realized that it had been my naivete as much as his callousness that had gotten me in that situation. It was a valuable lesson in just how much control you have over other people (zero) and that good people don’t always do the right thing.
  3. Not having any money and the bankruptcy experience taught me so much about so many things.
    1. Failure doesn’t kill you, but if you let it, it will transform you.
    2. Poor people are not lazy or stupid. I didn’t believe this to begin with, but this experience deepened my compassion for people who are down on their luck.
    3. Not everyone is good at their job and even people who are supposed to be on your side will let you down. My attorney was late for my banktruptcy hearing, didn’t have everything with him that he was supposed to, and didn’t say a word on my behalf during the hearing. The judgment was harsh (it took 10 years for me to pay it off). After the hearing, the attorney said he hoped I had learned my lesson. I considered not paying his staggering bill, but finally decided that was not in my best interest. A year later he was dead of cancer. I had learned my lesson, but I wonder if he learned his before he died.
    4. Being forced to give up my business and take the job at Acme was one of the best things that has happened to me in my life. I didn’t see it that way for a long time, but looking back I see it very clearly now. I think I was on the right path in my business – it was the happiest and most fulfilled I’ve ever felt – but financially it wasn’t working and I wasn’t seeing that. I believe in karma, and looking back, I see that situation with my delinquent client through that lens and then it makes sense. I was getting deeper and deeper in debt (metaphors in our lives are very powerful, aren’t they? The universe is so eloquent) and I had to give up something that mattered very much to me to pay the karmic debt. The money took a lot longer, but I paid that debt, too, thanks to the stability of my job at Acme. The other things I’ve gained in the last 19 years, and the ways in which I’ve grown through my relationships there and the work we do, all tell me that I’m right where I should be, doing exactly what I should doing, even though some days it’s not what I want to be doing.

It wasn’t all sunshine and roses (or mint julips), but the whole experience, beginning on that day so long ago, has been worth the pain and the struggle to survive. I wish I had been wiser and could have made those changes without the body-slam from the universe, but that’s not how it happened then, and I’m not sure it would happen any differently now, though I fancy myself as being a little wiser than that waitress in 1998.

Humans are a hard-headed, stiff-necked group, though, and I’m 100% human. I hope the next time I’m so clearly headed off-course, that the universe will steer me right once again, though a little more gently next time, please. It’s those hard come-arounds that give you whiplash and do damage to the ship. However it happens, though, I trust that there is more in store for this old girl.

I hope so. Cuz, man what a trip around the track it’s been so far!

Rock hard

Capture

I saw this tweet last night and it made me laugh. It summed up so wonderfully this past week, and really, the more I thought about it, the last 7 years. A kidney stone! Yes.

Hard. Painful. Perfect.

It’s the again-ness of life that is so hard. It’s the same stuff over and over and over and over again, until you think you can’t stand to go through it one more minute. You do, of course, because this is life and for better or worse, this is all there is. And the kidney stones?

That’s what it’s all about.

When all is said and done, moving forward gracefully, freely, and authentically in life requires the pain of letting go that which no longer serves us, even though it’s excruciatingly painful and it seems to take forever sometimes.

The past week has very nearly done me in. Personal health issues, my mother’s bottomless pit of health problems, work challenges, and the weather all gave me a run for my money this week, and I’m a little worse for wear.

The proverbial stone hasn’t passed yet, though. It’s still in there grinding away at my insides. Nothing has passed except time, ntohing has changed. All the same old stuff just goes on and on… Five years until retirement. Who knows how long my mother will hang on, or how long the cold and wind will persist in the glacial Spring awakening this year.

I keep reminding myself that nothing lasts forever, that all is well in this moment, even when it isn’t, and that there is more to life than the crap. It’s hard to see, especially when the again-ness is what is most evident lately. The hits just keep on coming, and I take them all and keep going.

So far.

I worry that there will be a point at which I can’t keep going. I worry about what would happen to my mom if I became unable to care for her, and the cats. I feel sad about the idea that I might never live in my little house again, or that I might never know what it’s like not to have to work so hard all the time.

I have been grasping the ledge all week, barely hanging on, hoping to pull myself up and find my footing again. I’ve been looking for and clutching the handholds – friends, books, sunshine, hockey (Steve Yzerman is coming back to Detroit!), online connections, music – and still this morning, I’m grasping for hope.

This difficult week – this kidney stone – is passing. There will be more stones, though – difficult days, difficult weeks, difficult years. That’s life. It’s hard. Everything seems to happen over and over, again and again.

Each passing takes something from me and leaves a void. I have to really talk fast to the idealist in me, who is very, very discouraged – to keep her going, to convince her not to give into cynicism or  hopelessness. To convince her to let go of her idea about the way things should be, and to find the joy and reason for hope in what is.

It ain’t easy, let me tell you. Honestly, I’m tired of the pain and the again-ness. I’m ready for freedom and fun and all the good things that I sort of envision as just outside the field of possibility right now. I feel certain that I’ve mastered pain and that I’m due something else.

Ha Ha!

I know that’s not how it works. When I’m in my right mind I know that life is less about being happy and more about being of use. If I’m thinking clearly, I know that I am just fine, and it is just the story my ego has made up about my poor beleaguered self and how bad she has it that is making me believe anything other than the truth of my fundamental well-being.

So I guess that stone is on its way out. There will be another and another after that. Sooner rather than later, I’m sure. Each one provides me with an apportunity to let go of something else I no longer need, and in that light, I should be looking forward to the pain.

Ha!

Not quite there, yet. But further along than I was, so that’s good enough.

If you celebrate – Happy Easter! Here’s to the resurrection of us all.

Three little words

I’m clear about who I am, where I’ve been, where I’m going, and what I’m doing. What I realized this week, though, is that isn’t the whole story, especially at work. What matters in that arena is how others perceive me – correctly or incorrectly – and to a large degree, that isn’t up to me. I suppose that’s true in all areas of life, but to me it matters less in those other areas. I can do without friends; I can’t do without a job. Not now, anyway.

Acme Health Services hired a new Public Relations person, or in our industry-speak, a Public Information Officer, a couple of months ago. She’s really fabulous and enthusiastic and young. She’s brimming with great ideas and on fire with the desire to succeed in this job and spread the great news about AHS. I’m excited to work with her. She is not my boss, but I take direction from her regarding many of my job responsibilities, as I do the website and social media and all the promotional publications.

We went to a class together on Thursday to learn about using Instagram for business. I’ve wanted to add an Instagram account for a long time, but couldn’t really wrap my head around how our business would translate to that platform, but our new PIO has a great idea about how to go about it and she got admin staff approval and so we’re full speed ahead! The class was in a town nearby, and lunch was provided. I was looking forward to learning something new, and also the chance to get to know my new co-worker a little better outside the office.

So, the first thing I noticed when I got there was that I was by far the oldest person in the room – by at least 20 years. Whatever, right? Being older doesn’t make a difference in my mind, except I’m more experienced in business than any of these other people. A positive, as I see it. Ultimately it doesn’t matter, I’m thinking, cuz were all just trying to navigate this new way of marketing, so what does age or experience have to do with any of it? We’re all beginners.

And the fact that my new co-worker is at least 20 years younger than me? Why should that matter? We’re just people working for the same company, wanting to do the best job we can. We want the same thing, so we’ll work together! It’ll be great! I’m great! She’s great! We’re going to be GREAT!

Yeah, so I can be pretty naive.

First, before the class started and we’re eating our lunches, the two young women at my table, my co-worker and someone who had taken the third chair, knew each other, and are talking, talking, talking, about their kids and all the people they know in common and blah blah blah blah blah. I smile and eat my lunch, pretending that I’m listening and that I care and that it doesn’t bother me at all that they are completely ignoring me.

Then class started and it’s okay, though I actually knew most of the information the “social media expert” was giving us. Still nice to be out of the office for a while and to have lunch out, not something I get to do very often anymore. And then two things happened simultaneously:

  1. I felt sick. Really sick. Did I mention the name of the restaurant is the Cheese House? Cool! Did I mention I’m lactose-intolerant? Yeah, you can guess where this is going, right? It wasn’t pretty.
  2. When I excused myself, with a smile on my face, and absolutely no indication of why I had to leave, my co-worker looked at me in a way that let me see exactly how she sees me: old and irrelevant. See ya.

And so began one of the worst panic attacks I’ve had in my life, and I had to get out of there FAST. Fortunately, the class had run over the scheduled time at this point, so other people were leaving, too, and I scurried out of the room and straight to the bathroom. I was in there for about 20 minutes, trying to get my breath and waiting for the dizziness to pass, and when it did finally, I slunk out of the restaurant and out to my car, which was not very far away, fortunately, and collapsed in the driver’s seat. I sat there for another 20 minutes or so, and when I felt like I could drive, I headed out toward my town. As I passed a hospital on the way, though, I started to feel dizzy again, so I pulled into the ER parking lot and contemplated going in.

Not my first panic attack though, fortunately, so I knew I probably wasn’t dying, and I sat in the car for another 10 minutes or so. Finally the pain in my chest, the tingling in my limbs, the sweating and the dizziness passed and I put the car in gear and headed back out again.

One of my favorite old songs came on the radio and I was singing along, trying to feel better, until all of a sudden I was overcome with memories of when that song was popular, when I was young, and pretty quickly I was sobbing so hard I couldn’t breathe and I had to pull over again, and wait until the worst of it passed. I started out again finally, cried all the way to my office parking lot, pulled myself together, walked in and continued my day.

Exhausted. Bone weary. But I was there. Damn it. Because that’s who I am. That’s age and experience. I’m committed and loyal and I see things through. I had work to do and even though I felt like crap, I went back and did what needed to be done.

As the afternoon went on, I kept thinking of all I wanted to say to that super fantastic clever and bright young woman:

I WAS YOU.

25 years ago, I was you. I was the super fantastic clever and bright young woman ready to set the world on fire and LIVE A FABULOUS LIFE! Despite years of depression, despite utter fall-on-my-face disasters in other areas of my life, I was always good at my work and for the 5 years I had my business, I was golden. I was smart and innovative and creative and soaked up information like a sponge and turned it into Wonderful! Brilliant! Amazing! projects for my clients. And when I came to Acme Health Services 20 years ago they were thrilled to have me, and I was amazing, and wonderful, and brilliant then, too, until…well, I don’t know.

When did I get old? When did I become irrelevant?

I didn’t imagine it. It was there. It was in her eyes and in the eyes of all the other 15 year-olds in the class. I said something I felt was relevant to what was being discussed, and they all turned around and looked at me like they were amazed I could speak, including the teeny-bopper conducting the class.

So, I’m comfortable in my skin, and I’m confident in my abilities and ready to go everyday. What worries me, is that it may not be enough. As someone pointed out to me the other day, I’m almost 60 (sounds so much older than 57, doesn’t it – gave me chills) and I guess there is probably a lot I don’t know about the generations behind me and how they think.

They’re running the show now, and that is as it should be, I guess, but they don’t appear to be interested AT ALL in what went on before they came along, or how much experience someone older has; in fact, I think most of them think there must be something wrong with someone who stayed in a job for 20 years. An eternity! My god, how could you stand it?

So there were other factors in the panic attack (one being the never-ending plumbing issue we’ve been dealing with at home that FINALLY was resolved yesterday after much stress and aggravation all week), and I’m going to address the 24/7 care-giving stress issue with my doctor in May. I’m thinking some good drugs, but I’m open to whatever she suggests. I’ve had my fill of ill-timed panic attacks and almost constant anxiety.

I have no idea what to do about work, though, and I’m really afraid at some point the bean counters are going to look at me and look at her and think, why do we need both of them? This is not the first time I’ve experienced the age handicap at work, and I know a lot of people have gone through the same thing. I get that my experience is not unique.

Somehow, I just never thought it would happen to me. Naive, I know. But that’s who I am – ever the optimist, ever the idealist, wanting always to believe the best about people and hoping that things will work out if I just work hard enough and try as hard as I can.

So, back to be here now, and one day at a time, and just doing the best I can. Whatever is going to happen will happen and I’ll deal with whatever it is.

Ultimately that’s all there is, isn’t it? Dealing with whatever is. Doing the best we can. Hoping for the best.

Life goes on.

 

Elemental force

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This weekend we had another house-falling-down-around-us event. I kept my cool and did what needed to be done and mom and I got through the day just fine. The plumber is coming on Wednesday and I’ll hemorrhage some more money and then we’ll keep going on as before until the next house event or health event or whatever.

I feel like something deep within me changed, though. Something shifted, and the death grip I’ve had on the future and my belief that I will survive this experience with my mother and go on has loosened. I think in order to keep going now I have to let go of any idea of a positive outcome, including emerging at the end with my health intact – mental, physical, emotional and financial – or even of surviving at all.

Hope has gotten me this far – the hope that this too shall pass and I’ll go on – but I have to let go of that hope and just do what needs to be done, with no thought beyond today and today’s needs. This has been a long journey, but the end is no where in sight, and I have to marshal my remaining resources, few though I feel they are, and just keep going, one foot in front of the other. It’s a waste of energy to keep looking ahead, to hope that things will change, that I’ll be free to go on with my life.

I may never get there and thinking about it, hoping for it, and planning for it is simply counter-productive now. It saps vital resources from the limited supply available, and compromises my ability to take care of my mother’s needs. Also, my near constant pre-occupation and exhaustion puts us both in danger.

Before the water event Sunday I had a go at trying to burn the house down completely. I boiled water in the tea kettle for breakfast and after I poured the water, I put the kettle back on the (electric) burner and forgot to turn it off. I went upstairs to eat my breakfast and answer an email and it wasn’t long before the smell of something burning wafted up the stairs and into my awareness. I ran downstairs, plucked the kettle off the burner and turned it off.

The kettle was ruined and the kitchen smelled horrible, but beyond that, everything was okay. A bullet dodged. When my mother got up I debated whether to even tell her about it, but I did finally, and she razzed me a bit, and we went on with the day, both feeling grateful that it hadn’t been worse. Then the water thing happened and that was not so easily remedied and that’s when I could feel something in me shift.

Fire and water.

Elemental forces are working against me now, and this whole thing is starting to take on a fateful tone. I was already stressed to the max from a really crappy week, and had hoped the weekend would provide a chance to recover a bit, but nothing less than FIRE and WATER said no. No rest for you. 

Okay, so I’m not really so paranoid as to think that anything is out to get me. But I do believe in karma and I do believe in fate – in the role it plays in karma. For the last seven years I’ve seen myself as the hero on this journey and assumed that I would complete the quest and go on. Karma would be exhausted and I would live out my (many) remaining days enjoying life. Tra la la.

In seven years, I have never even entertained the idea of any other outcome.

Sunday night I realized that other outcomes are not only possible, but as time goes on, they become more likely. There is no guarantee that I will complete the quest or go on, and so my only recourse is to just let go and let whatever is going to happen, happen. It is the need to believe in a certain outcome that is sapping my strength, making me constantly stressed and on alert for trouble, and so completely pre-occupied all the time.

This change doesn’t make me sad or happy, or anything. I feel nothing about it in particular, I’ve just noted that it happened, and I’m not really sure what it’s going to mean going forward. I hope it makes me feel less desperate and stressed and I hope it makes me feel clearer and present in each moment. My mother deserves that and so do I.

Whatever happens it’ll just be what it is. I’m done papering over things to make them prettier or more comfortable. Whatever happens happens. I don’t know if what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger, but I suppose that’s as likely to happen as anything else. We’ll see, won’t we?

All of us, trying to navigate our difficult lives and just trying to figure out a way to be okay; to not feel so bad and unwelcome and unworthy when we’re not at our best.

Somehow, we go on.

 

 

 

Of snakes and worms and an ill wind

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I used to work with a woman whose favorite expression of stress and anger was, “I could bite the heads off snakes.”

Yep. That’s just how I feel. Bring it. Cuz I’M READY TO GO. This has been an off-the-charts CRAPPY week.

Work is hectic cuz everyone’s on Spring Break, and we are getting ready for a company-wide event of some consequence in a couple of weeks here at Acme Health Services. Those of us who DID NOT go on vacation to some warm sunny locale are stuck here doing extra work for those who did, and there’s a certain level of feeling and attitude in the building which has been rising all week, and is now at a rather uncomfortable pitch.

Good times.

Evenings are not much better cuz of having WAY too much to do and not enough time to do it, and I don’t hold out a whole lot of hope of improvement for the weekend in that regard, either. Trying to fit in ALL the needs – my mother, the cats, the incredibly-old-and-falling-down-around-us house, the daily/weekly chores, bills, etc. – and tacking on the end getting to the gym and trying to spend time with friends and have some semblance of a life that I might actually enjoy is just fecking impossible.

And sleep? Yeah…not so much.

It’s wearing on me. It’ll be seven years in November since I moved in with mom. Seven years. 12% of my life. It’s not that I regret the time I’ve spent as caregiver to her – I don’t. It’s the right thing to do, and I’ve learned a lot in that time. It’s been a good thing in many ways. This is what I signed up for. I didn’t read the fine print, though, about duration and wear and tear, and that’s where the trouble is.

What I’ve been wrestling with this week is all that this endeavor has cost me – what I’ve lost in those seven years, including my health to some degree – and wondering how much more I can take. I’m ready to move on, but I’m not finished here yet, and that’s disheartening. I alternate between feeling sorry for myself (unhelpful), and feeling like the lowest wretch on earth for essentially wanting my mother to die, which is the only way to gain my freedom and regain my life as I would like to live it for whatever time I have left on this planet (even more unhelpful).

Really good times.

Then there’s the advice from well-meaning folks, that doesn’t have anything to do with anything even remotely resembling the reality of my life. Trust me, the last thing I need to hear right now is “You’re doing it wrong.” That’s where the snakes come in, and I’m ready to just take a chunk right out of anybody who wants to get in my face right now, cuz I’m SICK TO DEATH of people thinking they know me or what’s going on in my life BETTER THAN I DO.

But then I have to step back and take a deep breath and think about all the people I’ve alienated over the years with unsolicited advice, and remember that these well-meaning co-workers and friends are trying to help, and that I left myself open to it by telling anyone anything about any of it in the first place.

Alex Dumas said: Sell your confidence at a high price, if at all; to be strong, keep your own counsel.

Smart guy, our Al. Too late for me and my big mouth, though, so I just smile and say “yes, for sure, oh really? okay” and then I go somewhere and eat worms. Now, if worms were good for high blood pressure, I’d be all set! Alas, not so, though, and neither is alcohol or ANY of the things I really like to eat and in the past soothed my ruffled feathers, so I’m left gnawing on carrot sticks feeling ornery and put out and just generally like I wish I had some snakes, cuz I would tear those babies RIGHT. UP.

Did I mention the weather and the wind and the lingering cold and general cloudiness and ickiness of early Spring in Michigan? No?

Well, such good times! And don’t even get me started about Mercury Retrograde…

So, anyhoo, that’s my week. How was yours?

A new season

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The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.
I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light.
For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

— Wendell Berry

Just when you think Winter has broken your heart, Spring asserts herself and repairs it with sunshine and warmth. Thank goodness! Spring completely turned my head yesterday and sent me spinning. My spirit was soaring all day. I wanted to hug the whole world and sing with the birds. I couldn’t bear to be inside, so I went for a long walk. The sidewalks have been icy the past few weeks, so I haven’t been out on my route for a while. I encountered several neigbors on the way and we were all just smiling, even while we were talking about the latest outrageous actions of our local government. The transformation has begun and I’m telling you: I’m smitten. We all are.

It`s only March though, and this is Michigan, so I had to remind myself not to lose my head completely, and though I was tempted, I didn’t put the snow shovel away just yet. We’ll most likely have at least one more major snow storm; last year we got two feet in April. Winter doesn’t give up easily here. We have a long way to go, but we’re headed in the right direction and that makes me giddy.

Friday I saw a robin building a nest in the juniper bush along the driveway and yesterday the buds on the magnolia tree down the street were standing proud on the branches. A local farm posted on Facebook this week that they have started sap collection, and soon they’ll be making luscious maple syrup for sale in the local shops. When I was a kid there were buckets on all the maple trees around town, and my friends and I could reach in and break off a hunk of the sweet ice inside and eat it like a popsicle.

The ice cream/burger stand opened for the season Friday and people stood in their parkas and boots and waited in line for their first delicious shake or cone since it closed last September. When I was out filling the bird feeders I saw skunk scat on the patio, and while Pepe Le Pew and his ilk are not my favorite neighbors, knowing that they’re out of hibernation makes my heart lighter. The flowers in the picture above came from the grocery store, but their cousins will be poking their green heads through the soil in my flowerbeds in 6 weeks or so.

I expect to see Clover, the bunny who lives under the big cedar in the backyard any day, and soon I might get a glimpse of this year’s babies. The lilac bushes in the backyard are sporting ever so tiny green leaf buds. The promise of new life is everywhere.

It’s back! Life. Color. Sound. I can’t get enough of it. It’s intoxicating! 

Many times in my life I’ve felt left out. I’ve lived a somewhat unconventional life, and I often have felt out of step with the current culture, even with my friends sometimes.

But I have always belonged with nature; with the wild things.

I fit in with the animals, who only want attention and love and don’t care who I am or what I have to offer other than a scratch under the neck or a nice long pet on their silky soft heads.

I fit in at the river, with the herons and the turtles. I fit in at the lake, on the sand and in the clean blue water, looking for shells and watching the sunset. I fit in anywhere there are trees. Or flowers. Or thunder. When I put seed in the feeders the chickadees say hello and thank you! They don’t need to know anything about me. They don’t care how I’ve lived my life. They take what I have to offer and it’s enough.

I love people – I have good friends and I enjoy their company. I need people – I wouldn’t make it as a hermit. Life with humans sometimes requires too much of me, though, so I take some time away and go to the lake, or the river, or the forest. I walk and breathe and hear the birds and see a bunny or a young deer, and my battered psyche and tender heart are instantly rejuvenated, restored. I smell the green leaves and the freshness of the wind off the lake and I’m renewed.

Winter, to me, is starvation. Six to seven months of drudgery and death. No color. No life. It’s prison. Deprivation. My soul is on life-support by March every year without the wild things to sustain me.

And then comes rebirth! It’s starting and it’ll be complete in a couple of months. I’m so grateful I could cry. But I’ll sing instead: a lively tune about life and color and renewal.

Welcome Spring. You got here just in time.

 

Lumping along

Love is - Williamson

I’m just slogging through, trying not to do any damage today. My plan for the day is sloth and subterfuge. Yesterday was a long, mind-numbing adventure fraught with stress and emotion and today I’m still recovering and processing. I’m not the least bit interested in any of the tasks on my to-do list at work, so I’m just sort of a lump in a chair staring at a screen.

I feel snarly and slightly bruised so I think avoiding people is the best plan. I don’t want to piss anyone off and I don’t want to be pissed off, which is a very likely possibility in any human interaction today. I’m fortunate in that my office is pretty far-removed from my 80 co-workers, so with the exception of my officemate and the conversation we had this morning when he came in it’s fairly easy for me to go the whole day without speaking, at least at work.

I’ve perfected the art of dealing with my mother while experiencing any kind of mood, so the hour that I’m home making our lunch should be fairly straight-forward and then this afternoon, when my officemate is gone (part-timer) I can crank the tunes and continue my lumpish day. I think going to the gym after work will inject some vim into my brain and body, so that at least then maybe I’ll be a more animated lump.

There’s always hope. LOL!

Last night, after a very long day which had sort of already brought me to my knees, I had the opportunity to witness myself in action 25 years ago, made possible by a younger woman in my book group. She dominated the conversation cuz she was passionate about the subject and was rude without meaning to be to everyone who tried to challenge her position. She was judgmental and felt justified in being rude to people because they were wrong. She was sooooooo condescending it set my teeth on edge. It struck me half-way through the meeting that I was exactly like that when I was younger, and I was always stumped as to why I alienated so many people.

I felt such a deep level of compassion for her as she waded in deeper and deeper, oblivious to the effect she was having on the group. I know she didn’t mean to come across the way she did, and that it stemmed from her own harsh judgment of herself more than anything else. She’s still convinced utterly that there is RIGHT and WRONG and that all things and all people, including herself, fall within those boundaries. Her very survival depends on being RIGHT.

It made me really sad. She sets herself apart and doesn’t understand why she feels so alone. I wanted to kidnap her for the evening and shower her with my hard-fought wisdom, but I knew that was inappropriate and that really, there was nothing I could do for her. She’ll have to come into her own wisdom in time. She would never believe that I understand how much she hurts.

It was startling though, to see my own behavior and pain in her so clearly. I am grateful that I feel and act so much differently now, but my heart aches for her and all that she has gone through, and will continue to go through in the coming years until finally she surrenders the need to be RIGHT and gives in to the reality of simply being human; until she can feel compassion for herself, and in doing so, feel compassion for others.

It’s really something, this life, isn’t it? We are all challenged everyday to open our hearts and minds, to live life in its fullest measure, and to fulfill the potential of the human spirit.

And it’s just so, so, hard.

Trust in me

Adapt

Thanks to Karen at YSM|ink, I’ve been thinking about trust.

Such a big thing, trust. Such high stakes. Get it wrong, and depending on who you’re dealing with, it could cost you your life. For me, with the expection of one person, the stakes have not been that high, but the risk of being hurt is present with every single person I encounter, and most people I know have turned out not to be worthy of my trust. I don’t think that’s unusual. Humans are unreliable. What we do best is adapt, so nothing for any of us is the same all the time, including our willingness to betray someone else’s trust if it suits us to do so.

In this life, the only two things that are always true are:

  1. Nothing stays the same. This too shall pass.
  2. Everything and everyone ends sooner or later.

Other than that, it’s all up for grabs. What I finally came up with this morning, laying in bed opening to my heart’s reaction to the idea, is that trust is just another expectation, really, and so not something I invest emotional capital in anymore, and that’s okay cuz I was never very good at it to begin with.

Not that surprising, I don’t think, for someone whose first experience of life was loss. Being taken from my mother seconds after birth did not set me up for a lifetime of trust. I have no idea how my baby brain and heart processed those first few weeks of life, but I’m sure trust in anything or anyone was not in the mix. It never got much better, really.

I was trying to think this morning of a single person in my life who had not betrayed my trust and I couldn’t come up with anyone until I thought of my grandmother – my Nana – who I really don’t believe ever let me down. That’s it, though, she’s the only one. Family members…friends…co-workers…nope…not a single person in the parade of folks passing through my 57 years of life has proven worthy of my trust.

Some have been flaming, banner in the sky, heart-deadening betrayals, others much smaller, but all have done damage. Some years ago, one quite recently. Some of the people I counted on the most. Some surprised me, others didn’t. They all hurt, though, and changed me in some way.

So trust is not useful to me. Trust is an expectation that someone won’t hurt me and that’s just setting myself up for disappointment, like all other expectations, because it’s unlikely to ever be true. That’s just not the way human beings are. We think of ourselves first, and ultimately, if it comes down to me or you, I’m going to choose me. That’s simply human nature and to expect something different, to trust that someone is not going to hurt you at some point just isn’t realistic.

I don’t ever feel safe with people. With the exception of my Nana, I don’t think I ever have. Not completely. I have been waiting for the other shoe to drop my whole life. But here’s the surprising thing I realized this morning:

I think that’s a good thing.

Does that surprise you? It surprised me this morning as that was not at all what I thought I was thinking or feeling. Hmm…

I have allowed people to hurt me and that’s too bad. I was naive and just so desperate for human connection and validation that I left myself open to abuse. I put my heart in other people’s hands and trusted them not to break it as if it were their own, rather than learning to trust myself and to take care of myself; to stand on my own. It took me a long time to figure out that was a bad idea, and that’s too bad, but I forgive myself for my naivete. I didn’t know better.

Now I do.

The trick is to keep my heart open to connection with other people without expectation that they won’t hurt me. I don’t want to seal myself off from the world because it’s scary and I don’t feel safe. I’ve never felt safe, and yet here I am. I’ve survived being hurt – repeatedly – and lived to tell the tale.

And I will continue to. People will continue to hurt me and I’ll contine to be okay in spite of it. I trust myself. I trust my ability to survive. I trust my ability to adapt and keep going no matter what happens. I don’t like pain, and I’m not looking for people to hurt me, any more than I’m expecting them not to hurt me. I like people and I will continue to be the best friend I can, the best daughter I can, the best me I can be.

Beyond that, no expectations other than life – and people – will be as they should be. We are each here to walk our own way, to learn and to grow. Throw karma into the mix and everything’s on shifting ground. I can be scared and afraid to move, or I can be scared and just keep going, trusting in my ability to adaptThere is no such thing as safety. There is only this life, and taking the risk to live it as fully as possible.

It’s the only way.