Rolling along

Fluent

I have been working on developing a mindfulness meditation practice the past couple of years. I do as well with sitting regularly as I do with doing anything else regularly, which is to say, with varying success. But I keep trying, cuz it helps me and I think it’s important. Every day since January 1st I’ve been doing a series of guided meditations online. I do better with guided sessions and these have been really interesting.

The theme this first week has been setting intention. I like this better than goal-setting or resolutions, cuz it’s immediate, addressing how we feel right now, not in the future. It’s something to hang onto and check in with every moment, rather than thinking I’m working toward that thing or that some kind of pay-off is coming down the road. It’s now. Am I being true to my intention right now? In this immediate situation?

On day 4, the meditation included the question, “What is my life asking of me this year, and what quality must I cultivate to answer that call?” The words that floated to the surface immediately for me were:

Open.
Generous.
Committed.
Disciplined.
Patient.

I was surprised they came so easily, but I immediately understood how all those words applied to my situation at home with my mother, at work with a project I’m involved in and my co-workers in general, and with my friends.

And then the quality – what will make it possible for me to embody those intentions?

Trust.

Ack. Not my best thing. Not anyone’s best thing, is it? Nothing in my life, and I mean no thing has given me any indication that people can be trusted, even those who claim to love you and seemingly have your best interests at heart. Even if they don’t mean to, people will hurt you. Over and over again. I think most people over the age of 2 have trust issues and have good reason for them.

So I thought about it a lot, and I wrote about it in my journal, and all of a sudden it came to me. The trust that’s required is not in people, but in the process. The path. The river.

The flow.

Once again I come back to just being. Being the true me, with intention, and integrity.  True to my inherent spirit. Open, generous, committed, disciplined, and patient. Two of those are easy for me, the other three, uh…not so much, but they’re in there somewhere. And trust? 

The very hardest thing. But this isn’t pass or fail. There is no judgment. There is only what is, not what should be. I can either do it or I can’t, and either way I’m being true to my intention – it remains the same. As Yoda said, there is no try.

Being present in each situation, with each person, in each moment, one moment at a time. No small thing, that, but the idea is that it comes about in each moment. It’s not something I’m striving for or working toward; all that’s required is being. Being true to my nature, which is, I think, all of those things; they’re in me. Covered over by debris and not easy to see, but they’re still there.

Now, lest you think I’m being incredibly naive in thinking that everything’s going to be sunshine and light from now on and I’m going to just “be” my way into a perfect life, let me assure you that I have no such illusions. Quite the opposite, in fact. I think I’m going to get beat up pretty bad. That’s where the trust comes in. If it comes, I have to trust that pain is part of the process. Same with pleasure, by the way.

If I’m true to myself, true to my intentions, and trust that I’m on the right path, it’s all good. In each situation, we receive a reward or a lesson, and both are worth our time and attention. Each person offers us a mirror so that we may see ourselves more clearly.

Stay present in the moment and be. Am I open, generous, committed to, and patient with myself? That’s a good place to start. I can’t expect to give others what I don’t have. Do I trust myself? I’ve made a lot of mistakes, so that’s hard, but yes, I’m getting better at it. The important thing is that I trust the flow and where it’s leading, and keep moving forward.

And hope. In all things, hope for the best. It can’t hurt.

What is your life asking of you this year, and how will you answer that question?

 

Up on the watershed

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This is my favorite part of Christmas – after it’s over. I’m not the Grinch and that hasn’t always been true, but it’s been my general feeling for the last 15 years or so. Christmas Present was sort of disappointing and lonely, and the ghost of Christmas Past gets harder and harder to deal with. Kind of a sadistic s-o-b, isn’t he? I have enough trouble keeping all I feel in check these days. The upping of the ante Christmas brings is not welcome. I’m all in as it is.

So now we move on to the new year, and man, I am all about that. A fresh start, and my hope is that next year is going to be better than that just passed. If not, too bad and I’ll get through it, but at the beginning there is always that possibility, the potential that something will break loose and take me in another direction and it’ll be better than where I am currently, and that’s where I hang my hope. I’d even settle for just a better view of the road ahead, cuz I’m really not sure where I’m headed.

This week I’ve been reading alot and sleeping in and going for long walks and taking photos in the abnormally warm and sunny weather we’ve been having. I feel creative and open in a way I haven’t for a very long time. I feel like I’m back, though I couldn’t say exactly where I’ve been. Me, and yet not me, for several months now. Not depressed, not anything really – getting through the days as they came, hanging on hard to my ideas about who I am, who I want to be, and who I should be. Doing what was expected of me – meeting my responsibilities at work and at home, and taking care of my health.

I’ve come to think of this last year as rebuilding, or moving into a new house. You bring all the old meaningful stuff with you, leave all the crappy stuff in the dumpster, and set up in your new place. It’s different, but good, and your old stuff looks good in the new living room with the new stuff you bought cuz the house is bigger than the one you’ve been living in. It all goes together, and there’s room for all of it – all of you.

So this is me, maybe not back to an older version of me, but a new and improved version – incorporating the best parts of the old and adding some new. Willing to let go of the idea that I need to be a certain way at all; that I need to be what I used to be, which frankly was not that great, or who I think I’d like to be. I’m going to try to just be and see how that works out.

I’ve been envisioning myself hanging on to a branch above a raging river. Clutching it with all my strength, scared to let go and float away. My fingers are raw and bleeding, and my muscles ache with the effort. I have been so afraid to just let go and let the river carry me away, cuz I don’t know where I will end up and I’m not sure I won’t drown. I know how to swim, but the water is churning and seems dangerous. It probably is, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be okay.

So that’s what I’m telling myself now: Just keep swimming. Float when your arms and legs get tired. Trust the flow to take you where you need to go.

I have loved the Indigo Girls since I first heard them 30 years ago. Watershed is my favorite song:

Thought I knew my mind
Like the back of my hand
The gold and the rainbow
But nothing panned out as I planned
And they say only milk and honey’s
Gonna make your soul satisfied
Well I better learn how to swim
‘Cause the crossing is chilly and wide
Up on the watershed
Standing at the fork in the road
You can stand there and agonize
‘Til your agony’s your heaviest load
You’ll never fly as the crow flies
Get used to a country mile
When you’re learning to face
The path at your pace
Every choice is worth your while

© Emily Ann Saliers

It has meant alot to me, this song; from the first time I heard it I felt it had been written for me. And so now, again, here I am. Not so much learning to swim now, though, as trusting that I know how. It seems scary, but exhilarating, too.

So I guess you could say that my goal for the coming year is just to be. (How’s that for an oxymoron? Ha! My whole life the past few years is a study in contradiction.)  Let it be is my mantra, and it applies to myself as much as anything else. It has arisen out of my eat the Christmas cookies approach to life the past couple of weeks (still one week to go!). I didn’t realize how tightly I had been hanging on until I started to let go.

On we go, into the future, the unknown. No ghost to show us the way. That’s just a story. This is the real thing, and ultimately we have to find our own way through the past, the present and the future. Every choice is worth your while.

Equal Opportunity

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I believe this. I believe this is what people mean when they say “everything happens for a reason.” I’m not willing to speculate about whether things are “destined” to happen a certain way, but I definitely have come to believe that every “bad” or hurtful thing that happens in our lives can be used as an opportunity to grow – to encompass and process the experience, and in doing so to become a more peaceful, whole, and useful human.

You can think of these experiences as “tests,” but what’s at stake is much more than passing or failing. In fact, failure is usually more effective in teaching us whatever lesson is available. In my experience, getting to the place emotionally and mentally at which you are able to process the “lesson” can take a long time, but if you’re open to it, that I could have had a V-8 moment comes quicker each time.

Something happened at work a couple of weeks ago that really hit me where I live. I stumbled and fell hard for a couple of days after, and to some degree, I’m still reeling a bit.

Anything that angers you teaches you forgiveness and compassion.
Anything (in this case, anyone) that has power over you teaches you how to take your power back.

I’m trying to get to the “lesson learned” part of those sentences, but it hasn’t been easy, and I’m sorry to say I’m not quite to forgiveness and compassion yet, or figuring out how to get my power back. It’s not keeping me awake at night any more, and I have started processing it (which is why I’m writing about it – it helps), and that’s a step in the right direction, but it’s been a longer journey than I would hope for.

The difference between what we know to be true and what we feel about any situation can be vast and seemingly unable to be reconciled. I can tell myself all kinds of rational things about the dynamics at play in the situation, blah blah blah, but what I felt and still feel to some degree, is betrayed, disrespected, devalued, and lots of other “someone treated me badly” emotionally charged words. It happened. I didn’t imagine it, and I didn’t misunderstand. I didn’t see it coming, so that made it that much worse.

I haven’t had to see or speak to the person who…uh…gave me this opportunity to forgive…since the meeting in question, and now I’m out of the office for two weeks, so even though I have evolved from the younger and less wise version of myself who would have said exactly what I wanted to say at the time (almost never a good idea, right?), that’s a good thing.

I’m not still angry – oh man, was I angry – but I am still hurt. Bruised and achy in some places, and not ready to face another encounter – good or bad – just yet. She won’t apologize, cuz that’s not who she is. She’s young and in a powerful position and I’m sure she felt she was completely in the right in what she did and in the way she did it. That’s okay. I’m not in charge of her growth; only my own.

The knowledge that someday she will be in my shoes and that likely the same thing will happen to her brings me a little comfort, but not much, cuz actually I think it’s just really sad women of any age step on each other that way in order to get ahead. I think we all lose when we treat each other the way most men treat us. In telling me a story once about something that had happened to her in her own career, a former boss said, “She’s knocking herself and everybody else out trying to get to the top of the hill, and doesn’t yet realize there is no hill.”

Yep.

My challenge is to forgive her, for my own peace, and because I have to continue to work with her. Secondly, I either have to prove her wrong in her assessment of me (unlikely) or simply continue to be true to myself and my abilities and trust that it’ll all come right at some point. That second option is made simpler by the reality that I am going to retire in a few years, so I’m not interested in ascending the proverbial ladder or even maintaining my place on it anymore.

Even if it doesn’t work out all right, I realize I don’t care that much. My objective these days is really just to remain employed, and I don’t have any reason to believe that this situation endangers that objective. Continuing to collect my very comfortable salary serves my purposes now and as far as this job goes, beyond the value I find in the good work we do for the community we serve, that’s about all I’m interested in.

So rather than getting my power back, I just have to remember where it is (in here, not out there), and what that means to me. I work hard and I do the best I can always, and that won’t change. My day-to-day priorities and idea of who I am and what I have to offer the world have changed, however, and those changes have come into clearer focus as a result of this event.

So I can thank that young woman for that. She offered me a mirror in which I see myself and who I am now very clearly, and I like what I see, even if she doesn’t. I forgive her, cuz she doesn’t know any better, apparently, and I have compassion for her because someday she will. I know now not to trust her, and that’s probably a good thing going forward cuz she has proven herself unworthy of my trust, but it makes me sad, just the same. Finally, I would hope for some warning next time, but that’s rarely the way the universe works, so I just have to let that be.

I’ll continue to heal, and I hope to be ready for the next…uh…opportunity. It will come, for sure, because that is the way the universe works, and if we pay attention, we can benefit from these rocks in our path, even if they don’t seem helpful right away. I’m certain I’ll continue to stumble over them, but as long as I keep getting up again I’ll be okay –  bruised, but not broken, and still moving forward. That’s all that really matters, and it’s all I hope for these days.

Just keep moving forward.

In the Bleak Midwinter

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The light returns home
And illuminates the heart.
Candle burns bright.

The solstice holds deep meaning for me; much more than Christmas. The return of the light in winter has been a powerful metaphor for surviving depression for me since I was quite young. I was raised in the Episcopal church and the season of Advent has always appealed to me, too – the weekly lighting of the candles, and the anticipation of the return of the Light. The imagery continues to resonate with me, though I no longer attend services or believe most of the liturgy surrounding it.

Hanukkah – the Festival of Lights – appeals to me also, for the same reasons, though I’m not Jewish and I don’t know anyone who is. It’s also about overcoming oppression (darkness), represented by the lighting of the menorah candles each night.

It’s all so powerful, and no accident, I’m sure, in this otherwise desolate season.

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I have lived most of my life in Michigan, above the 45th parallel, and here we have a lot of winter and not much sunlight for most of the year. I love Spring and Summer cuz I love to be outside, especially on my bike, but also because I need color and sound, which are life for me. Unfortunately, those seasons are brief, and Winter’s quiet and dark monochrome days go on and on here. Each day without sunlight and warmth and color is a hammer blow to my fragile brain chemistry.

The imagery surrounding this season of the light – hope, warmth, life – returning is powerful to someone struggling in the darkness, metaphorical or otherwise. It’s all about hope and possibility and overcoming whatever it is in your life that has dimmed the light within you and requires renewal.

Happy Solstice, friends. The future looks brighter from here. 😉

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Birds of a feather

I am an optimist by nature, so despite years of debilitating depression, habitual failure in every area of life, and persistent evidence to the contrary, I’ve held on to hope that someday my life would be as I imagined it could be. That the world would be as I imagined. That the happy ending was just on the next page. There was no doubt that it would come. The only question was “When?”

That death-grip on hope for the future has saved me time and again. My life has been distinguished by loss and failure, but I don’t think of myself as a loser, or less-than anyone else, because I have always believed (and still do) that everything is temporary and that someday it’ll all come right. The ending hasn’t been written yet, and until it has been ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE.

Life is uncertain. No one can see into the future, and as it turns out, that’s a good thing. That uncertainty allows us to hope, and to believe that everything will be okay. If it weren’t for the knowledge that anything is possible in any moment and that life can and does change in an instant, how would we keep going? If you know how the story ends, why read it?

Uncertainty forces us to be creative, and hopeful, and resourceful. To solve problems, rather than wilt in the face of them. To overcome hurdles, because we don’t know how it will turn out until we try.

Yes, it’s uncomfortable, especially when you’re in the middle of an seemingly intractable situation, or faced with a problem over and over again. You never know what tomorrow is going to bring. The next thing you try may be the answer to the problem you’ve been dealing with for years. Or not. Or something may happen to you, or to someone else that changes a situation instantly and makes it better. Or worse. Bad things happen, but so do good things. Anything is possible in every moment.

We don’t know ahead of time, so all we can do is hope for the best. Cuz the alternative is grim. We all know someone who’s given up; someone who is cynical and/or grumpy, because they’ve lost hope that anything can be different than whatever misery they’ve faced or are facing.

I had a conversation this weekend with someone about something that concerns both of us and the greater community, and I heard myself saying that I didn’t think anything she was doing to try to solve a problem was going to work. The problem is huge, and involves a lot of people, and I heard myself say, “I just don’t think there’s any point in trying.”

Yikes.

I got off the phone and thought a lot about the conversation that afternoon and yesterday, and I’m thinking about it now. That’s not who I am. That’s not who I’ve ever been before. Do I really believe there’s no hope?

No.

One thing my life has taught me is how quickly things can change, and how unpredictable human beings are, especially. As long as those two things are true, anything is still possible. There is always a point to trying. Even if you don’t succeed. Just hanging on to the hope that makes trying again possible keeps your heart beating and your head in the game.

Having said that, what I recognized as I was thinking about all this was exactly what I wrote about in my last post. I’m depleted. I need a rest. The battles I’ve been fighting are not big, and they’re mine alone, but they are difficult just the same, and I’m tired of fighting. I need to regroup. I think that’s what I should have said in that conversation, and I think ultimately I did. I hope so anyway.

I feel that there’s no point in trying because I don’t have it in me right now to fight this fight.  I will support you in your fight, however, in whatever way I’m able.

Uncertainty is the human condition. Hope is the cure for anxiety about that condition. I became aware of the following poem early on in my life, and I’ve had a copy of it posted on my office bulletin board for years. Truer words were never written. It’s all we need to know:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

-Emily Dickinson

Eat the Christmas Cookies

I’m tired.

Mentally, physically and emotionally. Exhausted. Spent. Bushed.

Stick a fork in me, I’m done.

2019 has been a crap year. For me, and for a lot of people I care about. I’m hoping 2020 is better, but I have to admit that I have no real hope that it will be. I have no reason to believe anything will change – including my ability to see things differently, which is really the problem ultimately – any time soon. You never know, though, so I’m setting my sights on January and cruising easy the rest of this year. Miracles happen. After all, the Red Wings won last night.

Anything is possible.

That’s what I’m counting on. No matter what, though, the reality is that I just keep going. That’s all there is: one foot in front of the other, moving forward, one minute at a time. As long as I draw breath, I’m not giving up.

For the rest of the year, though, I’m giving in.

My plan for the next 3 weeks (actually I started this week) is simple:
1. Eat what makes me happy.
2. Drink what makes me happy.
3. Do what makes me happy (as much as I can, within the confines of my responsibilities).

Simple. Life is short. For me right now there is no value in denying myself things I enjoy. Most of the time I have to, and I’m okay with that. There are constraints on my time and on my freedom, and I acknowledge that there is value in being vigilant about my health. I accept all that. I’m depleted now, though, so I have to do something to refill the tanks for the next part of the journey.

For the rest of 2019, I’m giving myself a break and indulging in whatever makes me feel good, as long as it’s legal, affordable, and not immediately dangerous. I’m not wild by nature, so what this really boils down to is that I’m probably going to gain a little weight and my blood pressure will go up a little again cuz I like to eat and drink things that are not exactly healthy, and I’m taking some major time off work so that I can indulge my desire to do as little as possible for the rest of the year. My goal is to be dressed in anything other than pajamas and slippers only if absolutely necessary until January.

Eat the Christmas cookies.. That’s my motto. It sums it all up. It’s a reasonable short-term approach to life; very in the moment, enjoying limited opportunities and not looking too far ahead. I’m an adult, and I can decide what I do with my body and with my free time. Being gluttonous and slothful are only two of the Deadly Sins, and probably won’t kill me, but if they do, I will have died happy.

Starting next Friday, I’m taking vacation time from work, so in addition to eating and drinking and being merry, I’m going to sleep in, read for hours on end, go for walks. Whatever I want. I’m stepping out of my normal life as much as possible and giving myself permission to have what I want (within reason) and do what I want (within reason and time constraints) for the rest of this year, which I’m sooooo happy to say farewell to in three weeks.

See ya! Don’t let the door hit you on the way out! Ba bye!

I’ll still be doing all my normal stuff at home – meals, shopping, shoveling, dishes, laundry, and I promised mom for Christmas I would actually really clean the house – but beyond that, I’m free to do what I want during the hours I would normally be at work, and that to me right now seems like the BEST THING EVER!

On January 6, 2020, I’ll return to work and to the gym and to eating normally. I hope I’ll be renewed, refreshed, rejuvenated. If not, it’ll still be okay.

Keep moving forward, one minute at a time.

In the meantime, eat the Christmas cookies!

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The home stretch

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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 bankruptcy 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!

Transitions

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There is some spring-ish weather forecast for the end of the week — 52° F on Thursday, oh my! — but it’s snowing today, and I’ll have to shovel the driveway this afternoon so I can get out and go to work in the morning, in the dark, thanks to Daylight Savings Time.

Yee. Ha.

I love Spring, but the transition is hard, what with the industrial strength mud and ice and rain, rain, rain. Winter doesn’t give up easily, so I’m not too excited,,,yet. Last year the worst storm we had all season came in April — two feet of icy snow the consistency of sand that defied shoveling and nearly did me in.

So, though I feel almost desperate for Spring, as I do every year at this time, I know it ain’t over yet. It’ll take a while for all this snow and ice to melt, and it’ll be 2 months or more before the temperature will be above 50° with any regularity, at least 4 months, maybe 5, before I’ll be experiencing one of my favorite so-hot-I can’t-breathe-properly bike rides on the trail by the lake.

I’ll bundle up and get out for short rides on those 50° days, and I’ll enjoy them, but there will be a part of my brain, as always, that is cursing the cold, and asking myself why on earth I don’t live somewhere warmer. The answer to that question is simple – cuz my mother won’t leave this place and I won’t leave her.

Still I ask it, and 100 other questions over and over. They all start with Why, not who or what or how, cuz those are all “doing” words, and I’m limited — by many factors, not just my mother — in the amount I can do to change anything in my life right now, but I think about what I would change all the time.

I try not to — I want to be in the moment, accepting what is — but I forget, and before I know it my mind has fast-forwarded to 5 years from now and what I think I’ll be doing and where I think I’ll be doing it. That is, unfortunately, where I seem to be happiest lately — in the future.

This is an improvement over years past, when what I thought I wanted most was not to be somewhere else, or doing something else, but to be someone else. That is painful beyond measure, and I’m so grateful for the drugs, therapy and time that eased that burden finally.

I’m sitting here now, typing this, watching the snow fall out the window in the hall, and I realize that when I can just get back to the gratitude, that’s where all the answers to those why questions are. There is finally peace in just letting it all be, and allowing the gratitude and relief I feel for simply being able to experience life fully, on any terms, to fill my heart. It is in gratitude that I find happiness and contentedness with what isand where I am and who I am.

Honestly, I find it hard to be grateful for snow, or winter in general, or losing an hour of sleep. If that’s the price of admission, though, I’ll pay it. If I can find happiness in shoveling the drive for the 50th time this winter, then, man, I’ve got it knocked! It’s there if I look hard enough: I am alive, and healthy enough to shovel my own driveway. I have a house and a car that necessitates a driveway, and a job that requires me to keep it clear of snow.

Not everyone is that lucky. Really, I don’t need to go much further that the first one, do I? I am alive. That in itself is a gift — this life — and I honor it by showing up and fully giving myself to every minute of it.

What more could I possibly need?

Still hoping Spring comes quickly, though! What does your forecast look like?

The Thing Is

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The Thing Is
by Ellen Bass

to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you’ve held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.

“The Thing Is” by Ellen Bass, from Mules of Love. © BOA Editions, Ltd., 2002.


That is the thing, isn’t it? The secret, the very essence of this human life. The moment of your resurrection: To love life even when you have no stomach for it.

To say: I will love you, again.

Life is so hard and it breaks us over and over again, but we forgive and go on. Despite the mind-numbing weight of disappointment and grief for all we will never have and all we will never be.

I will take you, life, I will love you, again. It’s the again that causes my breath to catch in my chest. Yes. Again. I will get up after falling, after being brought to my knees by the crushing weight, and I will keep going. Again.

And again.

As many times as it takes until life is finished with me. It’s the again that matters. We all love life when things are going well; when everything makes sense and you feel like you finally understand and have some aptitude for getting along day by day. That’s the easy part. That’s the part where every gift is wrapped in gratitude and joy fills every fiber of your being.

Then there are the other parts. The times when it doesn’t seem possible to bear another day, another moment, another second of the pain and the slippery, twisty, unapologetic weight of ALL THAT IS WRONG. In your life, in the life of someone you love, of someone you just met or don’t know at all. Sometimes all that anguish just penetrates your skin and inhabits every cell and you stumble. You are unable to carry your heavy heart – the burden of the obesity of grief – another step. The harsh blows life deals all of us cast you to the ground and bruise your soul so deeply you don’t think you will ever rise again.

But you do. It takes time for the bruises to heal and the pain to subside, but you rise slowly, gingerly, carefully cradling your tender heart, and you go on. And in doing so you say to life, Yes, I will love you again.

You forgive life, other people, and yourself and you go on. Maybe you can set the weight aside for a while, maybe leave it behind completely, or maybe you’re still carrying it and it tires you, but you go on. You keep trying. You keep doing. You keep giving.

You offer life what’s within you – all that’s yours to give, all that you brought with you in the hope that it will be of use, be valued, be loved. Sometimes your gifts are welcomed and your dreams are realized; more often they are thrown back in your face in a most devastating way.

You rail against the rejection, the loss, the pain of being tossed aside, of being dismissed by life so casually. You close up like a flower in winter, gathering in your soft petals and tucking them deep inside your center, waiting for the return of Spring, when you will once again risk everything and bloom.

Until then, you wait. Nurture your roots in the darkness and repair the damage to your battered heart. Because you know:

forgiveness
renewal
gratitude

will come again and you will say to your love, this life, I will take you.

Again.

Because that’s the contract. That’s the deal. What we signed up for. No good without bad, no happiness without sorrow, no gain without loss, and no renewal without death.

No courage without vulnerability.

No love without forgiveness.

No life without love.