What Can I Do?

Once again, we Americans sit stunned in front of our TVs and wonder; what can I do? 

It has been demonstrated with pictures and video the brave persons who ran to help those in need during the crisis in Boston. We heard of doctors and nurses who voluntarily showed up to work and runners who offered to donate blood.  But, what can I do?

As is the norm for so many of us we get caught up in daily living.  We work to pay the bills.  We rush out the door to our jobs and hurry the day along until quitting time.  We run home to the commitments we have signed ourselves up to do.  We become irritated with the weather when it hampers our agenda.  We rarely stop to notice the trees blooming in the spring.  We ignore their summer shade and miss their glamour in the fall.  In the winter we forget to sit and listen to the silence of snow as it falls. We overlook the laugh of a child or the gentle touch of our spouse.   In short we miss life.

In forgetting to appreciate the many wonders taking place around us, we disregard the struggles of others.  If you think you are having a bad day remember the person standing next to you may have it worse.  The idiot who butted in line is perhaps worried about his daughter lying in a hospital with cancer.  The slow-moving senior is probably grieving for the loss of their partner in life.  Your neighbor, who can’t seem to take care of their lawn, may have more pressing issues, like paying bills since the lost of their job.  Every day, we come across others who are losing a friend to a terminal illness, or suffering from one themselves.  We run into adult children caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s.  We encounter people who are going through a bitter divorce, or losing their child over a battle they can’t find a solution to.

You don’t know what those around you are going through, how their day feels to them.  You may not understand the grief they are experiencing as they try to maintain their everyday lives, one that may be swirling so quickly around them, they are dizzy with fear.  But, here is what you can do.

Be the person who is gracious.  Smile and greet strangers as you go through your day.  Open doors for others.   Let the car trying to slip into your lane in front of you, in.  Tip your waiter well, even if the service was poor.  Be patient with the older person moving slowly and holding you up as you hurry through your day.  Take the time to actually listen to people as they talk to you.  Simply acknowledge that the person waiting on you, ringing up your purchase, answering your questions, or being rude is a human being.  A smile for a weary soul can make the difference of how their day will feel to them as they crawl into bed at night.  A simple gesture of kindness can give enough light in the haze of anxiety to push the receiver towards feeling some positive.

I understand small gestures can have a large outcome.  On the days I felt low, as I drove to visit my dying mother.  Even as I felt the glow of the sun and tried to enjoy its warmth, a smile from a stranger sometimes made all the difference.  Just that small act of thoughtfulness restored my faith and allowed me to believe that things would get better.  As I fought to get through my day, if I came across a rude person, I reminded myself; you don’t know what they are going through in their lives.  I would try to return their impoliteness with charity on my part.  Because, I hoped they in turn would be gracious to the next person.  Small deeds can lead to tiny breaths of hope, which in turn may lead to big outcomes in the life of one or many.

What can you do?  Kindness to others is my simple suggestion.


The End of an Anticipated Dream

????????The last time I wrote I mentioned my collection of quotes.  This past weekend I was reminded of yet another passage I try to refer to often.

Don’t cry because it is over.  Smile because it happened.

Dr. Seuss

With the arrival of warm temperatures snow skiing has come to an end.  There are some who will find a sunny spring day to glide down slushy slopes and one last time end their runs with a much anticipated beer on the deck.  But, I have finished for the season.  Over the weekend, my husband and I packed up all of the belongings we had managed to drag up north and moved them from our rental.  As I emptied over-flowing cupboards, filled with the generosity of visiting friends, and stuffed suitcases stretched tight against their zippers, my thoughts returned to my anxious greed in December to move into this winter haven.

The idea to return to weekends spent skiing full time at Gore Mountain and enjoying all of our winter time friends came to me as I talked with two of my sisters about our very small inheritance.  Our mother had recently passed away from her long slide into the nothingness of dementia.  We felt the money was a gift and should be put to use in a way that would honor both our mother and father.  We were in awe at the financial ingenuity of our parents, a teacher and insurance salesman.  How had they managed to raise, feed, clothe and then send seven children to college and still have enough left for Mom to be well taken care of at the end of her life?

As ideas were thrown around I came to my conclusion.  Sitting on a screened in porch on July third,  overlooking a lake in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, it was difficult to imagine the following winter.  Yet, I could feel the tingle of frost as I formulated my plan.  I knew it was very likely during the winter of 2012-13 my daughters would be living near or with my husband and me, an opportunity that may not happen again, at least for some years to come.  Our girls are young adults, in their  early twenties.  The notion of them both ending up living in upstate New York is a farfetched dream.  I did know however, they would spend time with their parents, at least for a few months, if I enticed them with the lifestyle they grew up loving: skiing every weekend during the winter.

As my idea brewed in my head, I also imagined a writer’s retreat for my group, where we could spend time doing what we all love, putting our thoughts down on paper.  Along with that, weekends of fun and laughter crowded my mental image.  With the rental, the friends I so adore and cherish would once again have a place to gather.  This spot would be an inviting sanctuary to ignore the painful truths of our lives and lose ourselves in raunchy jokes, good food, great adult beverages and the comforting companionship of dear friends.

The winter months went by, as you can guess, all too quickly.  One day it was time for the first run, the next, the annual end of the year slush cup.   When the car was packed, I wandered one last time through the living room of the chalet, turning off the gas fireplace and locking the doors.  Through tear-filled eyes I saw the smiles and I heard the laughter.  I smelled the candles as they were blown out on my daughter’s birthday cake.  I saw the realization of joy in my husband’s face when we surprised him with a family, plus two boyfriends, dinner at his favorite restaurant.  I heard the giggles of young adults echo throughout the loft and saw, once again, their card games at the big dining table.   I sensed the sound of clinking wine glasses raised in salute during the many toasts that took place as we gathered to share our meals.  I knew then, as I heard the door lock one last time, my intuition had been correct.  Renting a home in the Adirondacks was a true celebration of my parent’s gift.

I smiled, because I made it happen.

Quotes and Contemplation

????????I like to collect quotes that at a particular time provoked contemplation or simply made me smile.  Some passages have made enough of an impact to have changed my life.  For example, to be gentler on myself or perhaps the words encouraged me to move forward with a dream I had been pushing to the wayside.  One quote I found particularly relevant was the following.

“We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”  Joseph Campbell

These words written together as one thought caused me to stop and reflect.  I am definitely a planner.  I sometimes plan out intricate details months in advance. On Sunday evenings I look at my calendar and plan the following week.  I put to memory what I am doing.  I look up how to drive to the school I will be working at on a given day.  If I’m not teaching then I set up in my mind’s datebook when I will write, clean, do laundry or run errands.  When it comes to running errands, I don’t just hop into my car.   I plan a route that will eliminate crossing traffic and cut down on driving distance.  I rarely go to the grocery without a list, which consists of an inventory of what I am having for meals that week and the ingredients I need.  I plan because it is a comfort to me to know ahead of time what I need or want to do each day.

As I search back through my memory of myself.  I try to recall, was I always a planner? In college I never pulled an all-nighter.  I often had projects done a day or two before they were due.  I understood even then, I did not work well under pressure.  I jokingly tell others that when my now husband asked me to move to New York from Florida, not to marry, but so that we could be closer to each other, I packed my lime green Jetta and drove. The real truth is I recall agonizing over the decision.   Eventually, my older sister who I was living with at the time, said; “just go, you are young, and have nothing tying you here.”  With no true plan, I left, a huge leap for me.

Recently, as I cared for my mother I gradually began to accept the idea of Joseph Campbell’s quote.  When Mom came to live with me and my family I was at a turning point in my life.  My two daughters were either in college or heading there.  My husband and I were soon to be empty nesters.  I had many proposals for myself running through my mind. I had great ideas for finding my midlife career.  None of these mind diagrams included being the caretaker, then guardian and eventually hand holder of my mother as she slid into dementia.

Certainly, I knew that taking my mother into my life was the right thing to do.  Soon afterwards my frustration blossomed inside of me as I fought against the reality of my life and what I had envisioned.  At times I resented my mother then, I chastised myself for feeling that way.  My aggravation at not achieving my perceived goals grew. I would push myself down the path I thought was my destiny, only to be waylaid with the more insistent care of my mother.  One day I stumbled onto the aforementioned quote.  It was a slow process of comprehension, like a flower slowly blooming until the vivid colors demand your attention. That led to a recollection of words of what another sister often repeated; “If what you are trying to do keeps getting blocked with obstacles, then maybe your guardian angel is trying to tell you to go another way.”  I realized it was time to let go of the life designs I felt I wanted or were required by me to accomplish.  Instead, I unhurried my pace.  I slowed my thoughts and my relentless running towards an objective that was frustrating me. I listened to the very subtle guidance from what I consider to be a higher being.  I watched for signs, sometimes confusing in their very nature, but a sign never-the–less.

Over the course of a book club meeting someone mentioned a new writing class that was to begin soon.  I heard, but felt I couldn’t take the time.  While reading the newspaper there again was the suggestion of this writing class.  Finally, because most signs need to be very obvious to me, a friend sent an email with the subject line, thought you might be interested in this.  Why she thought that I’m not sure.  At least this time I took the hint and signed up for the class.  That small gesture has led me to follow this new life course of writing.  Something I purely enjoy.

More opportunities opened up once I let go of my preconceived destinations.  Several years before, at the persuasion of a friend, I had applied for a position as a teacher for The Traveling Children’s Museum.  Nothing came of it and as I became more involved with the care of my mother the idea was swept from my mind.  When my life slowed somewhat from the attention I needed to give to Mom, completely out of nowhere I received a phone call from the Museum.  Now my friend was in the position to hire and she had found my long ago resume buried under stacks of the previous administrators papers.  “Was I still interested in the job?” I laughed, “Of course.” Because I had waited and not pushed to reach a goal when the goal was unachievable my reward was great.  I love my job and now have the time to commit to it.

I certainly don’t want to lead you to believe I think life comes to those who wait.  No, in my interpretation of Joseph Campbell’s thought I don’t believe he meant for us to do nothing and expect our lives to materialize in front of us.  I do think his intention was to allow yourself to open up to opportunities that come your way.  Even if those possibilities have nothing to do with the course you have chosen to walk down.

As a planner I have struggled to let go of my big ideas for my future.  Now, it seems I don’t even remember exactly what they were.  I do know because I allowed myself to find the life that was waiting for me instead of the one I planned, I am happy and look forward to allowing more doors to open.

Moms Gone Wild

????????????????Recently, I went on a road trip with two lady friends.  A long weekend spent being a groupie for the band, Trial By Fire.  My friend’s son, and a young man I have known since he was a baby, is a member.   We had a great time, but quickly realized staying up until the early hours of the morningwas tough work.  We were no longer the college students partying away our stress over upcoming finals.   Instead, we were three older woman escaping the confines of our daily lives.  Our getaway was a needed escape from being the caregiver for a very ill spouse and the sudden, unexpected, responsibility of a mother and nephew.   I was the one that had no true commitments. In February I had passed the one year anniversary of my dementia bound mother’s death, and with that, a release to determine what  I want to do with the rest of my life.

We three adventurers set out on a journey deemed, Moms Gone Wild.  But, how wild can you get in a mini-van?  The first night earplugs were distributed so that we could  all attempt a good night’s sleep.   On Friday we awoke and piled back into our vehicle for a six hour drive.  We arrived in Greensboro, North Carolina in time to have a beer while the band set up and did a sound check.  I got a thrill of boastful pride when we told the bartender we were related to one of the musicians.  That night at the show, with the music thrumming in our chests and the crowd clapping and screaming encouragement to the rock group, we decided to celebrate with a jello-shot.  We couldn’t resist as the somewhat solidified alcohol came in a huge syringe.  I’ve been in bars before where a band was playing.  But, this was different.  I delighted in watching the crowd watch our favorite band member.  I pondered on how it must feel to be on stage and realize I was bringing such fun to the crowd.  What a rush it must be.  The night finally ended, for us at least, as we made our way to our beds around 2 a.m.  On Saturday afternoon, after two more hours of driving we landed in Charlotte, North Carolina and began the whole process again.

Along the journey, of our weekend away, the three of us shared many thoughts.  We reflected on the circumstances of our lives.  It never occurred to any of us to complain about what life had thrown our way.  Instead, we accepted the obligations and knew we would not do anything differently.  Still, that does not mean we did not question what the future would hold and how that now would be so different from what we had envisioned.  Yet, we understood we are not unlike so many of our generation, taking on the care of aging parents just when we were ready to enjoy empty nest adventures with our spouse.  Or perhaps, as my one friend, realizing those golden years will never come for her and her husband.

That is why this weekend away was just what the doctor would have ordered if prescriptions can be written for such an excursion.  A few days in which we came close to reliving our youth; the one that seemed so burdened at the time and, as we have come to understand, no where near that complicated.  During the weekend the three of us spent the days enjoying the warmth of the southern sun and hanging in bars with the band at night.

But real life rushed in and on Monday we made the grueling 15 hour endurance test back to our homes.  I awoke Tuesday feeling disoriented and exhausted, only to look out the window to an inch of snow on the ground.  Welcome back to reality.