Unfurgettable

For Linda, and her Heidi

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“If having a soul means being able to feel love and loyalty and gratitude,
then animals are better off than a lot of humans.”
~ James Herriot

With the exception of my years away at college, and the first month living on my own, I have always shared my home with pets.  Dogs and cats, and one gerbil.  All of my pets have been long-lived (except the poor gerbil), and I think they were, and are, all happy lives.  I know my own life has been forever changed by the animals who have been such an integral part of my time on this earth.  They are special.  They are family.

All our pets have been healthy, with just a few unscheduled vet visits here and there for various minor illnesses; occasionally something more serious.  Our two previous cats, Merlyn and Tully, lived to be 19 and 10 respectively.  Both developed kidney disease in their later lives; the 19-year-old better able to cope with the disease physically and mentally than the 10-year-old eventually did.  We treated each of them to keep them comfortable and maintain a good quality of life.  When it was time to let them go, they did indeed let me know, and our blessed, compassionate veterinarian came to our home to help them gently go, comfortably and peacefully.

“Animals have a much better attitude to life and death than we do. They know when their time has come.  We are the ones that suffer when they pass,but it’s a healing kind of grief that enables us to deal with other griefs…”

~ Emmylou Harris

It’s something of a shock to find the years have gone by swiftly, and I find we have “senior” pets living in our home again.  Everyone is healthy for their ages, and living their lives happily.  But once in a while, I’ll see a little more gray on a muzzle; a little bit slower step; a little hesitation before jumping up on the stool beside me as I write.  And I know the time will be coming again to say “goodbye”, and always sooner than I am ready to deal with.

But I’ve just returned from a semi-emergency trip to the vet with Murph, and those thoughts are making my heart ache.

We’d been visiting my Dad on the Gulf shore for a week, and our regular trusted cat sitters had been taking care of the kitty-kids (our dog goes to Puppy-Camp, aka, the kennel).  The evening we’d returned, Murphy seemed out of sorts, but I chalked it up to him being miffed we’d left for a week.  The next morning, however, I knew something was wrong: he kept shaking his head, somewhat violently at times.  And the sneezing fits!  At one point he lost his balance and had to sit down abruptly.  Then the indignity of having kitty snot on his whiskers and bib was just too much, and he ran and hid in the bedroom closet.  When he finally did settle to sleep for a bit, he wanted to be under the covers (unheard of for Murph) and wanted my hand to cradle his head.   Once he fell asleep, albeit fitfully, I used my other hand to reach for my phone and called the vet.

“Pets are humanizing.  They remind us we have an obligation andresponsibility to preserve and nurture and care for all life.”

~ James Cromwell

Because he is a “senior” kitty now, our vet wanted to do some blood work to rule out some of the nastier possibilities, and because I worked at a vet’s office once upon a time and saw some of those nasties, I concurred.  Fortunately for us, it is “just” an upper respiratory infection.  A shot of antibiotics, some IV fluid, and now home to rest.  Murphy is sleeping peacefully on the living room sofa — his “lookout” to keep tabs on the rest of the family.  I am grateful.  And I am sad.

I know it is greedy of me to want them here with me forever.  I know it’s not realistic.  I am most afraid I’ll cross the line between helping them living comfortably and forcing them to stay past time for them to have gained their rest… but I won’t.  I can’t.  And I will be there at the end, telling them it’s ok to go, and holding them long past when their mighty hearts stop beating.  And I will cry.  I will mourn.  And my heart will break into a million pieces, and yet somehow still so full of the love they gave me unconditionally.  And I will be a better person for having them share my life.  My precious pets have been with me through all the chapters of my life; good and bad, awesome and horrible, and everyday.  They keep on loving me EVERY DAY.

We have always adopted from shelters, and I don’t ever see that changing.  And one day, I won’t feel the grief to be so stifling.  And I will eventually feel that “tug” on my heart that leads me to one of the animal shelters our community supports.  And I have no doubt whatsoever that there will be a furry someone who looks at me and says “There you are!  I’ve been waiting for you.  Let’s go home!”

“It’s difficult to understand why people don’t realize that pets are gifts to mankind.”

~ Linda Blair

Until then — and ever after — I will love and cherish our furry family here with us now.  I will embrace their aging with as much grace as I can, knowing we outlive these marvelous creatures only because they come into this world already knowing how to love unconditionally, and that’s what they are here to teach us. Everyday.  If we would just watch and listen and learn.

“…I just don’t know how I would have lived without animals around me…”

~ Betty White

Until next Friday, Friends.  Cheers to you all, furry and otherwise!

A good citizen

I’ve been reading a lot more lately.  And for me, that’s saying quite a bit, because I read all the time:  books, magazines, newspapers; in print, online, it doesn’t matter.

But WHAT I’ve been reading has changed.  I’ve become more discriminating online and have banished what “clickbait” I can from my newsfeeds.  I delve deeper into articles — sometimes verifying sources, other times looking up the author.

As a good citizen, I’ve always read up on the issues set before me before voting day.  But now I keep tabs on our 115th Congress as well.  I know more names of the 535 senators and representatives today.  Not only do I know how my own senators and representatives are voting on issues, I know how some of these others are voting, too.  And not just the ones who make the most noise.

I’m sharing the new information I’ve learned.  I’m speaking up about it.  I’ve had well-informed people say “welcome to the party,” and other people say “I didn’t know that!”  I’ve had others call me names, claim I’m “ill-informed,” and in one case belittled and called “stupid” (this coming from someone who claims fake news is real news, so I’m not devastated).

Ever a concerned citizen, I’ve generally thought of myself as a knowledgeable citizen.  But in light of how much I’ve learned about politics in just the last six months, I never knew how much I didn’t know — and that scares me.  How much have I missed because I didn’t know which questions to ask?

I consider myself an intelligent woman, but in the last year I’ve delved into researching the Women’s Movement and was shocked at how much I had taken for granted as a child born in the mid-60s, growing up in the 70s, and pursuing higher education in the early 80s.  I am horribly dismayed at realizing my own parents (born in the early 40s) never spoke about the revolutionary ideas and ideals of the 60s and 70s — neither as they happened, nor afterwards.  Growing up, I was blithely unaware of the issues (political and otherwise) people were facing; or, in the case of my own family, turning away from facing.

We all know the Civil Rights Movement hasn’t received 1/10 of what it deserves in America’s history books and classes.  I can personally attest to that dismal fact:  a white girl growing up in a middle-class family in a middle-class, predominantly white Midwest town, this important point in America’s history was sorely missing in conversation around our dinner table and at school.  I had to play “catch up” later on, despite my otherwise excellent public school education.  And still, there’s so much I don’t know.

Information overload is real.  I know that.  And parents are faced with the Herculean task (and no instruction manual) of educating their children about The World.  I know.  I am the mother of a 17-year-old, and many of those 17 years were as a single-parent as well.  But I’ve never flinched from talking to my son about what’s happening in the World.  With the advent of 24/7 “news” and cellphones, one is never truly unplugged from information dissemination.  And unfortunately, much of what is reported is now recognized as “fake news.”  I’d rather tackle the tough subjects and be sure my child is getting accurate information, thank you.  As a graduate holding a degree in English and journalism, this “fake news” cuts me to the bone.  From rookie grammar mistakes and blatant typos, to twisting the truth and stating outright lies, I was one who often moaned “I weep for the future of journalism.”

Then something miraculous occurred.

A lone publication — often overlooked as “fluff” and one not usually noticed for groundbreaking subject matter — called out the current administration.  Factually and intelligently, this magazine stepped up to the challenge other publications and news outlets were afraid to tackle.  On Dec. 10, Teen Vogue published a “scorched-earth” opinion piece by Lauren Duca, a 25-year-old award-winning professional journalist.  She wrote the piece titled “Donald Trump is Gaslighting America” for the magazine’s website. The article immediately went viral, and Ms. Duca went from a relatively obscure weekend editor and freelance writer to being a national newsmaker as well.

With this move, along with other recent editorial shifts toward social issues, identity, and activism, Teen Vogue is giving its readers what they have been asking for alongside the beauty tips, celebrity interviews, and fashion news.  And the publication surprised the rest of us with what we didn’t know we needed.

In her op-ed, Duca wrote that it is now the job of all Americans to take responsibility for the information they consume.  Might I add, and also for what they DON’T consume.

Regardless of your preferred political outlook, Ms. Duca’s article is the kind of journalism we must have regularly — not only in the United States but around the world.  Frank, fact-based opinion pieces are designed precisely to get people TALKING.  Isn’t that what we need more of at this point in history?  Because of filibustering and outright refusals to discuss policy, our government and our citizens are diminished in our capacity to overcome obstacles.  These ideals are not new, but they should not be forgotten.

I admit it: I allowed my jaded sense of where journalism was headed to blind me to the fact that good writers — good journalists — are still out there.  The medium may have shifted recently from print to online, but if you know where to look, there are still thoughtful and intelligent articles and newscasts filled with the facts we need to make informed choices and take action, even if it means we need to shift our perspective — both politically as well as in our reading choices.

Until next Friday, Friends.  Cheers!

P.S.  I strongly encourage you to read the linked article by Lauren Duca!

I can’t

If you stop to think about it, there are probably really only a handful of times in your life where you’ve had to say “I can’t.”

Not “I don’t want to.”

Or “I won’t”.

But really and truly “I can’t.”

Think about the differences for a moment and be honest — like I had to be recently: someone asked me to do something and I had already decided to do something else I would definitely enjoy more.  I said “I can’t,” when in reality it was “I don’t want to.”  And a little guilt crept in.

would but I can'tDon’t get me wrong: I know time is a precious commodity for all of us, and all of us are absolutely-without-a-doubt-entitled to spend it how we want.  But how many times have we all used those words “I can’t” when it was really something else?  When we used it casually.  And why do we feel we can’t be honest with each other about it?  Why does it feel so ‘wrong’ to say “You know, I’ve had a really long week and I need some “me” time, so no, I won’t be joining you.”

Then the differences between “I don’t want to” and “I can’t” become more defined.

The first time I had to say “I can’t,” I was a junior in high school, and had been cast as the female lead in our spring musical.  I’d never been a lead before!  I worked so hard and learned my lines, the music, the choreography.  I had a lot of fun and I got to work with my best friends to create something really special.  Opening night was a success!

And then I lost my voice.

Completely, utterly, lost it.  Some bacterial infection, probably spurred by allergies, had set upon me and was about to bring my world crashing down.

I babied my throat all day Saturday.  I gargled, I steamed, I drank every concoction suggested.  By 5pm, absolute panic had set in because I still wasn’t able to utter a word.  I went to the theater early and met with my director on stage while the rest of the cast waited backstage to see what was going to happen.

Which was, essentially, nothing.

I couldn’t make a sound.  My director said “what about a microphone?”  I tried it, but you can’t magnify ‘nothing.’

The tears were close to overflowing and I was working hard not to lose it.  My director was turning to confer with our music director when there suddenly was a SHRIEK from backstage (someone had gotten a sudden gusher of a nosebleed, I found out later), and I cracked.  My knees buckled, I sat down hard on the empty stage floor, and those big, hot, ugly tears ran down my face as I sobbed completely silent, knowing full well we’d have to cancel the performance.

Because of me.

Or, more to the point, because of what I couldn’t do.  Cripes, I couldn’t even SAY “I can’t.”  I couldn’t do much but let those salty, stinging tears flow.

What hurt most was that I knew I was letting down all these people — not just my directors, castmates, crew, and orchestra, but the audience as well.  All those people who had set aside an evening, spent money on tickets, and were coming out to see our show.

I don’t remember much of the rest of that evening, other than being hustled out through the lobby and home.  I do remember the doctor and there were antibiotics and muscle relaxants involved that over a few days healed my throat.  My voice returned in time for the following weekend’s performances — with a Sunday tacked on now to make up for the cancelled Saturday.

No one held it against me — at least not that they told me.  And the following year, my dear director took ANOTHER chance on me and cast me again in the lead (no cancellations that year!).

But I had learned a heartachingly hard lesson.  Sometimes “I can’t” is for real, no matter how much you want something or how hard you’ve worked for it.  Sometimes “I can’t” means exactly that: impossible.  And that’s a very hard thing to accept.

IMG_0002But the world didn’t end.

The sun still rose the next day.  People went about their lives.  The sun still set and the moon took its place in the sky.

Life goes on, whether we participate or not.  “I can’t” becomes a very, very personal matter then.  It means “me”, not anyone else.  It means “I am not able to participate.”  Or is it really “I can, but I don’t want to” — and if it is, what effect does it have on the lives around us?  Does “I don’t want to” hurt someone or definitively affect an outcome? Sometimes.

Look, I’m not knocking anyone — I’ve been in both places, the “I can’t” and the “I don’t want to.”  Sometimes we say “ok, I can” and it takes longer than promised, or doesn’t turn out the way we’d like.  But saying “I can” is empowering.  It’s positive.  When you must say “I can’t,” it means the power to decide has been taken from you.  Who wants to willingly give up that power?

The first time I had to say “I can’t” was traumatic — and it beat into my poor addled brain what those words really mean.  And I have since had to say those words, and thus give up the power to decide, more often in my 50-some years than I care to think about.  I definitely prefer “I can.”

Now, to put that into mindful practice….

Until next Friday, Friends.  Cheers!

Outdated

I’m not a feminist.

I was at one time, most of my adult life anyway.  And I’m happy to say that the majority of my friends would call themselves the same.

True feminism is a range of ideologies, political, and social movements designed to establish and achieve equal political, economic, personal, and social rights for women, and to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment.  The feminist movement won women the right to vote, hold public office, work, own property, be educated, to enter contracts, have equal rights within marriage, and it continues to work to gain equal pay for equal work, and to protect women and girls from rape, sexual harassment, and domestic violence.

In other words, feminism worked to treat women as people.  Not property.  Not “less than. 

But now I think this term, feminism, is outdated and needs to be changed to reflect its very idea’s greater meaning: no one is “less than.”  I submit to you that we need to move beyond feminism.  It’s time to be Humanists.

I believe every person — Every. Person. — is created equally and should be treated fairly, and a large group effort is needed to effect change in that direction, just as the feminist movement worked so hard to achieve for women.  Granted, there is still a ways to go (same pay for same work, anyone?), but I don’t think we can afford to work on justice for just one segment of the population at a time, do you?

According to Simple Psychology:  “Humanistic psychology begins with the assumptions that people have free will. Exercising that free will colors the choices we make in life, the paths we go down, and their consequences…” And every act has consequences, good, bad, or otherwise.  Humanists also believe that “people are basically good, and have an innate need to make themselves and the world better.  The humanistic approach to life emphasizes the personal worth of the individual, the centrality of human values, and the creative, active nature of human beings. The approach is optimistic and focuses on noble human capacity to overcome hardship, pain, and despair.”

Yep.  That’s me.  Or, at least what I strive to be.

I whole-heartedly embrace the ideal that people are born “good.”  It’s the choices they make — the free will they exercise — that start to color their state of being, their personality, and yes, whether they will be “good” people or “bad” people in their future.  And there are extremes of both.

Although I’m not a religious person, there are indeed, those whom you might call ‘saints’ in this world.  Those are the folks who have decided to, quite literally, give everything they have and everything they are to lift up others in this world.  True saints are few in number.  If each generation sees one, we should count ourselves lucky to have witnessed that kind of living.

Don’t get me wrong:  I believe there are so many more people in the world who go above and beyond on a regular basis!  A good many of our firefighters, police, medical personnel, military members, teachers, among others… these are everyday heroes, and deserve respect from every quarter.  They are the people who make a community worth living in.  They are the people in positions for which I don’t mind paying my taxes!  These are the people you hope your children look up to, and respect, and become in their own lives.

Then there are those of us who fervently hope we will make good choices and raise our children to be the kinds of everyday heroes we admire, too.  We help where we can, and we’ll even go out of our way to assist someone in need.  We are good people, except when we’re not; but at least we have the grace to feel bad when we knowingly don’t exercise good judgment or knowingly don’t make a good choice.  We feel guilt for hurting someone else, and make amends where we can.  “I’m sorry” are two words good people aren’t afraid to say.

There are those people who really don’t care about anyone but themselves.  It’s a dark and lonely place to be, but they don’t see it that way because they are dazzled by their own shallow glow.  Narcissists.  You know one when you meet one, because they have an innate need to dampen everyone else’s light, so they don’t have to compete.  Life is all about them.  Everything is personal — good and bad.  And they will let you know it is ALWAYS someone ELSE’S fault/doing/being/saying.  We can only hope these Islands of Ones and Onlies will someday wake up and see they are alone in a sea of other narcissists.

Unfortunately, there are people who choose to become just plain evil.  We have seen evil in history’s genocides.  We have seen evil in people who hurt and torture others, including animals, “just because.”  We see evil in those who want anyone who doesn’t believe what they believe to be judged and damned.  Evil is hate in action.  It’s what’s left when the self burns away everything else in order to gain what it believes is “power.”  It’s what’s left when someone has convinced themselves that others are “less than.”  But because there is always someone else who will come along and wrest that power from them, one way or another, there is eventually nothing left but evil in these people.

What does it truly cost each one of us to treat everyone as we wish to be treated?  How does one person’s gender, sexual orientation, race, marriage, religious outlook, height, weight, whether or not they have children, eye color, age, or favorite drink between Coke and Pepsi affect you? Really, I’m asking: how does it affect you if someone doesn’t believe exactly as you believe?  You won’t be friends?  Ok, don’t invite them to your house for dinner.  But don’t for one moment think they are “less than”.  Believing — and acting — otherwise leads to narcissistic and evil choices.  Don’t let’s go there, ok?

I am a Humanist.  I believe we all have the ability to be saints, but we have more opportunities to be the everyday heroes and good people.  Let’s go there instead.

(For the record, I won’t even get mad if you bring a Pepsi along.  You should know, though, I don’t believe in global warming, either; but I do believe that Climate Change is very real.  That’s another term that should be updated… and another story for another time.)

All my life I don’t know what this song means

Robert Burns, aka, “Rabbie Burns” and the “Bard of Ayrshire,” is widely regarded as the national poet of Scotland and is celebrated worldwide. His influence has long been strong on Scottish literature, and in 2009 he was chosen as “the greatest Scot” by the Scottish people.

“Thrilling,” I know you’re thinking. “What does this have to do with anything?”

I’m getting to that.

Robert Burns was a poet of the people, and even if you’re not aware, you know one of his greatest poems of all time.  In fact, it is translated into more than 40 languages around the world, and has become a cultural icon in itself:  “Auld Lang Syne” (which means, roughly, “Here’s to the good old days”).  Most well-known as a farewell bid to the old year at the stroke of midnight, it is also sung at funerals, graduations, and as a farewell or ending to other occasions.

The 1989 comedy “When Harry Met Sally” (one of my all-time favorite movies written by none other than the fabulous Nora Ephron) has this crazy exchange at a New Year’s party when Harry gets distracted by the music, right after declaring his love for Sally at midnight:

all my life I don't know what this song meansHarry: “What does this song mean? My whole life, I don’t know what this song means. I mean, ‘Should old acquaintance be forgot’? Does that mean that we should forget old acquaintances, or does it mean if we happened to forget them, we should remember them, which is not possible because we already forgot?”

Sally: “Well, maybe it just means that we should remember that we forgot them or something. Anyway, it’s about old friends.”

Indeed it is.  It’s meant to stir feelings, and if given the chance, this song can bring about recollections of old friends and the good ol’ days at any time of year.

In fact, my favorite occasion singing this song wasn’t actually on New Year’s Eve.  It was in early August, at dusk, in Rabbie’s own homeland during the Edinburgh Festival Military Tattoo at Edinburgh Castle in Scotland.

That evening I was taught the proper way to sing this song: as the first strains of the song begin, you cross your arms across your front, taking the hands of your neighbor on both sides who are doing likewise (if people are in concentric circles or in rows, the person on the end takes the hand of the person in front or behind, thus ensuring an unbroken chain).  As the song goes on, it’s natural to begin swaying in time, and let me tell you, it’s better than any “wave” at a stadium!

Standing on an ancient castle’s esplanade with 7,000 other people might not seem to be much of a setting for such an intimate and sentimental song; but the feeling of warmth and camaraderie was so tangible in each others’ hands as we sang…we weren’t strangers anymore.  I was physically linked to people from all over the world that night, and we were singing a song together, to which we all knew at least some of the words.  Singing, laughing, looking at each other and smiling.  For those few awe-filled moments, we were all friends… I hated it to end.

Ever since then, “Auld Lang Syne” has meant more to me than just a song you sing on New Year’s Eve, and I haven’t been able to listen to it or sing it since without remembering wisps of that cool summer’s night at a castle, connected, literally, to thousands of people, hand by hand.  I’d like to think everyone who was there remembers it that way.

Cheers to the New Year, my Friends.  Even a couple of weeks into the new year isn’t too late to sing a verse or two with some of your friends and remember when….

Auld Lang Syne

 

A great agony… and other things about writing

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
~ Maya Angelou

Between writing from the heart, writing what’s on my mind, dreaming about writing, writing to be heard, writing writing writing writing; having an idea I want to pursue and not being near my computer or smart phone, nor pen and paper, and being set upon by madness until I can write down the idea…. that is the greatest agony for writers, truly. “Bearing the untold story” that Dr. Angelou talks about is why I started my blog.

Now, the reasons why writers hold those stories are as different as why we ultimately decide to tell those stories.  My reasons are pretty straightforward: I wanted another way to connect to the world.  I wanted to share my experiences as a kind of salve to anyone thinking they were alone because of certain feelings or circumstances (or was it the other way ’round?); and, I wanted to evoke the “me too!” reaction that always brings me joy when I am gifted with it.

I’ve learned certain things about myself, and my writing, over the last year and a half.  Writing (nearly) every day will do that to you.  So will attending a writing conference or retreat.  And it’s a mixed bag, some good observations as well as some not-so-pretty; and some that were difficult to admit, and others that surprised me.

In no particular order, what I’ve learned about myself through writing:

…as in speaking, I’m long-winded.

…I probably use the em-dash (—) far too often.

…I have a strong voice.

…I have a need to dwell on the positive.

…I can turn almost anything on its end and make it funny.

…my favorite comments from readers are the ones where they tell me they felt as though we just finished having coffee, or wine, over conversation in person.

…that I have a long way to go in being able to write a good novel.Nora

…that nearly every one of my blog entries is actually a personal essay.

…that I will never write like Nora Ephron.

…that personal essays are a genre that doesn’t enjoy the same cache as novels, or poetry, or short stories.  But it should.  Because, NORA FREAKIN’ EPHRON!

“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.” ~ Nora Ephron

A personal essay, as near as I can explain it, is about a specific point in time in the writer’s life that illustrates a timeless idea or point to the reader.  Typically written in first person (“I”), the writer is describing a personal experience, examining it, and sharing their observations about the experience in terms to relate to you, the reader.

That said, it almost seems as though essays would be dry things, and not a very interesting way to spend time reading, let alone writing.  But I disagree!  Author Ariel Levy says, “…writing an essay is like catching a wave…crafting a piece of writing around an idea you think is worthwhile — an idea you suspect is an insight — requires real audacity.  It is an act of daring.”

Wow.  I’m audacious and daring!  If I think too much on that, though, I get a little queasy, so let’s go somewhere else…

It is, indeed, like catching a wave when an idea comes along. It’s not as though it taps you on the shoulder and waits around.  Sometimes it seems as though it’s more like a ticker tape running through my head at the bottom of the screen of other more prominent thoughts, ideas, to-do lists, and images.  Once in a while, one of the “ticks” will catch my full attention as it enters my internal screen view, and everything else suddenly switches to the background as I focus on that tidbit of information.  If I’m lucky, it turns out to be fodder for an entire column — or as I’m beginning to think of them, an essay.

Occasionally, it turns out there wasn’t really anything there, but I’ll file the idea away (in writing, because heaven knows I can’t remember a damn thing unless I write it down).  It might turn into something more substantial later.

Writing these weekly essays has been a means for me to get ideas down; the ideas I want to share.  It’s also allowed me to play with them, try different things, and different forms.  All of this experimentation has led me to realizing the list at the beginning.  A list of some of my strengths and some of my weaknesses.  This, in turn, gives me yet another list of things to work on.

But most importantly — at this time, anyway — it allows me to see not only what I’ve done right, but also how far I’ve come.  Taking stock like this lets me see myself from a different angle…. and who doesn’t need that once in a while?

It’s my way of conducting a writing reality check.

Perhaps that is why I write, whether it’s essays, or stories; fiction or not.  I’m conducting a reality check for myself:  is this or that idea common?  Is this storyline interesting enough to share?  Does anybody want to read any of it?  Wait, what do you mean I’ll never write like Nora Ephron?

As time continues to tick along the continuum, I certainly hope I continue to evolve and that my writing does, too.  I suppose if it stops, then it’s time to move on to something else.  But I’m bearing a lot of untold stories, so I think it’s safe to say I’ll be writing for a while.

Until next Friday, Friends.  Cheers!

drawn hearta

Peace

peace symbol“Peace does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work.  It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.” ~Unknown

I have never known such peace as in this last year.  The feeling and knowledge that I am exactly where I need to be, with exactly the people I need, doing expressly what I am doing is so clear and peace-filled.  And like so many other things in this life, we don’t know exactly what we were missing until we are given a taste of what was absent.

peace handDoes this mean every day is calm?  Hardly.  I am, after all, living with other people — both men, one of whom is a 17-year-old who is right on schedule with teen angst and hormones and fender-benders.  The other travels frequently, and still set enough in his ways as I am (we are a beautiful work in progress, which means things still get messy sometimes).  We have three pets who are all past the age of 10 (which brings its own baggage), but retain enough of their goofiness that you’d never know it.  Even working from home, when Z is at school and T is traveling, I am surrounded by cat-fights and dog barking and pleas for more canned food and how ’bout a treat and fur chasing fur up and down the hallway. I have work deadlines and bills to pay.  Salespeople ring my doorbell and try to sell me a new roof when it’s pretty obvious we have a brand new one. Telemarketers and robocalls make the house phone ring every day.  No. This house is not calm.  But it is peace-filled… most of the time.

Peace is so flexible:  Imagine peace.  Peace in.  Peace out.  Pass the peace.  War & Peace.  Peace pole.  Peace sign.  Peace of mind.  Inner peace.  And the list goes on… let’s all do what we can to bring Peace everywhere we go.  It can start with a smile, a wave, a handshake; an apology, an “I’m listening,” a hand-written letter; signing up to march, or writing to someone who carries some clout.  Peace can be activated by big actions and small.

dove of peaceI have never known this kind of peace — and I want to hold on to it.  I want more of it.  I want to share it.  I want to spread it.

Peace for the World.

Peace for our Neighborhoods.

Peace for our Families & Friends.

Peace for our Hearts.

Until next year, Friends.  Peace.

Joy

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens….These are a few of my favorite things!

Ok, I admit I stole those from Julie Andrews.  But all of those things on the list (except the wool mittens — they make my hands itch) and many other people, places, and things give me great joy.

snoopy danceJoy at this time of the year *tastes* different from joy at other times of the year.  Do you know what I mean?  And no, not just because we make special treats reserved especially for Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or Solstice…  Something elevates it, makes it shinier and brighter and tastier to the senses.

A heart-achingly beautiful rendition of “O Holy Night” at a Christmas service will dissolve me into tears during the first 4 bars.  My poor guys still don’t have a clue how to deal with me at that point.  I tell them I’m not sad — not at all!  Joy!  Joy is filling me from head to toe!  The beauty of the music, the purity of the voice singing it, the story it tells — it’s all joyous!

When the snow is falling from a dark sky, but the neighborhood night is lit with twinkling lights and warm glows from windows: that joy fills my eyes with a different flavor than at other times of the year.

Dropping change into red kettles and pet shelter portals, and putting teddy bears into toys for totses boxes.  Pure joy in hearty doses!

Our fireplace is a source of great joy for me.  Of all the houses I’ve called “home” as an adult, this Home is the only one with a fireplace.  After T and I bought this home together, we had the option to keep it as wood-burning with a gas starter, or switch it over to all gas.  T told me he thought I’d be happiest with a gas fireplace (much quicker to enjoy, less mess), but all I knew about those were the cheap, plastic-looking versions from decades ago. He convinced me to go look at the options… I did, and they looked GOOD! I was sold. And now I have a toasty, beautiful fire in less than 10 seconds whenever I want.  Which, once the temperature drops to under 40, is almost every night.  At Christmastime, with the stockings hung by the chimney with care — it’s more beautiful than I ever could have dreamed.  I count it as one of my blessings.  Joy.  Pure, simple joy at a dream finally made real.

dancing for joyMy child, my partner, my pets, my friends — all of these bring me the most wonderful joy for so many different reasons, with unconditional love at the top of the list.  And that love goes both ways: they love me, and let me love them.  At times I feel positively spoiled by love.  The support and honesty they share have led me to new paths I might not have investigated otherwise.  At this time of year, as we exchange gifts and cards, posts on Facebook, and email, those relationships glow even brighter in the light of this season’s joy.

I suppose writing about what makes me happy is a way for me to count my blessings.  I have many.  Little and big.  Most are fairly uncomplicated in how they bring me joy, and I think the simple joys are sometimes the very best.  I’ve always said it doesn’t really take a lot to make me happy — my generally optimistic nature has saved my sanity more times than I care to count.  Although there have been times where it might seem as though I’m really stretching to count something as a blessing, there is, indeed, something powerful about deciding to make the best out of any situation.

Magic happens when you choose to find the joy — even when it seems to be hiding from you.  Look for it, because this time of year — no matter what you celebrate — brings joy to you.  BRINGS it!  You don’t have to go looking for it!  Open your eyes, your ears, your hearts, and minds.  It is here.  Waiting for you.Christmas joy

Enjoy the light and love this season brings.  At this time, and always, I wish Joy for all of you, Friends.

Give

giving hands“We make a living by what we get.  We make a life by what we give.”  ~Winston S. Churchill

When I was left with nothing in the bank — and nothing in my energy reserves —  during the Big Bad Awful, what hurt most besides worrying for my son, was realizing it had been a privilege to be able to give money, my time, and talents to the groups whose causes mean most to me.  It was a joy to be able to help organize functions, or lend my writing and design talents to create ads and articles; and yes, I was thrilled whenever I could write a check to help the organizations who championed those causes.

It hurt when I could no longer do any of that.  It was excruciating to have to say “no” to those people when they asked for my help again.  All were very gracious, and accepted my explanation that “things had changed drastically” for me.  I cried each time I hung up the phone after one of those calls.

As I have gotten older, the things I care about most have been honed to a select list.  My son is at the top, obviously.  But the time in my life when I had to let everything else go was very dark.  I always appreciated the fact that I was in any position at all to help — that part of my life was important to me because it defined part of me, it was who I am.  And I had to leave those parts of my life behind.

giving moneyBut I am not there anymore.  I am here, and I am present, and I am able to give again.  And that remains a privilege for which I am grateful beyond measure.

“There is no better exercise for your heart than reaching down and helping to lift someone up.” ~Bernard Meltzer

I am no Mother Teresa by any means — I’ve had enough poverty for one life, thank you, and I enjoy traveling far too much to give it up all up for charity.  But I know I am a better person for giving when and where I can.  I retain my connection to the rest of this beautiful, albeit troubled, world.  I have empathy for creatures great and small.  Some call me a bleeding heart.  I’m fine with that.  Some say I “feel too much.”  Ok.  It’s not them I’m concerned with: I am concerned with how my child sees the world.  I want him to have empathy, and receive the same joy and sense of purpose when he helps someone else.  I want him to see that it is, indeed, a privilege and a responsibility we all share.

“From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: that we are here for the sake of each other — above all for those upon whose smile and well-being our own happiness depends, and also for the countless unknown souls with whose fate we are connected by a bond of sympathy. Many times a day I realize how much my own outer and inner life is built upon the labors of my fellow men, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I giving greenhave received.”  ~ Albert Einstein

This is the only way we can balance the world we live in.  We need empathy.  We need tolerance and justice.  We need to help each other.  We must give of ourselves in order to keep our collective soul intact.

Until Friday, Friends.  Cheers to the greatest gifts!