The Life And Times of a Sword Swallower

This is the first morning in over 13 years I’ve gotten up and haven’t then heard the sound of little paws coming out to find me.

Weston was my shadow. My boy. He wanted to be where I was, most all the time. Following me downstairs when I went to fold the clothes from the dryer, outside if I went to look at the blooms in the yard or just to hang out on our deck, into the kitchen or the dining room, following me into the living room with hopeful eyes that I would sit in our chair and he could join me, settling himself against one of my legs. That guy even followed me into the bathroom where I was supposed to pet him until I was done and would then say OK which was his signal to move along.

He loved love, more than anything. He loved pets. He was insistent about them. Pawing or nosing your hand to let you know it should be on him, and no where else.

Don’t get me wrong. He was cantankerous. We’ve all been bitten by Weston. K and I more than once. He didn’t like certain things… to be picked up like a normal dog around the middle, to have things taken from him that he’d procured somehow, to have someone reach at him if he was in places he considered his den at the time, or just to try and help him when he didn’t want to be helped. He was independent, to a fault, but that was his way. And he would let you know it.

He was our little Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The most loving dog you’d ever meet who wanted nothing more than loves from you and to give kisses right back and the snarky cantankerous boy who would have none of whatever he would have none of.

We loved him so.

Our little man was an amazing thief. He stole things all the time. We realized yesterday, as we picked up after ourselves, that we’d been thoroughly trained by him to not leave a paper towel or Kleenex anywhere he could get it. He would steal it immediately. He loved to rip up and eat those things. We’ve lost many pairs of glasses and Kleenex and post-it notes and paper towels to him over the years.

He even ate things he shouldn’t. Things that were dangerous for him. We were talking last night and laughing, amazed, at all the times he grabbed things and tried to eat them, or just swallowed them in a hurry so no one would try and take whatever it was from him. We called him the sword swallower because when we first brought him home, and he was so very tiny, we’d given him this bone we’d gotten for him. We were leaving him alone in the house for the first time, in his playpen, and we wanted him to have something good while we were gone. We weren’t gone long and when we got back we couldn’t find the bone in the playpen. We couldn’t find it anywhere. What’s more, he had this weird look on his face. Sort of surprised and slightly distressed, though he wasn’t acting distressed. We took him out of the playpen and he ran off into the living room where he jumped up on his chair and ottoman. We walked out of the room, walked back in, and there was that bone, all 6-8 inches of it, harked back up, out of him onto the ottoman. Lordy. We knew we were in trouble with him from then on. And over the years we were proven right. He stole and tried to eat a rib bone, same result with the harking it up. When we were camping once he found a piece of sausage someone had wrapped around a stick and then put hooks on and used to fish. Don’t ask me what that was supposed to catch, but there it was, discarded on the side of the river, and who would find it? Weston. Of course he would. He got a hold of it and then carried it around. We kept him walking so he wouldn’t try to start eating it because we knew the hooks would be disastrous. We got back to the Jeep and took out our bite gloves (yes, we had heavy cowhide work gloves we carried that we called bite gloves for times just like this when we had to get something from him or do something to him we knew he wouldn’t like). K managed to snatch that thing from him. To this day I don’t even know how she did it. And there was that time, road tripping as we do, when we were walking the pups near this gas station (sometimes there just aren’t great spots to take them on the road) and he found a petrified hamburger. It was hard and because he thought we might try to take it from him he tried to swallow it. He started to choke. I thought, right then, Oh God, he’s going to choke to death. I was trying to figure out how to give him the Heimlich maneuver and low and behold he managed to get it down. One time we’d returned from Europe and we had a bag of these really good chocolates inside a zipped up backpack. In fact, they were in a bag inside the backpack, inside a closed closet. He managed to get into the closet (it was a slider), get the backpack out, open the zippered compartment, open the package of chocolate, and eat them all. We were horrified. We called the dog poison hotline and were told we had to get some hydrogen peroxide down him so he would throw up. So there we were in the bathroom, on the tile floor, me holding him and getting the crap scratched out of me for it, and K pouring peroxide down his throat. It worked, he threw most of it up. But man oh man, what an incident.

We had to be hyper vigilant with him. He did what he wanted and sometimes that was dangerous for him. He didn’t care. He was Weston, danger dog.

He was also a smoker. He loved to find cigarette butts on his walks. If he found one, he would eat it. So we had to be vigilant when we walked him, butts, unfortunately, are everywhere. Crazy dog. We would joke that it was time to take Weston our for his smoke break. Because as much as we tried to keep him away from them, we was sneaky and got them anyway.

He was a smart little guy. Too smart. Too cunning. A true mischief maker.

K used to take him to her office once in a while, long ago when she had one. There were like 100 proof machines and next to each one was a garbage can. He loved garbage cans. Or a better description, he loved to knock garbage cans over. He was always looking for whatever treasures he might find there. Her staff would laugh when they came back in and ask her if Weston had been there. They knew he had because every garbage can, every last one, would be tipped over. When we visited anyone, my Mom, K’s parents, we had to make sure we went in first, his advance team, to put all the garbage cans up out of his reach. We had to scan for candy, or wrappers that might be places he could grab them, and move those things up high enough he couldn’t get to them.

Here at home he got into all sorts of mischief. You couldn’t leave your coffee cup sitting next to your chair for even a moment because the second you left the area he was there, drinking your coffee. He was a master thief, lying in wait, watching all the time, waiting for any opportunity. He pulled things off shelves in the kitchen. We had to organize with him in mind, and even when we did he still went for things. His reach, for being small in stature, was amazing. One time we came back into the living room and found he had managed to pull this old package of instant breakfast we had shoved to the back of the top shelf in the cart and forgotten about. He shouldn’t have been able to get that, but somehow, he did. We found him standing over the ripped up package with powder all over his muzzle. We re-arranged our shelves, again, for him after coming up from watching TV to find him in the living room with a bag of sugar he’d managed to somehow pull down off the shelf, drag to the living room, tear open, and enjoy. The most hilarious thing was the time we were downstairs watching TV in the evening and he had disappeared, which was always a bad sign. Suddenly we heard a loud bang. We both ran up the stairs to find he’d gotten a box of cans of green beans off the bottom shelf, drug it into the living room, and torn up most of an end of the box. I’m not sure how he thought he was getting into the cans, but you know, after everything he’d pulled off, I wouldn’t have put it past him. There is an endless list of things he stole and ate, or tried to eat. A classic was the time, when we still lived in Oregon, I’d set an egg salad sandwich on our pool table while I went into the kitchen for a moment, thinking that was a safe place out of reach for him. No. I came back and my sandwich was gone. He’d managed to jump up onto the sectional, get on the back of the sectional, and jump to the pool table to get to the sandwich. He liked to jump into chairs that were left out to get to tables. We felt like he could’ve been a circus performer in another life.

Every night he had the same routine. As we got ready for bed and after they went outside to do their business he would, as we brushed teeth and got some water and changed, go into K’s office and rummage through whatever pants she’d been wearing that day. He pulled them down off of wherever she’d put them and went through her pockets. If there was anything… Kleenex, cough drop, candy wrapper, he would get it.

A standard phrase yelled in our house for the last 13 years has been, “TREAT!”. It was our way of getting him inside if he was barking at a neighbor (he was friendly to them, but wanted them to pet him and if they didn’t, or until they did, he would bark at them) or a squirrel he’d run up a tree. Yelling “TREAT!” was also our way of getting something away from him he shouldn’t have. Again, we were trained, not him. We couldn’t just take anything from him because of his snarkiness so our option was to bribe him into letting whatever it was go. It worked, but really I think it was all just part of his plan. He would steal something he knew we didn’t want him to have, we would offer him a treat to give it up. Pretty smart. But then, he was a very very smart dog. It was a blessing and a curse, and also the reason for his name.

Weston. Our beautiful boy. He was named after his birthplace, Weston, Oregon. It’s in the Blue Mountains, and it’s lovely. As we were driving to pick him up we’d already picked out a name for him. We had a tag and everything. But when we picked him up and he looked at us with those deep brown eyes, eyes that looked into you, that felt like they were a thousand years old, we knew the name we’d picked wasn’t right. We felt like he looked studious, nerdy, deep thinking. K said, he sort of looks like he should be wearing little glasses and a blazer. Kind of like Harry Potter. We laughed, but it was true. So on the drive back the name change process began. I don’t know how it happened, which one of us thought of it, but somehow in that conversation, as we were running over things, where was he born, intellectual people we could name him after, etc. we said the name of the town. We looked at each other and bam, that was it. Weston. Perfect somehow. Perfectly him.

You know, the funny thing about him, and about his snarkiness, is that we always warned groomers and the people at his vet office about his snarkiness. We always said, watch him, don’t try to pick him up around the middle, cradle him to pick him up, don’t try to take anything from him if he gets anything, etc. We did this every time. We didn’t want anyone to get nipped. But he never bit anyone at those places and in fact everyone always told us, when we picked him up, how wonderful he was. How loving. What a great dog he was.

And he was. He was a great dog. He was the best boy. Snarkiness, and stealing, and mischief, and all. Because with all of that came so much love from him. So much joy. He loved to go for walks and play ball and play with his toys and chew on his bully sticks and run on the beach. The beach was his favorite place. When we could let him off his lead he would run like the wind, chase balls, get sticks, dig holes. He ran and ran, he played, he chased birds, then he would trot over periodically to get a pet or two, giving you little gentle kisses to let you know he loved you as much as you loved him. Letting you know he was so grateful to be there with us, in whatever place we were.

He was our boy. Complicated and intense and a pain in the ass and so loving. So loving.

He had our hearts, and still does. He always will. Our beautiful boy. Our sword swallowing mischief maker. Our one of a kind, full of personality, wonderful, beautiful boy.

Sleeping

March 1, 2007 – June 28, 2020

Making Lists and Wondering… What the Hell

May 16

I’ve been making a lot of lists.  Movies to watch, tv shows to watch, dystopian books I’ve read, tasks to do, tasks done.  I’ve worked on budgets for us, for K’s parents, for the rentals.  I’ve walked the dogs with K, perused random things on the internet, and read too many news stories.  We’ve planted flowers after doing the whole social distance shopping thing to pick up the flowers.  I’m restless.  I know you are too.  We’ve watched the birds, purchased more than our share of oranges and jelly to feed the beautiful migratory Orioles, purchased bags of seed in that same social distancing way we shop for everything now.

Photo by TJ Parker

The girlie is standing on our deck right now shaking.  She’s staring at the back door and shaking.  K is making sausages for breakfast.  Riley is shaking.  It makes no sense.  I think she’s expecting disaster to strike.  For the smoke alarm to go off or some other big sound she knows she will hate.  It’s happened a couple of times before, the smoke alarm going off.  She knows this.  She does not trust sausage or the oven.  She is preemptively shaking.  I am too.

Aren’t we all?  What the hell is up?

I like to keep track of things.  I count.  I love when Goodreads tells me I’m “on track!” to complete my yearly reading challenge.  11 of 30 books read so far this year.  I just finished a good one last night.  I have a list at IMDb of movies that have yet to come out or have already come out that I want to see.  I have lists of movies I’ve seen.  I time the coffee when it’s steeping.  If I forget to put the timer on I count.  I’m slightly obsessive.  Who knew?  It doesn’t really surprise me, though I just noticed it recently.  

Things are quieter.  Not in my head, no, not there.  But quieter.  We were walking last night and actually commented on how it was so quiet.  Not as much car noise.  Not as many cars.  People were out walking as well, but in hushed tones. Crossing the street to keep the 6 feet rule intact.   I feel like we’re all hushed and waiting.  Sometimes holding our breath, hoping the big bad runs past us and doesn’t see us there, hiding behind that bush.  Everything is a movie scene in my mind.  

The weather is turning.  Finally getting warm.  It took long enough.  Of course we’re also in the middle of storm season so it’s warmer, but stormy a lot.  We’re taking advantage of some sun right now and enjoying our deck.  Dogs on dog beds or the chaise lounge.  They love it out here too.  We have a playset in our yard.  The grandkids have used it quite a bit over the years we’ve lived here.  We added an extra slide and a mini climbing wall.  Sebastian helped K build the climbing wall.  There are places for two swings.  One side has a swing on it and the other just has chains hanging down.  We had a baby swing there for years, but they are all too big for that now.  We took it down and gave it away meaning to get another swing seat for that side.  We haven’t done it yet.  We may never.  The grandkids haven’t been here in months now.  Not since before we left for the West Coast, before all of this really took off.  It makes me a little sad looking at those chains.  No seat.  Maybe no reason to put one on it.  We even started talking about taking down the entire thing.  We’re waiting.  Waiting to see what happens.

Maybe we’ll go for a ride today.  Get out and away from the house.  Go somewhere else to walk.  Look at other birds.  Stand in a different quiet place.

I’m struggling to have enthusiasm about much of anything lately.  It’s a problem.  I try to occupy my time, my thoughts, myself.  We buy plants, we shop online, I do the laundry and the dishes, K cooks, I have even cooked a little, K works, we watch TV and movies, we listen to music, we watch online streaming events, we make plans we hope we can keep, and we mourn the loss of activities we were going to do but that are now canceled.

We were going to camp in May and June.  Now we aren’t.  We were going to go to the pool with the kiddos a lot, we bought a pass, now we aren’t.  We were going to go to Ebertfest in April, we didn’t.  Dommy was going to go to Circus Camp at the end of June, he isn’t.  We were going to go to music in the park, we won’t.  We were going to enjoy the 4th of July parade and fireworks, we won’t.  

We’ve had quite a few mini disasters since returning home from the West Coast in March.  Our fridge went out and we had to have it replaced.  Our kitchen sink drain got plugged, some ancient, before we owned the house problem that reared its head and required a plummer, twice.  Our basement flooded because I didn’t put the washer drain plug back in properly and then ran a tub clean cycle, with bleach.  Many towels were used, fans were turned on, we took everything out under the stairs, the dehumidifier went into high alert.  One of the jugs of water we have in the basement for emergency supply leaked, after the flood was cleaned up mind you, separate incident, and got the stair carpet wet again.  We had to take all the stuff under the stairs from out again.  Fan plugged in and turning, again.  Drying things out.  At least the jug didn’t have as much water as the washer did when it leaked out.  A bit of a silver lining.  

A beetle just tried to commit suicide, accidental of course, in my cup of coffee.  It was wandering around the rim of it, then just plunged in.  I watched it struggle for a moment or two.  Flailing about, head under, legs going as fast as they could go, getting nowhere.  I took my cup and poured it into the grass to save the little thing.  It worked.  It started moving and I’m sure has wandered off by now.  I hope it’s learned its lesson.  Probably not.

May 18… 

It stormed last night.  It’s always so beautiful after a storm.  Deep blue sky, calm, hardly any wind.  Clear clean air.  We had so much rain in the last 24 hours.  Our rain gauge is nearly full.  Crazy amounts of water.  So much so we had ponds form in places in our backyard.  The streets flooded around here, where they are prone to.  The occasional car going by splashing it’s way through.  We could hear it, nearby.  

When it rains like that we get a pond on our patio we have to squeegee.  It’s butted up against the house and pools near a basement window.  We’ve never had it actually get deep enough to pour in the window, but it gets at least 2-3 inches deep.  We had to squeegee yesterday. Weston also wouldn’t go out to pee.  We had to leash him and take him to the front of the house so he could pee under the eave on the house.  We did this twice, trying to take him out.  We also leashed him and tried to take him in the backyard.  He had none of it.  Though he did pee on the house that one time.  Fun times.  It gives us anxiety for him when he won’t go out.  We know he has to go, he won’t go, he’s restless.  It makes us restless.

Our driveway is so slippery where the sump pump releases it’s stream of water.  It travels down that side of the driveway toward the road.  Not ideal, but changing it would require a major job and a lot of money.  We’re just not up for that.  Maybe someday.  But man… K fell down last night (onto a knee) trying to take Weston out to pee.  Umbrella in one hand, Weston in the other.  Slippery driveway.  Recipe for disaster.  She is sore today.  I nearly fell down taking out the garbage and recycling bins last night as well.  I didn’t, but I twisted in a way that I shouldn’t have.  I’m sore today.

We got a call yesterday morning about 8:30 that Mary’s dog, Wicket, had gotten out of the yard and was missing. The gate had blown open in the storm.  We went over immediately and started looking.  I was cruising up and down the streets in the big white van.  I’m sure I looked creepy.  I kept rolling down the window asking people walking by if they’d seen a little white dog.  No one had.  One guy said to me, now I know why you’ve been slowly cruising around the neighborhood.  Mary had said to me, laughing, I didn’t look creepy at all driving around in the big white van.  She was right.  I looked creepy.  K was walking looking for him.  We did this for an hour or so.  Finally Mary got a call from a neighbor two blocks over saying they had him.  Had had him since 1:30AM.  He kept setting off their security lights. Poor guy.  It was raining.  He hates the rain.  They said when they opened their door to see what it was setting off their lights he just ran in their house.  He’s old, crotchety, and doesn’t really care, so in he went.  Mary’s phone had been acting up and the woman had called her more than once.  Finally she got through and Mary and K walked over to get him.  When he got back to Mary’s he just ran in the house like nothing had happened.  Dogs.  I want to be them.

And another thing… our Jeep is acting up.  We went for a social distance drive.  Just us, a couple of bags of popcorn, some water, some binoculars, my camera.  We drove to some county parks.  They were too crowded to get out and actually walk anywhere, which was a bummer.  But we got out of the house, enjoyed each other’s company.  Listened to some music.  All was well until we got back into town.  Suddenly the Jeep is going wacko.  A message came on saying I had to put it in gear (it was in drive), it started shifting gears on it’s own, the battery light came on, and then it died at a stop sign.  I managed to get it started and we managed to get home.  We’re taking it to Bloomington today, if we can make it, to get it checked over, repaired, and serviced.  Saturday, after this occurred we rode the scooter over to the warehouse and picked up the van, so we have transport.  K will follow me in the van to Bloomington.  I hope we make it.  

You know how I said things keep happening… I wasn’t kidding or exaggerating.  K said to me this morning that it would be nice to have a day where nothing happened.  I agree.  Today we attempt to drive 50 miles to Bloomington in a Jeep that doesn’t want to work.  We’re hoping to make it, to not have to call AAA.  This is where I would put a fingers crossed emoji.

I have to check my lists today… see what’s to be done.  I just cleaned the bathrooms, changed the laundry over, and started the dishwasher.  K is working, in a meeting right now.  I can hear it.  Sort of.  She has the door closed.

It’s quiet in here right now.  No sound but the ceiling fan and the sump pump going off just now.  Quiet.  No one out, no one walking by, no one driving by.  Just me in this chair, Weston asleep against my leg, the hushed sounds of K’s work meeting. 

Time to get up, brush my teeth, and put on some clean clothes.  If we have to call AAA I don’t want to frighten them.  

What the hell?

Changes Afoot

Hello all…

I’m going to jump right in… I’ve been restless with the blog.  Not sure how I’ve felt about it for a while now.  Do I get rid of it?  Keep going?  Change platforms?  Change the look?  Change?  Stop?  Change?  It’s a sort of weird mantra.  This annoying question.

I created a page at three other sites hoping to freshen things up, to give it a new feel, a new look, but not lose the content.  I failed three times.  The sites didn’t work like I wanted, the content wouldn’t transfer easily, or would, but then didn’t work when I followed the procedure.  A bunch of glitches.  A bunch of minor frustration, because let’s face it blogging isn’t rocket science or something that will change the world in any way.

In the end, I did what I’ve done in the past.  I started playing around here at WordPress with themes and style.  I trimmed some stuff here and there around the blog.  Extraneous crap, to be honest.  I mean, is anyone really looking at that stuff anyway?  And even deeper, is anyone really even reading this blog?  I’ve been blogging for 15 years.  Yep, you heard that right, 15.  I started at LiveJournal, moved to Blogger, and then came over to WordPress where I’ve been for ages.

Anyway… I wax on.  I ended up, once again, staying here because the content is all here.  I didn’t want to lose any of it.  But, I pruned and simplified.

It’s not for anyone else anyway, it’s for me.  And I couldn’t get rid of it.  I couldn’t get rid of those long-ago essays about my grandma and life and other deaths in my life, I couldn’t get rid of all the photos and travel posts and reviews, couldn’t get rid of my journey when I was sick, or of the myriad of little posts of poetry and art and the other quirky and strange stuff that sometimes catches my attention.

I’ve been in a social media trimming phase over the last several months.  I got rid of a bunch of sites I never used but was a part of.  I’m down to the big ones – Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  I never tweet.  I will probably be getting rid of that as well.  Who knows.  It’s the same process we took with our finances at home – going over everything to see what works, what doesn’t and needs to go.  It’s a good process.  A spring cleaning of sorts.  It’s liberating.

So here I am.  Same old blog, same hosting site, but a new look, a new feel, a new “me”.  We’ll see how it goes.

 

 

 

It’s a New Dawn, It’s a New Day

I’m a huge fan of Nina Simone. My favorite song? Feelin’ Good. I like it in all its iterations I guess. Most people probably have forgotten all about Nina’s version and skipped right to Michael Buble. That’s OK. I don’t think she would mind. Nor would she care about the Muse version. I like that one a lot. Who sings it isn’t nearly as important to me as the lyrics.

I started really loving this song when I was 45. I liked it just fine before that, but when I was 45 I came down with a little bout of Leukemia. Music has always been huge in my life, songs associated with people, places, events.  Feelin’ Good got associated with my healing, my being alive.  It was a new dawn, a new day, and I was, after months of treatment, feelin’ good.

Photo by Tamra Parker

Here I am, years later, still in love with this song.  Still associating it with the thrill of being alive.  Because, well, I am still thrilled to be alive.

K and I were sitting here talking the other day about how weird it was that it was going to be 2019.  How it seemed impossible in some way, that it was nearly 2019.  I don’t know why it seemed like such a big deal because, after all, it’d been 2018 for nearly a year, but somehow it did.  Somehow time has taken a leap.  The idea that 2019 was nearly here, and I’m still here, and though I’m older than I used to be, I’m not as old as I’m going to get.  If you’d asked me in 1983 when I graduated from high school what I’d be doing in 2019 I wouldn’t have been able to even imagine it, being so far in the future and all.   And now here we are, so far in the future and all.  Weird.  Not bad.  Just weird.

Friends of ours recently asked us to attend a party.  They asked everyone who was invited to bring a bottle of booze, an appetizer, and quote or song or piece of writing to be read aloud and shared. I think it was meant as a sort of send off to the year passing and a greeting of hope and inspiration heading into the new year.  Cool idea.  Sadly, we couldn’t go, but I was thinking about what I would’ve shared if we had. 

There are a lot of quotes I could’ve shared.  I’m a quote person.  Just see the inspirations page of this blog for proof of that.  The fact that I get nervous and shy at times might spur the use of a quote.  I probably would share a quote like this…  “The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”  ~  W.B. Yeats 

I could’ve shared a poem.  I’m a lover of all things poetic and have been reading and writing poetry since I was a wee sprout, sometime near 1983 I’d say.  I was 17 then, and graduating from high school, so my poems were very broody.   I might’ve shared a poem at the party if I happened upon or could think of one I thought might be inspirational.  Maybe the E.E. Cummings “I thank you God” poem…

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

 
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and love and wings and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)


how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any-lifted from the no
of all nothing-human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

 
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
 

 e e cummings 

(in ‘complete poems 1904 – 1962’)

Or maybe something by Pablo Neruda, Charles Bukowski, or The Type, by Sarah Kay.

If I had my wits about me I might’ve thought of something profound or witty or inspirational to say all on my own.  Possible, if I’d had my wits about me.  Sometimes they are vacationing and leave me searching for the right words, the right feeling, the right way to say what I want to.  

Weston is currently crying over K’s shoulder as she eats her morning oatmeal.  It’s the first day of the new year.  He likes oatmeal.  Sometimes all that matters is the hope that you’ll get the last bits of oatmeal left in the bowl.  That someone will remember you like them, and that getting them will make your day.  That those bits are what will bring you joy right at this moment.  And maybe the story of Weston and the oatmeal bowl is the only profound thing worth sharing.   It’s the simple things in life that are worth everything.  Finding moments of joy.  Moments of happiness.  Moments of peace.  We don’t need a lot to make us happy and joyful.  Bits of oatmeal left in the bottom of the bowl will do.  So I’ll say this… go out there and find your bits, whatever they are for you.  See them for what they are, for what they mean to you.  Relish them.

K has finished eating and Weston is now licking the bowl.  His crying has stopped and he’s blissfully enjoying this tiny moment of joy.  I’d say, like Nina, he’s feelin’ good.  A pretty great way to start 2019.

Fathers

I originally posted this in 2013, but thought it could use a re-post.

Fathers

I started writing this on Father’s Day and was, as can happen, distracted by actual life events.  Visits from family and then traveling can do that.  I nearly forgot about this post until I noticed it idling there, the red “draft” sitting beside it in my post queue.  It was important to me to get this piece of writing out there, so here it is… late, but no less important to me.

Originally, like most people, I started out with a Dad.  One.  He was full of life, fun loving, sporty, loved his coffee, loved to laugh and laughed a lot, went gray early, had false teeth, played the pedal steel guitar better than I’ve heard anyone else play it, had a major sweet tooth, was legally blind, and smiled with his eyes… Warm and full of love.  My Dad was a dork, which I inherited.  Totally goofy with a dork’s sense of humor.  I’m honored to carry that on.  I’m also so happy to have his sense of joy.  It’s the best gift he passed on to me.  That and his sense of play… and awe.

When I was a tad older, and not much mind you, Mom married Bill and brought another dad into my life.  For 33 years he was the man of our house.  Bill had a sly sense of humor, often a mischievous twinkle in his eye, a love of science and the PBS shows Nova and In Search Of, could fix nearly anything, was the best BS’er I’ve ever seen, adored his tractor, loved a good pancake breakfast, and loved my Mom.  Bill taught me to love learning, whether he knew it or not.  He had a keen and curious mind.  Always reading National Geographic, Scientific American, and the like, he was interested in how things worked. And even though he wasn’t much of a traveler he wanted to know about the world.  He was a guy who didn’t have a large formal education, but he was a very educated and very intelligent man.  Bill, or Billbsy, as Kev and I called him when we were younger, was a guy of deep feelings and strong opinions.  I didn’t often agree with his politics, but that was OK too.  Bill had the ability to talk to anyone and did.  I was always amazed at how he just struck up a conversation with the people he was around, whoever they were.  He taught me to fly fish, to love small Mom and Pop motels and car trips, and passed on to me a great appreciation for the mysteries of the larger world.  I am oh so grateful for those gifts and for the gift of seeing my Mom love and be loved so well.

A few years after Bill passed Mom met and married Don.  I recently, after Don’s passing, wrote a blog post about him so I won’t go into all the things about Don that impressed and amazed me, but I will say that after just having attended his celebration of life I was so awed by the number of people he affected in such a positive way.  He was an amazing father and grandfather.  He lived an amazing life and I was so honored to have had him in mine for a time.

I gained yet another dad when I married Karen and met her dad, Don.  From the beginning, even though Karen’s parents tend toward the very conservative, they accepted me, and our relationship.  I knew I was in when Don, one day, put his arm around me, called me kid, gave me a little squeeze, and smiled at me.  That small gesture meant more to me than I can express.  He has been strong, and wise, and has shown me love from the start.  I  also, see an earlier blog, had the honor of being chosen by him as the forker during a new in our relationship Thanksgiving dinner.  I won’t explain here, but needless to say, I was thrilled to get the job.  Don is steadfast, opinionated, warm, curious, and can, even still, move fast when he’s headed somewhere with a purpose.  He has a fantastic laugh and does it with a great twinkle in his eye.  He gets joy from small things, which has been a great lesson for me because when it comes down to it it’s the small things that matter.  He’s quiet, reads voraciously, loves his family and extended family with a passion, and is a solid rock of support and strength.  I appreciate his presence in my life every day.  And like I told him this Father’s Day, privately with a little kiss on his cheek, he is the only dad I have left and I love him so.

Lastly, when talking about Dad’s, I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about my Grandpa, my Mom’s dad.  Grandpa, who I also wrote about in a couple of previous posts, was the epitome of a fantastic father and grandfather.  I learned so much from him… how to play cribbage and backgammon, how to tie my shoes, what a good person should be.  He had a love for life, an adoration of family, and a playfulness and sense of joy that was so strong it still flows through our family.  I was with some of the family this last weekend and I could see him in all of us.  Those were some amazing genes he passed on.  He is the father of my Mom and so through her, he also gave me so many gifts.  I was blessed to have him in my life for so long and am so lucky to be a part of him.

As I look back at this list of fathers, my list of dads, I am amazed at the quality of the men here.  They were nothing like each other, and yet the most important thing about them, their ability to love well, is shared by all of them.  Most people get one dad and I have been fortunate enough to have four.  They have been, and are all, each one, a blessing to me and my life.  Men, who might be reading this, and I know a few uncles, brothers, brothers in law, a son in law, friends, and cousins who might, you should know you are valued.  You, as fathers, are priceless.  You bring so much love, joy, strength, and happiness to the children in your life.  You might not know this, or be aware all the time, but you are so loved.  What you do, what you provide, is invaluable, and I, for one, am so thankful and grateful to you.  Watching you dads be dads is an amazing thing.  It’s a joyous thing.  So thank you fathers, mine and the dads I get to watch every day being fathers to their daughters and sons.  Thank you, and happy Father’s Day.

Eight Years

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Photo by TJ Parker

Eight years ago today a doctor walked into my hospital room and told me I had leukemia.

Since then I’ve periodically asked a question of myself.  Not, as you might expect, why me, or even just why.  There is no why.  It was random, not predictable, and as far as we know not preventable.  It just was.  So the question isn’t why, but who.  Who was I then, am I the same person now, what did I learn from the experience?

I’ve written here about my philosophy of life a bit… which is basically kindness is key, our love for the people we love and who love us is all that really matters, find joy in the every day, and don’t lose hope about the things that matter to you.  But as this day rolls around every year I find myself doing a bit of an assessment.

I believe in forgiveness, in kindness, joy, hope, and love.  But, I’m not always the best at those things.  And on this day I find myself trying to remind myself who I am.  I find myself trying to forgive myself for the ways I know I’ve hurt people, which doesn’t let me off the hook for those slights, but it does let me employ one of my strongly held beliefs which is that each of us is doing the best we know how at the moment.  Sometimes our efforts aren’t that great, and we don’t handle things well, but at the moment we are only doing what we can with what we have.   It still means we have to try and do better, be better.  We owe our people that.  But, we also can’t continually beat ourselves up for the things we’ve done.  This is where apologizing comes in.  Sincere apology.  We admit what we’ve done, we feel it in our bones, the ways we’ve hurt someone, and then we say we’re sorry for it.  The apology is freeing for both people.  So I ask, have I apologized enough and meant it.  Have I forgiven others, have I forgiven myself?

Kindness.  Have I been kind?  To my people, to strangers, to myself.  Am I moving through the world as a kind person?  Do I say thank you, look people in the eyes, empathize, treat people with respect, watch out for their feelings, simply honor people as the beautiful human beings they are?  Am I kind to myself?  I hope so, I hope I do all of these things, but I know the answer is, I don’t always.  So I need to be more kind.  We can always be kinder.  I think there’s always another level of kindness to strive for.  I think the key for me is to be aware, to be present with people.  If I am, I’m kinder.

Joy.  It’s easy to get discouraged in life.  About our place in it, circumstances we find ourselves in, the state of the world.  The enemy of joy is fear.  So the key is to not be fearful.  But, that’s a tough one.  Having gone through this whole life-threatening experience I find myself afraid of the random and unknown.  Afraid of what could happen, suddenly, without warning.  This fear has no face or name or even bearing on what’s actually happening in my life at the time.  It just comes with large amounts of anxiety.  And when it comes it eats my joy whole.  Like a kipper snack.  So I find myself searching for ways to lessen the fear and find the joy.  I’m innately a silly, joyful person.  I’m a dork.  I can find joy in the smallest things when I’m not afraid.   So I’ve spent some time working on and continue to work on trying to be present in the small moments of life, which I feel is where joy lives.  In smiles and sunsets and dogs and wind in the trees and whispered secrets from grandchildren and laughs over nothing at all.  I try to remind myself to be present.  Nothing is promised to us, which certainly includes time, so we have to live now.  Be alive now.  Be joyous now.  This is a tough one, but I’m trying.  The wind chimes are going strong right now on the front porch, and the sound is magical, and there is joy in that.

Hope. It’s tough to be hopeful when all you see is the stuff that’s not working out.  But as I’m taking a look this year I find myself reminding myself that life is perception.  We see what we want.  Which brings me to one of my favorite quotes of all time.  It comes from the movie, The Abyss, “We all see what we want to see. Coffey looks and he sees Russians. He sees hate and fear. You have to look with better eyes than that.”  At the time the film was made the cold war was still in full swing, so the Russians were the bad guys.  But the point isn’t that part of the quote.  The point is the essence of it which to me means we see what we want to see, which is frequently driven by our personal fears, and we have to look with better eyes.  So, I can either see the world from a place of love and forgiveness and hope, or I can see fear, I can see enemies.  I try to come from a place of seeing people as friendly, as human, as trying.  Again, I don’t always succeed in this, but when I do, hope springs and the world looks different somehow.  Brighter, fuller, rich in color and possibility.  It is hopeful.

Love.  I believe in connection and responsibility to and for that connection.  Life is about love.  Who we love, who loves us.  It’s about how we love.  Do we say it?  Do we show it?  Do we let the people we love feel the love we have for them?  For me, this brings gratitude into my life and makes me want to share that gratitude.  To say how grateful I feel for the people and love in my life doesn’t even cover it.  I am sometimes overwhelmed by the waves of it.  Struck profoundly silent by the weight of all the love I know I have in my life.  But, it’s sometimes too easy to see what we don’t have in life, what we think we’re missing.  And in the muck of that, we sometimes forget to take stock of what we have, or even to recognize that it’s there.  Who we have and what that means to us.  Love is all around us.  It’s all around me.  So, as I go through this day I let that wave of gratitude for enormous and profound love wash over me.  Hold me up.  It did when I was sick.  It’s what got me through.  Even though I was semi-isolated when I was sick, I felt the love pouring into me.  Lifting me up.  Holding me.  I felt it.  And luckily, I feel it still.  If I sit with it for a few moments I cry.  Out of a gratitude so overwhelming it crushes me in all the right ways.  That’s where I want to live, where I try to live.  Even when things are tough, the love is there.  I have it, and I try to give it back.  We’re responsible for giving it back.  For loving, and loving well.

Eight years.  If I think of all the beautiful and strange and magical and messy things that have happened in my life in the last eight years I’m amazed and so moved by it all.  It has definitely not all been easy, and there have definitely been sad and heart-breaking times, but there have also been so many moments of joy and laughter and love.  And I guess maybe that’s the point of taking stock.  Which is to say, it’s a messy thing, life.  But it’s in the middle of all that mess we find love and hope, kindness, and joy.  And I remind myself, isn’t that an amazing and beautiful thing?

Eight years.  Eight years on top of the nearly 45 years before those.

Wow.  What a ride it’s been so far.

 

 

 

 

Gratitude and Grace

 

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Photo by TJ Parker

I had a great conversation the other night about gratitude and grace and the things that are important in life.  It was lovely, and a good reminder.

 

It’s very tough to not be overwhelmed by the things in life that don’t go as planned, the things in the world that are heartbreaking.  It’s easy to forget ourselves, forget the good and the light and the hope.  But this time of year, it’s all about those things.

There’s meaning in the little things, it’s really where the good stuff lives.  A smile, a sunset, a snuggle from one of the dogs, the laughter of a grandchild, light through the trees, a good meal, warm socks, a good hug, small kindnesses, small generosities, the bluest blue in the sky, music playing, walks in the crisp air, a good meal with friends, love, love in any form it comes to you.

I have no big message of thanks, this year, but will offer this.  It isn’t about the big things, the mighty changes, and large leaps.  Those things are rare.  What it’s about, and should be, are the small things.  Those little moments of grace and gratitude.  They are the meat of life, the soul of it.

And in that vein, we’re going to take the dogs out for a walk on this crisp Illinois fall day.  The sky is the most lovely blue.

We Need to Remember

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Photo by TJ Parker

“If we are to survive the most divisive presidency in generations, it’s up to us to climb down our family trees and better understand how we got here. It’s up to us to ask fellow countrymen “where are you from?” with a lot less fear and a lot more wonder.” – Bill Weir, States of Change

 

We need to understand what drives us, our opinions, our ways of being and thinking in the world.  Why do we denigrate people with views different from our own?  Where is the wonder? Where is the respect?  Where is the humanity?

I was reading the transcript from CNN’s Bill Weir’s program called, States of Change, Homecoming.  His show, one I haven’t watched all the way through to fully disclose, is an exploration of his roots.  They are interesting to be sure, but that’s not what grabbed me. What grabbed me was the thought that we have opinions, some virulent, strong, unchanged despite our best efforts to be open.  Why is that?  Where do they come from?  Shouldn’t we be interested in that?

It’s easy to pronounce our opinions, to put down other opinions, to think we know best and act as if we do by spouting and re-posting article after article or meme after meme putting other’s opinions, lives, views, down.  Way down. That’s low if you think about it. Our opinions are made.  Made from our experiences and our feelings about those experiences.  We forget this.  We forget to put that big old magnifying glass we so easily point at others back at ourselves.  We are, none of us, without flaws.  Our views, even though we might passionately hold them, are not rule of law, are not even always a greater truth.  They are just our truth, our views.  We forget that.

What I’m saying is, we should be looking at our own views, at ourselves, to really examine why we feel as we do, and then, shockingly, be open to others who might feel differently.  They’ve had different experiences, different influences, leading to different views.  It doesn’t make them, or ourselves, idiots. Just makes us humans with different opinions.  I can believe something to be true that you do not believe it true, and vice versa, you can believe something I don’t believe, that’s OK.  Different opinions lead to varying solutions.  Varying solutions solve our problems.

I was also watching coverage of the Harvey rescue efforts.  Two rescued sisters were interviewed.  During that interview, they said they thought it was beautiful that in these divisive times, when people are standing firmly on either side of an invisible line, both racially and politically, that all is forgotten and the community comes together, no color lines, no political lines, to help.  It is beautiful.  What’s sad is that we need some disaster to remind us that we’re all human, that we should and do love each other.  No qualifiers.

I don’t know what all this means.  I feel I need to shout out into the void occasionally to say, remember… remember to love.  Remember to be kind.  Remember we’re, most of us, just doing the best we can to live our lives.  Remember we’re different, we’ve had different experiences.  Remember that’s OK.  Forget fear.  Remember to have wonder. Remember to be fair.  Remember to be gracious.  Remember to be gentle with the feelings of others.  Remember.  If we can, if we do, everything changes.  Love prevails, even in small moments, or big ones, like what’s happening in Houston.

We need to remember.

Time to Look in the Mirror

 

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Photo by TJ Parker

We see what we want to see.  That’s part of the problem.

I was perusing Facebook, which I must say prompts many posts on this blog, and I saw a theme.  Negativity.  Plain and simple.

There were posts about “those” people.  Of one sort of another.  You know them, the idiots, the ridiculous, the terrible, the stupid, the crazy, the deluded, the poor things… them.   They seem to be everywhere, “these” people.  They must be.  Everyone is talking about them.

Then it hit me.

We are a beautiful lot, humanity.  A tapestry like no other.  Preferences, likes and dislikes, and ways of being in the world that differ from each other.  We are sad or happy, diet coke or Pepsi, Chevy or Ford, Republican or Democrat,  dressing on the side or on the salad, rural or city,  cream or taking it black, gay or straight, married or single, serious or silly, tomAto or tomato, and on and on and on.  We love our families the best way we know how, we want the best for our kids or grandkids, we want to earn a decent living, take vacations, laugh a lot, and we want the right to live peacefully, with joy.  Each and every one of us.

But it’s not that simple.  Because what I noticed today, as I was perusing, was that people see what they want to see.  They notice what they want to notice.  I bet they don’t even know they’re doing it.  We seize on information, posts, articles, videos, that speak to us.  Things that in some way support our world view.  There’s probably a theme to how we post, what we post, etc., only we don’t even know it.

We need to pay attention.  To ourselves.  Instead of looking out at what that idiot said or didn’t say, which by the way, in and of itself, that language on its own, is wrong.  I would hope no one would put me in a class of “those idiots”, just because I happen to align myself with a certain ideology.  But they do.  Friends have posted many things about liberals being idiots or crazy or wrong or disturbed or… it goes on.  I’m shocked by it, every time.  Just as I’m sure some of my more conservative friends feel shocked or hurt when a liberal friend of theirs posts something about those idiotic conservatives.  Let’s be honest… none of us are idiotic.  We just don’t agree with each other.  That doesn’t make me an idiot, it just makes a person with a different opinion.

But I digress.   This doesn’t just apply to politics.  I noticed it applies to many things… the videos people choose to post, the things they choose to put out into the world under their own names…. it’s interesting.  Are you a person who posts things that are generally positive, generally informative, upbeat, things that speak to beauty and light and love.  I’ve seen those people, and honestly, I hope I’m one of them.  Or are you someone who sees the dark and the crazy and the wrong in everything and then feels the need to put it out there?  And if so, why? So others like you can agree how bad everything is, or so that you can enlighten those of us who may be Pollyannas who try to look for the good?  I’m not being rhetorical.  I really want to know.

There are people who feel the need to fight everything, against life and what they see as wrongdoing.  I get trying to fight for what you think is right.  I get speaking your mind and your truth.  What I don’t get is a person coming across some debasing or derogatory or hurtful thing and re-posting it.  What’s the purpose of spreading that kind of negativity?  If you have strong opinions, if you feel things are wrong in the world and need fixing, find what you think are some solutions, speak to issues from the place of problem-solving, not finger-pointing.  Re-posting terrible things, some not even based on truth, just for the sake of talking bad about someone or something, is wrong.  You aren’t shining a light on them, you’re shining a terrible light on yourself.

We need to look at ourselves.  Decide if we want to be people who create solutions, who seek a more beautiful world for all of us, or are we people who debase, make fun of, and act from fear.  Who do we want to be?  How do we want to live?  What do we want to be putting out there into the world?  What do we want to be teaching our kids about how to be in the world?  Hurtful to others, or uplifting to others.  It’s up to us.

Look in a mirror.  Look at your personal news feeds.  Look at everything you’ve posted in the last year and judge for yourself.  What kind of person are you?  Are you happy with that?  If not.  Change.  Let’s lift people up.  Let’s inspire with kindness and goodness and love. Let’s try to speak from joy.  From positivity.  From a place of understanding, humility, and love.

I know there are things wrong in the world.  I know there are things that need to be changed.  One of those things is people calling other people idiots or other derogatory names.  One of those things is people being hurtful just, it seems, to be hurtful.  Let’s start being, and communicating, like intelligent humans.  After all, we are.  Sometimes I think we just forget ourselves.  Get swept up.  Let’s be better.  Let’s look with better eyes and hearts at a world that is a beautiful, wondrous place.  Let’s talk about that.

52 Thoughts: Fifth Thought

 

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Photo by TJ Parker

I’ve been thinking.

Today the sky is blue.  It’s cold, but beautiful.  The birds are at the feeders.  The squirrels are trying to get to the feeders.  The dogs are chasing the squirrels.  They picked up our garbage and recycling today as per usual.  I’m listening to music.  We’re about to head to the gym to do some circuit training, then we’ll go grocery shopping.  Tonight we’ll make dinner.  At some point this afternoon we’ll try to take the dogs for a walk after we put the girlie’s sweater on, she gets cold.  We’ll eat dinner and watch some TV or a movie, maybe one we will be picking up at the library as we do our errands today.  My honey will work.  I’ll do laundry, empty the dishwasher, clean up the media room.  We will pet the dogs and cuddle them.  We will talk and laugh and smile at each other.

I’ve been thinking.

It’s a great life.  We have a great life.  It’s nice to remember that.

52 Thoughts: Fourth Thought

 

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Photo by TJ Parker

We have to hold onto each other.

It’s simple.  We need each other.  We always have.  No one person operates in a vacuum. We should be concerned for our fellow man.  We should find reasons to love, instead of reasons to push people away from us.

We get nowhere in life by isolating ourselves.  By only listening to ourselves and those who agree with us.  By thinking we have all the answers, that we know everything.

Certainty is good, but it should always be tempered by an open mind.  We should always be open to other ideas, to new ways of thinking, and to the fact that others might not agree with us.  Certainty doesn’t make what we think better than what those who disagree think.  That’s a common error.  Just because we believe something to be true, it doesn’t make our ideas better than the ideas of someone who doesn’t believe the same thing. Arrogance is never attractive and is often destructive to relationships and to the world.  We have to learn to accept that our way is our way, it works for us, but it might not for someone else, and that’s OK.  It doesn’t make them less than.

We need to hold onto each other.  To take care of each other.   We just do.

52 Thoughts: Third Thought

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Photo by TJ Parker

Lately I’ve been struck by how much our culture has sadly moved to a do as I say not as I do philosophy.  If you want to relate it to politics, it’s both sides saying about the other that this or that has been said and it’s terrible, unconscionable, awful, then they turn around and say something equally as terrible, unconscionable, and awful and somehow that’s OK.  It’s as if people think they can say, post, write, whatever they want about a person or a thing, but others who might have an opposing opinion have no right or are somehow unamerican if they believe differently, talk about things differently.

One of the things I love about this country is the tapestry.  We are different.  We think differently about things, our lives, our problems, the solutions to our problems.  And just because I may disagree with you, or you with me, doesn’t make either one of us wrong. We just see things differently based on our personal experience.  This is where empathy comes in.  Or at least it should.

We get so caught up in our own stuff.  Our problems, our routines, the daily minutia of our lives.  Of course we do.  What’s happening for us on a daily basis can be all consuming if we are experiencing something tough in the moment.  It can be all consuming just going through a regular day.  Laundry and bills and work and dishes and cleaning the house and taking care of the kids and the kid’s schedules and our schedules and health issues and taking care of our pets and on and on.  It’s easy to be buried under it.  We have blinders on and get caught up in it all so that when we are speaking about something, looking at something and rendering an opinion about it, we tend to do it from our perspective alone. We forget that everyone else is going through the same thing, getting through it in their own way.  That’s millions of people and millions of perspectives.  Each based on their own philosophy earned from living their life.

So, what does all this rambling mean?  What am I trying to get at here?

We need to somehow remember that our opinions aren’t the only opinions.  That the views of other people mean something.  If nothing else they mean something to them. Honest criticism is good.  Honest criticism is necessary.  No one individual opinion matters more than another.  If you don’t like how I’m doing something, especially if it relates to you, or someone you care about, or a subject that matters to you, you have a right to speak your opinion about it.  I would hope you do it respectfully.  I would hope you would be genuine and sincere.  But I would hope you would say something.

Disagreement is good.  Calling someone out for doing something hurtful to others is good. Having a difference of opinion about how to run the government or raise your children or enhance education or clean up the environment is good.  It sparks conversation.  During conversation ideas are exchanged.  When we exchange ideas we come up with more creative solutions, we go at problems from more than one direction.  Things actually get done.

First though, we have to get over this silly notion of doing as I say not as I do.  Let’s instead do what we say.  Let’s expect that if we are critical, others might be critical of us in return. This does not make us unamerican.  On the contrary, it’s what makes us an American.

52 Thoughts: Second Thought

 

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Photo by TJ Parker

People are good.  Inherently good.  For the most part.

I believe this.  I always have.

We just got done watching the Star Wars films, by the numbers, not in the order in which they were made.  Why do I bring this up?  Because the whole Darth Vader story is that anyone, if they give in to anger, fear, and hatred, can become dark, can become a force for evil, for negative energy.  Conversely, it also teaches us that there is hope, even for people who may be angry and fearful and full of hate.  There is good in us all.  Some of us may have forgotten it or refused to see it, but there is good.

OK, yes, this is corny.  But, it’s true.  Maybe not for the Emporer in Star Wars, who was so evil he could not be moved toward good, but even for Darth, there was hope.  There was a part of him that was good.  I know this is a weird time to bring up a character in a science fiction film, but I believe science fiction is often a good predictor of, and reflection of, where we are going and who we are, or could be.  It’s why I love it.

Many people I know want to look on these as dark times.  I guess, from a certain perspective, they are.   I myself fight against that feeling some days.  Yes, they may be challenging.   Yes, there may be things happening in the world that don’t jive with a personal point of view, and that’s hard.  It may seem dark.  It may even seem like there are evil people out there trying to do evil things.  Some of that is true.  Some of them are indeed the Emporer.  But, I truly believe mostly they are just people who don’t do things the way I or possibly you think they should.  Does this make them evil?  Inherently evil? No.  It can make them scary, for sure.  It can make them seem dark, absolutely, but they aren’t evil.  Most of them anyway.

We need to be open.  To remember to act with empathy. To try and see people for who they are, totally, realizing they’ve come from a place of having their own life experiences, instead of as just for what they’ve said or what they believe about a certain thing.  We need to ask questions, to listen to the answers to those questions even if they differ from what our answers might be.

People are inherently good.  If we start from that place, thinking that way, imagine what we could accomplish.  Imagine a world where people gave each other the benefit of the doubt, instead of just doubting.  If people acted from a place of understanding instead of fear.  From love instead of hate.  Darth might become Anakin all over again.  What a happy twist to the story that could be.

 

52 Thoughts: First Thought

 

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Photo by TJ Parker

It’s 2017.  I’m happy about it.  I kept waiting for it, ready to start anew.  Ready for a reboot.

Last year was stressful.  Surprising and tense and divisive and nasty.  Many good things happened in my life, but I was greatly affected by everything happening in the world, and that stuff, the stuff splashed all over mainstream media, was frequently disheartening and disappointing.

K and I spent the last weeks of 2016 doing daily random acts of kindness.  It helped both of us to be more positive.  To look at things from a different, and more uplifting, perspective.  We vowed, going forward into 2017, we would continue trying to look at the world from the place of kindness.  Continue to do random acts as they presented themselves.  I think we will.  We both believe kindness is key, a necessity.

I was thinking last night about the news, being affected by it, getting upset, etc.  After all, it’s still there.  Just because we’re in a new year doesn’t mean it all miraculously goes away.  I have friends who are so passionate about the state of things they are still posting political stuff on Facebook and Twitter.  I get incensed about certain events, just as they do, but I don’t post them.  It’s not my way.   My way is to post things I believe to be positive, uplifting, and kind.  It’s a different way of going at things, which is OK.  Mine helps me, theirs helps them I’m sure.

In that vein I started thinking about the effect all of this information has on me. Bombarded with news reports and posts about news reports and political events and health crises and how this thing or that thing is bad for you.  It’s easy to get sucked in, to focus on it all, to think that those things have significant value in my life.  But honestly, they don’t.  Yes, I do care about the world, I am concerned about a lot of it.  I am.  And K and I will be volunteering for a couple of organizations this year in order to try and step up and do something productive and positive.  But if I spend too much time thinking every day about all of it I’m not living right where I am.  I forget to look at what’s good in my life, there is a whole lot that’s good.  I miss appreciating great sunsets and how beautiful the light is shining through the trees.  I am not present.

It’s so easy to be distracted, to look outside my life and focus on what’s wrong with everything.  But that would be a disservice to my life, and I definitely wouldn’t be honoring all the magic that exists in my every day.  The way to honor my life, to live it fully, to be present in it, is to notice the magic.  To soak up the moments.  To put my focus on the people and the sunsets and the smiles.  To pay attention when I’m having a great conversation, or when one of my grandkids laughs, or when my honey smiles at me a certain way.  To honor this beautiful life I have to be responsible for feeling it, being IN it.

So to hell with bad news, crazy politics, and all the negative crap.  I can’t change the whole world, I can only do my small part.   I will act with grace, or at least try to.  I will be present and faithful to this beautiful, amazing, glorious life I’m lucky to be living.  That’s where my energy needs to be spent.  On walks and dog loves and kisses and hugs and music and beautiful words and great meals with family and laughter with friends and taking photographs and writing and silly and kindness and joy and love.

This is what I will do. That is all.

 

 

Time to Get Out and Rake

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Photo by TJ Parker

I was sitting here at my dining room table yesterday looking out the sliding glass doors to my backyard like I’ve done countless times over the last five years.  It was a beautiful fall day in Illinois.  The sun shining, the air crisp, the leaves falling in cascades and covering the yard. I realized we’d have to rake again soon.

We took our dogs to the vet for their yearly check up, some shots, a blood test.  They are good.  They did well during the vet visit.  They got some treats from the girl at the Espresso Royale drive-thru afterward as we got our large breves with an extra shot.

After the drive-thru we came home and had a visit with our daughter and grand daughter.  Our grand daughter is not much over one and half, her second birthday is coming up in February.  She is busy and curious and is speaking sentences, which is a little freaky, but oh so cool, coming from such a young one.  Our grandsons didn’t talk this well this early, so it’s a bit of an anomaly for us, but really awesome.  She played with shells and rubber duckies and blocks and a wooden bus we have that has doors that open and wooden people inside.  She watched videos of dogs and her Mama dancing and some muppets.  She laughed.

We took a run to our local Menards to get some door tab insulation.  I actually have no idea what they’re called, but they do really help to keep that cold Midwest air out of the house.  We also stopped in to get toilet paper and a 16 count box of fruit cups in real juice with cherries in them.  We call them cherries and all of the grandkids love them.  We like to have some on hand when they come to visit.

We made a great dinner last night of our version of chicken parmesan with broccoli.  It was awesome.  We watched a movie, held hands, pet the pups, and decided to go to bed early to continue watching Good Girls Revolt on Amazon.  If you haven’t watched it, do, it’s pretty damn good.

I was incredibly sad all day, we hugged each other a lot, and in fact at one point I had a good cry, but…

Life, mine, ours, is beautiful.  It goes on.  It continues to move forward.  One beautiful moment and day after another.

And, as my honey says, no vote can take that away from us.  We have each other, our love, our life together, no matter what.   She is amazing.  My rock, my center.  I love her so much.

Today I got up, turned on the High Hopes playlist I started making, poured a cup of coffee, sat down, we talked again as we’d done yesterday about places we might start volunteering, and I looked out to the backyard where we are having another beautiful fall day.  There are tons of birds at our feeders and the wind is hitting the trees and creating a rainstorm of leaves out there.

We are really going to have to get out there and rake.

 

Shouting Out to the Void

970226_1264549013559639_2015577727281643272_nWe let ourselves forget we are all one people. People trying to be happy, to provide for our kids, to go on vacation, to pay our bills. We hug our children and grandchildren, laugh at silly jokes, watch movies, eat popcorn, tie our shoes. We want something better for our kids than we had, we want our grandchildren or future grandchildren to be happy, fulfilled, to find whatever success they might be striving for. We love our dogs and cats, fold our laundry, sleep, hug, cry, work in gardens, clean our houses, wash our dishes.

I don’t know when we forgot. I don’t know when that happened. Fellow man. Something you don’t hear much anymore. Do unto others. We might hear that some, but it doesn’t seem like people abide by it, or they do, but only sometimes.

Kindness, love, togetherness, a willingness to help each other. Without judgement or condemnation or a sense of being somehow better than someone else. I can tell you, you are not, I am not, better than anyone else.

I shout these things out into the world occasionally. Like now. I wonder if anyone is listening. If there’s anyone out there who feels the same. I’m filled with hope and sadness all at the same time. That’s life. Beautiful and ugly, soul killing and uplifting, all things at once.

Shouting to the void helps a little. At least, I say to myself, I’m putting out a positive message. I’m saying, out loud and in print, be kind to one another. Be gentle with the feelings of your fellows. Be empathetic. Be helpful instead of hurtful. Be understanding.

After 10 Minutes on Facebook

I just spent 10 minutes on Facebook and now I have to write a blog post.

Oi!  I can’t take it.  Politics, division, divisiveness, people being crappy, showing their dark sides, thinking it’s funny.  It’s not.

I don’t care who you support.  I have my opinion, know what I’m going to do come November.  I expect you do too.  Why must we, over and over, post things on Facebook that are cruel character assassinations of candidates.  I mean on both sides.  I just saw it from both sides.

If you post, post something that includes facts, reflects your educated opinion, or supports your position in a classy way.  What’s with all the personal attacks?  Where did common decency go?  When did it become OK to publicly deride someone?  Sure, public figures sort of open themselves up for criticism.  So, criticize them intelligently.  I’m so sick of the memes showing one candidate or another with some intended to be cutesy, but isn’t, superimposed quote or other additions.  My God people.

We are better than this.  Our culture, with social media, has sunk so low that people think this crap is funny, when in fact it’s bullying behavior.  What are we teaching our kids?  That it’s OK, if you don’t like someone, to post something terrible about them, disparaging about them, out there for the world to see?  That it’s OK to make fun of other people?  That just because you don’t like someone you can publicly humiliate them?  Because every time something like all the ridiculousness I just saw is posted, that’s what you’re saying to your kids.  That it’s OK to bully, to deride, to act like a total ass, to treat others with disrespect.  And then, later, when your kid posts something about someone because they don’t like them, what are you going to say?  No no, you shouldn’t do that.  I guess that’s just a case of do as I say, not as I do.  We need to teach respect, kindness, love.  We need to be teaching you can disagree in civil way.  You can not like someone, but you don’t have to make fun of them, and in fact you shouldn’t.

If the goal is to get people to change their minds politically, you’ve missed the mark.  What you’ve accomplished is showing you can be mean, you can be nasty, you’ve shown your lesser self.  I don’t want to see that side of you.

Again, you don’t like someone, fine.  You don’t like them.  Feel the need to plaster your feelings all over Facebook… fine.  I’d rather see what you’re up to today, get a little photo of your shoe or your workspace or your beautiful smile, but if you must post something, if you just have to dip your toe in the cesspool, then be smart, be kind, be classy about it.  Simply post a status message saying… I support this person, and this is why.  Or, I don’t support this person, and this is why.  Re-post an article you think makes a good point.  Keep the slander, the meanness, the jerkdom out of it.  Would you?  Could you?  Will you?  Won’t you?

Crap, I’m slipping into Dr. Seuss… that’s how serious this has gotten.

I guess it’s just so tough to go on social media and see posts from people you love that turn your stomach.  That make them seem different than the people you thought they were.

Elevate.  Rise above.  Be the people I think you are.  Please.  I can’t take it.  I just spent 10 minutes on Facebook and I had to write this post.

Maybe There’s Hope For Us After All

IMG_5153I believe we all basically want the same things, even if we don’t agree about how we might get them.  Trying to understand each other, giving each other simple respect as human beings, goes a long way.  We all have different experiences which inform how we’ve decided to live our lives.  There are many ways to happiness.  My way works for me, yours works for you, we can agree to disagree.  And if we can, if we can stop trying to tell each other what to do, how to live, if we can be forgiving and generous of spirit, we can be sympathetic, we can hope.

I’m not a religious person.  Spiritual, yes, religious no.  But even so, through my life I’ve been fascinated with organized religion.  I’ve taken classes, studied, and I’ve been exposed to religions of differing kinds through my family and friends.  I have seen people, in regards to their religion, be their best selves, and I’ve seen them be their not so best selves.

I never understood, growing up, why my Grandma on my father’s side played favorites with her children and her grandchildren.  Her choices seemed arbitrary, nonsensical.  There seemed to be no precipitating event or behavior that caused those choices.  I was, without a doubt, a favorite.  My brother was not.  When I was small I didn’t know this, or realize it, but then I grew.  I became aware of the behaviors of adults, of the kids around me.  I started to notice how my grandmother treated my brother.  It wasn’t good.  I was all cakes and smiles and praise and good cheer, he was insulted and degraded and made fun of.  When I noticed this, I started not wanting to go to grandma’s house anymore.  I loved my brother and I knew, innately, that my grandma’s behavior was cruel and mean and not at all acceptable.  I couldn’t get past how she could be so nice to me, buying me gifts, playing games, be so loving, and then be so awful to him.  He’d done nothing wrong, yet she acted as if his mere existence repulsed her.

My grandma was also very religious.  Religious as in talking in tongues, holy rollers, and tent revivals.  This never bothered me in and of itself, though it did scare me a lot when I went to church with her and the preacher was screaming and people were falling down in the aisles.  When I visited she would sometimes tell me stories from the bible, always choosing Revelations and emphasizing how if people weren’t good they would be branded and burn.  Scary stuff for a 7-year-old, but none of that really ever deterred me from seeing her, not even when she took me to a tent revival and had me saved by another screaming man.  I started not wanting to go see her on church days, but really I still loved seeing her.  Until, that is, I realized how she treated my brother.  Once that realization hit I instantly felt an incongruity.  I wasn’t more than 9 or 10, but I remember thinking how she was a person who espoused religious beliefs of love and faith and hope, but acted against them.  She was a hypocrite.  What I felt about religion told me it should be about love and understanding and compassion, not cruelty and judgement and disdain.

The other side of my family, my mom’s, wasn’t religious at all.  I found out later my mom’s mom had grown up in a religious household, but events happened that caused her to turn away from organized religion.  I think they all went to church as a family, for a time, but eventually that faded out for most of them.  When we visited my Mom’s parents religion was never discussed.  Instead we were taught to play chess and backgammon.  The arts were encouraged, books were encouraged, music was all around.  So was laughter and love and a very tight sense of family.

I grew up in a home with an atheist (my step-dad) and an agnostic (my mom).  We didn’t talk about religion much in our house, except when my step-dad mocked it, or my mom would explain that she thought, fundamentally, the tenants of organized religions were mostly good (do unto others, kindness, hope, love, compassion) but that organized religion, in the hands of some, seemed to be used to control, conquer, and judge people.  My mom, who treats people the best of anyone I’ve ever met, with respect and compassion and kindness, was and continues to be a great  role model for me about how to be a wonderful human.

Fast forward several years in my life.  I’d taken many courses on religion, read many religious books (large sections of the Bible, the Tao, Buddhist teachings, tenets of Hinduism, parts of the Koran, etc., etc.) and had formed what is the basis of my own spiritual thought.  No one religion encompasses what I think and feel, but they all actually have things in common, and have in their own way contributed to my philosophy.

I’ve had great experiences with people who are religious as well.  Being gay, this is a tough thing as many religious people condemn me for being who I am.  But, I have some wonderful people in my life, who are very religious, and have shown me, over and over, what love, truth, kindness, and understanding are.  Which is why I want to talk about my friend, Pat.  I met him a long time ago, 17 years or so.  We worked together, were office partners, and ended up loving each other like brother and sister.  He is a super religious guy.  Very much a man of his beliefs, very solid, very sure.  I respect him immensely for that.  As you can tell, I’m not a Christian person, and I’m gay, so our deep and abiding friendship was somewhat of a surprise to both of us.  And yet, it continues.  I have deep love for him, and I know he shares the same feelings for me.  He has been, at times, a youth pastor, a regular guest preacher, and very involved with whatever church he has belonged to over the years since I’ve known him.  He’s moved a bit so has had to change churches more than once, always finding a church home and always getting very involved with it when he does.  I also respect him for that.  He’s a man of faith, and his faith is strong.

Pat and I once had a very long very heartfelt conversation about my being gay, what he thought of it, and what he thinks the bible thinks of it as well.  At the time we had this conversation, which was several years ago now, he was not pro gay marriage.  He is a religious guy and he felt (and probably still feels) that a traditional marriage ceremony is inherently a religious ceremony.  I, who am now legally married to my partner of over 13 years, obviously disagrees with him on this point, but that’s OK, he doesn’t argue it with me.  We agree to disagree, which is OK too.  What he said to me that day, about my being gay, was beautiful.  He said that nowhere in his bible (and he knows it exceptionally well) does he interpret that people should be judged by anyone but God.  He said God teaches judge not lest ye be judged.  Judging, in and of itself, is a sin as great as any other.  He said it wasn’t his place to judge me.  He said it’s his place to love me, be kind to me, be accepting, and let God do what he will.  He believes that man is not God, and therefore shouldn’t think that he/she has the right to act as if they are acting for God.  I love Pat.  His beliefs are strong, and they don’t allow him to condemn me.  He would never do that.  He has often said he wants to bring me to his church and talk to the congregation about love, about our relationship, about how two very different people can form beautiful bonds with each other and how that’s what it should be all about.

This country, that I happen to love, was formed largely by people fleeing religious persecution.  People who weren’t able to worship and believe as they wished without consequence from their government, fled to a place where they could worship and believe as they wished.  We’ve somehow forgotten that.  If a person is not a Christian, in my experience, many Christians now seem to believe they have the right to tell that non-christian person they are somehow less than, and that they should, in essence, be cast out.  When did it become OK to judge?  When did it become OK to feel that because you believe a certain way you have the right to tell everyone else how to believe, how to be, what to do?  When did it become OK, with total arrogance, to feel that condemnation was a right anyone could have.  I don’t tell anyone what they should believe.  My feeling is that what works for you, as a person, as far as your belief system goes, is yours.  Your relationship with God, however you see him/her, is your business, your right.  I will not interfere with that, and I expect not to be interfered with.

I also expect that your religious beliefs, whatever they are, stay out of my government.  There was a reason for separation of church and state.  It was meant to protect us from any one group, who might gain power, from asserting its beliefs and wishes on to the rest of us, who could be in danger of experiencing consequences for not going along.

I know a lot of Christians now believe they are being persecuted.  I don’t see that, but I’m not them.  For all I know, it could be happening.  But here’s the thing, persecution because of religion has been going on for centuries. Since the beginning of religion.  Perpetuated both by and against people of varying religious beliefs.  I don’t think any one group, whoever you are, has the right to tell another group what to believe, how to live based on those beliefs.  Nobody should be discriminated against because of their beliefs, whatever they are.  If you have a set of rules, morals, tenants you live by based on your religion, more power to you.  I have mine, and they are no less real or valuable than yours.  As long as your beliefs aren’t hurting anyone, believe what you will.  We fear what we don’t understand.  When we fear we sometimes strike out.  When we fear we don’t always act as our better selves.  When we fear we create division and anger and hopelessness.  All things contrary to what I believe is the most important part of any religion and/or belief system… love.

I know there’s no answer, and I know some people will disagree with me, may even become incensed or angered by something I’ve said here.  And I guess that’s OK.  You are entitled to your opinion, to your feelings.  As I am.  But if you do get angry, remember this… I’m not angry with you.  I just want us to talk to each other.  To realize we are all just trying to get through it the best we can, with the most dignity, compassion, and love in our lives as possible.  I think, ultimately, most of us want the same things.  To be respected as human beings, to be allowed to believe as we wish without repercussions from our government or our fellow humans, and to live the happiest of lives possible.  If we can just meet at that place, with that realization, maybe there’s hope for us after all.

Looking With Our Better Eyes

IMG_1785I was just reading a piece I have in draft, one I never posted here.  It was a general rant about how much of what we read, see, are offered to take in via news and social media, is negative, derisive, and ugly.

I’m not going to post it.

I still agree with what I wrote.  How I’m tired of the negative, how I yearn for the positive. But I’m too old to be on the playground, and that’s what it feels like.  It feels like what it was to be out on recess, caught in the middle of some ridiculous name calling fight.  How those fights seemed to escalate into the absurd and how the passion for those ludicrous arguments seemed to escalate as well.  Escalation turned ugly, pushing turned to shoving, sometimes turning to blows.  It’s exhausting.

I want a revolution of thought, I’m getting bogged down without one.  I want kindness, ideas, offered solutions, compassion, a recognition of simple human dignity.  I don’t think I’m the only one.  I think most of us feel this way, even as we sometimes find ourselves participating in those playground-like antics.

What if, for a day, we posted only something positive.  The old adage, if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.  If that’s you, post a photo of a sunrise or a cute puppy, or your grandchildren instead of that negative thing you are about to post.

What would that feel like?

I get up, I make my way to the french press and the tea kettle, I get my steaming mug of freshly made delicious coffee, I empty the dishwasher, I fold the laundry, I open my laptop to check email, then I head to my news feeds and finally Facebook.  I’m shocked to see news articles about new inventions and good deeds and how even though I may not agree with this politicians views on this or that thing, they have good intentions, or are good in this one area, or they’re smart.  I see that everyone seems to be posting how happy they are about this or that event, or friendship, or job opportunity, or the tasty hot meal they had last night.  I read about how this guy, running for this office, had this idea to solve this problem.  How interesting.  I hear that even though Democrats and Republicans and Tea Party people are staunch, they are fair, and understanding, and compassionate toward those who don’t agree with them.  I see kindness and forgiveness and goodwill toward fellow humans.  I see us disagreeing with respect.  I see sharing and helping and love.

Life is a matter of perception.  It always is.  We can look and see terrible things in our opponents, in the government, in each other, or we can look and see that even though we don’t agree it doesn’t make either of us a monster.  It doesn’t make either of us an idiot.  From there we can have reasonable discussions, we can listen to each other, we can gain understanding, and we can start to move forward, freed from the quagmire of distrust and finger-pointing and nastiness.  There is something to like in almost everyone.  Just as there is something to dislike.  We see what we want to see.

We can see the negative in things, in life, in each other, and we can dwell there.  If that’s the case, that’s what we will notice, that’s what we will pick up on first.  The problems, the differences, the ways in which things are not right.  Or we can see the positive in things, in life, and in each other.  We can dwell there.  In that place there’s forgiveness, problem-solving, things to build on, there’s hope.

It’s up to each of us to decide.  I’d just like it if I could wave the magic wand and for one day we helped without criticism, we offered opinions without disparaging someone else, and we talked about solutions with kindness, instead of venom and animosity.

I believe, with all my heart, each of us is doing the best we can in the world.  Making our way the best we know how.  Sometimes what we do is not that great, and most times if it’s not that great it’s because we faltered, or we were never taught a better way, or we ran into something that spiraled out of control.  We don’t know anyone else’s story.  We can’t presume to know.  We also can’t presume to think our ideas, our solutions, our way of doing things is the only way, or even the right way.  There are many paths to a good solution, there are many “right” ways.  Yes, there are wrong ways too, but we must make people feel safe in order to help them change.  We must make them feel listened to, just as we like to be listened to.  We can’t bully, or push, or strong arm people into our way of thinking.  Most of us hate being told what we should be doing, but we don’t mind being talked to, respected for our opinions, and offered other opinions in return.  We don’t mind a good chat.  We all feel we should be respected.  That doesn’t change with position or ideology or background.  We all want to be respected as human beings, and we all should be.

I don’t expect that we’ll all hold hands and sing Kumbaya, but wouldn’t it be great if we went at things with that in our hearts.  If we were open, loving, and kind.  If we all realized we were in it together.  Facing it together.  Because we are.  None of us are in it alone.  Everything we do, small and large, effects other people, and spreads like a ripple out from ourselves.

I can only start with me.  So this is me saying to me that I’ll try to be more present, more aware of what I say, how I say it, what I put out into the world.  I’ll picture the faces of friends and family, I’ll try to act with hope and kindness and understanding.  I will try not to judge.  I’ll try to be fair.  I will try to be a better listener.

Sure, we have a lot of problems, but there are also so many things that are good and beautiful out there.  Look around.  See them.  Feel what that feels like to see them.  To use a line from The Abyss, a movie I love, “We all see what we want to see. Coffey looks and he sees Russians. He sees hate and fear. You have to look with better eyes than that.”

Look with your better eyes.  Look with them, and see.

Words to Live By (Part 5)

“If I saw you hitchhiking, I’d smile and return your thumb’s up, just for you doing such a great job of being a positive roadside influence.”
― Jarod Kintz

1935760_142466655801_6505249_nBeing positive, having a positive attitude, looking at things with a glass half full changes everything about your day and your life. A person can look around and notice all the things in life that aren’t right, or need work.  They can wait for things to break or go wrong.  Or they can look and see the things that are working now.  They can see the blue sky, that there’s light and love and beauty all around them. One way leads to stress and worry, the other to contentment and happiness. We all worry, we all fret about the things that can go wrong, the things that might be going wrong, but we can’t live there, in that place. We have to live with light, and be in love with life. If we can manage that, even in times of trouble, we become a force for the positive. We can learn to see past what might not be OK now to know it will be soon.  We stay open to the world, instead of being afraid of it.  Light wins, dark abates.

“Life is to be lived, not controlled; and humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat.”
― Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

Playing, as in riding a bike, or swinging on a swing, or going down a slide, or jumping in a bouncy house, is good for the soul. Those things speak to the kid living inside us and encourages that kid to come out and play. Being playful, however you do it, brings so much joy and happiness into our lives. It can be telling a stupid joke or saying something dorky to make someone laugh. It doesn’t matter how you get there, it’s that you get there in the first place. Joking around, being dorky, being willing to play, brings out the kid in us, the kid that’s always there, waiting to smile and have a good time. The kid that knows how to make things lighter and brighter and new.

“Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.”
― John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

Reading  a good book opens the world to us. Words create bonds.  They convey insights into life, living, emotions we might not understand, ways of living that are different from ours, or the same as ours. In every good book I read I find some new meaning and depth in life.  A turn of a phrase can enlighten and fills out more of the story of living. Books open worlds otherwise unknown.

“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Friendship carries us through everything in life. The value of living is found solely in our relationships with others. In the experiences we have with the people in our lives.  Our friends can be there throughout our lifetime or people we only know and spend time with during shorter periods. They can be family or other people we’ve chosen to spend time with along the way.  Their presence gives meaning to all the most important experiences of our lives. They strengthen us when we need it, hold us when we need it, tell us the truth when we need it, and bring more love into our lives than we can even believe possible. The people we love and who love us back are the most important.  Period, the end.

“In the end, though, maybe we must all give up trying to pay back the people in this world who sustain our lives. In the end, maybe it’s wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices.”
― Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia

Generosity of spirit and of self brings peace and tranquility to life. When you give of yourself you put out positive energy into the world, broadening it. Being generous of spirit means you give of yourself in small ways and big. You don’t have to give out loads of money, but you can get inclusive, you can share what you have to share, include others in your life, be gracious, be open, be willing to help when help might be needed, be a light when someone can’t see through the darkness in their lives. Being generous just means opening yourself and giving of yourself without thought for what you might gain from it. It’s selfless, and being selfless pulls us out of our own heads, our own lives, reminding us that we aren’t alone, and that we aren’t all there is.  It’s so important to remember that.  Be generous with your time, with your heart, with yourself.

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
― Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

Appreciation for things in life, be it the actions of a friend, the kindness of a stranger, the smile on the face of someone you love, or wet kisses from your dog, brings a sense of connection, joy, and awe about this life we’re living. Knowing to appreciate what you have, not so much the things, though appreciating those as well says you realize others might not have what you do and you should be grateful for what you have, but for the people in your life, for the food on your table, for getting to experience the experiences you do, helps you to cherish life, cherish living. Appreciating the actions of others says you acknowledge a kindness or a gesture of goodwill. Having a real appreciation for things means you don’t take them for granted. Not taking the people and things in your life for granted means you feel what they bring to your life. Feeling that brings meaning.

“i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)”
― E.E. Cummings

Being thankful for good and kindnesses and help and smiles in our lives further connects us to those moments. It brings a warmth and sincerity to our every day. A person can never say thank you enough. From the check out clerk to the post lady to helpful visits from family to just an everyday act of being passed something you asked for. Saying thank you spreads good will and encourages others to spread it as well. Saying thank you says you acknowledge the importance of what just happened. Saying thank you fills your heart with beauty and grace and a happiness that doesn’t come any other way. Being thankful, to your bones, for life’s little wonders, and some big ones, creates a force for so much good inside of you that it spills out to others. It gladdens our hearts as well as the hearts of those around us. You will never regret saying a deserved thank you. You will regret not saying it. We don’t act alone in the world, saying thank you acknowledges that. It’s a powerful force for good.

“When You Are Old”

WHEN you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.”
― W.B. Yeats

Grace can’t be put on, it has to be cultivated inside of us. Simplicity of movement, of thought. Being present for people in your life. Not like a bull in a china shop but by being quietly there. Not everything has to be done with a big splash, some things require a quiet manner, they require a certain dignity. I struggle with this, but reach for it, try to cultivate it in myself. I have seen grace under pressure, I’ve seen simple dignified grace. It is a beautiful thing.

“How much time he gains who does not look to see what his neighbour says or does or thinks, but only at what he does himself, to make it just and holy.” 
― Marcus AureliusMeditations

Keeping quiet, not speaking unless you have something good or positive to say, perpetuates good.  Speaking out of turn, gossiping about others, even stating your opinion when it’s not asked for or warranted, creates discord, chaos, and possibly hurt feelings.  It’s always better to stay out of things.  Jumping into situations only helps to keep them going, to keep the negative talk in the fore.  There’s a difference between standing up for something or someone, and putting yourself into the drama.   There’s a proper way to stand up for someone or something without being nasty or ugly or hurtful.  If someone is hurtful, you don’t have to sink to that level.  If someone is bullying, you don’t have to become a bully to fight against it.  Don’t talk about others.  Talk about ideas.  Talk from a place of love and understanding.  Use your powers for good.  It will help to keep the chaos at bay.  It will simplify your life.  It will keep you from being the victim and will add to the strength you already have.

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!” 
― Hunter S. ThompsonThe Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman, 1955-1967

Adventure can be found right where you are.  I watch the grandchildren and everything, including a leaf, or jumping off a step stool, holds adventure for them.  There’s a lesson in it.  We get so caught up in our daily lives with the business of living;  paying bills, making money, doing chores, we don’t stop and look and experience things in a pure way.  We’ve forgotten how.  But, it’s still in us.  Those feelings of awe and inspiration and wonder.  So go on an adventure, even if you can’t leave your house right now.  Make a game of it, tackle a task as if you’re on safari, narrate doing the dishes.  All of this beautiful life we’re living is an adventure.  It’s incredible.  Say yes to life, even if you’re unsure.  Grab it.  Be bold.  Be brave. Be adventurous.

“I examined the poets, and I look on them as people whose talent overawes both themselves and others, people who present themselves as wise men and are taken as such, when they are nothing of the sort.

From poets, I moved to artists. No one was more ignorant about the arts than I; no one was more convinced that artists possessed really beautiful secrets. However, I noticed that their condition was no better than that of the poets and that both of them have the same misconceptions. Because the most skillful among them excel in their specialty, they look upon themselves as the wisest of men. In my eyes, this presumption completely tarnished their knowledge. As a result, putting myself in the place of the oracle and asking myself what I would prefer to be — what I was or what they were, to know what they have learned or to know that I know nothing — I replied to myself and to the god: I wish to remain who I am.

We do not know — neither the sophists, nor the orators, nor the artists, nor I— what the True, the Good, and the Beautiful are. But there is this difference between us: although these people know nothing, they all believe they know something; whereas, I, if I know nothing, at least have no doubts about it. As a result, all this superiority in wisdom which the oracle has attributed to me reduces itself to the single point that I am strongly convinced that I am ignorant of what I do not know.” 
― Socrates

To be humble, to know you don’t know everything, allows you to be more relaxed with others.  It leaves you open to new and different ideas.  It broadens what you could experience, it creates a space to let others in.  If we think we know it already, there’s no room for anyone else.  If we are continually certain of everything, there’s no space for beautiful surprises and mistakes.  Being humble in our opinions and in our lives creates a place that says we are all in it together.    Absolute certainty, being right, is the bane of relationships.  Connections get severed because of it.  There’s always more than one way to look at something.  There’s always room for another idea, another thought on the subject, another viewpoint.  If there’s one thing in life I try to remind myself of its that I don’t know everything, I haven’t experienced what others have experienced, and my thoughts and ideas and opinions are no better than anyone else’s.

“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.” 

― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

You can look at everything in life as something to battle, to conquer, and to fight, or you can look at everything from a place of love, understanding, and togetherness. Either perspective colors your world, informing how you live your everyday, and how you see things.  The choice is always yours.  If things have been done to you, you can turn around and project that nastiness out onto others, becoming the very thing you despise, or you can be the better human, rise above, and transform that ugliness to something wonderful.  The world is full of bullies who use as an excuse the fact that they themselves have been bullied. Do better.  Perpetuate good, light, and hope instead of fear, anger, and hurt.

Words to Live By (Part 4)

“A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.”― Josh Billings

Dogs make things better, as do cats I suppose, if I had a cat in my life I’m sure I would think so.  I don’t.  I have dogs.  There’s so much joy there, in their eyes and the wag of their tails.  In the leaping and barking when they stand on the greeting couch after we’ve been gone for a minute or 10 hours.  In their constant need for us, to be near us.  I love them so, and that love is pure, like their love for us is pure.  Having them is a responsibility, and a pain in the ass sometimes if I must admit, but mostly it is beautiful and their eyes speak only love.  They are pure, and remind me every day about innocence and beauty and love for loves sake.

“Sometimes life is very mean: a person can spend days, weeks, months and years without feeling new. Then, when a door opens – a positive avalanche pours in. One moment, you have nothing, the next, you have more than you can cope with.” ― Paulo CoelhoEleven Minutes

Positivity leads to more positivity.  It also leads to hope and inspiration and joy.  It’s an old saying, think positively, but it does work.  That’s why it’s an old saying and why it’s stuck around so long.  Looking to the bright side, the up side, looking with hope, lightens your soul, your mood, your day.  Thinking that all good things are possible, and the next thing that’s going to happen can be better than the last thing, lifts spirits and hearts.  Being positive, trying to keep it positive, holds us up, negativity drags us down.  It’s as simple as that.

“Is it possible, in the final analysis, for one human being to achieve perfect understanding of another?We can invest enormous time and energy in serious efforts to know another person, but in the end, how close can we come to that person’s essence? We convince ourselves that we know the other person well, but do we really know anything important about anyone?”

Knowing someone takes time, and effort.  It’s worth it, totally, for good or bad, and it never happens overnight.  Initially we put on faces for people, faces of the person we want them to know, the person we want them to believe we are, faces of the person we wish we were.  Those are good faces, but false ones.  To know someone we have to spend time.  We have to see each other with our faults on display, or mistakes out in the open.  We have to put in the time.  If we do, it can be a transcendent thing.  It can bring two souls close together.  To know and be known for who we are, there’s nothing more valuable.

“But luxury has never appealed to me, I like simple things, books, being alone, or with somebody who understands.” ― Daphne du Maurier
Alone time, enjoying your own company, isn’t loneliness.  Far from it.  Being able to spend time with yourself, and enjoy it, is vital to knowing yourself, your limits, your heart.  It’s in those times when we’re alone that we find out who we really are.  How do we spend our time, what do we think of, do we enjoy our own company.  Liking yourself is key.  Being able to be alone without much discomfort says you like spending time with you.  If you enjoy spending time with you, others will as well.  It’s as simple as that.
“To hold our tongues when everyone is gossiping, to smile without hostility at people and institutions, to compensate for the shortage of love in the world with more love in small, private matters; to be more faithful in our work, to show greater patience, to forgo the cheap revenge obtainable from mockery and criticism: all these are things we can do. ” ― Hermann Hesse

Patience is a virtue.  Yes, another Mom saying.  You get older, you realize those things your parents told you, those fundamental things, are true.  Patience with our family with our friends and with ourselves leads to less discord, a higher acceptance, better listening, deeper love.  We are not perfect, no one is.  People make mistakes, misspeak,  get into moods.  Life happens.  It’s sometimes messy and fast and crazy.  Patience helps us to slow all of it down, to take a breath, to get a moment to look more deeply into things.  Having it reminds us the little things don’t matter as much, patience helps us to narrow our focus to what does matter.  It’s the breath of life.

“Everything in the universe has a rhythm, everything dances. ” 

― Maya Angelou

Music articulates life in a way nothing else can.  Emotion, feeling, grace, anger, desperation, agreement, honesty, truth, beauty, joy, hope, distress, and on and on and on.  Feelings too numerous to list.  There is music everywhere, a rhythm to the world, underneath the noise of everyday life.  There’s even music in that noise, if you quiet your heart enough to hear it.  We are a part of it, our souls singing their own songs.  Artists articulate it for us, but we have our own as well.  I can feel the essence of things in a beat or a phrase of music.  Our hearts beat, our heads sometimes pound, our feet tap to the sounds of windshield wipers.  Hearing that ever-present music connects us.  Music lets us know we aren’t alone.  It helps us to know we are connected to the whole of the world.

“Living is like tearing through a museum. Not until later do you really start absorbing what you saw, thinking about it, looking it up in a book, and remembering – because you can’t take it in all at once.” ― Audrey Hepburn

Soaking up moments, trying to absorb details as they happen, connects us with what’s happening now.  Not just seeing, but feeling what’s going on right where we are, deepens our connection to the moments we have, and helps us to have a greater experience.  Skimming over the details, failing to absorb what’s going on right where we are, lessens our connection, distances us from the moment.

“It is not a daily increase, but a daily decrease. Hack away at the inessentials.” 
― Bruce Lee

simple life, living with less, craving less, adds so much richness to our lives.  Not being concerned with having stuff, things, collecting, lessens the burdens of life and frees us up to concentrate on the things that really matter… family, friends, being right where we are.  Things weigh us down, more than we think they do.  When we begin to let some of those things go, we feel lighter, unchained somehow.  It opens space in our lives.

“How much better is silence; the coffee cup, the table. How much better to sit by myself like the solitary sea-bird that opens its wings on the stake. Let me sit here for ever with bare things, this coffee cup, this knife, this fork, things in themselves, myself being myself.” ― Virginia WoolfThe Waves

Coffee is essential to good living.  For me anyway.  I think everyone has that thing, small, but decadent.  Mine is coffee.  I look forward to it in the morning.  I’ve spent many an hour over a cup of coffee hashing out the ups and downs of life.  The smell of it brewing, the taste of a good cup.  Nectar of the gods for me.  We should all find simple pleasure is simple things.  One of those things for me is enjoying a great cup of coffee.

“It’s so large”
“It’s the world dear, did you think it’d be small?”
“smaller” 

― C.S. LewisThe Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

We are small in a larger world.  It helps to remember this when our problems seem insurmountable, our sadness overwhelming.  Going out in nature, climbing up a hill and looking out over an endless vista, putting your feet in the sand and watching the crashing of wave after wave, gazing up to the clouds to see them moving.  These things remind us how small we are.  Even sitting in a traffic jam and noticing all the other people also sitting there, wondering where they’re going, what their day is like, where they all might be trying to get to.  We are so many times overburdened by our own thoughts, our own perspective, our own small lives.  The world is a vast place, enormous, and if we can keep some thought of that in mind, we can see how whatever is plaguing us at the moment is pliable, changeable, and in the grander scheme, small.

Words to Live By (Part 3)

IMG_1873“In magic – and in life – there is only the present moment, the now. You can’t measure time the way you measure the distance between two points. ‘Time’ doesn’t pass. We human beings have enormous difficulty in focusing on the present; we’re always thinking about what we did, about how we could have done it better, about the consequences of our actions, and about why we didn’t act as we should have. Or else we think about the future, about what we’re going to do tomorrow, what precautions we should take, what dangers await us around the next corner, how to avoid what we don’t want and how to get what we have always dreamed of.” 
― Paulo CoelhoAleph

Being present, truly present, is so difficult.  Necessary for a completely fulfilling life, but elusive.  Feeling the wind on your face, watching a butterfly, looking your friend in the eyes when they speak, savoring the food you’re eating, feeling the joy coming from your grandchildren as they laugh all help us to taste life.  Experience it in the now.  The trick is in trying to shut down those inner voices that haunt and distract us from the moment we’re in.  And it is a trick.  Being able to focus completely on whatever is happening for us right now enriches our lives, allows us to  relish the experience.  It’s tough to do, but so worth a try for those moments you can really make it happen.

“All this he saw, for one moment breathless and intense, vivid on the morning sky; and still, as he looked, he lived; and still, as he lived, he wondered.” 
― Kenneth GrahameThe Wind in the Willows

Awe, fostering a general feeling of amazement and wonder, is the spice.  It makes us feel like a kid again, that feeling of being so overwhelmed with something you are rapt and riveted.  A sense of awe opens and widens our world to wondrous things.  It begs us to look outside of ourselves and feel the beauty of life.  This life is a miracle. Knowing that, seeing it, brings awe.  Awe leads to a richer life.

“I can never bring you to realise the importance of sleeves, the suggestiveness of thumb-nails, or the great issues that may hang from a boot-lace.” 
― Arthur Conan DoyleThe Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

It’s in the Details… sparkles in the water, the wind moving in the trees, motes of dust floating in the sunlight, a breath, a speck, the flapping of a birds wings, the light in someone’s eyes when they look at you with love.  Noticing the details of life brings a depth and an understanding otherwise missed.

“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.” 
― Henry David ThoreauWalden

Out in Nature, spending time there, opens us up.  Refreshes our senses and our souls.  It can lift us out of whatever muddles our mind, bringing a fresh perspective.  There is magnificence all around us, which should tell us that there is also magnificence in ourselves.  Putting your toes in the sand, walking a trail, sitting by a river and listening to water over stone, lounging in a park feeling the sun on your face.  It’s a big wondrous place we live, and we are small in it.

“Never laugh at live dragons.” 
― J.R.R. Tolkien

Wisdom isn’t found in knowing a lot.  Wisdom lies in the ability to discern what should and shouldn’t be said.  It’s being able to look at things with the total and utter knowledge that you don’t know everything, and that’s OK.  It’s having learned to listen, instead of talk, see instead of just look, reach for deeper meaning instead of skimming along the surface of things.  Wisdom comes, we just have to pay attention to it, listen to our inner voices, appreciate the opinions of other people who may have things to teach us.  Learning never stops, this is wisdom.

“I sometimes give myself excellent advice. Occasionally, I even listen to it.” 
― Jim ButcherGhost Story

Listening to yourself is the best way forward.  If we can clear out all the detritus and quiet ourselves we usually know the right way to turn, the best choice to make.  Doubt can be a constant companion, but learning to trust ourselves, lean on what we know to be our own truth, that’s where our right is.  Making choices based on what we think other people would approve of or do themselves doesn’t get us anywhere.  Asking for help, that’s necessary, listening to that advice above and beyond what we think for ourselves can be dangerous and incredibly unhelpful.

“I will not play at tug o’ war.
I’d rather play at hug o’ war,
Where everyone hugs
Instead of tugs,
Where everyone giggles
And rolls on the rug,
Where everyone kisses,
And everyone grins,
And everyone cuddles,
And everyone wins.” 
― Shel SilversteinWhere the Sidewalk Ends: The Poems and Drawings of Shel Silverstein

Winning is not important, sharing is.  I don’t know where we got the idea that we had to win all the time.  In debates and conversations and at life.  What does that mean anyway, to win at life?  I’d rather share something meaningful with someone than beat them.  Life isn’t a game, it’s a beautiful and tragic and lovely and horrible and joyous dance.  Better with partners than foes.  Better shared than conquered.

“Those who are willing to be vulnerable move among mysteries.” 
― Theodore RoethkeStraw for the Fire: From the Notebooks of Theodore Roethke
Vulnerability opens the world to us, it doesn’t close us off.  We are always afraid to be vulnerable, to let our true selves, desires, and hurts show.  But if we could, if we can, just be open in moments, to people we love and who love us, our lives become richer, fuller, filled with color and light.  When we hide ourselves away, afraid to trust and to share, we live in the dark, our hopes, ourselves, stifled and still.
“Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you’ll be walking ‘cross the floor
Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you’ll be walking out the door”                                                                                                     – Put One Foot In Front of the Other, Santa Claus is Coming to Town
 Moving forward takes courage and strength.  We all have that courage inside of us.  When something terrible is going on, we have to keep moving, keep trying, keep striving.  We have to.  If we don’t we become stagnant, stuck in a quagmire of our own making.  Awful things can and do happen in life, times do get tough, but part of the deal, part of the journey, is to trudge forward, even when things are hard.  If we can do that, if we can just keep putting one foot in front of the other, we eventually get through it.  We eventually get to something  else, something better.  And we feel stronger because of the effort of it.
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost.” 
― Martha Graham

Creativity, wherever you find it, however you can express it, enlivens and enriches and brings a level of satisfaction that doesn’t seem to be found in any other way.  Whether its writing, or painting, or taking pictures, or singing, or plucking the strings of a banjo, or gathering leaves you think are beautiful, or solving a terribly hard math equation, it’s all creative.  There are billions of people on the planet, which means there are billions of ways creativity can be thought of and expressed.  It all matters.  It connects us to the world, and to each other.  Adding beauty and a depth to everything around it.

Words to Live By (Part 2)

In this second installment of the life lessons learned/what’s important to me at 50 I give you joy.  And many other things.

“There are random moments – tossing a salad, coming up the driveway to the house, ironing the seams flat on a quilt square, standing at the kitchen window and looking out at the delphiniums, hearing a burst of laughter from one of my children’s rooms – when I feel a wavelike rush of joy. This is my true religion: arbitrary moments of nearly painful happiness for a life I feel privileged to lead.” 
― Elizabeth BergThe Art of Mending

1935760_142466440801_985538_nJoy is such a hard thing to define.  Elation, delight, pleasure.  All those things, and something more, something intangible.  I live for moments of joy, mine and those of the people I love.  It’s where pure experience meets an overwhelming feeling of YES!  It’s the ultimate ah ha moment.  I’m always wishing the people I know, and actually even people I don’t know, could experience more joy.  There’s never enough.  Simple moments of overwhelming joy bring light and life.  Joy is the nexus of a meaningful human experience, of meaningful relationships with our fellow humans.  Joy radiates hope.  It’s electric.

“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” 
― W.B. Yeats

Magic is everywhere.  In smiles and light and the taste of a fresh strawberry.  It lives in music and the wings of a butterfly.  It flies on the wind and crashes with the waves.  Everything around us is a miracle, full of magic.  Most especially our family and friends, but also in the breath of our pups, and the swaying of a daisy, and the glint of the sun in a rain drop.  There are amazing things all around.  We just have to see them.

“Maybe each human being lives in a unique world, a private world different from those inhabited and experienced by all other humans. . . If reality differs from person to person, can we speak of reality singular, or shouldn’t we really be talking about plural realities? And if there are plural realities, are some more true (more real) than others? What about the world of a schizophrenic? Maybe it’s as real as our world. Maybe we cannot say that we are in touch with reality and he is not, but should instead say, His reality is so different from ours that he can’t explain his to us, and we can’t explain ours to him. The problem, then, is that if subjective worlds are experienced too differently, there occurs a breakdown in communication … and there is the real illness.” 
― Philip K. Dick

Perception is key.  We have opinions and ideas and see things with eyes that were formed from our own experiences.  When circumstances happen to us or around us we look at those circumstances with those same eyes.  We tend not to look outside of our own box of opinions and ideas.  This means we only look at things from one angle.  Our own.  But looking and seeing are two different things.  Perhaps it’s just a matter of perception.  If we can somehow change how we view a situation that situation changes entirely.  I’ve done this myself and been surprised by it.  There’s always another way to look at something.  We move around a beautiful sculpture to get a view from all sides if we truly want to see it.  We need to learn to do that in our own minds.  It would open us up to others, it would create connections where they might not have existed before.  We have to look with our best eyes.

“Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.” 
― Fyodor DostoyevskyThe Brothers Karamazov

Truth can sometimes be so hard, but it’s as necessary as breathing. The more honest and open we try to be with ourselves, with others, about who we are, about what we think and feel, the freer we are. Lies constrict our lives. When we tell the truth, we can leave that moment behind without another thought. When we lie, we live with it, carry it with us, forever. Telling the truth is much less burdensome. Telling the truth opens us up, makes us vulnerable, it puts us out into the world fully, as we are. It says, here I am, take me, or don’t. Risky, but with so much reward. We honor ourselves when we tell our truth. We bring integrity into our lives. We also bring trust, from ourselves, and from those we love. Telling the truth, truly, sets us free.

“Have you ever heard the wonderful silence just before the dawn? Or the quiet and calm just as a storm ends? Or perhaps you know the silence when you haven’t the answer to a question you’ve been asked, or the hush of a country road at night, or the expectant pause of a room full of people when someone is just about to speak, or, most beautiful of all, the moment after the door closes and you’re alone in the whole house? Each one is different, you know, and all very beautiful if you listen carefully.” 

― Norton JusterThe Phantom Tollbooth

Silence is golden.  I used to hear that a lot from my Mom.  One of those Mom sayings that stuck with me, and so true.  Quieting oneself, learning to enjoy and live in silence once in a while is wonderful.  It allows you to hear the world in a more profound way.  A few moments of silence can breathe life into a day filled with too much noise.  Listening to the quiet of the world around us helps us to find the quiet within ourselves.  Finding the quiet within ourselves helps us to center our minds, our souls, and our hearts.  Silence opens worlds to us we might otherwise miss.

“Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me… Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.” 
― Shel Silverstein

Hope, remaining hopeful, is as necessary as breathing.  It’s easy to become overwhelmed with what is or has been or the worry about what could be.  We’re human, we struggle with this all the time.  But it’s so important to remember that anything can happen, and that anything can be good as much as it might be instead be frightening.  We focus too much on what’s not right, not enough on what is.  Hope is a big part of what’s right.    There’s always room for it, and it can be cultivated.  Trying to think positively, starting with one small thing that is right in your life, is good, can begin to grow a larger garden of positive ifs inside of you.   That’s where hope lives.  Hope leads to joy and laughter and an energy to get up and live life to the it’s fullest.

“Yes. We both have a bad feeling. Tonight we shall take our bad feelings and share them, and face them. We shall mourn. We shall drain the bitter dregs of mortality. Pain shared, my brother, is pain not doubled, but halved. No man is an island.” 
― Neil GaimanAnansi Boys

Sharing ourselves with others speaks to the essence of what life is about.  Expressing our feelings, our ideas, our hopes, our fears to another person, to other people, makes those hopes grander and those fears smaller.  Opening up our true self to someone else makes our world larger, grander, and fuller than we could imagine.  Letting someone know you, the real you, the whole you, is frightening and vulnerable, but also brave.  It’s an act of reaching out and of letting go.  It’s beautiful and fulfilling and it brings us closer, creates connections that last.

“It’s okay to be absurd, ridiculous, and downright irrational at times; silliness is sweet syrup that helps us swallow the bitter pills of life.” 
― Richelle E. Goodrich

Being silly, risking the ridiculous, is fun.  It’s enlivening, life affirming, corny, dorky, wonderful, and beautiful.  Not being afraid of being ridiculous and possibly absurd, while being out in the world, is a gift.  I say this because I’m a total dork, and can be totally ridiculous.  Singing in public places, dancing in the grocery store, putting on funny hats, doing a funny little walk because you’re trying to make yourself or someone else smile.  Those moments of totally letting go bring so much joy, so much fun to life.  And acting in a way that says we don’t care what other people think of us, only of what we feel like doing in the present, brings a strength and certainty in us down to our bones.  Silly can generate confidence, and confidence generates silliness.  It’s a beautiful relationship.

“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.” 
― Lao Tzu

Love is everything, having and giving it.  Not just the love for your partner in life, but love for friends and family.  I can’t stress enough how very important it is to let the people in your life know you love them.  The most important thing in life is who we love and who loves us.  It brings meaning to everything.  Nothing else really matters.  Love is everything.  Breathing joy and hope and compassion into everything it touches.

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” 
― Stephen R. CoveyThe 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change

Listening, and not talking, is central to having great relationships with people.  When you listen, actually listen without just trying to get your word in edgewise, you let people know what they have to say is important to you.  That they are important to you.  When you don’t really listen, when all you do is wait for the moment you can speak, you let them know that what you have to say is more important to you than actually hearing them.  Listening engenders trust, true companionship, and warmth.

Words to Live By (Part 1)

“The greatest wisdom is in simplicity. Love, respect, tolerance, sharing, gratitude, forgiveness. It’s not complex or elaborate. The real knowledge is free. It’s encoded in your DNA. All you need is within you. Great teachers have said that from the beginning. Find your heart, and you will find your way.” 
― Carlos Barrios, Mayan elder and Ajq’ij of the Eagle Clan

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I’m 50 now.  The big 5-0.  It doesn’t freak me out, worry me, or make me feel like I’m old and getting older (though I am).  It has however made me reflect a bit on the life I’ve lived.  There are things I thought were important when I was younger, when I was more self-conscious and filled with angst.  Very dramatic.  I wrote a lot then.  Prose, poetry (some OK, mostly not), letters I never sent, some I did.  Now, at 50, I’m much more certain of myself, much more comfortable in my skin, not as self-conscious.  I’ve grown.  Most of us do.

Through the course of this time I’ve spent reflecting lately I’ve made a mental list of the things I think are important in life.  Obviously the people in our lives are the most important, but this list of things/ideals are what I believe make a life more fulfilled, the things that can actually make a life extraordinary.  I strive to put them into practice every day.  Sometimes I succeed, sometimes not.  But life is in the trying, and I try.

In honor of my turning the big 5-0 I’m going to throw the list out to the universe, as a gesture of good will and safe keeping.

I got a little carried away when I actually sat down to make the list (which is in no particular order by the way, just written as it came to me) so I’ve decided I will post it in parts.

Welcome to part 1….

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
― Mother Teresa

Compassion is paramount to living a fulling life, without it we are acting alone in the world, separate from our fellow humans.  We cannot pretend to know another persons story, or how they came to feel and think as they do, but we can honor them as human beings and wish the best for them.  We can be open to the fact that they have had different experiences than our own, not expecting them to then act and think as we do.  Compassion fills our hearts with love instead of animosity, it elevates us.

“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” ~ Dalai Lama

Kindness is the most important tenet, to me.  Above all things.  It’s so important to me that I have the above quote about kindness on every email I send out – you might have gotten one.  Kindness is always possible.  We have to be kind to others, and to ourselves.  I’ve learned a little kindness takes us everywhere we want to go.  It soothes souls, can make a persons day, and costs us nothing.  A smile, a kind word, a thank you, a simple acknowledgement of someone all work toward the common good, and good in ourselves.  It is beyond valuable, beyond priceless.  Kindness is key.

“Tears are words that need to be written.” ― Paulo Coelho

Sadness happens to everyone in life, let yourself be sad when you are, but don’t live there, wallowing in it.  It’s a tough balance, but necessary.  You honor the feelings by letting yourself feel them.  You don’t let it take control of your life by remembering that there is more to life than just the thing that’s created your feeling of sadness.

“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.” 
― Maya AngelouLetter to My Daughter

Inhabiting yourself – feel your body, know your mind, feel your presence.  Things will happen to us in life.  Things we cannot control.  Things terrible and strange and lovely and warm and awful and on and on.  We get through it.  We get through it best when we know ourselves, when we feel our own presence and our own power.  That knowing helps us to understand that life will happen, but we can bear it, we can step through it. We can move beyond whatever it is that’s happened and into something new, something that could be wonderful in its own way.

“Beauty doesn’t have to be about anything. What’s a vase about? What’s a sunset or a flower about? What, for that matter, is Mozart’s Twenty-third Piano Concerto about?” 
― Douglas AdamsThe Salmon of Doubt

Beauty is everywhere, if you look for it.  Noticing the wind moving the trees, the sun glinting through a fence, the way the dogs have that little walk they have, a phrase, a painting, a blade of grass, my honey breaking into song, in light and love and kindness.  Beauty is everywhere.  We choose to see it, or not.  Life is so much better if you look for it.

“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.” 
― Herman Melville

Connectedness  Connection is everything.  We are not islands unto ourselves.  Our actions effect those around us, just as the actions of others affects us.  It’s so important to remember that our ideas and ideals are ours and to dwell in the knowledge that other people, other creatures, have their own ideas, wants, needs.  What we do, every day; the words we use when speaking to others, the actions we take in kindness, to our fellows and to our planet, all ripple out.  One kindness generates another, one word of anger generates more anger, one positive thought spills out to create more positivity in the world, a negative thought spreads negativity.  Everything we do has a consequence for others in small, and sometimes not so small, ways.  Everything is connected.

“But I can hardly sit still. I keep fidgeting, crossing one leg and then the other. I feel like I could throw off sparks, or break a window–maybe rearrange all the furniture.” 
― Raymond CarverWhere I’m Calling From: New and Selected Stories

Anxiety.  I have it.  Everyone experiences it.  It’s not always rational, but it’s a natural part of living, of caring about people, caring about the world, caring about yourself.  There is no getting rid of it entirely.  The question is, does the anxiety control you, or do you remember to breathe, look it in the face, and try to keep stepping forward.  Sometimes I succeed in that.  Sometimes I don’t.  That’s OK too.  We can all wish for a little less anxiety in life, but we have to be careful the wishing doesn’t just lead to more anxiety.  Acceptance, stepping into and through it, instead of constantly denying and fighting against it, helps.  We have to remember to breathe.

“No one needed to say it, but the room overflowed with that sort of blessing. The combination of loss and abundance. The abundance that has no guilt. The loss that has no fix. The simple tiredness that is not weary. The hope not built on blindness.” 
― Aimee BenderWillful Creatures

Temperament and trying to keep oneself on an even keel is important.  The energy we give out to the world matters.  Not that we should live for others, we shouldn’t, but it’s important to be aware of our impact on others.  That we do have an impact.  It’s not easy when you’re in a bad mood, but it’s so important to try to be your better self, to try to remember not to inflict that mood on everyone around you.  Conversely it’s important to remember that if someone you meet in your day is in a bad space, they may have had a terrible day, or be battling demons you don’t know or understand.

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” 
― Frank HerbertDune

Fear, or the lack of it, is one of those constants in life.  We are afraid of what is happening, or what could happen, or what did happen.  Fear eats at us and taunts us and reminds us that we have a lot in life we don’t want to lose.  Fear is.  I love the line in the quote above about letting it pass through.  That rings true to me.  We have to face the things we’re afraid of, as best we can, and then let that fear pass through us.  We have to let ourselves look at what we fear, look it in the eye.  Only then do we begin to take the reins back from it.  We can never live entirely without fear.  We love, we dream, we hope, and so, we fear.  It is a part of living.  A part of caring.  But we can try to keep it from taking control of us, we can try to be its master, instead of letting it be the master of us.

“The only time you look in your neighbor’s bowl is to make sure that they have enough. You don’t look in your neighbor’s bowl to see if you have as much as them.” 
― Louis C.K.

Empathy is central to living a full life.  Kindness, compassion, and love all come from a place of empathy.  We don’t have to know or have lived someone else’s circumstances to ache for them or to hope for them.  We tend to live in our own little worlds, sure of our ideas and opinions, secure in the thought that what we think, the way we think, is the right way.  Sometimes we even believe what we think is the only way.  We’re wrong.  We have no idea what another person’s experience is, where they came from, what they’ve seen, what they’ve lived through.  To have true empathy is to say that you might not understand someone, but you want to nourish their souls anyway.  It is to admit that you don’t know everything, and that you shouldn’t judge what you don’t understand.  To empathize is to step outside of your own set of rules and to say that you feel for another human, regardless of the presumptions you have about them.

Excuse Me, Sir….

885049_10151628201270802_1338036815_oI’m not a man.

Though, apparently, I look like one.  Sometimes.  From the side maybe.  Or the back.  Or in the pancake line.

I can’t tell you how many times it’s happened this trip.  I was in a check-out line, or picking up pancakes at the griddle from the pancake chef, or walking into or out of a lady’s room and inevitably I got called sir or mistaken for a sir.  A few examples, hilarious as they are.  The woman walking into the restroom at the Wal-Mart in South Dakota who did a double take, sideways glancing at me, then at the restroom sign to make sure it was the women’s restroom she was walking into.  The guy serving beignets at the art fair cart who asked, “what can I get you sir”, who then looked me fully in the face and started to sort of sputter.  The time I was, once again, walking into a restroom at a gas station and a teen and her mother were sort of walking in tandem/following me in.  The teen said to her Mom, “a guy just went into the restroom.  Yes, mom, a man just went in.”  I knew they were talking about me.  I was just ahead of them.  At first they didn’t even come in behind me, then they did, but didn’t go into a stall, even though one was available, until I came out, looked directly at them, smiled, and said hello.  The mom said hi, then scowled at the teen.  I guess they didn’t want to go into a stall next to a man, if a man was in there with them.  Honestly, I don’t know why, I would.  I mean, if I have to go, and there’s an open stall, I don’t care whose next to me, I’m going in.  But then, I’m “the guy”, so maybe that changes my opinion about it.

I have a theory.

I don’t think we look at each other.  Not really.  Not in the eyes, not fully in the face.  We glance sideways and nod or say hello or ask how people are doing, but we don’t really look.  And because we don’t really look, we never truly see.  I feel this way not just because I was repeatedly called a man this trip, until people really looked at me, realized I was a girl, and then hemmed and ha’d and pretended they hadn’t made that mistake, but because I’m a person who does look people in the eye.  Unless I’m doing what I tell my honey to do occasionally which is, don’t make eye contact, don’t look at them, don’t engage.  Those are special circumstances.  Mostly both my honey and I look at people.  I’ve always loved that about her, and I know she loves it about me.  We are people who try to acknowledge other people.  And the people we try to acknowledge usually like it; clerks in stores, people walking on the street, receptionists, homeless people, the list goes on and on.  We look at people, both of us, but people don’t often look back, or at least they don’t initiate it.  They look sideways or down or off somewhere over the shoulder.  They don’t focus in, and in fact try not to.

Yeah, yeah… I wear boy shorts and t-shirts, my hair is really short, I probably even sort of walk like a guy, or not, I actually have no idea.  But, I sound like a girl, unless it’s late into the night and I’ve been around a camp fire and the man voice comes out.  I don’t think, when someone looks me fully in the face, they would ever wonder if I was a guy or a girl.  I guess I could be wrong, but that’s what I’ve been told.  Especially when I smile, which I’m doing most of the time.  And all of this isn’t really the point.  I don’t actually care about being called a guy, but I do sort of care about not being seen.  Not being seen for who I am.

I wasn’t seen because people didn’t really look, not at first anyway.  I had to work at it, say something to them, make them look me in the eyes, in the face, before they realized the mistake they’d made.  I saw it play out on face after face, time after time.  Fascinating.

It makes me sad that we feel the need to avoid each other, to not fully engage with our fellow humans.  We try to keep ourselves separate, and what?  Safe?  Unencumbered? We try to stay in our own little bubbles.

Next time, when you’re out and about, do a little experiment.  Look people in the eyes, smile at them, say hello, engage in some brief but witty repartee.  SEE them.  Let them SEE you.  The world is brighter and fuller and more expansive if we let people in, if we open ourselves up.  I feel this way, and it can’t only be me.  Trust me, the people you acknowledge, that you look at, talk to, most of them will like it.  Most of them will light up.  And you will feel awesome, more connected, free.

But then again, do you really want to take advice from a dude?  This dude.  I don’t know….