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.
Be kind in big ways and small even when it seems a tad difficult. Be present. Listen more, talk less. Close my eyes, turn my face to the sun or the wind or both at the same time and breathe deeply. Spend time on or near the water. Go on long walks with the pups. Drink life in. Be silly and dorky and unafraid to make a fool of myself. We are bombarded with information every day so choose wisely. Life is a matter of perception so remember I can see things in a negative or positive light. Act to change things in ways I feel I can. Meet the world with love and good intentions in my heart instead of fear and anger. Smile at people I know and don’t know. Bridge gaps. Notice a glint of sun. Appreciate the natural world. Think about what it might be like for others. Cuddle the pups often. Laugh and play with the grandkids. Write letters. Tell people I love them. Be honest even when it’s uncomfortable. Share. Recognize joy. Believe in hope. Dance. Cry. Be curious. Give lots of hugs. Accept compliments. Hold my honey’s hand every chance I can.
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.
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.
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.
It’s Thanksgiving. I’m thankful, and grateful, for so many things… the people in my life who I love and who love me, the warmth of the sun on a cold day, cuddles with the pups, a cup of hot coffee with just the right amount of half and half, a good story, the birds at the feeders, a song that moves me, the coziness of our house, the smiles on the grandkids faces and their amazing laughter, the moment I “see” the perfect photograph, long walks in lovely parks, the wind in the trees, forgiveness given and received, the taste of chocolate, a comfy pair of socks, and my wondrous relationship with my honey that never, even after all this time, ceases to amaze and delight me.
There are things in life to be grateful and thankful for every day. Every moment of every day. We just have to look around, we have to see them.
Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.
~ John Milton
Give yourself a gift of five minutes of contemplation in awe of everything you see around you. Go outside and turn your attention to the many miracles around you. This five-minute-a-day regimen of appreciation and gratitude will help you to focus your life in awe.
~ Wayne Dyer
I don’t have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness – it’s right in front of me if I’m paying attention and practicing gratitude.
~ Brene Brown
For me, every hour is grace. And I feel gratitude in my heart each time I can meet someone and look at his or her smile.
~ Elie Wiesel
Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance.
~ Eckhart Tolle
The world has enough beautiful mountains and meadows, spectacular skies and serene lakes. It has enough lush forests, flowered fields, and sandy beaches. It has plenty of stars and the promise of a new sunrise and sunset every day. What the world needs more of is people to appreciate and enjoy it.
~ Michael Josephson
Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.
~ A.A. Milne
I truly believe we can either see the connections, celebrate them, and express gratitude for our blessings, or we can see life as a string of coincidences that have no meaning or connection. For me, I’m going to believe in miracles, celebrate life, rejoice in the views of eternity, and hope my choices will create a positive ripple effect in the lives of others. This is my choice.
~ Mike Ericksen
They both seemed to understand that describing it was beyond their powers, the gratitude that spreads through your body when a burden gets lifted, and the sense of homecoming that follows, when you suddenly remember what it feels like to be yourself.
~ Tom Perrotta
This a wonderful day. I’ve never seen this one before.
I 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.
When something shocking happens in life our world shrinks down. Everything we know somehow narrows, magnifying the thing in the center that is our pain, our sorrow, our grief, our fear, our shame. Suddenly we do not see, cannot see, anything outside of what we feel. We begin a sort of sleep walk. Moving around, going about the necessities of life, unaware of anything outside of our immediate place in time. We see ourselves putting on shoes, getting something to eat, talking to friends, paying our bills. Yet, we are disconnected from all of it. Suddenly apart from the world, in a cocoon of emotion we can’t even begin to know how to escape. Everything feels like a dream, as if there is a veil between us and the rest of the world.
Slowly though, the world returns to us. We start to wake up. We notice the rain, or a bird, we are aware of the smile of a friend. We begin to find interest in things we’d forgotten we used to love, and still do. We look up, and out. We feel the warmth of the sun and feel the rhythm of the world. We learn that life moves on, moves forward, one small moment at a time. Until, finally, we are mostly ourselves again. A piece of us utterly changed by our experience, but still, ourselves.
The whole of this experience, though usually terribly painful, is beautiful. The feeling of it, the pulling away, the return, all bring a deeper meaning to our lives. It can, if we let it, help us to find a peace and a grace we didn’t know before. It can help us to see more deeply into things.
Life is a gift. Our friends and family are gifts. We are lucky, even with the pain and sorrow that inevitably come. After all, pain and sorrow only come because we were brave enough and our souls beautiful enough to love someone or something.
“I carry your heart with me (I carry it in my heart)I am never without it (anywhere
I go you go,my dear; and whatever is done by only me is your doing,my darling)
I fear no fate (for you are my fate,my sweet)I want no world (for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
“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
Being 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 Aurelius, Meditations
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.
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.
“I appeal from your customs. I must be myself. I cannot break myself any longer for you, or you. If you can love me for what I am, we shall be happier. If you cannot, I will still seek to deserve that you should. I must be myself. I will not hide my tastes or aversions. I will so trust that what is deep is holy, that I will do strongly before the sun and moon whatever inly rejoices me and the heart appoints. If you are noble, I will love you; if you are not, I will not hurt you and myself by hypocritical attentions. If you are true, but not in the same truth with me, cleave to your companions; I will seek my own. I do this not selfishly but humbly and truly. It is alike your interest, and mine, and all men’s, however long we have dwelt in lies, to live in truth. Does this sound harsh to-day? You will soon love what is dictated by your nature as well as mine, and if we follow the truth it will bring us out safe at last.—But so may you give these friends pain. Yes, but I cannot sell my liberty and my power, to save their sensibility. Besides, all persons have their moments of reason, when they look out into the region of absolute truth; then will they justify me and do the same thing.
The populace think that your rejection of popular standards is a rejection of all standard, and mere antinomianism; and the bold sensualist will use the name of philosophy to gild his crimes. But the law of consciousness abides.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance and Other Essays
“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 Coelho, Eleven 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. ”
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
A 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 Woolf, The 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”
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.
“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 Coelho, Aleph
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 Grahame, The 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.
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 Thoreau, Walden
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Berg, The Art of Mending
Joy 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 Dostoyevsky, The 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.”
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 Gaiman, Anansi 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.
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.
“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
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.
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.
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 Adams, The 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.
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 Bender, Willful 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 Herbert, Dune
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.
M, my friend, I love you. I know your heart is breaking as you get ready to start your journey. This trip, in one sense, signifies an ending, but I know in my heart it will also end up being a celebration of a life well lived.
I believe the people we love never truly leave us. She lives in your heart, she lives inside of you. Her spirit is with you…
She’s there in the sound of footsteps and the rain falling on roofs and the feel of the wind on your cheek. In the rushing of the waves and the ceaseless movement of the tides. In small kisses and the purring of a furry friend and when you are wrapped up in a warm hug. In the emotions brought on by the pages of a good book and in the beats of great songs. In hope and joy and laughter and in the sunlight through the trees. Inside deep conversations and thoughts of love. During moments of celebration and sadness. In the quiet space on either side of a breath. In the flapping of birds wings overhead and in the lightly falling snow. In the moonlight, the moving of the planets, the rushing of the blood inside of you. She resides there. In all those moments. In so many moments. Strong, eternal, full of grace, and overflowing with love.
Love surrounds you my friend, as it surrounded and surrounds your Mom as she steps to the next place on this amazing cosmic adventure.
Stomps foot down and says in a huff, I was meant for more than this, I was meant for great things.
I didn’t really throw a tantrum, though it sort of felt like one in my head, mental foot stomping and all. Sometimes our better selves appear to the world, but not always so much inside our own minds.
I’ve always had this idea, as many of us have I imagine, that I was meant for great things. That I was meant to do something extraordinary, something beyond the usual, past the normal, over and above the every day. I can’t really remember a time I didn’t feel this way. And the feeling of it, the haunting thoughts that come with that feeling, are sometimes sort of depressing. After all, I haven’t really achieved anything big. Big in the I’ve written the great american novel and it became hugely successful kind of way. So to have this feeling with me that I haven’t yet done “the thing”, whatever that might look like, can be a downer. You know, not having fulfilled my greater potential and all.
I’ve lived, to this point, an ordinary life.
I say that, and then the next thought is… yeah, but… wait. Think of this life I have, this life I’ve lived and am living. Think of the wonder of it.
It occurred to me the other day, driving down the freeway toward Chicago with the radio blasting my current favorite playlist, that I’ve always had this feeling. This feeling of not achieving. I’ve had it, and never named it, never spoken it aloud, or even mentioned it quietly to myself. Never the less, it’s always been there, taunting me, haunting me, and pressuring me since forever. The next thought that day was that I’ll be turning 50 on my next birthday. The big 5-0. Surprisingly I realized I wasn’t dreading it. In fact, I’m sort of excited to be entering the next decade of my life. I think good things are ahead.
But, back to the deep thoughts I was having that day in the car. All of this was passing through my mind, my strange expectation for extraordinary, my approaching milestone of a birthday, what my life has been and is, and then it hit me, the most simple of ideas. The purest of truths. My life is amazing. My life is phenomenal.
When I looked on my life, the ins and outs of it, the ups and downs, I realized something wonderful. I already have an extraordinary life. My every day is impeccable. My place in the world is secure, my mark on the world happening every day. If I honestly look at myself I realize I’m a good person. I treat people well, I’m there for people when they need me, I look at things with a bend toward the positive instead of the negative, I love nature and my fellow humans despite all of their flaws and sometimes because of them, and I truly believe we can all rise up to be our better selves if given the opportunity and sometimes a little help. I’m a good sister, a good daughter, a good friend, and a pretty good partner. I tend to think the best of people, want the most for people, care deeply about what happens to my fellow creatures great and small, I recycle, I dance in the kitchen, and I feel a deep sense of wonder and awe about the world around me. I also realized in that moment that my life has been a wonder so far. The people I’ve known and know, the places I’ve been lucky enough to see, the experiences I’ve had in small ways and big. It was incredible. An enlightening realization. I have and am everything I need. My life is already extraordinary.
Sometimes small moments, little thoughts, turn into huge discoveries. One minute you’re just driving down the freeway listening to music on a sunny day and the next you are shifting how you feel about yourself and your world.
I’ve spent most of my life to this point thinking there was more, should be more, was supposed to be more. That I was somehow not all I could be or should be or might be. And that feeling, as I said before, haunted me. It informed decisions, lent itself to indecision, and pushed me in all sorts of directions at once, while keeping me stuck where I was more often than not. All of it inside, occasionally making me feel incomplete.
My realization, my revelation, is that I am all I was ever intended to be. The rest, it’s unimportant. I know now that by being who I am, just me, I have changed people’s lives. I had jobs where that was a literal thing, and yet somehow I always devalued it, until now. I also know that I have had a decent impact on the people in my life, hopefully a good one. Not just those I have known and still know, but on those I once knew, and don’t know anymore, and on those I will know. I feel this certainty now as much as I felt the lack of it before. I know this because I know how much the people in my life have had an effect on me. I know this because it is. And that is extraordinary.
My life has to this point been a series of wonder-filled moments. Incredible moments. I recognized some of them as they happened, more so when I looked back on them, but to now feel this sense of accomplishment for just being who I am, for just living the life I am, for just touching the lives of the people I have, it’s ground breaking to me.
This life, my life, is far from ordinary. My life, every moment of it, has been and is extra-ordinary. Light and love filled, even in it’s darkest moments. To know this, to feel it now, to see it for what it actually has been and is…. it’s joyous.
I see a lot of posts on Facebook about looking for miracles, trying to find miracles, or hoping for miracles. I do none of that. Why, you ask? Because I believe miracles are happening everywhere, everyday. All around us.
They are in the sunlight falling through the trees, the laughter of our grand boys, the breathing of our pups as they lay sleeping in our laps. Miracles are found every day in my honey’s smile, the house when it’s really quiet, the birds at the feeders in our backyard. I feel them when I run my cold hands under warm water, take a sip of hot coffee, snuggle in under a warm blanket. I cannot doubt their existence.
I feel we either choose to see them or we don’t. As with most things, perception is everything. We are a people, a culture, who tends to look out to the future for things we want, think we need. We look out beyond where we’re sitting right now in hopes that one day our lives will be special, or happy, or better somehow than they already are. The thing is, we are already living it. Our lives are already filled with tiny and not so tiny wonders. Everything we could ever need is right where we are, already present in our lives. We just have to notice.
So I don’t much go looking for miracles, I don’t feel I need to. I just have to open my eyes, open my heart, breathe deeply, and look around. When I do what I see is stunning beautiful, what I see is miraculous.
I turned 49 a few days ago. No, I’m not really 50 something and just using 49 as my sticky-post age. I’m 49.
I’m not fazed. Not being fazed is a good thing.
I have never been a person who was affected by my age. I turned 16, 21, 25, 30, 40, etc. with no real worry or fear about getting older. Time is what it is. It marches, so do we. I feel like I’m becoming a better version of myself, and getting better all the time, as I’ve aged. Wisdom, lessening insecurities, a strong and getting stronger I-don’t-give-a-shit-about-what-anyone-thinks attitude, and a more and more relaxed way of looking at the world.
I feel like I’m better at looking outside of myself, outside of my inner dialogue, to the world beyond. I realize I’m a small drop in a very large bucket. And what’s more, when I fall back to being too much in my head, too much about me, I can snap out of it pretty quickly by reminding myself there’s more to life, so much more, than me. It’s my personal version of a mental slap upside my head. It’s a wisdom thing. Something I’ve gained with age. A certain perspective. I’m grateful for it.
I try not to take myself to seriously, also a wisdom with age thing. It’s the last vestige of big things I’m trying to work on. I think I just wrote that with a serious face. Mental note to relax the face while writing.
So I’m better, like fine wine, aged cheese, a good bourbon. A better and bettering version of myself. Is bettering even a word? I have no idea.
I don’t know why I’m writing all of this. My intention was to make a list of 49 things, of various types and intention, in honor of my 49th. Instead I’ve seemed to wax on about how aged I am.
Let’s take a new tack.
I received a boat load of well wishes and birthday congrats and notes of love on Facebook. I have an amazing group of people in my life, which I’ve mentioned on this blog before, and I’m ever so grateful for their presence, support, love, generosity of spirit, and humor. It’s not so much that I have a quantity of people, I have quality people. There’s a huge distinction in that. They are quality people, and I’m beyond lucky to know them, to have them in my life. I know this. I’m blessed.
Which brings me back to the list. The multitude of wishes made me grateful for the people in my life and that made me think of others things I’m grateful for. I thought, at this juncture, it would be good to write some of those down, so the following is a list of things I’m grateful for. It’s like a master list, though I know it will change, has changed, and morph over the years. Some things though, remain constant. I think it’s so important in life to look at what’s good, what’s working, what’s beautiful in our lives. To actually take the time to acknowledge these things, stop in our crazy day, be still, and reflect on what’s good and important to us. The people in my life would be number one. So let’s start there.
1. Family. Born into a group of beautiful people, on both sides, was like winning the lottery. There are people you choose in life, who I will get to in a moment, but the clan you enter the world belonging to can be a matter of luck. My luck was good. They are, to the last of them, quality, wonderful, and staggeringly spectacular. I can’t even being to express the fortune I feel and how proud I am to belong to the lot of them.
2. Friends. Or a better description might be to say they are the family I’ve chosen. Throughout my life I seem to have chosen well. I also find this lucky as I was not always my better self, yet somehow my center chose wisely, most of the time. I’ve met and made friends with so many shining souls in my life I can’t even count them all. As I sit here I see face after face run through my mind and I’m smiling. Each and every one brought, and continues to bring, something singularly special to my life. Such a unique, varied, luminous group of people. I don’t know how I ended up with the pack of you, but I’m so so glad I did. You are more than friends, you are truly family to me.
3. Pups. I’ve always been a dog person. I love their pack mentality. The group is better than the one. I love their loyalty and sweetness and unconditional love. I love how cuddly they are. I realize not all dogs are like this, but in my experience, this is what I’ve found. Our dogs, Weston and Riley, are the most wonderful of creatures. Both quirky and slightly flawed and neurotic in their own little ways, they bring so much joy and love and happiness to our lives. I can’t believe how much I love them, and how much love they give to us. It’s miraculous, the love of our dogs for us. It’s important to honor that, to cherish it, and to take up the responsibility that having them in our lives brings.
4. Wind in the trees. This is a bit of a crazy one, or might seem crazy anyway, but its going to stay here none the less. I love the sound of the wind in the trees. It’s a reminder of the moving world. The wind blows here, it’s blowing somewhere across the world. It carries life and hazard and is alive in its own way. It reminds me how gentle or ferocious life can be and that I should try to be gentler, quieter, softer in my approach. It reminds me how small I am, how big the world is, and that there are people in other places lifting their faces to the wind, closing their eyes, and sighing, just like I do sometimes.
5. The grand boys. I know they are people too, and yes they are included in what I wrote above, but they are worth their own category. Every day it seems I learn something new from them, something new about them. They have such zest, such emotion, such joy for life. They are amazing little men and the fact that I get to be privy to their growth and exploration of the world is magical. Seeing how they respond to things, how they are effected by their world, how they learn, it all stuns me. I’m so grateful for the experience of knowing them and loving them and having them love me.
6. My honey. Yes, she also deserves her own category. I would’ve put her first, as she deserves to be first, and is, but no matter. It doesn’t matter what number gets put next to her on any list, she’s my number one. My center, my split apart, my soul mate. Two people were never more suited for each other. We are like a hand in a perfectly fit glove. We mesh. We work. We somehow found each other. It’s rare, to have this kind of relationship. I know it is. She knows it too. I can be moody and difficult, we have our issues, like everyone does, but the difference is that we are always moving together in the same direction. We find joy in each other, in our relationship. We look at things the same way, with a sense of adventure and excitement. She has more joy than anyone I’ve ever met. I am amazed by her.
7. The Scooter. It’s fun. It’s fast. It’s zippy. It’s freedom on two wheels. Riding it gives me great joy. What more is there to say?
8. A good book. I’m in a reading phase now. I seem to, over the course of my life, go in and out of reading phases. I’ve always loved it, but sometimes I go off reading. I have no idea why. The times when I’m in a reading phase definitely are better times. I am more relaxed, more at peace, more in touch with things outside myself. It’s a good advertisement, in my life anyway, for me trying to stay in a reading phase. New worlds are always waiting inside the pages of a good book.
9. My kindle, and other electronic devices. Is this cheating to bring up the Kindle right after the above number 8? Nah…. I’m a geek. I love all things techy. I love new technology, what it can do, the places it can take me. I have always loved these things. I have no idea why. I don’t really want to know how they work, I just want to figure out their functions and then use them. Whatever thing; phone, laptop, Kindle, iPod, GPS in the Jeep, new app, etc., I happen to be using at the time. Fabulous.
10. The dictionary. The vehicle of its delivery has changed, moving to an online or let’s make that plural as in multiple online dictionaries, but I love them all the same. Words, meanings of words, other words to use in place of words I think I’ve over used, and on and on. The dictionary and/or a good thesaurus, are wonders of the world. I adore them.
11. Chocolate. In all its forms, covered over the top of things or standing alone on its own, I love me some good chocolate.
12. The ocean. Doesn’t really matter which one, though I’m sort of partial to the Pacific as it’s the one I grew up with. The power, the endless depth, the mysteries living there. Again, it’s one of those things that makes me feel small in a big world. As you can probably tell by now I love that feeling. It helps to put things in perspective. I like most forms of natural water; rivers, oceans, big lakes, streams. Even rain. Rain is amazing. I think my Oregon is showing through.
13. Ceiling fans. Crazy as this may seem. I love our ceiling fan in our bedroom. I don’t know if I could sleep without it. It’s the simple pleasures in life. Besides which, in Scappoose we actually named our ceiling fan The Super-Sky-Diving-Fan-Blade-Lady. Yes, if you looked at it just right, like shapes in clouds, you could see her.
14. Filtered sunlight. I’m looking out into the backyard now. It’s now (a few days have gone by since I started this list) the first day of Autumn (which happens to be my favorite of the seasons) and it’s gorgeous outside. The light is coming down in streaks through the trees and it’s absolutely beautiful. Stunning. Gorgeous. Amazing.
15. Weston’s snoring sound. I know I already talked about the dogs, but seriously, his snore rocks. He’s a small dog, but can snore with the best of them. I love that sound.
16. Finding a new band/music and music in general. I’m an explorer by nature. This applies to music as well. I’m constantly looking for new music. Finding a new group/artist is an amazing thing. It lifts my soul. Just as listening to an old standard lifts my soul. Some people aren’t music people, they could care less. I don’t understand those people. I’m moved, shaped, enlightened, lifted, seared to the core, and effected greatly by the music in my life.
17. Birkenstocks. We are a Birkenstock household. There are so many different kinds of Birkenstocks in our house it’s sort of ridiculous, but they are here for a reason. They are comfortable. The most comfortable shoe ever. My feet sing while wearing them.
18. Walkabouts. I love a good stroll. Going places my feet can take me, anywhere I happen to be, is a great thing. My Mom and I just did a 13 plus mile stroll in Chicago recently. We hadn’t planned on walking that far, we just did. The weather was wonderful, the company stellar, and the sights beautiful. Walking is an experiment in living the slow life. It allows you to drink it what’s around you, be more effected by it, be IN it. I recommend it highly.
19. iPhone camera. I’m a fan. Being somewhat of a photographer (I’ve gotten paid to do it occasionally) I have a lot of equipment. Recently, however, I’ve been using my iPhone camera more and more. I’ve done this for a couple of reasons. One, I don’t have to carry around a ton of stuff, my phone is always in my pocket anyway, and two, not carrying around all that stuff and attending to it, and then using it, I feel like I’m more in the moment. I’m still taking loads of photos, but I seem to be more present in situations just using my phone as opposed to big cameras. And to top it off, the iPhone camera is pretty darn good for a phone camera. I like it. I like it a lot.
20. Eggs on toast. We just spent many days in our travel trailer. An egg on toast was a go to breakfast for us during that time. One egg, one piece of toast. Simple, and warm, and tasty. I enjoyed it. I just thought of it this morning, so guess what we had for breakfast today?
21. Autumn. I mentioned fall in an earlier item. It’s my favorite and deserves its own slot. I love the changing of the leaves, I love the new crispness in the air, I love how we clean up the yard and put stuff away and everything starts to get still, quiet. Strangely I love having to put on my long pants and sweatshirts for the first time in months. I love the holidays during fall and how here in Illinois the trees start to bare themselves as the leaves start to fall. It’s a time of change and quieting and relief from the heat.
22. Old fashioned chocolate sodas. To be honest I just discovered these this last week. I liked it so much I’m including it here. Yum.
23. Travel. As I said earlier, I’m an explorer by nature. New places, new things, new experiences are like mana of the gods to me. I drink them in. Travel, by its nature, feeds that need in me to explore. New sights, sounds, people met, and areas to explore feed my soul. I’m a bit of a nomad and travel, of any kind and distance, fills that part of me.
24. Our new travel trailer. Related, obviously, to the previous item, our travel trailer rocks. We just got it this summer and ended up spending, so far, nearly 50 nights traveling around and sleeping in it. I never got tired of it. It’s small, but feels big for its size. I think, honestly, I could actually live in it. That won’t happen, as having a home base is necessary for my honey, and probably for me as well, but I think I could. It’s perfect for the two of us and our two fur heads. It symbolizes adventure and fun and exploration. I’m ready to take it out again.
25. Tasty vittles. Along with new places to see, I love finding new foods I like. As well, truth be told, as eating standard favorites of mine. A good meal shared with good people and maybe a nice glass of Barbera d’Alba. Yum.
26. Quiet time. I’m a person who enjoys solitude and silence. In fact I don’t just enjoy it, I need it. Sitting alone in a space reading, watching tv, drinking coffee, looking around, or just sitting and thinking, is necessary for me. I call it my recharge time. It’s important for me. And consequently it’s important for those around me. I’m a better me when I get time to myself once in a while. If I don’t I begin to feel overloaded, overwhelmed, and a tad crazy pants. Plus, I just plain enjoy it.
27. The blogs. Creative outlets, period the end. I love writing, I love taking photos, and I love having a place to put that out into the world. Read or not read (though I prefer read) I so enjoy the constant platforms for creativity.
28. Speaking of photography. Photography. I see the world a certain way. I see it in detail. The whole is beautiful, but the real secret beauty lives in the details. A leaf, an arm, a man smoking a cigar, shadows and light. I have always seen this way, though I think using a camera so much has heightened this sense of mine. When I capture what I’ve just seen with my eyes in a photograph it’s an incredible feeling.
29. Words. Written by others, written by myself, lyrics, stanzas, dialogue, conversation, puns, silly phrases, novels, poems, short stories, witty commercials, plays, dictionaries, etc. No matter the vehicle, words mean a lot to me. I’m grateful for their breadth and depth and expanse. I’m grateful to be able to convey and to have things conveyed to me. I’m grateful for the expression of others and my ability to express. They are the bread and fruit of life.
30. A good hug. My brother, Kev, is a fantastic hugger. He’s known for it actually. I think his hugs will go down in song and story. He hugs with the all of himself. It engulfs and warms and conveys so much. There’s nothing like a good hug. We are a hugging family. We are people who hug. There’s a reason for that.
31. Experience. Vague, yes, but not really meant to be. I love new experiences with the people in my life. Fishing on Stan’s boat, disc golf with the Gal Up group, crab feast with the POD, fantasy football, going out for a bite to eat, bike rides, walks, dinners at the houses of great friends, train rides, laughing and laughing, seeing a film, reading a book, walking on a beach, kayaking, exploring cool buildings, seeing great art, and on and on and on. The experiences we have are everything. What we own, nothing. The time we spend with the people we love, doing things we love, that’s where the heart and soul of living is.
32. Bike rides. I have always loved the feeling of being on a bike. It’s always meant freedom and fun to me. When I was a kid a whole gang of us would ride around together, exploring the neighborhood. I bought my first bike, a sweet little green 10 speed, when I was in junior high. I’d had bikes before, but that was the first one I paid for by myself. I saved the money. It was so cool. I rode that bike for years actually. I think it’s even the one I took to college with me. It was, during school days, my main mode of transport. Somehow I let that bike go and didn’t have another one for a long time. In recent years I’ve gotten back into it, not as a major cyclist or anything, just as a day rider, and have loved every moment I’m in the seat. It’s liberating, invigorating, and free. Last year I got a new, slightly better bike, and it’s been heaven. Stepping out to the garage and just hoping on the bike and going out for a spin, so much fun. SO much fun. Makes me feel the same way I did when I was a kid.
33. Life. I’m grateful for it. Four years ago first my honey and then I had brushes with death. Both sicknesses, both life threatening, both terrifying. We each pulled through with flying colors, but at times, for each of us, it was touch and go. I’m grateful we are both here and loving, laughing, experiencing, exploring, and trying to drink in every bit of life. I’m so very grateful.
34. Not taking things for granted. I don’t. I feel an expanding sense of gratitude all the time. I know my life is good, and I don’t take that for granted. I’m glad I don’t. I’m lucky to know not to. I’ve always been this way, but as I get older, and as I’ve experienced more in life, I feel this even more. I wish I could gift it to everyone, this feeling of being so thankful for what I have, and so in tune with that feeling. It changes everything, or can anyway. I know people who struggle with life, always feeling they are owed, or due something, or that they have been robbed of something. I feel so sad for them. Honestly sad. Our lives are a matter of perspective. “Coffey looks and he sees hate and fear, you have to look with better eyes than that”. It’s my favorite line from the move The Abyss. It says everything there is to say. We all have to look with our best eyes. I’m not preaching here, OK, maybe I am just a little, I’m just trying to say that I’m grateful that I don’t take things for granted and I wish everyone could feel what that feels like.
35. Connection. I feel a deep sense of connection. Not just to my family and friends, but to the world at large. I feel a spiritual connection to all living things, and therefore a responsibility to them. I’m grateful for this feeling. It brings a depth to my life, helping me to center myself at times, to know my place. Again, I’m but a drop in the bucket and this larger living world is a huge place filled with wonders.
36. Silliness. I was going to write a good laugh here, but changed my mind and wrote silliness instead. There’s nothing like being silly, being a dork, being unafraid to be ridiculous and not care what anyone thinks. I’m a total dork. I admit it. I embrace it. I say and do things that get me strange looks at times. I’m OK with that. I’m grateful for the quirk in myself, for the quirk in my friends, for the dorkiness of my family, for the natural pratfalls and schtick, and playfulness in myself and the people I love. Everyone should be willing to dance in the rain and do silly stuff just to make the people you love laugh. At least, that’s what I think. Last night I was talking in the most ridiculous southern accent just to make my honey laugh. She did. It was awesome.
37. Film. I adore a good movie. I cry, learn, expand, dream, breathe, laugh, and find so much beauty in movies. I always have. It’s the stories, the hope, the despair, the human commonality, the connection with places and people who I feel I know. Near or far, made in the US or not, these stories grow a world view, empower change, enlighten, and sometimes offer an escape and relief from my daily life. I value them, their contribution, their art. I value their expression and message, even if I don’t always agree with it. Movies enrich my life in a myriad of ways.
38. The Library. I’ve always been a fan of libraries. When I was younger I used to hang out in them a bit to do homework, people watch, enjoy a quiet place. I never took full advantage of one and I’m not sure I even had a library card (other than in college) anywhere I’ve lived, until now. When we moved to C-U we, naturally because it’s why we moved here, started hanging out a lot with our first grandson. The library in our town has a great children’s area and a couple of times we found ourselves there with him exploring the kids area, playing with the train, running up and down the little stairs. I decided to look around a bit and discovered they had a lot to offer and set about getting a library card. I’m so glad I did. Books, movies, music, magazines, and so much are now at my fingertips. I created a hold list and add stuff to it all the time. It’s so much fun. In a time in our lives when we are trying to live smaller, use less, and have less, the library provides a great way for me to still enjoy all those things I love without having to pay out tons of money, or find tons of space in the house. Plus, again, it’s so much fun.
39. The Y. We also joined the Y when we moved here. We’d never been members of a gym together. Not really. Well, OK, we joined another gym the first year we were here, but it was small and in a mall. Neither of those things were necessarily bad, but it was limited. Then the new Y opened up and we went in to check it out. Great facility. Pools, weight rooms, indoor track, rock climbing wall, great locker room facilities, and a great play space for the grand boys. We were hooked and signed up. We go through spurts when using it, like most people with gym memberships, but the diverse class offerings (we’re going to try yoga next week), combined with the facilities themselves and the incredibly nice staff make it a total winner. We absolutely love it, and I’m particularly fond of it now as I’m back in a swimming mode and love being in the water.
40. Our meat man. I get a lot of joy out of this one. When we moved to Illinois from Oregon I did a lot of research on sustainable food sources, organic availability, grocery stores and what they offered, etc. Coming from the Portland area we were used to having locally sourced meat and other foods available to us all the time. What I found in my search here was that we could join a meat club. Yay. Seriously, it’s the coolest thing. We buy our meat directly from a farmer. We can visit the farm, though we haven’t, if we want to. We know his practices, like him and the other people who work the truck when we do our monthly pick up, and totally dig on the superior quality of the meat we are now eating. It tastes better than anything we’ve ever purchased, anywhere. It rocks, and we love that we get the majority of our meat this way. We get an email every month, we use and order form and email back what we want, we show up at the pick up spot and pick it up. It rocks.
41. Quirky art. My honey and I are fans of art. All kinds actually. We’ve purchased sculptures and paintings and photography and funky lamps and stain glass pieces. We’ve even made some of our own, of various kinds. It’s a great thing to go to some art fair and find something we both love. It’s a rule, we don’t buy anything unless we agree on it, which actually isn’t that tough since our tastes are similar. I love the pieces we’ve purchased and so does she. We haven’t regretted a single one and the whole of them makes our house uniquely ours. It’s funky, it’s fun, it’s joyous. And I’m grateful for the funky beautiful things we’ve managed to collect. They represent us well.
42. Coffee. I can’t believe this didn’t occur to me earlier in this list, but no matter. I love a great cup of joe. Love it. We buy our beans from a local roasting company and every morning we grind them fresh and make two french presses full of gorgeous, beautiful, sweet-smelling coffee. There’s nothing like that first cup of the day, except for maybe the third cup… or the second. We’re also fans of going out to a local spot (no Starbucks for us anymore), and enjoying a nice cup of drip coffee. A good cup of coffee can be heaven in a cup.
43. Our DVR. This one is a tad shallow, but who cares. These are the things I’m grateful for and the DVR, and services like Netflix, are on the list. I love not having to watch commercials. I love being able to watch what we want when we want to. I love the ease of it all. I love the technology of it all. We watch only what we want, when we want to, and barely know anything else is on. Lovely.
44. The Up Center. Moving to a new place is tough. Especially when you love where you already live, have a fantastic group of friends, and aren’t over the moon with where you are going. Our transition, those first couple of months, was tough. We cried, we had regrets, we asked ourselves what the hell were we thinking and why did we do it? Of course, we did it for the grand son (there was only the one at the time, not the two and the baby girl on the way we have now) and he was totally worth it. It’s just that we had a big big life in Oregon and at first our move here was difficult. But, we found a little place called the Up Center, went to a group or two, met some people, and started making friends. All the friends we have here we met through that organization. It’s because of that I’m so grateful for it. We have a stellar group of friends here. A truly amazing group. A group we probably wouldn’t have met otherwise.
45. Big Boy Shorts/Pants. I’m a huge fan of cargo shorts. My honey and I call these our big boy shorts. We also have big boy pants. Nothing says convenience more than shorts equipped with pockets. Keys, phone, wallet, etc. They all fit. No purse, no backpack, no anything else to carry. It’s perfect. They are perfect. I really dig them. Grateful for the ease of wearing them.
46. Our bird feeders. I’ve never really been into birds. I mean, they can be lovely and all, but I wasn’t ever a bird watcher or anything. Then we moved to Illinois and my honey wanted bird feeders. She is a bird lover. We tried a few configurations including sitting them up on things or putting them on hooks. We have a lot of trees which means we have a lot of squirrels. Finally it occurred to us that we needed something taller. A long story short, we actually sunk posts in with hooks on each side. We stained them, put copper tops on them, and used nice wrought iron hooks. They’re great. And we get loads of birds. So many types it’s amazing. I’m a bird person now.
47. Our down comforters. We have both a summer and a winter comforter, they’re both down. There’s something extra snuggly about getting into bed with either of these on. They make our life so much more comfortable. They’re awesome.
48. Grateful. I’m grateful for being grateful. I often feel a wave of gratefulness wash over me. Not sure where it comes from all the time, but it happens. I’m grateful for this feeling. For knowing there’s so much to be grateful for.
49. A positive attitude. It’s fitting that I should save this for last. It’s important to me, and a big part of who I am. Don’t get me wrong. I am afraid sometimes, really afraid. I worry. I get really angry sometimes. I’m moody. I’m not always the person who says let’s hold hands and all sing kumbaya. But for the most part, most of the time, I’m pretty upbeat. I tend to look on the bright side. I think it’s a mixture of hope and what I believe to be true all rolled together. I’m genuinely hopeful, most of the time. I also genuinely believe in the overwhelming good of most people. I know there are evil souls out there doing bad things, but I truly believe that for the most part people are good, are trying to do what they think is best, are sincere and giving and gracious and kind. I believe that. I’m glad I do. I believe that things can work out. They don’t always, but they can. I’ve always been this way. Maybe that’s why the teachers at my high school gave me a president’s award my senior year for having the best attitude. I believe we should smile at each other, with our eyes, and say thank you, and that we should be friendly, we should be nice. A positive attitude gives you a lot in return as well. In my opinion it just doesn’t project out toward the world, it gives you a better view of it.
So there it is. My list of 49 things I’m grateful for as I start this year of my life. 50 is just around the corner and I can’t wait to see what the rest of this year, leading up to that milestone, brings to my life. It’s exciting.
For this reason man was created alone, to teach you that whoever destroys a single soul, he is guilty as though he had destroyed a complete world; and whoever preserves a single soul, it is as though he had preserved a whole world.
This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body… ~Walt Whitman
This guy is inspirational. If you don’t feel good after listening to this then I don’t know what could make you feel good. Besides which, after listening you might also want to tune into some classical music. This is a lovely talk.
You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you.
Mom… I agree with you. No matter what our politics, kids need to have a higher profile where our government spending is concerned. I see the aftermath when the cuts happen. What do we want… educated children, or a much higher drop out rate. People may say there’s no correlation, but trust me, there is.