Eight Years

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Photo by TJ Parker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wow.  What a ride it’s been so far.

 

 

 

 

52 Thoughts – Ninth Thought

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Photo by TJ Parker

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.

52 Thoughts: Fifth Thought

 

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Photo by TJ Parker

I’ve been thinking.

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

I’ve been thinking.

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

52 Thoughts: Fourth Thought

 

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Photo by TJ Parker

We have to hold onto each other.

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

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

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

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

52 Thoughts: First Thought

 

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Photo by TJ Parker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is what I will do. That is all.

 

 

To Be Grateful

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Photo by TJ Parker

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.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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.

~ Maya Angelou

 

Maybe There’s Hope For Us After All

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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