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: Eighth Thought

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Photo by TJ Parker

Forgiveness.

I walk down the hallway at night
House asleep
Creaks and wind and chimes filter in
I’m at my in-laws house
There’s sickness here
And a kind of hope for better
… feeling better and being better
They love me
I feel that
It’s mutual
I write poems at night when I can’t sleep
I don’t remember them in the morning
After sleep finally comes and washes them away
I think that night work is my best work
Just saying
But it gets me through the hours
Filled with creaks and wind and stray whining cats outside
There’s something special to this forgetting
As if mysteries were revealed to me
Then taken away again
I know they are there
Just out of reach
But there nonetheless
Magic
It’s because of this I forgive myself
Forgiveness for the forgetting
I walk down the hallway at night

~ TJ Parker

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: 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.

 

 

Be like the flower, turn your faces to the sun. ~ Kahlil Gibran

Sierra Club Daily Ray of Hope

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Words to Live By (Part 3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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