Days 98 & 99: There has been calm. It makes it sound as if this should be a rather boring piece of writing. Scribbling about the placid. When did we learn to think that drama-free equals boring? I have been to drama. It is not an experience that I need. Today has a very small tale to tell: I drove to work talking to the full moon and reciting things for which I am grateful. I drove home talking to by daughter on nifty new earphone thingies that were an unexpected gift from a friend. I listened to my daughter’s hard day and some of her drama. And the thought that brought tears to my eyes was that she has a lover who understands her and cares deeply for her. I can release some of that mommy-fear about my adult daughter’s unhappy day 1500 miles from home. I can trust her, her girlfriend, and myself and release it. And keep my own calm. Tonight I didn’t eat dinner. I didn’t work on anything. I re-filled the bird feeder and passed out dog treats. And I did something I wouldn’t have done a while back–identified myself. There was an email from our neighborhood chat board. Folks were asking about the free libraries by the park, talking about what a treat they are and that they could use a paint job. And they wanted to know who put them there. I confessed. It felt good and it felt connected. No fireworks. Just calm.
Day 97: The other day it felt as if the world was deliberately inundating me with Qs. Every license plate in traffic was QQQ-something, There were an unusual number of Qs on my Alpha Bear board. My son complained because he ran out of Q-tips. It was bizarre. Then the same thing started happening with information about authenticity, truth, and compassion.
Over the weekend I met a woman who was bright, funny, artistic and recovering from cancer. We hit it off and had instant stories to tell one another and ideas to share. I was able to give her ideas about some things she could do to help herself heal, tools that I had used–visualization, battle statements, paying attention about expending energy. She seemed eager to do anything that would take her forward and shared some like information with me. And I could not remember her name. I struggled with it for days. Her name is a bit unusual and when I was reminded of it yesterday, there was a sharp tug on my heart and memory. About 10 years ago I called to a close an important friendship with a person by the very same name. This person was bright, funny, artistic, and suffering from a debilitating condition. I pulled every tool from my toolbox and offered to help her learn to use them and pull herself from the place she was in. I tried doing things for her, asking, and stupidly, tried to fix issues for her. It was a hard lesson. Nobody can fix anybody. We cannot love someone well or bully someone into a happier place in life. Love and friendship do not conquer all. We have to want to fix our own stuff. Someone else may lend us tools or a map, but it’s up to us to put one foot in front of the other on the road to Change.
One of the things Jean Shinoda Bolen writes about in Crones Don’t Whine is the difficulty of balancing truth and compassion. I don’t know if I balanced those two thing well when I parted ways with this friend. I do know that my word for the year afterward was Compassion and I spent a lot of time developing a better grasp on that. After writing here last night, I continued my slow read of Crones Don’t Whine and read the following: Are you polite or cowardly? Women are inclined to withhold truth from those emotionally most important to them and in doing so nurture and sustain their weakness. (Well, ouch.) To not want to embarrass a friend and withhold the truth does not serve her; friends tell one another the truth. Whoever described truth as a double edged sword had a limited imagination. Truth has as many facets and perspectives as any gem. Have you ever noticed that gems are always presented on velvet? We touch the soft surface before the hard stone at the center.
This is the second hard lesson. We must address our own truths before we can address them with others. It requires the courage to ask yourself if you are enabling weakness in someone else with your good intentions. It can require hard questions like ‘Do I hold on to this person or relationship as a means to an end in my own life?’ It is not very lovely to consider how disrespectful it is to hold someone back for our own comfort. The thing to remember is that whether you are facing an unpleasant moment parting with someone else or facing the unpleasant truth in the mirror, both situations require compassion.
Days 86-92: It’s been a longer break in writing than I expected but there has been some amazing stuff in the interim. Here are some truths, because I say it is so (how about that!):
If you begin to take any steps at all, the Universe/Great Whatsis will have your back: I spent some time breathing and visualizing getting some of the decluttering done rather than telling myself that I need to be organized and pick the correct place to start so that it will all work like clockwork and la de freakin’ dah. What works is Pick Something. Pick anything and just start doing it. I started with my cookbooks. I have one book case filled with cookbooks. I used to have an obscene amount of them and in a post-cancer moment gave away 2 large bookcases worth of cookbooks. What? I told you it was an obscene amount. I gave them to a budding chef, a giggling young woman wearing a hijab, and an unemployed man whose wife collects cookbooks. Some of these are being shared with friends, being shipped off to my daughter, and heading off into the ARC-shaped sunset. With that in motion, an event popped up that afforded me the opportunity to unload, er, gift in donation all of the purses I’m giving away. Two stacks of magazines that I was saving to read on Someday Isle are living happily with other people. Every day I’m doing something to address this–one drawer, one shelf at a time. This is not a race against the clock (well, it kind of is); it’s a race against my own procrastination and right now I feel stronger somehow.
I began setting aside regular time to breathe, visualize, and play with some herbs. I used a mix of orange, patchouli and geranium oils to create a happy wake-me-up scent. Which brings me to another truth: Once things are in motion, in the right direction, don’t be surprised if it starts falling into place like dominoes. I am finding lightness in simple tasks–monthly bill paying, cancelling my DirecTV, seeing the widening eyes of the paint store clerk as I foraged for paint chips. All she said was, “Really? What are you painting?” When I told her I was painting my walls, she was kind of speechless. And then I said it–“There’s not one f*cking white wall in my house now and there never will be.” I started laughing at the names of paint colors as I picked them up. The clerk was SO grateful to go help the guy who wanted white primer. My paint chips have names like Raucous Orange, Forward Fuchia, Blue Mosque and Glad Yellow. One of the first gifts I received while recovering from cancer was the epiphany that if I pay the mortgage on this house, it’s mine! I don’t have to have walls painted Apt. 202 White. People have told me they wish they had the courage to do it. There is no courage involved, just rollers, brushes, and a visit to Home Depot.
The final truth, and the one I am sitting with, examining carefully, is this: Sometimes just being yourself is the most awesome feeling of wholeness and a reminder of how frequently we reduce ourselves to fit our surroundings. I was invited to lunch in the mountains by someone who prefaced the invitation with the words ‘because I want to get to know you better.’ I was incredibly flattered and at the lunch found myself with a mix of friends and strangers. We laughed and talked and I felt myself relaxing and simply being the person I consider my best self. I actually had something to say and some things that people really wanted to hear. I learned some things, too. It was magical and I came face to face with the person I enjoy being and the way I love most to interact. Later in the day I was reminded of how infrequently I am able to do just that. It is not the first time this issue has come up but I know that I want to solve this riddle once and for all and just be. An old friend told me a very long time ago that the most difficult things in my life would not be the experiences of leaving one life for another, changing careers, or even raising my kids. He said the real challenges would be Just Be and Let Go. And so in my year of wanting to be content and practicing simplicity, Just Be and Let Go appear to be holding hands and skipping toward me at a rather steady pace.
Day 85: I noticed something today. I have gotten rather good at not worrying about ‘what if.’ It’s that part of being that rises up when things are going well and reminds you of what happened the last time or ten years ago.
In the past I had one of those life-altering events that leaves, as a friend of mine says, scorched earth. Not just everything upset but everything destroyed. While I carry some scars from those events, I can tell you that I foolishly spent time creating my own chaos when things began to become good again. I have a theory about this that is part medical, part psychological and part me having a bit of an epiphany. When we are faced with crisis or life-altering issues, our bodies produce a big push of adrenaline and our brains tell us to use it for fight or flight. If the crisis is ongoing, we get used to that constant feeling of being energized and on the edge. Then things begin to settle down. And here is where the choice comes in. If we want to continue on that adrenaline high, we need to create new chaos, stir up new drama, fuel some tiny problem until it’s raging. Otherwise the spotlight disappears and life change must occur. I’m not sure which is more difficult, looking yourself in the mirror and telling yourself to stop or having someone else pointing out that you are doing it. It requires some thoughtful determination to stop the drama wheel from churning and discovering what your new norm can be. I do know that when we stop creating our own drama, it becomes easier to believe that there can be no more pianos falling from the sky to squish us or be haunted by the ghosts of past failure. If I am going to imagine my future and conjure some ‘what ifs’ then I choose to imagine that all the drama in life is on HBO and that my problems are short-lived, minuscule critters who are highly allergic to my breath of calm.
Days 83 & 84: I can’t think of one thing of value I did on Monday. I mean, I went to work and worked. I came home and wandered through my evening, got up this morning, and started it all over again. Days like that feel like there is no life in living, just treading water.
The patient part of me says, Be present. Sit with it. Become aware of your surroundings. And that is often enough. Restless me wants to constantly be in forward motion, creating something, breaking down something, getting it in gear to GO. I was all about GO tonight with plans to box up a few more things heading toward the exit. Then my phone rang. It was Mary. She is in her 80’s. We have met 2-3 times over a lifetime and I will spend some time with her in October. She always talks as if we just stopped speaking to one another 5 minutes ago. She tells me family stories, asks me probing questions and punctuates important information with Are you getting what I’m saying to you here? And I do. She always reminds me how the past, present and future are woven together and that no human story is unique–someone, somewhere has been in a similar spot and made choices too. We spent a long while on the phone and then she said a quick Don’t forget I love you. We’ll talk soon.
I saw how the evening had slipped away along with the likelihood that I would accomplish much more tonight. The conversation also energized me with an interior eagerness to put some muscle behind my decluttering. I need/want/am going to have less stuff and need/want/am going to have more people time. Someone once said that the person with the most toys at the end wins. Somebody else said, the person who has the most time to play with their toys wins. I say, the person with any toys that are used up and worn out because they were shared doesn’t care about winning because just living is so enjoyable.
Days 78 & 79: It’s raining big, splattering drops here and I am mulling things over. I am nearly 80 days in and I’m not sure if knowledge and progress are weighing evenly with failures and unbridled whimpering. At this point, here’s what I think:
Compassion and anger are able to be partners–even if they make me uncomfortable. In Chapter 6 of Crones Don’t Whine, the author talks about how even the meekest among us finds and voices her outrage more easily as an older woman. She adds that the choice to go down one path ultimately means we have chosen not to take a different route. (I am not sure I wholly agree with her about this.) I have notes that say compassionate anger, well-intended outrage, growling hope and radical empathy–can you make your self-interest the center of this decision-making or will this always work by putting others first and self last? This becomes a pretty important point as I go forward because I have apparently been living some of it backwards. So much of what I have read about contentment and fulfillment in this part of life is about becoming an activist, a volunteer, a voice for those who cannot always speak for themselves. And evidently in our 60’s is when all of this is supposed to flourish. For me, my first interaction with rescue dogs was feeding strays as a pre-schooler. I was 12 when I hid a neighbor boy in our basement because his father was intent on killing him. For years I spent every waking moment of every day being an advocate for my son, abused children, families with mental health crises, as well as women battling social and educational illiteracy. I am finding no guidelines to say what a person who has done this from youth to 60 does from 60 on. I don’t think there will ever be a time when I am not somehow involved. But there has to be balance. And there has to be something to do when I do choose self.
I must get some sleep. I have to be up early to take my golden retriever for his Spring spa day at the groomers where he will be bathed, clipped, and have a chance to romp and play with his friends. Maybe I need to take a cue from my dog.
Day 77: There is such power in words. A practiced speech may sound important but simply be well-rehearsed. Those words that are spoken in staccato rhythms that sound like hail on a tin roof and pile up on the ground, causing you to look for ways to step around and over them. Those words have unrestrained power.
I heard so many of them today.
I’m tired of dealing with this. I’m tired of dealing with the complaints and all of it. How about you take it over completely? All of my practice saying yes to things I want and no to things I don’t want to do stuck in my throat. This is a friend with his head in his hands. I replied with something that got him smiling and nearly tap danced my way out of the conversation. He was able to clearly express his needs and desires and I managed a flimsy maybe.
My son told me he was going to go live with his step-dad and get rich selling drugs with him. I told him he’d just end up in jail. And I told this person they won–my employed son who pays his bills and goes to counselling and is struggling toward a life is a prize by comparison. When I asked them if they believed parenting ever eases up when you have a struggling young adult, they looked me straight in the eye and said No. I don’t think it does. But we’re built to endure more, too. I told them that sometimes I wish truth could always be served with a side of wine and chocolate. They nodded and we hugged one another for a while. I mentioned a couple of resources she might use and we both went back to work.
Why do we feel like we need to pull people back from the edge when they say they want to commit suicide? This world is nothing but a pile of shit. What are we pulling them back to? The shit? Or just so we have company in the shit? I felt like he sideswiped me. It was the first time all day I remembered to really breathe. It’s nearly noon and I’m in a meeting room with these words clanging in the air. I told him this: Not all of the world is shit. The world that I work to create for myself every day is not shit. It’s a good place. And if I pull someone back, it’s to that good place–even if only for a while and I remind them of something I learned long ago–good things grow with only a little nurturing and the layer of shit is just fertilizer. I am unapologetic about this. Anyone is worth the effort and ultimately everyone sooner or later makes their own choice.
It was exhausting. At the end of the day I came home and showered off the grit but saved what I believe may be the beginning of a map.