Sunday, December 4, 2016
While looking through Christmas decorations and hunting for other mementos recently, I found a greeting card that my maternal grandmother sent to my parents and me some 50 years ago. On the back of the card, in her lovely handwriting with all of the flourishes that cursive writers employed in that era, Grandma Carrie penned the following message to us: "May Christmas bring you happiness, and fill your hearts with song. With all the Blessings large and small. Throughout your holiday and always. With our love." I have looked at that card many times over the years, but it was on that day at that moment that Grandma's message held special and significant meaning for me. For the past few years, I have been marking my days by the blessings I count. I begin and end each day naming three things for which I am grateful, sometimes specific to that day and at other times things for which I can always be grateful. That practice has reshaped how I see my life and the world around me and how I see even the most difficult moments and circumstances possessing their own beauty and blessing. For the past few months, I have been collecting heart-shaped objects, particularly stones, which I have found in my path on my daily walks. They seem to just be waiting for me. Both of these practices of counting my blessings and following my heart along the journey are helping me to see the "Blessings large and small" in my life and they are filling my heart with song. It's easy to get caught up in the consumerism or busyness of the holiday or wrapped up in memories of Christmases past, but the real blessings, the real happiness, the real songs in our heart come from the small, yet significant experiences and kindnesses we encounter all year long. So, my wish for you, dear reader, is the same as my beloved grandmother wrote so many years ago: May Christmas bring you happiness and fill your hearts with song. With all the Blessings large and small. Throughout your holiday and always. Peace.
Sunday, November 6, 2016
"Oh Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made," are familiar lyrics from the old-time hymn "How Great Thou Art." I've always loved that hymn for its lyrics because they speak to me and to my appreciation for the beauty of nature. However, they became even richer after reading the cover story of the October 9, 2016 edition of the "Parade" newspaper supplement, an article by Paula Spencer Scott about Awe and the therapeutic effects from feeling it. According to Merriam-Webster, awe is a "strong feeling of fear or respect and also wonder." I don't particularly resonate with the fear aspect of that definition, but I do feel the respect and wonder aspects to my core, particularly when in the magnificence and majesty of nature. On my daily walks, I allow myself to become immersed in my environment, becoming alert to things that pass by too quickly for complete observation when driving. It is then that I see falling leaves swirling in an intricate dance to the ground. I smell the spicy, heady scent of flowering crab trees in the spring. I view the riot of vibrant, cheerful color that a summer garden offers. I get the same sensation of awe when hearing music. There is nothing so wonderful as to listen to the complex, jubilant and amazing Charles-Marie Widor's Toccata from the Fifth Organ Symphony in F, Opus 42, No. 1. I occasionally listen to it just to get that sensation of awe. At a time when we tend to hear more messages from the fear side of awe, which only compounds our stress levels, I feel that our everyday lives hold the potential for wonder. We just have to step outside or listen to a great piece of music, get our eyes off of our handheld devices and move away from our increasing propensity to a sedentary and, sadly, isolating lifestyle. Doing so will open our eyes, ears and hearts to the glorious things all around us. If we could only concentrate on those glorious, wondrous moments a bit more, what an awesome world it would be.
Sunday, October 2, 2016
As the alarm went off one recent morning, I realized that waking up at 6:00 a.m. is so different today than it was just a few months ago. Now, it feels as if I'm forcing myself to get up bleary-eyed in the middle of the dark night, rather than enthusiastically jumping out of bed with the sunshine streaming through the bedroom window, the birds singing a cheerful "good morning" and the day welcoming me to get up and go. When glancing at the clock at 7:00 p.m. at this time of year, the darkness envelops me, leaving me with a feeling that the day is done and my pajamas and reading chair are calling to me. Just a few months ago, 7:00 p.m. was considered early evening with at least one, maybe two hours of daylight left, leaving time for so much possibility and an abundance of energy that wouldn't wane until nightfall. The seasons have been shifting and I have been grieving it. One gray Sunday afternoon, I sat quietly just to let myself examine why I felt such profound grief and soon my perspective, my grief over the waning daylight started to change. As I explored the ever-evolving balance of dark and light, I saw that in many ways, it was simply another time of give and take. One must have the darkness in order to appreciate the light. Too much light would rob me of the quiet, introspective and renewing benefits of darkness. Too much darkness and I would lack the energy that the sun and daylight provide. So, with this renewed perspective, as the season shifts from one of abundant daylight to one of increased darkness, I am seeing the blessings in the shift. As much as I am one who loves the energy of the daylight, I am welcoming the arrival of increasing darkness. Both are interdependent and necessary and beautiful and I am content to be bathed in both.
Sunday, September 4, 2016
Summer is just about behind us. That long-awaited season of sunshine, hot temperatures and every imaginable excuse considered acceptable to justify an ice cream cone is unofficially over on Labor Day. Other than the glorious weather, the fragrant flowers, the extended hours of daylight and time dedicated to nothing more productive than reading a good book, what did I gain from this summer? I learned that I need to expand the bubble. I need to embrace the child in me more often. While on my daily walks this summer, I witnessed a little girl singing at the top of her lungs while she watered flowers in front of her home. I laughed along with children who found jumping and splashing in puddles to be exhilarating entertainment. I watched a little boy run like the wind, not because he had a purpose or a particular destination, but because he was simply having fun. And I delighted in a little girl dancing in bubbles as she blew them. I decided I want to expand my own bubble and dance and run and sing and splash just like them. The seriousness of our world has a way of weighing me down, where every day brings news of more divisiveness, more rancor, more tragedy and heartache and senseless violence. We each need to bring light into our own corners of the world and we each need to find and make our own joy. So, as summer steps aside for the arrival of fall this month, I will be focusing on how to expand my bubble to reach out to others with more kindness and compassion and to include more room in my days for laughter, spontaneity and sheer joy.
Sunday, August 7, 2016
After watching the days grow longer and the brilliance of the beautiful, full moons (including that amazing "strawberry" moon that shone on the evening of the summer solstice), I have been giving a great deal of thought to light. What I realized was that I believe even stronger that we are made of the light of God. That infinite, ever-shining light provides us with immeasurable opportunities to do good, especially when we share it with others. It reminds me of the lyrics to that wonderful old children's Gospel song, "This little light of mine. I'm going to let it shine." We have the choice to squander our light, misusing it to try to dim the light of others, to overpower another's light with ours or to even dim our own. When we do that, we lose sight of the sacred in others. We don't respect their light. Instead, we see ours as the more powerful source. On the other hand, if we choose to consider our light a blessing and, in turn, take every opportunity to be a blessing to others, I believe our light shines brighter, especially when we cast it to help and lift up another. In addition to my starting and ending my days listing three things for which I am grateful, I have added another reflection upon awakening: "How will I cast my light today?" And upon retiring: "How well did I utilize my light today? How can I do better tomorrow?" This little light of mine, I'm going to let it shine.
Sunday, July 3, 2016
A couple of months ago, a book on display at our local public library found its way into my hands and through the check-out kiosk, The New York Times best-seller, "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing" by Marie Kondo (Ten Speed Press, Berkley). The slim volume appealed to my significant desires to travel through this world as lightly as possible. I tend to be more minimalist in my habits, clothing and decorating style. I need very little in the way of possessions in order to be happy and comforted. In fact, I tend to feel happier and more comfortable when I am surrounded by only a few items that have special meaning to me, or as the author Marie Kondo refers, items that "spark joy" in me. In her book, Ms. Kondo recommends that we review each of our belongings, holding each one in our hands and asking if that item sparks joy. If it does, in her viewpoint, it's worth keeping; if not, it is telling you that it wants to be discarded. In my adulthood, I've subscribed to the philosophy that for every thing that comes in, at least one thing must go out. It has been a philosophy that has served my minimalist tendencies well. I've also subscribed to the philosophy that if I keep things tidy, my life feels tidier, as well. In fact, when I'm under stress, one of the first things I want to do is purge physical belongings. The act of clearing out and tidying helps me sort through the stress-inducing issue stirring around and unsettling my mind. As one individual cited in Ms. Kondo's book stated, such clearing and tidying makes way for "unhurried spaciousness." For me, that unhurried spaciousness is all about clarifying my needs from my wants, surrounding myself with only those things that bring light and joy to my life and lightening my burdens, physical and otherwise. After reading Marie Kondo's book, I can now put words to that life-changing magic of tidying up and the deep joy of living in unhurried spaciousness.
Sunday, June 5, 2016
It all started so innocently. While walking on a beach that my late parents used to frequent when they were dating in the 1940s, I mindlessly gathered a few stones from the sand as a remembrance of my time there. It wasn't until hours later when I examined the stones I had hastily gathered and pocketed that I realized one of them was distinctly shaped like a heart. A couple of years later, friends who visited that same beach brought back a stone for me that their young daughter had found. It, too, was heart-shaped. Last spring, while removing mounds of dry leaves that were caught between evergreen shrubs next to our garage, I grabbed a handful of brown leaves. A heart-shaped stone mysteriously found its way into my hand, as well. Since then, I have been finding heart-shaped stones with greater regularity, often simply by looking down while out for a walk and finding a lone, heart-shaped stone on my path in front of me. Earlier this spring, there was a period of three weeks in which I found a heart-shaped stone each of those weeks -- on the path, all by itself, just as if it had been lovingly placed there for me and me only to find. My collection of heart-shaped stones now includes nine of different colors, textures and sizes. They are displayed in a little vessel on my writing desk where I can look at them, touch them and reflect on them every day. I've always liked rocks and stones. Now, I can honestly say that I Heart Stones.
Sunday, May 1, 2016
There are blessings in silence. For the past several months, I have been busy with three professional endeavors, plus a few other irons in the fire, to the point where I found myself in a constant state of chatter, either in meetings with others or inside my head where the conversation never seemed to end, even in the middle of the night. Lately my schedule has slowed down, the meetings have become more manageable and the early-hour internal voices that kept me awake with to-do lists and other meanderings have quieted. Consequently, my entire world has become more blissfully quiet once again. Perhaps it's my being an only child, but I am quite comfortable with my own company. I don't need the television or radio to entertain me. Don't get me wrong. I love being with other people and I derive great energy from time spent with family, friends, work colleagues and acquaintances. I have an innate curiosity for new concepts and the stories of others, so being in conversation is a very pleasant and enriching thing for me. But for right now, I simply crave the quiet. It is in that sacred, silent space that I am retrieving myself and filling my rather empty well with healing energy. I believe we all need some time to disconnect and be quiet every day, if only for a few precious minutes. Quieting one's mind opens up possibilities for greater awareness, reflection and understanding. These recent quiet days have been feeding my soul and they have made the voices and sounds that I do hear just that much more lovely.
Sunday, April 3, 2016
I've been thinking about foreheads a lot lately. Specifically, I've been focusing on how we express unspoken love for each other by touching our forehead to another person's forehead. There is a television commercial airing these days where an adult child touches her forehead to her father's in an expression of unspoken love as her father's caregiver. One of my favorite movies features the hero and heroine not embraced in a kiss, but gently, silently pressing their foreheads together. When my late mom was in the dying process, sometimes words were too difficult, so we would simply be silent and touch foreheads. We would stay locked in that moment until the unspoken words seemed to have been conveyed between our touching foreheads. It got me to thinking about what an amazing gesture it is to touch the forehead of another person's with your own, how the intimacy of such a gesture requires no words, for the love seems to transfer without the need to grasp for language, which can at times feel so inadequate. Words may be powerful, but the touch of our foreheads, I've decided, can be equally if not more so.
Sunday, March 6, 2016
While having a chat with a good friend lately, we started talking about five-word memoirs. She is taking a memoir-writing class and had been instructed, along with her fellow classmates, to come up with her life in five words. As I took a walk later that afternoon, I found I was coming up with a few of my own: "Tough Illnesses. I Am Blessed." "Many Choices. Trusted My Intuition." "Always Trusted That Small Voice." "Amazing Opportunities Made Me Choose." "Swirling Drama. I Sought Joy." The act of trying to tell my story in five words made me keep coming back to the same two themes of learning valuable lessons from my experiences with life-threatening and life-altering illnesses and my reliance on heeding the wisdom of my intuition, even when it seems inexplicable to me. Lately, I've been living out of balance, trying to fulfill three professional obligations that I just couldn't totally walk away from without feeling as if I had taken them to closure. In so doing, I had not been able to exercise regularly. My sleep patterns were off. Time with my husband was cut short most weeknights over a hastily eaten dinner so I could attend an evening meeting. Time to simply be -- by myself, with my husband, with friends -- was in short supply. My attention span for reading, one of my favorite pastimes, was even shorter. Each of my professional obligations was very important to me -- challenging, interesting and growing experiences. But the load was getting heavy as I tried to do each of them to the best of my abilities. Slowly, however, each of those professional obligations is ending, and as they peel away, I am finding myself somewhere underneath, a me that is in need of play. So, perhaps I am writing my new five-word memoir: "Knew When To Pull Back."
Sunday, February 7, 2016
There is a fair amount of justifiable criticism that our society has become fixated with little handheld screens, rather than embracing the here and now of real living. With our eyes focused on a tiny screen forever in the palms of our hands, we can miss out on the important things happening around us. It would seem that we have lost our way as to what constitutes a friend and what constitutes a "friend." Absolutely nothing takes the place of real friendships, real encounters with real people, making real memories that will serve us well into the future. However, in defense of social media, I would offer that Facebook has opened valuable doors for me into the lives of friends I have known for years through my person-to-person encounters, but may not have had the opportunity to truly understand what's important to them and what's happening in their lives. I have a lovely community of friends on Facebook, many of whom are around my age. So, we're on the same page, so to speak. We support each other with compassion and understanding through day-to-day life, new beginnings and painful endings. We share news about job changes, retirements, divorces, graduations, weddings, becoming caregivers to ill parents, facing the death of loved ones, and watching children grow up to become parents themselves. We share the mundane, too, from silly jokes and humorous observations to photos of birds and flowers in our gardens and have-to-try recipes. Through "selfies," I get to see photographs of my friends' hobbies, spouses, pets and vacation destinations. I was slower to delve into this social media world, doing so not quite kicking and screaming but at least as a skeptic. However, now I embrace what is good about this quick and instant method of communication. I realize that friends can come to us in a variety of ways, including through a handheld device. The bigger benefit is that now when I see people with whom I correspond on Facebook, my in-person conversations have more depth and meaning because these friends have shared their lives with me on nearly a daily basis. Social media communication is just one way of staying in touch and we shouldn't allow it to supplant our real-life, person-to-person contact. But after having been slow to embrace the Facebook experience, I'm now ever-so-glad that I arrived. After all, as Bette Midler sings, "you got to have friends."
Sunday, January 3, 2016
I have come to believe that there is beauty -- even a comfort -- in uncertainty. That probably sounds counter-intuitive, given that we humans tend to crave certainty and seek ways to reduce or avoid risk. I have found that when I'm in a state of uncertainty, I have the opportunity to release my expectations of how things should turn out or how I wish them to be. Uncertainty forces me to relinquish my false sense of control and to be one with what is. Never was that more real to me than a few years ago when a benign tumor pressing on my spinal cord rendered me paralyzed from just above the waist down. I was taken by ambulance to a larger city hospital after an MRI revealed the reason for my mysterious, spontaneous paralysis. The neurosurgeon cautioned my husband and me that surgery, though imminent, wasn't necessarily going to reverse the problem. He was only cautiously optimistic that I would walk again. I made the decision then to hang onto my faith and hope and to allow things to unfold as they were. The shifting sands under my paralyzed feet made for some challenging traversing mentally, physically and spiritually, but my decision to embrace uncertainty rid it of its power over me. Thankfully, I did heal and I did regain my ability to walk. No one would know when I walk my normal fast clip these days that at one time, I didn't know if I'd ever walk again. Now, when I begin to go down the dark, fear-filled path that uncertainty thrives on drawing me down, I try to stop, breathe deeply and seek peace with what is. A peaceful countenance stops the scrambling and lifts me up out of uncertainty's mire and onto smoother footing. A mindful, peace-filled, hope-filled state. Yes, there is comfort in that.