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Hope is the only universal liar who never loses his reputation for veracity. ~ Robert G. Ingersoll

livingontheedgeI am not a control freak. I easily delegate, happily let others get on with whatever their thang happens to be, accept the changing tides and times. Heck, I’m even happy enough grasping the idea that comfort zones need a slap upside the head from time-to-time and change can be a good thing.

I’ve lived long enough to get that bumps in the road make sense when looking back on the journey, that time heals wounds (or vice versa), that good things come to those who wait, and all those other aphorisms routinely trotted out when life is crappy.

 

But …

When the list of things I have absolutely zero control, influence, even minor sway over is thirty times more impressive than the couple of bulls whose horns I can manage to take … well …

I try to grow hope.

Hope: aspiration, desire, wish, expectation, ambition, aim, goal, plan, design; optimism, expectation, expectancy; confidence, conviction, assurance; promise, possibility. Yeah, there more versions of hope than there are shards of broken glass on a beach, and although forming an aspiration or two is easy enough, expectations that plans or designs will provide assurance, or even possibility, rather lack conviction. As Robert Burns so well put it, albeit most likely with a touch of whiskey and haggis on his breath … which may account for all Scots talking funny …

The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

Having found my bootstraps on many occasions and tugging fiercely, often for years, I am well practiced. My kids’ lives are sorted safely, securely and happily, so I can put down the lead umbrella I’ve been holding since the age of seventeen. I can take care of myself. I don’t need saving or completing and I’m okay with seeing to my own daily needs.

Ain’t life grand?

Compared to some, mine is pretty great — roof overhead, wine in the fridge — and I’m not knocking what I have, what I have worked for, or the plans I’ve made that actually almost worked out. Neither am I regretting … anything.

I am, however, doubting an adage I once trusted; that things happen for reasons and in their own time.

Another relationship ending disappointingly, thousands of miles between me and my kids, a tenacious tether to property, advancing age that has done jack shit to lower my desires or expectations … all beyond any jurisdiction I find in my realm.

Hope is the feeling we have that the feeling we have is not permanent.                              ~ Mignon McLaughlin

I know I don’t have many years left, more behind me than ahead, and very much want to live fully, but am feeling restraints it seems I have no power to loosen. Doing what I can … involving myself in endeavors I find worthy, learning stuff I’ve not paused to cozy up to in the past, conversing with those I like, admire or disagree with … fills time and brings some relief, but I’m frustrated as I feel days and weeks and months and years flash past … and don’t mind.

Some would call it ‘being at loose ends’, but it feels more like the tank is running low, and although I’d like a refill there doesn’t seem to be fuel around and I don’t know where to even look anymore.

The free-floating anxiety I’ve experienced in the past is returning and I find myself again constantly checking the sky for shit asteroids, even though I know damned well you never see them coming.

I have been, however, gently nurturing a few seeds of hope. I’ll see my small kids in a couple of months — always a bright light that warms. I’ll continue to try to sell my place to free myself up for more travel, more adventures. I’ll finish that fuckin’ book I’ve been working on. I’ll continue to lend my voice to those who think it will help.

I’m not 80 … part of the hill is still before me … and a quarter tank just might get me further than I think.

Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. ~ Anne Lamott

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For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
~T.S. Eliot

The_Little_Engine_That_Could1Anyone reading me for a while knows I have no great fondness for the changing of the years and the obligatory omphaloskepsis that accompanies the calendar flip it requires.

Not only does it mean more thinking about time and its passing, causing an infernal hesitation before jotting dates on checks and documents, it stirs shit that has taken 364 days to settle uncomfortably to the surface and forces contemplation of said shit.

In the grand scheme of quantum quandaries linear time doesn’t exist, an idea rejected out of hand by our puny biological built-in chronometers, so just try moving your head beyond the day-by-day plodding that can only feel to us like a train moving along a straight stretch track and hell-bent on a final destination not to be found on any map we know of.

Pausing at stations along the way is an illusion, as the train is always moving, and always in the same direction. It may seem we’ve dallied, stepped off to enjoy time on the platform, but it’s all just part and parcel of the ride.

Accepting that, we ignore the train and try our best to focus on the journey. Throwing ourselves into our personal odysseys (and occasionally under the train … bus … whatever …) and using our imagined stops along the way to gauge the distance traveled and judge progress feels natural to us, so that’s what we do.

Being confronted by the timetable on a regular basis hits hard though, and once a year there are few ways to avoid the slap upside the head. The turn of the page from one year to the next shows us an indication of how far along the track we’ve traveled, and the angst in our baggage is prompted to contemplate every stop we didn’t make, how much we have added to our load, how much we’ve lost, and how long we’ll keep moving.

Some choose to imagine an engineer in control, some expert that guides the trip up and down mountains, through tunnels and avoiding obstacles along the way. It’s handy and alleviates responsibility, but the fact is we are all driving our own trains; storms, fallen trees, rusting components, precarious terrain are ours to deal with as they happen; there’s no reversing and no stopping until the end is reached. It is for us to navigate, to face decaying bridges in the dark and make necessary repairs to keep the damned train moving.

Personally, I find it much easier to calibrate myself with a new timetable when the track ahead appears to be clear. Once again, though, that’s not the case with the flip from 2015 to 2016. I know what’s behind me, but have no idea what’s ahead, and if there is a light at the end of this tunnel I just hope it’s not the headlamp of another train set to derail the one I’m driving.

In preparation for contingencies, I’m trying to work out a strategy.

I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.

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I have a lot of Christmases under my belt.

There were those when I was a kid and followed my mom’s tree-decorating dictates demanding tinsel was to be strung one … strand … at …a … time, then collected in the same fashion when the holiday finished, put away carefully, then stored for the next year. (I swear she was still using some 1958 tinsel in 2010!)

The years my first batch of children were little were at times fraught, but we always had a tree with gifts under it and Santa always did his midnight visit. We’d open gifts and such, then go to Grandma’s house for the feast that never varied. (Okay, once it varied; mom made orange jello-mold salad with carrots instead of green jello-mold salad with the alternating pineapple slice/cherry pattern we’d grown up with. She never heard the end of it … nor did she ever again try that sketchy menu change.)

When those kids were older, money was less an issue and the house was much bigger, so the tree was a sixteen-footer and decked to the halls. Gifts were more lavish and home was the gathering place for relatives from near and far. My brothers played basketball in my living room, the turkey was huge and the table could sit 25.

One Christmas found me in Australia with a family that wasn’t mine, but was still family and lovely. It was my first ‘Summer Christmas’ and a pool party was a novel idea in my mind that took a bit of adjusting to, but there were laughs and fun … and the fire to roast chestnuts was a barbecue. I had my first Pavlova that year and I heartily recommend that addition to the traditional meal no matter where you are.

Christmas in England encouraged every Dickensian fantasy I’d ever had, and my daughter’s decision to spend the holiday with me over the pond made it pretty perfect. We were introduced to crackers and crowns and the weather gave us a bit more perspective on poor old Bob Cratchit’s issues with coal.

By the time the holiday rolled around in Seychelles I was accustomed to the Beach Christmas concept and surrounded by friends. Christmas gatherings were huge affairs attended by people from many countries speaking often up to 10 languages, all bringing their own flavors in food, traditions and entertainment. One year we had Shetland Island folk songs played on mandolin and fiddle by an authentic Shetland Islander, and a fabulously funny game of euphemisms … another word for the male member, the sex act, etc. … which allowed submissions from any language.

Once Sam and Cj joined the family Christmas was again about kids.The tree went up, the house draped in various sorts of holiday tat, gifts went under the tree. We’d host a party Christmas eve, then trot up to Gay’s for what had become the traditional food Bacchanal with participation of people from all over the world. The last time this happened was 2 years ago and the festivities of the Eve and the Day included folks with roots in Seychelles, England, Kenya, South Africa, the USA, Scotland, Sri Lanka, Germany, Australia, Ireland, Italy, and probably a few I’m not recalling.

Last year I was back in England to celebrate with the kids in their home-from-home. To say there was a bittersweetness to it would be an understatement, but the ‘sweet’ was very and the ‘bitter’ was easily swallowed. To Cj’s disappointment, it didn’t snow, but it was cold enough to warrant extra coal on the fire. The circle of family had expanded wonderfully and embraced all.

Yes, so many Christmases under my belt.

This one, however …

For the first time in my life I am alone for Christmas. I have already watched the 1951 version (my fav) of “A Christmas Carol” AND “It’s a Wonderful Life” as tradition dictates, but must admit that big a dose of the ‘spirit’ didn’t help much.

Yeah, yeah … I know there are a load of songs on being alone for Christmas, but listening to any of them is not on my to-do list. I’m at loose ends, confounded, stuck between I-don’t-give-a-shit and bawling.

But I’m a grownup, FFS, fully aware that for millions of people this is just another day, and millions of others haven’t one-tenth-of-one-percent of what I have to be grateful and happy for.

Thanks to the age we live in, I will Skype with my kids on Christmas Day … a gift beyond measure! I can take a bottle of wine to the beach and toast the holiday, the ocean, the sky above me and the Earth beneath my feet … and be thankful. I can reflect on Christmas Past, ponder the years, remember those who are no longer reachable by technology, and I can set my focus for the positives.

And I will do all those things. But today, the day before Christmas Eve, I’m indulging in a bit of some whine in the sun. (Poor me. What a bummer. If wishes were horses I’d be elsewhere. Etc., etc., etc. ad nauseam.)

Wishing everyone a Happy Christmas filled with love and food and making merry. I will raise a glass to all with love and hope and to Christmas Yet To Come!

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A wise woman once said to me that there are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these she said is roots, the other, wings. ~William Hodding Carter

8f4e475e09b0cabef9884f079ebd24e2Sam went to Germany for the weekend. A school trip had him en route for about as long as he was en Cologne, but it seems he enjoyed the trip and, equally as important to me, is now safely back in his home in England.

It’s not easy to sit on the sidelines as my children get on with life in other parts of the world. Not at all.

My eldest, Jenn, being an adult, and a very sensible one at that, has been taking care of her own family for 20+ years, but that’s not to say I’m worry-free when it comes to her. I keep an eye on the weather in North Carolina and fret constantly over her health, her safety and her happiness as is proper, still being her mother and all. Too much sharing of my anxious thoughts, however, would be annoying for her, so I mostly keep them to myself.

Sam and Cj, being young and now far, are another story. Although completely trusting in the environment they now inhabit and the wonderful woman who cares for them in every way as I would, I still lose sleep.

They’re in a different, wider, more dangerous world now, so my worries have expanded as they ride their bikes to the park and go to big schools with kids I don’t know and take busy motorways and visit London for days out. All of those things are wonderful and broadening and educational and experiences they couldn’t have here with me on this rock. Live theater in the West End, music festivals, camping, playing in the snow … all great and all adding to their lives in ways that will serve them well.

But …

My son passing through France and Belgium while making his way, with a busload of other school kids, to Germany at this point in time scared the shit outta me.

The world our children are inheriting seems a terrifyingly dangerous place rife with automatic weapon-toting fuckwads drunk on the smell of blood, people strapping on ‘suicide belts’ with no intention of going alone, bomb makers tinkering away in neighborhoods with visions of mass mayhem filling their zealot pea brains as democracy fails through wanton avarice and the planet attempts to cope with massive interference with nature in ways that will not be kind to any of us.

So, the questions plaguing me are …

1) How can my children be prepared to be safe and secure as possible as they construct their lives in a world that seems to be going to hell in a hand basket?

And, 2) What messages can they be given that may help them find happiness and satisfaction in their lives?

If my own chaotic childhood taught me anything, it was the value of adaptability, and this does seem key over the next decades. No one could have accurately envisioned today’s world even 30 years ago with its tech advances (and reliance upon), the perpetual war-without-front and its tendency to catch people out in mundane circumstances, ever more drastic weather and global financial meltdowns.

Predicting 30 years ahead is even more of a crap shoot, a future I can’t begin to imagine. Most certainly there will be catastrophic events as human population grows, then must shrink from lack of space and resources, as sea levels rise and wipe out swathes of what is now considered habitable land and the struggle to survive is armed to the teeth and merciless.

With luck, 30 years from now Sam will be 43 and Cj 40 … in their prime.

So … what to do? How to plan?

First, they must have access to all the information they will need to make informed choices. This does not mean filling their evenings with every horror of the day via the BBC, or any other media, but answering their questions honestly and providing sources for research.

Second, assuring they are educated to the fullness of their potential and allowed to specialize in whatever ignites their passions. Knowledge is power and a solid foundation built from study provides a platform from which one can put perspective to the past and have some clues to what’s ahead.

Third, and most importantly, encourage them to grab every bit of joy they can whenever they see it and wherever they find it. Although it may not always seem so, life is a gift, and every single day, no matter how difficult or sad or tiring or tedious is full to the brim with fleeting moments, and it is the ‘fleeting’ bit that we all must be aware of. What is life if not a series of moments? (In a conversation with my brothers this morning, we chained together quite a few shared moments of our combined childhood, and it dawned on me how vital it is that my kids grab and keep as many as they can for future examination, amusement and contemplation.)

I want my children to know joy as well as they know grief, to feel bold even when fear haunts the corners, to recognize gratitude as easily as they do indebtedness, to feel love as deeply as loss. I want them to be as ready to jump for joy as they may have to be to jump out of the way, to accept challenges with as much certainty as they throw their hands up in disgust and walk away. I want them to live as fully, as involved, as engaged, as enthused as possible for as long as they can.

Just Skyped with Jenn, and then with Sam. Jenn is feeling better, able to laugh and catch me up on what’s what in her world. That makes me happy.  Sam is tired and snuffy, but very happy for the experience of three countries in 36 hours and waffles and wurst. He’s safe and sound and a bit more worldly, so I’m happy, too.

Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ~Elizabeth Stone

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Sam and Cj on the eve of Raksha Babdhan

Today is the 13th of August, but it is also, according to the Hindu lunisolar calendar, Shravan Poornima … the full moon day of the month of Shravan … time to celebrate Raksha Bandhan.

Raksha Bandhan (Hindi: रक्षाबंधन, Punjabi: ਰਕਸ਼ਾਬੰਧਨ, Urdu: رکشا بندھن the bond of protection), or Rakhi (Hindi: राखी, Punjabi: ਰਾਖੀ, Urdu: راکھی), is a festival primarily observed in North India, which celebrates the relationship between brothers and sisters. The festival is observed by Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims. The central ceremony involves the tying of a rakhi (sacred thread) by a sister on her brother’s wrist. This symbolizes the sister’s love and prayers for her brother’s well-being, and the brother’s lifelong vow to protect her.

I have to wonder why such an important occasion hasn’t managed to spread more widely, as a celebration of the bonds between brothers and sisters is noticeably lacking in most of the world, a reality that undervalues a relationship that should be extolled, rhapsodized and encouraged toward its great potential.

As a thread in the fabric of society, the tensile strength of the tie linking sister to brother has the capacity to weave a structure than can stand strong against much that will rip the loosely knitted to shreds, but today the apparent impetus is to sever this particular attachment.

Too often it seems competition between siblings is created as a tool in families where divide and conquer props a power base or love and acceptance are doled out in doses. Pitted against each other, weakness can be manipulated, strength may morph into bullying and an every-child-for-himself mentality can result contributing greatly to the ME, ME, ME issues discussed in yesterday’s post.

Sibling rivalry has become an accepted component of family life in many cultures, an expected reaction …

David Levy introduced the term “sibling rivalry” in 1941, claiming that for an older sibling “the aggressive response to the new baby is so typical that it is safe to say it is a common feature of family life.”

Is there a question as to why brother/sister relationships aren’t celebrated in an atmosphere of anticipated conflict? Not according to this article in Psychology Today:

Western culture has an obsession with sibling rivalry that began with the story of Cain and Abel and was elaborated by Freud, who labeled and dwelt on the competition between siblings for parental love and attention. It’s colored our perception of sibship ever since. Therapists and lay people alike tend to view the relationship largely as one of struggle and controversy. We have no rituals that make, break, or celebrate the sibling bond. And family experts have underemphasized the sibling relationship, instead concentrating on parents and children and husbands and wives. Small wonder that sibling rivalry is accepted as the normal state of affairs.

More than a world apart are the views of western culture –Cain and Able and Sigmund — from the roots that celebrate the connection:

Raksha Bandhan was a ritual followed by Lord Yama (the Lord of Death) and his sister Yamuna, (the river in northern India). Yamuna tied rakhi to Yama and bestowed immortality. Yama was so moved by the serenity of the occasion that he declared that whoever gets a rakhi tied from his sister and promised her protection, will become immortal.

How incredibly sad it is that so many of us were never shown the path that was wide enough to walk together, but rather steered toward a harder, lonelier road where independence was valued over attachment to those who should be our closest allies, the sharers of our history, fellow inmates in the involuntary incarceration a family can represent.

Could it be that something as simple as incorporating a ceremony into our culture, a commemoration of the value of brothers and sisters, might teach us to treasure the ties and accept the significance of very real bonds?

It certainly couldn’t hurt.

With that thought, we’re observing Raksha Bandhan and encouraging others to take advantage of the day to celebrate threads too often forgotten.

Our brothers and sisters are there with us from the dawn of our personal stories to the inevitable dusk.
~ Susan Scarf Merrell

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“If you must hold yourself up to your children as an object lesson, hold yourself up as a warning and not as an example.” ~ George Bernard Shaw

On this day in 1969 I gave birth to my first child. I had just turned 18 a few days before and although I had managed pregnancy and birth quite well my first face-to-face with my beautiful daughter was daunting.

After counting toes and fingers and conducting all the perfunctory checks new mothers feel compelled to perform since no one’s word will do until perfection has been established for oneself, I knew I had to fess up, and straightaway.

Holding her closely, I gazed into her lovely, aware eyes and declared: I have no idea how to be a mother, will probably screw up miserably and often … but will do the very best I can.

I have frequently repeated a version of this that insists she has grown into the woman she is — successful, happy, secure, sensible, beautiful, smart, funny and so much more — not because of, but in spite of me.

She agrees with that in some fashion, deciding long ago not to follow in any of my staggering footsteps, but rather forge a determined path of her own, one that intentionally avoided the pits I toppled into, scrabbled over obstacles and built bridges rather than burned them.

Her efforts have been rewarded. She is amazing, and she is happy.

The gift I gave the world this day 42 years ago was a contribution significant enough to validate my existence, and is the gift that keeps on giving as her daughter carries it forward.

Happy birthday, Pooh.

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Photo credit: Wiki imagesA long-tailed tropic bird lifts and turns and swoops over my valley, sculpting shapes from the morning breeze while brandishing a glint of the rising sun on white wings.

It’s going to be a hot one today; clear, yet steamy with the infusion of last night’s rain upping the humidity ante considerably — not a bad thing, being good for the skin and all.

And so begins the last day of my decade that starts with a five.

In reading over words others have written on approaching senectitude I find myself nodding in agreement with some, railing against others, and taking some comfort in the idea I’m far from alone in my ponderings and in interesting company.

To get back my youth I would do anything in the world, except take exercise, get up early, or be respectable. ~Oscar Wilde

I’m sixty tomorrow (Did I just write that?), still too young to use the word “spry” when self-identifying, so figure Judith Regan’s line can be useful: The key to successful aging is to pay as little attention to it as possible.

I can do that. Most of the time.

Anniversaries of my birth, however, have long been cause for itchy, scratchy contemplation, and the round numbers ever more so.

There is still no cure for the common birthday.
~John Glenn

As I write, the kids are off with Gay plotting something for the occasion, their enthusiasm bubbling over, excitement erupting in giggles from Cj and admonishments from Sam to keep the bubbles as thoughts so as not to spoil surprises.

Cute and wonderful as it is, the numbers stick in my throat as Cj’s six years get multiplied by ten in my mirror and I check out my reflection for its giggle factor. Single-parenting at 60 was not in the draft of any plan I recall making, but for the life of me I can’t imagine what I’d be doing now if I didn’t have these two marvels keeping my giggle factory up and running.

It’s funny how life loops around, where a wonky trajectory leads, and how stacking decades fashions unexpected architecture that manages to weather storms, deflect shit asteroids and remain standing even with foundations set in jello.

When I indulge myself and send up birthday wish-shaped smoke signals they look like more conventional structures with security struts, corridors that lead somewhere predictable, doors that open and stay that way, closed doors with working locks, storerooms stocked with other than anxiety. But after 59 years of sending such into the cosmos I’m not expecting much more than an ash blowback.

The older I grow the more I distrust the familiar doctrine that age brings wisdom.
~H.L. Mencken

Have I lived 59 years and 364 days unwisely? I can hear the “You betcha! You’ve done some really stupid shit!” from here, yet regrets, I have a few, but, then again, too few to mention. Rather a waste of time and energy at this point in the journey.

When looking at it all backwards it’s hard to feel remorse when what could be considered mistakes in judgement manifested in some wonderful ways. None of my children are acts of contrition and some of the dumbest things I’ve done have wrangled themselves into experiences it would not have been good to miss.

The first forty years of life give us the text; the next thirty supply the commentary on it.
~Arthur Schopenhauer

Seems turning toward 60 I’m still gathering material … commentary to follow if there’s ever the time … and although it’s with neither enthusiasm nor delight I hit this wall — more trepidation and its accompanying angst — I have always been a fan of irony.

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