Sunday, October 31, 2010

My Country, Right...or Left

© Paul Moore |

Today is Halloween, and that’s a scary thought for those who believe in witches and goblins. But even scarier, in my opinion, is the fact that every year just after Halloween, there’s an election. This means, depending upon whether you lean to the left or the right, and upon which party is in power, someone is bound to be disappointed or downright angry. On the other hand, someone is going to be clicking his or her heels and popping open a bottle of champagne.
            Now, anyone who knows me even a bit probably realizes that I am to the left of the left. But last night I was at a gathering with a group of friends who are mostly right-wingers. It’s a strange but true fact that in this—need I say it—“great” country of ours you are bound to run into people of all kinds with all kinds of political, religious, and other types of beliefs. Some choose to “hang out” only with those of their own kind, but I have a habit of making friends with all types of people.
            Of course, at times this can be tricky, and last night when the conversation turned toward gun owning there was a moment when I considered bolting out the door. But then someone started cracking jokes and before I knew it I was howling with laughter. Though these particular friends are Republicans, you see, they are also funny as hell, and when I had a bout with an undesirable disease (actually, I can’t think of a single, desirable disease) a few years back, they all took turns bringing my family dinner. So yes, they lean to the right, but does that make them wrong about everything?
            It’s part of my yogic quest in life to refrain from judging others. This doesn’t mean that I don’t vote in a way that reflects my beliefs, or that I don’t give money to causes that are peaceful, or that I won’t stand up and express myself verbally or otherwise when it comes to war, the environment, or other issues. It does mean, however, that I try not to disparage or look down upon people who don’t think the way I do.  As my first beloved yoga teacher used to put it, “Who are we to judge?”
            I guess the point that I’m trying to make is even though elections are frightening, especially for the losers, we need to keep the things we all have in common in focus. Friends are friends, whether they are blue or red, and I love my country (but not more than I love humanity and the world) whether it is right…or left.
            Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Pencil Me In

© Sarah Cates |

In my husband’s business, which happens to be music, there’s a curious phrase that’s often used. I frequently overhear him on the phone saying that he will “pencil it in.”  This simply means that the date is tentative; he may or may not end up with the gig, and the person calling will let him know in a few days if he’s on or not. At that point, he will turn the pencil marks to ink.
            I have mixed feelings about the “pencil it in” concept. On the one hand, it’s good to keep options open. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with making a tentative plan. On the other hand, I like decisive action. Are you free next Saturday or not? If not, then say so now and I will make other arrangements!
            I’m thinking about this penciling predicament today because I had extensive, detailed plans of how this day was to go in my mind, but when I woke up, I found that I had to erase everything I’d envisioned. Because I had checked online and knew the weather was going to be balmy I had planned a long walk, either at the beach or in a nearby nature center. I had also planned to attend an early yoga class. And then I intended to work outside in my garden. I had pretty much inked in the entire morning and afternoon with little or no room for adjustment.
            Now, if you’ve ever been a mother or father and have had little kids around (or even bigger ones) you swiftly learn that your plans are bound to run amuck. Diapers need to be changed, kids fall off swings and need to be rushed to the emergency room, elaborate dinner plans are nixed because junior suddenly has a tummy ache. Your kid may not get into the college of his dreams, or the girl he intended to go to the prom with may suddenly dump him (usually, after you've already paid for the wrist corsage and tux). Yes, parents are used to this sort of thing. And when plans change for our kids do we whine or have a tantrum? No, we sit down with them and figure out an alternate plan.
            But once the birdies have flown the nest, we think we’re in control again. And perhaps I might have been, had I not awakened to a stuffy nose and terrible cough, and—after a few early morning stretches—a hopefully not torn but most definitely injured ligament in my knee. No long walks for me today.
            Thus, the "pencil it in" concept came to mind when I realized I could sit in my house feeling sorry that all my plans didn’t gel, or I could erase my vision and replace it with something else. Reading a good book, napping, taking a short, gentle walk around the neighborhood to admire the changing autumn leaves was not such a horrible alternative. In fact, it’s my suspicion that sometimes “the universe” plants little (or large) obstacles in our paths, just so that we will slow down and take a day off.
            Though I most definitely prefer writing in ink, I will admit that there’s something to be said for folks who can accept that a plan isn't working,  and come up with another. After all, the eraser was invented for a reason.  And musicians are not the only ones who sometimes need to "pencil it in."

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Venture Forth!

I attended a rather unusual concert today. One of the pieces involved a piano, violin, cello, and a narrator who spoke about the adventures of Sinbad the Sailor. “Venture forth!” was a phrase he used and it struck me as perfect, since I’ve been thinking lately not only of stepping outside my own “comfort zone,” but also about how parents (myself included) should encourage their children to try new things.
            Actually, the concert itself was a stretch for me because I usually choose dependable geniuses like Mozart or Bach. But today the composers were contemporary artists (and you never know whether such folks will be brilliant or intolerably tedious). But while dissonant, modern tones usually make me flinch, I thoroughly enjoyed the music today.
I also stepped outside my “zone” this week by attending an all-day meditation workshop. A few years ago the mere thought of remaining still for the length of an MRI was enough to send me racing to my doctor for anxiety meds, but this weekend I somehow managed to engage in a six-hour (with breaks) meditation. I also recently attended a highly unusual event where hundreds of people gathered to be physically and/or spiritually “healed.” This--like the atonal concert and the meditation sit-a-thon—was another instance in which I stretched beyond my usual, self-imposed limit. In the past, a huge crowd of people dressed in white (unless at, say, Beyonce’s wedding) would make me quake with fear. But I now know that I can be in a place, observe, and react in a way of my own choosing. Besides, I always have the option to leave.
            Now, I’m not telling you this because I want to brag. Nor will you find me parachuting out of airplanes or bungi-jumping off cliffs any time soon. Stepping outside one’s comfort zone, after all, is relative. For me it might be a magnificent feat to eat a raw clam. For you-- a raw clam aficionado--stepping outside of your comfort zone might mean nabbing a spot on the next space shuttle.
            It’s easy to get in a rut or hang onto our habits—picking the same local diner for lunch, or wearing the same black sandals. But just as we want our children to experience new things—to try the asparagus, go out for fencing, or give writing poetry a shot---we need to keep the door to adventure open in our own lives.
So venture forth! I’ll be right behind you.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

I'll Be There

photo: F. Lipani

What is the difference between commitment and dogged stupidity? I made a commitment this week, and without going into the gritty details, let me just say that it involves being up at six a.m. for the next forty days. Although I am a person who has probably only seen a sunrise a dozen times (I much prefer moonrise or sunset as I'm usually wide awake at those hours) I realize that many people rise before dawn on a regular basis. I am not one of them.
          This would be no big deal, but due to a "miscommunication" with my college-aged son I spent a good part of my day in a parking lot and didn't get any of the things accomplished I'd hoped to (including this blog). So now I will be up most of the night working. Do I still have to get up at 6 a.m.?
          There's little that irritates me more than people who back out of a promise (especially a promise to one's self) for no good reason (the flu is a good reason; lack of sleep is not unless one is operating a car, an airplane, or performing surgery). In fact, I would much rather have a person tell me "I can't commit to that" than have them commit and then not show up.
        Perhaps, you're thinking, one too many guys stood me up when I was a teenager? Actually, that rarely happened. But I was raised with a model of commitment before me 24/7: My parents were married for fifty years and in that time my mother always went to church on Sundays, and my father never missed a day of work (unless he had the flu).
        Commitment is a word I also associate with devotion.  I like the idea of being devoted to something--to an art, to work, to family, to caring for an old, ailing aunt, to just being there when you have promised to be there.  In a world in which everything can change in an instant, the fact that commitment, devotion, steadfastness, loyalty, still exist is, in my opinion, rather miraculous.  
        So yes!  I will be getting up at six a.m. Care to join me? 

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Simple Gifts

When I was growing up, a charming print of a little girl sitting on a bench below a bluebird in a tree hung on my bedroom wall. As a youngster, I innocently believed this was a picture of my mother, because the little girl's face held a sweet expression so like my mom's, and her hair was the same shade of brown: she looked just like my mom in the photos I’d seen of her as a child. I’d often gaze at the picture before I fell asleep, comforted by the vision of my mother as a little girl.
            My mom died almost ten years ago, and when I joined my siblings to divide her belongings, this picture was the only item that caused a bit of discussion, as we all wanted it, and we all confessed to thinking as children that it was a picture of our mother. Eventually, my sister and I decided the print should go to our brother. Still, we both yearned for it, and wouldn’t let go of our fantasy that it was not a picture of some nameless child, but a portrait of our mom.
            Enter, the Universe.  About five years ago, on a trip to a quaint bed and breakfast in Cape May, New Jersey (a good six hours from my upstate New York childhood home), I happened upon the very same picture—which I later learned is a copy of a painting called “Spring Song” by the German artist Simon Glucklich--in the ladies room. I approached the bed and breakfast owner and told her my sentimental story. “If it means so much to you,” she offered, “You can have it for fifty dollars.”
            Needless to say, I went home with the print, which I later discovered sold for 98 cents in the l927 Sears Roebuck catalogue, but now goes for anywhere from $25 to $50 on eBay. I also learned that the little girl was the artist’s daughter, and that she was blind.
            I was thrilled that I’d stumbled upon the print, but this was not the end of the story. Recently another print was offered up when my brother happened upon one more copy in a local shop. He bought the slightly larger print for $25 and decided to give my sister the original, so now we all have "Spring Song" hanging in our homes.
            I recount this tale because I’m forever amazed by the gifts we receive every day, and by the unexpected ways in which our heart’s desires are answered. Call it “coincidence” if you want, but I like to think that there’s a deeper reason why—without searching the Internet or actually seeking the picture—all three of us ended up with the very print we’d so highly valued as children.
 The tale is a reminder to me, too, of the fact that some of the most treasured gifts in life come without hefty price tags—the seashells collected at the beach one breezy spring day with my children, the checkered wool vest my dad wore when he went fishing, the scent of my grandmother’s favorite perfume.  And though it’s not a stunning Van Gogh or a gorgeous Monet, this sweet, old-fashioned picture is a priceless reminder of at least three childhoods, as well as one mother’s abiding love.