Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Joy Of...Serving

This year, due to a lingering minor illness, I faced the possibility that I would not be able to make Christmas dinner at my house. The idea of not hosting the annual December family feast sent terror racing through my veins. Not make Christmas dinner? Unthinkable!

I remember a year when my mother (who passed 15 years ago, and whose Christmas dinner I have loyally replicated every year since), had injured her back and was bedridden during the holiday. My father hung and angled a mirror on the bedroom door so that she could see our reflection in the dining room from her nearby prone position, and I’m sure (though I don’t exactly recall) that many of us spent a lot of time in my parents’ bedroom that holiday season. I know she was frustrated and saddened by the development, but the celebrations went on and my sister and other family members made the dinner happen. It was a Christmas my mother never forgot, and never wanted to repeat!

More than a decade ago, I received a breast cancer diagnosis just before Christmas. Though I was frightened and distracted, that was one of the most memorable holidays of my life. I distinctly remember making the cranberry sauce that year, reveling in the brilliant red of the berries, feeling the small, colorful orbs between my fingers as I washed them. I clearly remember the faces of my family that year around the table, their expressions of concern and love. The mere thought that this might be my last Christmas with them (thank God it was not) made every moment and every ritual more significant.

Often, come December, I find myself complaining about all the work that needs to be done, the shopping for gifts and food, the cleaning of the house, the decorating and preparations, card-sending, and dealing with traffic and lines at the store. It’s easy to fall into a negative mindset, even while looking forward to spending time with my beloveds.

But when threatened with an illness or when some other complication puts the honor of serving in jeopardy, I’m reminded again of how much my mother loved—and how much I love—to provide. There is true joy in serving (whether you serve at a soup kitchen or in your own home).

The specter of the day when I will be forced to scale back or cancel some of our traditions makes ‘keeping up’ as long as I can all the more crucial! (I recall my mom doggedly making multiple trips to the grocery store in her later years, hell-bent on doing all the shopping herself even though it was a struggle for her to carry the bags home). This season underscores the truism that to love and care for others is the greatest gift of all: As the sacred prayer so rightly asserts, “For it is in giving that we receive." Happy Holidays to all! 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Summer's End

The other day, a friend commented to me that she was very sorry to see summer end. It had been a great summer for her, filled with travel, fun, and relaxation. For me, however, the summer of 2016 has been challenging, tiring, hot, scary, and downright un-enjoyable in many ways. I’m not sorry to see it end, though there were also moments and days when I felt blessed, lucky, and filled with joy and gratitude.

This was, for me, a summer that did not go as planned. In fact, I decided in June that I would stop making any plans at all because everything I conjured up was somehow blocked. I did not spend countless hours on my deck reading books and meditating. My “vacation” at the lake with family was spent tending to my eldest son, who was healing from surgery. I made it to the town pool exactly once. The tomatoes I planted in my backyard yielded not even one tomato. I never made it to the beach. I didn’t get to drive south to visit my sister. My hanging plants wilted and collapsed from lack of watering early on in the season. After a short yoga retreat I attended in the countryside, I ended up with a serious eye infection. And so on! This was definitely not the summer of my dreams! Nothing really worked out the way I envisioned.

And yet, as you can see from this picture, I’m still standing and smiling (a little!).  I’m grateful that my worst fears and worries did not come true, and that even though my tomatoes crapped out on me, my friends and family did not. I realize that we can’t all be happy and have everything go swimmingly all the time; we learn from failure, mistakes, and even from tragedy. We also learn that we can’t plan and control everything, that life takes us on unexpected journeys, that we may intend to go right and find that we are suddenly forced to turn left, that we want to stay up when the powers that be determine our direction will be down.

This summer reminded me a bit of days long ago when my kids were toddlers. I recall planning productive afternoons—a trip to the park, the bank, grocery shopping, followed by story reading and naps. On so many occasions my plans were thwarted by the indomitable will of a two-year-old, who suddenly decided he would not put on his shoes, he would not eat his breakfast, or he would spend the next three hours poking at moss with a stick.

This is life, and whether summer brought you more of the highs or more of the lows, we’re all in this churning stew together. Anyway, autumn is my favorite season. May it be a good one for all!

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Automatic Pilot

Most days, when I wake up, I feel like I’m on automatic pilot. First, the alarm goes off (or not; if I’ve spoken directly to the Universe requesting a wake-up call the night before my eyes pop open before it rings). Second, I automatically think to myself “Oh, no. Not time to get up already!” or “Yay! Today’s the day I’m going to the beach!” depending on whether my plans involve work or play. Then I roll out of bed, search for my glasses and mouth guard (a loathsome thing that’s supposed to quell my teeth-grinding, but which I invariably throw on the floor in my sleep), grab my robe, unplug my cellphone from its charger, and head downstairs for a cup of tea. As I said: automatic pilot.
            One recent day, however, I decided to spend a bit more time in bed before rising. That was the day I snapped the above picture, after noticing that the leaves of the pear tree near my window were tapping against the pane outside the closed shade. That morning, I spent quite a bit of time gazing and snapping photos. It was such a pretty sight, and reminded me once again of how I tend to rush about without really noticing the details.
            Later that day I was eating dinner with my family at the kitchen table. The curtains were drawn because bright sunlight was streaming onto our faces, but at one point I got up and looked outside. Just below my window were two adorable mourning doves. They were hopping about in the grass cooing (I could hear them through the pane). The grass was wet and green from a recent rain, and the doves seemed playful. Once again, I was struck by the scenes that are outside my ordinary field of vision.
            This spring an owl came to visit our home for a few days. We would hear him at 3 in the morning, hooting in a tall tree. No amount of peering or searching brought him to our sight, but we were alert in bed for more than an hour just listening. Deep in the night, right outside my window, was a vast owl world unknown to me.
One day, returning home from a local café with a cup of coffee, I went to my computer for a while, but then got up again to check to see if a package had arrived. I’d heard a truck coming up our hill and was curious. When I opened the door, the truck was gone and there was no package, but a huge mound of dirt was piled up right at our front step, and there was a large open hole just beneath the foundation. A skunk, woodchuck, or some other creature had been hard at work digging while I’d been writing. Who knew?
Another day, I pulled open the shade in my living room to find a dozen tall, bright yellow weeds I’d never seen before. I snapped their photo, sadly knowing it will only be days before my neighbor notices and mows them down.
            I often write about this sort of thing because I find it intriguing. How much goes on while we’re not aware, not looking, or listening? I know that we can’t touch, see, or feel every breeze, every flower, or every birdsong. But can’t we try?

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Where in the Heck?

The other day I was looking for something. I scoured the Internet, doing a million and one Google searches. I looked in my overflowing home library for a book that might contain the information. I searched my Nook, feeling as if I had definitely seen the piece somewhere; it was something about a yoga set I wanted to try. I went on Amazon and read a bunch of descriptions. Then, since it was past midnight, I decided to give up my search.

I got ready for bed and started to head upstairs, but I had the nagging feeling that if I didn’t find the piece I was searching for I wouldn’t be able to sleep. So I went back to my computer and typed in a few more search words. Low and behold! The information came up, I happily printed it out, and went to bed. I was infinitely proud of myself for not giving up (actually, I was so proud of myself that I couldn’t sleep!) I love a determined search, and I heartily patted myself on the back (metaphorically of course) for my persistence and success.

The next day, I was rummaging through some papers on my desk, still gloating from the previous night’s treasure hunt, when I came across a book. The book looked exceedingly familiar. The book looked like it might contain some valuable information. In fact, I had truly forgotten that I owned the book at all. I picked it up, opened to the table of contents and found precisely what I had been searching for the night before.

I had been searching for something I already had! Omg.

Obviously, I just had to take this as a message from the universe. We are all constantly searching for stuff that we already have! We are all searching for love, and success, and contentment, and abundance, and excitement, and who knows what else. We are all searching for answers and acknowledgement, and yes, for articles and socks. A lot of time is wasted turning things upside down, endlessly searching for that which is already found or for that which was never even lost to begin with.

Hug your kids, collect your hugs back, and Happy Mother’s Day to all!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

In the Moment

This morning I went for a walk after reading an especially disturbing news item online, the details of which I won’t share here since it was too disturbing to be repeated. For a long time recently, in fact, I was on a news-free diet, because things have gotten so out of hand in the world that sometimes it’s just too painful to know, even though as a former news reporter and news hound I love to be aware of what’s going on (especially during election season!)

As I was walking I asked myself the question, once again, the question of how people who have gone through so much pain can ever be happy again, how they can ever believe in God or some other divine force, how they can even find the strength to ever again get up in the morning. It’s a mystery to me how human beings can continue to pick themselves up when they have fallen so hard, when their limbs and hearts are broken, when they’ve lost hope, when everything has fallen apart.

Just as I asked myself these questions, I heard a bird calling from the top of a sycamore tree. I could hear but not see him. I stood staring at the tree for a long, long time, watching the light play through the branches, listening to the call of the invisible bird. As I stared up, the tree and sky were all I saw, all I thought of, and I was completely at peace as I gazed. In that moment, my memory of what I had read this morning vanished. My worries and fears left. I was only in one place, and in one moment, marveling at the beauty of nature and the world.

The only way out of pain is through the present moment; it is all we have. There is nothing we can do to erase the pain. But the bird and its tree (or the tree and its bird) reminded me that there will always be moments when we can forget. There will always be moments.