Humanity

Who would think that death could bring out the best in us? Family members and friends gathering to support and nourish one another through tragedy. It is millennium old and community minded and, honestly, at peak performance, it is when we human beings behave with humanity.

It happens continually and often – the Columbine shooting, 9/11, the recent rash of devastating hurricanes, at a school in Newtown, at a nightclub in Orlando, at a music festival in Las Vegas. We offer blood, food, water, supplies, our money and our time.

Yesterday a small group of us gathered in a semicircle at a graveside funeral ceremony. And I noticed it again. Family members, friends, people I know hardly at all, and strangers. all in one place at one time with one goal – to help each other get through these tough moments. Humanity. With all the insanity and violence and senseless acts of terror we can forget kindness, get jaded, become cynical and protective, judgmental, angry and closed.

But the opposite reaction, counter-intuitive though it may seem, is the more appropriate one.

Humanity.

Shiva is the period of mourning following a loved one’s death. During this time, family members traditionally gather in one home to receive visitors and retell stories of old, reconnect, and breathe. We are sitting shiva in my home for three days (traditionally one sits for seven) and we are spending time together. I do this for my stepfather who is a gem of a being and whom I dearly love. It is a low technology environment, we spend deep time, hug, stare, and share meals. A throwback to simpler times.

Let us remember what connects us more than what divides us. Let us breathe in the crisp air, swoon at the china blue sky and its rainbows, see the beauty around us, and be ever thankful for those we have loved, love still, and will love.

Humanity.

Whitsunday Islands

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KITCHENITIS

I’ve decided, after a great deal of back and forth, confusion, anxiety and excitement, to update my kitchen. Originally (the journey has progressed for many months) I thought I’d purchase and install new appliances only. But then the cabinets – custom designed, circa 1980 – would appear even more out of place than they already do. As would the Formica countertops and backsplash.

How much did I want to spend? How long would I be living in this house? Was the juice worth the squeeze considering the time, dust, and drudgery I would endure, to say nothing of the money spent?

Yes, I decide again with dubious conviction, it is worth it. We locate a kitchen designer. She is big and talks a lot, often about things other than my kitchen. Perhaps she’s friendly, lonely, maybe unwell. She starts wining about money, mine, which she wants immediately and signing contracts that involve my heirs and their heirs.

She’s aggressive and paranoid but it takes me time to shift my anxiety from myself back to her, which in this case is squarely where it belongs.

And then I, which I’m apt to do, start doubting my conclusions and instincts. Maybe I’m paranoid, and overly cautious?

In the world I inhabit, her behavior is neither customary nor endearing. I start to decode said behavior (a hazardous throwback to my ‘minor in psychology’ college days). She must have been badly burned, perhaps not receiving payment for work completed. She must have been treated unfairly. She must…

But why? Is she doing a sub-par job? Is she making careless, expensive, time consuming errors? Is she incompetent?

Whatever she is, she’s not for me. Since I’ve made the decision to go forward without her, I feel lighter, happier, less stressed. Sometimes the answer to making myself feel better is right in front of me. Odd how blind I can be to something ostensibly obvious. The other lesson is (I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve learned and forgotten this one!) to stop ignoring or doubting my instincts. I seem to have to prove their correctness before I take heed. Not the point of an instinct.

Besides my birthday is this weekend and I have everything to feel wonderful about. New kitchen or not, it’s time to celebrate and, my blogoshere friends, that is precisely my intention.

 

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Magic

My mom was my hero. Of course, I did not fully understand this when she was alive. I found her advice annoying, her calls intrusive, her desire to love me infantilizing. I took her for granted. How sad for me. And how normal. She was my greatest supporter, cheerleader, and die hard fan.

It took me time to be secure enough to accept her offerings without feeling belittled, to feel proud of the different and exceptional woman she was. She didn’t fit the mold of the era, she was outspoken, smart, divorced, and a working woman long before it was popular to be one. She gave me a role model I didn’t want, not when I was young. I wanted her to be avalable for my school trips and make cookies with me after school like the other moms. She was instead an avid reader, a communicator, a loving and difficult parent, and a representative of resilience. After work, we’d sit in the kitchen while she cooked dinner and we would discuss our days, then when the dishes were clean, we’d curl up on the couch to watch our favorite television programs each with a generous helping of our favorite ice cream in a deep bowl. On weekends we’d listen to Joan Baez and Bob Dylan and sometimes Johnny Mathis and dance around the living room, leaping and hopping and laughing.

I resisted what she gave, not intentionally, I was a child who longed for normalcy, I wanted our family to be average, common, like my friends. She offered an extraordinary, wide open to criticism existence. She was in the Army at 18 years old during World War II. She taught me, albeit begrudgingly on my part, that women were strong and capable and only limited by themselves and their beliefs. She taught me how to be a mother, what unconditional love and sincere devotion looked like, and how to be a powerful and less than perfect human being.

I now realize how liberating and empowering that was. How magical my time with her turned out to be. I have everything to thank her for.

And mom, I miss you intensely, but I also appreciate you beyond my ability to express. I expect, on some divine plane, you already know this.

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Untethering

My lack of interest in writing can mean one of two things; I’m content and do not feel the need, or I’m suppressing.

I believe it’s the former, and personal history will back up the decades I was too busy, tired, or happy to write.

Yet, not writing, from the point of view of a discipline, distresses my psyche.

I know there are ‘shoulds‘ here:

A writer should write

If I care about my blog and followers I should  be posting

I should have something of worth to say

And yet, without the voice in my head telling me what I should want, I do not want to write. Not on a continual, scheduled basis.

There are areas of my life in flux and said flux causes anxiety. I am a magical thinker, and a positive thinker. When life drops uncertainty on to the grey matter of my brain (which it inevitably does), it’s like nerve endings in electric sockets. Shocking, annoying, provoking, jolting, uncomfortable. I like to believe I have answers, I like to believe I’m in control.

Surprise!

No, wake up call.

Yesterday – with a wind and rain storm keeping me dutifully inside – I am given continual reminders about staying exactly where I am in time, in the present.

Reminder Number One: I am on the phone with a friend of 40+ years and we are discussing transitions that we are facing. We discuss happiness, pain, stories that have endured as long as we have, how to let go, how (or if) we can forgive. The end result we reach is that staying in the present – not the past that is gone or the future that hasn’t happened yet – helps our anxiety subside.

Reminder Number Two: Facebook sends me a blog post that I’d written in March of 2014. Of course I can no longer locate it so I cannot insert a link, but it was all about what we had been discussing. There is nothing new about this conversation or its component parts, Aristotle, too, wondered.

Reminder Number Three: I pick up a magazine that I’d gotten halfway through and turn to an article by Miuccia Prada. “Crises are always positive because they force you to think,” says Miuccia Prada, reflecting on Italy’s political and economic woes. “You redesign reality. When everything is going well, people get lazy!” Yep.

Reminder Number Four: I turn on the television and for three minutes I watch ‘The Talk’. In those few minutes someone says, “God bless the broken road, because that’s how we grow. When things aren’t going as we want, the universe isn’t giving us a hard time – no – it’s giving us a heads up to change the thoughts and decisions that got us to this point in the first place so that we can move on.” Hello, world.

Reminder Number Five: I am reading a book titled, the untethered soul, the journey beyond yourself  by Michael Singer. It speaks to me on so many levels that by the time I finished the first chapter I vowed to read it again and again. It is about consciousness, and that voice in our heads that never shuts up. It is about staying open, not closing off, even when something that we perceive as bad is happening. Relax and release, he says.

Reminder Number Five: My youngest son drops by to have dinner before heading out to a weekend bachelor party. We eat and laugh and remain squarely in each moment. Not only is it exactly where I want to be, but it is exactly what it is; son and mom enjoying time together. I am acutely aware that all present realities are not sunny, but they are all we have. So my lesson is to remain in them, no matter what my judgments of them are, because they too will pass.

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First Sex Ed. The Death Ed.

In Sunday’s New York Times (February 19, 2017) a wonderful article quietly graced the bottom halves of pages 6 and 7.

First, Sex Ed. Then Death Ed.

The title drew me immediately, and the contents didn’t disappoint. The author is a doctor who practices critical and palliative care in a California hospital, and she is drawing a parallel between two relatively taboo subjects. Sex and Death. We aren’t taught to discuss or even research sexual safety, alternatives, procedure, S.T.D.’s. That isn’t cool. And we assuredly are not taught to think about, never mind discuss, end-of-life wishes. That is morbid. We prefer to believe, beyond hope and reason, that we will not be the ones to ever die.

How ignorantly indulgent and self delusional can we remain?

“The sooner we start talking about how we die, the better.” Dr. Jessica Zitter writes. She means having conversations not only with her dying patients, often too late, but with high school teenagers. This allows students to explore the future deaths of relatives and/or friends, have discussions about death, loss, cancer, dementia, and see films about unrealistic rescues, respirators, and restraints.

After which they play a game called “Go Wish”.  Students are asked to identify their most important preferences and values. There are talks about strategies that can be used to communicate these preferences to health care teams or family.

How much longer will we remain illiterate? Should we care about another’s dying wishes or bother to learn how to communicate with them?

It is never easy to usher in conversation on topics that society would rather not discuss. Yet, without those uncomfortable and difficult conversations, how will we ever reach a time when death is treated consciously, humanely, and lovingly?

I, for one, open up the discussion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Depth and Honesty

Writing friends are different from regular friends, it doesn’t take the same amount of time to get to know one another because we share ourselves in serious, heart heavy stories. Even when we use humor.

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The Write

My writing life is close to a blank slate of late. This can be viewed in varying ways. Is it open, available, and receptive or is it simply nothing?

Hamilton Island

It is both.

After giving myself a hard time about not writing often enough, I’ve concluded this is neither a good or bad situation, it simply is. And, for me, it is nothing new (although at times I long for those intense expressive days).

I’ve been this way since my early teens. I know there are popular philosophies stating that one must write daily, keep the muscle oiled and taut, which makes perfect sense, for someone else. Knowing ourselves is essential to understanding what will and will not work. We are not cookie cutters of one another and I wouldn’t want to be.

At differing points in my life I’ve journaled, wrote three sentences a day, blogged, composed a memoir, sent poems to loved ones. But momentarily, I am blank. Spurts of inspiration occasionally occur and a poem arrives. But that is the extent of it for now.

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And I am okay with that. When I have something to say, when it is fiery or painful or loud or insistent, I write. Until then, I’ll explore elsewhere.

Life is short, and we all deserve (even our own) kindness.

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