In this aging process I’ve been seeing the parallels between myself as a young child to my now being on the other end of life. Mirrored issues, like reactions to foods and the business of mobility, are the obvious issues however, I realize that a rollavator (a fancy version of a walker) is not the aging equivalent of bike training wheels. Rollavators allow freer movement as they support aging backs or stiffened knees making freer and faster movement possible. However, they won’t become obsolete as the body strengthens and improves balance as training wheels do. Rollavators aren’t going to enable strength, they are a replacement for strength which was once present. They are also carriers of objects that pull on back or knee muscles enabling moving stuff like laundry and other stuff around the house. They serve as just one example of what was and movement that is taken for granted by all but those whose movements are impaired.
Western medicine is not an easy fit in advancing age, geared as it is to a concept of improvement. At a certain point procedures or treatments strain credulity or at least the balance of experienced pain versus reasonable outcome. Alleviation of pain for example, is now caught firmly in the hyper vigilant rules swirling around addictive drugs so all but off-the-scale pain is caught up in the “take ibuprofen or Tylenol” for aging conditions that have long since blown past the helping capability of those OTC drugs. There seems to be no middle ground between Physical Therapy (as muscle building) and “spa” therapy in terms of massage. PT’s are too well trained to use or be properly compensated for their talents for frequent visits for soft tissue muscle relaxation while the “Massage businesses” cater to pampering. I’ve yet to find a middle ground where an older person could get help with muscle knots by a person who knows older bones cannot withstand the pounding of too intense manipulations.
I watched my Mom develop foot problems and now I, too, get to know what that feels like after never once in my earlier life having knee, leg, or foot problems. Are there places other than nail salons that know how to care for painful old feet attached to legs that have trouble working? Spa treatments such as polished nails and bubbly leg rubs are sidebars to correcting the ravages of thicker nails that dig into flesh, and knowing how to fix that can make walking again bearable, a nearly instant corrective that will reappear after a couple of weeks.
For all the awakening of physical and physiological body issues at hand each pales in comparison to the reckoning formed out of bad choices and undone deeds concerning the plight of loved ones now passed. Oh for do-overs! I understood nothing and thus I limited my actions which may well have made a huge difference in the quality and meaning of the life of my loved ones. Instead, I kept in my lane and as now I re-play those choices and I am just beginning to face my selfish choices that robbed all of us the deep connective tissues of being human. I blew it. My daily existence is filled with thoughts and out loud pleas of forgiveness. This was the path which I chose to follow, with far too little awareness and compassion, and knowing the power of my own worth by playing a caretaking role.
Living with this sobering awareness alters everything and is far too little, far too late.
Snipets of dreams floated to theThe adds msurface but they were actual memory fragments intended to either shed light or stir up questions.
While in library school I worked full time for the college which included regular shifts at the Reference Desk. The undergraduate college was (and still is) a woman’s’ college but male students from a nearby engineering school like to spend their library study time in proximity to women their age so they often used our library to study in the evenings. While I was the Reference Desk person on one of those evenings, a young man approached the desk seeking help as he was unsure of how to research his topic for his first academic paper. He was an International student by accent and demeanor. I, literally, walked him through each step of the research process, using printed indices (this was a few years short of digitized information) and then on to the cabinets of microfilm, explaining how to use the readers for the microfilm reels, and then how to print out the articles he needed. Throughout this mini crash course on the academic research methods of the time, I repeatedly stressed to him that he must annotate every one of the sources he was about to use. Every printout was to carry the author, article title, journal title, place, full date of publication, and page numbers. He was bright and quick but his undoing, and mine as it turned out, was that he apparently decided that only some of parts of the process he was hearing were worth retaining. There was an underlying attitude which I interpreted as related to my being a woman. It wasn’t a stretch to “read” the situation or his attitude. He considered it his prerogative to measure the worth of my instruction, to decide for himself if what I was saying was important. He was free to ignore what did not suit him. On another evening days or weeks later he again appeared before me at the desk demanding that I produce the publishing information which, having been completely ignored by him, had not been recorded so therefore could not be included in either footnotes or bibliography, a cause (explained to him by his professor) for a failing grade for his paper. The manual nature of gathering the necessary research was straightforwardly smooth. However, reversing the process was like looking for needles in a haystack, time consuming and exceedingly difficult. Not once did he take any kind of responsibility for his failure to heed the initial instruction nor were thanks given as I helped him with his agonizing process of retrieval. Never mind that he was not a student at the college where I worked; I was a woman whose job was to fix his mess.
Years later at another college, now fully credentialed as a Reference Librarian, a professor sent me her young student from Afghanistan who was caught in the same belief system concerning the value of women. She had tried to instruct him in the necessary steps of writing an academic research paper but his resistance had worn her out. She called me and asked if I would work with him.This was at a time when the war in his nation was with Russia, long before the U.S quagmire there. Somehow this young man had gotten out of that country, alone. Later, and with help, his drive and intelligence earned him sponsors which enabled his enrollment in this expensive and academically challenging college. But once again having instructional help to aid him in the necessity of research techniques became difficult. He was admirable and likable, but his blinders preventing any recognition that a woman was worthy of intellectual, academic help nearly brought his professor and me to our knees.
During my years at that Reference Desk a routine part of my job was attaching barcodes to college IDs so the holders of these IDs could check out needed materials from the collections. There were a few outstanding moments, all performed within the boundaries of the American Library Association’s strict code of privacy. Holding to that principle I can still safely share some moments of profound respect, or shock, or awareness of a few memorable exchanges. Here are some standouts:
On an ordinary evening shift I asked the student standing at the desk with an ID with no barcode. I proceeded to ask for the necessary, routine information. Home city? “Srebrenica”. This was at the height of the war there, in 1995. My face remained impassive but my heart was fracturing withholding my unasked questions and concerns for that student. Just the name of that city brought images from nightly newscasts: murder, rape, sniper fire, and massacre. How did that student who was standing in this quiet, shared space ever get here? How could this young person be standing in front of me as a student at an American college, expected to be doing demanding work? I was humbled by her very presence. [For a reminder of those times see: https://www.britannica.com/event/Srebrenica-massacre%5D
Over the years I changed quite a number of names on IDs necessitated by gender transitions by both students and faculty. I thought of each person as a brave and intrepid soul. For each newly altered ID I added an intangible, imaginary, “glue” to each barcode, a wish for strength and perseverance.
One evening I was approached by a new professor who also needed a barcode. Again there was the address question. He told me he was at the college for one semester having come from Tehran as a Visiting Professor. Such a soft and quiet voice. Such a humble demeanor. How I longed to buy him a cup of coffee or invite him to dinner so I could ask him how he had gotten to where he was now at a time our countries were at a standoff. For the next few months I’d see him in the library from time to time, always unacknowledged of course, the code of privacy remaining intact while my questions slowly died.
There were famous, and not the quite or not quite yet famous, writers who would appear suddenly, followed by rushing away with the needed code. Under determined anonymity many names and faces are gone from my memory banks. This was how I understood what was necessary to do my job professionally. I think that far more than once my face quickly became blank in an attempt to not show my surprise or delight.
I was certainly less human (and humane) than I wanted to be, but that was how I’d been trained. There were professional boundaries that were sacrosanct. Now so many years and so far away from that environment I now get to rethink other possibilities.
All of these thoughts came swirling in the night allowing me a form of specific self forgiveness for now I do not need to remember to read the “shoulds”, the nitty gritty recent scholarship times about slavery, genocide, and atrocity. In these, my late years, having even one person standing across from me whose history could have easily been a micro experience of similarly large tragedies did it’s job in opening my awareness. I learned, from one being at a time, even if we never exchanged specifics.
We humans have wrecked havoc and continue to do so at what now feels an alarming increase in scope and place. Is being in the presence of just one person whose life has been disrupted in such ways enough or do we need entire armies of them? I have answered my question for myself. I leave the larger histories to others.
An article in yesterday’s NY Times caught my attention:
“How ‘Fairy Tale’ Farms Are Ruining Hudson Valley Agriculture”
“Farmers are losing properties to wealthy buyers from the city, while leasing land from the new owners can feel like a “modern-day feudal system.” By Elizabeth G. Dunn Photographs by Gabby Jones. June 9, 2022 Updated 1:59 p.m. ET”
I lived in the Hudson Valley for 27 years and watched the agricultural movement grow. By the time I retired I was buying almost all of the food I ate from the farm stands and the Sunday Farmer’s’ Market. The orchard fruits were spectacular and the growers truly wonderful, very hard working, people. From May until late into the Fall my produce bags were brimming and there was fresh fish, eggs, meats, and dairy products direct from local sources to add to the bounty. It wasn’t always the cheapest way to eat but freshness and taste (and nutrition) surpassed all else. Winters of grocery store produce became dreadful.
I left the area before Covid hit but I’d been there through the fear years after 9/11 when real estate was being gobbled up by urban dwellers from further south, scared they were not finished with panic situations. They were right. But their unequal buying power did real damage. According to this new article the well minted are now buying farmland which they want to remain picturesque. They want dual purpose barns where animals can be housed, then moved to accommodate wedding receptions. Having moved a fair amount of pig and chicken manure from a small barn on a Vermont homestead for a few years I can assure you manure and bridal attire are not compatible. We can chuckle together at the folly in this story but therein lies a deep truth we are all avoiding: having money does not make you smart. The food on your plate did not get there easily or with pristine hands. And the true price of things often has little to do with money at all.
Who will feed the growing world populations? We are just getting glimpses of the tragedies to come as nations dependent on harvests from Ukraine will not be there as backup. This is the tip of a very large iceberg. If local, state, and national governments do nothing to tip the balance of who can buy what land and use it for whatever purpose, we will see starvation spread.
There are all kinds of damage to the land which sustains us. Trendy ornamental plants replaced native species, the home and food for pollinators whose numbers have declined in alarming leaps. There is no end to our ignorance. We think of land which we buy as ours! to do with as we see fit, only our vision rarely contains what is, has been, and will be, required. Guns and wars are only two ways to hasten human die-off. What don’t you or I know about why the increasing numbers of deer are now taking over suburbia or showing up regularly in the middle of town and why their presence and the increasing presence of other “destructive” critters are so damaging to those who want to grow some of their own food? What are we thinking about when not wanting to mask or to travel like we used to? There are so many questions in so many areas we are not bothering to ask much less answer as long as things stay pretty. So some want fluffy white sheep grazing in green meadows without the unpleasantness of poop or the brutalness of birthing, or to be reminded of the harshness of life and death which is all around us? Plants, animals, people, air, water…..
Rich, poor, or in between we will live these fairy tales until reality bites. Then we will howl like banshees complaining of how unfair it all is.
Ramadan, Easter, and Passover are all being observed in a small period of time. From an article I read today this convergence has not happened since 1991. Without such knowledge any one of us would still understand there are masses of energy in motion altering the world we thought we once knew. Human behaviors in so many places have gone beyond reasonable or understandable. We are struggling, as individuals, as families, as citizens. After years of political divisiveness the concentric rings of strife moved into a global pandemic and now a land war has been perpetrated by yet another old man caught in the throes of yesteryear, caught inside his old man visions of power and glory while innocents on both sides carry impossible burdens because of his actions. The most naive amongst us can easily see how such a possibility must cease to exist.
The round moon rises over the ocean and the path of its light reaches me through the windows. In the midst of April the night is still in the 30’s. Snow is in the forecast headed eastward. The virus alters yet again and case numbers rise daily. The gloom of these last few years seems more than sufficient yet I doubt it is yet nearly enough for we humans to truly change our ways.
I began writing this blog before the world flipped to an alternate universe. My initial thought was to share the experience of living close to ocean wildness, to observe and comment on the natural beauty and power of the water, the movement of weather, of sunrises, of the creatures who made this landscape home long before we humans altered the land and upended the balance of things. The life I intended, of course, was upended as was everyone’s. I found in this place both solace but also unexpected and incredible loneliness as the virus drove us into lockdown and separation. After more than two years I find myself with less and less to say. My thoughts deepen but my observations now feel shallow; repetitive. I wanted to learn and share what this remarkable place brought forth. This natural world is as beautiful as ever but I find our human world is not. I find my understanding is failing me as my aging body struggles. I am not one bit closer to mind/body oneness. Using words and pictures has been my way to share what made sense, what was (and is) beautiful.
Now, at this moment in time, I’m am bowed. Engulfed. My adherence to this once a week sharing is flailing. When—if—my vision clears and I can make better sense of what I see, I will write and send photos in this space. Now it’s time to breathe, to enter the calm, to repair that which is possible, to enter the convergence of healing we all so dearly need.
It was actions that verified the presence of Spring as the weather has been slow to warm although just yesterday I found chives poking their way through the extra mulch I’d used in attempt to give the plants some winter protection. What joy there is in those first signs of new green life poking out of the dirt.
By “actions” I mean I suddenly found myself going through drawers and storage bins looking to discard what had begun to irritate by the late days of full blown winter. Even though the house was still too cold, the state of the too-often-worn favorite wool sweaters had become dreadful so off to the dry cleaners they went and, now cleaned, they are headed to the cedar chest, the summer keeper of all things wool. Soon to go is the outdoor porch furniture destroyed by salt air, needing a final trip to the transfer station’s dumpster. The table and chairs are beyond repair, the layers of peeling rust is unfixable despite my limited budget for replacements. Metal cannot withstand the corrosion that has pitted metal indoor everythings much less any form of metal with outdoor exposure.
It seems like Spring’s urges means everything is up for possible discard. Kitchen towels, stained and fraying, have now been relagated as cleaning rags. What will be the next target? Time runs out on such projects as soon as warmth arrives and we switch to the “time-to-be-outside” mode. Sunshine on skin, even carefully monitored, seems a desperate need about now.
My guess is your furry companions are also shedding and winter fur and hair is showing up everywhere requiring frequent vacuuming. Have you also been sorting and tossing? (No, not the beloved critters, just the overwhelming evidence of their presence.)
I’d like to shed masking and the resulting damnable foggy glasses which has been a constant annoyance for so long now. How we need to rejoin friends freely and without safety concerns but there are reports of a new variant’s rising. This is when shedding needs thorough thought. A fourth vaccine? (The so called additional ”booster”?) Even with that for us older folk caution is the rule.
Perhaps what needs shedding the most is the darkness of human behavior, allowing the light of kindness and compassion free reign amongst us all. There seems to be endless examples of horrid human behavior and yet worldwide awareness seems to be growing out of the images of the truth of the complete insanity of war. What could possibly be better than a shift to understanding war as a solution for anything? Ever.
At least it’s March although thinking that March is a lessening of horrid weather was challenged by one of those FaceBook memory things which popped up. I’d written about the March 3rd Nor’easter in 2018, the storm with the 25 foot waves, a reminder that March is never the easiest month of the year.
Years ago I remember first noticing the deepening of the shadows of trees by late February an indication that the sun was gaining strength daily. By March the sun’s rays pack a real punch noticeable where there are good windows facing south or east or generally on porches or in cars. Our bodies instinctively lean in to those brief moments of light’s warmth and strength. This year after having gotten to the other side of January and February arriving in March seemed significant. It has been an unexpectedly hard winter because of frequent dips into bitter cold, perhaps even more difficult then in deep snow years. Heavy snowfalls don’t usually happen in very low temperatures whereas heavy snows come in the warmer 20’s when the snow is full of moisture and heavy to shovel. Deep snow is also soft and quiet. Deep snow can insulate which is in contrast with screaming winds which tear at the plants and trees, blow birds off course, and leave one’s nerves on edge after hard blows for days at a time.
Weather used to be a passion of mine but it turns out to have another side like everything else. Now I relish the sunny days. Hunkering down through long cloudy or stormy days has become a real challenge. Maybe that’s a normal part of aging or perhaps it is more specifically pandemic related. This is where the tedium comes in. Even in the pandemic’s chaotic beginning, beginning in March 2020, I scoffed at hearing mention of the time we’d be “getting back to normal” knowing there would be no such thing. It has taken both luck and attention and work to stay virus free which has also taken a toll. Still, if we or friends, family, and loved ones stayed healthy it was clear that was a blessing. It may be more so as research learns more about the affects of long Covid along with everything else.
Perhaps it was less work living alone (well, nearly alone) than those who had continual daily contact with family but we’ve not yet begun to measure the affects on the isolation of the older population. We are only just beginning to see the edges of what may have come out of remote learning and/or not being physically present in school. We are now seeing the toll of those in their prime working years and those who are part of what now has been labeled “The Great Resignation”. We may not ever catch up with all of this as those of us on the planet now see the looming possibilities of expanded war and nuclear threats. And then there’s the climate issues that are a part of every location.
Tedium is a mark of the fortunate.The days stretch out moving fast and slow both at the same time. Good days can be measured by doing a puzzle on the sun warmed porch. Bad days may mean no driving and watching end of the driveway filling in, a barrier to getting out, while everything else is blown clear. It’s a challenging tracking what day of the week it is. Days and nights run together. Topsy turvy seems normal.
Is that actually my complaint? To be aware sufficiently to know I am bored with the sameness of things, of the repetitive nature of the days piling into weeks? The world has turned into chaos with flourishes of madness. It’s not always helpful to compare your our lives to the lives of others except when seeing images of people fleeing from tanks and shelling. That clears the head instantly. Tedium has turned into grateful thanks.
I don’t think many of us thought we’d ever see a land war in Europe. Wasn’t that over by 1946? What is being unleashed feels unprecedented. We are moving into uncharted territory.
Tedium may actually be another description for a particular kind of peace, a true blessing.
We protect our soft white underbellies with everything we’ve got yet sometimes, there we are, unexpectedly wide open without intention, exposed in ways we don’t think we can handle.
There are good and bad parts about aging. The bad parts you can imagine: physical pain through various ailments; worry when the word you seek slips just out of reach; an entirely different relationship with ice and snow. We all have our lists. The good parts creep up slowly probably so as not to startle us unnecessarily. What if these new insights prove flighty?
There can be such relief knowing you do not, can not, have all the answers. The more you experience the stronger the sense of mystery becomes. Best of all is realizing that not one being on the planet possesses THE answer. To anything. . There are those that might have thoughts on the matter that you’d like to be true but proof positive is not possible regardless of education, status, wealth, fame, or spiritual reference. We each seem to have a capacity to rise to greatness as well as to fall spectacularly often taking others with us.
Ever so slowly I began to realize finding fault with others had far more to do with me and my process than anything someone else brought to the table. I started to hear stories from people I was learning to trust and within those stories was embedded the experiences that had formed who they were. If my personal experience was far different from someone else that meant there was an opportunity to see the world in a different way. What isn’t necessary is to drop what you know or fall into line with their thinking, or to even accept their conclusions. What hearing another’s story allows in us is the realization that if we had been in their shoes (or skin) we might well have reached the very same conclusions, or made the same decisions. We each have our own experience and if that other person had been in your place they might feel as you do now. This isn’t sympathy nor empathy. It is not exactly compassion either, but it stretches us to a place closer to understanding.
Thus opens our great vulnerability. The only guarantee is that staying here much more than a century is impossible. We are beholding to others as we grow. We are affected by the actions, thoughts, and words of others throughout our life here and none of us knows with certainty what, if anything, comes before or after. Whether we comprehend the intersections we come to with each other, I most want to believe that we, each and every one of us, are doing the best we can with what we know at any given moment. Yup. Even the bad guys.
What a challenge that thought brings as our world now seems so full of chaos and strife. What can we do when individuals and nations are at each other’s throats?
I saw a way through a week or so ago, when a contentious conversation moved from throwing g words into telling snippets of our life’s stories to each other. what had been contentious transformed into searching for commonality and connection by the simple process of listening. It was a tiny thing and a huge one all at the same time.
I’ve felt vulnerable since that morning, however, as if too much was revealed, as if too much was at stake. I do not remember what I said nor how it was that I jumped into the middle of the fray. Remorse followed even though my actions had been formed in a place beyond thought, a place I can trust. Now I want to pull myself back into my den; my courage has failed me. Getting anywhere near being judged by others or encountering barriers in communications with others leaves me shaking.
Will there ever be a time in life, in this here and now, when that particular vulnerability does not carry so much hurt?
When asked to say something about ourselves to a group of strangers we often begin our reply by naming where we live, or listing our marital status or the number of children we have, or what we do for work. Rather than being a starting point for understanding these fact recitations can easily be pathways for stereotyping, as superficial ways to divide us rather than as a starting point to bring us together.
* How could we alter our standard responses so they might lead to building bridges rather than walls? Could we begin by saying “My favorite color is blue” or “I loved Thai food from my first bite of spicy hot noodles with cucumbers and peanuts sprinkled on top”?
*Could we say “I got a dog when I was ten, a Cocker Spaniel puppy who died because her kennel had been infected with distemper.. It was a lesson on how fleeting, how precious, life was, perhaps before I was ready to understand such things.
”Could we say “I grew up on a large lake and when I was ten I would sit by the water writing poems but my mom never saved even one of them”? Could we say “I once raised pigs and chickens for food and I ate them but some time before I made friends with a cow being raised for meat and when it was slaughtered I never ate it nor did I eat beef for more than twenty years after.” What reasoning made me separate cows from chickens or pigs?
* What information can we use which would open ourselves to connections with one another? Sometimes I think we are all out circling our fields looking for trouble. We seem to want to strengthen our fences or build higher walls, to create impenetrable barriers. Why do we feel we need to do that?
* I’ve noticed recently how often people reference movies as if movies are the reality and our lives are fiction. Why does it feel listening to someone making such references that what is on a screen carries more substance than the elements of his or her own life? Why is it that actors are often mistaken for their characters, their on-screen romances are more real than the spouse and children to whom they return when the filming is over?
* How has money become the determining factor in measuring the worth of a human being? How does anyone arrive at a place where he or she has so much money they think they can do anything they want to others? How did we create a world where one person can amass more wealth than entire nations? Was that vast wealth earned by labor? Creativity? Exploitation? Did we earn it through the work of others? Can you name someone who started out poor who became incredibly rich? How did that person make that happen? Can you think of anyone who managed that path without exploitation? (I can think of only one that might fit this criteria.)
* Why do people in power (which mostly means old men) think they will be in charge forever while others who are also aging find themselves pushed to the edges as their bodies and minds deteriorate? How many really old (mostly) men in politics and government believe they can still effectively hold office into their late seventies, eighties, or more and act of if they believe they never will be replaced despite evidence the world which they once knew is long gone? Their determination to continue the course that they once thought worked actually doesn’t and hasn’t for a very long time. Think of the names of such men, heads of state, incapable of rising to new challenges such as climate change or immigration. Why are they able to hang on to their positions?
* How, after a reasonable course of recorded history, is any one person allowed to make decisions that jeopardize others on a mass scale be it via health care politics, personal grudges, or by starting wars that will displace or kill millions?
*And last, because I am now an old person, why does everyone seem to pretend that everyone here will live forever rather than the absolute that everyone will eventually die? Even when some believe they have a direct line to Truth about this process the beauty is that not one of us here knows the answer to the mystery of whether there is a place we go to or whether we drop into nothingness when our physical bodies cease being.
The rocker Jim Morrison wrote “No one here gets out alive”. That is the only solid truth we know from the moment we come into being. I think of this as a great gift, a mystery, a freedom, which might make a great difference if only we were brave enough to face it.
My ruts are running so deeply I feel lost and way over my head. I’m a “go look at the view from the top of the mountain” type of observer and have never had much tolerance for routine or repetition. Thankfully this trait came with a bonus—I have also been really good at keeping myself occupied, My love of puttering and organizing have always kept boredom at bay. Now, the challenge of these bitterly cold days of January are draining my abilities at both seeing long range and staying engaged and occupied. i suspect you are fairing far better than I, especially if you have been living with dearly loved others.
In the first Covid-present winter, the one where we actually began to recognize we were in worldwide trouble, the challenge was to suck it up and do what was right to keep ourselves and others safe but the actual first Covid winter was when the scientists and the medical and public health professionals knew their worst fears were about to unfold. So that makes this Covid Winter #3 and we are depleted and exhausted. But perhaps this is not your experience. if so, is there a chance I could learn from you?
Do you remember that small window between our vaccinations and the beginnings of the Omicron Variant, that almost home free card we thought we possessed which would open our lives back to allowing movement, travel, hugs, and blessedly sacred contact ? That promise, that surge of vaccination hope brought family gathered around Thanksgiving dinners and sped us along toward the current torrent of cases and the realization by many of us who had only known a friend of a friends who had contracted the virus. Now, friends, family, or even ourselves, have contracted the virus. We may have direct knowledge that counters that “it’s like a bad cold” crap. We are seeing breakthrough cases with dire consequences. There is explosive contagion. There is no guarantee whatsoever of an ending to this plague, only continuing evidence that this is one nimble virus determined to stay alive, migrating, and altering it’s invisibility cloak so that reported symptoms almost feel concocted they are so varied. Only they aren’t (concocted, that is). The ways in which this virus can affect a human body challenges the most knowledgeable medical practitioners and it will most likely take researchers years to see the whole picture.
Will a month from now, out of the bitter cold and icy wind grip of January, bring hope and change? Can we hang on until whatever needs to happen, actually happens?
Throughout this time of pandemic I’ve questioned which age group has taken the brunt of it’s conditions. For a long time I believed it was the young children and the teenagers who had paid the heaviest price. Now I find myself believing it is possible that we elders have lost the most because we have run (or are running) out of time. Three years is a long time when every precious bit of mental and physical health are attempting to hold on. There are nearly daily reports of the passings of those illustrious and great great but it’s not only the greats who are passing in droves.
Perhaps a leaner, less populated planet is required. I offer no Balm of Gilead, nor can i suggest a magic elixir. My apologies to those who want lightness and laughter as I’m out of both. I crave conversations about serious subjects, examinations of thought that deepens and broadens the sense of existence and the inevitable “why”. This seems as good a time as any to dig deep and ponder.
Compassion and empathy are words frequently associated with Mindfulness and Meditative practice. I’m all in favor of the possibilities inherent in this work. I am, however, wary that any of us without direct and impactful experience in what we are trying to understand come up against a deep flaw in the very fabric of being human. Even when we have had difficulties or traumas in our lives we are apt to project our experience as an overlay when trying for empathetic connections with others.
I am recognizing that the key needed to truly experience empathy or compassion with another is deep listening with our heart and mind pried open. This is merely the opener. To be able to be empathetic to another we have to trust both them and ourselves. We must possess caring, resonance, and love to truly hear and begin to comprehend. Only when we can deeply listen can we absorb that which might actually make a difference. When we think we need to jump in with words or with actions or (heaven help us) with advice we may well be missing the point. Being able to give another our full attention may be the best we can ever give another being.
We are living in a time with every manner of mixed messages flying through the air waves. Even trying for honesty within ourselves is difficult—how often do we try to fool ourselves into believing selfish motivations are actually for the benefit of all? We are so accustomed to canned messages, corporate speak, political rhetoric, and words meant to gloss over the truth of the situation. Being spoken to in this dishonest way fools no one yet no one calls this “newspeak” out for the lies that are at the heart of its very nature.
Heart listening is the way to arrive at compassion, empathy, and truth. Watch for it. Practice it. It allows amazing comprehension you would not have believed possible even when you are listening to stories or experiences far beyond your own perhaps even extending into what you believe to be oppositional to your own ways of being. Even when being in a state of awareness, heart listening is a challenge. Transcending our corporeal reality takes a lot of practice and a lot of trust and love. But the moments where we succeed are soaring and worth every bit of effort expended.
We’re not yet quite at this stage…but it’s coming.
Before, During, After.
There were many lovely Thanksgiving emails this year and one in particular mentioned the quiet time of winter quickly approaching, a time of thought and reflection. For so much of my—our?—lives that was true. There was often a sense of relief as the hectic crazies of summer finally started to thin out and fall brought a sense of restoring order. The loss of light and the shorter days reminded us that we had things to finish up and each lovely last warm day was a gentle prod to keep going while the weather was good. Perhaps this sense of restoring order is yet another reason so many name fall as their favorite season.
The message of the solace found in winter’s days however finds me rethinking that view of the season. We are approaching two years of pandemic reality that enforced a particular kind of quiet that did not feel like a form of solace. While many made good and creative uses of this time there were also just as many of us who found isolation difficult. We changed gears which may have been critically important physically and spiritually but going into yet another winter of restrictions feels like a too heavy burden. Vaccines felt like they would bring us back to some of what we most loved in our lives but the continuations of “variants” keeps all unsettled. By the time it might be safer to spend indoor time with family or friends we may have permanently altered our concepts of normalized privacy, where our whole house may feel off limits to visitors like our bedrooms once were when living rooms and kitchens were still okay for casual visitors.
I would dearly love to think of blue-white winter days with long, leisurely hours of mugs of hot tea and good books and streams of productive thought leading to new revelations, but my memory pokes me with images of raging seas, howling winds, piling snow drifts, and a sense of permeating cold that physically hurts. Old bones and joints are painful when cold makes movement slow and painful and remain everyday challenges for months at a time. Where is the solace in that?
The obvious but not always considered is that walls not only keep others out but keep us inside. This is the mixed blessing of winter. Where once we could welcome the quiet months as sanctuary they can also be viewed as a certain kind of prison. When we had lots of variations and options we could alter these close and closed perspectives, reveling in winter holiday parties in winter gatherings with friends and family, then retreating into our solitary quiet times. Another pandemic winter means our options stay limited, therefore still a challenge.
(Sometimes this is like the sausage factory. Please try again because WordPress, a slippery piece of software at best, sent an unedited version on 11/22/21)
Winter is approaching. I am realizing it is not just the approach of this particular season but also a metaphor for this part of my life.
I missed this blog’s publishing date for the first time since this exercise in joy started in August 2018, which is my first clue that something is shifting. Living so close to the powerful Atlantic Ocean is a revelation. We visitors to its shores know the calm joy of a summer beach but I longed to know its winter’s side or what it felt like at 4 a.m. in the dark, or to watch a sunrise with a lobster boat headed out for the day’s work. I’d seen what I thought were big waves from on shore during late summer hurricanes and felt their underlying roar and watched their great green curls. What was not to love?
This is about eternal romance and its clash with reality. The summer vacation solace, also a metaphor, has other sides. A different kind of high tide with violent storms came at us in the form of divisive politics and a raging pandemic. The summer calm of ocean became a raging winter sea, literally and metaphorically. The nor’easters of fall, winter, and spring shredded my peace and made me thoroughly aware of nature’s raw power and its indifference to human desires. The world away from my windows to the sea became alien. Lockdown uncertainty, then fear and confusion touched each of us. I have floundered as have many of you and here, where I most wanted to share tiny bits of shoreline observations, I lost my way. I fell into political fear and anxiety and these things overshadowed my observations of nature.
It is so easy to tumble in the unknown of our present. Earlier I wrote a blog post entitled “Which Way Is Up?” where I rambled on trying to make sense of this week’s craziness. Instead of posting that, I write a mea culpa for having strayed from original intent. The nor’easter of a few weeks ago shook my foundations and, perhaps the foundations of this house as well. The dire predictions of climate change are illusive, terrifying, and likely to bring all kinds of non-imagined challenges. We sense “something big” is coming. More immediately, the King Tides due in early December, if combined with another storm, may threaten this location and bring the ocean up on the lawn or worse or maybe just close, calm water will be the outcome. Like everything else in our current lives we don’t know how things will play out.
I can say I was not prepared for aging far away from a network of friends and family, and that it has been much harder to restart a life than I understood. Of course the pandemic made everything much harder and aging itself keeps turning up new variations requiring constant alterations and adaptations. The pandemic conditions could not have been foreseen and the isolation and increased awareness of possible dependency oddly seem to match the experience of watching thirty foot waves that are far too close. How I long for loved ones who are far away, and for cohesion and care, for peaceful seas and soft warm days and nights but let’s get real: we are headed into winter, once again, literally and metaphorically. May we at this moment give thanks for what we know, for friends, family, and loved ones in all places, for what we have lived and learned, even if we took the hard route to arrive where we presently find ourselves. May we rest and find blessings and then begin to find our way back to the path of connections and of healing
Starting the normal routine of the day I glanced out at the water and moved immediately to the porch door. The air held a slight chill, a fall–no longer summer–feel to the morning with the scent of brine traveling to my nostrils holding me, that smell addiction, deep breaths, the whiff that always stops me in my tracks until it’s moved past. A fairly large storm system had moved through during the night and I was watching its remnants move out over the water. Everything was moving. A hole in the clouds let defined light break through to the surface of the water; the uneven clouds, some heavier and darker than others, some moving lightly with grace; a flock of geese or ducks working out their formation on the leg of their journey southward that passed in front of this house. They were black silhouetted forms, individuals juggling positions, flying low over the water just off shore.
A vivid color palette, the contrasts surprising in this hour a result of the changing weather systems. Science explains yet art or mysticism comes as overlays adding dimensions—the grass still bright green shimmering wet from rain, the deep red invasive bittersweet vines winding around dark rocks, the dense clouds dark blue. Looking south edgy tendril clouds playfully thinned out into swirls of pearly grey with a touch of near yellow. Translucent green, that wholly other water green swirled in curls as the waves broke before the rocks and bright white spray soared upward released from the mass body of water below, freed for just an instant. This is not a “one picture is worth a thousand words” morning. There is so much going on I am attempting to hang on to every moment, my human senses all working to feel, smell, see the entirety and yet…
I use the tool at hand to first remind and then to share but the camera lenses can only do so much. All senses open, the human can only take in so much. “Vast” lies beyond mere humanity. This world at the edge of land is big and small at the same time. How can I go about a mundane day after witnessing such spectacle? And yet, that is what happens. What would life mean if we remained caught in such continual awareness?
We humans seem to have backed ourselves into difficult corners, be it Climate Change or the Covid Pandemic or what seems to be a hard turn to the right via Dictator/Fascist leaning governments springing up all over the globe. What stands out the most to me is in each of these areas the missing piece seems to be compassion. For an upcoming class I have been reading “What Happened to You” by Dr. Bruce Perry and Oprah Winfrey. The book discusses how we most often frame the question to others as “What’s Wrong With You?” instead asking “What Happened to You?”. There is a world of difference between those two paths of inquiry.
The concept that there is an external “normal”, that we, as individuals, have arrived at conclusions of how the world works and the ways our application of those conclusions can be used as tools of judgement about the behaviors of others says much about our underlying society. I am thinking that most of us have faced some kind of trauma in our lives yet much may remain hidden, even to ourselves. A seemingly innocuous circumstance might trigger a crisis in our psyche depending on the circumstances of that moment. Our unawareness may illustrate how unprepared we are to examine our lives to uncover “What Happened to You?”
I wonder if our sticking to the “What’s wrong with you?” question is a defensive posture which we use rather than to recognize or acknowledge our own struggles because self-reflection and self-knowing is such difficult work. Childhood memories often remain buried, more so in some than in others. I have told myself for years I have very few traces of memory even fairly late into my childhood. This may be easily explained in that I am an only child and have had few opportunities for hearing and sharing family stories of those years. My guess is the traumatic childhood of my mother and her family affected much of my own childhood. This isn’t a “blame the parents” defense but rather a compassionate inquiry into our family’s history, the history carried in our genes and in our stories, if not in our active memories.
Asking “What happened to You?” creates a space for learning and understanding and provides a context for understanding that “What’s wrong with you?” never can.
How much of our lives are spent in anticipation of something we know is coming? As a eight year old Christmas took forever to arrive, the excitement and the wait nearly unbearable. I have no memories of the days following any Christmas however.
For a number of years now I’ve experienced a growing awareness that while anticipation of some upcoming events is still a primary longing I also carry a dread of other coming events such as colonoscopies or dental appointments. What amazes me is that longed for or dreaded, the passage of the time it takes for these events to arrive is no different. They come. They go.
I find myself wondering if going through the pandemic has altered my perceptions for this coming and going business. Many of us truly faced (are still facing?) the possibilities that we might never again be in the presence of loved ones far away. It has felt, somehow, that even having to entertain this possibility altered our world. Visits with beloved family carries worry about the coming: Is flying safe? Is visiting others with whom you could not-with certainty-know if they had been virus exposed, nor could you give 100% reassurance that you, yourself, were totally free and clear.
They came. The joy was ever present even if not not openly proclaimed out loud. Masking felt like a dance. Testing felt like a godsend. But each day flew past, when what was wanted most was to hold and savor and treasure every moment. Nonetheless, those moments went. Now the longing for what was coming has gone, those moment by moment exchanges depend now on memory, and the future seems as unknown and evasive as it has always been.
The coming and going of seasons carries these same elements only stretched out in months rather than days. So many love the Fall, the drier and cooler air, the pace of life’s rhythms winding down with preparations for winter slowly moving forward, but I am a lover of Spring. I savor the pale greens appearing on bare branches; I love green, oranges and reds and browns are not my colors. Like with visits, I am always more drawn by Spring anticipation because Spring sharpens my senses. I prefer looking forward not back. Unlike so many living in the North I’m tolerant of Summer, the craziness; the swelter; the excesses. Summer, or at least the ending of it, feels like continuous over-doing it; as if the good stuff got out of control. I savor the heat (even while loathing the bugs) but hurricanes, those excesses of weather, heighten at the ending of summer, almost proving to us that there can indeed be too much of a good thing. But still, to me the feel of summer slipping away is painful.
Coming. Going. The seasons forever cycled and I am finding the anticipation and their passing less easy to bear as I age. Cold and dark are not welcome companions as my body is increasingly defenseless of their assaults. But they come. And they go. My anticipation and dread increases. Longed for visits with loved ones were too short; the coming cold and dark season way too long. Once, there must have been balance, where comings and going’s were the welcome rhythms of life. But now the balance between them seems altered, as if time has become parceled out unfairly with too many stretches of going and not enough of coming, and so much less of those precious moments of just savoring being in the presence of Now.
Years ago when I returned to college to finally finish my undergraduate degree (sixteen plus years after I had dropped out) the first class I took was “The Philosophy of Creativity”. The age range in that class was from 72 to 19. Whatever topic was discussed there were those in the class who had new, fresh ideas of how to tackle it and there were voices of experience who had tried. What never left me was the power of that range of idealism to experience and how, when given an opportunity to be together, that range provided an expansiveness not possible in more narrowed situations. To solve anything both idealism and experience are inexplicably tied together.
There is enormous wisdom in the trope “Keep the Lesson but Throw Away the Experience”. It isn’t that our particular story of how we came to an understanding doesn’t count; it’s that at a certain point in life we all have stories and paths and what counts above everything else is the learning—the wisdom—that we come to on our individual journeys. How we came to that learning might be interesting but it is almost always a side issue.
I’ve been thinking about the difference between experience and opinion and how we can recognize in conversation which one is in operation. Many of us took to using Zoom during the pandemic, for comfort, for connection, for information. The standouts in this process were the moments when experience informed but did not limit. Out of respect or desire for contact or communications on many occasions we were able to open channels that might have remained closed and we stretched into unknown territories together. My suspicion is that Zoom became a successful medium for those longing for such expansion. The lockdown—those long hours and days of keeping our own company—allowed us to experience our own boundaries and some of us found them to be too confining. The way to move out of confined spaces is to listen and to learn from others, to expand beyond our own boundaries. This is where the line between opinion and experience gets critical: Experience carries gravitas. Opinion is often just hot air. We can feel the difference.
The stories of our lives are merely how we got to be where we currently are. If there’s time and space sufficient for the telling, then that might be helpful for understanding, but just maybe that story takes a back seat to what came out of what happened and that what you did with what you learned was more important than anything else, for you and all those lucky enough to have the opportunity to listen.
We are emerging from our pandemic induced isolation and we are finding our lives altered. In my life a daily Zoom connection hosted by our local public library became a slim digital thread, a connector where I could check in and hear how others were responding to our abruptly changed world. This come-and-go group had gotten to know each other over the stretch of time when most all of us only went out when necessary, masked and constantly on alert, doing our errands as needed but feeling safer when back in our own abode. It’s more than a little painful remembering how much the constant political upheavals were rattling our already shaky selves so, in the beginning and until things started to calm down, politics was a constant theme in our discussions.
Sandwiched in between our fears and our rants were pieces of our lives that we shared with each other. The flat screen faces were kind and thoughtful. They responded in quick bursts or sat back and listened, allowing our inner cores breathing room as judgement surrendered to compassion and understanding. We heard road trip stories, family stories, and (joy!) saw pets take over screens as we ooood and awed, especially if we were living alone without furry companions. Linking the serious moments was hilarity in daily jokes and lightening quick puns. We literally laughed and cried together.
As the months went on various people joined the group or left the group, mostly without any fanfare; it was always understood we were self selected. Our library teamed up with another library in Illinois and our screen face friends expanded to include friends or relatives and those who found the group by digital miracles. Geography made everything expand in ways that would not have been previously possible but we expanded by age range and circumstances too.
After vaccines became widely available literal breathing room crept into our lives. One person’s willingness to translate a desire for three dimensional experience instead of the flat screen images provided an opportunity for some of us to gather together, in person, in a living room, and on a porch! Now we know somehow something extraordinary has happened, something new in our world, a thread of possibility formed out of a truly strange time, a possibility which might never have occurred without this crack in our world that made new ways of being possible.
None of knows what lies ahead. I suspect many of us sense we have undergone permanent shifts. We are listening and watching, wanting to incorporate who we once were with the person we’ve now become. Finding fellow explorers, kindred spirits, in unexpected ways and places, is the crack of which Leonard Cohen wrote: “the crack where the light comes in”.
The birds they sang At the break of day Start again I heard them say Don't dwell on what has passed away Or what is yet to be
Ah, the wars they will be fought again The holy dove, she will be caught again Bought and sold, and bought again The dove is never free Ring the bells that still can ring Forget your perfect offering There is a crack, a crack in everything That's how the light gets in
We asked for signs The signs were sent The birth betrayed The marriage spent Yeah, and the widowhood Of every government Signs for all to seeI can't run no more With that lawless crowd While the killers in high places Say their prayers out loud But they've summoned, they've summoned up A thundercloud They're going to hear from me
Ring the bells that still can ring Forget your perfect offering There is a crack, a crack in everything That's how the light gets in
You can add up the parts But you won't have the sum You can strike up the march There is no drum Every heart, every heart To love will come But like a refugee
Ring the bells that still can ring Forget your perfect offering There is a crack, a crack in everything That's how the light gets in
Ring the bells that still can ring Forget your perfect offering There is a crack, a crack in everything That's how the light gets in That's how the light gets in
When I was young I was out with my parents at a Christmas party. When we returned to the place where we lived there was a large, handled paper bag wedged between the outer storm door and the regular door. In the bag was a fairly large stuffed toy, a poodle that had a short chain leash and a collar. It was obviously intended for me as the only child in the house. I never learned who gave that stuffed dog toy to me but what I have carried with me for all these years from this experience was the idea that Magic existed. To me, Magic was somehow the source of this gift (even though I often thought about the various people in my life who could have left that gift for me). The point is I wanted to believe in Magic even more than I wanted to know who had given that gift.
My adult version of Magic transformed into an attraction to what I now call “the unseen”. Over time my desire for the existence of Magic has manifested in attraction to Astrology, Channeling, Life After Life (or Life After Death), Reincarnation and more. Over the course of an academic career my interest in such subjects did not lessen but I learned to keep it to myself. After retirement, freed from my self-imposed bounds, I re-discovered the field of Consciousness Studies. I was overjoyed to learn that while my exploration in this area had taken a very long break scientists had forged ahead and were very intensively poking and researching using the scientific method as a tool to uncover much of what had before been dismissed. Under the academic disciplines of Philosophy of Mind, Psychology, and Quantum Physics much was being uncovered and understood. While I cannot here give any succient description of this work, I (oddly) understand what I have read and watched. As I slide into becoming an old woman, I realize I have not lost the longing for Magic to be in the world. While I came to have deep respect for science and its particular processes for discovering truth, I never stopped wanting the more sophisticated forms of such beliefs in what had been my childhood longings for the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus to be real. To this day I simultaneously carry beliefs that both science and Magic are present, concurrent and real.
Aging has brought me to relishing in the delights of mystery. I don’t want to know detail by detail every aspect of our world as studied and explained by one scientist or another. Recently, I stood on the stairs to the entrance of the house where I live for a long time watching the small birds gathering for their late afternoon feeding on the seeds I’d put out earlier in the day. There were varieties of sparrows, and Tuffted Titmice, Chickadees and House Finches. The different species came together all at the same time, and in the silent blue sky afternoon the sounds of fluttering wings, of air moving through feathers, was over my head as these birds moved from trees to the feeders, over and back again and again.. Time stopped as I, in utter delight, was absorbed by these small, ordinary birds. I did not clamor for a scientific explanation of how these different species came together all at once, in coordination and cooperation although I could tell that there were definite protocols being followed by who got to be at the feeders at the same time. I am certain ornithologists have the answers to explain these behaviors but what I cared about most was standing in love and awe out of time and absorbed by what was happening. I had no desire to seek out behavioral whys. I wanted the wonder, the Magic, of simply observing and being.
Maybe it is as easy as that. Scientists can research and write papers, and we can seek out that information or we can observe and experience without that form of knowledge, simply wanting to be present. No matter who we are we cannot know all and just maybe that within the space of our unknowing is the real definition of what Magic really is.
On a very “feet on the ground” way of seeing the world, I remember long ago reading that “someday” humans would heal with light and sound. At the time I could not imagine what that meant. When I remembered this so much later in my life I realized that the prediction had already arrived. Ultrasound and Lasers are tools for healing with sound and light. I lived long enough to see that prediction become reality. In my–your–lifetime we have witnessed all manor of amazing new things: computers and then computers in the form of phones ever present in our pockets, where we can use FaceTime and Zoom to talk with one another separated by rooms or miles. What was once Unseen now fills our world.