#195 Convergence

Convergence

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.

#191 Tedium: A Privilege

Tedium: A Privilege.

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.

#190  Vulnerability 

Vulnerability. 

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?

# 189 Questions

Questions.

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.

#185 My Winter’s Discontent

My Winter’s Discontent.

Dull. Repetitive. Endless. Mind Numbing. Isolated

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.

#184 External Heat

External Heat.

As there seems to be in every part of our lives for a couple of years since the pandemic tossed us all out of our usual orbits, the intensity of this particular January is not yet letting up. It was 1 degree last night with a 30-40 mph wind, as cold as I’ve experienced elsewhere where that kind of weather was routinely anticipated. This morning sea smoke was blowing faster than the moving waves beneath it, while off shore gusts were pushing additional sea smoke perpendicularly against that flow. It was beautiful to watch because there was brilliant sunshine and iridescent waves.

I have taken to speculating if this beautiful house by the ocean was built as a summer residence or if the timing of the build put it before the awareness, so hard earned in the oil crisis of the 1970’s. The windows on the north and west sides of the house are single paned and the insulation is not up to current standards. I know that because those winds flow through the walls. Forced air heat cannot possibly keep the house even remotely warm under such conditions. The gas insert in what was a wood burning fireplace has a electrical blower but that room also has a cathedral ceiling with a long since dead ceiling fan and that room is the location of the one thermostat for the whole house. Using the fireplace means the heat generated from it is the cause of no heat getting to the other rooms in the house. In addition the room where I sleep has two heating ducts neither of which is operational. It may be the coldest room in the house also because the staircase to the basement level of the house which has loads of leaks with zero weather stripping and large gaps above interior doors off the garage spaces runs right next to my room’s entrance.

As an aging person my body has lost its ability to generate heat. Recently in an AARP publication there was an article that stated older people need to live where the temperature is in the 68-70 degree range. I know a number of older people attempting to live with their thermostats set at 62 degrees or lower. At 62 hypothermia is a possibility but heating costs and environmental concerns far exceed the possibility of using fossil fuels to keep a living space that warm.

From having lived in even colder geographies than coastal Maine my wardrobe still contains a number of thick wool sweaters and I’ve a good number of sets of long underwear which can now be worn in public as leggings as well as under those sweaters. Wool helps even if my drier skin is now itchy upon direct wool contact. None of the usual merchants carry wool goods any longer with the exception of occasional wool socks popping up. I speculate on possible reasons for this wool garment shortage and have settled on the cost and availability of wool as well as having the skills to care for wool garments, hardly a toss in the washer-dryer thing. Climate change does not mean the need for warmth has passed. On the contrary, it is meaning that climatic conditions are becoming more erratic and more extreme, with wild swings of both colder and hotter.

Does owning your own home help? Yes or no, depending on your retirement income and backup funds. When younger and far more mobile did you include the possibility of pandemic conditions where staying in your own space 24/7 was going to be a requirement? If you kept up with newer technologies in HVAC you may be better prepared than most. Heat pumps are being installed everywhere but I’m not knowledgeable enough to know if they can help during severe bouts of cold and heat. Wood heat is now a no no in many places because of particulate pollution. I carry permanent lung damage because of smoke inhalation along with fond  memories of being that warm on -20 degree days plus the marvelous experience of cooking on a wood fueled kitchen range.

There are wisely sound folk now living in net zero houses. Not nearly enough of them. Are those houses toasty? 

I’m doing what I can but on many days it is not enough so I climb under covers with an electric blanket mid-day.

How are you getting through this winter?

#174 Giving Thanks

(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)

Giving Thanks.

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

#165 Ways of Knowing

Ways of Knowing.

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.

#164 Coming. Going.

Coming. Going.

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.

 

#156 Getting There from Here

Getting There From Here.

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.

 

# 152 Cri de la Coeur

Cri de la coeur.

On a weekend afternoon I’d driven over to one of my favorite parking spots needing a bit of fresh air and sunshine on a day with the kind of chill that often makes old bones ache and movement painful.

A older woman, large eyes peering out from under a baseball cap, was attempting to back into one of the parking spaces next to me. I motioned ahead to two spots closer to the water telling her she’d have a better view there. As I was getting ready to leave she backed into the spot next to me and motioned she wanted to talk. 

Beginning with profuse apologies she then rambled: she was 72–she was widowed—she’d recently taken a fall—she was carrying stuff in her car waiting until she could give it away—she was sleeping in her car to “test out” what it would be like to drive across America in a used van she hoped to purchase—she’d given up her apartment.

I thought I saw worry and fear in those large eyes but I did not know, or trust, where this encounter was headed. My physical need in that moment was to be lying down on my bed not sitting in the car, an audience of one trying hard to listen while questioning what my role was in this situation and trying to think through flooding pain. After a bit my body discomfort overcame whatever I was being asked to do, and I made my excuse and drove away.

Later, a friend reminded me of a recent encounter she had experienced in a different town with a homeless, car-bound woman who, eventually, asked her for money while she was getting gas. With troubled thoughts and accompanying compassion my friend gave her the largest bill she carried in her wallet.

There are hundreds of questions below the two sketchy, skittery “conversations” that took place. Whatever was beneath the stories each woman told, there was the truth of two women in troubling circumstances. One story is disturbing, two stories exponentially more so. Are there women panhandling from their cars that have become their homes? Have they come here because it is seems safer or because it is cooler in these summer months? Our two encounters seem unlikely as happenstance and each carries unpleasant resolve.

My chance encounter turned my woes into a grateful “Thanks” for my circumstances. “Old age is not for sissies” said my mother and through each new awareness and, with what is learned in conservations with fellow travelers, there comes the challenges aging brings. There’s the daily unfolding knowledge that we can no longer power ourselves through or do simple tasks that once would have easy. Old bodies often hurt. A lot. Sometimes there are blessings and occasional grace that allows seeing bigger pictures and contexts. Sometimes, alone, we just get through the day as best we can.

What are the things we need to know before we pass from this life? What are the responsibilities each of us holds in seeing our world with flashes of what might resemble wisdom? If indeed wisdom is present, then how do we share what we’ve learned?

And now there’s this new question: What is our role when our paths cross troubled (and troubling) souls?

#149 No Roots.

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No roots.

The gardeners were working in the flower beds next door at the Lobster Shack. I asked for help for a few minutes in my attempt to improve a small garden patch in front of the house. While we were talking one of the gardeners reached down and extracted a large, quite perfect dandelion plant with its very long taproot intact. It resembled the shape and fullness of a bridal bouquet, quite a feat for a perfectly ordinary dandelion. What struck my memory camera was that root.

I’ve mentioned I’ve been going through old family photos trying to identify, label, and organize them as I’m about the only one left with family memories intact sufficiently enough to do this. I’m told by two friends who are steeped in genealogy that I should definitely not toss out photographs with subjects any I don't know. When I began this project I saw it as quick work and now, weeks later, I have walked down memory paths I did not know were still within me. It has not been easy work.

As names and events floated up into awareness I think of how unlike that magnificent dandelion with its long taproot my life turned out to be. I would describe my life as mostly surface with very little root. (“Rutts” as it would have been pronounced in many places I’ve lived.) I seemed to have been a wandering plant, one that didn’t “take” to one particular place or another. 

Seeing faces and places that once were but are no longer is a peculiar thing. Sometimes I recognize if this or that person were still in this world we’d still have issues with one another. Sometimes with others there is an almost pure longing for what was not appreciated, a sense of comfort and belonging I’ve not felt since they were still in my life. Yes, regrets seep out from such work. How little I understood about the fleeting moments of relationship. My epitaph would rightly read “She took too much for granted.”

Now I live a long way from where any of them lived and there are very thin, occasional threads of connectivity with the tiny family few who remain. Now I understand about conversations that did not happen. Oh for a few more moments at tables with bowls of potato salad, baked beans, and laughter. I am grateful we did not have to share pandemic stories and that I was spared the worry of loved ones I could not have helped but as I see these faces in fading photographs, what happened to those moments where I thought there would always be enough time? It turned out there wasn’t.









			

#145 Magic, Mystery, Wonder: The Unseen

ghostsail

Magic, Mystery, Wonder: The Unseen.

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.

 

#143 Old Photos

Old photos unknowns copy

Old Photos

An assignment for my latest class sent me scurrying to the plastic bin in the basement where old photographs were piled in a disorganized mess. Most all had once been pasted into albums, providing some kind of context but the smell of those albums indicated that “slow fire” was at work. Slow Fire is the term for the deterioration of acidic paper which eventually destroys all. (Think of that dark orange paper in an old paperback in the attic.) In an attempt to save the photos I tore the albums apart but I stopped (like happens with so many projects) at demolition leaving all of those images in a tangled mess where there was no time frame or reference point left.

There’s a saying that you are still alive as long as there is someone who remembers your name. If that’s the case then there are people in these photos who are truly gone. Oddly a name will sometimes pop into my brain emerging from the murk like a long buried, almost viable, cork. Sometimes there is only a name accompanied by a vague idea of who he / she / they were but not why their photo came to be in that box . When we lose the last pieces of connective tissue are they just faces on paper? Surely we must have once known. Aren’t we supposed to remember these things?

There is so little family left to even wonder who these people were and there’s certainly no opportunity to ask the one or two remaining that still might know. As with many families here and elsewhere there has been so much movement and change there is barely any concept of family history left. There is a  good possibility that this no longer matters, that is if it ever did. My family was tiny; I am an only child who had an only child. It takes larger families who gather on holidays and retell stories year after year to keep family history viable. Genealogists have an easier time uncovering and following family trees when the stories are kept alive, although they are not always accurate.

There are legitimate questions about such matters. Is family history relevant in today’s world? Will it be lost only to resurface as a pressing issue in times to come? It seems it is the provenance of the old to ask such questions. Everyone else is too busy with the daily grind to even entertain such thoughts. Is modern life such a struggle it renders family history irrelevant? I can hear the chorus of historians and genealogists screaming “Nooooooo”. But the question stands. Do we need to remember who we were to know who we are?

For information on Slow Fire see:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slow_fire

#140 Unfinished

Unfinished.

Back to the subject of dreams. Not even halfway through the night I’ve been brought sharply to an awakened state as three separate dreams have come right to the make or break point then whoosh I was out of there and awake, nearly panting at the closeness of resolve but instead left hanging and wondering. I’ve not been one much interested in dream interpretation via external sources preferring to believe in individual symbolism rather than in overreaching archetypes. In this case it’s the pattern of dreaming itself that has left me questioning. Well, that and a sense of doom or fear facing which, apparently, I’m not (yet?) ready to do.

Dreams are such curious manifestations. While many researchers work on poking at the truth of them–their origins and purpose–most of us remember little upon waking up, our separate selves operate mostly in realms of night or day, waking consciousness or boundless sleep. My sense of it is we could not survive without dreams, that within them lies guidance and the paths that our lives will take, but so much is not remembered. That’s not proof however that dreaming isn’t critical but only that we are very far from understanding the most basic mechanisms of our own being.

Now that I’m here it strikes me that I rarely understand most of where and how my life has unfolded. I came into these later years striving for amalgamation, looking to a time of contemplation where the seemingly separate parts of my lifetime could be pulled together into some kind of (at least) relational story. I wanted to make a whole after so many seemingly separate parts. Just as with tonight’s dreams, that work lies unfinished. Does that suggest that it takes the availability of a more vast perspective than what is available to most of us in our earthy form? Tonight I have only questions and no answers. Maybe a return to sleep will lead to yet more remembered answers.

Later Addition:

Morning light brought slivers of more dream memory, of returning to a place of departure (geographic or mindset) where leaving this life was joyous rather than gloomy, where a soul experienced a sparkle upon approaching this task. The time for departure had come and it was embraced. It seems an affront to even entertain such an idea but there it was with laughter and a sense of lightness and delight. A rested human body perhaps enabled such thoughts. Unfinished, replaced by simply unknown.

#134 My Roots Are Showing

My Roots Are Showing.

Recently it has dawned on me that I am a throwback to a much earlier time. I think I was unaware to the extent I was influenced by my early childhood connections to aunts and uncles from an era long since departed. As the years go past I feel these connections and recognize that they do not resemble anything in my current life.

The geography of Northern New York–above the Adirondacks–is a place where the earth flattens out as it steadily rolls from the mountain range’s high peaks region to the St. Lawrence River bordering Ontario. On a clear day you can see for miles and miles driving the back roads up there, the landscape rolling away from your eye, the silver thread of the shining river on the horizon far off in the distance. The town in which my parents grew up was the home of Almanzo Wilder, husband of Laura Ingalls Wilder, and the book she wrote of his early life called “Farmer Boy” is practically the only reference that anyone would connect to tiny Burke, NY.

I thought of this area as a place out of time, or at least a place that felt 30 or 40 years behind whatever year we were in. This place still has active evidence of family farms, a tiny  town far away from the tourist trade. The farms, dairy or cropped based (once mostly potatoes), were sold over the last decades to Amish families looking for affordable land to work and farm living their private lives in a place where they would be free to be with others who shared the same beliefs. I was long absent by the time these land exchanges were happening but perhaps the Amish were right in that the area was an easier fit than other possibilities.

What I remember from my childhood was a sense of shared values, of neighborly concerns and real help if that was what was needed. I was dimly aware that the price of such deeply rooted connection might be traces of intolerance to “other” which I first came to understand from road trips to visit my cousins just a bit north. The drive was through Native American [Mohawk/Akwesasne] “Reservation” land. I remember looking out of the backseat car window and seeing animated young, brown skinned men carrying lacrosse sticks. This was long before lacrosse had been adopted (culturally appropriated?) by New England’s private schools and eventually most of the high schools in northern latitudes. Lacrosse back then was the Native American sacred sport in a society where the struggles were centered on dirt poor poverty and maintaining their own language and identity while surrounded by deep prejudice from the culture that hemmed them in.

My memories of family center on my father, a storyteller by nature, who filled dinner table gatherings with of tales of working in the woods (those Adirondacks) and the characters he knew doing such work. My aunt’s husband, Karl Pond, build roads through those mountains when road building was not done by engineers, but by local talent. My Dad always said you could tell Karl had built a section of road because he knew how to build a curve which you could feel behind the wheel of your car. One summer by aunt joined him living in a shack in the woods spending her days gathering balsam needles for the Christmas present pillows she made. Mine was made of purple cloth and I kept it for years, the sweet, woodsy scent fading slowly over time.

I am wandering down memory lane now because I have begun to notice how out of step I am with current mores or values. Only though contrast have I come to realize how deeply I absorbed what I learned from sitting at those kitchen tables listening to their history and their stories. Now it is I who is out of step with the times, it I who longs for that particular kind of decency and caring. I do not intend to “whitewash” the memories as that term fits way too well describing other unpleasant aspects of those times which were very far from perfect.

I guess if you live long enough your memories begin to clash with the world that surrounds you which often becomes so alien. At what point do we begin to separate ourselves? In a Best Buy store a number of years ago I realized that I did not know what many of the consumer goods offered on their shelves actually did. As I considered myself reasonably tech savvy at the time it was a moment of real shock. Now I find separations daily. I feel old yet occasionally pleased that I can remember that long ago time, when I felt in tune with those around me, content in trusting that I belonged, trusting that my world made sense and that people in it were essentially decent and fair. My memories are bridge to nowhere as all connections to that time are lost.

Reflections: A History of Burke, NY:  https://burkeny.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Reflections.pdf

Akwesasne:  St. Regis Mohawk Reservation https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Regis_Mohawk_Reservation

Traditional Lacrosse:  https://akwesasne.travel/traditional-lacrosse/

# 133 Speedy Moonrise and the Relativity of Temperature


Speedy Moonrise and the Reality of Temperature..

After a long trail walk in the winter woods on a beautiful winter’s day, my tired body was restless in the dark night. With weary bones and aching muscles prohibiting sleep, I prowled the house noticing the lights out on the water, pondering the mysteries of buoy lights, some constantly red, some with intermittent bluish flashes, no doubt signaling a clear message to ships in the vicinity that I, a total landlubber, could not read.

On one side of the house there were a few dim lights in the windows of neighboring houses perhaps indicators of sleepless tiny children or night owls preferring the silence and the calm of deep night while I, undetected in the dark, walked with bare feet on cold wooden floors trying to work out the restlessness of my tired legs. Then turning back to the ocean side windows, there suddenly appeared a huge, Sumo sized segment of brilliant orange just above the horizon. Moonrise at one a.m., the vivid illumination was a startlingly unexpected body in the black sky. A sight like that, when the night has, by it self altered reality, momentarily shifts the mind but all too soon it’s rapid upward progress changes it quickly from orange to yellow making a shining path to it on the water’s surface. My restless, exhausted body saw this as a totally unexpected gift, one that could have been so easily slept through as in most other nights.

Looking out on the crisp, clear black sky and the sacred, precious moonrise in the middle of the night also carried a deep chill, my bones feeling the cold in every corner of the house. Why can 62 degrees seem so warm if experienced on an unseasonable winter’s day, a day where a light jacket substitutes for the puffy down one worn the day or two before and after, yet that same 62 degrees on a February night in the quiet dark house feels frigid, the chill nearly unbearable. Such mysteries startle an aging, exhausted human just needing sleep.

The moon climbs steadily over the water offering no warmth but it’s light draws the eye and satisfies a weary soul.

 

#131 Among Trees

Among trees.

This winter has brought walking in the woods as a balm for life cooped up inside. I doubt I would have ever ventured among trees without the presence of a friend who has an affinity for trees.

Years ago, I’d learned to sugar in northern Vermont. We’d start when the snow was deep, tapping trees and hanging buckets. Gathering sap was done the hard way, moving from tree to tree carrying heavy, sloshing pails then dumping the sap into the holding tank sitting atop the dray pulled by the tractor. When the sun’s warmth began to melt the snow on the south side of the trees it meant the lifeblood of the tree would begin flowing upward through the trunk but the freezing temperatures of the night would send the sap down back into the roots. The more miserable the weather, the longer this ebb and flow of cold to warm then cold again, the more the sap would run and then syrup could be drawn off in the sugar house. The only part of the operation I never learned was being the sugar maker, the boiler. Responsibility for staying awake throughout the night carefully monitoring the fuel supply and keeping an anticipatory eye on the large “pans” so they, and the sugar house, did not burn was a job only for experts.

Throughout the whole sugar season my joy came from being in the woods feeling the transition from winter into spring. Having started in hip deep snow, terrible to walk through, and ending up in shirt sleeves washing and stacking buckets as warmth began creeping in at the end of the season was brutal, satisfying, work. I doubt many still sugar this way as tubing, suction pumps or gravity feeds took the place of human bodies willing to swap hard labor for only the precious brown sweetness and the utter joy of collective labor that was so much a part of farming in all seasons. Now there are few hardscrabble family farms left and climate change with wild temperature swings makes maple sugaring precarious.

At that time of my life, the woods were also a playground when on skis, the cross-country propel-yourself kind. Being on wooded hillsides in February cutting our own trails there was often an unexpected warmth, the exertion of muscle under wind protected tree cover often felt like a balmy Vermont winter version of a beach day.

Now in old age as walking has become difficult, moving through the woods with the patience of a friend making it possible, I carefully place each step and I breathe. I move ever so slowly with senses open. The smell of the woods changes with the types of trees and their proximity to one another. Deeply green mosses surprise, the bright color such a contrast to the brown leaf litter underfoot. This year there has been the blessing of a snow drought causing angst for skiers and utter joy for those of us able to escape being stuck inside in this time of pandemic distancing. 

The privilege of being in winter woods brings indescribable joy. The seemingly endless configurations of downed trees, the striations of bark, the signs of beaver along a pond with left behind stumps looking like they were ground by giant pencil sharpeners and the large chipped holes in dead or dying trees made by woodpeckers looking for insect protein are sources of delight. The wonderfully fresh air filling nostrils shriveled by dry heated indoor substitutions for real air brings life to tired bones, hearts, and weary minds so anxious to be clear of the sound of incessantly droned media worries. 

“Come to me” sing the trees. Bring your troubles and deposit them at our base so we can carry them upward to light and air and freedom. 

 

#123 A Beautiful Life.

A Beautiful life.

A relative-by-choice lost his father recently. Close to dying he told his daughter that he had lived a beautiful life and was ready to go. He was 100.

The words and thought stay with me. Would most of us choose “beautiful” as our life’s summation descriptor? Any skepticism i might have once had is tempered by the extraordinary people I have gotten to know in their 80’s and 90’s, a time I think may hold a gifted opportunity for transformation. 

What does it take to get past the perilous years of failing health, of increasing pain, and the sorrow of losing so many you love? In my mid-seventies, the view of these extraordinary elders seems as if the finest grit sandpaper has polished their senses to a burnished bright energy, a sheen of clarity we often refer to as “wisdom”. What stands out is an awareness, finally, of what essences of life are truly important, love, above all, tempered by a great forgiveness of imperfection. And yet this view does not suffer fools nor accept dark deeds, but urges all of us to rise to our highest natures citing examples of what might still be possible.

Our impatient culture seems to hold little tolerance for gray or white heads as they go about  their days moving slowly as older bodies require. The aged are often seem as using up resources more readily needed by those who are younger. Little do those passing understand the polished gemstones hidden in plain sight. 

 

#113 The Art of Concealment

The Art of Concealment.

I stepped outside my door to soak down the parched front yard plants, bone dry from a long stretch of July-August heat with almost no rain, now even into September. My movement flushed a hawk from it’s perch in the tree closest to the porch door. I have caught a glimpses of this hawk before, stealth in the small trees, lying in wait, hunting.  It’s initial presence was likely drawn by the small birds who gathered at the feeder before I took it down for the summer. The common sparrows and finches are still here but are now dining on the natural bounty of the seeds and plants of late summer. The hawk remembers this location as a ready source of food and I am grateful I’ve been spared witness to his or her success.

The hawk flew a short distance to another tree, close but yet still remaining difficult to spot among the dense leaves. I stepped farther out on the porch hoping for an identifying view but the only clear view I had was the tail-feather bars as it flew away–a young Cooper’s Hawk most likely. A short while later a fledgling catbird was on the porch trying to conceal itself among the garden tools leaning in the corner of the porch where, mostly unused, they’ve stood gathering rust all summer. I suspect this family of catbirds was the hawk’s intended food and I was happy the young one made it though. Concealment by both, the camouflaged hawk in the tree branches and the tiny young catbird  trying to save itself by hiding, demonstrate nature’s way of survival for both predator or prey with an outcome that can go either way.

This seems to have been a summer of concealment, maybe even a year of it,  both in our personal lives and in the outer world, as we humans struggle with how to remake life under new rules that affect everything. The political world, always harsh but now with newly sharpened edges on much more dangerous tools, seems awash in concealment. The  extremes of behaviors are  being stretched beyond our society’s capacity to stay whole. It’s hard to hold the lives in our community in safety and security as the rules and guidelines of pandemic caution are so varied and interpreted in understanding and in practice. My sense of what is safe may not be closely related to yours and the ultimate  proof is staying healthy or getting sick, a dicey proposition in every case. Leaders obfuscate with underlying motives. Precarious economics scare everyone. Outcomes are not clear for anyone on any level.

Is anyone playing it up front and honest any more? Still not willing to enter the fray of retail stores, I limit online ordering to basic supplies. I’ve been ripped off three times this summer. The latest was a package which arrived holding only one of the two identical items I ordered, bubble wrap filling the space where the other would have been. I notified the company and sent photos of the packaging (as requested by them) as it was received, only to be denied my claim because the shipping weight of the FedEx package stated the weight was for two items. What’s clear to me is “someone” removed the second item in the packing room or on route, then resealed the carton and I’m left paying double while feeling like I’ve been declared a liar by a fly-by-night company. At a time we need compassion more than ever the affront digs deeply.

This is a time of struggle. Personal past traumas bubble up as opportunities to examine the truths we tell ourselves. Whether or not we stay silent or attempt to work through what we carry, concealment happens within our own psyches. We dance to the music in our head and are driven by motives we don’t often recognize. Is it concealment if we have been unable to face something within ourselves? If we cannot or will not take hard looks at our motivations and actions, if we hold back information from ourselves or others, aren’t we lying by omission? How do we uncover our own truths much less the truths of others?

Here I am amongst my inward leaf cover, sitting on my internal branch, trying to fix things before I can move along. It is damn hard and miserable work. My sense is I am not alone  but are we hiding our struggles from one another and ourselves, making it even harder when it was already difficult enough?