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.
In a wonderful conversation, a friend challenged me on my idea of “Beauty” with the suggestion that finding beauty involved judgement. I had said something along the lines of “beauty was like fuel to me”. By that I meant that noticing beauty feels like random awareness, a visual experience of joy.
Never have I even considered that finding beauty was a process of deciding what was beautiful versus what wasn’t. It has always been, for me, a one way flow. Beauty often appears as a sudden flash, almost always visual.
I understood that if I stuck to using words I would not be able to communicate what is in my heart and mind concerning this subject so it’s off to the photo archives to attempt to illustrate my thoughts with images.
There seems to be a widening discrepancy in how much information is personally acceptable when horrible events are happening daily. Many feel the need to turn away because of how awful information affects them, physically and/or psychologically. I find myself turning to the opposite view by seeking material presented or written by very knowledgeable people. (The part about the quality of source becomes a critical distinction.) Folks blathering and parroting partially informed or blatantly political propaganda wears everyone out, raises blood pressure, and anxiety levels. “Scholarly” sources change that. I don’t subscribe to the current “everyone’s opinion counts” viewpoint. I don’t think many of us would purposefully seek medical help from someone not steeped in years of training. I honor that same principle when it comes to history or geopolitical complexities. Seeking knowledgeable sources allows me to think then rethink what is going on thus digging beyond, or beneath, the horror. The challenge, of course, is finding such sources.
Here comes my hypocrisy. Within this past two weeks I found myself in a situation that slammed home the point. I had been watching huge flocks of birds gathering daily out in the waters in front of this house. For five years now I’ve been focusing on what I could learn by simply watching the bird (ducks, mostly) behaviors on a daily basis. Other than using ID-ing guides or websites, I avoided delving into wildlife biology or ornithology tomes for deeper information. In other words, I was “using my intuition” rather than knowledgeable sources.
One morning the numbers of birds was extraordinary, larger than I had seen in the five years I have been here. I wanted to post documentation on a fabulous birding site called MAINEBirds on Facebook. I tried for a panoramic photo and failed. Then I tried shooting a video which I couldn’t seem to upload. In the end I sent one of four photos I’d taken of one of the four rafts (the new term I’d learned for such grouping of birds.) I had referred to these large flocks as being Common Eiders, the species I’d watched out there for five years. Immediately I was corrected by someone who had been out here the day before telling me the birds out there were Scoters not Eiders. I reacted badly.
It took me a few days to understand how I had erred. I’d not used the binoculars to ID those rafts. I made an ill-informed assumption. I wasn’t one hundred percent wrong as at least one of the rafts were Eiders, mostly males. At issue was a piece of information I did not know: apparently Common Eiders have been disappearing along the Maine coast causing much distress and concern among birders, so while I was thinking that the thriving Common Eider flock I’d been watching all this time had actually been taken over by other species, particularly Scoters. I’d committed a classic error: I’d not consulted knowledgeable sources. Now I understand that while I was not completely wrong, I was mostly wrong.
What does this do to my information gathering theory? It proves to me that each of us cannot be experts, even in some of the things we dearly love. It proves to me that searching for accurate information is critical for understanding be it politics or nature. What we don’t know CAN hurt us as well as others.
It’s time to get out the crank that enables me to open my mind. It reminds me that sharing good source material by knowledgeable experts is always necessary.
Note: Here’s the link to a particularly good source for information on the Ukrainian situation. It’s long and worth the reading time.
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.
Who knew that the end of your life years could feel never ending the days follow one after another so much alike they form a bland ball of no beginning and no resolve just the forever rolling of one into the other
What choices would any of us have made if we had understood the magnitude of this coming this house by the sea seemed so inviting so full of opportunities of discovery revelation amalgamation the timeless soothing of wave and sound of shifting color of cloud and water an occasional flight pattern of beloved birds who live here in this place where I have come to borrow solace
Instead there was turbulence of an alternate universe flipped during some night dipped into sudden isolation and seemingly irreversible
I find myself sinking under the weight of myself literally and metaphorically my mind struggling with the most mundane parts of living
I wonder if being so alone is itself enough to make this experience so different from those with contact those still with hope those who have careful purpose with fear itself kept at bay by touch and occasional laughter
Whatever this is I somehow agreed to be here during this time although most days I struggle with why that should be
This should not be about limited footsteps or the movement within a few rooms nearly always too cold even in summer when the longing had been for expansion of thought and a move toward wholeness
This is about denial and limitation this should not be about a physical body wracked with pain movement so arduous sleep only rarely possible when it is oblivion which is longed for
What is this time outside of time this denial of our humanness which takes such comfort in proximity and hugs and smiles when instead we travel in whorls without meaning without direction unintentional emotional detachment
I guess I’ll go feed the birds a marker of time’s passing as another storm has come the hawk will come again today or tomorrow and will feed itself on the birds whom I entice with seed the painful cycle of survival repeating endlessly
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.
Not much moves outside between three and four in the morning when it’s 4 degrees.
I’m up wandering the house in the darkness, the cold air in the room is finding its way under the covers keeping me from sleep.
I tuck my bare feet under the kitchen cabinet next to the heating duct blowing hot air from the furnace, after checking the unheated porch, with the frigid tile floor, just wanting to see if it is below freezing out there. Almost. Not quite.
There’s cloud cover tonight no stars but instead a bright moon How can it be so cold with overcast skies?
In the early gray morning the little birds will come to the feeders needing fuel to stay warm. I hope the hawk stays clear so there will be no more fluffy pale feathers in clumps to sweep up along with the empty shells of sunflower seeds and peanuts.
The birds, hawk included, need protein We humans need the sweet juice of oranges or grapefruit or lemons shipped from warmer places, miracles of modern life. Our bodies need vitamin vibrant citrus in these long days of winter especially this year.
Still. This new form of virus seemingly passes through walls so once again we huddle alone day after day without knowing what comes next., ReplyForward
I missed posting last Friday. I doubt you noticed. Even I barely noticed which I’m using as a measurement of just how difficult this January is becoming. Covid is now reported by everyone with whom I am in contact—friends, family, neighbors, loved ones. It seems to be everywhere, swirling through closed doors, through walls.
Our human proclivity to get stuck in previous modes of thinking is up against a highly nimble virus. As the pandemic began we struggled to change what we knew and what we did so when the developing Omicron Variant was described as “highly contagious” we thought we understood what that meant. Did we foresee this?
The last nearly two years has been a steady buildup of challenges with politics turning dire in tandem with the expansion of the Covid-19 virus. At the same time climate / weather / environmental pile-ons are turning impressive. This morning it’s 4 degrees with a wind on Maine’s southern coast which is not that common. This does not appear to be one of those Januarys when we can think we got away with something.
The intensity is bringing a lot of us to our knees wondering what we can do to counter the onslaught, to find ways to ease up and have a moment or two here and there to recharge or reconnect if only for a little bit. I am longing for connection to nature’s warmer, softer, easier moments.
I have some thoughts on the subject so here are my ideas of some ways to allow yourself a tiny reconnect.
The first suggestion is to go to your local grocery (or online for curbside or delivery) and choose a glorious piece of fruit, not the kind that comes in bags, but an individual piece, particularly an organic one, an “are you kidding me?” price tag piece of fruit you usually pretend isn’t even there. As this is definitely not local fresh fruit season suspend your restrictions concerning “rules”. It is citrus season and clementines, satsumas, cara cara oranges, and all the rest are available. Even better are the organic large dark red grapefruits (no I don’t mean the Ruby Reds but the really dark red ones, so red you can see the interior color even through their thick skins). Soon to come will be Sumo oranges. Haven’t tried these? Usually buy a bag of whatever is on sale? Just for this moment find something just for you that is enough to trigger a reminder of nature’s warmer, bountiful side. Allow yourself the pleasure of reconnect in the form of a small vitamin surge moment. Toss aside guilt or need of sacrifice. Forgo the bag of chips that would cost more anyway and wouldn’t taste nearly as wonderful.
The second or alternative suggestion is to buy yourself a flower, or a plant, or a bunch of flowers. It can require creativity to transport a live item safely home in frigid conditions but that’s part of the fun. Allowing yourself fresh flowers indoors in the winter is another way to reconnect. Flowers make me smile every time I looked at them. Put them in a spot on a table, close enough so you can whisper your thanks for their beauty every time you pass by. Think this is hooey? You might be surprised.
There are other less direct ways to reconnect with nature’s bounty of course. You can allow yourself an exploration of the “bath, beauty, and wellness” section of the store (or online) in the form of face creams, body lotions, soaps or shampoos that you would not usually consider. Remember these are not ordinary times and you are after a just a few moments of respite and a trigger for a memory of nature’s natural bounty. Walk past the cheap-normal-commercial-utilitarian stuff and head to the “boutique” section. If you are shopping in a health food type store you will have little trouble identifying where the treat stuff is shelved.
It is possible, even in these hard times, to bite into a crisp apple or a soft pear (you’ll have to carefully watch for the perfect moment of ripening) or a fabulous burst of citrus. It is possible a moment of contact with a bloom can inspire awe. The goal is to have a moment out of the daily presence of winter, to remind yourself that you have the ability to look out for yourself and provide an opportunity of forgetting all but one single out of time, out of pandemic, non-January, non-frigid weather moment.
What can you find to transport yourself if only for a pinprick of time, a tastebud of other, a eye view of beauty? Consider sharing.
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
Do you feel that you are in control of your life? Long ago I came to the conclusion that “control” means the choice of how I react to other people’s actions which has been about the only real control there has been in my life. From medical procedures to the roof over your head there is often very little you can do if you don’t like the way things are going other than to suck it up, figure it out, and keep going.
Gardeners often learn quite early in their efforts that no matter how much we do or how much we know, we will only be able to affect what comes of our efforts in accordance with what Nature brings each growing season. Precipitation, temperature, insects and wildlife appetites all determine what will thrive and what will not. Gardening is a wonderful way to learn that control only goes just so far.
While Control has always been an issue in human lives, current issues of Control underlie daily media stories from pandemic masking issues to political actions and viewpoints. The public actions of some get louder and increasingly dangerous which seems to me to illustrate continued beliefs by many that Control is possible. Is it really possible to live an entire lifetime not ever learning that Control is at best something with very confined limitations but mostly it is a fantasy residing inside of your head?
Childhood is a time of no control despite tantrums and other small protests and so too, is aging. No matter how strongly you built your body through a lifetime of nutrition and physical activity it is likely if you live long enough you will experience some type of breakdown. Rather than seeing this through fear, think of it as an opportunity for grace for grace is the counterpoint of Control; it is bending in the force of the gale; it is learning that you are part of a whole which you may never see nor understand. Inside grace there is an entire world of trust, something often lacking in the desperate longing for Control.
I watched the ocean for a long time one recently unexpectedly blessed October day when the warmth of summer returned as a gift. Blue green waves rolled toward the rocks in intervals, breaking before they hit the shoreline. It was the iconic vision of ocean in its rhythmic beauty, the vast power of water seemingly tame but winter ocean is just ahead and that is the ocean which rarely lets you forget that you are not in charge nor will you ever be. This is nature’s hand, the disguise of the iron fist inside of the velvet glove, the reminder for all of the other part of our lives.
Summer’s gone but October has given those of us in the Northeast a few days of blessed summer-like weather. It has been wonderful. I’m wondering about all the things that people have squeezed into this reprieve. I used it to wash the ocean side windows, always a foolish task as the first high tide with accompanying rough water will send the salt spray back on to the glass but still, it is satisfying to clean windows on a bright and sunny day when there is instant gratification from the now clearer sparkle on the water. I also washed the screens, a chore I usually leave until spring, but there were many seeds and plant matter lodged firmly in the grids, particularly from the thistles that produced a bumper crop this year. I know the thistle plant (outside of Scotland) is often considered a noxious weed but there’s a flock of resident goldfinches who live out here year round who particularly love thistle seed. Without doubt my guess is that they prefer to dine on them au natural as opposed to eating them from the hanging porch thistle feeder in the freezing winter months.
After washing,a few screens went back up in case the reprieve lingers or (hopehopehope) returns before the first snowfall. Removing the screens improves the amount of light by 50% which really counts in darkest December.
Early this afternoon I looked up to see this lobster boat checking traps in front of the house. Not that much lobstering happened out there this past summer although the tourist traffic was heavy. My guess is there were many vacationers’ bellies containing lobster after heading to “shacks” either here or elsewhere on the coast. Despite the going rate of $69 per pound for picked lobster meat—-that’s even above the usual winter’s elevated cost—-those classic rolls were still selling to those who wanted this “Maine experience”. Ordering four lobster rolls, one each for Mom, Dad, Buddy, and Sis, set a family back over $100 without extras including drinks.
Despite all the blather of lost jobs and pandemic-related economic hardship, these calamities seemed not to include those flocks of folks in out of state cars streaming into Maine from earliest April through September. There are signs the season is finally slowing and it will be more evident after the leaf-peeping on Indigenous People’s weekend. Businesses have had a tough season with pandemic numbers soaring and being incredibly short-staffed. Many have been directly affected by losing workers and operation time because of spreading infections. I suspect this may also be the case for lobster men and women who choose to sit this season out or figured out how to make money in an less strenuous job.
But that boat and that lobsterman came close enough for me to see a smile on the face of a hardworking man out on the water on this unexpectedly gorgeous day. It certainly looked like summer out there.
Early in the day there were periodic rumblings of which I could make little sense. It was as much of a vibration as it was a sound. It went on for quite a long time. Finally, it dawned on me that the rhythms most felt like thunder although there weren’t any signs of an approaching storm.
One of the weather apps (WeatherBug: the one with the lightning reporting system) showed storms offshore,–out over the ocean–where the intensity of the vibrations and sound was being magnified by traveling over the water. Because the storm had not passed overhead, and because in the gray of the morning there we no visible flashes of light, the thought of thunderstorms did not occur to me.
This continuing experience of not paying attention to things “outside of my realm” was explained in another way a bit later as I listened to a podcast interview with Sy Montgomery, author of The Soul of an Octopus. We self- centered humans have been excruciatingly slow in recognizing not only the intelligence of animals but of their rich, emotional lives and, especially, of their relationship to the planet that is theirs. Ever so slowly we are beginning to learn and incorporate that we have vastly underestimated that other planetary creatures have as much as an intrinsic right to be here. We have also vastly overestimated our right to the same thing.
This is not going to slide into a PETA Animal Rights diatribe nor a superiority laced case for vegetarian/vegan eating. I cannot ignore that many of the animals on the planet view most other species (sometimes including their own) as food. To me to declare that humans have the ability to not eat animals places us in a similar position of being superior to other species that do and I am not willing to goo there. You have or will make your own choices out of what makes sense to you.
My present awareness is that it is humans who seem to believe they are at the top of the food chain is what entitles us to do with the planet’s resources as we damn well please. Our profound self-centeredness is what is putting the planet in environmental jeopardy and we are directly responsible for the continuing loss of other species. What we did not know, and refused to consider, means the last laugh will not be ours.
“How Octopuses Upend What We Know About Ourselves”
Although the days may still have warmth the sunset brings a sharp cool presence that wasn’t with us just a few short weeks ago. So many name Fall as their favorite season and I can understand that in light of the particular madness that seems to overtake the last few weeks of August. The plants in pots which looked so pristine in mid-July have turned into overgrown tangles. Dying yellow starts to be the color of choice for the leaves on the plants left growing in the garden. After the tomato harvest explosion the stragglers look exactly like stragglers, more suitable for sauce than for slicing to make a luscious tomato sandwich which no longer seems quite as appealing as the go-to breakfast of choice. Summer’s crazy excesses start to feel like—well, excesses—and a longing for order and calm seeps in.
There’s a price to be paid for these changes. Darkness comes abruptly and too early even though it’s been creeping in steadily since June’s solstice. Windows stay closed more often now, quick thunderstorms come through while you’re out and water on the floor greets you on your return. Leaving windows open at night requires an extra blanket close at hand if the wind turns in the wee hours of the morning. It’s hard enough rising in the dim morning light without sleep disturbance caused by being chilled.
The current commercialization on the pumpkin spice bandwagon has totally gotten out of hand and is especially noticed by the few of us not fond of cinnamon. Let’s face it: pumpkin spice mainly means that cinnamon is a major ingredient in nearly everything marked “pumpkin spice” but really, just how much cinnamon can even that spice lover tolerate?
It’s again time to face the changeover in clothing for those in the northern parts of the world—or in the Southern Hemisphere as well. There may be those who have sufficient closet space so as flipping nearly everything you wear isn’t necessary but many of us lug clothing to and from storage spaces grumbling “Didn’t we just do this a couple of weeks ago?”
You may be thinking of adding to your stash of tea or you may be ruffling through your favorite soup recipes. That’s because you are now getting cold.
Here’s my attitude concerning moving from Summer into Fall–I see this time of change in a very simple way. I’d much rather be eating fresh peaches than apples.
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.