Life is a series of choices. We don’t often think of that but just getting out of bed in the morning is a choice. We are so used to routine that it doesn’t seem like we made a choice. It’s just what we do every day with little thought. How different life could be it we could be fully present for each of those choices. It is interesting to reflect on one’s path in life. It is so easy to see the places where I stepped off the path and usually paid for it. Sometimes the slip brings an instant outcome. Sometimes life continues and only with a long look back can we see the result of the choice.
I have always wanted to learn to live each day in the present moment but I haven’t mastered it yet. If only every second of every day I could remember I am alive now! How different my whole life would have been.
You see, I am a worrier. I cross bridges and explore every good and bad outcome for each crisis or major event that comes up. I can easily picture myself with a fatal illness or catastrophic problem. The real question is how I have managed to live for 76 years and not learned how to let this go. It is time to move on. This is my journey into change. My first step into a new way to really live each moment.
I know that I have a tough road ahead of me and will struggle with my resistance to changing habits and applying all the advice and wisdom I have been given. I worried as a child. My grandmother used to tell me to sit in a chair and worry as hard as I could and get up and see if anything had changed. Her wisdom (she died at 100 ) was there for me as long as she lived. I heard it over and over but never learned how to do it.
The practice of faith was not absent in my growing years. God was a part of my everyday life. I was baptized in the Presbyterian church that my parents attended and each Sunday was in church with my parents or my grandmother (she was Methodist) I saw my grandmother read her Bible each day and pray as she rested after lunch and again at night before bed. Her connection to God was strong. Was Her consistent time spent with God the thing that brought her such peace? Many of my adult years have been spent in God’s ministry. Interesting that all that energy and action didn’t have a deeper effect on my way of being. One would think that Bible study, leading church events, teaching yoga and meditation would have had more impact.
So many human quirks that have been around since Adam and Eve have been given titles and are seen as present in many of us. In today’s world, my worrying would be given the title mild anxiety. What I do is not unusual nor can it be considered a psychiatric diagnosis. It seems to me that the recognition of garden variety anxiety has given some relief for those of us who worry. I am not the only one and will certainly not be the last.
Added on to this propensity to worry are the major changes in our way of life. It seems to me that sometimes ignorance is bliss. (note: I say it seems that way). Today we are bombarded with information. The world seems to be more dangerous day by day. To quote Dr King “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars… Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” We can see the result of this on the streets of our cities. Have we been desensitized to violence so that nothing is too abhorrent to do?
All the electronic devices have added noise on a former unprecedented level. Is there silence anywhere? Do we understand the effect on body and mind of constant noise? Do we ever just sit back and think? I see this pattern as actually increasing worry or anxiety in the future. There is no time to just be.
All that having been said this writing will record my progress (or lack thereof) of a journey into change. I cannot change the world but I can change myself. I believe in the butterfly principle and maybe if one person finds a different way something will change.
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Birth – death. Funny how they go together. I loved an episode of “Call the Midwife” where a grandfather to be is dying as his grandson is born. He makes a comment about the two of them passing. I really love that thought…..one generation turning life over to the next.
It is so wonderful for me to read blogs from people of all ages. I love that I can share with those just starting out in life and those who are on the other side like me. There is a wonderful continuity in that. My granddaughter is about to give birth to my first great grandchild. It feels so strange to say that. Sometimes if feels as if my life as a teenager is just a moment away. Sometimes I dream that I am back in college and it feels normal to be there.
Life is connections. My husband went to West Point and they call those who have graduated from there “The Long Grey Line.” There is this sense of a line reaching back through history and froward to the future.
We are all part of that line. Our lineage goes back in time beyond my understanding. It will go forward in time to a future I can’t even begin to imagine. We are connected. We are part of the human family. As connections die others are being born. Life prevails.
People can say stupid things. It is amazing to me that they don’t really think about what they are saying. When I ran a grief support group I heard some goodies.
You can have another baby (to someone who just had a miscarriage)
God needed another angel in heaven ( to someone who lost a child)
Your husband wouldn’t want you to be sad (to a new widow)
I’m sure things are better now (to someone whose wife died a few months ago)
God never gives us more than we can handle (to someone who lost two teenagers in an accident)
Everything will be alright (to someone diagnosed with a fatal illness)
Sometimes when we don’t know what to say we can fall into the trap of saying something stupid or offensive. We may not mean it that way but that is how it comes out. When people are going through tough times they don’t need to hear these kind of answers. They need to hear
Can I bring dinner by tomorrow?
I’m going to a movie tomorrow can I pick you up?
I am so sorry
I will call you soon (only if you really will)
Give a hug
Cry with them
Solid concrete help is what is needed. Only say what you mean. If you can help try to do something specific. Don’t just say “how can I help?” Instead ask if you can pick up children, run an errand, offer a day out. Each individual needs different things. You have to gauge what will help.
Most importantly offer compassion and love. Nothing is more needed. If you have suffered a similar loss you may understand better what they are going through but don’t assume it will be exactly the same. Just being there is critical. Don’t just say something…..do something!
I have talked here about my friend whose husband is in excruciating pain. Pain medicines only give momentary relief. The pain is unremitting. Diagnosis has been difficult and we now know it is from a back fracture and a pinched nerve in the back. The question becomes what to do?
As we grow older the answers to medical issues becomes more complex. Can the person withstand the surgery? Will it solve the problem? If not what now? We tend to forget that not everything can be fixed to our satisfaction.
Life’s problems cannot always be solved the way we want. This is a hard thing to learn. My husband has always said “every problem has a solution but it may not be the one we know or want”. I am sure that we all know people who live with chronic health problems or who are disabled. Sometimes we don’t even see it. How often do we disregard the person who seems “less than” for whatever reason. We walk by and think “Oh too bad” and just keep going.
The same thing can be said about the treatment of those of us with emotional issues. Most people don’t understand and either don’t want to do the work to get it or just keep going.
Admittedly, it is easier to understand something that we have experienced ourselves. That’s why support groups with fellow travelers help. But all of us have been at fault. I can get the emotional issues but do not understand the breadth of some physical problems even with my medical training. I have a friend who has cared for her son with cerebral palsy since his birth some 50 odd years ago. She has ignored her own wants to support him and enrich his life. He has a brilliant mind but has to use a computer to communicate. Do any of us really understand the life of either her or her son? I don’t think so.
We need to strive for the kind of compassion and love that is shown in the life of Christ. We need to take time to listen and do our best to be a companion on the way not just a voyeur. If everyone could do this so many lives would be enriched.
Strive to live with compassion and love!
After posting the blog yesterday I have been thinking about death. None of wants to die. It is the unknown and we don’t like the unknown. So far as I know no one (except Jesus–if you are Christian) has ever come back from the dead and no one has told us what is there. Most Christians believe in a heaven although I don’t know if anyone has ever defined it. Some religions think of the afterlife as becoming part of God/cosmos/whatever. Some believe that we are reincarnated and come back as other people. Some of my friends want to come back as one of my husband’s dogs—he spoils them terribly. The point is none of us really knows the answer.
I have seen things worse than death. Some medical problems are so awful that death would be preferable. I think that is obvious since some states allow euthanasia. I am not going to get into the moral issues with that. I just want us to realize that sometimes death is a friend. And really, even though I fear illness I am not sure that I fear death. After all either there is something or there is nothing.
As a nurse I have been with people when they died and I never saw anything except a peaceful death. It’s getting to that point that we fight against it and do our best to ignore and avoid it but when death comes most people are peaceful.
In our culture we try to push death away. We go to the funeral home and look at a body that has been preserved and people say “doesn’t sh/he look wonderful?” I am glad that many people opt for cremation and my best friend’s daughter asked for her ashes to be planted with a young tree. She wanted to be at the root of new life.
I know this has seemed like a morbid subject and I hope you can see beyond that. I am including one of my favorite poems by black poet and preacher James Weldon Johnson. If you have never read his poetry (and sermons in verse) you are missing out.
Go Down, Death
(A Funeral Sermon)
Weep not, weep not,
She is not dead;
She’s resting in the bosom of Jesus.
Heart-broken husband--weep no more;
Grief-stricken son--weep no more;
Left-lonesome daughter --weep no more;
She only just gone home.
Day before yesterday morning,
God was looking down from his great, high heaven,
Looking down on all his children,
And his eye fell on Sister Caroline,
Tossing on her bed of pain.
And God’s big heart was touched with pity,
With the everlasting pity.
And God sat back on his throne,
And he commanded that tall, bright angel standing at his right hand:
Call me Death!
And that tall, bright angel cried in a voice
That broke like a clap of thunder:
Call Death!--Call Death!
And the echo sounded down the streets of heaven
Till it reached away back to that shadowy place,
Where Death waits with his pale, white horses.
And Death heard the summons,
And he leaped on his fastest horse,
Pale as a sheet in the moonlight.
Up the golden street Death galloped,
And the hooves of his horses struck fire from the gold,
But they didn’t make no sound.
Up Death rode to the Great White Throne,
And waited for God’s command.
And God said: Go down, Death, go down,
Go down to Savannah, Georgia,
Down in Yamacraw,
And find Sister Caroline.
She’s borne the burden and heat of the day,
She’s labored long in my vineyard,
And she’s tired--
Go down, Death, and bring her to me.
And Death didn’t say a word,
But he loosed the reins on his pale, white horse,
And he clamped the spurs to his bloodless sides,
And out and down he rode,
Through heaven’s pearly gates,
Past suns and moons and stars;
on Death rode,
Leaving the lightning’s flash behind;
Straight down he came.
While we were watching round her bed,
She turned her eyes and looked away,
She saw what we couldn’t see;
She saw Old Death. She saw Old Death
Coming like a falling star.
But Death didn’t frighten Sister Caroline;
He looked to her like a welcome friend.
And she whispered to us: I’m going home,
And she smiled and closed her eyes.
And Death took her up like a baby,
And she lay in his icy arms,
But she didn’t feel no chill.
And death began to ride again--
Up beyond the evening star,
Into the glittering light of glory,
On to the Great White Throne.
And there he laid Sister Caroline
On the loving breast of Jesus.
And Jesus took his own hand and wiped away her tears,
And he smoothed the furrows from her face,
And the angels sang a little song,
And Jesus rocked her in his arms,
And kept a-saying: Take your rest,
Take your rest.
Weep not--weep not,
She is not dead;
She’s resting in the bosom of Jesus.
From God’s Trombones by James Weldon Johnson. Copyright © 1927 The Viking Press, Inc., renewed 1955 by Grace Nail Johnson.
I want this read at my funeral.
Today I am reposting this link as it is absolutely wonderful.
Last October (2017) I was sitting in a café with Roy and took out my journal to write. I didn’t feel like writing. The cafe was too crowded and busy, not a space for that kind of inward focus. So while I waited for my hot chocolate I leafed idly back through the pages to […]
via On Imagining — The Death Project
I don’t think we pay enough attention to the things we see and hear each day. I like to find meaningful quotes wherever I am, whatever I am watching or doing. Sometimes things just jump out at me. I was watching a random episode of Grey’s Anatomy (TV show–not something I routinely watch) and someone made this comment.
“We rely on superstition because we are smart enough to know we don’t know all the answers.”
That is so true. My mother always threw salt over her shoulder if it was spilled. She was shooing away bad luck. I had a friend who gave me an amazing set of rely pearls because her mother always said they were bad luck. How many of us have heard about not walking under a ladder or about a black cat running across your path being bad luck.
I don’t know how much we rely on such things but we all have our own quirks. The problem begins when we let them rule our lives. This is the issue with people who are caught in major OCD. It is terrible to be trapped by our superstitions.
The truth is we don’t have all the answers and we never will. We have to find ways to live with that truth. Many people in science feel that they have the answers. I don’t. The thing that helps me is my belief in God. I don’t have to have all the answers. I can let it go.
Do you have a superstition you feel compelled to follow?
Today I worked in the yard re-potting plants and cleaning up. I overdid it. By the time I came in I was over-tired and over heated. I know better than this but I got going and didn’t want to stop.
It is so easy to take on more than we can manage. You say yes to one thing and then another and suddenly you are in overload. Then add to that the worries that we all carry and the things we HAVE to do and we are in serious trouble.
It is so hard to stick to the middle ground. The Greeks talked about the Golden Mean….that center place where we have done just enough. If we choose to do too little we end up with a vapid face…if we choose to much we are tired, irritable and overworked.
We face the problem that in today’s work scene many employers expect too much. Since we can be reached at almost any time on our cell phones we are seldom out of touch. We are afraid to turn the thing off because we might miss something. It’s hard to call time when a job is on the line.
There is a balance and we have to try to reach it. It may not be easy but unless we do we are at risk for more anxiety and more stress. None of us need that.
Reach for that center place where peace dwells.