Around the Bend

It would be nice if we could turn back the hands of time now and then, just for a little while.  I’d love the chance to sit at the table in my grandmother’s kitchen again, enjoying a meal she made especially for us, or gallop across a field just one more time on my beloved horse, Prince.  And I’d give just about anything for even a few more moments with any of the people I’ve loved and lost, with the chance to hear their voices and give them even one more hug.  By the time you’ve reached my age, the chances are you’ve got a ton of happy memories that you’d happily relive if you were only given the chance.

But life is not just a journey.  It’s a journey on a one-way street, often in a speeding car, without a u-turn ramp in sight.  The past is just a memory, the present is our reality, and our future is whatever lies just around the next bend.  And that can be a scary thing, because unlike the past or the present, the future is mostly unknown.

IMG_2553I don’t know about you, but there’s a whole lot going on in my life right now that I never saw coming.  Some of it is good and some of it is bad, but most of it was totally unexpected.  I still remember how I used to look at our calendar early last year and worry about how we were possibly going to keep up with such a busy schedule of travel and events.  Who knew the answer would be a virus that would force us to cancel them all?  And I remember the cold stab of fear I felt when I heard that my daughter-in-law was being prepped for an emergency delivery six weeks before her due date.  I had no way of knowing that the result would be a beautiful and perfectly healthy granddaughter who spent only two weeks in the hospital.

I’ve always been the sort of person who likes to plan ahead, so I’ll admit that sometimes I find the uncertainty of the future to be a little bit scary.  But I’ve learned through the years that the unknown is simply a part of life, and my only real choice is to accept that.  More importantly, I’ve learned that the unknown isn’t always a bad thing, and that some of the surprises the future has in store for us will most certainly be good.  I’m also realizing that worrying about what might happen is a waste of time and energy, because when bad things do happen, they are usually completely different from whatever I had anticipated.

So I’m thinking that maybe it’s time that I stop looking so much to the past when I’m less than thrilled with the present, and start looking a little more to the future and the changes that it will most certainly bring.  Sometimes all you can do in this life is buckle up and enjoy the ride, looking firmly forward as you wait to see just what’s around the next bend in the road ahead…..

The Good Fight

TvlA4iu0QPinzH73TPpYigI don’t usually pay much attention to Facebook memes, but I saw one a few years ago that really spoke to me.  It was a quote from Mary Anne Radmacher that read, “Courage does not always roar.  Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.'”  I think I remembered that quote because I found a lot of wisdom in her words, and some much-needed encouragement as well.

We live in a world where it is almost impossible to escape from the constant roar of angry voices around us.  It comes at us from all angles:  social media, the daily news, even conversations with friends and acquaintances.  And of course there is much in this world to provoke our anger, and many injustices that need to be corrected and many problems that need to be solved.  There never has been, or probably never will be, any shortage of things to be angry about, in either our personal lives or in the society we live in.  But the problem is, simply expressing our anger isn’t actually going to fix a thing.

It’s easy to point out injustices and issues, and speak out against them, loudly and frequently.  Nothing could be simpler than to point the finger of blame and to ridicule and demonize those who look at things a bit differently.  And few things are more comfortable than surrounding ourselves in a cloak of self-righteous, moral superiority.  Which is exactly why we all behave that way once in a while, and why some of us seem to get stuck in that mode.  Sadly, venting can become a habit and anger tends to breed even more anger.

But actually correcting injustices and solving problems requires so much more than simply speaking out.  It also requires a whole lot of hard work and sustained effort.  It often means we have to make some personal sacrifices, and it usually means that we have to be in dialogue with, and sometimes even work with, the very people who made us angry in the first place.  But mostly, fixing long-term and complex problems requires a whole lot of patience and persistence.

Like most people, I prefer quick and easy to solutions to the problems I face, both in my personal life and in the world around me.  But real life rarely works that way.  Which means that sometimes I’m going to feel so frustrated and discouraged that I just want to either lash out in anger or simply throw up my hands and walk away in despair.  Yet that is exactly the time when I need to dig down deep in myself and find the strength to carry on, moving forward with patience, an open mind, and the quiet resolve to make things better.

In other words, I have to find the courage to “try again tomorrow.”

Middle Age Courage

I have never been a brave person.  Sometimes, if I am angry enough, I find myself acting bravely (if not stupidly), such as the time I was trick or treating when I was ten and two boys tried to take my candy away.  Even though one of them had a knife, I was so enraged at the thought of the bullies stealing my Halloween candy that I fought back…and kept the candy.  Luckily, the knife never came into the struggle.  I suspect it was a pocket knife they had brought along just to intimidate other kids.  And even though I was “brave” during the actual confrontation, I was terrified as soon as it was over, and that was the end of my trick or treating on that particular Halloween night.

But my strongest fear has always centered around anything to do with medical procedures. I got queasy just visiting people in a hospital, fainted at the mere sight of blood, and the reason I don’t have pierced ears is because the chance to wear pretty earrings was never enough of a reason to allow someone to shove a needle through my ear lobes.  When I was pregnant with my first child, my biggest fear about childbirth wasn’t the pain, it was the thought of having to be hooked up to an IV.  I remember having a heated argument about that with my obstetrician, as he insisted it was necessary for me to “have a vein open” and I insisted that it wasn’t necessary for him to give me an IV, or even to use such disgusting phrases as “have a vein open” in my presence.

Which is why I am so surprised (and a bit proud) that I recently had an eyebrow lift, which was an elective surgical procedure that was performed while I was awake.   For years I’ve had a problem with a drooping eyebrow on my left eye, because where the skin overlapped I would get a painful sore, right at the outside corner of my eye, which is not a good place to be putting an antibiotic ointment. One day I actually made an appointment with an opthalmic plastic surgeon who told me that an eyebrow lift was the least invasive way to fix the problem.  Of course, he wanted to do an eyelid lift as well, so that my eyes would look “perky and young again.” But since an eyelid lift involves cutting on my actual eyelids, I declined.  Very firmly.

The procedure actually wasn’t so bad.  I was awake, but numb.  I could hear the snip of the scissors cutting my skin, and feel the pressure of the stitches, but no pain.  They had given me a Valium which they said might make me go to sleep, but I was way too nervous for that.  Mostly, I sat there, listening to the chatter between the surgeon and the nurse, marveling that I was neither fainting or running screaming from the room.  Obviously, I have become a much braver person that I was all those years ago when I fainted just from seeing a full bag of blood at a blood drive.

It may sound trite, but I think I have become braver just through living my life.  I learned not to faint at the sight of blood the first time one of my kids cut themselves badly and no one was around to help them but me.  I got over my fear of hospitals when I had to spend time in them as a patient, or visiting hospitalized family members who needed me to stay and support them, and not selfishly wimp out.  And now that my body is beginning to show signs of wear and tear, I have the courage to patch it up a bit, even when that means a medical procedure.  I have a good friend who is facing a hip replacement next month, and I know that something like that could be in my future, too.  While I hope I don’t ever have to face that, I don’t find the prospect as overwhelmingly terrifying as I once would have.

As the saying goes, “aging is not for the faint of heart.”  But the good news is that, somewhere along the line, we acquire the courage to deal with it.