Ready or Not

Fall has finally arrived, but I’m not ready for it.  I’m not ready yet to say goodbye to Summer, with its long, hot days and warm nights.  I don’t want to pack away all my Summer clothes and exchange my sandals for shoes and socks.  I hate the way the flowers in the pots around my patio are beginning to wilt and wither no matter how much I water them, and the way the daylight is fading just a bit earlier with each passing week.  Yes, I know the calendar says Summer officially ended over a week ago, but in my mind, there should be at least another month of it to go.

Part of the problem is that my husband and I didn’t get to have much of a Summer this year.  He had a bad reaction to surgery in early July, and his extended hospitalization and recovery period meant we had to abandon our plans for a Summer getaway trip.  And it seemed as if by the time my husband was finally feeling well enough to enjoy Summer activities, the season was practically over.  I think it’s hard to move on to a new season when you don’t feel as if you really experienced the old one.

My guess is that a lot of people are feeling that way these days, even though their personal situation isn’t exactly the same as ours.  We’ve been living through some very strange times, mostly due to the horrible pandemic that refuses to go away, and also because of the many natural disasters that have occurred and what feels like more than our usual share of political upheaval.  So many of us have felt the loss of the things that we hold dear about our normal lives, and it’s only natural to have trouble letting go of our expectations and moving forward.

The trouble is, we don’t really have a choice.  Time marches steadily on, usually faster than we would prefer, and there’s not a darn thing we can do about it.  Clinging to our ideas of “what should have been” doesn’t get us anywhere we want to be, and it actually makes it harder to move into the future with any hope or sense of purpose.  The only thing to do is move forward, appreciating what we have and anticipating what is to come.  Because there will always be something to enjoy and treasure if we can just open our eyes and see it.

IMG_4023So I’m dragging out my Fall decorations, placing pumpkins and mums on my front porch, and pretty soon I’ll bake the traditional pumpkin pie that, to me, always signals the beginning of this season.  I know that the leaves on the trees will soon be exploding in beautiful colors and that the shorter days mean cooler nights, which are perfect for enjoying on our patio.  No, I didn’t get the Summer I had hoped for, but who knows?  This Fall might just make up for it.  It’s worth a try, anyway.

Ageless Wisdom

E6D3115D-C5C8-4E4E-B4AF-CC75B8DB084FI was dusting the spare bedroom the other day when I noticed a piece of paper sticking out from my grandmother’s old family Bible.  Curious, I pulled it out and discovered it was a reflection, neatly typed on a small piece of paper with my grandmother’s name signed at the bottom of it.  I have no idea if this is something she wrote herself, or if she found it somewhere and decided with was worth copying down and saving.  At any rate, it ended up in the same Bible where she kept a careful record of our family’s births, marriages, and deaths, so I believe it must have held some special meaning for her.  And after reading it, I can understand why.

It may be old, but I think in many ways that this reflection speaks just as well to today’s world.  And I thought that instead of writing my own post this week, I would simply share the words that my grandmother saved:

Just For Today

Just for today, I will try to to live through this day only, and not tackle my whole life’s problems at once.  I can do something for twelve hours that would appall me if I felt I had to keep it up for a lifetime.

Just for today, I will be happy.  This assumes to be true what Abraham Lincoln said, that “most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

Just for today, I will try to strengthen my mind.  I will study and I will learn something useful. I will not be a mental loafer.  I will read something that requires effort, thought, and concentration.

Just for today, I will exercise my soul in three ways:  I will do somebody a good turn, and not get found out.  If anybody knows about it, it will not count.  I will do at least two things I don’t want to do…just for exercise.  And if my feelings are hurt, today I will not show it.

Just for today, I will be agreeable.  I will look as well as I can, act courteously, criticize not one bit and not find fault with anything.  I will not try to improve or regulate anyone except myself.

Just for for today, I will have a program.  I may not follow it exactly, but I will try.  And I will save myself from two pests: hurry and indecision.

Just for today, I will have a quiet half hour all by myself and relax.  During this half hour I will try to get a better perspective of my life.

Just for today, I will be unafraid.  Especially I will not be afraid to enjoy what is beautiful and to believe that as I give to the world, so the world will give to me.

I always believed that my grandmother was a wise woman.  Turns out, I was right about that…..

Reasonably Nice

It’s been very hot and humid here for the past few days, and I don’t seem to be coping with it very well.  Part of the problem is that I walk dogs at a local animal shelter, which means that I’m outside a lot, no matter what the weather.  (The fact that I’m no longer a “spring chicken” probably also has something to do with it, but I prefer not to think about that.)  The upshot is that by the time I was done with my walking shift yesterday morning, I was hot, tired, and and sore.   All I wanted to do was go home, take a cool shower, and lie down.

Then I discovered that there were some dogs in another part of the shelter still waiting to be walked, and that I was the only person still around to walk them.  I’d like to say that I accepted the situation and did my duty cheerfully, but I did not.  I was angry, because now I was faced with two unpleasant choices:  either stay and walk some more dogs, or go home, knowing those dogs wouldn’t get walked that morning.  And like most angry people, I immediately looked for someone to blame:  Why hadn’t someone else walked those dogs?  Why had they “saved them” for me to take care of?   Obviously, someone wasn’t doing their job, or so I told myself.

Luckily, I shared my frustrations with a staff person I trust, because venting sometimes helps.  She listened calmly to my rant, and then gently pointed out that sometimes there just aren’t enough people to get everything done, no matter how hard they try.  No one had “saved” any dogs for me to walk, they just hadn’t been able to get to them all.  Everyone, she reminded me, was just doing the best they could.

It took me a few minutes to stop feeling sorry for myself and to realize the truth in what she said.  It took a few more minutes to actually be grateful for her honesty, because it was something I needed to hear.  When times are hard, it’s only natural for us to react with disappointment and anger, and to look for someone to blame for all our troubles.  But doing so doesn’t help anyone or anything.

I think it’s especially good for us to remember that now, because in these crazy and turbulent times we’re all struggling, one way or another.  And the last thing struggling people need is someone lashing out at them in anger.  What struggling people need, which means what all of us need, is a little bit of patience, kindness, and acceptance, I think.

Or at least that’s what I needed yesterday when I complained to that staff person.  She could have taken my rant personally and reacted in anger, but she didn’t.  Her calm and reasoned response was a gift to me, because it helped me calm down and look at the situation much more rationally.  And you know what?  I did stay and walk those dogs, and while I was doing so, someone else came along to help.  I may have been even more tired by the time I finally got home, but I wasn’t angry anymore.  Instead, all I felt was gratitude……

What It Is

No one ever promised us that life would always be easy.  Or if someone did, they lied.  Because sometimes, no matter what we do, life is just plain hard.  And the older I get, the more I believe that the wisest thing to do is to simply accept that fact.

I read recently (I’d quote the source, but of course I can’t remember it) that one of the main sources of our frustration is the difference between what we expected and what we actually get.  That really resonated with me, because I’ve found that almost every time I’m frustrated and upset, it’s because the situation I find myself in is not the situation I was hoping for or expecting.  And it’s the gap between what I had anticipated and the reality of what actually occurred that often makes me feel so upset.  In other words, the more I think about “what should have been,” the more disappointed and bitter I become.

One way to ward off that frustration would be to simply stop planning or hoping for good things in our lives, because then we wouldn’t be disappointed when those good things didn’t actually materialize.  That philosophy might guarantee we’re never going to be disappointed again, (if you don’t ever plan that dream vacation, you never have to worry about it getting cancelled) but who wants to live like that?  I sure don’t.

I think, perhaps, that the key is to simply remember that nothing in this world is ever guaranteed, and that sometimes even our best-laid plans are going to veer wildly off course.  Challenges we never saw coming are going to pop up when we least expect them, and often when we’re least prepared to cope with them.  And when that happens, it’s natural to be upset and disappointed, at least for a while.  But eventually, we have to let go of our frustration and focus on dealing with the situation at hand.

My husband and I didn’t plan on spending our anniversary at the Emergency Room a mere five days after what was supposed to be a simple surgery, but we did.  And I didn’t plan on sitting at his bedside in the hospital for nine days after that either.  At first, I was bitter because this was not “how things were supposed to be.”  But eventually, I managed to let go of my frustration and simply accept what was.  My husband was in a good hospital, getting good medical care, and he was slowly but surely improving.  I was allowed to be with him, which wasn’t the case for hospital patients when the pandemic first hit.  I was even allowed to bring him food, which tasted a lot better than what the hospital cafeteria sent up.  In other words, I had reasons to be grateful, once I was willing to let go of my expectations and actually see them.

5oNQQuOjR1SkDZ6qfXaozAAnd the fact that life can be unexpectedly hard isn’t the only thing I accept.  I also accept, and even plan on, the fact that life can also be quite good.  Which is why I have every intention of making a dinner reservation at a very nice restaurant when next year’s anniversary rolls around, and I might even look into booking a weekend getaway as well.  That celebration may not actually happen, but I’m hoping it will, and that hope is enough for me.

Recharged

Sometimes we all just need to take a little break, and I have to admit that I was more than ready for mine.  My husband and I had planned a trip to Florida for early May before we knew that he would be having major surgery this past Spring.  For a little while we both believed that the trip would have to be cancelled, so you can imagine our relief when the surgeon gave his permission to go, pointing out that my husband could recover at a beachfront condo just as well as he could at home.

But when my husband’s hospital stay extended a week longer than it should have, we still thought that our much-anticipated vacation wasn’t going to happen.  I told myself that it didn’t matter, and that as soon as my husband was better we’d go on a trip somewhere fun, but deep down I was very disappointed.  It’s been a very tough year for my family, and I really wanted to spend a week relaxing at on my beloved Sanibel Island.  I actually felt foolish for looking forward to this trip so much, because the past few months had me almost conditioned to be afraid to look forward to much of anything at all.

I know adversity can make us stronger and more focused on what’s important in our lives, and that’s a very good thing. But sometimes, it can also train us to believe that not only is “the glass half empty,” but that it’s bone dry and will remain that way forever.  When disappointments and bad news come at us too quickly, or when difficult circumstances last for too long, it can become very hard to hang on to our optimistic attitudes and to allow ourselves to really believe that things will ever improve.  Or at least that’s been my experience.

But you know what?  Despite the need for a major surgery we thought he had avoided, and despite the complications that kept my husband in the hospital much longer than we had anticipated, we were able to go on our trip.  My daughter and her family joined us, and we had a wonderful family time just hanging out together, walking the beach, swimming, and (in my husband’s case) taking LOTS of much-needed naps.

I can honestly say that my husband made great strides in his recovery during our trip, which was a real blessing.  But he wasn’t the only one who benefited from our week away from it all.  With each passing day, I felt my spirits lifting just a little bit more.  My heart began to feel lighter, and I felt calmer and more at peace than I had in a long, long time.  The experience was healing for both of us, just in different ways.

ZWZqbuKtTFOCLFbCPIs2oAI know that I was very lucky to be able to go on vacation recently, and that many people are still living under restrictions that don’t allow any travel at all.  But my point is that all of us, no matter what our circumstances, would benefit from finding a way to take a break from our problems and spending even a little time doing whatever we can to recharge our bodies and refresh our souls.  Keeping hope alive and finding those moments of happiness isn’t always easy, but it is always worth the effort.

Back in the Saddle

I first learned to ride a bike when I was about six years old, and it wasn’t easy.  My father had bought me a blue Schwinn from the neighborhood bike store, and told me to ride it home while he jogged along beside me, keeping a firm grip on the back of the seat.  “Lean!” he kept telling me, “just lean!”  And I did….first to the left and then to the right, and I would have toppled right over he’d let go.  It never occurred to me that he meant I was supposed to lean forward, and apparently, it never occurred to him to clarify.  Eventually we made it the six blocks back to our house, both of us tired and frustrated.  But I finally did get the hang of riding a two-wheeler without training wheels, and all these years later, I still enjoy the occasional bike ride.  It’s true what they say about riding a bike:  once you learn how, you never really forget it.

I suppose that’s true about most of what we learn in life, but sometimes it doesn’t feel that way.  I love volunteering at my local animal shelter, and have been going down there at least twice a week for years.  But when I go on vacation for a week or two, I’m often hesitant to go back, as if I doubt my ability to handle the shelter dogs.  Once I actually do it, I’m just fine.  But still, that hesitation is always there.

It’s the same with writing my blog posts.  When I keep to my schedule, I have very little problem writing my weekly posts.  But if I take a break from blogging, writing that first post afterwards is always difficult.  Sometimes it seems that the longer I stay away from something, the harder it is to go back to it.  Even when it’s something that I really love to do.

I’m guessing this is why I’m feeling a little bit cranky and lost these days, because the past year has meant giving up a lot of the things I normally do and enjoy.  Of course Covid has played a big part in that, and I can’t tell you how happy I am to have finally received my second vaccine.  But it’s been a rough year for our family in many ways that have nothing to do with Covid.  The worst is finally behind us, but I find myself struggling to believe that could possibly be true.  It’s as if I’ve been trained to expect the worst and believe that feeling anything other than fear and dread is somehow not being realistic.  But living in fear and dread is not who I am, and it’s certainly not who I want to be.

So I believe that it’s way past time for me to “get back in the saddle” and get back to the business of living my life, as fully and as normally as I possibly can.  It took me a while to learn to ride that bike, all those years ago, and I fell off of it more than once.  But I always picked myself up, wiped off my bloody knees, and got right back on.  And it wasn’t long before I was leaning forward, pedaling hard, and loving the ride…..

The Time is Right

I think almost everyone spends far too much time waiting.  We wait in line, we sit in special waiting rooms before our medical appointments, we endure easy-listening music on our phones while waiting our turn to speak to a live customer service rep,  we wait for test results, and this year, we’re all waiting for the end of a global pandemic that has really outworn its welcome.  Most of that waiting is beyond our control and so we accept it and learn to adapt.  We tell ourselves that what we’re waiting for will eventually arrive, and until then, we bide our time as best we can.  I’ve managed to read entire magazines while waiting in the checkout line at the grocery store, which not only keeps my mind occupied but saves me the cost of having to actually buy the magazine.

But the problem with waiting is that it can become a habit, and not in a good way.  It’s easy to slip into the habit of thinking that somehow our lives will be good and whole just as soon as whatever issue we happen to be dealing with is finally resolved, or whatever we’re waiting for finally arrives.  We can become so focused on waiting for what we believe will be a better future that we tend to overlook the present.  Or at least that’s what I find myself doing a lot these days.

If I can just make it through these next few months, then the worst of the pandemic will be over and I’ll be able to enjoy myself again.  Once my husband gets past this next medical procedure, then I can relax and focus on the things I love to do.  Once we get that new dormer put in our upstairs bedroom, then my house will finally look and function exactly the way I want it to.  I could go on and on, but you get the picture.  It’s as if I believe that I’m existing in some sort of limbo, just waiting for something to happen so that I can finally begin to live my life the way I want to.

Sometimes I need reminding that when whatever I happen to be waiting for finally arrives, I’m surely going to start waiting for something else.  Which means that the best way to deal with it all is to simply live the best life I can, right here and right now.  It’s amazing how much can be accomplished, and how much joy can be found, when we simply allow ourselves to live in the present, even with all its imperfections and uncertainties.

Hoping and planning for a better future is a good thing.  But when we focus too much on waiting for that future to actually arrive, I believe we’re also cheating ourselves out of the good that can be found in the present.  One of my favorite sayings has always been, “Life is for living.”  I’m beginning to think that it’s time for me to edit that a little, and change it to “Life is for living now!”   Because that’s the God’s honest truth……

Be The Light

yDorA4p2SaOYhlQ0x1KkqAI’m never in a hurry to take my Christmas tree down.  I just love sitting in my living room on a cold Winter’s night, basking in the warm glow of the soft, colored lights.  The world seems to be a just a little more cheerful when I’m in the presence of a well-lit Christmas tree, and after the crazy year we’ve just endured, I’ve especially appreciated the comfortable coziness that it offers.  But it’s been up for almost two months now, so I’ve finally hauled my ornament boxes out of the basement so I can pack everything  away for next year.  I can’t say I’m especially happy about it, but it’s time.

Thankfully, my Christmas tree isn’t the only thing in my life that provides comfort and cheer.  Little things, such as reading a favorite book or sharing a delicious meal, always lift my spirits too.  And then there are those special people who have the ability to light up even the darkest of times with their generosity, compassion, humor, and just plain goodness.  They are the ones I turn to when I need help or advice, or even just a sympathetic ear.  They seem to know just what to say to make an overwhelming situation manageable, and can make us laugh when we need it most.  In short, they’re willing to shine their light into even the darkest corners of our lives, letting us see that maybe things aren’t quite so bad as we thought.

There was a time in my life when I thought that success was measured mainly in material things, like having a big house, a comfortable savings account and an impressive career.  But I’m older now, and I’ve come to realize that “successful” living really isn’t about any of that.  It’s about being the kind of person who makes a positive difference to others, and who manages to leave the world an even slightly better place than she found it.  Or at least those are the people I admire the most these days.

The fact is we are only on this earth for a short period of time, and many of the people we love the most leave us far too soon.  When we’re gone, we’re not really going to be remembered for how many awards we won or how much wealth we managed to accumulate.  And we’re certainly not going to be remembered fondly for all the times we indulged in one-upmanship or petty bickering about religion or politics.  It’s the times we helped someone who needed it, offered a friend a shoulder to cry on without judgement or shame, or just plain figured out a way to lighten someone’s load that will be our true legacy.

I have spent countless hours enjoying looking at my Christmas tree, but I couldn’t begin to tell you how many ornaments it has and I wouldn’t dream of comparing it’s beauty to any other tree.  When it’s been taken down and no longer graces my living room, it’s the warm light of the tree that I miss and remember so fondly.  Because ultimately, all that ever really matters is the light we shine on others.

Accentuate the Positive

When my husband and I were first dating, we often went to the movies.  Our tastes were very different, but we both enjoyed a good comedy and there was almost always one worth seeing.  One evening he told me he’d really like to see the new movie, “Grease.”  I was a little surprised but went along with his choice.  After a quick stop at the snack bar, we settled into our seats and the movie began.

Less than five minutes into it, my husband turned to me with a look of horror on his face.  “I think this is a muscial!” he hissed.  I agreed that it was.  Scowling, he took another bite of popcorn and turned his attention back to the screen.   He watched in suspicious silence for a while longer before he began to look even more alarmed.  “And it’s a love story!”  Given half a chance, I’m sure he would have left the theater there and then.  But as far as I was concerned, we’d paid for the movie and hadn’t even made a dent in our soda and popcorn supplies, so we were going to ride it out.

When the movie was over, I asked him how how he liked it.  “It wasn’t too bad,” he admitted.  “Considering.”  I told him that’s exactly what I thought, too.  It certainly wasn’t one of my favorite movies, but it was good enough that I’m glad we didn’t walk out.

Fast forward more than forty years to a recent Saturday night when my husband and I decided to go out for dinner.  There was a slight chance of rain in the forecast so we considered ourselves lucky that the restaurant had a sidewalk table under a big awning, just in case.  We placed our orders and settled back to enjoy the live music coming from a restaurant across the street.  All was going well until it started to rain….very, very, hard.

ORyzU85tSfq3qtjHCpQWe quickly moved our table as far back from the street as it would go, thinking that would protect us.  And it did, for a while.  But soon the street in front of the restaurant was covered in water that was also lapping up against the curb.  Our waitress asked if we’d like to move inside, but we told her we were fine.  (We’re not eating inside restaurants right now.)   By the time she came back with our food, the water was beginning to cover the sidewalk as well.  Every once in a while a car would venture down the flooded street, creating waves that did reach our table, so we learned to lift our feet whenever we saw one coming.

I know this sounds like a miserable experience, but it really wasn’t.  A few other diners had also chosen to stay outside, the servers were all carrying umbrellas to stay dry, and the temperatures were quite comfortable.  The atmosphere was almost festive.  As I told my husband, “it’s like beach-side dining, without the sand.”

Sometimes in this life, things just don’t turn out the way we had expected.  What sounded like a good movie turns out to be a musical love story.  What we thought would be a good night for dining outside turns into a night of heavy rains.  But if we can just let go of our original plans and simply go with the flow, sometimes things turn out to be just fine.  As a wise person once said, “it’s all about attitude.”

The Company You Keep

No doubt about it, 2020 hasn’t exactly turned out to be a banner year.  Aside from the birth of our new granddaughter (which was a wonderful gift), it has mostly been a series of hardships that had to be both accepted and endured.  From learning that our dog tested positive for heart worm in February, to the arrival of the Covid virus in Spring and the subsequent lock-downs which resulted in the cancellation of every single event and gathering we had been looking forward to, to the worry of our granddaughter’s premature birth, followed closely by my husband’s cancer diagnosis, I feel as if I’ve hardly had a chance to draw a breath, much less process it all.

But like everyone else whose world has been turn upside down in the past few months, I don’t really have a choice other than to do my best to cope with this new reality.  And so I do what I can to adapt and learn new coping strategies.  It helps to do the small things that cheer me up, like buying fresh flowers for our house or making sure I always have a stack of new books to read when I can find the time.  I’ve learned the importance of self-care, and am getting much better at saying “no” to obligations that  threaten to overwhelm me.  If nothing else, I’ve  come to accept my limitations, and that’s a good thing.

I’ve also discovered the importance of discernment.  There are days when I take a break from the news, knowing that all the craziness and conflict will still be there when I actually feel strong enough to hear it.  I hit the “unfollow” button on Facebook in order to keep my newsfeed free from the petty bickering and tribal chest-thumping that many feel obligated to post on a daily basis.  Sometimes I let my phone go directly to voice mail, particularly when it rings just as I am sitting down to a hot meal or settling into a comfortable chair with a good book.   It took a while, but I’ve finally learned not to feel guilty about that.

More importantly, I’ve learned to be a bit more particular about the people I talk to on a regular basis.  I’ve always believed in accepting others for exactly who they are, and that is still the case.  But now that I find myself living almost constantly on the fine line between coping and feeling completely overwhelmed, I realize that I need to spend most of my time only with those who have the ability to cheer me up and keep me hopeful. One good thing about hard times is that you discover some of the people you know are really, really, good at being supportive.  They’re the ones who listen to you without judgement, who assure you that things really will get better, and who know how to make you laugh when all you thought you could do was cry.

IMG_6698I still love all my friends and family, and value my relationship with each and every one of them.  But right now, in this particular situation, I’m gravitating toward those who are helping me cope.  And that’s okay, I think.  If nothing else, they’re showing me exactly what I need to do when it’s my turn to “pay it forward” and help someone else who is in need.  Because the one thing I know about dealing with hardships is that it’s so much easier when you don’t have to face them alone.