In the Mirror

I’ve always rather liked the old saying, “Love many; trust a few; always paddle your own canoe.”  It seems to pack a lot of advice in a few simple words, but like most things in this world, the real meaning is up to interpretation.  When I first read it, I believed the last few words referred to being self reliant, and not counting too much on others to take care of us.   And there is a certain amount of wisdom in that interpretation, as expecting others to meet our every need is bound to result in serious disappointment.  But the older I get, the more I see another meaning in those words that I believe is even more important.

“Always paddle your own canoe” can also mean refrain from paddling other people’s canoes.  And by that I don’t mean refrain from helping other people who are in need, as I sincerely believe that all of us have an obligation to help others as much as we possibly can.  That’s just a part of what it means to be human and to live in community.  What I do mean is that we need to refrain from trying to direct other people’s lives.  To use the canoe analogy, that means to refrain from telling other people how fast they need to paddle, what kind of oars they ought to be using, and which bodies of water they should navigate, etc.

Of course we all like our own ideas best, and I’m no exception.  In my heart of hearts, I probably believe that the world would be a better place if only everyone else thought and acted more like me, and I think that’s a belief that most of us share whether we’re aware of it or not.  The problem is that it has become far too fashionable to act on that belief, and to spend endless time and energy pointing out other people’s faults and trying to bring them in line with our way of thinking and doing.  A quick glance at social media is proof of that, with its endless posts that have basically the same message:  “my values are better than your values.”  Few of the posts actually come right out and say that, but the message is still there, loud and clear.

I’ve come to believe that if we’re really interested in making the world a better place, we need to start with ourselves.  Instead of spending quite so much time finding fault with other people, we need to take a good long look in the mirror and see how we can do better.  And then make the effort to actually be better.  And if we put even half the energy that we put into trying to change other people into improving ourselves, I think the results would be amazing, to say the least.

So, yes, I still like that saying about paddling your own canoe.  Because I really believe that if I can keep trying to paddle my canoe (as in live my life) as best as I possibly can, I just might end up doing some good in this world……

Try Again

IMG_1442 2My husband and I try to take a Florida vacation every January.  We’re not fans of the month’s cold days and long nights, so it makes sense for us to spend a week of it on a warm Florida beach.  We also like having something fun to look forward to after the holidays wind down, and have found that nothing beats the post-Christmas blahs quite like throwing shorts, swimsuits and sun screen in a suitcase and heading south for a few days of rest and relaxation.

But this year was different.  I had a hard time looking forward to this trip, and it wasn’t just because the pandemic has taught me to have a “wait and see” attitude about almost everything I schedule. The problem was that this year’s vacation was going to be almost an exact repeat of the trip we took last January:  we were leaving on Martin Luther King weekend, going to the same coastal island, and rented the exact same condo.  And sadly, last year’s trip didn’t go so well.

Last year’s trip was supposed to be a celebration of my husband’s successful battle with cancer.  I was planning to reserve a table on the patio of one of the area’s nicer restaurants, and was even going to order a bottle of champagne for a special toast.  But things went wrong from the start.

While we were driving down the highway a rock flew up and cracked the windshield of our rental car.  Later that day, a distracted bicyclist rode smack into our car.  It wasn’t our fault and she wasn’t seriously injured, but it was very upsetting even so. Then I began having eye symptoms that might mean an injured retina, which I knew could mean a surgery with a long recovery.  But worst of all was the call from my husband’s surgeon with the results of the biopsy from his recent scope.  The surgeon said it was nothing to worry about, but after looking it up online, we were convinced he had grown a new tumor.  So much for our week of relaxation and celebration….

So I suppose in the back of my mind, I secretly believed that bad things were going to happen on this trip.  I’m not superstitious, but I had learned to associate this particular area with serious problems, and that made it hard for me to truly believe that we were going to have fun this time.

But we did.  We had no problems with the car, no accidents, and absolutely no bad news from any of my husband’s doctors.  We walked the beach, did a puzzle, slept late, ate out on patios, and in general had the sort of week that I had envisioned last year.  I didn’t order a bottle of champagne, but we did finally toast the fact that my husband’s cancer is gone.

Before our trip, I had toyed with the idea of cancelling our reservations and going somewhere else this year, somewhere with no bad memories.  I’m so glad I didn’t cancel and let those bad memories ruin a lovely vacation spot for us.  Because sometimes, the best thing to do is to give places (and people) a chance to redeem themselves…….

Without Me

The day after Christmas, I woke up feeling just a little bit “off.”  At first, I thought I had probably just overdid a bit over the holidays.  But as the day wore on, I felt worse, not better.  My throat hurt, I started coughing and I felt a little achy.  By the next morning, I was well and truly sick and stayed that way for most of the week.  The good news was that I tested negative for Covid three times, but the bad news was that I was absolutely miserable and unable to do anything other than lay around feeling sorry for myself.

4F20ECF8-0FF5-4683-8705-FDA15FC89E5ETypically, I spend the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve relaxing and getting together with friends and family.  The work of the holidays is over by then, but the decorations are still up, the kitchen is stocked with cookies and other Christmas goodies, and there’s plenty of time to enjoy it all.  I hated missing out on all that, but as the week went on, I also began to feel guilty about all the other things I wasn’t doing:  walking the shelter dogs, keeping up with my blogging, hosting a small family gathering for my out-of-town sister, and even basic housework.  (I emptied the dishwasher one day and then had to go lay down for three hours to recover.)

Even worse, I was supposed to be spending at least part of that week helping my daughter care for her newborn son.  Her husband was working and her older son’s daycare was closed for the holidays, so I had promised that I’d be around to lend a helping hand.  But even if I’d had the energy, I couldn’t risk going anywhere near her house.  I didn’t have Covid, but I was still sick and probably contagious.

So there I was, not only sick but feeling very guilty about being sick.  I remembered how hectic caring for a newborn and a young child can be, and how grateful I was for any and all assistance.  I hadn’t seen my out-of-town sister in months and hated the thought of her going back home without us getting together.  I knew that every day I wasn’t at the animal shelter meant that the other volunteers had to walk even more dogs than usual, and that there was a chance that some dogs would miss their daily walk altogether.  I even felt guilty about not keeping up with the comments on my latest blog post, or keeping up with my friends’ blogs.

The silver lining in all this mess was that eventually I realized that sometimes I’m not going to be able to do the things that others want or need me to do, and that I need to stop fretting about it and simply accept it.  There are going to be times when I can’t live up to either my expectations or the expectations of other people, and I have to learn to be okay with that.  Stuff happens, plans go awry, and sometimes, I just need to let go of the ridiculous idea that the world will crash and burn if I’m not carrying my fair share of the load every single minute.

My daughter made it through the week without my help; the blogging world kept right on going without me, and the shelter dogs all got their daily walks.  Go figure.  My sister was even able to stay in town long enough for me to recover and spend time with her, but she would have forgiven me if I hadn’t.  Because the truth is, none of us is indispensable.  Some of us just need to be reminded of that now and then…….

Patiently Waiting

I’ve never been a patient person.  Waiting is not my strong point, no matter what I happen to be waiting for.  If I’m looking forward to something good, then I want it to happen right now, this very second.  Even if I’m dreading something, I’d much rather just hurry up and get it over with, sooner rather than later.  Unfortunately, there are times in my life where I don’t really have a choice, and I find myself having to wait with as much patience as I possibly can.

A few weeks ago, my husband had a scheduled surgery that was supposed to result in a three to five-day hospital stay.  The surgery went well, but his recovery didn’t, and he ended up spending over ten days in the hospital due to minor complications.  I wish I could say that I always handled the situation with patience and grace, but that would be a lie.  What I actually did was worry a lot, feel sorry for myself and even sorrier for my husband, and in general wake up each morning thinking, “PLEASE let today be the day that he finally gets to come home.”

It was a long ten days, but I did learn a few things about myself in the process, not the least of which is that I would make a truly awful nurse.  I’ve always been a bit of a klutz, but repeatedly tripping over various tubes that are actually connected to a patient is never a good thing, and neither is forgetting to unhook the IV pole before helping him go for a walk in the hallway.  Also, it’s a good idea to wind the chord of the nurse call button around the bed railings, because otherwise it falls off the bed every time you adjust the blankets…and then you have to keep telling the nurse station that you didn’t really mean to call them.

Luckily, I also learned some more useful lessons during my husband’s recovery, and the main one was that when I have no choice, I really can manage to wait patiently for things to get better.  Although I’ve always been nervous in hospitals (I never even like visiting a patient), I actually became accustomed to the routine and stopped having to look away from any procedure that involved blood or other body fluids.  I spent hours sitting quietly in the corner, reading a book while my husband slept, and actually became quite friendly with some of the nurses.  It’s amazing what we can endure when we have to, and I do think it helps to be reminded of that from time to time.

Of course I would have much rather my husband’s hospital stay hadn’t lasted quite so long, and to have spared him that trauma and both of us that worry.  But I like to think that the next time I’m waiting for something I desperately want right now, that I’ll remember there’s a reserve of strength and patience in each of us, just waiting for us to tap into it. And that when we do, we’ll have everything we we need to tide us over until the hard times are over….

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……

Lessons Learned

Roughly one year ago, Covid 19 managed to turn the world as I knew it upside down.  I remember picking up my grandson at his daycare, which like almost everything else in my area, was temporarily closing.  “See you in two weeks,” his teacher told us as she waved goodbye.  And I’m embarrassed to say that I mostly believed her.   I had no idea just how badly this virus and its restrictions would impact us, or for how long.

It’s been a long twelve months, and in many ways I’m not the same person I was a year ago.  Never again will I just assume that I can buy what I need, when I need it, or take being able to spend time with my friends and family for granted.  I think I’ll always be a little uncomfortable in a crowded room, wondering just what sort of germs I’m being exposed to, and I will probably keep my trusty little bottle of hand sanitizer stashed in my purse from now on.  As for toilet paper, my new mantra is “you can’t have too much of a good thing.”

7GPiXSO+Rmj7a9KhzqQBut I think the changes go deeper than that.  Living through such a traumatic year (my family also faced some difficulties that had nothing to do with Covid) has taught me a lot about myself, and I think growing in self-awareness is always a good thing.  I learned that I had the ability to be patient, even when I yearned for quick answers and even quicker action.  And while I’ve never been what could be called the “outdoorsy type,” I learned that the more time I spend outside, the calmer and happier I become.  Nature truly is a great healer, for both the body and the soul.  I also figured out that one way to cope with uncertain times is to get busy working on the things I do have control over, even something as mundane as painting the guest bedroom.

I may be a natural introvert who craves some alone time each and every day, but now I also know how desperately I need to stay connected to other people.  Talking with friends and family reminds me that I don’t have to face problems alone, and there is both strength and comfort in that.  That old saying, “a problem shared is a problem halved” is absolutely correct, and a reminder of just how important it is to support each other in our times of need.  And in the face of so much negativity, conflicting “facts” and general fear-mongering, I’ve learned the importance of thinking for myself, doing research when necessary, and trusting in good old-fashioned common sense as much as possible.

So no, I’m not exactly the same person I was twelve months ago, but that’s okay.  In fact, it’s more than okay, because the lessons I’ve learned from the past year have left me better equipped to face the future with hope and confidence.  And for that, I’ll always be grateful.

Wishful Thinking

Ann's bday 2I’ve never wasted much time on making wishes.  Even at my childhood birthday parties, when it was time to make a wish before blowing out the candles on my cake, I usually couldn’t think of anything to wish for.  (Especially after the year I wished for my very own pony and discovered that what you wish for and what you get are often two very different things.)  But maybe it’s because I’ve gotten older, or maybe it’s the strange and often unpleasant times we’re living in, but these days, I actually do have things I wish for.  A whole list of them, as a matter of fact.

Every time I see a political ad on TV or a political meme on social media, I wish that politicians and their followers would remember that simple rule, “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”  I want to hear what good a candidate hopes to accomplish rather than what a horrible person his or her opponent is.  The constant attacks and counter-attacks that pass for campaigning these days just make me want to go live somewhere more peaceful…..like a deserted island or distant planet.

I wish that I hadn’t tried to save money, all those years ago, by getting a landline without caller ID because the constant calls I get from telemarketers, etc., have made me forget some of my basic phone manners.  I not only hang up on the telemarketers who call constantly, but I’ve grown deeply suspicious of anyone who doesn’t immediately identify themselves when they call.  Which is how I’ve also hung up on my doctor, my husband’s old college roommate, and a dozen or so assorted relatives and friends.  I know I’m going to have to simply get rid of the landline one of these days, but it’s on so many of our records and accounts that I dread the difficulties that’s going to cause.  I can’t even work up the nerve to call the phone company and try to get caller ID installed, because my previous dealings with them have not been of a positive nature.

I wish I had the ability to remember people’s names as well as I do their faces.  It’s embarrassing when someone I recognize calls me by name, and I have to try to hide the fact that I have no idea what their name is.  And I still haven’t lived down the time I kept referring to a fellow volunteer as “Eldon” and no one could figure out who I was talking about.  It turned out that was because his real name was “Dalton.”

There is so much else I wish for, but I do like to keep my posts at around 500 words.  Sadly, these days I’m guessing what 500 words is, because my blogging format no longer tells me.  (So if anyone actually counts and discovers I failed my word count goal, I apologize in advance.)  I know wishing isn’t the same as doing, but I’ve also lived long enough to know that sometimes, life surprises us in a good way.  So who knows?  Maybe some of my wishes really will come true.  And if I’m really lucky, I might even finally get that pony……

Something New

This is my first attempt to write a blog post using the new format that Word Press has installed on my blog,  so I have no idea what the finished product is going to look like.  It reminds me of when I began blogging over five years ago, and I spent hours trying to figure out how to create a new blog, name it, and send it out into cyberspace.  It took an act of faith to hit that “publish” button for the first time, and I suspect it’s going to take an equally strong act of faith to publish this post.  So if the end result seems a little strange, I humbly ask you to bear with me.

As my regular readers know, adapting to change is not my strong point.  I’m not against new things, it’s just that I very much prefer it when the change is a matter of my own personal choice, and not something that has been foisted upon me.  I also like my change meted out in small doses, giving me time to adjust to one new thing at a time.  Sadly, whoever is in charge of change seems to have hit the “fast forward button” and left the room, locking the door behind him.

qMzfbapTQq2tzLWNgWaX6wSo all I can do is try to adapt to this new normal which is chock-full of strange new things.  When I invited some friends over for a happy hour recently and the rain prevented us from gathering on my patio, I set up chairs and small tables in the garage instead.  I figured out how to navigate Facebook’s new format, and even discovered that they hadn’t done away with “Messenger” as I had initially feared. (Although they did make it hard to find.)  I keep a stash of face masks in my car and hand sanitizer in my purse at all times.   And now I’m blogging in a completely new format, even though I was perfectly happy with the old one. 

I’m not going to lie, I wish that I could have just a tiny little break from this constant parade of change in my life, but I also know that’s probably not going to happen.  This is a very odd year, and I’m sure lots of other changes are in store and that some of them won’t be good ones.  (I’m just waiting for the day they announce that hand sanitizer causes cancer…..) 

But no good comes from looking back on “the good old days” and wishing that I could somehow go back in time.  And when I’m being completely honest with myself, I realize that those good old days weren’t always so good.  I had problems and worries then, just the same as I do now…they were just different problems and worries.  Plus, all the adapting I’ve had to do in recent months has shown me that I’m a little bit stronger and a little bit more flexible that I thought. 

So I’ll keep plugging away, making the necessary adjustments, occasionally grieving over my losses, but also appreciating the gifts that have also come my way.  And if I’m lucky, I’ll figure out this new way to blog and will once again enjoy writing my posts and be able to hit that “publish” button with confidence……

 

Simple Pleasures

When I was a child, one of my favorite outings was a trip to the local zoo.  Sometimes we went as a family, but most often we went with neighborhood friends, all piled into my mother’s car.  The adults would sit in the front seat,  with the other moms holding their babies on their laps, and the rest of us kids would squeeze into the back seat.  If we couldn’t all fit, we’d make the smaller ones sit on the floor.  (This was in the days before seat belts and car seats.)   Once we arrived at the zoo, we’d have a marvelous time running around and seeing all the exotic animals, riding the zoo train, and when our moms weren’t looking, fishing coins out of the fountains to be used at the nearby concession stands.

Later, when I had my own kids, I loved taking them to the zoo as well.  It was fun to watch them enjoy the same things I had loved so much as a child, and to take them for a ride on the very same zoo train.  The zoo has changed and improved in many ways over the years, and thankfully provides a much more natural habitat for its animals these days, but a visit there is still a little trip down memory lane.

Now that my children are grown, I was looking forward to taking my two-year old grandson to the zoo this summer.    Sadly, the zoo had to close temporarily when the pandemic struck and when it did open back up, there were many new restrictions in place.  Reservations were required, masks must be worn, and many attractions remained closed.  I wasn’t sure it was worth the bother, and decided my plans to take my grandson to the zoo were yet another casualty of the Covid virus.

But when my daughter told me she’d made reservations for us to take my grandson to the zoo, I agreed to go.  We came prepared with our masks, a wagon to pull my grandson around in when he was tired of walking, and plenty of cold drinks to keep us hydrated.  While we didn’t have a typical zoo experience,  I can honestly say it was still an enjoyable one.

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We saw plenty of animals, (my grandson liked the elephants the best) and, of course, rode the zoo train just as I had all those years ago.  It was fun to see a two-year old get so excited when he saw his favorite animals and enjoy the train ride so much.  When it was over, I thanked my daughter for taking the initiative to plan the outing, knowing that if she hadn’t, I would have missed out on a very special experience.

And the next time I think that trying to do something I normally enjoy is just too much trouble these days, I’m going to remember that trip to the zoo.  Just because I can’t do many things as I normally would, doesn’t mean I can’t do them at all.  I can still invite friends over, we just sit outside and keep our distance.  I can still enjoy food from my favorite restaurants, I just eat it on their patio or get carry-out.  I may not be able to browse the library, but I can order the books I want and pick them up curbside.

Life is certainly different now, and sometimes it’s hard not to be discouraged.  But I think if we’re willing to be flexible and a little determined, we’ll find that there are still plenty of simple pleasures just waiting to be enjoyed.

Do No Harm

The first lesson I learned from this pandemic was the importance of self-care.  Adding a bouquet of flowers to my cart when I’m grocery shopping, taking the time to re-read a favorite book, or just putting on make-up even when I know no one is going to see it underneath my face mask, can work wonders on my spirit.   Keeping as many of my normal routines as possible and indulging in the little things that bring me joy are great coping mechanisms that make this whole situation so much more bearable.

But while the benefits of self-care may have been the first lesson I learned, it isn’t the most important one.  Yes, taking care of myself as best I can, both emotionally and physically, is a very good thing.  But what’s even more important right now is remembering to also take care of other people–those who are close to me and even the people I don’t know at all.  Because the truth is we’re all feeling very stressed these days, so anything and everything we can do to help each other isn’t just appreciated, it’s also necessary.

Sadly, many people seem to be taking their anger and frustration out on each other, in either direct or indirect ways.  Memes on social media that ridicule or chastise people we disagree with are becoming more common and more vicious.  I see examples of selfish driving (blowing through red lights, cutting off other drivers, etc.) and sometimes even road rage almost every time I’m in my car.  Those of us who still read newspapers can’t help but notice that the letters to the editor almost all seem angry and full of accusations, but very short on actual solutions.

All this is doing is making a bad situation even worse.  Now is not the time to pour gasoline on the burning fires of our collective frazzled nerves.  Now is the time to offer the cooling waters of patience, wisdom, and most of all, compassion.  And no gesture is too small to make a difference.  We never know what’s going to turn the tide for someone else and make them feel a little less stressed or a little less alone.  It can be as simple as a smile from a stranger, or an offer to let someone with only a few items go ahead of you in the check out line.  These days, people need to see evidence of the positive side of human nature as often as they can.

DSC01258And the best part is, when we make the decision to try to help someone else cope with these crazy times, we discover that we’re also helping ourselves.  Doing even a small act of kindness makes us feel less powerless and more hopeful because it reminds us that we have the ability to make a positive impact on others.

Hard times have always brought out both the worst and the best in people.  But I believe that when we are intentional about being our best selves, we usually find that the times don’t seem quite so hard.