Up and Down

If I ever had any doubts about the truth of the saying, “Life is like a roller coaster, full of ups and downs,” the events of the past couple of weeks have put them to rest.  Approximately four weeks ago, I was sitting in my favorite restaurant, celebrating an early birthday dinner with my immediate family.  I distinctly remember sitting with my oldest two grandchildren on my lap, looking over at the baby and thinking, “I am so blessed.”

IMG_1923The reason we were celebrating my birthday early was that my husband and I were going to be on Sanibel Island for my actual birthday, and Florida’s Sanibel Island is one of my very favorite places.  Even better, the trip was all I had hoped it would be:  we had great weather, were joined for a few days by good friends, found some fun shells and even had the chance to get up close and personal with manatees.  It was, honestly, the highlight of my year so far.

But what goes up must come down, as we all know.  Early last week, I started to feel a bit sick.  I figured it was my usual allergic reaction to the green tree pollen that’s coating everything here, but I took a Covid test and got a negative result.  I stayed home even so, resting and drinking lots of water.  After a couple of days I felt much better, but decided to take another Covid test before I ventured out in public, just to be sure.  And it was positive.

I know I still have lots to be thankful for.  My symptoms were extremely mild, and my husband was out of town on business while I got sick, and he tested negative when he returned.  Unfortunately, the difference in our Covid status means we can’t share living space, so I’m upstairs in the primary bedroom of our story-and-a-half house while my husband is staying downstairs and sleeping in the guest room.  And as nice as our primary suite is, it was designed for sleeping, not living in 24/7.  Especially not in the heat we’ve been enduring this past week, because our upstairs depends on the additional cooling provided by the window AC unit my husband would install if he were allowed to be in the same space as me.

Sometimes as I’m sitting on my bed, watching yet another HGTV rerun or reading yet another book and trying not to sweat on the pages, I can’t help but feel just a little bit sorry for myself.  Boredom and loneliness aren’t fun companions.  It’s a little off-putting when I don my N95 mask and go downstairs to replenish my ice water, and my husband gives me a horrified look and quickly darts into another room.  He’s being sensible, I know, but it still takes getting used to.  And it didn’t help when, safely back upstairs, the strap broke as I was removing the mask, snapping me sharply just below the left eye.  You know you’re in an unlucky phase when you get attacked by your face mask.

But I know that this, too, shall pass.  My husband continues to test negative, and every day brings me closer to the end of my isolation period.  I know the time will come when all I remember about this time is how grateful I am that it wasn’t much, much worse.  And meanwhile, I’ll just sit tight and dream about the next time I get to visit Sanibel…….

The Voice of Reason

There’s no point in denying it:  I’m a creature of habit.  When I shop for new clothes, I usually come home with outfits that are essentially new versions of the worn-out clothes that I’m replacing.  People are often shocked when they learn that I’ve been a volunteer dog walker at a local shelter for almost twenty years, but it seems normal to me.  I’m perfectly happy going on our annual Florida vacation each year, and my husband and I eat at our favorite restaurant so often that the manager not only knows us by name, he also knows our preferred choice of wine.

IMG_0631And things just get worse when Christmas rolls around.  I drag out the same decorations each year and place them where I always have always placed them.  OccasionaIly I get daring and add something new or give away a decoration I no longer care for, but if I look at photos of our Christmas celebrations in the past ten years or so, my house looks basically the same.   There’s just something about Christmas that makes me embrace tradition even more that I usually do, and I guess that’s why I was really looking forward to the holidays this year, because it meant I could get back to my “normal” celebrations.

But you know what they say about the best laid plans…..they really do “often go astray.”  At least where I live, the pandemic is under much better control than it was last year, but it’s still a factor that has to be considered in our celebrations.  Beyond that, our daughter was expecting her second child in mid-December.  Not knowing when the baby would actually arrive and how comfortable my daughter and son-in-law will feel being a part of family celebrations means we won’t be able to make our usual plans for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day this year.  “We’ll see how it goes” has become our new mantra, and rightly so.

And while I understood that our family traditions couldn’t be guaranteed this year, I still clung to the idea that all of my other Christmas traditions would proceed as normal.  Never mind that this resulted in a schedule that became so hectic I couldn’t possibly keep up with it, I stubbornly refused to cancel even a single gathering or commitment.  It’s the Christmas season, so I had to carry on as normal, right?

Luckily, I have a friends who are not only willing to confront me with truths I’m not willing to admit to myself, but they are able to do it with tact and kindness.  It takes a special sort of person to be able to say to you, “What in the world are you thinking?  You can’t possibly manage all this!” in such a way that I not only took no offense, but actually believed cancelling a few of my commitments was my idea.

As we move into what is often a far too hectic holiday season, my hope is that we all have that friend who will gently speak the truth to us.  Because we need to hear, and believe, that it really is okay to slow down and simply enjoy the season, doing only what doesn’t feel like “too much.”  And maybe, if we’re really lucky, that’s a truth that will stick with us well into the new year……

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.

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……

Just Be There

We’ve had a rough couple of weeks in our household, and things are just now returning to normal.  Once again, my husband had a surgery that went well and a recovery that didn’t.  Honestly, he’s spent so much time in a hospital lately that I seriously considered hauling in his favorite recliner chair and repainting the walls of the room his favorite color.  I figured if he had to be stuck for so long in a hospital room, we may as well make it nice.  Luckily, he was released before I gave in to the urge to redecorate his surroundings and now he’s back home where he belongs.

I’ve always found that when difficult times arrive, I spend all my time and energy just coping, and don’t really “process” what’s happened until later. But now that things have finally calmed down, I find myself looking back over the past few weeks and realizing one very important thing:  there is no way in the world I would have managed without the amazing support of so many caring people.

Hospitals have always been scary places for me (I tend to faint at the sight of blood), but I found out they’re even scarier when the patient is your loved one and and they aren’t doing so well.  And you know what helped me deal with that fear?  The nursing staff who were unfailingly cheerful and attentive, and who always took the time to reassure me when I needed it.  Being an advocate for a patient in a hospital is exhausting, both physically and emotionally, but seeing how good the nurses were at caring for my husband made it so much easier to bear.

I’m also incredibly thankful for the many friends and relatives who took the time to call and text, keeping track of my husband’s progress and offering nonstop encouragement and support.  There were times when those texts were the lifeline I needed to stay (or at least try to appear) calm and strong, and other times when they  provided relief from the boredom of sitting in a hospital room day after day, or gave me a much-needed laugh.  Friends and family are gifts, and you never realize just how much of a gift until you’re in a tough spot and they’re right there with you every step of the way.

It was also a gift to see so many people reaching out to my husband in his time of need.  He had more people praying for him than I could possibly count.  Cards arrived almost daily, some from college friends he hasn’t seen in decades, and all of them helped raise his spirits.  One of his old friends sent him personalized copies of the books he’d written about his own battle with cancer, and the tips for staying positive helped enormously.  Frankly, my husband isn’t usually much for reading, but he not only read those books, he took one of them with him when he was readmitted to the hospital and read from it daily.

This post is more personal than what I usually write, and I hope I haven’t overdone the detail.  But the reason I’m sharing it is simple.  The next time someone you know is going through a tough time, please reach out and offer them your support.  Don’t let fear of intruding or “being a pest” stop you.  Because even if they don’t have time to acknowledge it or respond to you, your care and concern will mean the world to them.  Trust me, it really will.

Enough is Enough

I’m not sure who’s in charge of handing out luck, but whoever it is, he or she should be fired.  Immediately.  Because the string of bad luck I’ve been on for the past year or so has worn out it’s welcome and needs to go away right now.  Yes, I know adversity makes us stronger and that “when the going gets tough, the tough get going,” but there comes a time when even the toughest of us just want things to lighten up a little.

photo-3I handled it when my dog  came down with heart worm, even after being on heart worm preventative pills for a year.  I adjusted to the pandemic and all the grief and hardship it brought.  I handled the fear of my granddaughter’s premature birth and my husband’s cancer diagnosis, and when I started seeing flashing lights in my right eye, I was just grateful to be able to get a quick appointment with my eye doctor.  Even when my beloved “grand-dog” Frank died unexpectedly on the very day of my husband’s major surgery, I focused on what a good life he had led and and was thankful that he had died at home, with my son and daughter-in-law with him.

I’m not saying that I didn’t complain through it all, or have my moments of self pity and anxiety.  Of course I did, and it would be silly to say otherwise, especially since some of the people who read my blog know me personally and they’d spot the lie. I’m just saying that during what has been a very turbulent period, I tried really hard to keep a positive attitude and to focus just as much on the things that were going right as the things that were going wrong.  And I also figured that sooner or later, our luck had to improve.

Yet just one day after my husband finally got his port removed (which is a very good sign and certainly cause for celebration), I managed to break a bone in my foot.  I wasn’t even doing anything risky or athletic when it happened.  I simply tried to turn around, and while my foot turned, the flip-flop sandal I was wearing didn’t, and down I went.  And of course it is my right foot, which means that I can’t drive when I’m wearing the big “walking boot” the doctor said I’d need to keep on for the next four to six weeks.  (Note to self:  next time I decide to break a foot, break the left one.  It’s so much more convenient.)

It’s not a bad break and it doesn’t even hurt very much.  But it was the last straw, as far as I’m concerned.  Someone has messed up, somewhere, and given me an extra helping of bad luck, I’m just sure of it.  And they need to make it right, and start sending more good luck my way to make up for it.  I’ve spent some time thinking about this and I have my arguments all clear in my mind, complete with supporting data to prove my case. Now all I need to do is figure out just exactly who I have to make my case to, and I’ll be all set.  If only life came with a good customer service department……

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.

Let It Begin With Me

I am, by nature, a neat and tidy person.  I may not have coined the expression, “A place for everything and everything in its place,” but I live by it.  I am happiest when my house is clean and organized, and have found that too much dirt and clutter actually makes me vaguely uneasy.  As long as I’m being totally honest, I’ll also admit that when I’m anxious and unhappy, I sometimes find that cleaning my house actually makes me feel better.

I read somewhere that people who like to clean are attempting to impose order on a messy and unpredictable world, and I think that might be true.  (It would certainly explain why I find housecleaning to be  therapeutic.)  But the problem is that the world we live in is often messy, chaotic and sometimes downright dangerous, and there’s not a thing I can do to “clean it up,” at least on any significant scale.

I may be one of the few people who responds to troubles with a vacuum in one hand and dust cloth in the other, but I do think that trying to impose some kind of order on the world is common.  Many do it with social media posts, pointing out the error of other people’s ways in a vain attempt to convince them to think and behave in a way they find acceptable.  And let’s face it, politics is all about trying to elect someone who shares our values, in the hopes that the candidate will be elected and then impose our values on everyone else.  One way or another, we’re all trying to “clean up” the world, and often with the best of intentions.

But the truth is that the only person we can truly control is ourselves.   Yes, we can do our part to make the world a better place by speaking our truth, standing up to oppression, helping those who need it, and most of all, being kind and compassionate to everyone who crosses our path.  But we don’t really get to choose what other people think, say, or do.    And since none of us is perfect, that’s probably a good thing.

So the conclusion I’ve come to is this:  I need to learn to discern between the things I can control and the things I can’t, and I need to pay a whole lot more attention to the things I can.  I may not be able to make the world a peaceful place, but I can make sure I embrace peace in my own life by being as tolerant, honest, and forgiving as I can possibly be.  I can’t force others to own up to their mistakes and bad choices, but I can certainly own up to mine.  In short, all I can do is try, in my limited and flawed way, to live up to the values I really do believe in…..and then let go of all the angst, worry and stress that comes when I focus too much on the things that I can’t control.

buWO0NdZQV2vtwLyj31MrgIt’s a process for sure, and I doubt that I’ll be giving my vacuum cleaner a rest anytime soon.  But if I really want 2021 to be a better year, the very best way I can start is by cleaning up my own act.