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.

Opting Out

I’ve hit the wall, and I’m done.  I know we’ve all been through a lot in the past year and a half, and that most of our nerves are truly shot.  I know it’s human nature to want to divide the world into “them and us,” and that isn’t going to change.  I know the easiest way to feel better about ourselves is to look down on someone else, and how tempting it is to do that.  Most of all, I know I’ve been guilty of all of this myself, far too often.  But it seems to me that the ugliness has reached new heights these days, and I have gotten to the point where I just can’t take it anymore. 

I don’t want to live my life in fear and anger, or even in a state of “justified” outrage.  I don’t want to believe that people who are different from me are necessarily bad people.  I don’t want to spend precious time ridiculing those whose behavior and choices I don’t understand, and I most definitely don’t want to indulge in pointless online arguments with those who dare to express an opinion I don’t happen to agree with. 

Life can be tough, and it’s normal to want to find someone, or a group of people, to single out as the cause of all our problems.  But a quick look at history shows us that bad things happen, to all of us, when we begin to believe that our aggression towards someone else is justified and deserved.  (Because isn’t that what every single abuser says about his or her victim?  That they “deserved” it?)  So I have made the conscious choice to back away from that kind of thinking, and instead to look very hard for the common ground that binds all of us together.  Because I truly believe that it’s so much more productive to look for what unites us than to concentrate quite so much on what divides us.

I realize that my choices go against the grain in a world where we are constantly being pitted against each other, and where we seem to dream up new divisions each day.  We’ve always been conditioned to divide ourselves along political, national, and religious lines, and sadly, most of us do just that.  But now we’re also dividing along the lines of vaccinated verses unvaccinated, rural verses urban, vegans verses omnivores, and even battling over our choices about education, gender definitions and about everything else you can possibly imagine.  If we keep going at this rate, I’ll only be allowed to like people who are exactly like me.  Which would mean I’ll only like…. me.

So the time has come for me to say “enough is enough” and I don’t want to do this anymore.  We all get to make choices in how we spend the precious time we have on this earth, and I’ve made mine.  I want to be done with the fighting, the squabbling, the superior outrage and all the rest of it, and I’m going to do my very best to turn my back on it, both literally and figuratively.  Sometimes, if only for the sake of our sanity, we need to choose to simply “opt out.”

 

Sensible Shoes

fullsizeoutput_6477It’s been three weeks since I broke my foot, and since the break was really just a “hair-line fracture” of only one bone, I am now allowed to walk around without my big bulky boot.  And while I’m absolutely thrilled that I’m no longer clomping around like the Frankenstein monster, there is a catch:  I have to wear supportive footwear for at least the next four weeks.  Apparently, it takes a long time for bones in our feet to completely heal, and until they do, they’re still fragile and at risk for a serious break that would require surgery.  And obviously, foot surgery is something I want to avoid.

The upshot is that I spent yesterday shopping for shoes and sandals (it’s too hot in July to wear shoes all day) that will adequately support my foot for the next month or so.  I quickly realized that footwear falls into two distinct categories:  shoes and sandals that are cute and offer no support at all, and shoes and sandals that are supportive, but were designed for maximum ugliness.  And I say this as someone who has never been particularly obsessed with shoes.  I don’t have a closet full of shoes, and the shoes and sandals I do own were selected more for their comfort level than for their style.  I don’t own anything with more than a one-inch heel.  So if I call a shoe ugly, you can bet that it truly is ugly and not simply unfashionable.

I finally found a pair of sandals that fit perfectly, support my feet completely and are pretty darned comfortable.  They also look like the something my ninety-year old mother would wear, and she buys her shoes custom-made via a prescription from her podiatrist.  (She has fallen arches, bunions, and hammer toes.)  I’m ashamed to say that I was actually feeling a little sorry for myself when I left the shoe store.  Partly because I had just spent a whole lot of money for a pair of sandals I didn’t even like, and partly because, despite my actual age, I still think of myself as far too young to be wearing “sensible shoes.”

But then, thank goodness, I finally began to get a bit of perspective.  I may have spent several hours searching for supportive footwear that actually looked good and come up empty-handed, but I did find a pair of sandals that would protect my foot while it’s healing.  And they not only look better than the boot I’ve been wearing for the past few weeks, they’re a whole lot more comfortable.  Plus, I don’t have to keep a big plastic bag stashed in my purse to cover my boot in case I get caught out in the rain, and I can drive without having to change my footwear.   Those are all good things.

As the old saying goes, “You can’t control what happens to you, but you can control how you react to it.”  Sometimes it takes me a little while to remember that, and to stop wasting quite so much time fretting about the things I can’t control (like breaking my foot) and to work a bit harder on how I cope with the things life throws my way.  So I’ve decided I’ll wear my new sandals without complaint, and when my foot is fully healed, I’ll store them away for use in my old age.   And if that day does come, I hope that I’ll remember to be grateful that I actually lived long enough need, and maybe even appreciate, sensible shoes.

For All To See

TheVogtFamily-72I love spending time with my three-year old grandson, and whenever I do, I know I’m going to hear “Watch me!” or “Watch this!” a lot.  And I’m perfectly okay with that, because that’s what little children do.  They are very focused on getting the attention and the approval of the people around them, and few things make them happier than our praise and affirmations.  Besides, I really do enjoy watching my grandson as he masters a new skill, or simply witnessing the joy he brings to his everyday experiences.

Sometimes I think we would all do well to act more like a child now and then, but the key is to make sure that we’re being childlike only in appropriate ways….finding joy in simple things, being honest with our emotions and living in the moment as children tend to do.  Sadly, the childlike trait most adults seem to be embracing these day is the need for the constant attention and approval of others.  And that’s not a healthy way to live our lives at all.

Yes, I know that social media makes it so very easy to document and share almost every aspect of our days, but just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should.  Of course it’s fun to post a few photos of our recent vacation, or to share our favorite pictures from our recent photo sessions, etc., and there’s nothing wrong with that.  But I think the trouble begins when we find ourselves somewhere fun, having a great time, and our first instinct is to whip our our phones and photograph it, so we can post it where others and see it and validate our experience with their responses.  Or when we try to process our emotions by sharing every single aspect of our trauma through daily photos, posts, and even videos.

There’s a fine line between healthy sharing and over-sharing, I think.  And one of the ways to know when we’ve crossed it is when we find ourselves worrying too much about the responses our social media posts generate.  If you had a great time at the neighborhood block party, then it really was a positive experience, even if your photos of it were largely ignored on social media.  And if you’ve thought long and hard about your stance on a particular issue and are comfortable with the conclusions you drawn, your opinion isn’t any less valid just because no one in your comment section agrees with you.  We don’t really need other people to approve our emotions, thoughts, or actions, no matter how much we’re encouraged to believe we do.

90tuq7S5RiKvHbPFH0wSo my advice, to myself and everyone else, is remember that not everything needs to be shared, and how much more we can enjoy ourselves when we’re not trying to document something and experience it at the same time.  Maybe the next time we see a beautiful sunset we should just sit quietly and look at it, drinking in nature’s beauty.  Or the next time we’re feeling emotional, we should just call someone we trust to empathize and help us feel better.  Because often, the most important moments in our lives happen when no one is looking at all….

Common Ground

IySCob9WT3ulxRSEZimmIAMy dog Finn takes his sleep very seriously.  When he’s awake, he has endless energy, and spends his days tearing around the house or persistently trying to convince us that’s it’s time for another walk or even more food.  But by early evening, he’s always curled up in his dog bed, fast asleep.  And that’s just fine, right up until the moment when we want him to go outside for his last potty break before we put him in his crate for the night.

Our late-night routine is always the same.  When we’re ready to go to bed, my husband and I call Finn to go outside.  We always begin on a cheerful note, holding the back door open hopefully and calling, “Come on, Finn! Time to go outside!”  And Finn always ignores us, even when my husband adds, “I’ve got treats!”  (I refuse to resort to bribery.)  So then we approach his bed, a little less cheerfully, and tell him that he needs to go outside RIGHT NOW.  At this point Finn opens his eyes and fixes us with a glare that makes it clear he has no intention of budging an inch.

Eventually, Finn leaves his bed, either by choice when he sees we’re not backing down and we begin to use our really stern voices, or because I lose patience and simply lift up one side of his bed and gently tip him out.  And then he’ll go outside and potty (occasionally getting his revenge by peeing on my flowers), come back in, get his treat and trot willingly into his crate.  And yes, we go through this routine every single night.

Despite all evidence to the contrary, Finn persists in his belief that one night he’ll win the battle and not have a bathroom break before he goes to bed (which we’d allow if we thought his bladder could hold out that long).  And my husband and I keep right on believing that one of these nights Finn will cheerfully spring out of his dog bed and go outside the first time we call him.

It’s funny how often we persist in thinking we can change the way others behave, and how we naively believe that if we just try hard enough and long enough, we can convince other people that our way of thinking is the only right way.  Social media provides ample proof of that, with all those posts pointing out all the faults of those who happen to believe and act in ways that are different from us.  And we’ve all witnessed, and probably participated in, those futile arguments where we try so very hard to show someone just how flawed their thinking really is, and then end up frustrated when we’re not able to change their minds.

The truth is, Finn is probably never going to want to go outside for his late-night potty break, and we are never going to feel comfortable putting him to bed without it.  But maybe if we try getting him out a little earlier in the evening, he won’t mind it so very much, and he’ll still be able to “hold it” through the night.  Compromise, after all, is so often the key to solving problems.  It’s never quite as satisfying as winning an argument or actually getting our own way, but there comes a time when we realize that it’s better to “give a little in order to get a little.”  And that’s true for all of us, human and otherwise……

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…..

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…..

Just Do It

I’ve loved writing for as long as I can remember.  It was my favorite class in elementary school, and  by the time I reached college I just had to major in English, never mind the fact that jobs for English majors were few and far between.  I remember sitting at my father’s desk as a child, happily typing my stories even though I knew no one but me was ever going to read them.  The joy was in creating the story, and readers were just the icing on the cake.

To this day, I find it much easier to express myself in the written word than by actually speaking.  In fact, when I do have to talk, I often find myself a bit tongue-tied and nervous, searching desperately for the right words.  The result is not pretty, and I rarely manage to get my point across in any meaningful way.  Hours later, when I replay the scene in my head, I think, “I should have said this.  Or I wish I had said that.”  But in the heat of the moment, the words I wanted so desperately just didn’t appear.

So on those rare occasions when I find it difficult to write, I don’t quite know how to handle it.  When it’s time for another blog post, I sit at the computer and try to concentrate on just exactly what I want to say.  Usually, it takes no more than five minutes for me to come up with a topic, and get started.  Admittedly, these days it takes an additional ten minutes or so to remember how to work Word Press’ new Block Editor so that I can actually type my post, but that’s a minor inconvenience that I’ve managed to solve……so far.  Still, once I get going, the writing flows and I usually feel satisfied with the result by the time I hit the “publish” button.

But then there are the days when that doesn’t happen.  The days when I know it’s time for another blog post, but no topic comes to mind that I think anyone could possibly find interesting.   There are times when I honestly feel that I have nothing of value to share, no new insights to offer, and no spiffy phrases that will entertain.  Those are the times when I type a first sentence, read it, and delete it over and over again, and when I begin to think that maybe six years is a long enough run for my blog, and maybe it’s time to call it a day and do something more useful with my time….you know, like learning Latin or reorganizing my junk drawer.

But the thing is, once I give myself permission to step back a bit, and maybe not write if I really don’t feel like it, my attitude begins to change.  Just subtly at first, as I type out a few rough drafts whose quality makes me eternally grateful for the “delete” button.  Yet I persevere, because I know that if I just go through the motions enough times, I’ll find my groove again.  And I’ll rediscover the joy of writing, of communicating my thoughts and feelings in a way that I hope others will relate to and find helpful, and that I’ll once again find the courage to not only string together a whole bunch of words in a way that finally feels right, but that I’ll manage to hit that “publish” button when I’m done.  Because when all is said and done, what writers do is write.  And half the battle is just doing it.

The Last Straw

It’s been really cold this week, and it’s supposed to get even colder by this weekend.  I’ve been preparing by stocking up on essentials, breaking out a jigsaw puzzle and this morning, I decided to fill up my gas tank before the truly frigid weather set in.  I pulled into a station I don’t normally use, and was amazed to see that there was a little screen on the gas pump, right next to the slot for my credit card.  Not the usual screen that provides instructions on operating the pump, but an actual little television screen, airing real commercials.   I was dumbfounded, to say the least.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t generally make decisions regarding my bedding when I’m filling my car with gasoline, so why anyone thought I’d want to see a mattress commercial just then is beyond me.  By the time I was done and replacing the pump, it had progressed to an ad for insurance, which made a bit more sense.  But I still found the whole thing terribly annoying.  The sound was turned up loud, and I actually had to wait for the commercial to end before I could print my receipt.

I’ve been feeling a little out of touch with the world for a long-time now,  but this might well be the “straw that broke the camel’s back.”  Because I think I’m done.  I’ve tried my best to keep up with our ever-changing world:  adapting to the endless new technologies, trying to keep up with the latest trends, and accepting things that I don’t even begin to understand.  Isn’t that what we’re told we’re supposed to do, if we want to stay young?  Be willing to learn new things, embrace change, pay attention to the latest fashions, and invest a small fortune in skin care products?  Because otherwise we’re nothing but a bunch of useless old fogies with one foot in the grave, right?

But I no longer care.  I’m done pretending that I don’t sometimes struggle with technologies that weren’t invented until decades after I was born.  I’m willing to admit that I think a whole lot of our current trends are just plain silly, and that they’ll go the way of the naval contemplation of the Sixties and the green shag carpeting of the Seventies.  I believe that it’s okay for houses to have walls and that body hair isn’t always something to be afraid of.  I admit to preferring printed receipts, real books, and brick and mortar stores.  Most of all, I believe that time spent by myself, off-line and unplugged, is both valuable and necessary for my basic sanity.

When you’ve lived as long as I have, you’ve seen too many things come and go to be terribly impressed with whatever the “latest and best” happens to be.  And you realize that although the world is always changing, basic human nature mostly remains the same.  You’ve figured out what’s important and what’s not, and you try very hard to embrace only the changes that are actually for the good.

So I’m okay with admitting that I have no use for gas pumps that try to sell me a mattress, or anything else other than gasoline.  From now on, I’m not only accepting my inner old fogy, I’m embracing her……