Freedom

IMG_1463In just a few short days, those of us who live in the United States will be celebrating our Independence Day, also known as the Fourth of July.  Traditionally, the holiday is observed with parades, bar-b-ques and fireworks, and I’m sure this year will be no exception.  Despite the many serious issues that our country is facing, I think it’s a good thing for us to acknowledge and celebrate the “birth” of our nation and try to remember that, like it or not, we’re all in this together.  My personal opinion is that we would do well to start concentrating far more on what unites us and far less on what divides us, but I know that is wishful thinking.

Still, when I think of Independence Day, it reminds me to be thankful for the freedoms I do have, and I’m not just talking about those that are guaranteed in our Constitution.

I may live in a world where there is far too much hatred and intolerance being spewed from all sides, but I am free to choose just exactly how I respond to it.  I can join in the argument, trying to shout down those who disagree, or silence them with fear and intimidation.  But I can also choose to express my own views confidently and politely, and to do my best to truly listen to those who see things differently.  In other words, I have the freedom to decide if I want to add to the problem, or if I want to try to be one of the much-needed voices of tolerance and reconciliation.

I’ve never been particularly good at saying “no,” even when my schedule is already over-crowded with commitments.  I know I have been blessed with a relatively good life, and I believe that I have a moral obligation to help others whenever I can.  But I also need to remember that I have the freedom to create my own boundaries, and to protect myself from the overwhelming stress that comes from trying to take care of everyone else’s needs while ignoring my own.  Freedom comes with responsibility, not only to others, but also to myself.

I’m not exactly sure how I’ll be celebrating this Independence Day, although I do hope I get the chance to see some nice fireworks and eat some good food.  But I’m hoping that whatever I do, I’ll also remember to be thankful for my own personal freedoms to choose the way I want to live and the kind of person I want to be.  And I hope that I’ll have the strength and wisdom to choose wisely, and live a life that is as free and independent of hate, guilt, intolerance and ignorance as I possibly can.  Because I believe that’s the kind of independence that is truly worth celebrating.

From The Heart

Have you ever read something that just seems to speak directly to your heart?  That happened to me recently when I was reading Fredrik Backman’s excellent novel “Beartown” and came across this passage:

“Hate can be a deeply stimulating emotion.  The world becomes much easier to understand and much less terrifying if you divide everything and everyone into friends and enemies, we and they, good and evil.  The easiest way to unite a group isn’t through love, because love is hard.  It makes demands.  Hate is simple.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m often troubled by the amount of hatred I see in the world, and frightened by how quickly and easily it bubbles to the surface.  Organized demonstrations of hateful dogma are scary enough, but when I see the endless parade of on-line rants, name-calling and attacks on-line, I’m even more disturbed, because I see just how easily we unleash our hateful side once we’re convinced we’ve found someone who deserves it.   And as tempting as it is, I honestly don’t believe in fighting hatred with even more hatred.

For example, I am an animal-lover who spends her days working with shelter dogs, and I am sickened when I see any kind of animal abuse.  But I am also sickened when I read an article about an abused animal and see all the on-line comments calling for the abuser to be tortured and killed.  I may love animals, but I am not a sadist.  I don’t believe that the proper response to one act of evil is another act of evil.  What I really want is an end to the abuse. And there are plenty of ways to do that without becoming an abuser myself.

Believe me, I get upset when I see injustice, hatred, abuse and evil, and often my gut-level reaction is to lash out in self-righteous fury and indignation.  And sometimes I have given in to that impulse and said things in the heat of the moment that I shouldn’t have said.  Yet when I calm down, I realize that all I did was make the situation even worse by copying the very behavior that horrified me in the first place.  I allowed someone else’s hatred to take root in me, if only temporarily.  And that’s not the person I want to be.

I think it is possible to stand up to hate without being hateful, just as it is possible to stop abuse without becoming an abuser.  We don’t have to leave our best selves behind when we oppose evil, and we certainly don’t have to follow the example of the very people whose actions horrify us in the first place.

As Fredrik Backman so eloquently pointed out, hatred is easy and love is hard. But when it comes right down to it, I want to choose love.

Valentine Love

IMG_1130Since Valentine’s Day falls on a Sunday this year, my husband and I decided to go out for a nice dinner on Saturday night instead.  Sadly, it seemed as if everyone else had the same idea, because when we arrived at our favorite restaurant for our seven o’clock reservation, the place was packed.  The host asked if we minded waiting in the bar for a few minutes until our table was ready, which was fine with us.  But after a while, it became apparent that the “few minutes” was a very optimistic prediction, and as the hunger pangs set in, we started surveying the restaurant to see if we could spot an open table that the staff might have missed.

There weren’t any empty tables, but there were several tables occupied by young couples who had finished their meals and paid their bills, but were still lingering, gazing deeply into each other’s eyes, holding hands, and in general totally oblivious to the fact that there were hungry people waiting to be seated.  We tried giving a few of them the stink eye as a subtle hint that it was time to move on, but they were too wrapped up in each other to notice.  Eventually, we were seated at a nice corner table that gave us a good view of the dining room, and happily settled in, working our way steadily through the bread basket as we waited for our food to arrive.

Between bites, we studied the diners at the tables around us, especially the young couples who had obviously made a special effort for a romantic dinner.  They were quite dressed up, with the young men in ties and the young women in short dresses and high heels. They leaned in close to talk, smiled and flirted a lot, and stretched their meal out as long as possible by ordering appetizers, coffee and dessert.  Watching them brought back memories of how we used to celebrate Valentine’s Day, all those years ago when we were young.

At our table, the conversation was much less intimate, and contained phrases such as, “do you think the waitress will bring more bread?” and “we’d better hit the ATM on our way home,” none of which were uttered while holding hands or gazing deeply into each other’s eyes.   These days, if my husband is gazing deeply into my eyes at a restaurant, it’s because I’ve asked him to see if I’ve got an eyelash stuck in on of them.  And we don’t hold hands across the table, because that would mean we’d have to put our utensils down.

True, we had made the effort to look nice, but we were also mindful of the wind chill when we selected our outfits.  My husband had on three layers of shirts, but no tie.  I no longer wear a dress when the temperature is under 35, so I had on a nice pair of slacks and a turtleneck sweater.  My one concession to romance was to forgo my usual knee socks in favor of control-top panty hose, which I hoped would both look dressy and take five pounds off of my figure.

But don’t think I’m complaining.  We had a lovely evening out, just in our own, somewhat quiet, middle-aged way.  We don’t need to stare at each other while we’re eating dinner.  When you’ve been married for thirty five years, you know what your spouse looks like and there’s no need to keep checking.  We may not flirt in public any more, but we both knew we were sitting across the table from the one and only person we wanted to share in our Valentine’s dinner.

And when we were done with our meal, we promptly paid our bill and left, opening the table for the next couple who wanted to enjoy a nice Valentine’s dinner.  I’m thinking that next year, we should choose a restaurant that caters exclusively to people who are middle-aged and older.  The clientele may not look as good, but we won’t have to wait so long for a table, either.

 

 

The Season of Change

It may sound odd, but I’ve always found autumn to be just a little bit depressing.  I do love the crisp, cool air; the beautiful colors of the turning leaves, and the pumpkins and gourds that are used to decorate our houses and yards.  But even while I’m enjoying all the good things that autumn brings, I also feel an underlying sense of sadness and loss.  The days are getting shorter, those beautiful leaves are going to fall to the ground and leave the trees stark and bare, and I know that cool, crisp air is soon going to be replaced by cold, snow and ice.  I’m not a huge fan of winter (it should end the day after Christmas, as far as I am concerned), and so maybe the problem is that I’m just too aware that when autumn comes, winter is not far behind.

If I wanted to get really deep, I would point out that middle age is basically the early autumn of our life, but I try to keep this blog light and positive, so I won’t go there.  I will just say that I am at a period of my life when the losses are beginning to pile up, and as a blogger friend of mine so aptly put it, “there are more endings than there are beginnings.”

IMG_0878But this autumn has been an exceptionally good one for me and my family, and I can honestly say that for once, I’m not melancholy or sad.  Just last month, we celebrated the wedding of our daughter and our terrific new son-in-law, and that was a joyful, happy occasion for all of us.  Yesterday, my son proposed to his long-time girlfriend, which means that not only do we have another wedding to look forward to, but that our family is changing and growing in a very wonderful way.

Yes, being middle aged means that I am sometimes dealing with too many changes that are challenging and sad.  But other times, the changes that come to me and my family are very positive, exciting and hopeful, and knowing that both of my children have found a special person to love and share their life with is a change of the very best kind.  I know our family will never be the same, but in this case, that’s a good thing.

Last night we gathered at a local restaurant with a small group of friends and family to celebrate the engagement of my son and his new fiancé.  We were celebrating the beginning of their new life together, the joining of two families who will support them throughout their journey, and of all the possibilities that the future may bring them.  It’s a good, happy and hopeful change for us all. And for me, it’s a powerful reminder that there are still lots of good things in life to come, no matter what the season.

Happy Birthday

IMG_0823Today is my husband’s sixtieth birthday.  I can remember so clearly when I first met him in college and decided that he might be someone I would like to date, even though we seemed to have almost nothing in common.  He was a gifted athlete, and an active member of a fraternity.  He liked to spend time fishing and golfing, and had a special talent for playing pool.  I was a klutz who was completely uninterested in sports, and had lasted a mere three months in the sorority I joined my sophomore year. I played only miniature golf, was terrible at pool, and thought fishing was a bit cruel, to both the fish and the worms.  But still, something clicked, and we married shortly after I graduated.

It just doesn’t seem so long ago that we moved into our first apartment together, then later bought our first house and brought our first baby home from the hospital.  How can that baby now be a twenty-nine year old woman, and how can we possibly have lived in this, our third house, for twenty-one years?  How can my husband, the young man who searched so eagerly for his first accounting job, carefully typing out his resumes and letters on my electric typewriter, be just five years away from retirement?

Dave at typewriterWhen did we make the shift from the young, clueless couple trying to find our way in the world, to a couple that is fast approaching (if we aren’t there already) the years where we can’t even call ourselves middle aged anymore, and actually qualify for those “senior citizen discounts?”  Next year will actually be the fortieth reunion of my high school graduating class.  And I still believe someone added wrong to come up with that number, but I’m not sure who to speak to about it.

I remember when we were young (a very long time ago, apparently), people kept telling us that the years would just fly by.  And like all young people, we didn’t really believe them.  We knew we were at the beginning stages of our lives, and our attention was focused on acquiring all the stuff we thought we needed, establishing our careers, and starting our family.  But now, with my husband turning sixty, there is no denying that we have many more years behind us that we do ahead of us.  And that we are no longer young anywhere except in our own minds.

Now our focus has changed.  We are certainly not wealthy, but we have most of what we want and all of what we truly need.  We treasure our time with family and friends more, because we now understand what a gift time spent with people we love really is.  We aren’t always happy with our aging bodies, but we accept them and do our best to stay healthy.  We may not have as many years left as we would like, but we do intend to spend those years wisely.

A friend once told me that the beauty of long-term marriage is that each partner knew the other one when they were still young, so that when they look at their spouse, they still see the young person they once were.  And that, I have found, is true.  My husband may be turning sixty today, but to me, he will always be that somewhat shy, sweet, college boy I thought I might like to date…..