Category Archives: life lessons

MORE ABOUT THAT: Circuses, Monkeys, Big Effin’ Fence

This is my circus. Please note: No monkeys. (I gave them all to Barb G.) Any monkeys involved are YOUR monkeys. Thank you.

This is my circus. Please note: No monkeys. (I gave them all to Barb G.) Any monkeys involved are YOUR monkeys. Thank you.

So my post the other day on the frustration of not being accepted for who you are, and not being respected for what you know, was actually more like hurt feelings and anger.

I got that as soon as I wrote it. (That’s why I write, after all. To figure all this stuff out.)

But it felt wonderful to be able to say, “It hurts! And you were only allowed to hurt me because I trusted you! Because I thought I had something useful to share, information that could help YOU!!”

The next day came this new mantra:

Not my circus. Not my monkeys.

That’s when I realized everything that was hurting me and stressing me, were things I’d picked up. Things I wanted to fix. Things I thought I could help with. (Hell’s bells, where did my hospice training go??!!)

I had the experience, I had the knowledge, I had the training, I’d even made it through the aftermath. Surely someone might benefit from that! (After all, part of my mission is that I some share things I’ve learned the hard way, so that you don’t always have to….)

And I ended up in someone else’s circus, with someone else’s monkeys.

So what do you do when you want to be open and you want to be vulnerable, so something new can come in? But you’re also sick and tired of said heart being emotionally and spiritually trampled?

Here comes the next step in my mailbox today: “Open, gentle heart. Big fucking fence.”

Danielle LaPorte is much braver and fierce than I am. I’m in awe of her.

I see where she’s going with this, and I want to go there, too. I’m going to keep that practice, of doing the work and growing. I’ll be brave, and I’ll do the work.

But the big fence is okay, too. You don’t get in until you show me you can act respectfully of what is being given. And if you do make a mess, and don’t clean up after yourself?

well, that’s my own damn fault for believing you were who you say your are.

I wasn’t wrong for giving you the benefit of the doubt. But I will be slower about letting you in the next time, and quicker to boot you out if you fustlecate. (I just made that up.)

Just in time. Because right now things are hard. But they don’t have to be.

Deep breath.

Let it go.

And get back out there, back into the game.
Into the big wide open adventure of my life.

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Filed under life lessons, not my circus and not my monkeys

YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT!

Just so you know I'm not perfect:  I am not proud that I will not admit I really can't cut my own bangs....  And yes, I know that's a double--no wait, a TRIPLE-negative.

Just so you know I’m not perfect: I am not proud that I will not admit I really can’t cut my own bangs…. And yes, I know that’s a double–no wait, a TRIPLE-negative.


Often when I look back at a particular difficult time in my life, I realize there was something deep going on. There was a major life lesson involved. Something I was struggling to understand.

I could read about it. I could see it. I could hear what other people said about it.

But I hadn’t quite gotten to the point where I knew it in my own heart. I didn’t have that “aha!” moment, that little insight, the recognition of, “So that’s what this is about!”

And of course, the recognition of what’s going on isn’t enough. You can’t stop there. Nope, you have to practice it, over and over, until you finally, really, really get it.

Here is one example: Years ago, I had a boyfriend who worked at a “campy” store in town. His coworkers were tight, and socialized often. I would tag along. They were a good group to hang with.

There was one woman, a little older than the rest of us “20-somethings”, who was respected and liked by all of us. There was only one little problem… She was often brusque with me, and rarely talked to me.

I asked my then-boyfriend about it, and he was mystified. I noticed she didn’t treat anyone else this way. I resolved to be even friendlier and nicer to her.

One evening after work, she showed her medical illustration portfolio to us. Her drawings were astonishing, and I told her so. “Yeah, thanks,” she replied shortly. “No, really, they’re very good!” I said. She turned away. I sat there, baffled at being rebuffed yet again.

And then it hit me, out of the blue, like a ton of bricks.

She didn’t like me.

I know you’re probably also thinking, “Well, doh, Luann! What was your first clue, darlin’?!”

But I had been clueless. Because I’d always been pleasant and obliging. Because I couldn’t think of a single reason why she should dislike me.

But though I didn’t know the why, I certainly recognized the what. Everything that had puzzled me became crystal clear and obvious. Like tapping that last little puzzle piece into place.

After that, I left her alone. I quit trying to “win her over”, because I realized that was salt in the wound to her. I still liked and respected her, but I accepted the fact that she didn’t like or respect me. Years later, I found out some of the “why”, and it had very little to do with me. That’s another story, and another life lesson.

But back to this life lesson.

Here is what happens when you listen (to someone who does know what they’re talking about: A few years ago, I found myself in a rattled state about my artwork and my art biz. I had a session with life coach Quinn McConald, of QuinnCreative.

I listed all the things I was stuck on. Then I said, “Oh, and for some reason I feel compelled to sign up for hospice volunteer training, and I have no idea what that’s about!” Quinn bookmarked that and returned to it later.

She asked if I were a perfectionist, and I said yes. Who doesn’t want to always do their best??

“The trouble with being a perfectionist,” she said, “is that you are full of ‘knowing’. And when you are full of knowing, nothing new can come in.”

Let me repeat that amazing, seemingly-simple little sentence….

When you are full of ‘knowing’, nothing new can come in.

That simple thought allowed me to be wide open to the hospice training. I understood I was entering this realm with complete ignorance. No expectations, no assumptions. Just humility, and a willing heart. A heart willing to be open, to be WRONG, to be taught, to be filled.

That little moment of understanding, of recognition, of clarity, is a blessing. There is a clarity. The story you’ve made up about “all that” is wrong. And now you have an opportunity to get better, to do better, to learn something new.

This transformation does not happen when you’re busy trying to be the smartest person in the room.

This is my current life theme.

I am accepting that I don’t always know. That there are things I think I know, that I really don’t know.

And I’m willing to learn.

I’m learning that some people who have been very dear to me, are themselves full of knowing. More painfully, I am seeing that they are not letting anything new come in. Especially not from me.

Because when you try to talk with people who are “full of knowing”, their argument is something this:

Who do you think you are?!

That stops the discussion, doesn’t it? If people don’t believe you have anything to say that would contribute to their understanding, it all ends there. If they believe they know more than you do, without bothering to ask, or listen, to what you do know, it all stops.

What do we say to that?

We say, “Who do I have to be?

There are people with no experience with sociopathic behavior, no knowledge of how they work. People with little experience with or knowledge of sexual abuse and sexual predators. They’ve never been trained to work with people with illness, with dementia, with alcoholism, and they don’t understand it. They don’t see the signs when it sits across the table from them.

I was one of those people. I still am, about so many, many things.

Now I know better. I know the areas where I still need guidance. I know I still have a lot to learn.

But I also now know what “blaming the victim” looks like. I now know what “killing the messenger” looks like. I now know what happens when you leave a group. I now know how to genuinely apologize. And I now know what a real apology is, and what isn’t.

And unfortunately, this means I also know what happens when you try to enlighten people who inherently don’t believe you have anything useful to say.

It hurts when I engage with people who are so convinced they know better, they will actually stop believing I am who I show myself to be. For example, I do not knowingly cause physical or emotional pain, even with people I find difficult. I may feel like being mean, but I rarely do or say mean things, not deliberately. (Okay, stuff slips out now and then, okay?!)

I do not argue with people lightly. In fact, I tend to back down, so I don’t lose my temper and say something that cannot be unsaid. When I do speak up, it’s when I realize there is a chance I can change the dynamic. Otherwise, I may seethe, but I rarely act. So when I’m accused of “being mean”, I am aghast.

I am not a lazy dog owner, I am not a cruel dog owner, and I’m not a “clueless” dog owner. But two Facebook “friends” called me that today. (Really, people?!) They totally dismissed my own experience with the discussion topic, and similar evidence given by others. Would they say those things to me, to my face? I doubt it. It’s easy to be dismissive on Facebook. It’s like giving someone the finger while driving. But if you wouldn’t sat it to me directly, don’t say it to me Facebook.

I’ve been called “over-sensitive”. I’ve been told that, as a redhead, I have a short temper. (What’s the excuse now that my hair is red by the miracle of modern chemistry? Oh…right. Genetically I have a redhead’s temper.) I’ve been told I don’t know what I’m talking about.

So…

Who do I have to be? And if you don’t respect what I do know, what I do have expertise in, what I have learned, then I can’t talk to you. Because you can’t–or won’t–hear me anyway.

This is what it’s about, my current life lesson. This is where I am right now. And this is why I’m here.

Yes, we all have blind spots. We may never completely “know” ourselves.

But I’m guessing that you, like me, have often seen a shadow, a reflection, the secondary evidence that there is something you’ve made assumptions about, the suspicion that maybe, just maybe, you are w*r*o*n*g. You get a moment of doubt, a sliver of insight that maybe there’s another side, another angle, to what you “know” to be true. And that maybe somebody else has more information, more experience, more insight than you do right now. One of the smartest thing I ever did was to admit how little I really knew about alcoholism. I thought I knew, then realized I knew nothing. So I asked a few trusted friends who did know, for advice. I listened, deeply, and well. Thank you forever, Karen. Thank you forever, Mary Ellen.

Here’s another tip-off: When you realize you don’t know quite as much as you think you do, do you bluster? Do you get defensive? Do you attack the other person before they can have their say? Do you call them “over-sensitive” and blame them for the difficulty between you? Do you dismiss them as “not as experienced as you”, when in reality, you do not know of what you speak? Do you find yourself always blaming others for your woes?

Does your conscience squeak just a little?

Do you ever wonder if maybe a little more knowledge, a little more insight, a little more understanding, might get you to where your heart really wants to go?

I want to learn from people that really do know more than me. I’m willing to ask the dumb question. Humility is hard, hard, hard. Especially when you are bright, knowledgeable, skilled. You have to allow yourself to be vulnerable in order to grow. It takes practice. And the practice never stops.

And the people who are willing to do the same with me? I respect them 100%. This is part of “doing the work”. Being willing to ask. Being willing to listen. Being willing to learn.

Being open to what you don’t know.

Not trying to always be the smartest person in the room.

Those who don’t know what they’re talking about? And don’t know what I’m talking about here? They have their work to do. If it hurts me to be around them right now, well, that’s where I am. I have my own work to do. I can’t pick up theirs.

And all I can do is to write, to share, to give, to those people who are in the same place I am. People who are open to what I have to say. People who are also willing to look into the dark place in themselves that are filled with excuses.

People who think that maybe, just maybe, once in awhile….
I may know what I’m talking about.

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Filed under advice on getting advice, life lessons, not my circus and not my monkeys, perfectionism

SIXTY-ONE

My birthday card from Amy Johnson...

My birthday card from Amy Johnson…

And the great punchline...one month after Jon found a VERY drunk person passed out on our tree lawn. (It wasn't me!!)

And the great punchline…one month after Jon found a VERY drunk person passed out on our tree lawn. (It wasn’t me!!)

A la Bilbo Baggins, I so wanted to use “ELEVENTY-ONE” as today’s post title. But a desire for accuracy won the day. And so, a reflection today on my sixty-first birthday.

Here I sit. Sixty-one years old. There is a storm around me, one that’s raged for over fifty years. I’m feeling as unmoored and estranged as I ever have. And why does Spellcheck say “unmoored” is not a word???

A friend said recently, “The most dangerous people in the world are people who don’t know what they don’t know.” Sadly, very true.

All I can do is look back, to see how far I’ve come.
I can look ahead, to see how far I can go.
And I can look at the end, to see what is of value there. (Thank you, Quinn McDonald, for these words of wisdom!)

When I look back, my gratitude list is long. In fact, after the Year of Endangered Children and Near-Death Experiences, I’m truly grateful for what I learned. What I found. And mostly for what I DIDN’T lose….

I see that sitting with discomfort can open many doors. And close some, too–maybe ones that needed to be closed. Or that were never open in the first place.

When I look ahead, I see that being able…and willing…to make a major change in life, with a willing partner at my side, will be an amazing adventure. I’m pathetically scared. But at least I know my fear is pathetic. It will be daunting, and exhausting. But also exhilarating and exciting.

When I look at the end, it puts it all in perspective.

My greatest joy? Every day, I’m learning more about life.
My greatest fear? The day I finally figure it all out, I’ll be 73 and drop dead before I can really put all my wisdom to work.

The reality? We’re all hear trying to do the best we can. Trying to figure it all out. Some of us are open to learning. Some of us aren’t. Their journey is not my journey. And that’s okay.

My goal this year? To kick the “good girl”–the one who feels she has to make nice, to be “good”, whatever that means–to the curb. And let out the “bad girl”–the bitch who speaks her mind and asks for what she wants–a little more often.

What am I doing for my birthday today?

Maybe I’ll clean my studio so George can fix my lights.
Maybe I’ll do a little more reading on issues of social injustice. I’m embarrassed at how much I don’t know. But grateful I’m willing to KNOW how much I don’t know.
Maybe I’ll go to t’ai chi tonight with Jon.
Maybe take the afternoon off and read a book for HOURS. And fall asleep on the couch with the cat and a dog or two.
Maybe I’ll sit and think. Or just sit.
Maybe I’ll go out and watch the clouds for awhile.

I’ll try not to worry about how I’ll ever pack up and move my neutron-star-dense studio across the country. And whether I’ll ever find a good-enough space to set it up again.

I’ll try not to worry about earthquakes.

I’ll try not to worry about giant millipedes.

Hmmmmm….. Maybe it’s time to go out and look at some clouds.

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Filed under art, life lessons

NAMASTE

“I like to think that everybody is trying to do the best they can.” Something Teo Tyler said to me years ago, when I wondered why she was cutting an obvious pompous idiot so much slack….

Why a picture of a tree?  Because it's just a tree.  And that's all it has to be.

Why a picture of a tree? Because it’s just a tree. And that’s all it has to be to be beautiful.

I’m back, and sloooooowly recovering from, the League of NH Craftsmen’s Annual Craftsmen’s Fair at Mt. Sunapee (aka, although misleading, the “Sunapee Fair”. Misleading because there’s another, much smaller local event also known as the “Sunapee Fair”. Oh well. It’s hard to confuse us once you’ve seen us both.)

As usual, a lot of beautiful and powerful moments at the Fair, lots of validation for an artist, and great sales, too. And also as usual, lots of exhaustion, frustration, nerves and angst.

And as usual, over the next few weeks, I’ll strive to put the latter into prospective, and the former into the forefront of my heart.

Today, though, I write about a thought I had as my head hit the pillow last night, a thought that stayed with me til I woke this morning:

I’m thinking how desperately we want to be seen.

Not just noticed. (“Look at that woman’s funny red hair, mama!”) Not recognized (“She’s the artist!”) Not just acknowledged. (“Madam cashier, may I interrupt your conversation with the bag boy to introduce myself? I’m your paying customer!!!!“)

We all want to be seen as the person we believe ourselves to be. The person we want to believe ourselves to be, that is.

We don’t want to be seen as needy, or pitiable, or desperate. We don’t want to be seen as crazy, or nagging, or pathetic.

We all want to be seen as a person who is doing the best we can.

At this moment, right now, with everything we have on our plate. Plates. Plate??

Oddly, my thought about this is, sometimes the best way we can show someone we truly see them is to listen to them.

So if someone wants desperately to be seen as smart, and quick, and capable, then I have to tamp down my lizard-brain reaction to say, “Well, I’m smart and quick and capable, too!” I have to try really really hard to just shut up and watch. And be amazed that, by golly, they are smart, and quick, and capable. And that fact doesn’t diminish me one little bit.

I have to understand that if someone is trying desperately to impress me with their wit (even if it’s at my expense) and their brilliant conversation (even if I can’t get a word in edgewise), then I have to smack down my lizard-brain reaction for a few minutes. Just sit back and let them do their dance. And be amazed that, by golly, they are witty, and brilliantly conversant. And that fact does not diminish me one little bit.

I have to understand that if someone is trying really, really hard to do the right thing, because they really don’t want to be “that guy”, and they want their efforts to be acknowledged (even if what I want is an apology), then I have to lose the judge-y-ness and the righteous indignation, and give them some credit. And be amazed, by gosh, that they really are trying to do the right thing–because they care.

It’s hard. It’s really hard.

Because like the proverbial one-finger-pointing-at-you, three-finger-pointing-back-at-me thing (Try it. Point at something. See?), all these things that piss me off? I’m more guilty of them than anyone else.

And that’s why I, of all people, should understand where that impulse is coming from.

Because I want to be seen as smart, and quick, and capable, and witty, and brilliantly conversational.

Because I’m usually the one rattling off a mile a minute, not letting you get a word in. Not letting you be right, for a change. Not accepting, or understanding that you, too, are simply here, trying to do your best.

And in showing you just how effin’ brilliant I am, I am not letting YOU shine.

So today I continue my little brave exercises, exercises I hope will atrophy my over-worked lizard-brain a little, and strengthen my better-intentioned heart.

When I’m tempted to put you in your place, I will bite my (very sharp) tongue instead.

In place of a retort, I will strive for the gentle rejoinder. Better yet, I will try for the respectful silence.

I will gaze at you with love, and awe, and respect for the person you already are. I will honor the person you don’t have to prove yourself–not for one minute, not to me–to be.

I will see you.

(With heartfelt apologies to Jon, and Jen, and Nancy. And with deep gratitude for all you do, with delight and amazement for who you are. Namaste)

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Filed under art, life lessons

THE DUCKS: “Make Way for Ducklings” with a Sadder Ending

Last week my sister and I drove home to Michigan. A lot happened on the trip, mostly good stuff, and even the bad stuff ended well.

There was one sad thing that broke my heart.

We were zipping along the QEW (Queen Elizabeth Way), the major highway that connects Niagara Falls (where we entered Canada) and Hamilton. It’s always frenetic, full of traffic, with one of those solid concrete barricades down the median. We were going 75 mph, five miles above the posted speed limit, and people passed us like we were standing still.

We were talking and laughing, and all of a sudden, we saw a mother duck and two baby ducks at the median, right next to the fast lane. (AKA “even faster lane”…)

It was heartbreaking. They were in a panic. There was absolutely no way we could stop. Even if we could, there was absolutely no way we could have rescued them without endangering ourselves, other travelers, even the ducks.

Our hearts sank as we flew past them.

We could have called “someone” about them. But who? I have no idea who to call in Canada about highway-stranded ducks. And I’m sure there are limited resources to deal with such things.

I’ve been thinking of them ever since, imagining their terror, and empathizing with their helplessness. I know I won’t forget that image of them easily. Why are there solid medians in expressways? Why aren’t there ways to prevent so many animals from being run over on highways?

And yet…..

From what I’ve read about animal brains, they were, indeed frantic and confused. But one of two things definitely happened.

They were probably killed within minutes of us seeing them.

Or they somehow made it back across the highway.

Either way, their agony is over.

Animals, it’s said, don’t dwell on the drama. If they made it safely across, then they immediately focused on the next task in front of them–getting to water, finding food, finding a place to rest for the night.

They didn’t carry that agony and that terror with them any longer than was necessary for their survival.

People, however, tend to fret, to “ruminate” over things that upset us, sometimes endlessly. I know I do! I go over and over the event. I hold my tongue for fear of saying something awful, then regret not speaking up. I make up stories about the people who hurt me, sometimes demonizing their intentions to justify my own indignation and anger.

I’m tired of it.

I know good things can come out of sad experiences. I know this incident helped me connect strongly to an article in our town newspaper, of a local project–high school kids taking record of how many animals are killed on local highways, and thinking up ways to cut down on the daily slaughter. And I know that animals die every day in the wild, if not from a racing car, then from predators and other natural causes.

I’m just saying that I’ve fretted far longer from that image in my heart than the ducks did.

This is what it means to be human. This is what it means to have a compassionate heart.

But I also realize that I should either do something about it or put it in perspective and let it go. Endless remorse serves no one, and nothing.

And so today, I’m telling you–and myself–a different story:

Even an “ordinary” duck and her babies crossing the road have a story to tell.

And I can learn from it.

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EDITH GRODIN: Am I a falcon, a storm, or the Great Song?

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I didn’t get to know Edith Grodin until she was dying.

Oh, I knew who she was, and spoke to her many times. She and her husband, Dick, were huge supporters of the prestigious League of NH Craftsmen. I often saw her during the Craftsmen’s Annual Fair in August. Once Edith bought a lovely necklace from me for her granddaughter, a Gulf War veteran. That was the beginning of many enjoyable Grodin family visits in my booth. Soon three generations of Grodins were wearing my jewelry. Husband Dick and son Richard gently refused my generous offers of earrings (but finally accepted a small horse sculpture.)

Edith moved confidently throughout the League and its activities, serving on the Board of Trustees. She was good friends with many craftspeople, and respected by us all.

I thought we’d have a lifetime to get to know one another better.

We had only a year.

There came a Fair where she did not appear. Instead, a little note appeared in the Fair newsletter handed out each day. “I’ve lost my battle against cancer,” she said. And she asked for visitors.

Still, I hesitated. Some families hunker down during tough times. They don’t welcome outsiders. But my hospice volunteer training had made me a bit braver. And so I called one day. Dick answered the phone and encouraged me to come by.

So began an amazing journey, rich in laughter, good cheer and life lessons.

Edith was able to remain in her beloved home until her death. She faced it with peace in her heart (though she was “busy” and engaged til the end.) I had the sense she had done–or tried–her best, and knew it. That gave her great comfort. She voiced no regrets.

There were many, many sweet moments: Learning how Edith and Dick met, and how they built their life together.

There were some sober moments: Speculating on an afterlife. Wondering how her family would cope with her loss.

There were many, many funny moments. Her sense of humor was delightfully sharp and quick. She hungered for tidbits of news and gossip, eager to hear about the outside world. I shared some of my favorite gossip, and she shared hers.

My favorite time was when I called her after having surgery myself. I complained that my family was very supportive and caring–the first few days. After that, everyone mysteriously disappeared early in the day, forcing me to struggle on my own for coffee and other necessities.

Edith confided that her family had done the same thing–so solicitous the first few weeks. Then, when the novelty of the situation had worn off, not so quick to wait on her hand and foot. “But Edith,” I exclaimed, “You’re DYING!”

“I know, right?” she replied cheerfully.

I won’t go into Edith’s (and Dick’s) many years of military service, their wide and varied contributions to their many communities and causes. There are others who can speak better about that than I. Suffice to say, the word of the day at the Grodin household is service.

There was their service to their country, of course, extending several generations. And their fierce love of family and friends. They supported many good causes, and gave generously not with just money, but in words and time and attention.

To them, being a good citizen was not just being involved. It wasn’t just contributing. What astonished me was Edith’s desire to build something for a community that simply wasn’t there before. They would see a need, and work to meet it.

She and her best friend started a craft show, and ran it for many years. No wonder she felt so at home at the League’s Fair! She campaigned fiercely for their new headquarters in Concord, and was overjoyed the transition was accomplished in her lifetime. I soon lost track of all her achievements and projects and contributions. The list is long, and all of it amazing.

Over those last months, my respect and awe for this woman grew and grew.

And so did my determination to learn from her courage and dedication.

It was like she left me with a challenge: Find a need, and fill it! Don’t just stand there–do something! If nobody else will do it, do it yourself!

In the past year, I’ve helped Keene start its very own Open Studio Tour. I also created an event that’s long been dear to me–a garage sale for artists and craftspeople. In fact, I may miss her memorial ceremony because it’s the same day as the Keene Art Garage Sale, and I’m the only one running the show. Somehow, I don’t think she’d mind.

Small projects, in the greater scheme of things, I know. And yet I never thought I was capable of doing something like this, or that I would enjoy it so much.

I have Edith Grodin to thank for that. Her quiet pride in her achievements, her natural tendency to create opportunities for other creative people, in addition to those she made for her country, her community, her friends and her family, all inspired me to think bigger and do better.

It was a short year, but a rich one, and one I will always remember.

Thank you, Edith, and goodbye.

“I live my life in widening circle
That reach out across the world.
I may not ever complete the last one,
But I give myself to it.

I circle around God, that primordial tower.
I have been circling for thousands of years,
And I still don’t know: am I a falcon,
A storm, or a great song?”

by Rainer Maria Rilke

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Filed under Edith Grodin, life lessons

OUR HOME: An Affirmation

If only we'd used the ice melt BEFORE Jon slipped and dislocated his shoulder.....

If only we’d used the ice melt BEFORE Jon slipped and dislocated his shoulder…..


It’s been a wild and crazy January, full of changes, upheavals, accidents and injury. In other words, the usual life stuff.

In the turmoil, I barely found time to write, let alone come up with something cohesive enough to post.

But a simple lesson I’d forgotten about raised it’s pretty little head last week.

And suddenly, something post-able appears.

Someone asked about affirmations. Popularized by The Artist’s Way by Julie Cameron, it’s a morning writing practice of stating what you wish for, as reality, here and now. It’s a way of making room for what you want, in the moment.

Now, I’ve been writing about life lessons and museum studies, hospice and art-making. And I’m very good at writing gratitude lists, where I remind myself what’s good about my life, instead of dwelling on the bad.

But I haven’t done affirmations for ages.

I wrote this morning about how overwhelmed and anxious I’m feeling about rearranging/repurposing/renovating our home the past few years. We’re expecting another, potentially long-term guest in a few weeks, and we’re scrambling to make room for her. I’m depressed about our clutter (okay, my clutter), in our home and in my studio. I’ve felt down and spongey. (Is that a word??) Maybe porous–everything coming in and wreaking havoc in my ruminating brain.

I started to write, “I am moving to a less cluttered…..”

    NO.

(Yes, I stopped myself in mid-word!)

Suddenly, I thought, what if I quit writing about mastering clutter?
What if I wrote about why we’re dealing with clutter?

What if I wrote an affirmation for our home?

Our home is open to people who need a home.
Our home is open to people who yearn for companionship.
Our people is open to those who need a laugh… A Yankee Swap,
a Bad Movie Night,
a pizza and beer.
Our hope is open to us aging gracefully.
Our home is open to new possibilities.
Our home is open to animals who need a home.
Our home is a haven to people in transition.
Our home provides work and income to those who need it.
Our home celebrates family, friendship, and transition.
Our home is warm and cozy and eclectic and artsy.
Our home is filled with new projects and innovation.
Our home supports both of our vocations, and our avocations.
Our home is full of good intentions, and acts of kindness.
Our home is open to reconciliation.
Our home is full of ever-changing light.
Our home can stretch or shrink.
Our home has sheltered people for over 175 years.
Our home has weathered storms and risen above floods.
Our home holds new potential, and old memories.
Our home is a blend of the old, the modern, and the ultra-modern.
Our home is gracious.
Our home amuses people, welcomes people, amazes people and confuses people.
Our home is where our kids finished their childhood, and it’s where they come back to when things get hard.
Our home is a place where there’s always room for one more. Or two. Or three.
Our home has many sofas, and warm blankets.
Our home even has a fireplace that works–twice!
Our home has many attics and a dry basement and a good roof.
Our home can handle all our needs and desires, our ever-changing pasttimes and our hopes and dreams.
Our home can change to suit the needs we have today.
Our home has a kitchen that can hold many cooks–as long as it’s just one or two at a time.
Our home is a haven.
Our home is filled with love and wistfulness,
with love and angry words,
with love and slamming doors,
with love and reconciliation,
with love and new respect,
with love and laughter,
with love and sadness,
with love and gratitude,
with love and healing.

Our home is filled with love.

So here it is, for you, today.
An affirmation.
A different way of looking at things, today.

Now, please excuse me while I drop of two more bags at the thrift shop, a couple to the garbage, and an errand to Home Depot for more closet organizers.

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BABY SHIRTS AND MAKING LEMONADE

There’s a certain kind of person that’s wonderful to be around. The kind of person who, when life hands them lemons, they make lemonade.

They possess a quality: resilience. It’s a powerful gift. Some of us don’t come by it naturally, but I’m hoping (and praying) we can practice it til it becomes as nearly natural as possible.

My inspiration for this comes from a tiny moment I was fortunate to witness, from over thirty-five years ago.

I was a preschool teacher at a little school outside Ann Arbor, Michigan, in the early ’80′s. And the person who glowed with this quality of resilience was….

…three years old.

I witnessed an interaction with this little boy, whose nickname was Tug. He was very a very sweet and happy child.

One afternoon, he was confronted by an older boy, perhaps five or so. I remember this other boy was a troubled child, with a difficult family situation. We did our best to love him and support him, but he was struggling. I overheard him talking to Tug.

He said disdainfully, “That’s a BABY shirt you’re wearing!” (The worst insult to a young child is to call them a baby.)

I was ready to step in to cushion and defuse the situation. But Tug beat me to it.

He bubbled with laughter and glee, completely disarming the older boy.

“It is! It is! It is a baby shirt!” he chortled. “I’ve had it since I was a baby!!”

He was filled with innocence and joy. He was totally oblivious to the malicious intent. And the intended hurt rolled right off him.

The other boy was completely baffled and stymied by his response. He walked away, confused and defused.

And I was dumbfounded. What a lesson to me!

The older I get, the more I know this: The people who cause me pain and distress in my life? It’s rarely about me. It’s about them.

When we are whole and healthy, the “slings and arrows” slung at us by unhappy people cannot hurt us. When we are pure of heart and full of joy, we cannot be stung by the hurtful comments of hurting people.

And when I’m feeling fragile, or insecure, or vulnerable, that’s when those barbs get through.

When I am feeling open and confident, whole and healthy? I see clearly that they are acting out of their own pain and anguish. I’m simply a willing target, if I “pick it up.”

It’s not easy to avoid, and I still fall for it.

But I still remember that moment. I still remember that precious little boy. He would be 33 this year, at least. I still think of him with amazement, with love, and with gratitude.

Wherever he is, I hope he has kept that blessed innocence and joy in his heart. He taught me, his teacher, as much as I ever could have hoped to teach him.

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EXCUSES, EXCUSES: A Lesson From Frank

I’ve been thinking about guilt and shame. Two states of mind that can really rack us up. Especially if we’re not clear on what they are. Especially if we’re not clear on what their purpose is.

I read that guilt is when we do something we shouldn’t. Or don’t do something we should. It’s not right, or fair, or kind. It doesn’t fit our idea of who we are, or who we want to be.

Guilt, in a good context, is an alarm, an “intruder alert”, that our lizard brain is running the show.

Shame, on the other hand, is feeling there is something wrong with ourselves. It’s the feeling that we are a bad person, not worthy of anything good. We don’t deserve forgiveness, success, respect or love.

Shame has no good context. It is truly destructive, because we feel incapable of making better choices.

I’m not going there with shame today. Too big!

But I’ve learned a big lesson about guilt.

I injured my back awhile back. In desperation, I sought out all kinds of alternative therapies, including the services of a local chiropractor, Frank Abbate.

Frank and I talked as he worked. He’s a martial artist so we often talked about principles and personal integrity. One memorable discussion centered on excuses.

One of his pet peeves is when people are late. Not the “late” thing itself. But the excuses people offer up.

I cringed a little, because I’m often running late. I know that being late can imply I don’t respect the wait-ee’s time. Or that I’m being unprofessional. Both are not who I want to be.

I was also curious. Why did the excuses bother him? Sometimes the things that make us late are beyond our control. (Though I’ll admit here, on the record, that I often fall victim to the creative person’s sense of time as fluid and elastic, stretchy enough to accommodate my belief I can really squish an hour’s worth of tasks into 27 minutes….)

Frank said, “If you’re late, you’re late. I’ll take the next person in line, that’s all. Or whatever….”

But, he added, “When you offer me your excuses, you’re really trying to put the load on me. And I refuse to pick that up.

Frank is saying an excuse is a justification for what we’ve done. When we try to justify our actions, we are actually trying to avoid guilt. And since we’re trying to avoid our responsibility–to show up on time–we are ever-so-gently sort of resting it on Frank.

“Nothin’ doing’”, he said. “Just apologize, and try not to do it again.”

It was such a new concept to me, we spent the entire session talking about it.

And of course, I realized he was right. Whether I had a good reason or not, I’m responsible. Not him.

When we mess up, and create a problem for someone else, the honorable thing is to own that.

Maybe the traffic was terrible. (Could I have left a few minutes earlier, just to be safe?)

Maybe someone else kept ME waiting. (Could I have phoned Frank and given him the option of rescheduling me?)

Maybe my car wouldn’t start. (Could I have noticed the battery was problematic, and been proactive about replacing it?)

Even with a good reason (an emergency situation, a last-minute deadline, bad weather), it’s not Frank’s problem. It’s mine.

And by offering excuses, I’m subtly trying to involve him in my problem. To let myself off the hook.

And he wants no part of it.

“I’m not mad, I’m not resentful,” he said. “Stuff happens. I just don’t want it on my plate.”

Now, at first glance, this seems like small potatoes. Late to an appointment? Pfhhht! Big deal!

But carried to an extreme, we find people who habitually blame others for their own shortcomings.

If I don’t put the effort into doing my marketing, if I don’t set aside enough time to clean my workspace for an open studio, if I don’t take the time to add new work to my online shop, who’s to blame for that? Not some mythical set of circumstances. Me.

Maybe it was a bad year. Maybe there wasn’t enough time. But the reality is, I made a choice. I set up other things as a priority–and rightly so.

But that decision was mine.

It gets worse. And you’ve seen it for yourself, among your peers, in the news.

Sent that fair application in a month late? Then blame the producer, saying they’re money-grubbing for charging the late fee? Yeah, right.

You overcharged a client, or cheated them out of money? Then say it’s because society doesn’t respect your line of work enough to allow you to make more money? Yeah, right.

You cheated on your spouse, and then say it’s because they aren’t fun to be around anymore? Yeah, right.

I’ve been making a better effort not to offer excuses anymore. (And boy, do I have really, really, really good excuses this past year.) It’s just not who I want to be.

It’s hard, but it’s…rewarding.

It feels a little bit like being a grown-up.

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HOW TO VISIT SOMEONE IN A NURSING HOME Part 2

I told you I’d forgotten something! More tips on how to make your visits richer.

TALK STRONGER, NOT LOUDER

If the person you’re visiting is hard-of-hearing, try this simple trick: Get closer! Move so you can speak directly into their ear. Often this is all they need, and you may not need to speak any louder.

If you do have to speak louder, go up in increments. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen visitors and staff go from normal voice to YELLING. It always startles the client (and me!) so much, they nearly jump out of bed.

SING

Or hum, or bring a CD of their favorite music. This is especially nice if someone is non-verbal. Our brains are hardwired for music (and art, by the way.) If you don’t believe in miracles, test yourself by watching this short clip of an elderly man restored to himself through the power of music.

Don’t be afraid to be silly. One client was only conscious a few minutes each day, and spent most of her time semi-conscious or asleep. I’m not good with remembering lyrics, so I sang the only song I could think of: Come Away With Me, Lucille, in My Merry Oldsmobile. In my defense, I was in a lot of gay ’90′s (that’s 1890′s!) musical revues in high school, and I love the word “automo-bubbling”….

Janey (not her real name) roused, opened one eye and glared at me. “Just how old do you think I am?!” she asked indignantly.

TURN OFF THE TV

I don’t think I need to explain this one. You think the electronic babysitter is just used on kids?!

It’s especially heartbreaking to see how deeply affected clients are by having non-stop soap operas blasting all day. Some of the actually incorporate the dialogue into their dreams and memories. One day a poor gentlemen told me that people were angry at him, and yelling. He’d confused the the evil plots and cruel machinations of a daytime soap with real life.

PICTURES ARE WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS

If you have pictures of you and your friend together, bring ‘em! Or ask them about the photographs they have on display. Usually these are ones they cherish and brought with them, or they are important photos their other friends and family have brought. Photos can be powerfully evocative.

NO GUESSING GAMES

Even people with plenty of cognitive aptitude can get confused. Poor eyesight, compromised hearing, being roused from sleep….Have mercy! Good Lord, no one likes it when a stranger turns up at a party and says, “Do you know who I am?” or “Do you remember me?”

Don’t ask them to guess who you are–tell them! “Hello, Frannie, my name is Luann. I’m Mary’s oldest daughter, the one who lives in New Hampshire.” Or, “Hello, Mrs. Brown, I’m Bill Meyers. I was your student when you taught second grade at Houghton Elementary School. I’m the boy who brought a snake for show-and-tell, and it got loose in the classroom!” Trust me, she’ll remember you.

For more great suggestions, visit JazznJewelry’s excellent comment to my previous post.

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HOW TO VISIT A SOMEONE WHO’S IN A NURSING HOME Part 1

Recently I accompanied my mom to visit two of her good friends in a nursing home, one of whom I wrote about yesterday.

I could tell Mom felt a little awkward. One woman was napping in her chair. “Don’t wake her!” mom exclaimed. (Okay, whispered. Exclaiming would have awakened her fried.) She wanted to leave immediately. Unfortunately, Robin sat on her bed and set off an alarm. Erna awakened, and fortunately, was happy to see us.

At first, with both there was a lot of cheerful chatter. Mostly the old stories told and retold. When the stories ran out, Mom wanted to leave.

I have vivid memories of my dad doing the same, years and years ago. There was an older woman, who grew up in Scotland, who worked for my dad in our family restaurant. She retired; soon after, she was confined to a wheelchair and eventually moved into a nursing home. She had no family here in the U.S. except for her son, who rarely visited her. I remember “making the rounds” every Sunday after church–out to the nursing home in the country to visit Bessie, back to town to visit my grandparents, and then maybe back to the “store” for an ice cream cone.

Bessie adored my father, and was always happy to see us. Dad would chat about ordinary things–the restaurant, our doings and comings and goings. I remember him bringing her flowers from our garden.

But sometimes, especially near the end of our visit, she would cry and beg Dad to get her out of there. As time went on, and she became more frail, this happened more and more, until every parting drew tears.

I remember standing there, embarrassed, wordless, having no idea what to do. I would look at my Dad. What would he do? How would he handle this?

Well, my dad would get embarrassed, too. He would weakly try to reassure her that everything was alright, and we’d all make a fast dash for the door.

In my later years, I pretty much kept up the family tradition. I felt awkward visiting folks in such places, even hospitals. I would agonize over what to bring. Flowers? Candy? Can they have candy?? A book? Maybe they’ve already read it…. I would fill the room with cheerful chatting, clumsily reassure them when things go tearful, and beat a hasty retreat.

I’m still not the soul of compassion, but I try to do better now. Because I know better.

The old rules of how to behave are gone. The circumstances have changed, and so must our patterns.

I try to see what is needed, and what is wanted. I listen. I observe. I touch.

People who have been in such places a long time have different needs. No, I take that back–they have the same needs. But we have to fill them differently.

STOP

Relax and be present.

It’s okay to be with them as they sleep. Sleep is important, yes. Especially near the end of life, deep work takes place during sleep. And it’s still rude to awaken someone suddenly, especially with shaking and loud voices. But perhaps you can sit quietly by them, gently taking their hand. Many times they will sense your presence, and awaken gently. If not, be assured they still sense you on some deep level. Even 20 minutes simply sitting quietly, and holding their hand, can be deeply reassuring.

However, don’t stare at them. Waking up to someone watching you sleep can be icky. Sometimes I just take those moments to think, or daydream. But it’s okay to bring a book if it’s hard to sit quietly.

TOUCH

Taking their hand can seem awkward and forward. When have we ever held hands with our friends, or our family, after we’re five? But people need the touch of human hands, now more than ever. It may be years since someone has hugged them, or stroked their hair, or simply held their hand.

No need to envelop them in a bear hug! I start by nonchalantly taking up their hand and cupping it gently. If someone does not want to be touched, then they will withdraw their hand. But if they welcome it, they will not. They may even clasp your hand tighter.

My friend Bonnie Blandford taught me the “hospice hug“. Instead of our quick little social hugs, it’s simply a longer hug where you let the other person choose when to stop. In fact, if they pull back after a few seconds out of habit, try holding gently for another few seconds. You’ll be surprised how many people will relax and hang on for dear life. I did this with a friend recently who had suffered a dreadful loss. When she realized she could have a long hug, she melted into my arms, and began to sob. Yep, some guys in the group got nervous, and began to make jokes about lesbians. I ignored them all. My friend had lost a new grandchild. She needed a deep hug.

LISTEN

Sometimes people want to be entertained with light chatter and news of the outside world. But sometimes they are scared, or anxious, or lonely. They yearn for richer connection. If they are scared, don’t pooh-pooh their fears. What are they afraid of? What’s making them anxious? You don’t need to fix their problems. But we all appreciate someone who listens to them!

By the way, Erna had trouble speaking and forming words. My mom assumed she was “out of it.” By sitting closer and listening carefully, it became obvious that Erna was actually quite aware and responding appropriately to everything we said. She just needed more time to respond.

STAY

I’m not so nervous about people crying now. I just keep the Kleenix coming until they’re done.

OBSERVE

As they talk with you, listen deeply. Watch “the light”. Note where they are making light of something that actually pains them. Observe the topics that make them light up with joy. For one of Mom’s friends, it was a passing comment about our dogs. She asked, “What kind of dog?” We told her. I asked her if she’d ever had a dog. Her face lit up. “Oh, yes!” She told us several stories, and then got to the one that was painful–the family dog hit by a car, and how terrible it was. The pain, the suffering, the family’s anguish. All these years later, and it was still hard. On impulse, I told her a quick version of the delightful movie, Dean Spanley*. A dog who is killed suddenly, describes it as something he didn’t understand. His former master asks if he suffered. No…no…. There was no pain. It was time to go home. How did he get there? He simply turned towards home, and went there. When asked how he knew where home was, he said, “One just knows. So you turn that way, and go there.” Erna smiled sweetly and sighed.

BE A WITNESS

Tell them about the gifts they’ve given you–the gift of their friendship, their kindnesses, their thoughtfulness. If they were feisty friends, tell them how much you admire their courage to be themselves. Though I didn’t know either woman, I knew my mother treasured their friendships, and said so. To Frannie, who changed her dress on her daughter’s wedding day, I said, “That was such a gift you gave your daughter!”

Ask questions, especially if you don’t know them well. Don’t interrogate–it’s not a fact-finding mission. Just show interest in what they have to say, how they lived their lives, what gives them joy. When they tell you hard things, say, “That must have been hard” and let them tell you more. When they tell you beautiful things, ask them what their favorite part was. Let them tell their stories.

READ

When I do hospice visits, I take books. I take one for me to read to myself and one to read aloud–a book of poetry, or short stories, or novels where individual chapters can stand alone. If the person is religious or spiritual, I’ll bring a book of prayers or blessings. I’ve found that we never lose the desire to be read to, provided the person is up for it. It’s a way to take a break from conversation, a way for them to simply listen, even a way to ease them into sleep. My daughter loves the scene in the movie WIT, where the main character (who is dying) accepts her old teacher’s offer to read to her. John Donne gets voted down, but it turns out the children’s book The Runaway Bunny is beautifully appropriate.

FORGIVE YOURSELF

It’s okay to be thankful it’s not you lying there in the nursing home. They know you feel that way. And it’s okay. You’re not a bad person. Just human. And they know that, too.

There’s more, but I forgot.

This is just quick overview of how to make such visits easier, deeper and fun. I would LOVE to hear your suggestions, too.

How did I get so smart? Listening to my daughter speak of her experiences working in such institutions–nursing homes, assisted living units, rehab wards. And my hospice training, which was rich with insights and practical advice.

*Dean Spanley is my new favorite movie. It starts slow and quiet, fueled by odd and cantankerous British humor, with the most incredibly beautiful and poignant ending. WATCH IT TO THE END!! I fell asleep halfway through the first time I watched it. Fortunately, I made myself watch it again. STAY AWAKE, or watch it twice, and I think you’ll find yourself deeply touched by its message. If you love dogs, you’ll find it triply delightful. But you don’t have to be an animal lover to appreciate its message.

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WHEN BEING A SAINT IS JUST TOO DAMN HARD

I just got back from a quick trip back to my hometown in Gladwin, Michigan. There were difficult family matters to discuss. It was one of those big ol’ hard discussions no one wants to have, but it went well and there is peace in my heart.

While I was there, I visited one of my mother’s oldest friends in a rehabilitation unit at our local hospital. (“Rehab” means she might be able to return home after her stay.)

It was our first meeting. Mom and Franny (not her real name) became friends when Mom started teaching middle school, after I’d already left home for college, over forty years ago. I’ve heard many wonderful stories about her over the years, and was delighted to finally see her in person.

Many, many interesting things happened during this little get-together, all of them great subjects for elder care and hospice articles.

But today I’m going to write about why being a saint is just too damn hard. And why we should…okay, could…just aim just a little lower. (Me trying not to tell you what to do.)

My mom’s favorite story about Franny involves Franny’s divorce after thirty years of marriage, her husband remarrying a younger woman, and her daughter’s wedding soon after.

Franny bought two new dresses for the wedding: A mother-of-the-bride dress for the wedding and another for the reception. She wore the first dress, and then switched to the second for the reception.

But when she got to the reception, New Wife No. 2 was wearing the same dress.

Franny went back to the dressing room and switched back to her other dress.

Mom has told this story many times, and she retold it several times while we visited Franny. Every telling ends the same way: “I tell her, “Franny, you are too good to be on this earth. You’re a saint! When you die, you’re going straight up to heaven!” (Always accompanied by a sweep of her arm and a dramatic point toward the sky.

But Franny didn’t nod her head or respond in any way. She’s obviously heard this from Mom many times, too.

I was sitting by her side, holding her hand. I said, gently, “You sound like a woman who picks her battles.” She nodded, but didn’t say anything. So that wasn’t all it was.

I said, “You chose to let your daughter have her perfect day on her wedding.”

And Franny brightened and nodded, and smiled.

I don’t know how to describe this lightening of the spirit. But when we speak, or hear, our truth, there is a subtle transformation that is beautiful. And this was Franny’s truth. Not the saintliness. Not the logical.

It’s about a tiny choice made with love.

Franny is not comfortable with being called a saint. She is not a wealthy person–a second dress for the wedding was not a small expense for her. It must have been so hard to be at her daughter’s wedding, watching her say vows that Franny and her own husband had taken so many years before. After a (supposedly) good marriage of thirty years, her husband chose to say those vows with another woman, who was sharing this important day with her. And she had to stand alone.

Of course she was angry! And indignant, confused. Of course she felt sadness, and regret, and who knows what else.

But she had the power of her choice.

She could choose to create a scene. She could choose to make a statement by not changing. After all, Franny was the mother of the bride. No one would blame her if she stuck to her guns and wore that dress with her head held high.

But she knew if she did, it would be her daughter who would suffer the most.

And she chose to change her dress. She made a choice, a tiny choice, a choice bathed in love.

When we call people ‘saints’, we think we’re talking about people who don’t feel those bad emotions. They are just naturally good. It’s easy for them. It’s so very very hard for us. Practically impossible, in fact, for us to rise above our human nature, our lizard brain. We just can’t be saints.

And so we let other people be saints. Because it’s just too hard, and we know we would fail.

What Franny did was different.

She thought it all through.

Her daughter’s happiness was in her hands for one short moment.

She could choose: Whose need would she serve?

And then she made a tiny, gracious choice.

We don’t have to be perfect. We don’t have to be good. We don’t have to even try to be a saint.

We can simply try to make a tiny, gracious choice, with love.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

from Dream Work by Mary Oliver
published by Atlantic Monthly Press
© Mary Oliver

You can hear Mary Oliver reading this, and two other poems here If you’re short of time, start at 1:05. But if you have a few moments, “Tom Dance’s Gift of a White Bark Pinecone” is pretty wonderful, too.

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EVEN GOOD CHANGE SUCKS

If I had to choose one word that describes the last year of my life, it would be “change”.

At first I thought it was “transition”. My daughter transitioning from “single” to “engaged” and then “endangered” and now “safe.” Even “happy”. My marriage transitioning from “good” to “awful” to “problematic” to….well, “transitioning”. With glimmers of “hope” and “even better”. (I hate picking just one word.) My son from “independent” to “nearly died” and now “healing”. Oh, and even better, “OMG, has a girlfriend”. (See? I needed four words to say that.) My health transitioned from “pain” to “painfree”. My art/business from “stalled” to “energized”, my cash flow from “steady” to “nada”, but now “increasing”.

But then I realized transition is just another word for “change”. And frankly, change sucks.

Change is hard. Even when good things come of it, it’s still hard. You just get things figured out, you just find a way to get through life smoothly, everything is in its place and that’s that. And then the applecart gets upset. And you have to start all over again.

A reader posted this comment on my blog a few days ago:

I have always been fascinated by loss and “the breakdown before the breakthrough.” as it is called in certain circles.

The breakdown before the breakthrough…. That just about sums it up.

It seems I still have to learn these same lessons over and over again. So many times, the things that seem awful, or stupid, or thoughtless, are still based on good intentions. We have to learn not to assume, but to check out our assumptions.

Sometimes the things that seem problematic, turn out to be the best possible solution after all.

Sometimes, that solution is right under your nose. You just can’t see it til you’ve run through all the other possibilities. And you run through all those possibilities, considering this one, objecting to that one, despairing and lost, until your brain finally goes, “Oh. OH! Yeah, that’ll work!” And sometimes it takes a second person (oddly, who’s also the person you’re arguing with) to see the simple solution.

Sometimes you have to clear the deck (or it gets cleared FOR you) in order for something else, something better, something wonderful to get through.

Changes in marriage suck. But marriages aren’t static. They evolve. They grow. they change. Sometimes things get hard. But sometimes, they get easier, too.

Changing how many dogs are in the house is hard. The idea of managing four dogs for a few weeks seemed insurmountable. And now we find four dogs are actually easier to deal with than just one bored dog. (He’s way too busy to chew our furniture this week!)

Sometimes we lose something we think we can’t live without. And if we’re lucky, we find something even better to replace it.

So I’m sitting here writing this on a Friday morning. Today looked so awful from yesterday’s viewpoint.

And it looks so different now.

Yep. Someday I’ll be able to handle change a little bit better (I hope.) And life will truly be just a dream.

But in the meantime, I’m so grateful I have a way to think these things through–by writing in my journal. By writing a blog post. By arguing with a man who loves me better than anyone has ever loved me. Even if he does suck at negotiating sometimes.

Because he’s learning to deal with change, too, right along with me.

Change. It sucks. But then, the really good things in life are always worth a little extra effort. Or even a lot.

So often, the breakdown is never something we would willingly choose.

But the breakthrough is the blessedly shiny reward that makes it all bearable in the end.

From two dogs….

….to four! (But only for awhile.)

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HOW TO HAVE A PERFECT WEDDING AND A GREAT MARRIAGE

I’m reading TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS by Chery Strayed, aka Sugar, the anonymous online advice columnist at The Rumpus website.

I read about it in OPRAH Magazine, and something about the article resonated. I bought a copy. When it arrived, I started reading it.

Well, dear readers, it’s such an amazingly wonderful book, I was up til 3 a.m. reading it.

Okay, okay, truth in advertising–I couldn’t sleep last night, and it’s the book I reached for to read myself back to sleep.

There are many lovely life lessons in there, including a few to help me through the situation that kept me up til 3 a.m. But the one I’m thinking about today is the column she wrote to an anxious, anguished, angry bride-to-be.

The last few days I’ve been feeling like I’m not “handling things right”. There’s been a lot of anger and confusion, there is resentment at being manipulated by someone I’m trying to help, there is the thing I fall into from time to time about trying to keep everybody happy, made worse by me operating on my idea of what will make people happy. (You think I’d know by now….!!)

But as I read Sugar’s advice to the bride, I realized I’ve done at least one thing absolutely right in my life.

My wedding.

My mom, with only one daughter’s wedding planning under her belt (she and my dad now have staged six weddings at last count), offered to host and pay for the wedding, if it were a modestly-priced one. “That’s what I want!” I exclaimed. I’d moved away from home twelve years before, but we decided Gladwin, my hometown, was the perfect location.

My dad went into lawn management overdrive. He always has beautiful flowerbeds and a lovely yard, but he went to great lengths to make everything perfect for our outdoor wedding.

The minister at my childhood church refused to marry us, and refused to let us use the church my sister was married in. (I’d moved away long before he came to preside there, so I didn’t “belong there” anymore.) “No worries,” I said. Instead, we would get married in my parent’s back yard. My mom found out we could be married by the mayor of Gladwin. “That’s so cool!” I exclaimed. We asked, and he said yes, he’d do it. It was the first marriage ceremony he’d ever performed. He was elated, especially when we invited his wife, too.

When my mom asked me who we should invite of all my relatives and hometown friends, I thought for a moment and then said, “Anyone who would be happy to come to my wedding.” That actually worked out really well.

When asked about the flowers, I chose the flowers I found in Jon’s apartment the first time I visited him there. He’d picked orange daylilies from someone’s garden. (He didn’t know at the time that people do not plant flowers so other people could pick them. I kid you not.) I’d picked my own bunch, from a ditch by the roadside out in the country, while on a drive with friends. We marveled that we’d both picked the same flowers on the same day. I thought it was sweet he’d picked (admittedly illegally) flowers for me. So we decided that’s what we’d have for my bouquet, corsages and boutonnieres. Most florists don’t stock daylilies, so I picked Stargazer lilies instead.

When asked about the food, I said, “Let’s keep it simple.” Mom ordered hors d’ oeuvres, and fresh strawberries, and a wonderful wedding cake. I was so busy mingling and talking with our guests, I never got to eat anything. Except yummy wedding cake, so I was happy. (I LOVE wedding cake.)

When asked about the colors, I named my (at the time) favorite color, pink. When Mom found out there were no pink linens to be rented, I said, “What colors DO they have?” Well, there was white, and…..well, just white. (My hometown was very small, with one caterer and one rental source.) “Okay,” I said. “White it is.” When overwhelmed with the wedding cake choices, I chose white cake with white frosting, and fresh flowers for the cake’s decoration.

Flowers for the reception tables? I went out into the fields surrounding my old home and gathered wildflowers. They only lasted the day, but that’s all we needed. They were beautiful.

The weather had been cold and rainy right up to the day of the wedding. One hour before the ceremony, the clouds dispersed and the sun broke through. It was a bearable 68 degrees and sunny right up to the end of the whole shebang. Then the clouds regathered, the warm sun disappeared again, and the drizzle resumed.

We splurged and ordered a case of champagne, which in the end provided most of the wedding entertainment. My two youngest sibs were in charge of opening the bottles. They took turns exuberantly popping the corks and watching them fly right over the roof of the house. Several men in the family “went to see the new tractor mower” in the garage, (which to this day is man-code for “Let’s go drink some champagne!”) right before the ceremony. Jon’s memories after this point are rather hazy.

My dress was an off-the-rack white summery prairie dress (in my defense, it was trendy at the time) I’d bought on sale at a regular clothing store. And a white hat.

I had no bridesmaids, no maid-of-honor, no grooms or best man. It was impossible to choose among so many candidates without hurting someone’s feelings, and I also didn’t want to put anyone through that expense. (Let me tell you about my bridesmaid’s dress collection. The dresses I bought, when times were hard, that every bride assured me could be worn again as “an ordinary dress-up dress.” HAH! I’m just going to say two little words: Hoop. Skirt.) Instead, we had two of our best friends be the legal witnesses on the paperwork.

I lost my wedding license the day before the wedding. One sister and I were very much on the outs at the time, and (I can hardly believe I’m writing this) I suspected her of hiding it. By some tiny miracle of self-restraint, I managed to keep my mouth shut and not voice this opinion. A dear friend who was attending from the same far-off city Jon and I lived in, managed to get a legal copy and brought it up the day of the event. A few days later, I found the lost license right where I’d put it–on top of a file box. It had fallen in and “filed” itself. And a wedding or two later, that same sister extended the hand of reconciliation to me, and I took it, and we have not had an “out” ever since. And I am so grateful that something in my heart, on that day before my wedding, overrode my pitiful lizard brain and I kept my mouth SHUT.

I was very nice to my new mother-in-law, even though she was behaving very oddly throughout the marriage ceremony. She was not a fan, let’s leave it at that. But again, something stomped my lizard brain long enough for me to realize I was surrounded by love, more than enough love, to overlook and forgive anything and everything that day.

We hired the son of a family friend to play guitar for the ceremony and reception. He got sick right after the wedding and left. We were having too much fun by then to miss him much.

My favorite teacher from high school read a poem for us.

My only regret is that we have very few nice photographs from the wedding, which were taken by someone who offered to take pictures for free–a sister, I think. But I’m also glad we were spared the endless line-ups and staged assemblies that usually hold up the reception for hours. And to be fair, there WAS no local professional photographer available. If there had been someone like my good friend Roma Dee to photograph my wedding, I know there would be more amazing, intimate yet unstaged moments captured. (If I have have to go through a nerve-wracking, soul-strapping event that needs to be photographed, I pray I have Roma at my side. She is so warm and chill–the good kind of chill–at the same time. She is intuitive, grounded, sane.) But I have enough images to spark many good memories.

I do know that an hour after the ceremony, Jon decided to go for a swim in my parents’ pool, which we all still laugh about. He doesn’t remember much about the rest of the day. Too overwhelmed, and too many visits to the tractor mower. He remembers thinking it might have been a little too chilly for a swim… I remember thinking how buff he looked in his swimsuit.

I do know that the casual, stress-free, easy-going wedding we had, set the tone for the next four weddings in our family. The rest of us all were married in my parents’ backyard, too, and they were all delightful, low-key events. My all-time favorite photo from those is one of Jon, after visiting the mower in the garage a few too many times, sitting in front of a doghouse with my folks’ dog Cammie, offering her a sip from his glass of champagne.

I laughed all the way through Sugar’s response to the racked-up, anguished bride-to-be about her own mishap-laden, chaotic, wonderful wedding full of what’s really important about a wedding–friends, family, your community watching you and your partner promise to make a go of this complicated, amazing, scary and joyful thing called “marriage”.

I cherish her last words:

….We all get lost in the minutiae, but don’t lose this day…..Let your wedding be a wonder. Let it be one hell of a good time. Let it be what you can’t yet imagine and wouldn’t orchestrate even if you could. Remember why it is you’ve gone to so much trouble…. You’re getting married. There’s a day ahead that’s a shimmering slice of your mysterious destiny. All you’ve got to do is show up.

Okay, I know there’s more than “one thing” I’ve done right in my life (there I still wish there were many, many more.) But I know that one thing I did right, for sure, was our wedding.

Oh, and June 26 was our 30th anniversary.

So what’s the secret to a good marriage?

1) Marrying the right man for the right reasons.
2) Through thick and thin, and through the very, very thin, realizing I would marry him all over again in a heartbeat.
3) There’s a lot of luck involved.
4) Know that it’s not a “thing”, it’s always, always a work in progress.
5) When you need help to keep the work-in-progress working, get help.
6) Remember the wisest thing my husband ever said about our relationship: One day, after listening to a friend share how she and her husband were trying to save their marriage by taking up tennis so there was one thing they could do together, and working myself into a fever pitch about how little he and I had in common, and how few things we did together, and worrying that it meant our marriage was shaky, he commented, “But we’ve never actually done lots of things together. We just like to be together.”

Recognize the times when being is more important than doing.

Years later, my dad still rues the fact that our special day fell during a late, cold, rainy spring. “None of the flower beds I planted were blooming yet!” he says.

“I don’t remember that,” I tell him. “The only flowers I remember are my pink lilies in my wedding bouquet, and the wildflowers I picked that morning. All I remember is how perfect everything was that day…..”

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THE JOURNEY

Don’t forget to pack joy when you travel or do a show–my latest article at Fine Art Views.

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LESSONS LEARNED FROM KNEE SURGERY

Here’s my latest article from the August issue of The Crafts Report.

Please send rum.

If you want to read it without a picture of my knee, here it is:

WHY IS THE RUM ALWAYS GONE? Life Lessons Learned from Knee Surgery

By the time you read this, I will may be dancing inching gingerly down the streets of Keene to a Zumba band, double-time the wheeze of a small kazoo. But in my timeline, I’m one week out from knee replacement surgery. I know, that’s just not funny. I’ll try to make it up to you.

My daughter phoned me while was at the hospital. I told her about a run-in I’d had with a very grumpy ok, a tired and probably underpaid grumpy night employee. (Sorry, I fought the lizard brain and the lizard brain won.)

Robin stopped me, exclaiming, “MOM!! Never complain about the hospital staff while you’re still in the hospital!!”

Wow, right! Never complain about the people you depend on to help you to the bathroom. Wait until you’re out of striking distance, then make fun of them. Um. Okay, so what else did I learn from my stay?

The next lesson, learned painfully from an over-zealous physical therapist, was, if what you’re doing hurts enough to make you cry, stop doing it. Yes, good results are worth the effort, and it takes diligence to do the things that are good for you. But if it hurts way way WAY too much, seek a second opinion.

Think of all the strategies for success we try, to build our own craft biz. Hard work, dedication, persistence. Sometimes our challenges are rewarded. But some are harsh, destructive, unnecessary or downright mortifying. (Sometimes jury processes and art critiques turn into free-for-alls and get scary.) There is no one-size-fits-all recipe for success. Know your limits, and respect them.

On the other hand, don’t sell yourself short. The encounter with said grumpy person started with an argument about a mysterious cut on my lip, which she insisted was a disgusting cold sore, and I insisted was a mysterious little cut on my lip. (Later another attendant reassured me it was probably from the breathing tube inserted during surgery.)

Determined to win the grump over with good will (my defense? I was on drugs, remember?) I asked her about her work. She told me, then she asked about mine. I told her I was a craftsperson. She asked what my work was like, so gave her my elevator speech (fabric/collage/ prehistoric artifacts/etc.). Instead of the interest that usually sparks, she turned to me and exclaimed incredulously, “Who in New Hampshire would ever buying anything like that??!”

She caught me so off-guard, I laughed out loud. Did she think I used plastic red and green dinosaurs? I dunno.

So the little lesson was, never argue with a grump, especially if you can’t get away fast.

But I also remembered, just in time, my big lesson: Believe in yourself.

When I first started out years ago, I asked myself that very question every single day: Who will ever buy this?? Am I crazy??

It was a guaranteed work-stopping, creativity-stunting, happiness-busting question to ask myself. It never failed to bring me down.

The best thing I ever did?

I learned to stop asking it.

Believe in your vision. Let your work find its own audience. Make the best work you can do, and then make it better—so when success does find you, it will find you at your very shiny best.

Let the nay-sayers find someone else to pick on. Try, try to refrain from tripping them as they pass you by.

So why is the rum always gone? Because a) you can’t have rum while you’re on pain-killers (drat!) and b) knowing you were sofa-ridden and couldn’t run after them, everyone else drank it already.

But again, by the time you read this, pain killers will be history. So send me your rum!

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THE POWER OF NOW

This is a column I wrote for The Crafts Report, way back in 2010. (I remember it well….it was…ah…the year before 2011.) I just came across it, looking for something else, which, by the way, I haven’t found yet. (That’s how my life works, people. Embrace the serendipity.) But it make me laugh again, and maybe you will, too.

I recently picked up a used copy of Ekhart Tolle’s THE POWER OF NOW at a local thrift shop. It’s a well-loved, well-read copy–the previous owner underlined and highlighted almost every single page. I especially loved the “!!!” and “YES!!” and “THIS IS IMP.!!” written in the margins. Just in case I missed what was going on.

I don’t want to make fun of that person nor the book though. It really does have some thoughtful things to say. It’s about being “in the moment”—not reliving a painful past, nor anticipating the future at the expense of the “now.” It takes a lot of practice, though. Otherwise, you end up watching a clock and saying things like, “NOW….it’s 10:30:24.” “NOW….it’s 10:30:31.”

On this particular day, I’d worked hard in the studio. I’d promised two of my galleries I’d restock them quickly, as they’d sold a lot of my work lately. A LOT of my work. (Whoo hoo!)

I worked on a popular new series of jewelry, with a more organic, simpler designs. It seems to appeal to people who like my aesthetic, but want something more “neutral” than powerful animal totemic work. (What?? You don’t want a giant ivory bear hanging around your neck when you go to the supermarket??) (I can joke about my work, but you can’t, okay?)

I’d been focused and busy all day, “in the zone”, moving easily from one production task to another.

Later that evening I was dashing around town to finish up some stuff so I could relax “later”. You’d think by now I’d know that “later” rarely comes.

The last errand took me across town and back. On the way home, I thought maybe I could practice being “in the moment” in my normal life, too.

So instead of wishing I could hit all the green lights, or cursing the idiot who pulled out in front of me at the rotary, I tried to slow my breathing down. Breath…… In. Pause. Out.

I relaxed and observed what was going on right now.

“I’m driving the car,” I thought. It felt like flying. That was neat.

My knee ached a little. “My knee hurts,” I thought. But that was a good thing. It meant I’d gone for a long, vigorous walk with our dog Tuck, playing “monster chasing dog” and “kick the pine cone” and “grab the stick and pull” games. (Dog training tip: A tired dog is a well-behaved dog.)

“We have a dog!” I thought. Tuck, sitting in the back seat, chose that moment to stick his head forward and nestle it gently next to mine. Sweet. Except for the doggy breath. I’m still not used to that.

“I’m cold,” I thought. Not painfully cold, just enough to feel it. Refreshing.

“I’m on my way home to my family.” That felt good, too.

I drove through the town square. “This is a pretty town,” I thought. Keene does have a really nice downtown. This is where our kids grew up. No matter where we end up, it will always hold a special place in our heart.

“It’s a beautiful evening,” I thought.

And then I thought, “I’m driving through a cloud of soap bubbles. And I was.

Someone in an apartment above had opened a window and blown soap bubbles to drift down to the street below.

It was wonderful. Quite a lovely moment.

Then I saw a very flat, very dead squirrel, and that moment was done.

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LEARNING TO LOVE YOUR TO-DO LIST

My to-do list: It's not what you think it is!

Your to-do list is really a travel brochure.

My plate is loaded. Full up. Spilling over.

I have so many projects in the air, I’ve been suffering major brain buzz. I hardly even know where to start.

Now, life coach and writer Martha Beck has a great article on how to unhook yourself from a to-do list. I think she actually suggests scheduling “empty time” in there.

And I know my life is so much more than a to-do list. One of her clients, on her deathbed, jokingly said, “At least this is one more thing I can cross off my to-do list!”

But I needed something more. Something that felt more like my whole approach to life. And this morning, I found it.

I was writing my morning pages–the “brain data dump” I try to do every morning. Sure enough, “more things I have to do” kept popping up as I wrote, and I dutifully added them to today’s ever-growing list. It’s already so long, I couldn’t possible complete the tasks in a week, let alone a day.

With a big sigh, I started to prioritize my tasks. What could wait? Which ones were more important? Which IS more important–the ones about my family? The ones about the latest foster puppy? The new open studio tour I’m working on? Cleaning my studio so I can HAVE an open studio? What about my upcoming surgery? Should I focus on getting healthy? What about my phone date with Lyedie this afternoon? (You can read more about integral coach Lyedie Lydecker here and read my article about her here.

Ah. Lyedie. What was that she said about time?

It’s not about priorities. It’s not even about balance–balancing family time with art time, friend time with exercise, pet care with health care.

It’s about awareness, and intention, and engagement.

For me, it’s about crafting a whole life. Seeing, learning, participating, growing. Not sideways(sigh), but inside-ways.

That’s when it hit me. What my to-do list really is.

It’s a travel guide for my life.

It’s not an AAA road map. It’s a list of possibilities.

Priority be damned.

Some of these tasks aren’t high priority. But they also won’t take much time or effort. Or I can do them on my way to another, “higher priority” task.

Some are totally unimportant. But I like doing them. They look like work, but they are actually fun.

Even some of the most important ones aren’t necessarily time-sensitive. They’re big, but they can wait. And sometimes, they can’t happen until other smaller, simpler steps are taken.

But what really blew me away today was thinking about the unimportant, quick, not fun, actually dreaded tasks on my list from a week ago.

It involved picking something up from a person I’ve had totally negative encounters with. This person is sarcastic and resentful, in a job they hate and not getting the recognition they feel they deserve.

I thoroughly dreaded the pick-up, and had to force myself to do it. Actually, I did it first because I wanted to get it over with.

I decided to be my higher self for just a few minutes. I said I was sorry for the circumstances behind their donation.

And the walls of anger came tumbling down.

I’m sorry to be so circumspect, but want to protect their privacy. Let’s just say that I saw another side to this person, a totally different aspect of their life that blew me away. They opened up to me, sharing their sadness and joy, their dreams and hopes.

It turns out I was able to speak to that in a way that encouraged and supported them. I gave them the small thank-you gift I’d prepared, and they were delighted and grateful.

Now, the point here isn’t that all people (okay, almost all people) have an inner beauty, if only we knew where to look.

The point is, this was an item on my to-do list I’d dreaded. And it was actually a door into something powerful and profound.

There was a connection, a reconciliation, a new way to interact with this person in the future.

And it all came from a place I never could have predicted.

Now I’m sitting here with that same to-do list.

It looks different. It doesn’t seem to fill me with as much anxiety. Time doesn’t seem like a upside-down bottle of sand with grains running out the bottom.

It looks like a travel guide to a mysterious, exciting and beautiful new country, a country I’ve wanted to visit all my life..

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ANGELS IN ODD PLACES

Yesterday I met the family who may have saved my son’s life.

The daughter heard the car crash late that night. She roused her mother. They ran outside in their pajamas to his car.

Everyone who saw the car said the same thing. They all thought no one could have survived that crash.

The woman and her daughter sat with him while the dad called 911.

The mom stayed with son til the police and ambulance came. She couldn’t reach him–he was too entangled in the dashboard. The car was so badly crushed, he couldn’t move.

It was cold that night, in the teens. She gave him her coat to staunch the bleeding from his head wounds. She kept talking to him, trying to keep him from passing out or falling asleep. He was obviously in shock, and suffering from a concussion.

The first police officer on the scene waited with him til the ambulance came. “He was gentle and supportive,” the mom said.

If the daughter had not heard the crash, my son could have lain there for hours before someone found him. No one else heard it–all the other houses in the area remained dark and silent.

I know he is a man, all grown up, with a deep voice, a scowl for his out-of-it parents, with a job and an apartment, a whole life we know so little about.

In my mind’s eye, I still see that small child, solemn one moment, giggling with laughter and joy the next. In his purple snowsuit, wearing the purple hat I knit for him, pulling his beloved wagon and carrying his stuffed dog.

I asked him if he remembered her. He said no. He’s too embarrassed to meet her. Someday, he may feel differently.

In the following weeks, the mom and daughter gathered up the detritus from the crash–broken mirrors, pieces of metal–that the clean-up crew overlooked. They didn’t want anyone else to be injured by sharp glass and metal. They also found some CDs, some computer games, a hacky-sack or two. They gathered these in a box, and called our home a few days ago to let us know we could pick them up.

“We’re in the big house right across the street from where it happened,” she said on the phone. “You can’t miss us.”

My husband had been to the site, taking pictures of the skid marks, the road, later the car at the tow garage. I hadn’t been to the site. It was hard to look at that deep drop-off from the road, the gash in the tree, the scrape on the telephone pole.

I remembered the photos my husband had taken of the car. I remember not being able to take my eyes off those images. They were horrible.

The mom and dad came to the door to greet us. I thanked her. It was nothing, she said. She simply did what anybody would have done–taken care of a stranger, a young man in need.

She’d been in a bad accident once. She’d fallen asleep on her way home, and woke up to confusion and pain. But she was not as fortunate. No one heard her car crash. She’d made her way, slowly and painfully, to a nearby house. They wouldn’t let her in. They made her wait in the driveway while they phoned the police. She remembers how that felt–in the dark, in the cold, in pain, waiting. She said she couldn’t let that happen to someone else.

I was thinking, so it’s NOT what anyone else would have done.

I took them some of my jewelry as a small token of gratitude. I told her how grateful we were, that she had been kind to my son. We hugged, and went back home.

I had a chance to meet the police officer, too, at the emergency room. He was gentle and kind. We met again at the police station a few weeks later. He did his job, but without the need to heap further humiliation on top of my son. I shook his hand. I told him it had been a very difficult night, and he had made it a little easier with his kindness.

It was nothing, he said.

It was everything, I said.

I thought of the police lieutenant in Ann Arbor, the one who listened to me when I called asking for help, for guidance when we found out our daughter’s fiance was a potentially dangerous person. She couldn’t offer much as a police officer, she said. But as a mother, she had a lot to give.

We spoke to her many times over the next few weeks. In our trips out to Michigan to be with our daughter, we got to meet her. A wonderful, intelligent, thoughtful woman, she was one of countless remarkable souls who were with us in our hour(s) of need.

Her email address said “Angela”, and as I got up to leave after our visit, I called her that.

She laughed. “It’s ‘Angela’ here in the department,” she said.

“But my real name is Angel.”

Of course it is, I thought.

Of course it is.

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THE YEAR OF (PAINFUL) GROWTH

We’re still in February and it’s been a rough year already.

We thought 2011 was bad. My best friend/lover/husband/sounding board and I hit one of those places in our marriage–you know what I’m talking about–where we’d look at each other and think (or even worse, say), “Who the hell are you, and what have you done with my husband/wife??!!”

Oh, we’ve gone to couples therapy before, for short-term help. And I mean really short-term. Sometimes we’d only need to meet with a referee counselor two or three times to get clear on our stuff. We jokingly referred to those interludes as ‘tune-ups’–just like a regular oil change to keep our partnership running smoothly.

This time, like our Subaru Forester, we went in for what we thought was an oil change, and ended up having to pull the engine. (No, we are no longer happy with Subaru.)

The repair process was simple, but not easy. If you want a year’s worth of couples counseling reduced down to a few suggestions, here are mine: Don’t assume–ask. Then listen to the answers. And don’t eat those restaurant leftovers unless you ask their owner first. (It’s one of those situations where preferring to ask for forgiveness instead of asking for permission will backfire. Just trust me on this one.) Oh, and the biggie: Value the relationship over having to be right.

It was a tough process, but we’re on the home stretch. We can now afford to look back and say, “I almost lost you” and be amazed. A good thing.

So what could be worse than almost losing your marriage?

Almost losing your kids.

Last fall was the time of extreme anxiety. Finding out your kid is in an abusive relationship? It’s the worst (or so we thought.) We had to tread carefully, keeping doors open, staying grounded, trusting in….well, trust. Putting our faith in the love and trust we’d built over the years.

We were rewarded with a happy outcome. Our child is safe. Life is good. We’re moving on. We breathed a grateful prayer. 2012 was going to be so much better!

Then, a few weeks ago, we got ‘the phone call.’

It’s the one in the middle of the night, the one you never want to get.

The police telling us there had been an accident.

Before my heart could stop, the caller rushed to assure us, “He’s okay! He’s okay!”

We nearly lost our other kid. To a car accident so fierce, our aforementioned Subaru Forester would now probably fit inside a large refrigerator. I still can’t look at the pictures without choking up.

He’s okay. Or rather, he’ll be okay. Miraculously, though his injuries are numerous, he will recover fully. It will be a long, hard journey, but someday he will be able to put this behind him. And I am very aware that this is not always the case, for so many people or the families they leave behind… My heart breaks for them.

Of course, there are blessings in all of this. I learn from everything, even the bad stuff. But sometimes it’s just too….too. As one of my sisters said years ago, delirious with pain after burning her hand badly while dealing with a small kitchen fire, and listening to us all tell her how lucky for her it was her left hand, not her right, just her hand, not her life, just the kitchen and not the house, etc., “Well, I don’t feel so damned lucky!!”

I just spoke with my beloved hospice supervisor, Lorraine, who struggled to find the right words today. I finally said, “Oh, yeah, there are are blessings here…..DAMN IT!!! And we both burst out laughing.

But…there are blessings.

I am grateful we both believed our marriage was worth fighting for.
I am grateful that my kids know for sure how much we love them. Or, if one of them isn’t sure, we’re getting another chance to prove it to him.
I am grateful for the people who listened. Really, truly listened
I am grateful for the small courtesies received from friends, and family, and complete strangers.
I am so, so grateful for the people who do not judge.

I’ve learned a lot, too.

I know now that a good day doesn’t depend on the weather, or how much I got done, or what didn’t go wrong. Sometimes a good day is simply a day where nobody dies.

Some people think we are ‘bearing up’ well. It’s simple. I know now that there are times when you know the worst has already happened, and times where you know the worst might yet happen. The first is a piece of cake, compared to the latter. I know now that the latter is much, much scarier, and harder to bear.

I know now that no matter what you’re going through, there are other people who understand. Those powerful words of Rosanne Cash, from her book Composed: A Memoir, still resonate in my heart:

You begin to realize that everyone has a tragedy, and that if he doesn’t, he will. You realize how much is hidden beneath the small courtesies and civilities of everyday existence. Deep sorrows and traces of great loss run through everyone’s lives, and yet they let others step into the elevators first, wave them ahead in a line of traffic, smile and greet their children and inquire about their lives, and never let on for a second that they, too, have lain awake at night in longing and regret, that they, too, have cried until it seemed impossible that one person could hold so many tears, that they, too, keep a picture of someone locked in their heart and bring it out in quiet, solitary moments to caress and remember…

I’ve learned that people will judge. It’s a knee-jerk reaction, though. I want to say to them, “Look, if the universe slapped us down or tried to KILL US whenever we did something careless, there wouldn’t be too many of us still walking around…” But I know it’s just human nature. It’s how we convince ourselves that something like that would never happen to us, a way to distance ourselves, a way to protect ourselves. “Well, my kid/husband/daughter would never do that!” Really? Huh…..

Today, my wish for you is what I would wish for myself.

Today, may your blessings be small ones. Simple ones. Easy ones.
May they involve a hug or two, and perhaps a good laugh, and someone to share it with.
May you get a chance to learn something the easy way. Not the hard way.
And may you always get a second chance, another chance to say, “I’m sorry. Please forgive me.” To say, “Thank you.”

To say, “I love you.”

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