Wednesday, February 11, 2015

That's Amore!
Ahhhh love. Doesn’t Valentine’s Day and the approach of spring, just make you want to burst with clich├ęs and sappy songs about love? Not so much?

I can relate. I’ve certainly had my recent confrontation with the utter failure of love. But, as the saying goes, “hope springs eternal”, and just when I think this is a concept better left to that which I share with my kids and furry animals, little wafts of sweet affection are gifted to me and I start to believe again.

Almost everyone has an opinion or thought about love in all its splendor and glory--especially those in the limelight. What is it about being a celebrity that turns a person into an instant philosopher, as if their entire life-experience is an E. F. Hutton moment? I don’t know honestly, but alas, in the spirit of the holiday, here are a few quotes from famous folks about the subject of passion. See if you can guess the authors (I’ll reveal the answers at the end of the post):

1. “You know when you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.”

2. “True love cannot be found where it does not truly exist; nor can it be hidden where it does.”

3. “Sexiness wears thin after a while and beauty fades, but to be married to a man who makes you laugh every day, ah, now that’s a real treat.”

4. “Only time can heal your broken heart, just as only time can heal his broken arms and legs.”

5. “If dreams give you power, then I’m strong enough to walk through my heart till you love me.”

6. “Girls bored me, they still do. I love Mickey Mouse more than any woman I’ve ever known."

7. “Sometimes I wonder if men and women really suit each other. Perhaps they should live next door and just visit now and then.”

a. Katherine Hepburn     b. David Schwimmer     c. Dr. Seuss     d. Walt Disney
e. Reba McEntire           f. Joanne Woodward      g. Miss Piggy

There are as many thoughts and feelings on love is there are people willing to talk about the state of the heart. Love between family, love-gone-wrong, twisted love, supernatural love, divine love—you name it—love has been the subject, in one form or another, of history, books, movies, songs, poetry, art, religion, and even crime. It’s as basic to our human needs as food and water. No wonder we give it so much thought.

When it’s good, it’s oh so good. But when it’s gone-wrong or just gone, it can rip a cavern-sized hole in our hearts that hurts worse than almost any physical pain. I certainly don’t have any answers or profundity about love; I’m the least likely to give advice. But I do have the hope and belief that love—from friends, God, family, and yes, maybe even that sticky-sweet romantic kind, will prevail in my life.

So consider this bit of sentimental contemplation my Valentine's Day card to you. Wherever you’re at in the process of defining, finding, or healing from love, may the warmth of friends, the affection of family, the gentleness of the divine, and maybe even the allure of romance be yours this holiday.

OK the answers:

1. Dr. Suess (And it didn't even rhyme!)
2. David Schwimmer (Huh? He shouldn't give up his day job to be a philosopher.)
3. Joanne Woodward (I have to second this quote-- love a man who can make me laugh.)
4. Miss Piggy (HIYAHHH!)
5. Reba McEntire (Didn't this just sound like a twangin' country song?)
6. Walt Disney (A give-away, but truly, the man needed to get out more.)
7. Katharine Hepburn (Never one to do or say what was expected.)

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Negative Thinking Snuggies

Give me a show of hands: How many of you, every new year or perhaps every Monday, vow to start a healthier eating or working out regiment? (Ooo me, me!) I'll be honest, I know the choices I need to be making to be healthy, fit, and feel better in those damn skinny jeans I bought a couple weeks ago in an impulse indulgence of my midlife crisis (but let's not get into that). Ahem. Anyway, it’s easier to resort to foods I find comforting—basically anything carb or sugar based-- than try to change my habits. Comfort foods are like a drug on my brain, wrapping my psyche in a cozy endorphin Snuggie.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the solace we find in our habits.  As Edgar Rice Burroughs said, “We are, all of us, creatures of habit, and when the seeming necessity for schooling ourselves in new ways ceases to exist, we fall naturally and easily into the manner and customs which long usage has implanted ineradicably within us.” That’s a lot of fancy wordsmithin’ for saying it’s easier to nestle into our comfort zone, even if that’s not the healthiest or happiest option.

But more insidious than the in-your-face behavioral habits we cling to, are the more subtle attitudes and emotions that almost become a part of our personality. Negative Eeyore habits remind me of a pair of sweats I own: the elastic is so worn out they slip off me; they have a hole melted into them where I stood too close to the wood burner stove one time, and they have zippers around the ankles (I know; dated fashion statement right there) that scratch my legs. But they're so comforting to slip on, I'm loathe to part with them.

In my previous post, I coughed up the explanation of why I’ve been MIA for the last six months. It’s been two years of one angst-filled drama and hurdle after another. What I didn’t realize was that after a while, anticipating crisis, waking up and lacing up my emotional army boots to trudge through another day, became a habit of thought—an expectation of life. Weird how something so negative could be a place I go to so easily, and worse, maybe even find a bit of comfort in! How is it we find comfort in being miserable?

Martin Seligman, the father of Positive Psychology offers this evolution explanation of negative thinking, "Fear is a signal that danger is lurking, sadness is a signal that loss is impending, and anger signals someone trespassing against us. In evolution, danger, loss and trespass are all threats to survival itself." (Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment)  This makes sense to me.  I faced a lot of threat to my survival-- my kid's life, my life, and my lifestyle-- in the last two years. I was, in a sense, living the results of fear. He continues to say, “All of this culminates in a quick and decisive action: fight, flight, or conserve.” That was me. Life got tough; I put on my boxing gloves. Waking up and girding myself for whatever the day dished out became my modus operandi. 

The other morning, I woke up and stretched out in bed. My mind, still fuzzy and soft from sleep, wandered. Out of habit, I scanned the landscape of my day and circumstances, preparing myself for the 24-hour battle before me. Then it occurred to me: I don’t have a battle today. I feel good. My health is great. I have a good job that is providing for me. I am making friends. I like where I live. I like my cozy little apartment. I have solid relationships in my life. My kids are happy and healthy. Maybe I should worry about… I did a quick survey of what I might have to worry about for the day or week, reflexively reaching for my boxing gloves, trying to find the emotional foothold that had become so familiar to me. But, as I lay there in the morning quiet, there just wasn’t one. Wow. I was…gasp… content! So I started worrying about how fleeting and false contentment can be. Ahhh, there was that gnawing feeling I've come to know so well and cradle close to me over the last several years.

Oh brother!

When did this cloak of negative thinking become such a friend? I didn’t realize, until that morning, how familiar the feeling of angst had become. But then a great thing happened. As I tried to find a reason to be stressed or launch into my usual problem-solving mode, I got on my own nerves. Enough! Quietly, before getting out of bed, I acknowledged the good place I am in in life with a prayer of gratitude. I may not be able to claim this tomorrow or next week but for today, it was good.

As Seligman says, “…feeling positive emotion is important, not just because it is pleasant in its own right, but because it causes much better commerce with the world. Developing more positive emotion in our lives will build friendship, love, better physical health, and greater achievement.”

Life can hand out legitimate difficulties-- grief, sadness, hardship, sickness. But it's important to take a step back and make sure a negative attitude isn't just a habit of thought. Clinging to a defeatist gloom n' doom outlook can be a way of insulating against life. After all, something bad can't catch us off guard if we're expecting it, right? On the other hand, living like the sky is falling sure can rob us of a lot of joy and of a happier, healthier relationship with life and people.

Monday, January 26, 2015

A Funny Thing Happened On My Way to Fifty

So what happens when you turn 50? It’s a milestone, right? For some people it’s a gentle drift into another decade, bless their “embracing my age with grace” hearts. But not me, huh uh. My decade marker decided to storm me like a herd of malicious elephants.

At the beginning of the summer of 2014 I was actually positively anticipating my upcoming August birthday. I’d made it through a tough year with my son’s cancer; I was looking forward to moving forward. Physically, I was feeling great—not bad for an old, soon-to-turn-50 gal. I even decided to start training for a 10k, hoping to find a fun-run close to my actual birth date and complete it proving to myself and the world that I Am Fifty And Fabulous. But somewhere along my neatly laid plans, I got sidelined by a major health issue and my marriage ending. The dog even died during this pathetic timeline, completing the “my life is a country song” story.

Not to belabor the verbal slide show of “Summer 2014: I Am Eeyore”, I was knocked flat by a DVT (deep vein thrombosis) and a bilateral pulmonary embolism.  Interestingly, I didn’t even catch that my swollen and aching leg and my gasps for breath when I walked from one end of the house to the other were cues that my body was fighting for life. Fortunately, I’m a tough old bird and made it through to face another year and write this post. By August I had adjusted my expectations: not only was I celebrating the big five-oh with a deeper sense of gratitude (I had lived to celebrate it!), I was feeling the pride of accomplishment, not for completing a 10k or even a 5k race, but for walking slowly around the block without having to stop and catch my breath.

By the end of August, I’d delivered my daughter to her college, 20 hours away, sifted through a lifetime of accumulated stuff to pack and fit into a new small apartment, found a new job in a new town across the state, left the mountain enclave that had been my home and my identity for 20 years, and started my life over, all while gnawing on the emotional bone of guilt and fear. In an online stress test I completed (you can take it here and see if you should be wearing a little, white cozy jacket or not) I scored 403 earning me the “300 and above: high-susceptibility to stress related illness” category.  Normally I preen when I get a high scores on tests, but this one was a mirror I could do without.  

For the last four months I have felt like a deer in the headlights. I live in the Big City now! I don’t know anyone. Drivers are in a hurry and honk at me if I don’t move fast enough. There are more than three traffic lights, and I am, for the first time in my life, living on my own. No. Really. For the first time, I am completely responsible for me: my bills, my car maintenance, health, survival. A good friend of mine, who has held me and talked me down from many hyperventilating, panic-filled outbursts, has tenderly nicknamed me Podunk because I have so much to learn about living in the world. At least I assume he means it tenderly…

At the beginning of 2014, I chose the word “courage” as my guiding principle. At the time, I thought it meant taking risks with my career and writing. I had no idea how much that word would be a personal mantra for me as I faced each new battering hurdle and challenge. Thank goodness for the sweetness of friends who sustained me: a college roomie who made sure I never felt alone; siblings who called and reassured me; a mom who quietly gifted me funds; children who chose not to let anger swallow them; old and new friends who offered wise counsel, support, and a good dose of humor when I risked taking life and myself too seriously.

This year, I have chosen the word “be” as my guiding light. It’s time to quit surviving and start to design the life I want to live, the person I want to be—filled with love, passion, purpose, joy, fun, and health.  It’s time to dig through all the old, damaging tapes in my head and heart and replace them with loving truth. I realize the New Year is just the turning of a calendar page, but for me, it’s truly symbolic of new beginnings and the gift of life.

Now to see what this life of "being" will bring me. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

A Short Break

It's summer! I'm sorry I've been so MIA during the summer. My son, the one defined by his cancer for his year, has shaken that diagnosis and is now finding his life again. My daughter graduated from high school and life continues to roll in waves.

In the meantime, the stories are building; the journey continues. I'll be back and I hope we can share our stories again.

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

In A Life To Come

Here it is May. The hummingbirds have returned to the mountains of Colorado, my tulips came up, and the aspen trees are getting buds. Ah, spring.

Well, at 8000 feet, the season is a bit misleading, if not completely MIA. The hummingbird feeders are frozen solid in the morning, and there’s still potential to use our sleds. But nonetheless, as Alexander Pope sagely said, “hope springs eternal”. Summer will arrive. Soon I’ll dust off my bike and kayak. It all happens, completely non-contingent upon my will or desire.

This May is riddled with all kinds of changes for me that make the presence of icicles almost a non-concern. My daughter—my baby—graduates from high school this coming weekend. When and how in the world did this happen? I still picture her toddling around, trying to wear her Mr. Potato Head glasses.

Last night, her father and I went to her final choir concert. Singing is her passion, and choir has been her joy for four years. It was a bitter-sweet event. As is the tradition in our small high school, seniors can elect to perform a solo. For several weeks now, we’ve listened to her practice a song and play her guitar in preparation for her performance. She sang beautifully last night, without a hitch, and to the hoots and hollers of her classmates. In August, she’ll leave for college. In Indiana. Why so far away?

Not only is my baby bird flying away soon, but my son—the one who has been living at home for the last year during his cancer treatments—has received the green light to get on with his life too. At 23, he is more than ready for his independence. With the effects of chemo fading into a not-so-pleasant but distant memory, he’s looking forward, too. He recently asked his girlfriend to marry him (she said yes!) and they’re making plans to move to Florida where he’ll start grad school. And this all happens in two, short weeks—just another change to chalk up to May. 

He’s even going to take his gargantuan puppy with him. At a very hairy and shedding 80 pounds (the puppy, not my son), this may be the one change I’m not dreading. But the house will be very quiet soon, and the rooms very empty.

No matter how I drag my feet, life goes on. Seasons change. The landscape morphs. Trees will be in full leaf soon. The earth keeps rotating. I will turn 50 and enter the fall season of my life, just about the same time the aspen trees light up the mountains in a golden blaze.

Change is inevitable.

Besides sometimes jarring our status quo, here’s what else I’m learning about change: It may not always be easy or desired, but it happens despite our dragging feet. And it’s good. So even though I’ll be saying goodbye to an awful lot—my kids and my forties—I can’t wait to see what’s on the horizon for a new season in life.

Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never is, but always to be blessed:
The soul, uneasy and confined from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.
– Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man

Monday, May 5, 2014

And We Connect

Lately I’ve been in a funk with my writing. It can feel like such a lonely business sometimes. You send things out; sometimes you hear back with a rejection, most times you hear nothing, and only rarely do you get the coveted acceptance. Even writing a blog post feels like an echo at times.

Most of the time, I don’t think or worry about it. I just write because I have something to say or a topic interests me-- and I happen to find it fun to manipulate words. But the other day, I received an email response to a post I wrote here about a woman who was born in 1774. The post was about Jane Lea Nixon, who had the unique distinction of being the first white woman born in the Chartiers Valley in Pittsburgh. If you read the post, you’ll note that very little is known about this woman outside her claim to being born white and a female at this point in history (and you might find a picture of an apparition I captured on film, but I make no official claim of this...)

Old St. Luke's-- the church associated with
Jane Lean Nixon.
A gentleman I’ve never met wrote to thank me for this short piece about this relatively unknown woman. She, along with the very old stone church she is associated with, captured my imagination, but for this man, there is a deeper significance. He is a direct descendant of Jane Lea Nixon. Her story was part of his childhood folklore as family members passed on her legend and significance to his family. He told me he can trace the story back to his great, great grandmother, but then there is a gap between her and Miss Jane Lea.

He even went on to mention a minister in an Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh we both know. He now resides in Arizona, and I in Colorado, but online, through a blog post and a church in Pennsylvania, our lives intersected. I was so touched that he contacted me and that something I wrote had special meaning for him.

My friends Jess and Sally write a blog (check it out here) about their travels around the world. Sometimes they share spectacular photos from the top of mountain peaks or from deep forests or sometimes the sweet faces of people around the world. Other times they share haunting stories of poverty, oppression, and abuse. Each installment of their blog invites me to share in the journey, not only visually and cerebrally, but more importantly, in my heart. From across the world, they reach out and share their story so that I can be a part of it. And we connect. Isn't that amazing?

Sorry Sally and Jess-- yes, I shamelessly lifted
this cute picture from your blog. 
Other blog friends share their writing, photos, spiritual journeys, and humor with readers.  The internet really is like a web--a very apt description--connecting us. 

Then I remember why I write. Truly, it’s not as isolated an activity as I'm sometimes tempted to feel like it is. And for this reminder—for the comments I receive here, for the emails I get, for the intersection of lives—I am incredibly grateful. Thanks for being a part of that connection. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

On The Way To Easter

My Lent journey took detours I didn't anticipate. I think, however, this isn't a bad lesson to learn about life. Often, our best-laid plans are derailed by a grander design. It's hard to know the purpose and direction in life, and really, isn't that the very essence of faith? 

As Easter approaches, I look forward to travelling to be with my sister and her family. We will attend church services and celebrate Easter, steeped in mystery, celebration, and revelation of Christ's resurrection. It's not a mystery I can even pretend to understand or solve, but it is deeply ingrained in who I am, doubts, questions, mythos and all. 

My visit with my mom went very well and was such a refreshing time for me. She spoils me, and we both enjoyed long, quiet afternoons together. I felt a deeper connection with her and for that, I'm very grateful. 

I also feel new doors and paths opening, some of which frighten me with their capacity for change. But again, I think this is the message of Easter too. Rebirth is never an easy process. But it is one that can bring great peace, love, joy, and purpose. And sometimes it means taking a step into the unknown. 

However you celebrate your Easter, Passover, or the ending of your Spring Renewal journey, I hope it has born in you new doorways of thoughts and a deeper spiritual connection. 

May the Lord bless you and keep you;
the lord make His face shine upon you
And be gracious to you
The Lord lift up his countenance on you
And give you peace. 
Numbers 6:25