A season of acceptance

I share a personal journey here in the hope that it’s universal, that this resonates for you in some way no matter the source of your sorrow.

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A sadness always settles on me this time of year.

The light of long days dwindles and nature decays and dies. Leaves drift like scraps of paper to the ground, green grass begins to blur to brown, and an undercurrent of chill pushes into the early mornings.

The sadness this season, however, is deeper. It’s also about dad, seeing him decline. He is like a bent-over tree, whose branches bare themselves, whose roots have been withering since the stroke five years ago.

Now, as I sit with him here on the deck as he naps, he is asking me strange questions, erupting periodically as he rouses. Who took your camera? Where did those papers come from? What is that over there?

I look down at the college ruled 3 subject notebook next to me. Students are back in school now and will fill their pages with copious notes from courses in English, math or the sciences.

My notebook is filled with medical notes and appointments, logging dad’s health in bits and pieces, what has been done for his care, what more needs to be done.

I woke the other morning thinking of dad’s INR levels, the many phone calls for his IVIG treatments I had to make and other pressing medical issues that required attention. Who wakes in the morning thinking these things?

I am sad for all of it.

If I’m honest the sadness is not only about the loss of dad and who he once was. It’s also about the loss of the life I once had. I want to wake in the morning with time for creative writing, plan a day trip, splash my feet in the ocean, travel to Scotland or Spain. But even if I did these things, would the sadness go away?

Most likely not.

These words are not complaints or about self-pity, but a simple acknowledgement that sadness is part of life’s journey, a testament, I believe, to how well we love or have loved.

Whether we are a caregiver or not, decline and loss will visit us in one form or another. It will hurt. It will feel horrible. We will want to push the sadness away.

But in the end, accepting it is all there is. A delicate balance of not drowning in the sorrow, but allowing ourselves to float in it, to look up at it, like leaves drifting from their source and finding some peace with it.

In her book The Mermaid Chair author Sue Monk Kidd writes:

There’s release in knowing the truth no matter now anguishing it is.  You come finally to that irreducible thing and there’s nothing left to do but pick it up and hold it. Then, at last, you can enter the severe mercy of acceptance.”

I still struggle with this acceptance. Tears are always at the edges of my life, remembering that I haven’t had a coherent conversation with dad in almost five years since the stroke, recalling the dynamic man and inspirational speaker he was, and the times I would ask his guidance.

Yes, I am sad at all this and at its source is the welling of my heart knowing that days pass, seasons pass and everything dies in its own time.

But all I can do in this moment is walk over and pick up dad’s hand and hold it. To know the truth of this unrelenting sadness. To allow the pieces of sorrow to fall from my heart like the dying leaves.

To pray to enter the severe mercy of acceptance.

 

 

 

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Goodness in dark times

Sometimes small gifts of love and kindness show up in life. They give me hope, especially during these days when the world seems shrouded in so much darkness. Here are two stories.

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My birthday promised severe thunderstorms. Windswept rain, lightning and hail. My celebratory dinner at 5 p.m. would now become a late European-style meal at 8 p.m. My friend and I could do nothing but wait out the weather until the roads were safe.

The rumbles of thunder grew distant and with skies clearing, we left for the restaurant. On the way, a rainbow splashed itself across the half-darkened sky, an artist’s palette of vivid and rich indigo, violet, red, orange, yellow, green and blue colors.

The child in me smiled. A gift from the heavens. For me. Today.

At the restaurant the waitress seated us near a table filled with 10 people. They were an African-American family including children, adults and grandparents and their joy was contagious, as they laughed, talked, drank and ate.

I overheard someone say “birthday” and then the waitress brought out a huge slice of cake with a candle to one of the men at the table.

“It’s his birthday, too,” I whispered to my friend. “What are the odds I’d find someone here, born on the same day?”

When we finished eating, I told my friend I was probably going to embarrass him, but I was going to wish that man a happy birthday. It was a risk. A small one. I walked over to him and the family turned from their food and looked up at me — all ten of them — with curious but welcoming expressions.

“Is today your birthday?” I asked the man.

He smiled and nodded.

“Mine, too.”

Without warning, the energy of the family burst into confetti-like joy and they all began to sing boisterously at the top of their lungs. “Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you ….”

My friend stood aside, smiling and laughing, and the entire restaurant stilled to listen, reveling in our common joy.

I was in tears at this family’s goodness and generosity, but even more so when the man stood up, hugged me and said repeatedly, “Have a blessed year. Have a blessed year.”

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This afternoon I stopped by the Dollar General for a few items. I stood there, watching as the man ahead of me, perhaps my age, was having trouble paying with his credit card. The machine kept telling him it had expired even though the card itself had a valid date.

The cashier struggled, trying everything to make the card work. The line grew behind me as we stood and waited. The man pulled out some bills from his wallet, but he didn’t have enough cash for the goods in his bag.

He decided to return some of the items, placing them on the counter, asking the cashier to deduct them from the total cost. I was about to offer to pay the difference when a woman behind me, with two small children, spoke up.

“How much do you need? Here.”

She reached into her wallet and pulled out a $20 bill, waving it across me and at him. The man protested. Adamantly.

“I can’t accept that. I can’t.”

“Yes, you can,” she countered. “Here. I do this all the time. It’s my good deed for the day.”

The man would not take the money as I stood there, in the middle, watching in wonder at this exchange of goodness, of giving freely. The woman, still smiling, dug into her purse and pulled out a $5 bill.

“Well, you can least take this.”

The man bucked at her offer and finally reached out to accept it.

“Thanks. Listen, I work at a local supermarket. Meat department. Steaks. Come by and you get one free.”

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We hear much today about hatred. Divisiveness. Racial tensions. The darkness of our times.

But I’ve seen goodness, kindness and love twice these last few days shining in the small, daily moments of life.

The African-American family and the gift they gave me has lingered in my heart. There was no color at the table when they welcomed me, no animosity, no judgment, no hatred. Only love.

This, I tell myself, is who we truly are, in our hearts and souls, people who yearn to share and give love — as well as receive it. No matter who we are. No matter our skin color, gender, religion, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation or religion.

Right now the storms may seem fierce in our world, the darkness overwhelming and sometimes, we may want to give up and drown in it. But don’t.

We are so much more than that. At our core, we are good.

We are that rainbow painted across the world’s dark skies — filled with the rich colors of love and beauty.

We can take any moment and spread goodness in the blackness of this world. We can. We can.

 

 

 

 

It goes by fast

As some of you know I’ve taken a brief respite from two years of writing this blog. But this post today visited me unexpectedly and asked to be written. Here it is. I share it with deep gratitude.

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Birthdays make me wax philosophical. I become more than my usual existential self. It’s not a matter of “to be” but where I am now, in that “being-ness.”

To that end, a friend and I were discussing the question that seems to have become popular as of late: “What would you tell your younger self if you could?” My mind went through the Rolodex (that’s how old I am) of pieces of sage wisdom.

I smiled and said, “It goes by fast. That’s what I’d tell the younger me.” He turned and asked, “Would you have listened?”

Probably not.

When we’re younger we may not look too far ahead. No need. Yes, we plan, we work, raise a family, whatever it may be, but mostly, our vision is short-term. We have the illusion that life is forever, with many days left, much time to do whatever we need to with our lives.

But the truth is, as I head into the end of this decade of my 60s, I can say, with honesty, life is short.

I’ve seen friends die, or lose their spouses or children. And those deeper, philosophical questions seem to plague me now more than ever: How many years do I have left to fulfill whatever I came here to do? And what is that anyway? Do I have enough time to do whatever “that” is?

When we are younger, we don’t dwell on those questions; in our older years, the questions dwell on us – whether we like it or not.

It’s more than curious to me that I seem to have a history. I can look back with perspective, as if standing on a hill and viewing the landscape of my life. And what do I see?

At the risk of sounding too corny (but I do love James Taylor), I have indeed seen fire and rain. I’ve had moments of joy, deep sadness, longing to belong to something deeper in life, given up hope, rallied, dug deeper, laughed at myself. All these are shared experiences that make us human. That’s what I see.

And sometimes I’ve just screwed things up.

But I’ve learned from that. At least I hope I have. Mistakes are part of life’s journey and in them I’ve discovered parts of me that are teachable, the essence of my being that wants to grow, evolve and become more compassionate and loving.

As I age, I’ve also found that things of mammon, or of this world, really don’t impress me anymore. Call me a curmudgeon or a not-so-material girl, but I’m no longer invested in what I can get.

But what I can give.

And what does impress me? A soft summer rain, the lulling or crashing waves of the ocean, a forest sweet with the smell of earth, my toes in green grass, a child’s giggle, a long, delicious nap, the deep inhale of pure, clean air. Seeing the potential of genuine goodness in others and in myself.

And here’s what I continue to learn.

Life will unfold, with joy or with sorrow and many times with the ordinary hum-drum of days — and that the “powerful play goes on and that you may contribute a verse.”

And what is my verse? I don’t know. Even at my age I still struggle with this. In the end perhaps life’s journey is stumbling in the dark, trusting in a Higher Power that always guides us, love us. That we are where we are meant to be — and I don’t mean that as a platitude or cliché — and that somehow we exist in each sacred moment as intended by the Divine.

And perhaps that verse is simply being love. Every second. Because it does go by fast. It does.