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.

 

 

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Simple gifts

The other day I walked in the park.

As I ambled by the swings and slides, a woman who looked like she might be a grandmother was with her granddaughter. The child was perhaps four years old. Her blonde hair tousled in the wind as she bent down and picked up a frayed, sad-looking dandelion.

She came bounding toward me — ignoring her grandmother’s calls to come back — and said: “Look! I’m going to give this to my mom when I get home.”

“That’s beautiful,” I said as she held it toward me, beaming.

Then she began stomping on the ground in her purple-and-pink glittery sneakers, looking down at them, trying to make them “do” something.

“No more light,” she said.

Her grandmother came toward me and smiled. “They used to light up more but I guess they’ve lost some of whatever it was.”

I told her to have fun and walked away thinking, how often have I lost my light, whatever it is that I once had. And what has been causing me to lose it?

Perhaps the clutter of many things. Holding on to worries. Agendas. How I think life “should” be instead of accepting how it is. In other words, not letting go, not simplifying.

When I was in the workplace, there was a saying some of you may know: KISS. Keep It Simple, Stupid. If I’m going to be totally honesty here, I have a personality that makes things harder than they should be. I tend to make things more complicated.

I used to get frustrated with that part of me. Now I have come to accept that it’s all part of the unique package that makes me who I am. I am someone who still likes to hold on, someone still learning to “let go” and simplify — and someone who is still trusting in faith there is a Higher Power who moves life along in divine right time and flow.

I am also gentle, or at least learning to be, with all those parts of myself, as I would with a young child. As I might with that little girl in the park.

Would I have yelled at her and told her, “That’s an ugly dandelion!”? Never. Then why would I berate those inner child parts of me that need love and even more love? Especially those parts that delight in the simplest of things?

The older woman I am becoming also needs that love, especially as she is often — not by choice — having to let go and simplify her life. In fact, children and the aged both dwell in a certain simplicity that no longer requires agendas, pride, ego, money, promotions, “things” or whatever it might be. They are content with what is, in the moment.

To be truthful, I am still coming to terms with the losses of my life’s journey as I age. A friend of mine told me he feels like he’s lost his mojo. I understand. And one better, I often feel, as the Mad Hatter said to Alice, “‎You’re not the same as you were before. You were much more… muchier… you’ve lost your muchness.”

Sue Monk Kidd, one of my favorite writers, says this:

“Finally, I began to write about becoming an older woman and the trepidation it stirred. The small, telling ‘betrayals’ of my body. The stalled, eerie stillness in my writing, accompanied by an ache for some unlived destiny. I wrote about the raw, unsettled feelings coursing through me, the need to divest and relocate, the urge to radically simplify and distill life into a new, unknown meaning.”

Like Sue Monk Kidd, I am learning to radically simplify, to distill life into a new unknown meaning.

At the heart of it, I believe that’s why simplifying poses such a challenge — we are face-to-face with some “new unknown meaning.” It isn’t how it used to be. We start as pure beings, simple and free, then gather a lot of “guck” along the way.

Now, in our later years, we are being stripped away to uncover the beauty that has been there all along. We simplify. And while it may be challenging, it is also freeing.

Even my prayer life has entered into simplicity. I am breathing in love, breathing out love. And like writer Anne Lamott, I am saying these three simple prayers:

Help me. Thank you. Wow.

I am learning to be like a child again, delighting in a dandelion. And learning to accept and love the older woman, finding it’s OK to lose some of my muchness. To stomp on my sneakers to discover perhaps a new and more engaging light.

When I simplify and let go, it opens up space to be free. To dwell in the now. To be the soul and body I was created to be.

And that simply makes me say “Wow!”

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The circle game — again

I can’t believe another year has come and gone. Joni was right. It is the Circle Game. Faster and faster. So here’s my blog post from last year. Thanks for letting me share it again.

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I’m celebrating a birthday soon. A piece of paper from a Texas hospital tells me I was born on August 18, 1949. You do the math. It’s not pretty. I’ve had some thoughts about aging and share them here. Spoiler alert: There is talk of God in this one.

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I have officially been an older person for some time. I still remember the shock of seeing the “senior citizen” discount on the Denny’s menu and the ads on TV for AARP, realizing I was eligible for both.

I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience, sadly a body that isn’t the one I had when I was 40, much less 50.

old people shadowsThose “forgiving” pants that writer Anne Lamott talks about aren’t as forgiving anymore and I ask myself: How did this happen? I exercise and eat right.

But as I get older I find I have to work extra hard at it with less energy. And wasn’t it just the other day I was a gawky beanpole, going to a Beatles concert or a greenhorn working at my first newspaper job, terrified I would fail at this writing thing? Um. Nope. Happened decades ago.

So here’s the truth of it, kiddos:

Time flies as you grow older. Really. To some of you it may not seem that way, but believe me, I think there’s some kind of Divine accelerator button that gets pushed after each decade. It could also be a quantum physics thing but I’m not sure.

And that’s also part of the aging process. You learn. If you’re open, you do learn. I used to laugh when older folks would say, “If only I knew then what I know now.” Truth.

You learn that life gets messy; people can be loving or cruel; your bank account ebbs and flows; some nights dread and anxiety will drown your soul because you feel you haven’t done a danged thing with your life that amounts to anything.

And then life will turn around and gobsmack you with the birth of a child, the perfumed scent of earth after a summer’s rain, an unexpected $5 you dig out of your jeans pocket.

If you’re a spiritual being — and I believe we all are — you learn that God is in everything and everywhere. Even in that politician or dictator or serial killer you despise.

self loveGod doesn’t play favorites and loves each person with this kind of cosmic abandon I will never fathom.

It’s such a relief to know that this love is totally accepting, always available and beckoning me, even though I screw up a lot and don’t always tap into it.

And as to that word “God.” We seem to have really created messes over that one.

In whatever ways you term that Divine source of love — and how can you define something so ineffable — that Supreme Being starts to become more visible to you as you age, in all creation, from that speck of a spider to raging waterfalls to that person sitting next to you on the train, sound asleep and snoring.

As to my writing: I always thought I’d write a best-seller by now. I smile at that one because while I believe almost all things are possible, some things happen and some don’t for Divine reasons I’m not privy to. I’ve learned the art and craft of writing over 40-some years and feel I’m pretty danged good.

But sometimes, if I’m honest, I get frustrated when I see others being published and successful, and I’m still struggling. Then I say:

“A word with you, God. Time is getting short here. I’m doing my part and I’m writing my little heart out. What about you? Are you doing your part, God? You may be eternal and have a thousand years, but I don’t.

As you approach the end of your timeline, you find that life starts taking more and more things and people away.

letting_go_by_bandico-d5s1eyhYou’ve lost those you love or you look at those you love who are dying and you weep in anticipation of that, knowing it is part of the process and you will grieve and have bad days and then go on again. And you realize your turn is getting closer and you wonder — what will that feel like?

After all, you’ve never had this particular death experience before, and yes, fear creeps in, as well as wonder and awe at approaching another stage of life that is probably pretty amazing.

So two stories to end: A friend of mine lost her mother a few years ago. She was having a bad time of it and woke one morning to find the most unusual, magnificent sunrise streaked across the skies.

Then she heard her mother’s voice: “This is only a small portion of what it’s like here, to be in the presence of God. The face of God is so beautiful I don’t want to miss a single second of it.”

And then there’s Sam, a neighbor who is 95. Lanky and tall, he walks twice a day, if not more, puffing away at his cigar. I asked him once about the secret to a long life.

He told me: “I smoke my cigar, I take a nap, then I take my medicine.” He paused and winked. “And you know what my medicine is, don’t you? A shot of whiskey.”

healing energy handsSo here’s to that shot of whiskey, to not missing a single second of the face of God, right here and right now, and to the insanities and joys of the human experience.

As I head into another year of my life, I hold on to one of my favorite quotes by Ram Dass:

“We are all just walking each other home.”

Thanks to my companions of the heart, who love me, put up with me, support me and grace me as we walk each other home. I love you all.

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(Blogger’s Note: And nope. I didn’t write that best-selling novel this past year. God willing, and if the Circle Game comes ’round again, I will. In the meantime, enjoy Joni.)

 

 

The Bible of my heart

Writing the personal is often difficult for me. But I take a deep breath and plunge in with the hope that the personal is also what is found in the common ground of our hearts.

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I am sitting with dad. He had a stroke three years ago, uses a walker and must have someone with him all the time. He can’t fall, although he did recently. He is mending. Slowly.

As one of his primary caregivers, I find the time with dad involves everything from preparing his lunch, to watching old episodes of Get Smart with him, to ensuring he’s OK when he’s napping. And often more.

caring-for-aging-parentsHe can communicate to some degree, but he has aphasia, an inability to find the correct words. It’s often difficult to know what he wants or needs.

So I often ask if he needs water, something to eat, or would like to watch something else on TV. He can say “yes” or “no,” but it’s hard to tell. Sometimes “yes” means “no” and “no” means “yes.”

I tell him that I love him. Often. I learned many years ago that life is brief and it’s important to say I love you every chance I can.  So I lean into him as he rests in his recliner and say, “I love you, dad.”

Sometimes he’ll say, “I love you, too.”

And so it goes when I sit with dad. I stay with dad to relieve my mother. She is with him much of the time and shares their first-floor bedroom in the former dining room that once was space to boisterous Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. It is now filled with twin beds — dad’s with a guard rail — and medical supplies and the smell of aging.

Sometimes, when dad is napping, I pray. I pray for him. For my mother, our family. I pray for our world that seems so desperate these days, stewing in values that seem off center and sad to me. I pray for myself. Sometimes I write on this laptop. My blog. It keeps me sane. It is another form of prayer.

Today, as dad slept, I walked into the front parlor — do they still call them parlors — and saw the aging Bible sitting on the piano that I’ve seen a thousand times before. It always seemed another part of the bric-a-brac and chachkas that gathered dust.

Curious, I picked it up. The book was weighty and thick with yellowed pages and a tattered leather cover, worn around the edges.

elvis-bible-1_thumbI went back to the TV room where dad was still sleeping and opened the frail, brittle pages. The story of a life unfolded. My mother’s. My father’s.

My mother’s handwriting in blue fountain pen ink graced the front page where she wrote that the Bible was a gift to herself dated 1945 in Red Boiling Springs, Tennessee. Also listed were the names of siblings, parents, grandmothers and grandfathers. Some from Tennessee, some from Kentucky. I sat with those names, their energies and spirits in another world, but at one time, flesh and blood and bone whose lives gave me life.

With great care, I went through the pages and found bookmarks that were bits of the past, tucked away as if in a time capsule.

A faded greeting card with a basket of flowers on it from Mexican relatives in Texas congratulating my parents on their wedding in 1948.

An old napkin with a faded sketch in blue of a quaint cottage with the words “The Inn on Buttermilk Bay.” Where was it I wondered, and when had they been there? Had it been a happy time, one where youth still gave them joy and freedom?

Two ticket stubs to a Glenn Miller band concert and a letter from my late grandmother in Nashville. When she wrote that letter she was as old as my mother is now — 87. And in it, she speaks of Easter and going to church and included the folded, yellowed news clipping of one of my mother’s childhood friends who had died.

There were saved birthday cards from grandchildren and the memorial cards from the funerals of friends.

A poignant feeling stirred in my heart at the mystery of life that is both rich and frayed — a tapestry stitched with the threads of memories, some joyful, some sorrowful. And all of it fleeting.

I searched for Psalm 23 and read ” … surely goodness and loving kindness follow me all the days of my life.”

Goodness and kindness indeed have followed mom and dad, despite the sorrows and struggles of life. And of this I’m sure — God has been and is still with them, even now as steps falter and bones aches and vision blurs and words spill out jumbled, when all that was once ripe and full of promise is now being stripped away.

birds flying girlIn that stripping, though, is the shimmer of surrender, of an eventual giving way into the transcendence of a new life. For them. Eventually for all of us.

I close the book and whisper a prayer. For strength. For grace.

Dad is stirring. He opens his tired eyes and I look into them, seeing a lifetime unfold before me.

He smiles. This. This smile. These moments now. These are the memories I am tucking away in the bible of my heart. I will find comfort in them in the future when I will need them. And for this, I am thankful.

I squeeze dad’s hand and go to fix his lunch.

The circle game

I’m celebrating a birthday soon. A piece of paper from a Texas hospital tells me I was born on August 18, 1949. You do the math. It’s not pretty. I’ve had some thoughts about aging and share them here. Spoiler alert: There is talk of God in this one.

*******

I have officially been an older person for some time. I still remember the shock of seeing the “senior citizen” discount on the Denny’s menu and the ads on TV for AARP, realizing I was eligible for both.

I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience, sadly a body that isn’t the one I had when I was 40, much less 50.

old people shadowsThose “forgiving” pants that writer Anne Lamott talks about aren’t as forgiving anymore and I ask myself: How did this happen? I exercise and eat right.

But as I get older I find I have to work extra hard at it with less energy. And wasn’t it just the other day I was a gawky beanpole, going to a Beatles concert or a greenhorn working at my first newspaper job, terrified I would fail at this writing thing? Um. Nope. Happened decades ago.

So here’s the truth of it, kiddos:

Time flies as you grow older. Really. To some of you it may not seem that way, but believe me, I think there’s some kind of Divine accelerator button that gets pushed after each decade. It could also be a quantum physics thing but I’m not sure.

And that’s also part of the aging process. You learn. If you’re open, you do learn. I used to laugh when older folks would say, “If only I knew then what I know now.” Truth.

You learn that life gets messy; people can be loving or cruel; your bank account ebbs and flows; some nights dread and anxiety will drown your soul because you feel you haven’t done a danged thing with your life that amounts to anything; and then life will turn around and gobsmack you with the birth of a child, the perfumed scent of earth after a summer’s rain, an unexpected $5 you dig out of your jeans pocket.

If you’re a spiritual being — and I believe we all are — you learn that God is in everything and everywhere. Even in that politician or dictator or serial killer you despise.

God doesn’t play favorites and loves each person with this kind of cosmic abandon I will never fathom.

It’s such a relief to know that this love is totally accepting, always available and beckoning me, even though I screw up a lot and don’t always tap into it.

And as to that word “God.” We seem to have really created messes over that one.

In whatever ways you term that Divine source of love — and how can you define something so ineffable — that Supreme Being starts to become more visible to you as you age, in all creation, from that speck of a spider to raging waterfalls to that person sitting next to you on the train, sound asleep and snoring.

book-child-dreams-fantasy-imagination-Favim.com-123786As to my writing: I always thought I’d write a best-seller by now. I smile at that one because while I believe almost all things are possible, some things happen and some don’t for Divine reasons I’m not privy to. I’ve learned the art and craft of writing over 40-some years and feel I’m pretty danged good.

But sometimes, if I’m honest, I get frustrated when I see others being published and successful, and I’m still struggling. Then I say:

“A word with you, God. Time is getting short here. I’m doing my part and I’m writing my little heart out. What about you? Are you doing your part, God? You may be eternal and have a thousand years, but I don’t. 

Do you have any influence with a publisher or agent so my words can get out to a wider audience? Say what? You’ve had me ‘on hold’ for the last few decades and forgot to look at that blinking light? (Old-timers will get that one.) Well, pick up, for God’s sake! Um. For your sake. My sake. Whatever.”

woman at sunsetAs you approach the end of your timeline, you find that life stops giving you things and starts taking them away.

You’ve lost those you love or you look at those you love who are dying and you weep in anticipation of that, knowing it is part of the process and you will grieve and have bad days and then go on again. And you realize your turn is getting closer and you wonder — what will that feel like?

After all, I’ve never had this particular death experience before, and yes, fear creeps in, as well as wonder and awe at approaching another stage of life that is probably pretty amazing.

So two stories to end: A friend of mine lost her mother a few years ago. She was having a bad time of it and woke one morning to find the most unusual, magnificent sunrise streaked across the skies.

Then she heard her mother’s voice: “This is only a small portion of what it’s like here, to be in the presence of God. The face of God is so beautiful I don’t want to miss a single second of it.”

And then there’s Sam, a neighbor who is 95. Lanky and tall, he walks twice a day, if not more, puffing away at his cigar. I asked him once about the secret to a long life.

He told me: “I smoke my cigar, I take a nap, then I take my medicine.” He paused and winked. “And you know what my medicine is, don’t you? A shot of whiskey.”

So here’s to that shot of whiskey, to not missing a single second of the face of God, right here and right now, and to the insanities and joys of the human experience.

HANDSTOUCHINGS-33_000

As I head into another year of my life, I hold on to one of my favorite quotes by Ram Dass: “We are all just walking each other home.”

Thanks to my companions of the heart, who love me, put up with me, support me and grace me as we walk each other home. I love you all.

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