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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Bloom where you are planted

Years ago I was in a lonely space. I was struggling for answers and life’s direction but receiving little inner guidance. I decided to head to a retreat facility — a rambling Victorian house run by a religious community — by the ocean.

But it was October. Off-season. And the house would be empty.

The retreat director asked if I would mind this. I said it would be fine. I needed the quiet and the space to breathe, to pray, to listen.

When I arrived, the house was everything I had hoped for. My room overlooked the ocean and I was a short walk to the sandy beach. But as evening drew on I discovered that indeed I was alone in this big, rambling house. I stayed only one night and came away with fewer answers than before.

I did learn this, however. I didn’t need to travel to another location to find what I was looking for. Oh, sometimes traveling to a new locale gave me a fresh perspective and was helpful. But more often than not, I found that the answers unfolded no matter where I had planted myself.

And sometimes they didn’t unfold at all, which ironically, was part of the process.

I know. I know. Life can be filled with WTH do I do next? Do I turn right or left? Yes or no? Stay or go?

Burning bushes are not easy to come by, for any of us.

Since I retired and dad had his stroke, my time has been filled with caring for him. But I’m also looking for direction at way past midlife, at what else I might want to do with the years I have left, with the talents and gifts I have. I still have much to contribute.

So today I had some time off from caregiving. Although still Springtime, the weather blazed hot but beautiful like a summer’s day. I went to a nearby park with a lake, and toting a lawn chair, blanket and book sat under a shady tree, soft warm breezes caressing me.

Blessed silence. I hadn’t felt such peace in a long time.

Then a sun-tanned man ambled by, about my age, smiling big and waved his hand in the air in a friendly arc. He had a laid-back vibe about him with his straw hat with a feather, jeans and sandals. He started chatting about the beauty of the day, about how he had cared for his mother who at 88 had still belonged to the women’s bowling league, how he enjoyed music.

And how in his 20s he had traipsed off to Hollywood, following a girlfriend.

“What was I thinking?” he asked with a huge grin. “We got involved in show business a bit. She did makeup and I had some background parts. You know, the guy who drives the bus or stands in the background reading the newspaper.”

Part of me was fascinated by his sharing. Another part wanted my silence back. I decided to allow whatever was happening, to happen. Finally, he said “good-bye” and I watched him walk away, wondering about his life, how he had taken another path long ago and had returned here. As I had.

I had moved to many states, for many jobs, for many reasons. And in the end, I came back to the place I know as home.

We make choices for many reasons. None are good or bad. They simply are. In hindsight, they may feel like mistakes, but if we are open, I feel that all our decisions are for our growth. They eventually lead us to where we’re meant to be.

I rose from the lawn chair and did as poet Mary Oliver wrote in the poem The Summer Day. I fell down on my knees into the deep green grass and inhaled its heady fragrance. I stretched out on the blanket, looking up at the green leaves of the tree silhouetted against a blue-blue sky.

I listened to the birds twittering around me, the hush of the breeze in the branches, and marveled at this unique perspective of seeing the world from the ground up.

I paid attention.

And I heard yet again Oliver’s haunting question: “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

But no answers came.

Sometimes I think too deeply. Ask too many questions. They block trust. They are ways of controlling and of not allowing Divine flow to take over. I’m aware of this.

So as I stretched out on the grass, I decided to follow a saying popular when I was a teenager. It would become my mantra — to bloom where I am planted.

Sometimes I am planted in uncertainty. Sometimes in the hard earth of sadness or the rich soil of joy. And sometimes I am planted in meeting a stranger who simply wants to connect.

I sunk deeper into the earth. In the moment. Blooming.

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THE SUMMER DAY

by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

 

 

 

Something’s lost, but something’s gained

The day before dad’s 90th birthday party, I had to buy some things at the Dollar General. Many family members were flying in from all over the country, many tasks to be done, much anticipation and excitement.

As I waited in line, a woman stood before me with three helium balloons — two silver and the other, a red heart that read: I love you.

“What beautiful balloons,” I said. “I’m sure the person getting those will love them.”

She turned to me, her face changing from a smile to sadness.

“They’re for my son’s grave. Today is the anniversary of his death.”

My heart dropped. Today was also my dad’s actual 90th birthday, on Cinco de Mayo.

“I’m so sorry,” I said.

“That’s OK. I’m going to put these on his grave and we’re going to have a nice chat. He was only 26 when he died,” she said, her eyes tearing up.

I asked his first name and told her I would pray for him if she would pray for my dad.

When I got home, I checked the closed Facebook group for my 50th high school reunion. It had been scheduled for the same day as dad’s party and as much as I wanted to attend, I knew I couldn’t.

Early Saturday morning, after a deluge on Friday, family began to set up outdoor tents, tables, chairs, decorations, while food was being chopped, prepared and cooked in the kitchen.

We had sent an invitation to one of my parents’ friends whom they’ve known for at least 50 years. I wondered why she hadn’t responded. I know her well and it was unlike her.

As I was preparing food at one of the tables, I heard someone say she had been hospitalized. With cancer. It had spread. I felt as if the wind had been taken out of me. How could this be, I thought, as I kept peeling and chopping, preparing for a joy-filled event.

Photo by Lydia Zuniga

The party began. The skies that had been cloudy and uncertain had cleared. The musicians played Latino music, the Mexican food was plentiful, the drink flowed and dad smiled again and again, as friends from his church, his past workplace, and others attended and wished him a happy birthday.

Guests kept arriving when we saw a young Asian man walk down the driveway. No one knew who he was. But I had often seen him biking past my parents’ home to his job at the local grocery store where he gathered the shopping carts.

He seemed alone when I would see him at the store and I wondered if he had any family in this country.

Photo by Lydia Zuniga

He stood there and I asked if he was OK. He spoke little English but from what I gathered he said he had heard the music and liked it. He planted himself on the spot and my sister and I looked in question at each other. Mentally, we must have agreed on the same thing, the only loving thing to do.

“Are you hungry?” we asked. He nodded. So we made him a plate and he sat down and began to eat, listening to the music. Then left.

When the party was over that night, I was exhausted, but checked into the Facebook group to see what had happened at my reunion. I saw photos of the event, of adult women I remembered as young girls with bangs and long hair flipped at the ends, and smiles filled with promise.

And I saw a photo honoring six of my classmates who had died, too young.

Photo by Lydia Zuniga

That night, I couldn’t sleep. Perhaps too much excitement. Too much food and drink. Too many memories. I kept thinking of the woman at the Dollar General store who had lost her son, of my classmates of so many years ago, of my parents’ friend with cancer, and of the Asian man so far away from his homeland.

Of dad, celebrating 90 years of an amazing life.

As I finally drifted off to sleep, I realized that the last few days had shown me this:

Life takes us on many paths, some joyful, some we’d rather not take. Many unexpected. We cry, we celebrate, we love. That, as Joni Mitchell sang “something’s lost, but something’s gained in living every day.”

And each second is precious.

Live it now. Celebrate it. Now.