Autumn: A Time of Atonement and Bounty

Autumn: A Time of Atonement and Bounty

Autumn is finally here. In some parts of the country and the world summer’s end was wet, with incessant rains that felled leaves early, smashing grass and crops with a blanket of soggy vegetation and shorn tree limbs. Such weather patterns contrasted with the drought and dryness other parts of America and the world continue to experience. What does nature know that we do not about the length of our days? Why do some regions have bounty and others experience loss? Is there something we need to atone for?

Probably. But though in my town we yearn for rains, I’m still determined to enjoy autumn once again. I have pots of yellow and burnt ocher mums nestling by pumpkins on my front porch. My autumn welcome sign is hung and a wreath of yellow leaves blazes on my front door. This is my time. For me autumn is always a beginning.

A Clearer Picture

When things fall back toward the earth, the outlines of garden and lawn, of walkway and road become more apparent. This precise definition creates a sense of order and organization. In fall there are memories of wild vines and riotous summer flower color. But now it’s best to be more satisfied with quieter denser things like clipped boxwood and evergreens, like bare tree trunks of grey and soft brown. The air is cool. The skies seem swept up too, presenting swathes of crystal color. Cold air outlines things so definitely, you can almost see each leaf and branch.

Order Brings Time for Contemplation

Definition and order soothes the soul. I lean toward putting things away in their proper place. I lean toward knowing that everything sleeps quietly waiting for a reawakening. This is a time to store energy, to store knowledge. It can be a time to read and contemplate and make decisions.

If you seek solace and quiet, this is your time too. For as we move inside to do our living, placing things we love like a bright pumpkin or a sheaf of leaves on table surfaces, or brightening a room with a flowered pillow or candlelight, it can also become a time to move inward in our thinking–to meditate and determine more and more exactly who we are.

Autumn decorations can remind us of endings, yet good endings that are resolute and leave us feeling blessed, not sorrowful. Autumn is the time of atonement for the Jewish people and how appropriate to tidy up one’s soul as the earth is preparing for sleep and hibernation, as winter winds are soon to come and humans are stocking up on food energy and light energy and the ability to survive.

Atonement

But no matter what the season, we should atone for the hurts we have caused; we should try to mediate our expressions of anger. And certainly if we have hurt someone we need to ask for forgiveness; and if someone has hurt us, we should try to find a way to forgive that person, to lighten the loads we often carry. And we must forgive ourselves.

Settling In

It’s a little early, but there will come a time as the days get shorter that we will want to settle back into our brains and examine who we are, where we are going, and how we might improve. Life cannot be lived like the riot of spring where nature blows her wad and lets everything grow and rush about. We enjoyed that fertility. But now it’s time to be more judicious in our use of harvest fruits; we need to carefully use and share our bounty.

Certainly in the spring, when life comes back, we have no fears of the future. But in the autumn, we need to count the jars in the cellar, the apples in the basket, the sins on the soul. We need to tidy our lives and draw within to discover how we will survive, how we will make it through the dark times of our life. And how we can help others through their darker, harder times.

Final Thought

In each of us is a light deep within. Sharing that light draws bounty, brings good things to us whether the world is hard-packed snow or dry desert. Autumn can provide a time for atonement. Winter and beyond can be full of the light of love as the grace of forgiving someone brings the warmth of reclaiming love. If you are feeling like all the days of your life are hard, cold winter, then it’s time to open up to those around you, to share the light within you. IT WILL BRING YOU HAPPINESS. As a wise woman once said to me: “Feeling sad today? Then go out and help someone else.” She was so right.

Autumn: A Time of Atonement and Bounty

Thanks to John Havey and Google Images

Know Your History, Know Yourself

Looking back is looking inside yourself; knowing your history helps you to know yourself.

I like looking back. I have photos placed throughout my home that help me travel to the past. And recently, after a major downsizing and move to a smaller home footprint, I created nostalgia shelves that hold photos of my mother and father, my husband and I as newlyweds, my children and grandchildren and tokens from my children’s childhood. And of course, they make me nostalgic.

Know Your History, Know Yourself

That’s a concept! —someone might say—a concept you have to be prepared for. Because nostalgia is both pleasure and sadness—feelings that come simultaneously as the past rises in memory and tugs us back to experiences we often wish we could have again. Like today. A close friend’s daughter gave birth to her first child, and being “modern and up-to-date,” her labor was reported to us in a series of text messages. I thought of her off and on all day, but I also remembered my own labors.

There were no cell phones then and we truly surprised everyone when my husband finally sprinted from the delivery room to call and announce the birth of our daughter, her weight and length, hair and eye color. It would be weeks before there were photos for far away friends and relatives. To see her you had to stop over and visit!

(Obviously, for others of us, nostalgia sometimes brings pain. The plethora of memoirs is a testament to that. But sometimes going back is necessary for healing. We pull from the past those things that helped us get to where we are now and we honor that.)

But though we have the amazing ability to garner information from the internet (which I have done for this post) and to live other people’s lives through platforms like Facebook–truly living, plunging into, experiencing and finally understanding our own lives is what we’re here for. So let’s make that happen.

How do we do that? Some answers would include meditation or prayer. My husband would advocate giving of ourselves to others.  

1. So let’s talk to each other. It’s a common complaint among my generation that people are focusing two much on their “little machines” and not looking across the table into the eyes of those they care about. I could fill this post with photos of moms walking babies and talking on their phones. The ultimate would be the wedding ceremony where the bride and groom are on their phones—only looking up now and again to exchange their vows. What happened to falling into each others’ eyes?

2. And let’s make more of an effort to engage on a bigger level. I so admire families that are separated by distance, but who make the point of weekly phone calls (with or without a “face-time” component), and who share both their joys and their sorrows with family members. That’s the glue that holds us together. Sharing the negatives. Internet platforms often bend to the positive side of things. Ain’t my life grand? Look at me–look at what I’m doing. But when they walk away from the “picture” of that life, what is it really? Because we want each person’s life to have a solid base, one that can bear you up when you encounter illness, divorce, money problems, death. True relationships save lives.

3. And for the purpose of this post, knowing your history and thus knowing what positive experiences helped “build” you into the person you are should be shared within your family. If my older brother went back, he would find books and music. Bookshelves in his room held volumes that I borrowed and read and he haunted a local store that sold records. There he listened to classical music and over the years became a lover and purchaser of thousands of recordings. His life work: professor of English literature. My younger brother would find baseball, hockey and other sports–and music. He has worked in the music business since graduating from college and of course still loves and participates in sports.

I would find books, books and more books. My history is welded to reading, writing and teaching. My mother shared her love of books with me and I shared them with my children. Nostalgia, nostalgia. Here are some examples of the very early reading that helped “build” my life. I am forever grateful to my mother. She knew what she was doing.

The Maida Books. This was a series that my mother owned. Written by Inez Haynes Gillmore Irwin, they first appeared in 1910 with Maida’s Little Shop. I still remember being comfy on the living room sofa reading this book and often telling my mother how much I loved it. The Maida books reflected Irwin’s belief in feminism and social change. Maida’s wealthy father provides Maida and her friends with a series of alternative environments for living and learning. My older daughter read those in the series that my mother owned, the covers fragile and old. Today she proudly cares for them.

Anne of Green Gables. This series is the favorite of my other daughter who owns all the books and fulfilled a lifetime dream last summer when she and her family visited Prince Edward Island. Written by Canadian author Lucy Maud Montgomery, the first title appeared in 1908. It is the story of Anne Shirley, age 11, a young orphan girl who is mistakenly sent to Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, a middle-aged brother and sister who have a farm on PEI and who had intended to adopt a boy to help them. The novel recounts how Anne steals the hearts of the Cuthberts and everyone else in the small town. An August article in the New York Times by Ann Mah recounts the emotional experience of loving the books and visiting PEI.

Little Women, Little Men, Jo’s Boys. Louisa May Alcott wasn’t sure she wanted to write a book for young girls, but utilizing shared experiences with her real life sisters, she created four of the most endearing characters ever created—Jo, Meg, Beth and Amy. This novel was published in 1868 and follows the lives of the four sisters as they navigated growing up during the American Civil War. Alcott went on to write Little Men and Jo’s Boys after the success of the first book. My mother loved the books and named me after the Beth character.

The Boxcar Children Series. Written by Gertrude Chandler Warren, the books are about Henry, Jessie, Violet and Benny, four orphaned brothers and sisters who mysteriously appear in a small town on a warm summer night. No one knows who they are or where they came from. Frightened to live with a grandfather they have never met, the children make a home for themselves in an old abandoned red boxcar they discover in the woods. From there readers discover the strength and creativity of these children to live on their own in their forest home. One critic wrote: All elementary school children will love this book series. Every child dreams of running away and living in the woods at some time, and these kids have done it. Fantasy fulfilled through a book!

Thanks for reading and looking back with me. Knowing where we have been is the best way to help us decide where we want to go and how we want to get there. If you have a book that helped pave your life journey, please share. Below is a cartoon from the New Yorker that I am thrilled I found. I remember coming across it and saying YES THAT’S HOW IT WAS. Of course the child is reading Little Women.

Know Your History, Know Yourself

Thanks to Perry Barlow for his nostalgic cartoon.

Money, Debt – Do Those Words Affect Children?

Money, Debt – Do Those Words Affect Children?

Absolutely. First, think back. No matter what your financial picture is now, can you remember overhearing or maybe even having a discussion with your parents about money? Answers would be diverse and numerous; they might look like this:

1. I realized we didn’t have any money when my mother cried about my ripping a jacket;

2. At night I often heard my parents arguing about money;

3. When my father died, my mother had to work two jobs–to support us and pay off debts;

4. If my mother uttered the word debt or money, my father would shush her and take us all for ice cream.

5. From early on, my father focussed on my need to get a job to help the family.

Others reading this might have been fortunate enough to live in a household where money wasn’t a problem or an issue. But with the downturn in the economy and subsequent loss of jobs for great numbers of people, money concerns are now part of many households.  What parents or grandparents say about money and debt can negatively or positively affect how children feel and eventually handle their own money.

True wealth isn’t defined by how much money you have, but by how you use it.

Shannon Ryan grew up with this maxim. Her blog, THE HEAVY PURSE, reflects the lessons that her father began to teach her at the age of 13. He discussed the importance of spending money wisely thus giving a person the ability to purchase what matters most. He taught that financial freedom is definitely related to understanding one’s emotional relationship to money, which could be fear, anger, frustration, even boredom. Fear of money or anger that we don’t have enough can lead to profligate and unwise spending. The result? Emotional spending hinders the realization of goals and disallows living the life we want and deserve.

If you have decided to stop reading because none of this applies to you in your boomer years, please don’t. Do you read money gurus like Jean Chatzky and Suze Orman? Ryan is applying great principles about money to help prepare our children and grandchildren for a future where having enough money might be even more tenuous than it was for us.

1. Consider the emotional aspect of money: if money sometimes meant struggle for you, then consider teaching your progeny that it is a gift, one that can bring good things into life if used properly. Attaching too much emotion to money can make it a burden for the wealthy or something to covet for the non-wealthy—neither is positive or helpful.

2. Give money a purpose: discuss the importance of not spending mindlessly. Ryan advocates family meetings where money is discussed and goals (like a vacation) are set. Though her daughters are young, she and her husband are teaching money’s connection to goal setting. They might ask: which should the family save for this year—a vacation to visit a relative or a backyard climbing gym? They then plan and save for the decided upon goal. Her daughters have input and learn that this household does not spend mindlessly.

3. Set spending examples: Ryan’s children save the money they receive as gifts and from doing chores. A shopping expedition is a test to see if the “flashy new item” is really worth the funds they have saved. Ryan is proud to say the girls often decline spending their money and have learned not to beg Mom to buy the item for them.

4. Share money decisions: Ryan’s openness is healthy. I remember worrying about money as a child; I knew we didn’t have much of it. Once in a great while my mother could not help reminding us that we had to watch our spending carefully. But she also allowed us in on discussions about spending and decision making. We learned to pride ourselves on the money we made through summer jobs and the scholarships we earned to put us through college.

5. At the very least, talk about MONEY: Final thoughts. As parents and grandparents we teach our children so much, wanting them to grow up and succeed in life, become happy, well-grounded, successful adults. We give them the tools they need to reach certain goals: how to practice good hygiene, how to read, learn math facts, talk to adults, meet and become friendly with other children. But Ryan points out that rarely do we talk to our progeny about how to make smart money decisions. Ryan states: “If we really want our kids to succeed, money conversations need to become a priority and not an afterthought. Make the commitment to talk to your kids about money and if you don’t know how, then make the commitment to learn.”

Some money conversations can be difficult, but if debt is a problem and money is tight, Ryan has some great suggestions for budgeting and discussing budgeting within the family.

Money should not be a dirty word in anyone’s household. Honest discussions about a family’s economic situation works toward proper decision-making when it comes to spending. Including growing children and teens in the purpose of spending and the reasons for saving can help them build positive and emotion-free attitudes toward money as they build their own successful lives and careers.

Thanks to Shannon Ryan for her exceedingly helpful blog that can not only make money a positive word in our progeny’s vocabulary, but can also provide us with doable ideas about budgeting. Got a teen who wants to build up credit card debt? Arguments against. Check it out here. Our use and explanation of words like money and debt definitely affect our children’s economic future.

Money, Debt – Do Those Words Affect Children?

Thanks to Google Images

We Dream, We Plan, We Live

We Dream, We Plan, We Live

Magic Lake
Photo by Elena Shumilova

I wonder if some of the generations below us have decided that we are too old to dream. Because it is not so. There must be something in the DNA of humans, something lying fallow in our makeup that periodically blooms, grows, takes us over. We dream, we plan, we live. We go on living. Sometimes it’s hard to work toward those dreams. Sometimes the very act of dreaming provides us with solace. At our core we all have some vision that we aspire to, that we lean toward, that we encourage in ourselves and in our children and families. This blog features a woman, a mother who used her camera to bring the sense of dreaming into focus, and writers whose words build on dreaming, visions and a sharp understanding of life.

Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking, on understanding death. “I could not count the times during the average day when something would come up that I needed to tell him. This impulse did not end with his death. What ended was the possibility of response.”

Marilynne Robinson, Gilead, thoughts on laughter. “It is an amazing thing to watch people laugh, the way it sort of takes them over. Sometimes they really do struggle with it . . . so I wonder what it is and where it comes from, and I wonder what it expends out of your system, so that you have to do it till you’re done, like crying in a way, I suppose, except that laughter is much more easily spent.”

Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk, on yearning for the spiritual. “What have we been doing all these centuries but trying to call God back to the mountain, or, failing that, raise a peep out of anything that isn’t us? What is the difference between a cathedral and a physics lab? Are not they both saying: Hello? We spy on whales and on interstellar radio objects; we starve ourselves and pray till we’re blue.”

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

Vincent van Gogh on dreaming. “I dream my painting and I paint my dream.”

___C.S. Lewis on dreaming. “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.”

___Lewis B. Smedes on forgiving, which helps dreams come to life. “Forgiving does not erase the bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald, thoughts on writing. “That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.” And his famous last line from The Great Gatsby: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Because we do beat on, we do dream on, we do keep going. A person very dear to me wrote me this in the flap of a favorite book: Your creativity is boundless, and now I have the chance to make sure you truly believe this about yourself. My creativity, if it is anything at all, is your gift to me, and I’ll spend my life trying to give it back to you. 

Those words truly are the stuff of dreams. But so is the Valentine from the person we didn’t expect to hear from or the endorsement on Linked In, the recommendation freely offered for whatever goal, job, dream we are seeking. We all need to hold each other up, to be a brick in the wall of the dream of the persons we care about. It’s just so true, We are all in this together. 

So I thank my brother-in-law George for sharing Elena’s photos today. Because they sparked the seed for this blog post and they are truly the stuff of her dreams. Now what is the stuff of your dreams? And how are you going to work toward those dreams? And who will help you, who will offer to place a brick in the wall of your dream so that it is strong and purposeful? Please share your dreams.

We Dream, We Plan, We Live

The Bunny photo by Elena Shumilova

See more of Elena’s photos hereAnd here.

We Dream, We Plan, We Live

The Sun

The Spirit of the Tree

The Spirit of the Tree

We came upon this lovely creature holding firm to the earth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today we went for a hike. It’s hot and bright in Southern California, and we have not had rain since the 4th of March. But the trees in the Thousand Oaks Arboretum are alive and green and providing lots of shade. When we came upon this one in the hush of soft breezes and the occasional bird call, the spirit of the majestic oak filled the place. Nature is calming and I wondered if across our planet we could all find some peace if we focussed more on such gifts.

We met another wanderer on the trail, and he pointed us in the direction of a narrow path that took us down by a stream. Yes, there was water tricking despite the drought and birds enjoying the quiet and profound calm of the place

The Spirit of the Tree

Water, creatures and trees bending over–such a lovely gesture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we walked on, the trees opened to a vista of sky, this one making us wonder if the spirits were playing with water colors, spilling some white paint into the blue, streaking it lightly.

The Spirit of the Tree

…streaking it lightly with white paint.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you have had times when life was a struggle, that’s certainly true for nature. She is as tenacious as we are, her children lifting limbs with leaves, stems with flowers to the sun, working through the process of photosynthesis despite the lack of moisture. The plants in the photo below are thriving having decided that they can live without much water, if any.

The Spirit of the Tree

Hail to these survivors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were hot but exhilarated when we finished our two mile hike. We were grateful for a drink of water, yet more grateful to nature for the gift of amazing lavender and rosemary scents, buzzing insects, musical stream water and the ever attentive breeze. It’s a great stress reducer; it’s church–in the blowing grass, the waving branches.

For the spirit of creation is truly all around us. When we can, it is good to focus on it, soak it in. Even if your walk is punctuated with car horns and other traffic sounds–there should be one plant, one bright flower or bush shining somewhere, one tree for you to smile upon. The spirit of the tree–there to remind all of us to lift ourselves up–and hopefully to give back to others–like the tree continually does, shading us and sharing its constant strength.

Thanks to John Havey for the wonderful photos and the walk.

The Spirit of the Tree

Thanks for stopping by.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boomer Highway’s Health Headlines: News You Can Use

Boomer Highway's Health Headlines: News You Can UseBoomer Highway's Health Headlines: News You Can Use

Not to worry if you’re busy checking current aspects of the economy, trying to find a decent airfare to visit your grandchildren, or just too busy to read current health stuff. I’ve got your back. I’m drawn to all aspects of current health research and information, so here are some new health facts you should know.

It’s the Sugar, Baby! Not the Fats.

In the 80’s it was all about avoiding cholesterol and fats. Remember SnackWell’s? They’re still around in their very healthy green boxBut even though they promised limited fats, they upped the sugar so things would taste good—symbolic for that movement in the food industry. Fats were demonized, even though some cholesterol is good for us. In 1992 the Food Guide Pyramid made grains and bread the foundation of the U.S. diet. The idea was to cut calories, but research shows Americans began upping their calories and obesity and Type 2 diabetes skyrocketed. The problem: simple carbs like bread and corn quickly convert to sugar in your body. The sugar stimulates the production of insulin and then the fat cells in your body go into storage overdrive leading to weight gain. There will always be ongoing studies, but to keep weight in control, eating REAL FOOD, like fruits, vegetables, lean meats and whole grains is the way to go. Forget the SnackWell’s. Read more in Time.

What’s Your Type 2 IQ?

If you’re all good about your weight and you eat a healthy diet, you might want to skip this, but if you have questions about diabetes or a family history–take the quiz. Because diabetes is a complex disease, and myths about it are very common. How much do YOU know about what cases it and how to treat it?

1. Eating lots of sugar (candy, cake) causes Type 2 diabetes. T  F

2. Type 2 diabetes happens only to overweight people. T  F

3. Type 2 diabetes occurs only in adulthood.  T  F

4. People with Type 2 diabetes must go on a special diet. T  F

5. If you have Type 2 diabetes, you must inject insulin. T  F

1. False. With Type 2 diabetes, your body can’t use insulin properly. Either the cells in your body are no longer able to accept the insulin or you have too many cells (because of being overweight) and not enough insulin. However, there is a connection between a poor diet that is high in carbs leading to the chance of getting Type 2 diabetes. (see the info in question #2)

2. False. People who are overweight have a greater risk of Type 2, but even normal-weight and under-weight people can get Type 2 because it can run in families.

3. False Type 2 diabetes used to affect mainly overweight adults over age 40. Now rates are increasing among children and teens, many of whom are obese and inactive.

4. False There’s no such thing as a diabetes diet, but if you have Type 2 diabetes, it’s important to eat healthy food in consistent amounts, as well as to avoid too many carbohydrates, so as to keep your blood sugar levels stable.

5. False. Some people with Type 2 diabetes can be treated with medications in pill form. Still others can avoid all drugs by maintaining a healthy weight and diet.

Don’t Slow Down. Fast walking is the thing! 

My mother was a fast walker. Even in her 80s she walked to the train, then once downtown she walked quickly to her job. Mom lived into her late 90s and it was only when she was 94 that one could see dementia beginning. New research done by Dr. Arthur F. Kramer supports the theory that walking a few miles per week can hold off the progress of Alzheimer’s disease. The study states:”people who walk at least 5 miles a week have bigger brains, better memories and improved mental ability compared to those who are more sedentary.” Because aging causes the brain circuits to become less connected, researchers wanted to see if brisk walking, as a form of aerobic exercise, would change that. The results: Those who walked briskly reaped the biggest benefits – older people in the study became more fit and simultaneously their aerobic exercise improved memory, attention and other cognitive processes. Their circuit connectivity increased so much, it mimicked that of the 20-somethings. To learn more about the study, read here and here  Note that many kinds of exercise can help protect brain health. Aim for 150 minutes of activity a week.

Here are some examples:

Biking or running: 30-40 minutes, six times a week

Racquetball: 90 minutes twice a week

Walking: 45 minutes daily.

Sleep-Time Tips

1. A sleep schedule is a great way to get a good night’s rest. Try to go to bed and arise at the same time every day. You can set your “alarm” for both.

2. Exercise should occur at least 5 to 6 hours before bedtime. Exercise is stimulating and can keep you awake.

3. No stimulants. Nicotine and caffeine can take up to 8 hours to wear off. It’s best to avoid foods and drinks with caffeine late in the day and avoid smoking altogether.

4. No nightcap. Alcohol makes you feel sleepy and relaxed, but it can disrupt your sleep cycles. Such sleep is less restful and can make you wake up in the middle of the night.

5. Make it dark. Eliminate light sources in your bedroom, as people sleep better in the dark when the light won’t interfere with your circadian rhythms.

6. Set the mood. Avoid jumping from activity to bed. Increase the time for getting ready by relaxing, maybe with a warm bath, good book or soft music. It helps your body settle in for sleep.

7. Don’t worry. If after 20 minutes you can’t sleep, get up and do something relaxing, like reading. The more you stress about not sleeping the longer you will stay awake.

8. Go Before You Go to Bed. Limit your fluid intake a few hours before sleeping, and try to do a double void–urinate once before your bedtime routine and then again right before you climb into bed.

So if you’ve got a program that is keeping you fit and you remember where your glasses or car keys are at all times–share your health headline. It’s news we all can use!

Thanks to Google Images

Boomer Highway's Health Headlines: News You Can Use

Do We Ever Really Leave THE NEST?

images images-3

“Growing up is losing some illusions, in order to acquire others.” — Virginia Woolf

Is that why so many people write memoirs—to hang on to the illusions of childhood? Oh so wonderful, lost childhood! Despite my father’s death when I was 3, I think my childhood was just about perfect. And I fiercely hold on to memories that delight me, make me feel loved and secure. But now and again that time in my life must rise inside me or tug me backwards or make things fly out of my mouth. Like when I remind people that I did not have a father. Why do I do that? Am I still in some pain? So I am asking you—do we ever really leave the nest?

Writers like Jonathan Safran Foer struggle with this question. A female character must be revealing his experience when she says: When I was a girl, my life was music that was always getting louder. Everything moved me… A calendar that showed the wrong month. I could have cried over it. I did… I spent my life learning to feel less. Every day I felt less. Is that growing old? Or is it something worse? You cannot protect yourself from sadness without protecting yourself from happiness.

These are eternal questions that we all ask, though every person’s childhood is unique to them—some having incredible struggles, some having very few.

If my little world became confusing and distorted because one day my father was there, and then the next he was not—I blocked it out. I have little to no memory of him. Oddly, what I do remember was clinging to the world of my house—the nest.

At three, I started straightening throw rugs. Before I hit ten, I had insulted the cleaning woman by telling her that after dusting, she didn’t put stuff back right. The paperwork my mother did to support us drove me crazy, as it often littered our dining room. In college, I even cleaned up after my roommate. And whenever possible to this day the first thing I do on arising is make the bed I’ve slept in, even in hotels. And over the years I have gotten in trouble with various family members by tidying up and putting away something that then becomes undiscoverable.

All of this is part of the 3-year-old child that still lives inside me—a shy person who got over her shyness and became a teacher and a nurse, a person who loves to travel, but also really likes being home. A person who still wants order in her world and who firmly believes in monitoring and gradually exposing children to the harsh aspects of living.

J.D. Salinger thinks the same way. Here is Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the RyeI saw something that drove me crazy. Somebody’d written ‘fuck you’ on the wall. It drove me damn near crazy. I thought how Phoebe and all the other little kids would see it, and how they’d wonder what the hell it meant, and then finally some dirty kid would tell them— all cockeyed naturally—what it meant, and how they’d all think about it and maybe even worry about it for a couple of days. I kept wanting to kill whoever’d written it.

Holden has a real concern. Some children are exposed to awful things at a very young age—right in their home environment. Do they remember? Do those events contribute to the development of the child later on? Did my father’s death make me crave order? Did I block it out because it was so horrible or because I was only 3 and I had childhood amnesia?

The latter is explained in a few ways: Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud believed childhood amnesia was a response to sexual repression, but another theory points to our lack of language skills before the age of three. It may be that our memories need to be stored conceptually and associated with the kinds of words and meanings that we don’t really get to grips with until we’re about three-years-old. Perhaps all of your childhood memories are still intact but in a form you can’t access anymore. Yet another view is that young childrens’ brains simply don’t have the tools to store memory properly. Babies are born with billions of brain cells but relatively few connections between them and so the areas of the brain responsible for processing memories are immature. In our brains, connections are everything and brain imaging studies on babies and toddlers suggest that between 8-24 months is when their brains are most active at growing more connections. 

Okay, so there is no definitive answer, but in my case, and maybe in yours, things that occurred in my childhood have definitely formed me. And I feel that most of them are positive. Gary Zukav, author of The Seat of the Soul, would probably tell me that I am not “in pain” when I bring up my father. He would say that certainly there are dynamics and experiences in my life that will make me remember the loss, but that I have the power to control my response, to not feel hurt or pain when thinking of my loss. He is saying it is my choice.

Zukav writes: This is good news. Each time the dynamic is activated, for example, anger, abandonment, humiliation, you will have another opportunity to look inside. You will again feel the magnetic attraction of fear, the powerful pull of judgment, the need to prove that another person is causing your pain. But you can choose to experience the interior source of your pain—instead of blaming it on others. (Or as in my case blaming it on a circumstance beyond my control).

So I believe we finally do leave the nest and grow up, but I think we bring a lot of its remnants with us. If we are fortunate to have experienced good parenting, the remnants we bring can help us deal with the twists and turns of living. But sometimes not. Then we might block the memories or as Zukav warns, we might do more damage to ourselves by allowing them to hurt us again and again throughout our lives. “Only you can do damage to yourself,” he writes. Do you agree? It certainly means coming to grips with the past that has a way of entwining itself with the present. Better to not be angry and want to kill someone like Holden Caulfield. Better to accept the bad stuff and focus really really hard on the good. Please share your thoughts.

I walked over to the hill where we used to go and sled. There were a lot of little kids there. I watched them flying. Doing jumps and having races. And I thought that all those little kids are going to grow up someday. And all of those little kids are going to do the things that we do. And they will all kiss someone someday. But for now, sledding is enough. I think it would be great if sledding were always enough, but it isn’t. — Stephen Chbosky

Thanks to Thought Catalogue  Thanks to Google Images

And to end on a humorous note: maybe this is why I loved Snow White as a kid. She really knew how to clean up a mess!!!!

Do We Ever Really Leave THE NEST?

 

 

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What Is Liminal Space and Why It’s Our New Normal

What Is Liminal Space and Why It's Our New Normal

We stand on the threshold, under the cloud of unknowing.

After 9-11 life was totally altered, for all of us. As a writer, I sat and stared at my manuscript wondering if anyone would ever read a novel again. Should I even bother. My husband had been traveling—not to New York, but to Connecticut. When he finally got home late on Friday, there was relief. But normality escaped us. It escaped everyone.

Then in those next few days, a friend offered me some insight. It came in the words of Father Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest whose teaching is like that of the first St. Francis: empty yourself, be compassionate of others, especially those that are socially marginalized. Okay. How do I do that when I am angry and confused.

Rohr spoke of liminal space—and despite my many years of study and reading, those were words I had never heard. He defined it as: a unique spiritual position where human beings hate to be… It is when you have left the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else… It is when you are between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer. If you are not trained in how to hold anxiety, how to live with ambiguity, how to entrust and wait, you will run…anything to flee this terrible cloud of unknowing. 
- Richard Rohr

Now I had a label for what I was feeling, what millions were feeling: liminal space—this terrible cloud of unknowing.

It was a terrible time—but ever so slowly we went back to work, children back to school and life haltingly proceeded. My husband had lost a co-worker who had been at the hotel attached to one of the towers. His body was never found. More and more images of that day were released and they stuck us all in this new and frightening liminal space. It was some horrible new norm, but all we could do was go on. For many—even that did not happen. There was too much pain and sorrow to allow for moving forward. Adjustments were indescribable and unlivable.

When I finally sat at the keyboard and worked again on my novel, I injected the concept of liminal space. It felt right. My character was truly living there.

But you know what? Often—we all are. Because we are always waiting for something: a job, a pregnancy, a graduation, a diagnosis, an acceptance letter, even a death; or a yes from someone who is holding what feels like the rest of our lives over our heads until the yes comes through. Until then, we are under that cloud of unknowing.

Regardless, there is often good news also, just as there was post-9-11. We saw, heard and felt the warmth, love, understanding and giving of many Americans who did whatever they could to help those who had lost someone. Later it was young men and women who joined our volunteer army, feeling that was the best way to give.

Certainly liminal space always challenges us humans. We are rarely free of the unknowing—because ah, yes, we are mortal and have no knowledge of the date of our demise. That’s a given. But it can be used to power our love of self (taking care of our bodies) and love of those we live and work with. For how much better to offer understanding, honesty and friendship on a daily basis—because who really knows what the next hours will bring.

Pain, trouble, even threatened violence can provide all of us with teachable moments. Though we find ourselves in liminal space, on the threshold of something unknowable, we forge ahead: the cancer patient who goes into remission and dedicates her time to helping other patients; the teacher who takes extra time to work with the very student who upsets his classroom; the doctor or nurse who enters the clinic despite life-threats; the cop on the beat who does all he can to make certain-sure before using deadly force; the mother, father, neighbor, citizen who listens and evaluates any situation before making a judgment or rising to anger.

After 9-11 Rohr reminded us that both Christian and Muslim mystics preferred the language of darkness. That is: they were most at home in the realm of not-knowing. In such darkness, Rohr writes, things are more spacious and open to creative response. We are more open to letting in God or blessed, positive thoughts–just like the cancer patient who is grateful for every day and turns darkness into light. This from the Persian mystic Hafiz:

Don’t surrender your loneliness so quickly.

Let it cut more deep.

Let it ferment and season you

As few human or even divine ingredients can.

Something missing in my heart tonight has made my eyes so soft.

My voice so tender, my need of God, absolutely clear.

Finally, in this time of questioning, where we find ourselves often divided, even from friends and loved ones who feel and think differently than we do, try to accept and live in the cloud of unknowing. Try to move a bit closer to the other side or try to find something they share with you. It can be very challenging and just downright hard. But remember, you are both in liminal space, not truly knowing all.

Literature–inspirational books, poetry, memoirs, reflections–can serve as guides. There is actually a website devoted to liminal space that can help lift that cloud.

Music allows cultures to come together sharing dance, songs and just the joy of listening. And recently I saw the new film The Hundred-Foot Journey which underlines that people and cultures that are vastly different can cross the threshold and come to a place were there is not only knowing, but sharing and love. Because we have no choice but to often live on the threshold, uncertain of which path to take. We exist in this liminal space, a new normal that we must accept and work with so the cloud of unknowing will be transformed into one of understanding.

Thanks always to Father Richard Rohr

Thanks to Google Images

What Is Liminal Space and Why It's Our New Normal

Travel: The Magic Carpet of Self-Discovery

Travel: The Magic Carpet of Self-Discovery

Here is the Magic Carpet.
photo by John Havey

Traveling is about discovery. But along with seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time or realizing that the glaciers are truly melting is the process of self-discovery. Travel takes a person out of routine and in many cases away from comfort. Travel can teach about humanity and open fascinating and different worlds for questioning. Travel can challenge a person’s beliefs and change their understanding of how life is lived. The sheer variety travel can provide is a kind of magic carpet.

Travel and Comfort

As an over-fifty person, travel for me works really well if sameness is attached to newness. What do I mean by that? I like traveling on cruise ships because my hotel room goes along with me—it becomes my home away from home and I feel comfort and a sense of belonging when I go back to it. But in the very same vein, I liked camping in my thirties with my family. We would establish that comfort zone in our tent and then go off to explore and hike and exhaust ourselves. Then the tent awaited.

I have friends that currently are traveling across the country in an RV after selling their home. I think that’s amazing considering weather, long trips between gas stations and the necessity of finding the right spot to hook up their traveling home for electricity and a hot shower.

Where Are You on the Adventure Scale?

Of course there are people on this planet that are totally adventurous. We could put them on an adventure scale that might look like this:

Risky, total adventuring    looking for a few thrills    no thrills, just simple viewing    watching travel videos at home!

I’m still looking for a few thrills. When we went whitewater rafting, some persuasion was needed after I read the release form. But the guy who ran the ride at the Kicking Horse River in Canada rode with me in the back of the raft and there’s only one word for the experience–AWESOME.

Travel takes you away from your familiar life and activities, but never from responsibility. As a member of humanity living on this planet, travel should open our hearts and minds to things we need to know, people we need to care about. Traveling is the portable classroom that teaches us about the world and OURSELVES. Examples–

  • I like meeting people and discovering what they do, how they live
  • I am willing to try new things–new foods, methods of transportation
  • I can hold back at times and be uncertain
  • I am always eager to purchase the art and crafts of different countries, but practice self-restraint
  • I like imaging what it would be like to live on the canals of Venice or in the rainy city of Juneau, Alaska

Place Is Memory

This last idea relates to the act of living. Because wherever you dwell, place becomes memory. I’ve lived in 3 U.S. cities and recently traveled back to Chicago, where I was born, where we raised our children. Wow. For me, that city has a memory on every block. It bears the weight of my history–it opens up my early life, once caught in the passage of time. Example: “Remember? On my 21st birthday, you and I sat in that corner of the pizzeria and you bought me my first alcoholic drink. But a 7 And 7. Ugh.”

Thoughts on Recent Travel

So on a recent visit to Chicago, it came down to not just reliving the old and familiar in that city, but to reveling in the new. Many changes have occured along the lakeshore. Walking through Chicago’s Museum Campus reveals restructuring of roads and gardens so that bikers and strollers can access the Planetarium, Field Museum and Aquarium with no car and parking stress needed. It’s wonderful.

And on Michigan Avenue we spent a purposeful period of time viewing a work of art, a  metaphor for the power of difference and possibly the shame of finding fault with the spectrum of those differences.

It is AGORA, the work of Magdalena Abakanawitz, the Polish sculptor who has explained her work saying: “They must be like one body that represents so many different meanings. It’s the self against the whole world.”

Travel: The Magic Carpet of Self-Discovery

The name Agora refers to the urban meeting places of the Ancient Greek city-states. The artist portrays these figures as  visibly hollow, suggesting that despite their strong physical presence, they might be shells of people who have become lost. They are genderless and ageless. They invoke humanity on a very affecting level. You walk through them and wonder about their connectedness and disconnectedness–they move as one yet they move apart. Isn’t that similar to how you feel walking down a busy metropolitan street? Isn’t that how you feel when watching the current news and seeing scores of displaced peoples moving down miles of road? Abakanowitz compares this work to nature, where herds of animals or leaves on trees are a metaphor for an overwhelming number of objects being the same and yet different. Like people.

The artist, who was a youth during World War II, has said that her art draws on her fear of crowds, which she once described as “brainless organisms acting on command, worshiping on command and hating on command.” Some critics have said that if you give the figures the right intent, and if you think of them as whole with brains and hearts, then maybe you are looking at an emblem of democracy instead of the emblem of her memories fraught with real fears.

Concluding Thoughts

But again, through video and the internet, through reading and awareness–we all are traveling every day. We all can become vessels of self-discovery. And I have one last powerful suggestion.  It comes from knowing that when many of us who constantly know comfort–when we discuss traveling, we are talking about vacations, suitcases and airplane tickets. We are not talking about what is happening at this very moment to millions of people on our planet. They are also traveling because they are escaping governments or environmental conditions that predict death or suffering for their families. They seek the comfort of sameness, of home. If each one of us could do something through donations, volunteering or CHANGING THE WAY WE THINK about those who have less than we have, we can make life more positive for the people of AGORA, the people of the communities and city states on our earth.

Travel: The Magic Carpet of Self-Discovery

A glacier near Juneau, Alaska      John Havey photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Travel: The Magic Carpet of Self-Discovery

 

Thanks to Google Images

The Grimke’ Sisters: Freedom and Wings for Everyone

The Grimke' Sisters: Freedom and Wings for Everyone

Note the images of wings in some of the squares.

 

The Grimke' Sisters: Freedom and Wings for Everyone

This quilt reveals the dangers of flight.

Sue Monk Kidd, author of the well-received novel, THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES (2002) was in New York City in 2007 to view Judy Chicago’s “The Dinner Party.” Kidd says that while there, she was thinking about a new novel about two sisters. Reading the names of women Judy Chicago wished to celebrate, Kidd saw the names Sarah and Angelina Grimke’, sisters from Charleston South Carolina. Being from Charleston, Kidd was amazed that she had not heard of them. Back home, she began researching the women’s lives, only to discover that she’d been driving by the Grimke’ sisters unmarked home for over ten years. Subsequent research revealed that both were feminist thinkers and the first female abolitionists whose pamphlets were published by William Lloyd Garrison.

Women’s History Erased 

Kidd writes: “My ignorance of them felt like both a personal failing and a confirmation of Judy Chicago’s view that women’s achievements had been repeatedly erased through history.” Kidd stated that Sarah and Angelina’s pamphlet, AMERICAN SLAVERY AS IT ISwas written 15 years before Harriet Beecher Stowe’s UNCLE TOM’S CABIN, and that the Grimke’ sisters were out crusading for the immediate emancipation of slaves and for racial equality, an idea that was radical even among abolitionists. Their desire for freedom also extended to women’s rights, ten years before the Seneca Falls Convention.  

Those Scapular Bones 

What followed from her research was Kidd’s fictionalized story of the history of the Grimke’ sisters in her current novel, THE INVENTION OF WINGS, a New York Times bestseller. I smiled at the title, remembering that one of my short stories, “Back Problems” had a scene in which the protagonist, Kate, has overcome back pain which was both physical and related to her life choices. The final scene read: As Kate runs, she thinks about her physical therapist, remembers that he told her that she had large scapular bones, larger than most people’s. “You know about evolution,” he had said, “well the scapular bones are you wings and you’d just be able to fly farther than the others.”

At the very beginning of Kidd’s book, we meet Hetty, whose Mauma calls her Handful. Mauma explains to Handful that in Africa her grandmother flew over trees and clouds, flew like a blackbird. But she says: “When we came here, we left that magic behind.” When Handful is skeptical Mauma says: “You don’t believe me? Where you think these shoulder blades of your come from, girl?…This is all what left of your wings. They nothing but these flat bones now, but one day you gon get ‘em back.”

Hetty Is Sarah’s Birthday Gift

And so begins the story of Hetty who is an amazing Handful, because she learns to fight, knowing that she deserves her freedom, that she deserves to get her wings back. If there is a shred of good fortune in Hetty’s life, it’s that though she is a slave, she lives in Sarah Grimke’s house. Sarah begins to abhor slavery and everything connected to it, starting with her 11th birthday when Hetty is given to her as a gift.

Sarah Grimke’s writings relate that she was eager to teach her personal slave to read when the girl showed an interest. She was also eager to set up a Sunday school program for other slave children to teach them the Bible. But she met resistance, her parents disallowing literacy for their slaves, probably fearing a natural movement toward dissatisfaction and rebellion. Their approach: Mental exertion would make the slaves unable to perform their physical labors. A law initiated in South Carolina in 1740 supported such a decision as it forbid the teaching of slaves. Sarah’s father threatened to whip her  slave when he heard Sarah was teaching the girl to read.

Sarah herself had to struggle to be educated. Though her brothers were sent to Yale, being female, she was not. It is recorded that her father remarked that if Sarah had been a boy, “she would have made the greatest jurist in the country.” These words stayed with Sarah and she taught herself elements of the law from the books she could find and by questioning her brothers when they were home from university. But the inequality she lived with in the slave-oriented culture of the South, fed her desire for change—change for women, change for slaves.

The Power of Sue Monk Kidd’s Insight

Though Kidd’s book is fiction, she stays loyal to the history of the Grimke’ sisters and their efforts in both the abolitionist and feminist movements. But it is Kidd’s writing power that shines when her fiction gets into the mind of a woman she has only read about and imagines what thoughts might have affected her heart and mind so that she dedicated her life to change. Kidd writes these thoughts of Sarah: “I saw then what I hadn’t seen before, that I was very good at despising slavery in the abstract, in the removed and anonymous masses, but in the concrete, intimate flesh of the girl beside me (Hetty) I’d lost the ability to be repulsed by it. I’d grown comfortable with the particulars of evil. There’s a frightful muteness that dwells at the center of all unspeakable things, and I had found my way into it.”

This is not only the essence of Kidd’s book, it is the essence of the eternal dance of racism, the tricks of thought that we use now and again to excuse ourselves, that allows us to allow things that should not be allowed.

Gone with the Wind–Sugar Anyone?

My mother loved the book and the film GONE WITH THE WIND, but that story does exactly what Kidd is talking about–it allows the reader and the viewer to grow comfortable with the particulars of evil. Not even Prissy’s admission:”I don’t know nothin’ ’bout birthin’ babies!” isn’t really humorous. She’s a slave–and slaves were uneducated and treated like a potted plant if they were house slaves, treated like much worse if they worked on the plantation under the whip of the overseer. GONE WITH THE WIND is fiction and so is Kidd’s book, but she’s done her homework–there is no sugar-coating here.

Slave Quilts “Hidden in Plain View”

The novel includes the fascinating art of quilting which served slaves in more ways than one. Hetty’s mama, Charlotte, is the house seamstress–her job is to make clothing for the Grimke’ family and for all the slaves. Even in that position, things don’t go well for Charlotte because she fights daily for her freedom and part of that fight is the quilt squares that she makes late into the night. They depict her life–her mother’s slave ship, Hetty’s birth and separation from her father, the grandmother’s death. Slaves quilted not only to cover their children and themselves in their unheated cabins, but also to tell stories and to provide secret codes that helped slaves know when and how to safely escape. Blackbirds were a frequent symbol of flight. Quilt squares “hidden in plain view” revealed pathways for fugitives to follow on the underground railroad.

Thus Kidd’s book teaches history that is fascinating and important and allows the reader to ponder the hard choices of that life and time. If you’ve read THE INVENTION OF WINGS, please share your thoughts. Freedom and wings for everyone.

Thanks to Google Images

 

The Grimke' Sisters: Freedom and Wings for Everyone