I have often admitted that learning and teaching gave me a way to temporarily turn off the challenges of living. Going to school comforted me after my father’s death and well into my teen years.… More
Each of us has a destiny that is mostly of our own making but life has a way of intersecting our plans and sending us in directions that we might never have otherwise imagined. When we are young we tend to think big, hoping that somehow we will be that one person who impacts the world in positive life changing ways. As time goes by we begin to realize that for most of us our influence will be rather quiet and unassuming but nonetheless critical to the unfolding of history. It is in each small act multiplied a thousand times over that we actually make differences that may never be noticed but nonetheless have a ripple effect on the future. It is most often in our unplanned moments that we achieve the relevance that we seek. Sometimes we never even know how we may have changed the course of life.
Like most young people I began my journey into adulthood filled with outsized dreams. I suppose that I initially wanted it all, fame, fortune, significance. I certainly felt that I had the potential to achieve whatever I desired but my attention to matters of career and success were diverted time and again by affairs of family and friendship. I soon occurred to me that the so called trappings of power and influence meant less to me than caring for the people that I loved. I felt a responsibility for their safety and happiness that over road my ambitions on occasion after occasion. By choice I embraced a quiet and mostly obscure life of balancing work and home and friendships. I passed on opportunities that might have propelled me into the limelight because I knew that it was more important to perform the age old balancing act that women have embraced for centuries.
Tradition encourages men to be providers and women to be caretakers. Moving out of that mold requires a level of energy and skill that I never fully developed. I all too often found myself doing a mediocre job of trying to be all things to all people and so ultimately I had to decide exactly what I was able to handle and still manage to do a somewhat good job in each arena. Added to my responsibilities was the life long care of my mother whenever her mental illness rose to the forefront of my concerns. In those times I suppose I neglected my job, my children and my husband to varying degrees in that order. Luckily I was surrounded by incredibly understanding people who took up the slack for me in each part of my duties.
For a time I felt resentful that my role in life was so confined by circumstance but over time I began to understand that I was actually choosing how to react. I was not bound by anyone but myself. When I realized that I had been exercising my own free will I began to see that my destiny had always been to quietly minister to the people closest to me. I saw it as an honor, albeit a challenging one, to be able to nurse my mom through the cycles of depression and mania that overtook her mind with the regularity of the seasons. I found that my work gave me enough flexibility to do something important while still being a rock of refuge for my mother. It also allowed me to be present for my daughters in ways that other jobs might have inhibited.
My family supported me on the thousands of evenings when I graded papers and planned lessons. They listened to my babbling about my students. They honored and respected what I was doing even though the hours that I gave to it were never repaid in monetary rewards that may have allowed them to enjoy a higher standard of living. They sacrificed so that I might feel good about my small contribution to the world.
My destiny ended up being a life of service which in some ways has been a somewhat selfish thing. I think I may have given myself more joy than I ever shared with the people for whom I cared. The feeling of doing something important for a single soul is beyond measure and I have felt that rush of altruism over and over again. Still, I find myself thinking that there is more that I must do. I listen for hints of how I might make small differences in each of my remaining days.
I am now retired. My influence and contacts are dwindling. The world is chugging along without me. My mother is gone, freeing me to do more for others, but I no longer have the energy that I once had. I accomplish smaller and smaller things. I imagine a time in the future when I may even become someone’s project, a person who must be helped rather than being a helper. It will be more difficult for me to accept that role than any other that I have thus far performed.
My hope is that I will maintain my mind, my health and my independence like my grandfather did. I want to be like him in providing a kind of wisdom and hopefulness to those I encounter. He was a teacher, a storyteller, an historian, a philosopher in the last decades of his life. His world became smaller and smaller as he approached his one hundred eighth year but his knowledge and understanding only grew. He shared his optimism and inspired us with his certainty that life was unfolding just as it was meant to be. He helped us to understand how the jumbled threads of our lives ultimately weave a glorious and unique tapestry.
Each of us has a destiny. From moment to moment we are changing the world in ways both big and small. Every life is important. Hopefully we have made choices that make us better people. Hopefully we will be ready to accept and tackle the unexpected challenges that come our way. The millions of choices being made the world over ultimately affect us all. Let us hope that we always choose well.
I have been married for so long that I no longer have any idea what it is like to be single. I’ve always been an independent minded woman who made my own decisions and followed my dreams but I have come to rely on the constant presence of my husband in my life after fifty two years. He is always there to listen to my ideas, my worries, my joys, my laughter. I know that there is someone in the other room to patiently allow me to vent my frustrations or pitch my sometime crazy theories about life. He often says something I am thinking before I have even had an opportunity to open my mouth. We find the same things funny and complete each other’s sentences. Being together is as comfortable as wearing a nice soft old robe that may be a bit out of style or worn but feels just right on any day.
My man and I don’t always agree on things but that is one of the best aspects of our relationship. We do not have to be totally in sync to respect each other’s opinions. I learn from him and like to think that he also garners new information and wisdom from me. He’s a bit on the hard headed side when it comes to some things but mostly he is rather relaxed and a perfect foil for my perfectionism. Our friendship has worked out quite well over the long haul so much so that it really does feel as though we were destined to be together.
We are slowly reaching a somewhat disturbing age when we realize that the death of one or the other of us is more and more inevitable. I’d like to think that we will at least reach our nineties but my mother and both of my grandmothers died in their mid-eighties and many in his family did not even make it to those golden years. I try not to dwell on such thoughts but I already have friends who are widowed and far too many of the people who were once our dearest friends have already died. Each year it seems as though someone not too far removed from our age group passes, often somewhat suddenly.
I suppose that it is a bit morose to even speak of such things but it is in my nature to consider the future and make plans for whatever may happen. I am not so obsessed with the idea that I make myself sick over it but I do know that if anything were to happen to my husband it would require a huge adjustment for me. I was only nineteen years old when we married so I have literally spent my whole life with him.
I remember that my grandfather lived for more than twenty years after my grandmother died and for the most part he adjusted to his new situation quite well. Now and again though he would speak so nostalgically of the good times that he shared with Grandma. He would smile and call her his buddy and admit that he missed her every single day.
Being married keeps me balanced. I have a tendency to become overly absorbed in anything that I do. Because I have someone else in my life I pull myself back from switching my days and nights or becoming a total hermit. My husband reminds me of the importance of enjoying life more than I might if I were alone.
My mother was only married for eleven years when my father died. She was thirty years old and spent the next fifty four years by herself. She had to learn how to be independent and find ways of providing for a family. Back in her day women were mostly housewives and that was all she ever really wanted to do. She struggled financially for the rest of her life but her frugality and financial wizardry pulled her through. At the time of her death she fully owned her home and had zero debt but she suffered from mental illness that I sometimes wondered might have been exacerbated by the stresses of raising a family alone. In her later years she was content to be by herself but as she grew older she became more and more afraid that someone might take advantage of her. Like my grandfather she admitted that she still missed my father.
I envy women who have mastered the art of living alone. I have a cousin who has been a roaring success at fending for herself and enjoying life as a single woman. I have to admit that she has accomplished more and experienced more than I have even dreamed of doing. She is my role model in case the need ever arises for me to be alone. In the meantime I treasure my good fortune in having decades of joy with a person who understands me better than anyone ever has, sometimes more than I understand myself. It’s rather amazing to know that someone loves you in spite of many flaws. I know that I am not the easiest person in the world with whom to live but somehow he just smiles and lets me be me. I suppose that in the final analysis that is the real secret to our success. I hope to enjoy each moment that lies ahead because everyday with him is a joy and I don’t want to miss even a tiny bit of it.
I have a love/hate affair with the kind of silly games that ask seemingly trivial questions that have the power to be life changing. Thus I encountered a query that should have been relatively easy to answer but ended up sending me into a frenzy of thought. Essentially I was asked to choose one person on the planet that I would like to visit in person, only one.
It was a somewhat disturbing inquiry given the year long isolation in my home that has only recently relaxed just a bit. In the last few weeks I’ve been able to visit my father-in-law and mother-in-law inside their home without masks since we have all been fully vaccinated. We’ve even been able to hug and eat together, a true blessing given that they are both in their nineties with troubling health problems. COVID 19 had restricted our interactions so much that in the back of my mind I was constantly worried that i might somehow bring the illness into their home whenever we dropped by to check on them. I also silently fretted that they might leave this earth before we were able to hug to demonstrate our love again.
My daughters are still insisting on outdoor gatherings with proper social distancing, but the fact that we are getting together is a promising bit of progress. We’ve planned a camping trip with my brother and sister-in-law and each day I get new invitations in my mailbox to various events. Some of them are far enough in the future that I actually think I may be able to attend. Others may be rushing our entry back into a semi state of normalcy. Whatever the case we are tentatively making plans that involve actual human contact in a world that has been locked down to a varying extent for a very unnatural stretch of time.
Hermits are outliers. The rest of us need and crave interactions with other people. It is as much a part of our natures as eating and sleeping. We have been willing to sacrifice for the common good but as we see a glimmer of hope in the fight against the virus that has so changed the way we live, we are ready to resume the routines, traditions and gatherings that we had scheduled on our calendars before things were so abruptly turned upside down. So asking who on the planet I would like to see brings a host of emotions to my mind. I cannot easily choose because I want to see everyone. I cry at the very thought of reunions and become giddy in my hopefulness while also reminding myself not to be overly optimistic. I do not want to be disappointed by being overly enthusiastic before it is time.
If I were to force myself to choose just one person to visit in all of the world I suppose that I would like to have a long conversation with someone like Pope Francis. I have many questions to ask him but I worry a bit that I may not like his answers. Still I admire him greatly and I long to talk with him about his views on various topics as well as tell him about some of my own. It would be wonderful to discuss how to approach the challenges of our plant like two friends brainstorming ideas.
I have to admit that I was both confused and disappointed by the recent papal decree regarding same sex marriage. I’d like to know the pope’s rational for making such a statement particularly at a time when there is already so much pain and turmoil in the world. Calling such unions “a sin” seemed harsh and out of line with Francis’ general character. I have a difficult time understanding how genuine love between two people can be deemed as anything other than beautiful. It seems to me that Jesus himself never directly addressed such a situation other than to command us to love. Supposed references to same sex liaisons all appear in the old testament, not the new. I would argue with the pope that maybe we should instead rethink the old aversions to a different kind of relationship. Our modern knowledge has shown us that homosexuality is not truly unnatural. Why do we cling to old viewpoints in judging it?
I’d also urge the pope to consider giving women a greater role within the church. I think that allowing females to become priests would breathe new life into the Catholic faith and solve a number of its challenges at the same time. Women are already in powerful positions of all kinds so why not include the priesthood? If we look at strong women like Mother Teresa and Mother Cabrini surely we can see that they accomplished more of the Lord’s work than most men would have been able to do. It’s time we modernize the church and prepare for a future that is more inclusive in its love. Jesus himself often rocked the boat by challenging outmoded thinking. I believe that it is something he would want us to continue to do.
I’d like to ask the pope how I should work to help alleviate the suffering and poverty of so many of God’s children. I live in a wealthy country that has the power to do more but all too often looks the other way when faced with those who have so much less. I want to learn what he thinks Jesus would expect from us. I know that this is a very important topic for him. In fact he has demonstrated his love for the least among us again and again.
I’d also like to hear the pope’s views on protecting our planet. How can we share the earth’s bounty and also be cognizant of the future? What are the sacrifices that we must make? How can we as followers of Christ lead the world toward better days? Additionally I want to discuss how we might encourage more young people to embrace religion along with science and free thinking.
I believe that it would be a true blessing to talk with this holy man and I would do so with reverence but I would not be afraid to question things that worry me. I tend to think that he would agree with my willingness to seek answers. I would hope that his messages to me would fill me with optimism for our humanity because that is what my faith has always meant to me. It is not about exclusion or judgement or punishment. It is and should always be about love. It would be nice to just converse with someone whom I believe to be a kindred spirit even if we end up disagreeing on a few things here and there. I just know it would be a grand visit at his house.
It was his birthday and there was a party at his home. He lived in a two story house set on a massive lot under the shade of trees that appeared to be as old as the city. The lawn was perfectly manicured and boasted a bed of spring flowers bursting forth in all their glory. I was a bit overwhelmed by the elegance of the place until I saw him standing in the doorway smiling at me. He seemed rather happy that I had come and gave me a hug as soon as I reached the entry.
He took me inside where many of our friends had already gathered and others that I did not know were eying me with curiosity. There were the usual birthday traditions of food and gifts and games and small talk. He was busy being a great host but as the frivolity began to wind down he suggested that we take a tour of the house. I agreed that I wanted to see more of the place and so he told me about each of the lovely rooms as we walked and talked. Eventually our journey lead us to a walk up attic, something I had not seen before. I was accustomed to reaching an attic on a tiny ladder leading to a small opening that required agility and climbing skills. This was like just going to another room.
It was a dark place filled with boxes and the kind of belongings that are only used now and again. A shaft of light beamed through a window near the peak of the roof offering the only illumination in the space. I wondered why he had even bothered to bring me to such a strange place when he suddenly moved toward me and kissed me on the lips and proclaimed how much he liked me.
I was stunned but said nothing. He had little idea that this was my very first kiss so I had no idea how to respond. I simply suggested that his guests would be looking for him and that we should return to the party. I could tell that he was disappointed. I felt awful for ruining his birthday but I did not know what else to do. I was only six years old and not yet schooled in the ways of romance. Little did I know that my unexpected fling was already over because of the way I had reacted. He would never speak to me again even at school and sadly I had to admit that I was relieved. I was not yet ready for the games of love.
I would not be kissed again by a boy until another party that featured a rousing game of spin the bottle. I had not met the handsome young man before and I was now old enough to realize that he was flirting with me the way a seventh grader does. He held his breath as the bottle whirled around and around and when it landed on me he had a look of triumph. He insisted that our kiss take place privately so we went into the yard where he gently placed his lips on mine. It was nice but we were from different worlds and did not see each other ever again.
I went on dates and began to dread the end of the evening when the person I was with made a clumsy attempt to kiss me. Most of those busses on the lips were enough to discourage me from continuing with the relationships. It never occurred to me that those young men were probably as nervous and unschooled in such things as I was. The encounters always ended with me finding ways to dump them and no doubt wound their pride.
Then along came the man of my dreams, “the one.” His name was Mike and I met him quite unexpectedly at yet another party. Since my track record at such events was spotty at best I did not expect to become as enchanted with him as I did. At the end of our first date he gave me a very polite and respectful kiss that was at the same time warm and exciting. It felt as though we had been destined for each other for all time.
I was giddy after he left and I later told my girlfriends that I thought I had met the man I was going to marry. They laughed at my silly romantic musings but understood what I meant. When he called for a second date I just knew it was fate and our meetings and kisses only became better and better after that. I had never before felt so comfortable with another human being.
Ours was indeed a happily ever after story. We impetuously married when we were very young somehow knowing that there was no need for us to have more experiences before taking such a momentous step. We have been partners in life for over fifty years and those kisses are as wonderful today as they were when we first met. I can honestly say that “true love” is a real thing that the two of us have experienced and that a kiss is not just a kiss.
When I was young I always wanted to be like someone else. I saw other women who were more beautiful or popular than I felt that I was. There was always someone who seemed to be brighter, more accomplished. I would look in the mirror and see every flaw on my face and body. I was my own worst critic and I was a really hard grader when it came to assessing myself. I felt like a mess without realizing that almost everyone goes through such a phase.
Eventually I became so embroiled in living and surviving that I had little time for dwelling on my imperfections. I overcame many challenges and began to like myself just as I was. How I looked became less and less important. How I behaved was my focus. I realized that looking outward from myself and thinking more about the people I encountered was the real key to happiness and satisfaction. I saw that people respond to genuine concern and value a person’s heart more than external characteristics. Losing myself in caring about and for others made me feel better and better about who I am.
I suppose that in some ways I did use certain role models to change myself but they were not the ones that I had once wanted to emulate. I saw how certain people made me feel capable and comfortable and realized that I enjoyed being around them. I watched them carefully and saw how the secret to their seemingly good lives lay in their selflessness. I’m still quite imperfect when it comes to getting out of myself and into the needs of others but I know the feeling of contentment that comes from sharing and caring.
When I find myself feeling dissatisfied it is usually because I am comparing myself unfavorably again and worrying about trivial aspects of being human. That’s when I engage in activities that force me to get out of my own head. I have always enjoyed teaching because it is almost impossible to be give instructions in mathematics while brooding. I also find it helpful to consider someone who is having serious problems when I get too wrapped up in thinking about my flaws.
I am not as successful as some of the women I know nor do I have as much money as they have. My hair is often limp and unruly and osteoporosis has twisted my body and bowed my legs. I’d like to think that the people who know me do not even think of such things when they see me. I am not defined by titles or savings accounts or how gorgeous I am. The best people I know are beautiful and wonderful because of the essence of their generous personalities, not because of what they own, their power or how physically beautiful they are.
Sometimes all of those things come together in a single person. Dolly Parton is talented, wealthy, attractive but more importantly compassionate. We love Dolly not for her accomplishments and physical attributes but because we know that she is a kind and understanding person. She is beloved to virtually everyone unlike other women similar to her who seem not to care about anyone but themselves. Ugliness of the heart transforms even the most physically beautiful person into hideousness. On the other hand a generally plain person like Mother Teresa was lovely because she gave herself to those who were suffering every day of her life.
I am old enough now to understand these things and so I am relatively content with the person that I am. I still work hard to become better because I know that I am imperfect but I do not dislike myself the way I once did. I am able to laugh at my mistakes and correct them. I may curse my hair when it appears to have a mind of its own but I know that it does not matter all that much in the grand scheme of things. I am no doubt the only person who even notices that it is misbehaving. I have chased the green eyed monster of jealousy from my mind and instead revel in the success of my friends and family members. I appreciate other people and find joy in our differences. I no longer see life as a kind of competition between winners and losers. We are each unique and wonderful.
Getting old can be tough. I have arthritis in my knees and hips. Sometimes just walking is difficult. I have days when I feel grumpy but mostly aging as lead me to wisdom. I love myself. I am the only person exactly like me in the whole world and that is a fantastic thing. I do not need to be like anyone else nor do I want to change places with anyone. I am who I am and that is glorious.