Life Will Go On

lv-circle-of-life920I’m reminded every May 31, just how difficult life can be. Of course that is the anniversary of my father’s death. I might have forgotten exactly when he left this earth but for the fact that his fatal accident coincided with Memorial Day of 1957, a time when it was celebrated on May 31 rather than the last Monday of May. I have not celebrated that holiday from that fateful time. Having it roll around each year is like rubbing salt in the wound that scarred my heart back when I was an eight year old child.

I am essentially an optimistic soul. I learned soon enough after my father died that our little family would survive. My mother kept us safe and sound and family and friends continuously rallied to our sides whenever we needed anything. My youth was idyllic save for the loss of my dad. I adjusted to the new normal but never really got over the void in my life that his death created. With each passing year after he was gone I found myself wondering what he would have been thinking about how my brothers and I had developed. I felt his influence on us genetically and in the memories that he left for us. Somehow he was always a factor in our lives even in his absence.

As time has passed I see my father in my brothers and in my nephews and even some of my grandchildren. I suppose that unbeknownst to me there are also hints of ancestors whom we never met in me and my brothers. The circle of life on this earth is an infinite loop that may at times appear to be bleak but the progression and evolution of humanity always finds a way to continue.

I have been cautioned by the doctors in my family to wait out the reopening of the country for another three or four weeks. Covid-19 still restricts me but i refuse to allow it to overwhelm me regardless of how it presents itself in the future. I have learned that I am capable of dealing with great sorrow and even fearful moments. I know that I will handle whatever blows the virus sends me and the members of my family.

If all of us are very lucky we will be laughing and celebrating our good fortune as the weeks and months go by and Covid-19 vanishes with little more than a whimper. If instead the virus battles on with a vengeance I am prepared to do my part in fighting back with everything that I have inside me. Experience has taught me to be patient when times get tough. I have learned that there is light even in the darkest hours. When I battled the mental illness that infected my mother I would sometimes become angry and frustrated, but I always knew that determination and time were on my side. Over and over my brothers and I were able to get her the therapies and medications that she needed to become whole again.

Life is littered with ups and downs and in this moment it feels as though the downs are overtaking all of us. Nonetheless as I look around I see the points of light that will guide us to better days. Our future joy is not to be found in false promises that are unlikely to unfold but in the quiet work of people whose goal is the betterment of all of us. The doctors and nurses and aides and researchers who continue to provide us not just with care but with facts and truths about how we should contend with the virus are heroes with no hidden agendas. They are not running for office or lining their pockets with profits. They are driven by the sole purpose of keeping us safe. When I think of them I believe that we may be wounded but we will not be crushed. This makes me smile.

I see stories about ordinary citizens making masks and little children raising funds to help those who are in financial trouble. I watch the good news from John Krasinski and I see the kind of hope that has guided me through every juncture of life. I smile at the earnestness of people all over the globe who are doing phenomenal jobs of dealing with the health and economic blows that have been inflicted on them. I laugh at the jokes that lighten our spirits remembering all the times that my father roared with delight over a good cartoon or satire. I feel him telling me to lighten up and look around at the positives that are everywhere.

I’ve made it through one more Memorial Day. I’m now more than twice as old as my father was when he died. I’ve overcome one crisis after another. Like my father I have a great interest in history. I read all of the time. I have learned that the world has been on the brink many times over. Somehow we have overcome evil, war, disease and natural disasters each and every time that they have threatened us.

While I tend to think that we have not yet seen the worst of the effects of Covid-19 I revel in the thought that we will find a way to extricate ourselves from its deadly grip. Life will go on. Memorial Day will return and my father’s spirit will be part of future generations. It has always been the way we survive. 

A Message For All Time

Jesus

This is Holy Week in the Christian world, a time to remember the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. His was a story that changed the world and is embraced to this very day by millions across the globe. After weeks of sacrifice and good works during Lent we pause to consider Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem when people lined the streets to see him, laying precious palm leaves in his path as a sign of respect and adulation. This no doubt only added to the concern of political forces who worried that his growing popularity might lead to rebellion and so the time seemed right to convict him with trumped up charges of crimes against the state.

Of course Jesus saw it coming and told his apostles in a final gathering that one among them would betray him. It was Judas Iscariot who led the Roman soldiers to Jesus by identifying him with a kiss. The trial was swift and the punishment was brutal. Jesus was nailed to a cross alongside other criminals. His pain was excruciating and his captors taunted him with commands that he prove his divinity by coming down from the cross. His apostles meanwhile were hiding behind locked doors, afraid that they too might be captured and found guilty of their association with him. Only Jesus’ mother, Mary Magdalene, a cousin and a kind stranger stood at the foot of the cross to watch him die. All seemed dark and unbearable after the triumphs of the past. His followers must have wondered if they had been fooled, if it was all over.

Three days later when the tomb was opened Jesus was gone. His apostles still hiding were told that their prophet and savior had risen from the dead. From that moment forward the story of Jesus spread throughout the world until today Christians around the globe continue to celebrate the glory of his life and his word.

Of course we know that many did not then and do not now believe that Jesus was a savior, the son of God. Some have their own alternate prophets and beliefs. Some continue to wait patiently for the true savior to come. Others do not believe in any form of higher power, thinking it foolish to even consider the idea a being who watches over us and guides us in our behavior toward one another. They think of prayers and religious ceremonies as silliness. The world is made of believers and nonbelievers of every sort. We humans have often injected our personal thoughts and feelings onto the teachings of religion or disbelief. Little wonder that the whole idea of Jesus as God is confusing to some.

I am a Catholic, a member of a religious group that some believe is not Christian, although I can’t imagine why such a differentiation would be made. Mine was the first organized church to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. Over time there were those who began to question the direction of Catholicism and so they made efforts to reform Christianity by creating new sects. The variety that evolved from such efforts makes it clear that even among those of us who strive to adhere to the teachings of Jesus there can be great differences in how we react to and interpret his words. Somehow just as with nation building we humans have complicated the most basic essence of Jesus which he so very clearly iterated and reiterated while he still walked on the earth.

Jesus represented a new way of thinking and doing things and his message did not involve thousands of little dictums and instructions. He made his message very simple by example and word. We are to love one another, not just those who think and act and look like us, but everyone. That is essentially all we need to know. It does not take a magnificent cathedral or a list of rules to follow his example, but he showed us that following his commandment of love may be difficult. Our intentions may be misunderstood and like him we may be abused for our beliefs. We will endure hardship and suffering just as he did. The miracle of Jesus is not found in riches or success or lack of difficulties but in the comfort that he provides us with his teachings and his love. He did not come down from the cross to save himself because he wanted us to know that part of our humanity requires enduring difficulties.  He helped us to understand that the rewards for following his commandment to love will be immeasurable but not in the usual ways that we interpret good fortune.

As the world struggles with a virus that has changed our lives in ways that are daunting to comprehend it is fitting that we think of Jesus from behind our locked doors in the safely of our homes just as his apostles did so long ago. He would want us to think of all of the people on the earth with love and compassion. The best way to honor him and his teachings is not found in judging one another but only in love. Our prayers should focus not on asking for special favors from him but on pleading that we have the courage to always do what is right and just. The glory of the Easter message lies in hope and a determination to continue to follow the goodness of Jesus throughout our lives. He is with us in all things, even our darkest hours. The cup of agony was not lifted from him and so too must we cope with this moment doing our best to remember all of humankind and its salvation, not just our own. He taught us the way to live and in doing so became a light for all the world.

In this holy Easter season I pray that those who feel lost will find comfort. I pray that those who are hated will find love. I pray that the sick will be healed. I pray that the doctors and nurses and first responders and all people engaged in the fight against Covid-19 will be honored and supported for being the finest possible examples of the kind of people that Jesus asked us to be. May this be a glorious Easter in which we love and respect all people just as Jesus would have done. Go forth and be kind.

Paying For My Sins

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I spent most of January recovering from the parade of birthdays, anniversaries and holidays that actually began with my husband Mike’s birthday way back in September. For whatever reason our family has very little to do for most of the year and then we go into overdrive in the fall. The temptations that come from celebratory occasions overtook us during the last few months, making our sensible diets only a memory and pulling us from our exercise program with a vengeance. The result has been terrible backsliding and an increased girth around our midsections. Never to be undone by anything or anyone I have found myself working hard for the past several weeks to recuperate from my sins of indulgence.

I teeter between guilt for my inability to look the other way when temptations of cookies, wines and other delights continually passed my lips during the many weeks of revelry and the thought that life is short and I should grab every second of enjoyment while I am able. Still, I do feel better when I am kinder to my body and it always seems worthwhile to have a bit of control over my impulses. Surely there is a nice compromise between total abstinence in the face of goodies and a bit of imbibing in the name of having a good time. Sadly walking that very thin line is not as easy as it may seem and while I expended a great deal of effort doing so, I found myself failing to maintain control time and again when faced with cornucopias of delight .

There’s a commercial for something or another in which a woman is preparing for a dinner party. She is cooking a multitude of dishes to accommodate the dietary preferences of her expected guests. There’s this one on Keto, that one on Paleo, and so forth. I’ve lately experienced the same frustration in putting together a meal so I know the feeling of attempting to make everyone happy. It results in having mountains of different kinds of food at the ready just in case. Being a hostess is becoming ever more complex which is why I try not to foist my own food preferences on others whenever I am invited to gatherings.

As a child I was taught to be satisfied with whatever was offered. My mother suggested that if I wasn’t sure that I really wanted to eat some item I should either take none of it or just choose a small dab of it until I was certain that I would actually be able to eat all of it. Never was I to make comments about what I preferred or disliked. I’ve remembered my manners well over the years and self police myself when out and about rather than regaling others with long descriptions of my current eating needs or preferences. I always find something that works for me or I eat small portions so that nobody is aware that I am on a different sort of diet.

I appreciate that there are many different reasons why some people need certain types of food. My father-in-law is diabetic so I always prepare items that work for him. I have a nephew who has food allergies and his mom, a pediatrician, brings goodies that he can eat so that the rest of the children can have their cakes and cookies while he enjoys his own. I’ve begun to cook with mostly spices rather than salt due to my husband’s heart disease so I always keep a shaker of salt on the table for those accustomed to a bit more punch. I have started to include more roasted vegetables in my menu but I have many fans of my macaroni and cheese as well whom I never deny. In other words I try to create a variety of foods that will take almost every person’s preferences into account.

I love the traditions of our family celebrations but because there are so many one after another I am piling on the calories in a regular succession from September all the way through the first week of January. Each year I have to spend the next many months trying to recoup the progress that I had made with diet and exercise. Like the sinusoidal graphs of trigonometry I go up and down in a regular pattern each and every year. Some call it the yo-yo effect and I am subject to it’s unhealthy effects. I go down and then I go up, down and up, over and over again from year to year. My only small defense of my actions is that I always get myself back in shape. Nonetheless, I often dream of having so much self control that I breeze through the holidays with my healthy intentions thoroughly intact.

I’m like a monk these days, eating mostly vegetables and fruit, avoiding salty, sugary, fatty foods. I’ve closed the rings on my Apple watch for many days now. I make walks and trips to the gym a top priority. My progress is slow but steady and perhaps by next September I will have recuperated from my self inflicted overindulgence. I make resolutions to have more self control when the season of joy rolls around again, but I do love my brother’s pecan pie and my own pumpkin variety. Surely it won’t matter much if I yield a little here and there as long as I don’t overdo. Perhaps if I’m a bit better at measuring just how much turkey and dressing to put on my plate I will be okay, but it’s just so yummy that I want to go back for seconds.

I have made a vow that if I show signs of living as long as my one hundred eight year old grandfather did I will follow his example. When he turned ninety he threw all caution to the wind. He did and ate exactly what pleased him laughing at the idea that something was most surely going to take him out of this world so he might as well enjoy the final ride. He eked out eighteen more years while feeling no guilt when he ate cake and donuts. I like his thinking.

For now I am recuperating from my sins and I have to admit I am also feeling good. I’ll continue my self imposed restrictions and think about how to deal with future temptations tomorrow. Maybe this is the year when I finally learn how to be good and stick with my resolve. 

A New Revolution

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There are moments for almost everyone when it feels as though an entire lifetime of experiences occur in the space of only a few weeks. It is as though one is riding on the most exhilarating and frightening roller coaster ever invented. The ups and downs are so extreme and come so quickly that emotions have no time to adjust and instead leave the person feeling numb and exhausted.

I have a dear friend who recently endured one of those condensed versions of This Is Your Life, reeling from the rapidity at which her entire world was changing. Fortunately she is an amazingly wise woman who sought help and was willing to ride the wave until it left her on the shore of normalcy. By year’s end she was celebrating her survival with people who truly loved her and speaking of taking things slowly while she can.

I’m old enough to have experienced a number of instances when it felt as though I was living through a microcosm of human existence in a brief span of time. While such a thing is happening it always seems as though time truly is relative because in the moment it moves so painfully slowly but in the grand scheme of things it is in fact only a blip in the entirety of history.

My entire world was upended both mentally and physically when my father died. At the age of eight I had not yet even imagined the possibility of such a thing happening particularly since my family had been planning so many fun adventures like weekends at the beach, a whole summer of freedom from school, moving to a brand new home. Suddenly we had to adjust to a strange new reality for which none of us had prepared.

The feelings that I experienced as an eight year old child repeated themselves when my mom had her first mental breakdown during my early twenties. I had enjoyed a reprieve from tragedy for twelve years after my father died and I had foolishly imagined that I would never again face such sorrow and emotional distress. I literally dreamed of how grand it would be to simply ignore my responsibility to care for my mother by running away to some wonderful magical place where I would never again be plagued by horrors. Of course there is no such thing as freedom from tragedy as I would learn over the course of many years. I would also realize that we have to deal with the pain that comes with the terrible moments just as my friend has done even when doing that is a grueling process. It takes time and patience to heal.

This past holiday season was one of many contrasts for me. It began with the celebration for my friend who had emerged like a phoenix from the hellish fires that had seemed to consume her. It was with a sense of gratitude, happiness, and inspiration that I toasted her heroic steadfastness. I took my own life by the horns and enjoyed glorious times with friends and family. It felt as though I was gloriously blessed and perhaps even immune to sorrow, but that would have been too simple an analysis of my world because I knew that there were also hardships brewing for many of the people that I love, things that worried me in the still of night.

Somehow many of them came to a head just as the new year was dawning, reminding me that each of our lives are fragile and uncertain in spite of our efforts to control destiny. I had to say final goodbyes to two souls whose light had always made me smile and laugh. I had to watch their closest loved ones struggling to accept a future without them. My emotions and were challenged to the very core and yet in the midst of such sorrow there was a ray of hope. I saw what I had experienced so many times, the power of love. It was there in the people who went out of their way to share their stories and their feelings with one another.

We know for certain that our lives will be a series of repetitions that all of mankind has experienced. We will see births and we will watch deaths. We will come together in a state of happiness and joy as well as mournful sadness. It is a certainty that we must experience both the good and the bad. Hopefully as we do so we will be surrounded by fellow travelers on this earthly journey who will hold our hands and give us the courage to keep going, for there is always a light up ahead and we will find it given enough time and forbearance.

This holiday season has provided me with the precious gift of knowing that I am not alone and that none of us need be so. There will always be good and loving people who are willing to help us carry our burdens and share our joys. We need to be willing to let them into our lives but also to know when we are so weary that it might be best to quietly rest for a time. That gooey ball of feelings is the essence of who we are. We need to embrace both our tears and our laughter while opening our hearts and minds to understanding our own experiences.

We’ve begun a new revolution around the sun and each day there is a new rotation. We are a part of the marvel of that scientific fact. Change will happen. Loss will occur but as long as we still breathe we are not yet in our final act. More is coming our way and so much of it will indeed be very good. 

Her Wonderful Life

Jeanne

I vividly remember when I first met Jeanne. She was the kind of person who left a lasting impression on people and she definitely had that effect on me. I was about six or seven years old when my cousin, Leonard, brought his girl friend, Jeanne, to a family gathering at Clear Lake. She was a stunningly beautiful teenager with a mega watt smile and a confidence that made her an instant hit with my aunts and uncles. It wasn’t too long after that when she and Leonard were married providing me with my first encounter with what I thought of as the holy grail of true love.

Jeanne was undoubtedly one of a kind, a delightful spirit who found and gave joy wherever she went. She had a way of making everyone feel special and loved, and she always took time to let people know how much she cared about them. Even the smallest children knew that her interest in them was genuine. With her seemingly boundless energy she gave her heart and soul to every person who came her way. Her humble way of giving of herself guaranteed that she would become a favorite in our big extended family. It was not long before she was the person we felt most excited to see whenever she arrived at our events.

Jeanne and Leonard started a family of their own that grew and grew and grew filling their home with laughter and unmitigated love. Jeanne was at the center of the antics and delighted in planning raucous gatherings where fun and mischief were the order of the day. She was a premier hostess who literally chose her homes with entertaining in mind and understood the importance of having enough room to hold all of the love that was a constant presence in her life.

Jeanne was the bearer of so many gifts that she in turn generously lavished on her family and friends. She was a teacher, a woman of great faith. She was a light of optimism and a ray of hope. She humbly spread her kindness leaving no one untouched by her generosity. She loved to cook and she made preparing a feast for a crowd look easy to do. She danced her way through life grasping every possible opportunity to enjoy people and places and events. She built traditions that brought those that she loved together, hosting family annual reunions and scheduling week long camping trips at Garner State Park each summer.

Jeanne had a particularly amazing way of making each person that she encountered feel welcomed. Nobody in her presence went unnoticed. She took great pains to make everyone part of the fun that seemed to surround her like a halo. She possessed a charisma that made her unique and exciting but more importantly she maintained a quiet strength that was comforting. I found myself drawn to her just so that I might basque in the sunshine of her warmth.

Jeanne lived as full and meaningful life as anyone might desire. She was a loving wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, daughter, daughter-in-law, sister, sister-in-law, cousin, friend. She lived a simple life by choice but somehow everything she touched became extraordinary. She earned a college degree after her children were grown, proving to them that learning is a lifelong goal. She found ways to attend athletic events, band concerts, birthday parties, graduations and funerals with a faithfulness and sincerity that told people how important they were to her.

Jeanne had a beautiful heart but she was also an incredibly attractive woman with a flair for the flamboyant.. She loved bright colors that seemed to perfectly match her exciting personality. There were no grays and whites in her home or her way of living. Instead reds and oranges and deep blues shouted out her never ending joy and matched her ever present smile.

Jeanne left this earth last Friday. She had been very ill for some time. In her classic way she willed herself to remember others even as her health failed. She came to my fiftieth anniversary party with her oxygen tank and looking feeble, but still managing to have a glorious time. On Christmas Day she was surrounded by her huge family doing her best to laugh through the pain that had become her unrelenting companion. It was a fitting final act of love that was the definition of who she was.

Jeanne will be sorely missed. A great light in our lives seems to have gone away, but I believe that her impressions are so indelibly imprinted on our souls that we will always see and be guided by her example and her brightness. I agree with Jeanne’s granddaughter Madison who imagines her grandmother laughing and joking with Jesus and dancing with delight in her new heavenly home. She is waiting for us there, preparing a party for the time when we join her. For now we rejoice that her pain is no more and that she has so justly received her reward for living a truly wonderful life.

I saw a magnificent sunset not long after Jeanne died. Somehow I felt that it was a sign from her that we are supposed to continue to celebrate the beauty of life just as she always did. I know she would want us to embrace and comfort one another and find a way to dry our tears and carry on her traditions. She taught us well.