Staying Apart To Come Together

social-distancing

I am admittedly impatient. My personality is such that I prefer taking control of situations. I don’t like to like to wait around to see what is going to happen. I want to make a difference right now, do something to make things better not just for me but for others. When things take too long I become indignant and do everything possible to fix them immediately. Suddenly I’m caught up in a worldwide flood of uncertainty along with millions of my fellow humans while a tiny virus, invisible to the naked eye, is wreaking havoc and spreading fear. I’m watching life as we have all known it being put on hold. I am forced to reach deep inside of my psyche to find patience that I don’t always have.  Already the waiting challenges my normal need of control. Enforced social distancing leaves me to my thoughts which are racing in their usual breakneck pattern that tends to occur with or without a worldwide emergency. 

I am an empath, someone who literally feels others’ pain. I worry incessantly about how events will affect the people that I love. In all honesty I’ve had a very good run of seventy one years on this earth and if I were to contract the coronavirus and leave for heaven I’d want everyone to celebrate the wonder of my life and not waste tears. It’s the young folk and the future that concern me and I understand how tough and confusing this must feel to them, and even a bit unfair. I know all too well that you don’t always get what you want and that a bit of adversity toughens the spirit. I’ve been there done that more times than I care to remember and I’ve survived quite nicely, but I would not wish what is happening on any of our youth. Nor would I ever want them to know the bitter disappointments that have impacted my own life even though it is certain that they will have their own trials.

My seasonal allergies are causing my nose to run and my throat to hurt. I have no fever but I wonder if that weight on my chest is only evidence of the anxieties that have arisen in my mind or a sign that I’ve somehow contracted the virus. I know that I am overthinking this situation, but it is the way my mind operates. I am a teacher. I am trained to plan ahead, to see a thousand different things happening all at once, to know what my students are feeling, to be able to shift gears in a nanosecond, to be ever alert and protective, to take charge when danger lurks. I’ve already turned a room in my home into a virtual classroom. I will continue to work with my grandchildren and the little group of home-schooled children to whom I teach mathematics. I will keep calm and carry on, but I think about the impact that all of this will have on the youngest among us and I know that we will have to remember them and comfort them.

There are all of those youngsters who have spent months raising livestock to show at the Houston rodeo. I have two grandchildren who do such things. I know that they arise before dawn so that they will have time to feed and care for their animals before going to school. In the evening when they are tired and have mountains homework to do they must return to the barn again to repeat the process. They shortened summer vacations and Christmas visits with relatives because the animals depended on them. They spent a fortune in feed and veterinarian bills. The experience taught them to be dependable and no price can be placed on that, but the culmination of their hard work is to show their goats and pigs and steers and get recognition and money for their efforts that they set aside into their savings accounts for college or to purchase the next animal. What will happen now?

Hopefully there will be kind souls who make things right for them, but what about the other teens who have worked hard on projects about which most people are unaware?I’m talking about someone like my grandson who has been running since he was a little tyke in elementary school who earned the record for speed in his physical education class. Now he is a junior in high school at the peak of his skill. He runs all year long, even in the heat of summer to be ready to demonstrate his prowess in the spring track season. This is his junior year. If he is to catch the notice of a university that might be willing to offer him a scholarship it needs to happen now, but there may be no now for him. He’s been consistently winning in the few competitions that have already been held but what will happen to the rest of the season?

There is my granddaughter whose Vet Tech team was almost certainly headed to the state competition. They have worked incredibly hard and getting to the finals is more than just an honor. It is a way of getting FFA scholarships which require winners to have made it to at least one state run off. She worries that the opportunity for which she and her teammates have been working may never come.

Then there is another grandson who has been staying at school until well after nine at night to practice with the indoor percussion group of his band. They were slated to perform at a national competition in Ohio and the odds were rather good that they would earn a prize. Now that trip and future performances have been canceled and their efforts are in limbo.

Two other grandsons were supposed to receive their Aggie rings from Texas A&M University on April 18. This is a grand tradition celebrating thousands of hours of studying and learning. Now the rest of the semester on campus has been suspended. All classes will resume online. They must return home to uncertainty and a way of learning that doesn’t always work well for everyone.

So it is for our young all across the nation. Stories like those of my grandchildren’s are being repeated again and again. Not just disappointment but missed opportunities are suddenly the rule when only a week or so ago their plans seemed so exciting. While these sacrifices are nothing compared to the tragedy of those who are sick and dying, we should not minimize the impact that this will have on their futures.

To make matters worse we know that an even more pressing question concerns what will happen to the millions of working people who cannot earn a living from the solitude of their homes. What will happen to the hairdressers if the clients fail to come? How will the service industry stay afloat while social distancing becomes the norm? What will happen in my city, the energy capital of the nation, if the price of oil continues to tank? When will those 401ks stop bleeding form loss? Will the Teachers’ Retirement System be able to weather the disruption? Will the economy collapse in our effort to save lives? It’s suddenly a whole new world, a mind boggling reality unlike anything we have experienced, but it would be familiar to our grandparents. We need to remember their stories and the ways that they approached life. There is wisdom in the way they lived.

I have every confidence in myself, in the young and in the people of the world. We are a resilient lot and we will endure and overcome the challenges wrought by our current state of affairs, but I do not fool myself into believing that it will be easy. We are in for some difficult times and each and everyone of us will need to be ready to help and to rethink the way we have always done things.

I’ve already witnessed some promising ideas. There are school districts that plan to offer food service pickup to the families of students who need it along with online classes. There are good people who are already offering to purchase the livestock from those kids who were literally caught off guard by the cancellation of the rodeo. Teachers are revamping their lessons. Companies are finding alternative ways of doing business. Schedules are being redone. I even heard of a way to help our local business owners by purchasing gift certificates from them online to be used when this disruption has finally blown over. The important thing is to remember to check on your neighbors, call your friends, find out what members of your family may need. Be patient. Be kind. We are in for a bumpy ride and impatient souls like me will have to learn how to wait but with efforts by most everyone I believe we will ultimately be fine. As someone has said this experiment in social distancing may be the very thing that we need to come together.

Finding Our True Roles

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Shakespeare eloquently reminds us that all the world’s a stage and like members of an ensemble cast we each play many different roles in our lifetimes. The demands on us keep us busy and sometimes even a bit confused about who it is that we truly wish to be as we juggle schedules that sometimes force us to run from dawn to the last hours before we fall asleep. Setting priorities, enforcing limits, choosing what is most important can be more difficult than we might imagine as we encounter duties, demands and requests for our precious time. Balancing the needs of others with our own is often one of the most overwhelming tasks that we may encounter and so we often find ourselves hurrying through our days in a state of exhaustion dreaming of a time when we might take control of our schedules and lighten our loads.

People’s roles in life used to be a bit more rigidly delineated. The men went to work each day and the women stayed home taking care of the household and the children. Each person had carefully defined purposes that were decided more by accident of birth and societal norms than personal choice. Sadly the traditions never really worked for many who felt constrained by norms that overlooked individual desires and dreams, particularly with regard to the ladies. Over time the idea of allowing each person to determine his/her own purpose became more and more commonplace with the hope that in allowing increased freedom of expression we would generally be happier as a society, but it sometimes seems as though we have only created new barriers to finding the best life for each person.

Instead of encouraging one another to embrace themselves we have created expectations that all too often make daily life more difficult and less satisfying than ever. We have constructed artificial templates for success that can seem impossible to achieve. It’s now a “you can do it all and have it all” kind of world that leaves some wondering why things are not working for them. We see the so called icons of achievement advancing in careers, maintaining seemingly perfect families, working out regularly at gyms, cooking healthy gourmet meals, volunteering for various causes with boundless energy and we wonder why we can’t keep up with the pace of their enviable lives. Instead we are exhausted from trying so hard to meet the new standards and maybe even feeling as though we are failing at every turn. Little do we realize that the lives of the rich and successful are not always as wonderful as they seem. Keeping up an image of paradise is wrought with many obligations that may create more dissatisfaction than happiness.

Little wonder that Prince Harry and his beautiful wife, Meghan, have decided to eschew the so called fairytale life of a royal in search of something more meaningful. They have rather wisely determined that the only way to be masters of their own fate is to strike out on their own. They will of course learn that living to the beat of their own drum is riddled with its own complications, but having the courage to make their own choices is the start of a journey toward self satisfaction and happiness.

The reality is that no one person can or should do it all. We each have to decide how much we can actually handle before coming undone. That means that we will have to just say “no” now and again if we are to control the aspects of our lives that mean the most to us. The wise person is one who understands what he/she needs to do or not do to maintain a sense of purpose without becoming overwhelmed.

I know that I am happiest when I have an equal measure of time for myself and for others. I need quiet moments to contemplate and recharge but I also feel best when I have done something meaningful outside of myself. I’ve learned that I just have to be careful not to overdo either being alone or working into a frenzy. These days I’ve become more adept at listening to both my body and my mind for clues that I am taking on more than I should. Those pains in my hip or anxious moments of insomnia remind me that I have to let something go. Like Harry and Meghan I choose what roles I most want and need to perform.

My most basic human roles remain my most important and they all revolve around family and friends. I am first and foremost a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a cousin, a friend. My instinct is to drop everything else when someone who is a member of my circle is in need. Somehow no other task feels as important as helping a loved one. In that regard my role in life is as traditional as such things have always been. Nonetheless, when the situation permits I need to express my talents, my creativity. I find great joy in writing, in helping someone to learn, in being a kind of amateur counselor. I enjoy making the world that inhabit a bit more beautiful which means decorating, gardening, cooking. I must also feed my soul with reading and learning. Finally I push myself to keep my body in good condition, my least favorite role but one that is important for carrying out the other aspects of my life that bring me so much joy. When I feel overwhelmed I begin to shave away my obligations one at a time until I reach a comfortable feeling of stasis.

If I had one message for young people just beginning their journeys into adulthood it would be to understand that life is about the choices that we make. The important thing is to seek those roles that bring joy and happiness along with healthy bodies and minds. Learning how to strike a balance that allows us to weather difficult times is critical to our wellbeing, and only each individual truly knows what that must be. There are many acts in our lives that require us to play many roles, the best among them are the ones that reflect our true passions.    

No Greater Love

my love forever

I have known great love. I have witnessed great love. I have wondered why some people appear to find their soulmates and others struggle to discover that thing that we call true love. I am a reader of fairy tales but I learned when I was still quite young that life is almost always more complicated than stories with happy endings. I thought my mother and father were madly in love and I am rather sure that they were, but I also know that they fought with one another from time to time. I watched an aunt and uncle divorce and then remarry as though they could not quite decide if being together was right for them. I have cradled a friend whose heart was broken by someone that she believed would love her forever. I have only recently felt the pain of a cousin who lost his first and only love of over sixty years. Love is wonderful until it hurts.

Young people ask me how one knows if love is real. That’s a question almost impossible to answer. I usually tell them to consider how being with a certain person generally makes them feel. If they time with another leave them happy they are on the right track. If that individual makes them relax and laugh the signs are good. If it seems as though they have finally found their best friend, they may be in for a promising future, but they have to think about the words of the wedding vows very carefully because it is almost certain the there will be better and worse, richer and poorer, health and sickness in a long term commitment.

Sometimes we just don’t know how the person with whom we want to spend our lives will react to difficulties. I will never forget what my grandfather taught me about love when my grandmother was dying of cancer. He never left her side. He depleted his savings. He fulfilled her every need until she drew her last breath. He was patient and kind. He pretended to be stronger than he actually felt. Sadly I have also observed people who were torn apart by an extended illness. I knew a woman whose husband told her that he had to leave because her mental problems were too hard to watch. I find myself wondering if such weakness is there all along but goes unnoticed until problems arise.

I enjoy a good love story but I hate the ones based on superficiality. We do first notice someone based more on appearances that anything deep, but true love can’t stay that way. We all grow older and frankly less attractive than we once were. We should be able to become ever closer because we are able to see the true beauty inside the person that we have promised to love not just for a time, but forever. Sometimes we have to work a bit to keep that spark alive.

One of my dearest friends had a weekly date night, For years she and her husband went out together every Thursday evening. They hired a babysitter to watch their children, they dressed up, they had dinner and talked about things other than the kids, their jobs, the family finances. They made their outing a top priority of each week and sometimes added weekend getaways to their celebration of life together. They were still flirting with each other decades after they had married.

I have learned how to love from observing and listening to those who seemed to have the meaning of commitment figured out. I suppose I’ll never forget Mike’s Aunt Elise coming to check on on her husband when he was doing some work at our house. She was concerned about his heart so she asked us to “take care of her Bobby.” I’ll always remember that the very last thing that Mike’s mother did before she had a stroke that led to her death was hug Mike’s dad and declare her love for him. Even after decades together these women still made their feelings known. We would be wise to follow their example. Love is something to be celebrated and declared often.

People don’t always agree about everything, not even those who are madly in love. It’s critical to the health of the relationship that no one person dominates the other. Whether it be politics or religion or philosophies each one should have the freedom to believe as they wish. Respect is a needed factor in forging a long term partnership. I suppose that I treasure my independence more than anything else and my husband has always honored my thoughts even when he disagreed with them. It has meant everything to me to know that our love is not dependent on either one of us bowing to the other. We are a team but we are still individual.

So what is the bottom line? Love is wonderful and worth the hard work needed to keep it alive. It requires not just trust but trustworthiness. It flourishes best when each partner supports the other with understanding but not at the expense of quashing individual dreams. It may be painful at times so it’s a good idea to create fun to balance the duties that arise. It is about regularly honoring the promises made to one another.

One of the most beautiful love stories that I have ever heard is about a classmate of mine who seemed to actually be living a fairytale existence with his wife. He was handsome and she was gorgeous. When they danced together it was magical. Their life together was like sunshine and roses until one day when she was injured in a horrible car accident that left her brain injured and her body confined to a wheelchair. She would never completely recover and her care would require that she live in a nursing home. All the while he never abandoned her, instead visiting regularly and devoting himself to her well-being. There is no love greater love than this. If we want the real thing we have to be willing to be like him. 

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.

Renewal

revolution

We humans like traditions. They tend to be anchors that keep us moored. We often attach our ways of doing things to special dates so that we might have reminders that it is time once again to repeat them. We turn on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade while we prepare for a family gathering later in the day. We watch fireworks on the Fourth of July. We hang lights on our houses and set up trees for Christmas. We celebrate birthdays with cakes and candles. Each year we plan for a succession of such events to break the routine of work and daily living, Traditions give us something wonderful to dream about when we are weary of the trials that so often beset us. They are mostly about spending time with people whom we love, forgetting about our challenges until another day.

Sometimes our difficulties are so overwhelming that they intrude upon our traditions. A death or a serious illness may make it impossible to feel the joy that usually comes with such occasions, We feel like outsiders as we see what appears to be the entire world having fun around us. We can’t imagine how they can be so happy when we are so bereft. Our woes are part of the natural cycle of life just as much as our joys but somehow we have a very difficult time accepting them in the midst of general revelry. We can’t imagine how it will ever again be possible to join the fun without heavy hearts.

Life is a repetitive cycle whether or not we humans take note of the changing seasons. It goes on and on and on just as it has done for centuries. We are part of its story and in our tendency to manufacture ways to take control of it, we create those traditions and cling to the constancy of them. They somehow help us to feel better but they can also be vivid reminders of loss. Our emotions are tied up with our traditions and we associate certain people and places with them so much so that they can at times hurt as much as they help.

Today is the first day of a new year and a new decade. In our human need to demonstrate a modicum of mastery over our existence we have created traditions to mark the passage of the earth’s journey around the sun. We eat special foods that we associate with good luck and we make resolutions to improve ourselves in the days ahead. Renewal and redemption is a constant theme in the human experience. We falter and then we forgive ourselves and hope that others will as well. We begin again hoping to be our best. It is perhaps one of our most noble characteristics.

I hear of many worthy resolutions on this day. People vow to take better care of their health or to pursue learning. They set goals of traveling more or spending time doing more purposeful things. The list of possibilities is endless and wonderful. It feels good to have the opportunity to renew ourselves, to jump start the goodness in our lives one more time. It’s also a moment when we might glance around us to find those souls who feel so broken and lost that they are unable to join the rest of us in the feelings of happiness and renewal. Perhaps there is no greater resolution than to show them comfort.

I spend a bit of time on Facebook each day just to get a feel of how my friends and family are doing. I see so much joy on my wall but hidden in the corners are hints that tell me of those who are suffering. I suspect that their sorrow is compounded by the celebratory images that they see. This most wonderful time of year can be quite hard for them, at least for awhile. Healing is a slow process but it need not be endured alone. There is nothing more curative than receiving small gestures of kindness and remembrance from people who care.

A friend posted a wonderful idea just before January 1. She suggested that each of us choose one person for whom we will pray each and every day of this new year. I’d like to add the idea of making time for that person as well. Giving to others is a tonic not only for them also but for us as.

May this new year of 2020 bring you and those you love the contentment and strength that you need to keep moving through another revolution of the sun and an opportunity for renewal.