What could be more nourishing and satisfying to the Spirit than Love? With Valentine’s Day approaching, I feel the need to explore the Magic.
Love is defined in zillions of ways, but what I am thinking about today is the connection we feel with the people and creatures we love.
The other day I was watching my one-year-old grandson playing. He made a funny noise as he was babbling away. I immediately imitated it. He giggled. We started a few minutes of absolute silliness laughing back and forth as I continued imitating his sounds. It was, of course, just a few moments of the day; but the feeling of connecting with his young spirit and mind was undeniable: our first real conversation!
How about when you and your best friend say the same thing at the same time? Doesn’t that feel great? Like someone really GETS you? Then you remember all the reasons why this person is so deeply entrenched in your heart: the common values and interest, the same wacky sense of humor, the loyalty and trust you share. Magic!
We all have these moments. You play with your dog and he knows the game and its rules. Fetch, tug, hide and seek….whatever. The connection is there, and his wagging tail shows how much he loves this interaction. You have grown to know each other in a very special relationship that crosses over the boundaries of species.
Or, you and your Person are watching an emotional scene in a movie. Just as you feel your eyes brimming with tears, he or she reaches over and takes your hand, and maybe passes you a tissue. Magic!
These small connections can go unnoticed. Or, you can pay attention, and this Love that binds us together can be the focus of your day. If you choose to be aware of what comes your way, you will find so many wonderful examples of relatedness in your life.
I hope that you recognize the Love that is, as they say, actually all around us.
Each time I hear the opening notes of Sting’s remarkable song, “Fragile”, I am transported immediately to that evening. I can see the deep, deep darkness of the Alaskan night, and almost feel the cold air that penetrates everything in its way.
Barney and I made our way toward the light of the KBBI studio, seeking the warmth we would find inside the building. We were going to make a Public Service Announcement for the Amnesty International group I had started in Homer, Alaska. The radio station would provide recording services for us, and I would do the voiceover. We used “Fragile” as the background music, since its message was tied directly to our cause.
I was 40 years old, married to a “rough neck” (oil rig worker) who commuted to the far away North Slope every two weeks. Alone for two weeks at a time, I filled my days with many things; one of these was my fervent dedication to Human Rights work, and thus I started our AI group.
Barney Ryan appeared at the first meeting, dressed in raggedy jeans and well-worn sweater. He had long, straight dark hair and piercing blue eyes. Irish, I thought. Very Irish. He was tall and thin, and smoked a lot. He had the lean look, that I have come to know since then, of a Fisherman. The rough seas of Alaska had beaten his skin and toughened him in a way that only the Ocean can do.
Barney was a Yale heritage kid who had dropped out of college to seek a far more adventurous life than New Haven would offer. Smarter than most people I have ever known, Barney was incredibly literate, hysterically funny, and possessed a double scoop of Empathy for animals, humans, and our delicate planet. He and his wife, Lynda, soon became close friends and proved to be kindred souls. They constantly rescued cats and dogs from the local animal shelter where they were volunteers; I believe at that time they had about 17 furry kids.
The reason we were allowed to record at KBBI, was that Barney had been doing a regular program there for some time. Homer is a very small town, and he had “connections” at the station. I was thrilled that we could get local publicity for our group for free!
So, there we were that dark, cold night: inside the tiny radio station, recording a message to inform people about our Human Rights work. We hoped the announcement would entice people to join us. It was almost a metaphor for what all Human Rights workers do: try to send out a small beacon of light and hope against the Great Darkness of brutality, war, and hatred.
We completed the recording, and were very pleased with the result. The song was the perfect match; it gave us legitimacy and hipness at the same time. Our Amnesty group became known in the town, and we had remarkable success for a small group. I recently heard that the group had disbanded, but had held together and worked for our cause for over twenty years. I have to say that I was quite proud to hear that.
Barney and I went forward and became close friends. When my husband and I were leaving Homer to move back to Maine, Barney bought my Lazy-Boy recliner. He always loved that comfy green chair, and sat in it whenever he visited. I was happy to know it would have a good home with Lynda and him.
We stayed in touch for years after I moved. My phone calls to Barney were always filled with laughter, discussions of the antics of our various pets, and invitations to come visit Maine. I would describe the seasons to him, and he would tell me how much he missed the Autumn, and the cider. I think I even sent him some Maine cider once. I really hoped they would visit us, and looked forward to showing Barney the Maine Coast.
In late Summer of 1999, I wasn’t able to reach them. I called several times, and got no answer and no reply to messages left on their answering machine. My daughter was 5, and I had gotten divorced a year earlier, so my life was busy as a single working Mom. But occasionally I tried calling, to no avail.
November came with its usual blustery winds and foreboding skies. Winter would be coming soon: get ready.
The phone rang one chilly day. It was Lynda. She had a tone in her voice that I recognized and did not want to hear. She choked back tears as she told me that Barney had come home from work (he was now working and studying at the local hospital in a medical training program) and fallen asleep in the comfy green recliner. She got up about 2 a.m. to cover him with a blanket. He was dead. Barney, my friend who was so full of life and love and laughter, was gone.
Lynda had tried for weeks to summon the courage to make the call. She apologized for not letting me know sooner, but she knew the news would shatter me. She was in such deep despair trying to shoulder the horrible load of her own pain, that carrying anymore was impossible. We cried together on the phone, and when I hung up, I cried alone.
I stayed in touch with Lynda for the next sixteen years. She had to take on the care of her invalid Mother soon after Barney’s death; and then her Mom died and she was responsible for all the details. She became increasingly sad and depressed.
After a few years, she moved and I could no longer find her. She stopped all communication with me. I speculate that after Barney’s death, and then her Mom’s death, she retreated anyway she could. Barney was the Love of her Life, and he took so much of her with him when he left.
So the wonderful lyrics and music of Sting’s song have come to have an even more profound meaning for me. They remind me that all Life is so fragile. That relationships are delicate and must be carefully tended, and certainly not taken for granted. They also remind me that we can leave indelible marks on the hearts of others, as Barney did on mine.
“On and on, the rain will fall, like tears from a star, like tears from a star, On and on the rain will say how fragile we are, how fragile we are”.
This morning, in the cool, crisp Autumn air, Teddy strides out onto the deck to survey the yard and environs. He barks, with authority and indignance, at anyone and anything that can hear him. “My yard”.
He runs about, tracking new scents, watching and listening for any movements of animals or birds in the bushes behind the fence.He is a golden flash of beautiful fur and motion. He marches around the perimeter of the yard with an air of ownership and a sense of duty.
I watch from the windows of the family room, admiring his bravado and his focus. He doesn’t seem to know he has a tumor, that grows larger each day, on his forearm. He doesn’t focus on any difficulty it causes him in walking, climbing, or running.
I spend part of each day,(since May 8th when we got the diagnosis from an Oncologist)telling myself NOT to think about it. To live ONE DAY AT A TIME, and block the negative thoughts of the future.
But my Brave Boy doesn’t let it ruin one minute for him. He is, as always, ever Joyful and In The Moment. He is full of whole-body wags, and happy food-related dances, and enthusiasm for the “toss the biscuit, Dad” games. He is the same, loving, generous, kind Spirit he has always been. The One who saved me when I was ill. The One who comforted me when I was sad. He is, remarkably, the Brave Boy who trudges up the stairs each time I climb them to deliver laundry to the second floor or just to brush my hair. He must be near me as much as possible; even when I bathe, he climbs the stairs and lies on the bathroom rug next to the shower. He seems to need, more than ever, to protect me and to stay close.
The old adage is that Ignorance is Bliss. I sort of wish that I didn’t know; but as his Mom, I don’t have that luxury. I had to find out if there was anything that could be done to stop the cancer.
So, I feed him a bit of Golden Paste( a mixture of organic Turmeric, Coconut Oil, and Cracked Pepper) in his food. I have eliminated lots of carbohydrates and grains from his diet. I pray a lot, and visualize strong White Light penetrating the tumor and making it stop growing. We have to do something, don’t we? I guess it helps us feel less powerless.
My Brave Boy is sleeping about eight feet away from me as I write this. He teaches me so much about acceptance, living in the moment, and true courage each day. I was a different person before I knew. I wish I didn’t know.
The Pandemic has taken so much away from all of us. I am, knock wood here, lucky to still be healthy, and to have my family and friends still healthy. We do not take this blessing for granted, since so many Americans have lost their loved ones to this terrible virus.
But, there are small losses for each of us. We respond to the deprivation of our “normalcy” in different ways. Some of us complain daily; some of us struggle to smile each day and move forward with whatever Grace we have left. Some of us who are truly brave and patriotic souls, get up each day and serve others through the medical field, the delivery work force, the front line food chain work, and many, many other jobs.
I want to complain. Just this once. Just here, on my sacred pages where I express what I see and feel. O.K.? I know this is being incredibly spoiled and selfish, but I am going to do it anyway. You may want to leave the room.
watching my Grandson grow in person (only seen him from a distance a handful of times in the past year…his second year of life)
kissing my Daughter’s cheek “hello” or “goodbye” when we visit (in case you are not aware, my Daughter has THE SOFTEST cheek in the WHOLE WIDE WORLD)
lingering at the local Farmer’s markets to see/photograph/smell all the wonderful foods (as pictured above) offered for sale
spending a morning at my favorite nursery purchasing oodles of flowering plants and admiring the colors and splendor of their vast array
shopping for Fabric at the local retail surplus and salvage store’s immense fabric department
smelling the fresh bagels at my favorite bagel emporium (where I could delight in the yummy aromas while they packed up my dozens of bagels)
attending yard sales and finding fabulous bargains
having a friend drop by to sit on the deck and have a snack while we share our thoughts and small details of our lives
being in the supermarket as long as I choose to be
patting everyone’s dogs (and maybe kissing them on the snout…the dogs, I mean)
Just when I was sure that young people were never going to be as eloquent, passionate, or committed as my Baby Boomer 60’s generation was (now Geezer Hippies), along comes Amanda Gorman. This young woman blew my socks off by reading her poem, “The Hill We Climb”, yesterday at the Inauguration of President Joe Biden.
Remarkable, insightful, brilliant Amanda. WOW! I am happy to be wrong about all this. Seeing someone 22 years old carry the kind of poise, dignity, and humility that she displayed is more than refreshing: it’s downright inspiring!
So, this National Youth Poet Laureate brought back strong feelings of hope for the Future of our Country. If there is an Amanda out there, who else is waiting for their moments of greatness? Perhaps all is not lost. Perhaps this experiment we call America is producing more strong, intelligent young people who will make us truly Great.
I have never been the flag-waving type. I have always thought that kind of “patriotism” is corny, square, and insincere. I am the type who believes you can burn the flag in protest, and that freedom of speech and freedom of the press are really important. Also, the national anthem has always seemed far too bellicose for my taste; I think it should be changed to Paul Simon’s “American Tune”, or something more relevant. Maybe “America the Beautiful”. More peaceful and less bloody.
Anyway, yesterday, January 6th, 2021, was a painful day. It was physically gut-wrenching. It reminded me of May 4, 1970 when four students were killed at Kent State during a Viet Nam War protest. That day, I felt that we were witnessing something close to the end of the world as we knew it. It was a helpless, free-falling feeling that was both scary and eerie. Yesterday was the same.
An assault on our democracy happened. It was vicious, premeditated, and horrifying. But it happened. As I watched hordes of protesters and rioters storm the Capitol building, I was dumbfounded. Rarely without words, I could not express exactly what I was feeling as I watched in disbelief.
I remember a cool February morning back in 1963. My Mother, my Aunt Phyllis, my cousins Danny and Ann, and I were on our way to Florida to visit my grandparents. We stopped in Washington, D.C. early that Sunday morning to have a cursory view of the Capitol and the White House. The Kennedys lived there then, and were at Sunday Mass when we drove by 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. (Apparently they walked home from church that morning, but we missed them by an hour or two, to our great dismay.)
Ann and I ran up the steps to the Capitol while Mom filmed us with our 8 millimeter movie camera. I occasionally look at that footage, and there we are: two girls, 12 and 14 years old, standing in front of those huge, impressive doors. THE CAPITOL! Think of it! WE were standing in front of those doors, and walking on those steps. The steps where our Presidents, Senators, and Congressmen had trod. We stood in front of the doorway that had welcomed such important visitors as well as common citizens like us, to this amazing building; the symbol of our republic. It was awe-inspiring. I talked about it for weeks.
Yesterday that same building was overrun by crazed protesters. There were deaths, injuries, and chaos. There was no reverence or respect for the symbols of our democracy, or for the actual processes that were going on in the building. The people’s business.
Today, order has been restored. Lockdowns, curfews, and increased security. The business goes on: we will have a peaceful transfer of power in two weeks. So what we feared has transpired, and this brilliant experiment has survived. We will go forward together, and our Constitution remains intact. I am not quite over “Kent State Day”, and I am sure the events of yesterday will take some time to absorb.
However, it still surprises this old Hippie to find out exactly how much of a Patriot I really am. Leftie, Marxist, Socialist, Hippie, Weirdo, Impudent Snob. Yup, I’ve been called all those things. But ya know what? That’s MY Capitol, damn it. And I walked up those steps, and so did my Mom, my aunt, and my cousins. My family is a Military family, including my Mom, who served in the Navy during WWII. My relatives fought and died for this country, so that our Constitution could stay intact. I guess that’s why it was so hard to watch the Capitol being assaulted. It felt very personal.
I stood alone in the dining room to open the Amazon box. I knew it was from my dearest Friend, and I wanted to feel alone with her and this gift. Inside was a small drawstring pouch with a tissue-wrapped treasure in its silky core. I could feel something solid, and as I carefully unwound the tissue, I discovered the piece of jewelry she had sent to commemorate my 70th birthday. A beautiful modern representation of the famous Irish Tara Brooch. This one, designed to anchor a scarf, had Green Agate stones and Celtic Knots around the circle. Another perfect gift in a series of perfect gifts that has endured throughout our friendship. She always knows what I will appreciate and, more importantly, need at any given time.
My friend has been going through the fight of her life for the past several months; battling the huge Dragon, and suffering the pain of surgery and radiation treatments. Yet, in the midst of intense physical suffering and the struggle of dealing with so much emotional and mental stress, she managed to find and send this intensely meaningful gift. The human spirit is astonishing, and never ceases to amaze me.
Because we are both descended from Irish ancestors, my friend and I share a connection to Irish traditions and symbolism. The Celtic Knot is special to us for a lot of reasons. In many ways, it stands for the bond that we forged in 1962 as schoolgirls. The Knot is constructed of complete loops that have no start or finish; it is often said to represent Eternity, whether this means Loyalty, Faith, Friendship, or Love. Only one thread is used, and the completed Knot symbolizes the interconnectedness of Life and Eternity. It is this connection that one begins to face after becoming a woman “d’un certain age”.
As I look out at the world through my now 70-year-old eyes, I see things more clearly. With age, they say, comes Wisdom. Perhaps. I do know that one gains a perspective that can only come with surviving the slings and arrows. My friend and I have both weathered storms through the decades, and although she has been the one suffering immensely lately, my connection to her has brought that struggle home to me. I have prayed a LOT recently: prayed for her to recover fully, and for us to once again share time and laughter. The importance of our Friendship is on the front burner every day. I wake with it and sleep with it.
Some recent study showed significant proof that the reason we connect with certain friends and lovers is that our brains are literally wired the same. I believe it. How else can it be that we meet someone who completely understands us on a cellular level? Someone who knows our thoughts and hopes and dreams so thoroughly? I have those moments of sheer delight when my friend finishes my sentences or gets my jokes. I have learned that in this Life it is SO important to be known and understood. My husband and my closest friends really get me, and that is everything.
We can all be proud of our lifetime’s accomplishments. These may be different for each of us, but achievements mark what we valued and what we’ve done with our time. Now that interconnectedness of Life and Eternity starts to take on an increased relevance as we turn 70.So, as I took stock of my achievements the other day (starting a new decade of years will do that for you), I found myself making yet another list.( It is, after all, what I do). This list was most gratifying. In the still of the night, as I lay in bed next to my sleeping Love, I made a mental list of the real, true friends I have. The requirements were these: Loyalty, Trust, and Love. If I called any of these people at two in the morning and asked for help, money, or counsel, I know they would give it without asking why. And they wouldn’t even complain about me waking them up. This list had a dozen people’s names on it. I decided then and there that aside from raising a really kind and good Daughter, that list was my greatest achievement so far. I hope to achieve a lot more as I go forward into my future years, but I am pretty sure that list will retain its importance.
My friend who is now in recovery was at the top of that list, of course. Our alliance has stood the test of time, distance, and outrageous fortune. The Celtic Knot will always represent US; it does stand for the trinity of Soul, Heart, and Mind. Since pagan times, the Knot has linked people’s aspirations for unity, and it links mine to her. We have that special connectedness that keeps us in touch with each other’s feelings, no matter what happens. We are, with a nod to our Irish ancestors, very lucky.
Look, I am turning 70 in three days….maybe 2 and 1/2 days….very soon! I thought I should write a little bit about what this FEELS like. I may want to remember when I am lots older, right?
Anywho…..people in my inner circle have started talking to me about this lately. Like, “Can you believe we are THIS old?”. Stuff like that. So, I’ve started thinking about how I feel about turning 70. Weird. All I can think of each time I say it aloud is the line from Paul Simon’s song “Old Friends”: “how terribly strange to be 70”. Now that seemed like REALLY ancient back in the ’60’s when I wasn’t even 20 yet. Perspective. Relativity. It sure feels different now.
I can certainly tell that my body has aged; there are signs on the skin and creaks in the joints. But, as most agree, one doesn’t feel much different on the INside. I think we choose a mental age somewhere around 40, when we have really and truly grown up, and we stay with that age. INside. I think by the time I was in my 40’s I knew what I knew, and accepted my core beliefs as solid. I don’t think much has changed in there since then.
So, this aging thing. I now believe your attitude towards aging has to do with where you are emotionally and spiritually at any given point. Four years ago I was quite unhappy with my circumstances. I was not well, had a very sick Mom in a long-term care facility, and no committed partner in my life. I longed for good health, a resolution to my Mom’s battle with Parkinson’s Disease, and a man who loved and understood me. I knew my Mom was nearing the end of her fight, and each day was depressing having to face that fact. My own disease journey was painful, and I became increasingly incapacitated as time went by. I had always wanted a deeply committed, fulfilling, and honest relationship, and the odds of finding that seemed slim. That year, facing 66 years old was difficult.
But, things CAN turn around. Change is the evolutionary constant; and CHANGE came my way big time. Long story shortened, Mom passed. The combination of Grief and Relief took a while to absorb. I spent a year and a half trying to find out what was wrong with me before I got the right diagnosis and medication. I got better. And then I got the courage to do something that changed everything for me.
The very short version is this: I put a message in a bottle, figuratively. I mailed a letter to someone I hadn’t seen in 50 years, and asked him what his life had been like. I told him that I had never forgotten our one, brief date in college; that I had always wondered what became of him. Weeks later, he called. We began a five month phone conversation that concluded with a SECOND date, 5o years after the first one. What are the odds, you ask? Astronomical. But it happened. And then we fell in love for good.
So, as I approach my 70th birthday, my attitude toward aging is colored by my incredible good fortune. I feel luckier than I ever dreamed possible. I thank God every single day for all of this. Today I am healthy, my family is healthy, my furry child Teddy (aka THE BEST DOG IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD) is always near me, and I have my Soul Mate at my side. Sure there are aches and pains, age spots, wrinkles, gurgles, creaks, and word retrieval issues. But ya know what? Life is Beautiful.
This year, perhaps more than any I can remember, waiting for Spring is tough. We all know that it will come eventually. We know that fact because, in the past, when extremely rough Winters have lingered, Spring has triumphed over the cold, hateful weather at some point. At some point. Eventually. At long last.
This Winter, with its terrible virus, has lingered in a much more dangerous way than previous Winters. We have collectively been frightened, and told to stay inside. We are enduring isolation, deprivation, anxiety, and frustration. We are testing our mental and physical strength in new ways.We need Spring. Rebirth. Rejuvenation. Reconnection. We need each other in ways we took for granted.
Throughout human history, natural history, and the mythology of humankind’s religions, there has been Rebirth. Renaissance. Renewal. Regeneration. Resurrection. We have learned about this, and we have witnessed this each Spring. The brave little crocuses on my lawn have risen, through snow, sleet, wind, and rain. They are proudly sticking their faces ever upward to the Sun. The green leaves of the perennial flowers I have planted are stubbornly pushing their way upward as well. The fledgling leaves on my massive Maple tree are clustering together despite harsh breezes; they are saying “we are here and we are ready to burst forth”. And the birds and squirrels are busy preparing for their young: the future of their species.
I am trying to be as brave as the crocuses and the leaves. I am hoping for a Renewal of my life’s activities and my relationships with family and friends. I am almost certain that the way things were and the way things will be going forward are going to be substantially different. I am not sure how we will navigate those changes, but I am sure we will do it. We don’t have much choice. The only choice each of us will have is how we react going forward. How much Grace and Courage we exhibit. How much Kindness and Compassion we share.
I wish for each of you the bravery of the flowers and trees and animals. I wish for you the simple yet necessary Hope they carry for the future of our lovely planet. Happy Earth Day.
It’s my Birthday, and I feel compelled to write something about the changes in my attitude toward aging. Ok, I am 69 today. Yes, it does feel strange to think about the actual number. BUT, here’s the deal.
I am so very fortunate to have achieved this number. In French you say, literally, “How many years do you HAVE”? So, owning these years is an accomplishment. I have 69 of them; and I have lost so many good friends and dear relatives who have NOT made it this far, that I see myself as very fortunate. I have no need to hide my age or pretend I am not getting older. It’s a really lucky thing to have more years. I feel really blessed today.
It is important today to take stock of what is IN my life, as well. I have People in my life who love me. They show me this everyday with their acts of kindness and caring. Friends, relatives, and my own Family show me constantly how they are happy that I am in THEIR lives, too. How incredibly lucky is that? My circle of close friends is supportive and attentive and giving: marvelous, intelligent, hilarious beings, all. I have my daughter and my grandson, who bring joy and laughter to my days.
I also have the greatest DOG in the Whole Wide World. Theodore, know to most as “Teddy”, is smart, loving, forgiving, and has a great sense of humor. He is always up for anything I suggest, and stays close to me to keep me in line.
And I have my True Love. He is sensitive, compassionate, courageous, protective, creative, supportive, and brilliant. So, today I will have another Very Happy Birthday. What’s not to like?