Tag: art of aging

Telling Our Story

Telling Our Story

When I made the decision to take  my desire to write more seriously, I signed up for a class at Writer’s Online Workshop sponsored by Writer’s Digest, a website that seems to have morphed into Writer’s Digest University.  An early online class, it took place in a cyber class and the students benefited from personal critiques of the assignments by the teacher who herself was a published writer. I was fortunate to have a teacher who appreciated my work and didn’t mind saying so. The first time she said “you need to published this” I crumbled into a heap on the floor and cried. Once I overcame the shock, her words and belief in me were all it took to set me off and running.

The article I wrote for the class was “Caring for Mom”, and it was, to my amazement subsequently published in numerous Senior newspapers and magazines around the country and is still, as you see, on-line. It became the title of my first book and started me on an adventure of a lifetime.

I didn’t make a fortune, but I was paid for my writing for the very first time. A copy of the check remains on my bulletin board as a reminder that anything is possible.  It was a special moment in my life, not because of the money, (although that’s always nice!) but because I wrote and people listened. I wrote from my heart and it seemed to matter to someone else.

I did not create that article out of nothing. I created it by telling of my story. It was the only way I knew how to write. The class was on magazine article writing and while the rest of the class was busy researching and writing about things like gardening and raising dogs, I was feeling inadequate and clueless. I couldn’t think of anything I knew much about, nor did I care much for research. Just thinking about it shut of my creative instincts and drive.  I was in a quandary and quite certain I was on the path to proving myself a failure as a writer.

The night before the assignment was due, I still didn’t know what I was going to write about. I had just returned home from a weekend of caring for my aging mother. I was worn out and struggling with family dynamics that were percolating in my brain. How could I be creative and find the spark I needed to write my assignment?

I cloistered myself in my room with my laptop and just began to write. What came out was my story of caring for Mom. When I was done I thought, oh, well, no more time. I’ll just have to submit and take the heat. It was what was on my mind and in my heart and there was nothing else I could have written in that moment.

I learned a valuable lesson that night , one I too often forget.  We are our stories and they may just be the most valuable asset we have to offer to others. We may not have all the answers to life’s most perplexing problems, but we have ourselves and our stories and in sharing them we might just be gently weaving a new thread into the fabric of another person’s life.

Who are we, if we are not our stories, for they are the sum total of the choices we have made and refused to make, the love we have shared, and lost and withheld. They are the lines and creases of joy and sadness on our face, the shape of our smile and the look in our eye.  As we continue to write the story of our life, owe it to ourselves and to the world to set it free. Perhaps, just perhaps, that is what eternal life is all really about.

The Ageless Wisdom of Childhood

The Ageless Wisdom of Childhood

Childhood is a magical time. In spite of the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”, innocent beings see life differently. A child has an enormous curiosity, endless good will, hope that won’t quit and complete faith in life. The years may whittle away our innocence and undermine our confidence in life, but I have come to believe that the gifts we were given at birth remain with us far beyond childhood. They have simply gone underground for safekeeping until such time that we can once again appreciate them and put them to good use.

As a child, I lived in the magnificent state of Maine. It was pure heaven for a kid like me. Building snow forts and sucking on icicles were among my favorite pastimes in winter…catching polliwogs and climbing to the top of an enormous rock with my best friend or a picnic in the woods were my summertime delights.  I was too young to realize it was the freezing cold back woods of hell for my mother. It was home to me and I loved it.

I didn’t brood on unpleasant things, such as the very real health issues I had, that I would today, nor did I give them much import.  Nor did I reflect on the drudgery of day-to-day life in school or how difficult it was to be painfully shy. I didn’t lose myself to self-pity, or pay too much attention to the sadness I later recognized at being relegated to the least important member of my family of eight. I found my peace in the woods and by drawing enormous yellow suns on the whitest paper I could find. I created what warmth I could and allowed it to shine down upon me from its thumb tacked position on the wall where it kept me warm despite the coldness in my days.

Children are amazingly resilient creatures. We would benefit from taking a moment to get acquainted with the one that still lives inside of each of us. Perhaps if we take a few moments to look back upon our younger years and roust that innocence from its long winter of hibernation, we might find the remnants of our authentic selves and the strength and wisdom that still reside within us. The hope and joy that comforted us then might just be what we need to face life’s challenges today.

As a child, I knew the face of God, though He did not have a name. I trusted implicitly the outstretched arms of protection that held me securely when I rested in the hollow of an enormous tree. I soaked up the comforting aroma of peace from the woodsy smell of nature and I was inspired by the force of hope as I watched day after day as an enormous icicle grew steadily on the corner of our little house, until it reached the ground. I soaked up with amazement the charity and benevolence of nature as I watched mesmerized by the continuous drip, drip, drip of maple syrup as it flowed from the little tube my Dad and inserted into our Maple tree. I rested in the unending peace that comforted me as I lay in my mother’s lap on Sunday mornings, listening with my whole being to the echo of reverence as it seeped unannounced into my soul and the sweet scent of flickering candles lulled me to sleep. I knew God then. Only I have changed.

An Authentic Life is a Fluid Life

An Authentic Life is a Fluid Life

Spring is just around the corner! Change is good!

In other words, life is all about change. I know, what’s with that?!

I am only six months away from crossing another threshold. I am being launched, quite unwillingly,  into a new decade. I just got used to the last one! It seems like yesterday that I faced all of those enormous “growth opportunities” that enabled me to make some serious changes in my life, inside and out. I waged war with life and myself as I stared down the trials and tribulations of an empty nest, caring for my aging parents, menopause, and more. Through it all I truly believed I was headed for my final destination.  I was finally learning the last things I needed to learn, making the last adjustments that I needed to make to truly know myself.

It was a tumultuous few years, but I believed I was getting it right. This time, I would become me, arrive at my destination of a totally authentic self, and live happily ever after. This time, I was ahead of the curve. Ah, but those who think they know it all are the most deceived! I would not get my heaven on earth. I would not complete the “maturing process” and find nirvana. You know why? Of course you do. You’re smarter than me!

In this life, we don’t get to be done. We don’t get to figure it all out once and for all. Not ever. Not even when we’re 110. Westerners are painfully stuck in an achievers life view, even when it comes to personal and spiritual growth. We want to achieve perfection in all aspects of life and often refuse to rest until we arrive. That includes arriving at our authentic selves, our true selves, our wise and mature selves.

The truth is we don’t get it. We already are perfect. Perfectly human. And, being perfectly human means we are constantly changing, growing, adapting, developing, stretching, protecting, evolving and more or less groping our way through life. So even at fifty or sixty or seventy, when we’ve reached the age where we think we have lived long enough to know a thing or two, we still are the very same humans who were created to change and grow, to face new challenges that will change and shape us until the day we die. And who knows? Maybe beyond. I know, at times I don’t like it much either.

As I face this new decade, I now know my challenge is not to enjoy having “arrived” at some facsimile of my perfect self, but to learn to relax into my true nature, which is anything but static, and anything but perfect. Yes, I have learned a few things about who I am, but I am not beyond surprises. If I were to be really honest I’d have to admit that life would be pretty dull if we didn’t have a challenge or two to face and a new discovery to make just around the corner. Never knowing the end of the story keeps us striving and growing and learning. Now that we are truly a little bit wiser, it’s time for us not to give up the fight, but to look a little less at the destination and a little more at the ride. Today may just be as good as it gets.

The Fertile Ground of Shattered Dreams

The Fertile Ground of Shattered Dreams

Our beautiful maple tree lies in pieces on our front lawn, as the blossom laden magnolia looks on. This magnificent tree had its home in the very center of our front yard, and I watched as it grew from a tiny sapling to a large, spreading beauty that garnered the attention of strangers with cameras each fall. I loved this tree and spent many hours studying its shape and texture from my office window as I contemplated the words I was putting on a page. It was a silent friend and constant companion, but the drought of the last several years took its toll and now it is gone.

It has been difficult for me to enjoy the nearby magnolia this year as I usually do. Its tremendous white blossoms bathe all who pass by in its luscious scent.  I have not cut a single blossom for our foyer to fill our house with its aroma. My heart is heavy from my loss and my focus and energy is still required in the cleanup effort. I must put things in order, remove the debris before it kills the grass and pile the wood for fuel for winter.

Life is full of such experiences, and while the loss of a tree is a rather minor loss, it is a loss none the less an example of what is required to survive even greater losses. Our dreams are much like my beloved maple tree. They do not always last as long as we would like them to or grow as big and luscious as anticipated. Sometimes our dreams end up in a heap on the ground. Like the maple and the magnolia, while one dream lies dead and in pieces on the ground ~ gone for good ~ another different, but just as magnificent dream waits in the background.  Before we can take hold of a new dream, we must mourn our loss, grieve what has passed, and put our house in order.

There is a season and a time for fulfilling each dream and a time for laying them to rest. We do not always want to let go, especially if we thought our dream would live forever and we did not consider the day it would be gone.  Going through the steps of letting go of a dream that has died will ready the ground for the roots of the new one to take hold.

If you have lost a dream and it is lying in pieces around you, you have a choice. You can sit amongst the wreckage, refusing to let go, as the wood rots and the grass beneath it dies, or you can get to work cleaning up the debris and stacking the wood neatly in a pile to keep you warm in winter. The grieving process is a necessary part of moving on and one that we cannot avoid. Undertaking the clean up process provides the time and opportunity to heal. Focused on a practical task often helps our sorrow find its way to the surface and our tears to flow. If we give our sadness expression and not try to bury it or trap it inside to fester, we can begin to heal.

Lost dreams and shattered hopes generate the wisdom we need to meet our next challenge. When one dream dies, the lessons we have learned remain intact and they will be there to help us bring the next dream to fruition.  In all of life’s transitions, it is important to give ourselves time to mourn and time to reorder our lives, before we begin again. Too often we try to skip over the sorrow and the unpleasant work, but that only leaves our hearts heavy and our brains foggy.

If you are struggling to put your life together after a dream has been shattered, and it does not seem to be working, consider giving yourself more time to mourn, more time to heal and putting your practical life in order.  Your next dream will be there when you are ready, just as the magnolia will be there for me to enjoy next spring, and if it is not, the dogwood will be.