Living Life Amid Passing Shadows

Photo by Cynthia Guenther Richardson 9/16
Photo by Cynthia Guenther Richardson 9/16

There are occasional days I awaken as if slogging through a heavy mist of haunting dreams, feet unsteady on the floor, body trying to find a barest sense of consciousness amid a three-dimensional space. I perform preparations for further entry into daytime accompanied by a low groan or two. Dressed, wet hair dripping, I finally turn on the tea kettle. I manage to feel less weary as its soft sizzle of sounds hum through the kitchen. Curtains and windows are throw open in living and dining room; balcony door is cracked wide. Let come the light, come the fresh air, there we go.

The Irish Breakfast teabag greets boiling water and I stare into deepening amber. I must get more awake, greet my life with eyes fully open. I will meditate and pray longer, for this may be a day that will take more work to mine the beauty and hope that enliven my life. My love for the world–mine and our greater one– is straddled with grief. I am often surprised by this. Ask my spouse and he will tell you I am a person who is primarily even-keeled, rolling with the weather of life, even optimistic by nature. It wasn’t always that way. I learned a few things.

But am I feeling a little depressed those certain mornings (day, evening)? My training indicates it can happen that way, sudden brief lows, even mild yet disheartening. Close-up experience being myself may indicate otherwise; there is usually to be a reason. A lifetime of valuing the intelligence of emotion also chimes in. I know the voice or silence as well as the faces of depression, the energy and mass of it from repeated encounters with mental health clients. And I have known it in my personal journey when facing serious crises. It carried my burdens with bleak misery. But the older I become, the more I feel “the blues” is but one more variation of the expansive spectrum of emotions–if generally an indicator of other, less visible feelings. And it is not the enemy but another ally, nudging me to take notice. To see what else is going on. It’s a little like the relentless shriek of the tea kettle telling me it is liable to go dry, so time to take action.

That loaded word, “depression”, floats by our collective eyes and ears more times than I can count these days. It certainly was a major focal point all day long when I was a counselor. Also prior to that, while working with geriatric and disabled populations. It has become a dominant topic in literary, scientific and spiritual journals, even popular magazines. It often takes center stage during commercial breaks on television, courtesy of the octopus reach of Big Pharma. It can be a source of discussion among friends, acquaintances, family members. I have lost people to suicide; I don’t underestimate its debilitating, even lethal effect.

Clearly depression is entrenched in our socio-psychological lexicon following centuries of being a word not uttered if it could be helped. Or quietly, behind closed doors. And even then, it was called something else. The varieties of depression have been re-categorized or redefined to keep up with the evolution of diagnostic techniques and manuals. (Or the other way around; it depends on your viewpoint.)

Back when I was working in mental health agencies, powerful grief and loss usually underlay depression symptoms–it might have been an event that kept cropping up (say, ancient family dysfunction fueled by ongoing abuses or abandonments) or a very fresh experience. Anything from unemployment or medical issues to relationship trouble or moving to a new city, even loss of dreams and goals. Addictions of all sorts are also both symptoms and triggers. But right there I’m going to stop. I’m leaving the finer details to diagnosticians who are working away in the field.

I’m going back to my opening theme, those times when walking and thinking are reminiscent of trudging through noxious mud. Because I have worked at gaining self-knowledge a long time now, I also know the acrobatics my mind can perform and the poisons my spirit can let in. So I am ready when my response is needed. I know when and how I must take myself in hand.

If we are in large part what and who we tell ourselves, then I’m a curious human being with intellectual capability, decent physical equipment, rich emotional responses and a seeking soul. All these work together from what I can tell, for if one aspect goes a little awry, others tend to malfunction some. I am made of homeostatic systems that make a whole, one that runs well and without much fretting when systems do their work appropriately. All I have to do is see to insure my human beingness remains tuned up–attend to whatever is askew and appreciate its design and function. It is not so much to ask for; every creature has its work to stay alive and do what it can do.

If we stop to consider the intricate checks and balances that go on in our bodies, alone, that awareness can startle us with awe. We know the brain does countless jobs each moment and exerts tremendous influence– we haven’t anywhere near figured out the full scope of its powers. But we do know, for instance, that sleep is critically needed to provide to good health, and for the brain to efficiently process and park information. Otherwise, we cannot operate without paying the price. (I remind myself that those nights when I awaken at 2 a.m., then return to sleep somewhere around 3:30 am.–this would contribute to anyone’s moody ineptness the next day.)

Every part of who I am wants to work at maximum levels. It is far more interesting; I gain and also give more. This requires intellectual, emotional and spiritual support and care. I know, for example, if I neglect reading meditation books and studying guiding scripture, if I don’t allow enough time to seek the Creator’s wisdom for more clarity of mind and a compassionate heart, shadows of sadness and distress may find greater opportunity to cling more than a moment. I tend to manage, anyway; there is the will, a mighty thing, to help determine quality of life. (Or better yet, there is synergism, a theological assertion that renewal is a combination of will and divine grace.) But how much better to remain rooted in my strengths as well as curtail or transform my deficits? To create more possibilities for a fuller, truer life?

I manage my health needs and revel in the body’s capabilities. I’m not ready to leave this earth. I watch over my emotional wellness because I savor happiness and peace. But I am no longer afraid of sorrow, frustration, disappointment or even failure. I’ve been there; still standing.

So I locate and nurture wellsprings of wholeness. It isn’t too hard. I admit it’s less challenging since retirement, but even as a working woman I kept those operational needs met the best I could. This is my way since I am a person who has been intimate with the vagaries of life fortunes, the loss of health, money, housing, safety, love, hope and twice, nearly my life. Yes, then, I have been to some deep pits. I didn’t expect to step into or get tossed in them. Who ever does? The climbing or tunneling out was exhausting, lonely, left a few marks from hoisting mental, spiritual and physical burdens, from the clawing and gnashing of teeth as I searched for relief. That rejuvenating sip of air, illuminating pinprick of light–it can turn the tides of mind.

Yes, far easier to maintain the well-being I have developed– and take rapid action to repair breakage or malfunctioning than let things head sideways.

We likely agree it’s sometimes a strange and arduous thing to inhabit this human flesh. Optimism can be fickle, faith can get slippery and resources run out more than we’d like. How much we admire the creatures who carry on their business without, we suspect, any thought to the future, without consternation over much while driven by instinct. But we are not they. Let us live the parts we have been given, then seek to make them finer.

When a disenchanted melancholy swirls about then settles on my shoulders like a ill-fitting cape, I  don’t panic. I wear it awhile. Acknowledge it. Let it visit me, talk to it, carry it about. Listen to any stories it has to tell, let clues surface. It has come to keep me company. But I don’t give it undue attention, either. The feeling will depart, either when it is ready or when I determine it is time. If a feeling hangs on to my detriment, I know what to do: reap spiritual sustenance; walk, hike, dance; eat smartly; rest even small pockets of time; visit and help others; make or bring life-affirming music and art and literature more deeply into my days and nights. And do not stay glued to electronic mediums, especially when it emphasizes negativity, subjects me to ever more violence. I–we–clearly need edification, more potent solutions born of thoughtful consideration.

But when there is a long and opaque shadow cast, it pays to well investigate the source. A shadow is only light blocked. Is it a circumstance that will pass? Is it a person whose presence is overwhelming the positive in my life? Is it something I have no direct control over, anyway–the complex state of this world, weather, my aging siblings’ health, other peoples’ beliefs? Or is it me? More often than not I am getting in the way, complicating things, being slow to mend a torn or sore spot. Maybe I just feel lazy; it requires strategy and effort to change.

I may be blocking the very light I need to thrive. If that is the case, I may find the deeper shadows suitable for encouraging self-pity, the last thing that’s needed. I can get out of my own way. Then I can influence the issues I can address. But I do not have to make it a big production, either. When a touch or full-on case of melancholy is experienced, quiet work usually gets the job done better than a dramatic response. Either way, its up to me.

Try this next time awakening with your own shadowy companion: give it your respect. What would we be without the mystery of shadow; it helps delineate our lives, as well, and gives us more depth and mystery. So make a fresh cup of coffee or tea to savor, open your window and let your lungs fill right up. Find that spot of beauty and absorb it. Praise the numinous Light of all. Spread it about. We can and should embrace even the homeliness of our lives, their misaligned aspects. We ought to love the weak moments and mad bits, and exercise mercy during baffling trials. It all works well when we accept the vast variations of our living, and help it along.

Five Good Reasons to Walk in a December Evening Rain

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It had been a stormy couple of days. I mean: wind advisories (gusts to 45 mph), flood warnings, not the usual redundant pitter-patter of fat drops we usually have. I stood on the balcony, eyed the skies beyond rooftops and tree crowns. Sooty, formidable clouds were on a race to another quadrant of the city. There was a loud irritating noise. Something the rain struck created a hard metallic drumming. It had kept me up half the night and accompanied day hours. I went back inside, watched for the sheerest let-up of the downpour. When it came I put on rain gear and went outdoors to identify the culprit, hoping it was not just the rain thrashing gutters making such a racket.

It was an empty metal cube that once held cocoa mix. Odd to have jumped out of a recycling bin but it was a relief to deposit it where it belonged. No more banging to keep me awake. The rain is always welcome. Except for destructive flooding, and the landslides in various spots of our Pacific Northwest, and the muck and detritus it all can leave behind. Still, it is Oregon. We experience this sort of havoc during wet winters and springs.

The air felt milder where I lingered under our apartment balcony. A good walk was in order though it was late afternoon and what little light remained would soon diminish.

My usual steady good cheer had been in shorter supply for a while. A number of challenging life events have plagued everyone from nieces and daughters to sisters to brother and brother-in-law as well as my own cardiac scare. But early December has been hard. So the somber weather was in concert with me and I was drawn into the storm. As I stepped away from sheltering buildings, the wind whipped my hair and I snugged close my coat hood.

And then I found many good reasons to follow my impulse even as rain lashed out at everything and me.

  1. Comfort. Irvington District is orderly, substantial and inviting. It has been designated an historic place. The houses were first built and occupied during the late nineteenth century by a diverse group: merchants, doctors and lawyers, lumbermen and cannery owners, steamboat captains, civil servants and more. They are rather big places, festooned with gardens that tantalize eye and mind, set on larger lots. Often painted colorfully, they are like gems among monochromatic foliage to me. The streets reflect history even as improvements are made. Everywhere are overarching and diverse trees, graceful architecture that includes generous verandas, flower and vine-laden trellises and fences, garages whose often-flat roofs harbor mini-gardens or lounging areas. There are still iron rings attached to curbs for long-ago horses (now with toy horses often tied up). The streetlights are well placed but do not blare upon on my moseying.

I’ve often thought of moving from our newer apartment as there is some redevelopment ahead; it has been too long in one spot, perhaps. But this neighborhood has been my home. There is great comfort in walking these streets. Not many were out that day, though a few walked bedraggled dogs and a handful of kids rushed home after school. Most nodded or spoke a greeting. Of course there are the resplendent gardens and architecture including Queen Anne, Arts and Crafts and Colonial Revival styles, the Victorian with gingerbread embellishment: stunning. But these are family abodes. This alone gives me pleasure, to know that folks play basketball together, youth skateboard and bicycle about; whole blocks throw parties in the streets in warmer weather. Make the effort to decorate with whimsical yard art and also for a holiday or any other celebration. This is a community that builds tiny free libraries on front yards for passersby to use; fly bright banners from porches; install poetry posts with copies of famous or personal poems for walkers to read or take home.

As I went on, soft lights illumined bay windows, those made of stained glass or set in unusual shapes. I could see a person here and there setting a table, working at a desk, standing by a brightly-lit Christmas tree. Then there were gay decorations, voluminous, radiant along darkening blocks, dressing up houses and trees. I walked on as the wind came up.

  1. Hiking boots. That’s right, my Columbia brand rain-proofed, heavy-soled, lace-up boots. They are not very flexible but they hold feet just right. In warm weather I choose to be barefooted or wear minimal sandals but in winter, boots are best for walking in chilly rain. They’re friendly on my feet, sturdy, cushioned but supportive. They protect my left foot, injured first on a steep forest hike last spring and harmed further by a simple barefoot pivot. After two and a half months in an orthopedic “soft boot” that gripped like a vise, I finally was freed a few weeks back. Said foot yet readapts to freedom, and not always happily. Hence, sturdier foot apparel is a boon. The worn, treated suede with rubber, rather expensive boots make it possible to enjoy my daily power walks in winter. The infrequent foot discomfort is bearable, the after effects minimal now.

Those boots (plus a pair of lighter trail shoes), in effect, have saved me. Not walking, not hiking, was an emotional and physical challenge during a time when a family crisis dominated. Without my daily doses of serotonin, dopamine and adrenaline well-pumped through all systems, I struggled to maintain well. I know the body holds deep, ancient wisdom. It will care for us if we care for it, if we heed its cues and take action.

Walking can fix, to one degree or another, most problems if you are able to do it. Ask my cardiologist the most important key to my having outlived a ten year lifespan prognosis following early heart disease at 51: daily devoted rapid walking. I know it keeps me better balanced in all ways.(Other posts are solely dedicated to walking, if interested.)

On to the third thought I had while walking as dusk fell about.

  1. Quietness. There occurred a performance of jazz-riffing raindrops, improvisational movements of air, wetness, tree limbs, mini-flash flooding and my own body moving, moving, moving. Not many others crossed my path. The streets were devoid of typical busyness as darkness crept forth, then gathered itself. Drivers I did see stopped more often so I could safely cross streets. The unrelenting rain and unpredictable wind did not encourage most outside. They were inside, dry and at ease, cooking dinner, tending families.

Storm drains were backing up; puddles becoming small ponds. Jumping over manageable ones and detouring around others, I began to wonder about the crows, now silenced–if they were huddled unseen in trees or if they had flown to better temporary shelters. I half-missed their commands and harping, the commentary on every step I took. But the longer I walked, the rushing, shifting sounds of water falling created a dense hush. It was a stormy winter’s eve and I floated through it. It was all absorbed, was as if being held in a whorl of suspended time. Branches bowed and danced. Rain, deepening darkness, myself being helped along by the wind. No more thought. No more restlessness, only rhythm of feet, legs, arms; breathing in, out; heart muscle responding with little zigzags, then steadily.

I had the neighborhood to myself as evening painted the landscape sterling grey, then charcoal. The aloneness found within nature’s capricious theatre filled me with a gentling calm. Solitude, so resonant. I felt cradled in peace.

  1. Feelings. No matter where I go outdoors, if there is sky, a few growing things, the freshening breezes, then I find my way back to the Creator and myself. As long as I can move or repose under the mysterious canopy of the universe, I move beyond my small self toward much that is larger, better. The connection vis-à-vis sensory input and personal detritus’ output is inevitable. It redistributes the essence of soul and body, mind and emotion. It clarifies what matters.

So all this can bring me to a refined state, a kind of clarity emotionally where the truth of anything cannot be avoided. In the rain-storming winter as I walked my heart knew what it felt and what it could hold and what it could let go. And so I wept. wept for what little I know and do not know, who I have lost and who I have not yet lost. The raindrops visited me with might and sweetness, bathed my face so tears could join the rain, salt water to fresh, an anadromous movement to allow renewal. Simple sorrow rose up to the surface and fell from me. I knew again in my center that all things change and in the end it is not truly one thing or another, it is just part of the whole.

Faith and hope, for me, grows in the living of my prayers. I cannot cling too tightly to this world because its suffering may bend ’til it breaks us, and eventually we will leave it, anyway, all of us. But neither can I keep from loving it. The people in it, its peculiar offerings. I weep when others are in pain, and sometimes, too, when they inhabit joy. And when they  leave.

When you walk in the blinding rain within the refuge of darkness you can cry and no one knows. You can cry out and not even the birds will answer. Such weeping likely never goes unnoticed by God. But it is not usually so big a matter that the rain stops and the sun comes out, either. The sky, after all, is freeing its own burdens.

  1. Coming home. After the walk–my silver and black velvety gloves soggy, jeans saturated, raincoat a deepened blue from all that wetness, boots dry inside but heavier, face rinsed of makeup–after all this, I go back home. And the heat wafts through the rooms as soft lights are turned on; the tea kettle is fired up until it sings. I dry out my dampened clothing and get busy. The radio is tuned in to classical music. My husband comes in the door while I am writing and sipping from a mug of robust Bengal Spice tea. He calls out a greeting and I answer, later will share a hug. This way of life easily fills me up. I toil and play and write within its overflow of wonders.

These were my reasons to walk in the winter-born rain yesterday. Tomorrow will bring me other good ones. And off I will go.

 

******

This post was written with thoughts of Christmas and family.

In memoriam for:

Marinell, my sister, and for Roland, my brother-in-law.
Ned, father of my first two children.
Reid, my nephew.
May all rest in the realm of perfect Love.

And with love and gratitude for all the rest of my family.
You are treasures who are more valued each year and remain in my  daily prayers.
Your beauty defines and fills your souls; your courage manifests in lives richly lived although it can sometimes seem a walk through a maze of narrow passageways.

And blessings on all who know the wear and tear of being human and, too, the glory of it.

Welcome: A Coming Together

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As the days creep toward the holidays, there seems to be a cluster of fluttering moths convening in my center, nervy wings that startle and annoy. I am not usually an anxious person so could find no reason why it was happening. It took days to decipher but I’m onto the root cause: family. You might imagine I’d be sharp enough to understand this from the get-go, i.e. holidays and family equals love/wants/needs/complications. They arrive as a package deal. But I will have to face again the reality that all is seldom plummy perfection within hallowed halls of tradition and (most earnest) good will.

I have a decent-sized family, notable for its combinations of five: I am one among four other siblings (now three, as my oldest sister passed in April). Parent of five grown children. Grandparent of five grandchildren. There are more–nieces, nephews, in-laws, cousins too far away and so on. It’s like many constellations of relatives. Not all reside in my city, which is a shame, because I happen to like my family very much, most all the time.

But there are those particular moments that have come and gone, even likely to surface again. Or newly develop. Everyone is spectacularly themselves. Every person has traits beloved and others less pleasurable. Any room outfitted with persons who share a well-defined gene pool and/or personal histories can become a stage. And the many players get to suss out connected or opposing themes, elucidate unique thoughts. It gets sticky. It can get painful if one dwells on a snide remark. Perhaps even dislocating as a sad or embarrassing event is revisited by several–as if such times require detailed recall. But wait, holidays are supposed to be fun or at least congenial. Affectionately shared.

So is that what’s going on in there, this jumble of restlessness like bouncing balls looking for a target? It’s not simple but neither is the feeling impenetrable. The sudden flashes of uncertainty are emitted from a deeper source. I’ve turned this thought over and beneath it is the source: my own fears. They live within the gauzy, clinging mythology of family ties.

We grow up despite ourselves, I suspect, and when we get closer to a sense of personal cohesion we find there are still more loose ends. For years I nurtured a vision of my life and extended family built on ground I imagined as above a flood zone. Deep in the center of me resides a powerful belief that despite any difficulty life will prevail and do so beautifully. No one would drown if my will was involved. I was taught to maintain this regard for family. And always to show our best sides. But it hasn’t always been a rock solid or as fine a unit as I want to contend. Let’s face it: we all–meaning homo sapiens– have issues.

Another person who is pulled to family connectedness is a brother’s daughter, a fine amateur genealogist. She has excavated curious, fascinating bits and pieces over decades. Like my maternal grandfather Kelly, a farmer, being an enthusiastic inventor albeit with a hot temper that could alienate. Or a paternal distant cousin who was an opera singer and another, a travelling faith healer. Our blood ties us to stalwart, innovative German and poetic, resilient Irish-Scotch-English stock (if I may generalize a moment)–that is, all viewed in the best light. I claim my heritage, despite the anomalies. I have claimed myself as more or less acceptable despite spiritual trials, impulsive adventures and a few life and death scenarios. The tough stuff has been a not very honorable contribution to the family schemata. There are a few tales of those distanced or lost to our family, as well. We have absorbed tragedy and triumph as families do, with occasions of fanfare but often in quietness, with due respect.

Which brings me back to those pesky moments of anxiety about family. I mean to interrupt or allay them here–and hereafter.

I have a habit of daily taking stock of my thoughts and actions. I know my spiritual routine depends upon honesty, at least all I can summon. This arose somewhat from decades of life embedded in the landscape of recovery from alcoholism, but also from a childhood instilled with the ways of faith. No, rather sprung from faith, for I cannot recall a time when I did not feel responsible for the quality of my life and the impact it might have on others. I take my daily review seriously, yet know I am not alone in the inventorying. God’s wisdom shores me up; compassion rescues me from the rubble of errors. I can even laugh at my follies. One cannot upbraid one’s self without a dose of humor–lest we become self-flagellating and ego-intensive (a bore to even myself).

And yet… as I review all this, I root out that niggling of worry: will I hold up well enough, ensconced in peace during the annual gatherings, amid the  spectacle and sacredness and sumptuous feasts? I admit I am not a jolly cook (check the debit box); I mean all the rest which is, as you know, considerable.

The holidays are arriving, anyway, despite a sudden desire to hold them off. (Okay, we considered taking vacation but rejected the idea fast.) I am now just busy adapting to the dynamic mix of falling leaves, our deluges and November winds. I power walk daily for as long as desired. Languish in ordinary passages of time fraught with nothing more than the next story’s opening paragraph, a movie with a friend or a short grocery trip. I feel wistful already for the hours of writing and solitary mornings, the evenings during which my husband and I dissect TV commercials and show scripts, share music discovered on radio or a few lines in a book. There is comfort in knowing what’s coming each day. There is comfort in not having to explain myself much. Or tick off endless items on a list.

Oh, why can’t I get to the point? The anxiety comes from wondering if I have, in actual fact, built a life on whole truth or not: have I been a good enough mother? Have I been kind to others, not just at holidays but most days? There, it is said. Have I been enough. A good grandmother and sister? I think of our children who will be here and wonder if there will be what they need and want. Will they still be reasonably pleased with our home and food, the gifts chosen, the conversations embraced, the events I want to include them in? And what of those not here? I think of them all year, in specific ways during holidays, and wonder if they truly miss us. (One is a chaplain. Is she also a bit frayed at Christmas?)

Or will I be found… wanting? And why, at sixty-five, does it matter much what my children think? Well, I’m a mother who loves her own wildly yet steadfastly. But I have also been an individual who has not always pleased them.

Years ago, so long that these events are close to forgotten (if my reaction was not), I got a couple of letters at different times from a biological child and a child brought to me by marriage. They had decided to clue me in. On my errors. Page after page informed me of their displeasure, how my faults had impacted them and a couple of bigger decisions caused insecurity or hurt. How my drinking (a few years off and on, toxic times despite my being “high functioning”, as my profession calls it) had caused heartache. Disbelief and a torrent of sorrow scooped me up. I couldn’t imagine that children to whom I gave so much, whom I loved beyond measure, could pronounce seeming judgement. They had held onto anger, and asked me to listen to their personal baggage, their hard work of growth. Apparently part of the journey included their viewpoints  of me delineated, then held up like mirrors into which I was to unblinkingly gaze.

It worked. I registered their pain. I closed dreamed of their childhoods: wonders and crises, mountains of laundry finished at midnight, the emergency room visits. And awake, I berated myself–and then, them. I sank a couple inches into that swamp of mothering misery. Until my merciful sisters responded to my calls.

The first sister: “They were being quite brave and expecting you to be, too. Remarkably, they trust you enough to speak and be heard. I don’t think they intended to so hurt you…they know how you love them; you know they love you.”

I balked. “Do they? Love me? Do they really know I would do anything for them and have? Can they imagine my life at all or must I just witness theirs?” I wiped away tears, regaining a bit of dignity. “Because I don’t get this brand of honesty. Do they take such measure of their lives?”

The other sister: “No, kids don’t know how much a parent has to manage until they become one… and no, they cannot imagine your life. We can’t fully know theirs, either…and thank goodness. But they’re responsible and caring; they want to live right. You sure helped teach them all that.”

Thank God for my sisters. It took awhile to staunch the seepage from sharp words. Those which held me so responsible, asked me to be more aware, showed me they were working to find their places in our family and even within my embrace. And as citizens of a greater and harsher world. I searched myself and gained insight. I had to let the rest go. And lest you suspect my children ghoulish or at least seriously insensitive, let me give full disclosure. They did and still do offer me deep care and tenderness, joy and affection. Heck, they call me, text me, hug me! I yet find them all wondrous, worthy in and of themselves. It’s part of this mothering job, but it is also a privilege and blessing.

I recall when my mother died shortly after I turned fifty-one. The loss was unfathomable, a grief beyond my ken. I realized I was basically an orphan (my father had died years before). There was much we hadn’t experienced together, told each other, come to better terms with or understood well. I had questions. But we may never have been done, of course. There is only a certain amount we can know of another’s life, even family members. And who is to say we must know much less understand everything, anyway? Our words fall from our mouths and land where they like. Our actions are well-considered, or not. It all gets interpreted. Our lives entwine with many; a number are our historical, blood family. And we can choose to let certain things be or make them more complicated. Difficult. The mystery of love is that it exists, even thrives despite mistakes or demands, separations or regrets.

It seems I entered earth’s atmosphere with a drive to do more, be better. Yet I have floundered and stumbled, fallen far many times. The hope that I have held onto is that I can make amends, repair downed bridges, learn how to make stronger the points of stress within me that weaken. I have it on good authority I am not alone in this seeking. It is a human dilemma. We all are in the same fix, creating a whole life from many parts we are given. I want still to be a useful, compassionate person. A good woman made of vibrant colors and designs.

A very good mother who is a constant. The caring goes without saying–as do disagreements that may come along. If I still sometimes fear letting my family down, it is part of the territory. I accept I am miles from flawless. I am full of spirit, too, which originates in the eternal Light of God. I am tethered to this magnificent love; it keeps me grounded, even overflows. It is a fortunate thing, as I’ve found it takes a certain courage to consciously hold one’s place in a family whatever it consists of–to take the knocks, mishaps, other gaps in stride. We are part of one another, after all, through the thick and thin of it. And we  never know when it will be our last celebration, as it was for my adored oldest sister.

So bring on the holidays, after all. I’ll be alright and better. I already long for those who will not be here, those passed over or just absent. I’ll light clusters of white candles, hold them up in prayer. But I am preparing for the good times as I start to plan. This quivering I feel is also anticipation, a growing excitement. It indicates a rising up of my soul as it accumulates energy. It will leap up, embrace others as it has before. Dare to be present among them, just as I am. My holidays will be well come, then soon gone again. I hope you, kind reader, find many ways to share your times of abundant heart and soul. 

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Glimmerings

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There is so little in life that cannot yet be held dear, despite this often ruinous world. May we hold close the delicate and transitory moments we are given, make room within our restless souls for everything true and honorable, and every one who needs our kindness, our merciful love. I feel charged to embrace more than I can see or understand. So let me not be the one who cannot give more. Let my life glow inside each moment even–and especially–when darkness descends. Let a drop of light overflow my limits. And then may that glimmering light greet all others and go on, go on and on. Amen.

Yesterday Becomes Today and Tomorrow: Intergenerational Living

Photo by Cynthia Guenther Richardson
Photo by Cynthia Guenther Richardson

At the park where I power walk, I spotted a few couples comprised of wildly disparate ages. No, they weren’t romantic partners from what I could deduct. Rather, they appeared to be son, daughter or grandchild walking and talking with their parent or grandparent. Or they may have been neighbors or others, good friends. I didn’t want to impinge on their privacy but observing them gave me great pleasure. The energy of spirited discussions which accompanied quick footsteps or the meditative quiet as they strolled–reasons to appreciate their presence. One twosome sat on a bench and pointed out abundant water fowl, naming many, enjoying the water’s painterly reflections. They all appeared glad to be in each other’s company.

This park is, as are all safe and well-kept public parks, popular for recreational pursuits. One side is devoted to basketball, kickball or volleryball or soccer with a busy jungle gym and swings nearby. On the other side of the street the pathways continue in hilly loops around an ample, tranquil pond, then past an off-leash area for dogs and sprawling picnic areas. I can easily spend forty-five minutes there and still be loath to leave. The rich light filtering through old trees changes moment by moment. The park always infuses my spirit with examples of life being lived well. There there are homeless folks, too, who seek sanctuary, as well they might. The lush, varied spaces welcome everyone. People (and dogs) romp, barbecue, read, make music, meditate, practice Tai Chi and sleep. Meet friends and lovers and family. Today I saw a group of role playing older teens in full costume. It’s a fine place to witness generations interacting, particularly parents and younger children.

Yet I do not as often see children, teenagers or younger adults with men and women between the ages of sixty and ninety (or older). These are often previous careerists who are now focused on other activities, whether it’s sitting on a porch crocheting, running a marathon or developing another business. Illness may alter their lives, slow some down. So can loneliness. I wonder how many of our older citizens visit with families and friends enough?

Likely not that many. Much of our culture doesn’t encourage intermixing of young and old. Unless it is already a long-held tradition, reflective of one’s ethnicity or part of social mores, it can be easy to gloss over ties to relatives and other important persons once integral to quality of living. Relationships become transitory with a pick-up-and-go society. We often meet others online or text whole conversations on cell phones. There is so much distraction that we forget the visit, the call, the time spent face-to-face with those we insist do matter.

I don’t want to lapse into sentimental nostalgia. I wonder if my viewpoint arises from having parents who were forty when I was born. As a youngster, I spent time with many silver-haired people (very few dyed their hair) and found them quite nice, fascinating with such varied life experiences. Still, we don’t necessarily cherish great and grand memories of family, neighbors or long ago friends, or at least not without equally impressive hard times recalled. Most of us, however, can yet recall enough occasions of togetherness that were momentous or contented, even happy. Love found its way into those gatherings with a few someones and in time the good will spread out, repeating acts of care.

I recently wrote a post about summer Missourian visits to see my aunts, both lovable characters, and an uncle and cousin (which you can find here: 2015/03/25/summer-trips-the-kelly-girls/). But I had many other cousins and uncles. My mother was one of thirteen children, many of whom were alive when I was born. My father, one of three brothers. Though I never got to meet my maternal grandparents, I did know my father’s parents. We stopped at their place each summer, as well. Many cousins, aunts and uncles had moved to other places, so were less well-known. But they came whenever they could to the common ground or we travelled to their homes, at times.

When we joined forces at relatives’ houses and yards it was entertaining, a bit crazy: lots of kids racing and yelling and playing games; tables laden with a large variety of home cooked food, conversations that veered from updates of life circumstances to detailed health updates to general gossip in lowered voices to worries and hopes about the future of the country and world.

My family was a bunch of talkers; kids could wedge in some words. My elders expected respectful exchanges but they were interested in what I accomplished in school, what I enjoyed doing for fun, who my friends were, what I was going to do with myself when I grew up. And I, in turn, held on to their offerings, sought their affection. They knew things I didn’t. Some had been to Europe both before and after terrible wars they fought in. But even if it was Arkansas, Texas or Colorado I wanted to see the slide shows and photos, hear at least a good chunk of the travelogues.

There was an uncle who owned a plumbing business, something so different from my musician and teacher parents that his world seemed exotic. I peppered him with questions. An aunt had a thriving seamstress business. Her descriptions of fabrics, designs that worked and those that did not–even the countless buttons and thread types explained were like a litany of small delights. Witty vignettes about their customers or past spouses captivated me (divorce was not at all good in our religious family but sometimes, it seemed, could not be avoided). One uncle was a high school coach; his daughters were my favorite girl cousins. Another was a music professor, flutist and prolific composer. A grown second cousin revelled in being domestically talented, which impressed me since I had very few domestic leanings. They all did and said things that inspired, intrigued, motivated, and guided me somehow. They introduced me to different ways of being and doing. Plus, lest it seem I am only on a serious note, those Missourians were plain fun to hang out with. Laughter is a constant in my memories and even now when who is left meets. So, too, were the majority of older guests my parents welcomed into their home good-natured.

How fortunate I was to know at least one set of grandparents fairly well. Grandfather Will ran a public school system and read voraciously, wrote poetry and essays, encouraged me to write more. His presence had a leavening effect on my life. Grandmother Ida worked hard in her garden and I followed her around, picking tomato worms off fat red orbs, choosing brilliant flowers for display on the dining room’s lacey tablecloth. It was she who patiently taught me to peel a potato so its tough skin came off in a curl, showed me how to decorate a pie with cuts in the top crust. Her quiet presence was certainly well noted.

They made up some of the best of my life, those adults who fussed at me, corralled my energy, sought my ideas and exercised their considerable opinions in group conversations that lasted hours. The older ones modelled examples of whom to become as a grown up–or not to become. I sensed the deep reach of the past, the connectedness through time and this helped me more fully thrive in the present. Envision my own future better by paying attention to it all. The young adults were like sisters and brothers who had run the gauntlet of adolescence, were powerful in victory and seasoned by defeat. I aspired to their smart decisions or worthy careers. Rooted for them if they backslided. My youngest cousins were some of my best friends. How could I not find pleasure in a fierce family game of badminton or croquet, ghost stories as we huddled under covers, tag played in the dark amid moths and mosquitos and scents of summer? Even for one summer each year. I waited all winter for it.

When children’s lives entwine with a few generations, they learn to better value not only the young and old, but also themselves. The past and present overlap visibly and invisibly. If there is loving involvement in the everyday as well as special occasions, it begins to permeate one’s world view like osmosis. A feeling of belonging not only in the family but in the greater world is more likely to root itself and flourish.

I’m not discounting the failures that happen, the breathtaking losses families inevitably experience. Disagreements that may linger. We have all been through things never imagined, with likely more to come. But for those, there is this: sitting in a circle, passing a handkerchief with cups of coffee or tea, remembering better times and praying for relief. Taking each other’s hands in your own. Later, making phone calls, writing letters that offer solace. When troubles are shared, they become more endurable. And out of that dark time arises the will to go on. There is that net beneath us made strong with the care of all who love us.

We have five grandchildren. One is barely known as he has lived far from us all his life. It has been challenging to stay connected. It may be too late, as he is still at a distance in more ways than one, a grown man. But I still hold out hope. Two others who are older have been in and out of our lives due to parental life changes. They finally moved to our city with a daughter so we have gotten to know each better in recent years. I try to show them my love is real and won’t disappear. They are always my family despite time and space gaps, despite the fact that I have been their mom’s stepmother since she was five.

And there are two with whom we have been more up close and personal since their births. They remain in my life in significant ways. But I wonder how much longer this will be, for any of the four nearby.

I recently took my soon-to-be thirteen year old granddaughter ice skating. We had a ball gliding about. We can shop for hours. We are going to attend a dance concert for her birthday. I feel her start to move beyond my easy reach yet know it is part of inevitable transitions. We still made Easter eggs with her brother. My nine-year old grandson loves to draw and paint with us and enjoys hunting and identifying rocks. We have hiked in mountains and walked seashores. My husband and I play Scrabble, checkers, dominoes and more with them. We attend school events. I correct their manners if they forget because manners make far more difference than they can know yet. They voicalize family complaints; I try to stay neutral. We share many meals with them and the rest of our good-sized family.

I can offer a listening ear and hugs when they are hurt or angry or discontent. And pray for them all, that they might cross through the vast reaches of their lives with a firm hold on honor and dignity, a philosophical sense of things when encountering hardship.

Is this enough to offer as they navigate an increasingly complex and treacherous world? Will they grow up feeling the strength of such love, will they be secure in the knowledge that their families are here? The thought of my leaving them one day suddenly grieves me–not being around for my children, their children and with all our other relatives. Then I remember: I was blessed by previous generations. They followed me into my own adulthood in some way or other. They keep me company, still, as I grow older. I dream of those who have left, and their faces shine. They formed the major part of the foundation of my living. They were so many things to me, strong and resilient, faithful and forgiving, shaped by creativity and good humor. And, too, there were weaknesses and foibles. I have loved them for it all.

I can pass on what I have received. We each have the task of sorting and strengthening bonds that matter most, and the opportunity to carry forward the good we have been given. The common wisdom we have is gathered like imperishable riches.

So at the park today it was satisfying to see folks moving and resting in concert with each other, younger and older. I hope they were related by blood, but if not they were connected by interest. Perhaps by the strength of the deeper heart. I could see it in the way they leaned toward each other, how they talked, what they experienced together. This day will be another that remians with them if they remember the details or not. The cumulative benefits will be reaped. We are all on our way to tomorrow. We find our way better with each other.

Photo by Cynthia Guenther Richardson
Photo by Cynthia Guenther Richardson