3.13.2017

LIFE IS NOW. SEIZE IT & MAKE IT AMAZING

One doesn't have to live in an Arizona retirement community to fully grasp that Life Is Now, but the nature of that choice brings a great deal of reality to that somewhat poetic thought. Years ago, when we were virtual newcomers here and living on the Main Street of SCG, we became inured to the flashing lights and screaming sirens of emergency vehicles racing past nearly every morning. We generally spotted them sometime between 9:00 a.m. and noon.

Did you know, it's a fact that older people die most often in the morning? When we wake, our body temperature rises, our respiration picks up, our heart rates and blood pressures rise and digestion begins. That is a lot of systems coming back on line, and the stress of those activities can be enough to set off an "acute health event." More specifically, we are most likely to die at 11:00 a.m. If we somehow  make it to noon, the next most popular time of death is 6:00 p.m. Per The Atlantic, it's a matter of genetics and statistics. In other words, every day is a crap shoot.

2017 has not turned out to be one of my better years. January, February and now, a third of March, have simply come and gone and I have no sense of when they were here nor where they went. I used to live like that and wasted complete decades worrying about tomorrow, regretting yesterday, and letting today slip out the back door when I wasn't paying attention. I blame Donald Trump for it, but I think I'm giving him much more credit than he is due.

Because it's me. It's really all  me. I let the election take over my world and began to view each day as one more to live through. One more campaign speech to parse. One more outrageous statement to criticize. One more TV editorial to fact check. And then? It was over. And I was on the losing end, not handling it well. Yesterday, I looked up--just above my desk--and read: "Your Life is Now. Seize It and Make It Amazing." I always imagine that God will sound exactly like James Earl Jones. I'm not sure which one of them spoke yesterday afternoon at about 4:00 p.m., but whoever it was caught my attention.

And so, as with all my crises, it's simply time to: A--Begin to meditate again, and B--Work my way through the appropriate quote. I call it "tapping away" on my laptop, but my Coach describes it as "unfolding my narrative." Isn't that a wonderful image? Unfolding my narrative. That's why everyone needs a Coach. To help us unfold our narrative. I just can't say that enough!

Here we go: I know that I spent the months of 2015 and 2016 concentrating on Mindfulness, and those months moved forward day by day with stately grace. I realized the differences between one day and the next, and remembered those days. Sometimes in detail. I didn't feel rushed and I didn't feel lost. Time wasn't wasted. Time, as a matter of fact, was often wrapped with silk ribbons and treasured. It was never ignored.

Now, right this minute I'm glancing at my watch. It's 3:51 p.m. It's one of those days that makes me remember why we moved to Arizona. BC is fishing with his friends somewhere near Reno, Nevada. He calls daily to let me know he's fine and the fishing is wonderful. They've had a bit of snow, but more of sun. He will bring home stories that will not end, and he'll grin that fishing grin of his that tells me life just couldn't be any better.

And, I'll reciprocate. I love sitting on our patio as the evening sun dips below what we call McMicken Dam--a relatively low earthen dam designed to collect run-off water from the desert that stretches to our northwest. It was built in 1956 and protects Luke Air Force Base (and us) from a catastrophic flood. When the sun finally disappears just below the dam, our palm trees and fencepost cactus become silhouetted against the night sky which, itself, has just begun to bloom with stars and the brighter planets. The breeze cools the slightest bit and, sometimes, even carries the tiniest scent of moisture with it. I'll tell BC what it looked like and felt like and sounded like. And we'll be happy, and mindful for this minute and this hour and this day. For Life and Love and Now.  

2.06.2017

MY QUEST FOR COURAGE

Just when I began to feel that I could sleep again; that, perhaps, the world wouldn't end sometime next week; and, that someone...anyone, would finally shout "NO" to Donald Trump (and mean it), my hopes and dreams were crushed because I discovered that Courage has been banned in Washington, DC.

Yes, I believe Courage has been outlawed. Probably erased from the dictionary and ripped from the Thesaurus. And, most alarming of all, I fear it is missing from the souls of all 100 U.S. Senators and 435 Representatives. Missing. Gone. Disappeared. And just when we are in the midst of accepting or rejecting Cabinet Nominees. The very people who will have the greatest effect on our day to day lives and those of our children and grandchildren as they grow older.

Now, I would be the first to say that I, myself, am not very Courageous. It is easy for me to simply remain silent when someone makes a statement I disagree with or don't believe is true. It's easy for me to remain silent during an entire discussion because I want people to like me, and people will like me if I remain quiet and let them assume I'm in agreement with them. Every single one of them.

But all of that carefully crafted non-courageous  passivity kicked me smack in the face a few weeks ago. I attended a gathering of friends...I assumed. But, the friends weren't really friends and, I discovered, neither was I. We weren't each other's people. I had tried to be their people, but I wasn't their people. Actually, not even close. I hadn't been true to them and I hadn't been true to me. But, my feelings were hurt, and I felt lost. I whined a little to my coach, told him my story, and waited for him to pat me on the head. But he didn't. Not even close. I think that's how coaches are.

He assigned me a project. It's called inquiry, and it means I had to begin digging into this whole years-long situation. Digging deep with excruciating honesty dripping from every pore. And I did. I started slowly, but gained a bit of strength and speed as my thoughts grew and matured. And, the end result? I realized how I honestly believed and felt and I suddenly was empowered. Really! Frankly, if you want to meet someone who has spent most of her rather long life terrified to disagree or question, or wander from the norm of the moment, it would be me. Yes, me. I found courage this past Friday and it felt good. It felt really good. I was energized all day yesterday, and I'm still doing pretty darned well this afternoon.

My discovery wasn't  Big Courage--Not the kind I'm hoping our Senators will exhibit as each Cabinet Nominee's name comes before the full Senate. But, for me, it was just as scary. The stakes were high and the quality of my life was in question. But today? Today, I could conquer the world. But I don't really need to do that. Today, I just need to be true to myself and everyone I'm around. Today, I will hope that someone else discovers that bit of courage. That empowerment that proves it's OK to disagree. The empowerment that demonstrates this is who I am. This is what I believe. This is what I must do to be true to us all. That, my friends, is so much better in the long run. Amen.

"COURAGE IS A KIND OF SALVATION"
Plato  

1.23.2017

WATCHING AFTER ALL

On Friday morning, January 20th, 2017, I decided that I would not watch the Inauguration. My mental health had been a little shaky since November 8th, and I had some concerns that Donald Trump's hand on two bibles (one of which had belonged to Abraham Lincoln) might be just enough to pull me right over the edge. I was a little afraid to risk it.

As consolation, I planned to listen to the Inauguration on NPR. You see, I have never missed watching an Inauguration--either as grainy newsreel footage on TV or more recently, actual live minute by minute coverage. And that statement dates back to 1957...Dwight Eisenhower's Second Inauguration. I was twelve years old.

As Americans, I believe we have a very real responsibility to pay attention to all governmental activities that might take place on any given day. So, I tuned into KJZZ, our local NPR affiliate at exactly 10:00 a.m. our time. That, in itself was a break in tradition, because I always start an Inauguration at the very beginning. The oath would be administered at 10:00 a.m., our time, and I felt strong enough to handle that, but I would turn it off as soon as Donald Trump returned to his seat.

Listening rather than watching really isn't too bad. I was surprised, actually, at the fullness of the experience. This time, Chief Justice Roberts administered the oath perfectly (in contrast to 2008--his first time--when he muffed his lines so badly, he and President Obama repeated it at the White House the next day.) Despite my intentions, when President Trump began his Inaugural Address, and as he continued to speak, I knew I needed a 55 inch screen to be sure I was hearing exactly what he was saying. I wondered if he'd picked up one of his old campaign speeches as he rushed out the door of Blair House that morning? But, no. He was saying exactly what he intended to say. He was reading intently from his teleprompters. He was earnest. He was real.

In only 17 minutes and 17 seconds, President Trump had created the picture of a bleak and despairing America. Not only were the inner cities "trapped in poverty," but wealth had been "ripped from the middle class" only to be "redistributed across the entire world."  We had "made other countries rich while the wealth, strength, and confidence of our country had disappeared over the horizon."  We had "subsidized the armies of other countries," "depleted our military," "spent trillions overseas... while America's infrastructure had fallen into disrepair and decay."

And then he announced: "From this day forward, it's going to be America First." And, yes, "First" was capitalized in the transcript of his speech. Sometimes, a presidential candidate really should read an American history primer before jumping into the ring.*

I believe we're all rooting for America. It's our home and our heritage and, at its best, it's the greatest country in the world, but the tone (at this point in the speech) began to harden: "protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs...unite the civilized world against...at the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America..."

Then, "...most importantly, we are protected by God." I'm actually OK with being protected, and I like to feel protected. But I do not want to be so bold as to suggest that God protects the United States just a little bit more than other countries because we are a favored nation. I'd rather believe that God is watching over all of our world, our solar system and the universe--continually hoping and praying that we learn to live with one another in peace and harmony. We are not alone on this beautiful blue ball we call the earth. There are 7.5 billion of us breathing the same air, drinking the same water, and harvesting the same foods. I believe God's love and protection is given to all, we just have to reach out and accept it.

Actually, as I began to examine the transcript of his speech this afternoon, some of it could have been uplifting. A sentence here and there: "We must think big and dream even bigger...When America is united, America is...unstoppable..." And there are more. But, sadly, not enough. Both tenor and tone denote anger, hatred, fear and distrust. Long time themes of Donald Trump. None of which gives me much hope. SAD.


*America First: The"America First" Committee was founded in 1940 by prominent Americans, many of whom, years later, served in government. Those associated with America First were opponents of the United States entering World War II. America First was seen as an anti-Semitic group. Charles Lindbergh may be the person most closely associated with the Committee. He "expressed sympathy for the persecution Jews faced in Germany but suggested that they were advocating for the United States to enter a war that was not in our own national interest." In a speech dated September 11, 1941, he threatened that Jews would be the first to suffer the consequences of the U.S. going into war. "Tolerance," he said "could not survive war and devastation." Lindbergh also noted that the Jews had too much influence because of their significant ownership of the motion picture industry, the press and their presence in the government. Three months later, our ships were hit at Pearl Harbor and, within days, the America First Committee disbanded. Pat Buchanan briefly revived  "America First" during his abbreviated run for President in 2000.
 

1.16.2017

HELLO GOD...

"Are you there, God? It's me, Margaret." Really...it's Margaret.  I know I call myself Margie now, but you might remember me as Margaret. Margaret Elizabeth Catherine. Yes, the Dodge City girl. The Dodge City Sacred Heart Cathedral Grade School girl.

For those of you who may not be of the Catholic faith, let me explain that extra name tacked on behind Margaret Elizabeth. Good Catholic children choose an additional name when they are confirmed in the Catholic Church. In my era, we were in the Fourth Grade when we were confirmed. The name we chose must be a Saint's name. In my school, a Very Saintly Saint's name. I chose Catherine, partly because my Mother was named Catherine and partly because I was rather taken with St. Catherine of Sienna. I always connected her with St. Francis, a person full of goodness, but in reality she lived a century later than he. They are, however, Co-Patron Saints of Italy. Practically speaking, Confirmation is a means of having one more Saint in your arsenal to call on in times of trouble, because you can never have too many saints. Especially now.

I've been writing in a Gratitude Journal for fourteen months now. It's a good exercise during my early morning quiet time. I've loved my Gratitude Journal, and I'm more than a bit pleased that I've stayed with it this long. But, lately, I've been running into a Gratitude Drought.

It was still dark on the morning of January 7th, 2017, when I settled myself into my  early-morning soft and cozy chair. I had read my Personal Development chapter, read and absorbed my "Daily Word" message, and it was time to record a bit of gratitude:

"Dear Lord," I wrote. "Today it is hard for me to muster up heartfelt sincere gratitude. I know I owe you more gratitude than I have room for in this little book, but I can't seem to find it because of my worries about Donald Trump..."

On January 10: "Dear Lord, I should probably be reading Pam Grout's new book right now and learning how to live gratefully, because I am not waking up with gratitude in my heart...just worry. And, this is a year in which love and gratitude will be sorely needed. I don't feel charged with leading the way, but I do feel I need to find some positive among all the negative. That will be a worthy search. Thank you for the idea..."

On January 13: "I think, Dear Lord, that I might have been drinking decaf coffee yesterday morning and that was the reason everything was so blah and discouraging. Today, I double-checked, and I have caffeine. I feel much better. I hate to sound like a broken record, but I hope you understand that it is very hard for me to deal with Donald Trump being in charge of this country. Please, St. Margaret, St. Elizabeth, St. Catherine and you too, God--Please try to override the worst of his instincts, and help me as I search for my Highest and Best Self. Amen."

P.S. Sooner might be better than later. Thank you..

1.09.2017

WORD OF THE YEAR

"Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual."         
                                                                                                                Mark Twain

I do love Mark Twain, although I have to admit I never made it all the way through either Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn, and I feel badly about that.  I did, however, watch the PBS-Ken Burns documentary on Twain a year or two ago and stayed awake though the whole thing.

When I posted last week, I was a little distracted by the nation's current state of affairs, and let the actual New Year's Day just pass by. Nonetheless, I hope I've caught you early enough in the year that you still might be considering your list of resolutions and good intentions. If you, like me, really do sit down, pencil in hand, and vow to exercise more, eat less, dust twice a week, and clean out the garage, then what I'm proposing may actually be just the ticket for us both.

Let me reach back to December of 2014. Shortly before Christmas of that year, I was charged with choosing a "Word Of The Year" for 2015. It would be my word (I would have to consider it seriously) and it would be meaningful to me...a relationship (so to speak) with my special word.

I chose the word "Accept." Sometimes I would change it to "Acceptance," depending on the situation and sentence structure. Because I was a total rookie when it came to "Word of the Year," I often skipped right over it and missed it completely. But as the months marched on, I found myself more conscious of the role of Accepting or Acceptance in various situations. Some of those were inter-personal, others could be weather-related, a few were tied to scheduling and, surprise, some were just totally me.  By the end of the year, I had learned to breathe quietly and visualize what "Accept" meant in most instances. The exercise wasn't awkward any more. It had become quite natural and I had become just a bit calmer.

Shortly before 2016 came racing through the door, I chose the word "Connect" to define that year. I definitely share characteristics that lean toward shyness, if not introversion, and connection with others does not come easily or naturally to me. I chose "Connect" because I had learned in 2015 that my Word of the Year would become front and center of my conscious moments and tap me on the shoulder every time an opportunity to connect with someone presented itself. And it has. Fortunately, my Coach has convinced me that Life is Progress and not Perfection, because Connection is, and may continue for years, to be a work in progress. But, I've learned that progress can feel pretty darned good and I'm celebrating my successes.

STRETCH is my word for 2017, chosen because I want to hold onto all the good things I've learned and practiced and promoted. But now, I want to be alerted to the fact that I can reach even farther and dig a little deeper and expand my reach just the tiniest bit. You get the idea. So, as of today I don't have a long list of New Year resolutions. I have my Word, which I know will subtly weave its way into everything I think and do.

For example--I didn't write "DIET" on a list. I'm stretching by eating a little less (100 calories or so per day) and eating better. The cookies I just baked? They're whole wheat and slightly smaller than normal, but they're Chocolate Chip and freeze really well.

I didn't write "EXERCISE" either. This time I'll do the Stretch by adding a block or two to my walk, and scheduling an additional morning to my normal three times a week. I love the STRETCH because it makes me look at everything I do and pause for just a few seconds to figure out how to make it better.

I didn't write "ACCEPT" nor "CONNECT", but they're still front and center. My job is simply to remember that slight pause, then Stretch that Acceptance a millimeter or two, and widen those Connections just a bit more.  I liken it to "Eating the Elephant One Bite at a Time." I've always been good with that.  Happy 2017!

1.02.2017

THE BUCKET LIST, REDUX

A few months ago--September 5th, actually, I posted a blog about creating a Bucket List. I must admit I am something of a "Life is Earnest, Life is Real..." sort of gal, so my Bucket List would not be thrown together. It would be researched carefully, preferably at numerous sites in order to assure accuracy. I also felt the need to check some of my Bucket List items against other lists...just to be sure I was on the right track.

At the same time, I was spending an inordinate amount of time placing just the right finishing touch here and there on our plans to spend three-plus weeks exploring Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York. I actually included a few Bucket List items within those plans--a day at Hyde Park being one of them. We would be flying to Portland, Maine, very early on September 27.

As I look back, it was an innocent time. There was the occasional tremor: It had been a dry year and the leaves in Vermont might change color, dry up and fall off the trees before we arrived; but, we knew the timing for perfect fall color was always a guessing game. Whatever shape the trees were in would be much more colorful than our backyard cactus.

The political campaign continued to degrade everything it touched, but in only a month and a half the election would be over and sanity would be restored. It was mind boggling, but it would quickly be forgotten. Relegated to footnote status.

By eventide on September 23rd, our suitcases were open, our clothing lists were itemized, last minute reservations confirmed, and I kicked back with that sweet young couple from Waco, TX, on HGTV. By 10:00 p.m. they had worked their magic for two teary-eyed, uber grateful couples, and it was time for me to go to bed. 

I pulled myself off the divan and noticed I'd dropped a bottle-cap under the end table. I took the long way around to reach for it and caught an electric cord with my foot, began to topple and caught a still- rolled-up, new area rug with the other foot...then crashed. Onto the tile floor. On my right knee.

I think it's called "Life Happens." My knee was broken and I spent the next six weeks in a brace that kept my right leg immobile--assuring that the kneecap (clean break straight across) would mend on its own.  The trip to New England was cancelled.  

On November 7th, I met with the Orthopedic Surgeon who seemed very pleased with my progress, and adjusted my brace so that I could bend my knee again.  For starters, he set it at 10 degrees. Life seemed very good that afternoon.

I had voted early by mail but the arrival of November 8th still seemed a relief. The polls continued to 
support a Clinton win and I just wanted the whole thing over. I had been horrified by much of the campaign, and disappointed by all of it. I wasn't expecting a lot...a Clinton win would, most likely, result in four more years of a deadlocked congress, but she had a history of working across the aisle, so maybe, just maybe, something that served the country might be accomplished. At worst, I wouldn't have to lie awake worrying about nuclear warheads and global destruction. Just let it be over, Lord.

We poured the wine and heated the pizza early that evening. Although we were tense, we felt fairly sure that all would be all right. Traditionally, moderation wins as the voters lean toward safety and security. We held on until midnight, when we couldn't hold on any more. We didn't sleep that night. Nor have I slept well since.

I'm worried, I'm concerned, I'm appalled, and I feel helpless. What happened to kindness and acceptance, thoughtfulness and love? Every day I spend a few minutes reading "Pantsuit Nation" Facebook posts, and it gives me strength to meet the day. Women and men across the country are performing random acts of kindness, and that helps me breathe. It makes me conscious that I've taken my life and my health much too much for granted. I've taken my neighborhood, my community and this country for granted. But, I'm not taking anything for granted now. I expect troubled times with a value system I don't share.

I do not believe our United States will be great because we're led by a man described as a bully, a liar, and a womanizer. I believe we will be great when each and every one of us opens our eyes to the needs we see every day, all around us, and begin to address them. When we learn to accept and open our arms to those who share our values...no matter their color, gender, religion or national origin. Hillary stated that "Love trumps Hate," but I'm believing that Thoughtfulness, Kindness and Generosity will trump Trump. And, that is when America will really be Great Again.

P.S. We began with Bucket Lists...I have to admit that I'm not really a Random Act of Kindness sort of person. But I know we'll lose our country if we allow hate, in any its forms, to win. And I'm not going to let that happen. It's a stretch, but my Bucket List will  include items related to love and peace and understanding and, yes, random acts of all of the above. It's a new year.  Let's not waste it.  

11.14.2016

EXTREME SELF CARE

It was recently suggested that I look into (or examine) the concept of Extreme Self Care.  Actually, the first assignment called for me to exercise Extreme Self Care on a daily basis.  Although I had good intentions, the entire concept of Self Care was an uncomfortable one for me, so I kind of, sort of, just let it go.

Since I didn't perform that assignment, it was reassigned two weeks later.  And, finally, reassigned two weeks after that.  But, because of my shirking, that third assignment became a strong suggestion to examine why the thought of Extreme Self Care was so distasteful to me.  My coach calls this "Baby Stepping." Since I didn't manage the assignment either the first or second time, it was obviously a problematic one for me, and I needed to find out why. Only then could I begin the actual process of Self Care...or Wanton Hedonism, as I was imagining it.

In two days, it will be six weeks since the original assignment and, only this morning did I finally approach Extreme Self Care.  Up until now, I wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole...but, time is flying and I need a solution. Perhaps, more than a solution, I need a scapegoat, and the perfect one has just come to mind.  Twelve years of Catholic School under a small community of St. Joseph sisters.  The real ones who wore full black flowing habits, which included a veiled, tightly fitted headdress.  When I think about it...not unlike today's controversial burkas.

I don't want to get carried away, but it is important to note that I was and, in many ways, still am a "Capital 'C' Catholic" versus an ordinary "small 'c' catholic."  That means I absorbed every word of every sentence those well-meaning women uttered.  Pulled them into my very being until they became part of me.  I'm sure, today, they show up in my DNA.

And, so, being a Good Catholic Girl, I learned that my wishes, desires, wants and needs were less important than those of the people around me. It was my duty to assure that their lives were running well and, it was probably my fault if they weren't. If I performed those duties with a genuine smile and a joyous tone, I would be blessed.  If I was a grouchy facilitator, it was all for nought. No blessings for me.  More likely, condemnation was near, because anything less was selfishness, and selfishness was a shortcoming and a shortcoming could lead to a sin, and we all know where that takes us. So I tried. For years, I tried.  I still do from time to time. It's not for nothing that I'm known as the person who never selects the dining spot.

And now, I'm 72 years old. I still can't help but look at Self-Care (not to mention Extreme Self-Care) as basically wrong. At worst, sinful. My joy (such as it is) must come from serving others. It will not come from plopping myself down for an hour with a good book.  I am not a "Good Person" if I am not making sure that everyone else is happy and fulfilled and free to choose where we all have lunch. It's just what I do.