Inspiration, Life Lessons

The Gift of Presence

“Let us transition now from getting here to being here.” the pastor of our local church says every Sunday morning after the morning announcements, as the lights dim, the organ begins, and the “call to worship” is made.

There is a big difference in just being somewhere and being present somewhere. Or as Michael Forbes put it, “Presence is more than just being there.”

How many times have I heard and used the trendy cliche “Just Show Up” as a rationalization for not wanting to participate but feeling obligated. I end up being there physically but my heart and mind are elsewhere, hence there is little or no impact from my experience.

One thing to be said about just showing up, however, is that sometimes it results in the surprise of learning something new or experiencing a sense of unexpected enjoyment. But most times, it doesn’t. Showing up is simply that, just showing up, just putting my body somewhere.

I walk 110 steps from my door to the shared laundry room in our condominium building. I do it routinely, without thought or emotion. This week I took the walk, as usual, at a time of day when I thought no one else would be doing laundry. I like to have it to myself!  I opened the door and to my surprise, there was a neighbor I hadn’t seen in a while, unloading her washer into the dryer.

“Hi!” she chirped welcomingly.

“Hi.” I responded less chirp-ly

“How are you?” she asked.

“Well. I’m fine, and sad, and tired, and happy. I guess I’m a little bit of everything! How are you?” I replied not really expecting anything in response and began loading my dirty clothes into the washer.

“Wow”, she said. “What’s going on? The holidays?”  she asked as she stopped her unloading, turned towards me and looked right at me.

So, I stopped too. “Maybe a little holiday stress, but mostly it’s my friend. She is dying from a brain tumor and she’s young, the age of my daughter, and she has 3 children, all teenagers. I worked with her for many years and really love her. Some of her mutual friends got together last night in my home and just shared what she means to us. It was really good to be together, but very sad.”

Now thats a lot to dump on someone in the laundry room, right?

Well, she was ready. She listened to every word and felt my sadness with her facial expressions and a tear ran down her cheek as she said, “I’m so sorry. That’s very sad.”

We continued talking for a few minutes and eventually got back to the task at hand and finished loading and unloading. She gave me a hug and left.

On my way back to my unit, instead of mindlessly counting the 110 steps like I usually do, I realized the sweetness that had come over me from being heard by another. I felt less sad and my tired heart felt renewed…all in a moment, a brief laundry room moment. My neighbor took the time to listen and respond, to be present.

In this special time of life, when each day is closer to the last, I don’t want to use my energy in just showing up and taking the risk of not having the experience count for something purposeful. I want to be wholly wherever I am, or at least as wholly as I can be. I want to make my moments count by receiving whatever the moment gives and give something of myself to the moment and not miss out by not being fully present.

My neighbor had shown up fully present for me and surprised me by making an impact on my outlook.

When we lived in England, raising our young children, one of our favorite times of the year was Christmas. The British celebrations were fairly simple (in the late 1960’s!) centered around tiny mince pies and lovely, calming carols. The children always participated in the nativity play at school and church and bought home their parts as shepherds, kings, Mary and Joseph. With sweet English accents, they would say their lines and sing their carols…”Little Donkey, Little Donkey…” “Away in a Manger” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”. A  favorite, though, at our house was the verse, “What can I give Him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I’d give him a lamb. If I were a wiseman, I would do my part, but what can I give Him? I’ll give Him my heart!” (You HAVE to use a British accent, though, or it’s not quite right!)

In a world distracted by preparations, by efficiency, success and accomplishment, what a wonderful gift to find someone present, in the moment, listening, caring, responding and giving…even in the laundry room.

My heart. My full attention. My listing ears, my gentle speech, my wholehearted presence in the moment. It is really the best gift of all.


What will be your best gift this season? To whom will you give it?




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Blog, Inspiration, Life Lessons, Passion

PLEASE, Don’t Have a Nice Day!

Not my line. I would never say that to you. It wouldn’t be consistent with my temperament to say it, at least not seriously…jokingly, I could and might, but probably wouldn’t, at least not out loud!

But it is consistent with the character Shirley MacLaine plays in the movie, Last Word. In fact, this sassy, at times abrasive, old woman gets away with saying whatever comes to her mind, apparently throughout her whole life…until, she realizes she is in the final stage of life and is probably going to be remembered in a way that isn’t very complimentary, even by the people she cares about the most. So, then she sets out to change her legacy. The movie unfolds this process with a few surprises and a lot of heart.

Funny how this Gran Finale stage-of-life puts things into a different perspective! How will I be remembered is a question that pops up unprovoked at strange and curious moments. It’s a bit startling, and even haunting at times, capable of lingering in the back of our minds like a threatening rain cloud. I suspect this question is the reason I compulsively attempt to keep my underwear drawer cleaned out!

But the power of this line, in my opinion, is the follow up. “Please don’t have a nice day” Ms. MacLaine says, “Have a day that matters. Have a day that’s true, a day that means something.”

I live where the motto is Minnesota Nice. It’s a way of life to behave and be nice. But really, more often than not, it’s a way to be dishonest, to not voice our real feelings or opinions, to say what we deem is good manners whether or not it’s true. And “keeping the peace at all costs” often hinders us from learning how to be honest while being civil, kind and respectful at the same time.

My husband and I were standing in an exhibit tent in our neighborhood park during the annual art fair last summer, when a couple next to us turned to leave the tent and said to the vendor, “have a nice day”. The vendor turned to us and asked, “what is it with you Minnesotan’s always telling people what kind of day to have? What if I don’t want to have a nice day? What if I want to have a terrible, rotten, no good, horrible day?” He chuckled, quite amused at himself  but seemed to want agreement from us. So, my hubby obliged, “Yeah, I know what you mean! Sometimes it’s just no fun to have a nice day!” And the vendor kept it going with great glee, “And for sure, I don’t want someone telling me what to do with MY day!”

A fun exchange, and it left me with a bit of food-for-thought. What am I saying when I wish you to have a nice day? I want you to avoid calamity, to live in peace and be well. That’s the truth. That’s what I wish for you. And what’s in it for me if you do? I will be able to walk away from you and live my own life in peace without needing to deal with your crankiness, your illness, your need. I did my part by wishing you well. Easy.

But having a day that matters and one that is true and meaningful is a different story. It’s a lot harder than having a nice day. It requires me to be real. It requires me to be aware and receptive, to be open and generous.

How do I do it?

I do it by starting the day with gladness for another chance to get out of bed and see the sun rise, for a sweet dog who needs me and a husband who likes to be with me, for a cup of good coffee and a day with no schedule, open for possibilities.


How about you? How do you have a day that matters, is true and meaningful?



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Blog, Inspiration, Life Lessons

Life in the Pink-Panther Zone or Not

I have to be in the right mood, but occasionally I sit beside my husband and we watch one of his favorite Peter Sellers’ films about the Pink Panther.  Typically, my husband laughs wildly at every turn while I sit tensely with a hesitant half-grin waiting for the next calamity. The Pink Panther makes me nervous. I anticipate his inevitable mishaps and catastrophes. He’s ridiculous on every level, but so easy to get sucked into the chaos and drama he creates. I cringe. I moan. I wait-for-it. And I’m not disappointed. The worst always happens, and then some!

These movies have nothing to do with real life! But there are times when real life can evoke some of those same feelings of anxious anticipation much like a Peter Sellers’ movie does of me!

For instance, there were similar periods of time in my life when my babies were little, then again when they were teenagers, and then again going off to college or the Peace Corps, or about to be married, or move away or have their first baby or buy their first home. There were similar times when my husband and I faced crisis in our relationship, or crisis in a family members life, when finances fell apart or health seemed precarious. There were many times I found myself tensely waiting for “the worst”, holding my breath and fretting… times when I felt like I was sitting on the edge of the couch trying to smile…

Now I’ve seen most of the movie of my story. I don’t know the ending yet and maybe it’s going to be a calamity, or not. But I’ve seen the ending to all those other calamities I witnessed over the many years. Sometimes “the worst” happened. Sometimes even worse than I expected. But sometimes the worst never did happen. But always, I dealt with it, whatever it was.

The beauty of being able to see most of the story now is that I’m still here for the ending. I made it through each circumstance. And from where I sit now, I can honestly say that my anxious anticipation, my holding my breath, my overall fretting did nothing to affect the outcome of any of those situations...nothing!

What I learned that did make a difference, instead, and continues to make a difference today, is when I bring my long-range perspective (wisdom) as well as my best self (character) to each scene.

  • I Accept the Situation. It has happened. I can’t change it. I welcome it as another life experience and an opportunity to learn more about myself and the human existence. I keep my mind and heart open, by not blaming someone, or judging, categorizing or tagging the experience negatively, in order to watch it unfold. This is when I usually need to remind myself to breathe and keep the daily rhythm of my life going with the rituals of self-care and ordinary living.
  • I Name my Part. What do I need to do in order to cope with what has happened?  In order to respond the way I want to, what do I need?  What will it take for me to maintain my own serenity and add to the well-being of those around me? How can I help move through this in the most positive way?  This is usually the time when I take extra time out to pray, meditate and feed my spirit…and journal.
  • I Ask for Help. Who do I need to reach out to for support, encouragement, or resources?  There is always someone who loves me and cares. I try to remember that these times of need are joyful opportunities to share and are not burdens. I remember I am never alone. I ask God.
  • I Release the Outcome. I can only control myself and my response. I can not control other people. I can not control the weather, the universe or time. God is God, I am not.

The Pink Panther movie is no doubt way more entertaining and exciting than my Vibrant Old Woman movie. But living in the midst of high-level drama is no longer appealing. What I want now is to breathe steadily, experience a certain level of serenity, pleasure, and peace of mind assured that whatever comes, I can handle.

“Do not be anxious for tomorrow, for tomorrow will care for itself…”                Matthew 6:34, Holy Bible

How about you? How do you handle anxiety and worry?



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Blog, Inspiration, Life Lessons

Connecting the Past to the Now Without Going Backwards

Buzz words! Just name a few that you have experienced in the last couple of years, never mind in your lifetime! Where do they come from and who starts them? I’m never sure, but I suspect a lot of them come from pop-culture, like lines or themes from movies or TV programs, phrases from songs or raps, or maybe catchy captions from newspapers, books or quotes from celebrities.

Being the rebellious middle-child that I am, I tend to shun the current buzz word, trend or fad, sometimes to my peril, sometimes to my credit! Occasionally, though,  a current buzz will ring true with me and I embrace it wholeheartedly… until it feels common. Then I usually dump it and replace it with my own version. The last thing I want to be or appear to be is cliche!

The current trend towards “living in the NOW”, “Being Present”, even “mindfulness” has grabbed my buy-in for quite a while.  I continue to be very much aware that it is beneficial on many levels to practice this trendy wisdom. (Actually it’s ancient wisdom that has become trendy.)

I try to meditate regularly in order to “be IN the moment”. I try to discipline my thoughts to stay focused on the time and place I’m in and not think about later now. I use a very helpful tool called 5-4-3-2-1 where I routinely name 5 things I can see at any one moment, then 4 things I can hear, then 3 things I can feel, then 2 things I can smell and finally 1 thing I can taste…all meant to ground me IN the moment. I certainly don’t want to miss anything that is going on in my life!

Good stuff, right? Good practices. Good discipline.

All good…BUT! There seems to always be a flip side!

At this stage in my life, when each day can easily look and feel like the previous one as well as the next one, “being present” can feel a little boring. There’s just not a lot going on sometimes.

Taking a step out of the present and remembering the past or taking a step out of the present and dreaming about the future, either one, can be a welcome adventure!

The caution, from experts on aging, seems to be that we don’t get stuck in the past or the future and thus miss the learning and opportunity of the moment. But surely, a little excursion in either direction occasionally, is good!

Like today. Memorial Day in the USA. A time set aside to remember. A time to honor the past, the history, and those in particular who gave their lives and their talents to make today livable for me.

I remember my past today. I remember my dad, that he was in the Philippines when I was born, that I didn’t see him until I was almost 2 years old, that he missed a couple of years of my early teens serving in Korea during the conflict there, that he was gone for several months at a time throughout my life serving in various capacities with the US Army. I remember him. I remember how I called him “sarge” behind his back because he was so authoritative.  I remember how he required everything to have a place and be in order.  I remember and connect the experience of him being my father to who I am today.

An old psychologist friend of mine used to tell me that, in part, personality was the continuity of life experiences. The past is not done. The past is flowing into the present, giving texture and depth and meaning to the present.

Being fully “in the Now”, today at least, means remembering the past, allowing it to help define the present.

As Vibrant Old Women, we have the advantage of seeing almost the whole story of our lives, from where we’ve come, who we’ve been and who we are now…a panorama view. I love the flow of connection from one event, one happening, one era into the next.

I think from now on, as I practice living in the moment, I might add a bit of the past by “habit stacking”* onto 5-4-3-2-1 and add a memory that something in the present reminds me.

What do you remember? How do you see the impact of the past on your Now? What feelings does this awareness bring?


*See Habit Stacking,http://vibrantoldwoman.com/?p=999




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Lessons from Autumn…Again…Still

Walking through the newly fallen leaves today with the sun making them glow, I smiled to myself as I realized my heart was once again revealing a life lesson from the change in the season! I don’t do this purposely, like sit down and say to myself, “ok. Time to learn something from this time of year.” It just happens. It happens when I least expect it, when I’m walking my dog, or looking out the window, or bringing the plants  in from the deck before the first frost. It happens when I allow myself to see and smell and experience the surroundings of Fall happening.

So, what’s my lesson? I saw the sunshine on the fallen leaves and thought, “How vibrant and alive they look! But really they’re dead. They are disconnected from their life-source. They have lived their cycle and have done their job. Still they look awesome…their color never brighter…their beauty never more visible.” I wanted to pick them up from the ground and save them, make them into a bouquet. I picked up a handful and felt their damp smoothness and delighted in their deep colors. They were speaking to me. They seemed to be my peers, my pals…I felt akin to them. They were in the Autumn of their life cycle and so was I!  I was identifying with these fallen leaves…and that made me laugh! (not out loud, just inwardly:)

But at the same time my Spirit said a quiet “yes” and a gentle prayer escaped…I want my last years to be comparable to these beauties..never more lovely…never more vibrant… as I come to the end of one season and transition into the next. They inspire me to do more than just dry up and crumble because I don’t have a lifetime ahead of me. I have this season of my life…beautiful Autumn…and I intend to be one of the vibrant ones, with God’s grace.

I look out of my window now and hear the questions of the leaves: How well will I live in this season?  How will I weather the transition from this season to the next? Will I be ready for the next season to come?

Have you had an Autumn lesson? I’d love to hear about it. How do you weather seasonal transitions?

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