Tag

Spirituality

Inspiration, legacy, Life Lessons, Passion

Dreaming in My Old Age

The national holiday came and went and my heart is still full of the idealistic rhetoric of the great MLK.

I find myself humming the gospel chorus’, especially Lift Every Voice and Sing, repeating the slogans, “…Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”, “…hate cannot drive out hate…”, and  contemplating the curious concept of the “beloved community”…all in between the daily chores of living my quiet, safe and undramatic life.

I think about how one man who knew what was important to himself and felt so strongly about it that he was able to stir the hearts of others and incite courage in them to go after what was important to them.

This holiday commemorating a period of American History, a story of yesterday, some 35 years ago, impacts my today.

Today I am living the Gran Finale years of retirement. I have celebrated this holiday for many years. What does it have to do with me at this age?  And,why do I care?!

Several years ago, our then 15 year old grandson was staying with us during a difficult time in his life. I drove him to a special school across town every morning on my way to work. It was winter and the days were short. Most days, if we were on time, we drove into the eastern sunrise and watched the sky slowly change, he in silence with his eyes closed, napping, me with eyes wide open oohing and aahing over the delightful sky art.

On one of these mornings when the sky was particularly gorgeous, I nudged him and rather enthusiastically invited him to notice the sky.

In quick response but as placidly as possible, in his Southern droll, he replied, “Gra’ma, what is it with you and the sky? It has nuthin’ to do with me.” And he snuggled deeper into the seat and shut his eyes again.

It took me a second before I laughed. Eventually he did too.  I’ve been laughing at this moment ever since. In fact, it’s become a family reference whenever something obvious is pointed out, someone says, “It has nuthin to do with me!” In their best Southern accent.

At the time, it seemed to be a classic teenage response to an over expressive granny. How tedious it must have been for him to be trapped for 30 minutes every morning with his extroverted, morning-person granny!

There was something profound about it too, a life lesson of sorts. It seemed to be a commentary on how far removed we humans can get from the very essence of our existence, from the things that make life happen and give life meaning.

“It has nuthin’ to do with me” is an attitude that comes easily when life gets so routine and habitual that the deeper, bigger meaning of living fades and joy fades with it.

The 1960’s are past. I’m not brown skinned. You might think MLK has nuthin’ to do with me.

Yet his legacy occupies my quiet moments, brings tears to my eyes and provokes the longing in me to matter and make sure you matter too.

When I hear him declare in his strong preachers’ voice from the steps of the Washington Monument, “I have a dream…”, my heart calls back, “me too! I have a dream too.” His legacy urges me to call out my place within what really makes life meaningful and good.

For me, its that “Beloved Community” thing. I dream for my  grandchildren, that they will know what it feels like to be loved and valued by the people they spend time with, that they will know how to give back that love and respect, and that the world will be free of bigotry and hatred. I dream for them to be part of the beloved community.

MLK reminds me. I am never too old to dream.

MLK reminds me. I am never too old to look up at the rising sun and declare a new day, for myself and for my grandchildren.

MLK reminds me. Let my grandkids know why the sunrise is important and what that sunrise has to do with them.

MLK reminds me. Dreams matter.

 

What dreams are you passing on to your loved ones?  Does your age keep you from dreaming?

 

 

 

 

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Inspiration, Life Lessons, New Year Resolution

Messing Up a Clean Page

“Happy New Year” shouts among those gathered in living rooms, party halls and in public streets and parks, wearing fancy clothes and party hats, blowing horns and whistles while clicking champagne glasses. The Time Square ball drops and musicians begin the haunting tune of Auld Lang Syne…

In my dreams!… Reality was I snuggled down in my cozy bed next to my sleepy gray-haired husband, with our lovable pooch at our feet, a little past 10 P.M. on December 31, 2017. Happy New Year, indeed, but it was barely a whisper.

“It’s a made-up-time anyway”, I told myself before I dozed off, feeling like I was missing the party. “You never see sparrows celebrating or squirrels or any part of nature, for that matter. It just happens: one season flows into the next into the next into the next and continues without fanfare or notation. Who started this hoop-la? Who said we needed to commemorate the ending of one calendar year after another, sing songs, click champagne glasses, stay awake past midnight and make resolutions? Hmmm, I bet it was that pesky Hallmark®️again!”

And just as sleep was overtaking my weary body and over-active mind,  I resolved to research the beginning of New Year’s celebration when I woke in the morning, even though I knew I had already done it at some point in my past but, alas, had forgotten like so many other things I think I once knew.

It all began in Mesopotamia, evidently, around 2000 B.C

Set in January to celebrate Janus, the god with two faces, one looking forward and one looking backward, resolutions were made to break bad habits and develop new good ones, and the celebrating began.  Eventually the Persians gave eggs symbolizing productiveness and even later, in 1788, a Scottish poet, Robert Burns, wrote the lovely words Auld Lang Syne, “times gone by” that has remained the song sung around the world every year since.*

The noting of the two faces of Janus, looking ahead while looking back, caught my attention and I realized how the celebration of New Year’s always stirs those two heads of mixed emotions in me, loss and nostalgia, sometimes regret, mixed with anticipation and hope.  And even though I love the anticipation of a new beginning and the first day of anything, especially the first day of a whole year, of 365 unused 24-hour periods of undesignated time, there is still the angst over the change from what was familiar to the unknown of the future.

It’s like that familiar feeling that always came with the first day of school when, as a child I often faced a new school, until I was eleven when my mother finally said to my career-Army dad that she was  not moving again.  But until then, I never was sure if I would like my new teacher, if the kids would be like me, if I would be dressed right, and if I would find a new friend. My hands would get sweaty with anxiety while at the same time I would feel the excitement over starting a new school year, and having new spiral notebooks and new pencils and all the possibilities that school brings.

I could always write my name on my new notebooks without any hesitation, but actually writing something on the first clean page of the new notebook, was more threatening. I didn’t want to mess it up. “This year”, I would resolve, “I’m going to keep really neat notebooks, use my best handwriting and no doodling!”

Of course, the newness didn’t take long to become the familiar. And at the end of each school year I would flip back through the pages of those spiral notebooks and see the year had unfolded with new experiences and knowledge and understanding, but the handwriting got progressively messy and the same old doodles as in the previous years’ notebooks filled the margins, even more so as the year moved on. It was amusing to read the side comments that defined, with only a word or phrase or doodle, what was really happening in my life.

Waking up to a bright new day when the day happens to be the first day of a new year is much like turning the page in a messy, well used spiral notebook to a clean, untouched new page. The possibility of making the day beautiful, being my very best self, free from “smudges and cross-outs, doodles” and messes, feels exciting and hopeful and possible.

The haunting tune of the old Scottish poem, “Should old acquaintance be forgot?” plays in my head and jolts my dream of perfection by reminding me there’s mixed experiences and feelings, in times gone by…The double head of yesterday and tomorrow are joined. “we two have run about the slopes and picked the daisies fine, we’ve wandered a many weary foot since auld lang syne…”  

There were the carefree times of our youth and the tedious days of responsibility, the somber moments of disappointment, the light hearted ones of love and pleasure. I resolve to break bad habits and create good ones, to reject sadness and claim joy.  But when I look back, at the end of the year, I’ll remember both…with kindness.

I sit, in a new day in a new year and raise my morning cup of coffee. I resolve to go ahead, use my best handwriting but cross stuff out that doesn’t work, doodle to my hearts’ contentment and mess up the page!

“And here’s a hand my trusty friend! And give me a hand o’ thine! And we’ll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne.”

What do you resolve to put on your clean page this year?

 

*CNN.com New Years Fast Facts

 

 

 

 

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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, Communication, Inspiration, Life Lessons

Just Say What You Want


More than a few years ago, my mother-in-law was coming up to her 80th birthday and had planned a big family get together to celebrate. She was excited and was looking forward to having all her family together. In the process of inviting everyone and relaying all the logistical information, she let it be known, “by the way, I want a sapphire and diamond tennis bracelet as my gift.”!

This was not out of character for my mother-in-law. She knew what she wanted and was never timid about saying what she wanted. And usually we loved her for it.

Her daughter was designated as the one to purchase it and efforts made to collect contributions. No one commented or questioned her request. That is, no one commented but I remember thinking, “why, at her age, would she want to spend money on a piece of jewelry?”

I guess I thought that at a certain age, desires and wants, and even needs, are lessened (I had not yet experienced old age!).  I was surprised that “just being together” wasn’t enough.

Well, it turned out the reason she gave as she opened her gift with a squeal of great delight was “I have always wanted this!”

Seeing the joy this bracelet gave her and later the fun memory it represents as her daughter now wears it was worth every penny spent!

Knowing what we want or need isn’t always easy to discern. It requires regular self examination and open hearted honesty and self-awareness, even in old age.

I’ve caught myself a few times lately entertaining the notion that because the end of life is coming closer into view I don’t need to do or have certain things…sort of a what’s-the use kind of attitude. It feels easier sometimes to adapt to the decisions others make for me, or not make decisions and just let life happen, than to figure out what I really want or need to have happen and then take action to make it happen.

Of course, there’s the other extreme of this that pushes me to think, “I might not have much time left, so I must have this or that or do this or that NOW” which also eliminates the hard work of good self-awareness that asks, “what do I really want or need?”. How do I want to live out these last precious years and make decisions from my own reasons and values?

Often what others think I need or should have is easier to accept and is what influences my own feelings to the point of clouding over my real ones. I end up going without what I really need or desire, thus opening myself to resentment, or self-pity, or isolation, or other negative emotions that eventually rob me of vibrancy and joy.

Unlike Grandma Georgia on her birthday, my needs and desires tend to be more emotional than material. However, emotional needs and desires are harder to name and talk about for many of us than the more material ones.

For instance, I carry my cell phone around in my pocket hoping one of my “kids” will call, for no reason except to chat or check-in on me. It rarely happens. I try to keep something baked on hand just in case a neighbor or friend calls and wants to stop by for coffee. It rarely happens. I shower and fix my hair everyday hoping I will get an invitation to go to lunch…BUT, who knows this? not my “kids”, not my friends, not my neighbors. I haven’t told them what I need from them. I haven’t asked them to come by.  I haven’t called them to chat. Consequently, sometimes my thoughts wander to that dark place where “no one cares, no one knows, no one will miss me when I’m gone.”

The reality is no one can read my mind! I need to tell people what I need and want.

I most probably won’t ask for a diamond bracelet for my next birthday, but my dear mother-in-law will continue to haunt me from time to time as I continue to learn to ask for what I need and want, whatever it is.

Something I found a while back that helps to keep me focused on my responsibility to myself:*

  • Missing Someone….Call
  • Want to meet...Invite
  • Want to be understood…Explain
  • Have questions…Ask
  • Don’t like something…Name it
  • Like something…Say it
  • Want something…Ask for it
  • Love Someone…Tell them

Rest In Peace, Grandma Georgia!

*author unknown

 

 

 

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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, Passion

One Easy Way to Kill Your Passion

I write. I write because I like to write. I write because I love words and ideas. I write because I want to connect with whomever reads what I write. I like feeling connected to a bigger world than mine. But I even like to write when no one reads what I write. I just have a passion for writing!

There are many other women my age who also like to write. I didn’t know this until I started writing for vibrantoldwoman.com and began searching the internet for resources about aging and retirement. Then I discovered there’s a lot of Vibrant Old Bloggers out there!

And I read every one of them I find. Some of them are really funny. Some of them are very practical with lots of good how-to’s and advice.  Some of them have thousands of followers and subscribers. All of them leave me entertained, inspired, challenged…and questioning…and threatened…and doubting of myself.

When I began discovering these other blogs, I started a running conversation with myself, very privately in my head.  I asked myself how they were able to get so many readers? And then tried to answer myself. Maybe I should try to be funny, maybe I should follow a how-to, 1-2-3-kind of format, maybe I should not be so spiritual, maybe my titles need to be pithier, or my design updated, or maybe I should copy their web design. Wow! Maybe I don’t know what I am doing! Maybe I should go to Blog School ( is there one?).

When my turmoil finally reached the boiling point, the private conversation became more open and I talked it over with my friend…Had she read any of the other blogs in my demographic? Did she realize how many there were? How did she think I compared? Did she think my blogs were worth reading? Should I try to be funny? Were my topics relevant? What do I need to change?

Meanwhile, the joy of writing my blog began to fade a bit. I found I had less to write about and started second-guessing my ideas. I found I had a sense of the “other blogger’s” presence as I wrote. They seemed to be looking over my shoulder. I felt a pressure I hadn’t had before. Consequently I began to accumulate a lot of unfinished drafts and fewer published pieces. My passion and motivation waned.

Thankfully, my friend is not only honest but also wise. After listening patiently, reading many blogs about aging that don’t apply to her, she gently said, “Stop it! Stop reading other bloggers and do your own…or don’t do it. No one wants to read a repeat of someone else’s writing. Stop comparing yourself. Just be you!”

I began  by noticing differences and learning and slowly slipped into “checking out the competition” and feeling threatened. How easy it is to get thrown off our course by comparing ourselves to someone else and then attempting to emulate the other, even if only in small ways. Fads and social norms get started like this!

I see another woman with grey hair, about my age, and she is wearing adorable leggings with a bright colored tunic, and suddenly I find myself longing for leggings and a tunic…or my retired neighbors are leaving on a senior cruise with Road Scholar and soon I find myself thumbing through the offerings trying to figure out if we can afford a similar cruise…or stories of retirees “going South as Snowbirds” and hearing a still-small-inner-voice saying “you should” too…and of course, EVERYONE must have a “Bucket List” they are working on before they die and I  feel the pressure. And what about grand parenting? It’s so easy to compare ourselves to what other grandparents do with their grandkids and come up short. Don’t all good grandma’s bake amazing apple pies, cook lavish Thanksgiving dinners, and make beautiful scrapbooks? (Not me!)

Comparisons, by nature, usually imply one is better than the other. Someone comes out less-than the other. Holding equal value for “the same only different” is much more difficult but it’s where real freedom and joy is found.

These are my Gran Finale years. I want to live them as authentically me as possible without comparisons. There is no one grading me, no one watching. I am freer than I’ve ever been. I can create my own rhythm each day and release my own peculiar passion…or I can trap myself with my own adolescent-like comparisons and strive to compete or be someone I’m not.

My heart sings loudest when I keep the quiet rhythm of my daily tasks and write. It’s a good day when I write what’s on my mind, to you, whoever you are, wherever you are, and whether you read every word or not. But I do it just because that’s what I love to do.

Vibrancy of spirit depends on freedom to be myself, do what I am passionate about, and live the life that fits me best…no comparisons.

“Today you are You.

That is truer than true.

There is no one alive who is Youer than You.  -Dr. Seuss

Know what I mean?

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