Dog-Gone

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I almost took the leap last week. Dogs are wonderful companions and it will be twenty-six years this Christmas Eve since my last beloved dog passed away. I have been getting more and more sturdy and stable in my new life, and have been considering what other challenges I might take on. While noodling around on the Internet, looking at various dog breeds and rescues, I saw a really, really sweet furry face. I read up on her and with much trepidation, drove to a no-kill shelter a few counties away.

The little dog was so cute, yet so scared of people she would not make eye contact with the seasoned volunteer, much less me. We spent time outside with her, trying to interest her in meeting me, playing with a ball – anything – but she desperately wanted only to return to her kennel and kennel-mate. She came from a hoarding situation, so she prefers being around dozens of dogs.

I can’t bring a dog like that home to be an “only” dog, even if I provided her with human companionship, exercise and a healthier life.

This thought process naturally led to introspection. I’m an only child, an introvert and I attended seven different schools for twelve grades. So I am opposite from this rescue dog – in many cases I prefer not being around dozens of people. This past Sunday I was with friends from sunrise to sunset and didn’t get my usual “down” time. Within a few days, I was desperate to be by myself – silence is golden!

My core remains static; my exterior is transmuted by life.

Good and Evil

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A recent post of mine addressed the momentum of accusations of sexual harassment and abuse. Daily we are learning of others, men so far, who have used their power to take advantage of women and men in a sexual manner. Once one person speaks up, then usually other victims chime in.

Overall this seems to me to be a good thing. As actress Emma Thompson told The Guardian, ““Does it only count if you have done it to loads and loads of women, or does it count if you have done it to one woman, once. I think the latter.” If our culture can reduce harassment and abuse, hurrah for us.

However . . . .

Physical touch has tremendous power for good, as well as for evil. Just think of times when a partner’s embrace comforted you in times of pain, or when a hug with a friend lifted your spirits. We can’t swing the pendulum entirely away from any physical touch between individuals.

Now that I’m widowed, I don’t touch anyone with regularity.

I miss it, so when the opportunity arises, I am grateful for the warmth given to me. One of my woman friends is struggling in her life, as I have been in mine. After a recent dinner together, we parted with a good long hug, bringing smiles to our troubled faces. There are two men in my life now who also have challenges and we are secure in sharing casual hugs of support when we meet. A final example are the hugs my stepdaughters give – making me feel cherished in their love for their father and now for me.

Years ago I conducted sexual harassment training for my employer. I was specific and strict in the organization’s expectations for proper behavior. A year or so later, an older manager told me how my training had affected his behavior. His young secretary’s husband was dying and when she could manage to come to work, she often broke down and sobbed. One time he wanted to give her a hug as she cried, but didn’t because of my admonitions. I felt badly – I do want people to touch one another in a positive way and I have to believe that can happen organically between/among people with good intent.

This past summer I attended a group’s national convention. On our name tags we had the choice of using green, yellow or red dots. A green dot meant we would accept a hug, yellow was a caution to ask for permission and red signaled no desire for physical contact. I think if we simply assumed that everyone wears a yellow dot and we ask permission before touching another, we’d make great strides in our culture.

“One is Silver and the Other Gold”

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Yesterday morning I put my on “big girl panties” and dragged down all the Christmas decorations from the garage attic.

The second Christmas after Rick and I married we were in Michigan, living in our first home together. He was working and I had not yet found a new job – and we were just a few miles from a topnotch mall. I decided our tree would be mostly golds and whites and at the mall I found dozens of beautiful ornaments for our live-cut tree. As we traveled to various countries and regions over the years, I looked for commemorative ornaments to personalize our Christmas trees. Once we began to spend most holidays with my parents and then just with my father, we bought a large artificial tree which dwarfed our living room.

That big artificial tree followed us to Florida. Here’s a tip for people moving to Florida – no one, not even a thrift shop proprietor, wants a used artificial Christmas tree! We tried three nonprofits before we gave up and trashed the thing.

The last Christmas Rick was alive, in 2015, I bought one of the very skinny artificial trees that is only about 2-feet in diameter. It is bizarre looking, even covered with ornaments, but easy to navigate as it takes up such little space. I didn’t worry about all the holiday decorations not used that year, and last year I was too bereft to decorate — so this time I went through every box and tossed unused items. As I was on a roll, the tree is now up and perhaps today I’ll set out my grandmother’s crèche set. No one is due at my house until after Thanksgiving, so we’ll just keep my early decorating a secret, all right?

Last night I cried. This morning I cried. If Rick was still here my world would be full of gleaming gold; now it is streaked with silver threads of age and loss.

Timing is Everything

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Here in Florida I have friends from several worlds:  bicycling, dragon boat racing, my neighborhood and other activities across the county.  There is minimal overlap among these worlds, and I navigate them comfortably.

At this stage of life and in this retirement-oriented community, there’s no predicting who will connect with another.  Relationships are developed without regard to geographic origin, career or financial resources, but rather for common interests, life experience and even simply proximity.  Rick and I biked alongside a few men for years and now I also dine out with them and their wives.  A single woman in my dragon boat club has become a good friend with whom to have fun evenings out and about.  A neighbor hosts the best mahjong gatherings.  Another woman has helped me develop contacts for writing assignments.  Before this time in life I would never have met them; today they are important to me.

I don’t, however, expect these people to be lifelong friends.  There are people in my past who were there when I needed them.  Aging and health, interests and other demands on our time will erode some of the friendships I so treasure now.  Other friends will surface when they are wanted in my future.  I hope I have served as a trusted confidante for other men and women in my life, and currently have some acquaintances for whom I provide support.

Sunday I several hours conversing with a wise friend.  Through her mindfulness practice, she has noted that when she remains in the present, without regard to the past or the future, she is not only balanced and serene, she is nowhere.  True present is elusive; once you give your mind permission to focus on the present, it is already in the past.  Friends may come and go, yet their value in our lives are memorable and immeasurable.

Wherever you go, there you are.  ~ Jon Kabat-Zinn

Wheels Go Round

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The wheels are spinning in my head all the time.” ~ Justin Berfield

In the past few weeks people have been telling me that I look happier and smile more than I have in a long time. I think they are right. I have been ridding myself of some wasted emotional energy, setting new goals and feeling less sorry for myself. My mind’s wheels have been turning.

So many of my posts have been about my grief – and recently I’ve been reflecting on his experience in the last years of his life. As long as I knew him, he was strong, self-confident and virtually fearless. Of course his career, personal and health challenges stressed him. Long before we came together he developed coping skills which brought him some measure of calmness: clearing his mind while motorcycling and sweating out his stress through sports. Time with family and good friends also brought him joy and release.

An amazing man.

Besides knee replacements and assorted other surgeries, Rick’s bladder was poked, prodded, scraped and ultimately removed over the course of our marriage. How many of us could experience all this and not lose some zest for life? (Certainly not I!) While he was positive and upbeat with me and others, I now wonder if I failed him. Did he put on a smiling face while inside he was filled with anxiety? Were there times when he would have unburdened himself to me if I wasn’t so frightened myself? Why couldn’t I set my self-centered terror aside and focus all of my energy on Rick when he needed me most – when he could no longer use his well-honed coping skills?

In addition to this rotation of thought towards Rick’s experience more than my loss, I sometimes wonder if he would be pleased with the new life I’m building. I’d give anything to talk with him and get his input on the choices and decisions I’ve made. There are some undoubtedly which would annoy him beyond measure, but for the most part, I believe he would be supportive. Dragon boat racing, playing mahjong and writing would be viewed positively; the increased closeness within his family would delight him.

Rick taught his daughters how to maintain their car, including their wheels. They know how to check tire pressure and change a car tire; I never learned from my father or even their father. Earlier this week the low tire pressure indicator lit up on my car’s dashboard. After verifying the process with a neighbor, I found a tire gauge, checked each tire’s pressure and then used the dusty compressor in my garage to fill the tires up to the target psi.

If ever there was a time to hear a chuckle and a “Good job” from above, that would have been one of them!

Enough Already!

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I set aside a draft post on Harvey Weinstein and sexual harassment, coercion and violence. I can imagine my friend who already thinks I’m crazy for blogging about my personal issues screaming in frustration – but never fear, I won’t be writing about my sexual experiences in this post.

What in the world is wrong with us?

It seems anytime a person does something that seems incorrect to others, there’s an avalanche of nasty tweets, snarky posts and bad press. It can be about attire, behavior, beliefs – anything – and “we, the people” are all over it. We give our unsolicited opinions, we pick fights with friends and strangers, we get stuck in nonsensical repetition. It is driving us crazy! People try to step away from social media because they’re sick of the negativity, or they stay online, searching for baby animal videos because they just want to see something cute. People avoid the news – real and fake – while others can’t turn away from their news channels.

We can be so talkative and critical much of the time – and other times our lips are sealed and our fingers frozen. What happened with Harvey Weinstein and others of his ilk? Where were those who knew of his predatory behavior? Every one of us knows when something is not right.

Think of all the times you now know you should have spoken up or taken action. When was a childhood friend bullied? When did your acquaintance tell a racially-offensive joke? When did your group chortle at someone walking by who they stereotyped in some way? When did your male colleagues talk about a female employee’s physical attributes in a sexual manner?” Yep, I thought so – you’ve experienced all of these. Even more, you may – I have – been part of the problem. I’ve admitted before to telling dumb blonde jokes which natural blondes found offensive – and I’ve done much worse.

So if we know how to behave and when to speak up, why don’t we? Those poor women sexually victimized by Weinstein not only have to heal, some have to live with not speaking up to protect future targets. I feel certain if those women felt they would not be penalized in their personal and professional lives, they would have done so. Why can’t we stop “going along to get along?” Why can’t we do what is right and respect others who do what they believe to be right (within the law)?

None of us have the answers. I look back on the decades of my life and know my beliefs and perceptions have changed on a myriad of issues – surely you can do the same. So what gives us the right to assume we know what is best for others? Why can’t we show compassion and empathy – and maybe, just maybe – recognize that we do not have the right answers all the time.

Hush. Listen. Reflect. Look in the mirror. Do the right thing.

(ditto for me!)

Transitions

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I don’t have anything new I choose about which to write this week.  Last weekend was my wedding anniversary, and while there were tears, they were perhaps less intense and frequent than in 2016.

So I have reached back to a poem I wrote in February 2001 — long before I had any inkling my mother, mother-in-law, father and Rick would pass within just fifteen years.

Generational Transitions

We stand at the edge and we don’t understand.
We don’t seem to grasp the situation.
My mother’s dying; his mother’s failing;
Decisions, closure, but time’s sailing
too fast for those in our generation
who have aging parents and new demands.

To lose the generation ahead causes pain.
We’ve taken for granted they’d be there always,
and valued their roles in our lives.
To lose them hurts our hearts like knives.
But now our lives move to a new phase
where our parents don’t wax but wane.

We now become the elders of our world.
Whether we’re ready or not, it’s our turn
to face the inevitable future,
wondering who’ll provide our nurture.
Do you think we’ll ever learn
to age with grace in acceptance of the world?

So we gird up for the effort we now face,
to love and support our parents, you see.
I don’t want to be old; I don’t want to die!
Is there a way that this process I can defy?
Are those the words of my mother or me?
On to death; all are in the same race.