I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Mid-August musings

Tomatoes at the market
My first garden tomatoes are beginning to ripen. Although the Sun Golds (little cherry tomatoes) ripen quickly, I am unwilling to let them stay long enough on the vine to get really sweet. They seem to pop off and into my mouth on their own while I'm out there watering or weeding. I am watching my own larger tomatoes beginning to turn, but the ones in the picture above must have come from a greenhouse, since they're already ripe. Beautiful, aren't they? I can't bring myself to buy any since it looks like I'll have a bumper crop one of these days.

Our weather has changed from hot with smoky skies from the fires north of us to cool, breezy and mild. For the next week, the temperature should not reach above the low 70s F (around 20C) and I'm thrilled. Instead of a strange alien yellow sky without clouds, pretty fluffy clouds grace our blue skies once again.

The change started on Thursday with our Senior Trailblazers hike. Because the air quality was so poor in many spots, we decided to head over to the coast where the onshore flow cleared the air much better than would have been the case going up into the mountains. It was almost cold by the time we arrived to start our leisurely hike up Goose Rock. Instead of sweltering in the heat, we were able to enjoy a lovely walk without bugs. Since our leader Al was unable to attend, I volunteered to lead the group.

The week before had been such an unpleasant hike, with biting black flies and oppressive heat as we climbed up Skyline Divide, I worried about how I would handle the scheduled Church Mountain, a challenging hike at any time of year. I laid in bed for two nights stressing over it, wondering why in the world I had agreed to be in charge. As it turned out, we couldn't go there anyway, because we didn't have enough people show up who have cars that could make the drive up the forest road. So we had to find an alternative, and Goose Rock is a favorite wintertime hike. It turned out to be perfect.

My point is that I spent all that time and energy losing sleep over something that didn't happen. It reminds me of an old quote about how living in the past makes one depressed and living in the future makes one anxious. To be at peace, one needs to live in the present. I felt the wisdom of that saying as I walked along at the front of the group on Thursday, smiling to myself and wondering why in the world I had to imagine the worst-case scenario. It was partly because the week before had been so awful, I guess, and without our leader I always feel a bit unmoored. To put myself in his place is uncomfortable. And he's going to be gone for awhile yet, he told me by email.

Yesterday I didn't walk with the ladies, and although I missed the camaraderie of visiting with them, I was with my friend Lily, who didn't want to go on the scheduled walk, a rather strenuous uphill one. Instead we walked from Bellingham into Fairhaven, stopping for breakfast before returning the way we had come. We were parked right by the Farmers' Market, but we were both full from our breakfast and didn't spend much time there before heading home. Lily lives here in the apartment complex and is starting a new job on Monday, so we wanted to celebrate what we hope will be the beginning of a fresh new start in her life.

I remember what it feels like to start a new job. There's anticipation and a little anxiety, but mostly it's exciting. Sometimes I forget that I'm done with my working life and consider what I might do if I wanted to return to work. And then I realize that nobody would hire me at my age! There would also be no reason for me to do that anyway, since my retirement annuities and Social Security are enough to keep me from having to continue to work. I was very fortunate to have worked in a place that doubled my own contributions to my retirement funds. Plus I was required to contribute at least 5% of my salary, meaning that over thirty years it added up to a tidy sum. Now I receive a monthly stipend, which makes all the difference between having to scrimp and having enough to get by. We are not wealthy, by any means, but I wonder how it will be for many millennials when they reach my age.

Tuesday is the anniversary of Chris' death. It will be fifteen years since he died, but if I allow myself to bring back all the memories, he is still present in my heart and will never leave. I just realized he hasn't visited me through a dream lately, so he must be busy up there in heaven. He almost always appears to me in a dream as a teenager or very young man, but he would almost be a senior citizen himself if he were alive. His widow sends me occasional Facebook posts, and I know she will not forget the date this year, either. It's difficult for me to think of him very often, because although it's been a long time, it can also seem like it happened not so long ago. I guess grief is like that; if I want to remember, all the pain and suffering return as well. I still remember his laugh, and smile when I hear it inside my head.

I've read that suffering is actually beneficial to the spirit. There seems to be plenty of suffering in the world right now, and I have to limit the amount of news I let in or I'll get really depressed. Fortunately for me, I have many distractions that I can indulge in to take me away from the reality of the woes of the world. These days between Netflix and Amazon, I can watch a movie or a series any time I choose. Today Judy and I will go to the movies together, though, to see Al Gore's latest movie about climate change. I'm pretty sure it won't be uplifting, but I feel the need to see it. I'll come home and peruse the books I've got on my shelf to read and will look for one that will make me feel better. I just re-read Mary Roach's book Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal. I bought the book a few years ago and kept it and was trying to remember something she said, and when I picked it up I couldn't help but read it again. It's that kind of book. If you want a treat, you might want to read one of her books. My favorite of hers is Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. I know, I know; it doesn't sound very uplifting, but believe me, it will make you think as well as laugh out loud.

Although suffering might be beneficial, it sure doesn't feel very good while one is deep in it. I've had plenty of suffering in my life and don't see any need to dwell on those memories. I keep trying to find ways to enjoy life, and mostly I am successful. One way I truly find joy is through friendships and community. It amazes me how much it matters to me that my family and friends are within reach, even if it's through electronics and not through physical presence. The world is a friendlier place when I concentrate on what really matters to me: my dear partner (still sleeping next to me), my friends and acquaintances, and of course, you. I hope that the coming week will bring you love and joy and a minimum of suffering. However, I'll leave you with this quote:
Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”  --Kahlil Gibran


Anonymous said...

This is a magnificent post, DJan. I always tell myself to rise above it all and be with the angels.

Elephant's Child said...

I have read and thoroughly enjoyed Mary Roach's Stiff and will track down Gulp. Thank you.
Suffering, like pain do remind us of the beauty in our lives I believe, but they are never easy.
I hope your day and your week go well - and love the thought of Chris being too busy in heaven to visit you at the moment. Hugs.

Rian said...

Two things you mentioned made me pause, DJan. First, "losing sleep over something that hasn't happened yet" is something I try very hard to avoid... and don't always succeed. But I do believe it is something we need to work on continuously.

The second thing was "returning to work". This one made me laugh because even though many people our age do still work, whenever I see a sign that reads, "Work here for the holidays" or something similar, my first response is "No way!" (and it's not that I didn't enjoy working before retirement, I did... but that time has past).

Marie Smith said...

I know you'll be thinking of Chris on the anniversary of his death. I will be thinking of you, Jan.

Arkansas Patti said...

Isn't it wonderful that dreaded events rarely come true in the fashion we imagine? I had faith you would pull it off flawlessly as did your followers. Hope Al's wife improves soon.
Like your idea that Chris is just busy but also he probably knows you are in a good place and don't need a visit.
I'll take your word that "Stiff" is a fun read and will look for it. Pretty sure without your help, I'd have passed it by:)

Red said...

It's Google that you have options for many things such as your walks. We always remember anniversaries of significant losses.

The Furry Gnome said...

Always enjoy your thoughtful Sunday comments.

Linda Reeder said...

My Sunday is behind me as I finally read your Sunday morning post. It was a good day, a sort of last minute adventure with Jill and the kids to a Sounders Season ticket Holder event. i'll be posting about it.
I have not suffered loss like you have. I hope happy memories sustain you through this anniversary.
I look forward to cooler, cleared weather this week as we get back into a laid back routine here at home. Late summer should be day to day, living in the moment, and cherishing each day. It is all too soon gone.

Far Side of Fifty said...

I hope you have a good week, even though it might bring up some sad memories. I hope you take time to ponder the really good ones too.
I am glad you are in the clear out there, we are still cool here.
You will do just fine being the hiking leader! :)

Dee said...

Dear DJan, your musings today touched a chord in me. Like you, I think that living in the present and in Presence brings the most contentment. And when I think of the deaths of close friends and my mom and dad, I try to concentrate on the goodness with which they touched my life--a goodness I want to pass on to others. In that way, they are here with me now. Peace.

C-ingspots said...

What a timely post DJan, as you and I seem to be on the same page right now. Wish I were there to give you a big old hug of reassurance on the anniversary of your son's death. We never forget those dates, do we? I always get so much out of reading your posts, and you just have a lyrical way of writing and expressing yourself. I love visiting you here, and so appreciate your comments on my blog. Thank you for being there!
I too, am so thankful that our weather has cooled off and normalized. Oh my, it was so hot and muggy, smokey and dry. Things are looking up again. And those tomatoes are gorgeous! I didn't even plant a garden this year, a first in many years for me. I will miss the tomatoes the most of all. Take care and enjoy your week.

Glenda Beall said...

I am late again, DJan, reading your post. With teaching classes and my duties with the NCWN West writing organization, I stay far too busy for a retired person.
I have always been one to worry about what might happen and I am trying hard now to change that. My husband used to say, "Most of the things you worry about never happen." He was right. My love and sympathy goes out to you on the anniversary of your son's death. Those times are hard for me, the dates of when I lost my loved ones. So many are gone now. My parents, three of my brother and one sister, and the hardest, my husband. But I cherish the memories I have of each of them. I'd love to have your cooler weather. We are having hot, rainy weather.
Have a great week.

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

Like you I have days when I am recalling losses. The earliest was my dear aunt who died of cancer and sadly I was sent at age eight to comfort her. In my mind she is now one of my guardian angels. Somehow after many years of havimg lost my father and brother they also became angels to my mind. I am not sure how or why have made such a connection but I do feels their presence and at times in very odd places or unusual moments. I suppose tjeir souls are able to connect through some other worldly way. I guess that is how I have learned to push past the pain of their loss. And for some reason I now believe after Inam gone from my present state I too will have another ability to be a guardian angel for loved ones. It seems possible to me. And Buddy and I talk about this idea. He's all for it. He sometimes mentions to me when he senses a soul near him. Often her refers to mr brother. Buddy was only 5 when his uncle died yet he seems to feel a bond.. i guess the two of us share a sense of paranormal activity around us and we have some sense to lable it?
But then you must have known I am a bit weird at times. I enjoy being able tomshare ideas with you.