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, December 27, 2020


Misty scene

Last night as as I crawled into bed, making myself comfortable and wondering just what I might write about this morning, I thought about perspective. Do I want to write about myself and what's going on in my life, or what I perceive as the state of today's world? It all depends on how you look at a situation, whether it seems positive, negative, or neutral. Or whether you can get enough distance from a situation to appreciate its meaning.

Here we are in the week between Christmas and New Year's Day, and I am trying to make sense of things. I was born in December and think of it as "my" month, when the days are short and the nights long. I actually prefer the shorter days, since I have trouble getting to sleep when the sun is still shining, but I must do it anyway for much of the year. These days it seems that I barely begin my day when it's time for the sun to set. The actual length of a day at this latitude is barely eight hours at this time of the year, so I'm not imagining it. It gives me plenty of time to sleep and let my body recover from whatever I've subjected it to during the day. 
The only thing you sometimes have control over is perspective. You don't have control over your situation. But you have a choice about how you view it. —Chris Pine
One of the things I like to do in these Sunday morning musings is to find a quote to share, or one that might help me gain some perspective. Sometimes I think I will never get going, never find an actual theme to work around, and other times it refuses to budge away from some predetermined direction. This morning it seems that it's the latter situation, and I wonder how to tap into the message I'd like to deliver.

I keep thinking about how sometimes I feel like a body with a brain, my eyes like headlights shining out into the world, taking in whatever lies in my path. It is rooted in the small perspective of a single human, with eyes to perceive the world, and a brain that tries to interpret what it sees. That is the narrowest perspective any of us deals with, and it reminds me of the parable of the blind men who are confronted with an elephant, as they try to figure out what it is. The moral of the parable is that humans tend to claim absolute truth based on their limited, subjective experience as they ignore other people's limited, subjective experience. I believe that sums it up: there is no way for me to have any sort of truth emerge from the limited perspective of my own single viewpoint.

Therefore, I can also try to figure things out by widening my perspective, and becoming involved with the larger world, and hopefully a more objective truth. Now that in itself is a dilemma, for where can I look to find the news of the world? In one sense, that is not much different from the blind man trying to figure out the meaning of the elephant. I myself choose to read several different news outlets, but I realize they all skew towards my own preconceived beliefs. There is no objectivity in these outlets, but frankly I am wondering if there is any place, anywhere at all, to find out the truth of what is happening in the world today. My solution is to take it all with a grain of salt, reading widely but with skepticism. Or perhaps there really is no objective truth, everything is subjective and I must learn to deal with that reality and not try to find something that doesn't exist.

Whether it's true or not, I feel that we here on Planet Earth are at a crossroads. One where we decide to come together and agree with one another, or break into factions that attempt to convince the other side that it is wrong. This doesn't seem to me to be a good solution. But what else can we do? How can we find a way out of this dilemma? Unfortunately, I cannot see any way out, so I do what many of us have a tendency to do: deny the conflict and distract myself with diversions that give me pleasure. It will work for awhile, but I know that underneath the conflict still sits there, waiting and knowing that it's impossible to carry on like this indefinitely. 

When I am beginning to relax enough to fall asleep at night, there is one tiny thread that keeps coming back to me: that I am not alone. That somehow there is a higher being present. I can only access its presence by laying aside my preconceived notions, my own limited perspective, and allowing the presence a chance to take over my thoughts, take over my troubled mind. I find myself in prayer. 

Before long, I am feeling less troubled and despair takes a holiday. When I allow myself to pray to that higher power, I am comforted. And I realize the truth that I am not alone, that giving myself a conduit to another reality is the only way to deal with the dilemma of my limited perspective. It also doesn't make me feel conflicted, and even the tiniest little bit of joy begins to emerge from the darkness, and the world has transformed from dark to light. It's as if the sun has come over the horizon and I can have hope for a better world.

It is amazing how that shift in my perspective transforms, well, everything. How I was in despair and once it lifted, I feel the presence of others here with me. My family, my friends both actual and virtual, I can feel myself lifted up and held in the light of love. I had forgotten about love, how looking at the world through the headlights of my eyes, how different it looks when love is present. I believe it was Martin Luther King who said, "I have decided to stick with love, since hate is too great a burden to bear."

That is where I end up this morning: in joy, feeling the presence of love all around me, feeling the presence of my dear partner next to me, and having found myself once again able to greet the day with love. I am so very grateful for the perspective of being a person in the arms of LOVE. 

Until we meet again next week, be well and be sure to find plenty of ways to say thank you. I know you will.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Christmas week

Fallen leaves or stars?

Lately, I have been inundated with memories of years past, thinking of my family, my friends, and how much has changed in my life as the decades progress. It's almost as though the years bring me into different worlds, and people whom I love and who love me come and go. Once upon a time I was a young mother, with two small children. Now I have no living children and am an old woman. In between those two events, I have lived a full life, with the days passing one at a time, but imperceptibly changing from one stage to another. The loss of my first child, when I was only 22, was the first major life event that caused my world to turn upside down. He was an infant, just over a year old, when he died of spinal meningitis. He got sick in the afternoon and died that very night. They say that sudden death is harder to bear than a gradual one, and I have to agree.

But death and dying are as much a part of life as are new birth and celebrations of joy. We all live through both extremes if we are on this planet long enough. And sometimes I find myself astonished to realize how much I have lived through, and how much has changed since I first became a mother. Stephen died in September, and I still remember how hard it was for me to see the first snowflakes fall onto the earth that now housed the grave of my child. I wanted to keep him safe and warm, and I could not bear that he was gone. The loss of a child is one that I wish upon nobody, although eventually the hole in my heart scarred over and allowed me to once again laugh and smile. But it took a long time, and I feel empathy for all who suffer such a grievous loss.

Although it's been more than half a century since it happened, there are flashes of memory that can bring it all back as if it happened yesterday. When I see the image of the Christ Child in a manger, wrapped in his mother's arms, I can easily transport myself into the scene. A happy one, although not unlike many mothers who even today don't know how they will protect their child from harm. You have to take every moment and celebrate happiness when and where you find it. It's not permanent; nothing is. Life is constant change, and we find little snippets of joy intermingled with sadness. I have found that there is only one way to deal with life's vicissitudes, and that is to be grateful for all of it, the highs and the lows, the moments of great sorrow mingled with the moments of great happiness.
Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. —Melody Beattie

 These days, I find friendship in the most unlikely places. Being in the middle of a pandemic, the stores are not packed during this Christmas week, but there are more people in them than I've encountered in months. I stay out of them, for the most part, but I realize there are many people, friends that I have grown very fond of, that I would like to acknowledge with a gift. Fortunately, I can shop online and send them something they would like, and I know how much they would appreciate being remembered. That is my task for the coming week: bring joy into lives of others. Not to mention that it also makes me happy.

One friend, someone I will probably never meet, has gifted me with a season of 11 episodes of a reality show. Now I am not one who watches things like this usually, but because it is a gift, I accepted it. The show, Alone, is about ten people who agree to spend 100 solitary days in the Arctic wilderness, in hopes of making it to the end and a reward of a million dollars. They are helicoptered into different places and deposited with ten approved items of survival gear and a satellite phone that can be used to contact someone to bring them out if necessary. They also have camera equipment and are expected to document their experiences. I have watched three episodes and already two people have chosen to leave, and it's only been a week or so.

It has also been an eye opener for me, thinking about whether I could survive in such circumstances. The answer is simply "no." I think the hardest part would be hunting game and catching fish, not knowing how to even begin such a task. And building a shelter. Most of the participants are well versed in all of that and welcome the challenge. I can put myself in their positions without having to actually do it myself, thanks to the series. I wonder if most of them are introverts, because I realize I would also seriously miss the interaction with other people. It also makes me realize how much I depend on basic necessities like clean water and food to eat that I don't have to kill first. Anyway, I give thanks for the possibility to peek into these people's adventure, and it also gives me a new perspective on all the amenities of simple living that I take for granted.

I am impressed at how many of the participants give thanks when they kill a creature, and the level of compassion they show as they make it into food. I'm not sure I give enough appreciation for the bounty I have in my own life, and that is one thing I won't forget soon: to give thanks for the incredible riches that surround me. Thank you, dear friend, for this gift of a new perspective on life.

As I sit here in the dim light of my laptop, listening to my dear partner breathing softly next to me as he sleeps, and I think of the day ahead, it is another gift I keep forgetting to appreciate: that I can actually get up, dress, and head out the door for what could be an adventure of a different sort. It's important as I age to get the most out of every day. Right now I am reading Obama's latest book, and although it's long and detailed, he is a gifted writer and knows how to make me feel like I'm right there with him as he moves from being an unknown quantity to the celebrity he is today.

That reminds me to also be grateful for the gift of sight. Although I suffer from age-related macular degeneration (AMD), I can still see well enough to read books, if I am careful to use my reading glasses and take plenty of breaks. Long gone are the days when I could read for hours without thinking about it. The missing vision in one eye is compensated by the other eye, but I also know that it's not the same. To see certain images, I have to look off to the side and not focus right on the image itself. I got used to doing this and now hardly notice how I have had to adapt. I am grateful that I can still read, and I'm nearing the next decade of life. I'm damn near eighty!

But, that said, I hope to be around for awhile yet. It takes some getting used to, finding ways to appreciate what remains still within my purview, and it is plenty. One thing I will never stop being grateful for is this amazing ability to sit and stare at an empty screen and watch the words flow out, even if I don't always produce a masterpiece, something always comes to share with you, my dear readers. And in a few minutes I'll be able to hit "publish" and my words will reach out into the blogosphere, shared with whoever is interested. I am definitely filled with gratitude for having this magic at my fingertips.

I do hope this Christmas week will bring you joy, as I know it will for me. By the time next Sunday rolls around, we'll be looking forward to putting this year to bed and getting ready for 2021. Until we meet again next week, I wish you good health and all the love and happiness you deserve. I send you my love, dear friends.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Sibling soulmates

Norma Jean and me

Long, long ago, I did just about everything during my childhood with my sister, Norma Jean, who was born less than three years after me. We were the beginning of a much bigger family, which ultimately culminated in the birth of seven children over a twenty-year period. The last child was born almost sixty years ago, and we have not all survived to this date, but most of us have, and most of us have many wonderful memories of our childhood. I didn't know how blessed I was to have such a happy early life. These days, I know all too well how rare those halcyon years were.

We have both endured our share of pain and loss over the decades, but we have never lost our connection with one another. Even after many years of separation because of circumstances, deaths, marriages and divorces, the connection with my sister has endured and strengthened. After her husband died in February 2011, I began making a pilgrimage across the country, from my home in the Pacific Northwest, to hers in Florida, to spend time with her. That first year I spent three weeks there, and afterwards it became just over a week. But I went every year until last year, when travel became dangerous because of the coronavirus pandemic. Soon it will mark two years since I spent part of my winter months in Florida. And there is no way for me to know when, if ever, things will return to their pre-pandemic state.

Once a month, every fourth Wednesday, I have a standing date to spend time with Norma Jean on FaceTime. I am always a little anxious just before I make the call, not knowing if she remembered, but she is there, waiting for me. It is interesting how much can change in a month; we are both older and showing our age in big and little ways, like me forgetting family birthdays or anniversaries. After all, those little girls are now septuagenarians. 

However, we still share so much with one another and somehow a couple of hours on the monthly call flies by, having again connected with each other and gotten caught up with the latest episodes in our daily lives. These days, not much is happening in either of our lives, because of our efforts to stay safe and distanced from others to keep from catching the virus. Just yesterday the first vaccine was approved for use in the US, and I think by this time next year we should be back to whatever "normal" will look like. I don't think we will return to the world as it was before.

I am just glad that the little sister who has journeyed through life with me is still healthy and living a relatively happy life. She still swims most days in an outdoor pool, getting in her daily mile, and we both enjoy comparing our activity level with one another. Although I have other siblings, none of them are what I would call close confidants, as the two of us are. I guess it's partly a matter of birth order, but for whatever reason, I cannot imagine a world without my sister Norma Jean in it. She truly is my soulmate, and I cherish her and feel her presence in my life, even when I haven't seen or talked with her for awhile. This monthly visit is pretty darn perfect, and I count on her being there.

Sometimes we need someone to simply be there. Not to fix anything, or to do anything in particular, but just to let us feel that we are cared for and supported. —Unknown

There are also sisters of the heart, ones you choose and enjoy being with, even though you aren't related by blood. But I've found that those sisters come and go, as we move on through life. I've got plenty of close friends here in Bellingham, but right now I cannot actually sit with them and have a glass of wine together. Or hang out in the coffee shop, or do much of anything together. When this is over, some of them will emerge as friends once again, but in between now and then, I feel a loss of connection and without the constant virtual presence in my life of Norma Jean and the solid presence of my dear life partner, SG, I think I would be having a much harder time, going through this isolation. It's not easy being an extroverted person in lockdown.

But! The universe has provided me with a new and very useful tool during this time: the internet, the blogosphere that gives me such a different and meaningful way to connect with others. I have now been blogging for more than a decade, and I think of many of my virtual friends as being as essential to my mental health as any other person. As I sit here writing in the dark, listening to my partner's breathing as he sleeps, I can feel your presence through the ether. Those of you who tell me every week how much this connection means to you, as it does to me. I picture many of you in my mind's eye, and I think of you as I write. These words sometimes don't make much sense, but it has become a sacred duty that I spend some time trying, anyway, to reach across the miles and hold you in my heart.

And with that last paragraph, I realize that I can now begin the rest of my Sunday. I have come to my virtual church and spent some time listening in the dark to whatever the universe is trying to tell me. What miracle has given me the chance to do this every Sunday, to finish up and hit "publish," and reach all of you so easily? Whatever it is, I am grateful. More than just a little bit, and just now I realize how important this all is to my continued sanity during these trying times.

Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things, and I hope you will find many connections in your own life. Be well, dear friends.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Destiny and 2020


Another snagged photo

I am enamoured with Rita Eberle-Wessner's shots of light coming through forest trees. I've used a couple of her other shots, too, to begin a post. She's able to capture what I feel in my heart so often these days. A feeling that there must be a day when the light will emerge and open up our grey and listless world into a new dawn.

With the pandemic on one side, keeping us separated and in misery as we move through the months of lockdown (not everyone, but most of us) to avoid getting the virus or spreading it to vulnerable others, it's easy to forget that these times will pass. It feels like it's been going on for ages, but it's not even been a year yet. There is no doubt that we will look back on the year 2020 as one of the most difficult ones that the US has endured. We are now leading the world in deaths by percentage of population, with almost 300,000 Americans already dead and being months away from a vaccine distributed to vulnerable populations. It's a staggeringly scary statistic. Sometimes I get really discouraged and wish I could move to a country that has a more reasonable government. But where? Canada, just a few miles from here, is doing so very much better. But the border is closed: they don't want us to infect them with our belief that it's our right not to wear masks or distance ourselves from others.

I say that, but it's not what most of us think is right. I am so happy to live in a state with mandates that help to protect others, as well as ourselves. I just read yesterday that Iowa, a state in the middle of the country, has a 50% positivity rate. In other words, half of of the population tested for the virus has it. Now that's really scary!

But all this is not what I intended to say in today's post. What I'm getting to, eventually, is that we are not alone in this pandemic; the entire world is working to get it under control. All I can do is my own little part, and that is all any of us can do. I am part of the vulnerable populations, being in my seventies, and even with no underlying conditions, it's possible for me to die from it. Although I think I might have already had it, the case was a mild one and might not be protective. I'll get the vaccine as soon as I get a chance to, not because I am so afraid of the virus, but because I'm afraid of giving it to others unknowingly.

One of my friends has decided that the year 2020 has been awful enough that whenever anything bad happens to a friend, she says they got "2020ed." And of course most of us have seen that image of a hand spelling out "2020" with its middle finger showing what many of us think about this year. I sure hope the coming year, 2021, will be a better one. With the vaccine available coming in a few months, it should be a better outcome for the world.

Do you believe in destiny? It is defined as "the events that will happen to a particular person or thing in the future." Sometimes I think I know what will happen in a particular instance, and I'm usually wrong. Things flow from events and often take a turn that I never expected. It happens to all of us. And in the case of our current situation in the world, I really have very little idea of how things will look when we get to the other side. One thing I am fairly confident of, it won't look like the time before 2020. We will all be altered in one way or another. That fact makes me happy, because it means we can be somehow better, more connected, more caring about our friends and family. When you lose something precious, it makes you realize not only what you had, but how you might keep yourself from greater loss.

Bad things do happen; how I respond to them defines my character and the quality of my life. I can choose to sit in perpetual sadness, immobilized by the gravity of my loss, or I can choose to rise from the pain and treasure the most precious gift I have - life itself. —Walter Anderson

I had an epiphany the other day: I realized that the events shaping our world right now are perhaps aligning themselves for a larger purpose. Maybe we are being guided and just don't know it. Sometimes I think I can see a light at the end of the tunnel, that a sea change is about to happen. There is only one way to know if it's true, and that's to be able to look ahead into the future. Since I cannot do that, I can only hope it's true. If I am fortunate enough to live until then, that is. 

You know what? I'm just riffing right now looking for some way to end this post. It didn't come out like I hoped, and I truly just wanted to give you, my dear readers, something light to think about and brighten your day. Instead, it's been a bit of a slog, and I apologize for that. Sitting down to write on a Sunday morning doesn't always turn out the way I hope it will, but I'm always a bit more centered after the attempt. Unfortunately for you, it might not be very coherent. Sorry about that. Sometimes the magic works, and sometimes it doesn't.

In any event, the day is calling me to get out of bed, with my dear partner still sleeping next to me, and see if I can find a better start to my day. I have coffee to drink, friends and their conversation to enjoy, even through a mask, and hope for better days ahead. 2020 is almost over! Whatever you do with yourself between now and next Sunday, I hope it will increase your happiness and give some light to the world. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things.