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 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.


gigi-hawaii said...

I am glad that you are coping well with macular degeneration. Many people who have it don't do as well. You have been through a lot of struggles, but you still manage to do well with friends and your husband and sister. Blessings!

Tabor said...

My Daughter-in-law's grandmother (a wonderful bubbly lady) is in a rest home now in the early 90s and has just been diagnosed with Covid. I am so sad about that. A distant friend has just been diagnosed with a repeat of her breast cancer. Another sad bit of news. And, of course, my daughter's friend is crossing the anniversary of the death of her 9-year-old from brain cancer which she does post about on Facebook, which I think is healthy. I have so much to be thankful for and accept the changing of life.

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

A very introspective post of your past and present. It is interesting how people in our senior years all focus to some degree on years left. Younger people rarely consider that topic. My vision this year has slipped faster. But like you I plan to plod along and rake the good along with the hard stuff for as long as possible. Merry Christmas.

John's Island said...

Speaking of gratitude, it seems like every edition of Eye on the Edge gives me some thought I can put into my journal of wisdom. Today’s is, “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.”

***Four sentences that say so much. Thank you DJan.***

Recently, I’ve spent some time reflecting on life and what I could say about it in the fewest possible words. I came up with “life is change.” Now that I’ve read your post, I think I’ll change that to “life is constant change.” That is perfection. I so admire your ability to open up your computer on Sunday mornings and compose such thoughtful posts. Thank you for all you said today. I want to wish you and SG a great week ahead and a Merry Christmas. Best regards from Seattle.

Rian said...

DJan, I cannot even imagine the heartache of losing a child as you did. It is beyond my ability. Even now that my 3 children are 47, 50, and 52 - I don't think I could bear it. At 75 I have lost siblings and parents and awful as that was, a child is another story altogether. You are a strong woman and I admire your outlook on life.
Gratitude for the things we do have is important... and I too am grateful for this technology that allows us to share these feelings. Sending a few little things (home-made goodies or little gifts) to friends and/or family (especially those who live alone) to let them know how much they mean to you is important - even throughout the year, not just at Christmas.
I'm not much on reality shows, but that one (Alone) does sound interesting. And I tend to enjoy fiction more than non-fiction, but think that I will read Obama's book too.
Take care dear friend, stay safe and well and have a wonderful holiday!

ApacheDug said...

As much as I miss loved ones in my own life, I can’t imagine what it’s like to lose one child, let alone two. I suppose one doesn’t make it to nearly 80 without some very sad chapters in their book... at the same time, yours is a pretty impressive read. Oh DJan, I’m so sorry about the macular degeneration... I didn’t know you were living with that. I very much admire how you don’t let much get in your way. And I’m surprised to read what you said about that survival show, the other night I was watching the first half of ‘The Blair Witch Project’ (with those kids lost in that ugly forest) and I honest-to-God thought “I bet they would’ve made it out if they had DJan with ‘em!” Anyway, I hope when you’re finished with that Obama book you can perhaps write a small review as I’m wondering if it’s worth the buy and I trust your judgment. Please forgive my ramble here, thank you for sharing like you do every week, and I very much hope you and SG have a warm, wonderful Christmas.

Betsy said...

You are such an encouragement to me each week when I read the words you share with all of us. I think this year especially has made many of us much more introspective. I don't want to let a day go by without letting the people I care about know it.
Take care and many Blessings,

Elephant's Child said...

As always, huge thanks for this post.
Gratitude is a gift which keeps on giving isn't it?
I am glad that you are certain of finding joy in the week(s) to come. And wish that certainty for the world.

Anvilcloud said...

Oh, I am sorry for your past loss. My SiL lost a child, so I know something of the grief that it causes.

I wonder if we could have survived in that wilderness if we were younger? I think not in my case because I think one would need to be a good DIY-er. which I, most definitely, am not. While I might have been able to withstand the solitude, I most likely wouldn't have been able to take care of myself.

In a somewhat similar vein, last night we watched a documentary about a photographer who took a reindeer deep into Lappland to photograph the northern lights. Of course, the camera crew that filmed him was unseen, so he wasn't really alone.

I am glad that the participants in your series give thanks to their prey. I can respect hunting in that case.

Gigi said...

Merry Christmas, DJan! You give us all a great gift - the reminder to be grateful. Sending love your way.

Linda Reeder said...

I accept your gift of love, dear DJan, and send one back to you.
This week will be busy for me, with appointments and Christmas preparations all jumbled together. We are risking it and we will bring our core family together. I look forward to the work involved, the joy we can bring to each other, and the beauty of the season. I, too, am grateful.

Red said...

You cover some very important topics. I think I told you that my parents lost their only daughter when she was 11. I think I blogged about it. Although my father lived for fifty three years after her death , he never came to terms with that loss. I know what you ae talking about when you say that the loss of a child is one of the most difficult losses.

Far Side of Fifty said...

I believe your friendship is a great gift!
A long time blog friend died on Thursday...I am so thankful I followed her blog and she followed mine... She was 4 months shy of 90 years old...a marvelous woman. I am a bit sad...for my loss and her husband who is 90 years old and her two dogs Jack and Jill...they will miss her so much.
But life goes on after loss...one foot in front of the other. But you know that.

I have watched Alone and enjoyed it very much...I think there are two seasons now. It is quite the adventure. Some people do better being alone than others:)
Have a good week my friend!

William Kendall said...

I am sorry for your loss.

This time of year is a difficult one for me, so I'll be glad when Christmas is behind us.

Rita said...

I've come a hair's breath away from losing Dagan several times over the years and was always told he could die at any time...and yet I only have a hint of what it would be like to actually lose him and I still can't quite imagine the depth of it. But, you're right. We do survive. And a lot more than we think we are capable of. Certainly more than we would ever have asked for, had we the choice. But that is life. The one thing we can count on living our "dash" is change.

Merry Christmas, my friend. :)

Linda Myers said...

I, too, love your Sunday morning musings. I'm doing a lot of that myself in this slower time. I cannot fathom how I got to be 72! You know, the Peter Pan syndrome.

Margaret said...

Wonderful and wise thoughts. I can't imagine losing a child; it was difficult to lose two younger brothers and my husband, but I can't even contemplate outliving my daughters. Enjoy this very different but also special Xmas.

Glenda Beall said...

DJan, I don't know how you survived losing both your sons. They say what doesn't kill us makes us stronger and I believe you are proof of that. This time of year I always think about the ones I lost over the years and feel sad. Thank you for your insight shared here each week. I have listened to Pres. Obama on many podcast interviews and am always so impressed with this man. He is honest and open which is not often seen in men. I love his self-deprecating sense of humor. I miss him as president.
I am so sorry about your eyes. My sister has only one good eye and I see how she is affected. You are not old, DJan. You and I are mature adults and age is only a number. My doctor told me to continue as I am because I am important to my community. Sounds like he isn't afraid I am going to die soon. Merry Christmas to you and SG. Hope he is continuing to feel better.

Maria said...

Hoje venho desejar-lhe um Bom Ano de 2021!