Archive for the ‘life wisdom’ Category

Human Creativity

August 23, 2021

Portions of what follows may be lifted from a recent letter written to a friend, in response to an essay he wrote about a meaning of creativity. Somehow that topic blends with the dilemma I faced upon awakening this morning – what to do with a week of time stripped of its usual structure by the absence of providers I normally see weekly. I do have some commitments throughout the week, but not my “usual” ones. Thus I am both empowered and challenged to be creative with my use of time, especially knowing that in a few weeks there are apt to be substantively more demands fon my time and attention with consequent reduction in fluidity of my schedule.

I am marking a year out from retirement, and remembering how happy and relieved I was, initially, to have unscheduled days, free of deadlines, un-pressured time to do whatever I felt like doing, energy to climb the hill in my driveway 6-8 times at a good pace, or equally to sit on the couch reading all day if I wished to do so. Today I did climb the hill twice already and will do so at least once more, but I know I am not able to complete more trips without feeling a substantial energy drain. I still have the discipline of a year ago, to pursue what needs doing or what I want to accomplish, but I am missing both motivation and a sense of direction as targets for the discipline. All my previous pending and accumulated have to’s are done, management of daily chores now so routine as to not require thought, and want to’s mostly vanished into impossibility due to the curtailment of options imposed by the pandemic.

All that seems to remain with me is a desire to communicate, to engage in an exchange of ideas in order to create a sense of connection despite the emphasis in our larger society on division and unbridgeable difference. Hence my own short essay in response to my friend’s reflections on creativity, and any number of letters recently written to the various NY Times essayists whose columns I follow. Only the outreach to my friend starts a discussion. The other letters serve to clarify my views, but otherwise are written into a void as they are not replied to nor published (with one exception).

The point I made to my friend had to do with the tone of articles about the “new discoveries” being reported lately in unearthed artifacts and in animal studies. Isn’t it just one more example of ego and arrogance, to keep being astonished that earlier versions of humanity could imagine and create, just as we do? No different than the hubris behind amazement that various animals invent and use tools, or that cuttlefish have memory, or that apes exchange hello and goodbye gestures.We present day humans are not at all special except maybe in our arrogance and destructiveness.

I awoke this morning to a gorgeous sky, the sun reflecting through and off of scattered clouds creating a full palette of color. The joy I felt lasted through morning coffee, feeding of chickens, watering the garden and climbing the hill, but has now begun to fade. I do not want to sink into dulled awareness, or a routine plodding through the day. Nor do I want to continue writing into a void.

The biggest threat, according to psychologists, of extended pandemic restrictions is not to our economy but to our mental health. People comment in surprise at the resilience of others who have lived through violence, ongoing war, famine and severe stress like we are seeing in vivid pictures just now from Afghanistan but which are happening in multiple places all the time, just not reported in our press. I suspect that the resilience noted should be no more surprising than the discovery that cuttlefish can learn and remember where to get their preferred food. So long as there is a sense that “we are in this together” and a collective effort to manage the tasks of daily life despite fearsome environmental conditions, people can be resilient.

Wearing masks which hide our faces and limit nonverbal cues we rely on for connection, keeping safe social distance and forgoing hugs, cancelling group activities in the name of staying safe are intended to reflect a concern for all of us being in the pandemic together. The same actions, however, sever our sense of togetherness and connection. While I do not in any way support or condone actions of the objectors to basic public health mandates, I do understand how deeply rooted their unacknowledged motives may be. Verbalized and justified as standing up for individual rights, the resistance is, I think, mostly an expression of the need to remain somehow connected. Yes, the rule breakers exhaust the rest of us, anger us, seem to want us to all sink and die together rather than survive what is morphing into a permanent condition of living. But yes, they also seem – however unconsciously – to be expressing a basic human need for connection, interaction, and the creativity of interpersonal contacts.

In that expression, these people I distinguish myself from are just like me. We seek “call and response” and a collective sense of belonging. We differ in how we manifest that desire. Please, someone, some expert somewhere, or some especially creative thinker, find a way for us all to feel engaged and connected, “heard” and together as we try to learn and adapt to the changed reality we are, collectively, facing.

Alike – and Not

July 7, 2021

Emerging from my lockdown solitude, I have recently interacted with two couples with whom I have a number of things in common, and some significant differences. All five of us attended the same college at approximately the same time. Three of us graduated together, the others a year and two years behind the three. The two couples each married upon graduation, becoming additional statistics in what has been affectionately labeled “the Quaker matchbox.” They are still married, roughly 50 years later. I too married just after graduation, and I too have been married just short of 50 years – but my total is accumulated across several relationships instead of a single long-lasting one.

All of us live in the fire threatened, drought stricken Southwest, within a day’s drive of one another. All of us do our part to care for the environment, and we have all had careers that emphasize making life better for others – in medical care, teaching and the arts. We are all retired and, to the extent that circumstances permit, either working part time or otherwise engaged with activities generally labelled “contributing to society.”  

One couple, my classmates, live in an intentional community, or what they refer to as co-housing. Some twenty four families have their homes clustered along two graveled walkways radiating from a Community Building which has a kitchen and expansive meeting/dining/activity area all centered within some 340 acres of ranchland, with animals, gardens, greenhouse and necessary support buildings and infrastructure maintained communally. The housing area is, courtesy of a good, carefully protected and rationed well, a riot of trees, flowering and native plants, an emphatic green thumb imprint on the adjacent dried grass fields. 

The second couple live in a shaded urban residential area within the largest city in our state. They too have a landscaped and flowering front yard and a small vegetable garden behind their home. Their street is a block long dead end, creating a sense of community among the neighbors who perforce coordinate to care for plantings dividing the block into a U, one side in and one out, rather like a circular drive moving past and uniting the several homes.

By contrast, I live in rural solitude in a small home on four acres, my neighbors barely in view. I have no landscaping, only wildflowers, assorted grasses and a persistent army of encroaching mullein stalks that I do my best to weed out. I have started a small, one vegetable garden, to grow my husband’s favorite greens.

All of us have dogs. I am the only one to also have a cat.

All of us have maintained a positive attitude toward our health and longevity, focused on what we can do rather than what now limits us.

All of us follow, to some extent, current politics and express our similar views in the voting booth.

They have children, I do not – except now in my later years, by step-parent status.

Using my driving time during recent visits to both couples, I have been reflecting on my life overall, undoubtedly part of the process of emerging from pandemic isolation. Also part of the ongoing process of considering who I am as a retiree, and what I wish to do now that the focus of my life is more my own to discern.

The one clear direction I am following is to be guided more by inner prompting (listening to that of God within, as Quakers would express it; Hearing, and Being the Sound Current as MasterPath reveals it) than by outer demands. 

What does that have to do with the comparisons with which I began this reflection? 

As a child, I expected that the course of my life would be more like that of the two couples – finding a compatible mate and living our lives out together. It still surprises me to see that instead I learned and grew through a sequence of relationships, mostly to partners of different races and ethnicities from my own. Yet I have evolved in a quite similar pattern to my college mates as regards values, professional roles and lifestyles.

What if anything meaningfully sets me apart?

My marital relationships have been cross race/ethnicity/culture whereas theirs are not.

I have had longish periods of functioning as a single person; they have not.

They have articulated their goals for the next several years; I do not know mine.

Or rather, I only know that it is time for me to have goals of my own, and to make them as much of a priority as I have, over my lifetime, made it a priority to help my mate(s) meet his/theirs.

Now the work begins – first to define my goals and then to teach myself to keep them front and center. 

Fortunately I know that the only place to seek my new goals is within myself, as I complete my daily spiritual practice. Which means that defining the goals is not work, merely an extension of what I already do.

As with so many questions in life, the answer is simple once “overthinking” is curtailed.

Quiet the mind and let inner wisdom speak.

What Next?

June 22, 2021

How does one – how do I – regain a lost habit of writing regularly? I managed to keep to frequent posts through years of long working days, only to lose that pattern in the last couple years of pre-retirement exhaustion. I thought that being freed from my work routine last August would  lead directly to a renewed engagement with writing. Wrong.

And no, I do not blame Covid, which removed all the retirement-filling activities I thought I would enjoy, deepening my isolation and solitude and presumably increasing my free time for reflection and comment. Instead of which I went even more silent.

My only activity that increased is nonverbal – assembling jewelry both to send as gifts and to accumulate for whenever I find a market (or someone to do the marketing) and make it available for sale. 

Returned now from a four day venture out into the larger world (a road trip to visit friends near Durango) I have become aware of how much my world view has altered. Since retirement in late summer of 2020 I have not made more than 3 trips to Santa Fe, none to Albuquerque, and barely weekly from home to the nearest shopping in Las Vegas. My husband works away during the week, coming home on weekends and able to do the Santa Fe errands en route, removing pressures that would have existed on me to get out at least that far. The major energy crash and never-diagnosed health decline that followed after retirement (no not Covid) reinforced my “stay at home and do little” behavior, and subtly altered my mental state in ways I did not recognize until I experienced the difference brought on by being away and in company for several days.

I have read essays in the online newspapers to which I subscribe, about both those who can’t wait to emerge from home and resume social life, as well as those who find themselves reluctant to do so. The latter seem to mostly be described as fearful, untrusting, having lost their sense of community. 

I find I am somewhat reluctant to be out and about much, but I deny that I am fearful and untrusting, and I know I have not lost my sense of community.

Instead, I think I have found a pleasure in my own company that I had rarely had the ease to explore, until now. All my life I have had to be a financial support for myself and others, to organize the household, to be engaged and outwardly focused. One very brief exception was a month when I (and my then husband) first moved to Boston. I was in my mid-twenties. He got a job immediately, and told me I should take my time before starting one myself. I explored the city and did enjoy a type of vacation, but felt the pressing financial limitations of only one income in a two-incomes-needed city. I started work so that we could afford an apartment in a newly restored brownstone. 

Last week’s trip took me to a co-housing community of 24 families that has been functioning effectively for over twenty years. My friends there are college classmates. The atmosphere on the ranch (they live in a cluster of individual houses around a Community Building on 340 acres of farmland) is open, inviting, trusting (no locked doors), thoughtful and as self sustaining as possible. Maintenance duties and gardening are shared responsibilities, as are preparation and clean up from weekly communal meals, but each family also pursues its own interests individually. Looking at all the landscaped homes I asked if one had to be a gardener to join the community. My hosts laughed and said “not necessarily, but you have to be willing to pay someone to do the gardening for you if you don’t do it yourself.” Caring for nature and the land is a priority of the community.

Given how easily I fit into that group, I know my remaining reluctance to get out and about is not due to loss of a sense of community. Rather I have become aware of how challenging it is to achieve connection with like minded souls in the broader strident, divisive environment that is “today’s world.” Even in my relatively quiet corner of the country, the tensions and disagreements and deep divisions troubling our society (not just in the US) cannot be avoided except by isolating. So it is not that I am fearful of re-engagement, but that I desire the original meaning of retirement – withdrawal, absence of tension and pressure, an opportunity to live quietly and reflectively. Wherein I have discovered pleasure in my own company. Less need to communicate. And apparently also less motivation to write.

The first two are definitely pluses. Not sure yet about the third. What next? We shall see.

Stepping Ahead

January 1, 2021

Setting new priorities and looking forward to at least occasional good news in the year ahead, to replace the barrage of negativity that defined 2020 I want to set the tone by appreciating and thanking all those who follow this blog, and also those who occasionally stop to read it. May you all find opportunity for joy, growth, a sense of achievement and of community in 2021.

Baraka bashad – may these blessings be.

To Be is Sufficient

October 27, 2020

First cold winter snow of the season, though not the first snow of the season. That one was back in mid-September, 80 degrees one day, snow the next, then warm again the day after. This one is taking its time spread over at least two days and with night time temperatures in the teens. Perfectly timed, from my point of view, to allow for a quiet day indoors resting from extra activity over the weekend. Apparently also allowing those government workers actually on site to come in late and go home early. No shortened hours for the majority, however, who are working from home. And it remains to be seen if our primary phone and Internet provider is ready for the season. Last winter when I was still working the more-than-full-time my job demanded, frequent outages seriously hampered meeting mandatory deadlines. One of the stresses I am happy to be liberated from, now that I have retired.

I am most grateful to the several friends who have themselves recently retired, for the heads up they unanimously gave me, that the transition is not an easy one, particularly for those of us whose work was in some aspect of the helping professions, engaged daily with a variety of others. All that interaction is suddenly gone at the same time that Covid has prevented taking a campus class, joining a gym, participating with a meditation and/or yoga group. And at the same time that my spouse was returned to work on site, after three months of being home based due to the pandemic. Texting to friends and an occasional phone call do not make up the difference. 

Not that I am unfamiliar with alone time. Not that I didn’t crave occasional alone time over the past years when work and home/marriage responsibilities took up all my waking hours. But so very much of it, all at once, definitely takes getting used to. 

I began by tackling the very long list of “clean up and clear out” tasks that have accumulated in 30 years of living in one place (moving is not easy, but it does precipitate a useful trimming down). I would say I’ve gotten maybe a third of the way through, then stalled out because the other primary aspect of retiring, about which I had also been warned, caught up with me. My energy level has tanked. Yes I was sickened by something, seemingly a toxin that both my husband and I inhaled while sleeping. Possibly something in the smoke from the West Coast fires? We both work up at the same time, choking and unable to breathe. Temperatures rose immediately thereafter, sending us to Public Health for Covid tests which thankfully came back negative. We both recovered in a few days, he more completely than I did, in that he returned to his normal pace of work and school while I remain far too easily tired, and prone to repeat, relapse, recovery cycles more than a month later. I am now awaiting an appointment with a specialist to find out either what attacked us, or what I still need to do to help my system properly recover. Meanwhile, the house decluttering process has pretty much halted.

What has not stopped is my rearrangement of my inner house. It was a bit of a shock to realize that despite my range of interests, and the many things I had thought I would enjoy “if only I had the time” I had nonetheless become someone whose sense of worth was defined by the work I did, and how much of my time was given to being of service to others. The people who care for me kept saying I had “earned” the right to relax, to “only do what makes you happy”, to sleep all day if I wished to, or to take care of myself first, and only attend to others if I have the energy to do so.

My spiritual Path teaches the goal of manifesting Soul, rather than following the dictates of mind. One way that this can be translated is to focus on finding one’s worth within, then funnelling that wisdom outward, instead of seeking worth through one’s outward actions. I rather thought I had a grasp of the inner to outward directive, until retirement and exhaustion brought me to a stop and I felt adrift, without any meaningful sense of self. I am a devoted enough student that I have been following my teacher’s instructions regarding spiritual practice, and am seeing myself transitioning from an uncomfortable void to a pleasant certainty that Being is sufficient. A am confident that appropriately focused doing will be forthcoming without my having to plot and plan for it to take place.

Just as this snow storm has come perfectly timed to “allow” me to relax and rest from my weekend’s endeavors, so too has retirement apparently come perfectly timed to allow me to transition from outer to inner imperatives directing my activity. My only obligation now is to practice the patience I learned in the period of 2000-2012 when I was held in place, seeming not to make progress or to be permitted to change employment, change residence, change anything whatsoever. 

I think we humans tend to fall into two patterns – one often self described as a “control freak” needing to regulate and direct and charge forward, the other more laid back and reliant on “what will be will be.” A fair amount of life learning seems to involve each group recognizing their status, seeing the opposite, and hopefully seeking a closer approximation to a balance of the two ways of being. 

I can now identify the ten year period referenced above as the time for me to learn patient acceptance of the fact that nothing would change despite my efforts to make change happen. I was being asked to master that lesson so that, in maintaining balance, I could take wing. Again, from my spiritual teaching, the image is of a bird needing both wings flapping in harmony in order to fly. Just personal effort, or just awaiting some outside determinant, do not get anything off the ground. 

Until the snow stops, until my energy is restored, until the pandemic restrictions are lifted, until what I am next called to do, I will do what I can. If what I can is simply to rest, stay put, and Be, let it be so. It is sufficient.

Patience – again

September 19, 2020

Quite some time ago, when I was educating myself on Twelve Step programs in the course of learning about addictions, I was told about a phenomenon noted among participants that was too often a contributor to relapse – the emergence of serious health challenges in the months after sobriety was achieved.
“I was never sick when I was using, except for withdrawals when I couldn’t get a new supply.”
“I didn’t have any health problems until after I got sober.”

It never occurred to me that there might be a similar response to retirement and its accompanying cessation of the adrenalin rush which faded with the end of deadline pressures.

Feeling somewhat at sea, unsure how to structure one’s days, seeking a new balance of tasks and relaxation – those were feelings I anticipated or had been alerted to expect, and ones that seemed reasonable. A marked decrease in interpersonal contacts would also be inevitable, given the necessary isolation already in place due to the pandemic. Loss of energy would naturally follow from a drop in adrenalin. I was prepared to avert a parallel mental/emotional sag that could seem misleadingly like depression.

I was not prepared to experience the above referenced upsurge in health issues.

The explanation generally accepted in the Twelve Step situation is that the addict/alcoholic/codependent has been too engaged with the focus of their addiction to care for themselves. Not so different a situation as that of health caregivers who ignore their own needs in the process of tending to their parent or partner ill with cancer, Alzheimer’s or other care-demanding conditions. Once attention returns to the individual, previously ignored symptoms become salient and require attention.

I did not need a day of sick leave in the last 4 years of my employment. I maintained – still do – a regular weekly schedule of health support treatments. I am an appropriate weight, have never smoked, drink very sparingly, and exercise daily. I do not have any “underlying conditions” to make me vulnerable, other than being somewhat up there in years (late 70’s) and having lived through a 5 year period, some 35 years ago, of a bad time with bronchitis. It has not been an issue since, beyond a bit of congestion if I become seriously overtired.

So why, 6 weeks into retirement, free of stress and sleeping well, am I experiencing an upsurge in frequency of ocular migraine headaches and an aggravating bout of bronchitis?

The more rest I get, the less energy I seem to have. Breathing in an unknown contaminant last week apparently triggered the bronchitis (Covid test negative) that now refuses to subside. Yes our air in New Mexico is seriously smoky, downwind from the West Coast fires and that undoubtedly is exacerbating the bronchitis flare up. But why is this lung irritation stubbornly persistent while I am relaxed and rested, when it never did so while I was highly stressed and working 50 plus hour weeks?

Probably the question I should be asking is “what, that I have not yet identified, needs my attention just now?” such that I am being slowed down, held in place, prevented from moving into new activities until I recognize the missing element. At least, that seems to be how illness has played out in my life so far.

Sometimes, when I frame the question, I get the answer promptly. Other times, I get to practice the difficult lesson of patience. This seems to be one of those latter occasions.

I’ll let you know when the insight arrives.

The Meaning of Alone

September 10, 2020

Alone but not lonely
Lonely even though not alone
Sleeping single in a double bed
No one to talk to
No one who cares
No one trusted enough to share with
No one who will (or can) listen

Free to make one’s one decisions
Empowered to act without waiting for approval or agreement
Challenged to be creative

Look Ma, no hands
Wheeeeee
Crash

I want to hold your hand
I want you to hold me, please
Babies with adequate hygiene and food but not held do suffer and die from the lack of touch
A variant of marasmus

Touch deprived adults may fall into depression, poor health
A may die prematurely

Alone can be content
Lonely cannot

What makes the difference?
Attitude
Faith
Upbringing
Insight
Learning
Choice

All challenges to the Self
That enhance growth

But mostly, I think, that last one
Choice
Think about it.

I Still Go for Walks

August 26, 2020

My walks these days are mostly down and back up the steep hill in the long driveway from our house to the mailbox by the road. I started with just a single trip, to collect the mail and take a break from the computer and phone of my work day. Now that I am untethered from those bindings, I make the trip an increasing number of times per day, usually 3-4 in the cool of morning followed by single or double hill climbs a couple more times until evening. I have been using the morning walks to prioritize the activities pending in my day, both cleaning out the house of its years of accumulated stuff, and organizing a new laptop with files saved from 8 or more years ago when I set aside my writing career to resume being an overworked but productive peon in the health care system.

In the course of the file retrieval, I came upon a piece I wrote probably ten years ago, that resonates with me now. I have welcomed input from friends both about what to do next in my life, and what changes to expect in how I will feel and how my physical self will respond to the lessening of the stress under which I have lived for so many years. My essay reconnected me with another important source of input still salient despite the fact that the person described passed on more than 45 years ago.

Enjoy the encounter with me.

A Walk with My Grampa

“I Went For a Walk in the Forest” was the book title and first phrase I learned to read, precociously at age three, sitting on my Grampa’s lap as he read the story over and over to me. The book was paper bound, about 6 inches high and 10 inches long, with a black and white cover sketch of the forest surrounded by a pumpkin-orange border. If you opened the book out flat, so that the back and front covers made one whole picture, all the animals met on that forest walk could be seen hidden among the trees. In the delightful manner of children’s fantasy, the animals collected in that forest ignored the habitat restrictions which would normally prevent them meeting, except perhaps in a zoo.

From the safety of Grampa’s lap I learned about lions and horses, a giraffe, an elephant, deer and antelope, and a monkey. When the reading walk was done we rested. He smoked, and I trapped the smoke rings he blew into a wide mouth bottle, where they magically retained shape until the genie who also lived in the bottle stirred them into a fog to give himself shelter.

I went for a walk at the zoo, with my Grampa, most Sundays from when I was seven until I was twelve. He would come down on the train from Baltimore to spend the day with us, and would take me for ‘our’ time. Not always to the zoo, sometimes to the park or just for a walk around the neighborhood. He would ask me about my week in school, what I had learned and what I was reading, and he would tell me about the poem he was working on, or the article he was writing (in Hebrew, or Yiddish) for The Forward (which he pronounced as though a “v” began the second syllable). It was important to him to pick just the right Hebrew word from among several choices for his poems, to convey mood and spirit, as well as meaning.

I went for a walk on the beach – alone now, a world away from my Grampa, he still in Baltimore and I on the sand at Nha Trang, picking up tiny pink and black and pearl-colored shells which elderly Vietnamese refugees from the north collected to string into elaborate necklaces. I wore a small gold pendant my Grampa gave me, with the Tree of Life etched into it. A link, he said, that would stretch from Vietnam back to Maryland, to keep us sharing our walks. Those were harder years, without his immediate presence and gentle wisdom to balance the emotional stresses of my early teens.

I missed him still, when I went for a walk in the Bois de Boulogne during my high school years. I wrote to him, sitting on a sarcophagus in Pierre La Chaise cemetery, one of the few places in bustling Paris that I could find solitude and quiet. Those were very hard years, for both of us. He was no longer working in his dental practice and had fewer places to publish his essays and poems. He was no longer as able to care for himself, and not very aware of time, so his replies to me were intermittent, and rarely responsive to the questions I asked.

I went for a walk in the Crum Woods on Swarthmore’s campus, during my college years, and felt his presence through the guitar in my room, a fine instrument I’d found in a pawn shop, which he gave me the seventy-five dollars to purchase. I’d asked my parents for the money, but my mother had responded in her usual fashion. “Why don’t you prove your interest in playing guitar by learning on a borrowed one before you ask me to spend my money on something you may not pursue?” Fifty years later, that guitar stays easily in tune and it’s tone is admired by everyone who plays it.

I went for walks by the Chicago shore of Lake Michigan, and along the Charles River in Boston, after helping my mother to settle Grampa in Miami, where the better weather and the presence of a few close friends made it easier for him to manage. We talked on the phone since his eyes had failed to the point that he could not write, nor easily read. With a metal-bound, rectangular, hand-held magnifying glass left from his collection of dental tools, he would slowly read the daily Yiddish press, sharing his opinions with me on the events which he didn’t trust TV news to present fairly. He worried, after the Six Days War, that while its outcome improved Israel’s security at the time, there would come from it a negative turn in world opinion toward the Jewish state. He would, I know, be distraught over the actions and decisions taken recently – the wall, and the West Bank settlements which have become symbols of oppression rather than statements of freedom.

I went for one last walk with my Grampa, along the path beside the railroad tracks in Lamy, here in New Mexico, after he could no longer live on his own. My mother and I moved him into a nursing home outside Santa Fe, where I visited with him several times a month, and brought him to my little converted boxcar house for an outing, the one weekend he was strong enough to come. I told him the story of looking out the train window, age twelve and on my way to Vietnam, seeing Lamy as a strange, wild and western place – missing him desperately and never imagining that we two would walk together there. He answered that it was good to walk with me, though he didn’t really grasp where we were, and complained to me that there were people in his nursing home whom he could hear speaking Yiddish from a distance but who, when he came close and spoke to them, would not answer. I tried to explain that they were speaking Spanish, not Yiddish. He was by then seriously deafened, hearing just enough scraps of language to know when it wasn’t English being spoken. Like most speakers of more than one tongue, with advanced age Grampa’s communication abilities lasted longest in his first language, or in his case his first two, Yiddish for everyday and his beloved Hebrew for poetry and praise.

My grampa died within days of his official 91st birthday. Official, rather than real, because he had to transfer a birth date from the Jewish (lunar) calendar used in what he called the “dot on the map village outside the dot on a map town” where he was born in Russia, to the western calendar he encountered when he entered the US as a twenty year old man in 1907. Knowing Shvat to be a spring month, he arbitrarily called it March. He equally firmly rejected the proposed Americanizing of his name to Hill, insisting that “no, my name is Domnitz, Aaron Domnitz.”

I go for walks now, often a brisk measured mile by Storrie Lake, or a leisurely stroll along Bridge Street, and realize I am just a bit above the age my Grampa was as my parents prepared to take us (his only close family) across the world to Vietnam. After 14 or more years of weekly trips from Baltimore to DC (he began them when my mother became pregnant with me), how great a change – and loss – that must have been for him!

I wonder – but obviously have no one to ask – why my parents didn’t bring him with us? Perhaps it was discussed and he refused? More likely, I’m afraid, my mother determined that she “didn’t want the responsibility” as that was her standard reply with which to block everything from my having friends for a sleep over, to helping host visiting dignitaries whom it was my father’s job to entertain. Blessedly it was also her response when Grampa needed nursing home care, so that I got to have him close to me for those precious last 18 months of his life. We went for so many lovely walks, in our talks, during my on-my-way-home-from-work visits with him!

Because life in his natal village had gone virtually unchanged for centuries before he left it, his awareness bridged nearly 300 years. Thus, we talk-walked streets of the 1700s in Russia as readily as those of Santa Fe in 1975. He shared the concern of many, that our technological skills so far exceed our ethical advances. “Will we now bring war to the moon?” was his question after that one giant step for mankind.

Grampa’s dental cabinet, filled with a fragile, gaily decorated porcelain tea service from Vietnam, sits in my Sapello home. I use his magnifying glass when I need stronger eyes. The guitar provides music from many cultures, when I entertain students from the United World College. I pick my written words with care, respecting the importance he gave to nuances of meaning.

My Grampa started me reading about a walk through a forest to meet different animals. He continues to guide me on my walk through life, meeting its varied challenges. Some of that guidance arises from one of the last things Grampa said to me, shortly before he died. I’d asked if he had his life to live over, what he might have done differently. His answer was that he had only two regrets. The first was that he thought perhaps my mother might have been a happier person if he had remarried (he raised her on his own), but he’d never found the right woman. The second was that he wished he’d learned to play the mandolin. No wonder he supported my learning the guitar!

However long my own life walk turns out to be, I hope that when it ends, I will have as few regrets as my Grampa did. With his gifts surrounding me, and his ethics a part of me, I have every reason to succeed.

World Enough and Time

May 25, 2020

The wear and tear of time, plus assorted horse and motor vehicle accidents and a couple slip and falls have collectively resulted in a task of aging. More of my time than I wish had been needed over the past 18 months has been spent sorting out the causes of a variety of body pains, the triggers that set them off, and what treatments can reduce the pain to livable without creating new and different health problems. Along the way I verified the now-scientifically-proven hypothesis that ups and downs of the barometer are felt in the joints in advance of the visible weather changes they herald. I succeeded in identifying a sluggish gallbladder that the tests my doctor ordered merely confirmed. I’ve adopted some preventive herbals treatments and now have a few that have proven effective when different types of pain become too strong to ignore.

So I’m about as settled into effective symptom management as I expect is possible. And trying at the same time to settle into accepting that I can only respond to, not control, the variables, so will always have to be flexible in facing what each day presents.

All of which activity I now find may have had a different ultimate purpose than the obvious one of helping me become more comfortable in my daily activities. The detecting involved is now being called upon for quite another challenge. I want to sort out what underlies the so far inexplicable fluctuation in egg production from my small flock of hens.

Some of the variables – weather in particular – are probably the same as those that affect my pain levels. Cold and damp are not helpful. High wind is also probably as disturbing to the ladies as it is to my joints. But other potential factors are unique to the flock and as yet unidentified by me. I’m considering their amount of food (type also) and access to water in the small bowl they prefer (the bigger one that assures they do not go without is consistently shunned). I try to note whether our protective dog has been barking more – or less – at the variety of four legged visitors who pass nearby. Is she engaged with running off stray dogs who can be considered a threat by the hens , or merely alerting that the neighbor’s cows are in an adjacent pasture? Might there be a snake or a passing skunk disturbing them? Are some of them, like me, just feeling the aches and fatigue of age? I know there is one that must be recovering from the exquisite pain of laying the largest double yolk egg I have ever seen!

Two of the hens have gone broody, despite not having a rooster around to impregnate them. They will, I trust, resume laying when they fail in their attempts to hatch sterile eggs. Will they be challenged into more consistent production by the presence of 5 new flock members, including a young rooster? Or will they instead divert their energy to the establishment of a new pecking order with the youngsters put in their bottom-of-the-pole place?

Without access to comprehensible feedback, such as my own body gave me, I question whether I will ever have answers that enable me to reliably collect eggs from everyone each day. No matter – puzzling my way through the variables is a good distraction from equally unanswerable questions about what lies ahead for us all as we move on into the changing world we are glimpsing. As often as I have heard, and have quoted to myself, that the only certainty is change, my mind continues to try to find answers – certainty – in complex situations which defy resolution. Undoubtedly that is why I relax at night with crossword puzzles and Free Cell. Solvable challenges, with set answers.

That same mind that likes order and seeks connections recently made me aware of a list of seemingly unconnected situations. Green ice in the Antarctic, shrinking of the polar caps, bark beetle devastation of forests in the southern Rockies, insect destruction of olive groves in France and Italy, more frequent and more fierce storms of all types all around the globe, non-seasonal temperature extremes setting ever new records, spread of hostile insects like the killer bees into environments where they have not previously been known, and of course now the worldwide spread of virulent new virus-based illnesses. A quick and easy answer is “climate change” if the question is “what is the cause of all these negatives?” 

But when the question is “what is the solution?” no such single simple answer presents itself. 

Nor is there a single simple answer to my questions about how I will adapt to a recently changed pattern in my personal life, a change that is still evolving, with key decisions yet to be made. In past years my life circumstances enforced the learning of patience – waiting for the time to be right for significant alteration in employment, companionship and other facets of daily life. Now I seem to be facing the opposite lesson. Or maybe just a different facet of patience – learning to step back and observe fast moving changes without feeling I have to act or “figure it all out.”

Just as I am unlikely to sort out all the influences on my chickens’ egg laying propensities, and I know I don’t have many answers to the multitude of manifestations of change in the environment; just as I know my scope of action in our tormented civil (uncivil) society is limited to what I can do in my immediate surroundings; so too I need to remind myself daily that my mind is not in charge of finding answers to my personal challenges. Those require detachment, patience, observation and tolerance of uncertainty.

The way forward for me personally, and for the larger society as well, will show itself in due time.

Who knows, maybe I’ll also be gifted with an insight that turns my poultry yard into the most prolific egg production unit in the region. Wouldn’t that be fun!

The New Reality

March 29, 2020

Being already a “work from home” employee, the stay at home order keeping us safe in New Mexico is not as severe a change for me as it is for those used to clustering in an office. The most engaging part of my job – visiting clients in their homes to complete assessments of their needs – has been altered to over-the-phone sessions which are challenging and, from my perspective and the feedback I’ve received, notably less satisfying to both parties. Not comfortable for me, a person who never learned to “hang on the phone” as a teenager, but a small price to pay for the general increase in health safety for me and my clients.

What is considerably less easy to accommodate is the withdrawal of almost all the support system that I rely on to keep my energy up and my own health assured. 

Last month, due to three successive weeks of snow storms on my scheduled appointment day, I repeatedly missed an acupuncture treatment and my overall health dipped noticeably. My provider wasn’t happy that I seem unable to maintain function without a weekly treatment. I can understand his view – but I hope I helped him feel better when I likened the weekly treatments, that I seem to be dependent on, to a person reliant on an oxygen concentrator. Without it they lose energy and fade, with it they can maintain a normal active life.

Under New Mexico’s fairly strict stay-at-home guidelines, I no longer have access to acupuncture. At the same time, the pressures of my work have doubled, as I not only have the normal load of assessments and contacts with my caseload to complete, but also have to help frail and dependent people meet their non-medical, every day needs despite the general shut down of almost all businesses and transportation.

Reading about the run on hair dye because beauty salons have closed, or the ongoing discussions of how to entertain and/or educate children at home from school, I am well aware of how many adjustments everyone (almost everyone – unbelievably there are still some who persist in disregarding the threat we all face) is having to make, and how difficult most of us find it to make major adjustments of any kind on short notice.

I was scheduled for a haircut two days after my state shut us all indoors. Many many years ago, I cut my own hair. If need be, I suppose I will do so again. Looking shaggy and slightly unkempt is perhaps not good for my emotional well being, but it is not on a par with adapting to going without acupuncture treatments. 

I have, like everyone, a list of the negatives of being limited to home except for accessing “vital” functions like groceries. But I am also listing the positives of living how and where I do – easy access to safe outdoor exercise, for example. I merely have to step outside my house and walk to the mailbox (a quarter mile by the time I go there and back), feed the chickens, hunt for where one aggravating hen has decided to lay hers hidden away from the usual places the rest favor, or follow my dog across our several acres as she chases cottontails.

Living comparatively remotely, in an area where electrical failures are not uncommon, I am habituated to keeping stocked with nonperishables. Working in health care, I keep a supply of cleansers that I routinely use after member visits. Thus I have not been caught short in the face of suddenly empty store shelves. My diet is perhaps not as varied as I would prefer, but I will not go hungry. 

After living the proverbial paycheck to paycheck for almost all my working life I am, better late than never, a little more comfortable. Enough so as not to worry about meeting my bills even if my spouse should be furloughed for some portion of the economic pause the nation is now experiencing. My plans to retire by mid-late summer are probably going to be scrapped, but they were not yet firmly in place. For now, although it is stressful and fatiguing, having the work to do is also rewarding. With so many usual outlets closed off, it is good to be able to still feel useful.

Pertinent to usual outlets – I am aware of wanting to help my favorite local restaurants to survive by supporting their take-out order processes now in place, but realize that my enjoyment of an occasional meal there has rarely been about the food. What I value is the “going out to eat”, being served in an atmosphere different from home. Bringing take out home does not satisfy that desire for change – and I enjoy cooking enough that replacing my own meal with a brought in one is of little benefit. If I can help the restaurant survive, though, I am doing something positive for my neighbors and community.

The reality of voluntary seclusion (or mandated seclusion in an increasing number of locations) is bringing out a new awareness of variations in level of trust in relationships that, at least for me, would not likely have come to mind otherwise. I tend to take people as they present themselves unless or until something significant exposes that they are not what they seem. This quality of not judging has been beneficial in my employment, enabling me to obtain cooperation from diverse clients whom others have found too difficult to work with.  Now however, circumstances have led me to reconsider even relatively close relationships, as I assess if I trust someone else enough to have them into my home, or me to go into theirs. Do they have an appropriate level of conscientiousness about hygiene to assure my safety? How do I balance the importance to mental health of occasional social contact with the equally important need to protect physical health?

That latter question is not so unlike the national challenge of balancing health of the population and health of the nation’s economy. Trade offs of all sorts are bringing to the fore our very varied senses of morality, ethics, and individual versus communal well-being. The only certainty is that we, both as individuals and as a society, will not come out unscathed nor unchanged.

May we all come out and have the opportunity to see what is altered, and in what ways!


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