Category Archives: Life Unscheduled

Rainy Days and Sundays

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The sun woke me early this morning. 

It’s always a welcome awakening. Shining through my east bedroom window the beam strikes the mirror (positioned to catch it) and light floods the entire room. For a few moments, I lay silent, letting the illumination fill me; it reaches into the shadowed corners of my psyche and I feel both hope and purpose propelling me to rise.

This morning, like most, I fed the cat, made my coffee and completed my morning devotionals, a changing mix including meditation, prayer, intentions, reading, and journaling. Now, I’m sitting in my quiet space and the clear sky has given way to gray clouds. I hear the sound of soft but steady rain and it evokes a different feeling than the sunrise, a calm sense of contentment and appreciation. I’m reassured that all I need is provided in balance, in light and dark, sunshine and rain, stars and moon in the black velvet night, joy and sorrow, growth and rest.

It’s not always so easy to remember this. Quiet mornings become busy days and the voices of doubt and fear speak louder to me than the silent proof all around me that the light always returns, the bounty of earth blooms every spring, that I live in a place and time where my needs are easily met, and my worries are mostly a foolish waste of my time in this life.

“But all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

~ Julian of Norwich

It’s sometimes difficult to wrap my brain around what the 14th-century holy woman intuited in her messages from the Saviour of her understanding, Jesus Christ. It’s not as simple as saying this too shall pass. I think more so it means that what we experience in our human existence as suffering—unmet need, loss, sorrow, pain, illness, and death, are as well in the fact of their existence as when they are overcome; all manner of things shall be well.

It’s from the sun and the rain that bounty grows, it’s from the adversity and the prosperity that we grow. All manner of things.

Each of us meets our metaphorical rainy days against the backdrop of our personal experience. I have buried four young men in our family, my step-son and three sons-in-law, the most recent just six months ago. The depth of that despair is now familiar to me and colors the lens of my perspective.

Friends wonder how I survive, how I go on. For some time, I thought I didn’t have a choice; the world goes on, the sun continues to rise every day, sometimes the rain falls. I am faced with the same challenges and triumphs I have encountered before, and will again in many guises.

But with such great loss, has come a gift of deeper insight. I now see that the joys and sorrow of life dress differently for everybody but are felt the same. I may be able to look at a mother who mourns the loss of a baby never held in her arms and know she cannot imagine the deeper sorrow of losing one she has known and watched grow, maybe to adulthood; it doesn’t matter because this is her greatest pain.

A parent or grandparent who has never stood at the graveside of a child they nurtured and protected, sees a future taken away by drug addiction or unwanted pregnancy, or debilitating illness or injury, and feels that loss as deeply. A spouse who cares for their dying partner, or one who watches, helpless as their marriage dies in divorce, each feel their pain as intensely.

Regardless of what measure they are dealt in, sorrow and joy are the two sides of the coin that is this life. They boil down to two known quantities—what am I afraid of, and what do I yearn for?

My fear of loss is great, it haunts me daily because I know how much more I could still lose, but the depth of that loss equally expands the boundaries of my yearning for joy, because I know how much more is still here within my reach.

A moment spent with my daughters in their otherwise busy lives, the mess of my grandchildren’s muddy boots in the entryway, the comfort of a warm cat sleeping in my lap, the light of the sun breaking through the clouds, all give me infinite joy. I have only to choose to embrace it.

That is how I go on, in sunshine or in shadow.


Have Garden Will Share

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Summer will reach its pinnacle shortly. In my perfect life, I would have this high summer weather every day—windows open, breeze blowing the curtains, occasional rainy days (or nights) to keep things green and growing.

But here it is, with summer near half gone, and I haven’t kept up the pace with all that needs doing. Until about five years ago, I had beautiful and meticulously tended gardens  of herbs, flowers, and vegetables happily commingling in my potager’s plot. Good medicine, from hands in the soil digging and planting, through tending the growth, to fragrant bouquets, healthy meals and medicinal tinctures and essences bottled and labeled. My gardens have been physical and spiritual sustenance.

Sadly, my gardens are now overgrown and choked with weeds. I feel more and more each day that I’m falling hopelessly behind. This year I’ve accepted, with much sorrow, that having offered me daily retreat for so long my once lovely gardens are now lost to me—I can’t keep up with the work of them.

I’m feeling my age.

Truth be told, many days I feel years beyond my age, mostly because of thyroid disease and chronic pain from spinal stenosis. I’m engaged in a daily struggle to keep these maladies from diminishing my life. This tale of infirmity isn’t my story, not the one I want to define me, at least.

Accepting the limitations that age or conditions put on living isn’t easy. Coming to terms with the fact that I will not be forever young and vital feels like defeat. Admitting that today is the best I will ever be and each tomorrow is a diminishing progression, even though in unnoticeable increments, is not an easy surrender.

Gone are the days when I could clean my house from top to bottom before noon, then run errands and still have the energy for dinner with friends or to attend an event. Now I’m lucky to clean two rooms at a time. When I’ve cycled through all of them by week’s end, it’s time to start at the beginning again.

The little acre yard carved out of the northern forest that I share with my better half and Gypsy Cat is getting harder to keep mowed and manicured. Shrubs are overgrown, dead tree limbs threaten to come crashing down, and the only grass we have is the crabby kind (a lot like me these days). Summer now stretches out as days stacked upon days of trying to make it all look good again (also a lot like me).

The garage, potting shed, and equipment barn have become our proverbial closets of shame, stuffed with our stuff—from things that would be useful to somebody but just not us, like bicycles and sports equipment, to life’s accumulation of cast offs that need to be sorted, donated or trashed.

When finally having all the things you worked so hard for becomes too much work, could owning less be the way to experience more? And is age really just a number only if you can pull off being younger than your years? Why does it feel so shameful to feel older than my number?

More importantly, would off-loading the unnecessary ballast accumulated over years of building a material life, add up to more years of living in the end?

Unless somebody willing to exchange work for a garden share comes knocking on my door, I’m about to find out.


Sunday Morning Coming Down

camera-514992_640It’s Sunday. The house is quiet in these early morning hours. I’m tucked away in my she-room, sipping fresh coffee. In summer, when the sun rises early enough to angle through the small window, it falls across the corner of the antique maple dresser I stripped down to the wood and then hand-rubbed with tung oil to reveal the grain.

The sun beam catches the glass of the framed mirror above the small chest of drawers and the room glows with the sweet promise of the season. Whispers fill my inner ear, I’ll bring you fragrant bouquets of roses and peonies. We’ll share lazy afternoons on the two-seater porch swing, and long nights tangled in the sheets when your body glistens from the heat of my touch. 

Oh, lover Summer, be still my heart.

Meanwhile, a friend shares a photo of her morning coffee at a sidewalk cafe in Paris and I feel a pang of envy for the life that got away.

I thought I’d journey to foreign places at this juncture in my life. I thought I’d sip coffee in a Paris Cafe, eat pasta alla Norma and visit the La Pescheria Market in Sicily, dip my toes in the Mediterranean, and drink Ouzo in Greece.

Alas, my husband’s health makes it extremely difficult to travel, and the stress of it when we do only worsens his conditions. He worries about getting where we need to be when we need to be there, with all the medical paraphernalia in tow and on board. But his concerns are that of a general running a campaign. I am the foot soldier with boots on the ground, carrying out the mission—and all the bags.

My travels worries are different. The possibility of a sudden crisis, even death, is something I live with every day. At home, or anywhere within the borders of the continental U.S., I know what to do.

With overseas travel, the thought of navigating unfamiliar territory and being unable to speak the language in an emergency makes it quite a different prospect. I worry about hospitals and transports if his heart, his burdened lungs, and his blood sugar all conspire to attack, deflate, and spike or plummet at the same time. I worry about simply getting us both back home if he dies.

Even when I imagine the best possible outcomes, I still see barriers everywhere. He won’t be walking along the ocean’s edge with me, strolling the maze of cobbled streets in historic cities, or climbing the stone steps of seaside villages, ancient ruins, or soaring cathedrals.

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It seems rather a lot of work, worry and expense just for me to spend most of my time in hotel rooms and sidewalk cafes, even if they are quintessentially European. Sure, I may be able to savor an authentic croissant with my French Coffee or wash down a plate of good Italian pasta with a goblet of chianti, but is it really worth all that?

The heart wants what the heart wants, and despite knowing the reality, considering my husband’s limitations, would be disappointing at best, my heart still aches for this unrequited encounter. Friends tell me to go without him. He tells me to go without him—lot’s of women do it.

We made these plans in a time when we thought we’d both be strong and healthy forever, or at least until we were, you know, really old. My husband has been to Europe, as a soldier, and numerous times after that. Our dream was to go together, to share the beauty and wonder with each other.

I have traveled without him since we married, though on a smaller scale. It only exchanges one ache in my heart for another, the longing for him to be at my side sharing the moments that photographs can’t capture. It casts a pall of loneliness.

My friend is traveling alone with others—sans husband. When she returns home he won’t be there to greet her; he died before they could share this time of their life.

One heartache for another.

 


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