Hope

Joy. Contentment. We are built with an amazing ability to experience these at any time. In times of strife, during suffering, and even in pain, people throughout history have attested to this truth. Paul the Apostle wrote about it from jail. In prison with a death sentence over his head, he wrote what would later become books within the Bible. He wrote letters of encouragement to Christians. He wrote that to live was “gain” and yet to die was also “gain.” He did not fear death because he believed that he would live eternally with God. And so he gave of himself in a way that he could…through letters.

Viktor Frankl, a Jewish psychiatrist helped fellow prisoners in the concentration camp he was imprisoned in; he encouraged them, counseled them, inspired them and remained hopeful. After he was released he wrote about his experiences in A Man’s Search For Meaning, an inspirational book even today. Corrie ten Boom helped other women and shared her meager vitamin drops in the concentration camp she was in during the Holocaust, and wrote about her experiences later in a very inspirational, now classic book, The Hiding Place.

Can we learn something from these people which we can apply to our present time? The Covid-19 virus has taken many lives. For those of us trying to stay well, especially for those who are most susceptible, it is frightening. The state of our world or our country may seem crazy, and some may be having trouble maintaining hope for the future.

Contentedness is not ignorance, nor is it impotence. In the realities of life and the knowledge of the same, we are called to act–to help–to make changes according to our abilities and talents. One of my friends who is a college professor is truly and rightfully concerned for students, for her own children and future grandchildren. She is devising novel ways to teach during this time in which on-campus admissions are declining and online students are increasing. This is extremely stressful for educators yet she is modeling resourcefulness, good citizenship and activism.

It is easy to lose hope, but we must fight against that. A psychologist friend told me a story which he would relate to illustrate hope: A man was given one last match in a pitch-black room. Not knowing what else was in that room, his fear and hopelessness told him it could be dangerous if there were something flammable in the room. If there was nothing then what was the point? He argued with himself and finally decided that if it were perhaps the last light he would see, then so be it. He lit the match. In those few precious seconds of illumination he saw that the room was empty, save for two things– a flashlight and a door. He got out. Had he given in to despair he might not have escaped.

Last winter I made the trip of a lifetime. I traveled in the UK with my daughter, and it was incredible. In a sense this is puzzling because at the same time I was scared half to death as I was driving the twisty, narrow 60 mph roads with more roundabouts than I ever want to see again. With white knuckles I chastised myself for thinking I could ever drive over there, and felt as though I would ruin the trip because of it. Not only that, but one of my sons was hospitalized while I was on the plane flying to London. Upon landing I learned of it. My husband insisted I not come home, that he could handle everything. I wondered if I was a bad mother, and if my worrying would ruin the holiday. I plowed through the worry, and of my fear of having an accident (especially because a huge news story at that time was of an American woman who tragically hit and killed a British citizen). Yes, it is puzzling, that I now look on those weeks as wonderful and life-changing.

It may be easier for those who have a joyous life event going on now to distract them…a new baby, a new love relationship, a successful job. I have written before that in dark moments the best thing we can do is the next right or good thing in front of us…even if it is doing a load of laundry, or washing the dishes, or sweeping a floor. The next right thing will then present itself. That next moment may show the way or illuminate the hope that is truly there.

Throughout human history there have been tragic and difficult times. Mothers for centuries have worried for their children and the future. Keep striving…not so much with the goal or end in sight, but for the sake of forward motion…for the journey…for the moments…the marvelous, complicated, painful, miraculous, stressful, painful, beautiful, blessed and joyful ones. They are all there. One day life will be at an end, that is sure for every one of us. So speak kindly, give generously, offer help. Therein lie contentment and joy.

As If

Early television commercials are both interesting and humorous. Interesting, in that they show us how people dressed in those days, how they thought, what was funny to them and what were serious topics. The commercials are sometimes humorous, because they seem “corny” and old-fashioned. Some of the norms and mores have certainly changed.

The phrase “woman of the house” makes some cringe nowadays. There she was in a dress doing her housework, pearls around her neck, sending junior and little sister off to school. The 1950s kitchens were floored with colorful linoleum and the counters were edged with chrome. The 1970s kitchens appliance colors changed from a rusty brown to avocado green and harvest gold.

We were promised in the 1950s by Westinghouse that the latest refrigerators, washing machines and other appliances would make life infinitely easier and we would have so much leisure time in the future–(sigh)–as if it were true.

Has technology made life easier? In some ways, yes, very much so. From my professional standpoint as a nurse, radiology reports can be read in minutes by a radiologist miles away from the hospital, EKGs give an immediate general interpretation, documentation is not only faster but also keeps patients safer when medications are administered and accounted for. There are positive aspects that each of us from our different professions and walks of life can rattle off in just a few minutes. But has the promise of increased leisure time come true? Is life itself easier?

From the standpoint of a physical laborer, work has eased with newer heavy equipment or robotic factory equipment. But is that person vacationing more? I think many have been forced to look for more employment. I’m not implying that new appliances, equipment and technology are bad, no. Amazing advances open up great possibilities. We just can’t ignore the negative potentialities.

Computers and the internet connect the world easier and faster, yet they also bring an enormous amount of data into our brains. In many ways our culture is on overload. Watching recent events on televised news or reading about them in electronic bytes makes me wonder if human kind is devolving. De-evolution–is that even a word? Isn’t that what brought down ancient “advanced” civilizations?

The children’s movie Wall-E presents a picture of humanity that has advanced beyond its ability to take care of itself, the people incredibly unhealthy, floating around obese in their hover-loungers. Not even interacting face-to-face with those beside them they stare forward always on their holographic computer screens. The 1970s movies Soylent Green and The Planet of The Apes portrayed the world after humankind pretty much destroyed it.

We need to think about such things (minus worrying about talking Apes) in order to avoid devastating mistakes. Many people are panicking these days or at least hopeless, but we each have a choice to give up or to focus this day on a step in the right direction. One tiny step informs the next step when we feel stalled or afraid. Those battling chronic, debilitating pain take a day at a time; goodness, some a minute at a time. They know what I am getting at here. And caretakers will also, as they go one meal at a time, one treatment…it can seem pointless, yet it is not. The journey is key.

How did Victor Frankl, Corrie ten Boom, Maximilian Kolbe, Harriet Tubman, prisoners and slaves get through their tragic circumstances? The first three infused great hope in their concentration camp fellow prisoners, and Harriet Tubman escaped slavery to go on to help thousands of other slaves escape with the Underground Railroad. In the movie Freedom the elderly Adira remains positive, hopeful and inspirational in her family’s escape from slavery, despite living through and witnessing the most horrible events in her life. How did these people do it? How did Mother Teresa remain hopeful in a place where the infirm and old and lower castes were treated worse than dogs? Did she become incensed and complain and raise her fist? No, she did what she could with her unique gifts and helped one person at a time.

Hopelessness. We will all feel it from time to time, but we must not give in. We must find that next right thing to do, as if the battle has already been won.

Power in Choice

Humanity has weathered difficult and tragic times throughout history. During each period of unrest the word unprecedented could have been used. What can we learn about endurance from those past events?

My husband has used the phrase “This, too, shall pass.” He does not mean to discount the suffering involved (it is usually in response to a lament of mine); rather, he implies that there is hope ahead. These times will pass. What many are afraid of is how the future will be affected.

I know good people who are so caught up in one theory or another that hints of conspiracy–or is rife with it. There are many theories out there, but do they actually offer help, or do they simply present a narrative by which to interpret or make sense of what is going on? Preppers are prepping and reclusives are reclusing. Social media is blowing up with nastiness. There seems more an epidemic of fear than a pandemic of virus. And where does it get us?

I do believe in educating oneself and in ferreting out truth. It must be taken into account that facts will change according to research, time, and increased data, and thus a flexible outlook is wise. I explain to my children that each person on a proverbial bus may have a different map or smart device to determine which way to go, but this may or may not influence the bus driver. There are more civil ways to convince him of a better route than belittling him, yelling, running up to the front of the bus and grabbing the wheel. The latter causes more potential damage and a possibly crashed bus, than a wrong turn might.

How do we deal with the fear?

In college we learned about Erickson’s psychosocial stages of development . There are stages in life through which we progress and a key developmental task ideally attained in each. That task is named with its alternative as “x versus y.” In infancy the task is “trust vs mistrust,” and in adolescence the task is “identity vs role confusion.” I look at what we are experiencing in the world through the eyes of an adult, and the current task I face is “generativity vs stagnation.” When I am elderly, the task will become “integrity vs despair.” Of course this is all psychological theory, meant to be a framework for describing and understanding behavior; but I believe it can point the way for healthy behavior in this time of social distancing and changing policies.

In order to work through this time of isolation and avoid fear, it may be healthy to back off of social media that only serves to upset oneself. Certain sites or upsetting people can be “snoozed” or blocked. News can be learned from alternative sources. The flow of information can become more reasonable. Instead, phone calls, emails or even snail-mail letters can be written in order to stay connected.

Generativity means that we create, generate, or accomplish something. Many who are unable to work or do what normally occupies their time must reflect on what they can apply themselves to here and now. One friend of mine has painted her house, another refinished furniture, and other has embroidered artwork for her relations. An elderly friend has enjoyed going through boxes of old letters and has, little by little, organized her garage. Still other friends who own cows or horses have continued feeding, caring for and exercising their animals. Some have found ways to donate time and money to charitable organizations. I have planted so many flowers in our garden that my husband who lovingly waters them has asked me to stop. Though actors have been unable to act and produce plays and movies, I will wager that authors and screenwriters are prolific with all of this time. Each of us has desires and talents and so these activities will look different from one to another.

Reflection, writing, journaling, meditating, painting, praying…these keep us positively generating and maintaining integrity. Ruminating, complaining, lashing out…these do the opposite and stagnate us, causing despair.

These times will indeed pass. We will either be fortified or we will be weakened. In this we have the power of choice.

Everything’s Coming Up…

It was blazing hot a couple of days ago. I am fair and red-haired and I sometimes quip that my blood is “Nordic” to emphasize the degree to which I burn to a crisp in the sun.

My reaction when it goes over 75 degrees outside…

Genetically I have no choice, even with sunscreen. I do better in cold. I get a great dose of Vitamin D in one shimmering ray through a window, and have never been affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder. My husband and children tan darkly, and they can tolerate the sun and heat well. They enjoy the beach while I sit covered by an umbrella, book in hand.

I love physical work and have always been happy doing farm chores, especially cleaning out and organizing barns. Without a barn now, and feeling the restlessness of being inside, I uncharacteristically braved the 90+ degree heat and dug a new flower bed. Not necessarily the wisest thing to do with a bad back, but I am stubborn at times. One of my teen sons did help when I asked.

The bed is to be home for the rose bushes I ordered online. I found Heirloom Roses when googling “Julia Child” after watching the movie Julie & Julia. Not expecting to see a rose in the images, I found a huge yellow bloom named after the iconic chef. So I ordered one Julia Child and one Queen Anisette. The latter is a beautiful cream and peach colored blossom. I held a bouquet of similar roses when I walked up the aisle to wed my late husband. They are my favorite. I also ordered a beautiful red rosebush called “Because She Served.” It will come with a memorial stake in the name of my friend Barb who served in the Army, and who passed away from cancer after an heroic battle. When I plant it, the red blooms will face the residence that she and her family once lived in. I will think of her often.

Because She Served

I turned the soil against the 1901-built house and unearthed a few antique bricks. I’ll use them to line the bed. The soil was soft and obviously augmented in the past with peat. It was easy to turn. After about 20 minutes the sun on my back was hot and I began to perspire. I started the job thinking I’d just mark the border, but then I dug out a corner, then another…then evened up the line–okay, one more spadeful, just to level it. My approach was similar to sneaking slices of cake as a child, firming up the line, then taking just another bit and evening it up again.

In less than one steamy hour, with water breaks, the garden was dug and I was looking forward to cooling off. I rounded the front of the house, however, and there was the first shipment roses sitting on the porch. What timing! They could not wait to be planted. In another hour they were in and watered. I skipped the “well-aged manure” step in the directions and felt the irony that up until that very morning I owned tons of the stuff. I could have driven to the farm to get some if it were yesterday. I drew the line at pulling up the lane to ask the new owner if I could please have some manure from behind the barn. So…

“Sorry Julia,…Sorry Your Majesty, I do hope you will nourish your roots amidst a century of brick shards and composted other plants.”

This bed was created on the day of the closing of our family farm. It was on the market for a very long time due to how uncommon a property; how many other 30 acre former Benedictine Monasteries are there in the states? We had hoped that it’s uniqueness would cause a faster sale, and in order to be prepared we moved when we listed, and enrolled the children in a fantastic school system. We understood the possibility that we would have to move back if it did not sell. Well, we do not have to move back, and we are happy in knowing that it will be cared for by whom it was intended all along. The sale of a home is high on the list of life-stressors. We can relax now, and like these beautiful new roses, put down our own roots.

If not everything at least some aspects of our lives, like this garden, will surely be coming up roses! Keep an eye out for your “roses,” and pause from the worry and the frenetic pace of life to breathe in their fragrance.

Grief Personified, Hope Enduring

The Abbey Farm, my earlier blog, was about the wonderful experience of living in a former Benedictine Monastery and raising our children. “Busy” was an understatement, and of course there were challenges, but it was a lived dream. Our sale closes today and we are excited that the new owners are yet another large family who will live out their dreams there. The wife and mother is a gracious and generous soul who intuitively asked if I was dealing well with the emotional aspect of selling. Yes, I am. What I have realized is that it is a process. For myself more than my husband, it involves grief.

I was the Mom who managed the place, paid the bills and raised the kids. I was home more of the time because he spent hours at work each day. He is more a renaissance man than any other I know and he gave more than his fair share. I’m just “feeling it” more, and try as he might to understand me, how could he if I have trouble understanding myself?

Looking back now, I see how friends have lived their lives expecting too much of their spouse or partner. In this age of equality we forget that there are not just differences in gender (we have biological differences unique to each of us), but differences in personality and ability. Perhaps some relationships can’t be 50-50 in certain areas. I was always told to strive for 100-100! Yet, think about it; one person’s 100% may not be enough to perform 50% of the work. In illness, they may offer far less. Those who have nursed a partner through cancer realize that their loved one can only lend a fraction of a percentage to the “50-50.” Life does not conform to neat equations.

My sister-in-law is one of the most self-actualized persons I know. When dealing with grief she learned a technique to anthropomorphize grief–to think of it as a person. First, identify the feeling that the grief evokes, and where it is felt in your body. Then imagine that you are the friend to that grief “person.” You do not need to reason away the feelings or say the right thing, as many well-meaning friends want to do, but just to “be” with them. I tried this and found myself able to separate from confused feelings and “be” with my grief. I saw more clearly that time would help this “friend.” I sat with “her” and when I needed to tend to a task in the house, instead of feeling overwhelmed, I let her know that I would be back. The day went on, life went on, and I was able to be productive. My mood lifted.

I realized that it was not so important to get my husband to understand exactly how I felt. In fact, it was better for me to do this work on my own. This morning I had an image of that work and it became a parable of sorts:

When we are young adults we may have less experience, but we usually have more strength and perhaps more raw material to work with. We lack wisdom and experience, but we construct a life quickly. With good intent, these are built swiftly to meet our immediate needs. I pictured this life as an abode. We are the builder-tenants. Winds blow, pieces fall off, and repairs must be made regularly. After a few years, what was once a simple, lithe dwelling becomes tacked-on, patched and perhaps less attractive. But it is home and it is livable. Over time, it reacts to elements like wind and water, to attacks both natural and man-made.

In moments of calm the builder-tenant has a choice to grow, and may say, “This is what I have, it’s the best I can do at this point.” Any faults are easily hidden with paint and flowers which look more attractive but inside, the walls and floors may be on the verge of collapse at life’s inevitable, next assault. Another choice which could be made during the calm is to perform the difficult maintenance and repair work.

Decades of life bring on a havoc of their own, the inexorable wear-and-tear, and forces not anticipated. A tornado, a flood, or a sinkhole may threaten even a well-built structure. Heavy, relentless, back-breaking, seemingly thankless and unrewarded labor may require digging down to expose the weak foundation and to repair sections–or to completely rebuild. Labor may result in no outward change, yet that which is essential to the core strength of the abode.

Friends and family will ideally come to aid. If the builder has a partner who soothes with physical love and distraction, it is restorative. There is rest, and rest is important. Still, over time, it is the tenant who must accomplish the structural work needed by the building. Exhausted as he is, he rolls up his sleeves, reads manuals, contemplates, plans and executes. Little-by-little, the intensely hard work of fortification is done. A replaced beam, a sistered joist, waterproofing, rewiring, tuck-pointing, task by task he keeps on. He falls into bed at night spent, and awakens early to continue the process. He does not need an elegant edifice, and realizes that it is the process which is more important than the end result.

The “parable” is reflective of the work necessary in our own lives. Wonderful as all the external support we may be blessed with, and as hard as we strive to portray the person whom we wish others to see, the hardest work we have in our lives is our own to accomplish. It requires regular maintenance as well as repair. You may think, well, of course! But there are many who lean heavily on others, or who expect too much of them. I learned this when my late husband passed suddenly. Without his support, I needed to roll up my sleeves and get to work learning the things that needed to be done both physically and mentally. Even now with my amazing husband, I realize that this grief-work is mine to perform. It doesn’t mean he can’t be supportive–it is just that the grief is unique to me, and I must learn how to work it out.

I am not implying that we go things alone–there are times we need to visit the doctor or establish a relationship with a therapist. Certainly if dealing with protracted depression, or trauma or addictions one needs that expert help and support. I was, long ago, a nurse on an addictions unit and saw the grueling work it took on the part my patients. This same fortitude I later saw in my hospice patients and families. This work is accomplished step by step, inch by inch, sometimes seemingly futile and without end. It is in reality the furthest thing from futile.

When dealing with grief, think “Everything is permeable”.  Grief is permeable.  Moments will come that shift you away from the pain and turmoil.  Look for these moments of relief and notice them, live into them.

Sylvia Boorstein

There will be gains made and relief in which to rest. More important than the destination is the journey. At the same time, we try to offer support to our loved ones, as they perform their unique life’s work.

Excellent guest that He is, the Spirit finds you empty and fills you; he finds you hungry and thirsty and satisfies you abundantly. God the Holy Spirit, Who comes from God, when He enters into people, draws them to the love of God and neighbor. Indeed, He is love itself.

Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 225, 4

Wisdom, work ethic, faith, hope, trust and love: these are the things that last, that go with us. They live on in the memories of those who remain after us. There is hope in the next phase of life. Strive to look back in gratitude, and forward in grace.

Better There

The loss of a loved one can really only be fully comprehended if you have gone through it. Even well-meaning folk do not know what to say. Those of us who have suffered tragic loss know that they don’t have to say anything–just be near, give a hug, or tell you that they are thinking of you, keeping in touch, available in case of any need.

I have known suffering souls who felt no other recourse in life but to end their lives prematurely. One friend tragically left her husband, two boys and all who loved her. A loving and decorated war hero left his children and his Mom and Dad shockingly bereft. Another kind soul, an Army Major succumbed, leaving his wife and children, family and friends. They were each people you would have loved to know. Fascinating, warm, inspiring, but their internal pain was agonizing, and too much to bear. But they underestimated the grief, despair and devastation that their final actions would wreak, and the life-changing, excruciating holes left behind in their loved ones’ lives.

I wrote this for my friends left behind.

Better There

I know,
Our eventuality, each soul,
But prematurely, by their own hand?
Too much to bear
And I wear it

Daily

Can you see? It is me
Walking Pain.
Behind the convincing smile that I am alright
Though in truth not fully,
Until I am with my loved one again


Few
None?
Can escape loss.
But prematurely, by their own hand?
Dimensions painful beyond imagination

One more step, one more step
One more smile, one more day
Traversing the dark tar pit of pain.
Full of questions and remorse
And memories.
Molten innocence turned torture

One more step, one more step
I go, Lord, I keep going
I must reach the other side
Must “be” for others, for You.
For now, however long, despite the burning
Despite the scars that form
In an effort to numb the next step
That will make it possible


It is for You, for others
That I push on
Bearing this pain
This must be enough for now

You will be my strength, give me grace
Until in Your time
I too will be
Better there

…Over Fear

So much of social media is upsetting these days due to unprecedented events, diverse views and political divisiveness. Many decide to take breaks from it, or choose more private options with close friends and loved ones. For some, diverse views are intriguing; I fall into that category to a certain extent. When there is time, I will watch videos and read news articles with different views from mine.

An anthropology course in college led to a switch in majors to Nursing. My nursing theoretical framework or philosophy is one that is inclusive of cultural sensitivity. In order for best-care and outcomes, the patient must be the center of the health care team, their lives and desires informing the decision-making process and treatment. We need to know our patients as best we can, to know what their background is, what informs their worldview. Obviously, there is less time to do this in emergent and urgent care situations. Interest in the person as an individual, a family member, a member of the cultural or societal groups to which they belong, fuels my desire to understand and care.

Recently, a few friends sent me current event videos that were upsetting to them. I watched them. I could see how they could be unsettling and cross-researched them. One friend may have made inference to end-times narratives. A neighbor walking past the house yesterday, called out in a greeting to me that things will never be the same.

The world seems so fearful, yet has the world ever remained “the same?”

As a young person I read The Hiding Place, The Diary of Anne Frank, To Kill A Mockingbird, and the story of Job in the Bible. I distinctly remember feeling so lucky that humanity was past all that, and certainly I would never suffer such events. Later I read Roots, ‘Tis, The Color of Water, and Left to Tell. As a military wife I met the foreign officers from other countries including Iraq in the early 2000s. People had stories so profound and current, how could they not shape one’s worldview, one’s opinion of humanity? The truth is that there have been tragedies, calamities, wars, and holocausts throughout history to the present. I was lucky to be shielded–for a time. I suppose some are for their entire lives but that is really not the norm.

Today we see and hear so much, so fast. Another post may be on the detrimental effects of social media toward our youth, but this will wrap up with words of hope.

Humanity has survived. For every Hitler there is a Mother Teresa. Humanity has goodness at its core. Though the human condition includes selfishness, fear, desperation, and the devastatingly evil acts that can come from them, most of us want what is healthy and good for ourselves and others.

Try to understand why someone has a different viewpoint from your own, or just be okay that they do. In disagreements disentangle the knots of difference to the place of agreement.

In regard to end times, I learned when my young husband who was in the middle of doing what was so very good for the world died suddenly, that each of us is in our own end time. None of us knows when this day will be our last. Do what is right today, even if it seems inconsequential.These things will look different for each of us. Not all are called to writing senators or participating in marches, but if that is your strength, then do it. For others, small acts like gently brushing your daughter’s hair, speaking kindly to a co-worker, smiling on the phone with an irritated customer can be just as world-changing.

George Elliott concluded her novel Middlemarch in regard to humble heroine Dorothea:

“Her full nature, like that river of which Cyrus broke the strength, spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

Mother Teresa said it so well, to do “small things with great love.” Each of us has gifts that the world needs in tiny unseen ways as well as grand. Treat others as you would have them treat you. Strive to choose love and hope over fear.