Archive | January, 2011

Postcards from the Burg

24 Jan

When I was a little girl I always cried when my dad’s parents dropped me off at the airport after I spent a few weeks with them in the summer. I was enamored with the smell of bacon and coffee every morning at their house and that Grandma sat with Grandpa during breakfast before he went to work.

When I was a teenager, I’d tear up a little bit as well knowing that my grandmother’s house (she was a widow by then) provided me a type of stability I wasn’t receiving at home, as each of my parents succumbed to addiction.

I remember writing an essay about my grandmother when assigned to write about a woman I most admired. Even at a young age, I knew my grandmother was unique. Fiercely intelligent, she made all the financial investments in her marriage and always told me it was important for a woman to have her own identity, even if she was introduced by her husband’s full name. Although raised on a farm, she longed to go to attend college so at eighteen, she broke tradition and went to the University of Wisconsin at Madison. And always political, she was a delegate to the Republican national convention (here we differ) and chairman of the Republicans in her county. She could roll up her sleeves and garden for hours and afterwards can vegetables and make homemade jam or applesauce. And then there was the side of her that dressed up to play bridge or knit while watching football. She was my idol.

At 91, my grandmother is still as sharp as a tack. “Your grandmother is too smart for her own good,” a woman said to me while I was visiting my grandmother’s church. She still drives, walks every day and bakes cookies and pies for neighbors. Her eye sight is better than mine and she has more energy than me. But each time I visit her in Virginia, I am painfully aware that it could be the last time I see her. Because at 91, one doesn’t have forever. There will be a final visit. The last time we watch a Packer game or the Badgers together (we’re from Wisconsin) or walk around colonial Williamsburg together.

While in a store the other day, a woman stopped my grandmother, aunt and I and said, “Am I looking at three generations here?” We nodded. “You are so lucky,” she said. Yes. We are. My grandmother has outlived both my parents and other grandparents. She is the strongest link I have to my history – the parts that were happy and wonderful.

When I visit, I also see my uncle (pictured below) who used to pick me up while singing, “One little, two little, three little princesses… When he’d get to ten, he’d throw me on the bed while I squealed with laughter and asked him to do it again.

Every time I visit my family, I cry straight through the church service we attend because I realize that I do indeed have a family, even if we’re all far away from each other.

I also realize that I am a princess. And my father is the king of kings.

Time Zone

22 Jan

I have been blessed to have travelled most of my life. My parents put me on a plane by myself when I was five years old to visit my grandparents and that started a trend. Travel is like acting. Once you get the bug, you can’t stop. It becomes a life style. No matter what your income, you find a way to go somewhere.

I am about to board a plane to visit my only remaining grandparent – Helen. I hear the folks in the bar talk about Green Bay being in the play offs, which makes me smile as I think, “My ninety-one year old grandma is still a Packer fan.” I don’t join in the conversation though. I sip my Chardonnay and keep to myself. Because traveling for me is an opportunity to be in a different time zone – a place in-between daily life and a deeper more ephemeral space. Sometimes I yuk it up with strangers but for the most part, as I traverse across time zones, I cross into an internal realm that allows me to step outside of my routine.

I think when we do this, we open up to new vistas.

I am about to board. Here’s to curling up in a window. Here’s to looking out at the stars and waking up to the sunrise. Here’s to coffee anda good book. And here’s to the magnificent life we’ve been given.

To Speak or Not to Speak, That is the Question

14 Jan

When I was in graduate school studying to be a therapist, my cohort of thirteen had to learn some important lessons about when to speak and when to listen – not just when dealing with clients in therapy but when in the classroom with each other! As is typical, our group consisted of talkers and non-talkers. Some of us had an opinion about everything and made sure to blurt out every thought ad nauseam while the other half politely (or passively) kept their opinions to themselves and sat there saying very little.

Eventually, WW111 broke out. The quiet half of the class accused the talkers (yes, I was in the loud-mouth group) of being aggressive, pushy and egotistical. Stunned at this apparent assault on our character, we told the quiet group, if they had something to say, they needed to say it instead of sitting like lumps in their chairs waiting for someone to hand them the microphone.

Breathe. Of course our discourse was much more polite than what I infer above. What actually ensued was a painful but beautiful process of self-discovery for everyone in the group. All of us had to look at our habitual roles within groups and see our flaws. And we each had to make subtle adjustments to accommodate for the other and to take responsibility for our contributions to the well being of the group. I learned to listen more and to speak less. I learned to let other people speak first and to consider more carefully what I did say while friends of mine who were more reticent verbally gained authority when they elected to speak. Consequently, our group became close and we all became better therapists in the process.

The group continued to struggle at times, particularly in theory oriented classes where thoughts can fire at the rate of pop corn popping. To be mindful of this, we started using a Zen bell which was rung periodically. When the bell sounded, everything stopped and a moment of silence ensued and we learned to not be so damned attached to our opinions.

I mention this because the other day I posted a quote from Obama’s address at the Arizona memorial where he urged Americans to use speech that heals vs. wounds and to practice more tolerance with one another. Prior, I have purposely avoided any political rhetoric or opinions on FB because I’ve seen how ugly people can get with it and I have never wanted to elicit that type of heat through my modest social networking. But I didn’t view Obama’s words as “political.” I found them inspirational – words that were spoken by the talking head of our country to unite vs. divide at a time of national tragedy. It makes no difference what political party I belong to or who I voted for – I found these words meaningful. They echoed a message of peace. I could have chosen the quote below by the Dalai Lama or something from the Bible but Obama’s words were in front of me, so I posted them.

The ultimate irony is that a simple quote about using healing words and practicing kindness created mud slinging all in the name of free speech and having the right to an opinion.

FB for me is a nice way to connect mostly with friends, family and acquaintances. I don’t have a thousand people in my network and I try to be discerning regarding who I accept as friends. If I’m going to duke out my thoughts, opinions and values, I tend to do that through a medium that lets me express myself more fully than one-liners or that demands I have the courage to engage with someone in person where I can read facial expressions, body language and work towards increased understanding. That is relationship and intimacy. That is the point of communication.

Yesterday, I didn’t take the bait and argue over the comments that flew on my post. I didn’t express my offense and hash it out with the primary poster as I don’t even know the individual that well and would rather have a meaningful conversation with the person if I see him – yes – at church of all places. Sadly, religion doesn’t always result in the message of the gospel.

So I end this post with a quote that I find meaningful YET there is no political agenda behind it. Instead, I find the words intelligent and their message one of peace. Maybe in the future if I quote famous people, I won’t give their names but then that is plagiarism – something else rampant in this country but addressing that can be reserved for another blog post.

“In contemporary life, humility is more important than ever. The more successful we become, both as individuals and as a family, through our development of science and technology, the more essential it becomes to preserve humility. For the greater our material achievements, the more vulnerable we become to pride and arrogance.” Dalai Lama

Only Now

2 Jan

I awoke this morning knowing that the surf report predicted “flat.” When it says that, this usually means there are no waves whatsoever. Chances are, you’ll drive down to the beach and the parking lot will be virtually empty. Flat = “unsurfable.” Yet every now and then, you get lucky and “flat” isn’t completely “flat.” Every now and then, you can catch something.

I’ve been in a foul mood for days. And I haven’t been in the ocean for days either. (I wonder if there is a correlation). There was no way I was going to start my 2011 with not surfing and yet I wondered: “Do I really want to fuss with putting my board on the car, suiting up in the freezing cold and getting down there and being all by myself?” Yet I knew that I needed to do this because what was the alternative? Sitting at home picking my nose?

The thing about surfing is that you never know what you’re going to get. You never know how the waves will be or who you’ll meet. And in this, it’s a great metaphor for life. If you never get wet, you can’t learn to swim. If you never get out there, your life can pass you by.

I went. And yes, it was sort of flat. As I stood in the parking lot looking semi-dismayed, a cute guy looked at me and said, “It could be worse. At least the sun is out.” Another guy looked at me and said, “It’s always worth getting in.”

I got in. And it was glorious. It felt more warm outside than it did in my house and I had nice conversations with complete strangers. And it wasn’t completely flat. A number of us caught some waves. My neighbor showed up (see photo above) – I get out of my clothes immediately and dress for snow conditions, whereas Amanda doesn’t seem phased by being wet in the middle of winter), as did some other people I know.

And once again, I am reminded of two things: 1) You have to do whatever keeps you well and for me, getting in water keeps me from being completely over the edge half the time and 2) you can’t wait around for conditions to be known or perfect. Sometimes you just have to get in the car and gamble as to what you’ll find.

We only have now and I’ll be damned if I let 2011 go by with me sitting around waiting for my life to happen. We only have now and no one is going to make my life happen for me. I have to show up and suit up!!!!!!