When I was a child and death or even disaster was to be spoken of, someone would say, “Not in front of the children.” The subject would be changed or I would be told to go off and play so the adults could continue their discussion. Yet because we had animals, death and change were part of my life. I witnessed the drowning of baby ducks and the demise of baby chicks. It was hard when a dog got into my pet rabbits’ pen and maimed them. My aunt’s gardener had to–as I was told, “put them out of their suffering.” Death was no stranger to my childhood. I am neither uncomfortable with it nor afraid of it.
Still, it does have an effect. The recent passing of a dear friend has brought a sense of immediacy to my relationships, and prompted a renewed sense of attention to my way of thinking about life. She and I used to speak each morning except Sundays. More than once I said to Stephen, “One day the phone will not ring at 9:30 every day.” Then indeed that day did come. While I miss my friend, I know she is in a much more comfortable and happy place than she has been for some time. Though I do miss her calls I also rejoice for her.
I am happy to have pleasant memories of our time together. That is the saving grace of partings. It is also a reminder to focus when I am with a dear one and to be present in order to have something to remember. More and more as I get older I have come to realize that endings come whether we want them to or not. We have no way of knowing whether or not any given conversation, meeting or interaction with another may be our last. I do not say this because I have a morbid fear of endings but rather as a reminder that any time we spend with another may be significant.
When we are children we have no understanding of how it is that things change or perhaps end. That ignorance may even be important to children’s comfort and sense of security. Most adults grow accustomed to change and learn to flow with it. It may be an aspect of maturity in human beings to be able to do that. In my life there have been many changes I could never have anticipated. Being able to adapt to them has been crucial to my happiness. Developing a sense of detachment to an anticipated condition of permanence has been not only valuable but also essential.
When I was a child, I could buy an ice cream cone for a nickel. Now even the smallest one costs 50 times that. The decor in my parents’ living room changed once in my memory. Today many people redecorate frequently. Then divorce was rare, people stayed at the same job for most of their lives, I could go on and on about how it used to be. My point is that change is more than ever a constant in most lives. For our comfort it is important to be able to deal with all forms of change, whether of décor or of circumstances. When I make the time to focus my attention and to appreciate what is happening, whether with a relationship or an experience, I have much less regret when it ends.
At the time I was born my mother was newly come to the US, a bride of less than a year. Except for my father, she was very much alone in a big city, and I was her only companion for quite a while. I have often thought that my persistently positive perspective on life may have had its roots in my trying to cheer her up when she was sad and missing her family and friends back in her home country. Over the years since I have come to understand the power of a positive perspective on a potentially negative situation or experience.
This has become essential to my work. When I tell people I am a writer, they often ask me what I write. If I say I write essays, it sounds as though I am writing from a scholarly point of view. If I say I do inspirational writing, it sounds as though I am coming from a religious perspective. In truth, what I am doing in my columns is to simply present a different or alternative point of view from that which some might take about any given situation or experience. I write to be helpful, but it is self help I write about. Helping others to help themselves is my intention and my goal.
There is little we can do about circumstances. Daily life presents us with issues and difficulties we must deal with. The school of experience is our ever-present teacher, one we cannot escape no matter what we do. I’ve often felt that maturity or adulthood truly begins when we’re willing to learn from this teacher rather than moan, groan and feel as though we are victims of fate, circumstance or those who might perpetrate it. It is a lot easier to complain than it is to “bite the bullet” and admit there might be something to learn from any given situation.
I believe the expression “bite the bullet” comes from battlefield medicine when in the days gone by the surgeon had to amputate or otherwise operate without anesthesia. After whiskey was poured liberally into the patient, a bullet was put between his jaws to bite down on as a way to keep from crying out. Whether this is actually true or not it makes a good metaphor. When our focus is put not on complaint or disappointment but on what can be gained from whatever is happening to us, coping becomes easier and wisdom more accessible.
In my own life right now I am dealing with a change in lifestyle and a need to take better care of myself. I have learned that much of what I used to take for granted, I no longer can. Exercise is not an option it is a necessity. I need to do additional work on my body to restore it to better working order. I could complain, or even bemoan my fate. Instead I rejoice that I now have a good way to lose weight, that I can become stronger and healthier with effort and that it is good and helpful to be made to do that. Therefore I bless these circumstances and state firmly that I am exceedingly grateful for them.
A wise teacher of mine once said, “The only constant in life is change.” This sounds like an oxymoron, or contradiction in terms, yet it surely has been true for me in my adult life. From the time I left home to be on my own I have had to embrace a sense of flexibility concerning my expectations. It may have helped that to begin with I grew up in New England where the weather can go from a shower to sunshine and back to a shower again in quick succession.
When I was a child I lived a protected life. Even the living room furniture stayed the same, as did the pictures on the walls. The people around me were the same also. Death was distant and spoken of only in whispers. There were no TV images of soldiers fighting and dying or talk of murders and fires. The war then was a distant rumble, its only evidence being the occasional blackouts’ and my dad in his air raid warden helmet roaming the neighborhood to warn of any light showing through the darkened windows of the inhabitants nearby.
When the war ended there was still not much difference in my life except for the packages my parents sent to their relatives overseas. They were stuffed with clothing and edibles that could travel, tied with bales of twine to keep them from being opened. This stable childhood did not really prepare me for the life of change I have lived as an adult. However, I have no quarrel with my experiences and quite to the contrary I believe they have benefited me in very tangible ways.
My first husband and I did quite a bit of traveling wile he fulfilled his army obligations as an ROTC student. We settled in one house only to find ourselves moving a number of times before our lives again settled down. To be sure, dealing with the energies and aptitudes of five children provided plenty of opportunities for unexpected adventures. As I approached my forties I felt confident that I knew exactly what was going to happen in my life. However, again my expectations were turned around and new adventures began.
After Stephen and I moved to Grafton and founded our center for inner peace I often found myself hosting the conglomeration of people who would drop by for a swim or a chat and of course be invited to stay for supper or even the night. We took in anyone who showed up at the door and needed it some inner peace. I always had plenty of food on hand, and I didn’t mind in the least especially as long as people helped out when we needed them to.
Lately without knowing what or how I have felt that something is going to change in my life. However it seems quite impossible to plan ahead for it because whatever does happen is never quite what I expect. For instance, how could I foresee that Stephen’s acquisition of one pot of a few succulents two years ago would multiply into a garden of pots and many more varieties? I do welcome whatever is next. My only expectation is that as good as it has been in the past so it will be as in the future or perhaps even better.