Small Gestures May Mean Much

Bridge of flowers Bee Balm I disliked it intensely when as a child I was ill and had to stay home from school. It was no fun whatsoever. My mother did not believe in coddling sick people. She thought it would make them malinger. Perhaps she thought if I was bored I’d get better sooner and want to get back to school. She did not treat me with sympathy. My entertainment consisted of listening to soap operas on the radio and reading if I was allowed to. When I had the measles I spent days in a darkened room with nothing to do. It was said reading would damage my eyes

Whenever I was sick I simply sat in my bed alone most of the day. Extremely bored, I was happy to get back to school. For most of my adult life I have been healthy and strong. My recent hip operation is the first time I have been extensively laid up. As I have moved through the healing process, I have gained a great appreciation for the nice things that have been done for me.

Back in the 50’s here was a popular song titled Little Things Mean a Lot.  A sweet song it spoke of loving moments a couple might share. You can look it up on You Tube. As a result of my operation five weeks ago, I have been living small: confined to myhome, resting a lot, and generally entirely dedicated to getting well. Both my physical movements and the focus of my thoughts have revolved around this.

This has made the small circumstances of my daily life stand out more than they might ordinarily. Anything I might have taken for granted before is now emphasized. Small kindnesses have more importance. I find myself even more grateful than ever for the sweet emails people have sent me wishing me well. The generosity of friends who have offered to and taken Stephen shopping or for errands is special. I feel blessed by the meaningful kindness of those offers. Most of all I am grateful to Stephen for all the help he has given me.

When I came home after the operation I couldn’t dress myself at all. I needed help to perform the simplest tasks. I couldn’t cook anything, clean anything, or do more than spend the day on the couch. We watched movies and old TV shows together, and that was fun, however to do much more than that was just not possible. While this period of time was short in terms of my life so far, it was highly significant in terms of its effect. I feel enormously grateful for what I have received from it as well as what I have learned.

I’ll be out of the woods soon and my life will be back to its usual flow and rhythms. This time has been a kind of island in my life. I have rested there and soon I will launch back into the daily stream and be carried by the flow of my days. Certainly I feel belter for having had the operation. Soon even the slight aches that remain will be gone and I won’t need to walk with a cane. What will stay with me from this time is the many loving gestures of friends and acquaintances and most of all the care and kindness of my husband Stephen when the full burden of our daily lives fell upon his shoulders.

Dealing with Anticipation

Flower -1 bud  The appointment for my hip surgery was made more than three months ago. Now its time has come. While I feel positive about the outcome of the experience, I also feel a tiny bit apprehensive. Everything I have heard about the surgery from those who have had it done has been good. I even ran into someone who had the procedure done by the same doctor I have and she said hers had gone wonderfully and she was very pleased.

However, my mind has been twirling around the upcoming surgery for all the months I have been waiting. My thoughts have revolved endlessly about what I will be unable to do and for how long, as well as what I will need to have prepared and so forth and so on. Now as one who tries hard to be in the present moment as much of the time as possible, this has been a real teaching situation. Present moment mindfulness is not something to be practiced only during meditation. It is a frame of mind to be kept in place all through the day.

I once met a man who said, “Whenever I think about what is upcoming, and dread it, it always seems much worse than it turns out to be.” The fear of the unknown is what drives the dread. The silly part is that anticipation has no actual basis in fact, and therefore it  is inaccurate. Only when the experience has arrived can it be truly judged. Otherwise its truth is obscured by what we feel rather than whatever the facts may be.

There is an acronym for fear that reads: “False Evidence Appearing Real.” This is a good description of fear. The so called evidence is usually a product of our active imagination, warnings by people who are trying to be helpful, past experience that may not be applicable here, or feelings of inadequacy. When we think about what is upcoming if we can recognize this for ourselves we can think about it in a more positive way.

As a child I used to enjoy anticipation. I would think about going to the circus, something that happened once a year, with great joy. I looked forward to going to the library to get a pile of new books to read. An avid reader, I often devoured a book a day whenever I could manage to get the time to do so. School vacations were a great source of anticipation. Before they arrived they always seemed to stretch out invitingly and even when they were over there were more to be looked forward to

There was one form of anticipation that was unpleasant. That was when I had done something I shouldn’t and my mother would say, “Wait ’til your father gets home!” Even though he was a kind man, I knew whatever punishment was coming would be more severe if he administered it. My anticipation of the surgery is not with dread, however, but with joy. I look forward to more mobility, less pain and a better sleep at night. Meanwhile I am trying hard to stay as focused as possible on the present moment.

 

Helping Out Friends and Neighbors

grandmothers 6 cake

 

My father, my grandmother and even my great aunt did a lot of volunteer work. I remember my grandmother telling me about rolling bandages during World War II. My great aunt was a Girl Scout leader. My father volunteered his services to the radio for the blind as well as serving as treasurer to some of the organizations to which he belonged. My mother taught small children in her studio when she lived in the Cayman Islands. Volunteering comes naturally when you grow up with it. Many of us do what we can to be of help.

Some years ago a friend of mine and her mother began making pillowslip dresses for young ladies in third world countries. Made from two lengths of material sewn together and tied at the shoulders, these simple inexpensively produced dresses, have supplied a great many girls and young women with modest colorful clothing. Since then the mother and daughter have had many other people join them in their efforts. It brings all who participate a sense of joy as well as the sense of satisfaction that comes from being of help to others.

There are countless ways to share effort. Most churches, senior organizations and even listserves offer opportunities. Giving rides, doing errands, bringing meals, or just being a friendly person to the aged and housebound is one simple, easily found one. Most soup kitchens welcome your help as often as you can manage. Many organizations look for volunteers to assist staff. Helping out a young mother in your neighborhood with child minding while she goes grocery shopping can be a boon. Even the small act of holding the door for the person coming along behind you can bring a smile to that person.

“It is in giving we receive,” said St. Francis of Assisi in his famous prayer for peace. From the time most of are small we are taught to share, to think of others, perhaps to put them first, and to avoid taking the biggest piece of cake or the last cookie. Because it comes when we are very young, this guidance often becomes part of us. We may thrive on the opportunity to do so. However, if I rely solely on the good feeling I get from helping others and neglect to take care of my own needs, I am apt to feel resentment or even neglect when I do not receive what feels like sufficient gratitude for my help

It is vital not to make sacrifices that I cannot afford, however, I need not expect thanks, nor feel neglected when I remember to acknowledge my own efforts to myself.  I need not depend on anyone else’s gratefulness, because I can feel inner gratitude to have been able to help. The act of giving brings with it a natural source of uplift to the heart. This fountain of joy flows freely when we look into ourselves for the acknowledgement we deserve for our efforts. It is lovely to be thanked, and I try to remember to do it often. It is also good when we feel that as an echo of our own inner sense of gratitude.

 

The Hand of Time

Clock Flowers 7  The single metal hour hand lay on the table in front of me. Stephen and I had been playing with an old clock in an effort to get it to work. However, once the hands become loosened from the mechanism that counts off the minutes, even if it still ticks, the clock is effectively broken. We took the clock apart and kept the face to use for an art project. Gazing at the pointed hour hand I wished I could think of a way to put it to use. Finally I gave it to Stephen, thinking he might be able to make use of it in a collage.

The hand of time touches us all. Sometime it strokes gently, lulling us into complacency until we sit up and take notice. “Where did the time go?” we say and look around us to see if we can locate the lost minutes, hours or years. At other times it seems to have an iron grip on us, passing so slowly we want to scream in frustration. It’s definitely fickle and frolicsome, turning hair grey when our backs are turned. ave written a lot of poetry about time and its effects.

I have found that time is strangely elastic. It can stretch or shrink to suit how I am feeling. When I’m impatient, it seems to pass ever so much more slowly than when I am not thinking about it at all, but fully engaged in what I am doing. I remember once playing music with a friend during our lunch hour. We met in the room set aside for time off and began to tune our instruments. Then we started to play. I was fully engaged in the extraordinary joy of it.  Eventually I came to and began to worry that we had overstayed our time. When I looked at the clock I was amazed. It seemed we had entered a timelessness that stretched on and on, yet in real time we had been playing music for only half an hour.

The older I get the more conscious I am of the passage of time. Perhaps that is because there is less and less of it left to me with each passing year. Although almost nobody knows their expiration date, we all know that there is a limit to the time we have left, regardless how long or how short. I do not feel anxious or fearful about my personal duration; it’s just that I wish to make the best use of whatever time remains to me. Most have heard about one’s so-called bucket list. I gave that up a while ago. I prefer to content myself with making the most of every day I have. That gives me a better focus.

It’s odd how we speak of spending time. Minutes and hours are not real like dollars and cents. Yet often we treat time as though it was tangible–to be stored up or spent or hoarded or wasted. I remember my delight as a child at the thought of having a whole afternoon to do what I liked. Now I am grateful to have an hour or two when I might do something meaningless as opposed to productive. Sometimes I feel I am stealing time from what I ought to be doing. Then I remind myself that it is my time to do with as I wish, and I am a not a human doing but a human being.

Small Blessings Bring Joy

Dandelion and pebblesKittens grow up and become cats. They learn to use their claws on the furniture, and then they reach a point where if we do not pay attention, they may produce more kittens. Snow falls, gets turned by snowmen by eager, mittened fingers, and then when the sun comes out and the cold retreats, they melt. I wash the dishes, polish up the burners on the stove and sigh, remembering that there will soon be more dishes to wash and something will fall on the cooking surface and smell of burning if I don’t notice it before I begin to cook again.

It is important to me to take notice of how nice it is to have an empty sink and a clean stove. If all I do is think about doing it over again I will miss the feeling of how nice it is to have done with my small tasks. They can become routine, done without thinking, and without appreciation for the effort as well as for the result. When I take the time to notice, I feel better about myself and about my life in general.

When spring comes and the first bluebells and crocuses poke up through the thawed ground, how wonderful it is. We say, “Spring is here.” And it is. Yet spring turns to summer. Then we rejoice in the longer days and firefly strewn nights, until the hours of daylight begin to shorten again. Fall’s bounty of color comes and then goes.  It is good to appreciate what we have while we have it because as a wise teacher of mine used to say, the only constant is change.

It’s easy to take for granted small blessings that pass quickly. We do it all the time without thinking. We’re actually more likely to take notice of what is wrong than what is right. I’ve read that our brains are wired that way for self-preservation. It’s important to make note of the danger lurking nearby—is that a wild beast? Or see the car coming a little too fast as we are about to cross the street. However, our built in warning system can override our joy.

Just recently the wild roses bloomed. Their sweet smell permeated the air by my back porch. I made sure to take time to enjoy their scent. Now the petals have turned brown and I have to wait until next year to enjoy them again. Still, I do have the memory, and although it does not have an actual scent, it can still bring back the pleasure of what I enjoyed when the petals were fresh.

If I am focused on regret because the roses have passed, it is more difficult for me to remember the joy they brought me. As well, I might not be able to take advantage of some new and pleasant experience that could await my notice. Small blessings do not announce their presence with a shout but rather with a whisper. The bright dandelion by the side of a building might go unseen and unappreciated if I am not aware of its gift. If I am only looking at the trash around it, I might not see it all. Small blessings bring joy.

Honoring my Father on Father’s Day

Even though she didn’t like to cook, my mother would not allow my father to do so. She said he burnt everything. She had a strong fear of wasting food. Later I think he occasionally tended a barbecue, however they were not in vogue when I was little. I have early memories of him polishing the family silver. My mother didn’t do that and didn’t wish to even display it. We had many different pieces. They were family heirlooms, inherited from elders who had passed on. I remember a huge tea set with lots of shiny parts to it that rested on a big silver tray on a large wooden sideboard. My father loved and cherished it.

As it is wisely said, no one is perfect because God isn’t finished with us yet. Perfection may be something to strive for, and attaining it is most likely impossible. People are people and bound to mess up. Fathers can’t be perfect either. Some are cruel, whether consciously or unconsciously. I knew someone once who said that her father used to tell her and her brother to jump of the kitchen table and he’d catch them, only he wouldn’t. He told them he wanted to teach them not to trust what anyone said.

Doubtless he meant well. Perhaps he had suffered from believing, himself. My father would taunt me and my siblings when we made mistakes. He wanted us to toughen up, learn not to care what people thought. Did he succeed? I believe he did, however it took a while to sink in. Meanwhile, I resented his pointing finger and his “ha ha” followed by some negative comment. That was not all; we had a lot of fun together too, and he could be very kind. I once came home to the apartment my young husband and I shared to find him sweeping the rug. I didn’t have a vacuum and hadn’t realized I could sweep it with a broom. He used to give me lovely valentines.

He bought me my first washing machine—it was state of the art for the time, with a rubber tub that squeezed the water out of the clothes. He taught me how to dance, and he was a good dancer. He gave me money for years, an allowance that helped greatly when I was first married. Later on he paid for my health insurance because he wanted to take care of me. No, he wasn’t perfect, and I didn’t care. I loved him faults and all. He lived large and had wonderful charm. He had a lovely smile and he smiled often.

I miss him. Yet I miss most the father of my childhood and youth, when he was strong , energetic and good looking. He was a snappy dresser and loved loud ties and colorful clothing.  Bad habits and ill health took their toll. His later years were not happy and he declined mentally. It was difficult to see him so diminished. Yet once in a while the old smile radiated from his face and sometimes he told a joke or said something cute and funny that recalled the man he had been when I was little, and we used to build sand castles and jump the waves together.

Lemons are Luscious when Sweetened

Lemons, front and back together.png  There is a wonderful song by the Kingston Trio from the 60’s I believe, about lemons. It contains a real truth concerning them: they must be sweetened to taste good. The chorus goes: “Lemon tree very pretty, and the lemon flower is sweet, but the fruit of the lemon is impossible to eat. Very true, and it is also true that lemons can do all sorts of things besides make good recipes..

Versatile lemons can serve us in so many ways it is impossible to count them. You can use them to polish your furniture or to soften your elbows.  I found a lot about their uses when I was doing research for my book Up to my Neck in Lemons. In the Middle Ages ladies used a special straw brim with holes in it to lighten their hair. They would pull strands of hair through the holes and bleach them by painting them with lemon juice and sitting in the sun.

According to my research, the origin of lemons seems to be a mystery. They may have originated in India or perhaps China and are probably a hybrid of the sour orange and the citron. They were known in Egypt and the Middle East from 1000 AD.  They were used primarily as medicine or as an ornament. Once sailors learned to carry them on ships they prevented a disease called scurvy that comes from a lack of vitamin C. Christopher Columbus brought the seeds to the United States from Genoa, where they had been cultivated and used, though often as ornaments. When I visited southern Italy I saw lemon trees growing in gardens there.

Though as I discovered they have so many other uses, we usually think of lemons as food. Yet unlike most fruit, they are not meant to be eaten plain–like apples, or even peeled and sectioned like oranges.  Rather they make a fine ingredient or a wonderful seasoning. Life’s lemons are equally useful. They can season or sweeten our experience, helping us to make our best use of it to learn and grow. However it does take experience and tenacity both to learn this and to put it into operation.

The first and most important skill to develop is observation. I must first notice how I am looking at my life lemon. Once I see how I perceive it, I can change my perspective and see it differently. For example if I am feeling frustrated because something isn’t working the way I want it to, I can keep pushing against the difficulty or I can look to see if there is another way to approach it or perhaps even how I can use it to my advantage.

I can choose how to use this particular lemon—as a sour taste or as a reminder that something must change in order for me to succeed. Of course this can take time and effort, but so does any good recipe, whether for happy living or lemon meringue pudding or pie. In my new book, Up To My Neck in Lemons, I have many actual lemon recipes together with poems, and essays that provide examples of how I have dealt with some of my life lemons. If you would like a copy, please contact me. I’ll tell you how to get a personally autographed copy.