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.

 

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.

Creating a Memorial to Lost Loved Ones

SimpkinsMy father always made sure to put fresh flowers on the graves of two special friends on Memorial Day. Buried under two pink granite stones, they were an English couple far from home and family. My four year old self remembers them as two elderly people who smiled at me and gave me two porcelain statues of birds. Honoring someone once a year at the site of their grave is a fine act and the traditional way many choose. However, creating an ongoing memorial tribute could be an even better way.

On Memorial Day there is an annual ceremony dedicated to my grandfather in Beverly Farms, the town where he once lived where there is a square named for him. This year will be its hundredth anniversary. As it does every year, the parade will stop there, the band will play, and a wreath will go on the pole with his name. As they always do, my brother and his wife will attend the ceremony. While I once used to go with my dad, and later on with my young children, I no longer live near enough to attend. I am glad he will do the honors for the family.

One day time runs out for each of us. It can’t be helped. It is said there are two sure things in life: Death and Taxes. We come to terms with both as best we can. Memorial Day puts us in mind of the former. While my grandfather perished in World War I, no other members of my family fought and died or had any connection to the military. For me then, Memorial Day is an opportunity to think about my loved ones who have passed out of time and into eternal life. There are more of them each year.

What seems important to me is to create a tangible memorial as a tribute dedicated to the memory of those precious who have passed from this life. It was with the passing of my first son that I initially thought of this. I wanted to honor his life, and because he loved poetry I decided to dedicate my poetry to him. While I’ve always written poetry, my decision then inspired me to look at life with the eyes of a poet and to write about what I see. In the near future I will be bringing out a small book, Poems and Prayers, dedicated to him.

While I wrote an occasional poem prior to his passing, in the nearly thirty years since his death I have written a great number of them, some of which I have published in various newsletters and others in my two books of articles, Heartwings: Love Notes for a Joyous Life and Up to my Neck in Lemons. Writing poetry has become increasingly important to me as an expression of my creativity. I have created other memorials also: My father loved nature, especially trees. My tribute to him is my love of the natural world, often expressed in poetry; mine to my mother is my photography, much of which are also of nature.  I am grateful for the inspiration of the lives of these loved ones, and I honor them as best I can.

Remembering to be Thankful

Laura Dove A         While at Thanksgiving we are reminded to be grateful, that is surely not the only time to do so. it is vital to remember to be thankful frequently each and every day of our lives. For some time now I have begun and ended each day with this little prayer: “Thank you for this day and for all my days.” As often as possible each and every day I remind myself to acknowledge my gratitude for any good experience and even those that might not have been so good, because of the knowledge gained.

Recently we were saddened to hear of a friend who died suddenly and unexpectedly just as she was starting a new life with her spouse. Within the past few weeks we have heard news of other friends who are ill or whose lives have been disturbed or changed for the worse. Each time I hear such things, while I say a prayer for those affected, I am also reminded to be grateful for my relatively tranquil, happy life. In this present moment I have so much to be thankful for. When I survey my daily life, even with all its ups and downs, I am reminded to express that gratitude.

My late newspaper editor used to say, “Health is wealth.” How right he was. What are a few aches and pains compared to long term, probably painful illness or worse, an approaching end to life? What’s a broken washer compared to the loss of a parent or of a dear friend? It is so easy to take one’s blessings for granted, to think of them as ordinary or just a part of life. There is an old saying, “I complained because I had no shoes until I saw a man who had no feet.” While I am thankful for what I have, I am also grateful for what I do not have to endure.

There is such joy to be had in a tasty breakfast of a Sunday morning shared with one’s partner. Were this scene to end suddenly and abruptly I would deeply regret having lost even a moment of our time together through inattention . There is no way to know ahead when one’s end will come, when all of a sudden there will be no more time. I have read of a Native American tradition to greet each day with the phrase, “This is a good day to die.” Some might think this is a morbid attitude. To me it says, “Pay attention, live fully in this and every moment.”

Quite simply, though we don’t like to think about it, we begin to die the day we are born. With the increase in medical knowledge the life span of human beings has been greatly extended, still one day life will end for us all. One of the benefits of mindfulness meditation is that when it is practiced, it becomes easier to pay attention. I am grateful for this practice and to the teacher that taught it to me. It behooves us all to remember that every moment we have whether uncomfortable or comfortable, sad or happy, sour or sweet is a precious gift to treasure and to be thankful for.