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Finding Hello in Good-bye

29 Dec

staircase to the unknownIn early November, an unexpected storm disrupted my life.  Perhaps I should have seen it coming, but I did not, in spite of a nagging feeling inside that something was amiss.  I pride myself on listening to myself, following innate instincts, and falling back on lessons learned from past experiences.  This time the message never made it to my brain, but churned restlessly in my gut as I struggled to connect dots.

My belief was that if I could identify the source of imbalance I felt inside, I would either be able to stay, or right, whatever fate waited for me on the steps of life’s door, or meet it head on, confidence in tact, and resolve, in a sensible way, any body blow it might deliver.

That philosophy proved both naïve and arrogant in lieu of the vulnerabilities of the human condition that evolve in dichotomy, the mind filling with wisdom as the body simultaneously empties with age.  So, when the thug-illness burst through the front door, like any unsuspecting soul, I absorbed its rage, and was swept away in the insane bureaucracy of doctors and hospitals and voodoo poisons conversely intended to heal.

HerbBottle (3)

Once home, huddled safely inside my upholstered cave, I began the process of understanding why I could never, try as I may, have anticipated the events that brought me to this uncomfortable introspective space.  But when the light bulb lit, and a band somewhere in the dark recesses of my mind began playing boisterous choruses of Halleluiah, I began to see the impotence and futility of trying to see into the future in order to avoid or manipulate its impact on the present.

As this new truth emerged, setting me free, so to speak, a new reality appeared, once again taking the wind from my sails as my sweet husband, Rich, the rock on which I have built my life, fell prey himself to an illness uniquely his own.  Thus the feeble bird tended the injured bird as, together, we tried to discern forests from trees.

old couple in love 1

The double whammy of fate proved itself a game changer as we struggled to meld growing physical limitations with solid but stubborn mental competence hell-bent on experiencing the Golden Years as portrayed by cell phone and miracle drug commercials on TV.

The irony of marketed possibilities in old age juxtaposed the actuality of incoming mail filled with term life insurance, funeral and burial policies clashed, rising to a crescendo until nothing would do but to address the 800 pound gorilla in our living room.  Thus began the shift in the landscape of our lives.  And I must say, neither took it very well, the idea of exchanging high adventure for a more sensible plan was like sucking lemons, but we pushed on, readying ourselves for the respite and sheer joy of a Christmas visit from a daughter, her husband and their son.

Two hours before their arrival, the power went out.  But it wasn’t as hard to adjust to the unexpected as it might have been the month before, because surviving last month’s challenge had empowered Rich and me to rise like phoenixes, rendering this latest variance in foreseen reality a virtual bleep on the radar screen.

candle burning

Nothing, absolutely nothing was going to dampen our enthusiasm for spending time with family.  Two hours into the visit, over dinner lit by emergency stash fluorescent lanterns, the power came on, and each of us jumped from our seats to embrace in full light.

Christmas was perfection, the best Rich and I have experienced since leaving Texas on our excellent adventure, causing us to ponder the desires and circumstances that led us far from the herd in the first place.  To be honest, the herd had fully dispersed before we broke from the land that held us and served as a constant reminder that even the best laid plans can go horribly awry.

During long, sweet conversations at Christmas, the subject of the recent illnesses that passed like a plague over our house arose, opening a door we never dreamed we might need to enter.  It seems the helplessness of crossing long miles on small budgets while meeting the needs of minor children and demanding work schedules had torn at the heart strings of our daughter and her husband as they were forced to watch from afar as Rich and I struggled to deal with devastating circumstances alone.

Last night Rich told me he and his brother never know how to say Good-bye when they talk on the phone.  I know how that feels. Endings are hard for me; beginnings, not so much.  So the only way I know how to approach change is to find a way to transform it into something I’ll want to embrace rather than ignore.

I’m quite ambivalent about getting old, part of me is so ready, and part is not.  The fact that we need help from others to manage the sharp edges of life is a bomb dropping for anyone, but for those unaccustomed to asking or accepting help, it is a concept nearly impossible to accede.

I have to remind myself that sometimes Plan B exceeds the expectation and reward of Plan A.  When our granddaughter, Morgan, graduates in another year and moves to Austin to get her Masters in Physics, more than likely Rich and I will be packing once again for Texas.

river hondo

The natural beauty of Arkansas will be hard to leave in spite of having made very few friends while being here.  In two weeks I turn 65; it would be nice to enjoy the Golden Years in the presence of family, making the most of each good day, and knowing we are not alone on less impressive days.

And so this nest that felt so right only months ago, suddenly feels a little tight around the hips, and we find ourselves contemplating unexpected plans to return, perhaps, for the last time, home.  Perchance this is how it always is, the evolution of parental roles, one generation passing the torch to the next in an act as necessary and natural as the changing of seasons.  But because we have an option, because we have a say in the matter, because both of our children have offered their homes to us, Rich and I count ourselves as two of the very lucky ones.

welcome to hondo

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A Glimpse into the Irreplaceable Past

22 Sep

 yardsale2

Sprawling across the front lawn belonging to a 75-ish woman, yesterdays Yard Sale was the result of the mental planning and great physical efforts of two other women, one 45-ish, the other 35-ish. The 40-something gem is a jewel of a woman of whom such a description aptly fits, but the same could be said of the others relative to the fact that one is her mother, and the other, her best friend.

The odd duck in the lot was me, the 65-ish old chick who lives next door to the gem and her best friend.  I was propped up by the presence of my own best friend, Rick, my husband, who attended the foray in the capacity of muscle, security, neighbor, buddy, and loyal assistant.

The day was perfectly beautiful with bright shining sun and a slight breeze, and temperatures’ ranging from the low 60’s to low 70’s.  Having decided to forego listing our sale in the classifieds, the weather proved our best advertisement, drawing sleepy heads, weary of too many days of unseasonable heat, out of their air-conditioned caves and back into the streets in search of community.

It was a very good day to make new friends, which we did, but what impressed me most was the symbology of the items we’d each chosen to sell.  It was a clear representation of the past in a spectrum of odd collections displayed in a mishmash fashion across plastic tables, in acknowledgement of sentimental journeys spanning generations.

Each item we discarded was a piece of our individual and collective pasts.  I can’t speak for the others, but I’d struggled for weeks culling out cabinets and closets trying to come to terms with letting go of objects that represented my past in a genuine effort to simplify the present.  For me, nothing is simply what it appears to be; that small glass bowl with its etched lid is the party I hosted when I was 25 and all my girlfriends were nearly weightless in joy and anticipation of the futures they’d planned.  It was toddlers toddling around our knees, picking cookies off dainty trays and eating them with the kind of zeal only a child can express.

etched jar

The two decorated stacking boxes were freedom at 51, they were inner courage surfacing, lust and excitement coming of age when I felt for the very first time, it was finally my turn.  Putting price tags on them for $2.50 and $4.00 seemed a slap in the face to the most extreme journey I’d taken in my life.

The end tables were tradition.  The handmade Christmas ornaments are hopes I once held for a houseful of grandchildren clamoring each holiday season to help Nonnie and Newt decorate their tree.

I know in my head, none of these items are actually pieces of my identity, only small material representations of dreams I’ve dreamt and discarded along the way as the path turned one way and then another, and each old ideal diminished in the face of a new and far brighter reality.

identity art

But the struggle to release is real.  It’s a mother entering the winter of her life finally realizing she simply must cut the cord and set her grown children completely free to flounder and fall before soaring amongst the stars in the boundless sky.  It’s burying a dead ex-husband and allowing the truth to exist by accepting that each flaw in the relationship helped you learn how to fill the tiny cracks that kept you fractured from the deepest, most authentic aspects of yourself.

It is understanding how embracing the hard times and then letting them go, strengthens your fortitude, making it easier to face the deep unknown.

It’s not a tattered old crocheted blanket; it’s the tears you shed creating it as you divested yourself from longings that, if followed, would deeply affect your children’s lives.  It is not a silly piece of art; it’s your father’s imagination, your mother’s strong hands, your sister’s laughter, your brother’s serious side, a glimpse into the irreplaceable past.

But at the end of the day, hard choices must be made.  Sitting in the shade with new friends and the love of my life, making new friends, placing old treasures into stranger’s hands, I’m cutting loose threads of the past in order to create a clearer path for today.  Even so, late in the day, when a man hassles me over the price of my two decorated boxes, I pass on the deal, deciding to keep this particular symbol for myself.

The seasons of our lives are not loved and respected because of successes we enjoy, nor are they despised and weakened by the challenges we face, but are to be richly honored for moving us each closer to authenticity and the inner sanctuary of unconditional love and absolute peace.

The wise know without the storm, there would be no majestic cliff from which to stand and observe the seemingly random, yet perfectly organized chaos of changing weather.  Without rapids in the river, sharp ridges would not be tamed into smooth stone. Yesterdays’ Yard Sale brought five people together uniting their pasts by sharing and releasing a variety of personal treasures.  These treasures attracted other collectors, and in the process relative strangers journeys’ intersected in an act of true community.

Last night I dreamed I was in a boat that was being carried by rushing currents through a narrow river stream.  Branches from a forest of trees created a low canopy that was ominous.  I could feel my heart beat faster and faster as the water drew my small boat closer to the obstacles ahead, but just as I was about to be hit in the face by a branch, it would suddenly arch toward the sky, freeing my way.  For miles I traveled watching the beautiful spectacle.  My daughters were standing on either side of the riverbed, each peaceful and smiling.  They waved as I passed, then turned and walked away.

I saw my deceased ex-husband on a hill.  He was standing with Rick.  As I approached, he shook Rick’s hand and then faded away.  Rick walked to the edge of the shore, waiting for me; then he slipped easily into my boat.  Suddenly the boat was a ship, and the sea lay open and inviting before us.  And when I awoke this morning, I swear I could taste salt on my lips and hear waves breaking on shore.  Yesterday was a beautiful season.  So is today.

season tree

  And I know tomorrow will be too, no matter when it begins or how long it stays.

Crones in Fuchsia

13 Sep

The bathroom at the end of the hall has no windows.  When I close the door behind me, it can either feel like a moss green and latte cell, or a safe house; whichever depends on how I’m feeling at the time.

This morning, it was sanctuary.

I knew the day wasn’t going to be easy no matter what kind of spin I put on it, because yesterday I received a letter beginning with the words: Welcome to Medicare.  My plan was to keep today light to stave off age related issues of insecurity, but if I’d really wanted a retreat day, I would have skipped checking in with my Facebook page, wouldn’t I?

tarot the fool

A friend had posted an article relating to internet security that was thoughtful, and while not alarming, I confess, it fed my paranoid side that is suspicious of rapid change.  Like any animal with a head larger than mine, I don’t completely trust it without a proper courting phase allowing me time to ease into the unfamiliar, rather than busting through its doors.

This morning a Facebook entry hit a raw nerve, sending me into the shadow that Medicare began the day before, and I found myself heading to the room without windows at the end of the hall.

Small windowless rooms, most notably closets, have long been my sanctuary when the big, bad wolves of the world close in.  As a child, I believed I was invisible cowering inside, safe from sharp teeth.  As an adolescent, I could feel myself blending into walls, crouching behind an assortment of clothes that played to the particular role I assigned myself for the day.  As a young wife, closets offered refuge from the raging bull in the other room.  In middle age, I became my own closet, moving in, putting the pieces back together again.  At this stage in life, closets are just another chore needing attention.

dark closet

But this morning, thanks to Medicare and Facebook, the small, windowless room whisked me back in time, and for a moment I crouched in deference to the past that made me the woman I am today. And I covered the crone’s lips in bright fuchsia lipstick before opening another door and entering.

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