Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A Whimsical Birthday Reflection

The doorbell rang a moment ago, and a delivery person handed me a lovely bouquet of flowers and a tin of Mrs. Fields Cookies. They were from my son, Gavin, and his girlfriend Michelle. Yay, my birthday revelries have begun. I love my birthday!!! I like to celebrate it over several days. Tomorrow, June 21 at 6:55 AM, I turn 61, a prime number, and I am so excited. What new adventures lie in store for me this year?

60 was a great year. I have enjoyed it thoroughly. It began a year ago with my realizing that I had experienced far more birthdays in my past than I will in my future. This realization led me to a major change in my life--no more reading books or seeing films because I am "supposed" to read them or view them. Nope, time is short, and I have to seize it fully now because once you hit your sixties, no matter how healthy you are, the back door of life is starting to open, and you are inexorably heading towards it. You may make a detour into another room or two, but the back door keeps opening wider each year.

60 also began with no classes to teach, a potentially sad state of affairs, but I decided, with the encouragement of my children, to write a book. I've written many scenes and acts and have wanted to finish a play, but my sort-of-memoir Dueling With Dementia: Not The Love Story We Planned demanded to be written, and I acquiesced. It was great fun writing it, though the subject matter is a bit grim, because I discovered what I always knew--I AM a writer. It is who and what I was born to be. I also began this blog, and I can honestly say that I love writing almost as much as I love reading, and some days maybe a tad bit more. My play awaits me now, and I've also begun a collection of short stories. So, it turned out that my not getting to teach classes was a VERY positive turn of events.

Now 61 beckons, and I have to decide what to wish for when I blow out my candles tomorrow night. I've narrowed it to four wishes and must narrow it to one by tomorrow. My first possible wish is for world peace. I am eager to see how people would live if there were no war. My second possible wish is to win the lottery, so my children and I can fix the financial situation that dementia has put us into. My third possible wish is to fall in love with a man who loves me back. I see my children being affectionate with their girlfriends, laughing, kissing, hugging, touching, looking into each other's eyes, and I realize that I am in need of some serious cuddling. Good heavens, it's been much longer than a decade, and we 61-year-olds like and need affection just as much as young people. Cuddling with my cats and dog, while quite nice, just isn't the same as cuddling with a loving man. My fourth possible wish is for Obama to win re-election, and that needs no explanation.

I guess I'd better wish for the one with the greatest chance of coming true. History has shown us that world peace will probably never be realized. Some one or some country always wants more than his or its fair share. The Lottery? Well, statistics show I have a better chance of getting struck by lightening, so scratch that. Finding a man I love who loves me? Hmm, the odds of that, considering that this special man would have to ignore some extra pounds AND a husband with dementia, are probably higher than winning the lottery. Lol. So, that leaves me with Obama winning re-election. That wish at least has a possibility of coming true, so that will be my birthday wish for 61. If it comes true, I will be a very happy woman indeed.

Wishes aside, what is on tap for 61? I get to teach again, and that is an excellent thing because I will be back with students. I will be teaching two English 2 Critical Thinking classes in the fall semester at Monterey Peninsula College. I am thrilled! It's a new class for me to teach, so I get to learn lots of new things too. Learning new things is always a joy. And, I get to see Shakespeare's play, Troilus and Cressida, performed in Ashland. I've always wanted to see that play, so I am happy about that. I will keep writing and reading; I will cuddle with my cats and dog; I will spend time with my friends; and best of all, I will spend time with my beloved children, the greatest joys and blessings in my life.

So, Happy Birthday to me, and Happy Birthday to cousin John in Orkney and friend Betty in Southern California, who also have a birthday on June 21. Here is my favorite birthday song by Tom Chapin. Enjoy.

Take care,


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Monday, June 18, 2012

The Secret of Simply Being

Go, go, go. Do, do, do. That seems to be the mantra of our times. We feel like a failure if we are not doing something. If we have to stay home or sit still, we say we are bored. We have music in our ears and smart phones in our hands. We have several windows open on our computers. We channel surf. We text. We call someone to say nothing important, we just want to escape the silence. We fear silence and solitude. We are, I believe, coming to fear ourselves because we no longer know ourselves as well as we once did when we knew how to simply be.

When we simply be, we notice things like the blue belly lizard doing push-ups in the warm sun on our front porch. We notice people walking by us and nod a greeting. We notice the taste of the food we eat. We hear the birds chirping at midnight. We are attuned to the world around us, and if we listen, we might hear, and if we hear, we might know, and if we know, we might change, and the world might become a better place, but first we need to spend some time simply being for a while.

When we simply be, we imagine. We see shapes in the clouds; we consider ideas not previously considered; we dream when we are awake, and when we dream, we can make new realities, but first we have to dream, and to do that we have to simply be for a while.

How do we stop this whirlwind we are caught up in? How do we learn to embrace silence? How do we learn to be? Often times, we learn the joy of being when we are sick. Then, we rediscover the simple joys of our mother's chicken soup and listen to the music of the wind through the trees or the rain drumming on our roof. 

One of the loveliest women I know, my friend Orlagh (pronounced Orla) in Ireland, has had to learn to simply be due to a baffling, debilitating disease. In the fall of 2002, Orlagh caught a seemingly simple flu, but she never got better; instead, she developed myalgic encephalomyelitis that endures to this day. Before her illness, Orlagh ran marathons, taught women's studies all over Ireland, and was working on her PhD. Now, my dear friend spends her days husbanding her strength in order to tend her beloved animals and garden. A short trip to the market can leave her exhausted for days. By necessity, she rarely sees anyone but her neighbors, and she rarely talks on the phone because it drains her energy. My friend Orlagh has had to make peace with simply being because it is impossible for her to go and do anymore. 

This is not to say Orlagh is happy about her situation, but neither is she angry or frustrated. She has, as they say, come to terms with her situation. Orlagh and I had the great joy of talking together last week when she felt strong after a nap. She allowed an hour for us to talk, and we chatted and laughed, filling each other in on the nine months of our lives since we last spoke together. Orlagh touched my heart when she told me that she read every page of my book Dueling With Dementia: Not The Love Story We Planned. It is very difficult for Orlagh to read much these days. She gets headaches, and her eyes can't focus for long, so her reading my book was a special gift, a treasure to cherish.

We got into a discussion about how neither of us is living the life we thought we'd be living when we first met in the hospital twenty-two years ago when she brought my one day old son Grant to me from the hospital nursery. Orlagh was a nurse, and I noticed her name and asked if it was Gaelic. We began to talk excitedly about Irish myths and legends, and we became fast friends, and our friendship has grown and strengthened despite the thousands of miles that separate us after she returned to Ireland. We knew exactly what each of us had planned for our lives, and we know how very different our futures turned out from what we'd planned. 

Orlagh was a bit wistful about how little she can impact the world these days. But I told her that she makes a huge difference in the lives of everyone who knows her. She demonstrates grace under pressure every day of her life. She cherishes her animals and treats them as family. She grows a lovely garden of vegetables to feed her each year. Her home is charming. She always has a friendly wave for a passerby. She has learned the secret to simply being, and that secret is being the best you can be in the moment you are in. If all you can do is smile, then smile with a light in your eyes because that light might chase away the shadows in someone's soul who is passing by. And when Orlagh smiles at you, she shines so brightly that not a single shadow can withstand her light.

We, too, can learn the secret of simply being, and we don't need a debilitating illness to do so.  First, we need to embrace silence and solitude. Only then can we hear truth whispering to us, and after we hear what truth has to say, we can begin to go and do again because we will know how to use our going and doing to make the world a better place.

Take care,


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