Autumn’s Promise

This week’s theme is Letting Go.

Summer is my favorite season. In New England, where I live, summer is balmy heat with blasts of brutal humidity, the sun not setting until 9:00pm, lobster rolls, clambakes, glorious perennial gardens, live bands at local vineyards, and weekends at the beach – Newport, Watch Hill, Cape Cod, the Long Island Sound. Knowing that summer won’t last forever, that a long winter looms, makes the lazy, hazy days of summer all the more special.

Yet for all the joys of summer, it doesn’t tug at my heart the way autumn does.

There is a crispness to autumn in New England that is uniquely its own. The scents of fires flowing from chimneys, apples ripening in orchards, and change permeate the air. Leaves rustle underfoot during hikes, squirrels rush about burying nuts, and garlands of leaves mingle with ghosts on front porches.

But the best part of autumn is its promise of letting go.

Some people see spring as the season of new beginnings, but to me autumn is the fresh start. Leaves burst with vibrant colors before they fall and die off. There is beauty, a hope even, in this dying off that resonates with me. It feels like nostalgia, like making peace with the past, shedding what no longer serves to make room for something new. The leaves don’t cling desperately to the trees. They let go with grace at just the right time. We humans might do the same.

A long winter lies ahead, yet like the leaves, we mustn’t cling to these last days of autumn before cold isolation takes over. We must embrace them, savior each and every one, be present and mindful, and when the time is right, gracefully let go.

The Cabin on the Case

This week’s theme is stories.

The Cabin on the Case

When I was an undergraduate student, many moons ago, I took a Creative Fiction Writing course. One of our assigned books was Flash Fiction 72 Very Short Stories. In it was a story, Snapshot, Harvey Cedars: 1948, that has stayed with me through the years. Its central message resonated: Every picture tells a story, but it may not tell the whole story and it may not tell the truth.

In Snapshot, author Paul Lisicky describes a photograph of his parents at the beach when they are young. His mother is beautiful, “the best looking woman on the beach.” His father, “muscular, his stomach flat as a pan” has an arm around his wife. (179) The image seems to portray a happy couple, flush with promise for a wonderful life.

The author goes on to surmise, in hindsight, what his parents might have been thinking when the photo was taken. The story ends with: “Can she already hear the gun which my father will press into his forehead, twenty years away?” (180)

How could this story not stay with me? It is a total of three short paragraphs, but is packed with so much descriptive detail, emotion, and raw truth. I often think back to it when I scroll through social media, filled with photos of family outings, children, girls’ nights out, couples, weddings, anniversaries. What is the real story, the truth the photos aren’t telling?

I think of the stories and truths my own photos don’t tell.

I took the photo of the cabin on Case during a recent hike with my husband and 13 year old son. We came across it when we took a route we’d never taken before, at a popular hiking spot in my town called Case Mountain. My husband, a few years older than me and a native of our town, said that it used to be part of a campsite. He had forgotten about it and expressed sadness over its demise.

Later that day, I posted the photo with several others depicting the autumn foliage on Case Mountain. A Facebook friend commented: So many parties there, when a friend actually rented & lived in the cabin.

Really? I responded. Tell me more!

She wrote that in the 70s and 80s, groups would drive up the winding dirt path in cars. The cabin had vintage furnishings and even a calendar from at least 50 years before. There were bonfires and parties.

This was just a different time and place at the cabin on the case, she said.

As I read her words, the photo took on new life. Instead of a sad, lonely, decrepit shack, it was now alive with people, voices, music, parties, pure teenage mischief and joy. And within that new life, I wondered how many stories existed. How many first loves, broken hearts, drunken brawls, cutting words, drinking games, laughter, friendships made and lost, regrets?

We will never know. As Muriel Rukeyser said, “The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.” And like atoms, some stories exist without being seen, and some truths are never revealed.

A Dungeon of Stories

This week’s theme is stories.

Years ago when I was doing a yoga teacher training, we talked a lot about how we humans attach to our stories and how this might show up in our lives. Maybe your story is a traumatic childhood that makes it hard for you to trust or find peace. Maybe you grew up poor, your family in constant survival mode, and so you recreate survival scenarios in your current life or are driven to earn money at all costs.

Perhaps your story is that you’re not good enough, people don’t get you, you’re too fat, or you can’t catch a break. Or maybe your story is that you’re better than others, self-made, causing you to judge people who don’t live up to your standards or to disregard the role others have had in your success.

While I hope none of these possibilities is true for you, and that your stories are healthy and positive, if any area in your life is causing you or others pain, is holding you back from reaching your goals or knowing joy, you may want to examine your inner stories.

My own example is the story I told myself about money. The central theme was not enough. It reached a climax when my husband, who had earned good money for years, hit a slump. He started hopping from job to job, not making much money, propelling us ever closer toward financial disaster.

I reached a point where I was ready to divorce him because I couldn’t cope with the stress. At my wits end, I signed up for a course on Daily Om called A Year to Get Rich with Purpose. This is something I never would have done had I not felt desperate, believing it would be nonsense, too ashamed to admit that I needed help attracting financial stability and freedom in my life.

The course was nothing mind blowing, just daily quotes, inspirations, and commentary that encouraged reflection on my beliefs about money. I came to realize that my money issues started when my parents divorced when I was 8 years old. We went from living comfortably in a spacious home to a tiny one-bedroom condo, where I shared a room with my brother and my mother slept on a sofa bed in the living room. My father’s child support checks bounced often, causing my mother to incur overdraft fees on her checking account. These experiences shaped my life and my untold story became, I’m not enough, even my own father doesn’t think I’m worth the money.

Making the connection between these events and my current situation prompted a change in mindset. I started to see my husband not as an irresponsible enemy, but as a flawed person who needed help. I decided to try helping him instead of blaming him, to show love and do my best to see the good in him. I began to include in my daily prayers thanks to God for our healthy finances. I focused on viewing our situation as a temporary problem that could be solved instead of a permanent way of life.

The result was that, eventually, my husband found a stable, good paying job again. More importantly, around the same time, I was promoted at work and received a hefty pay raise. Through reflection, I realized that putting all the burden and responsibility for our finances on my husband was a cop out, and that I needed to empower myself financially, irrespective of him. Then my father sent me a check for $1,000 out of the blue, just because, and I knew my story had shifted.

I am not saying this course was a miracle, but it did help me to change my story from one of deprivation and not enough to one of feeling worthy and, yes, even entitled to financial blessings. I share it with you because I hope that you will do the soul searching needed to change any narrative in your life that may be holding you back from being your healthiest, happiest self.

May you climb out of the dungeon and into the light.

Our Mad, Mad World

Remember when social media used to be fun, a place to share photos of your kids, family vacations, and gatherings with friends? There is still some of that, but mostly it has turned into a cesspool of anger, darkness, and hate. Because of social media, I almost didn’t visit my mother recently, and I made the difficult decision to defriend my oldest son on Facebook. Needless to say, all of this has left me feeling pretty low.

Of course the disagreements started with politics. Almost everything these days does. I have no issue with people who have political opinions and affiliations different than my own. I do, however, take issue with conspiracy theories, promoting racist propaganda, and flat-out rudeness and disrespect.

Until the death of George Floyd and the resulting protests, not once in my life did I hear my mother use racist words or see her behave in racist ways. Nor was she anywhere near inclined to discuss or even pay attention to politics. Growing up and until about four years ago, the only thing I knew about her politically was that she was a registered Democrat.

Then came retirement, a new set of friends after moving to a different state, a sudden interest in Fox News, a pandemic, and a lot of time on her hands. What started as benign political posts on Facebook progressed into anti-Democrat rhetoric and vague conspiracy theories. So her political affiliations were changing and she believed some crazy stuff, I reasoned. But when she started sharing far-right racist propaganda, I became alarmed.

At first I ignored it, sticking to our agreed-upon deal of not commenting on each other’s political posts. This was actually at her insistence, as I could not care less if someone with a contrary opinion comments on my posts, as long as they are civil about it. But when in one day she posted six race-inciting memes, I felt I had to address it.

I did so privately. She completely denied that her posts were racist, and challenged me to explain how they were. When I told her that if I had to educate her about why they were racist, there was no point, she said it was I that needed to be educated, and went on a hate-filled rants against Democrats, Black Lives Matters protesters, and more. I was so upset and alarmed by her anger and extremist language that I made an excuse as to why I couldn’t visit the next day, as planned, then sought to calm down with a walk and chat with a friend.

The chat with my friend was also alarming. She shared with me her own angst regarding her daughter, who is an open follower of a conspiracy theory group called QAnon. Followers believe that the United States is controlled by a deep state of satan worshipping pedaphiles, mostly Democrats and Hollywood personalities, and that Donald Trump was sent to save the world from them.  The daughter recently was fired from her job after a coworker alerted  the company about her verbally abusive, racist posts, which they deemed as not being in alignment with company values. She is suing the company.

The conversation with my friend raised alarms, though. Based on what she had told me, and my own online research after our conversation, I thought back to things my mother had said and posted, plus an odd private message she sent to me by mistake. The puzzle pieces began to fit together, and the realization that my mother, and some of her friends, are likely followers of this conspiracy group dawned. I texted her and told her what I suspected. She neither confirmed nor denied it.

A week later came the issue with my son. A couple months back, he challenged me to not post about politics for a day. I accepted the challenge and raised him a week. The week off was so refreshing, that to this day I have barely shared one political opinion, article, or meme on Facebook. Not that I’m not paying attention. I am. But it has felt good to focus on sharing mostly positive things, and I have been grateful to my son ever since for the challenge.

However, something really upset me recently related to politics, so I shared an article about it, hoping to inform others who might not be paying attention.  My son’s comments in response, not just to my post but to others’ comments, were so rude and disrespectful, got so personal, that I removed one of them, defriended him, and then texted to tell him why. He responded with even ruder and more disrespectful remarks. I can only hope, and this is a sad statement, that he was drunk that night.

This wasn’t the first time my son has been rude and disrespectful in his Facebook comments. Friends have pointed this out to me and one suggested last year that I block him. He is my son, so of course I didn’t want to go there, but I finally reached my breaking point. I will not tolerate verbal abuse or incivility, especially from my own children. Still, I cannot believe it has come to this.

I did end up visiting my mother, for one night instead of three as originally planned. We didn’t discuss our disagreement, and enjoyed time together on the beach, her patio, and with neighbors. But the residue was there between us, as it is for so many family members and friends during these divisive times, the most divisive that I have personally experienced.

My son and I haven’t communicated since our last texts, a little over a week ago. He lives in another state, an almost three-hour plane ride. I know this pandemic has been tough on him. His work hours were reduced, making it necessary for him to dip into savings, and when that ran out into his retirement account. He is feeling isolated and lonely, as he’s never been able to make the kind of close friends he had back home since moving. In retrospect, I could have just blocked him temporarily and let my anger cool down.

I long for civility, for a world in which we can agree to respectfully disagree. I fear we may never live in such a world again. The rhetoric and division over the past four years has stirred a pot. The sledge from the bottom has risen to the top. If only we could skim it off and throw it in the trash. Instead, some feed off it, while others view it with disgust.

I have never believed in extremes, not in health and exercise habits, financial practices, risk-taking, rules, organizations, politics, or anything.  Extremes concern me because they speak to fanaticism. This, in my view, is a dark and dangerous place to reside. This is what I told my mother, that I felt sad she was so focused on the anger, hate, and darkness on all sides.

Nowadays, it is easy to forget that there is still much light, love, and beauty in the world. But it does exist. I was reminded of this today when I was loading my groceries into the car. An old man pushing his cart nearby called out, “Look, a double rainbow.” I looked up, and there it was. It gave me hope, not just the rainbow, but that the old man noticed and thought to share it with me.

 

God Gave Me Grandma

Some might call this post mother bashing. I prefer to view it as praising the women in my life who I believe God sent to compensate for my mother. Growing up with her was tough. I could blame it on her youth; she was 18 was I was born. Or on what I later found out was a mother, my grandmother, who beat her when she was little for no apparent reason, this according to an aunt who witnessed the abuse (my mother has no memory of it). Or I could impose no blame at all and simply say it was what it was, and she is who she is.

I think I’ll go with that.

My mother wasn’t the type to say I love you or offer any form of physical or verbal affection. In fact, she went out of her way to criticize me at every turn. She seemed to be in a chronic state of rage, which as a child frightened me, likely due to the indignity and stress of being married to a serial philanderer, my stepfather. Not only was she unkind, often she was downright mean and verbally abusive. I won’t go into the details because that would be a book. There’s no point to it anyway, because God gave me Grandma.

My paternal grandmother offered me the unconditional love, kindness, and care that my mother could not. Growing up, I spent countless weekends at her house after my parents divorced. Her home was a sanctuary where I could spend hours relaxing, being myself, and being loved for exactly who I was. She taught me things like, “Always pay yourself first, even if it’s a dollar.” And, “Never gossip about people’s marriages – we don’t know what goes on behind closed doors.” Often, she would place her hands gently on either side of my head, look me in the eyes, smile, and tell me how wonderful I was. On Saturday nights she let me stay up late with her to watch Love Boat and Fantasy Island, a routine that I cherished.

I thought I would die when I started losing her to Alzheimer’s. Though even at the disease’s worst, my grandma never once became nasty or mean, as some people do. Her true nature was so sweet and good, not even the deterioration of her brain could change it.

When Alzheimer’s completely took Grandma, God gave me Cynthia.

Cynthia was one of my bosses at a new job. Another sweet, kind woman who seemed to accept me unconditionally. It became known around the office, almost a joke, that I could do no wrong in Cynthia’s eyes, and that no one had better say one negative word about me in her presence. To this day, I don’t know why she cares for me in this way. True, I worked hard, and I adore her back, but it truly was as if God knew what he had taken from me and sought to replace it. Though I moved on to another job years ago, Cynthia remains one of my most cherished friends.

God also gave me Nancy. For over 20 years, she has loved me unconditionally, though my friendship with her does have its ups and downs. She’s tough sometimes, like my mother, but never unkind or abusive, and she always has my best interests at heart. I trust Nancy completely. She knows I’m not perfect, she knows my secrets, but she doesn’t judge and she loves and accepts me as I am, flaws and all.

God gave me three amazing women who have loved me unconditionally, valued me for who I am, and made me feel worthy and special just for being me. These women have lifted me up, taught me, and helped me become the woman I am. Thrice blessed, I am so grateful to them and for them.

As for my mother, since she and my stepfather divorced after 27 years of marital hell, she has mellowed. Once, she even apologized for the way she treated me growing up. She is my only mother. I love her despite everything and I forgive her. I understand now that she suffers from low self-esteem and a low sense of self-worth. But I haven’t forgotten. I am always on guard with her. I have to be. Sometimes she still gets a dig or two in, and I have to strive to not be triggered. She can’t help it, it’s who she is. We all are who we are. I have chosen to follow the examples of Grandma, Cynthia, and Nancy and accept her anyway.

I’d love to hear, who has God given you?