This is the end — the last day of the year, the last installment of my mother’s birthday project, and the last entry on this blog for 2014. My mother is 80 years old today. Here is a list of 10 Inspirational Instructions that she has embodied throughout her life. They are also serving as my New Year’s Resolutions for 2015. My mom is indeed an inspiration, and I hope she’ll keep breathing life in for many more years.
1) “TrustGod, but do your homework.” This quote she always attributed to her own mother. I think it’s a great motto to pass on from generation to generation. In essence, it acknowledges our humility but does not absolve us from responsibility. We are not in control of all things, but we are in control of some. When you’re able to dance on that line with grace, you’re living wisely.
2) Regularly make the effort to right-size and divest. This comes from her organizational practice, and it’s a great reminder at the end of every year. I’ve watched mom go through “weeding out” stages my whole life. She systematically keeps her possessions under control: clothes, books, papers, housewares, pantry stock, music, everything. Steve & I are furiously reducing inventory at the book business now. Part of the fun is putting those things you divest into the hands of someone who will use and appreciate them. Recycle generously!
3) Gather experiences, not things. I remember my mother answering all inquiries about what she wanted for a gift with some version of this philosophy. She wanted something to live, not something to dust. I hope she gets lots of what she wants for a long time.
photo by Josh
4) “Look wider still.” This is a Girl Scout challenge from International Thinking Day… “and when you think you’re looking wide, look wider still.” My mother loves this slogan. It applies so well to being broad-minded, tolerant, open and forever learning. It’s a big world. Even after 80 years, there’s a wider view to see.
5) “Only connect.” This phrase became the name of a BBC quiz show in 2008. It is derived from E. M. Forster’s novel Howard’s End, where a character says, “Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die.” The phrase has also been used to describe the liberal education, which celebrates and nurtures human freedom. I just learned these references from Google. From mom, I learned that rush of joy, that flush of understanding and the pure delight of living that shows in her face when she utters this phrase at the end of a stimulating discussion. That I learned years ago.
6) Don’t disown your own. “Only connect” applies to people, too, even and especially those near and dear who have a greater capacity to disappoint us. Looking wider than our expectations and our attachments allows us to see that we do not exist in isolation except by our own dogmatic choosing. Long after I learned this from watching mom, I heard it echoed in the writing of Thich Nhat Hahn. “We inter-are,” he says. The cosmos is held together in inter-being. Acting as though we’re separate and separating in judgment is an act of violence against the Universe. Peace is understanding there is no duality.
photo by Josh
7) Let go; let God. My mother has always had the capacity for anxiety. She likes to do things “the right way”, she pays attention to details, and she fears the usual things from failure to death. So do I. Face it, we live in a pretty neurotic culture. Mom showed me by her example how to recognize this in yourself and then to strive to be a “non-anxious presence”. That doesn’t mean she was good at it. It means she practiced. That’s inspiring.
8) “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.” This one comes straight out of the Bible (Ephesians), and it was a practice that she and my father adopted religiously. Every night, I’d hear them from behind their bedroom door, talking in low voices and then praying in unison. Taking responsibility for your emotions and communicating them is another inspiring example. Own your anger; it is about you. Talk about your anger to someone else. Then you are re-connected and at peace. It’s not magic; it’s useful.
9) “Underneath are the Everlasting Arms.” This also comes straight out of the Bible (Deuteronomy), but in the very next line, those arms are thrusting out against enemies and doing violence. The everlasting arms that my mother referred to were supportive. They were secure and safe. If I am to grow out of my neuroses at all, I think I need to begin to trust that the World is a good place. I belong here. Even though I myself and everyone I know will die, we end up right here. That’s the way it is, and there’s nothing wrong.
10) “Let nothing disturb thee, nothing affright thee. All things are passing; God never changeth. Patient endurance attaineth to all things. Who God possesseth in nothing is wanting. Alone God sufficeth. ” Teresa of Avila, translated by Longfellow. Mom had these words written up in her small hand and pasted on the inside of her desk cubbyhole door. It was like a secret she showed me when we were worried about something. All things are passing. This fear, this problem, this moment. Patience. Change and movement is how Life is, and it is well. I really believe that and strive to remember it. I think that all of Life is embraced in that dynamic, including God.
All things are passing, year into year, life into life, microscopically and macroscopically. We are so fortunate to be aware of our experience of it! I am ever grateful to my mother for sharing her life and her awareness and so many of her experiences with me. I look forward to more!
photo by Josh
May each of you be happy and at peace in this year’s ending and in the continuation of Life in the New Year!
Today is my mother’s birthday. She is 79. She is one of the most positive, enthusiastic, intelligent, and wise women I have ever known. She continues to inspire me. A week ago, she moved from her home of 36 years into an apartment at The Meadows, the assisted living facility where my sister and I worked as college students and where my father died in 2010. She is having an absolute ball collecting stories from the residents, entertaining dinner companions, playing the piano in the chapel and lobby, and making connections within her collage of life. She says that her Bucket List has been reduced to a Shot Glass List, and she’s grateful and content with all that she has enjoyed. She told me that she doesn’t ‘make’ New Year’s Resolutions, she allows them to ‘surface’. She shared that the phrase that is surfacing for her this year is “Live peace; take joy”. That conversation made me think of what is surfacing for me. What is surfacing is Shame. And I’m resolved to do something about it.
I have been thinking about shame for some time. Listening to Brene Brown’s TED talks on vulnerability and shame has brought about some introspective reflection on my history and patterns. I was raised by a very authoritarian father, a devout and dogmatic Christian. He was an intellectual, and my mother very candidly told me last night that although he could understand rationally that our behaviors and social constructs must evolve and change and that they weren’t based in any ultimate reality, he didn’t know how to navigate the emotions involved, and so he would fearfully nail those down into a ‘safe’ corner to protect himself. What he then communicated to me, his daughter, was that we are all fallen creatures, sinners whose nature it is to be not good enough, and that we couldn’t be trusted, so to be saved, we must follow a carefully prescribed path and check ourselves frequently for deviation. Our wills are suspect; God’s will is perfect. My deepest desire was to please my father and to be loved by him, so I became a very compliant child. And I bought the idea that whatever I wanted was probably not good, or good enough, and that I would fail to be good most of the time. My best hope was to be obedient, and so I did that to the best of my ability. I became accomplished in being obedient. As I grew up and my father became less central in my daily life, I transferred that obedience to God, the Church, my husband. Finally, after my husband died, I think I took that authority and transferred it to myself, but I ended up carrying out the same message. Now, I tell MYSELF that I am not good, or good enough, and am likely to fail to be good most of the time. In other words, I have taken over my dad’s role in shaming myself.
Needless to say, this is not freeing me to take risks, be vulnerable, be creative, be self-determinant or self-reliant. Instead, it is keeping me in ‘customer service’ when Steve is itching to make me a full partner in a home business (or series of them) so that we can be self-employed and embody the values and lifestyle that WE find important. How do I make the changes necessary to gain this freedom? First, I have to stop telling myself that I can’t. Or shouldn’t. I have to stop shaming myself. I have to become aware of the times when I do it, and I have to let go of them. Like the bubbles surfacing in my champagne. POP! “So, here comes that shaming bubble. I don’t have to analyze it, give it power, or trace it back to someone to blame. I will just notice it, watch it pop and let it be gone.” That’s my resolution for this coming year. Take a cup of kindness, and stop shaming yourself, Priscilla! Then move on.
I am also posting my blog summary for 2013 today. I want to give big cyber hugs to my Bestest Blogger Buddies – Helen, Stuart, Jamie, Naomi and Elena. Thank you for supporting this vulnerable venture and helping me trust myself to create something. (Something ‘worthy’? Something ‘good enough’? STOP. You don’t need to judge it. Create something. And just leave it at that.)
And here’s a sample of what I’ve created on this blog this year. If you’re new and see something you like, please browse around!
When Steve asked me on Sunday if I’d made New Year’s resolutions yet, I grumbled at him, “I don’t jump on that bandwagon.” I had a sore throat that turned into a head cold and was definitely sending out the “leave me alone!” vibe. I make resolutions to do better every single day of my life, and it often becomes an exercise in self-flagellation. Someone I admire does this kind of thing much better than I do: visit her New Year’s post here. (plugging my daughter’s blog – I typed ‘blugging’ first; suppose I can coin a new word?)
Actually, Steve and I had spent quite a bit of time last week discussing and deciding on goals for this new year. We call it “pointing our canoe”. One of the things I put on my list was to submit something to a publisher every month of this year. Another thing on our mutual list was to plan a weekly field trip to learn and research and engage in our love of the land (land ethics, land management, environmental education) and to get outside every day for a walk. I skipped the first two days of this year with a head cold, but I’ve managed in the last couple of days to walk to the car repair shop, the grocery store, the bank, and the cafe where we breakfast with his mom. Now, this might not sound like a big accomplishment, but let me add one bit of info – I live in Milwaukee. And this is what is forming outside my upstairs window:
That, my dear readers, is a tri-cicle (three-pronged icicle; just coined another word – where do I collect?) photographed through the screened window. The center section of this bad boy is about 4 feet long now. This is what outside is like here, and this is where I want to be every day. I don’t want to make it more comfortable, I don’t want to avoid it. My resolution is all about facing the world as it is and appreciating its wonder as a thing that I don’t comprehend or control.