Tag Archives: widow
I’m still alive
Hebba-lubbo, frebbends! (Does anyone remember the PBS show Zoom? Ubby-Dubby language? Anyone? Beuller?) Are you wondering where I’ve been? Why I went AWOL? Have you missed me? *looking up, fluttering my lashes* Well, I feel a need to justify my absence anyway. Silliness aside, I need to take time to write again.
I am anticipating the end of the season for my job at the living history museum, Old World Wisconsin. By the end of next month, I will need to make up those wages by doing something else. Fortunately, my previous employer still values my skills as a proofreader, and I have been able to contract with them for some work I can do at home. Hopefully, I will be able to pick up some new voice students as well. I have been spending my home days working on those enterprises and helping Steve with the book business. So, I have not been spending my home time in leisurely rambles of creative writing. And the memory card in my camera is full, so I haven’t been taking pictures. I have been thinking, though….
Steve and I will soon be hitting the 5-year milestone in our relationship. Our first date was October 4. The evolution of our partnership has been an intense journey toward maturity, and keeping that energy going is quite a commitment. The other day, I went back to some of our early e-mails (yes, I still haven’t deleted them) and came face-to-face with my former self: a grieving widow struggling to be a single Mom for the first time. Yikes! The more dramatic e-mails were the ones I exchanged with my 17-year old daughter. Our grief, our survival, was such a strong agenda that we were hardly communicating anything besides our fears, our wants, our upset feelings. It was very hard for us to listen to each other and be generous. Steve stepped into that gap and calmly spoke his observations without judgment, even when my daughter’s anger was focused on his role in my life. A metaphor that he uses is “clearing the windshield”. We often have so much mud covering up the clarity of what life is and how we want to live it. Steve has always come back to articulating his vision, one that he’s known since he was very young. He’s been very patiently illustrating it over these past 5 years, and I’ve only recently felt that my windshield has been clear enough to see it.
I have been reading a little book he gave me — Finding the Still Point: A Beginner’s Guide to Zen Meditation by John Daido Loori. Here’s the nugget I will keep returning to:
“From birth we have been conditioned by different events and people — our teachers, parents, country, culture, neighborhood, friends, and peers. Everything we cherish — our positions, attitudes, opinions, all of our attachments, all the things we think give our life identity — is found in our conditioning. Now here we are, decades later, trying to live our lives out of this random programming we call “my life”. We feel so strongly about parts of the program we are ready to die for it. And it is all created in our own mind.
There is no escaping the fact that getting beyond this accumulated conditioning is a long process. Thirty or forty years of programming takes time to work through. We look at the thoughts, acknowledge them, let them go, and come back to the breath. Day by day, we uncover what is underneath all of the conditioning. What we discover is called freedom. It is called human life. It is called wisdom and compassion. It’s the nature of all beings.”
Living freely is the reward of maturity. Cleaning the windshield is an arduous, stinky task at times. I am tempted to hide behind the caked-on guck and call it my safe cocoon, expecting my partner to join me there. He will not. Is that ungenerous? Or the most loving thing a friend can do? Sometimes I have a hard time deciding. Even when he doesn’t join me there, he has waited for me to emerge. He finds that very frustrating at times. He would like to see me free. He would like to see all people free, including himself. His sadness and disappointment when we are not free shows in his face and posture. I think of where my daughter and I used to live. We have emerged joyfully from that place. We know freedom. But we are still cleaning the windshield. There is more to be done, and the view from that one clear corner is my inspiration to continue the work.
I am alive. I am maturing. I am working on my life. And I enjoy taking time to write about it every once in a while. Thanks for listening!
Weekly Photo Challenge: Focus
Focus. Concentrate. What is important? Who decides? And what about the other stuff? Again, photography acts as a metaphor for life. How do you get the experience of your own powers of creation? Make decisions, make art, and you know that you are making a universe. Then, unmake it, and you’ll know what you can control and change.
Is the glass half empty? Half full? Is the glass solid or as liquid as its contents but moving at a different speed? Am I half done with my life or beginning a new day? Are the things that exist only in my memory real or not? If they exist in my memory, have I lost them?
I had a birthday on Wednesday, and a good cry on Thursday. The quiet, summer afternoon transported me to another time and place. My husband was alive, snoring in the Lazy Boy in my living room. I had a living room – a full house with 4 bedrooms. My oldest daughter was in her room, reading children’s books. My son was in the yard playing with a next door neighbor. My two youngest daughters were entwined on a bed, thumbs in their mouths, damp curls encircling their sleepy heads. It seemed so palpable…and so untouchable. Never again; though, yes, it was. Once. LOSS loomed in my brain. A word I envisioned; I’d conjured it like the scene of that composite day. When I focused on it, I was awash in gut pain. It was powerful. Over moments, the focus softened. Its power faded. It became a muted background of warmth, of subtle longing, a wistful smile. There are other things in my life. Some embryonic, some ripening. That previous life is like the green light of a summer day. It is there, all around. It is not in focus, though. It is enough.
Weekly Photo Challenge: Nostalgic
Oh, boy. It’s a dangerous thing to invite a widow and empty-nester to post a blog on the theme Nostalgic! Contemplating the past can lead to maudlin stretches and lots of used Kleenex, even if I don’t have a glass or two of wine first. I don’t think that would be at all edifying to the blogging community, so I’m going to try hard to steer away from that. I hope to write and show something that is true about a time that has come and gone.
Life is characterized by impermanence. Our kids don’t stay little; our loved ones don’t stay alive forever. What we live is present moments. If we try to hang on to them and make them more permanent or attach our happiness to them, we are in for a world of frustration. As we get farther away from present moments, it’s hard to remember what they were really like. We lose perspective. That wonderful family outing…did I yell at the kids that day? I don’t remember. I probably lost patience at least once. Did my kids remember that? How did they feel? How did they heal? Or is it all, as my mother often puts it, ‘a merciful blur’?
In my current life, I see a lot of families on outings with their children, since I work at two different family museums. Families interact in all sorts of ways. I try to look at them with compassion and tolerance remembering what I can about how challenging it is to raise 4 kids at one time. The important thing is to BE KIND in the present moment. With your kids or someone else’s. If the world is to be a good place to live, it’s important that all 7 billion of us humans remember to BE KIND. And this is not a glib solution. If you think deeply about being kind, you’ll see that it is a profound power in the universe. BE KIND to your fellow humans. BE KIND to every living thing. BE KIND to yourself first, and feel what that is like. It is peace. It is well-being and health. It is life. Don’t settle for feeling nostalgic about a time when you felt the world was a kinder place to live. Make it a kinder place to live this very moment by acting kindly!
Weekly Photo Challenge: Change
Pema Chodron writes in a book called “Comfortable With Uncertainty”:
According to the Buddha, the lives of all beings are marked by three characteristics: impermanence, egolessness, and suffering or dissatisfaction. Recognizing these qualities to be real and true in our own experience helps us to relax with things as they are. The first mark is impermanence. That nothing is static or fixed, that all is fleeting and changing, is the first mark of existence. We don’t have to be mystics or physicists to know this. Yet at the level of personal experience, we resist this basic fact. It means that life isn’t always going to go our way. It mean’s there’s loss as well as gain. And we don’t like that. …We experience impermanence at the every day level as frustration. We use our daily activity as a shield against the fundamental ambiguity of our situation, expending tremendous energy trying to ward off impermanence and death. …The Buddhist teachings aspire to set us free from this limited way of relating to impermanence. They encourage us to relax gradually and wholeheartedly into the ordinary and obvious truth of change.”
Much of my life and energy of the past 10 years has been spent trying to cope with change, as I watched my husband’s health deteriorate and my children grow from an innocent childhood into a difficult adulthood. Five years ago, my husband died at the age of 47. In my most agonizing moments of wrestling with impermanence, I would take myself for a walk. Two blocks from my house was a place I liked to call “my prairie”. It was a place where “relaxing gradually and wholeheartedly into the ordinary and obvious truth of change” came naturally. At that time, I’d never heard of Pema Chodron and knew very little about Buddhism. But I could see change all around as leaves turned color, decayed, and returned to the soil where new shoots would eventually spring. Cloud formations came and went, as did the warmth of the sun. Paths mown in the prairie grass grew indistinct and were redirected. Small animal carcases seemed to melt into a puddle of fur and bones until even those were carried off or disappeared. Change was constant and friendly, not the scary beast I was beating from my front door every day.
“My prairie” became a very special sanctuary to me. This is where I went on September 11, 2001 to think. This is where I went when I returned to my old neighborhood after moving in with Steve in 2011. This is where I will wander following the Bridal Shower my daughter’s best friend is throwing for her in June. I bring myself and all my changes into this sanctuary, and I feel immediately embraced by the bigger changes of the Universe in its course. All the impermanence, egolessness and suffering of my life seems to settle down into just What Is when I am here. I feel at peace. It is my pleasure to introduce you to my picture of Change…
Weekly Photo Challenge: Thankful
Happy Thanksgiving, everybody! It’s Steve’s favorite holiday, and we’ve eaten turkey for the last 3 dinners. First, it was the 20-pounder I cooked for us and his mom, aunt, sister and brother-in-law. That occasion included a lot of cleaning up and rearranging books so that the book business didn’t take over the dining & living room. The result of that work is being able to provide a comfortable place for people to gather, relax, feast, listen to music, and converse. Holding a safe space open for life to unfold is a responsibility that I willingly accept, and I am thankful that I have figured out how to do that with the resources available to me. I am very thankful for my partner and for the home that we have made together. The day after Thanksgiving, we went down to visit my children in Illinois. With all 4 of them, plus my daughter’s boyfriend and her godfather, we made 8. She cooked another turkey and we brought our leftovers to share for this second feast. I am thankful for my children, for the unique and wonderful people they are and for the fact that I have a healthy, happy relationship with each of them. Yesterday, we drove home, past Glacial Park where we had our first date, back to our clean and tidy little duplex apartment. Steve went back to work, I took a nap, and later fixed some more leftover turkey for supper. Oh, but just before that, something else happened. I had a good cry. You see, my oldest daughter went shopping on Black Friday and bought…a wedding dress. All by myself, back at home, I put on a Louis Armstrong CD, “What A Wonderful World”. I felt happy and lonely, missing her father who died in 2008. I wrote a sentimental bit of poetry, drank some vodka & cranberry juice, and let it flow. Life moves and changes and goes on. We are the bearers of our own memories, the crucible of our own journeys, and no one else shares that responsibility with us. That can feel very lonely sometimes, but it also feels satisfying. I am filled with the weight of my life and still have room for more. For that, I am especially thankful.
Steve and I have been together just shy of 4 years, now. Lately, I’ve been noticing how my thinking about ‘Us’ has evolved. I keep my late husband’s last name, always, to retain that common bond with my children. I have internalized Jim in many ways, as my sister pointed out in a recent comment. I am adding a sense of past, present and future with Steve. I wrote last about celebrating birthdays with his sister and brother-in-law. I do feel like I’ve joined his family throughout a year’s worth of life events now: holiday dinners, post-surgery visits, weekly breakfasts, etc. Now I’m feeling the reflected perspective of work colleagues who met us as a couple. We’ve been invited to our first party! Totally un-family, totally unofficial (although with friends from work), like a real social engagement based on what we do as partners. That’s a new thing for us.
A visitor to the museum met us while my daughter was touring the facility for the first time. I took Emily into the wagon shop to surprise Steve (neither of us knew she was coming). The visitor thought we made such a happy little family reuniting, that she asked if she could take photos. After her visit, she sent this photo to the Historic Society and asked if they’d forward it to us. She included some very nice comments about how delightful and kind we were. I look at it and think of Emily behind her, making me crack up.
We are eager to go off on our next adventure – a 3-week road trip to “Metaphorical Montreal & Maine”. Where we actually end up is immaterial. The adventure is continuing to forge our partnership, responding to new situations like dancers in tango. We are becoming more graceful, more complementary, even though we have many more decisions to make.