A Flash of Unforeseen Remembrance

flash of unforeseen remembrance

Life lessons appear around us each day if we can just remember to be attentive. I certainly wasn’t expecting to find one at a celebration of life ceremony for the son of a friend. I guess because it was unexpected that I felt (and still feel) a tremendous sense of awe and gratitude.

At just 31 years old, unable to recover from a devastating two-year battle with a brain infection, Catzby Pitzvada died on December 17. I had never met Catzby; it was only through the stories of his mom Denise that I knew of him.

The ceremony was TRULY a celebration of life because Catzby lived a full life…full of adventure, travel, learning, music, friendships, laughter, and love.

Although the eulogies and tributes were each uniquely personal, one clear message shone through them all:

  • Catzby cared deeply about people.

  • Catzby understood that relationships need to be nourished.

  • Catzby encouraged those in his orbit to also care deeply about people and nourish their relationships.

A high school friend of his was brave enough to admit that she’s always been kind of a loner. She said she had let many friends drift away, but that Catzby always kept in touch over the years and nudged her to do the same, to keep reaching out, to maintain bonds.

That was the lesson that hit home for me. Because it’s easy to get lazy about relationships.

Right now (without having to think twice about it), I can name four people I’ve been talking about visiting for over a year. Each lives within an hour’s drive from me so why do I only talk about it? Do those people feel loved by my inaction? No. Likely they feel forgotten.

A line of poetry by Edwin Arlington Robinson goes like this:

We cannot know how much we learn

From those who never will return,

Until a flash of unforeseen

Remembrance falls on what has been.

Catzby, thank you for being such an inspiration, for choosing a full and joyful life, for having smile lines around your eyes before you hit 30. And especially thank you for the flash of unforeseen remembrance that we need to hold onto our relationships, to value them and care for them like the precious gifts they are.

~~~~~~

Catzby’s obituary

 

Itsy Bitsy Teeny

infinitesimal

Someone at a party on New Year’s Day mentioned she was vaguely aware of my blog. It turns out a mutual friend had forwarded her several of my posts over the last few years. “How do you figure out what to write about?” she inquired.

My standard answer is that typically I’m inspired by something I’ve heard or read or seen or done. Or sometimes a story or event from my life seems worthy of sharing. Today’s post is different.

At the risk of sounding like a yaya-new-age Mrs. Mysterio, I’m going to tell you the truth. A word came to me just as I was waking from a short nap today.

The dog and I had been going to just rest on the sofa for a few minutes, but the rain lulled us to sleep. As I began waking, the word infinitesimal kept repeating in my mind in a woman’s voice.

As I became fully awake, I tried to make some sense of it. I couldn’t even recall the exact meaning of infinitesimal and had to look it up. Mainly used in mathematics, it means “so small as to be impossible to measure.”

Great. How do I write about almost nothing? It’s a new year, a new decade. I want to talk about BIG ideas and BIG thoughts, and definitely NOT something so small as to be impossible to measure.

But I’ve learned when a topic strongly presents itself to me, it’s my responsibility to write about it. What slant on this subject might be of help or encouragement to my readers?

In considering the concept, I realized that right now, in this moment in time, I know more than one person who is feeling like an infinitesimal.

Their existence feels like nothing; their lives are nearly unbearable. One is due to the tragic early death of a loved one. Another has a multitude of serious illnesses that afflict him. He said recently that he’s in such unrelenting pain that he wishes he could just disappear.

And I’m willing to bet that each one of you reading this post also knows at least one person who feels so beaten down by life circumstances that he/she feels like an almost-zero.

When people are in that state, we need to be there for them. To me, being there means something specific. It’s not showing up with a casserole and a smile and singing “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow.” Each person will have his or her own needs. Listen to your heart and empathically provide what’s needed. It may be simply holding a hand and sitting in silence with them.

This is one time when it’s OK to make something out of (almost) nothing.

 

Great (or Maybe Not) Expectations

expectations

A friend shared the story of attending her niece’s college commencement. In the car on the way home from the event, Auntie remarked to the family in general that she had certainly enjoyed the valedictorian’s speech which had the theme of expectations.

To Auntie’s surprise, her generally sweet and sunny niece harrumphed and then barely audibly snarled the word expectations.

The subject was quickly dropped.

Apparently, that word holds a strong negative connotation for the young woman. I wondered to myself what had been the cause of expectations producing such a negative response from her.

Had she felt undue pressure from professors’ expectations of her? Perhaps she’d majored in a field she wasn’t thrilled about due to family expectations of what she should do. Or maybe she was angry at herself over too many self-imposed expectations. I, of course, am making up these answers. Maybe she was just having a bad day.

The word expectations is common in job performance evaluations. The above-and-beyond winners EXCEED them, most employees MEET them, the “needs help” group PARTIALLY MEET them, and the guy on his way out the door DOES NOT MEET them.

It seems that psychologists generally dislike the word, but mostly for two reasons. One is in connection to having expectations of others without letting them know what they are. In other words, if a wife has the expectation of her husband that he “should” take his clean and folded T-shirts upstairs and put them away but she never clearly states this reasonable request, that’s setting up a possible resentment when he doesn’t take action. (I’m not saying that this happens in our family and I’m not saying it doesn’t.)

The second reason psychologists appear to frown on expectations is when they are unrealistic. If someone who’s in the dating world expects every new date to be a Hallmark movie character, they are setting themselves up for disappointment. Or if someone expects to lose a few pounds but changes nothing in the diet or exercise segment of their lives, then it’s just magical thinking that the pounds will come off.

I actually like the word expectations and I use a phrase to describe what I believe most audiences bring with them to a performance: hopeful expectations.

Consider this: When you’re going to any event (such as a show, a football game, a concert, a lecture, a party, or the circus), you walk through the door with hopeful expectations. Maybe you expect to be entertained, to feel deeply, to learn something, to laugh, to gain information on how to improve, or to be bedazzled.

We attend events expecting to enjoy ourselves. Otherwise, why would we show up?

So instead of New Year/new decade resolutions, I’m going to set hopeful expectations for myself. Here goes. In 2020 I’m hopefully expecting:

  • the people I encounter to be kind
  • to find happiness in each day
  • the blessings in my life to outweigh the struggles
  • that the people I love will love me back every bit as much

~~~~~

Forbes article on unrealistic expectations

Example of performance evaluation ranking

Crosses On The Tree

PLEASE NOTE:  TODAY’S POST IS BASED ON THE CHRISTMAS LETTER I INCLUDED WITH MY CARDS THIS YEAR.

crosses on the tree

A friend asked the significance of the crosses on my Christmas tree. After all, we’re celebrating the birth of Jesus in this season and not his death.

On the first teaching card in the Godly Play lesson titled Faces of Easter we don’t even see the face of Jesus; rather, we see the faces He sees as he looks up as a newborn. Part of the lesson says, “The baby may even see the image of the cross on the faces of Mother Mary and Father Joseph.” As the teacher says those words she gently finger-draws a cross just above the bridge of the nose on the faces of Mary and Joseph.

To me, Christmas and Easter are inextricably linked. You can’t have one without the other.

And one way they’re linked is by something as simple as a breath. Jesus took his first breath the moment he was born and his last breath when he died on the cross that Good Friday.

Unless we have a medical condition that inhibits our ability to breathe, we give virtually no thought to this autonomic body function that connects us to the universe. Go ahead right now and take a deep breath and appreciate what links you to the rest of humanity.

When we’re desperately ill, we may not be able to breathe on our own. And when we’re frightened or numb with anxiety or grief-stricken, it can seem as if we have forgotten even how to breathe.

One of my favorite Christmas songs is Breath of Heaven sung by Amy Grant. Songwriter Chris Eaton, a friend of Amy’s, originally wrote the song with different lyrics except for the chorus. Amy convinced him to let her rewrite the words to tell the Christmas story from Mary’s perspective.

Grant says the song has turned into a prayer for her. The reason it turns into a prayer is that it fits the circumstances of so many people; it is a cry for mercy. On songfacts.com she is quoted as saying: “Some nights on stage I can hardly get through the song for knowing all of the collective, unspoken pain of the lives in front of me. And so the words become my prayer for the listener…”

I think of each of you as I look at the crosses on my tree. Whatever joys fill your life, whatever heavy loads you are bearing this Christmas, my loving wish for you this season is a sense of peace with every breath you take.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Amy Grant – Breath of Heaven

Just Like Cupcake

Today’s post is based on my 2005 Christmas letter.

In November 2004 we made the difficult decision to put down our beloved family dog of thirteen years. Like most old dogs, Cupcake had developed many physical problems. She endured twice daily insulin shots for diabetes. Minimal pain medication for her aching joints had to be carefully monitored as it could have further damaged her ailing liver. Cupcake’s clouded over eyes severely limited her vision. She was nearly deaf as well, and she often became confused, appearing to not know where she was.

We no longer put her on a leash for walks since there wasn’t a risk of her running off. She loved to be outside; rooting around near the trees and bushes smelling for squirrels and other dogs. I usually lingered slightly behind her, letting her enjoy herself. At some point, she would look up and her body would stiffen. I knew she was afraid that she was lost and alone outside. She would stand frozen until I came up to her, touching her gently, saying her name and telling her I was there watching over her. I swear I could see the relief that flooded over her old body. Soon, and with a little spring in her step, she would continue on her way.

It dawned on me that most of humanity ends up like Cupcake. Our eyes become so filled with visions of “things” we want that we lose sight of what God wants for us. Our ears turn deaf to His voice when we are too caught up listening to the busyness and needs of our daily lives. We stumble along and are suddenly frozen with fear that we’re lost and alone. Then God touches us gently, speaking our name, and gives us loving reassurance that He is there beside us, watching over us, loving us more than we can possibly know.

Experience With a Capital E

changed by an experience

Note-taking is in my DNA. I just can’t help it. Whether I’m listening to a TED talk, attending a live presentation, or watching a YouTube or Udemy training, I retain the message stronger and longer if I physically take notes.

Sometimes I even take notes in church. Although our church’s sermons can be found online, if I hear something on Sunday that speaks to my soul, I’ll jot it down at the top of the bulletin. Such was the case with one of Father Ben’s recent sermons. He posed this challenging question: What if we are left unchanged by an experience?

Go back and read that again. Say it out loud. Because it is profound.

Our time is one of our most highly prized resources. We don’t want to waste it or use it on something we will regret. So when we invest our time in an experience, subconsciously we are looking to be changed somehow by that experience.

It would be impossible, of course, to have every one of our experiences be an earthshaking one. But consider that when we hear beautiful music, we may embrace a sense of calm. If we listen to an uplifting podcast, we may experience motivation to make a change. Spending quality time with family or friends can fill our hearts with joy and peace. An hour’s worth of playing with children reminds us that it is indeed freeing to act silly and that it feels great to laugh out loud with others.

A major experience such as a vacation to the Grand Canyon can change us by shifting our perspective to WOW! And those terrible experiences where we wonder if we can ever get past them? Well, those change us as well.

Most of us tend to live life at such a hectic pace that we don’t consider how we are changed by the experiences in our daily activities. Can we slow down just a bit to consider them, to look for them, to ponder them?

Now that the winter weather is here (at least in Virginia), I begrudgingly take the dog out for the cold, right-before-bed pee time. Instead of muttering please-hurry-up-and-go-NOW comments to the dog, what if I would lift my face to the night sky and look at the moon and the stars? That experience of resentment could be transformed into one of gratitude for living where I can truly see the night sky.

I’m convinced if the world would apply this standard of looking to be changed by each experience, the genre of reality TV would cease to exist. And maybe we’d stop watching political rhetoric and the daily sensationalism of what used to be actual news.

Obviously, I was not left unchanged by the experience of Father Ben’s sermon. And if this post has resonated with you, well then neither are you.

Eastern Standard, Daylight Saving, or Beagle

beagle time

My post from October 17 told the story of Your True Nature, the company that has cornered the market on products that share advice from nature. I found their story appealing because I personally believe that great wisdom is found in ordinary people, places, events, and well…dogs.

Consider Grace, my recently adopted beagle. She has three nuggets of wisdom to share with you today.

The first one is this: Consider living in beagle time. Stop being so obsessed with the concept of never having enough time. Please knock off the whining about “too much work and too little time” or weekends being too short. And by the way, no one else cares about how Daylight Saving Time affects you.

In beagle time there is no rushing around to get from place to place. There is only moseying around while sniffing the air, the leaves, the grass. If you go twenty paces and suddenly realize you missed a spot, why you just go back before moving forward. In beagle time we’re not embarrassed when the same runners have passed us three times on the circular path around the park. Beagle time can be quite calming.

Secondly, be courageous! Don’t be fearful about taking on something bigger than you think you can handle. While many dogs enjoy fetching and gnawing on sticks, Grace hunts for whole branches she can drag around. Or she finds the kind of logs that work well in fireplaces. This actually ties directly into beagle time since when you’re dragging around something three times your size, your ability to move quickly is diminished.

The third bone of wisdom is culled from something that just happened. No matter how far away you go, never lose sight of home.

Today we had to be out of town several hours so I hired a wonderful service (My Pet’s Friend) to come to our home to pick up Grace and take her for a walk down our country road. In our meet-and-greet initial meeting, I had warned Missy (the dog walker) about beagle time and advised that when her timed walk reached the midpoint, she would likely have to pick up Grace and literally turn her around. Otherwise, that twenty-minute walk could turn into two hours.

When we arrived home, I read Missy’s note about her visit. She advised that she had attempted to walk Grace down our road, but ended up instead making several loops around our property. You see, Grace wouldn’t go very far from home. In Missy’s words, “Grace didn’t want to lose sight of her house.”

Since we don’t know Grace’s back story of why she was surrendered to the SPCA, I would only be guessing at what was going through her little beagle brain.

But maybe it was that there really is no place like home.

 

Did Sister Hugs Nail It?

sister hugs

We see many worthy quotes on Facebook. Some inspire us to be kind not only to others but also to ourselves. There are those that remind us that we’re never too old to dream big. Some make us smile, some provide encouragement, and a few make us think.

One of my favorite Facebook sources for inspirational quotes is a site called Sister Hugs. They don’t write all their own material; sometimes they repost from other sites. For instance, on October 23 they shared from “Hippie Peace Freaks” a photo of brilliantly red autumn leaves with this statement: The trees are about to show us how lovely it is to let things go.

I do believe their October 27 post is my favorite. It packed a wallop of a message in eight one-syllable words: “One Day or Day One…it’s your choice.”

I know. Ouch, right? We all have these goals, dreams, projects, plans, and ideas floating in our heads. And one day, we will get to them. We hope.

Throughout my life, there have been countless times I’ve said, “One day I’m going to…” And yes, some of those plans and dreams have become realities. But because I said one day instead of day one, I missed out on the full range of enjoyment of the accomplishments. There is no making up for lost time. And the older we are, the truer that last statement seems.

Since I strive for honesty and transparency with my readers, I need to confess that there are plans and dreams still on my one day list. As in, one day I would like to create podcasts of my blog posts so my readers can listen to them in addition to reading them. And one day, I want to publish the two children’s books I wrote years ago.

What exactly changes our path from one day to day one? Is it commitment? Getting rid of excuses? Goal planning? Learning what you need to know to start? Having the time/energy/health/money to take action? Following Nike’s advice and just do it?

I never have all the answers and tonight is no exception. The 7 Steps link below has some good ideas, and I would love to have you comment on what has worked for you.

And then go hug your sister.

~~~~~~

Interesting Podcast Statistics

7 Steps to move forward with your dream

 

The Circle of Family

CIrcle of Family

A child dying before a parent is something that no mom or dad should ever face. Whether that child is six months, six years, or fifty-six years, the agonizing heartbreak is the same.

My nephew Greg died recently. He was born when I was fifteen. I left home at nineteen, and Greg also moved out of state as a young man. So my only recollection of him was as of a little boy.

Seeing my brother Gene’s son lying in a casket, no longer a little boy but a man of middle age, brought forth feelings of deep regret for not having kept in touch with him across the many years and miles.

But deep-seated feelings of contentment and peace outweighed my regret. Because from his mother’s side of the family, Greg’s brother, many cousins, aunts and uncles and friends came and stayed for the two viewings and the funeral service in Pennsylvania. Greg’s two grown daughters drove from Ohio to attend as well. The girls, now with young families of their own, cried when they saw the outpouring of love for their dad.

His daughters hadn’t even known about their aunts, uncles, and cousins from their paternal grandfather’s side of the family. When I held open my arms and said, “I’m your Aunt Norma,” together they fell into my embrace. My sisters and others shared that they had similar encounters over the two days.

Yes, I know there are schmaltzy Hallmark movies about “instant families,” but this was the real deal! It was a perfectly lovely experience shared by many in the midst of a tragedy.

The day I returned home I took the dog for a walk at a local park. I happened upon this view of three trees in a triangle shape about twenty feet from each other. As you can see, one tree branched into two trunks, another into three, and the third into many. I knew it was a perfect metaphor for the funeral experience.

The trees are separate, yes, but joining them together are their roots which have reached out across the expanse almost like hands extending out to reach another’s hands. At first glance, they may appear gnarly. But look closely and admire the beauty of their endurance.

Our individual families may consist of a few members or many. But joining our individual families together are our roots…our family ties. Our family roots run so deep. Sometimes they are deep underground. Other times they reach the surface for all to see. Our roots are strong. They are resilient, withstanding neglect, and years, and miles. Our family roots help us carry one another through sorrowful times.

There is a print that hangs over my son’s bed that says this:

Our family is a circle of strength and love.

With every birth and every union, the circle grows.

Every joy shared adds more love.

Every crisis faced together makes the circle stronger.

 

 

Advice From An Unlikely Source

advice from nature

My guess is that at some time in your life you have read something written by a company called Your True Nature. I gave one of their bookmarks to my son-in-law a few years ago, and my best friend sent me one of their cards that currently is displayed on my bulletin board. But I had no idea the items were from the same company until today.

Your True Nature believes that all of nature gives the best advice to humans. The company creates clever wording to create sage adages that might be provided by various aspects of nature to help us through life. Here’s a partial list (they have over 100) of one snippet from fourteen of them.

Advice from…

Trail – Find inspiration at every turn.

Owl – Be observant.

Pumpkin – Be well rounded.

Lilac – Be scent-sational.

Osprey – Dive in.

Huckleberry – It’s ok to be a little wild.

Mermaid – Don’t get your seaweed in a bunch!

Coffee bean – Break out of the daily grind.

Elephant – Look after your herd.

The forest – Breathe deeply.

The night sky – Expand your horizons.

Lizard – Appreciate stillness.

A sled dog – Mush on!

And my personal favorite from Sasquatch: Live a legendary life!

The founder of the company was originally named Scott Alyn but in 1992 he legally changed his name to Ilan Shamir which means protector of the trees. He had nearly always had a deep love of nature. It was truly bonded when, at the age of 11, he received a magnolia tree from a favorite aunt and uncle. He planted it and cared for it for as long as his family lived at that house.

His nature connection was nourished by spending eight formative summers at camp, both as a camper and later a leader. Ilan was a guide and photographer in the Swiss Alps for some time, and he also spent a month alone in Iceland. His career decisions have always been slanted to “do what you love” and not “do what will earn you the most money.”

Ilan shares the story of how Your True Nature came about. In 1992 in the midst of some difficult times, he leaned against an old cottonwood tree and wondered about what advice the tree might give. Thoughts came to him: Stand tall. Go out on a limb. He wrote down the thoughts into a poem. From that he created a bookmark and then a postcard Advice from a tree. The first store that sold his work reordered within a week.

And the business branched out, just like that tree. In addition to the bookmarks and postcards, the company sells magnets, books, T-shirts, journals, wooden signs, and other related products.

The company appears to be quite mindful of the earth and its resources. They are active in planting trees (over a hundred thousand) and intentionally leave a small footprint by making sure their company is environmentally friendly and has sustainable practices such as printing only on recycled paper.

You know, I just might need to buy that Sasquatch t-shirt.

~~~~~~~~

Your True Nature’s site