Monday, March 11, 2019

Memento Mori

I had a bit of an epiphany when I was walking in the woods the other day. I'm 66 as I write this, my husband is 76. I know that what we are looking at ahead is the inevitability of decline and death.

Sounds terrible doesn't it? 

It's not really. We run away from this our whole lives. But then I remember seeing my grandmother when she was in her 80s, happy and eager to see what was up for lunch. How could Gma do that? (That's her in the pic with me gnawing on her hand in 1953)

OK, intellectually I know this is inevitable. One favourite quote that lights it up is this one: "Things rise and fall. We gain. We lose. Someday, all of us, if we're not hit by a bus, will get a diagnosis. At that time, the question will be what is valuable about life, what do we love."  -- John Tarrant

But the adjustment is not smooth when our usual lives start unravelling. We have to accept the 100 small fails that when younger wouldn't have slowed us down for a second. They add up. And the big ticket ones - well, we have to accept them too.

I can't know what is going to happen, but I can know for sure that it will include death, and likely include discomfort, vulnerability and disease, whether it has my permission or not. 

So, I started to think about what 'inevitable' really means. The word itself. This was my thought process:

That means it is going to happen for sure.
That means it is already written in the stars.
However the future unfolds, it's already written. A done deal.
Not in terms of fate or destiny, but just the simple fact of it.
That means it has already happened.

Now I am starting to get an idea of why people who are old, ill, disabled, and vulnerable are grateful for each day. It's not because they are running away from death, but because they are taking care to notice the 100 little joys in a day.

As I adjust to all this, as I give up any idea that I will survive this, and give up any idea it won't be painful at times, I'd be wise to do the same - stop often through the day and take joy in my life. 

I wish I Gma was here so I could ask her how she coped. She was alway a cheerful soul, even though she had a tough life.

Friday, February 22, 2019

The House Turkey

We had a turkey living in our yard for 6 years. Some of you may know the story. She was a wild turkey raised domestically that escaped and came here, where hunting laws prohibit shooting her. So she stayed.

Her presence was felt all through the neighbourhood. 

Now this wasn't a sweet little songbird like a goldfinch that flitted at the feeders and sang from the trees. She was big. She emptied my bird feeders until I cut costs by buying scratch grain for her from the local feed mill. She flew to our rooftop and bounded from one end to the other barking. Thump, thump, thump, thump. Bark, bark, bark, bark. And then back again. Thump, thump, thump, thump. Bark, bark, bark, bark. And her appearance - she was not the most attractive of birds. She frustrated the neighbours' pets. When dogs chased her, she simply outran them, then lifted off to roost in the pines. When cats stalked, she stayed put on the deck railing and watched them. Every single cat backed down.

Some neighbours grumbled, but most of us enjoyed having her around. Before long, we got used to her warty, mottled face and neck, and appreciated the iridescent sheen of her feathers in the sunlight. Her spotted eggs turned up in the oddest places in the neighbourhood - beside Eva's front step, under Penny's cedar trees. I often found a few in the garden shed. 

Still wild, for a few weeks each summer she flew away. She returned each afternoon for a hasty sand bath in the garden and a belly full of grain. Then off she went again. We never knew where. 

It all ended one snowy midnight. I'd heard the Great Horned Owl for several nights before it struck. In the wild, turkeys like her live for about 3 years. In our yard, she lived for 6. Was there more we could have done – should have done? I don't know.

What I do know is that whenever I hear the distant call of a wild turkey in the hills, I feel a warm, sweet affection at the sound.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Me Time

In my Sunny Days, one of the "Joyful Intentions" that comes up says, "Today I'll make some time for myself." Lately, it's taken on a whole new meaning. Family matters occupied a lot of my attention last year, forcing me to adjust the time I was willing to give to other people and projects.

And boy did people push back.

When I was unable to follow the course in class and my requests to find a way through it went unheard, I was accused of "wanting things my own way."

When I refused to volunteer for an admin positition in a local charity, the woman who called pressed. "It's just one time only." "No," * I answered. "We really need your help." "No." Before hanging up, she mildly accused me of letting them down.

When a new neighbour asked why I hadn't come to her get-together, I told her that I hadn't been up for it. When she suggested I come to the next one, I refused to commit. "If I'm up for it," I told her. But then when she said, "You really should," I had to repeat, "I will if I'm up for it." Even then she continued to push. "It'll do you good to come, even if it takes you out of your comfort zone."

That got my back up.

They all did - a sure sign that my resources were already depleted.

I could understand the push-back. Many are used to me saying "Yes." Some are low-energy too and rely on my compliance to make their own day go more smoothly. A few try to manipulate others to meet their own needs, these ones can be just plain toxic. I wish them all the best. But this is about what I need.

I need to give my time back to myself. Not give others my time, but give it to me.

This doesn't come easily to me, so I asked my husband how I might get better at it. He said, "You're over 65. You don't have to answer to anyone any more." I hadn't thought of it that way. And when I put that to the test, he supported me. He knew of my plans to go to another town for an appointment and hoped I'd want him to drive, so he could pick up a few things on his own while there. But when I said, "Not this time," he was a little disappointed but he was fine with it.

Taking back my time means choosing who I spend my time with. It means taking on activities that energize rather than deplete me, even taking on fewer projects than I think I can handle until I have more reserves. ** Taking back my time can mean puttering in the kitchen at my own pace, answering to nobody but myself. Until I hopped on the train one day without telling anyone I was coming to the city, I had no idea how much the urgency of meeting the schedules and expectations of others had been depleting me. It was a great day.

My time. My schedule.

Do I want things my own way? Sure. But I'm not a princess. Do I want to help the charity? Sure. But I'm not about to take on more responsibility. Do I want to meet new people? Sure. But not right now. People push back for their own reasons. I stand my ground for reasons of my own. It’s better to deal with their lack of grace than undermine my own needs.

Today I'll make some time for myself. It is a joyful intention. Time for me to maybe walk in the woods, or maybe cook a delicious soup, or maybe read a happy book. I can figure it out as I go along. It's up to me. After all, me time is my time.


* See also: Janet's 5 Rules of "NO"
** This reminds me of the cook's rule: "Use a bigger bowl than you think you'll need."

Friday, January 25, 2019

Pure Gratitude

I stopped here because I could barely help myself. It was too cold to linger really, but the beauty of the place, the sounds, the light, the energy captured my attention and then gratitude stopped me in my tracks. I didn't make gratitude up out of the moment, it was more like it made me.

Perhaps that's what Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk, meant when he said, "it is our full appreciation of something altogether undeserved, utterly gratuitous – life, existence, ultimate belonging – and this is the literal meaning of grate-full-ness. In a moment of gratefulness, you do not discriminate. You fully accept the whole of this given universe, as you are fully one with the whole."