the first hundred are the hardest

 

In a few short weeks, my maternal grandmother is scheduled to celebrate her 101st birthday. But the collective perception from those who see her regularly is that she is slowing down somewhat in recent days. Her body is tiring, less resilient to chronic aches and pains, her mind is foggier and memory not quite so reliable. At less than half her age, that’s just a typical Friday night for me.

Grandma will likely not be remembered by thousands nor memorialized for an iconic contribution to our nation or to the world. In fact, she may not even be remembered particularly by anyone outside her extended family and friends circle. But should she be?

Against all odds, this woman has survived two world wars, the Great Depression, the loss of her chosen life partner thirty years ago, witnessed death taking all her siblings and friends, and had three close encounters with cancer. Not only that, she has also been know to strip and ‘repair’ electrical cords on her small appliances and stick forks in her toaster, all while still plugged in. Like I said, against all odds.

After the exhausting task of clearing the hundred year path, you’d think she’d just want to rest and to go gently into that good night. But not Grandma. Her ‘spunk’, as her healthcare workers affectionately call it, is not the stuff of fairly tales or carefully-edited Oprah moments. It is raw, occasionally obsessive and usually accompanied by a scowl, a curled upper lip and sharp comment. It is so distinctly her that there’s no need to take offense. And even though she so rarely ever leaves her room, she still insists on having her hair done daily presumably to be prepared for the day of purpose ahead of her.

Perhaps Grandma’s most valuable contribution is her utter refusal to ever give in, to give up and to insistently demand that she be able to live her life on her own terms. And, for better or worse, I cannot look around at any Christmas or Thanksgiving family dinner without seeing that stubborn yet glorious trait in spades in my mother and in every single one of my siblings.

Grandma continues to write her unique story with the ink of a century of joys, fears, hopes, rejections, loves and disappointments. And, as she prepares to exchange her weighty hundred year-old cloak for a lighter one from the fabulous new spring collection, we know that she will go just as she lived; with every fiber of her being.

Could any of us aspire to any more than that?

 

 

goats and bitterness

 

How does the old saying go? They can’t ‘get your goat‘ if you don’t let them know where you’ve got it tied.  With the goat representing a state of calm centredness, I am clearly in favour of not handing control of that to anyone.  Yet I do, more than occasionally.

 

Goat

 

Recently, my own ‘old goat’ started pulling reactively on its tether in response to an angry written communication I opened in my inbox one morning following my meditation and yoga routine.  The note was laced with distorted thinking, half-truths and inflammatory language crafted for the perceived self-preservation of the sender.

 

Without even taking a deep breath or reading until the end, I started mentally formulating my own equally reactionary response.  I had been challenged to a duel of words and armed with my sharp vocabulary, was ready stand my ground and defend myself to the death.  No one was going to address me like that and get away with it!

 

Then, almost as quickly as the thoughtless yet energizing emotional reaction began, a wake-up call went off like my cell phone buzzing to signal an incoming text.  I noticed how high my stress level had spiked by an external source in a matter of seconds.  In a blink of an eye, I had gone from zen to zany.

 

And for what was I willing to give up this precious calm I had cultivated through my practice?  Distorted thinking, half-truths and inflammatory language from a clearly troubled person?  And to what underlying belief was I clinging to that led me to get so defensive at the thought of someone being so displeased with me?

 

In a more intentional state, I read the words again and noticed where my anger showed up in my body.  With each word, my heart rate increased and I felt anger rise from the pit of my gut, up through my solar plexus until my neck and face were warm with a simmering rage.  I allowed myself to feel the tightness in my chest, the clenching of my jaw and the gave the feeling an audible voice in a few minutes of ranting aloud at audacity of the sender.  As an added bonus, I gave myself a moment or two to nitpick the grammar and spelling and even engaged in one dramatic eye-roll at the ridiculous overuse of capital letters for impact.

 

With that out of the way, the knots in my chest began to slowly unravel.  My jaw and throat became loose and free.  My breathing deepened.  What normally would have been fodder for a couple of days of deep resentment, contempt and chronic complaining was expressed and let go.

 

There was no need for questioning the reasonableness or rationality of my angry reaction. No need for hours wasted articulating a biting response that had nothing to do with the sender and more to do with my need to prove myself justified.  

I had a feeling, felt it in technicolour then moved on.  So that’s how that works.  

 

Peaceful Face

 

In the game of feeling feelings:  Goat – 1.  Bitterness – 0.

lucky to have you

 

Throughout my youth, and especially around the time when I eleven years old, I can only assume it was often challenging for my mother to find time to arrange the extra-curricular lessons for the four of her six children born at that time.

In the case of piano lessons, mine occurred during half of my lunch hour once a week in my Grade 6 year. This meant I had twenty five minutes to walk home from school and eat lunch then have my half hour lesson leaving me five minutes to walk back to school. Conveniently, the piano teacher lived down the street from us.

7/366: Piano Lessons

Squeezing that activity into a one hour “break” might not have been so stressful for one more resilient to overwhelm or had I enjoyed playing the piano but alas, I was not and did not. I enjoyed learning to read music but despite any practice I did, diligently or half-heartedly, it didn’t ease my frustration at having to make both hands work independently together to make a beautiful sound on the black and white keys.

It was like I had some form of manual dexterity dyslexia. Because I have decent rhythm when it comes to dancing, I may have been more successful playing the piano with my feet. Unjustly, my teacher told me often that I was clearly not practicing enough but, then again, I guess she didn’t realize that I was born with two left hands.

It was with the weight of this unhelpful assessment that I headed back to school after one such lesson when I noticed our family dog running around the neighbours’ front yards between my house and that of my piano teacher’s. A good dose of panic set in as I realized that I had five minutes to avert what I perceived to be a huge crisis which I’m sure I perceived regularly at that age. Nonetheless, in my mind, I had to get the dog back in the house before it got hit by a car, bit someone or was picked up by the authorities and taken to the pound and do all this while still getting back to school on time.

hampton

I don’t recall all the details of how that day actually worked out but I do remember one particular moment as clearly as if it happened earlier this morning. Breathless from running to school, I arrived to empty hallways and only distant muffled noises of teachers getting students settled in classrooms. I was late. If you’ve read any of my work before, you’ll realize how difficult being late has been for me. I stood outside my classroom door trying to catch my breath and pull myself together enough to walk into my class late when someone greeted me from down the hall.

It was my English teacher. She was an efficient woman with an unsentimental disposition. I don’t recall having any particular like or dislike for her as a person but I did love English class.

She approached me and asked me if everything was alright. As I told her my story, I tried to disguise the quiver in my voice. She calmly put her hand on my shoulder, told me to take a short walk down the hall to collect myself before I went into the classroom. She said that she would tell my teacher that I would be in class in a few minutes. And then, as I turned to go, she assured me that everything would be okay and that I could handle whatever else the day would bring.

It was what I needed to hear. In no more than sixty seconds of her time, she heard me, encouraged me and made me consider my own personal strength.  All in less than a minute.

She likely never noticed the one moment of the dozens she’d had that day or the impact it had on me. If I met her today, she’d not even remember me let alone the incident but, decades later, I still remember because she took the time to make a connection. On that day and in that situation, I was lucky to have her.

The long-felt impact of little moments in your day may never become apparent to you. But somewhere, in some situation, someone needs less than a minute of your time to be heard, encouraged and empowered.

four-leaf clover

Do you have one minute today to hear, encourage and empower someone?  Look around. Who is lucky to have you?

 

 

 

 

 

little discomforts

 

In three seasons out of four, I most often read and write under an espresso-brown fleece throw in my overstuffed living-room chair. Especially on the chilly days, I even have a space heater at my feet as the winter wind whips around the bare branches of the tree right outside my window.  Inside, my home is dressed in a warm palette, with textured and inviting fabrics, round edges, fresh flowers and candles waiting to be lit in most rooms.

 

ingredients: novel, chair, pillow, sunlight

 

My place is a pillowed sanctuary from the occasionally-harsh conditions of the world for an introvert and one with more than her fair share of sensitivities. Too much light, noise, extreme temperatures, too many demands, stress, drama or chaos can all have me diving under the fleece for a reprieve.  Can you say ‘high maintenance’?

While having this place of serenity has been my sanity saving grace on many occasions, I’ve recently discovered that I may also be using it as a form of self-medication. Not only to soothe my weary psyche after a long workday but to also wrap myself in a cocoon of self-talk about why it is unnecessary to indulge in anything that makes me feel bad.  Uncomfortable.

 

Most recently, I’ve noticed that I’ve become quite elegant at avoiding the following:

  • Beginning a task with a long-term deadline where progress is not quickly noticeable.
  • Initiating a conversation with someone involving me asking directly for what I want.
  • Allowing myself to fully express a hard, vulnerable feeling even when I’m alone.

 

Because of my well-developed verbal reasoning skills, I’m able to convince myself that I’ve been through enough stress through the working day so when I get home, I don’t want to deal with more drama. I simply want the comfort that is due me.

The problem with this approach is that the challenges I avoid only appear to disappear like a parent does to a toddler when his pudgy little hands are covering his eyes in a game of peekaboo.

 

Peekaboo!

 

So where do the hard things go? According to my bodywork therapist, I have a few holding points for them in my shoulders and lower back that are asking for my attention often.

Beneath the layer of avoidance of uncomfortable things, there is a deep river of grief and fear. Not having to wade into those waters is so much easier if I choose instead to focus on procrastination, choose solitude over relationships and talking myself out of feeling feelings even though I’m standing hip-deep in them. Grief and fear. The Big Discomforts.

 

River Clare Water Cascade

 

Since storing unprocessed emotional material in my body’s cells is hardly a positive long-term solution, it seems that engaging in little discomforts might be a start. Breaking it down into manageable chunks. Looking beneath the surface irritation, panic, procrastination, the avoidance and the desire to cocoon for a glimpse at the dark flowing waters below.

This week, I began by allowing some little moments of uncomfortable, raw, exposed vulnerability in the safety of my sanctuary.  Without trying to self-soothe and negotiate an express trip through the process.  As unnerving as it is to begin, initiate and feel deeply, little by little, I’ve found surprisingly, they don’t consume. Under the panic, grief and fear are feelings. Just feelings. Feelings asking to be felt instead of hidden away as muscle aches and pains, physical tightness and exhaustion.

They exist whether I give them room to breathe or not.  But what could be released, opened and nourished as a result of opening the door to little discomforts?  Capacity to sit with The Big Discomforts?

I guess I’ll see.  Little by little.