Archive for February, 2011

“One may not reach the dawn save by the path of the night.”

— Kahlil Gibran

Today is a school holiday.  My teenager will likely rise at the crack of noon.  My sweetheart set the alarm clock a half-hour later than usual, knowing that there would be no jockeying for position in the bathroom this morning.  As I settled in last night, I told myself that this would be a golden opportunity for me to snag some extra sleep.  The first time I awoke was at 2:30 AM.  I had been dreaming one of those dreams that is filled with puzzles and dilemmas.  One by one I had solved them; and maybe I wanted to open my eyes and see whether that ability to untangle challenges also would follow me to the waking world.  I willed myself back to sleep and spent two deep, dreamless hours of bliss before my internal alarm sounded at 5:00AM.  Enough of this, I thought; and with a stretch and a yawn, I slipped out of bed into the morning darkness.

Maybe it’s the buzz in the air as the full moon has taken over the night sky.  Just before bed last night, I saw her glowing through the clouds and sending a diffuse, hazy light through the veil of night.  I thought of the morning to come and what sorts of colors those clouds would display when the sun took over the day shift.  Who could sleep with all that anticipation swirling through the night?  Perhaps there is additional excitement of promised springtime temperatures today.  Whatever the reasons, I’ve found myself once again enjoying the still, dark hours just before the break of day.

There have been many times in my life when Gibran’s words would apply to overcoming hardship or difficulties.  Today they apply only in the most literal sense.  When the moon is full and casting her spell on the swirling darkness, when the land of dreams fills my mind with hope for success, when the promise of another day shines with such intensity, there is no chance that this will be the day to sleep in.  When I remove the word “should” from thoughts of sleeping late, I find myself left only with gratitude for a spirit that loves the night as well as the day and rises to greet the dawn.

Yesterday morning I awoke as usual with a whole new day ahead of me.  I lived and loved and worked and played for seventeen hours before I returned to my bed at the close of the evening.  By the time I closed my eyes and sank into my pillow, I had become a different person.  Each event of each hour of each day of my life changes me in some way.  I know this because I sometimes take the time to reflect on the weeks and months and years that have made up my life.  In the big-picture view, I can see that I am not the person I was when I was twenty or forty or even sixty years old.  I suppose it is no secret that we grow and change and age as the years go by; but I have been thinking about the changes that have happened to me and thinking of how they have changed the way I see myself in the midst of living.

How we respond to the events that change us determines who we become as we evolve throughout a lifetime.  The scientist — or perhaps she is a philosopher —  who lives in my mind asks, “So what?”  If I am to believe, as I do, that each of us has a purpose for being alive, then I need to assume that we change for some good reason.  When I reflect on the years that have passed in my own life, I see that the result of all the changes is that I bring something different to the world each time I grow.

Change is a part of being alive — of being human.  Sometimes the changes that the world brings my way are profound.  Most times they are subtle and nearly go unnoticed.  The “so what” question becomes important when I realize that just as the world impacts me and changes me and causes me to become something new in each passing moment, I then impact the world as a changed person.  Each time I change, it is a new person who makes choices, forms intentions, and carries out actions that can change the world.  Some changes in the world are profound and readily visible.  Most changes are subtle and nearly go unnoticed.  Just as I can reflect on years of change and see that I have become a different person than I was twenty years ago, I can reflect on the world around me and see how the cumulative effect of the changes each of us contributes to the universe have an impact that is obvious when viewed over time.

Change happens all the time.  Sometimes the world changes us, and sometimes we change the world.  The difference between yesterday and today may not be obvious; but when we look at the big picture and see how change accumulates over time, we begin to see that all those subtle differences do add up.  We learn that each event that takes place in each moment matters in ways that we might not understand today but will live with tomorrow.  We have a wonderful opportunity to take all we learn as life changes us and use it in ways that will change our world for the better.  Let’s be aware of the changes that come our way and ask, “So what?”  When we embrace change and become aware of its lessons, we can live intentionally and be the change we would like to see in the world.

“To us also, through every star, through every blade of grass, is not God made visible if we will open our eyes.”

— Thomas Carlyle

The glaciers are receding, the sky is bright will promise, and Spring is on its way to our world.  Well, they’re not really glaciers, but when I saw the rows of snow piles created in our park by the truckloads of snow removed from the streets this winter, I thought of glaciers.  As I walked gingerly over the black ice created by yesterdays stream of melting water, I realized that it won’t be long before they disappear and give the world over to the green of Spring.

For weeks I’ve missed my morning walks as show gave way to ice that blocked my walking route.  Today I returned to my morning spots and was filled with the hope of warm days ahead.  Circles of ice surrounded the trunks of trees where yesterday’s melting had frozen during the night.  Bare patches of earth in drier locations sent out the first scents of soil and grass that have touched the air since the last days of Fall.  “She’s back!” called the crows from their treetop posts, and I wondered whether they saw me as one of the harbingers of Spring.  I called back to them.  “Good to see you!  Have you wintered well in your place beyond the clouds?”  A lone towhee called out his name from a hiding place deep in the branches of the pine.  In a week or two, maybe he will join us in the visible world; but for now he remains hidden in his winter home.  The sun began to assert his place as ruler of the sky, and I reveled in my return to my favorite sunrise spot.  There is nothing like the cold, dark winter to bring us renewed joy at the coming of Spring.  I tucked my hands deep in my pockets and left the bridge to Spring behind.  My fingers warmed just in time to retrieve my camera once again and share with you the last surprise of my return.  There, on the sweet magnolia tree, buds by the hundreds had appeared, promising that beauty and new life lies just around the corner.  Standing once again on the bridge to Spring, I felt my heart skip a beat.



This year, on Valentine’s Day, I had a long chat with my elderly father — about living and loving and about seeing his sweetheart, my mother, becoming more and more encapsulated in a world called dementia.  This is for you, Mom and Dad — a belated Valentine.

After Valentine’s Day

You brought me flowers

And I loved you.

When their petals have fallen

And their colors have faded

I will love you still.

You brought me candy,

And I loved you.

When the sweetness is done,

And the ribbons are frayed,

I will love you still.

You were young and handsome,

And I loved you.

When wrinkles have grown,

Where your muscles were firm,

I will love you still.

You danced into my heart,

And I loved you.

When our steps have slowed,

And we hold tight for balance,

I will love you still

You lit up my world with your eyes,

And I loved you.

When the light grows dim,

And the flame burns low,

I will love you still.

I will hold tight your hand,

And gaze into your eyes.

With the eyes of my soul,

I’ll again see the beauty,

The sweetness,  the memories

Created and shared.

In my heart, I will dance

In the light of  your love

And I will love you

Still.

♥   ♥   ♥   ♥   ♥

©Pamela Stead Jones 2011

“Life has taught us that love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.”
— Antoine de Saint-Exupery
I remember when I first met my sweetheart.  On one of our earliest dates — lunch at Chi Chi’s restaurant — the service was a little slow, and we sat across the small table from each other, fingertips touching, and gazed into each other’s eyes.  There was an instant, one of those immeasurable flashes of divine light that forever after is a part of who you are, when I looked into his eyes and saw his soul.  The connection that was formed in that micro-moment forged a bond that sealed our future.  Within a year, we were married.  To say that our courtship was non-traditional would be an understatement.  Most of our dates included my two children — ages 14 and 7 — and his son — age 5.  Joining our two groups would be a challenge.  We knew this from the start; and somehow when we talked about putting us all together, the words, “Krazy Glue” always seemed to be a part of the conversation.  When we heard the term, “blended family,” it conjured up memories of the Bass-O-Matic commercial on Saturday Night Live.

We were married on Pearl Harbor Day — December 7th — in 1985.  Our first weeks were spent in the house I had rented for my gang, as we spanned the gap between the sale of Mark’s little home and the availability of the one we would share as a new family.  Those first weeks made some good memories, but it still felt as though Mark and David were just in town for a long visit.  Then, on Valentine’s Day in 1986, we packed up two households and moved to neutral turf.  Today marks the 25th anniversary of the launch of our family.
February 14, 1986 was a memorable day.  We were expecting the arrival of Mark’s four brothers from upstate New York.  They would be our manpower for the move, along with Mark and our son, Max.  Instead, an ice storm blew through and stranded our moving company.  We were on our own.  Local friends volunteered to pitch in, and the move was on — completed by two men and four teenage boys.  I remember being sick as a dog, which turned out to be the first sign that our son, Daniel, would arrive in late September.  Between bouts of nausea, I would stand at the door, read the labels on the boxes, and give directions to the rooms where they belonged.  With two fully functional households to combine, the supply of boxes seemed unending.  I felt as though I were in some bizarre rendition of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and I remember wondering more than once just what I had gotten myself into.  We had to be crazy to think that we could pull this off!  At last, all the furniture had made its way into the house.  At long last, the moving truck was empty.  Our friends headed for home, we did our best to mop the slush and mud from the floors, and congratulated ourselves on being wise enough to make the kids’ beds our first priority.  We had assembled them first thing in the morning so we would be sure they would have a place to sleep at the end of moving day.  We herded them upstairs and pulled out the bag I had packed with pajamas and toothbrushes.  It was then that we discovered our day was not over.  Our strong and willing teenage movers had dutifully hauled those dozens of boxes to the second floor and neatly stacked them on the beds in each room.  It took another hour to stack the boxes in corners and tuck the kids into bed.

We learned a lot about the life we would share on that moving day.  We learned that our plans might not always lead us in the direction we thought we would go.  There would be unexpected storms that would require us to regroup and use our ingenuity to attain our goals.  We would need endurance.  Sometimes you think you’ve done a great job and arrived at your destination, only to learn that the boxes are stacked on the beds.  It is good to discover that even when you are tired, love will let you encourage one another to go the extra mile.  We also learned that even at the end of an exhausting day, the kids will jump on the beds the minute you leave the room.  This might have given us a clue about what lay ahead; but in spite of it all, we ended up adding four more children to the mix.  As I reflect today on the “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1986,” I realize that the important truth I have learned since that day of beginnings is that in spite of all the surprises that have come our way, there is no place I’d rather be and no one I’d rather be with than here in my home with my sweetheart.

It was a magical gift we received that day at Chi Chi’s, in the moment when his eyes revealed the depths of his soul; but the gift of that moment truly became evident when we were challenged to stand side by side and look outward together in the same direction.  The miracle that bonded us in less than an instant joined our love in such a way that wherever we looked together we could share the deep love we now could bring to our world.  Sometimes, to this day, when I have a moment to gaze into my sweetheart’s eyes, I still can see the depth of his love; and in the midst of that love, a mirror shows me that my own love is the same.  I used to think that being in love meant feeling warm emotions when you are with your beloved.  I now know that “being” in love means letting the love you share surround you and move through you and be the foundation of all you do together.  It is a wonderful thing to “be” in love with another.  My, how we have grown.  Together.

“Joy is not in things; it is in us.”

— Richard Wagner

What is it that brings you joy?

Immediately, my mind goes to beautiful sunrises when I stand silently and anticipate the surprising beauty that I trust will arrive differently each day.  I think of sunsets that fill me with the same melancholy joy I feel when I watch the last embers of a fire glowing among the ashes of the blaze that now has run its course.  I think of rocking my babies in the depth of night and holding them close as they gaze into my eyes.  I think of watching them grow and discover who they are as they make their way toward choosing their own lives.  I think of warm times spent with family and friends.  I think of difficult times when we discover, in the midst of our sadness, the strength and depth that lies within us and brings us back to center again.  Living a life filled with joy lights the path ahead of us and gives us the gift of warm, peaceful memories of places we have been.  It fills our days with excited anticipation of what lies ahead and fills our dreams with lighthearted reflections of times past.  So many things bring joy to our days, and each of us has our own list of joys that is our own.

When I think of all the things that bring me joy, I realize that there are people who yawn at sunrises and sunsets — seen one, seen ’em all.  There are people who grudgingly leave their beds when babies cry in the night and spend those times dreaming of the day when the little one will sleep until morning.  There are those who need their kids to perform to their own standards of success and those who cling too long to the children who must struggle to become adults.  So many different things bring joy to different people.  Why is it that the joy is not equally distributed to all by the same things?

Wagner, whose music has brought joy to generations of listeners, tells us why this is true.  Joy is not in the things around us.  Joy is inside each of us.  It is not the people or things who bring us joy.  We bring joy to the world we live in; and when we bestow the gift of our joy on the people we meet and the experiences we have, then we are able to see in tangible ways the joy that we carry within.  When others see us joyfully living each day, then we can touch their inner joy as well and call it from their depths and into the world.

It is our choice.  Whether we live our joy and fill the world with its splendor or choose to settle for external pleasures that are here for a moment and then disappear is for us to decide.  Look around you today and recognize the joy that others spill from their hearts into the things they do.  If they touch the joy the lives in you, then let your own joy send light to the world.  It really is the only way to truly live.


February Sunrise

Like the glow

In a fireplace,

Simmering Sun

Warmed the horizon

On embers of night.

Shadowless groundhog

Predicted this day,

Yellow orange sky

Wishing winter away.

Coatless, I ran

Toward the promise

Of Spring;

Breath casting clouds

I arose, like the sun,

My heart pounding wildly

With rhythms of change.

In the midst of the chill,

The ankle-deep snow,

The chill wind came howling

The cold song of winter.

But deep in my heart,

Where promises light,

The sun’s coals glowed brightly

O’er embers of night.

Soon.

© Pamela Stead Jones 2o11

“Habit is necessary; it is the habit of having habits, of turning a trail into a rut, that must be incessantly fought against if one is to remain alive.”

— Edith Wharton

Good habits create order in our lives.  We go to bed on time so that we are able to wake up in the morning and get to work on time.  We brush our teeth with regularity so that they remain healthy.  We eat on schedule and clean up behind ourselves in the kitchen so that our environment remains clean and orderly.  We bring in food and take out trash.  We do the laundry and mow the lawn.  When you think about it, there are a lot of habits that structure our days.

As we become older, it seems that we rely on habit more and more.  Maybe as our minds slow and our ability to make decisions in the moment becomes less, we make habits of our daily routines in order to be certain not to forget something important.  Longevity runs in my family.  My parents are now 88 and 89 years old, and they recently moved to an Assisted Living facility.  My mom has suffered from dementia for years, and the decision-making responsibility they once shared has fallen in Dad’s lap, along with the shopping, the banking, the errands, the cleaning, and the laundry.  Dad built their life during these difficult years on habits — habits that gradually dug a rut where there once was a trail.  As his own ability to manage even their habitual life declined, he found himself in a rut so deep that now he struggles to accept the new way of life that can ease his burden.

My grandpa died in 1983.  I remember my mom and dad struggling to help Grandma and Grandpa as they reached an age where they no longer could manage all their daily needs.  It was a difficult time for my folks.  Balancing respect for my grandparents and the demands of their own lives became a constant battle, and the solutions Grandma and Grandpa proposed were not even realistic.  They longed for the old days when their son and daughter still were at home; and at one time Grandma decided that her middle-aged kids and their spouses should come and live with them.  “We could be a happy family.”  In the midst of all of this, my parents made a plan.  They reserved a spot in a three-tiered community — one with independent living apartments, assisted living apartments, and on-site nursing care.  They gathered my sisters, my brother, and me, and made us swear that when they reached a time where they needed more support that we would band together and insist that they follow their well-made plan.  Now that the time has come to carry it out, we are facing the same struggles our parents did, in spite of their good plan and loving intentions.

It struck me today that I am the same age now that my Dad was when his father died.  As I think of the way my grandparents struggled to find happiness in their later years, and as I watch my parents suffering the same sense of loss as their old life fades away and is replaced by new and unfamiliar things, I wonder whether this will be my own fate as well.  I look at the way my father’s habits became the foundation for his independence.  I look at how they subtly became a rut rather than a trail.  I look at how much easier it is for him to keep wearing down the floor of his rut as he paces back and forth than it is to expend all the energy required to climb out and walk on a different trail.  We can tell Dad that happiness lies on the new trail; but, to him, it feels like giving up all the things that have made him independent and real and human and respected.

I look at my own life as I sit here with the same perspective my father had when his elderly father created dilemmas for him.  I want to tell my children not to listen to me if I become my dad one day, but I have to admit that this method has fallen short.  Instead I think of the habits that lie on my own path.  Am I allowing parts of my life to become habitual when they really don’t need to be so structured?  Do I feel upset or derailed when my daily schedule varies from the norm?  I’m thinking that now may be the time to exercise my flexibility and keep it strong as I move into the last part of my life.  Now may be the time to purposely vary my schedule and not let my days become rigidly controlled rather than just managed by good habits.

On a retreat last Fall, I decided to engage any new activities that would come my way.  This meant that I stepped outside my own comfort zone and joined in a session of African dance.  My habit is to say, “I’m not very good at dancing…I think I’ll just watch.”  Instead, I got in line and did my best to be a part of the group.  I learned that day that African dance was not an activity that I would embrace; but I learned it by joining in, not by hiding in the depths of my rut.  As I watch my dad struggle with accepting changes, I can’t help but think that I should be approaching each day the way I approached that retreat.  I should make a practice of adding new activities into my life.  I should work at varying my schedule several times each week so that having dinner at 5:30 rather than at 5:00 will not become unsettling as my habits become more plentiful and my sense of security becomes more tied to sameness.

I think I’ll go now and decide what new thing I will explore today.  Maybe I will deviate from my usual route and walk in another direction.  Maybe I will get my groceries at a different store.  Maybe one day soon I will write my blog after lunch instead of in the early morning.  Good habits serve us well, but a sense of adventure and some flexibility can make us feel alive.  I plan to cultivate those things.  Maybe that will be the advice I give to my own children.

“Even so, one step from my grave,

I believe that cruelty, spite,

The powers of darkness will in time,

Be crushed by the spirit of light.”

— Boris Pasternak

For the past few days, I’ve been thinking a lot about life and death — light and darkness.

Yesterday marked the 31st anniversary of the death of my son, Brett.  It is beyond my ability to understand that if he were alive, we would celebrate his 38th birthday next month.  As I posted his picture on my Facebook page along with two dates, connected by a tiny dash, I tried to understand why it was important for me to do such a thing.  Thirty-one years is a long time.  A whole lot of living has taken place since Brett’s departure, and he has not be a part of the continuing story of my life.  I have watched my other children grow and change and mature into adults.  I have watched them become parents and welcomed grandchildren into my life.  The only appropriate comment I could think of to place under my son’s picture was, “Love goes on.”

It struck me yesterday, as I looked at that familiar school picture, that there are beginnings and endings to life.  My second child will be forever six years and eleven months old.  I don’t get to call him on the phone or hear about the exciting things that go on in his life.  Sometimes our present days are so full that his short time on earth seems like a distant dream.  One of the ways that I can allow myself to fully embrace each day as it comes is to reserve time on two days each year — Brett’s birthday and the day of his death — to bring him out of the distant dream and into the front of my mind and the center of my heart.  I speak his name.  I think of all the events of his short but happy life.  I remember my little boy and his full-tilt speed and funny laugh.  I think of how he would now be Uncle Brett to his six nieces and nephews.  I think of how he might have children of his own and a partner to cherish.  I return to the dream and remember the days that really did happen so very long ago, and I speak his name, and it feels good to remember.

My former mother-in-law lived to be 100 years old.  She was Brett’s grandmother; and she cherished him, just as she loved each of my children — even those born of my second marriage.  As she grew older, Dorothy often would tell me, “the most important thing is to be remembered.”  I thought she was speaking of her need to be assured that when she died her life would not simply vanish from the memories of people she loved.  I understand now that her words held truth for those of us who outlive our loved ones and go on without them in our daily lives.  It is good to remember.  It is good to remember the vitality that Brett and Dorothy brought to each of their days on earth; and it is good to realize that we honor their memory by living each day wholeheartedly, even in their absence.

At the time when we face losing someone dear, it can seem as though darkness has won.  Their light has been extinguished, and we are left to sit in the dark, missing the light of their presence.  What time has taught me is that the darkness is temporary.  The light goes on, because we create it each time we remember the joy and laughter and living that marked our loved ones’ days.  We carry the light in spite of not having them near to walk with us.  The light wins; in the end the light always wins.

I am thankful for the time I had to share with my son, a little boy who lit up the world everywhere he went.  I am thankful for days of remembering that allow his light to shine through a pinhole in the veil and make me warm as I return to my dreamlike past.  I am thankful for the chance to speak his name and the dates that surround his dash.  His story is one of light that overcomes the darkness.

“Love a man, even in his sin, for that love is a likeness of the divine love, and is the summit of love on earth.”

— Fyodor Dostoevsky

Recently, a friend reached out to me with a question about something bad — even evil — that had happened to another person.  Although she acknowledged that there probably was little or nothing that she could do about the situation that lay in the past, she struggled with how to live with such things in the world and know about them but not be able to change them.  When bad things happen to good people, we feel a sense of outrage.  When evil goes unpunished and those who hurt others walk away unscathed, we can feel helpless, angry, and confused.  Good is supposed to win.  How can we assure that evil will not prevail?

For the past week, my sweetheart and I have been reading The Biology of Belief, by Bruce H. Lipton, Ph.D.  Lipton has taken us on a journey through the new biology, connecting the dots between the behavior of individual cells and the way it relates to our interactions with our environment.  We have been fascinated with his views on nature vs. nurture, and he has changed our way of thinking about our own existence.  What I want to share today from Lipton appears in his Epilogue.  He separates it from the book about Biology, because he realizes that science resists including Spirit in its realm.  Lipton compares the Creator/Source to White Light.  He encourages us to see the example of what happens when white light is passed through a prism.  The prism splits the light into a rainbow of colors — each distinct and beautiful in its own right.  When we are born, passing through the prism of the Creator, we take on unique identities as we live in a physical world.  Then Lipton reverses the process.  When all the colored rays of light are passed through the prism in the opposite direction, they recombine to once again become white light.  If you leave out one color, the process fails.  All of them are needed for the recombination to succeed.  Lipton says:

“I see that White Light will only return to the planet when every human being recognized every other human being as an individual frequency of the White Light.  As long as we keep eliminating or devaluing other human beings we have decided we don’t like, i.e., destroying frequencies of the spectrum, we will not be able to experience the White Light.  Our job is to protect and nurture each human frequency so that the White Light can return.”

There is someone in our life who has done many things to hurt us and our family.  My sweetheart and I struggle with the events that have caused pain to us and to the people we love.  Yesterday, as we were driving home from a basketball game, my darling turned to me and said,

“What color do you suppose (Person) is?”

I thought for a moment.  “Muddy brown, with a touch of gray?”

“Yeah,” he replied, “and maybe with a little blood dripping around the edges.”

Yeah.  A little blood.  Nice touch.  He continued:  “And in order to create White Light we need to bring (Person) through the prism.”

Wow.  How do we reconcile that the White Light who created us also created the person we see as evil?  Then I wondered what color that other person sees when s/he looks in the mirror.  I wondered what color people see when they look at me.  I wondered what the White Light sees when looking through the prism at the world on the other side.

I think Dostoevsky has the right idea.  As we sit on our side of the prism and gaze through it to glimpse the White Light, we are drawn to seek the way to become that beautiful, complete light.  The answer is simple, but the execution of the answer is a struggle — we must love others, even in their sin, and hope that they will do the same for us.  Each of us needs each other being who walks the earth.  We all are pieces of creation and separate rays that have split from the White Light.  In order for Love and Light to surround the earth, we must recognize our oneness with all who share our planet.  We must draw ourselves together with love, even while we are in our sin, so that we can again become one with our Source.