Archive for July, 2013

“Happiness is like a cat. If you try to coax it or call it, it will avoid you. It will never come. But if you pay no attention to it and go about your business, you’ll find it rubbing up against your legs and jumping into your lap.”

— William Bennett

If you ask just about anyone you meet what they want out of life, it is a sure bet that happiness is probably near the top of the list.  Advertisers certainly know this; and they spend millions of dollars trying to convince us that buying a specific product or seeing a specific film or vacationing in a specific place will make us happy.  We pursue the goods and services that promise us happiness, but it seems that we still come away feeling empty and wishing for more.

Our society has done us a great disservice.  We no longer know the difference between being happy and being entertained.  We seek things that entertain us and make us laugh out loud or offer us the artificial tears created by someone else’s idea of nostalgia.  We have been taught that happiness is something that lies in front of us and waits to be picked up and put on like a jacket and worn until we tire of it and leave it by the side of the road.  We have been taught that happiness can be bought and sold and that the highest bidder will win the prize.

It is sad that we spend so much of our time searching for something that is not only close at hand, but deep within us.  It is not for sale and cannot be bought at any price.  The secret to finding happiness is simple — all we need to do is live fully and be who we were born to be.  When we are in harmony with our own purpose, happiness comes searching for us.  We must not be confused by the definitions of happiness that are given by others.  Happiness is a personal thing, and when we live our truth and walk in rhythm with the universe, we will know what it means to be happy — not simply contented, but truly fulfilled.

“For everything you have missed, you have gained something else, and for everything you gain, you lose something else.”

  — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Change is in the air this morning.  The horrible heat and humidity that have weighed down the very air we breathe have released their grasp and allowed the breeze to blow again.  It whispers through the trees and awakens the hiding birds; and they venture out of their shelter and into the morning.  All through the neighborhood, their song of change sings out; and I am called from my own hiding place to explore a fresh new world.  For the first time in a month, I release the stagnant thought that this summer — one of such intensity that it has masked the glory of the world in full bloom — might go on forever.  Now I must hurry out and take in every single blossom and every leaf on every tree.  The crisp morning breeze reminds me that Autumn lies just around the next bend in the river; and I sway to and fro between relief and sadness as I feel the change coming.

Change is on my mind today.  I would say that it is part of being alive, but the truth is that it is change that defines living.  We forget during the dog days of summer that anything different might exist; but just as we relinquish any hope of relief, the breeze of change blows the stagnant air away and shows us a fresh, new perspective.  On the most difficult days of our lives, I always tell my children that the best thing about life is that it always changes.  There is no avoiding it.  What is important is to remember on the most joyful days that the only way to look ahead to more joy is to release our hold on the wonderful moment and trust that change will bring us to such wonder again and again.

I have a little granddaughter whose passion for living each moment is so immense that nearly every time she comes to play, she has to cry when it is time to go home.  “Don’t cry because you’re leaving,” I tell her, “smile because you know you can come again.”  This is the lesson of living — to welcome the changes that define our lives and embrace them fully, trusting that no storm goes on forever and that smooth sailing might lack adventure without a wave or two to keep us alert.  We are creatures of change; and with each passing moment we, too, are changing.  For each choice we make, dozens of others go unmade.  For each loss we experience, we gain wisdom and insight that leaves us more alive today than we were yesterday.

I must go now.  The wind of change is blowing through the trees, and it is calling me to a new adventure.  What it will be I do not know, but I must walk now until I reach that place, just beyond the next bend in the river.  It isn’t clear what lies there, but I know for certain that as I choose to go there, I will never again be the same.

“He who has gone, so we but cherish his memory, abides with us, more potent, nay, more present than the living man.”

  — Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Our summer travels for basketball games have ended.  The laundry is done and stored in drawers and closets, and the empty suitcases have been returned to their place on the highest shelf.  Life has taken on a familiar rhythm once again, and the comfort and scent of my very own bed ranks high among the things I cherish most.  The stifling heat has given way to some more comfortable summer days; and once again, I feel the urge to leave my air-conditioned kitchen and conjure  up dinner on the surface of my grill.

That is exactly where I stood yesterday, a little later than I had planned, grilling some chicken for the family and enjoying the solitude of the act of cooking, my sheltered porch, and the sounds of the birds overhead in the huge fir tree.  As the chicken pieces hit the hot grill grate, one by one, their sizzle was accompanied by the buzzing vibration of my cellphone in the left-front pocket of my jeans.  I pulled it out and took a look, only to discover that my reverie had been interrupted by a spam email.  “Delete!” my thumb commanded the keypad, and the unwanted message was gone.

There I stood, phone in hand; and suddenly I thought of you.  Now, Dad, I don’t say this to make you feel bad or to make you regret a single minute we spent chatting as I multi-tasked in front of this grill, but that meaningless message took me back to the moments — hundreds of them — when I would escape to the grill, start the food cooking, and be interrupted by the ringing that announced a call from you.  There I would stand, spatula or tongs in hand, and listen to the stories of your day.  Your reports weren’t always cheerful; and considering the hand you had been dealt, that was understandable.  Your days were not terribly different from one to the next, and there were times when I felt as though I could recite the litany of your life right along with you.  There were times when the family would come to check on me, and I would wave them away as I mouthed the word, “Dad,” and tried not to miss a word that you said — even when you would forget to hold the phone close enough that your voice would be strong and clear.  “You’re turning away from the phone, Dad.  What did you say again?”  “Oh,” you would reply, “is this better?  Can you hear me now?”  And on we would go, reviewing the incidents of the day.

There were days when I had a lot on my mind, and I would have liked a chance to be the one to process it all, but there was something so special about our chats that I simply had made up my mind to be totally present to whatever was on your mind when you called.  That far outweighed any impatience or any feelings of being torn away to what was going on in my own world.  “You are the materfamilias,” Dad would tell me — “the mother of our family” — and I would do my best to be just that for the man who was my father.

I thought about the excitement of Ivy’s very last basketball tournament, and I wished with all my heart that I could tell you the stories of how she boxed out a girl seven inches taller and kept her from rebounding the ball.  I wanted to tell you how proud you would have been to see her play — after all, you were her biggest fan.  Then I smiled as I realized that you probably had a front-row seat at every game and were cheering her on, without needing my descriptions to conjure up a picture of what it was like to watch her.

I turned the chicken for the last time, moved it to the serving plate, and turned off the gas.  This would be the time when one of the family would remark, “Wow!  That sure was a long one today!”  “Yes,” I would sigh, “as I returned to the real world that awaited me.  “It was pretty much the same as  yesterday; but some day these calls are going to stop, and I will miss the sound of my dad’s voice.”

I learned yesterday that I am pretty smart, because I do miss the interruptions and the repetitive daily news.  I turned my ear toward the breeze as it rustled the topmost branches of the tree, but there was no familiar good-bye to be heard.  Who would have imagined that yesterday, at my own grill, on my own porch, beneath the trees of my own home, I would be served Grilled Chicken, with a side of sweet memories.  I think maybe my Dad was telling me it was time to come back here and start to write again.  I hear you, Dad.  Thanks.

Hands

Holding Hands

 ♥

May I hold your hand?

I suppose.

Electricity surges

From palm to palm

And heart to heart.

As love is born.

Will you take my hand?

For how long?

Forever.

Hold on tight

And walk with me

As love grows strong.

Hold on tight,

Through ups and downs

Connected

Heart and hand

As living

Ripens love’s sweet fruit.

Will you hold my hand?

Until the end.

My heart lies cradled

In its touch,

Its rhythm matching,

Beat for beat,

The pulse of love.

©2013 Pamela Stead Jones

“We cannot do great things on this Earth, only small things with great love.”

  — Mother Teresa

I was reminded this morning of the immense value in engaging in small acts of kindness.  A thank-you card I once received, for something I didn’t feel warranted a card, said, “Don’t say that it was nothing, because it meant everything to me.”  How often do we feel that the small acts of human kindness we toss into the world have little value?  How often, when we are on the receiving end of such gifts, do we feel incredibly blessed and filled with gratitude?

What got me thinking about this was a phone call from my sister.  She and our other sister have been doing the necessary job of sorting through our Dad’s belongings and deciding which of them will move with Mom to her new apartment in the Alzheimer unit and which will be donated to people who might use them.  Some things don’t fit either category; and these are the things we must decide to keep or to discard.  Among the things Ann was sorting this morning was a stack of cards from Dad’s 91st birthday last January.  They were from my friends — you know who you are — and as she read through each of them, she felt compelled to call me.  “Do you want me to save these for you?”  What a good question that was!  At the time they landed, Dad was not feeling too well.  In the beginning, he was a bit confused by where all these cards were coming from; but after a few days, he would tell me the names of the people who had sent them.  I was curious to know what the messages said, but he was not up to reading them during our phone calls.  Today they were read.  First, Ann read them and then she called me and read them over the phone.

To say that I was touched by your kindness in reaching out to an old man who was, as it turns out, celebrating his last birthday would be to trivialize your small acts of love.  They must have been special to Dad, too, because six months later they still were in his room.  I wanted you to know that I love every one of you for loving my dad, even though most of you never knew him.  And when my sister read me all the nice things you had to say about me to my dad, I felt a little embarrassed until I realized that your kind words reassured him that I would be okay when it was time for him to leave.

The point of all this is that often it takes only a few minutes to perform a small act of love, but the ripples that flow outward as a result can continue to touch people with kindness for months or even years — long after we have forgotten that we ever acted at all.  I think the message in this is to put aside a few minutes each day and do a small act of kindness for someone who crosses your path.  It takes very little effort, and you never know whether that person will tuck your love away in their heart — like a stack of birthday cards — and pull it out now and then when love is in short supply.

Our world is suffering from a lack of love; but our small acts can fill it.  All we need to do is remember that something that feels like nothing may mean everything to the heart that is empty.  Thank you from the bottom of my overflowing heart for your small acts that added up to a big pile of love.

July 10, 2013 began in the usual fashion.  When the alarm sounded at 5:30, I nudged my sweetheart and prodded him to get up and do his back exercises.  We are determined that he will be faithful to doing the therapy that will ease his pain and restore his health.  I lay in bed and planned my day — a bit of laundry, coffee with a friend, some paperwork, and an evening of basketball with my favorite oldest granddaughter.  I would give my dad a call tomorrow morning and report on her exploits — he always loves to hear her accomplishments and to add them to his list of the things that make my life incredible.  “Don’t take it lightly,” he always says when he remarks on my family and its many wonderful people.

The dog and I took a walk around our park and snapped a couple of photos.  Breakfast was out of the way, and coffee with Eileen began with our usual comparing of notes about the things we had done since our last cup of Joe.  In the midst of it all, the phone rang.  It was my sister, and she was calling with the news that our dad had passed away this morning.  July 10, 2013 suddenly went from ordinary to extraordinary, from zero to 60 in one phone call; and I realized in that instant that I would mark this day and forever refer to it as the day my dad died.

I honestly can’t say that I will miss the shadow of a man who had come to spend most of his time in bed and who had trouble pulling his words together to have a chat.  My dad would not want me to miss that man, because he was so much more than his final days.  It is said that when we face the moment of our death, our whole life passes before our eyes.  Today I am reminded that when we hear of the passing of someone we love, our whole life with that person does the same thing.

I am sure that January 13, 1922 was also an ordinary day; but I would not know about that.  To me, January 13 has always been my father’s birthday; and now his life has two dates — a beginning and an end, although I am convinced that he is looking over my shoulder this very moment and watching me type.  As our life together passes before my eyes, I see my dad dancing into the kitchen in the morning, doing a time step and singing to Mom, “I love you so much, I can’t reveal it!  I love you so much, it’s a wonder you can’t feel it.”  Then he would pretend to punch her in the arm and twirl her around before letting her return to cooking his scrambled eggs — the runny kind that grossed the rest of us out, but were his trademark.  I remember how he would line us all up to take our pictures every Easter and make us feel as though we were the best looking kids in the world.  I remember him holding the seat of my bike and running behind, still in his dress slacks and polished oxfords, until I caught my balance and could ride alone.  I think that’s what a father does — holds us steady while we try new things that leave us feeling wobbly, running beside us until we get our balance and can navigate on our own.  I think of all the times he was right there, cheering me on and reassuring me that I could do this thing called life — how he never missed a swim meet, how he always thought I was the best at whatever I decided to do, how he taught me when my son died that it was all right to cry — even if you were a big, strong man.  He taught me the true meaning of love and devotion as he stepped into the role of caretaker after the onset of my mom’s dementia; and it was only when she was unable to be the communicator for the two of them that I really got to know the man behind the curtain.  And he was a wizard of sorts, and the keeper of my family history — of the stories of his own mom and dad and his childhood with his sister, of his escapades in the war, of meeting mom when he was already engaged to the girl back home and knowing in an instant that he needed to do something about that.

We talked, dad and I, about life and death, about life after death, about taking on the burdens of being human and about gradually laying them down so we can move on to what lies beyond this life we lead.  We talked about his guardian angel; and I just know she lifted him out of his shell today and carried him up toward his home.   Again, I can feel my father’s hand on the back of my bicycle seat, helping me find my balance; and I can feel him giving a small push as he releases me to ride on my own, with the wind blowing my hair and the streamers on my handlebars dancing in the breeze.

Thanks for the ride, Dad.  It sure was fun!  Until we meet again, I will cherish that ride.  “Don’t take it lightly.”  That’s what my dad would say.

 

 

Falling

 

She tiptoed along

The edge of night,

Inching ahead,

One toe at a time,

Cautiously seeking

Solid ground.

*

Her feet falling firm

On the razor’s edge,

Arms flung wide

On either side,

Embracing the dark,

She walked without seeing.

*

Suddenly Sunlight

Burst over the hills,

Night-dwellers scattered

As Blinding Truth

Owned the sky and

Spoke its power.

*

She glanced at her feet

And, seeing the truth,

That all the while

She’d been walking on air,

She spread her wings wide

And fell into the sky.

© 2013 Pamela Stead Jones