Forgiveness, Gratitude, Love, Reflections

Love Is An Act of Endless Forgiveness

Last week ended on a rough note as, after several really good weeks, Don and I found ourselves at odds and slipping into old behavior patterns.  The details aren’t important.  He did a couple of things that angered and upset me.  As I too often do, I let my anger become vitriolic which, as it usually does, made him shut down and withdraw.  In turn I got even more vitriolic in my efforts to break through, and he shut down even more.  A vicious cycle that has repeated itself throughout our marriage.

I’ve been working hard on not letting things go without getting angry, and on not letting my anger, no matter how justified I feel I am to be angry, turn to vitriol but last week was a major fail.

Friday night, after a tense day and evening, I came across these words in a novel that I was reading – “Love is an act of endless forgiveness.”  

Those words, which were incidental to the story, literally took my breath away.  They motivated me to get out of bed to go find Don and make amends, and they’ve been at the forefront of my mind ever since.

Today I googled the quote and learned that the phrase is part of a longer quote from Peter Ustinov, but to me it is those seven words that are so powerful.

As we head into the holidays, which are always a time of stress and anxiety for me and therefore a time when I am at risk of having my worst responses and behaviors come to the forefront, those words will become my mantra.  I need to remember them when I am about to get upset with Don about something that invariably won’t be that important anyway, and I need to remember them when I let myself get triggered and feel that I have let both myself and Don down.

This Thanksgiving week I am grateful that that a lesson I needed to learn found me just when I needed to learn it.

Love is an act of endless forgiveness.  Words to live by, for sure.

 

 

 

 

Aging, Grief, Reflections

Life Itself Is Grace

It has been a season of losses for me at work and personally as each month has brought news of the death of a family member or a member of my library/work family.

August was marked by the memorial service for my Aunt Lydia, who died in May.  September saw the death of a former Library Trustee.  In October we lost my cousin as well as a longtime library volunteer.  The month before that a former Library Trustee.  .

This past weekend we lost one of our long-time library volunteers, someone who celebrated her 80th birthday in August but was still vibrant, engaged, and working at a part-time job that she loved until felled by illness just a few short weeks ago.   Someone I considered a friend.

None of these people have been “young” and in that sense their deaths are simply part of life, but the steady drumbeat of loss after loss has been hard.  It’s also made me more aware of impending losses as I witness the aging and/or illnesses of family members and friends, and recognize the losses (of relationships, community and professional stature, and of the structure that has governed my days) that will come with my retirement next year.

Against the backdrop of so much loss I have been working on living more in the present and less in the future, and on letting go of my perfectionism and need for order in favor of accepting the people and situations in my life with love and gratitude even when they do not meet my “standards.”  It is a journey for sure, and some days I am more successful than others.

A couple of weeks ago Michael Wade posted the following quote from Frederik Buechner on his Execupundit blog, and the final sentence has lived with me since I read it –

If I were called upon to state in a few words the essence of everything I was trying to say as a novelist and as a preacher, it would be something like this: Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.

“…in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”  

I am holding these words close as I reflect on the lives that have been lost, and the losses that are certain to come.

Reflections, Retirement

Lasts, and the road ahead

In August I publicly announced that I would be retiring at the end of June, 2018 when my current contract with my employer comes to an end.  Ten months is a long notice period, and June still feels like a very long way away, but as autumn slides into winter I can feel the time getting shorter and the “lasts” mounting up.

I’ve had my last performance evaluation, and experienced my last audit.  I just got back from what is probably my last professional conference, or at least the last that I will attend as a working professional.   I’ve been through  my last election cycle for my publicly elected governing board, and my last of a variety of recurring programs and activities. I am now replying to invitations to many work-related holiday parties and events that have become traditions over the past 14 years knowing they too will be my last.

Each of these lasts marks another step on the journey to a future that I have planned for, and dreamed, of for many years, so they are in that sense happy occasions.  But these lasts are also associated with people who I have come to know well and care about deeply but  may rarely (if ever) see once I retire, so each is also bittersweet.

I have many plans for the next phase of my life’s journey and long lists of projects I want to complete, trips I want to take, activities I want to explore, and books I want to read. After many years where my social life was inextricably intertwined with my work and professional live, I have successfully created a life outside of work, with friends who are not tied to my profession or my job.  I have worked hard to make sure our finances are in order, and am confident that we can sustain our lifestyle even when the inevitable economic downturns come.  In short,  as much as I think I can be, I am ready.

At the same time, I am acutely aware that there is much that I do not know about the road ahead…from “little” things like the specifics of how our days will unfold without the structure of my job, to how our relationship will fare with so much togetherness, to the big uncertainties about Don’s health (and mine!) and how the aging process will affect our lives.  I would be lying if I said that I was not more than a little anxious about these things.

A few weeks ago one of my favorite blogs, Rob Firchau’s The Hammock Papers, had a poem by David Whyte that I keep reading and re-reading –

The road in the end taking the path the sun had taken,
into the western sea, and the moon rising behind you
as you stood where ground turned to ocean: no way
to your future now but the way your shadow could take,
walking before you across water, going where shadows go,
no way to make sense of a world that wouldn’t let you pass
except to call an end to the way you had come,
to take out each frayed letter you brought
and light their illumined corners, and to read
them as they drifted through the western light;
to empty your bags; to sort this and to leave that;
to promise what you needed to promise all along,
and to abandon the shoes that had brought you here
right at the water’s edge, not because you had given up
but because now, you would find a different way to tread,
and because, through it all, part of you could still walk on,
no matter how, over the waves.

David Whyte

At this time of “sorting this and leaving that” I am finding that David Whyte’s beautiful words are a great comfort…
Letting Go, Reflections, travel

Keeping the “Greek Magic” alive

We got back from Greece on Friday evening after a 3:30 am wake up call, nearly 24 hours of travel from door to door, and a Zurich airport adventure tracking down a carry on bag we accidentally left on the plane from Athens.  We did get the bag back, but it took 5,000 steps, four trips through passport control, and a $50 fee to do it!  Jet lag has us waking up in the wee small hours of the morning, but other than that it has been a pretty smooth transition back to the reality of our daily lives.

It was a great trip and a wonderful experience.  We saw beautiful places, enjoyed delicious food, and had a nice mix of group tours and time on our own, and of activities and down time.  Most importantly we reconnected and rekindled the loving relationship that had gotten buried in the stress and anxiety of all of the challenges and changes in our lives.  Don’s physical and cognitive symptoms even noticeably improved while we were away.

We’ve been talking about how we can keep this “Greek magic” alive now that we are home.

Managing stress is certainly one important factor, as was having the time and space to really talk, but I also think that I can take some of the credit for managing my own expectations and reactions.  When Don puts something away in the wrong place, or misplaces something, or asks the same question five times in the space of 30 minutes I’ve been working hard on just taking a deep breath and letting it go rather than correcting him, or nagging him, or getting exasperated.  It takes just seconds to move something to the right spot, or two answer a question, and usually the thing that is misplaced is just as easily replaced if we really can’t find it.

I’ve also been working on receiving his love when he demonstrates it in the ways that are natural and meaningful for him.  Instead of expecting him to show me love in the way I would do it and getting upset when he doesn’t, I try to remember that just because he doesn’t always show love in the ways that I want (like giving me gifts) doesn’t make it any less heartfelt.

The result is that he is less anxious,  I am less on edge, and we both feel more loved and more loving.

All of this was relatively easy for me when we were in the vacation bubble, but the trick will be keeping it up when I am stressed out by work, too many commitments, and not enough alone time or down time – especially as we head into the crazy holiday season.

This morning during my jog I listened to one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite artists – Between Heaven and Here by Kris Kristofferson and realized that it could have been written for me.  It has some great lines that go to the heart of the changes I need to sustain if I want our Greek magic to continue – I think half my battle to stop “wasting my feelings on something that so little matters” and the other half is remembering that “Maybe the secret is making believe when it matters.”  I’m going to listen to the song daily to remind me what I need to do…

Enjoy!

 

 

 

Reflections, travel

Greek Magic

We are 2/3 of the way through our Greek vacation, and despite my intent to post every couple of days there has not been time.

We were surprisingly unjetlagged in the wee small hours of Wednesday morning despite travelling more than 20 hours thanks in no small part to the nearly lie flat business class seats that we were able to get with points.  No such luck on the way home, though  – we’ll be back to our usual economy class.

We walked about 10 miles on Wednesday seeing the sites of Athens, did a two day tour to Delphi and the Meteora monasteries, came back to Athens for another day of sightseeing, and are now relaxing at the end of our 2nd day on Mykonos.  Tomorrow we head off for a couple of days on Santorini and then start the long trek home via another night in Athens.

Don has been a trouper, walking all over the uneven stones and climbing endless stairs despite achilles tendinitis and the challenges of an ever-shortening gait and blurred vision in one eye that affects his depth perception.  (The shortened gait is one of a constellation of symptoms that we will be seeing a neurologist about, but that is a story for another time.)

In between we’ve had some of the most honest conversations we’ve had in years, including one about his age and health issues and how they might affect future travel,  seen incredible sites and scenery, eaten amazing food in some very romantic locations, and just enjoyed the time together.

Now we need to figure out how to bring some of the magic back to our ordinary lives as we face the stresses and challenges ahead.

Gratitude, Reflections, travel

Gliding into vacation

Don and I are getting ready to head off on a long-awaited trip to Greece this afternoon, celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary and his 75th birthday.  After 30 years of marriage we know that the lead-up to a big trip can be a bit rocky as my obsession with checklists and detailed plans kicks into high gear and his anxieties flare up, but we have (mostly) learned to manage,  Once we are on our way our better selves (usually) reappear and we thrive on the adventure of seeing new places and the relief of being away from our day-to-day routines, responsibilities, and stresses.

This time the lead up to our trip has been different, and much more pleasant.  My sister and her husband arrived from Canada on Friday evening.  They’ll be using our home as their vacation home for most of the time that we are away, and we’ve enjoyed spending time with them this “overlap weekend.”

For the first time that I can remember I am heading off on a big trip almost totally relaxed.  Usually our guest room is packing central and the bed is covered with suitcases and clothes until right before departure, but this time I had to get everything packed up before our visitors arrived so I could stash the closed up bags in our home office.  While I did do a little bit of shifting things from bag to bag over the past couple of days, having everything pretty much packed and ready to go meant I could really relax in the lead up to the trip.

And a relaxing few days it has been!

Friday night we tried out a new, very good Mexican restaurant after picking my sister and brother-in-law up from the airport.  Saturday afternoon my sister and I enjoyed a spa day and massages at a local day spa thanks to the gift cards I had been accumulating for many months, while my brother-in-law and Don checked out a classic car show and then had massages at the franchise place where we are members.  Then we walked down to the ocean and saw an amazing sunset before a nice dinner at home.

Yesterday morning, and again this morning, it was beach time.  We live only 3 1/2 blocks from the ocean and we walk the dog along the Esplanade above the beach every weekday morning and once or twice a week in the evening for sunset, but we don’t get down to the beach itself anywhere near as often as I would like.  I am a water baby, and being in the ocean truly washes all of my cares away.

The past couple of days have been spectacular beach days.  The air is a warm, and the water is a cool but refreshing 67 degrees.  Mornings are my favorite time at the beach because the winds are calm, with no wind chop on the ocean and little of the accompanying kelp and murkiness.  There has also been no surf, so the water was crystal clear.

Swimming is my go to exercise – I love the feel of the water, the way my body stretches as I move, and the opportunity to let my mind wander without distractions.  I swim laps in the pool at our gym several times a week, but my true joy is swimming in the ocean.

So it was a real blessing to be able to swim out to the buoy both of the last two mornings, clearing my head and getting my heart pumping.  Both days I saw plenty of fish, and this morning I also saw a school of about two dozen stingrays gliding along beside me – just awesome!

So I head off for our trip relaxed and refreshed…and thinking that I need to plan a “glide path” like this before every trip.

 

Aging, Letting Go, Reflections

Learning to let go of control

I am a planner and a list-maker.

I set goals (annual, monthly, and daily), and have created spreadsheets with detailed retirement plans and budgets based on multiple scenarios, and multi-year home maintenance and improvement plans.  Each month I create a master meal plan, which is refined into a weekly plan as the month unfolds.

I also use a web-based tool (ToodleDo) for my master “to do” list.  It synchronizes my master list across all of my computers and devices, allows me to forward emails to it for conversion into tasks,  allows me to create recurring tasks of varying frequencies, and averages between 90 and 100 items at any point in time.

This master to do list is supplemented by a multitude of other lists, among them weekly shopping lists, a daily task list at work, a pre-trip planning checklist that I store on my computer and update each time I travel, a holiday gift list to track what I’ve bought and spent on Christmas gifts each year, and a daily “honey do” list for Don.

The Notes app on my iPad and iPhone contain lists of meal and menu ideas, and of books I want to read and movies/tv shows I want to watch.

My “bullet journal” has lists of books I’ve read and movies I’ve watched, blog post ideas, projects I want to complete, activities I want to pursue in retirement, places I want to visit, my “bucket list,” and a “habit tracker” where I record progress on fitness and other goals.

I sometimes half-joke that my devotion to plans and lists is a sickness, and according to this article there may be some truth to that!

I get great pleasure out of seeing goals achieved, plans executed, and items checked off a list, and the more stressful, chaotic, and busy my life and the world get the more I cling to my plans and lists – almost as if they are a security blanket.

Don, on the other hand is (as our therapist has noted!), a live in the moment, go with the flow kind of guy.  He is certainly capable of making a plan when pushed to do so, but he does need to be pushed and he does find it a struggle.  He’s made various attempts at mastering to do lists over the years, from carrying a small notebook that he labelled “Don’s Brain” to apps on his phone, but hasn’t been able to stick with any of them.

More than not being able to stick with them, he actually seems to think that if he needs to rely on lists and reminders there is something wrong with him.  Since he retired, and in light of his short-term memory issues, I create a weekly schedule and daily “honey do” lists that we leave on the counter that serves as the central hub of our house.  He has been really good about reviewing them every day, doing what they say, and checking things off as they are completed and has even come to rely on them…but when he tells others about this reliance it’s almost as if this is something to be ashamed of.

One consequence of this fundamental difference in our make ups is that over the years (as you can see above)  I have assumed pretty much all of the “planning” duties from financial and retirement planning to vacation planning to smaller things like making dinner reservations.  Mostly I’m fine with this because it also feeds my need for control, but I also feel the weight of responsibility and it gets very tiring sometimes.

Not surprisingly, this has been a source of tension throughout our marriage.

Given his stage of life and his cognitive challenges, and the insights I am gaining from therapy, I am realizing that any hope I might have had that he would take on some of the planning work is both unrealistic and unfair to him.

I’m also realizing the extent to which all of my planning and lists are really a manifestation of my need for control, and that this could be a real problem as we ride the waves of change that aging and health/cognitive issues are bringing to our shore.

If I am going to survive the coming months and years, I need to learn how to loosen up on the reins.  If I don’t I can see that I will make life miserable for myself, and for Don too.  I need to find the balance between planning and preparing for the future and making sure that everything that is essential to the smooth functioning of our lives gets taken care of, and going with the flow of what is happening in the moment even when it is something different from what I planned for.

Wish me luck….I suspect that this might be one of the biggest challenges the future holds for me.