Everything must go

I hope to sell my home, soon. I will also need to dispose of virtually all its contents. The garden tractor that cost more than my first new car, the wheelbarrows, a constellation of garden tools, hundreds of feet of garden hose, extension cords, etc., and even the house, will be easier to part with than the antiques that were entrusted to me by my ancestors.

The easiest way to do this may be to hire an auctioneer to inventory, appraise and advertise the family treasures before the house is on the market, but I’d like to give the next owners of this home priority. I’ve spent thousands moving, storing and insuring this stuff, and truthfully, I wish I didn’t have to part with it, but if I can be sure it goes to someone who will appreciate it and care for it, I will feel better.

I have no idea how to do this. I’d appreciate any thoughtful suggestions.

 

 

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White robin

A white robin is nesting in the maple across the alley. She’s not completely white – she has a red collar and a mottled breast, but most of her feathers are white. It’s a condition called leucism. It’s a genetic mutation with many causes.

She visits me several times a day to eat bugs and worms, and gather odd pieces of detritus to line her nest. I won’t name her, because she is not mine, but when I whistle to her, she listens, and hopefully knows she is welcome here.

 

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The Mother I Never Had to Be

While my brothers were sliding beneath the table in a restaurant in an effort to kick each other, or reaching over me or one of my parents to stab each other with their dinner forks, I’d invariably spot an older person eating alone. As I wiped my tears with a napkin, my mother would silently hand me a tissue.

Because of my mother, who handed me a tissue without making eye contact, I’ve never had to say to my own children, “Others have it worse.”

 

 

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Two extra days for Spring break, thanks to bomb threats

“Harmless pranks,” said one mom, shaking her head, “kid are kids.”

“The kids are ready for Spring break,” laughed another. “They get to take time off from school, but I still have to work!”

Neither seemed upset. Many residents don’t like to discuss incidents such as these, for a variety of reasons, principally the belief it makes our community look bad. Others clearly have a different perspective, noting the incidents are completely normal, and even celebrate them.

“How many times did we blow something up in the Chemistry lab? It was my best memory of high school.”

‘We were so bad, we gave three of our teachers nervous breakdowns.”

“I think it’s pretty funny. ”

“No one takes this seriously. None of these kids are bad; they’re just mischievous.”

When a handful of students walked out of class on March 24, some called for them to face harsh discipline for their open defiance of authority, although some teachers and a handful of community activists helped them stage the protest. Others rolled their eyes and characterized the event as an opportunity to get out of class.

Bomb threats and a student protest in commemoration of the deaths in Parkland Florida are not equivalent, but it’s impossible to explain the difference to those who believe they are, and self-defeating to suggest their observations are inaccurate, their personal experiences false, or their opinions wrong.

I won’t offer facts, or express an opinion.

I’ll just leave this here, for your consideration, if desired.

 

 

 

 

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I’m writing for the first time in too long

I didn’t worry that I’d lost my voice because it was constantly screaming in my head. I needed to remain still for awhile, to filter out the noise of others’ anger.

Each of us is entitled to our own thoughts, which have been formed by our education and forged by our personal experience. Although the combination of these two influences require me to listen to the opinions of others, I’ve reached the point where I can no longer thoughtfully consider those that are driven by fear.

Without our permission, fear-based and emotionally driven schools of thought have infiltrated our thoughts and lives. It’s tough not to be intimidated, because their proponents wield guns instead of ideas, but as anyone who is sentient realizes, firearms are incapable of rational thought.

This is America, like it or not. I do not like it.

I can’t ignore the increasingly angry voices whose fear is infectious. While I’ve been taught there’s a difference between righteous and self-righteous anger, and separate these opinions into two distinct categories, I am spending more time filtering angry messages than I would voluntarily choose, and struggle with the impulse to react, to denounce, to use facts as proof in order to persuade those who have been indoctrinated with fear-based beliefs. I have been so intimidated by the proponents of irrational schools of thought, I avoid listening to them, or reading their words.

Fear is a powerful motivator, as the small group of children who survived yet another school shooting have demonstrated. They’re pushing back with courage against the fear of those who have abandoned rational thought. These kids demonstrate that courage is more influential than fear.

Despite all they’ve been through, they’ve retained clarity of thought, without the noise of anger and fear.

We can learn from them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We’re all troubled

Those who claim they aren’t are perhaps the most troubled of all.

I’ve been most troubled lately by my inability to “be positive,” to “count my blessings,” to “bring joy,” or to embrace similar well-worn adages. I find myself constantly lapsing into cynicism, and eventually realized that in some circumstances, cynicism is healthy. A low bullshit tolerance is a valuable trait.

I’ve become better at distinguishing the strength and wisdom that sometimes arises after a loss from the false bravado that accompanies denial. Our experiences inevitably change us, but if we are truly fortunate, we are able to resist allowing them to define us.

Some of you are nodding in agreement, while many are shaking your heads, insisting I’ve offered yet another platitude, negating my own thesis. I will offer this suggestion to cynics. Hang onto that cynicism. It is a far better state of mind than anger, and the best alternative to despair. I won’t offer examples, as I’m sure each of you can identify legions of them. We each have our favorites, supplied by our individual experience, and each day adds more opportunities to hone our cynical skills.

One caveat: be judicious with your cynicism. If you know something is wrong, don’t allow cynicism to cause you to second guess your judgment. Do not let it cloud your assessment of truth. Do not permit it to temper your joy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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No trombone zone

Many of us are suffering from mental fatigue in varying degrees. The negativity that has been the recurrent theme of the past year has affected us all.

We try to laugh, but it’s forced, or our laughter is inappropriate. Others’ attempts to lighten our moods fail, or meet with resistance.

We feel angry and express that anger all too often.

We’re edgy, and cranky. Sometimes we say things we don’t mean, and wish we could take them back.

I’ve had too many “Debbie Downer moments” recently, when I’ve said something completely irrelevant to the conversation that sucked the joy from the moment. I heard the “wah-wah” of the trombone even as the words exited my mouth, and wished I could rewind, or highlight and delete.

On some occasions, tubas have joined the trombones.

I used to take pride in my ability to laugh at myself, but there’s no way to reframe these moments as humorous. My commentary wasn’t purposely hurtful, critical, or inaccurate. It wasn’t malicious, cruel or insensitive. It was, quite simply, stupid. That’s not suggesting it was excusable.

To their credit, those who know me well have laughed and teased me afterwards, witnessing my horrified and humiliated expression. Some have flashed disapproving looks, and others’ faces have expressed bemusement that I’ve said something they agreed with, but knew better than to express aloud.

Stupid statements can’t be ignored, or worse, glossed over. They most certainly cannot be forgotten. They can sometimes be forgiven, depending on who made them, and the circumstances in which they’re made, but there’s no way to retract the words once they’ve been uttered, either verbally or in print.

We all have the right to express our views honestly. Irony, sarcasm and parody have their place, and context is important.

I’ve never been and do not aspire to be, a preacher. This is intended to be an apology, rather than an explanation. When someone offers a sincere apology, the circumstances and the apologist’s character should be considered, but neither is exculpatory.

This is also a promise. I will make a conscious effort to think before I speak, to choose my words carefully, and to be thoughtful of those who hear, or read, my words.

If I fail, please bring the entire brass section of the orchestra, and the marching band.

If you think I’m deserving, please forgive me.

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My thoughts to myself for the day

  1. It’s very easy to talk about people without mentioning their names. Those who know them will know exactly who you’ve referred to, and a fair number of others will be certain you’re talking about themselves. Avoid talking about others at all costs.
  2. Those who care about us often make well-meaning suggestions for ways in which we can improve our circumstances or our state of mind. Sometimes we welcome the advice, but more often we feel as though we’re being told what to do. Always thank them for their advice, even if you have no intention of following it, and remind yourself to give unsolicited instruction only in exceptional circumstances, such as when someone is about to injure themselves.
  3. Laugh to yourself whenever you can.
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I was in Jerusalem for Christmas in 1967 – six months after the 6 day war

I was 12 years old.

There were piles of burning rubble and young women and men, a few years older than I, carrying machine guns, everywhere.

We visited the Dome of the Rock, the Mount of Olives, and the dead sea. At the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a Greek Orthodox priest stroked the back of my head and looked at me with kind eyes as he said the word, “angel,” in English.

Jerusalem is a holy place to Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

It is no holier to one religion than to another.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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There are no more summer tomatoes

I read a text on “mindfulness” recently that suggested readers surround themselves with pillows at bedtime, and imagine the pillows are another person cuddling them. In another chapter, a reference to a woman who was cutting herself was included as an example of the healing potential of meditation.

Perhaps it’s the curse of a creative, or more likely, an experienced mind, that I felt immediately sad for those who were being counseled to personify pillows, as I am certain they would wake up to the reality of cool linen and soft stuffing rather than a human presence, and their loneliness would only intensify. I felt intense pain for the one who was harming herself, and was unable to purge her from my mind.

I reminded myself these examples were fictional scenarios (offered by a psychotherapist) and relegated them to my mental incinerator, where they were mercifully destroyed.

“Going to a happy place,” as one author recommended, makes me wish I could return to  a particular moment, and the realization decades have passed since then invokes grief that I’m no longer young, and the places and people that comprise those memories have changed. “A happy place” is not an abstract concept, but a physical location, where I would like to return, but can’t.

Focusing on my breath only makes me more conscious of my racing heartbeat and the recognition I am engaging in this exercise to calm myself, and the knowledge I need to calm myself only makes me more anxious.

Is it possible to be too aware of my surroundings, too mindful?

I prefer to daydream for a few minutes each day.

I can easily conjure scenarios in my imagination. I can feel the muscles in my thighs and calves ache as I climb a steep trail, feel the cool breeze and the warmth of the sand beneath me as I lie on a beach, stand atop a rocky crag, admire the snowy peaks beyond and smell the pine forest from which I’ve just emerged.

I have done all these things, and these memories meld into a fantasy that is more comforting than counting my breaths and listening to the furnace whoosh on. Perhaps it’s because I’m constantly, and acutely, aware of my surroundings. The leaves that have accumulated beneath the maple, as well as those that still cling to its branches, will need to be ushered to the curb. The roses have stopped blooming and need to be pruned.

In late autumn, life slows down. The crickets and toads rarely chirp. The summer tomatoes are gone.

Perhaps I’m already mindful.

 

 

 

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