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.

When I try to push away my thoughts, as the the author of the text advised, they become more insistent. The cobweb in the corner near the door has been swept away, but the remaining leaves on the maple outside my window will fall soon.

“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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Finding peaceful moments each day

When I take time to simply observe, the ordinary often becomes extraordinary.

A late night sudden downpour, complete with thunder and lightning, becomes a symphony for all five senses.

A momentary glance through my front window reveals a glimpse of someone stopping to smell a rose along my front fence, backlit by the setting sun. A perfect tableau.

A little girl walking a puppy on a leash, crooning, “You’re my baby, aren’t you?” A vignette of childhood.

 

 

 

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Listening and looking

I hear the slap of the little boy’s sandals and see a family.

The little boy’s wearing white shorts. He holds the hand of a woman who holds the hand of the man on the other side, wearing a white hat, and white shorts, just like the little boy.

They pass, and it’s quiet again.

From another different direction, I hear, “I love you.”

Seconds later, I hear another voice. “I love you.

A car door closes. It’s dusk and time to go inside.

 

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Respite

A dried brown leaf twirls from an invisible filament a foot beneath a green and red branch, as others drift to the sun-mottled lawn below. A pine cone, the edges of its open brown petals tinged white, lands with a soft thud amidst the long russet needles that have already fallen. The last tomatoes, some still green, glow golden in the late afternoon sunlight.

The sounds of the cars, the sirens, the trains, the trembling of the earth, have no affect on these green growing things, even as they quietly shed their leaves and seeds.

There is no anger here. Only stillness, and life.

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Change two words challenge

Create a sentence that conveys a different sentiment based on the order of the words.

Examples:

Do things wrong. Do wrong things.

You can change the world. The world can change you.

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We want tomorrow to be better

I’m sitting on the porch, enjoying the shade, the breeze and the quiet rustle of leaves. Church bells chime every hour, and cyclists pedal by. The parking spaces lining the streets and in the parking lots are almost empty and few cars pass by. A monarch butterfly flutters past. A yellow swallowtail stops briefly to investigate the phlox. A few bees buzz among the flowers lining the walk.

Sitting here is something I have resisted for some time now. Passers-by occasionally want to talk, and I’ve felt such an intense need for privacy I wait until nightfall to collect the mail or take out the trash. I’ve needed that peace so desperately, I sacrificed going outdoors even in the most beautiful weather.

Someone told me about a neighbor who worked in her garden only after dark, weeding and pruning by moonlight. Had I not heard that rumor and been afraid I’d become the subject of gossip, I might have taken up her nocturnal practices. Instead, my untended garden has become overgrown and overrun with unwelcome species.

A friend’s been cutting my grass all summer, since my hip still isn’t strong enough to push a mower. I now can drive a garden tractor with a mower deck, so this afternoon I rode in circles for almost an hour. Tomorrow I’ll trim around the foundation, streetlight and along the fence line with a weed-eater. The next day I’ll prune the roses.

Many of us have been angry for a long time. Many of us have been afraid. Yesterday was a particularly bad day for us all.

We want tomorrow to be better.

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Just don’t think

Many years ago a friend and I met another friend for lunch. He’d retired early to care for his wife, who’d been stricken with early-onset Alzheimer’s. A home health-care aide visited a few hours a week to stay with her, so he could buy groceries, pick up medicine, or get a haircut. On this day, he chose to use this valuable time to meet us at a restaurant.

They had several children, who never visited. They couldn’t bear seeing the woman who was no longer their mother, he said. He forgave them, but there was an edge of bitterness in his voice.

He knew something was wrong when he found a gallon of milk beneath the sink. The disease progressed quickly, and in a few short months the mother of his six children babbled incoherently, and was constantly in motion – pacing, trying to unlock the door, apparently unaware of her surroundings.

When I first met him, he worked at an automobile manufacturing facility in human resources, behind a steel desk. Once a month or so, we’d pile in my car and drive to his favorite restaurant, where he always ordered the same thing. I knew he liked me when we arrived and as he emerged from the back seat noticed the gear-shift lever. “Mrs. J$@!(&!”, the name he called his co-worker who was the same age as his daughter, and a year younger than me. “Did you know she was driving a stick-shift car?”

Mrs. J$@!(&!” who had been riding in the front seat, chuckled. As he held the door to the restaurant for us, he said, “It was as smooth as an automatic transmission!”

At this lunch, less than a year after he retired, he was already waiting at the dimly lit, otherwise empty restaurant close to his home. The ashtray already held a couple of crushed-out Salems. He stood and kissed each of us on the cheek before handing us menus.

He looked at me somberly. “Mrs. J$@!&!” tells me you’re getting divorced.”

I smiled. “Yeah, but it’s okay.”

Mrs. J$@!&!” put her hand on my forearm and smiled. “She’s fine.” Mrs. J$@!&!” had taken over his position when he retired, and had continued to send me work during a challenging time in my life.

“Good.” He lit another cigarette.

Our waitress arrived. I ordered a salad. I don’t remember what Mrs. J$@!&!” ordered, but he commented, as usual, “I don’t see how she can eat that much, but she always does. Mrs. J$@!&!” laughed. The waitress didn’t take his order. She already knew.

“You’ll get through this,” he said.  “Just don’t think.”

 

 

 

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