It wasn’t supposed to be this way. You and I were destined for a normal life. I had done everything right: First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage. You. But what appeared to be three lives following a very well-worn path, shattered. You see, I blew the most important decision in life. I did not pick a good father for you, and this poor choice sent us both spinning and forever living in the fallout.
I was 30 and had never lived alone. You were five and just getting started.
You were heartbroken. You told me you were going to live with him, and I said nothing, knowing you were wrong. I was exhausted. Teaching kindergartners and first graders all day and coming home to one at night was a lot.
Everything was hard. Making ends meet was hard. Getting you to school and me to work was hard. If you got sick, I was in a panic, trying to find childcare. My employer had been concerned about hiring a single mom, and I was terrified of losing my job. We were cast in a fragile balance, and anything could topple us.
Nights found me quietly crying in my pillow and you calling out, asking if I was okay. I felt awful for making you worry. And you, lost in the shuffle, were quiet and stoic. I tried to add a special time for just the two of us, but even that seemed unmanageable.
As the years passed, life got better. I found stable work, and we fashioned a childhood for you. Fridays were Happy Meal and movie night. I still remember you saying it was the best part of the week. We celebrated when things went wrong because that is when one really needs to celebrate. We took lots of walks and talked. Sometimes we brought flashcards so you could study. Birthdays were marked with slumber parties, games, and swimming. On your special day, you chose one box of sugary cereal, I would typically never buy you, and that one night of the year you could sleep with me. I remember one birthday, when I thought you had forgotten this tradition, coming into the bedroom and finding tweener you waving from the bed.
We celebrated Halloween with parties featuring games and pinatas. Christmas was with family. You were the only grandchild, for many years, and teased mercilessly by your jokester uncles. You reveled in the attention. The spring found you searching for your Easter basket with elaborate puzzles, and throughout the year, the tooth fairy left lengthy explanations blaming Santa for misplaced teeth. (That tooth fairy role always tripped me up.)
Our nighttime ritual included a prayer blessing around 15 people. (I think you had at least 3 of my ex-boyfriends in the line-up!) We always said we would immediately recognize an imposter because we were the only ones on the planet who could recite that prayer.
One summer, we ventured on a road trip, but the air conditioning broke, and we ended up at Circus Circus in Las Vegas. We watched circus acts, rode the roller coaster, ate junk food, binge-watched Tommy Boy, and left around midnight so we would not have to return in the heat.
We visited Granny and Gramps in Wyoming; I staked out the sofa, and you went sledding and skiing. They surprised us with a trip to Hawaii, and we snorkeled in Molokini, helicoptered Maui, and, of course, purchased one of those ubiquitous grass skirts.
For your fifth-grade graduation, identical twin tabbies Baby Boy and Baby Girl joined our little family. You had begged and begged for these little bundles of fur but confessed to me within an hour of their arrival, they were just too much responsibility. With time, you became more comfortable with your role, and throughout your adolescence, those cats became buffers in some very tense mother-daughter exchanges.
With time, you and I started getting a little gutsy. I was on the teachers’ negotiating team and made speeches at board meetings when salaries were cut. You finagled a sweet 16 birthday boat party, became junior class president (putting that darn float together almost ended me), and most impressively, became the class valedictorian, in a time when there was only one. We were finding our way in the world and doing it well.
But it was not all perfect. We had our shared painful past of desertion and bitterness and in our healing had become too connected, or maybe not connected enough. You had to pull away and did it with such fury. I was hurt but should have known this was just part of growing up.
As you got older, financial responsibilities loosened, and we were finally able to breathe. When I took you to college, we went on a shopping spree and I, for the first time, was not nervously asking about price. In future years, we traveled to Thailand, swimming in the Andaman Sea, and taking cooking classes at the Blue Elephant. New Zealand found me filming you bungee jumping, my hands shaking and you dangling upside down, wondering how much of you had been exposed in the jump. In Portugal, we lost ourselves in the winding streets of a medieval city and gasped at the massive record-breaking waves of Nazare.
You graduated with top honors from Berkeley, traveled the world, got your dream job, and found true love with Jon. When I danced you down the aisle, all those old sadnesses melted away, and I realized, after such an inauspicious start, we did it! We really did it.
Happy Birthday, dear Jocelyn! You are definitely part of a Life Well-Lived!
#20: Reaching Across the Aisle: A Cough Drop at a Funeral, Cornering an Irishman in the Oval Office, and Scalia/Ginsburg, the Opera
In a pandemic, one would think our country would come together, knowing we battle a common enemy. We have not. Paradoxically, the United States has become more and more divided. There is a real sense of us and them, seeping from politics into our personal lives. We forget the United States has had gaping divisions in the past and managed to bridge many of them. It started with individuals having profound differences of opinion, doing the hard work, and finding a way to get things done. Some of these former adversaries even became friends.
Abraham Lincoln and his "Team of Rivals"
The 1860 election between William H. Seward, Edward Bates, Salmon P. Chase, and Abraham Lincoln was a bitter battle documented beautifully in Doris Kearns Goodwin's book Team of Rivals. Lincoln, knowing of the deep divisions in the country, brought his opponents together to form an unprecedented cabinet. He wanted a deeper understanding of their diverging ideas, and knew embracing their differences rather than openly opposing them, would work toward uniting the country. William Seward, one of his most staunch foes, became his Secretary of State, a trusted advisor, and with time, a dear friend.
Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill
During republican Ronald Reagan's presidency, Tip O'Neill was the democratic Speaker of the House (Nancy Pelosi's role now). Although passionately opposed politically, they found commonalities and a way to work together. Reagan quipped, "Imagine one Irishman trying to corner another Irishman in the Oval Office." Regarding Reagan, O'Neill said, "That's just politics, after 6 o'clock we're buddies–we're friends." And if not friends, they did know the importance of getting along. Frequently they went out for a beer after an especially difficult day, and there are pictures of them celebrating their Irish roots on St. Patrick's Day. After the assassination attempt in 1981, Tip O'Neill visited Reagan in the hospital. Finding him in worse shape than previously reported and sharing a common faith, they recited the Lord's Prayer. During their tenure, they worked to end the Cold War, pass tax reform, stop the violence in Northern Ireland, and create immigration reform.
Bill Clinton and George Bush, Sr.
Bill Clinton and George Bush, Sr. battled each other in the fierce 1992 presidential election. Bill Clinton won, effectively making George Bush, Sr. a one-term president, something he never got over. Twelve years later, after the catastrophic 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, President George W. Bush, Jr. tasked former opponents and presidents, Clinton and Bush, Sr. with leading a disaster relief team. Both men thrived in their new roles, spending a great deal of time together, learning of unexpected shared values, and becoming good friends. After their joint venture, they visited each other's homes, played golf, and traveled together. Barbara Bush called them the "odd couple," and George Bush, Jr. joked, after Clinton's surgery, he "woke up surrounded by his loved ones: Hillary, Chelsea...and my Dad." When asked about their relationship, Clinton responded, "I think people see George and me and they say, 'That is the way our country ought to work.'"
George W. Bush and Michelle Obama
At John McCann's funeral, George Bush, Jr. was famously photographed handing Michelle Obama a cough drop. In a political climate where the public is hungry for politicians reaching across the aisle, this moment captured everyone's imagination. On NBC's Today Show, Michelle Obama said, "I didn't realize at the time that anybody noticed what we were doing. President Bush and I… we are forever seatmates because of protocol…So we're together all the time, and I love him to death. He's a wonderful man. He's a funny man." Bush jested, "She kind of likes my sense of humor. Anybody who likes my sense of humor, I immediately like."
Now the media purposely tails them, attempting to capture a little more of their unusual connection. Pictures spanning the internet
show them hugging, laughing, sharing those iconic cough drops, and demonstrating Americans with strong opposing political views can still be friends.
Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Antonin Scalia
During their tenures, Antonin Scalia was one one of the most conservative supreme court justices, and Ruth Bader Ginsberg, one of the most liberal. Somehow, these polar opposites became friends.
There are pictures of them riding an elephant in India together, attending the opera, and their families celebrating the holidays. There is even an opera, receiving rave reviews, chronicling their improbable friendship: Scalia/Ginsburg. The tagline for the production is: We are different. We are one.
For the most part, both sides of the aisle love their children, want the best for our country, and would help others, no matter what party, in a catastrophe. Can't we remember this?
Reaching across the aisle, in these troubled times, is part of a Life Well-Lived.
P.S. I have gotten lost in the videos of past presidents at their library dedications. They talk about each other's successes and joke about their own failures. It is refreshing and even healing. A great book to learn more about presidential friendships is The Presidents Club. (I was surprised by the relationship between Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton!)
A train trip is not a great idea right now, but I hope this piece provides you with a little escape. Writing it certainly gave me the respite I needed.
Every once in a while, when my to-do list is becoming lengthy, and I am feeling a little overwhelmed, I toss my paperwork, laptop, a bunch of pens, and a couple of post-it pads into my canvas messenger bag. I don my favorite comfy sweater, some snazzy jeans, sneakers with thick cushy socks, a light jacket, and a pashmina, pulling me together. I tap out a first-class Amtrak ticket on my cell, grab a cappuccino and catch the 7:30 northbound train from San Juan Capistrano to San Luis Obispo, about 250 miles away.
A seat on the upper level with a panoramic unobstructed view is where I land. I pull down the tray, set up my laptop, organize my office supplies, and refresh my coffee. (First class benefits!) This will be my office for the next 6 hours. I plan how I am going to use this valuable time in a detailed to-do list, prioritizing items, and assigning time allotments to tasks. Sometimes I create a comprehensive bucket system for my finances, or I plot out clothes for an upcoming trip. Responding to emails with thoughtfully worded responses is usually on my list, and I might send a cute online card or write a couple of thank you notes. Often, I am making big decisions with long pros and cons lists. I have a first-class ticket, coffee and pastries down the aisle, and a bathroom downstairs. The proverbial "corner office" has nothing on my workspace.
The rhythmic hum of the train paces my work as I concentrate, periodically looking up. Every train station has its distinct character, and I take a few seconds to appreciate them. Santa Ana is a lovely combination of wrought iron, white stucco angles, Spanish tile, and large arching paneled glass windows accented with palm trees. In stark contrast, the Anaheim station or ARTIC (Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center) is a massive, modern bowing structure with glass quilting, housing shops and eateries. It is the entrance to the Honda Center for concerts and events. On the way home, if I am lucky, bright colors will dance on its surface, presenting a light show for me and all the neighboring areas to enjoy.
The world rushes by fueling my diligence, and I happily work until I see the skyscrapers of downtown Los Angeles: the cylindrical U.S. Bank Tower, mirrored Wilshire Grand Center, and gleaming iconic City Hall. (Its architecture is based on the Mausoleum of Mausolus, one of the Wonders of the Ancient World.) An hour and a half has passed, and we are entering Union Station. I have no layover and feel a little sad because Union Station is such a treat. There is the Streamliner Lounge reminding one of a speakeasy from the 20s, the massive, cathedral-like waiting area with Spanish style chandeliers dangling from the paneled ceiling, art deco font message boards relaying one's possible destinations, and heavy wood-framed leather chairs. It is the crossroads to Santa Monica, Olvera Street, the Rose Bowl, Hollywood, the Mission Inn, and so many other guidebook hotspots. But I have work to do and no stopover.
Photo by Mary Minerman
At this point, I always double-check with the conductor to make sure I have a westward looking window. I want an unobstructed view of the mighty Pacific.
Departing Union Station, I happily return to my paperwork, but my concentration is more patchy. I do not want to miss Chatsworth, north of L.A. in the San Fernando Valley. Its rock formations sweep the landscape appearing oddly familiar. During Hollywood's Golden Age, Chatsworth was a popular setting for movies. John Wayne rode his horse in "Stagecoach" here, and the area became China in the Academy Award-winning movie "The Good Earth." Lex Barker also swang from the trees as Tarzan and Shirley Temple starred in Rudyard Kipling's "Wee Willie Winkie." There is magic in its familiarity, and I find myself spellbound, but the reverie is suddenly broken when the train goes black. We are entering the Chatsworth Tunnel running 1.2 miles long, completed in 1904, and one of California's longest.
I should be halfway done with my To-Do list by this point. If I'm ahead, I loosen up and start enjoying the scenery a little more, but if I'm behind, I redouble my efforts to get things done.
With my first peek at the ocean, I become a little giddy, take a couple of minutes to soak it in, and marvel at my good fortune. I get to sip a cup of coffee and luxuriate in a multitude of $10,000,000 plus unobstructed views of the largest ocean on the planet. I see people camping, riding bikes, and living their lives. ( I really need to take up camping.) The old-fashioned Santa Barbara station greets us with its massive banyan tree, and the downtown area, within walking distance, but I have no layover and work to do.
Beyond Santa Barbara, we enter the desolate Bixby Ranch area, where few people travel unless they are on the train. Miles of unsullied coastline and mountains stretch before and behind us. I become a little more distracted. In another life, due to a series of complicated connections, I stayed at the Bixby Ranch. I watched a sea lion rolling in the surf, and spied strewn abalone shells on the virgin sands. I toured the Point Conception lighthouse and keeper's house with its peeling wallpaper. I witnessed the crashing waves and the cove where sharks find their prey. We four-wheeled to the World War II gunneries and partied at the ranch. I have been here and know its mysteries. So perhaps this place means more to me.
At this point, I always need to discipline myself. I took this trip to get work done. If I don't, I can't do this again. I get back to it but still periodically peek at the coast. I've seen a massive beached whale, dolphins playing, and lone sailboats in its vast waters.
The train glides past Vandenberg Airforce Base, and I always look for a rocket but never see one. Inland we head to Guadalupe through bucolic valleys full of little ranchitos stuffed with chickens, goats, cattle, and horses in the hilly Old California landscape. My friend Patty lives here, but there will be no adventuring with her today.
Sweeping valleys with pointed peaks swathed in clover greens and wheat yellows greet us. We are entering charming San Luis Obispo with its Spanish style casitas.
After over 6 hours, I have arrived. I check my to-do list and make a couple of notes. I pack up my office, give my seat a nostalgic glance, and exit the train. There are tons of little eateries within walking distance, and I choose one with exceptionally healthy food. After a delicious bowl of couscous, quinoa, fish, and microgreens, I throw my bag over my shoulder and head up the Terrace Hill Trail. The word terrace is somewhat misleading as the trail heads straight up with no switchbacks, and I quickly become winded. Knowing my train is leaving in an hour, I push forward. The slog is rewarded with panoramic views, some much-needed exercise, and peak bragging rights. I hustle back down.
Photo by Mary Minerman
After grabbing some snacks, I jump on the train heading home, sitting next to another westward viewing window. The conductor serves wine, and I appreciate the long shadows coursing green valleys, closing out the day. As we trundle down the track, the sun sets on the Pacific in a panorama of pinks and violets, and I make a silent toast. The world is not leaving me behind, working at my desk. I am moving with it, soaking up its beauty, and getting stuff done.
A day truly well-spent and part of a Life Well-Lived.
Watching this pandemic play out, one witnesses humanity at its worst:
With the world going rogue, we still get to decide who we want to be in this new reality. I choose being a good human, and many others are doing the same:
We are truly “in this together” and get to choose how we want to handle it. Being a good human is and will always be part of a Life Well-Lived.
I met Pam almost 50 years ago in eighth grade. I sat next to her on the bus to Joe Walker Junior High. She was petite, beautiful, and terrified. Her family had just moved to the area, and she did not know anyone.
We became fast friends, sharing favorite music, talking about our pasts, and laughing at the absurdities of life. We walked to the country store or sat on the swings at the elementary school, and our friendship bloomed. As I got to know her better, I learned one of life’s certainties: Boys loved Pam and went to ridiculous adolescent lengths to get her attention. Being an awkward, too tall tweener, I had never witnessed such a fuss and was confused, annoyed, and a little envious. But there was more to Pam than adoring teenage boys. She was smart. She aced her classes, took more challenging subjects, and earned special academic awards. She also had an incredible artistic sense. I still remember a beautifully rendered rose she drew, and this was over four decades ago.
After two years, my family moved away. Pam and I wrote letters and talked on the phone. I saw her through marriage and her children. She saw me through marriage, a daughter, and divorce. With young families, our phone calls became fewer and farther between, but when the busyness lifted, we reconnected as if we’d never been apart. She visited me in South Orange County, and we caught up over the crashing waves of the San Clemente Pier. I went to her home in Las Vegas for the Fourth of July. (Her husband, Tony, kindly turned up the air conditioning knowing the 110 plus temperatures would probably kill me!) We sat in her pool, fully clothed drinking champagne. Her family joined us, and we stayed up until 4 in the morning, not wanting to sleep but finally collapsing into our beds. They took a trip to Cambria, and I visited them. We went wine tasting, me sitting in the back seat with her 25-year-old boys yelling, like little kids, “He’s looking at me!” Her son Jessie joked about crushing on me with hilarious flirty comments. “Hey, Maaarrrryyyy….” For Mother’s Day, her son Jason got us special tickets on the High Roller. We danced, marveled at the city below, and felt so lucky to be alive. When I had my book launch at Laguna Beach Books, Pam used her gambling winnings to make a surprise appearance along with Jason, her sister, Carolyn, and niece, Katie. I was so honored.
Through children, husbands, highs, and lows, we usually talk at least once a week knowing each other’s stories. She knew me when I was the gawky junior high kid, and I knew her when she was never that.
Being friends with Pam is definitely part of a life well-lived.
Happy Birthday, Pam!
I first met Peggy in the lunchroom of Top of the World Elementary. She had moved to the West Coast to be with her new husband and was substituting at our school. Being an excellent educator, she became part of our permanent staff. Peggy had a habit of getting to the core of what was important and not wasting time on the other stuff. Her class loved her, feeling nurtured and wanting to please her. I saw her make inroads with children when breakthroughs did not seem possible.
As time passed, we became friends walking the harbor, munching scones, and sharing our life stories. She told me she and her East Coast friends had been part of a study regarding women and happiness. Researchers learned it was not about wealth, marital status, or motherhood. The quality of a woman’s friendships with other women determined her happiness. And Peggy was and is a very good friend. She accompanied me to the doctor, supporting me silently through a nail-biting appointment. After surgery, when I was terrified, Peggy dropped everything to stay with me, so I would not be afraid. I remember her quietly brewing a cup of tea, and us talking until I could finally sleep.
When Peggy retired from teaching, she and her Love escaped the craziness of Southern California and returned to the East Coast buying property on a country lane from Farmer Jones. A trip of goats and a dog named Shredder completed their menagerie.
A couple of years ago, I went to visit. Peggy drove me to Fort Ticonderoga with its panoramic views of Lake Champlain, a place I had only read about in school. We shopped at the Vermont Store, reliving our childhoods in Raggedy Ann dolls and munching old fashioned candy. She showed me Hildene, where Lincoln’s son had once lived, and we explored the sweeping grounds, gazed at panoramic views of the colorful fall countryside, and soaked in the fascinating history. In the evening, I shared candlelight meals with Peggy and her husband, Mark. My slow eating became an on-going joke, but I just did not want those meals to end. Thought-provoking conversations, delicious food, and a very generous pour made for a day well-celebrated.
Peggy living a continent away is difficult. Our long harbor walks are far and few between, but she has reassured me she is very happy in her new life. Seeing her on Rootspring Farm, I know it is true. And honestly, how can anyone be upset about that?
Peggy is and will always be part of a Life Well-Lived.
Happy Birthday, Peggy!
Over the last six months, I’ve had some big disappointments. Circumstances forced me to withdraw from a long-anticipated humanitarian trip to Africa 12 hours before I was to leave. A project, making family lives better and taking me months to put together, fell apart 15 minutes before it was to happen. After much enthusiastic reading, organization, and expectation, my Turkey/Greece adventure planned to make me feel better about the missed Africa trip is now also canceled. I feel wrung out from all the planning, drained of excitement, and empty.
I realize, in the big scheme of things, this is nothing. There are people who...
Reading over this list, I realize I’m good. Sorry for whining.
In a massive disaster, we will be the first responders for our communities. Emergency personnel simply do not have the resources to reach all of us at once. That is why being prepared is so critical. CERT (Community Emergency Response Training) is a great way to get ready.
Last weekend I took the training. Firefighters, paramedics, and others shared their stories, and I learned well-intentioned people in emergencies often do more damage than good. In an attempt to become part of the solution and not part of the problem, we learned how to:
The community provided breakfast and lunch, showing its appreciation for attendees blowing out their weekend for this potentially life-saving knowledge.
Upon completion, the mayor shook our hands, gave us certificates, and thanked us for making our community safer.
CERT training, definitely part of a Life Well-Lived.
Every 2 seconds someone needs blood in this country, according to the American Red Cross. People suffering from burns, accidents, cancer, undergoing heart surgery, organ transplants, and a plethora of other maladies truly do rely on the kindness of strangers. And blood donation is so easy to do:
The donee is not the only one who benefits. Blood donation:
And if you have a rare blood type, you will be the bell of this blood ball!
Making the world a better place through blood donation is easy and promotes Lives Well-Lived.
When I first met Halle, she was busy transforming her classroom into a castle, turrets and all. Her students were thrilled, and she’s been creating magic at Top of the World Elementary ever since.
Hallie is a unicorn. Underpinning her creativity is clear-minded, pragmatic thinking, and the results are stunning. In her classroom, she created storable stadium seating, and when the rest of us were scrambling to organize backpacks, she had already built, painted, and installed a beautifully designed backpack storage system. She extends this creativity to her students. Last week, knowing hands-on learning is critical to their education, her class enthusiastically planned, designed, and created a mud-brick wall. Afterward, she happily shared the pictures of her messy but gleeful second graders with me.
At staff meetings, she is the voice-of-reason seeing past the complexities of school schedules, curriculum, and the latest, greatest thing, arriving at child-centered solutions. In another life, she could have been an inventor or the top troubleshooter at some big company with a corner office and all the accompanying accruements. Top of the World Elementary is very lucky to have her.
Halle is also a great friend. I saw her assist a parent in her classroom through the throes of cancer and a former classmate suffering from eating disorders. She took me to the hospital for my surgery, and afterward, knowing I would be scared, she insisted on spending the night even though she had a busy household with three kids and a husband.
When our schedules allow, we love to hike and catch up. Halle enthusiastically shares new projects in her classroom and updates me on her family. We talk about life challenges, and she generously provides some of those much-needed solutions.
Halle’s friendship is definitely part of a Life Well-Lived.
Happy Birthday, Halle!
There is nothing much better than sitting back with a cup of tea or wine and cracking a big fat, dense, non-fiction book. The reading journey is slow and labored. Looking up the Sword of Damocles, the history of the Louvre, or a Republic of Congo map, takes time. Sometimes I barely make it through 3-4 pages before falling into a rabbit hole of interest, happily googling obscure factoids.
And I’ve had so many WOW moments:
~In the Hippodrome of Istanbul stands the Serpent Column rendered 2500 years ago of melted Persian weapons from an ancient battle. This iconic figure was referenced in classical literature, and its twisted shape with the three snakeheads is featured in many old drawings, maps, and paintings of the city. Constantine the Great had it moved to Constantinople in 324, and it is still there! (The three heads are gone, but the twisted-column remains.) ~Istanbul, Thomas Madden
~During the 18th and 19th centuries, there was much speculation about Marie Antoinette’s son Louis the XVll after the French Revolution. What happened to him? Many imposters claimed to be the lost dauphine, and Mark Twain even featured a character masquerading as the prince in his classic Huckleberry Finn. This book solves the mystery. ~The Lost King of France, Deborah Cadbury
~What has directly or indirectly killed over 52 billion people? The mosquito. Even our DNA has reacted to this fact. Scientists have learned sickle cell anemia is a cell mutation evolved to combat mosquitos in the human body in Africa. At one time this was beneficial, but with longer lifespans this mutation has had dire consequences for African Americans. ~ The Mosquito: A Human History of Our Deadliest Predator, Timothy Winegard
~The Medici family dominated Florence for two centuries. Their financial support underpinned the Italian Renaissance, and the paintings, architecture, and sculpture still adorn the city today. Members of the family were well connected to many of Italy’s historical figures: Galileo, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci. Their name also figures strongly in history with 2 popes and a French queen on their family tree. ~The Medici, Paul Strathern
As one ages, one becomes more calloused, and life ceases to surprise us. Reading these books brings back the wonder and curiosity of childhood.
With time I have adopted some rituals adding to my book enjoyment. I now read them on my Kindle because I can define challenging words effortlessly. Also, I use my phone for maps and images. (The newer Kindles can probably do this.) Funny enough, I love buying the book too, and putting it on my shelf. It’s my version of a trophy for finishing the book. Also, it can open some fascinating conversations with friends.
Exploring the complexities of this world through big fat non-fiction books is definitely part of a life well-lived.
The other day I was mindlessly “thumbing through” Facebook and saw a former classmate’s obituary. If his picture had not been included, I would not have recognized his name and would have ignored the posting. You see, Chris and I did not know each other well. We only spoke once, ever.
It was years ago. I was visiting my hometown and meeting some friends at the local hotspot. Finding me momentarily unengaged, Chris had approached the table. He made no attempt at common courtesies or cursory greetings and jumped right in. He asked me how I had done it. How had I pulled up stakes with a kid and moved? How did I escape the security and safety of our small town and finally leave? He said a lot of people talked about doing it, but no one ever did. How had I finally gotten the guts to move on?
I was somewhat taken aback. I did not know him and was surprised he knew my story. He was obviously very unhappy in his present situation and needed to make a change. I do not remember how the younger me responded. I do know I tried very hard to be inspirational, but as I recall, my words fell flat. In the end, I wished him well, felt good about being brave for a few minutes, and did not think about it again. He was one of those many incidental people we meet in life; we have neither the capacity nor the time to stay connected.
Now, reading the tribute, our long-ago conversation came back to me. His torment. His unhappiness. His frustration. But my sadness for him in dying young and his missed opportunities was short-lived. According to the text, Chris had not stayed stuck. Not long after our conversation, he had moved to Hawaii, never returning to the mainland or our small town. Chris had done what he thought he could never do but desperately wanted. He was brave, moved on, and lived life the way he wanted.
And dear reader, how can anyone be sad about that?
My octogenarian parents live in the middle of Wyoming. They are 23 miles from a hospital and 900 miles from their children. They moved here in 1990 when hiking and cross country skiing were their passions. Ten years ago, my folks thought they would move closer to us kids, but not finding any place they liked as much as Wyoming, their window was missed.
Now, my mom has become forgetful, and my father is not very ambulatory. With icy roads and walkways, 3-4 feet of snow accumulation, sub-freezing temperatures, and long, very dark nights, it is definitely no place for old men. (I'm looking out the window at a country lane where 2 vehicles spun out of control into a snow-covered gully and red lights of an emergency vehicle are flashing.) I have spent the past month trying to find a safe situation where they might actually be happy. It's a tough task.
This has brought up a lot of issues regarding responsibility in caring for elderly parents. I've heard non-committal "if it works in my schedule" and "we'll do what we can do." I also learned of a woman with dementia whose family has deserted her but always comes sniffing around when money is discussed. I met a darling hunched up woman in an assisted living facility who said her son says the place is too expensive and she needs to move. I doubt he will find a cheaper option. The home has at least a dozen residents with one harried caretaker.
It's funny how some make it a gender thing. I was talking to a friend who mentioned his sisters caring for their parents. I asked why this was the case, and he said women are stronger than men. Not long after, an elderly friend mentioned how attentive her daughter has been as she has aged, but added her son has been useless. She said daughters always seem to take the responsibility. I further read an article about long-living men and how they often had a daughter caring for them. So, why have so many men eschewed this shared responsibility?
I honestly do not know the answer, but I do know we get to choose who we are in this world. Part of that is doing the hard work of caring for those we love. Do we really want our parents, who have given us so much, to be alone? I think not.
When I was a second-grade teacher at Top of the World Elementary, Sharon was the school principal. She was a kind, empathetic, and talented administrator, somehow finding the delicate balance between teacher expectations and parent concerns. Sharon brought innovative ideas to staff meetings and introduced "collaboration" before it was fashionable, creating time in the week for teachers to share ideas and develop their craft. Children were always central in her choices and decision-making.
Missing the kids, her true passion, she returned to the classroom as a creative, inspiring, and gifted educator. One year, we shared a contract, and I got to see her in action. She created a fantastical dragon named Dudley, who made the children's imaginations soar. For Halloween, we dressed as M and M candies (her idea) because both our last names started with M. And report cards, the bane of every teacher's existence, were fun! We sat at our computers laughing until a neighboring teacher complained about the noise, thinking we were students goofing around in the classroom. The stress of the task gave us the giggles, but we found two points of view were very helpful in creating a full picture of student progress, and were both proud of the results.
When I got sick, she volunteered to take me to the doctor. Upon hearing the diagnosis, she burst into tears, and the poor doctor gave us instructions to the nearest bar because I said we needed a drink. When she asked if she could accompany me again, I told her, "You can come, but you can't cry." It became a joke, but I appreciated her tears. They validated my own fears, and I did not feel so alone. Honestly, everyone should have someone to cry with them in the doctor's office.
Sharon is not only a gifted educator and a true friend; she is also an exceptionally talented artist. She works in a variety of media and is always trying new techniques. She jokes about her struggles to get her ideas on canvas, but don't be fooled. I have seen her work. She created a painting that so beautifully captured the sky, I became emotional with tears welling up in my eyes.
Now, when we start missing each other, we meet at the harbor for a scone. She's that friend you can tell your deepest darkest secrets and know, you will not be judged, and they will never go any further. She's vulnerable and shares her own struggles, so one does not feel alone. Her thoughtful input is spot-on, and I always come away from our get-togethers energized and ready to get back out there.
Having a friend like Sharon is definitely part of a Life Well-Lived!
Happy Belated Birthday, Sharon! (Your birthday always sneaks up on me!)
Photo by Daryl Baird on Unsplash
Happy New Year!
As we all know, resolutions never seem to work. We all go in with the best intentions. Some of us last a few days, some a week, and the strong-willed may go a month. (I’m in the weak-minded 3-day camp.) Creating significant change and making it stick is tough.
James Clear, in his New York Times bestseller, Atomic Habits, points out how micro changes in daily habits can create a huge impact.
He suggests the reader try habit-stacking. One takes an established habit and pairs it with a desired one to create a new, better routine. I drink coffee every morning and want to implement an exercise routine. I do my upper body exercises while the coffee is brewing. My reward, when I am finished, is the coffee. Simple.
Inspired, I have also implemented habit stacking in my evening routine. I took an enjoyable activity and stacked it with a desired one. I'm not fond of planks, but I love playing word games on my phone, so I habit stacked. At night I do 3 sets of one-minute planks. To make them more palatable, I play word games on my phone while I am "planking." The benefits are trifold: I’m building my upper body strength, my brain is being stretched, and I look forward to my evening ritual.
I hope you’ll try habit stacking and read James Clear’s book. After all, healthy routines are definitely part of a Life Well-Lived.
P.S. Do you have any habit stacking ideas? I would LOVE to hear them!
If you want to be happy, make someone else happy.
If you want to find the right person in your life, be the right person.
If you want to see change in the world, become the change you want to see.
In the 1946 movie "It's a Wonderful Life," George Bailey has big plans for his future: he's going to see the world and build skyscrapers. As he is saying his final goodbyes and leaving town, his father suffers a fatal heart attack. Knowing the family business, Bailey Building and Loan, will close without his presence, George decides to stay until circumstances improve.
As time passes, he attempts to leave again and again but is always thwarted by obligations beyond his control. Eventually, he marries, has a family, and becomes a prominent member of the community. When his bumbling uncle misplaces business funds, George is in danger of bankruptcy and prison. Frustrated with missed opportunities and believing he is better off dead, George decides he wants to die.
On the verge of ending it all, George is given a glimpse of what the world would have been without him: his brother, whom he saved from drowning as a child, would have died. Everyone on a military transport, saved by his brother, would have perished because his brother was not there to prevent it. The pharmacist's drunken medication confusion, righted by George, would have killed the patient, and George's wife, never marrying, would have become a frightened old maid. (I know...just go with it!)
He learns, although he did not pursue his dreams, he made a massive difference to the people around him, and maybe that was more important. George returns home to find the entire town, whom he has helped through the years, at his home, donating money to keep the Bailey Building and Loan doors open. His brother raises a glass to the crowd: "A toast to my big brother George, the richest man in town."
There are a couple themes in this classic movie which remain relevant today:
George puts people first. He never achieves his dream of seeing the world because his family and friends needed him. Still, he builds a rich life with deep connections to the people around him, and perhaps that was more important.
Life does not go according to plans. George's life did not work out the way he had hoped in his younger years, but he realizes he still has lived a "wonderful life" full of love and meaning.
Perhaps we can take away these lessons and apply them to our own Lives Well-Lived!
Happy Belated Christmas, dear Reader! "It's a Wonderful Life!"
P.S. Sorry for the late posting. I pulled a George Bailey and put my family and friends first! ;-)
Patti and I taught in neighboring classrooms for years. We shared ideas, asked each other for advice, and loved being teachers. Sometimes, after a particularly exhausting day, I would pop my head in her classroom, give her a look, and we would both burst into laughter. Often times we'd be the last ones at school, losing track of time in our continual pursuit of being good teachers. Together we'd walk to the darkened parking lot, wave goodbye, and meet back the next morning, ready to do it all over again.
Our friendship was not confined to the elementary school campus. Patti drove terrified me to UCLA for surgery. In solidarity, she did not eat or drink anything before noon because I could not consume anything before the procedure. She also filmed my Author Event at Laguna Beach Books, making funny faces and gestures so I would not be so nervous.
Now, we are retired teachers and don't see each other often. However, we both have "too close to Christmas" birthdays and every year get together to celebrate. We share our adventures, cheerlead the other's successes, and send each other back into the world nourished and filled up.
Traditions and a caring, loving, supportive, great friend are definitely a Life Well-Lived.
Happy Birthday, Patti!
Photo Credit: Patti Rabun
Sometimes life throws you a little surprise in the traffic-choked holiday season parking lot. Appreciating it is definitely creating a Life Well-Lived...
Down at the Dana Point Harbor, there is an independent coffee shop called Coffee Importers. Every holiday they hang beautiful red and gold star paper lanterns from the rafters in their patio area. The illuminated lamps create a bazaar of glowing color, and it is difficult to stop staring at them.
Last year, inspired by their beauty, I ordered a few, especially colorful ones, online. I hung them in a rather dull corner and sent pictures to a friend. She immediately requested the website and ordered her own. I draped them from the ceiling at my parents' home last Christmas, and they are now asking when I am coming back to rehang them. I put them up for my birthday, and my guests wanted to know where I got them. I've even seen them in neighbor's windows.
There is a unique and universal appreciation for these paper star lanterns one does not often see in life. Everyone loves them.
How can they not be part of a Life Well-Lived? Looking at a constellation of star lanterns, soaking in their beauty, and sharing your appreciation with others. How lovely.
Perhaps creating a star lamp garden might be a charming way to nourish your soul for the holidays...
P.S. My favorite lantern spots are: Whirled Planet and Quasimoon.
M.J. Minerman writes for spinsters around the world who have "not found their lids and are pursuing lives well-lived."