Forget-Me-Not

I Left my Baggage in Chicago

Dropping my baggage

The original meaning of dropping or leaving your baggage had to do with travel. Later on, it became a psychological tool of leaving behind what no longer serves you well. This past Monday, I had the unwanted opportunity to leave my favourite suitcase in Chicago.

After a fantastic weekend event that exceeded all my expectations, four of us stayed over for one additional night. We had grand plans for Monday, and my flight didn’t leave until after five, so there was time to do things like the famed Architectural Boat Ride in Chicago.

Sadly that was not to be. The handle on my favourite, go everywhere with me,  suitcase would not go down. Pushing in the little catches, wiggling and jiggling, and carefully applying pressure – well, nothing helped. Finally, my friend Gregg took a mallet and seriously banged on it but not a budge. This suitcase was built to withstand abuse and has a lifetime guarantee and replacement with no exceptions, and most of all, I treasured this suitcase. Everywhere I went this past 12 years, this suitcase came with me.

Now what?

The airlines won’t take it because the extended handle can get caught and create havoc. I had to face the unwanted fact that I would need to leave this suitcase behind.

And I had to buy a new suitcase quickly on Memorial Day in the USA. My friend drove me to a Target, where I had five suitcases to choose from, each one less appealing than the last. I did select a duffle bag type in an unopened box. When I opened it up, it wasn’t what I thought, but I had something to put my belongings into to take on the plane.

As I said goodbye to my Briggs and Riley perfect carry-on that had expansion room for checking, if need be, I was discombobulated. Any other suitcase I owned, I could have easily parted ways with, but this was tough. I couldn’t even bring it back to get a replacement. We had reached the end of our partnership.

As I packed up my new suitcase, I was relieved to have one, but my mind was still trying to figure out a way to bring my old one back.

And then I remembered the cake.

Many years ago, I baked a birthday cake for my Mother. There were about 13 people coming to dinner and it was a beautiful sunny April day. When I went to check the cake, I saw that it wasn’t rising. It seemed odd, but I waited for five more minutes and no change. And then I saw the problem. The bowl with the dry ingredients was sitting in a corner of my counter, waiting to be added to the batter. I knew immediately that this cake would never rise. Still, I checked a couple of more times.

And then my son said. “Mom, it looks like what needs doing is to bake another cake – right now.” And I did.

The suitcase felt the same. I didn’t want it to be true. But eventually, I had to face the fact that this suitcase was not getting on the plane with me and I had best go and buy a new one.

And I did.

I am generally not attached to things, but I discovered I was attached to that suitcase. Before I left, I thanked my suitcase and decided then and there to leave all my old psychological baggage behind, as well. What no longer is necessary can remain in Chicago tucked away in that suitcase.  Somehow it seemed ok after that. New beginnings and making meaning is what I do.

I wonder what things you are attached to that one day you will need to let go of. As we live longer and simplify our surroundings, we all come up against this dilemma. I have taken false pride in my ability to do so but I came up short with my suitcase, of all things. And not a glamourous one, but rather a practical, reliable, efficient workhorse kind of suitcase. And I counted on it.

Good effort to all of you when this happens to you. I say “when” rather than “if” because it seems to be universal.

 

 

Notes

1:) Information and Registration Link for the online program that begins June 6th, hosted by the Sorrento nd Naramata Centres in British Columbia.

2:)The first suitcase is what I said goodbye to. You see the extension that wouldn’t go down. The second suitcase is holding a carry-on, my purse and a bike helmet. This was my first trip, and the photo was taken in a small hotel room in Rome en route to a bike trip in Croatia in 2012.

3:) A small joy this past weekend was meeting a stranger, a Syrian woman with her grandchild, who was walking in the opposite direction I was walking with a friend in Darien Illinois. We said hello, spoke briefly, and continued on our way.  On the return, we met again—this time, she handed each of us two beautiful daisies. We stopped and talked a longer time and I was profoundly grateful for her gift of two daisies. I also felt overwhelmingly lucky that I never had to go through what she and others go through to leave their home and come to another country. This gentle encounter was a highlight. I took a picture as the daisies dried so I could remember her and our meeting.

4:)

5:) Finally,  I will say good night. When we meet next week, it will be June. May you take good care of your precious days – by that, I mean spend time outdoors, do things that you love and hang out with people who mean the world to you. Let go of what you no longer need. Many thanks and warmest wishes, Trudy

 

Celebrating Showing up Wholeheartedly for Five Years and other things

Five years ago in May – I began this weekly blog.

And I have a lot of joy around this.  For myself for showing up each week and even more,  for you, dear reader, for joining me here. Thank you so very much for your interest and the encouraging words you have so generously offered over these years.  Please celebrate your own markers. It is really important to acknowledge significant moments.  I looked back, to see what I wrote about in those early days and saw that my second post was about my dear, sweet Mother showing up wholeheartedly. When I read it, I realized that I could use this advice myself tonight.

Take a look here:

“Woody Allan, along with others, has been quoted as saying that 80% of success is just showing up. There is a kernel of truth there but I suggest that showing up wholeheartedly may be the defining factor.

Last weekend my 98-year-old Mother, along with 39 family members, participated in the Ottawa Race Weekend. Several ran or walked the ½ marathon but it was the 5K on Saturday that was the highlight. This event was where my Mother, along with our motley crew, walked the 5k in 1 hr and 34 minutes. This is no mean feat at 98 years old and having flown 4500 KM to do so.

I was thinking about what my Mother brought to the occasion besides her walking poles. First of all, was her commitment and effort that she put into preparing for the walk. More importantly, was her heart and grit as she placed one foot in front of the other. She gave it her all, with a smile on her face, determination and a desire to complete the course along with the rest of us.

When we crossed the finish line together, she received her medal along with the cheers of the crowd. Yet, what delighted her was to have earned that medal and done her part to contribute to our team. She went to bed that night,simply happy and satisfied.

I have pondered on what it means to show up wholeheartedly. Dr. Itami, my mentor, encouraged his patients to take on all tasks with that spirit. He would remind them that not much changes if you are simply warming the seat. With a willingness to fully participate, stretch ourselves appropriately (in this case, the 5K, not the 10k) and generously contribute to whatever it is you are doing, a subtle change of spirit takes place. We rejuvenate and become more creative and alive as it influences everything we do. Best of all, we have more fun.

Living Well with Illness and ageing, for that matter, isn’t about running races; rather, it is about finding fulfillment in the present by living to the best of our ability and our interests. It is about carving out meaning, each in our own way, through active engagement in both purposeful activities and fun hobbies. It is making time for people we love and like. It is singing while there is voice left.”

David SteindlRast, of gratefulness.org renown, wrote about wholeheartedness as the antidote to exhaustion and stress. At that time, he was talking to the poet-to-be David Whyte and encouraging him to do what he could do wholeheartedly, which was to be a full-time poet. However, I too benefit from this advice, for different reasons.

As for me, I am doing what I wholeheartedly love, but…but…tomorrow I am going to Chicago, where I am co-hosting an event to honour the 30 years of the ToDo Institute. And I can’t help but slip into a bit of anxiousness as to how it will turn out. Still, Japanese Psychology is all about showing up wholeheartedly, making the best effort, adapting to the unexpected and finding moments of joy. So, this five-year-old post was a good reminder to do just that.

Still, we are humans. I am so excited about this weekend and I can count on myself and others to do everything that needs to be done to create a good experience for participants, and I can still feel anxious—a distinguishing feature of being human. Maybe that is one way to distinguish AI from humans. :-))

 Notes

1:) Information and Registration Link for the online program that begins June 6th, hosted by the Sorrento and Naramata Centres in British Columbia.

2:) Five years of thank-yous to all of you. A deep bow to each reader of this blog.

3:) Ah, another anxious moment as a second change from AWeber for my blog distribution starts this week. Fingers crossed that it went as well as last time. What I love about Japanese psychology is we don’t need to fix ourselves. We can be anxious or shy, or afraid and still do what we need to do. And of course there are many learnable skills that can help us do that.

4:) I wish you all a good week. This weekend in Ottawa is race weekend and one that I have participated in for many years by walking—a great place to walk or runa  5k to a half or a full marathon. That is a photo of my 98-year-old Mother with the founder of The Running Room back in 2018

5:) Do you notice the seal in the photo taken by Gottfried on Gabriola? And the banner photo was taken by Rob in Vancouver. See you all next week. Warmly, Trudy

 

Is It a Weed Or a Flower plus

Dandelions are on my mind once more. During a recent conversation with my son he was telling me about the hours of work pulling up dandelions in his yard. And worse, he didn’t get them all. He was not impressed when I explained that I love a field of dandelions—all that brilliant yellow. I climbed up on my soapbox and told him about a blog post I wrote three years ago on the dandelion. I clipped part of that post and pasted it below.

Is it a weed or a flower?

When I was a girl of 10, I came upon a field of beauty. I was on my way home from school and took a slightly different route. To my surprise, I saw a giant field of yellow flowers. As I came closer, I stopped in my tracks to admire all that beautiful yellow stretching out in front of me. The owner caught my eye, and I called out to ask if  I could pick five flowers for my Mother. To my happiness, he told me to go ahead and pick all the yellow flowers I wanted. Although I didn’t want to take advantage of his generosity, I gathered up a good bouquet and hurried home.

My Mother kindly placed the dandelions in a beautiful blue vase, and as happy as I was, my heart sank when I later overheard her friend use the word, weeds. “Dandelions are weeds.”

So the question is, when is a weed, not a weed?

There are two points of view:

Wikipedia describes a weed as a plant that is considered undesirable in a particular place.

Ralph Waldo Emerson described a weed as a plant whose virtue has not yet been discovered.

In other words, it can be either depending on your point of view. I am with Walt on this matter.

Consider the lowly dandelion. Imagine my surprise, 35 years later, when first visiting Austria in the spring, and seeing untouched fields of dandelions, in the orchards, especially the wine fields. It appears that the dandelion has a more favourable image in Europe, and in folklore, medicine was considered a reliable tonic, amongst many other things.

I recall a long walk with my granddaughter in the experimental farm gardens. We rounded a corner, and there it was, a field of gold. She kindly joined me in my enthusiastic praise for the humble dandelion. Ultimately it may be where the dandelion lives. Dandelions look great in abundance, whether in a field or a hillside. Maybe less so in a yard where a few scraggly dandelions pop up. (I give dandelion detractors that)

In truth, I love flowers and the dandelion is one more flower in my books.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Sometimes Things Work Out (the plus)

“It’s funny how things work out sometimes.”- Author: Anthony Horowitz

Today a number of wonderful things worked out. My cousin’s pathology report was better than expected and that is great news. Another wonderful person about to start aggressive and life-saving treatments is feeling fully supported in the penthouse at Tom Baker Cancer Centre. And I was on a visual high because everywhere I drove, walked and looked, there was a splurge of colour. Furthermore, I had one of those days where joy kept bubbling up unbidden. It’s nothing you can force and there was no particular reason that it arrived today, but there it was. Bubbling away like a clear, cool spring of water just below the surface and refreshing my entire body-mind.

Remember this poem?

Sometimes – by Sheenagh Pugh

Sometimes things don’t go, after all,
from bad to worse. Some years, muscadel
faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don’t fail,
sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.

A people sometimes will step back from war;
elect an honest man, decide they care
enough, that they can’t leave some stranger poor.
Some men become what they were born for.

Sometimes our best efforts do not go
amiss; sometimes we do as we meant to.
the sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
that seemed hard frozen: may it happen for you.

Isn’t it a gift when the pathology report has good news – what a surprise; cancer hasn’t spread, even locally. The treatment worked this time. No one was hurt. I got the job. We saved our marriage. We kept our home. The kids are ok. The book got written. The crops got harvested. We became friends. The event succeeded. Everyone came. The plane was on time.

We don’t ignore problems since they need our attention. But we can easily ignore what works. We can take the good for granted. Every time we notice the good and spend a little time with it, according to neuropsychologist Dr. Rick Hanson, we strengthen our neural pathways to gravitate more often toward what is working.

“By taking just a few extra seconds to stay with a positive experience – even the comfort in a single breath – you’ll help turn a passing mental state into lasting neural structure.” Dr. Rick Hanson

Notes

1:) The photos are local today; imagine the enjoyment I have taking them.

2:) “A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood. If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantment of later year…the alienation from the sources of our strength.” Rachel Carson

3:) An old Blessing from John O’Donohue with a new backdrop. Because it was recently Mother’s Day, I invite you to listen to this poem/blessing that he wrote for his Mother. His Irish lilt is soothing and beautiful. Click here

4:) Many thanks for your notes and comments and for simply showing up here to read this blog post. I am excited to receive notes requesting a letter in your postal box, per last week’s blog. I have started, and since my announcement last week, two are in the mail. (It’s a start) May you all have many joyful moments and lots of beauty to sink into during this gorgeous month. With appreciation, Trudy

 

Letter Writing Is on My Mind

An Old-Fashioned Practice

Letter writing is such an old-fashioned practice – the pen and paper kind. I have always loved stationery – fine paper; elegant pens, especially fountain pens; beautiful and/or significant postage stamps; small presses; cards, particularly the ones from the UK. And, of course, all things related to writing from Japan. I can picture myself having a quaint, tucked-away little shop that contains all these lovely things. Imagine the people who would come in for a visit and leave, knowing they found just the right thing. Or if not, it was a beautiful interlude in their day.

The reality is that I have a desk that contains many of these things already but I rarely use them now. And this is about to change – with great difficulty, I can assure you, because I no longer have the habit. Way too easy to use email, text and Jacquie Lawson cards.

Taking Inventory

However, as I am going through my desk and looking at this wealth of all things required to write a letter or send a note by mail, I find it sad that I’m not doing so. So I have a new challenge: use up what I have, including my stamps, while I can. So, for those of you who know me, if you start getting notes for no particular reason whatsoever, you know I’m on track.

It bothers me to think this wealth is sitting here going to waste when I can pop into your mailbox with a friendly hello, quote, poem or stick drawing. I also have lots of card stock and I just ordered 200 of my favourite photos to make cards to give away. Furthermore,  if anyone wants a note from me in your postal mailbox, you can send me your address to trudy@livingwellwithillness.com  One day, when you least expect it, you will get a surprise card or note. Until the stamps run out, and that will take quite some time.

We all need connection, beauty, joy, laughter, and a few good words, according to the Surgeon General of the US and all kinds of recent studies. More than ever now. Truth be told, we don’t need science to convince us. We already know from our own experiences.

Also:

Letter writing is demanding my attention in several different ways right now, including both emails and text by the way. The latter is a brilliantly efficient way to stay in touch with people who are isolated in the hospital, for example, as well as at home. It is timely in a way that postal mail is not. But why not both? I hope you read this short and wonderful article just published TODAY in The Guardian on letter-writing and how it can transform lives.  You will see how the universe nudges me along. :-))

I may live to regret my public proclamation on letter writing from time to time. But I know from past experience that it is the best way for me to do these kinds of essential things that aren’t urgent. At this moment, I am full of hope and enthusiasm to see this through. The reality may be more like the Japanese proverb – “seven times down, eight times up.”

NOTES

1:) Registration Link for anyone interested in the four-week online program in June hosted by Naramata and Sorrento Centre in BC. Please note the time advertised is PT and the fee is in Canadian dollars.

2:) Banner photo from Gottfried on Gabriola, once again;  “Start Anywhere” is by Patricia Ryan Madson and tulips from Ottawa, by me.

3) I found this short article on manga being preserved on washi paper for future generations thought-provoking, even though I have no interest in manga. However, lots of interest in washi paper.

4:) May is a magnificent month in my books. Full of colour, bird song, and a hundred shades of green. And every day, we are gifted with more.

5:) Thank you, as always, for joining me here. I appreciate you from the bottom of my heart. Warmest wishes, Trudy

 

The Certainty of Uncertainty

 Uncertainty

We live with uncertainty in our daily lives. What often captures our attention is a diagnosis, an inconvenience, and things we can’t control. The latter being most things and especially other people.

For instance, I have trepidation tonight, on the eve of my weekly blog, because tomorrow, the system that sends my blog to you will change. I like the way it works now, and  I don’t want it to change. However, a few days ago, I received an email that said it would change, and the change begins this Wednesday. It sounded complicated, and I could immediately imagine a technological horror story. Everything went wrong, and I was a helpless bystander with no agency to fix the problem.

Of course, I do have the agency to accept the excellent and thoughtful offer of help from AWeber. Furthermore, my appointment is at 9:30 Wed morning with an expert who will explain, train, and walk me through my particular requirements. I can also write my blog post the evening before, so I have something particular to work with during our meeting in the morning. And that’s what I am doing now. Still, after five years with only one or two glitches, quickly solved, I confess I am anxious over this unwanted change. As I sheepishly write this, I smile at the paradox of one who likes change and is often an early and enthusiastic adapter and adopter.

Still

Still…I hope you do receive this and that it will continue in the new format as seamlessly as it has up until now.

I would now love to say something critical about myself and my mundane ho-hum tale of woe over my email service change. But I have stopped myself from doing that because I chastise others for making unnecessary comparisons and for belittling their own personal worries. We will leave it like that.

Still…I do want to speak about the uncertainty of waiting for a diagnosis, waiting for a surgical date; waiting for the pathology report; waiting for the pain to stop, or, God forbid, getting worse. Waiting for our plane to take off because someone we love needs us. So many, many everyday things that happen to others that we can’t totally grasp until they happen to us. And then we learn.

And the bottom line is we can and do co-exist with uncertainty. Furthermore, it doesn’t have to ruin our lives, even though we don’t like it or want it.  We can make it better or worse by where we focus our attention. And even more, where we focus our efforts and actions – a little more on this next week.

Strength to Your Sword Arm

For now, we are doing what we can do, me with my neck pain which is now superseded by my concern over this tech change, and you with whatever is going on in your life. We are human beings, not robots, and feel things. Naturally, we are prone to respond to our conditioning. I think we are mostly doing the best we can with what we know under the circumstances we currently find ourselves in. So a little tenderness and kindness, along with our resourcefulness, is called for.

Strength to your sword arm!

This is a favourite saying from Brenda Ueland (see note 1) – a metaphor she applies to (writing) and all the hard things we need to do.

NOTES

1:) I came across this quote today from a favourite writer who was way ahead of her time. She wrote a book I love called If You Want to Write : A Book About Art, Independence, and Spirit.      “Who are the people, for example, to whom you go for advice? Not to the hard, practical ones who can tell you exactly what to do, but to the listeners, that is, the kindest, least censorious, least bossy people you know. It is because by pouring out your problem to them, you then know what to do about it yourself.” Brenda Ueland

2:) Gordon Lightfoot, a Canadian musical icon, died this week at 84. Here is a gentle little song he wrote and sang – one of my favourites. Pussy Willows Cat-tails

3) Banner photo from Gottfried on Gabriola and flowers from a neighbour’s garden by yours truly.

4:) A heads up: I may be offering a program online in June that will be open to the public. The Naramata and Sorrento Centres in British Columbia have invited me: June 6, 13, 20, and 27 Tuesdays at 1:30 -3:00 PT. The website page is missing the waitlist button, so I won’t add the link until next week – only if you are interested.

5:) Thank you for reading this blog. See you next week, and all my best wishes are coming your way. Warmly, Trudy

There Are no Small Things

Taking Note

In the course of a day or a week, we are inundated with small things. We most likely don’t like these things, so they grab our attention. You know, when the alarm doesn’t go off, or the puppy gets sick or worse, the car won’t start, or even worse, you work from home, and there is no internet. You hang up from talking to the tow truck and discover no coffee in the house. These things are a normal part of life, but we find them exceptionally annoying, as though they shouldn’t happen to us.

Like a pain in the neck, I’m not speaking about someone, but rather an actual pain in the neck. Having lived a primarily pain-free life (knock on wood), I now have a very stiff neck accompanied by pain. Nothing special, except it is new to me. For 76 years and x number of days, I never woke up and thought, wow -no neck pain. It was my norm. Believe me, when this neck of mine no longer hurts, I will take note of the wonder and miracle of a neck without pain. Of course, my gratitude and attention are bound to fade because unless I put effort and thought into my daily life and note what is working well, I won’t notice.

My friend Gregg wrote an article in Tricycle Magazine called Grateful for Nothing. “When things are going well, it’s easy to take for granted all of the unfortunate events that didn’t happen.” I am pre-disposed to look for the silver lining and be grateful for it, but I admit that today I am looking forward to looking back and saying something like, “I am so grateful that it is over.” This is probably not a good example of living in the moment, as I am very interested in a future moment. Quite attached, actually.:-))

But that’s not all that happened

If I left it there, you might think I am having a difficult time with my neck. You would be right, and that’s not all. Let me tell you about just a few small things that also happened.

Out of the blue, I received a lovely email from an old friend, a philosophy prof with whom I had lost touch, wanting to reconnect. An unexpected gift!

I got a call on Monday morning from my 12-year-old grandson, inviting me for lunch. He wanted to make me lemon sugar crepes. (he had the day off school) For goodness’ sake, was that not delightful and endearing and a complete surprise? How lucky am I.

An over-the-top gift from a friend for a very specific purpose. Encouragement, thoughtfulness, practical, generous and ever so caring words for a special trip I hope to make next year.

An appointment with a masseuse who specializes in necks. She, who doesn’t make calls, called. I, who never answered calls close to my webinars, answered. She, who doesn’t take new patients, gave me an appointment four days later.

The pictures today are my pathway between the avenue I live on and the next street. As I walk that way, I am transported to Oxford or some European town briefly. I love that short interlude, and it brings me joy.

Today spending time with my non-bookclub friends, who graciously welcome me, although I miss many of our gatherings and don’t get to read all the books. Still, the door stays open.

And the Magic Bag. You heat this in the microwave and place it around your neck for 15 minutes at a time. Three cheers and three deep bows to the creator of this soothing compress.

The beautiful red cardinal sings outside my study window every morning and turns directly to look at me. He is probably admiring his reflection in the window, but I like to think he is greeting me.

A workshop

The engaging poetry/drawing workshop I took on Saturday with a wonderful teacher from San Francisco. It exceeded all of my expectations by a mile, and I was left with a new favourite Haiku and a sweet and joyful daily practice.

I write, erase, rewrite

Erase again, and then

A Poppy blooms.

by Katsushika Hokusai

Here is the thing. All of these delights and so much more happened while my neck hurt. In retrospect, while I was doing the poetry/drawing workshop, I forgot about my neck as I did for many other moments during the week. I have forgotten about it now as I write this blog post. Of course, now I notice it again. But I can turn my stiff neck and see my magic bag close at hand, which means relief will soon be mine.

What is all this to say? I suppose it’s that we can be ok and not ok all at the same time. And where we focus our attention determines the extent of our suffering. I am not ignoring my neck. How can I? But there are things I am learning to do, including seeking professional help. We can provide ourselves with temporary relief by what else we choose to do. And if a good cry is needed, take it. Here is another new Haiku I love by Issa, one of the classical Haiku writers.

Napped half the day

no one

Punished me

On that note, I will say adieu, and I honestly hope all of you who are in pain seek help. It’s no time to be a stoic. And consider trying something new to give yourself a different kind of relief. For me, it was the poem/drawing practice that I now play with every day for 20-30 minutes.  We can learn to do many things, and I hope you find something that delights you.

NOTES

1:) From Wildlife World – a common, cheerful, beautiful bird called the Chaffinch. Listen and watch here.

2:) Yesterday, the 24th, was World Penguin Day, and The Atlantic published a series of delightful penguin shots to celebrate. Here is the link.

3) For those who like poets Mark Nepo and James Crews, there is a free event on Friday at 1:00 PM ET. Here is the link to register.

4) I am thinking of people I know who have loved ones entering hospice this week. My heart is with you.

5:) And I am lighting candles for you all, especially my dearest cousin Sonya, who is having surgery on Friday.

6:) Thank you for reading my musings. You, dear readers, are part of my joyful moments. May you have many moments of contentment and courage. The poet David Whyte defines courage this way: “Courage is what love looks like when tested by the simple everyday necessities of being alive.” Warmest wishes, Trudy

 

Things Are Not Always Like They Seem

James Webb Telescope

For those of you interested in astronomy and the James Webb telescope, you probably read about the six big galaxies, recently discovered that “shouldn’t be there.”

A recent article in The Atlantic concludes like this: “As I’ve talked with astronomers about what Webb has found so far, one word keeps coming up: shouldn’t. Galaxies shouldn’t be this way; the cosmic dawn shouldn’t be that way. (Yet) I find these shouldn’ts delightful. They hint at the well-intentioned hubris of humans, especially the most curious ones, those who wish to determine exactly how something works and why. But of course, the universe says, speaking to us by way of a giant telescope floating a million miles from Earth, This is how it is.”

Coincidentally, on the weekend, I took time to listen to a fascinating interview with the amazing Krista Tippett, and Dr. Vivek Murthy. Dr. Murthy is the US Surgeon General, for the second time.  As an outstanding public figure,  the interview, like the James Webb telescope news, was filled with surprise. His book, Together,  uncovers that the most common condition ailing America is not heart disease or diabetes. It is loneliness. This shouldn’t be either, and yet it is.

Dr. Vivvek Murthy

When Dr Murthy began his first tenure in 2014, he indicated his focus areas, as the “nation’s doctor,” to the US Senate.  He expected to concentrate on obesity, tobacco-related disease, mental health, and vaccine-preventable illness. However, he also travelled the country to talk to the American people.  He wanted to know what they needed. Everyplace he went across the country he asked: how can we help?

What he hadn’t anticipated and what wasn’t even recognized as a complaint or an illness was repeated over and over again from every walk of life: loneliness. This was something he had never considered a public health priority. Yet, it became what everyone wanted to talk about. Every age group; every political party; CEO’s; urban and rural.

And the antidote is social connection. What he has learned is this: “When we strengthen our connection with one another, we are healthier, more resilient, more productive, more vibrantly creative and more fulfilled.”

Siddhartha Mukherjee, the Pulitzer Prize-winning, author of The Emperor of All Maladies states: Murthy’s book makes a powerful case for the role of community and human connection in medicine. He provides cogent and compassionate insights about how to heal the art of healing.

Healing

We are interested in curing, here in the West. And when it doesn’t happen we think we have failed. Healing on the other hand is something quite different. Healing is coming to terms with things as they are.

Murthy, is a scientist, and a physician, with a string of accomplishments and accolades a mile long, As well, he holds the top Doctor spot in the US.  When he talks about the crisis of loneliness and rebuilding social connections, he is not coming from a place of positive thinking or a wellness retreat. He is coming from science, research, experience and a mindset that deeply understands the non-negotiables of health – caring and love, for individuals and our larger communities and countries.

He says this: “…and so this is about more than diagnosable mental illness, as important as that is. This is about improving our overall level of wellbeing. And this is where social connection is one of the most powerful tools that we could foster. And it’s so — it seems so simple that just building relationships could contribute to those outcomes that we almost don’t believe it. And if I told you, Krista, if I said, “Hey, I went into my backyard and I made this pill and it’s pretty amazing and it’s free. And if you take it, it will actually improve your health. It’ll make you feel better. It will improve your performance at work. It will improve your grades…

Tippett: Boost your immunity.

Murthy: …Everyone will be happier.” Yeah. You’d be like, “Hey, sign me up. I’ll take that tomorrow.” It turns out that’s what social connection is, and we just have to make that a priority and build — rebuild, I should say — the social infrastructure in our country.”

Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one. You need one because you are human.” Jane Howard, Families.

Notes

1:) Here is a favourite song of mine about friendship and caring for each other. Le Choeur des Jeunes de Laval L’amitie

2:) Vivek Murthy, MD wrote a book. Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World. I just picked it up today from my library. You can take a look at any of the Amazon’s or your library, if it interests you. Here is the link to Krista Tippet’s recent interview On Being Podcast

3:) The word salutogenesis comes from the Latin salus (meaning health) and the Greek genesis (meaning origin). The word caught my eye in an article by Nigel Crisp, in Prospect Magazine,  How Aristotle Can Teach Us  to Build a Better Society over a year ago.

There is a long (but often neglected) western tradition of interest in salutogenesis, the origins of health, which is concerned with understanding the causes of health as opposed to pathogenesis, the origins of disease. This is in some ways the precursor to what is today called “social prescribing,” an approach which sees clinicians prescribe gardening, swimming, singing and other activities instead of (only)pharmaceuticals, making use of the health-creating benefits of each. This is not about prevention of disease but the creation of health—the causes of health not the causes of disease. It takes the positive, not the negative approach to creating the conditions for people to be healthy.

4:) Wishing you all a lovely week. I hope what is needed happens. And what happens has the best outcome possible. HB; PW; SB; SA; VM and so many more. Thank you for your kindness in stopping by here and reading my musings and scribbles. Warmest greetings, Trudy

PS The banner photo is one I took six?? years ago in Mexico on an amazing photography trip with wonderful people.

What Exactly Is It that Makes You Great?

2006

It was Mother’s Day weekend when my six-year-old grandson Michael Thomas asked my 86 year old mother, his great grandmother, a question:

He looked at her with a quizzical expression and said, “Great-grandma, what exactly is it that makes you great?”

She was momentarily speechless.

“Do you think it is your apple pie,” he added.

She paused and said, “I don’t think so Michael Thomas – maybe it’s my chocolate chip cookies. What do you think”

“That’s it,” he exclaimed with delight, as the rest of us looked on in wonder.

I love this story and I love telling it, although it has been a while since I last thought about it.

Recently, however, I think of it almost every day. Why, you ask? Because I am about to become a great-grandmother myself. So the question has resonance.

My oldest grandson Jonathan and his wonderful wife Katie, both in their early 30’s are pregnant. (that’s how they describe it) And not just one baby but two – twins- with an ETA of July 13th. The date is significant because it is also the birthday of the twin’s grandparents, my son Rob and Jonathan and Michael’s, mom, Nancy. Rob and Nancy also share that birth date. Pretty exciting.

What I do know is that everyone in the extended family is delighted with the news. And these twins will be deeply loved by all of us.

This still leaves me with the question to ponder as to what will make me a “great-grandmother.”  My Mother was surely that and she set a high bar. It won’t be my knitting, although it could be my Christmas cookies. The wonderful thing about becoming a grandmother and now a great-grandmother is you keep getting fresh starts.

Tomorrow April 13th is my Mother’s Birthday and she would have loved this good news. Three years ago she died a blessed and loving death at 100 years, three months and 13 days. When I think of a great-grandma I think of her. This is a new threshold for me and I haven’t stepped through the door yet, but it is ajar, and I am peeking in with outstretched arms.

I already notice a renewed interest in how I can stay flexible and active. It’s not about the exercise I or you do three times a week but how we use each day as an opportunity to gently move our bodies. As a consequence of this interest, I have been reading the research of Dr. Joan Vernikos, former Director of NASA’s Life Sciences Division. I find her fascinating. I know how easy it is to get enthusiastic and to just as easily lose interest, so I am researching sustainability.

The truth is, I want to be able to get down on the floor and get up again under my own steam so I can play with these little ones. So, I am hopeful that implementing everyday movements will help me do this. I also want to be able to look over my shoulder so I can back up my car. According to the research Dr. Vernikos has done, this is possible by consciously making simple changes in my/our daily life. Let’s see what happens.

When my Mother was 100, she still went to her exercise class, made her bed, washed her dishes, took short walks, dressed well; put together squares for quilts; learned to use Zoom and other video conferencing formats, and did what she could to stay active, engaged and healthy. She would remind us to do our part to stay strong and flexible, both physically and mentally. This wasn’t easy during COVID. Still, she always did what she could and she didn’t fuss over what she could no longer do. Like, drive her car. “There are lots of other ways to get around,” she would tell us.

So, there it is. Great news and an existential question for this next phase. What do I want to do, and what can I do, in order to be a “great” grandmother? In a way, it’s a non-material legacy question, for us all.

And it mostly comes down to this: how we live today.

Our legacy isn’t about how much money we pass on (although that also is nice, for those who can) or how public a life you’ve lived. Instead, it is understanding the impact you have on those around you and finding ways to do it better.

Lyndsay Green, Canadian sociologist, and author of The Well-Lived Life: Live with Purpose and Be Remembered, says it best:

“It’s about accepting responsibility that you’re important to people. Not taking our life and relationships seriously while we’re alive is doing a disservice to yourself and the people you have a connection with.”

I have always loved the poem Famous – by Naomi Nye and here is the last stanza. (I read it today by replacing the word famous with “great.”)

“The last stanza from the poem Famous by Naomi Shihab Nye

“I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,

or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,

but because it never forgot what it could do.”

 NOTES

1:) Link to a previous post about my Mother, which is a guide for me. Click here

2:) Congratulations to Jonathan and Katie –  I love your enthusiasm.

3:) The banner photo from 2007, includes Jonathan, the about-to-be father, Michael Thomas, the curious one, and Sophie, the 18-month-old in this photo. Sixteen years later, there is another grandson Rowan and twins are on the way. How lucky am I!

4:) As I write this post I have had a cardinal and a downy woodpecker outside my window. They have been entertaining me all morning.

5:) This week I am thinking especially of my Mother; PW; SB; CR; and the twins. :-)) Life and death are with us every single day. Let’s take nothing for granted and do our best to be kind.

6:) I deeply appreciate you reading my Wednesday posts. Thanks, once again. Enjoy these days. Here in Ottawa, it seems we went from winter to summer and simply skipped spring altogether. Best wishes, Trudy

 

Joy and Pain are Tangled Up Together

Sometimes

Sometimes, we need a reminder of what really counts. Take today. Cherry blossoms drop gently to the sidewalk in Vancouver. I want that. It’s April after all.

Here in Ottawa, we have ice rain; thunderstorms;  falling branches from the weight of the ice;  power outages; collisions and my car is encased in ice. I don’t want that.

Still, I am warm and dry and have had the company since 3:30 of my 12-year-old grandson. This is good.

But there is more. Someone I love to the moon and back, was recently diagnosed with colon cancer. She and all of us have been waiting for the results of the CT scan since Monday morning. With each hour we grow more agitated. Why aren’t we hearing anything? How inconsiderate! It seems like an eternity. It is bad enough to have cancer and now we wait to hear if it has spread. I don’t like this either.

I did get distracted by the banner photo taken by my daughter from her office window and tidied up by her brother in Vancouver. And I admit, in spite of myself, that there were some striking, glistening scenes outside every window. Still, joy was in scarce supply today.

It’s Relative

Still, as I selfishly moaned about the inclement weather in April, my sweet relative was having sleepless nights waiting to get a CT scan back. Has her cancer metastasized or is it confined to the original site? This answer makes all the difference.

At 7:00 this evening she got the call. It is confined to the original site. We went from the devastation that she has cancer to the joy that it is highly curable. The pain of the cancer diagnosis has shifted already. Not because it isn’t serious, shocking, hard, and life-threatening. But it hasn’t spread. And there is a treatment available that works well.

Now we are filled with relief and joy. Yes, joy. I could care less about the weather. It doesn’t matter anymore. Joy and pain are relative.

Inciting Joy

 

 

 

 

 

Coincidentally I recently started reading, Inciting Joy,  the best-seller by poet and essayist, Ross Gay.

Within the first four pages, he writes this:

“But what happens if joy is not separate from pain? What if joy and pain are fundamentally tangled up with one another? Or even more to the point, what if joy is not only entangled with pain, or suffering, or sorrow but is also what emerges from how we care for each other through these things? (my italics) What if joy, instead of refuge or relief from heartbreak, is what effloresces ( the action or process of developing and unfolding as if coming into flower) from us as we help each other carry our heartbreaks?”

I find these three lines filled with hope and kindness and wisdom. None of us are going to escape suffering. The good fortune to have people we love, who we are able to care for, in their time of need, is a great gift. This has nothing to do with advocating suffering and sorrow. Rather it is about acknowledging it as a fundamental part of life and not hiding from it. In fact we can consider, as Ross Gay suggests, that “joy can emerge from sorrow. It might draw us together…and help us survive. It’s why I think of joy, which gets us to love, as being a practice of survival.”

Surprise

If you have not been to a cancer centre it may surprise you to hear the laughter and experience the joy along with the tears that go on there. It has nothing to do with being positive or ignoring hardship and suffering but is way more about not doing it alone. It is life-giving!

And with this note, I will close. My wish is that everyone waiting for results gets them soon. They won’t all be what we want. Some will be bad and some will be worse. But don’t go it alone. It is no time to be a stoic. We need each other. We are in this together.

I posted this poem back in October but I want to do so again because it is in keeping with this post today.

 

 

 

 

For When People Ask by Rosemerry Whatola Trommer  (thanks to the poet and Gratefulness.org)

I want a word that means
okay and not okay,
more than that: a word that means
devastated and stunned with joy.
I want the word that says
I feel it all, all at once.
The heart is not like a songbird
singing only one note at a time,
more like a Tuvan throat singer
able to sing both a drone
and simultaneously
two or three harmonics high above it—
a sound, the Tuvans say,
that gives the impression
of wind swirling among rocks.
The heart understands swirl,
how the churning of opposite feelings
weaves through us like an insistent breeze
leads us wordlessly deeper into ourselves,
blesses us with paradox
so we might walk more openly
into this world so rife with devastation,
this world so ripe with joy.

Notes

1:) I dedicate this song to Sonya, my cousin, who is a ray of sunshine and to my grandson Rowan who taught me this song when he was in Grade 1.

You Can Count On Me

2:) Beautiful cherry blossoms from the west coast. Not sure which one of us took this photo.

3:) Making Art is Good For Your Health NPR

4:) For those of you who honour Passover or Easter may you enjoy these significant days.

5:) Spring is coming; information does get to us; healing takes time; all of our relationships take care; curiosity; tenderness; time; forgiveness and courage. And a little love and kindness go a long way. Something like my favourite Haiku by Issa:

Little snail

Slowly, slowly

Coming Mt Fuji

 

Thank you for reading my scribblings. All my best wishes for a good weekend, Trudy

 

 

Climbing Into Spring

Spring Equinox

Spring arrived on the calendar this year on  March 20th, even though this date was not in sync with the weather. On the west coast, it is a different matter. Spring makes a protracted and beautiful entrance long before the calendar date and keeps blossoming into summer.  I miss Vancouver and the Islands during these months.

Here in Ottawa, it feels like we climb into spring. A lovely day – snow recedes and the air has a hint of spring – and then, we wake up to fresh snow and a cold wind. Three steps forward, and two steps back but even if I get impatient I don’t get discouraged. In fact, yesterday, I found evidence that “spring” is close at hand.

Climbing to Spring

Years ago, when I flew back from Japan, I watched a wonderful movie with English subtitles called Climbing to Spring. I loved the movie, which focused on the life choices a young man makes after the sudden death of his father. The big questions arose on what matters most; community; friendship; love; purpose and the healing aspect of the magnificent mountains that can bring us solace.  It contrasts the prestige of a successful securities trader in Tokyo vs the humble life in a remote mountain hut in the spring/summer.

One particular scene that I think about was when the young man and an older friend of his fathers are hiking up the mountain with heavy backpacks. The elder was carrying twice the weight of the younger when the latter collapsed. It essentially was a moment; a lesson about wholeheartedness and state of mind. Goro, the elder, explains to his protege that it isn’t about the weight; rather, it is how you carry it.

As you might imagine, if you are a regular reader of my blog, these are my kinds of questions, and of course, I would love this movie.

Plans

It is springtime when I dust myself off, organize my space, make plans, and believe I can climb any metaphorical mountain and a few actual mountains too. I put my boots away, store my winter coats and tires, and have to resist the urge to drive south and westward, toward spring. At this very moment, I hear the wind howling outside my window with a windchill of -15 celsius. Still, each day it is getting warmer and this wind chill appears to be a one-night anomaly. Furthermore, we are alive, and still breathing, on this day near the end of March, and the weather is hardly the most important thing.

Still

I need to say that this poem by Billy Collins expresses my longing, and I will be delighted when this day arrives, as it surely will.

Today By Billy Collins

If ever there were a spring day so perfect,
so uplifted by a warm intermittent breeze

that it made you want to throw
open all the windows in the house

and unlatch the door to the canary’s cage,
indeed, rip the little door from its jamb,

a day when the cool brick paths
and the garden bursting with peonies

seemed so etched in sunlight
that you felt like taking

a hammer to the glass paperweight
on the living room end table,

releasing the inhabitants
from their snow-covered cottage

so they could walk out,
holding hands and squinting

into this larger dome of blue and white,
well, today is just that kind of day.     –  Source: Poetry

My friend Mary is in Japan on a walking trip and to her delight, she is enjoying the height of the cherry blossom time. She snapped this photo, in Kyoto at Nijo castle, during the cherry blossom illumination festival. No touch-ups. This is just how it looked.

Notes

1:) Here is The Atlantic photo gallery for cherry blossoms: Japan; Munich; China; Washington DC and Virginia. Quite spectacular. View here. And thanks Mary MacKenzie for giving me your photo to use.

2:)When all the world appears to be in a tumult, and nature itself is feeling the assault of climate change, the seasons retain their essential rhythm. Yes, fall gives us a premonition of winter, but then, winter, will be forced to relent, once again, to the new beginnings of soft greens, longer light, and the sweet air of spring. – Madeleine M. Kunin Swiss-born American diplomat, author and politician.

 3:) oops- I had to sneak this in – see below Daffodil’s Return. Poet and essayist (William) Bliss Carman was born in Fredericton, New Brunswick, in 1861. He studied at the University of New Brunswick,  University of Edinburgh and Harvard University. He settled in New Canaan, Connecticut, in 1909, where he spent most of his life and achieved international fame.

4:) Throughout my lifetime spring has always represented beauty and hope. It is no coincidence that the daffodil is an icon of cancer. After winter, the promise of spring is a promise of resilience, strength, courage, beauty, and perseverance. A reason to get up in the morning, even when surrounded by a crowd of sorrows.  So, for today, I wish to celebrate the constancy of spring. No matter what has gone on, spring arrives and with it the telltale signs of life: the tiny sprout, a spot of colour, the melting snow, the lightness of my step, the choice of boots or shoes, the impossible sweet surge of joy when the sun warms my face. I don’t want to miss one moment of this. Thank you for being here, once again, and may you enjoy the unfolding of spring. Best wishes, Trudy

daffodilsDaffodil’s Return by Bliss Carmen

WHAT matter if the sun be lost?

What matter though the sky be gray?

There’s joy enough about the house,

For Daffodil comes home to-day.

There’s news of swallows on the air,

There’s word of April on the way,

They’re calling flowers within the street,

And Daffodil comes home to-day.

O who would care what fate may bring,

Or what the years may take away!

There’s life enough within the hour,

For Daffodil comes home to-day.