Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Open

In an email last week, a fellow writer suggested adopting a word for the new year under the premise of focusing on the chosen word as a guidepost for the next year's journey. For some, that word may be 'love' or 'kindness' or something equally as meaningful for the adopter. Since the last year has been so good for me, I liked this idea. I thought about this project for about a day but when unable to settle on a word, the idea left me as quickly as it came. Maybe this was too big a step for me right now.

Then again, maybe the thought just needed to marinate.

Today the word  -- my word -- came to me: Open. It arrived unexpectedly and strangely through an electronic device with which I have been trying to sever a relationship. After downloading an app, the word was there. Open. That evil little machine in my hand, which is both a blessing and a curse, actually gave a spiritual answer. Open. In 2014, I will focus on this word.

Open to Change:  If 2013 was any indication, then change is good. Step out of the known and into the unknown because the view may be the beauty for which you have searched.

Open to Patience: For years I have asked God to give me patience. Only recently did I realize that He doesn't just wave a magic wand and *boom*, Rita has patience. No, He gives opportunities to practice patience. So many answers have come my way when I stopped being antsy, stopped nagging, and just settled into patience. If it is right, it will happen.

Open to Dance: No, not disco. And not necessary the physical hip-shaking-arm-waving kind, unless the mood strikes. I'm talking about the dance of the mind and spirit. Being open to recognize the wonderful gifts passing through my life at all times, and then, for however long that gift is with me, ask it to dance. Enjoy it. Move with it. Remember the song.

Open to Forgiveness: Much like patience, I've asked for help with this one a lot, but no magic wand swept over me. Forgiving others is not easy, but the alternative is much harder. Hanging on to old hurts and old anger is a heavy burden, making one weary with the load. Being open to the opportunity to forgive stops the burden of that load, lightening both the step and the heart.

Open to Pain: Really? Pain? Who wants that? Well, the fact is, pain happens. Feel it, experience it, work with it, work through it, but do not under any circumstance, ignore it. Years of stuffing pain deep down into a hole inside my being didn't stop the pain, only covered it up so it could fester for years. Only when I finally uncovered it, shone a light on it, and made peace with it, did it finally subside.

Open to Love: Most people think of romantic love when they read that word, but I intend it in the broad sense. Love is kindness, compassion, and concern, for everything -- every leaf on a tree, every dog in the park, every cell in our bodies, every person in our lives. How different the world would be -- how different my world would be --  if each problem or issue or circumstance were approached with love first. First!

Open to the Unexpected:  One year ago tonight, I would have never guessed this would be my life today. Yet, the unexpected turns in the last year -- unplanned and unmapped - brought me to this spot in the road, and the view is unbelievable.


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Quiet Tradition

Having lived alone for several years and my family scattered across several states, holidays have a different dynamic in my life than those of my friends. We do not tend to have large family gatherings due to logistics and timing, so those holidays near the winter solstice are generally small in size and limited on attendees. Many times I have spent Christmas solo in my home, save the furry children, which is perfectly comfortable for me, though, judging from the looks on friend's faces when they hear of my plan, the solitude is often viewed as sad or pitiful. However, I have never felt that way. The holidays, in fact any holiday or event, is what you make of it.

When I was about 8 or 9 years old, my older sisters were going out with friends on a New Years Eve. In my child's eyes, I did not understand why I could not go with them, not realizing that as teenagers, they really didn't want to hang out with their baby sister on a party night. Feeling a bit blue after they left, my father told me not to worry, that we would have a good time at the house without them.

That night at the house was simple by today's standards but the memory has held for nearly 40 years as being one great night. We put together a puzzle of a Currier and Ives picture, which I had just received for Christmas, and watched the movie It's a Wonderful Life. I got to stay up to midnight to see the ball drop in Times Square on television, the first night I got to ring in the New Year. I did not even notice my sisters were out without me.

In all the years that have passed since then, through all the various incarnations of holiday celebrations, family attachments and detachments, marriage, divorce, distance, and schedules, I always come back to that night in my mind. After years of trying to fit and bend into holiday traditions in my adulthood, I began a tradition of my own. Christmas Eve is spent with It's a Wonderful Life, and for a couple hours, I am transported to that memory with my father which is held so dearly in my heart. Though the house may be quiet from the absence of any other person, when I enact this tradition, I have everything.

Monday, December 23, 2013

My Year in Review: 2013

January

Self: "I should really start that book I've been talking about for six months."
Self, in response: "Yeah, but I just don't feel it yet."

February

A two-hour phone call with an old  friend gives me the kick in the pants needed to begin writing. She said, "Rita, just start." And so I do.

March

A new roof, lots of rain, and a budding spring. Ahh . . . my favorite time of year. While inside, I'm writing like there is no tomorrow.

April

Oh, April. Overcome with a fever for writing at every waking moment not spent at work, I lose a lot of sleep to the page and barely know what season it is. The work has taken on a life of its own.

May

Writing excerpt, recalling my father's last days:  "I don’t know what happened when Dad tried to write notes to us. I don’t understand why my mother didn't offer to take down his words for him, rather than just taking his pen away. I wasn't there. I don’t know if his words would have changed anything in my life or have told me anything I didn't already know. Though we never said the words, I know he loved me. I know he taught me everything I needed to know in the 22 short years I knew him. I know he wanted me to be happy. I know he tried to write a note to me in his last days. I know that. I know all this and I realize I am fortunate. I had a great Dad, and not everyone gets to say that. I know in his last moments, he was thinking of his family and his children and me. And that is enough."

June

For whatever is lost, whether a you or a me, it is always ourselves we find in the sea. -- E.E. Cummings

For me, I find it at a Wisconsin lake, without fail.

















July

Internet sensation John Unger and his dog Schoep touched hearts a year ago when a photo of the two floating in Lake Superior was taken by Bayfield, Wisconsin photographer, Hannah Stonehouse Hudson. The story of love and devotion captured the hearts of the world and had hundreds of thousand of people following a newly formed Facebook page to follow the life and adventures of John and his aged dog Schoep. 

After news of Schoep's death was announced this month, I wrote to a friend:


"Last month, Schoep celebrated his 20th birthday with all the fanfare of a celebrity, receiving hundreds of thousands of well-wishes by mail and on the internet. In the last week, John posted photos of once again floating with Schoep in the waters of Lake Superior, like the photo that had gained him such attention. Last year, John thought it would be the last time he could swim with his buddy, but through the generosity of so many and the love of the world, Schoep made it another year -- long enough for one more swim.

Tuesday, John posted a photo of Schoep dozing off on a patch of grass, surrounded by flowers. He went on to say that they had had a wonderful day, with lots of walks and adventures, and lots of energy coming from his buddy, Schoep. And then it was gone. Wednesday, Schoep passed away peacefully, after giving his friend and papa, John, one last great day for the memory books. 

I, like so many others, have been touched and attached to this story for a year, so much so, that it feels like I have lost a furr-friend. I know too well the feeling that John is experiencing right now and I have prayed for him to have comfort. But through all of this, I can look at the photo of John and Schoep in the waters of Lake Superior -- the one that started it all -- as it hangs on the wall of my study and know THAT is what is all about: Love. Whether two-legged or four-legged, family or friend, human or pet, the most important thing is to love. Love something. Love someone. And do it completely."

August

It is finished.












September

I began an online writing course this month that changed my life. Somewhere in the middle of it, this came out of me:

"Some of the most creative souls are just as equally misunderstood. It is both our fortune and our curse. Yet in the quiet stillness that inevitably follows our unraveling, the realization comes that though the masses may not understand the Rube Goldberg workings of our minds and our hearts, the right people will – the ones that resonate with us, humming in familiar unison like a tuning fork. It is in those moments, in the company of those we have granted entrance to our inner circle, where we find perfect harmony, a song the masses are unable to hear. But what a song it is."

October

Writing is my breath such that it creates me as I create it.

November

Decision! I plan to attend Squam Art Workshops in New Hampshire in 2015. 














December

The year ended with a surprise. One year before, I would have never guessed where the year would have led, and I am in awe of the wonderful path I have found, filled with energy, inspiration, creativity, and lovely new friendships.

How one act can lead to another and in its path reveal such magic is beyond what this mind can imagine, but the universe called me to take each step. The online writing course I began in September, introduced me to a dear creative soul who mentioned the Squam Art Workshops. From there, I joined an online class for random weaving (yes, like baskets). The simple act of weaving brought answers to my soul, as revealed in the letter I wrote to the teacher and the facilitator after completing my project. The ripple effect was felt and shared in a blog post by a dear friend, and my heart was overflowing with immeasurable gratitude and pure joy.


What began as an ordinary year became so beautiful that no words exist to describe it.

Friday, December 20, 2013

And the Heavens Opened

I have had to learn some hard lessons in life. One of which is the lesson of words, or rather, the power of words. Whether words are used for positive or negative communication, they have the power to be remembered and sometimes regretted.

When I was 17, I was fortunate to have been an exchange student to Germany, spending six weeks living with a family outside of Stuttgart. A unique exchange, a German student came to America to live with me and my family in the spring, and I spent the summer with her and her family in Germany. While the experience was life changing, it was not without its hiccups, primarily based in the ability for teenagers to be more dramatic than necessary. I'll take ownership of that -- I was more dramatic than necessary at that age.

Shortly after my return to America and in the subsequent exchange of letters in the aftermath of our mutual cultural exchanges, I said some harsh words in a letter to my German sister. I have not heard from her since. At the time, I was angry and did not care that our friendship was severed, but as I grew older, my views tempered. I realized the mistake I made with my words. My words had crushed a relationship that had the potential to carry on for years, enriching both our lives as we matured and became productive adults. 

About ten years after my last contact with them, the gnawing regret of my words prompted me to try to reestablish contact, and I wrote a Christmas card to my German family. I bought a German language card at the local store and wrote a few simple sentences in the language that I struggled to remember. I told them of my life at the time -- job and marriage -- asked about their daughter, and wished them well. I did not hear a reply.

The next Christmas, I sent another card with similar well-wishes. There was no reply.

For years, I sent a card, each with well wishes, a few details of my life, and the only remaining fragments of German I remembered with confidence "Froehliche Weinachten." Each year, I received no reply.

As the years passed, I had time to reexamine the rift many times, the sting of my words, the hurt she expressed in her response, the stubborn stance I maintained. Each year I wrote my greeting card, I remembered the epistolary argument we had, and each year I felt more regret as I realized the depth of the pain my harsh words must have caused. 

I kept sending cards. Every year, I kept sending cards. I began to seal each card with a hopeful wish that this card, this time, would be the year they would respond. But no reply came.

This year, I thought about not sending a card, chalking the whole issue up to experience. But I just couldn't pass their name in my address book as I was preparing my annual greetings. I just couldn't turn the page. Opening the card, I penned one sentence (in English), "I think of you often." As I sealed the envelope, I whispered, "Please forgive me," and added it to the stack of outgoing mail. This was the 18th year.

My words from all those years ago had cut so deeply, no amount of time could heal the wound. I had to accept that and start working on forgiving myself for my behavior as a teenage with the inability to exercise good judgment. I have grown since then, learned since then, and would not do such a thing as the woman I am now. That had to be my lesson, and the consequence of two decades of no replies would have to be my penalty with which to live.


Today, it arrived. A plain white envelope with the distinctive handwriting of an architect - my German father. It was the most beautiful envelope I had ever seen. Tears filled my eyes. I outstretched my arms and spun in circles in the kitchen, my head turned upward, my face wet with tears. The envelope lay on the counter, and I stood awestruck in the kitchen.

They replied.

An overwhelming feeling of happiness washed over me, like Heaven had opened up her bounty and was pouring it over me. A more pure sense of happiness and gratitude I have rarely felt in my life. I stood with my face turned toward the sky, tears streaming, huge smile, and joy so powerful that the only words I could eek out were an inaudible mouthing of "thank you." 

The envelope lay on the counter, unopened. What was inside was not as important as the fact that they replied. I almost did not send a card this year. I almost gave up. I almost decided trying to seek resolution to a years-long regret would never happen. 

My words of so many years ago caused me -- and more importantly, my German family -- pain for two decades. It is a hard lesson to me about the power of words. In the years since, I have matured and learned to temper my words, though a few regretful utterances still occur. Now, though, I know to accept responsibility and apologize quickly because the alternative is much too painful.

The blessing of their reply was the best Christmas gift I could ever ask to receive. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Shoes of Intent

Several years ago I attended the funeral of a well-known local lady who was loved by many and respected by all. The impression she made on her daughter-in-law was evident in the words spoken during the eulogy for her mother-in-law, Vivian. She described a strong woman who had known adversity but did not let it stand in the way of her life.

Vivian was always dressed impeccably, every day of her life, never having one of those days I have so frequently when sweatpants and a t-shirt will do. Vivian always wore a dress or a suit and carried herself like a lady, stepping through each day with purpose. Her signature style was complemented by her unwavering ability to make those around her feel both comfortable and important. Her friends and family always knew when she had arrived because of the approaching click-click-click of her red shoes, the color she always donned.

Later in life when Vivian was waning in her years, her daughter-in-law spoke with her about her life and lessons. It was during these intimate conversations between the generations when the younger understood why Vivian always wore red shoes . . . because she was going places.