Can’t Stop the Train: A Review of Walden by Henry David Thoreau

Walden

I think I may’ve read Walden or Life in the Woods in university. It rings a bell. It was a text that I was told I should read. Now, years later, I decided to read Thoreau’s best known nonfiction work for very much the same reason. I thought it was something I should read, something like taking literary vitamins or running on a brain-growing treadmill. Many of the writers I read and listen to these days quote Thoreau, and especially Walden, extensively.

I ordered the book from our interlibrary loan system and it arrived just before I was scheduled to fly off to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico for a little R&R. (I don’t recommend taking library books on vacation. That being said, I do it all the time.) I started reading Walden a little reluctantly. Published in 1854, the language is a bit different than today’s, but I found Thoreau’s style to be unencumbered and clean, easy to read. ten or so pages in, the reluctance dropped away, and I found it hard to leave the book alone. I’d become invested in Thoreau’s adventure and philosophy.

As I read on the sunny hotel balcony in the shady breeze, I was reminded of a phone conversation I’d had with my dad before leaving for Mexico. He’d said something like, “Things are changing too fast. Cell phone use is destroying us. It’s tearing people apart.”

I’ve heard nearly the same sentiment expressed by many people. Some of them are my older friends and some of them are younger than me. Henry David Thoreau thought something similar. He wasn’t yet concerned about cell phone use, but he did think that new technology, especially the railroad, would change people and society as a whole, irrevocably. He was right.

Here’s what Thoreau has to say about the railroad and how he perceives that it changed life in Concord, Massachusetts:

          “Have not men improved somewhat in punctuality since the railroad was invented? Do they not talk and think faster in the depot than they did in the stage-office? There is something electrifying in the atmosphere of the former place. I have been astonished at the miracles it has wrought; that some of my neighbors, who, I should have prophesied, once for all, would never get to Boston by so prompt a conveyance, were on hand when the bell rang. To do things “railroad fashion” is now the byword; and it is worth the while to be warned so often and so sincerely by any power to get off its track.” 

The clanging of the bells and the prompt train schedule that Thoreau writes about caused me to consider our bleeping phones and how, to folks like my dad, owners of those phones seem to be quite ruled by the technology they own just as Thoreau thought that people were becoming governed by the railroad. I’ve heard it said that we are talking and thinking faster than ever before, like in Thoreau’s train station, or not talking at all, but typing faster than ever before.

P1070060

Anglin’ Lake, Saskatchewan, one September.

Either way, both Dad and Thoreau agree that all this technology is leading to a communication breakdown. And as Thoreau states that we should get off the railway’s track, Dad and others proclaim that we should get off the track of internet-based technology use. But time marches on and things change. For better or for worse, neither Dad nor Thoreau can halt the train of technology.

Talking to my dad and reading the timeless words of Henry David Thoreau, it became evident to me that the more things change, the more they stay the same.  Living in the countryside and quite a distance from larger city centres, I think about my experience of traveling into the city to shop. There’s a general store here, and a bank, a hairdresser, an insurance agency and a daycare centre. It’s pretty quiet, somewhat like Thoreau’s woods. I can’t help but compare my trips into the city to Thoreau’s experience of going into town. He calls it “running the gauntlet of businesses.”

          “…so that every traveler had to run the gauntlet, and every man, woman, and child might get a lick at him. Of course, those [businesses] who were stationed nearest to the head of the line, where they could   most see and be seen, and have the first blow at him, paid the highest   prices for their places; and the few straggling inhabitants in the     outskirts, where long gaps in the line began to occur, and the traveler could get over walls or turn aside into cow-paths, and so escape, paid a very slight ground or window tax.  Signs were hung out on all sides to allure him; some to catch him by the appetite, as the tavern and  victualling cellar; some by the fancy, as the dry goods store and the  jeweller’s; and others by the hair or the feet or the skirts, as the barber, the shoemaker, or the tailor.”

By this account, the way businesses lure and seduce customers has changed very little since Thoreau’s time. After all these years, businesses provide the same basic type of services and merchandise as they did in the mid-1800s. After spending half a day running from store to store, bombarded visually and auditorially by products and advertising, I feel exactly as if I’ve run a gauntlet. I hear you, Henry David Thoreau, and I share your pain.

One thing I never knew about Thoreau or expected to discover is that he is the king of the backhanded compliment. I mean, I should’ve guessed. In Walden, he doesn’t always come across as a great lover of the human race, and he is obviously a skilled wordsmith. I like how he describes this guy, the ill-fated Colonel Hugh Quoil, a resident of Walden Woods who died shortly after Thoreau began his stint there:

          “All I know of him is tragic. He was a man of manners, like one who had seen the world, and was capable of more civil speech than you could well attend to.”

I’ve run into a few folks capable of more civil speech than I could attend to. I’ve sat there bored stupid, praying that God would strike either the speaker or me dead, and past the point of caring which. Just shut-up already! Thoreau says it much more eloquently than I. I am, alas, not the queen of the backhanded compliment. Sadly, I’m both a bit too kind and a touch too straightforward to reign, but I appreciate how Thoreau sits on that throne.

P1070088

A loon on Anglin’ Lake.

It took about five hours to fly home from Puerto Vallarta. Now usually I drug myself into a semi-stupor with a couple Gravol, a strategy I highly recommend to make any flight fly. It’s not the first time an old guy has sat pretty much in my lap for an entire flight, but those other times were due to the closeness of the seats and the girth of the guy. This last flight, with Thoreau in my lap, the journey was smooth and enjoyable.

I didn’t quite finish reading Walden on the plane. When I’m enjoying reading something, I read it slowly, I savour it. I like to give the words time to sink into my brain and often I’ll read certain passages over. There are lots of books I skim. Walden is philosophy and Walden is poetry. These words deserve to be tasted and remembered.

Back at home in my recliner I discovered that, besides being the king of backhanded compliments, Thoreau wins the prize for most anticlimactic ending I’ve ever read. True, it’s not quite the ending, but it’s the ending of the account of his time spent on Walden Pond at the end of the second last chapter called “Spring”:

          “Thus was my first year’s life in the woods completed; and the second  year was similar to it. I finally left Walden September 6th, 1847.”

I can’t say exactly why the understatement of this ending, this big finish, struck me as so funny, but I just howled with laughter. “Similar to it.” That’s a good one. Sure, all my recent years in the same location are similar to one another, as well, but I try to pick out a few unique events from each as story material, a tidbit or two to tell about later. Not Thoreau. I guess he was done the book and, after reading the conclusion, so was I.

 

 

 

A Change in Routine, A Change in Perspective

Late Afternoon

A pasture in the late afternoon sun along the road I walk.

Here’s a post I wrote a couple of years ago all about how shaking up our routine can open us up to a renewed view of life. Today I’m considering facing a fear and digging into a project I’ve left untouched for too long. And so I find myself thinking about a change in routine and a change in perspective.

I hope you have a great new week in which you can experience a renewed and refreshed outlook. We all need that in January! ~ Lori

Listen to me read this post:

I’d felt a cold circling around my head last night as we played a board game with the neighbours. I wasn’t surprised when I woke up with a throbbing headache, irritated throat, and clogged sinuses. No problem, though. I took it easy all day, slept in, and drank tea.

At about 5:00, I felt a bit better and a little restless. Today the weather warmed up. The temperature rose from about -30 degrees Celsius to about -5. No longer a prisoner in my house and thinking that maybe the fresh air would do me good, I went out for a walk.

Lately, I’ve developed a habit of walking in the early afternoon, right after lunch, when the light is full. How different my world looks at 5:00 p.m. with the sun low in the sky and the street lights making the snow crystals sparkle like diamonds.

IMG_1516

Another late-afternoon view from along the road I walk north of town.

Against the washed-denim sky, fading with each passing minute, bare tree branches stretched and tangled together, black and stark. In the ditches along the road, tracks told of rabbits that had been there just before me.

As I walked by, the horses that looked like painted plywood cutouts propped up in the pasture raised their curious noses to watch me. When I inhaled, the clean winter air filled my lungs and as I exhaled, I felt all the cold germs leave my body.

Through the very last light of day I headed back into town grateful that a minor head cold gave me a change in routine and a change in perspective.

Thanks for dropping by! Don’t be a stranger. ~ Lori

 

Sorting Out Life

IMG_6135

Unforgivably unflattering school teacher photos. My glasses are askew on my face and I look a bit drunk. (The photos were free proving that you get what you pay for.)

Six wicker baskets fill the shelves of the bookcase downstairs. For the last ten years, I’ve stuffed into these baskets everything I don’t want to deal with: funeral cards, old photos, death certificates, and letters.

I’ve been avoiding it, but it’s time now to sort through all these old memories that make a life.

Photographs

I’ll start with the photos. I’ll throw away the ones that are unforgivably unflattering, those in which the subjects are unrecognizable, and those of mountains and skylines. I’ll keep the pictures that are significant, that capture a moment in the life of someone special to me and special to our extended family.

Now I have to decide how to organize these special photographs. Over the years, people have given me photo albums as gifts. I’ve got three empty albums conveniently at hand and, if I dug a bit deeper, I could probably exhume a couple more. That’s a start.

I won’t keep all these pictures for myself. As the only and eldest daughter in my family of origin, a lot of mementos end up with me. It’s my job to be a distributor now, and to make sure that the people who want these memories can have them.

Who will these photos hold meaning for? That’s the question I’ll ask myself while categorizing the pictures. Will they mean something to my dad, to my brothers, to my uncle, or to my cousins? Then I’ll start filling albums based on who will receive each one.

Death Certificate

A death certificate I’d stuffed into a wicker basket.

Of course, I’ll keep some old photos for myself. I like to scan pictures and fix them up a little so that I have good digital copies if ever I want them. By the time I’m done all this organizing and distributing, these photos will be accessible to the people who care about them.

 

Cards

There are scads of letters and documents and cards in those wicker baskets. I found a couple cute cards from me and my siblings as children to our mother and to our grandpa. These I’ll definitely keep. Maybe I’ll find an album with large pages or pockets that I can keep precious cards in.

IMG_6131

Letters

Handwritten letters are becoming rare as e-communication replaces paper and pen, and discovering a letter from the past is exciting. Sorting these old letters into an album with large pages would be best. I’d like to display the letters opened up, not folded, so that they could be read without removing them from the album. After all, that’s the point of preserving the letters. Their preservation allows others to read them. If the letters aren’t easy to access, they won’t enjoyed.

 

Documents

Piles and piles of old documents! Some are outdated and unimportant while others are crucial. And they’re all mixed up in a deep jumble of paper. It’s my job to make heads or tails of them all. I can handle it. This kind of job just takes time.

IMG_6136

My mom’s family in Worsley, AB, 1964. All pictured are deceased except my uncle on the far right.

Many of the documents are in the dreaded wicker baskets, and others are in folders in the filing cabinet located downstairs. In my new office upstairs, I’ve got a couple filing cabinets into which I’ll organize the documents I need. University transcripts, teacher evaluations, letters of recommendation, and publishing contracts all need to be filed in labeled folders.

Most other documents are clutter. I’ll throw them away and this will feel good.

 

Markers of time

All these papers and photos mark the passing of time. Many of the letters were written by deceased relatives, and many of the people in the photos are dead. Still, they speak to me, saying, “Don’t hang on too tightly. We’re gone, and someday you will be, too.”

Several predecessors of mine were way less philosophical than me. They were doers and not much into navel-gazing. They speak to me, as well, but differently. They order me, “Get your life organized! How can you find anything in that mess you call a filing system?” They were the unsentimental ones who spent their days getting things done and taking care of business. And they make a good point.

Harold at home

My great uncle Harold Hobden, in many ways like Henry David Thoreau. This picture was taken at his home in Clear Prairie, AB.

Some of the correspondence I’ve uncovered is vague, but there’s a river of meaning running fast right beneath its surface. I know it’s here somewhere, but I can’t find it right now. It was a note to my grandma from my grandpa before they were married:

I should have talked to you before I got on the train, Emma, but I didn’t have the nerve.

What was that all about? What happened between them? What made Grandpa lose his nerve? I’ll never know for sure, but that’s the nice thing about being a writer. My powers of speculation are strong, and I can easily weave just a few faded words into a story.

As in all of life, it’s beneficial to keep some things close and to completely let go of others. Sorting through all these photographs, letters, and documents has helped me remember this fact. This task hasn’t made me cheerful, but maybe it’s made me a bit wiser. It’s certainly made me a lot tidier.

Dear reader, if you have any sorting and organizing suggestions, I’d love to hear them! Please comment on this post and let me know how you’ve organized your life.

 

 

 

 

Skip the Resolutions and Pass the Gravy

Here is an insightful, funny post all about New Year’s resolutions by Amy Henry. Enjoy!

amyhenrybooks

 “I finally figured out the only reason to be alive is to enjoy it.” 
― Rita Mae Brown

“Enjoy life. There’s plenty of time to be dead.” 
― Hans Christian Andersen

“Do anything, but let it produce joy.” 
― Walt Whitman (Leaves of Grass)

“You’re looking at the waves, but ignoring the sea.”  ― Rumi

 

It’s that time of year once again when people are asking, “What’s your plan for 2018? What New Year’s resolutions did you make?”

My inner Sassy Girl is tempted to reply: “I’m giving up pinochle.” Or, “I’m swearing off glyphosate as a salad dressing.” But as most of these folks are friends (let’s face it—who else really cares what’s going on with you?), I give them the straight truth with a solemn face: I didn’t make any resolutions. I don’t have a plan. 

Which is just a tiny bit disingenuous because that is my…

View original post 1,731 more words

Small House Bliss

Frank and Mili’s Small House Bliss showcases the benefits and beauty of smaller, well-designed homes around the world.

via Small House Bliss — Discover

Surprisingly Enjoyable

2 Surprisingly Enjoyable Image

Before I dive right into this, I want to speak directly to my male readers. Gentlemen, I appreciate and respect you, and I’m so pleased that you choose to read what I write. I don’t usually write about gender-specific topics as I see most of our human conditions as equally endured or enjoyed by both sexes. That being said, there are some states as decreed by nature experienced only by one or the other gender. This post is about one of these states and—you guessed it—not one experienced by men.

You may read on if you like, my male friends. My literary door is always open to you. I predict your reading could end in one of two ways. You may squirm with embarrassment and blush like a schoolgirl or, potentially, you might emerge from the words at the end of this post thinking, “Well, that was enlightening if nothing else.” I don’t want to be responsible for imparting information you don’t want or, worse, for mentally scarring you for life.

I feel that now I’ve done my fair and right duty, guys. What you choose to do at this point in the post is entirely up to you and I will not judge you either way. If you want out of the boat, now’s the time to jump. (Isn’t that line also included in marriage ceremonies? It sounds familiar…)

For the past couple of years, once a month or so when Mother Nature would make her call, the pain was nearly unbearable, I couldn’t sleep and, for the first time in my life, I felt the urge to kill people. These were all problems. Between the excruciating pain and the insomnia, some days I found it very difficult to go to work and once I arrived there, disheveled and exhausted, I was constantly restraining my socially-unacceptable homicidal tendency.

It always takes me awhile to decide whether or not my suffering is worth bothering a doctor about. I don’t like to seem as though I’m complaining (thanks in part to my northern European heritage) or that I need someone else’s assistance in solving my problems.

Cat.doc

I’m consistently surprised when visiting the doctor that he or she has a medical solution that I was completely unaware of. Not because I think I’m smarter, but because I don’t easily trust others’ expertise, I never quite expect that they’ll know anything that I don’t. When they do, I’m pleasantly surprised.  “What a good idea!” I’ll compliment the physician as his or her face visibly betrays annoyance. Honestly, I’m never trying to be condescending. I’m just genuinely happy that they know of a solution I never considered.

The doctor’s good idea this time was a prescription for a low-dose birth control pill for the monthly discomfort and the drive to commit murder. As for the insomnia, the prescription scrawled on the pad read, “Suck it up, buttercup.” It’s okay. These days before bed, I chug enough lemony Neo Citran to knock out a draft horse and call it a night. It’s over-the-counter self-medicating at its finest, and that’s how this buttercup rolls.

Prescription.png

So I took my prescription to the pharmacy, handed it in and browsed around the store while my brand new birth control pills were being packaged up. Ten or so minutes later, I headed back on over to the back counter and told the pharmacist my name.

I was very glad to see that the male pharmacist was young and cute, probably about 26-years-old. (I’m in menopause, folks, not in the ground.) I beamed my brightest smile when he returned with the white paper bag that held my medication. He smiled back nervously, looking at me a bit like a sweet mouse might look at a hungry, albeit charming, cat.

But did he give me the bag? Oh, no he didn’t. I felt some alarm when, instead, he opened it up and showed me the contents. “Here it comes,” I thought. “He feels obligated by his job description to explain the purpose of the medication.”

Mouse.docx

Sure enough, the young man in the white coat smiled weakly and said, “This is a low-dose birth control pill for…” Right here was the world’s most awkward pause, followed by this: “Birth control…?”

Come on! Really, buddy? Was the question mark at the end of that statement really necessary? Well, that shattered any illusions I’d held about my youthful appearance. In a moment of terrifying clarity, I saw myself as the young pharmacist must have seen me: a very confused middle-aged woman trying to avoid magically or miraculously becoming pregnant. Not a sleek, hungry cat, after all. More like a crazy cat lady.

I glared and he blushed. I snatched the bag out of his unwrinkled hand, turned and walked as proudly as I could to the front counter to pay for the medication used for…birth control?

Anyway, the medication has been great. I’d actually say that it’s been life-changing. I am back to being my comfortable, easy-going self and gone is the strong need-to-murder sensation. I don’t miss it or the pain that held down my body and spirit. This form of mild hormone replacement therapy has been the menopausal ticket for me. It’s really eased my path during this stage of life. In fact, for this effectively-medicated buttercup, it’s been a surprisingly enjoyable stage so far.

 

 

 

 

Fuel for Life

Hello everyone! This reblog is a short reflection on the necessity of coffee. I hope you’re have a great Sunday! It’s beautiful here and I might wander out into the yard and do a little cleaning up in the garden. See you soon. ~ Lori

Opinion CoffeeI wake up disoriented and disappointed by the day of the week. It’s not, as I’d hoped, the weekend. It is, as I suspected, a workday. My mind immediately begins to seek out a good reason to be optimistic, a good reason to get out of bed, something small to look forward to.

There it is, that smell. Rich and familiar, it drifts down the short hallway from the kitchen. Freshly ground the night before in anticipation of the inevitable morning, placed in the basket of my drip coffeemaker, and set to brew at 5:45 am.

 

Hear me read this post:

My feet reluctantly feel for the floor as I pry my body from the depths of the too-soft mattress and into an upright position. More dead than alive, more zombie than human, I move like a plant towards the sun in the direction of the aroma that promises energy and goodwill toward humankind.

I take a mug down from the cupboard, barely able to feel the handle through the fog of weariness. I set the cup on the counter and slowly, deliberately fill it with hot coffee. Black as Satan’s soul, strong as lighter fluid, essential as mother’s milk. Rocket fuel. That’s the stuff.

Coffee

A few sips and the haze lifts. Objects come into sharper focus, and both my mood and my memory start to improve. I remember my name, my vocation, my place of residence. Now I can feel the floor beneath my slippers and the mug clutched in my grateful hands. Within a few minutes, I am completely restored to my old living self.

Lists of what needs to be done form themselves in my head. Powered by caffeine, I can’t wait to commence checking items off. The life that looked dreary from the vantage point of my bed now shines with opportunity when viewed through coffee-enhanced retinas. What a change! What a chance to begin again.

If the world enjoys my participation in it even a bit, most mornings it owes any of its gratitude to coffee without which I wouldn’t make it out of my cocoon. Or maybe I would. It’s just difficult to imagine life without coffee. I’d rather not.

 

Resolve If You Want To

 

Bluejay

A bluejay in my backyard.

Hi there! Here’s my post from last New Year’s. I still don’t make resolutions for the same reason I’ve never made resolutions: I can’t stand letting myself down. That being said, I’ve been making small, beneficial changes. These decisions seemed to have been spurred on by my aging. I feel fantastic, healthy, and positive. I also feel every building block in my body shifting and changing. If you’re lucky enough to live this long, that life!

I’ve recently made three small changes to my health and hygene routine.

A Tasty Calcium Supplement

Some small changesI used to try  (usually unsuccessfully) to take these calcium tablets, 600 mg horse pills. Taking a whole one bothered my stomach and I don’t even think I could absorb that amount of calcium all at once. So I cut the monsterous tablets in half which created jagged edges that sliced my esophagus as the tablet slowly clawed its way down my throat like an angry cat. To avoid this, I stopped taking a calcium supplement altogether. At my age, not awesome.

Recently, I treated myself to fruit-flavoured calcium gummies. It’s been a small, pleasant change I wish I’d made years ago!

Apple Cider Vinegar

All the health gurus swear by apple cider vinegar so I’ve been adding two tablespoons of it to my diet ginger ale. I like it! And it may just be a placebo effect, but my fat little belly seems to have shrunk a little since I adopted this habit. Another simple change that seems to have had a positive result.

OralB CrossAction Battery Toothbrush

This is another positive habit I’ve been meaning to re-adopt for years. I used to brush with a battery-operated brush, but they are more expensive and require more maintenance. But then two days ago, I resurrected one I still had kicking around from before. I cleaned in up and replaced the battery. Holy crow! My back teeth haven’t felt this clean in a long time. I’m so glad I finally made this small change I’d been thinking of forever.

Flannery O’Connor

A Good Man is Hard to FindFlannery O’Connor’s an author I’ve wanted to read for years and so this morning I ordered a copy of her short story collection A Good Man is Hard to Find (1955). I read a bit about her, too, as I searched for her works. She was born in Savannah, Georgia in 1925. I’ve actually seen her childhood home there. In her late 20s, she became ill with a disease closely related to the one that eventually killed my mom. Flannery O’Connor lived with this form of lupus for twelve years and died in 1964 at 39 years old.

Again, this change isn’t a resolution and it doesn’t require much self-discipline. Nor does it require any suffering. It’s just a gift I want to give myself in 2020. Are there any small changes you’d like to make as a gift to yourself this new year?

I don’t bother with New Year’s resolutions. There are so many wonderful and varied ways to set myself up for failure that I don’t need to add New Year’s resolutions to the pile.

Perhaps some of you have benefited from New Year’s resolutions. Maybe these made-to-self promises have allowed you to set and achieve goals that were otherwise out of reach. I haven’t met many people for whom resolutions have worked. Instead, I’m acquainted with the circle of folks who are kicking themselves because they couldn’t adhere to the resolutions they’d made. These are the people I know and to whom I can best relate.

Listen to me read this post:

The disillusioned and disappointed are familiar to me. Those who vowed to lose ten pounds and gained five, those who use our exercise equipment as a place to hang and dry laundry, those who stopped drinking after midnight on January first and got back on that old alcohol horse around seven p.m. on January third. These are the people I understand.

Not that I’m in any way against you who succeed in making and sticking to New Year’s resolutions. I’m not against you or elves or the Easter Bunny. I’m sure if I met any of you, we’d get along just fine. So far, though, I haven’t had the opportunity to meet any of these.

Willow and Setting Sun

A willow tree at sunset.

To resolve means to decide firmly on a course of action. This is just dandy except that factors all around us and that affect us are in a constant state of flux. Nothing stays the same, and there’s a whole ton of things we can’t control or predict that can alter our direction. We can decide as firmly as we like on a course of action, but we can’t control the wind or the waves. We can’t control the rain or the lightning. We can’t control when illnesses and accidents will knock on our doors.

To resolve also means to fix or to find a solution to a problem. But as human beings, we aren’t problems to be fixed or solved; we are meant to be. That’s the point of our existence, and not some imagined and ethereal state of perfection. We are meant to live, to experience, and to discover. We are meant to change, to learn, and to grow.

Sure, we can head in a direction, plot a course. Sometimes we’ll get to our destination and sometimes we’ll thank our lucky stars that we didn’t end up where we were headed. Sometimes our road will be paved, and other times it’ll be rocky and rough. Sometimes the road will seem impassable and still other times we’ll wonder where the road went. “It was here a minute ago…”

Late Afternoon

Late afternoon sun across a pasture.

Don’t let me stop you. If making a New Year’s resolution motivates you or lifts your spirits or gives you a little something to look forward to, then go ahead.

But before you make a promise to yourself, promise me that you’ll forgive yourself when the winds of change shift your direction and when the road becomes impassable. Promise me that you’ll remember your ever-changing nature, and that you’ll try to accept your humanness. Tell me that you won’t let today’s fresh opportunity pass you by because of some rusty old resolution.

Resolve if you want to, but before you resolve to improve, consider that maybe you are just fine the way you are.

Did you like what you read and heard here? Consider following this blog through your email account or right here on WordPress. Thanks for spending some time with me. Wishing you all good things to come in 2020! ~ Lori

I think I could safely resolve to listen to more Jimmy Buffett this year . . .

 

 

This New Year’s Eve

IMG_4315

Heavy frost in January.

It’s funny how time changes our perspective. When I was young, New Year’s Eve was typically a bit of a downer. I’d go inward and review all the things that had not happened that year, all the goals I’d set and then left there, dusty and unaccomplished, in a dark corner.

I had not learned to play guitar; I had not yet completed that correspondence course; I hadn’t decided on a suitable career; I hadn’t lost weight or gained popularity; I hadn’t found adventure, love or even much romance. I’d never be a writer and I’d never have a satisfying job. Of these things I was certain, and I couldn’t be dissuaded from following my own miserable mindset.

As the clock struck midnight and being unable to sink any lower into self-pity, I’d unconvincingly bolster myself. I’d begin grasping frantically at new goals, new ideas, and new adventures that I could – no, that I would – make happen.

I would finish that course; I would write a book; I would enroll (again) in university; I’d exercise and eat right; I’d buy a guitar; I’d skydive with my new love; I’d meet people and make a bazillion friends; I’d study to be an astronaut who trains horses and rides the intergalactic rodeo circuit…

IMG_1516

A late December sunset north of town.

By the end of the night and by the time I was done buoying myself up, I was left feeling overwhelmed and deflated, a bit dizzy, and chronically unsuccessful.

Years have passed and my outlook has changed. Although I still crave the adventure and notoriety of the intergalactic rodeo circuit (who doesn’t?) I’ve learned that there are greater things than goals and accomplishments. That’s not to say that I haven’t done some rewarding things. It’s been great to have those opportunities, but in accomplishing goals I’ve learned that accomplishments aren’t what fill me up. Like salty potato chips, accomplishments leave me wanting more. The satisfaction is short lived.

It’s gratitude and loving others that has finally satisfied me. And so this New Year’s Eve, I think of all that hasn’t happened to me and that I haven’t done. I haven’t undergone any chemotherapy or radiation treatments; I haven’t broken a bone or anyone’s heart; I haven’t been injured in a car crash or lost anyone I love to an illness; I haven’t lost my job or lost a limb or lost a child; I haven’t lost my mind or lost my mobility; I haven’t contracted Hepatitis B, been kidnapped or murdered.

Moon

Pale January moon over the prairie.

For now, I am safe and sound, and I’m aware that everything changes and that others have not been as fortunate this past year. It’s not enough for me to feel lucky to have dodged a few of life’s inevitable bullets.

For my gratitude to expand into love, I remember those who did suffer a death, a loss, a diagnosis, a hospital stay, a life sentence, and I wish them well. It’s not resolving for the future or reviewing the past, that will make it a happy New Year for me. Thankfulness for what I have and trying to see beyond my own desires is what will satisfy my heart this New Year’s Eve.

I wish you health and happiness in 2018.

 

 

It Goes On

“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.”
― Robert Frost

IMG_3159

Daisies.

Life should be forced to mirror our own grieving hearts. When we’re aching from loss, no birds should be allowed to sing and the sun should be banned from the sky. Happy songs should be muted and laughing children, shushed. Flower petals should crumple and playful kittens should lie down and sleep. It’s how we feel when a loved one dies.

On a bright August day, at the height of the flowers’ blooming, we held my grandmother’s funeral. Inside the hall, it was easy to forget that life continues. The interior was sad, like the mourners, and there were few windows to let in the sun. It was on that slow walk down the aisle and into the day that the summer weather began to offend me with its cheerfulness. Even the snails-pace drive out to the cemetery for the interment felt far too light, far too airy, and far too sunny. Not quite like we were headed to the lake for a picnic, but close.

At the prairie gravesite, life hummed all around us. The grasshoppers leapt and nibbled and scissored their legs in chorus, “Life goes on, life goes on…” I wanted to step on them. The sparrows in the tall, tall trees twittered and fluttered as they searched for sustenance. I hated them as much as I hated the grasshoppers.

IMG_3147

A rose.

There were quite a number of babies around, too: great grandchildren too small to talk, and yet proclaiming loudly enough, “I’m young, I’m alive, I’m adorable! Be joyful!” I didn’t hate those babies, and I didn’t want to step on them, but I recall less-than-appreciating their fresh presence.

Then, in an instant, I saw the life surrounding me and the other mourners as my dearly-departed might have. Grandma loved birds and babies and wanted to step on grasshoppers. She had loved everyone in that hall and all those who recited the twenty-third Psalm at her graveside. This sunny, August day was for her, after all, and it was perfect. Except for her absence.

Of course, I’m lying a little bit here in this preceding paragraph. It took a while for me to forgive the weather its rudeness, to forgive the birds their singing, and the babies their being. It didn’t really happen the day of her funeral or even for weeks after. But it did eventually happen that I began to see that life does go on, and that my grandma would love for me to enjoy life for as long as I walk the earth.

IMG_0024

A sunny August sky.

Today, though, I’m thinking of you who have recently lost someone dear. I wish for you that soon the sun and the birds will bring comfort, that babies will gurgle and coo and bring joy, and that you’ll have many opportunities, if wanted, to step on grasshoppers. I wish for you that life, with all its sorrows and sweetness, will go on.

 

 

%d bloggers like this: