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Weltanschauung

It rained here today on my little spot of Earth, the first time in more than a month.  I could feel it coming in my right hand where an old softball injury has become my barometer.  I could smell it on the horizon while I watched my dogs frolick in the early morning dew as the sun came up. I could see it as my curls hugged in the humidity and bounced about on it.  I could taste it on the air as I sang along to the song playing in my head while I headed to the library where I would work for the day.  

And it was at the library where I watched it fall while staring out at the park behind, my laptop open and waiting patiently as I drifted into a deep longing to hear the rain and feel it on my skin.

But there were many workplace “crises” to be dealt with and emails to be answered and complexities that needed simplifying.  So I turned away from the rain and returned to my laptop.

By the time I left the library, the rain had stopped.  My hand still hurt.  My curls still bounced.  And the smell and taste were like a smack in the face.  I missed it.  

It felt very much like a crisis.  Mostly because I’m a pluviophile.

Now, for as romantic and idealistic as I may appear here, my Gentle Penguin, I must reveal that in “real life” I’m quite pragmatic.  Would you be shocked to know that one of the two questions I’m most famous (or infamous) for asking is “what perspective are you using to determine that?”  And the reason I ask this very question is mostly because crises seem to be everywhere these days.

“Is this wrinkle in the project at the final hour a crisis?  Well, if you look at it from the perspective of this project plan and the expectations of the benefactor of this project—yes, this is definitely a crisis.  However, if you look at it from the perspective that we are not under fire from nuclear weapons (or any weapons, for that matter); nor are we facing any imminent natural disasters, home displacements, or major health issues, and this will not cause any of those things to happen, nor harm anyone or any living thing—then no, this is definitely not a crisis.”

So I take a few deep breaths and quiet my mind.  This is not a crisis.  

In fact, I’m fortunate to live in a time and place that experiences very, very few crises.  True crises are real enough; one only has to glance at the news to learn about a few of them.  Which is why tonight I find myself toying with etymology to see if I can find a different word to label the everyday annoyances, problems, broken expectations, frustrations and irritations that get called “crises.”

Crisis:  [from a collection of sources, including Merriam-Webster and the etymology dictionary] (noun) — a time of intense difficulty, trouble or danger; a point at which your life changes rapidly and radically.  And from a thread in the German language—being stuck on the wrong side of the door.

I like this idea of being on the wrong side of the door.  What would be the analogy that describes the type of “crises” of the everyday non-life-changing-nor-threatening kind?  Well, personally, I think of a mosquito bite welt.  And back to the dictionary I go, which is how I stumbled upon another German word “weltanschauung.” 

Weltanschauung literally means “world view” (from the German welt=world + schauung=perspective).  But this only describes my question that led me to this quest.  I wish to change the weltanschauung regarding crises.

Back to the language guides…I follow one definition to a thesaurus and from there back to etymology and onward.  After nearly 20 minutes of searching, I find the word that works for me.

Bother: (verb) to bewilder, confuse; to give trouble to 

Yes.  I should have known that Winnie the Pooh had the answer all along.

Christopher Robin came down from the Forest to the bridge, feeling all sunny and careless, and just as if twice nineteen didn’t matter a bit, as it didn’t on such a happy afternoon, and he thought that if he stood on the bottom rail of the bridge, and leant over, and watched the river slipping slowly away beneath him, then he would suddenly know everything that there was to be know, and he would be able to tell Pooh, who wasn’t quite sure about some of it.” —A. A. Milne

___________________

Post Script: My heart goes out to all the people of the world who are dealing with true crises. I pray the river slipping slowly through our collective humanity reveals what you need to know to be sure that a lot of someones care, even if it doesn’t seem evident.

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May I Return…

My Gentle Penguin,

It has been a long hiatus.  Perhaps too long.  Well, for me anyway.  I’ve been writing for work, for magazines, for my future…but something has been missing.  You.

Perhaps that sounds contrived, but really what I mean is I’ve missed you—an audience with thoughts and feelings, fears and desires, cares and concerns, frustrations and questions.  I too have those things, and so in that we are alike.

During my hiatus I’ve realized I’m more alike most people than not.  My neighbors all speak different languages, but we also all understand the daily communication of a smile and a wave, a handshake and a song, a meal and a drink.  My clients may care more about somethings than I do, but we all want our children to thrive, to provide for our families, to feel like we’re making a difference.  My children may have better fashion and dance sense than I do, but we each appreciate a snuggle during a thunderstorm and a good game of Apples to Apples.

My adventurous side is itchy, yet I find more and more adventures closer and closer to home.  My loneliness has not subsided, yet I feel less alone.  My fear is almost gone, yet I still seek the comfort and protection of my Doberman by my side.  And my voice…well, I seem to have lost my voice.

No, it’s not a tragedy, just a curiosity.

Life is changing.  And I find I am changing with it.  I just am not sure how I fit in the changes or, perhaps, who I’ve changed to.

And yet, I’m not upset or fearful or anxious or worried.  For the first time in perhaps my entire life, I have complete faith that I will find my way and find myself.

So when the muses whispered in my ear tonight to write, I didn’t hesitate.  Instinctively, I know my fingers will lead me back to myself.  And to you.  Where I belong.

Warm regards,

-M.

 

Time Keeps Ticking…

Somewhere in 2016 I quit trying.  Seriously, I let go of plans and planning and let the river of time and life take me where it would.  You know what I lost in doing so?  A lot of worry.  Some stress.  Perhaps a friend or two.  And my connection to the internet.

No more facebook, or twitter.  No more waking up to read the news online.  No more pretenses.  Perhaps you noticed I was missing here on this blog?  Perhaps you didn’t.

Regardless, my life improved dramatically because I let go.

And in that spirit I am sparing you my list of accomplishments and embarrassments this year.  I don’t want you comparing yourself to me.  Possibly, I don’t want you to know what my accomplishments and embarrassments are…unless you’d like to hear about them over a cup of tea, that is.

So why am I here now then?  Mostly because I still find value in naming my years, and to have a record of it is important to me when I’ve lost my way part way through the year.

2016, the Year of Adaptability, has already turned into 2017, the Year of Lightening.

Lighten: to brighten or make clear; to relieve of a burden or weariness.

What do I plan to do this year?

  1. Complete my embrace of simplicity by further reducing the clutter in my home, my car, my schedule, my life.
  2. Complete the transition to a Blue Zones/Taoist lifestyle.
  3. Experience the midnight sun.
  4. Begin to pivot my career toward the empty-nest phase that is fast approaching.
  5. Immerse myself in the wisdom of the Tao Te Ching.

My Gentle Penguin, I wish you health, wealth and joy in 2017.  And I wish you safe journey on your path to your enlightenment.

One Enchanted Evening

I never really had a desire to go to Vienna.  But there I was, as midnight neared sitting in the middle of a thunderstorm at an alfresco candle-lit cafe near the Stephansplatz sipping champagne and sampling apfelstrudel.

Somehow, it seemed destined to be.

To my right, a couple huddled under their own umbrella despite the cover provided by the cafe’s white square umbrellas overhead.  The couple’s umbrella, with alternating gold and red panels, glowed over the candlelight and filled the cafe with romance.

To my left, two young men drank golden beers while laughing easily about the various characters they had encountered that day.  They drove trolleys in town, one of the men told me, and next week they would vacation in Sarajevo where I had just been.  In Sarajevo, I told them, they have the most worn down, mismatched trolleys, but they move in a nostalgic jauntiness that makes their trek seem so joyful and, more than once, lured me aboard to see what secrets they might share there.

I loved Sarajevo.

Sarajevo had captured my heart in a way no city ever has in my travels.  But that seemed miles away here in Vienna where I found myself lulled into a sense of luxury surrounded by replicas of Klimt and Mozart, white marble and high-heeled fashion staring out from every other window.

Not to mention the bling!  Between the flickering lights of the candles, the lightning and refractions off puddles, sparkles lived everywhere.  And even in the midst of the storm, the gold leaf monuments around us glistened and glowed.

Lightning.

Thunder.

Everyone in the cafe sat back and settled in to let the storm pass.  I sipped more champagne.

The waiters bustled about like white birds picking and pecking here and there, then flitting elsewhere to pick and peck again.  But they called me “darling” and told me I was beautiful with their thick accents.  There was nothing to do then but laugh and relish in being looked after by handsome service professionals.

I practiced my German, and learned a little Hungarian, toasted in Croatian, and listened to an opera playing in Italian.

Lightening.

Thunder.

My champagne glass was refilled. The trolley men ordered another round.  The couple peeked over their umbrella to order an ice cream sundae.  And the candles continued to glow with a warmth that seemed to reach right to the center of my soul.

 

To be expected.

One of my neighbors died this week.  Cancer.  The kind of cancer that scares you into thinking you’re dying, seems to disappear so you and your loved ones have hope, then rears its deadly face and snatches the light from your eyes before you even know what’s happened.

But this isn’t a sad story…though I admit, I cried when I heard the news.  It’s just that Brad and tears don’t belong in my memory together.

You may or may not know that I settled in my neighborhood after my divorce precisely because it’s where I grew up.  Raising two very young daughters by myself and working full-time, I needed the kind of support that only comes from being around people who know you and who care, even if you don’t have daily proof of it.

And that perfectly described this neighborhood when I moved back in almost 13 years ago.  The now-elderly neighbors on my street sent their kids to school with my parents; they watched my brothers and sisters and me walk by on our way to school every day for a dozen years or more; they watched my daughters received first communion, and confirmation, and graduate from our neighborhood elementary school.

Along they way, they critiqued uniform cleanliness, and complemented singing in the children’s choir, and gave perfumed kisses when my parents, we or my daughters shoveled their sidewalks in the winter.

Brad’s mother is part of that old guard.  And so was Brad for the pure fact that he lived with his mother a few houses down.

Every morning, after my daughters had set off for school and I went racing out the door for work, Brad would walk by, wave and smile.  It became part of our routine so that if I didn’t see Brad walk by, wave and smile, I knew I was either running early or late (aka, late…let’s be clear, I never ran early.)

Likewise, in the evening, I always seemed to be coming home while he walked the block from the bus stop to his house.  Another smile and wave.  If, as it sometimes happened, he was already home, he would usually be sitting on the font-porch swing and he’d stand, smile and wave as I drove by.

My youngest was always on the look out for Brad.  When she spotted him, she would smile brightly, wave and shout “Hi!” Then she would say, “mom, he’s always so happy to see us!”

Indeed.

Or another time, “it’s like we truly belong here now that the neighbors wave.” Truthfully, Brad was really the only neighbor that waved for a long time.  Mostly that was because our neighborhood lost nearly half its residents during the housing crisis.  Even some of the old guard left during that time.  But when new neighbors began moving in, Brad was there with a smile and a wave.  And they smiled and waved.  And we smiled and waved.

I’m proud to say that almost all the neighbors in my half of the block smile and wave daily.  Thanks to Brad.

But Brad did more than just smile and wave.  Brad worked at the library downtown.  He rode the bus.  He sang in the church choir.  He was a devoted brother…and son.

But it was his cancer that showed me Brad’s true gift.

Several months after I first heard he had cancer and began to see the physical changes that sickness and treatments create, I saw Brad sitting on the porch swing looking glum.  My youngest and I were returning from soccer and Brad did not stand, nor wave, nor smile.

When we had parked, my youngest hopped out of the car and looked back at him a few houses away.  “Maybe he didn’t see us,” she said.  She continued to look at him to see if he would notice her. “Maybe he’s not feeling well today,” I added also continuing to look that way worried.

Then two days later, Brad came walking down the street, just as I was getting out of my car.  “Hi!” he said and smiled and waved through the window like our normal routine.  I jumped out of the car as fast as I could and almost blurted “Hi!  How are you doing?!”  I was so relieved.

“Well, I’m trying to get better every day,” he said beaming sunshine at me.  “I have some bad days, but that’s to be expected.  So I just go on!”  Then he waved again and started walking on.  I yelled after him that we were cheering for him and wished him well.  But I stood rooted to the spot, unable to move as I watched him walk briskly the rest of the way home, up his steps and in his front door.

I stood there for a long time, “to be expected” ringing in my ears.  I don’t know why, but I never thought of cancer like that.  To be quite honest–if not naive–I never thought of life like that.

Nothing is all smiles and sunshine—that’s what makes the smiles and sunshine so valuable.  I know that.  But I guess I never understood it until, there, right in front of me, was the simple acknowledgement–and acceptance–of that truth.  With a smile no less.

I stood there realizing how much I had come to depend on Brad’s smiles to help jump start my own smile at the start or end of a busy day.  To be expected.  So if Brad could accept the suffering of cancer as part of the journey, shouldn’t I take more ownership for the hiccups and obstacles and challenges natural to my journey?

I decided to give it a shot.  For a couple months now I’ve thought of Brad anytime something didn’t go as expected in my day.  My washing machine broke.  An unexpected project risk.  A cranky customer…or teenage daughter.  Strep throat… And each time I’ve asked myself, “is this part of my journey?  Is this to be expected?”  And each time the answer has been “yes.”  (My washing machine was more than 20 years old.  Projects and clients can’t always be sunshine and smiles.  The trash has not yet learned to take itself out.  I’ve been having difficulty sleeping for weeks.  Etc.)

Then came the news.  I hadn’t seen Brad for several weeks by the time my mom, now also one of the old guard, told me. But it wasn’t only the old guard who noticed.  First it was the young couple next door to me, then the boomer couple across the street, then the older Russian man a few houses down, and the young professional guy a couple houses up from that, and the visiting daughter of an elderly neighbor across the way.  These neighbors with whom I share a daily smile and wave have flagged me down wondering at Brad’s disappearance and hopeful that the old guard has passed me some information.

Some didn’t know he had cancer, others had heard he was doing better.  Most didn’t know his cancer was back.  Each time, each person, with a sad look on their face, then told me the same thing, “he always seemed so happy to see me.  He made my day so many times because of it.”

“That’s to be expected,” I gently muse now as I share the news of his death.  “I just wish he knew how happy I was to see him.”

Sigh!

Dear Gentle Penguin,

The sun came out today after nearly seven straight days of dreary gray skies.  And my soul sighed with pure joy.  So my dogs and I climbed our hill to greet the sun and let the wind play with my curls.  And my soul sighed again.

Funny how that sigh is almost identical to the one it made almost five days ago when my dogs and I went walking in the rain and discovered a little blue heron feeding at a hidden vernal pond.

Or how it sighed four days ago at an oh-fortuitous philharmonic performance.

Or three days ago at an exceptionally well-timed cup of hot tea.

Or two days ago after a difficult negotiation done well.

Or yesterday during stimulating conversation about international educational standards and the potential for a universal certification process that would allow anyone’s education to be more marketable for a job anywhere in the world.  Over a glass of beer, of course.

Just a moment,  each a peculiar passing moment.  But treasure none the less.  Don’t let them fool you as whimsical wisps, for they are the stuff life is made of.  True life, the thing that at the end has made it all worth while.

But the sun is now up fully and it’s coming upon work time where a couple dragons await me today.  So I let each moment go, but I won’t forget them for a moment though…while I’m out collecting some more.

What are your treasured moments?  I’d really like to know…

With love,

-M

All we need is love

My parents—that dynamic duo who impressed upon me in my childhood that life was not meant to be spent in front of a television—FORCED me to become a regular viewer of a prime time TV series this year.  Yes, forced.  Not one of their typical intellectual PBS series either, but a network show.

And so Monday night while struggling with the guilt of sitting absorbed by the “boob tube,” I found redemption when one of my favorite characters cut through all the noise of the show, of society, of my life by pointing out simply, “the most important thing in life is love.”

I’ve heard this before. And I have, of course, thought it through thoroughly. I do accept this as truth.

So why did it make such an impression?

Because, Gentle Penguin, I suddenly realized I’m not sure I know what love actually is. 

I flip through the Rolodex of possible explanations stored in my monkey mind while glued to the couch still.

Romance. Sex. Desperate dependency. Necessary dependency. Ethereal whisperings of the cosmos. Desire. Love is patient. Love is kind. Love bears all things. Yadda yadda yadda…

None of it seems to really stick out as what I’m seeking, and most of it seems repulsive or depressing.

So I get up and pull out my good friend Merriam Webster to see what he says:

An unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another.

  • Loyal=complete and constant support for someone or something.
  • Benevolent=to do good, especially for another, in a purposeful organized way.

That’s it!

Except I suddenly wonder “have I really loved my children, my dogs, my parents, my others in this way…ever?”

I flip through another Rolodex of memories, images, feelings, moments.  Yes, I believe I have and do still, but there’s definitely room for improvement.

I suddenly want to wake up my youngest and tell her I DO support her and want what’s good for her and that’s why I’m often so hard on her. But she’s a teenager, and no good ever came from waking a teenager in the middle of the night—nor would that be in her best good.  Maybe I could text that same message to my oldest who’s a college student and a night owl, but I hear the birds chirping so it’s probably too late for that because it’s early now. Maybe I could send an email to my parents…but that might raise suspicion and cause them to worry about me more than they already do. 

I settle for rubbing the belly of my most loyal companion, Ollie the Doberman who’s wondering if I’ll ever turn off that blasted light and put down that stupid black box in my hand.

But there is one more thing I resolve to do.  Tomorrow (or rather today), I will spend the morning in my quarterly “master mind” meeting for my business. I will examine goals, explore tough questions aimed at making my life—and work, and business—better, then make commitments based on those mental machinations. But if the most important thing in life is love, shouldn’t I just quit while I’m ahead and give myself over to it?

No, or course not! I should do something even riskier. I should build my life—and my work, and my business—around love.  Instead of money.

Why does this thought feel so uncomfortable?  I know the discomfort comes from the angst that the word “love” drives because of all the other definitions that exist, nebulous, fluffy, dependent or irresponsible as they seem.  So I race back to Webster’s definition:

An unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another.

  • Loyal=complete and constant support for someone or something.
  • Benevolent=to do good, especially for another, in a purposeful organized way.

Whew! In rereading I kinda feel like maybe I already do this for my work and my business with my unwavering focus on diplomacy: the art of dealing with people in a sensitive (aware of and understanding the feelings of people) and effective (having an intended effect) way and  purposeful change: to make different

Still I probably won’t go shouting this new bedrock of my business to the mountains or even my clients.  But maybe it will give me a better opportunity to explain what I do to my kids, my dogs and my parents.  And maybe it will lead me to success: to turn out well.