Thursday, March 3, 2016

My Pathway Affirmation

Today's dawn reveals many paths.
I do not know for certain what lies down any of them,
but I will choose my own path.
Wherever I go today, I will walk
with integrity and mindfulness,
with kindness and compassion
for myself and others.

The Road Not Taken
By Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

What Do You Want To Remember?

Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?

From "You Reading This, Be Ready" by William Stafford

Memories come in waves. Often I'm not sure what disturbance rolls them into my mind, but they, like the tide, can't be ignored.

Today I'm remembering days in the radiation waiting room, a place I spent a lot of time reading and occasionally conversing with fellow patients. It was a difficult time for me. I had 40 days of radiation before surgery. Radiation for my rectal cancer had some painful consequences. I went everyday at the same time, so I saw some of the same patients on a regular basis.

Today I'm remembering two people.

One, a woman, received radiation for breast cancer. She brought a book everyday to read, as I did, and we talked about the books we liked. I remember her short grey hair, soft voice and the way her eyes sparkled when she almost smiled. She told me that she and her husband planned to travel after her treatment.

The second man had stomach cancer. His son drove him down from the mountains everyday in an old pickup. They looked like mountain men: plaid flannel shirts, boots, rough work-worn hands and faces. The father didn't talk much. He had a lot of pain. I remember how the son sat: angled in the chair toward his father, his hand on his father's arm, looking at his father's face. He called him Dad and told him stories, and the father breathed slow and deep, his eyes calm.

There was no sunlight creeping across the floor, no scents of old wood, no softened sounds from outside.
But I have much I want to remember and hold dear from those radiation days: gifts from fellow patients.

Memories are prayers.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Christmas Demons

My Christmas demons arrived Saturday, my ghosts of Christmases past. They are as predictable as Santa Claus and Rudolf. The ghosts vary their emphasis from year to year, but they always show up to haunt me sometime between decorating the Christmas tree and wrapping the presents.

Often they torture me with how I failed my kids. I don't regret what I didn't buy for my children. Kids don't need a lot of things to be happy, at least mine didn't. I regret not spending more time with them. Some of that comes from being divorced and having to divide the time, but I could have done many more little things, mini-celebrations or one-hour outings, that would have added fun and meaning to our lives.

Regret during the holidays is common, although these days some people seem never to be bothered by regret--about anything. I don't know how they do it. That's not my temperament, yet I've come to the place where I can accept that I'll be visited by Christmas demons every year. I wonder if after Ebenezer Scrooge's epiphany and change of heart, the spirit of Christmas past still visited him on future Christmas Eves. My bet is it did.

This year, my ghosts reminded me of how I failed to be with my father the Christmas after my mother died. Something about being alone in my house on a rainy Saturday made me think of my father, alone in his big old house with all the memories. He lost the love of his life and his best friend for thirty years just weeks before the holidays.

Now I realize what I should have done for my father, and with him, but it is several decades too late and too late even to say how sorry I am to have been so mindless. I am utterly powerless to go back and correct my mistakes. That sense of powerlessness and hopelessness makes me depressed.

Saturday night, I tossed and turned with regrets--the ghosts were busy. Sunday morning, I picked up my journal first thing and wrote about my father: the good times we shared as well as the regrets

Of course, I can't go back to the past and change my mindlessness, but I can change today. After all, I can only give gifts in the present--maybe that's why they're called presents. My Christmas demons will not stop me from being mindful and loving to those who are with me today. Like Scrooge's spirits, my demons help me to wake up to life today.

I ended my journal with a gatha:

When my Christmas demons awake
I vow to myself and my family
To return to the present and love
And be mindful of others today

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Advice from an Old Climber

Yesterday, in one of my books, I found an old bookmarker from the days when Royal Robbins had an outdoor shop in Fresno, California.

On one side it has an excellent bit of advice:

I asked once for guidance and the wise old climber replied, 
"Do these four things. 
1. BELIEVE IN YOURSELF. Believe in your capacity. Believe in your goodness. 
2. SEEK ADVENTURE. Climb high mountains. Run wild rivers. Live daily with this spirit. 
3. TAKE CARE. Follow your dreams, but watch your step. 
4. HAVE FUN. Sing, dance, laugh, and spread joy wherever you journey." 
--Royal Robbins

Good resolutions for the New Year, or any time.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Three Movie Tips For A Happy Life

The film, How Do You Know, is about a young woman athlete who has to transition to the next stage of her life, leaving behind the intense competitive life she has known since a child. She gets advice from several people over the course of the movie. Here are three tips for a happy life from the movie that I think really work.

1. A psychologist tells her the one most important piece of advice he has learned in his years of counseling experience: Figure out what you want and learn how to ask for it.

2. Her father told her: Don't do anything halfway unless you are willing to be half-happy.

3. A friend tells her how Play-Doh was invented by making one small adjustment to a cleaning product: We are all just one small adjustment away from making our lives work.

What Do I Want?
I'm no psychologist, so I haven't analyzed the reasons for it, but over the years, I've found it very difficult to determine exactly what I want in life or from life or even from myself. As far as asking for it,  sometimes I don't even know how to begin. But I've found that when I am feeling frustrated or confused it helps me to stop and think about what would make me happiest.

Actually, writing down a description of what I'd like my life to look like helps the most. (You know, if I had a magic wand and could zap myself into the life I want--what would it look like?) I've found that most of the things I've written involve asking myself for permission to go ahead and BE what I want from life. Sometimes, others are involved and I've found that once I've really given myself permission to BE, it is much easier to talk to others about what I need to do. You know, even just writing about it makes me happier.

No More Half Happy
My father told me the same thing, so did my mother: What ever you do, do it with all your heart. The fastest road to happiness for me is to throw myself--body, mind, and spirit--into being and doing what I love. If I find I'm discouraged, it's not because something (or someone) has gone wrong, but because I've let that something (or someone) sway me from the wholehearted pursuit of what is important to me.  Living wholeheartedly makes me happy.

One Adjustment
Okay, sometimes it seems like there are a whole gang of somethings (or someones) against what I want to be and do. And I can't do everything at once, but I can do one thing at a time. I've found that making one adjustment alters other things. Sometimes making one adjustment alters my whole world. I know that at the end of a day when I've made one step in the right direction--life looks different, and I feel happier. Maybe that is the magic wand.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Finding Purpose in Life

Yesterday I listened to a webinar sponsored by the Colon Cancer Alliance and Chris4Life Foundation on the topic of advanced colorectal cancer survivorship. In the keynote address, Dr. John Marshall, the director of the The Ruesch Center for the Cure of Gastrointestinal Cancer, said the first questions he asks cancer survivors in developing a survivorship plan is "What are your life goals? What are you on the planet to do?"

Those questions are good ones for everyone. We are all survivors of whatever struggles we've been through, cancer or no cancer. At times in my life, I've had a ready answer for such questions. At other times, not so much. He caught me at one of those "not so much" times, which have been more frequent since cancer and retirement. What I can still do seems so insignificant compared to the world's needs and what others have the ability to do.

Yet as I think about my life journey, both before and after cancer, I remember all the people who have stood with me in support. It's not necessarily what they did that I remember, but that they were present with me in life at a particular moment. They brought peace and love and hope into my life. Perhaps that's the core of my answer to Dr. Marshall's questions. Sure I want to use what talents and abilities I have, but first of all, I am on this planet to be a person of faith, hope, and love who stands in support of the people I know. I can do that no matter what else I can't do.

The Friend Who Just Stands By

When trouble comes your soul to try,
You love the friend who just "stands by."
Perhaps there's nothing he can do--
The thing is strictly up to you;
For there are troubles all your own,
And paths the soul must tread alone;
Times when love cannot smooth the road
Nor friendship lift the heavy load,
But just to know you have a friend
Who will "stand by" until the end,
Whose sympathy through all endures,
Whose warm handclasp is always yours--
It helps, someway, to pull you through,
Although there's nothing he can do.
And so with fervent heart you cry,
"God bless the friend who just 'stands by'!"

--B. Y. Williams in Poems That Touch the Heart. Ed. A. L. Alexander, New York: Garden City Publishing, 1941.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Each Part of Life

Each part of life has its own pleasures.
Each has its own abundant harvest, to be garnered in season.
We may grow old in body, but we need never grow old in mind and spirit.
We must make a stand against old age.
We must atone for its faults by activity.
We must exercise the mind as we exercise the body, to keep it supple and buoyant.
Life may be short, but it is long enough to live honorably and well.
Old age is the consummation of life, rich in blessings.

— Cicero (106-43 BCE) a paraphrase from De Senectute
                 in The Life of Man, Ed. Caroline Poh, 1973