Archive for the ‘gratitutde’ Category

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The Sky and the Page

May 29, 2019
agriculture clouds countryside cropland

Photo by Ákos Szabó on Pexels.com

 

To escape annual May snowstorms (truth), I find ways to write and work away from home. Although it would be lovely to hop on a plane and head somewhere exotic, I usually settle for something a bit more realistic.

Like Nebraska.

This year, after I finished grading papers and wrapping up the semester, I found a small space to rent on a Mennonite organic popcorn farm. Who knew? But the cabin was the perfect size and place for a writer on retreat. In addition to a chair and a bed, I had a small desk and an outside picnic table perched under a tree filled with songbirds. The property came with two happy dogs, chickens, cows, a couple of old barns, and gracious hosts.

To break up the writing, I took long walks down dirt roads. Sky surrounded me in every direction, and it wasn’t hard to imagine pioneers plodding across the prairie in their covered wagons. Not much changes on the prairie.

Except the sky.

The sky in Nebraska was nothing short of spectacular, opening itself with outstretched arms. Birds welcomed the sun in the morning and sung it goodnight in the evening when the colors changed from dusty blue to violet black. The wind whipped across the grasslands. Throughout the day, clouds came and went, gathered and scattered. In the distance, lightning struck, and rain fell.

As I wrote, the sky became my metaphor for the page.

The morning skies ushered the sun, and my day began with hope. As my shoulders warmed, my writing worked. But later, I struggled for the correct word, the just-right sentence. Thoughts jammed inside my head like the clouds cramming together to block the sun.

I slammed my computer shut. The rain came. Finally, when the smell of sweet grass filled the air, a fresh idea, a different twist and take on the story, came to mind. My fingers flew across the keyboard as the shape of the sky transformed into something new, something breathtaking.

During my stay, the pattern of change repeated itself. When the rain arrived, or the sun seared, I took breaks. I played with crayons and read stories. I napped. When my thoughts struggled, I moved. I walked and ran and drove across the prairie, and eventually, new ideas appeared. Allowing myself space to stand back gave me and my work renewed life.

The Nebraskan sky spoke to me. I surrendered to its never-ending bursts and applied that to my work. I paid attention to the way the sky, my writing, and my life transformed throughout the day. Harmony. My work had its challenges, but like the sky, I had amazing moments, stretching far and wide.

Both beauty and words arrived.

 

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Road Trip Stories in the South

April 8, 2019

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Last week, I had a most excellent adventure. First, I met my oldest and closest friends in New Orleans and then road-tripped with my 88-year-old mom through the South. Both pieces were extraordinary.

My friends never disappoint. Sure, we’ve grown older; our legs more tired and our wrinkles much deeper. We’ve raised kids and dogs and worked and suffered. We’ve become strong, independent women who know a thing or two, and yet, have plenty to learn. We’re a complicated crew. Because of my gals, I’ve learned that relationships take effort. I’ve also learned, the best ones are worth the investment.

As lives change, friendships shift; but once together, my friends and I remember. We remember big hair, Bon Jovi, shoulder pads, banana bike seats, pool parties, and Schaeffer Light. Now, we roll eyes, remembering the jocks and the burn-outs, the teachers and the coaches. We remember laughing. We remember predators. We remember love. Mostly, we remember our stories. Together; eating and drinking and dancing like fools, we make more moments to remember. Stories.

After my friends, dispersed, Mom arrived. Because her grandma was a suffragist and taught her to demand social justice, Mom taught me the same. We headed for Montgomery where much of our nation’s horrific history is recorded. We sat with ghosts. We studied at the Legacy Center, listening to stories of incarceration, injustice, lynching, and death. As white women raised in America, like it or not, we’ve benefited from slavery’s dark legacy and the Jim Crow laws that followed. After many museums, we sat with ourselves; sorry and ashamed. Mom and I had long talks about racism, social injustice, and the history that got us here. We committed ourselves to listen better. Act more. And to speak about what we learned; sharing both the stories that were told and the stories that disappeared.

By the end of my adventure, I realized, not for the first time, how quickly life moves; how tragic and joyful it can be. In the time we are given, relationships and stories transform life, making it either better or worse.

Stories.

For me, I hope to create a life where I live a good story, I write a good story, and I listen to all the stories I can.

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And Yet: Gratitude for the Moment

November 15, 2018
backlit clouds dawn dusk

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Gratitude. While wildfires strip lives, and storms rip away homes, it’s hard to feel grateful. It’s hard to feel grateful when we see pollution and destruction and division. It’s hard to feel grateful when people are hurt and hungry and suffering.

And yet.

The birds still sing.

Dogs wag their tails.

Sun warms our skin.

Peach juice drips down one’s chin, delicious and juicy.

Ice-cream sweetens the tongue.

Someone opens the door and smiles.

The breeze blows gently; bringing with it the smell of soft rain.

A pillow offers welcome relief at the end of a long day.

Someone says thank you and another whispers you’re welcome.

And yet.

There are hundreds of small moments to offer gratitude. In a world where so much is out of our control, leaving us helpless and frustrated, it’s even more important to find gratitude in the present. It is the everyday flashes of beauty and joy that will bring a sense of hope. A sense of wellbeing. A sense of gratitude.

Happy Thanksgiving.

 

 

 

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Arriving in Tunisia as a not-so-proud American

November 2, 2018

 

American passport on desktop

I arrive at night, not sure what to expect. All I know is that someone will meet me—I’m sure of it. Still, my nerves zap with unsettled energy. How will it feel to be back in this place, remembering pieces of my former self? Neither Tunisia or I am the same as we were 35 years ago, and these are unsettled times. Wars and bombs and tremendous upheaval have plagued our countries. Since my last return, Tunisia has had a revolution, and America has put into place a corrupt president. I wonder, with trepidation, how Tunisians will react to me. I’m ashamed of our country and no longer proud to be American.

I search for my suitcase as others, speaking Arabic and French, sweep their bags away. I wait and wait and wait; my anxiety increasing. Finally, the last load emerges on the conveyer belt, and although I spot my suitcase, the woman searching bags pulls it aside. She raises her eyebrows and clucks. The hair on the back of my neck prickles as she calls for another customs officer to join her. They rifle through the gifts I’ve brought for my family, and when they spot my toy drone, I know I’m in trouble.

More officers surround me, and they take my toy. Then, when my passport is confiscated, something inside of me drops. My identity to the United States; the only legal link to my homeland is gone. My bones shift, cracking with concern. In spite of my shame for our current government, the United States is still a great democracy built on the backs of strong women and determined men. In America, I have the freedom to speak my mind and the choice to resist.

The customs officers whisk me away and ask more questions, but I don’t speak French well and know even less Arabic. They shout and wave their hands as my own shake the tiniest bit. It sinks in. I am alone in North Africa.

With my passport gone and the drone appropriated, I cross my fingers and sing silent prayers. Maybe they think I’m a spy. Perhaps they think I’m a scout. Maybe they think I like Donald Trump. I bite my lip and plan my defense. As I do, my host sister, Sonia, and her husband, Sami, burst through the door. I jump toward them grinning. It’s been eight years since my last visit. Between hugs and kisses and many tears, they ask what has delayed me. They’ve been waiting two hours, but because Sami works at the airport, he’s been allowed to come find me. He speaks with the officers, clarifying that he knows me and that I’ve been to Tunisia many times. Sami argues hard, and the officers reluctantly agree to let me go—minus the drone. I’m instructed to return 20 hours before my departing flight to sign more papers. Fine, I say. I’ll do anything to get my passport back.

When the woman hands me the little blue book with the United States emblem printed on the front, relief washes across my face. We hurry away before they change their minds.

The night air assaults me with petrol and jasmine. Sonia has prepared a feast for my arrival, and their two adult children join us in celebration. I devour couscous and spicy fish as we review the past few years. We laugh and cry, and as we talk late into the night, the conversation drifts toward politics. The Tunisians, at least the ones in my family, are incredibly knowledgeable about global issues. They are fiercely proud of their country, and as we talk, I realize I’m proud of mine, too. I don’t like our current government and say so many times. But I am proud to be American. I have the freedom to vote, the freedom to travel, and the freedom to rant and rave and protest our president. I whisper thanks, aishik. I’m grateful for my family in the States. I’m grateful for my Tunisian clan. I’m grateful to have my passport back. And I know without a doubt; America is a country worth fighting for—she makes me proud.

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Babka and the New Year

September 25, 2018

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As often is the case, I stormed into fall with an agenda the size of the Great Pumpkin. But in spite of my overreaching goals and the stress that comes with over-commitment, I love fall. For me, it’s a high energy time, offering great possibility. It begins with a nervous tingle in my tummy, flashing back to early school mornings; organizing papers and picking new pens, and moves into a fresh, clean slate.

This past week, my husband and I hosted a dinner on Yom Kippur—the holiest of Jewish holidays. Unlike my husband, I’m not Jewish, but it is a time I’ve come to honor. The day is spent in prayer while fasting, and the dinner is appropriately named ‘break-fast.’ Living in a small mountain town means our community of Jewish friends is also small. But we gather. For break-fast, friends bring dishes easy on a starved stomach. My husband makes quiche (or buys it in a pinch), and I bake sweet bread. Someone brings bagels, lox, and whitefish while another makes kugel; a sweet and creamy noodle dish. There are platters of fruit, often a salad, cheesecakes and babka. As a breakfast girl, it is by far one of my favorite dinners of the year. But the real meaning behind break-fast is not the food; it’s a time to reflect and repent; then share, in community, the freshness of a new year.

Some say Yom Kippur is a day to atone for your sins, but this shiksa doesn’t believe in original sin, so I maintain a different spin. For me, all days should have elements of forgiveness, compassion, and gratitude, not one day a week or one day a year. I like to think of Yom Kippur as a crowning day—a day to honor ALL the days of forgiveness, compassion, and gratitude.

And it is a day to forgive myself.

I often fail at a lot of things; my writing, my parenting, my meditation practice, my wellness. I’m not always so gentle with myself during times of failure. I self-sabotage my plans and nurture bad habits instead of healthy ones. But in the failure, I learn. I’m humbled. And after, I pick myself up and begin again.

This year, I hope to confront failure with forgiveness and find compassion for myself as well as for others. I’m filled with gratitude for having grown, making the failures hurt a little less.

As I write, noshing on leftover babka and sip sweet tea, I surprise myself—I’m cultivating a new practice; divinely inspired by fall. Gratitude.

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How to Say Goodbye in 10 Simple Steps

August 29, 2018
close up of pink rose flower

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

When it comes to saying goodbye, I call BS. It’s not sweet; in fact, it sucks.

I’ve been forced to say a heartbreaking goodbye to my brother, who suffered a long slow death via AIDS. When a vessel burst in my dad’s brain, I whispered an equally sad yet surprising goodbye. I’ve said less permanent but still challenging farewells to hosts of others: friends and family; teachers and students; neighbors and co-workers. I’ve cried my heart out saying goodbye to beloved pets. Even harder, I’ve kissed away my children as they’ve flown into their new lives.

In addition to my personal struggle with parting’s sweet sorrow, my kids have been faced with their own good-byes; with each other, their friends, and the world they’ve always known. While stepping out and into a new life comes with great anticipation, excitement, and potential; it’s also scary, sad, and often riddled with anxiety.

When it comes to saying goodbye, I have few words of wisdom to offer. It doesn’t get easier, but I do know this; it happens—again and again. And avoiding its pain doesn’t work; grief always resurfaces. That said, there are a few things I’ve learned to help ease the process.

  1. Cry; sit with the pain and let yourself cry. Feel all the feels, but then get up. Both are equally important.
  2. Drink water; crying dehydrates.
  3. Be grateful; pick one thing a day and offer thanks.
  4. Walk in nature; it will whisper comfort.
  5. Run. Draw. Pound on a drum. Do something to channel your emotions.
  6. Hug an animal.
  7. Organizing shifts energy.
  8. If you have a garden, tend to it. If you don’t, buy a plant.
  9. Listen to music and read a book; any and all.
  10. Know that your feelings are normal. Know it is hard. Know you will survive.

Saying good-bye stinks, but it can be managed. Instead of burying the sadness, take care of yourself. It doesn’t make it easy, but it makes it easier.

 

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Quotes

November 21, 2016

Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom. -Marcel Proust

 

Life’s challenges are not supposed to paralyze you; they’re supposed to help you discover who you are. – Bernice Johnson Reagon

 

One must be drenched in words, literally soaked in them, to have the right ones form themselves into the proper patterns at the right moment. -Hart Crane