The Circle of Life Brings Comfort

Grief is a horrible thing to experience, and it washes over all of us sooner or later. Things fall apart. The center does not hold.

Personally, I take great solace from the evidence all around us of rebirth and renewal. I will pass away one day, but someone or something will step in to take my place. It will grow through me or out of me or in spite of me or because of me. Nature will out. That’s why Spring is such a glorious, vitalizing time, after the death of Winter.

Recently, this photograph showed up on my cell phone wallpaper, and it really caught my imagination. I mean, here’s a ship, half sunken, abandoned, rusting and rotting away, and enough sand and soil has gathered within it’s broken hull to provide a place for trees to sprout. A ship becomes an island. That intrigues me.

I learned that this hulk started its life in 1863 as the SS City of Adelaide, a steam ship. It was built in Scotland, and had a regular route between Melbourne, Sydney, Honolulu and San Francisco. In 1890 its boilers and engines were removed and 4 masts were added.

By 1902, this vessel was only fit to be a hulk for coal storage, It caught fire in 1912, and it took days to put the fire out. In 1915, the hull was stripped, and what was left was sent off to Magnetic Island to become a breakwater on the coast, but it never quite made it. It ran aground in Cockle Bay, and has been there ever since, slowly turning into an island. During WWII, the hulk was used for bombing practice, but one of the planes accidentally hit a mast, and 4 military men were killed.

I like this story. Created by man and a slave to man’s whims, then attacked by its creators and then tragic retaliation. This thing has now become part of nature. Talk about the circle of life.

While researching this post, I came across many other vessels that are now sporting trees, including this abandoned ship outside of Anacortes, Washington, and also the SS Ayrfield in Sydney.

Mother Nature reclaims everything, if only we leave her alone to do her thing. When I die, I’d like to become compost and nurture a tree in an abandoned ship. I think that would be very satisfying.

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The Curse of Too Much Cake

I love cake, but if I ate it every single day, I’m sure I’d get sick of it, or at the very least, I wouldn’t appreciate it. So I have a slice of cake maybe once or twice a year, and it’s Nirvana.

That’s how my mother used to feel about oranges. She grew up in New England, toward the beginning of the last century, when produce wasn’t available out of season, and it certainly wasn’t shipped from other parts of the country or world. So on the rare occasion when she got to sample an actual orange, she viewed it as a luxury to be savored. I, too, love oranges, but I don’t think I will ever be able to have the appreciation for them that my mother had. I envy that.

Being able to see something’s value, its worth, to know what it’s like to be grateful for the mere existence of a thing, is in itself a precious gift.

I have always felt rather sorry for children of privilege. They will never know how exciting travel is. They will never appreciate a comfortable bed or a truly well-made meal. The pure joy of knowing what it’s like to work hard and sacrifice to finally reach a goal will forever elude them. They expect everything to be handed to them, so that’s the only anticipation they will ever know.

Children of privilege often don’t take advantage of unique experiences, because they believe that everything they could ever want or need will always be there. They would never run outside to see the Northern Lights. They probably can’t even be bothered to look up from their cell phones long enough to experience an eclipse.

I will always have a sense of excitement and wonder and pure joy when I get to do or see something new. I’ll never forget how tiny my piece of the cake was when I was growing up, so I will always appreciate every crumb that comes my way. What a curse, to lack gratitude. If that were my fate, merely existing would seem all but pointless.

Life is delicious. It should be feasted upon.

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A Birthday Renewal

The older some of us get, the more our birthdays remind us of our mortality. And time seems to pass so much more quickly as we age, so the hits just keep on coming. Today I’m another year older but at least I’m not deeper in debt.

But, unlike other years, when that mortality sledgehammer has hit me right as (lucky me) I’m exhausted from being at the tail end of the holidays, this year I’m actually feeling really grateful. As I speed toward what is quite likely the last quarter of my life, I’m viewing every birthday as a precious gift. Approaching one more of these anniversaries is something to be savored.

There are many reasons for this mindset, not the least of which is that I feel, more and more, that I have something to live for and lots to look forward to. Moving to the right place and marrying the right person really helps in that regard. Also, my hard work and personal growth is paying off. (So if you’re young and frustrated, please do not give up. You can do this.)

Because I feel that way, I’m exercising regularly for the first time in my life. And I’m actually enjoying it. That is unexpected. But since I have so much to look forward to, I want to experience it in the most fighting fit form that I possibly can. I still have mountains that I want to climb. (Well, hills, probably. I mean, let’s be realistic.)

Another thing that has made me stop and reassess is that I recently realized that I’ve already lived longer than my oldest sister had a chance to do. Even at the time, I knew that 54 was way too young to die, but now that I’ve blown past that, I really, really know it. I’m relatively young. I have a lot that I still want to do. It’s horrific to think that it all could end so soon. I’d feel cheated.

But who knows? Maybe I will always feel that way, when the time comes. I lack that perspective still. (If I continue to blog into my 80’s, I’ll be sure to let you know.)

I’ve also learned the priceless lesson that life is very fragile and can be taken away with no notice, so every single day should be viewed as a gift. What will you do with your gift today? Being surrounded by a raging pandemic has only reinforced that mindset for me. I am so grateful for every day.

So I think that from now on, rather than viewing birthdays as one more year closer to the end, I’ll think of them as an extension of my expiration date. They are a renewal of the contract of life, as it were. Yay! Three cheers for another year! Woo hoo!

I can’t wait to find out what’s inside!

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Sticking the Landing

A dear friend of mine recently told me that for many years he had watched me tumbling through space, with my arms out, desperately and unsuccessfully clutching at anything in an attempt to gain stability. I’m sure it was almost as painful to watch as it was for me to experience. “But then,” he said, “you stuck the landing.”

I love that imagery. Like stepping out of an airplane, and clumsily flailing end over end in a dizzying freefall, and even, more than once, getting tangled up in my own parachute, only to find that I was still able to land safely, against all odds. That’s my life in a nutshell. I marvel at the fact that I survived.

I tried many things over the years. Colleges and trade schools in which I’d excel, academically, but ultimately those places got me nowhere. I bought a house, had to sell it during the crash, and then poorly invested what little money I gained from it. I got into a few relationships that made me even worse off, both financially and emotionally. For a while there, I was so nomadic that I barely bothered to unpack.

At some point I began to feel like I had nothing to lose, and I moved across the country to start over at age 49. I didn’t know anyone in Seattle. I knew nothing about Seattle except that the show Frasier was based here, and that there was rain. Lots and lots of rain.

It took me a few years to gain my footing in this foreign place, and I have to admit that there are still things about Seattle that I don’t think I’ll ever get used to. But I did stick the landing, indeed. I’m married, have a great job, and am living in a place worth unpacking for. Life is good.

Now to shake the feeling that I’m going to wake up to discover it was all an illusion and that I’ve actually broken every bone in my body. Call it imposter syndrome writ large. But hey, even in that scenario, the ground will be stable beneath me, right?

My late boyfriend Chuck used to say, “We’ll get it done. It may not be pretty, but we’ll definitely get there.” And so it has been.

I wrote this for everyone out there who feels as if they are flailing. Don’t give up. Keep trying. As long as you draw breath, it’s still possible to stick that landing.

An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

The Elders and the Youngsters

I just saw an animation that brought tears to my eyes. It was the song Father and Son by Yusuf/Cat Stevens. Yusuf sings the father’s part and the younger version of himself, Cat Stevens, sings the son version, taken from a recording of himself from decades ago, obviously.

In the song, the father is trying to urge the son not to go off and do something impulsive that will potentially alter his entire life. (At the time he wrote it, he was imagining a boy who wanted to run off and join the Russian Revolution, but really any scenario will do.) The father says, basically, stop and think. Take it slow. You still have a lot to learn. Be calm. Think of the consequences. “For you will still be here tomorrow but your dreams may not.”

The son, on the other hand, says that he’s been ordered to listen his whole life, but he doesn’t feel like he’s been listened to. He says he knows himself, and that it’s time to make a change. His part is all about the frustration of not being heard and not being taken seriously, and the desire to make his own way.

The reason this animation struck me to the core is that I think, for the first time, it really hit me that I’m not young anymore. That’s a really hard pill to swallow. It took me long enough. I’m 55. (And I know the older readers will say that 55 isn’t that old. I get that. Everything is relative.)

I think everything is getting more poignant with me over time, because we are all on the cusp of radical, terrifying changes, and no one can predict what’s going to happen next. It feels as if the sand is shifting beneath our collective feet, and that’s unsettling at the best of times. It feels like things that used to be just slightly risky are now becoming a matter of life and death. I’m profoundly scared.

It’s really stressful, in particular, to watch the younger people in my life right now. (And by younger, in this case, I mean 40 and below.) So many of them are making crazy, impulsive decisions and not thinking about the long term impact. They are speculating based on a world that no longer exists. They’re risking their lives. They’re settling for relationships that aren’t the best for them. They’re tying themselves down to parts of the country that aren’t politically and/or economically and/or environmentally and/or socially feasible for the people that they are or will become.

I’m frustrated because I see so much potential in these people, and I know they are capable of so much more. I have to resign myself to the fact that their choices aren’t my business, really. I just see them making many mistakes that I have made, and I want to save them the agony that I know they’ll be going through. But in life, there are no shortcuts.

Add another layer onto the anxiety cake by realizing that I’ve had someone die quite expectedly on me in recent years. Poof! Gone. Just like that.

That changes you. It forever colors the way you look at the world. And it makes you realize that no one can fully understand your point of view until they’ve had that sort of experience themselves. People think they can imagine what it’s like. They haven’t a clue.

Life is so precious. It’s so fragile. It’s like a soap bubble. It can all be gone in a pop. Everyone knows this, but those of us who’ve seen that moment of pop are not allowed the luxury of forgetting it. And it truly is a luxury.

Yes, everyone has to make their own mistakes, and also have their own triumphs. But there are so many people that I’d like to shake (and hug) right now. And I can’t.

At the same time, to add complexity to the situation, I am really proud of some of the things the younger people are doing, attempting to make lemonade out of the lemons they’ve been handed. I’m impressed with their innovation and their ability to think outside the box and come up with something different. Even though they’re making a lot of mistakes, they’re also making progress. I just have to remember that the world will keep revolving and evolving, with or without me.

But I can’t say this enough: Life is a gift. It should never be squandered. It shouldn’t be risked. It shouldn’t be taken for granted. Especially now, in the midst of a pandemic with a heaping helping of political unrest.

Good God, am I becoming conservative? Please, no. Anything but that.

I think I’m just valuing things much more than I once did. It’s all so fleeting and final. It’s all so slippery and hard to grasp. Odds are extremely good that I won’t live until I’m 110, and I really don’t want to, if I’m honest. But that means I’m on the downhill slope. And as hard as I’d like to fight it, the slide is inevitable.

But, having climbed up the other side, I would very much like to show those who come behind me that there are easier trails. I want that with my whole heart. At the same time, I understand that blazing your own trail is the whole point. But until you get to the other side, you don’t quite realize that the hill is made up entirely of the consequences that are occurring because of your own actions and choices.

I carry with me a wealth of life experience, as does everyone on my side of the hill. And that experience includes both success and failure. But when you’re young you don’t see that as valuable. You’re too busy making the climb for yourself. It’s a waste and a shame to not learn from others, but everyone has their own hill to climb, and it’s time for me to accept that it’s high time to let go and focus on my next phase in life.

“Hey! You there! Watch out! That’s the exact spot where I tripped and broke my leg! Can’t you see that if you fall, it hurts me, too?”

Oh, never mind. You’ll figure it out.

It’s just all so damned bittersweet…

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Plants Are to Humans as Humans Are To…

I just read an article that completely blew my mind. It was pure speculation, yes, but it certainly made me think. Entitled “Is Physical Law an Alien Intelligence?” it discussed how advanced technology, as posited by Arthur C. Clarke, would seem like magic to a less advanced civilization.

It made me think of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, by Mark Twain. Of course a 19th century man, if sent back to the time of King Arthur, would seem magical to many. Any time you have advanced knowledge, you’ll be a source of fascination to those who do not.

But the article above takes it even further. What if the technology is so advanced that we can’t see it or conceive of it at all? What if there’s actually intelligent life out there that’s so developed that it manipulates the universe in ways we’ve yet to explain, but have been actively confused by?

As I mulled over this article it made me wonder how beings like that would perceive us. Maybe we’re so primitive that they don’t see us either. I thought about that as I watered my tomato plants.

Do tomato plants know when they’re being watered? Do they know what the source of this water is? Can they distinguish water from my hose from water that comes from the sky? Do they care?

The fact is, I don’t understand tomato plants. I don’t know what makes them tick. I don’t comprehend a living thing that can’t focus outward, or for that matter, focus at all.

But as speculative as that article is, it made me think about how arrogant we humans are, believing that we’re at the top of some pyramid, and that all life must be somehow inferior to our own. It’s just as likely that that’s not the case.

It’s rather unsettling, though, thinking that in the cosmic scheme of things, I could very well be your basic tomato plant. It sure makes me think twice about the tomatoes in my salad.

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Revel in the Abundance

I have a friend who will not go to restaurants that specialize in food from other cultures. He’s perfectly content with his hamburgers and his French fries and his macaroni and cheese. He likes his vegetables plain and unseasoned, with no fancy sauces, and his salads should only contain lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumber. He can’t imagine how a vegetarian entrée could be as satisfying as steak and potatoes, and he certainly won’t try something that he couldn’t figure out how to prepare himself.

I weep for him.

Eating like that would be akin to living in a library and only reading The Great Gatsby. Great book, and all, but oh, what you are missing! What adventures, what knowledge, what delights are set before you! How can you ignore them?

I also have friends who have never bothered to get a passport. What would be the point? They have no curiosity whatsoever about the wider world. And it’s not a financial issue. They can afford to travel. They just choose not to. It’s maddening.

These friends appear content. And I do envy the fact that they seem to be convinced that they’ve found everything they could ever need or want out of life. That confidence is not mine.

But I think I’d find their lives extremely boring. I enjoy having new experiences. No, I don’t love every single thing I try. (One word: Wasabi.) But I never regret trying.

I like to go places where I’ve never been. I love learning about different points of view. I adore new sights, sounds, tastes.

Life is a fully stocked buffet laid out before you. What a gift! Revel in the abundance! Don’t just stop and smell the roses. Check out the corpse flowers, too, if you get a chance, just to see what their stinky smell is like.

Be adventurous. Eat life! Because this delicious buffet is only opened to you for a finite amount of time. And there’s nothing worse than wasting food.

Thai Elephant Day

An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

The Book of Our Lives

I was feeling a little nostalgic the other day, and decided to listen to Longer, by Dan Fogelberg. I love that song, and it’s been ages since I’ve heard it. I was particularly struck by one portion. “Through the years, as the fire starts to mellow, burning lines in the book of our lives, though the binding cracks and the pages start to yellow…”

What imagery. We all are writing books of our lives. No two books are the same.

Mine would say things like, “She went from a mansion to a tent in less than 3 weeks.” “After falling in love for the first time in Holland, she then moved to Mexico and had adventures while her heart broke into a million pieces.” “At the age of 49, she started life over by moving across the country to Seattle, a city where she knew no one.” “She published a book.” “She was married for the first time at age 53, and it was right and good that she waited, because she found the perfect person for her.”

No one in this world ever has, or ever will have, those same sentences written in the book of her life. Our books are precious, and we have a responsibility to make them as amazing as we possibly can.

In the process of writing our lives, we can follow our hearts, take chances, do our best to make the world a better place, or we can be cruel, heartless bullies. These are choices we can make. We can be forces for good or evil. We can help others or ruin them. There are so many plot twists that are possible.

And yes, if we’re lucky, we can live long enough to see our pages start to yellow. Hopefully we will be remembered after we are gone. But the fact is, our books are written mainly for us, and for the people that we love. And while centuries from now, most of our books may have crumbled to dust, the generations that follow will have started creating their own chapters, and perhaps they’ll have been influenced by the echoes of books past.

I hope you are writing the best book ever, dear reader.

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The Ultimate Zero Sum Equation

It’s rather interesting, when you think about it, how much time we waste worrying about how much time we’re wasting. I mean, what a waste! That time would be much better spent being wasted in some other way.

Time marches on. Life is the ultimate zero sum equation. You can expend all the energy you want in trying to be efficient, trying not to waste time, working, planning, plotting, organizing, or watching cat videos on Youtube, but in the end, time is going to pass regardless. It can’t be stopped. We’re all going to get older and eventually die.

Am I suggesting that we should just give up and give in to those cat videos? On the contrary, I think the way we spend our time is important. If we focus on giving joy to others, and trying to make the world a better place, and doing the things that we love the most, then it will have been time well spent.

But stop beating yourself up over it all. Just be in the moment. Just live.

Because you can’t control time. You can’t “spend it” or “save it”. You can only experience it. So make it the best experience that you possibly can, and stop stressing out over it all.

time marches on

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Auld Lang Syne

It always struck me as kind of amusing that many of us say goodbye to the old year and ring in the new by singing a song that we find incomprehensible. I mean, if you took a poll of 100 people, and asked them what Auld Lang Syne means, the most common answer would be, “Beats me.” And yet we sing it, with feeling.

The best translation I’ve found for Auld Lang Syne is “Days Gone By.” And that’s all I need to know, really. It’s a song about nostalgia.

Should we forget the days and people of old? No. We should appreciate them. We should be grateful for our past, because it has made us who we are today. We are the sum total of our experiences, whether they’re good, bad, or ugly.

Hard or easy, cruel or kind, we are here! We’re here, and we can look forward to the future. We build upon the foundations and lessons of days gone by and that allows us to reach higher heights in the days to come.

Life! What a gift! All of it. Even the not-so-good stuff. It got us here. We may have not had control of all of it. It might have been messy sometimes. But how we cope, how we plan, how we dream… that’s entirely up to us.

So let’s take a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne.

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