Unexpected Gifts

Many, many moons ago when my son was just a toddler, I was working part time as an attendant at the Dartmouth College Art Gallery.  In this capacity, I was charged with making sure that no one touched the art, and I also had a counter device so that I could keep track of the number of visitors.  An easy and peaceful job!  Well on this particular day stretching back in the recess of my memory, it was Thanksgiving, and there was a huge snow storm.  I did not want to go to work.  But I only had a short three hour shift so I plowed through the snow to my bulldozer Saab 95 wagon and drove the five miles to the Hopkins Center for my shift.  I sat quietly, reading.  There were no visitors of course, because no one was crazy enough to be out in the storm and everyone was cozily ensconced at home enjoying Thanksgiving.  Then he silently entered, the music Artist in Residence, Robert Northern, who later became famously known as Brother Ah.  He was carrying a flute and he began to play, a soft, lilting, beautifully haunting melody.  I was enraptured!  I do not remember if I spoke to him as he left, I was so awed by the experience.  But it is an experience that I never forgot, a gift from a giver who may never have realized the effect those moments had on me.  So when these earthly raptures occur, are we receptive to the beauty of the moment?  Also, can we purposely participate in creating them for others?  I was just wondering…………………..

Another not so rapturous, yet significantly memorable moment occurred for me about five years later.  I was living on Cape Cod at this time.  Fry boots were the rage.  I wanted lace-ups, which were harder to find, and I learned a leather shop in Chatham had some.  I drove the same reliable Saab to that leather shop, filled with excited anticipation.  It was very close to Christmas, and my husband and I were separated, so I was going to treat myself with this gift for which I had been longing.  I entered the store and quickly told the friendly bearded clerk what I came for.  He brought me the boots and I quickly laced them up, strutting back and forth, admiring myself in front of the mirror.  “Ah, yes, they suit me,” I thought silently, as I was thrilled to have finally found them.  I went to the counter to make my purchase, and there, hanging on a peg, was the most beautiful leather pouch bag!  It was a perfect accompaniment to the boots.  I  put the boots back on and sashayed back and forth again in front of  the mirror, now with both boots and pocketbook.  Finally, I looked longingly at the purse as I reluctantly returned it to the peg where it had been hanging.  Clearly I could not afford it.  I paid for the boots and the clerk handed me my package.  Then he said, “Come here,” and he lifted the purse from the peg and draped it over my head onto my neck and said with a big smile, “Merry Christmas!”

More recently, I learned that I had breast cancer.  I was fortunate because it was very early stage, although it still necessitated surgery followed by a month of radiation.  I couldn’t get scheduled to start at the center closest to me so I scheduled myself to have it done in Falmouth, normally a half hour ride.  However, it was July, the peak of  the tourist season, so the daily drive took twice as long.  But still, I never lost sight of the fact that this was curable and I was very fortunate! And best of all, I didn’t need chemo! I met many different people during my daily encounters.  My conversations with these people were also part of the gift, many of them struggling with much greater challenges than what I had to endure.  The gift of these conversations was the courage, spirit, and hope with which these people faced their problems.  One woman’s story remains with me vividly.  She was about twenty years younger than me and she had to take the boat every day from Martha’s Vineyard.  Then she had to arrange for a ride to and from the hospital as well.  Her courageous attitude will remain with me always.  The best part of the radiation was graduation day.  The staff explained that there would be a celebration.  Mine was even more special.  A group of five of my friends surprised me by being there while they and the staff adorned me with confetti!  Afterward they took me to lunch.  Their support at this challenging time of my life was a beautiful gift!

I am not aware of all the gifts I may have given, but I do recall being a messenger of TLC during my month long hospitalization when I was 33.  The three weeks after my surgery required rest, although I was able to ambulate.  I began to make daily rounds to each room on my hallway.  The other patients, who were mostly bedbound, expressed their thanks for my daily visitations.  It was something that they looked forward to and helped for their recovery.  Little did I know that this was practice for my future!  After obtaining my doctorate, I consulted in nursing homes for many years.

Gifts appear in many packages. Some are like the beautiful experience of haunting music on that Thanksgiving day years ago.  Some are simply companionship or a helping hand.  Some gifts are physical objects, although it is the meaning behind them that is most important.   It helps if you can become more fully aware of the gifts you have received.  I have many more I don’t have the space to share, but I hope that these accounts will help to stimulate your memory so that the beauty of what you have received in your life can blossom, creating your own bouquet of gifts.  It is not so difficult to make someone’s day more beautiful. Joggle your memory and bask for a moment in what you have received.  Tune yourself to become more aware when you are receiving a gift. Then, will you join me in passing on the gift of human kindness and beauty?  I was just wondering……………………….


A Life Well Lived

My husband died.  Suddenly.  As I wrote his obituary, I was flooded with memories of the incredible journey that we shared.  But I was even more affected by the messages and condolence calls that I received from people who expressed their gratitude for the help that my husband provided for them.  His service to others was more widespread than I had realized.  It occurred to me that not only had he fulfilled his bucket list, but that he had experienced a life well lived.  The whole exercise of reviewing his life led me to the concept of my own life inventory, and then, the thought that a periodic life inventory of ourselves might be a really good idea.  As I considered this, I pondered what exactly makes a life well lived.  I was just wondering………………………………

If you were writing your own obituary, what would you want to say?  After notating a person’s birthdate, most obituaries discuss the individual’s achievements.  Have you obtained the education you want?  Don’t make excuses.  There are so many ways to manage the cost of college today.  I did it as a single parent with a full time job.  If I could do it, so can you.  Do you have satisfying work?  Are you in the field of work that you always hoped for, or do you need to re-evaluate to get where you want to be?  If it seems impossible, re-evaluate now, create a plan, and start working toward your goal.  Don’t let life actually pass you by before you have achieved your dreams.

What would you say about your relationships?  Do you have good friends and supports?  If not, start engaging in activities in order to correct this.  Are you satisfied with your family?  If family relationships pose problems, then see a therapist, read some helpful books, try to understand from a different point of view, or practice tolerance.  If the problem is in a marital or couple relationship, then please remember that the grass is not usually greener, and understand that it takes loyalty and commitment to make a long- term relationship work.  If you want a long -term relationship, you will have to face this fact.  Take off the rose-colored glasses, support one another, and scrub in!  You are a team and if you remember that you are on the same side, you can make it work!  If you know you are not in the relationship that is right for you, then stop wasting your time.  If you don’t know, then see a therapist.  Get your life right!

What about your health, physical, emotional, and daily activities?  Are you engaging in activities that are enhancing to your life?  Are you making sure to get some kind of exercise?  Do you take care to eat well?  Do you have a routine that ensures that your body is being nourished, both physically and emotionally? Have you incorporated mental stimulation as part of your self-care?  If you are thinking, “I always wanted to ski,” then do it.  Whatever is an unrealized dream, make it a reality.  Make sure it is on your obituary list, not an incomplete bucket list!

What have you contributed to the common good?  What are your talents and how can you make the world a better place?  What is special and unique about you that you have to offer to others?  If you don’t know, then take some time to think about it.  Ask you friends what special qualities they see in you and then apply them to realize your gifts!

What about your Bucket List?  If you don’t have one, then create it. Travel.  See the world because it will help you to understand it better.  Start realizing your dreams before you no longer can.  Don’t postpone!  Have adventures!  Love!  Help others! Enjoy yourself!

But finally, it comes down to one very important issue.  Most of us go through life on robotic mode.  But when you reach the end of the road, you want to be pleased with the journey.  In order to be pleased with the journey and to achieve a life well lived, you must make an ongoing effort to improve yourself and to raise your self-awareness.  Remember the Jimmy Stewart movie, It’s a Wonderful Life?  His guardian angel appeared and showed him the impact he had on his community.  We are each leaving a piece of our own personal legacy every day of our lives.  This is about your spiritual journey.  Whether it is through church, spiritual groups or readings, never stop trying to become better.  We have a lot of garbage input in our brains.  We need to work on awareness of our automatic behaviors, if they have purpose, and if we want to change our destructive thought patterns and reactions.  My husband did this throughout his life.  He had his demons, and while he did not overcome all of them, he made a very concerted effort to become a better person.  And he did.  He made a very positive difference in the lives of many people.  I am proud of him.  I hope I will feel the same about myself at the end of my journey.  How about you?  Are you satisfied with your obituary inventory?  I was just wondering………………..





As I walked my dogs past Spring Lake recently, I encountered a wheel chair bound fellow basking in the sun, fishing.  I greeted him with a question, “Catch anything?”  He responded with a big smile and said “No,” without any regret, and then he laughed while he added, “It’s a good thing my wife went to the store.”  We began to chat and he informed me that he used to be a coal miner and that is where his accident occurred.  He told me he was 53, but the fact that he was paraplegic didn’t seem to disturb him at all, at least it certainly did not interfere with his ability to enjoy life.  I silently felt sorry for him, that he was unable to walk around the lake like me, that he missed out on so much that I can do that he cannot.  But I slowly began to realize that he may have a secret that I and others could learn from.  He clearly knew how to be thankful!  He was focused on what he could do, and he was definitely enjoying it! So how does a person make this transition from despair to contentment?  I was just wondering……..

During this season of Thanksgiving, this man offers us a wonderful lesson.  As I write this blog, I think of several people I know right now who are suffering deeply.  One lost a son to a tragic accident over a year ago and another lost a sister to suicide a few months ago.  These are both horrendous tragedies that even with the best efforts take time for healing.  But the most effective way to heal is always to focus away from oneself, by helping others and by being thankful for WHAT IS.

It is so easy for us to obsess about everything that is wrong with our lives. I have been guilty of that at times myself!  No one’s life is perfect!  Just remember that!  But we all have some perfection in our lives, and while we are bemoaning our sorry lot in life, all the good stuff is just waltzing on by, and  we are not even seeing it.  Just think of the happy movie going on right around us while we are lost in negative thoughts.  Perhaps we look at but don’t see the beauty of the sunset.  Maybe we miss the flower that bloomed.  Perhaps we don’t see the love offered to us because we are so enveloped in our sorrow.  Imagine that we miss the possibilities and opportunities that might make us feel better because we just can’t see beyond the sad movies we continue to view in our heads!

My favorite teaching from the Rhonda Byrne book The Secret is, “What you think about, you bring about.”  Just consider this for a moment.  Really take some time to think about how this has actually transpired in your life!  If you keep yourself into negative and unhappy thoughts, that is just where you stay.  If you begin to monitor your thoughts and change them to positive ones, then you suddenly begin to notice those beautiful and wonderful people, things, events that have always surrounded you but you simply overlooked!  Life is not about one event, one circumstance, one person.

Thanksgiving is our yearly lesson in thankfulness.  But this time I encourage you to make it a daily practice, so that you can enjoy Thanksgiving every day of your life and thereby reap the benefits of being daily nourished by the Thanksgiving message.  Every time you catch yourself being sorry, sad, depressed, discouraged, dissatisfied, angry, irritated, think immediately of something wonderful in your life. It is there!  I promise!  And you probably won’t have to look too far.

An exercise I often use to help people be thankful is to write down 20 things you like to do.  The list is a starting point to help you get focused on what makes you happy and thankful.  My list included even small things like drinking a hot cup of tea on a rainy day, watching my dogs play and roll around on the floor, feeling the breeze blow my hair while riding my bike or while walking the beach, or just spending time with good friends.  Sometimes the simplest things are the most meaningful.  Next, start doing them!

Helping someone else is another powerful way to overcome your own despair.  This will quickly focus you away from yourself and help to create concern and thankfulness.  But the best trick of all is to go to the nearest mirror, and instead of asking like the wicked witch, “Who is most beautiful?” just smile at the image before you and your troubles will magically begin to melt away as your own reflection connects to you empathically and knowingly and with forgiveness as you realize how you hurt you own soul. Celebrate your life this Thanksgiving by being grateful for it by making the very best use of it every day. Remember those who are gone by making them present in how you choose to lead your life and show your thanks to the living by being a gracious and inspiring light.

Can you make a promise to be thankful for yourself?  Can you promise to make the most of your life like the fisherman in the wheelchair, and make it a joyful encounter?  Will you treat yourself with love, caring, compassion by focusing on what it good and what you have to be thankful for rather than using your thought energy on things that can’t be changed or that you can’t have?  I was just wondering…..

What Is A Mother?

With Mother’s Day fast approaching I began considering what it really means to be a mother. For some, it evokes a warm loving feeling, but for others, the concept of mother makes one cringe. But these reactions we have to the word mother do not really describe what a mother is. Because of adoption, we know that you do not have to bear a child to be a mother. So what does being a mother really mean and how do we measure up? I was just wondering……

So when we think of mother, what is it we expect from her? First, a mother is our caregiver. She provides for us, prepares our meals, buys our clothes, and provides a home. A mother is a mentor, she provides us with guidance throughout life, not just in childhood. She gives us advise when we are confused or when we face new challenges. She is someone we look up to. A mother is a good listener. If she is really good at this, then she will always be there when you need her. A mother is a nurse; she tends to us when we are sick. She is nurturing and reassuring. A mother is also our first teacher. She teaches us to talk and many, many more things as we grow. A mother is a friend. We do fun things with her. She plays with us. We learn to laugh with her and she keeps us company. But most of all, a mother is a bundle of love. She is the one we know we can turn to no matter what, that she will be there, accepting us unconditionally. She is our greatest champion!

But real mothers are not usually so perfect! Mothers are human like us all. They make mistakes. They get angry. They lose their tempers. They get impatient. They say the wrong thing. They get distracted and ignore you. They have their own needs, which sometimes interfere with their ability to fulfill ours. I know all of this because I am a mother and I have a mother! I sometimes catch myself shuddering when I find myself repeating things my mother did that I despised. Despite our mother’s errors, we can learn from their mistakes. We can grab for the good that they offer to us and we can choose to correct their errors when we see them in ourselves. But I also swell with pride when I realize that I am behaving just like my mother when I am forgiving of others, seeing the good in people, being emotionally available to those I love.

While we think of a mother as someone who raises you, who guides you throughout life, it is not always that individual who provides the acts of mothering. This is why some people have trouble labeling their biological mothers as mother. While they may be physically present, the one who is in the house with you, they do not contribute to your emotional needs and sometimes not to your physical needs as well. They are mothers by biology but not by definition of a nurturing presence. That is why the concept of mother is actually much larger than the person who contributed to your genes or even the person who raised you. So even if you had a really bad mother, I would challenge you to think of someone who took an interest in you, who provided guidance, kindness, and support. Many teachers have provided this to children from emotionally and physically abused families. Sometimes it is a neighbor or sometimes a relative who fills this role. The role of mother can be assumed by someone who is a mentor, someone you look up to, who is available, who listens, and who provides some of the traits that we think of in an ideal mother.

As Mother’s Day approaches, we need to think about who provides this love and support for us? Is it our biological mother? Is it an aunt? Is it a teacher? Is it a combination of people? Who has been there for you? Who do you need to thank? But more importantly, are you providing the qualities of motherhood to someone? Are you proud of how you are performing your job? And who may need you that you may have overlooked? I was just wondering……….