Downsizing

I am writing today about to a comment posted in response to yesterday’s blog about downsizing, which we seniors talk about all the time. I have been downsizing for years. One reason is that I don’t have the energy to care for things any more. I have come to look at stuff as needing dusting, packing away and keeping track of or move around to make more room for new stuff. Some stuff we continue to hold for our children who are still raising children that bring so much stuff into their homes that they just don’t have room for those things we are storing for them until some future date when said children will leave and take their stuff along with them (in their dreams!)

As for those things that are supposed to bring back fond memories of events and people from my past, I am so used to having them around, I no longer see them much less remember the events and people. This isn’t totally true. Guests coming into our home will notice and ask questions that draw my attention to an object or picture. I remember when once visiting my cousin Franny in Wisconsin and commenting on a vase sitting on her buffet. She handed it to me and said, “Take it, It’s yours. I am downsizing.” I kept my mouth shut after that. I may start that practice.

The memories, on the other hand, are still there in my head more and more like feelings than visuals. I don’t have to look at the little banners Bernie and I got at the end of our service trip in Guatemala in order to remember. The experience comes to mind every time I see on the news information about those coming to our southern boarders trying to escape poverty and violence in their home countries of central America. I remember that the parents of Guatemala love their children as much as we love ours and I feel pain when I see children ripped from their mothers arms. I recall when seeing immigrants in our area wearing their colorful garb how color changed the look of poverty as we walked the streets of Guatemala. I don’t need the artifacts to recall the smiles of children running about in bare feet and t-shirts depicting American baseball teams, getting all excited about the bubbles we brought.

As for gifts given to us by friends and relatives over the years, I remember the kindness and love that prompted them. My cousin Franny remembered, too, and she made it a practice to give these items back to their givers. I am not sure whether that is a necessarily an appreciated practice, but she didn’t have to deal with the item when she and her sister moved into senior housing. Her attitude was that she was going to discard it anyway. If someone liked it enough to give it to her, they might like it enough to either have it back or pass it on to someone else.

My problem right now is that stuff keeps coming in. I don’t live alone. Much of what I have I share ownership with others. The day will come when most will be gone. My friend Olie, now living at Good Shepherd care facility, has few of her belongings hanging on her wall or occupying the shelves of her dresser. Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to choose what would be saved and she misses some things. But, so far, she still has the memories that those lost items once evoked. And she still remembers me. For this I am grateful.

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Lightening My Life as Energy Wanes

I turn 74 in a couple of weeks. Bernie and I will be ending our trip on the Columbia River that day and heading south along the Oregon coast toward Northern California. I am not sure how many of these types of trips we will be taking in the future. I am excited for the adventure, but conscious of how much energy and planning are involved.

Energy and brain power are waning for sure. Add to this is the long list of things I would like to do while I am still here. I have made a commitment for next year, the first of my resolutions:

  • No longer do I want to serve in any leadership capacity. The younger people can take this over. It is sometimes hard to let go and watch, but I have to remember that any skills I have acquired mostly from floundering. Let them flounder…be a cheerleader.
  • No more planning of big events. Say yes, perhaps, to taking on a role at an event I intended to attend anyway. Be helpful, but let others make the decisions.
  • Continue to serve but in a more spontaneous manner. Visit the sick, feed the hungry, give clothing to the naked, care for the widows and children…but only those right in front of me. To combine service with relationship is my favorite way to give.
  • Take time for those things that I love: writing, prayer, nature, and communicating with other seekers.
  • Live simply in order to keep my footprint upon the earth as light as possible. Spend money on things that fill my soul rather than my house.

 

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Belief or Faith…What Does God Want?

My spirituality book club has chosen a new book that we will be discussing in October, Knocking on Heaven’s door by Katy Butler. Because I order so many books, I usually get them used on Amazon. I don’t like my practice because it doesn’t really support the writers. However, I am very prone to buy books when I have an opportunity to meet authors at book fairs, signings and readings. In the end, I spend more money on books than I do on clothes.

The subtitle of Butler’s book is The Path to a Better Way of Death. The first two chapters refresh my memory of the years I cared for my mother and her later months of life. I was more present to her than my two brothers. Like Butler, I was the woman in the family caught between child care and parent care. It was the way things were for women. I tried desperately to fit into my full-time work time to visit Mom (she knew no one in Minnesota as we’d plucked her out of Illinois after my father’s death), making appointments and taking her to doctors (she could neither drive nor speak), and attending to her day-to-day needs for supplies (or trinkets). I can’t deny that there were days when I felt exhausted and unappreciated. Yet, today I would not give up one of those days.

Butler’s book is not one I would have chosen myself. I am getting weary of reading about aging bodies and death. I would prefer to read about child development or different cultures or the history of our country. But books like hers keep showing up and saying “pay attention.”

This morning, I read something that struck me. I have often struggled to understand the difference between belief and faith. Butler shares a moment she had when she visited her mother and dad and they sat together one morning for a 20 minute meditation. It was her idea to do it believing that it might help all of them deal with the realities at hand: her dad thrown into dependency by a stroke, her mother thrown into the caregiver role and she, the only daughter, trying to manage care details from her home on the country’s opposite coast. First she shared a humorous but annoying moment when her mother kept try to kill a fly with her slipper. Butler struggled with her knee-jerk tendency to snark at her. Rather, she tried her most recently learned self-help technique called Nonviolent Communication. She breathed and recited in her mind a prayer of gratitude for being with them. She says she later looked back at that experience and others like it as a year of grace. She writes:

I did not believe in God then, and I don’t now. But the closest I can come to explaining what happened during that year of grace is to describe a Christian poster I once saw and thought at the time was sentimental, of footprints along the damp sand of a beach.The script along the bottom read, “During your times of trial and suffering, when you saw only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”

Interesting words for a person who claims to be an atheist. Here is my thought: We can talk about one’s need to believe in order to enter into some kind of relationship with God. But does God really require belief? I think what God wants from humans has nothing to do with some mindful agreement with someone’s idea of God. Rather, what is required is faith, simple live-in-the moment faith. It is being able to love and hope in all these very human experiences we are having.

Posted in Family, Life, Spirituality | 2 Comments

Beautiful Places

My husband and I are scheduled to head off to Portland in a couple of weeks for a Road Scholar adventure on the Columbia River. We signed up for the trip in the spring and because we have never been to the northwest corner of our country, we planned to stay a few extra days to rent a car and explore. High on my list was to see the beautiful Redwoods in norther California. Because of the fires, we’ve decided to head north of Portland into Washington. I think the trip there will be just as magnificent, but how heartbreaking it is to see large swaths of our country destroyed. I wonder about all the places on coasts and in dry places around the world that over time will no longer be able to support human habitation.

I am grateful for the beauty we have been able to enjoy over our years on this earth.

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The Honest President

I set out to write again about George Washington but was detoured by a piece on the news rating the presidents from worst to best. I read through the whole list before I came upon Washington. When he came up as number two, I was somewhat dissappointed.

This morning I read a piece written after the death of Washington by John Marshall *, a friend and neighbor to George for many years, in which he spoke about the character and greatness of our first President. It is the character of George Washington that impresses me the most. I don’t think that any of our leaders since have come close to measuring up to him. I will record here just a few of the things Marshall  said of him:

His manners were rather reserved than free; though on all proper occasions he could relax sufficiently to show how highly he was gratified by the charms of conversation, and the pleasures of society. His person and deportment exhibited an unaffected and indescribable dignity, unmingled with haughtiness of which all who approached him were sensible; and the attachment of those who possessed his friendship and enjoyed his intimacy, though ardent, was always respectful.

His temper was humane, benevolent, and conciliatory: but there was a quickness to his sensibility to anything apparently offensive, which experience had taught him to watch and correct. 

(Marshall  praised him for his personal frugality and resistance to opulence even though his status would warrant it.)  

(Washington) had no pretensions to that vivacity which fascinates, or to that wit which dazzles…(was) more solid than brilliant, judgment rather than genius constituted the prominent feature of his character.

(His) integrity was…incorruptible, … (his) principles more perfectly free from contamination of those selfish and unworthy passions which find their nourishment in the conflicts of party. His ends were always upright, and his means were pure. He exhibits the rare example of a politician to whom wiles were absolutely unknown. In him was fully exemplified the real distinction between wisdom and cunning, and truth of this maxim that “honesty is the best policy.”

I  am reminded of the one story I recall from my childhood about Washington that, after he was confronted by his father about cutting down an apple tree, he said, “I cannot tell a lie.” The one consolation I have to his coming in second in the above rating of Presidential greats is that the first was “Honest Abe” Lincoln. At least to some who evaluate our leaders, it seems that truth-telling is still considered an attribute.

*Published in “America: Great Crises In Our History Told by Its Makers, a Library of Original Sources” Volume IV.

 

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A Poem

There are the all’s well days
And the days when all is not
There are the sky’s the limit days
And the days when I can’t see beyond my own eyelids
There are the take a deep sweet breath days
And the days when my door is shut
There are the open to love days 
And the days when love an illusive dream

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Washington’s Warning about Political Parties

I am reading a volume from a collection of source materials that I was pleased to receive a number of years ago: America – Great Crises In Our History Told by Its Makers. I picked up the 4th volume recently because it covers the period during the Lewis and Clark expedition. My decision to read was precipitated by the fact that Bernie and I are heading out to Portland at the end of this month for a Road Scholar adventure on the Columbia River. I thought it would be fun to see what was the “buzz” among the country’s leaders at the time of the expedition. Enlightening, I must say.

Right now I am reading Washington’s Farewell Address which was not spoken put published on September 17,1796. I am struck by just how much Washington could anticipate as the seeds of destruction already present in the country’s earliest days. The one I want to mention this morning is what he had to say about party politics.

The first political party in the U.S. were the Federalists, formed in 1787. This was followed in 1796 by the Anti-Federalists that gathered around Thomas Jefferson. They called themselves Democratic-Republicans. These were the two parties in existence when Washington gave his address.

I am going to quote Washington here and let those of you who thought to stop by today to decide just how relevant his words are for yourselves:

I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the States…Let me now…warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party…
This spirit…(has) its roots in the strongest passions of  the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments,…but in those of the popular form, it is seen in its rankness and is truly their worst enemy.
The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has penetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads…to more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on this the ruin of public liberty.

He goes on to talk about the “mischief of the spirit of party” and suggests it is in the best interest and duty of wise people to discourage and restrain it. Partisanship, he suggests, “…serves to distract the public councils, and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another, (and) foments occasionally riot and insurrection.”

I don’t know what I could possible add.

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