Tag Archives: values

Grace

24 Jan

grace1

Others’ lives are parables.

–Oswald Chambers

 

 
I lived in a mobile home park in Spring Valley, near San Diego. After my house was sold, the divorce settled and the lawyers paid off, I wanted a place to call my own and the large manufactured home fit my reduced budget. My older sister worried about the stigma: “You’re going to raise your daughters in a trailer park?” At the time I believed semi-home ownership to be a step up from apartment living.
We lived at the top of the park, on the perimeter road, so I only had neighbors on two sides. The backyard of my little lot nestled against a rocky hillside which extended to a larger wild area populated by pepper trees, native shrubs and grasses; home to skunks, possums, rodents and more. Over the years we lived there I added a small flock of chickens. An enterprising coyote occasionally busted through the fences I built to reinforce his wildlife diet with some domestic chicken dinners.
On my west side lived a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses who were wonderful neighbors: no loud parties, no drunken brawls, no late night noise, and the cops were never called. To the east lived a sickly older widowed woman who lived alone with her surgeries and digestive problems to keep her company. She wore hearing aids and sometimes played hymns loud enough for the squirrels to notice. Fortunately, I enjoyed the music.
When I moved there with my daughters, we met Grace, who had lived across the road since the park opened in 1960, in an old single-wide aluminum-sided trailer. From my nomadic point of view, Grace had resided there my entire lifetime while my former address list was longer than my credit history.
Grace was 86 when we moved there. We met outside and took an instant liking to each other. She always had a ready smile and it became our custom to greet each other with a warm hug. An avid wearer of hats, Grace had been widowed from her third husband more than a decade by then. She never bore any children of her own but had a stepdaughter who lived in the backcountry.
During one of our first encounters, Grace proudly showed me the tattoo she had recently acquired.
“Do you want to see my tattoo?” She giggled. She pulled aside the neckline of her shirt to reveal a small palm oasis inked on her chest. She relayed the story that her nieces from Iowa came to town and declared they were all going to get tattooed. I thought of my 20-something niece who is covered with tats, and my brain suddenly realized the flaw in my thinking.
“Wait a minute, how old are your nieces?”
“Sixty-five and 68.”
I could just picture the scene: three white-haired old biddies strolling into the tattoo parlor and choosing their artwork.
I loved Grace. At 86, she was lively and busy. She played bingo, she went bowling and she had a small social circle of former co-workers and neighbors with whom she met for meals out on a regular basis. Her memory was much sharper than mine; she remembered my friends’ names and situations even if she only met them once.
By the time Grace turned 91, she started having symptoms of kidney cancer. I’ll spare the gory details here but it took Kaiser months to identify the symptoms as serious enough to warrant further investigation, a lapse that I believed culminated in Grace’s surgical loss of one kidney and the migration of the cancer into her bones. After that, Kaiser in its wisdom sentenced Grace to less than a year to live.
Woven into Grace’s end-of-life medical history is the story of Harold. He was a member of her social circle, a recent widower who lived alone in a large home in nearby Lemon Grove. A former engineer, he was meticulous in his mannerisms and lifestyle. They began seeing each other and soon enough became intimate. Like I said, Grace was 91 then and Harold was in his early eighties, so we called Grace the neighborhood cougar, much to her delight.
After a whirlwind courtship during which time Grace was rarely seen there in the park, she decided to move in with Harold. After all, he had a large empty home with a big bed and Grace only had a twin bed in her mobile home. Over the course of a few weeks, with her stepdaughter’s help she emptied out her trailer and took up residence with “The Man Who Stole Grace from Us,” as we came to call him. Many of her possessions and some of her furniture have been assimilated in to my home, so I see Grace everywhere. As a bullfight aficionado, she instilled a love for the sport in my 12-year-old daughter; now there are toreador posters and other memorabilia around my house.
Grace sold her home to a single young man, another Jehovah’s Witness, and at times I could see through his window that he was entertaining a gathering of similarly-dressed clean-cut young men, all staring intently at a wide screen. That seemed to be as wild as it got.
I visited Grace at Harold’s and learned that she fell and bruised her tailbone. She was unhappy living there at Harold’s. In the mobile home park Grace used to sit on her front porch and chat with the people who walked by. A great many residents there walked their dogs and the perimeter road was also used for walking or jogging by fitness-minded inhabitants. Grace learned everyone’s name; even the kids on skateboards and the little ones from the child factory at the end of our road. She also knew the dog’s names.
But Harold lived at the end of a cul-de-sac; he didn’t have a front porch. It was lonely there, and Harold was set in his ways. He didn’t cook meals at home and had a weekly schedule of restaurants like IHOP and Denny’s where he took advantage of senior specials. He was a tightwad and even though he was sleeping with Grace, he was demanding that she pay rent, which she was happy to do, but also for half the food, which she disagreed with. She reasoned that since he ate more than she did, why not each pay for their own? When she couldn’t go out because of her injured tailbone, Harold would spend his days at the casino without her and remain there for 12 hours at a stretch, leaving Grace home alone in a house with no food.
One day I was out front and I saw Grace driving past. I hollered out and she parked and came in for a visit. She was crying. I hugged her and brewed her some tea and learned the story: Harold was mistreating her verbally and neglecting her, while becoming more demanding in bed. She had just come from a doctor’s appointment to which Harold failed to accompany her. The doctor advised her to move out and gave her a list of resources for the elderly. I invited her to remain in my home as long as she wished. After a few days her stepdaughter came and they moved Grace out of Harold’s. They said he asked why she wanted to leave.
Grace spent some months at her stepdaughter’s, but her health deteriorated to where she required more care. She found a lovely assisted living home near Sycuan. I visited with her weekly. I was honored to be her friend. I asked her if I could write her obituary and she obliged with a brief biography. To the question, “What advice do you have for younger people?” she responded, “Save your money and never give up your house for a man.”
Even at the assisted living home, Grace knew everyone and their story. She quickly learned the names of any relatives or friends who came to visit. During our visits, we studied the other residents. Mary spent her days strapped to a wheelchair. The aides spoon-fed her meals, most of which ended up on her shirt or the tray in front of her. Mary did not communicate nor make eye contact. It was as if Mary had left her body which forgot she was gone.
Susan sat on the sofa, snoring in front of a loud television show. If someone turned down the volume, Susan would awaken and complain that she was watching that, dammit, turn it back up!
William wandered around the building, asking if anyone has seen his cat. Grace told me that William’s cat died twenty years ago. Peter lay in his bed all day, the aides alternatively feeding him and changing his diapers.
In this environment, I watched Grace withdraw. Without saying so, I knew she did not want to live like the others. She told me she signed an advance directive and Do Not Resuscitate orders. She took to her bed, and refused to eat or drink. I came to visit more often, every other day then. Grace shrunk before my eyes. I wondered if they had snuck Grace out and placed a smaller, frailer resident in her bed. Most of the time, Grace slept. The aides told me since she wasn’t eating or drinking, death would come soon. It took two weeks. One afternoon, Grace opened her eyes, looked at me and said, “You’re so good to me.” I knew she didn’t want to die alone, and I wanted her to know how much I loved her.
The morning of June 21st that year was a sweet sunny one, the air unusually crisp. I woke up to the music of birds chirping, and my very first thought was What a lovely day to die. The call came minutes later, the aides telling me that even though I wasn’t related, they thought I might come visit and they wanted to save me the trip.

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Need Something Lost? I’ve found your answer.

11 Nov

lost

Ever since my daughter Maria was little, she has had the perfect knack for losing things. Keys, parts, phones, money, hearing aids, the other shoe, clothes, documents, you name it, Maria has lost them. And sometimes never to be found.

One year, in autumn, she lost my keys. We searched high and low, tore the house apart. Never found them. In December, I was removing the pumpkin from the porch, getting ready to replace it with Christmas decorations, guess what we found behind the little orange sphere? My keys. What were they doing THERE??? One of life’s mysteries, I guess.
Yesterday she was in the kitchen, looking for the honey.

“It’s over there, behind the burners on the stove, next to the olive oil,” I told her. She retrieved the jar and slathered some honey on her cornbread.
Last night I wanted the honey for my tea. I looked behind the burners on the stove, the kitchen table, the counters. Not there. I searched the cabinet where the spices are kept. No honey. I looked in the pantry. Nope. The fridge? Could she have? Honey doesn’t go in the fridge, I’ve told her over and over, because it crystallizes and hardens…nah, not there either, good.

I checked where the pots and pans go, the plates and cups, even checked the dishwasher. You never know. I looked in the living room. Not a trace. Her bedroom? Fear gripped me as I thought of venturing into her room. Cautiously, I opened the door (lest any of the debris leak out), poked my head in, and a quick visual search from the doorway revealed no honey jar there either. Whew. I exhaled deeply and shut the door. The bathroom? Could she have???? I won’t tell you what I did find there, but thankfully honey was not on that gross list.
I decided then that God only wanted me to put lemon in my tea last night, no honey, dear. This lesson has been learned over the years, that my attachment to things need not be more important than my relationship with my daughter. When she was very young (and still sometimes today), I would freak out. “Where did she put that? How could she have lost it? What happened? What the hell is going on?”

There were times when I yelled and screamed and blamed Maria for her carelessness and forgetfulness. Folly of course, because she probably inherited these traits from me. The stress I caused was unbearable sometimes. Over the years I learned that it did no good to yell at Maria, on the contrary, it was counterproductive in the extreme. The anxiety of the loss of something would transfer to her developing psyche and the damage was evident. The forgetfulness increased. The losses mounted. Unhappiness and chaos reigned. Fortunately I sought counsel from people I trust. I realized that things can be replaced, but my children’s well-being could be irreparably damaged by a mother on the warpath. I am learning to let go of my attachment to things, and instead value the quality of how I nurture my children. I aim for progress, not perfection in this arena. But over the years, we’ve gotten better both at being organized and at letting go.

 
This morning Maria rifled through the kitchen looking for something to eat, and again asked,  “Mom, where is the honey?”

I reminded her that she was the last one to use our favorite sweetener, I had no idea where she could’ve stashed it, and my search had proven fruitless.
We were both in the kitchen laughing hysterically then. She’ll finish high school next year, and we’ve been examining career options. Hey, Maria could work for the Mafia, no, nothing illegal. What about the CIA? If they need something “Lost,” just hand it over to Maria, the world’s official “Hider.” She’ll hide it so well that even she can’t find it. They can torture her, won’t matter, because she CANNOT remember, it’s like it never happened. “Honey? What honey? We had honey? I like honey!” Just keep swimming, Maria.

Maria came into the kitchen as I was writing. She sauntered over to the refrigerator for water. And guess what? She found the honey, hiding behind her sister’s leftovers. Another day here.

Fear attracts

29 Aug

glass menagerieDid you ever read the play The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams, or did you ever see the movie?

In the story, the mother, Amanda, has raised her two children without their father, who deserted the family when the children were young. The daughter, Laura, had polio as a child, and walks with a limp.  Laura is painfully shy and has dropped out of high school, then also dropped out of a secretarial school her mother encouraged her to enroll in. Laura spends her days tending to her collection of glass animals. The son, Tom, is a frustrated poet who works in a shoe factory to help support the family.

The mother has two great fears:

  1. Laura will grow up and become a spinster (an old, unmarried, lonely woman).
  2. Tom will leave them, just as his father did.

Because of her fears, the mother is full of anxiety and constantly berates her grown children. Because of the anxiety the mother projects on Laura, Laura becomes even more withdrawn and shy. Laura never leaves the house, preferring the company of her glass menagerie.

The mother nags Tom endlessly, asking him to find a suitor for his sister, to better himself, to work harder for the family. Tom brings home a male co-worker, but Laura hides in her room while the mother flirts with the guest. Finally Laura comes out of hiding, only to learn that the guest was someone she had a crush on in high school, and he is already engaged to another. The guest also breaks Laura’s favorite animal, her unicorn. Laura is emotionally demolished and retreats to her room.

The mother blames the whole thing on Tom. Tom should’ve known who the guest was, and that he was already engaged. Tom was innocent of these crimes. Eventually he can’t take it anymore, and he packs his stuff and leaves the household for good.

What I took away from this play: by focusing on her fears, the mother brought them into being. The things which she feared most, she caused to happen by her emotions and behaviors. The mother’s negative energy brought her fears to life.

The law of attraction is the name given to the maxim “like attracts like.” The law of attraction is used to sum up the idea that by focusing on positive or negative thoughts, a person brings positive or negative experiences into their life. In the play, the mother’s constant negativity brought the very things she feared to fruition.

My philosophy, eclectic at its core, is that I trust there is a benevolent Force in the Universe which is taking care of everything. I can let go of my fears and anxieties by confiding them to someone, bringing them to the light of day. That way I can discern my most of my fears are usually needless, often childish, and frequently not based in fact or reality.

I get reminded that “everything, everywhere, is already all right.” The earth is self-correcting. What is supposed to happen is what will happen. I can choose negativity and anxiety, or I can trust that my Higher Power has my back and positive adventures and gifts come my way. This has been true for me so far, and I trust it will continue to be so.

 

Everything I Know I Learned from Someone Else

19 Apr

 

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You may have heard it said, “This program has taught me how to live.”  It got me thinking: What are the basic tenets by which I live? Where did they come from? Is it true I didn’t know how to live before I found recovery?

Someone said in a meeting: “In order to have self esteem I have to do esteem-able acts.”  I used to think I won the lottery if a clerk accidently gave me back too much change. Then I heard a cashier in a meeting share about how his drawer was short and his pay got docked. This opened my eyes.  I discovered dysfunctional finders-keepers-ism and latent larceny in plenty of my actions: sneaking into parking spots instead of waiting my turn, helping myself to stuff I convinced myself was “free,” taking more than my share, the list is endless. If I saw someone else doing the things I was doing, I would lose respect for them. That’s when I realized that when I behave badly, I lose esteem for me. So if I want to feel good about myself, I can’t be doing that stuff.

My friend reads the Course in Miracles all the time. I am fortunate to be one of the recipients of her knowledge. When there is a conflict with someone, she reminds me that it is probably the ego that feels threatened. She tells me “whoever is closest to God apologizes first.” Naturally my ego believes it’s the closest to God, pushing me into apology.

Other important lessons from the Course are: “Every relationship is an assignment from God,” and “Whatever is missing from a relationship is what I fail to bring to it,” and “If it’s good for one then it’s good for everyone.” These are vital when difficulty with others arises. When we ponder whether we should open our mouths and speak, we put our words to the following test: “Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?” Those words were passed on by Cynthia.

Spiritual truths are universal. Most people know that the Golden Rule—Do unto others as you would have them do unto you—is written in some form in different religions, from Christianity to Buddhism. (More here: Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

An old woman in an old TV movie passed this along: The police were setting up a stakeout from inside the woman’s home. They cautioned her that it was a dangerous operation and she would probably want to seek shelter in the back of the house. She shook her head, declaring, “Young man, it’s not the things I saw and did in my life that I regret, it’s the things I didn’t do and the things I didn’t see. I’m staying right here. I don’t want to miss this.” Don’t pass up opportunities that may only come once. The Latin term is Carpe Diem—Seize the day.

In my fourth treatment center, our counselor Chuck was speaking to the group. “You guys have addictive personalities. Why don’t you channel that into something worthwhile? Get addicted to eating healthy, to going regularly to the gym, to volunteering–something that will make you feel better instead of worse and have positive long-lasting effects.”

My friend Sam told me “We move in the direction of our most dominant thoughts.” Be aware of our thoughts because they are directly related to how we feel. If we think we are not having a good time, we probably aren’t. Be careful what we keep in our heads. If we concentrate on doom and gloom we are certain to find it. But if we look for reasons to be grateful, we are rewarded. As the Great Book says, “Seek & ye shall find.”

Important to our interpersonal relationships is the knowledge that Sandy O. imparted to me: “We teach people how to treat us.” Understanding that we are in control of whether and how we get along with others makes for healthier interactions. Lori J. added that with people we have an inner circle, an outer circle and a platform for people who are launching into or out of our lives. Not everyone is going to be our best friend, and we won’t get invited to all the events. Don’t take it personally.

In an episode of Law & Order, one of the characters was left standing at the altar. Her coworker assured her that “Rejection is protection.” She had to undergo the immediate pain of abandonment and betrayal which may have saved her from years of agony in the future.

I believe I mentioned before that Claudia taught me “Everything everywhere is already all right.” Because as my morning meditation reminded me, we can view our problems as opportunities for growth and change instead of as reasons for feeling defeated. We use the tools we were taught in the steps: 1. Identify the problem. 2. Believe that a way out is available. 3. Seek guidance and implement the solution. 4. Take stock of our situation and look for our part in it. 5. Talk it over with someone we can trust. 6. Get ready to 7. Ask God to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. 8. Decide where we need to be accountable and 9. Make reparations where necessary. And the rest of the steps teach us to not rest on our laurels, keep in touch with God, and spread the word by practicing the principles we’ve learned.

Guiding values can come from many sources. We keep our eyes, ears and our mind open and life-affirming philosophies can take the place of dysfunctional ones.

Thanks for reading.

 

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