Tough Times; Times of Growth

I brought a friend home from the hospital yesterday. She had the fourth operation on her back to replace a spinal disc with one made of titanium. It’s part of a series of replaced discs that will allow her to continue to live independently and pain free–once it heals. Until then she will have to go through a lot of pain and three months of recuperation. However, had she not had the operation, she would go through many more months of pain and suffering with no guarantee that the spinal column might be completely severed by the shifting vertebrae. Kind of a hard spot to be in, especially having gone through it three times previously.

A few things come to mind. First, sometimes we have to endure a great deal in order to make it through the present challenge. It may be physical, mental or spiritual pain that we are enduring. And like any change, it brings discomfort and few of us relish being uncomfortable. But we must keep our eyes on the end result to help us keep our sanity. If all goes well, in three months, or however long this challenge should last, life will establish a new normal. We’ll find a new comfort zone and hopefully the pain we experienced will be a memory and we can be grateful to have lived through the experience.

Second, I am struck by the difficulty in accepting help when we are so used to being independent. I was thinking this morning that we all know that infants and elderly need our assistance. But I think that we must remember that all of us are dependent on everyone else. I can’t do it all, and I never could. I rely on the ‘kindness of strangers,’ as well as that of my family and friends. I needed people when I was going through difficult times in my life and I need them to share the wonderful times as well. When we share our interdependence, we help to balance out the good times with the challenging ones. I willingly assist you and later you assist me.

Third, no one likes to give up control. Placing ourselves into the power of another is very difficult for many people. I want to control what is happening to me. Yet, there are times, such as going under the scalpel of a surgeon, or getting strapped into the seat of a jet that we do give up complete control of our lives. But we usually don’t do this on a whim. The people upon whom we rely are trained professionals. There still are risks, but they are minimized by their experience.

All of these three: passing through an ordeal, relying on others and giving up control all are part of trust: trusting others, trusting the process and trusting life. And they have to do with taming our egos as well. ‘I can’t do it all and I never could,’ is a good lesson to practice once in a while. It is also a lesson that we survive everything that comes our way. It may not be the manner in the which we had envisioned or in the time frame that we were hoping for, but we get through it. I am reminded of the character in the movie ‘The Most Exotic Marigold Hotel’ in which the young entrepreneur says “It will all work out in the end. If it’s not working out, it’s not the end.” Whatever it is, you will make it through.

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Best Laid Plans

There´s a Chinese saying that goes something like: “Man plans and God laughs.” We all can think of times when everything that we planned went so far from the direction that we had planned that even we had to laugh at the disparity between our intentions and the results. I’m learning that my circle of control extends, if I’m lucky, to the end of my reach. After that? Well, it’s up to my Higher Power.

Monday, a couple of weeks ago I was going to pick up a friend at the airport, a two and a half hour drive away. I got a call from him a several hours before I was to leave saying that he had been bumped from his flight and wouldn’t be arriving until Tuesday at the same time. Could I pick him up then? Yes, of course.

For a moment I thought I had a free morning. Then my neighbour Amy came over. Her dog was very ill. She was to fly out the next day to visit her mother and she was worried about her dog and that she’d have to cancel her flight. Fortunately I had my friend’s car so I told her I would drive her to the vet with her dog: a happy circumstance. On the way to the vet, we discovered that her flight time the next day would allow me to drive her to the airport when I was picking up my friend whose flight was changed. Perfect.

While Amy and her dog were with the vet I received a message from another friend Nick. A mutual friend of all three of us had passed away in the US. He was from Nick’s hometown and Nick decided to fly up to go to the funeral and visit family at the same time. He was flying out very early Wednesday morning so he had booked a hotel near the airport. Would he like a ride up on Tuesday?  Sure thing.  The vet was able to diagnose the dog’s ailment, gave him a couple of shots, prescribed some other medications and he would be fine. Amy was very relieved.

Tuesday morning we all loaded into my friend’s car and headed up to the airport. Along the way we were able to discuss how we were feeling about our friend who had passed. Amy was able to talk about her visit with her mother whom she hadn’t seen in seven years. It was one of those impromptu recovery meetings.

I dropped them off, did a bit of shopping, swung back around to the airport to pick up my friend who had been bumped the day before and headed back home. The lesson of the past two days rattled around in my head  as I drove. I could not have put together a more perfect plan for drop offs and pick ups. It was so obvious to me that I wasn’t the one who had executed such a perfect plan.

I’d like to alter the saying that I started with: “Man trusts and God provides.” This was a powerful lesson to me in letting go of the joystick and letting my Higher Power take the lead in arranging things. Yes, I make plans, I recently commented to a friend, but I don’t live in them. I awaken in the morning these days with a sense of “here I am, ready for what is put before me.” Slowly I’m learning that if I keep myself out of the way, doors open and incredible things unfold.

I am grateful.

ancient arch architecture artwork

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Living the Dream

Happy New Year. It’s like my mother said, as you get older, time moves more quickly! That seemed like a quick trip around the sun. But it was a good trip; a trip filled with lots of lessons and learning. I know it is just another day, but it’s the day of new beginnings for many. I am sure the rooms of recovery programs will again see an influx of newcomers. (My sponsor calls January the ‘prime recruitment month’.) I wish them well on their path to recovery.

A question came to my mind today: If you knew you were going to die tomorrow, what would you be doing today? There are variations of the question out there. What are you knocking off the bucket list for this year? Are your affairs in order? Are you living your dreams?  For me though, it begs the question: So why aren’t you doing that now?

I’ve learned that life is full of twists and turns, just like the river. I don’t know what is around the corner. And yes, tomorrow may be my last day. Memento mori is the latin term for the practice of remembering our mortality: Remember that you have to die, is the translation. Life will not go on forever. It can end at any moment. This reminder could lead one into a blue funk, but for me it is a reminder of how precious life is. Each moment that passes I can be grateful for. Memento mori urges me on to live my dreams, to make a life and not eke out a living. I don’t have to build a castle, I can visit many castles.

It’s not always been easy, but I have been living a life that is different from the norm. I haven’t had a typical job for over thirty years: part-time, contract, seasonal, freelance. Some people say to me that they wish the could have my life in the tropics. I usually tell them that they can have this life too. Then I hear about responsibilities, and mortgages, and pensions and more excuses. I don’t argue but I do know from living the results, that everyone can stop having dreams and start living them.

This Christmas was the 23rd anniversary of my father’s death. He was only 63 and it marked me deeply. It taught me that life is a gift with an unknown expiration date and then  I too, will have to die. Life is for living. These thoughts follow on with the big lesson of 2017 for me: I will survive everything that comes my way, until I don’t.  There is so much to experience in this life. Step out of your comfort zone. Try new things. Live your dreams. Memento mori reminds me life is short and I will be dead for a lot longer than I lived on this earth. And I remember the movie Auntie Mame: “Live! That’s the message. Yes, life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!”

This New Year’s Day, if you must make a resolution, make one to live your dreams. Paint if you’ve always wanted to be a painter. Write if you want to write the greatest novel of the 21st century. Go on that retreat you want to go to. Don’t focus on the results. Forget about what people might say. Instead, focus on the experience. Live your dream. Dine at that banquet of life today and every day!