My new word too, Karen. Each day, we are faced with change and choice. While we may have no choice about the circumstances that come our way, we always have the option to determine via our free will, what we do with it. Often we spend so much time bemoaning our fate that we aren’t left with enough energy to change it. Today while at work, some of my clients were discussing this very subject. We were playing what I think of as the “Thank God, I…..” game in which we are able to take a look at circumstances that were painful, challenging and unthinkable and sort them and come up with the treasure in the muck, the pony in manure, the….well, you get the picture. There is actually a book by that name in which the authors of the chapters including my friend Susan Burger (her Chapter was called Thank God My Best Friend Died) wrote about loss of life, job, health, safety, freedom. Titles include :Thank God I Was Raped, Thank God I Lost My Mind, Thank God I Had Cancer, Thank God I Lost My Dream Job and Found My Dream. I know it’s difficult to imagine in any way being grateful for those experiences, but consider times in your life in which the worst of things became the best of things.
I was speaking with someone today about being able to sort through what most would consider tough situations in my life that these days are simply an integrated part of all that I am…an ectopic pregnancy, an ill (for 6 years) spouse, losing a home and a business to a hurricane, all in one year. The Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory measures stress related life events and assigns point values to them. In 1992, the year I just described, I accumulated 332 points (and it didn’t take into account Hurricane Andrew!) which was way over the top. In 1998, the year Michael died, I racked up 334 points. According to this scale, it’s amazing that I remained sane and vertical. I attribute much of that to learned resilience, a deep and abiding faith and steadfast and loving family and friends that are with me to this day.
What I now recognize is the ‘blesson’ in the mess. If not for those experiences, I would not have become an interfaith minister, free lance journalist and bereavement counselor. I would likely be operating by theory, rather than direct experience. I wouldn’t have as many stories to tell and I wouldn’t be writing this words. And for all of that, I am grateful.
Someone said today that he compartmentalized his life to the point that he is running out of compartments. Boy, could I ever relate! It reminds me of the cubbies that we had in kindergarten where we stashed our lunchboxes, prized items for show and tell, our blankies for nap time, coats and mittens, only as an adult I have a compartment for work, play, health, relationships, home, money, creativity, writing, reading, car, losses, challenges and more, I’m sure. I would like to think that I neatly stash them, folded and pressed like so many clean sheets. I could never master the art of folding the fitted sheet, and in much the same way, I can’t seem to keep all of those aspects of my life from lopping over the edges of the compartments and merging with the others.
Take grief, for example. I have attempted to maintain it in its nice, safe little box, having been widowed at 40 and now an adult orphan since my dad died in 2008 and my mom joined him in 2010. In the service of keepin’ on keepin’ on, I packaged up my feelings of grief and wrapped it up with a pretty bow (sky blue pink with a yellow border as my mother used to say whenever someone asked her favorite color) that looks like functionality, working with other people’s losses rather than facing my own, counseling other bereaved folks rather than denying that mine aren’t so bad, since my parents taught me how to be resilient and it was their time and they had lived full, rich lives and weren’t suffering anymore. I write about them regularly and think about them multiple times throughout the day. It is a blessing to be able to put fingers to keyboard to assuage my grief and yet, a good cry wouldn’t be such a bad thing at times. I wonder what keeps me from just letting the tears flow. It feels surrealistic at times to think that they are not here physically, even as I feel their presence a good deal of the time.
I’m task oriented so as to keep the various aspects of my busy life in alignment, moving sometimes seamlessly from one to another, congratulating myself for the simplest things such as folding clothes, emptying the dishwasher, putting gas in the Jeep, driving to my counseling job, writing this article as I check them off the ever growing list of to-do’s. When unanticipated items jump into the empty spaces, I dispatch them as well.
Seems to me that it is about balance so that when (as I mentioned in a previous blog entry) life gets lifey, I have room to hold it all. A place for everything and everything in its place.
Today in my group for folks in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, a wise woman who is doing her internship with us, whose first career was as a world traveling journalist and who is back in school at the seasoned age of 58, to earn her MA as a Licensed Professional Counselor, brought in a map to share with us. As she unrolled it, she asked us if we knew where Philadelphia was. Of course, we all knew. Then she inquired what country is North of the United States and naturally, we responded “Canada”. One man, jokingly answered “Mexico”. She then queried what coast we were on and the unanimous reply was “East.” “Are you so sure?,” was her grinning volley back to us. She then held up the map that was an aerial view. From that perspective, everything seemed topsy turvy. Mexico was indeed North and Canada, South of our West Coast city of Philadelphia. Imagine that! The planet is a globe, with no sides or edges.
Our cartographical perspective ain’t nuthin’ compared to our attitudinal perspective. How often do we insist that things are a certain way, and argue our point to the place of exhaustion or even death, when in truth, as my mother would have said, “There are three sides to every story; yours, mine and the truth.”? Way too often. I took it a step further as I asked a group member what color his loafers were. His answer was ‘brownish-black’ and the others nodded. “What if,” I aked “you were taught that those were green and it was beaten into you, physically or emotionally that they were green and after awhile you started believing it? And what if you grew up in a culture where those were referred to as ‘purple’? You would come to accept that they were purple or green.” It’s all about consensus reality. It’s what the collective believes to be so and then we act as if it is true. It gets us into a whole bunch of trouble at times and it can liberate us.
Think about all of the ‘myths’ we were taught about the Earth being flat, that all of the things that could ever be invented were already created, that a man couldn’t run a four minute mile, that people of different skin hues and sexual preference or age or gender were of varying value as human beings, that one religion was more true than any other, rather than seeing them as divergent ways of ‘voting for God’ as I heard a child define it. Consider what you believe about yourself, your abilities, the life around you, and your own worth. If you see yourself from all perspectives, I can assure you that you will see yourself as the world, full, diverse, beautiful and unified. You are and it is indeed, a wonderful world.
http://youtu.be/vufdVD2hAPU Wonderful World
Its cerulean blue, white puffy clouds behind a leaping and shouting high energy dude on the cover is the perfect welcome to the world of “Billy Fingers”, a nickname for William Cohen who died in a car accident a few years earlier. What happened prior to his passing and what transpired afterward is an adventure of many lifetimes. The scribe for the story is his sister Annie Kagan who is a chiropractor and singer songwriter with a spiritual curiousity that had her studying various traditions and pondering the nature of the Universe. A few weeks after her heroin addicted, homeless 62 year old brother with a penchant for living life in the sometimes gritty fast lane was killed, he began communicating with her from the Other Side. At first she questioned her sanity and wanted to keep the ‘ transfusions from heaven’ as I like to call them, a secret, but little by little, she came to recognize that they were genuinely from her brother. A comfort for her to know that he was well and sharing information that no way he could have conjured up. He had poignant and on- target messages to offer to friends of hers that he had never met, as well as his brother in-law; some designed to save health and lives. For more than a year, these transmissions from Billy took place and Annie documented them; at times pulling back out of fear or desire to keep this time with her beloved brother a treasured secret, so that no one would make fun of either of them. He assured her that the story had to be told and that she need not worry about what anyone thought. Synchronicities and cosmic coincendences were happening sometimes at the speed of thought.
Time line travel is part of the book as well, as Billy shares ‘remember when’ stories from his earlier years. Family dynamics come into play, since healing and reconciliation around conflicts are evident. Irreverent humor spices up the dialogue. Deep insights and loving reminders of where we came from and where we are going drench the pages. Readers can open to any one of them and glean a treasure.
In the end, it becomes clear that despite the pains and challenges of this human existence, redemption involves shifting of perception and love is all that matters.
http://youtu.be/fReUbvX5blo Book Trailer for The Afterlife of Billy Fingers: How My Bad -Boy Brother Proved To Me There’s Life After Death