When you act on behalf of
something greater than yourself,
you begin to feel it acting through you
with a power that is greater than your own.
~ Joanna Macy ~
That question – in a nutshell – occupies a fair amount of my time now that I’m “not working.”
People who know me, know me as I once described in one of my posts. In my adult life, I’ve been many things: daughter, granddaughter, sister, niece, aunt, wife, ex-wife, mother. Optometrist, Licensed Professional Counselor, writer, teacher, advisor. Friend, adversary, student, mentor, volunteer, colleague, supervisor, supervisee, boss, advocate, committee member, office holder, perfectionist, overachiever. Catalyst, irritant, critic. Tourist, retreatant, co-journeyer, listener, speaker. Avid reader. Supplicant to Saints Francis, Jude, Therese, Teresa and Michael the Archangel. [Human Being? Human Doing? Human Becoming?]
Now that modern medicine has us not only living longer, but living healthier lives, what to do with this life re-imagined?
Two comments I hear (too) often that bother me to no end:
1) Where do you work? (Nowhere???)
2) How do you like being retired? (When did I retire???)
Let’s look at question #1. In the past, I answered: I’m in private practice; I work for a group of ophthalmologists; [insert career change here] I’m in community mental health; I work in spiritual care at a hospital and at a hospice; and, I’m Director of a Counseling Center at a small, private college.
Professional, succinct, in control, no hesitation.
Now what do I answer? Nowhere?
I guess that means housework doesn’t count, or grocery shopping or cooking the occasional meal, dropping off the dry cleaning, setting up appointments, paying bills, bringing my cat to the vet, being my own travel agent for Egypt or Sicily or Peru, being supportive of my husband, ironing, doing laundry, etc., etc., etc.
Somewhere my mind got used to thinking that a pay check was directly related to my self worth. If I got paid to do something, that equaled work, which mattered. Yet I remember when I practiced as an Optometrist, I was always careful to ask (mostly) women if they “worked outside the home,” so they would realize that staying at home incorporated work.
Let’s look at question #2. Retirement? Who retired? A year ago, physicians recommended I step aside from my position and take time off to rejuvenate. Someone asked me not long ago how my stress level was now that I was home. I told them honestly it was higher, since I was so stressed about not working.
I’m never satisfied, I guess…
At any rate, I’m no more retired than the President; I’m just in a holding pattern until I figure out what I’m going to do the rest of my life.
You know – my life re-imagined…
So far, I’ve incorporated neck and shoulder massages into my life [note: my poor massage therapist, who does my deep tissue massages -- we spend half the session solving the hers and world's problems, then the other half talking about how the ever-present knots in my muscles that will not loosen have "migrated" from place to place; who knew that I had traveling knots???], I’ve started this blog, I took swimming lessons at the YWCA, I got back to volunteering in Disaster Mental Health for the American Red Cross, I take a silent 8-day retreat once a year, and I’m looking to get back into per diem crisis work at a Level I Trauma hospital.
But with all this moaning, woe is me attitude, I’ll let you in on something that surprised me — I’m not “hungry” anymore…
Let me explain.
Could I open a private psychotherapy practice and do well? Sure. I did it as an optometrist and I can do it as a therapist with the benefit of years of experience behind me.
Do I want to? No. I’ve done my time and paid my dues. I’m tired of going 24/7 and being exhausted all of the time.
Could I work at another college? Sure – somewhere. Am I up for the politics and resistance to be faced? Not worth it. Let someone younger take that on; my time is too valuable for having to bulldoze the man-made obstacles that would be thrown into my path. And quite frankly, my time is more limited. 30 more years of non-stop, highest quality productivity is no longer possible or realistic.
Let the younger generation have their moment in the sun and in the spotlight, starting up new programs, generating income, getting published and promoted and challenged. It’s their time to shine, bonfire style, while mine is more of the quiet glow of a bank of embers.
Steady, sure, mellow. Still providing light and heat but without the expenditure of so much energy all at once in a short period of time. Both fires serve their own purpose.
Working full-time out in the competitive work force has its purpose, but so, too, does re-aligning my trajectory in mid-life.
But why is it so hard for me to do? Why isn’t what I’m doing, or attempting to do, enough? How can I help more of those in need by what I’m doing? Or not doing?
If anyone has any suggestions as to the best use of me, please let me know. After all, I’ve got plenty of time to listen…
The clearest way into the Universe
is through a forest wilderness.
~ John Muir ~
My heart is heavy.
If I could gather together sages from the past, these are the questions I would ask them:
Jesus of Nazareth: Why do we forget the love, and how can we get it back?
Love each other.
Mahatma Gandhi: Why do we resort to violence as a way to solve problems, and instead create wars? How can we bring about world peace?
Communicate with each other.
Blessed Mother Teresa: Who will care for those in need, those dying in the streets, whether of Ebola or malnutrition or gunshot wounds or neglect? How can we remember the least of these are our brothers, our sisters, ourselves?
Hold each other.
Beethoven: How can we soothe our savage natures with the universal language of music? Who will play your concertos in the midst of war?
Listen to each other.
Michelangelo: How can we protect your priceless works of art from the bombing, so that generations to come will see and feel your heart song?
Look beyond that which you see.
Albert Schweitzer: How can we save humanity from the Fellowship of Pain and degradation that is foisted upon them by their own kind?
Bind each others’ wounds.
St. Francis of Assisi: How can we honor all creatures great and small?
Honor each other with dignity and respect.
Friedrich Nietzsche: How will we survive today’s world?
“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”
Viktor Frankl: Why?
There is meaning in suffering. “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”
My heart is heavy, but now filled with hope.
Claire Johnson and Mark Gaffey, who are both blind, met at a guide-dog training course, and their two seeing-eye dogs, Venice and Rodd, became instantly inseparable.
DOSE OF GOODNESS:
With the two pups bringing them together, Johnson and Gaffey fell in love and recently got married. Both dogs were respectively ring bearers at the wedding.
This wall lives and breathes.
Its age shows in striking beauty, memories of the old man’s callused hands – artist’s hands – that shaped the stones with such love. No mortar for him, but only careful picking and choosing, a mosaic of gray stone laid one upon the other. Joining together stronger than alone, climbing higher.
Stop! Look at me. You may walk beside, but do not cross. I have purpose. I stand firm.
Norsemen cleaved the stone with battle axe a many, their angry cries bludgeoned into the rough surfaces. Blood soaked the stones. The breeze brings a whiff of sweat and fear from bygone centuries.
Rough edges smoothed by storms unleashing their fury, when the heavens opened to wash away the blood. Lightning strikes scar the stone with black, their fingerprints embedded deep.
Stones reverberate with echoes of a horse whinnying as it leaps across the wall, the tinkling bells of sheep as they herd past the barrier, the jagged groans of a farmer tilling the rocky fields, the whispered promises of lovers lost in a clandestine embrace, the mournful dirge of a funeral procession on its way to a final good-bye.
Sounds seared into the heart of the wall, trapped for time eternal.
The wall has survived the seasons again and again. Spring, cradling a robin’s nest and its blue eggs in a small hole eroded through the years. Summer heralds laughing children and barking dogs running along its path, weaving and bobbing and balancing through the turns. Fall brings showers of leaves, dressing the stones in a cloak of bright scarlet, shiny gold, vivid copper. Winter shoulders snow piled high and ice that sparkles like diamonds in the sun. Then it starts all over again, a new.
Time marches on, we humans come and go, but the stones – the stones stand firm while they ache with our secrets. In the stillness, the wall waits.
This wall – this wall lives and breathes.
This work is inspired by John Grant’s stunning photos at Meticulous Mick.
I am so very grateful for his allowing me to use his photos to share this story.
Too often we underestimate the power of a touch,
a smile, a kind word, a listening ear,
an honest compliment or the smallest act of caring,
all of which have the potential
to turn a life around.
~ Leo Buscaglia ~
Dogs have long held the distinction of “man’s best friend,” ever-cheerful companions with whom we share our homes and our lives. But the most revealing proof of their love and faithfulness isn’t seen only in the happiest of times, but also when things are at their bleakest.
Members from the animal welfare organization Blue Cross of India recently witnessed a remarkable testament to the bonds of loyalty between people and their pets — one which endures even after death.
The organization explains on their Facebook page that while driving through the city of Chennai earlier this month, Blue Cross general manager Dawn Williams noticed a dog sitting off the road next to a fresh grave.
There are an estimated 35 million stray dogs in India, so Williams didn’t stop to give it much thought. Little could he have known then that the animal wasn’t in fact a stray; he was still sitting with his owner.
About two weeks later, another group of Blue Cross volunteers saw the dog sitting exactly where Williams had seen him earlier, only this time he looked worryingly thin. They decided to stop and offer the animal some food, but he refused to eat or even move from the grave. Instead, he only whimpered.
After asking some merchants nearby, the volunteers came to learn that the dog had been rescued from the streets by a local teenager who’d made him his pet. Sadly, however, the boy had died in an accident and been buried weeks earlier — and since then, the loyal pet had yet to leave his side.
When Williams learned of the story, he returned to the area and tracked down the boy’s grief-stricken mother. She had assumed that the dog, whose name is Tommy, had run away when her son died. Williams knew just where to find the dog, they walked together back to the grave.
“When he saw her, Tommy got up and went slowly to her. It was obvious that he hadn’t eaten much (if anything at all) in days,” writes the Blue Cross. “Tommy rested his head on her feet and cried some more, as the mother bent down and, lifting his head up, kissed him, before burying her face against his neck and crying.”
But in their shared grief over the boy, the mother and dog seemed to form a new bond:
“The mother picked up Tommy and carried him back to her house, telling our team, as she left, that she had wrongfully thought, because her only child had died, that she had nothing to live for.”
She said something else, too — that despite her loss, she still had a son in Tommy.
The Times of India tried to reach out to the mother, but she is said to have moved back to her hometown, taking Tommy with her.
This is not the first time that the bonds between people and their pets have lasted long after the former has passed away. Perhaps the best-known example of this is the story of Hachikō, a dog in Japan who, in the early part of the last century, waited for nearly 10 years at a train station for his deceased owner to return.
Stephen Messenger, The Dodo
Your path is your own, but you must walk side by side with others,
with compassion and generosity as your beacons.
If anything is required, it is this:
fearlessness in your examination of life and death;
willingness to continually grow; and,
openness to the possibility that the ordinary is extraordinary,
and that your joys and your sorrows have meaning and mystery.
~ Elizabeth Lesser ~