God blesses man,
not for having found
but for having sought.
~ Victor Hugo ~
19th-century French Writer
Regrets…I’ve had a few. And with this past Saturday being IWD – International Women’s Day – I’d like to take a moment to admire someone from my past. I’ll get to the regrets part a bit later.
Those of you who follow my blog know that being a psychotherapist is a second career, and that I practiced as an Optometrist for 15 years. When I went to Optometry school – back in the dark ages – women health professionals of the doctor kind were not in the majority. Indeed, my graduating class had 25 women and 116 men.
Much different from today’s schools of medicine, dentistry, optometry and chiropractic where the classes tend to run 50% men and 50% women, or thereabouts.
Back when we women of a certain age were paving the way for the fairly equal percentage of gender distribution in the health professional classes today, we were up against a fair amount of discrimination. [...and my son wonders why I occasionally have some difficulty with men in positions of authority...] I had one professor actually tell a close friend of mine that women did not have the aptitude for the math involved in the optics courses spread through the 4 years of optometry school and that we belonged in the home, “barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen.” That same professor (they were not all possessing of a Neanderthal mentality; indeed, I highly respected most of them) said that since we would undoubtedly get married, have children and stop practicing, we were taking up a seat that a (cave)man could fill. In other words, someone who would practice in the profession until his dying breath.
Which brings me to a regret of mine and a woman to be feted for IWD.
Although at the time our optometry school was considered the most prestigious in the country, with the most up to date equipment, etc., these were the days of projectors and slide carousels in the classrooms. [In fact, I remember in my sophomore year in undergrad, when my parents bought me a calculator, I was one of the first in my organic chemistry class to have one. So much for that period of state-of-the-art technology.] One day in our Gross Anatomy class (keep the class title in mind; it’s entirely appropriate for what’s coming up in this story), the professor got his class materials ready and turned on the projector. On the first slide was a Playboy Centerfold in all her buxom glory.
Really. A nude woman.
The professor was delighted with the sudden boom of male laughter that rolled across the silent women in the classroom. So pleased with the result, the professor advanced to the second slide. You got it – more of the same. I was flabbergasted at his audacity and embarrassed by the picture. Anger about the entire episode didn’t come until later.
But I sat still, not saying a word, stunned. While the guys laughed. And the professor smiled.
I noticed a movement out of the corner of my eye and saw Michelle, a fellow student, carefully grab her books, place them into her backpack and slowly – proudly – walk out of the classroom without so much as a glance at the front of the room.
And ever since that day, I have regretted not getting up and following her out of the room. Instead, I kept quiet, sat through the entire class and was grateful that there were no more juvenile slides.
And ever since that day, I have regretted not approaching Michelle to shake her hand in appreciation of her protest in the face of such disrespect of women.
Regrets…I’ve had a few.
Those of you who know me personally probably find my behavior back then hard to believe. If this happened in one of my classrooms today, I’d be the first one to lead the charge and demand that the pictures be removed, the professor reprimanded, and anyone who laughed dressed down for their disrespect.
But back then, for whatever reason(s), I chose to stand back when I should have taken a stand.
So, Michelle – I salute you on International Women’s Day. And even though this is some 30 years late, I here-by shake your hand and say loudly, for all to hear, “well done, lovely lady. Well done.”
Meet Krishna Thompson, 47: Shark attack survivor
From “The Against All Odds Club”
By Brooke Lea Foster
Psychology Today – April 2013
August 2001, Krishna Thompson and his wife flew to the Bahamas to celebrate their 10-year wedding anniversary. Thompson’s wife didn’t enjoy swimming, so one morning he woke up before her to get some extra time in the ocean. The water was usually crystal clear, but that morning it was murky and rough. Thompson was treading water when he noticed a shark fin coming toward him. He calmly backed off, hoping the animal would go away, but the 10-foot bull shark swam through his legs, its slippery skin grazing his right knee.
Then, without warning, the animal snapped back and took Thompson’s left leg in its mouth. It dragged Thompson underwater, shaking him like a rag doll. He thought about how he was going to die without ever having children. He feared that he would drown, which panicked him. Thompson summoned all of his strength, reached down toward his leg, and punched the shark in the face, which surprised the animal enough to release its jaws.
Thompson swam to shore and collapsed. When he caught sight of his left leg, all he saw was a broken tibia bone—there was no flesh left, no arteries, just bone. He remembers staring at the overcast sky and thinking: “I beat this shark, and I’m going to live to tell the world about it.”
As Krishna Thompson lay on the beach after the attack, his left leg ripped up to nothing but bone, it occurred to him: I am the man who conquered a shark. He approached his recovery with similar resolve, working hard to chase away any negative thoughts with positive ones—even after learning his leg injury would require amputation.
Thompson counted down the days for six months until he could return to work on Wall Street. In 2002, on his first day back, he didn’t drive in to New York City, which would have put less pressure on his leg. He insisted on taking the one-hour commuter train, pushing his way onto packed subway cars, and walking up the steps out of the station. He’s taken the same route in the decade since, his leg often throbbing at the spot where it’s connected to the prosthesis. Still, when a woman asked him to help carry her stroller up the subway steps recently, he didn’t tell her he had a prosthetic leg. Instead, he nodded and said: “We’ll just have to go slowly.” He held onto the railing with one hand, the stroller in his other, and used his good leg to inch his way up the steps.
Sometimes he stands in the mirror and shudders at what he calls his “deformed leg.” But he’s quick to remember: It could have been worse. “Yes, you lost a leg,” he’ll tell himself. “But you have a whole other leg. You have two arms. You can walk.”
Today, he and his wife have a daughter, Indira, 10, and a son, Chad, 5. As his kids have grown, he’s realized the attack can still rattle him. He and his family were swimming in the pool one day when his son accidentally kicked his foot—and a shot of panic rushed through him. He nearly didn’t let his daughter go on a class trip to a local beach. “I was scared they wouldn’t watch her closely enough,” he says.
When a Manhattan police officer was hit by a car and lost his leg, Thompson felt compelled to visit the man in the hospital. He strutted into the room in a suit, walked over to the windows, and put his leg up on the windowsill. “I heard about your accident,” Thompson told the officer, whom he’d never met. Then Thompson lifted his pants leg and showed the young officer his prosthetic leg. The officer’s face lit up, and Thompson said to him: “You’re going to be fine.”
In honor of all those who triumph over adversity with
courage, perseverance, determination and sheer will.
Your souls shine and your spirits inspire us with hope.
Day in, day out, how much can a person deal with before being broken?
Don’t be afraid of the broken places (see: “Strength”).
Some days are easier than others, true. But other days, what we’ve lost in our lives seems much greater than what we’ve found, especially as we get older.
Something that’s easy to forget is that loss does not only pertain to the physical death of a person. It actually runs deep through our lives, like an underground current.
It can’t be seen, only felt. You’re not aware of it, only aware of something.
The pink slip,
…missing out on that promotion
…not being in the career you pictured for yourself
…breaking off an engagement
…moving away from family and friends
…putting down a pet
…receiving a cancer diagnosis
…being sexually abused
…fighting an addiction
…having your home foreclosed
…giving up on the dream of a house with a white picket fence on a tree-lined street
…questioning your faith
…dropping out of college
…having your retirement fund emptied
…wrecking your car
…witnessing a shooting
…disappointing your parents
…cancelling a vacation
…conceding the school board election
…failing an entrance exam
…losing a valued friendship
- those are just a few of the losses we experience.
The ones we don’t tend to classify as “losses.” The ones we don’t give ourselves a chance to mourn.
But we keep on, keeping on. Then one day, some unexpected event triggers something deep inside us, and we wonder what hit us.
Hopelessness. Loneliness. Bitterness. Helplessness. Anger. Emptiness. Longing. We’re numb. We break down and wonder why we can’t stop crying.
Our souls are bruised, and we don’t know why it hurts so much.
We can’t stop crying because those losses are cumulative – they build and build – and we deal and we deal – and we bury them, until we can’t bury them anymore.
Don’t be afraid of the broken places.
If we didn’t break apart, the light wouldn’t be able to get in. Now, where there was only darkness, there is light.
So we sit with them awhile, those scary emotions we’ve tried so many creative ways to ignore. Don’t fight it.
You’ve heard the term, “When God closes a door, He opens a window?” I believe that.
Picture yourself alone, walking into an old one-room cottage, curious to see what’s inside. The door slams shut behind you. No problem. Probably the wind; you’ll get out. You turn the doorknob, only to find the door still closed. Maybe it’s jammed or stuck. This place is old, after all. You yank on the door, angry that it won’t open. Then panic sets in and you bang on the door until your hand hurts, yelling for someone until your voice is hoarse. You keep on for hours, trapped.
Until you have nothing left and you slide against the wall to the floor, exhausted, fearful, bereft. You curl into a fetal position and rock back and forth, taking yourself to a safe place in your mind.
At first, you think it’s your imagination. A brush of something against your cheek. Then you feel it again, only stronger, this time accompanied by the delicate scent of an unnamed flower. The breeze refreshes you, and you realize that a sunbeam has fallen across your face, drying the tears. You sit up and slowly open your eyes to find its source.
There, to the side of you, is an open window, sunlight streaming onto your face, the breeze billowing sheer curtains into the room. The window was always there…you just didn’t see it; you didn’t notice it. While railing against the darkness, you couldn’t see the light.
With a smile and a look of wonder on your face, you walk to the window. You lift your legs over the window sill and step barefoot onto the green, fragrant grass. It feels good. It feels right. It feels like home.
You turn for one last look at the tiny cottage, grateful to be outside. Then you turn your back and walk toward the warmth of the sun. Toward life and all its challenges.
But always toward the light.
With a sense of purpose and direction, with a strength that was born of the darkness, with a renewed sense of hope that this was all a part of the journey.
Don’t be afraid of the broken places.
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…
You have to go wholeheartedly into anything
in order to achieve anything worth having.
~ Frank Lloyd Wright ~
by Peter Zheutlin
It’s 2 a.m. and I’m trying unsuccessfully to sleep in the loft of a tractor trailer parked outside a motel in Allentown, Pa. A 12-week-old black lab is curled up inches from my face, and below us, 64 more dogs are resting peacefully in kennels stacked two or three high and secured along the truck’s walls. Our driver, Greg Mahle, is sound asleep in the middle of the floor.
Mahle is used to sleeping in his truck: Twice a month he leaves his wife and home in Zanesville, Ohio, to drive a familiar route through the Deep South, making stops in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama to pick up dogs that have been removed from “death row” at high-kill shelters by local rescue groups. Then Mahle turns north toward New England, where there is higher demand for shelter dogs.
Over the past nine years, Mahle has helped save tens of thousands of dogs. His transport service, Rescue Road Trips, just about breaks even. (A portion of adoption fees covers his costs.) But Mahle, who ran a family restaurant in his prior life, doesn’t do it for the money: “I turned 51 last year, and I am happier now than I have been in my whole life.”
At designated spots along Mahle’s route, volunteers meet his rig for “walk-potty-snack” breaks. Last night as he pulled into the Comfort Inn parking lot, two dozen “Allentown Angels” had gathered, as they do every other Friday night around 7 p.m. The volunteers are drawn to Mahle’s mission, as well as to the man himself: “His heart is as big as a Volkswagen,” group coordinator Keith Remaly told me.
The puppy snoozing in the kennel near my head is Audi. She’s on her way to the Dooley family of Connecticut. Teenagers Meagan and Lauren fell in love with Audi when they saw her photo on PetFinder.com, a database used by rescue groups such as Labs4Rescue, which arranged Audi’s adoption.
Audi’s mother was found pregnant, living by a dumpster in the small city of New Iberia, La. When two Labs4Rescue volunteers learned she was to be euthanized at the parish animal control facility, they rushed to get her; she delivered several of her 11 puppies in the backseat of their SUV. [Editor’s note: All 12 dogs have since made the trip north with Mahle.]
But for every dog Mahle delivers, many more are euthanized. Southern shelters are overwhelmed by strays, says Keri Toth, president of the Humane Society of Central Louisiana, because spaying and neutering are not common practice. In rural areas, backyard breeders produce more puppies than they can sell; many dogs are let go to fend for themselves. In Louisiana in 2010 (the most recent year for which statistics are available), 32 shelters reported taking in 69,540 dogs; 43,278 of them were put down, according to Maddie’s Fund, a nonprofit that tracks canine euthanasia statistics.
At sunrise, Mahle fires up the truck and we push off for New York and Connecticut, where dozens of families are waiting in parking lots to welcome our passengers. At every stop, Mahle leaps out of the cab and shouts, “Hello! I’m Greg! Is everyone excited?”
When we find the Dooleys, Mahle takes Audi from her crate and hands her to the girls; full of pent-up puppy energy, Audi squirms to lick their faces. For Audi, a long and difficult journey is ending as one filled with love begins.
Mahle has witnessed this scene countless times, but it never gets old. As he rolls up to a fast-food restaurant in Putnam, Conn., the final stop of the day, some 50 people burst into applause.
“A few weeks ago these dogs were going to die,” Mahle says. “Now watch. The truck doors open, light pours in, and each one goes into the arms of a loving family. This is heaven.”
Adversity not only draws people together
but brings forth that beautiful inward friendship,
just as the cold winter
forms ice-figures on the window panes
which the warmth of the sun effaces.
~ Soren Kierkegaard ~
There are signs.
Signs of our departed loved ones telling us all will be well and that there is life after death, if we only have the faith and willingness to believe.
When she died 25 years ago from breast cancer at the age of 59, (see “Remembrance”), Mom left behind a husband, 2 daughters and 3 grandsons. Speaking for myself, her “baby,” I was in total shock, having spent the entire month of February driving to the hospital after work and watching her suffer. After her death, I was totally drained physically, emotionally and spiritually.
One of the first things we did as a family without Mom was to drive 8 hours to my best friend’s wedding in North Carolina, the wedding that Mom promised to bake her delicious Italian cookies for (what is a wedding without countless trays laden with homemade cookies made from recipes handed down through the generations?). Needless to say, my family was happy for my friend who called my Mom and Dad her “adopted parents,” but the absence of Mom was a raw ache, an emptiness, a longing that went unfulfilled.
During a rest stop, Dad, my sister and I stood stretching our legs before getting back into the car for the long ride home. As we spoke about how much we missed Mom, a ladybug landed on Dad’s shoulder.
Mom had always loved ladybugs; if one was inside the house, she would bring it outside and place it gently on a flower. If one landed on her, she would simply let it stay put until it flew away. Mom knew that ladybugs were dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and had been called the “Beetle of Our Lady,” its name linking itself to spiritual ideals and mothers. To her, that sent a powerful message of devotion and love.
A ladybug on Dad’s shoulder…while we were talking about Mom…at our first outing as a family without her. Each of us looked at the ladybug, looked at each other, and without saying a word, started to cry. Somehow Mom found a way to let us know that she was with us.
Ever since then, in the past 25 years, ladybugs have visited my Dad, sister and me when we most needed the comfort. Dad would call us up on Mom’s birthday and mention that a ladybug was on his morning newspaper, or in the bathroom during the Christmas holidays – Mom’s favorite time of year – when he most missed her, or on the passenger seat of his car when he had a doctor’s appointment. If my sister was going through a difficult time, even though it might be the dead of winter, she would call me up and say, “Guess what I’m looking at right now, on my windowsill?” and I would answer, without missing a beat, “A ladybug.” Mom came through again and again.
After Dad died and I was particularly sad, having to make some big decisions without having either parent to ask for advice, I found myself driving to work and saying out loud, “I really need a lady bug sighting.” I thought of my ladybug collection at home that reminded me of Mom – pins, coffee mugs, journals, bracelets, note cards – but they just weren’t enough. I really, really needed her. As I slowed for one of the three stop lights in my town that foggy morning, I noticed something strange about the car in front of me. I blinked, then got a better look as I came to a top. It was a Volkswagen Beetle automobile. I’d gotten my driver’s license in one when I was 17 years old. But that wasn’t why I smiled. The Volkswagen Beetle was a red one with huge black spots painted on it. A car painted to look like a ladybug idling at the stop light. The ladybug sighting that I just asked for out loud – big enough just in case Theresa missed it.
I looked down and shook my head. Why was I not surprised??? [Note: I never saw that car again.]
For Dad, it’s a dragonfly.
Following Dad’s funeral Mass last year, we all proceeded to the mausoleum where Mom was buried. As my sister and I, our immediate family, and the rest of those who had come to pay final respects to Dad entered the marble building, for some reason, my sister turned around and looked at the wall of windows that covered its front. Just then, a beautiful dragonfly flew in and landed on the framework of the door. Quite large, it was a beautiful, iridescent blue (Dad’s favorite color, as well as the color of his eyes). It simply rested there, motionless. A cousin of mine turned to my sister and asked in a voice tinged with wonder, “Did you see that?” as they looked at the visitor. My sister nodded, unable to speak. When she told me about this later, I had no doubt that we had just received our first message from Dad.
In choosing the dragonfly for his sign, Dad chose a symbol of light, one of a select few creatures that are supposed to carry a deceased person’s energy to their loved ones, often seen as a harbinger of change.
This week, the final chapter in the managing of Dad’s estate took place when we had the closing for the sale of his house. My sister and I hoped that we would find a young family to bring the house alive, to transform it once again into a place of brightness and love and happiness. We got our wish when we met the couple who bought it, along with their young daughter. The conference room was filled with people – attorneys, realtors, secretaries, the buyers (the family) and the sellers (my sister and me). It was bittersweet – a relief, after a year, to have this last task completed, yet also very sad, to have this last task completed (see “Who Will Remember?”).
As we sat across the table from the family, my sister addressed the harried and exhausted looking mother, who had just finished telling us that they closed on the sale of their own house late the night before. “Your sweater – are those dragonflies on your sweater?” The woman stretched the front of the garment out so that we could see its print. Multiple dragonflies fluttered across it in bluish-purple beauty.
My sister and I both started to cry. As we brokenly explained what/who the dragonflies represented, the woman’s eyes filled with tears. “Well, I guess we know this was meant to be,” she softly commented, pulling her sweater more closely around her, almost like a hug.
She was correct. Dad was here to say that his house was being passed on to the right people, and that he was with us always. I would like to say a ladybug landed on the desk at the same time, but that didn’t happen. The dragonfly was enough.
Thank you, Mom and Dad, for sending your love. Continuing bonds can never be broken.
There are signs. Our loved ones never leave us. We must simply open our eyes and our hearts will be filled.
February 26th marks the first anniversary of Soul Gatherings. What a journey this has been… It still surprises me that almost 600 followers actually check in from time to time to read my posts and daily quotes. Almost 18,000 views from 99 different countries. I’m humbled.
I feel such an obligation to the popularity of the daily quotes that I’ve purchased 10 different books related solely to finding the most inspirational, motivational, thought-provoking quotes for my readers. Ka ching!!!
If I had to choose one word to describe the action of giving birth to Soul Gatherings, it would be “remembrance.” So many of my posts have been remembering people whom I’ve met, who have touched my life in some way. My readers have remembered these special people along with me, and in doing so, honored their memory.
Another word to describe this creation would be Light. Light shining into the broken places. Light building until the darkness is set ablaze with flames and sparks and life. Watchfires to light the passages of a journey begun, a beacon on the distant horizon.
Of hope. Always hope to light the way so that healing might begin.
Remembrance. Light. Hope. Inspiration. Support. Encouragement. Presence.
In the past year, I have learned these things about the blogosphere:
We are different; we are the same.
We share stories; we share ourselves.
We reach out; we touch hearts and hands.
We speak in different languages; we speak the same.
We harbor faith not confined by religion.
We believe and we dream.
We inspire and we offer hope.
We are present and never alone.
We are connected.
We are One.
Circles of Grace.
I am blessed.
Perhaps I will continue…