Tag Archives: Wisdom

October 21 – Walking Backward

by Sara Etgen-Baker

Backwards Clock

As a small child, I loved walking backward and did so every chance I got. One
day, I even challenged myself and walked backward almost the entire distance from my house to my elementary school. I’d walked forward along that route hundreds of times. But when I walked it backward, suddenly everyone and everything looked different somehow—a difference I didn’t understand or couldn’t quite explain.

Something shifted inside me, too,—something that made me different from the other kids. The following year I entered junior high and gave up on being different and on walking backward, quickly forgetting the perspective that moving backward gave me.

Sand FootprintsNow I’m 67 years old and find myself walking backward through my life. My friends call this walking backward my life review. Life review isn’t simply about assembling the details of my past. It’s about finding meaning in even some of the
ordinary events. Suddenly everyone I knew and everything I experienced looks different somehow. I re-experience the emotions—the joys and sorrows—that accompanied many of the events of my life. I face some of the people with whom I interacted and become acutely aware of the kind acts I committed as well as the pain I inflicted on others. I soon realize that every word, thought, and action—no matter how small—affected everyone and everything.

Sometimes I ponder, Would it make a difference in the way I lived life if I lived my life in reverse? Suppose I was Benjamin Button, old first and then young again. Would I enjoy the fact that I could do mundane, everyday chores because I knew what it was like to watch others sweep the floors from my own nursing home bed? Would I visit elderly family members and neighbors more
often, especially those who are housebound or in a nursing home? Or just send a card or letter?

Postage isn’t all that high when I realize how important mail is to a lonely person. Would I stop my morning walk long enough to talk with my neighbor, the mother of five boys, knowing she yearns for adult conversation? Would I resist the ugly urge to retaliate…insult for insult… after one of my husband’s cutting remarks? Would I look past my stepdaughter’s edginess and recognize the pain and fear behind it? Would I put myself in the other person’s shoes, especially when I have a complaint about a product that didn’t perform as I expected it to? Do I really have to be nasty to the person I am relaying my dissatisfaction to? Would I respect and honor somebody else’s truth as much as I do my own?

But I’m not Benjamin Button, and I can’t live life backward. Yet, the past is always there to look back upon, to remember the joys and the sorrows of my life, and to reflect upon how I lived my life. And I can mindfully live in the present, applying the lessons I’ve learned from walking backward.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. 

Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

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September 16 – Mom on the Fly

Advice to my Grown Daughter

by Susan Rudnick

photo by BreakingPic at pexels.com

Standing on West 56th Street in Manhattan, I give myself a moment to look across the street at Carnegie Hall before heading to my dentist’s office to have my mouth numbed.  My cell phone rings, and “#1 daughter” comes up, the way she had jokingly entered her number on my phone.  And she is #1. My only one.

Motherhood came to me late. For so many years I had longed to be one but wasn’t sure I would be able to make it happen. It was a miracle gift when my daughter’s birth mother entrusted her to me and I became a mother through adoption at age 43.  I have loved being a mother through every stage of my daughter’s life.

My daughter is 31 now, and recently married to a lovely man.  We live over an hour away from each other, so it has been through phone calls that we have some of our most meaningful conversations. I have received calls in the gym locker room, in my car just about to go somewhere, at 11:30 in the morning and 9:20 at night. It might be “just saying hi”, or it’s the “do you have time to talk?”   In two seconds, when I know it’s the latter, I have learned to listen, and to weigh in judiciously if given permission.

I have learned to regard these calls as little windows to pass on whatever wisdom I can. Lately, as my 75th birthday approaches, I feel more of an urgency to share whatever wisdom I have.  How much longer will I have to be there for her?  What have I not said that would be helpful?  What does she still need from me?

In the past, there were many calls about whether she should break up with a boyfriend who had addiction issues. “Of course,” I would want to say.  “You deserve better.” But I knew that until she was ready to let go, that wouldn’t work. I chose instead to remind her of all the efforts she had made to help him stop.

Thankfully, we are now past those calls. We are dealing with the trip to Georgia to visit her in-laws or the contractor who walked away without finishing a project for the business she is starting.

I have said these things before, but would it be helpful to say them again?

  • Your in-laws are your husband’s parents.
  • Listen to your doubts, they have something to say.
  • Don’t let anyone talk you out of what you feel is right.
  • Try not to take things personally.
  • For everyone who disappoints you, there will be an unexpected gift of someone who shows up for you.
  • If you decide to become a mother, know it’s for life.
  • I will always be in your heart after I’m gone.

I press down the key.

“Mom, do you have a minute to talk?”

“Of course,” I say.

Susan Rudnick is the author of the memoir Edna’s Gift: How My Broken Sister Taught Me To Be Whole.  She is a published haiku poet, and her recent essay appeared in the NY Times: The Power of a Name: My Secret Life With M.R.K.H. She has been a psychotherapist in NYC for the past forty years.

September 9 – Monday Was Wash Day

by Sara Etgen-Baker

Helen Morain Stainbrook

Last Thursday my washer quit spinning, leaving in its wake a tub full of wet, heavy clothes. I grumbled and stared inside the washer, knowing I lacked the arm strength to wring out the excess water in each item of clothing. What I wouldn’t have given at that moment to have my grandmother’s old wringer washer.

I can still picture her standing beside her wringer washer that sat on a little back porch behind her kitchen. Come rain, shine, cold winter days, or hot summer afternoons, she washed clothes EVERY Monday. She rose extra early, built a fire, and heated wash water. She filled the washer and twin rinsing tubs with scalding hot water; hand scrubbed each individual item, using a washboard to remove bad stains. Once clothes were scrubbed, washed, rinsed, and sent through the wringer, Granny hung her laundry to dry on clotheslines strung between two tall posts. As I recall, there were some basic clothesline rules she and women of her time followed.

•       Clotheslines were cleaned before hanging any clothes. She walked the length of the line using a damp cloth, removing dust, dirt, and bird poop.

•       Clothes were hung in a certain order: “Whites” with “whites,” always first.

•       Sheets and towels were hung on the outside lines. “Unmentionables” were in the middle out of public view.

•       Shirts were hung by the shoulders; NEVER by the tail.

•       Socks were hung by the toes, NOT the tops.

•       Pants were hung by the BOTTOM or the cuffs, NOT the waistbands.

•       Hang clothes out to dry on Mondays only. Never on Sunday! For heaven’s sake!

•       After taking down dry clothes, ALWAYS gather up the clothespins. Pins left on the lines look tacky.

Although using a wringer washing machine took a lot of time and required tremendous body strength, my grandmother thought she was lucky to have a wringer washer. At the end of wash day, Granny sat on her stoop occasionally recollecting her youth when she built a wood fire under an iron pot where she washed clothes with lye soap; something she did in the early years of her marriage during WWII when it was impossible to buy a wringer washing machine.

I take a lot for granted these days. I have an automatic washer and can wash clothes any day of the week and at any time of the day or night. I have an electric clothes dryer so I don’t have to tote laundry baskets full of wet clothes outside in all kinds of weather and hang them out to dry. In fact, drying clothes on a line is rarely seen these days.

Granny certainly wouldn’t have much patience with me for complaining about my automatic washer having gone on the fritz. She’d be shocked knowing I’d gone soft, lacking the strength to lift wet clothes out of my washer and wring out the excess water. She’d probably fuss at me, too, saying, “Why the heck are you washing clothes on Thursday anyway? Shame on you!”

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

July 29 – Embracing the Gift of Imperfection

by Karen Price

Three hens live at our house — Cinnamon, Clove, and Pepper. The first two are friendly Buff Orpingtons and for the latter is a Black Maran. The buff lay the lighter brown eggs and the Maran lays what is known as chocolate eggs. Who wouldn’t want a chicken that lays chocolate eggs? Now if I just had a goose that laid golden eggs, I’d be all set. Disclaimer: the shell is chocolate-colored, no actual chocolate was used in the making of this egg.

That sad little smaller than a ping pong ball egg was Pepper’s best effort. She hasn’t given me another egg since then. I’m hopeful that she’ll lay many more and perhaps more in line of the size that the other girls offer.

When my husband handed me that wee egg, I immediately felt for Pepper. I’ve had plenty of days when I’ve given everything I had, but all I’d had to show for my work was something tiny and feeble. I walked over to where Pepper was nesting and patted her back. “Thank you,” I told her with sincere empathy. “I appreciate your egg today.” I was very careful not to make fun of her or tell her there was anything wrong with her egg.

I was tender with her as I would want someone to be tender with my efforts at creativity. Often, I will refrain from creating anything, because I am afraid that my results will be less than stellar, that my efforts will be puny and even comical.

Well, sometimes my creations are puny and comical. I’ve made, cooked, and written things that went right into the trash. I once spent days weaving and crocheting a blanket that turned out to be extremely out of shape and just squeehawed. But I kept it. I have it neatly folded and stored away because I learned so much in making it. “It could have been beautiful,” I thought; if I’d known more. But now I see the potential behind the puny effort.

It’s taken me a long time to boldly go and make terrible things. It’s part of making excellent creations. Of course, I’ve had to come to terms with the concept that when I’m learning, I have to plan on making something twice. Make, tear out, repeat. Or sometimes — make, laugh, toss and recreate.

I’m going to go off and making some things today. I will remind myself that I embrace the gift of imperfection. Perhaps I’ll make something really grand, maybe not. And as I allow myself that adventure, I want to pass it on to those I encounter as well.

Karen blogs regularly at thebestoftimesfarm blog and this post originally appeared there and is published here with permission of the author.
Karen says, “I am at a point in my life where I have everything I wanted and am doing just about everything I’ve ever dreamed of. We have our own little hobby farm with a little herd of goats. Life is to be celebrated and I’m celebrating!”

 

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June 3 – A Close Look at Guilt

by Sara Etgen-Baker

canstockphoto19971916racorn

©CanStockPhoto/racorn

Guilt and worry are perhaps the most common forms of my personal distress. With guilt I focus on a past event, feeling dejected, hurt, or angry about something that I did or said, and use up my present moments being occupied with feelings over past behavior. With worry, I use up my valuable nows, obsessing over a future event. Whether looking back or looking forward, the result is the same: I’m throwing away the present. Why would I do such a thing, and where does my need for guilt and worry come from?

Like most of you, I’ve been subjected to a conspiracy of guilt in my lifetime, an uncalculated plot to turn me into a veritable guilt machine. The machine works something like this: Someone sends me a message designed to remind me that I’ve somehow been a bad person because of something I said or didn’t say, felt or didn’t feel, did or didn’t do. I respond by feeling bad in the present moment, becoming the guilt machine; a walking, talking, breathing invisible contraption that responds with guilt whenever the appropriate fuel is poured into me. And, I am a well-oiled guilt machine, for I’ve been totally immersed in our guilt-producing culture.

Why have I bought into the worry and guilt messages that have been laid upon me over the years? Largely because I’ve bought into my inculturation that says I’m “bad” if I don’t feel guilty, and “inhuman” if I don’t worry. It all has to with caring and what caring looks like to other people. The subtle message seems to be, “If I really care about anyone or anything, then I must show this concern by feeling guilty about the terrible thing(s) I’ve done, or by giving some visible evidence that I’m concerned their future by worrying and fretting about them.

For me, guilt is not merely a concern with the past; it’s a vicious cycle producing present-moment immobilization about a past event. The degree of immobilization can run from being mildly upset to being depressed. Let me be clear. Learning from my past and vowing to avoid repeating some specific behavior is not guilt. Guilt occurs when I prevent myself from taking action now as a result of having behaved a certain way in the past.

Learning from my mistakes is healthy and a necessary part of my growth and personal responsibility. Guilt, on the other hand, is unhealthy because I’m using up my energy in the present feeling hurt, upset, and even depressed about a historical happening. In that sense, guilt seems like such a useless emotion. It’s futile and unhealthy. I must remember, therefore, that no amount of guilt on my part can ever undo anything, and no amount of worrying can change the future.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

 

__________________________

April 29 – Inner Landscapes

by Ariela Zucker

“Life is like a landscape. You live in the midst of it but can describe it only from the vantage point of distance.” Charles Lindbergh

On the road to my daughter’s home, this morning, I drive by the river. I look at its shimmering blue, now that it got freed from the winter ice hold. I never lived by a river, I never woke up to look at its slow up and down movement, how the changes of the seasons are reflected in the water’s color and flow. I never lived next to the ocean in proximity that enabled me to listen to the waves break on the shore and watch the white foam unfurl on the sand, then backwash. But I did live in the desert and was captured by its palate of colors and desolate beauty, and for a short time, I lived at the foothills of the Rocky mountains and savored the infinite sea of green.

I easily connect to symbols and metaphors that originate in the world of natural scenes and concrete landscapes. A mountain, a stream, the ocean, the vast unending desert, they go right into me and stir up the words. The external landscapes evoke an intense resonance inside me. Often, they revive images long forgotten, and with that, they bring in their wake a sense of ambivalence that never leaves me and going back and force between two homelands just makes it stronger.

The air in one feels so soft around me, the sounds, the smells, and the colors familiar and with the people who knew me from the day I was born I share a common history, going back thousands of years. But most of all it is the language; that wraps around me caressing, accepting, signaling “here you are never foreign.”

Then I think about the soft snow cascade of white, and the spring eruption of colors. The luscious green of the warm summer days and the blazing reds of fall.

Which of these landscapes is mine, which one reflects on my life? Where is my vantage point of distance? The one that will enable me to see my life with clarity and precision? Or perhaps I am the lucky one. For a few months each year I get to change my distance and with this change alter my vantage point of view. As a writer, I get to describe that point of view in words.

Ariela Zucker was born in Israel. She and her husband left sixteen years ago and now reside in Ellsworth Maine where they run a Mom and Pop motel. This post originally appeared on her blog at Paper Dragon.

March 25 – Mortality Musings

by Kalí Rourke

Mom Rourke was declining at 92 years old. The scalpel sharp intellect and memory we had enjoyed for years was slowly but inevitably eroding, and for a while, Mom railed in anger and frustration at her loss of control.

We learned so much as my husband’s older sister cared for Mom during this hard and challenging time, and it changed our view of aging forever.

Traveling along her journey, we discovered this fascinating book that I highly recommend, no matter what stage of life you are in. “Being Mortal,” by Dr. Atul Gawande, opened my eyes and my mind to the realities of aging and dying in America.

Dr. Gawande tells a series of important stories that illustrate how mortality has changed in our country just as aging has. We rarely die “at home” any longer and more often our last moments of life are in the hands of professional medical personnel and in the grip of the “machinery of last resort;” treatments that can leave us feeling cold, isolated and perhaps a bit like a cyborg.

Consider reading the book and having conversations with your family that may be hard.

Don’t wait until death is in the next room, tying tongues with fear, guilt or sorrow. Open that door now so that it is more possible to open it again when the time arrives to put into action the preferences and directives you only talked about before.

There are critical questions that should be at the forefront of all aging or end of life conversations: “What is important to you? What is most important to try to keep in your life until the end? What is most important to try to include or avoid in your death?” We were grateful we were able to ask these questions of Mom Rourke before it was too late. They were not huge requests and were very achievable!

You may think you know how your loved ones would answer, but often we don’t unless we ask. They may surprise us! Listen to them and ask again as the terrain of aging changes them. Don’t wait until senility sets in and confusion or memory loss make it difficult to express what is most important to them. If you wait too long, you may miss your chance.

Dr. Gawande has changed how I look at aging, terminal illness, hospice care, and most importantly, death. It takes conversations to facilitate a “good death” for your loved ones rather than to say goodbye with regret or guilt over a “bad death.”

America doesn’t like to talk about mortality, and you and I are the only ones who can change that, so consider doing it. Think of it as the first step down a road we build together that leads to people who are as in control of their aging and deaths as possible.

My husband and I are both now thinking about how aging and death can be made better for everyone. Stay tuned.

Kalí Rourke is a wife, mother, writer, singer, and active volunteer. She is a Seedling Mentor and a champion for children’s literacy with BookSpring. Kalí works in philanthropy and as a Mentor for the Young Women’s Alliance.

She blogs at Kalí’s Musings where a longer version of this post appears, and at A Burning Journey – One Woman’s Experience with Burning Mouth Syndrome.