New Beginnings: Moving Beyond the Gap

In last week’s post, I left you sitting in The Gap, encouraging you to allow yourself to feel that anxiety that comes with uncertainty, finding a resting spot in that trough between Endings and New Beginnings (see Forced Endings: Struggling in The Gap)

New Beginnings is that last stage of Bill Bridges Map for Change where new relationships or the new job begins. But like the Endings and The Gap stages, it has emotional aspects including excitement, fear of failure, anxiety, a sense of accomplishment and/or celebration. But before I can move on to New Beginnings, I’m reminded of another type of Forced Ending that I didn’t include last week.

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Emerald Isle July ’18 Now Impacted by Florence

As I write this post from my home in central North Carolina, Hurricane Florence is spinning down on our coast, producing massive flooding and a predicted record-setting storm surge. It’s a slow-moving storm that takes its time delivering its blowMany people ‘Down East’ have moved to shelters, not knowing how their lives will be changed and what they will find when it’s safe to return home—whatever is left of home. We wait here in the Piedmont, knowing we’re in the hurricane’s path but unsure of how our lives will be impacted.

Natural disasters are another example of Forced Endings that we don’t choose. While they have nothing to do with problems in relationships, workplace politics, or other issues that may produce Forced Endings, they do leave people with the same types of emotions: shock, anger, disbelief, anxiety.

I have a friend from China, and some years ago she tragically lost her parents in a typhoon. What a huge impact that Forced Ending—the death of her parents, had on her life. She has spent years dealing with her grief and trying to figure out how to move from that Forced Ending, through The Gap, and to a New Beginning. While she will always miss her parents, and wish things had been different, she has found the strength to move forward. Her New Beginning is not what she expected as she studies in the States and prepares for her professional future. But it is life, and like those who will be changed by Hurricane Florence, eventually there will be a better day and a glimpse of a New Beginning.

When I was dealing with The Gap following my Chosen Ending of retirement from school nursing  (see Afraid of the Next Chapter)

I’d written in my journal the first day of the following academic year that it felt “empty” to not be going back. The following sentence read,

“but also feels like I’ve moved on and I’m full of wonder with how God is going to move in my life.”

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Emerald Isle July ’18 New Beginning of a Wedding

That is the glimpse of the New Beginning. Knowing that you have moved into that next phase, still uncertain but strengthened by hope, that wonder of how God is working in your life. Totally surprised by the place you’ve landed, you trust in the bigger picture, that you’ll succeed where your feet are now planted.

Whether we arrive at the New Beginning after a Chosen or Forced Ending, we can accept that change as a new start, a place that will challenge us and produce growth.

After I was fired and I muddled in The Gap for a season, I returned to a position in school nursing. At first, I thought it was like I was going backwards since I wasn’t moving to a higher position in clinical trials—as I’d assumed would be my career path. But after a while, I saw that I was a different person since my experience with that toxic job while going through breast cancer treatment. I was stronger and I valued being in a supportive work group. I was more bold and spontaneous with my students and staff. There was a greater freedom to just be myself.

My hope for you, is that whatever Ending you’ve experienced, whatever your Gap has been like, that you’ll arrive at your New Beginning and feel the strength you’ve developed in the process. Knowing that within you is what you need to navigate the new start and that all around you there is support for the challenges.

Now, sitting at my computer and looking out my windows, the wind is blowing harder and the rain has started to fall. I fear that we could lose power before my usual Saturday post. So, I’ll send this to you early and ask for your good thoughts and prayers for North Carolina and all the areas impacted by Hurricane Florence.

Peace and Blessings to Everyone.

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How About You? 

What New Beginning have you experienced?

What strengths emerged that surprised you?

How do you look back on the Ending and the Gap now that you’ve experienced a New Beginning?

 

Forced Endings: Struggling in The Gap

When I was a child, I loved finding hiding places. Among them would be a ditch-like den between two hills where I could sink down into that spot, not able to see ahead or behind. The earthen floor and walls were protection from cold and wind, providing a cozy place to play. In last week’s post, “Afraid of the Next Chapter,” I talked about my retirement from school nursing in light of Bridges’ three phases of change: Endings, The Gap, New Beginnings. I left you in The Gap, to sit with the process, that now reminds me of that childhood hiding place where, by choice, I could sit for a while.

My retirement from School Nursing was an Ending that I’d anticipated for many years. It was a change that I’d chosen. But sometimes Endings are not our choice; they are forced upon us, unexpected and unwanted, like death, divorce, or relocation because another family member has a new job. The forced ending that impacted my life right after I’d completed cancer treatment, was being fired from a job.

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Back then, I was trying to navigate working in a clinical trials research company with treatment for triple-negative breast cancer. Within two weeks of starting with that small company, I realized there were problems: negative relationships among the staff, working for a private business trying to survive in a competitive market, operating without the safety net of publicly funded hospitals and schools with their procedures and protocols that protect the client and employee.

I decided to continue my work with the research company and hope that things improved as I became more skilled in my new area of nursing. I’d give it a year, and if things weren’t better, I’d pursue a new job. But right when I was approaching that one year mark, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and couldn’t leave. I had to keep working there to maintain my health insurance.

It was a real struggle through those eight months of treatment and working in the research company. Those experiences are at the center of my upcoming memoir, He Heard My Voice: A Midlife Mom’s Journey through Cancer and Stress and Her Unexpected Arrival at Healing and Wholeness. Things improved for a while after that eight months, but then there was a downward turn. One day I was called into the conference room for an unexpected meeting. The business manager and Tara, another nurse and my nemesis, sat down with me.

“Connie, things just aren’t working out for you here. We’ve all decided that today is your last day,” Tara told me.

What, just like that? You’re firing me?

 I was in shock, angry, stunned, indignant, shamed, and totally lost (I won’t go on now to tell you about the rest of that scene around the conference room table. You can read all the details in the book!).

While I had disliked a lot of things about working with that company, I wanted to leave when I chose to, not by their force.

The days after my firing, were filled with strong emotions, jags of crying, moments of relief, panicky uncertainty, and struggling with God. I walked the half-mile road of our rural neighborhood, what became my ‘track of travail’ and called out to God, “How could you allow this to happen to me?” “Haven’t I already been through enough with the cancer?”

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My sudden Ending at that company transitioned into The Gap, where I muddled through and often relived that scene around the table, feeling that anger, that rage, at Tara and the administrators that were behind the decision. Like the pit described in Psalm 40:2 (NIV), which I’d first experienced while working there and going through cancer, I felt like I’d fallen back in that dark hole after I was fired.

A pit. Kind of like a trench, a gap, a place deep in the earth.

With being fired from the job, it took a while in the pit of “mud and mire” to work through that loss and the attendant emotions. Gradually, God lifted me out and set my feet on a firm rock, a solid place to stand. It was then that I could see beyond the pit, from my secure position on the rock. I caught glimpses of what was ahead, of the promise of new beginnings.

While my forced ending was being fired from a job, you may have experienced another type of forced ending and landed in your unique pit of mud and mire. For all of us, it takes working through that muddy place, gradually being able to climb out, through the strength within us, through the support of others, through the mighty lifting by the hands of God.

 

 

And once we’re out of that pit, moving up from The Gap, we catch a glimpse of our New Beginnings.  We’ll wash off the caked mud and mire and step forward toward that place which we didn’t anticipate, we didn’t choose, but awaits us with fresh possibilities.

 

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Posts related to Research Job and Breast Cancer Treatment:

July 19, 2017 Into a Life

July 23, 2017 Navigating a Rough Road

July 30, 2017 Toxic Takeaway

 

How About You?

What Forced Endings have you experienced in your life?

How did you deal with that time in The Gap?

What did you learn during that time that has served you ever since?

 

 

Afraid of the Next Chapter

The week I retired from school nursing reminded me of the week I got married; unbelievable that it was my turn to enter a new chapter of life. I’d watched many of my friends retiring like I’d watched those who married before me, observing them for how to approach that new venture, going to them for advice. But ultimately, it felt a bit surreal and like I’d set the whole process in motion and couldn’t stop it now. It was awkward, like I wasn’t sure where I was stepping and while people told me about their experiences of retirement, I knew it was different for each person. I had to go it alone. While most of me was tired and ready for my new life, part of me was scared, afraid of the next chapter.

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With my friend, Debra who staged a first aid scene for me to walk into– thus the bandaids!

I was used to my routine as a school nurse, working the ten months of the academic year with two months off in summer; the daily rhythm of a middle school and the way time is measured there; the certainty of knowing where I would be for eight hours each weekday with little free time to fret about. I think that as much as I fight routine, there is a feeling of safety when things stay the same. It gives me a sense of control, of knowing where to place my feet instead of feeling like I’m off kilter.

Today, I’m reminded of this because the students headed back to school this weekLast August, my first year of not being at my school after fifteen years of that beginning-of-the-school-year-windup at McDougle, I’d written in my morning devotional book, “First day of school and I’m not there. Feels empty.”

I was in a waiting period, writing a lot, planning a trip, and hoping to hear back from a part-time job as a research nurse. I wrestled with how to spend my day without the familiar tasks of school nursing, feeling a bit uneasy for no apparent reason.

I remembered that we’d learned about helping clients with transitions in my Life Coaching program. Pulling out our textbook, I reviewed one model we’d studied that used a Map for Change by Bill Bridges. According to Linda Bark, the author of our text and creator of our program, Bridges model for change breaks the process into three phases: endings, the gap, and new beginnings.

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Textbook for the Wisdom of the Whole Coaching Academy

My school job had ended March 31, 2017. It was a wonderful and exhausting process with emotional goodbyes with coworkers who’d become family, cleaning out accumlated files from my twenty years in school nursing, meetings and paperwork with our HR department. I experienced the range of emotions described in my text: grief, sadness, relief, anxiety, and excitement.

But because I was so busy getting ready for retirement, with the fanfare of farewells and paperwork, the Endings phase had not hit me that hard. All the scheduled deadlines with the state retirement system, goodbye parties, meetings to pass on my responsibilities kept me preoccupied and there was little time for all those emotions to really sink in.

Until I was in the Gap.

That’s when Bridges says that “the old is gone but the new beginning is not yet formed.”

I’d thought I would establish a coaching business and a writing business during that intial period after leaving the school. I was so tired and at a loss for what to do next. Looking at those two goals, it came to me, “It’s not realistic to start two businesses simultaneously.” My coaching class had emphasized Underpromising when it came to weekly goals (described in post “Underpromising: Is that Settling” June 30, ’18). I’d never started a business and didn’t know all the steps involved.

The Gap phase can be muddy, trying to make your way in foreign waters without that old familiar course you followed on autopilot. It’s a time when you “sit with things” instead of rushing on to fix the uncertainty about the new chapter you’re entering.

I return to what I’d written in my devotional book, “First day of school and I’m not there. Feels empty.” and see the rest of my entry;

“but also feels like I’ve moved on and I’m full of wonder with how God is going to move in my life.”

I will leave you with this until my next post. We’ll let ourselves Sit in the Gap, allowing that anxiety that comes with uncertainty, finding a resting spot in that trough between Endings and New Beginnings.

Like my wedding day, now forty years ago, we will trust the process as we approach a new chapter, that is both scary and exciting, with plot twists that we couldn’t anticipate.

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How about You?

Are you in a time of transition in your life?

How are you experiencing the Endings of that chapter? Have you moved into the Gap? If so, how is it for you?

Come Ride with Me

I’ve always been fascinated by trains. When I was a girl, there was a freight train that crossed through our farm. Sometimes it transported logs, and most of the time, we didn’t know what was carried in those boxcars. When I was in first grade, Mama and we three daughters boarded the train in our hometown of Sanford and rode an hour to Raleigh where Daddy met us. It was the Friday after Thanksgiving and the capitol city must have been festive with Christmas decorations. Our family ate at the S & W Cafeteria, taking the escalator up to the balcony, to look out over the place where Mama had once worked with her girlfriends.

Our parents wanted us to have the experience of riding on a train like they had. During WWII, Daddy would have ridden while in the army– in the U.S. and in Europe. Mama and her cousin, Yvonne joined other nineteen-year-old women, boarding their sleeper car in Fayetteville, North Carolina and traveling through the night to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. That was where they learned skills to work as civil service employees at Pope Air Force Base.

After our trip to Raleigh, I was curious about the passengers when we waited at the crossing for a train. Where were they going ? Who awaited them at their destination? What adventures would they have there?  Seeing those travelers, forward-facing through the afternoon sun’s slant on the locomotive’s windows, I wanted to pack my suitcase and head out on a train.

Several years ago, I did that when I took my solo journey to Vermont by way of Amtrak. It would take about seventeen hours by train to travel the almost 750 miles from my home in North Carolina to my destination in Vermont. It was time to ride the rails.

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I was glad to let someone else do the driving after my long road trip the previous summer to Michigan. I didn’t have to pay attention to the route and I couldn’t get lost. On that Friday, I sat in the packed cabin with a little league team heading to D.C. for a Washington Nationals’ baseball game and families going there for a reunion–some of them wearing their t-shirts with their family name. It was a long ride and while I’d been north on I-95 to New York City and caught glimpses of communities and farmland, I hadn’t been by rail. From the train’s vantage point, I saw back alleyways with graffiti and the industries and lower income houses that were built along the tracks.

When the  Carolinian stopped at Penn Station in NYC, I got off to spend the weekend with my son, Ross. On Monday morning, I continued on by Amtrak to White River Junction, Vermont. Hostelling International had rooms in the historic Hotel Coolidge, built in 1879 as lodging for train travelers in the town that was a rail hub.

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While the trip on Amtrak gave me more of an appreciation for train travel, with the gentle rocking and muffled sound of the whistle giving warning as we approached, it was a bit of a let-down. I’d expected it to feel more like an adventure but most of the time the scenes outside my window were familiar and those forward-facing seats felt too tight and blocked my view of the cabin. I had some brief conversations with those sitting nearby, but most were sleeping or otherwise engaged on their phones or laptops. I knew I hadn’t booked a luxury train ride, but I thought it would have more of the allure that I’d felt when I was a girl.

Last September I had my first chance to ride trains in Europe. My husband and I took the Eurail from Paris to London. It was an enjoyable high speed ride at our table seat with interesting conversation with the travelers across the aisles. Because we were seeing the French and then the English countryside for the first time, it felt like that adventure I’d been yearning for when I took the Amtrak.

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After our days in London, we continued on to Edinburgh, Scotland– again by train but not with the luxury of a table and this time with a fussy child and inattentive parents sitting behind us.

After a days of touring, my husband and I parted in Edinburgh for him to return to the States and for me to go on my solo journey to Iona in the Inner Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland. I felt like I had as a girl; I was on a trip of discovery. How I’d looked forward to visiting Scotland, homeland of my ancestors, and how I felt the anticipation build for my week with the Iona Community at The Abbey. What would it be like in our international group exploring the theme, “The Pilgrimage of Life”?

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I sat at a table seat and was joined by a Scottish couple across from me. They were so friendly and the man was eager to help, telling me about towns as we passed, suggesting places I should visit. A passenger across the aisle joined in our conversation, and when he learned I was going on a spiritual pilgrimage to Iona, he told me he was an Elder in his Presbyterian church in Glasgow. He wished me well when he got off near his hiking site.

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I took a video through the train window, not knowing how it would turn out since I’m not that experienced at video. But now, when I look at it, I’m transported to the inside of that Scotrail car, watching with fascination as I try to take in all I can of beautiful Scotland.

Come ride with me. Feel the steady rocking of the train as we speed along the hillside through the fresh morning air. Catch glimpses of the amazing countryside from inside that lively cabin with friendly passengers.

May this ride on a train transport you back to something you longed for in childhood and have realized as an adult.

 

How About You?

Did you have a fascination for trains or some other mode of travel as a child?

What was your experience of that when you were young and over the years?

If you’ve never gotten to explore that fascination, how could you do that now?

 

Let It Go

I rushed through the Hemmingway salad at lunch in order to get to the reason I’d come to the restaurant. A friend from Michigan suggested I stop in at Jesperson’s for a slice of cherry berry pie while I was visiting Petoskey on my solo journey that year. I’d ridden my bike along the Little Traverse Wheelway by the edge of Lake Michigan for most of the morning. Surely, I had worked off some of the calories in the piece of pie a la mode.

Before I bit into my dessert, I took a picture. I’m not a Foodie and rarely get photos of what I’m about to eat. But that pie sitting next to that cup of dark roast coffee looked like a perfect still life that would remind me of a sweet moment in downtown Petoskey. Biting into the pastry, it had that tartness of small cherries mixed with raspberries that I’d hoped for, countered by the sweetness of the filling and ice cream.

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Slowly eating the warm, freshly baked confection, it was a contrast to the bitter taste left by an interaction with a staff member in the art gallery down the street. Before coming in for lunch, I was browsing, checking out the works of Michigan artisans including pottery dishes, watercolors of the lake, knitted items and the one that caught my eye– a fiber art piece. The woman behind the counter asked if she could help.

“I really like this,” I said, and pointed to the fiber art. “Is the artist from Petoskey?” I asked, hoping to find out more, trying to strike up a conversation since traveling alone made me eager to talk with people along the way.

She didn’t answer my question. Instead, she responded, “You’re a visitor. I hear a little twang.”

I felt irritated, like I’d been put down by her word ‘twang’ which wasn’t how I’d describe my Southern accent.

“Yes, that’s right,” I said and smiled, trying to ignore what felt like a slight, and keep the conversation going.

She answered my question, saying the artist lived in Grand Rapids, then wrapped the fiber art and rang up my purchase. Simply Business.

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Fiber Art by Karen Godfrey

I felt irritated, prickled by her comment that made me feel like she’d poked fun at me. Why did I have to let such a little thing bother me?

I had an idea about that. Several years before I was talking with an acquaintance and we discovered that we both had a hard time just ‘going with the flow’ because we were too affected by all that surrounded us. She said to me,”I think you’re like me. You’re a HSP.” Seeing my confusion, she clarified, “It’s a Highly Sensitive Person. We’re that group that take things too seriously and can’t ignore stuff.”

She loaned me her book, The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron. Reading through it, taking the self-assessment test, I saw characteristics that were true of me: have a rich, complex inner life, easily overwhelmed by strong sensory input, other people’s moods affect me, as a child your parents or teachers saw you as sensitive or shy.

On my roadtrip to Michigan, I visited my cousin in Toledo for a couple of days. We had wonderful conversations, sitting on her screened porch in the early mornings, talking about Rosser family memories. She was ten years older than me and grew up in New Jersey. We laughed that both of us had been compared to our Aunt Polly who was ‘sensitive’ and like us, enjoyed art and were more fanciful than pragmatic.

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Shopping with my cousin Shirley

Now I took another forkful of pie, savoring the treat as long as possible. Maybe Shirley and Aunt Polly were HSPs, too, I thought. Since having my own two sons and seeing their unique traits, I believed that some things are nurtured and some things are provided by nature– how we’re uniquely made and family traits are handed down through our DNA.

Finishing with the final sip of coffee, I pulled the fiber art from the sack and examined my souvenir that I would hang above my writing desk. The serious girl, her photo transferred onto the fabric, reminded me of myself when I was young. Perhaps I was so accustomed to the regional ways of my Southern home that the comment by the Midwesterner in the gallery had made me bristle.

If part of my ‘true nature’ was being sensitive, then I needed to accept that and be grateful for the advantages and learn to live with the disadvantages– like we all do with our true natures.

Accepting all aspects of myself, I would appreciate the tart and the sweet, just like the piece of pie that I had polished off. When comments sounded abrasive to my sensitive ears, I could just tell myself, “Let It Go, Connie” and move on rather than allowing that slight to accumulate in my memory bank.

Now, the still life of the pie and coffee and the fiber art girl above my desk looking out at me, are reminders to “Let It Go,” a sweet memory from Michigan that I can carry along the way.

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Little Traverse Wheelway, Petoskey, Michigan

 

To Read More about HSPs:

Check out Elaine Aron’s work at Highly Sensitive Person.

How About You?

What are challenges you have with your temperment?

How can you accept all of yourself, recognizing the strengths and weaknesses that make up your true nature?

 

 

Hope and a Future

A new chapter in our lives began six years ago when Mama went to live at Parkview Retirement Village in Sanford, our hometown. That day when we three sisters took Mama and faced the reality that we could no longer keep her safely in her home, was one of the most difficult days of my life. But God gave me the hope I needed when I spotted a verse of Scripture tacked to the bulletin board, Jeremiah 29:11(NIV):

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

At the time, I was surprised by the verse being posted in a residence for elderly people with health problems, a place where they’d spend their last days. How could there be hope or a future in that place of decline?

Over those first months, Mama adapted to her new community. Always enjoying the company of others, she reached her hand out to touch fellow residents in greeting when she passed in her wheelchair. She offered some of her food to the women sitting next to her at meals. Staff loved Mama’s sweet smile and how she often laughed after saying something that wasn’t understandable to others, but seemed to be humorous—a tale she would have told back when her words were more intelligible.

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Mama at Parkview watching Bobby Flay

 I came to realize that six fellow classmates from my high school, were all experiencing this same phase of life with their mothers. We’d see each other, sometimes bringing in fresh laundry, or in the dining room coaxing them to eat, or pushing them in their wheelchairs. We jokingly said we could have a high school reunion at Parkview.

Mama and I got to know most of their mothers. We’d stop our stroll down the hall  and visit in their rooms. I learned that Beth’s mother had been a math teacher and Darrell’s had been in a canasta group in her neighborhood. Visits with Sue’s mom, Joanne were always entertaining as she told us about raising and training dogs. She had a special love for Golden Retrievers, and while Joanne couldn’t remember many things, she could list the names of the five Goldens’ she’d had over the years. When my Madison was living, it was a special joy to take her to visit Joanne who asked me once to let her keep Madison, saying, “You know I’d take good care of her.”

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Madison visiting at Parkview

My classmate, Randall, visited his mother on the locked Memory Unit of Parkview then went by to visit his best friend, and our classmate, Bragg’s mother, Pauline.

Back when we were growing up, I would have called her Mrs. Cox. But since meeting her as an adult, befriending her at this point in life, Mama and I know her as Pauline. What I didn’t realize until our visits, was that Pauline and my father were in the same first grade class, in the same school as Bragg and me. I remember the first time she told me about knowing Daddy.

“In our first-grade class he sat in a row to the side of mine. He was nice looking and quiet,” she said. I could imagine our classroom in that school building with the high ceilings and creaky wooden floors, the clanking of the radiators in the winter.

Pauline and Daddy were born in 1920, and now as she approaches her 98thbirthday, I’m amazed at how well she’s doing, at her memory of past and recent events. Pauline’s very kind towards Mama and listens when she tries to add to the conversation.

On one occasion, we happened to visit Pauline when Bragg was there. How good it was to see him, the first time since our thirty-fifth high school reunion. He hadn’t changed much since we were teens, appearing healthy and doing well.

Back in May when Mama and I went to see Pauline, she was disappointed that Bragg couldn’t visit her for Mother’s Day because he wasn’t feeling well.

Then on a Saturday in mid-June, she told us she had bad news.

“Bragg has thyroid cancer. They took him immediately to surgery and have started chemo,” she said. “It makes him really sick.”

We sat there in her room, quiet, Mama watching Pauline as she sat in her chair in shock and disbelief.

“I wanted to go see him but he says he’s too sick. He wants me to wait until he’s feeling and looking better.”

I could only imagine how hard it was for her to not be able to see her son, her mother urge to comfort her boy being thwarted. She said Randall had researched thyroid cancer and it seemed to be very treatable.

“Bragg has always taken such good care of himself. He thinks he’ll be better in a few weeks,” she said, “And he probably will. I just have to wait.”

She talked about him as a child, how they’d always been close, planting the garden together, playing games when he was home from school on sick days.  She remembered he’d worn a fashionable-for-the-seventies, plaid tuxedo jacket to our prom. I was amazed that Pauline could still recall the name of the girl who was his date.

The next time we visited her, we joined Randall, and Pauline’s daughter and son-in-law.

“Come on in,” Pauline greeted us, seeing my hesitance to interrupt. “I always love seeing y’all.”

After we settled in, positioning Mama in the wheelchair so she was part of the circle, I sat on the side of Pauline’s bed next to Randall, and he told us that they’d just been getting an update on Bragg.

“He says he wants to go to hospice now, Connie. They’ve done all they can do,” Pauline said, then shook her head and continued. “Sometimes we just have to hope and pray.”

We sat together and tried to rally our hope, commenting that his physicians at Duke did  amazing work, that Bragg was getting the best care possible. It was a difficult conversation, but we were all together in that place, providing a community of tenderness at a tough time.

The next week I made a point of inviting another classmate, Donna, to join us for our visit with Pauline. Donna had been Bragg’s girlfriend from first until fifth grade. Pauline had often mentioned she’d like to see Donna. For a short while, Pauline was distracted from her worry by talking about Bragg and Donna’s elementary courtship. Randall joined us that night for our visit and for a little while we got to escape the sadness of Bragg’s illness and tell funny stories of childhood.

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Friends since First Grade– Connie, Randall, Donna

The next day, Randall called me to tell me Bragg had gone into a coma. Soon after that, Bragg died. It was hard to believe our classmate was gone.

I felt badly for Pauline’s pain. While it was wonderful that at ninety-seven she had an amazing mental ability, the down side of that was she was fully aware of losing her son. When Mama’s brother had died a year ago, she was spared the suffering of that, the only bright spot of dementia.

The next time we visited Pauline, after we hugged she said, “I just can’t believe it. The doctor said there are three types of thyroid cancer and he had the bad kind.”

She talked about the one visit they had while he was at the hospice facility, when he appeared to be improving. But soon, she returned to her better memories.

“I just have to remember all the good times. He was a wonderful son.”

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Visiting with Pauline

I think back to the Jeremiah verse and the memories of the past six years since bringing Mama to Parkview. Her future and our future since that time has been filled with lots of interactions in her new community. It has helped me to know my classmates through getting to know their mothers, as we’ve shared this phase of life while we’ve become seniors ourselves.

We have had a ‘high school reunion’ while we’ve provided each other support and dealt with the realities of aging, of losses, expected and unexpected.

 

How about You?

How have you helped to provide hope for someone in your community?

How has that experience impacted your life?

 

Sit With Me for a While

That morning I headed out from the hostel on my bike, passing by the picnic table where Ruth was sitting in the sun.

“Sit with me for a while, Connie,” Ruth said from her perch.

I leaned the bike against the table and sat down. Ruth was eighty-three, a Canadian staying at the hostel while her apartment was being renovated. She’d told us when we talked around the kitchen table that she’d started staying in hostels during the fifties. She’d done a lot of traveling over the years since she’d never had children and was divorced.

“Nice day for you to ride your bike,” she said. “I used to love to ride but I can’t since I had my knee replacement. Lots of things change when you get old.”

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She’d hung the sheets on the clothesline, and the steady breeze that was constant off the St. Lawrence River that flowed in front of the Tibbett’s Point Lighthouse Hostel, whipped the sheets. We watched as if waiting for them to dry. Then Ruth continued.

“I got some sad news today. My friend died. She suffered with Alzheimer’s,” Ruth said, and shook her head, looking down at the grass. “You just don’t know how things are going to go when you get to this point in life. At least you have children.”

There was nothing I could say, no cheerful remark that would change anything.

This was the exact situation that I knew that I, like many people, avoided because of not knowing what to say. It’s hard to witness someone’s pain and not be able to do anything. We want to fix things and sometimes we can’t.

We sat there in silence. Being present was what I could offer.

Eventually she changed the subject, moving to something brighter.

“Where are you going on your next journey?” she asked.

“I’m not sure, Ruth. But like you, I’m sure I’ll be thinking about it by the time I’m leaving New York, catching my flight back to North Carolina.”

She smiled and nodded in agreement.

“You should get to Europe. They have some fabulous hostels there,” she said. “Go before it’s too late. I’ve stayed in hostels in many countries, but now those days are over.”

 

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Tibbett’s Point Lighthouse, Cape Vincent, New York

I’ve thought of that conversation many times over the years. I was glad that I had those moments with Ruth, even though it was hard to listen to her pain, to the reality she presented about the passage of time.

I think of my discomfort in situations where I fear that I will have no way to fix the situation. But now, as I consider this, it assumes that it’s about me, about my ability to make something happen. It takes control away from that person and gives it to me.

They don’t need me to control the situation. What is needed from me is to be presnt. To sit with them for a while. The presence of another person, in itself, reassuring, that they are not physically alone, even though they may be alone in their situation.

I don’t need to say anything. Many times I’ve overvalued words and undervalued supportive silence. Whether it’s a person in my path during my solo journey, like Ruth, or visiting with my mother at the nursing home, or listening to a friend share a struggle, sitting with someone and being completely available to them is invaluable.

I will always be glad I accepted Ruth’s invitation to, “Sit with me for a while.”

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How About You?

How do you deal with listening to difficult topics?

How can you be present for someone who needs you?

 

 

 

Tobacco Barn Morning

These mornings when I rise before six and walk, it reminds me of late July days as a child on our North Carolina farm. Mama would wake us when it was still dark to get ready and eat breakfast before we went to work in tobacco either on our farm or for one of our neighbors in our rural community. Part of me hated getting up so early, and part of me was excited, wondering who would be working that day—perhaps one of the girls in my class at school or a good-looking teenage boy.

When I was eleven, the summer after fifth grade, I became one of the paid handers,which were  girls or women who gathered several of the tobacco leaves by the stems, and handed them to the loopers. They took the hands and with cotton twine that was threaded to a wooden tobacco stick, they’d wrap the bundled hands and slide them to the end of the stick, going back and forth between the two handers that were stationed with each looper. Most of the time there were four loopers placed around the trailer loaded with the green leaves that had been picked or primed, as we called it in central NC, by the teenage boys and men that did the back-breaking work in the field.

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Participating in the demonstration of handing tobacco last September at Duke Homestead Harvest and Hornworm Festival

The community of barning tobacco was always interesting to me. There was such a variety of people, some you knew and others you didn’t. That was during the sixties, and while there were racial tensions going on around the country and in our town, whites and blacks worked side-by-side in tobacco. During those days of needing to fill the barn with the 500 sticks that would be cured, we were all laborers, no matter our color. While we returned home to different circumstances and faced different realities, for those hours we were a group working toward a common goal.

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One full stick of handed tobacco, Duke Homestead Harvest and Hornworm Festival

I loved listening to the women talk about the latest news, or gossip. Some of them spun lively stories with more personal details than I would ever hear at home from Mama or Daddy. Sometimes the teenage girls would show up with their hair in curlers, most saying they had a date that night. How they made me want to grow up!

Sometimes there would be a pause in the chatter, only to be interrupted by a shriek when one of the handers picked up a leaf with a hornworm, those tobacco worms with chunky green bodies and a red horn on their tailend. They would be camouflaged in the bed of green and were difficult to pull off once they wrapped around your finger.

More menacing than the hornworms, were the occasional black snakes that the primers put in the trailer just to hear the women screaming at the barn. They were always proud of their trick when they came in from the field later to congregate at the barn, smiling and asking, “How’d you like that present we sent you from the field?”

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Before tractors, mules pulled sleds through the tobacco fields.

The day of work seemed to stretch on forever with the increasing heat and humidity. Between ‘growing pains’ and the umpteen hands of tobacco to fill the barn, I often went home with my arms aching. Mama would rub them with alcohol. I don’t know if it helped, but I think it did, just having Mama to acknowledge my pain and validate it with her care. Now, I chuckle when I see clips on the news about child labor laws being enforced. When you were the child of a farmer, there were no child labor laws, only the understood need for everyone to help.

And there was also a sense of pride that you were contributing, even as a fifth grader. We saw the barn full of the sticks that we’d filled by our steadfast handing of one bundle at the time. We knew that there was no stopping, no quitting the job until it was done. I think those summer days of working hard taught me life lessons of not giving up, of working with others toward a common goal.

That summer when I was eleven, I wrote in my diary that I earned a total of $55.00, paid in cash at the end of each week by the farmer. I used the money to buy school clothes, an adequate amount in 1966. How proud I felt when I went shopping with my own money.

Now, in this new world that we live in, I’m glad I had the experience of the tobacco barn community, the rich memories and lessons of a hard day’s work, the feeling of excitement and possibility when I walk in the cool of the morning.

 

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3-D Mural by Chris Dalton in Sanford, N.C., my hometown.

Yearly Hornwood and Harvest Festival at Duke Homestead

http://dukehomestead.org/harvest-and-hornworm-festival.php

 

How About You?

What special childhood memories do you have of summer?

What aspects of those days do you still carry with you?

 

 

 

 

The Carousel of Time

We drive down the road on a sunny July afternoon, through the broad expanse of eastern North Carolina farmland on our way to the beach. This has been a yearly trek for most of our lives, from the time when we were children, to the years we carried our two sons when they were children, and now to have our first summer beach time with our eleven-week-old grandson. My husband, David plays a CD of Joni Mitchell songs, and the chorus plays for “The Circle Game” with the words, “we’re captive on the carousel of time.”

The tune was familiar to me but not the words– never one that followed her music. I listened closely.

We arrive to Emerald Isle and join our son, Brooks, his wife, Emily, and our grandson, Baker Hayes.

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We miss our younger son, Ross who couldn’t get away this year. Many of our trips in the past were in August, after our sons finished internships or summer jobs and before I returned for the new year in my middle school. But since I’ve retired from that nursing position, I no longer feel that weighted dread of having to go back to the intensive wind-up for the fall semester.

Often our time at the beach reminded me of New Year’s, looking back since our last summer’s stay; all that had happened in our family’s life; all that had been accomplished and all that had not; looking ahead to what was possible before the next year’s beach trip.

This year there’s a shift as we give our son’s family the downstairs master bedroom so they can spread out with the baby. I’m anxious to hold my grandson, to see how he’s grown since our last visit several weeks ago. He holds his head with great muscle tone when I pick him up and feel the pounds he’s gained. How fast he’s changing! They had taken him to the beach before we arrived to put his feet in the salt water. He pulled them back, like the water was too cool and he wondered why his parents were subjecting him to that.

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After he’s fed, I walk him about and jostle him up and down trying to ease him into sleep, which he fights, wanting not to miss anything, I suppose. I think of Joni Mitchell’s song, the “painted ponies going up and down” and imagine how he’ll love a carousel when he’s a little older– my active little grandson.

Maybe the outside air will help, I think, and walk him onto the back porch. Every summer this has been the place I sit to read and drink coffee, whether it’s my morning devotional, my beach novel, or my non-fiction workbook on finding my way in mid-life. Now with the next generation in my arms, it’s a place to distract him from his fretfulness, a new memory in this space.

I think of the dreams I’ve had sitting in the porch chairs and continued pondering as I  walked along the shoreline. Some of them have been realized, others have not, and some are in process– like publishing my memoir. Some of them have changed as I’ve transitioned from mid-life to the beginning of my senior years. I remember the lyrics from the Circle Game song, “there’ll be new dreams, maybe better dreams.”

The passing of time is apparent in every memory of summertime at the beach, of family trips to this house. I imagine our grandson over the years before us, how fast they’ll go and I’ll want to, “drag my feet to slow the circles down.”

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Napping with his ‘Papi’ on a rainy afternoon

For now, all I can do is be thankful and enjoy these moments, even when he is fussy and hard to settle, content in the intimacy of this family time. I’ll be present to the circle of life pulling us forward, giving into its pull instead of fighting it, like my grandson fights sleep.

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How About You?

Where are the places you feel the passing of time?

How do you look on the dreams that have been realized and those that haven’t, the ones that have stayed the same and others that have changed?

 

Leaving it All Behind

This week I’m remembering my solo journey to Michigan. Right before that trip, we’d had a stressful move from our home of twenty years in the country to our downsized house in a neighborhood in town. The negotiations of selling our home and buying the new one came at the end of my year as a school nurse, that hectic period from mid-May to the beginning of June. By the time the moving company drove away, I was exhausted.

What reminded me of that move was starting into my yearly project of clearing out, of de-cluttering my home and attempting my belated spring cleaning. That summer four years ago when we moved in, we could hardly walk around our house for all the packed boxes. I’d decided during the winter that I wanted to go to Michigan– a place I’d never been but yet it seemed familiar from hearing about it from several coworkers. In the cold of winter, I’d thought a long road trip to a cooler-than-North Carolina-climate in July would be fun. I’d contacted my cousin in Toledo to say I’d stop by for a visit, but with my tiredness from the move, inertia set in. I looked about my house at all that needed to be done and thought taking a trip seemed unreasonable.

How can I leave this mess and go on a journey, I asked myself.

I told my friend, Paula that I was considering cancelling my plan, that I didn’t think I had the energy to pull a trip together.

“You have to go,” Paula said. “That’s what you do.”

I trusted her wisdom because she’d been my friend since my first journey to Sedona. She’d seen how they impacted my life, and how sharing about how God used that time away had encouraged others.

A week before I had to take off for Michigan, I rushed to make reservations at the few hotels that were still available during peak season– since there were no hostels in those areas. I packed quickly and pulled CDs out of one of the boxes, choosing a random assortment for the road.

The morning I headed out with my bike on the back of my rental car, there was a terrible storm that seemed like the final barrier. Besides my tiredness from the move, I was more aware than usual of friends and acquaintances struggling with serious problems; a young man waiting for a bone marrow transplant and a young woman with advanced breast cancer; a father with an opiod addiction, a couple trying to free themselves from cocaine, a mid-life woman overusing her prescribed anxiety meds. Even the news coverage of people in distress after a recent plane crash in Asia seemed to be pressing down on me, feeling the weight of the world in my vulnerable state.

I realized I was bone tired and soul weary.

Driving slowly in the rain for almost an hour I was finally relieved to be out of it and able to pick up my speed, planning to make it to Charleston, West Virginia for my first night. I liked that during a road trip I could slowly release the people I left behind, the chores unfinished, the things I forgot to do. I prayed for the journey, the people and places that would be in my path, but I found it harder to let go than on previous trips. I thought a good night’s sleep would help, but I felt little relief the next morning.

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Dinner in Charleston, West Virginia

Driving out of Charleston, I looked at the small, frame houses that hugged the hillside, and wondered how the people who lived in those homes struggled. The ones that I’d been praying for who were dealing with substance abuse and cancer came to mind. I felt weighted down and put in a CD by Nicole C. Mullen, a contemporary Christian singer I hadn’t listened to in a while. Her words spoke to my heart when she sang in her soulful voice the song, “Come Unto Me” and the line “all who are weary bring the load you carry and I will give you rest.”

I need to let go of all this. I’m carrying more than I can bear.

Releasing tears washed down my face as I sang along. Her music was what I needed.

The road continued on into Ohio, through a valley of farms with barns and silos. The fields of corn were a verdant green and along the highway there was Queen Anne’s lace and a lavender wildflower I could’t name. My spirits improved as I felt the relief of laying down my burden.

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On the Road going toward Ohio

I needed to go on this journey to disentangle myself, I thought. I was suffocating under all those boxes in my home and there was no way to relax and be restored except to draw away for a while.

The journey proved to be very meaningful, visiting my cousin and exploring the new territory of Michigan. I was glad that I’d just taken off, that my rational mind had not won out with the things I should do.

And when I returned from my journey, I was rested and ready to make my house into my home.

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The Stunning Beauty of Lake Michigan, Sleeping Bear Dunes

Find more of that Michigan trip in these previous posts:

Distant Cousins

Fog Gets in Your Eyes

Not Like Me

How About You?

Are there things you need to leave behind in order to get away to renew yourself?

How can you release what is weighing you down?