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?

Free to Be Me

During the week in which we celebrated our country’s independence, our freedom, I think about what it means to be free as an individual– not to say and do things that hurt others, but to be my unique self. It seems that much of my ability to just be me has been limited by my self-consciousness, my over concern with how I appear to others. I’ve lived with too much fear of ‘doing things wrong,’ as if there is some standard of doing things right that I’m being judged by.

Now, at 63 years old, I’m learning to let go of those things that have bound me. In my part-time position as a research nurse, I’m working with a group of staff who are mostly forty-and-under, employment counselors, none of them nurses. They have a much more relaxed view of work than what I’ve been accustomed to as a professional nurse for the last forty years. There  are some things they can learn from me, but overall, I think now we live in a different time and I need to change to adapt to my new working environment. I can learn from these ‘young people’ who would probably tell me to, “lighten up.”

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Even in the writing community, through speakers at conferences and on podcasts, their sage advice is to remember, “It’s not about you. It’s about your readers.” At first I thought, “What? I’m doing all the work of getting things onto the page. It’s not about me, my story?” But later, as I considered myself as a reader, when I’m engrossed in a good book, I’m applying my perception to that story, my interpretation of everything I read is through the lens of my life, not the author’s. I also consider that if I keep this in mind, I can let go of some of my worry with writing the perfect post or chapter. Instead, with each time I sit at my computer, I can think of you and before I start writing I pray that through the muse that God’s given me, I’ll construct something that will speak to you. It helps me to be free of the burden of outcomes.

This morning when I walked, it was cool and raining and reminded me of my solo journey last September to Iona, Scotland. There I lived in a faith community at the Abbey for a week. The night before I was to check in, I stayed at a B & B across the sound from Iona. That Saturday morning, watching the ferry approach, I was suddenly gripped by fear, by not feeling ‘good enough.’  I said to myself, “Who am I to go to this international pilgrimage site?” Surely those I’d join would be more theologically educated, more international, more of something. I thought of my small-town-roots, my Southern accent, my tendency to hang back, my fear of the spotlight being thrust on me.

As the ferry workers motioned for us to approach the boat, the answer came, what felt like God’s still small voice speaking to me.

You are my child and that is enough.”

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I walked forward, feeling awkward but assured that I was at the place I should be.  Throughout that week, with seekers from all over the world, I continued to feel assured, through my interactions with individuals and in our group discussions, that I was where I should be.

On Tuesday during our group pilgrimage across the island, we stopped at the bay and threw a rock into the water to symbolize what we were leaving behind. Now that I reread that post from Dec. 31, I see that it was a step in letting go to be free, that I’m revisiting at the half-way point of this year. It is a process. After that rock was flung into the bay, I was interviewed on camera that was a first step of letting go of what others’ thought of me.

 

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Pilgrimage across Iona to the most noted sites

When I go back to my pictures of that journey, I see a video that I made while riding on the ferry from Oban to the Inner Hebrides. I’d planned to do videoblogs through the trip, but partly due to time and being in a new place, and perhaps due to my discomfort, I never posted them.

Now, as an act of being free, able to let go of my hesitation and concerns, I’ll share a video on my Author Facebook Page– Saved by Sedona since I haven’t learned to embed videos on WordPress. The video reminds me of that excitement of anticipation, wondering what lay ahead during my week at the Abbey.

It reminds me that I am Free to Be Me.

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The Tall Cross of Iona, See post “Packing Grandma for Pilgrimage” Aug. 27, 2017

Post for Dec. 31, 2017  “The Things We Leave Behind” located at

https://wordpress.com/post/connierosserriddle.wordpress.com/4444

How About You?

What do you need to let go of in order to be Free to be You?

What step can you take to move forward in that process?

Underpromising: Is that Settling?

A few years ago, I took a course with the Wisdom of the Whole Academy to be a Life Coach. I remember in the early part of the program, they were explaining some of the basic tenets of coaching. When it came to the client setting goals, the guidance was to ‘underpromise,’ to pick the one goal they were most interested in reaching and then  commit to one small action step to take in the week following the session.

When they first explained it, I thought I must not be hearing them correctly. My expectation was that a client would commit to a significant step. This didn’t sit well with me. I thought it sounded like ‘settling,’ doing a mediocre job when weren’t we supposed to be reaching and challenging ourselves?

I learned that the rationale was if it was a small step, not too difficult, the client would achieve success and would be encouraged to continue with another small step until they obtained the goal. Choosing too big of a step often produced failure and discouragement.

Each of us had to partner with a fellow student and practice coaching one another. Over the weeks of my sessions, there was a theme in what my coach summarized and reflected from what I’d said: I often used the word overwhelmed. It seemed to occur when I was talking about my frustration with having multiple goals and not knowing where to start. I had an “Ah Ha!” that there were too many goals and that had been a theme throughout my life with my driven nature. No wonder I had a hard time with the concept of underpromising.

The summer after I finished the course and was certified as a Nurse Coach, I took my solo journey to an artist residency at Artcroft in central Kentucky. In return for the free residency, I’d provide the sweat equity of helping with the farm animals, garden, and provide a community service– like speaking and leading a writing workshop. In between those jobs, my project was to rewrite my memoir. But when I arrived, things were completely different.

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Instead of sharing the house with fellow artists, I would be there the two weeks by myself. The cows had been sold and there was no longer a garden. The library and Chamber of Commerce had no requests for workshops in mid-July, so other than meeting the staff as an ambassador for Artcroft, there were no expectations of me. “Just write,” the Artcroft director told me.

While I was disappointed at first, in the quiet farmhouse with only an upstairs window unit air conditioner, my feelings changed over the two weeks. The sparsely furnished house on a lone road on a hillside of Kentucky, became the perfect time and place to write with great focus. I could not put a load of clothes in the washer, or turn on the television, or even use wi-fi, because there were none of those.

I spent the early morning hours, sitting at the table writing with the door open to the cool air, a rabbit nibbling by the side yard. The quiet was occasionally broken by the sound of a car coming up the road or a cow mooing in the distance. I’d take a break and walk the hilly road that crossed the property and enjoy the lane lined with Queen Anne’s lace and lavender chickory blooms. I took garden clippers and gloves and cut pieces of the bountiful thistle to make a simple arrangement for my kitchen table.

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While I would head out for the latter part of the day to the library to check email or to see a few of the area sites, the majority of my time was spent in that simple farmhouse doing just one thing: writing.

The one thing the director advised me to do. I didn’t have multiple goals, “Just write.” It’s the only time in my life when I’ve ever had two weeks focused on one thing.

Was that like what I’d learned about underpromising and with less we could ultimately achieve more?

I still have to remind myself of being kinder, gentler when it comes to goal setting. And when I find myself overwhelmed again, I remember that little house in Kentucky and the quiet lesson learned over that two weeks.

Less really is More.

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How About You?

Do you have a goal that would benefit from taking a smaller first step, of underpromising so that you will have success?

Is there an area of your life where less could be more?

 

Happy Cancerversary!

Cancerversary is a ‘milestone defined by you’ according to the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship #cancerversary.  That’s what June 22 is when I celebrate my survivorship from triple-negative breast cancer diagnosed in 2000. While my situation was cancer, your life-changing event may have been divorce, sobriety, or some other thing that irrevocably altered your life. Each of us has a unique journey and I hope that you can look back on the twists and turns in yours as I share those from mine.

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 I consider the eighteen years since my diagnosis and think about the path my life has taken.  I remember that as we approached 2000, there was a lot of Y2K hype that was focused on computer issues, and by some, was generalized to other areas. But as my mother-in-law, Mary Dell, later said, for our family it lived up to the hype.  In January of that year, my father-in-law, who’d already been homebound on a ventilator for almost ten years, was diagnosed with cancer that originated in his lungs and had spread to his bones. He died on March 28thon his 71stbirthday. Then on June 22cnd, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, that was followed by eight months of treatment that included surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation– lasting through the rest of 2000 to the end of February 2001.

Recently, I was listening to a podcast for writers that asked what your goals are for the next decade. Back in 2000, I wasn’t looking ahead to the next decade, but rather trying to get to the one-year mark, the two-year mark, and especially the five-year mark that was the big milestone with my subtype of breast cancer. Now, when I think of the decade that followed my diagnosis, it’s interesting that the story of those years is told in my memoir. At this eighteen year cancerversary, I’m preparing it for my editor.

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Our family when I’d just finished treatment and still had short hair

Those ten years include walking that cancer treatment path while navigating the toxic job at The Research Company. Ultimately, that included being fired from my job and the accompanying shame and anger that goes with it. God’s grace was evident as I took the steps to return to working as a school nurse at McDougle Middle. There I developed friendships that I continue to enjoy to this day. I was able to use my gifts and experiences from working as a psychiatric nurse to help students struggling with mental health issues. That trail led me to becoming a trainer in Youth Mental Health First Aid that resulted in being a co-leader with Cindy. She told me about a part-time job as a research nurse with UNC Outpatient Psychiatry– just enough work for my post-retirement from the schools last March.

That decade included going through the mid-life challenges of raising children, caring for my mother who was diagnosed with dementia, and trying to find my life when my nest emptied. Part of what I found was the extraordinary of taking yearly solo journeys, that became spiritual pilgrimages. In those ten years, I took seven journeys that included places like Jekyll Island, Georgia and the San Juan Islands of Washington State. Accounts of all those journeys woven into my everyday life are all contained in my memoir, that I didn’t know I would write when I was diagnosed that June 22, 2000.

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First journey to Sedona became a template for 13 more

Beyond that decade, I’ve had eight more years that have continued to open up the world to me while pulling me into what is essential. My life has followed the course that is unique for me, as I continued with seven more journeys and entered my ‘senior years’ and now I’ve added the joy of being a grandmother.  How rich my life has been, how grateful I feel for God’s blessings and the way they have shown up through the people and places in my path.

I remember when I was reeling in the shock of my diagnosis, sitting in the waiting room for my appointment with the surgeon just days after the radiologist looked at that mammography film. Restless with anxiety, I listened as a woman talked to the receptionist.

“Yeah, it’s been eight years now since my surgery,” the woman told the receptionist.

“That’s great,” she responded. “You’re doing so well.”

She’s lived for eight years, I thought, and felt a wave of relief wash over me. Just by overhearing that conversation I felt hope, the first time I ever heard about someone’s cancerversaryand didn’t even know there was such a thing.

My hope for you this day, is that something that I’ve shared will bring you a wave of relief. I don’t know what you’re struggling with, but I hope that you can look ahead, to what you want for the next decade– or the next year, or two years, or five years.

Your road will be unique– the way that is right for you. My prayer is that God will bless you as you take each step forward. As I say on Twitter #stepforwardfromcancer or whatever holds you back.

If your challenge is cancer, I invite you to read my recent invited post on the SHARE site entitled 5 Tips for Getting Through Cancer https://www.sharecancersupport.org/2018/06/breast-cancer-stories/

Blessings to you!

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How About You?

What is your _______versary? What was that pivotal event in your life?

How do you look back on the time since that event and the path your life has followed?

How can you celebrate your _________versary?

 

 

A Father’s Care

I’ve thought a lot about a father’s care over the past six weeks as I’ve watched my son, Brooks become a father. You can see the joy, the weight, the responsibility, the wonder of his new role as he tenderly cares for his baby boy. From the time Brooks knew they were going to be parents, I listened to how he considered decisions in light of what would be best for his family, what a child would need– a father’s protection and provision coming forth from within.

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My son caring for his son

My son learned about being a father from his Dad, my husband, David always a rock of support for his sons.  David didn’t run away from infant care, or terrible twos, or late-night fevers, or problems with getting the boys to complete their homework. He worked hard to provide for all of us so that we could have a good life.  And David had seen that same behavior in his father– hard working to support his wife and three sons.

Likewise, I saw how my Daddy cared for Mama and we three daughters.  He worked long hours on our farm and in other jobs to provide for us. He was the best to bring special treats like ice cream when we were sick and to complement us in our Easter outfits, when we played the piano, or baked him his favorite cake. I was devastated when we lost him to a heart attack when he was just 57. I was 22 and suddenly without the care of my father.

David and I married just eight months after my father died. I was grateful to David’s father, ‘DB’ for welcoming me as a daughter– one he’d never had. For the next 22 years, we were close and I depended on his fatherly support. I really missed that when 3 months after he died, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and could have benefitted from his concern, knowing I had a father watching out for me. I certainly trusted in God my Father during that time, but it would have been nice to have that from an earthly father. I missed the practical way DB had of showing his love, his signature parting instruction to his sons to “check your oil,” the way he said I’m thinking about your safety on the road, without saying it directly. A father’s care that’s a tangible love with an extra twenty dollars pressed into your hand or groceries loaded into the back of your car.

I appreciate what feels like fatherly care– even when it hasn’t come from Daddy or DB. I’ve received that type of support from people in my path on my solo journeys. One of those experiences came the first time I camped.

In July of 2015, I took my first trip by train.  I boarded the Amtrak in Durham and rode to Penn Station in New York, stayed over the weekend with my son, Ross, then continued on to White River Junction, Vermont. There I stayed in a hostel room located in Hotel Coolidge, a historic train hotel. After a couple of nights, I rented a car and drove to the western side of Vermont to camp at Button Bay State Park on Lake Champlain. I’d stayed in a state park cabin before and hoped I could do that in Vermont.  But they only had a cabin available for one night.  If I wanted to stay for three as I’d planned, the second two nights would be in a lean-to.

I was a bit skeptical, never having camped in a lean-to and wondering how I’d be able to take enough gear– since I would only have my backpack and a small suitcase. Around the time I was planning my trip, I met a woman from that area and she assured me I’d be fine without a tent.

The State Park was on a beautiful point of land overlooking the lake.  If you walked down the road to the west you could see the Adirondack Mountains of New York in the distance.

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Button Bay State Park, Vermont

The first night when I stayed in the cabin, there was a  family from Massachusetts at the site next to mine.  They appeared to have a well-established camp site with tents like satellites around their cabin, bikes for the children, and a table for their Coleman stove and cooking supplies.

They watched from their campfire as I unloaded my backpack, suitcase, bedding, and bag of Vermont cheese and apples. Later, they came over and spoke, seeming curious that I was a woman traveling alone.  I told them how I’d made my reservations too late to get the cabin but for one night. They’d been coming for a week every summer since the father was a boy, maybe around forty years. The mother asked me where I would spend the other nights. I told her I’d move to the lean-to sites.

“You gotta tent?” the man asked me.

“No. Just bedding and a floor cushion. A woman I met from near here camps and said that should be adequate,” I said, trying to sound confident.

He looked at me, like he was studying my response, then said, “Those mosquitoes will eat you up. I’ve got one you can use.”

He went to the back of his van and pulled out the tent that he said he’d had since he was nine.  I thanked him and told him I’d return it the morning I left.

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My Lean-To with the stranger’s tent

I managed to rig the tent inside the lean-to using rocks to prop up the poles since I couldn’t anchor them with stakes in the ground.  I just did manage to crawl in and zip up the tent without everything collapsing in on me.  I heard a couple of mosquitoes buzzing and got them out before I fell to sleep reading by flashlight and listening to the groups nearby talking or singing around their campfires. It felt familiar to be camping again after all the years our sons had been in Boy Scouts.

The next morning when I went to the bathhouse, the counter was dotted with what looked to be hundreds of tiny mosquitoes.  I shook my head in amazement.  He was right, I thought, and was thankful for the stranger in my path. He’d made my stay at Button Bay pleasant and had reminded me of how wonderful it is to receive fatherly care.

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Morning view of Lake Champlain

https://www.vtstateparks.com/buttonbay.html

How About You?

What are the special memories you have of your father’s care?

What other people have provided that for you?  How have you provided that type of support to others?