The Fiscal Cliff has taken center stage these days. And Sandy, for the most part, has been relegated to back-page news. After all, it's been a while now. Except for those still suffering. For them, time is irrelevant. In some ways, it's been forever; in other ways, it's like it was only yesterday when "normal" was ripped from them, when life had a rhythm and they could, more or less, count on being warm and housed and surrounded by a lifetime of collectibles. As we move forward in our own lives, it's easy to leave Sandy behind. That's why I so appreciate Brian Williams (Nightly News) and his continued coverage of this life-shattering event.
The other day he reported the heart-warming story of New Orleans First Responders working side-by-side New Yorkers still staggering under the weight of Sandy's destruction. They consider themselves "sister cities" and New Orleans never forgot how New York's First Responders came to their aid after Katrina. Now it's their turn.
The wreckage is almost impossible to comprehend until we put a human face on it, show the plight of one person, of one family, of one community pulling together. Such loss: photographs swept away, homes reduced to mildew and rotting wood and shards of memories. And yet, for those who lost everything but remained safe in the arms of loved ones, they are stoic in their assessment that it could be worse. They could have lost one another. They're right. We lost a daughter to cancer last year and that goes in the category of worse; far more devastating than the loss of things. Still, storms like Sandy give us pause: they ask us to stop, dig deep and see, in each of our lives, what's nice to have and what's essential, to determine what maters most.
After Katrina, I wrote a piece that seems as relevant today as it did then. That published essay is titled What Matters Most. Click on the title and download it for free.
How would you answer the question I asked my husband in that piece? Post your response in the comments section.
A proverb that can be traced back to 1772, it essentially advises that the less we waste, the less we'll need/want in the future. I'm sure this is intended to caution against careless use of money, food, and resources. I'd like to also suggest it cautions against waste of time and personal energy. The more we waste today, the less likely our dreams and ambitions will see the light of day.
My friend, Maureen was around 40 when she confided two things: (1) she really wanted to go back to school, now that the kids were grown and her husband had earned his Master's Degree and in a career he loved, but she was too old to start over and it would take too long, and (2) she and her husband were watching every penny, not taking vacations or splurging on themselves in the least, because once he retired, they were going to travel. First stop: Hawaii.
My response to #1 is that every day was going to pass, whether she spent them going to college or dusting her living room; it was still going to be the same 365 days a year and how she spent them would either enhance her life or diminish her spirt. To #2, I encouraged her to live today with zest (you know, like the song: Live Like You Were Dying"), even if they were saving for tomorrow's adventures. Do some small things NOW.
Well, you can probably guess the ending of this story: she shuffled from day to day, watching her husband and kids enjoy their lives and she never returned to school. And two years before her husband's early retirement, she got cancer, had a stroke and died.
Waste Not. Want Not. Our currency is not just money; it's time and energy; it's dreams achieved and goals accomplished. Or not. When emerging writers tell me they want to write but can't find the time, I answer: a page a day; those days are going to pass whether you write that page or not. But if you do, in one year, you'll have that book.
When we choose to embrace our lives, we don't waste our days or our years and we don't waste our dreams. Live is too short to sit on the couch and wish things were better, different, more joyful. Every day counts.
It's been a while since I've posted. Life has taken me down, turned my voice into tears and I've not been able to do much but wake up (sometimes not easily) and then spend the day putting one foot in front of the other. Our daughter, Patty (same name as me, now there's something to ponder) was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer on December 13 and she died in our arms, here at home, on Feb. 5. Seven weeks. How can that be? I brought her to the ER on November 21 and it took 12 biopsies and surgery to diagnose her. That's how tricky and elusive the pancreas is.
Patty was actually my stepdaughter. But having loved and raised her from the age of 14, she was also my daughter. As one Hospice worker expressed, "She has her mother, and you're her mom." That's the truth of it. We both loved her. We both took care of her in the ways we could. She came home to our home, her home, to die. And I would wish that on nobody. Hospice can prepare you. But only so much. The rest is uncharted territory. The memories are haunting. It's one thing to bring a loved one home and nurse her to wellness; quite another to nurse her until her death. I will write about this more in the months to come. I kept a journal during that time. It was the only writing I could do. The only voice I had was one of despair, of trying to make sense of our new reality.
But I'm finding other voices now. Rediscovering myself even as my husband and I move forward in grief. Even as I watch other family members try and find their way. As Tom Hanks (as Sam Baldwin) said in Sleepless in Seattle over the death of his wife: "Well, I'm gonna get out of bed every morning... breathe in and out all day long. Then, after a while I won't have to remind myself to get out of bed every morning and breathe in and out... and, then after a while, I won't have to think about how I had it great and perfect for a while."
And that's life isn't it? Perfect for a while. But only a while. Then the sands shift and we're seeking new balance. When you have that perfect moment in your life, embrace it with all you have. Soak it up. Express gratitude. Live in the light.
I can't get the thought out of my mind: the past is simply backstory to our present and to our future. Good ole' William (as in Shakespeare) said it first and best in the Tempest, Act 2, Scene I: "what's past is prologue, what to come in yours and my discharge."
Simple translation: life comes full circle; we write our future by what we've done in the past -- it becomes the prologue to today and tomorrow. And, yet, today and tomorrow remain in our hands, in our discharge and our free will. We get to choose how that past will impact each hour of each day. Some people might argue that the past is past and does not have to define us. True enough. But it does help determine the choices we make, the steps we take going forward. We don't have to repeat mistakes or continue on the same road, but, every day, what occurred yesterday is, I believe, the prologue to what will occur today, to the choices we make, the paths we choose to take.
While I wasn't consciously aware of that quote when I wrote Field of Destiny, that very concept is at the core of the novel. Every choice comes with a consequence. And every consequence leads us closer to, or farther away from, our chosen destiny.
Talking about choices: if you haven't noticed, I've changed the name of my Blog to Points of View, more closely reflecting what I want to explore, what I hope you will help me explore - ps
A few years ago, on Thanksgiving Day, I was missing my mother (who'd died a few years before then) and the phone rang, a stranger at the other end saying, "This is your mother. Do you need any help?" Not a simple, "hi" or "how are you?" but, "this is your mother." She was calling her daughter and dialed wrong. Or did she. Was it my mother, coming through this kind stranger. Flash forward: what are the chances that my father, who's been gone for 16 years, would call just a few days later?!?!? One in a million, maybe. But it happened.
I rarely keep my cell phone on. I don't text and I only use my pay-as-you-go phone for when I'm on the road. It was still on from the night before, when I'd done a book signing, tucked inside my purse, when it rang. I flipped it open without putting on my glasses to see who it was. The man on the other end said, "You sound better today." My immediate response was, "Who is this?" to which the man replied, "This is your father. You sound better."
How could that be? Yet, there it was. Two strangers, days apart, identifying themselves as my parents. Makes you wonder. Makes you believe. Right after my father died, I wrote a short essay, published in the Op-Ed section of The Hartford Courant, the premier daily newspaper in Connecticut. I talked about my father's passing, about the fact that I just wanted to know where he was, how he was doing. Was he strolling along a place called Karmic Boulevard? I asked for a phone call in that piece, wanting him to call and let me know he was okay.
I guess he finally did. Thanks, Dad. - ps
I just finished reading Sara's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay, a novel set during the Holocaust, a book that feels as real as the true story of Anne Frank. It depicts honestly a dark time in French history, showing us 1942 Paris in which thousands of Jewish families were rounded up, arrested, held at the Vélodrome d'Hiver outside the city, and then transported to Auschwitz. You know the rest.
I'm sure I'm not the only one who had no idea of what occurred in Paris, so swept under the rug was this time of unspeakable acts. The author does a remarkable job of pulling us into the events of the time by giving us Sara, a young girl with a secret and a key, a young girl burdened by guilt and yet compelled by hope and responsibility to go on despite everything. And while I had some problems with the structure of this novel and the storytelling techniques, I find myself haunted by the experience of having read it.
What I want to know . . .what I need to know . . .how could it have happened? Is there unseen destiny at play? Do we have free will? Can we use the metaphor of Sara's key to unlock our own history, to open doors often locked by prejudice and misunderstanding and find ways to forgive and to embrace one another. I don't have the answer. But I do have hope. — ps
Do you ever get the feeling the Universe is hitting you over the head, trying to get your attention with a particular message? That's how I felt this weekend. And the message came right from Tim McGraw: Live Like You Were Dying. l
Well, maybe it didn't come right from Tim himself. But I was clearly reminded of his song at least a dozen times and now it's looping itself through my brain, day and night. First, my husband and I took our grandsons to Waterfire in Providence, Rhode Island where nearly a thousand people gathered in support of breast cancer awareness. It was the last Waterfire of the season — filled with ritual, fire and water in the most beautifully imagined ways — both a fundraiser and tribute to breast cancer awareness. At dusk, 150 survivors walked to the basin of the three-mile river, each carrying a pink torch, lighting the dark, lighting our hearts, evocative music filling the air. Even our 12 and 14 year old grandsons were moved, clapping with the rest of us in both appreciation and acknowledgement. The air was filled with courage. And love. I felt honored to be part of this ceremony on this warm October night; I hugged these three men in my life thought: embrace these moments, they're fleeting at best.
The next day I called a good friend whose husband has been challenged for months by radical cancer treatment. Hearing the tears in her voice, I could only imagine it'd gotten worse. It had. But her tears were for a friend who'd just taken her own life. Such irony as they were doing everything to prolong his. And then another friend called with the news that a family member had gone to the doctor with stomach pains that seemed fairly routine, "nothing much," she assumed. She was hospitalized, opened up, closed up, told the tumor had wrapped itself around too many organs; she has weeks to live. Zero to ten in a matter of hours. Seemingly healthy one minute, dying the next. How can that be?
My friends and I talked about embracing life, now, not waiting until after retirement (we're each pushing beyond the 60/65 mark), not waiting until the financial planner says it's okay to take that trip to Venice or buy that vacation home we've been wanting for so long. What exactly are we waiting for? At some point, we're going to have to journey with loved ones as they die, or we ourselves are going to die.
Don't we want to live first? I don't mean be reckless with our resources, but clearly we can make a few "risky" choices. We can go skydiving and not worry about the consequences. We can live before we die. Thank you, universe, for reminding me to let go of fear, real and imagined, and to just let go! Everyone, have a happy day, no matter where you are on your journey. — ps
Lately, I'm beginning to believe we speak primarily to hear ourselves talk. We find humor in our comments. Or excuse our boldness in the pursuit of truth. "I'm just telling it like it is." OR, "Well that dress IS ugly." OR "He did gain weight. I just pointed it out." Right. And your intention was . . .?
Why do we believe it's okay to blurt out whatever's on our mind, offering our unvarnished — generally unsolicited — truth to friends, family and strangers alike? I'm not suggesting we lie. But there is such a thing as politeness. And keeping our mouths shut. Case in point: my sister, Karen, seven years younger, with the thick golden hair we all wanted. Staying slender seems to come natural. Her smile lights up a room. From the outside, life seemed easy and she seemed graced. But the outside doesn't tell the whole story. Karen went through a real rough patch a few years ago: a divorce, lack of meaningful employment, three kids adjusting to a new lifestyle. Throw in some emotional and physical challenges and she crashed for a bit. Actually for a long bit. Her hair lost its shine, her skin its glow. Under doctor's care, she was given prescriptions to help her over the hump. And that brings me to the point of this story: Karen was picking up one of those prescriptions at CVS where she'd gone for years, the first time she'd personally picked one up in a long time. She gave her name, waited for the small package of pills and the pharmacy assistant looked at her and said, "What happened to you? You used to be so pretty."
What happened to you? A bit personal, don't you think? You used to be so pretty? Kinda' harsh, don't you think? And totally uncalled for.
Want to make somebody crumble? Want to make someone turn inward just at the point they were taking a step outward? Want to tell that cancer patient, or heart attack victim, or emotionally fragile person, "you used to look so good," and expect what? To feel justified for expressing a truth? Stop and breathe twice for every sentence you're about to blurt out. Ask: Is it kind? Is it helpful? Is it necessary? Would she want me to saunter up one day and acknowledge how she's become heavier over the years, her backside wider than it once was?
When we offer our truths, let's think first about our intention. Is it to hurt? I suspect not. Is it to exert power, to have the upper hand? Possibly. Or is it because we simply engage our mouth without thinking? We don't even imagine the consequences of our flip remarks.
Time to think about our intentions. Wouldn't it be a far better world if we all intended to affirm others, to help them feel better, not worse. In the end, I guarantee we'd feel better about ourselves. I know I would. — ps
There are times when everything in our life seems to fall into place: we're healthy, everybody we love is healthy; work and money are flowing and there's enough of the good stuff to make us feel content, if not downright happy. Enjoy those moments. They're small windows of opportunity, those seconds of perfection. When I'm in that place and someone happens to ask how I am my answer is something like, "Right now, everything is wonderful. And I'm loving it, not taking one second for granted." I say right now because it all shifts. Like that moving river, nothing stays the same, nothing stays in place. And that's okay. We just need to learn to shift with it.
Over the past couple of months I've been dealing with a series of seemingly random health problems that feel related to me, but nobody is able to connect the dots. And then, if that wasn't enough, a window shade (I was raising to let in light) bolted out of its bracket and slammed into my eye, resulting in some deep corneal abrasions that need to be "babied" for a year in order to prevent re-injury. One sister is still looking for the right job; the other sister is buying a beautiful vacation home. Yin and Yang. Balance and Imbalance. And then a small gift from the universe.
I came across this wonderful, totally unexpected, and noticed increased sales. A small thing, maybe, but it felt like the my world was moving into the center again. I'm working on the health issues, minor by comparison to others, but still mine. There's a line in a novel (and can't remember the name. Can anyone out there help me??) -- it was about the Second World War and a family's adjustments to tragedy -- the line goes something like this, "the cut on your finger doesn't hurt any less because someone else lost his leg." I had to think about that for a while, but it's true: our hurts are still our hurts even if someone else's loss is greater.
So that's it for today. Time to batten down the hatches and wait for the storm about to hit Connecticut in a couple of days. Be safe. Be well. Enjoy your windows of opportunity.
My challenge, lately, has been some health issues. And, more specifically, blurry vision which is scary in general and frightening for a writer whose identity is woven into the tapestry of seeing and seeing well. But there are adjustments that can be made. And there are attitudes that can be adjusted. I went underground for a bit, dealing with my issues and needing some emotional and psychic rest. But I'm back, writing and publishing and getting my books out in e-book formats as well as paperback. It's all in our point of view, isn't it? Focusing on what we can't do. Or focusing and appreciating what we can do.
So, for me, right now and to you, right now whatever your challenge, let's collectively smile, shrug our shoulders a bit and say, "What is, IS. Can't always change it, but can embrace it, make friends with it, and move forward." Today is a good day! - ps
Welcome to Pat's Place
This is the kind of place I'm lucky enough to enjoy every day, a place to think and write and talk with friends. I hope you'll join me here often, posting on my posts, letting me know what you think, what you believe, what makes you laugh or smile or cry. What makes you angry. Let's share thoughts, rant at the world's randomness, explore issues like karma, destiny and past lives, and literary ones, like what we're reading and how in the world writers create conflict in fiction. It's all up for grabs. So, what's on your mind? Post comments.
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