Friends?

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I’m always very pleased to see that readers are checking my site even when I haven’t posted anything new for a while.  I used to try to follow the common advice about posting frequently–every day being the gold medal standard. Usually, though, I didn’t even earn a silver or bronze.  I come from a long line of tight-lipped Yankees, whose motto is “If you can’t improve on the silence, don’t break it!”  

There are clearly enough people around who have something to say about everything and anything on a daily basis, so I don’t feel much pressure any more to add to the incessant background noise of our modern lives.  Today, however, is an exception, thanks to my recurring irritation with devices.  To be more specific, it’s not really so much the devices themselves that irritate me, but the way whoever is in charge of this matrix tries to make me believe that they personally know me, really give a damn how I am, what I did 5 years ago, and whether I will remember to take my umbrella today because it’s going to rain.

Several years ago, when my brother was a newbie on Facebook, a pitiful message (cue the violins and break out the tissues) popped up on my news feed saying “Steve Crofter doesn’t have any friends.  Suggest friends for Steve!”  Let me set the record straight here. Steve Crofter has more friends than most people I know.  He makes friends with the mailman, the clerk at the local store, the curmudgeon next door and the recluse old lady who lives down the street.  He doesn’t have that many friends on Facebook because he’s busy making friends in real life and real time.

A few weeks ago, my morning started with another Facebook announcement:  (Cue the trumpets and give an enthusiastic drum roll, please…)

You and Steve Crofter have been friends for five years!!  

EXCUSE ME?????

Steve Crofter has been my youngest brother since 1953.  I wish I could claim that we have been friends for 64 years, but unfortunately my two brothers and I wasted time during our childhood years picking on each other and playing “two against one.” Thankfully, however, and due in large part to the fact that Steve is a natural-born peacemaker, in our adult years the three of us have become fast and loving friends.

Yesterday at 9:28 AM,a notice appeared on my Facebook feed that said:

“cultivatingdignity.com has 1 new post share and 1 new post like.”  

All day I basked in the happy knowledge that even when I wasn’t inspired to produce a wordy gem to post on my blog that due to the ever-present cyber world, I was still popular!!  So imagine my distress when checking Facebook (just one more time, honest) before going to bed, this notice slapped me in the face:

“cultivatingdignity.com didn’t get any new post shares or likes this week.”

Damn!!  Now rather than drifting blissfully to sleep, secure in the knowledge that my readers have not forgotten me, I have to toss and turn trying to figure out where things went wrong.  Maybe the Facebook week starts on Sunday evening, say around 8PM.  That would mean that the 1 new share and 1 new like were true last week, but so far nothing this week.  But that can’t be the case, because even if the week starts on Sunday night, surely they wouldn’t smack me down so quickly.  Wouldn’t they give me at least a few days to see if I can rise to the publishing standards I’m supposed to meet? Isn’t Facebook my friend?  Don’t they really care about me?  Isn’t that why they say good morning to me every day and warn me about the weather conditions I might have to face?

Look, even an old lady like me can appreciate the usefulness of Facebook and other social media.   It is a wonderful way to keep in touch with family and friends who live long distances away or to share news and information with many people without the necessity of making numerous phone calls.  I also know that it can provide critical information to people in times of political crisis or natural disasters.

Image result for man behind the curtain ozMaybe I am living in the past, but I am really irritated by this attempted personification of software and computer programs.  I never want to forget that friends are live human beings with whom I can have a conversation over a cup of tea, who can laugh with me when I am joyful and wipe my tears when life knocks me to the ground. And sorry, Facebook, no offense, but you are not my friend, and the man behind the curtain is not either.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Life in Water

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I began immersed in fluid, floating freely, encased in the universe of beginning.  Nothing was required of me there, no consciousness, no choice, no understanding.  Slowly my universe contracted and I grew beyond its borders.  Without understanding, I knew narrowness was coming and I would be thrust into a cold, bright dryness, a perilous hero’s journey to a land I did not know.

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At 10, I rejoiced in water.  I ran into the waves, waded into deep streams, floated in muddy ponds with no fear of leeches or rusty metal. Perhaps I still remembered the sensation of endless waters, the universe of beginnings, the promise of lands yet to be seen.

At 20, I began to underestimate the depth of the streams. I was caught in undertow, slammed into the sand.  I struggled against the current, swimming furiously toward goals that were not mine.

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At 30 I gave up struggling and floated, driftwood in someone else’s sea, waiting and hoping the waves would drop me on the shore.  I prayed for an anchor, a purpose, a sign that I had reached that land I did not know.

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At 40 there were children.  I had crossed into a land I did not know, but not the land I had been searching for.  I learned to swim furiously again, but now I needed to save others and still did not know how to save myself.

At 60 I watched my children drift away in their own ships, and prayed that the seas would be calm and the winds always at their backs.

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At 70 my life is again encased in the fluid universe of beginning.  But now there is consciousness, choice, and understanding.  Slowly my universe is contracting and I am growing beyond its borders.  The stream is shallow, flowing gently and singing promises of peace.  I know that narrowness is coming again and I will end my hero’s journey in a land that I will finally know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s in a Name?

strawberries-1350482_640Many years back, when both my husband and I could still bend over without crackling sounds and shooting pains coming from the general area of our spines, we owned and operated a pick-your-own strawberry farm.  This was an endeavor that he had started several years before I came on the scene.  In the rose-colored, early days of falling in love, I was eager to prove my worth as a field hand.  This freed him up to drive around in the air-conditioned tractor, while I made friends with the ticks and black flies and grew blisters on my hands from wielding a hoe.  Love is not only blind, but apparently also immune to pain, heatstroke, and mosquito bites on the behind.  (Obviously a farmer wife has a very different experience peeing in the woods than a farmer husband!)

I got to supervise a pack of teenagers desperate enough to agree to do manual labor in the hot summer sun, probably figuring it was a good way to impress the opposite sex by wearing Stanley Kowalski t-shirts or short shorts and tank tops.  Not that I cared so much what they were wearing, but I soon learned the truth of the old saying: “One boy’s a boy, two boys is half a boy, and three boys ain’t no boy at all.”  A more modern version might go:  “One teenager can weed a row in 30 minutes, two teenagers can weed a row in 50 minutes and three teenagers just got in an old jalopy and headed off to Dairy Queen.”

gardening-2448134_640Not that I blamed them much. Anyone who works the soil knows that it is hard labor, requiring not only physical stamina and perseverance, but also a healthy dose of optimism, faith and acceptance.  As hard as a farmer may work, she is never ultimately in charge of what may come of her endeavors.  Healthy plant growth requires a particular balance of good soil, sun, rain, light and dark, temperature, and freedom from pests or disease.  A lot of this may be under our control, but there is a great deal that is not.

Sounds a lot like human life, doesn’t it?  Which segues into my original memory that surfaced from “soil.”  After a long, hard day in the fields, I was desperate for a cool shower, not because of any fetish about being dirty or emanating an un-feminine body odor, but to ward off the on-coming heat stroke headache.  Shedding soil-covered clothes and shoes in the bathroom, I would often complain:  “Look at all this dirt.” To which husband would reply:  “It’s not dirt, it’s soil!”

I have to admit that for a long time I thought he was just being a snarky know-it-all, because really aren’t dirt and soil the same thing?  When soil is on the floor of the house where it doesn’t belong, isn’t it dirt?  No, not really. It may be out of place, or not particularly useful on the bathroom floor, but it is still soil–fertile, full of living organisms and capable of sustaining and nourishing growth.

There are many in our public arena these days who are trying to convince us that they are providing soil, when they are really only shoveling dirt.  We need to understand the difference and plant our common hopes and dreams in the rich soil of diversity, tolerance and acknowledgement of our common humanity. To live up to our great potential as individuals and as a nation, we need to realize that hatred, prejudice, deceit, and dishonesty are not the soil in which our best selves can flourish, but are the dirt that will ultimately bury us.

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To tweeze or not to tweeze…

eyes-161265_640I always prided myself on eschewing the mainstream makeup wisdom that requires eyebrows to be neatly curved and well defined. There was also a time during my mis-spent youth when I refused to shave my legs and underarms.  It was the 60’s and social norms and expectations of all kinds were being questioned and tested, including those that defined proper womanhood during the 1950’s. Besides, the argument went, European women, who at that time seemed to occupy an exulted place in the average male’s pantheon of ideal woman, didn’t shave either–or at least that was the generally accepted information then.

I still don’t use makeup, much to the chagrin of my lovely daughter–an artist for whom all life is a canvas, including face, hair, clothing and accessories. Whenever I am going anywhere more classy than the local grocery store (believe me, the bar is not too high here), she offers to make up me!  I decline, not because she doesn’t do a good job, but because I just don’t feel like myself all dolled up like that!

As I grew older, I knew that physical changes were inevitable.  Wrinkles don’t bother me too much.  Minor flareups of arthritis are manageable. Other problems, which I am too polite to mention here, are annoying, but so far can be kept under reasonable control. Grey hair is a badge of survival. There are a few more serious issues to deal with, but I’m learning to minimize their effect on my health and emotional well-being.

cat-205651_640But those doggone bristly white hairs that have decided to populate my chin drive me to distraction. How I can be so calm about spinal stenosis which, let’s face it, could ultimately cripple me, but go over the edge at the sight of a few stray hairs, I have no clue. And, please, don’t let me get started about the ones that are dangling out of my nose.

I tell myself I shouldn’t sweat the small stuff or make mountains out of mole hills. I used to get impatient with older people, back when it wasn’t personal yet, if they would become agitated over some small detail, or irritated because of some minor change in routine.  But I understand more now.  Aging is a long, hard process of letting go, of health, friends, independence and ultimately everything.

It takes a lot of pluck to survive these golden years!  So if I want to be obsessive over a few stray hairs, just remember, I’m in charge of the tweezers, thank you very much!!

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Smart and Fashionable?

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It took me a couple of weeks to gather up the courage to participate in my first Silver Sneakers swimming pool exercise program. “Silver Sneakers” is a program provided by insurance companies that entitles senior citizens to go to classes at the numerous participating health clubs free of charge and without the necessity of joining that particular club. Some would say that this is evidence of kindness and generosity on the part of insurance companies.  I, however, think it is a great conspiracy to slash another excuse for not exercising off my list.

In any event, while recovering from a ruptured disc and the resultant nerve and strength problems in my right knee, I had gone to this health club pool during free periods and walked back and forth, doing a few gentle stretches to benefit my knee and back.  After I began to feel somewhat better and was able to walk less like Lurch and more like a dignified, although slightly lame, older woman, I convinced myself that driving 25 miles round trip to the nearest pool wasn’t a good idea because it increased my carbon footprint too much and I could put my footprints in the path around the field or on the street.  Of course, that would involve actually going outside and, you know, it’s been raining a lot and the black flies and ticks are waiting and the ground is uneven, which is really bad for someone with hip, back and knee problems.  (Anyone who thinks I may run out of excuses anytime soon does not know me well!)

In a moment of facing the truth about a week ago, I checked out the pool exercise classes at the club and made a pact with myself that today, June 6th at 9AM, I would be in that pool come hell or high water (pun intended).  And I was!!!

lake-constance-1937136_640My advance fears and expectations were typical of someone who has struggled all these years with weight and body image.  I knew for sure the following:

  • I would be the fattest person there.
  • I would be the most out of shape.
  • I would be the only weirdo who keeps her glasses on in the pool because she doesn’t like to squint and bump into people.
  • My bathing suit would be the least attractive and definitely not fashionable.
  • I would embarrass myself by leaving after 10 minutes.

I arrived in the pool early.  There were already at least 20 women chatting away in various groupings like old friends.  Many of them smiled or said hello to me as they maneuvered their way toward people they already knew. Not knowing anyone, I used the time to check out some of my fears and advance assumptions.

  • I was not the fattest person there.  There were people of all sizes and shapes, and it didn’t seem to matter where I fall on that useless judgmental scale.
  • I wasn’t the most out of shape.  It’s hard to determine where on that useless judgmental scale I fall, either.
  • For a while I was the only weirdo with glasses on, but nobody put themselves in danger of drowning by falling down in hysterics over it.  Then another person descended the steps with her glasses on, and then another, and another.  Four weirdos in one place means we are no longer weirdos!
  • There were all kinds of bathing suits, most of them more or less like mine.

I was feeling pretty confident. More people joined the group, until there were about 30 of us. As each one entered the pool I wondered if she were the instructor.

Then a clearly out-of-place woman entered the pool area.  She was YOUNG, TALL, and BUFF!  Her black exercise pants were painted on her long, lithe legs and skinny little butt.  Surely, I thought to myself, she is just passing through.  But no, you guessed it, that was the instructor.  She plugged in her music and started yelling:  “Jog, move to the right, move to the left, jog, turn right, turn right, turn right, move forward, move back, march, turn left, turn left, turn left, jog, jog, jog.”

beach-1295588_640The lady next to me sidled over, introduced herself and asked if I was new to the group. She told me she comes regularly and she really likes the instructor.  We exchanged a few words about arthritis, which is sort of like the weather as a conversation starter for me now. Looking around at the pool full of senior citizens, I realized that few of us were doing the same moves as that manic young person standing above us yelling like a Drill Sargent on steroids.  Many were talking to each other and just halfheartedly moving more or less in time to the music.  But moving!!

I wasn’t embarrassed, didn’t feel fat, ugly, or out of shape.  Yes, I know that according to some judgment scales I may be.  But you know what?  Being natty, cool or fashionable is not so important any more.  What is?  Being nice, friendly, and tolerant of my own and other people’s shortcomings.  Gathering the courage to step out of my comfort zone and realizing that most people are doing the same.  Noticing when someone is alone and smiling and saying hello in welcome.

A few women left after 20 minutes.  I made it to 35, and plan to go back on Thursday.

 

 

 

If I am Right, Do You Have to Be Wrong?

A recent post by Dwight Welch on religious pluralism, in which he described his experience at a symposium on that subject, initiated a period of intense thinking for me. Initially I planned to “like” the post and make a comment on the site, but I am someone who likes to cogitate, ruminate, and argue with herself for days on end before writing about anything important.  When his post and the comments he received combined with the spiritual intensity of Passover, my thinking on this subject grew into its own post!

The defense of religious truth has certainly caused immense human suffering.  With perhaps a few exceptions, most religious groups have been both the victims and the perpetrators of spiritual and physical violence and destruction during different periods of human history.  It has always been unfathomable to me how inflicting suffering and death on “others” can be justified in the name of providing them with the benefits of the truth as perceived by the perpetrators, especially when that “truth” is expressed in concepts of justice, compassion and righteousness.

Perhaps at least one of the core issues here is that we humans tend to see the world as having only two possibilities:  right or wrong, day or night, light or dark, you or me. Whether this is an innate tendency or not isn’t something that I am qualified to determine.  But operating under this world view requires that in order for me to be right, you must be wrong.  This viewpoint invariably creates problems, whether at the level of individual interactions within our families and neighborhoods or on national and international levels.

The question of what is ethical or moral behavior and whether the existence of divine power is necessary to enforce that behavior is a complicated one.  Those who favor traditional forms of religious and spiritual belief and ritual argue that these forms are necessary in order to define and enforce morality.  Otherwise, what would make my definition of ethical behavior any more compelling than yours?  It’s an appealing argument.  But there are many people who do not buy into traditional forms of religious belief, yet are still kind and ethical people in their outlook and behavior in the world. That is a compelling argument for the opposite position.

Recently there has been discussion among physicists about the possibility of parallel universes–that there may actually be universes other than our own and to which we have no direct access.  If so, “reality” and “truth” in those universes could be entirely different.  Could there potentially be truths in those universes that are opposite of what we see?  It’s mind boggling and somewhat scary to think so, but even if it isn’t true or possible, it exercises our limited outlooks by thinking about it.

Not too long ago a pair of friendly and polite young men knocked on my door.  While this does not happen frequently, it isn’t the first time that people who are easily identifiable as missionaries have appeared at my home.  I used to feel annoyed and struggled to be polite to them, or on occasion reverted to the ploy of pretending no one was at home. But as I have become more secure and confident in my own particular spiritual outlook toward the world, I have realized that they are living out what they perceive as their religious duty, just as I strive to live out what I see as my religious duty–though it certainly differs from theirs.  As long as they are not going to engage in harmful acts or spiritual bullying, I now smile and thank them politely and then say “no thank you.” The fact that they feel it is their spiritual duty to promote their view of salvation, and may indeed think they are saving me from eternal damnation, does not in any way diminish the validity of my spiritual construct or deny the reality of what I believe to be true.

I do not think it is a question of deciding whose truth is right, and therefore makes all other religious formulations false.  The divine presence is ultimately vast enough to encompass all of the various ways that human beings struggle to answer the questions that come with being human and mortal. What is the meaning of life? Why do good people suffer? How do we respond to violence and hatred? Why is the distribution of wealth, health and opportunity so unequal?  And perhaps the most difficult question: How do we face the loss of loved ones and our own physical aging and death? elegant-1769669_640

In the end, this is what I believe.  If there really exists a divine entity that we call God, who created an infinite, complex universe(s?), populated by thinking, creating, complex humans (made in God’s image), who see the world in so many different ways, is it in any way reasonable to think that there is only one true way to picture that entity, and only one pathway to bring that divine presence into the world?

A life in the color of dreams.

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When I was 10, I dreamed of being a nurse.  The dream was pale in hue, a light sterile green, because that was the color of hospital walls then and I didn’t know any better.  But I was told, by someone who thought she was being kind and giving me good advice, that I should be a doctor because they made more money, and although she didn’t say directly–they have more status and are more important.  So the green became darker and bolder, because it now represented money.

By 15 I dreamed of just making it through high school and getting into college.  My dreams were darker, hospitable to those things that are not invited, but still arrive in the night.  I was really terrible at science.  I no longer dreamed of being a nurse or a doctor.  heart-1899822_640

At 20 I dreamed of being accepted, part of the cool girls clique at college.  The dream was in reds, not the bold hue of an “arrest-me-red” sports car, but a pale, pale red, of blushing, hesitancy, uncertainty, an appropriate female-type red.  I knew I wasn’t cool.

At 25 I dreamed in grays and pinstripes, classic colors for office girl attire; living on my own, keeping company with loneliness; longing for brighter hues and vibrant colors for my dreams.

beautiful-909553_640At 30, I dreamed of a white wedding dress that I wasn’t sure I would ever wear and the red of valentine hearts from someone I probably would never meet.

At 35 I met the someone and got the dress and began to dream in the daytime, because  being in relationship can often be so much more difficult than being lonely.

At 40 I dreamed in pink and blue, for the children of my dreams who were never there in the morning.  When we finally became a family, just not in the way we had originally expected, my dreams for them came in all the colors of the rainbow.

fairy-2164589_640At 50 I fell in love with the poem about wearing more purple and a red hat when I was old, but 50 is not old and I hadn’t started to dream old lady dreams yet.  But I resolved that when I did, my dreams would be in purple.

At 60 I made peace with the fact that I do not look so good in a red hat and that purple clothes designed for “mature” ladies are not so much to my liking.

At 70 my dreams are finally colored in peacefulness and serenity; in kindness and compassion; in blessing and love that, despite its fragile nature, can change the world. This is one of the surprising gifts that has come to me as I have learned to make peace with aging and its inevitable flow toward the end.  I will dream this way for the rest of my life.

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