Obstacles of Opportunity

Tree Blocking Path
Tree Blocking Path
Road Closed for Repairs
Road Closed for Repairs

Yesterday was unseasonably warm in my part of the country, and I chose to run outside on the trail surrounding a nearby lake.  Driving to my destination, I suddenly encountered construction equipment and sawhorses strung across the road, which was clearly undergoing repairs.  The route leading into the back side of the lake was my only option, so I turned around, hoping that my mental navigation picture was accurate.  A few minutes later, I pulled into the parking lot, sans help from Google Maps! (Not that there’s anything wrong with technology-assisted travel.)  It was just nice using my very own brain as a guide.

Approximately one mile into my run, I went around a curve on the path, and there was a fallen tree blocking the way.  Obviously, this was going to be a day of obstacles!  I couldn’t help smiling as I jumped over the tree, enjoying the unexpected break in routine.  My smile turned to laughter as a couple of cyclists came flying towards me a few minutes down the trail.  They were going to have to brake suddenly or go airborne to conquer the downed tree!

The small barriers that I encountered are insignificant compared to chronic illness, bankruptcy, divorce, and other immense life challenges we must work through, around, or sometimes both.  They did give me the chance to think about problem-solving in situations minor and arduous.  How would my life change if I embraced every obstacle as an opportunity?  How about yours?

 

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Food for Thought

 

Grocery CartI went grocery shopping early this morning, as is my wont on the weekend.  There is little traffic in my small town at 7:30, and not many people favor buying groceries at that hour, so I have the store pretty much to myself.  It occurred to me as I was loading the bags into my car what an extraordinary gift it is to need food and simply to go and purchase it.  There were no agonizing choices about whether to pay the electric bill or buy food or which things to remove from my list so that there would be money left to put gas in the car.  Although I try to be a wise consumer by using coupons and buying store rather than name brands, I am not forced to examine every cent allotted for groceries in order to avoid future financial disaster.

My journey ended in a prayer of thanksgiving for the abundance in my life and for help in being ever mindful of all that I have.

 

 

Questions for Aging Parents (or Lets Talk about Something Besides Funeral Arrangements)

Senior woman with her granddaughter talk to each other.

Recently I spotted a blog post someone shared on Facebook about conversations that adult children should have with their aging parents.  As expected, every topic centered on financial documents, healthcare power-of-attorney and the granting thereof, end-of-life care, and even the specifics of funeral arrangements.

Having travelled alongside both parents through their illnesses and deaths from cancer, I am uniquely situated to understand the importance of discussing all of the above.  I truly wanted the authority to speak for my parents in medical situations in order to uphold their wishes faithfully.  It also helped to know the location of pertinent financial documents and assorted relevant papers.  Being able to sort out those matters while they were still able to communicate lessened the stress of making decisions during their illnesses and handling all that had to be accomplished in the immediate aftermath of their deaths.

Nevertheless, the post’s authoritative declaration that the most important conversations all pertain to healthcare planning, advance directives, power-of-attorney, and funeral arrangements left me feeling empty and a little sad that I focused on them to the exclusion of other meaningful dialogue.  The following are some of the things I wish I had asked my parents after their respective diagnoses:

  • If life had offered you three “do-overs,” how would you have used them, if at all?
  • What societal transformations have you readily embraced; what changes have you most disliked?
  • If you could spend a day some place from your childhood, where would it be, and what would you do?
  • Who most influenced your life?
  • Where would like to travel if health, money, and time were not obstacles?
  • What hopes and dreams of yours came true?
  • What accomplishments/disappointments continue to encourage/haunt you?
  • Is there anyone it would help you to talk with before your life ends?
  • What do you consider to be your legacy, and is it anything like you imagined when you were younger?
  • How do you want your life to be described?

Although not exhaustive, these topics move beyond the sterile, albeit necessary, discussion of finances, legalities, and healthcare that tend to dominate conversations with aging parents.  They allow the opportunity to focus on “who you are” in addition to “what next.”  For all who still have time, think about the conversations you really want to have with parents in their golden years.  There is so much more to learn beyond whether they want a DNR order.

 

What Happens When You Become the Speed Limit

Vector illustration of fifty five speed limit signpost

“55 Ahead” warns the highway sign, and you either groan at having to slow down or welcome the increased speed limit and hit the gas pedal with glee.  But when “55 ahead” means you are about to view age 54 in the rearview mirror, slamming on the brakes seems like a reasonable response.

Wasn’t it just a few years ago that I was lamenting turning 30, feeling like it was the beginning of the end of my youth and therefore my life.  What hope is there for anyone who has left her 20’s behind and is now only a decade away from achieving the halfway point of total life expectancy?  These are not happy thoughts; I recommend avoiding them assiduously.

Fast-forward ten years, and I have now exceeded the legal limit in most towns by five miles-per-hour.  Unexpectedly, turning 40 was a breeze compared to the arrival of my 30th birthday.  Who knows how the mind calculates these milestones, generating emotions that seem out of place, or perhaps  misordered, for the events at hand.  Perhaps because 40 is not quite middle age, and I still ran and played tennis frequently and with great energy, it didn’t seem unmanageable.

Remember those cartoons in which pages of a calendar go flying out the window in rapid succession to signify the passage of time?  That’s pretty much what the 40s decade felt like as the years zoomed past one by one.  All of a sudden I reached the half-century mark.  Oh! Now what?  So I chose entrepreneurship of all things and discovered the blessings and challenges of owning a business.

Between ages 50 and 54, I became the aunt of a college student (Go Gamecocks!), my church’s acolyte steward, a dedicated swimmer, a blogger, and, sadly, a person without a living parent.  During this interval, new friends and business associates enriched my life immeasurably, while my knee with the reconstructed ACL continued to tolerate fast-paced tennis games.

Today the door to 55 appeared, and I walked right through without an ounce of trepidation!  I’m looking forward to all that this year brings, no matter how clichéd that sounds.  I will pay strict attention to the speed limit while driving, although not necessarily on the road of life.

The War on Middle-Age Fat

Diet and weight loss war with healthy foodThis is not a New Year’s Resolution story chronicling one woman’s resolve to become thin in 2015!  My journey began in November 2014 when I finally became sufficiently disgusted at wearing the same clothes over and over, because so few items in my closet fit.  After years of exercising daily, I had allowed my workout routine to shrink to playing tennis 1-3 times a week.  That is simply not enough to keep a 54-year-old healthy and in reasonable physical condition, much less at a proper weight.  Although caring for both parents throughout their illnesses and deaths from cancer, experiencing a painful exit from a beloved job, and starting my own business contributed to my lack of fitness over a period of time, the real culprits were sloth, lack of focus, and absence of self-discipline.

I started with a basic daily walking habit that proved to be pure joy.  Having always been a morning person, I eagerly greeted the day in my most worn and wretched-looking exercise gear, reflector vest in place, and FitBit in my jacket pocket.  Off I went to greet the dawn, along with the newspaper delivery man, school buses, and other early morning beings.  Four weeks later, with a daily workout firmly in place, it was time to implement phase II of my plan.

It’s one thing to hoof it through one’s familiar, peaceful neighborhood early in the morning and quite another to hop into the pool at the local YMCA at the unholy hour of 8:00 a.m.  Maria von Trapp didn’t count swimming laps among her favorite things, and I certainly understand why.  Nevertheless, with a reconstructed ACL, arthritis in both branches of the family tree (thanks mom and dad), and a recent spate of soreness in aforementioned knee, I knew it was prudent to add an exercise that didn’t involve pounding pavement.  Thus, I am now to be found on Monday and Friday mornings slogging it through my current 1/2-mile swim with a plan to work up to one mile . . . slowly.

Next up is an eight-week “boot camp” at the Y on Saturday mornings.  It is described as a training program devised for Navy SEALS modified for mortals like me and is slightly more terrifying than the prospect of lap swimming.  Still, it is another opportunity to exercise strenuously without my feet touching pavement, a win/win situation unless I don’t survive.

So far, tangible results include being able to wear slacks that haven’t fit in  . . . a while, feeling stronger, and following a healthful diet with greater consistency. More importantly, pursuit of this fitness plan helps me  remember two huge blessings that I often take for granted:  having my own business allows flexibility for working out that an 8-5 job simply would not, and belonging to the YMCA and to an indoor tennis facility are great privileges that permit and promote fun and healthy lifestyle choices.

Now, if I could just get that FitBit to count laps for me . . . .

Who We Are

Tag recycled paper craft stick on white background, vector illustration

 

They are gathered in a small cubbyhole to the left of the steering wheel in my car.  I keep them there in order to arrive at certain destinations suitably identified and/or authorized. They say that I am an Acolyte Steward, Hospice Volunteer, Crosby Scholars Senior Advisor, and Professional Women of Winston-Salem member.  I even have two name badges that proclaim the latter, because, well, those things are easy to lose . . .

Name tags are supposed to identify us, but I believe they mostly tell what I am and not so much who I am or what I hope to accomplish while wearing them.  Although my collection of name tags seems to encompass widely varying roles, I think they are more alike than different. Each one allows me to build relationships, whether with church family, business colleagues, local high school students, or even the folks visiting the hospice home that I will likely never encounter again.  All of the organizations identifying me as a part of them serve a purpose that I believe in and want to help further with my abilities, however meager.  No matter which name tag I am wearing, I am blessed with the opportunity to serve others and to focus on building community in that particular setting.

I am a businesswoman; I am crazy about children; I believe in dying with dignity; I have a commitment to high school students navigating college admission.  You would infer these things from reading my name tags; to me they simply say that I love people.

Do you have name tags?  If so, what do they say about you?

It Isn’t Her Fault

Web

All of us who have watched with heavy hearts the saga of University of Virginia student Hannah Graham’s disappearance believe that she encountered someone with vile intentions who succeeded in acting on them.  After an evening of dinner and drinks with friends, followed by dropping in on a couple of off-campus parties, Miss Graham was likely abducted and hasn’t been seen or heard from since.

Many people have stepped forward to offer assistance in the midst of this tragedy. Hundreds of ordinary citizens gathered in Charlottesville to accompany trained personnel in searching for Miss Graham. University students held a candlelight vigil, wore special ribbons in Hannah’s honor at a football game, and continue to express sadness over their missing classmate and her distraught parents.  I even read a story about a male student who observed a female student walking alone after dark, obviously intoxicated, and escorted her home to ensure her safe arrival.

Thus far I have heard no discussion about the fact that Miss Graham’s vulnerability, always a concern for young women, was greatly exacerbated by excessive consumption of alcohol.  Perhaps stating the obvious sounds like blame or is presumed to overlook the reality that there are cruel people willing to harm others and that Miss Graham tragically encountered someone of that nature.

Miss Graham is in no way to blame for whatever happened to her during the early morning hours of September 13, 2014, at the hands of another person. She is responsible for making the choice to drink, illegally, as are all college students who do so and suffer consequences both minor and horrific.  And I am unaware of a single stakeholder, i.e., all of us, having suggested that refraining from consuming alcohol is a legitimate response to this or any other catastrophe—date rape, DUI, alcohol poisoning, death— involving underage drinking.

Always, always, our focus seems to be on how to protect students without expecting them to act within the confines of the law.  We fling up our hands, declaring helplessly that excessive partaking of alcoholic beverages is a rite of passage, as if exhorting students not to drink illegally and/or to the point of intoxication is to deny them one of college life’s peak experiences.  Surely no one can be expected to enjoy undergraduate school absent serious bouts of heavy drinking, and we don’t want to rob them of that opportunity!

I will never understand.  How is it, and why is it, that extraordinarily bright young people with unlimited promise and opportunity  often seem to want nothing more than to drink to the point of intoxication?  What makes it the most attractive option for many students, and how is it that parties and gatherings must center on alcohol before they are considered worthwhile?  Is there, truly, never anything better to do on a college campus? I have only questions and not a single answer.

My heart aches for Hannah Graham.  I can’t begin to comprehend the pain her parents are experiencing and will endure for a long time to come.  Miss Graham is not responsible for the evil that befell her; but, somehow, we are all accountable for our collective acceptance of college as a phase of life marked by illegal, excessive drinking that might regrettably result in a lost or ruined life on occasion.

Known and Unknown

Time for Dad Clock Fatherhood Father's Day Appreciation

I never really knew him, my dad, who died exactly 52 days ago.  Indeed, the most time I ever spent with him was during the weeks between his stage IV cancer diagnosis in January 2014 and his death three-and-a-half months later.

Baseball, softball, basketball, bowling, and hunting—-all were vitally important to him as a participant, fan, and, eventually, as a  basketball referee and softball umpire.  I can see him lying on the sofa in our family room watching the Cincinnati Reds on TV and seeming inordinately invested in the game’s outcome, as though it might somehow affect the course of his life.  Later I learned that baseball had indeed changed his life in profound, regrettable fashion.

As a high school senior, he was an all-state player who received offers from Pittsburgh and Boston to try out for their teams.  Sadly, his father told him to decline those opportunities, because he would never make it, and it was a waste of time to try.  With that advice, a dream was destroyed, and I’m convinced that part of my dad died with it. His lifelong obsession with sports, especially baseball, must have been both blessing and bane,  joy alongside a wound that never truly healed.  As a child I was mystified by his zeal for baseball on TV; as an adult, I admire that he somehow retained a love for the game that cost him dearly.

He hated his job.  That’s what I remember from childhood about my dad’s working life. Although I knew that he was employed by the Ohio River Company, I had no clue what he did or why it was so detestable.  I recall the gloom permeating our home as the weekend drew to a close and his awful dread of returning to work after a week’s vacation.

In his career, I eventually found out, my dad’s desire was thwarted by his father. Employed all his life by a prestigious company in my hometown, my grandfather nevertheless refused to help my dad obtain a job there, which was necessary in order for him to be hired.  My dad’s attempt to “make good” at something was obliterated once again by his own father.  Ultimately, he spent his working years with one company, too, and retired as soon as it was feasible financially.

During his illness, he told me that he had been offered a promotion shortly before his planned retirement, but it meant relocating to a neighboring state.  Although young and unfettered by family obligations, he was resolutely unwilling to embark on a new venture and declined.  Still, he spoke proudly of the offer, and even produced the letter outlining the company’s proposal, which he had obviously treasured  for over thirty years.

I’m fairly certain that my sister and I were a big mystery to our father from our births until his death.  From our late teen years until our late 40’s, neither of us had much contact with him.  He was present for a couple of graduations, my nephew’s birth, my brother-in-law’s funeral, and one or two other events.  Always he seemed ill-at-ease and out-of-place.  I never knew what to do or say on those occasions.  How do you approach someone who seems steadfastly indifferent towards you and uninterested in your life?

It was my mother’s death in 2007 that seemed to inspire a change in him.  A couple of years later, my dad began phoning my sister and me on our birthdays.  We took it as a sign that calls from us on his birthday would be welcome, and indeed they were.  We began to communicate on other holidays as well, and it was a nice addition to the sterile, rote pattern of mailing packages for his birthday in June and at Christmas.

We were by his side immediately upon his hospitalization in December 2013.  Surprised at first, he quickly accepted and embraced our determination to care for him throughout his illness.  While insisting, often through tears, that he was undeserving of them, he graciously received our efforts.

I didn’t know him, and he didn’t know me, and I learned that neither is necessary when a parent is dying and needs a child’s love and support.  The past and all its uncertainties fades away; the present and the opportunities it affords is all that matters. In the words of one of my favorite literary protagonists*, “That is well-known.”

 

*Mma Ramotswe (The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency)

 

Three Words

word of mouth in wood type

 

In recent years, following publication of the book “One Word that will change your life,” many people have faithfully selected their word of the year and dutifully adhered to the principles set forth in the book.  Basically, one word inspires, clarifies, and encourages the users in a life-transforming way as it governs their thoughts and directs their actions for 365 days.  One of my most astute and caring business colleagues believes firmly in the one word concept and weaves his chosen word beautifully into his professional and personal goals.  I admire his commitment and that of all who possess the self-discipline to practice the One Word philosophy.

Lately, however,  I have been thinking more about specific three word phrases covering a wide range of feelings and life experiences.  Some are benign, and I utter them reflexively as the occasion demands.  Others are dictated by special occasions, symbolizing various ages and stages of life or seasons on the calendar.  Still others I would do well to use with greater frequency in order to strengthen relationships and live more authentically.  Finally, many invite smiles and laughter for the happy memories they evoke.

Happy New Year!

Are you okay?

It’s a boy!

You go first.

I’m so sorry.

School is out!

Who will pray?

It’s not malignant.

Cream and sugar?

I hope so.

Please forgive me.

Show me how.

Can I help?

I’m coming home.

You were right.

Snow is predicted!

I trust you.

I’ll try again.

Let’s work together.

I blew it.

Hold my hand.

I’m your aunt!

You did it!

Furman accepted me!

I love you.

 

What three words are on your mind?