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Stepping Out

Jordan Pond House and Hike around the Pond (5)

Stepping out with friends Monica and Susan in the beautiful state of Maine!

Blog Post #50 Thursday

I very seldom travel. I forgot how.

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I guess that’s an exaggeration, but not by much. I used to get in the car at 6 AM, drive straight through and pull up in front of my parents’ home sixteen hours later having covered exactly 1,000 miles from my door to theirs.  I could do this virtually blindfolded. I had my gas station stops timed to within minutes. After pumping my gas, and squeegeeing off the mashed bugs who should have known better than to hitch a ride on my windshield, I greeted with the same fondness reserved for old friends the clean bathroom stalls that bade me rest a moment, and bathe my hands, arms and face in cool, clean sink water. Each towering mountain, the heat-scorched desert, the acres and acres of pastureland, and the seemingly endless road stretching down that long, one-point perspective to the horizon were as familiar as my own backyard. I’d lost count how many times my family and I had made that same trip. It was second nature to us—like kids riding bikes around the neighborhood.

But the past few years I’ve stuck like a leech close to home, draining the lifeblood of travel out of my soul, but with good reason. I had an aging father who needed me. As time passed, he needed more time and attention, and I became more sedentary as a result, and less and less mobile. The time came when he needed constant attention. My husband Brad and I played musical chairs at his side. Sometimes, after work, Brad would relieve me so I could run an errand or visit a friend. These activities were mostly local, and were mostly brief. After a while, even short trips to the grocery store became a nuisance. For the most part, I was content to be home.

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Brad and me sitting in my usual spot. You can see my dear father resting in his chair in the background. (2016)

I’ve always been a homebody. It’s in my nature and always has been. I’m a snail, loving home so much I carry it with me wherever I go. If I walk out the door, a bag of “stuff” goes with me (books, sketchpad, writing paper, pencils, extra clothes, sweaters, snacks—just stuff). I keep a backpack of stuff in the car for emergencies, too. No matter that I’ve yet to use the roll of toilet paper, toothbrush, stash of outdated food and stale granola bars, bottles of hot, stagnant water, flashlight (with extra batteries), first aid supplies, deck of cards, and a plethora of other necessary items from home stowed inside. I might need them, and so the pack continues to occupy its spot in my trunk until … well, forever. (I have plans to rotate the food…one of these days.)

Of course, it’s hard to need these kinds of items on a trip when you don’t go anywhere.

My dear father passed away a year and three days ago. Even after he was gone, I found my desire to go out almost nil. The fact was I had spent so much time sitting quietly at his side, I not only didn’t much care to go out, I didn’t realize I could go out; I had, in fact, forgotten this was a possibility. It didn’t occur to me to walk out the door. I had forgotten there was one. Yes, I saw it. I opened and closed it occasionally. I knew it was useful in admitting others, but the idea of using it as a portal to other places had completely escaped me.

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Our front door…the one I wasn’t using to go anywhere

It took time, but eventually, I found that there was a life for me outside of the house. I could go for a walk. I could run to the store—on a whim, if I wanted to! I could visit family and friends in neighboring towns while Brad was at work. I could do these things! But I still found myself somewhat paralyzed at home. Not because I was afraid to go out, but just because I was out of practice. It took a year to really understand just how much freedom to move I actually had.

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Then, one day, a trip that I’d been talking about for years and years with friends Monica and Susan resurfaced, like the boulders that grow in the town where I live. You think they’re gone because these rocks are out of sight—undisturbed and forgotten. Then, you do just the tiniest bit of digging, and there they are, sitting above the ground before you: hard, unmoving, eternal. The question of this trip was a boulder buried deep in the ground of my “never will dos.” For the first time in all the years we’ve contemplated this trip (I’m talking decades, here) I found that I had no reason in the world why I couldn’t go. For the first time EVER, the kids were all grown, I was not tied to a job, I had the needed funds, and I was free to come and go. I could go, if I wanted to. And I did want to. It was time. And so Monica and I got online at the same time and bought airfare to the other side of the galaxy! Well, that is an exaggeration. But for all the traveling I had done, or rather, hadn’t done, we might as well have booked flights to Jupiter! I have to admit I was a bit anxious about making this trip. We were going as far from Southern California as was possible while staying in the Continental United States. We were going to a remote little log cabin in the middle of Maine! For someone who, in the past two years had barely walked out the front door, this was galactic.

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Susan’s beautiful home in Maine (Photo by Monica Wilson)

Weeks before the trip I belabored my poor friends with questions. Would I need a raincoat? An umbrella? What kinds of shoes should I bring? (Water sandals!?) What in the world are those? (Yes, I live in a cocoon.) Will it be hot? Will it be cold? Did you say mosquitoes?! What would I like to do there? Bar Harbor? (Yes, I’ve heard of that. In Summer Magic, Hayley Mills’ on screen cousin, Debra Walley, said, “Well, if you must have Maine, why not Bar Harbor?” That was the extent of my knowledge about Maine, and Bar Harbor.) Sure, Bar Harbor sounds great! Acadia? Why not? Lighthouses? How quaint, yes! Cute little coastal towns? Absolutely! And so it went…plans were made, and I collected stuff from home to drag along with me…including my pillow, and a smaller pillow I call my “knee pillow.” Have to have my pillows. Can’t go away from home without that part of home with me! Oh yes, Monica, it’ll all fit in my carry-on. You’ll see!

 

Me searching for sea glass on the sand bar for which Bar Harbor was named, and other pictures of that beautiful area (Photo by Monica Wilson)

 

After the restful night’s sleep I did NOT get, before our flight departed LAX at the delightfully early hour of 6:30 AM, (did I say delightfully? Whoops! Big typo. I meant to write frightfully), I awoke at 3:00 AM, leaving my house at 3:45 for Monica’s. One barely recognizes Southern California at 3:45 in the morning. I zipped over those highways like a marble down a slide, since no one else in their right mind was on the freeway at that absurd hour! From Monica’s house, Monica’s husband, Jeff, graciously agreed to drive us to the airport, depositing us at our gate an hour and a half early for our flight to Newark. (There are no direct flights into Bangor.) Los Angeles Airport was jam-packed with traffic and travelers. Apparently, every other car we had met on the road during the middle of the night was also on its way to the airport, because the traffic we had managed to escape culminated in a massive jam-up in LAX’s terminal queue.

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Yes, this! Only imagine this in the middle of the night!

Once in the terminal, we easily found our way to the gate, which was undergoing construction—the only place in the airport without AC. (We counted our lucky stars that we were there at 5:30 AM instead of in the heat of the day.) Our seats were about two-thirds of the way back in an enormous plane. When cattle call was announced, true to form, the thundering herds stirred, and plodded through the cattle guards in two ponderous lines (corralled down from four lines) cramming to get on board. Flight wranglers with strained smiles herded passengers into two long rows onto the plane. If your seat was on the opposite side of the plane from the row you found yourself in, you had to merge into a bottleneck of cross “traffic” to get into the right row. (If we thought we’d missed the traffic on our way to the airport that morning, it definitely caught up with us on the plane.) At any moment, I expected to hear one of the wranglers burst out with,

music-note-clip-art-music-note-clipart-3 “Whoop-ee-ti-yi-o, get along little doggies, It’s your misfortune and none of my own….”

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Here we are, being herded into the plane along with the other passengers. (Photo by Michelle Floyd / Arizona Sonora News)

I felt sheepish as Monica scrutinized my carry-on, knowing I’d packed half my house, and my two pillows within. When she heard I was packing my pillows, she decided to check a larger bag in order to take her pillow along, as well, but alas, her pillow didn’t fit. I assured her my pillow was made of down, and squished way down into a tiny, compact bundle. (A good reason to call it “down.”) Still, my bag was so stuffed, if bumped just right, I’m pretty sure it would have exploded. I also had a (soggy) un-squished Subway sandwich for our lunch, my raincoat, a sweatshirt in case I got cold on the plane (I did), a pair of shoes, my purse, a quart baggie of toiletry items, and reading material to last a decade among other things stowed in a backpack (which was categorized as a “personal item.” This, too, might have popped open if pressured.

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Me with my “personal item” backpack–stuffed full (this is on another plane later in the day)  (Photo by Monica Wilson)

 

At last, we got settled into our seats, and waited till the cows came home, but the plane wasn’t taking off. After quite some time, a man with a backpack moseyed up the aisle from the back and exited the plane. More waiting. Finally, a distinctly blurry voice came over the loudspeaker saying that the passenger who exited was sick and wasn’t going on the flight. More waiting to take off. (We presumed the wait was because they had to untangle and retrieve the man’s suitcase from the cargo bay.) Monica suggested comforting thoughts like, “He easily could have left something behind on the plane—did they do a thorough search? They really should have everyone get off the plane and check!” At first, these ideas were lost on my untraveled, not-so-savvy pea brain. I was thinking that if he left something, he’d just have to do without! It wasn’t until we arrived in Newark that the gist of what she was suggesting sunk-in and lodged in my psyche—anchoring there, while collecting barnacles of unsettling ideas to fester.

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A starfish savvy seagull on the sand bar at Bar Harbor (Photo by Monica Wilson)

 

As I said, the plane was enormous, second only to the Spruce Goose in girth and length. Seats were eight across, grouped in twos by the windows and four abreast in the middle. We occupied two in the middle section, with me on an end and Monica in the middle seated next to a boy and his father. Monica, with her quick powers of observation noted the boy was not only reading, but reading a book written in French! When the boy’s father got up to use the lavatory, Monica seized the opportunity to find out more about the boy. He readily engaged in conversation, speaking in English with that conspicuously French accent that makes the speaker appear to be gargling as he speaks, or in desperate need of clearing his throat. He was from Paris, and had a distinctly Parisian look—you know, something about the eyes, nose and mouth. He and his father had been sightseeing all over the west—Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, the Bay area to name a few. In a few weeks, those two had covered more territory than the Millennium Falcon traveling at light speed, and he had a collection of photographs exceeding that of the Smithsonian to prove it. Again, at light speed, he scrolled through a plethora of pictures on his iPad stopping on a dime at his favorites. Personally, I found it hard to distinguish one picture from another. Every picture looked like frames in an epic roll of movie film. He seemed a very nice young man, and mature for his twelve years, judging from the way he so ably and amiably communicated with Monica.

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Once in Newark, we had a connecting flight to catch, but again we had to wait for the thundering herds to exit the plane. It was about as organized as a riot—people trampling over themselves and jostling into each other to make their next flights. As soon as we got off the ramp, I told a flight attendant at the gate that we needed to get to such-and-such a gate in a matter of minutes. She told us to go to a different gate where a bus would take us to our departing flight. We threw wistful glances at the women’s restrooms as we passed like speeding bullets, and hustled through the airport to said gate (I, with my stuffed carry-on and overstuffed backpack, moved like a pack-mule on steroids). Just as we arrived at the gate, a door opened to the outside where, down a flight of stairs, a bus was waiting. My carry-on thumped and thudded as I wrestled it down the stairs, (worrying it might strike the edge of the step and the contents pop open like a tube of Pillsbury rolls), and we scurried onto the bus. We were driven at a moderate speed over the tarmac skirting the terminal to the backdoor of our flight’s gate. Exhaling our thanks to the driver, I manhandled my lead-filled bags into submission out the door, and we hustled up the stairs and into line for the last leg of our flight to Bangor, all just in the nick of time.

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This is the tiny plane we flew on from Newark to Bangor.

We were dismayed to see a toy plane parked at the gate! My carry-on was deemed too large for the toy-sized cargo bins, and swept away from me as if by magic. I was promised its quick return upon arrival in Bangor. As we entered the aircraft, Monica and I cast surprised sideways glances at each other, noting the half-dozen individuals sitting in a line of single seats (one seat per row) to our right, before the plane opened up into a large cracker box having divided rows with two seats opposite the single-seated passengers. I was seated on the aisle seat in our row, Monica by the window. I could just as easily see out the window belonging to the passenger across the aisle as I could through Monica’s, and with less inconvenience to her. Our flight attendant was a jolly sort—very casual compared to the strictly business, cattle rustler attitudes of the attendants on the first flight.

 

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Maine from the plane window. Absolutely beautiful!  (Photo by Monica Wilson)

Thunderstorms had been predicted, but thankfully they did not materialize. (A literal answer to my prayers.) The flight was uneventful, quiet, and quick. We watched out both windows, sometimes Monica’s, sometimes the one belonging to the young man sitting across from me (who was from Maine and was eager to get home), to see a panorama of green unfold beneath us. Small, cleared patches of land appeared from time to time into which a house was tucked as if on a Monopoly board. Large, blue lakes (which we later learned were called ponds) dotted the landscape in abundance.  We thrilled to think that soon we would be on the ground and traversing the wonderland of lush green beauty, the quaint coastal towns, and the captivating wilderness of the state of Maine! We landed in Bangor just less than an hour later. We waited quite some time immediately outside the plane on the passenger boarding bridge with two or three other passengers for our carry-ons to be retrieved. The official said they were extremely busy in Bangor that day, having two planes on the ground at the same time! (Monica concealed a big city snicker when she heard this remark.) Finally, we were in the terminal, heaving a sigh of comfortable relief at the small, quiet, empty airport, and, more particularly, at the sight of the quiet, empty, clean woman’s restroom just a few feet away.

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Monica and me at the Bangor Airport

We had a wonderful visit with Susan, her partner Steve, their cat, nine Husky sled dogs, flittering lightning bugs, bunnies, foxes, deer, and other abundant wildlife, lush greenness, a sky full of twinkling stars, the hope of seeing a moose, canoeing on the glassy pond by their house, hiking, sight-seeing, eating great food, attending the theater, watching lobster boats, walking breakwaters, visiting lighthouses and quaint little coastal towns, visiting national and state parks, and talking about anything and everything. The time sped by.

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Susan, me, and Monica walking the mile-long breakwater to Rockland Lighthouse

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Rockland Light  (Photo by Monica Wilson)

 

Jordan Pond House and Hike around Jordan Pond (3)

Bouldering on the trail skirting Jordan Pond in Acadia National Park (that’s me)  (Photo by Monica Wilson)

 

 

Canoeing on Whetstone Pond (10)

Lobster boat and trappings in Bar Harbor (top)    Susan teaching me to row a canoe on the pond near her home (directly above)  (Photos by Monica Wilson)

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Some of the summer “camps” along the Pond  (Photo by Monica Wilson)

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Susan and Monica portaging the canoe after our ride

I bought the very thinnest souvenirs I could find to bring home to my family. Even so, they wouldn’t all fit in my carry-on, even though I squished my pillow down to a fraction of its normal suitcase size. Monica graciously offered space in her large checked bag for my overflow, and we returned home happy as clams to have made this wonderful trip together! (I’ll spare you the details of the flights home.)

 

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(Top) Lakeshore House Cafe and dock, (directly above) Monica so wished to see a moose, but we did see moose signs!  (Photos by Monica Wilson)

Sunday afternoon walk by Susan's house (8)

Some of the beautiful scenery near Susan’s home  

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These wild roses smelled like cloves! De-lish!

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Monica kicking back at Lakeshore House Cafe

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Susan and Monica in the quaint seaside town of Camden

Lakewood Theater, Picnic and Grounds (6)

Three crazy ladies who went to see “Those Crazy Ladies In the House on the Corner” at Lakewood Theater in Madison

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Susan, Steve, me, and Monica inside Lakewood Theater

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Our last evening together at Susan’s house in Maine

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Post Script. So now I’ve learned I can leave the house. I can go places and do things again. I learned that the “never will dos” are a figment of my imagination, and that I can do if I just open the door and walk out of it. On a par with the travel kind of doing is traveling outside of my little world via writing my blog. I have only written three blog posts this entire year besides this one. I’m hoping that as the fog in my brain clears as to stepping out, I will step out onto the page more often as well.

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© August 4, 2017

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear friends, for reading.


2 Comments

Untangled

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This is me, when I had those pesky snarls and tangles to deal with.

Blog Post #47

I have curly hair. When I was young, it was even curlier, and prone to tangles. My mother would comb and brush the snarls out, but the process was sometimes painful, and I didn’t like it!

Now that I’m older, my hair no longer snarls. As with many laws of science, such as laws of displacement, or the migratory habits of birds, when a snarl is combed out of one’s hair, it has to go somewhere else.  My migrating snarls have displaced vacant spaces in my brain and heart, which have resulted from a year of dramatic change, leaving some gaping holes and empty places—perfect for snarls to settle into.

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A tangled brain is not a good beginning to the New Year.

Let me explain what I mean by a tangled brain. A tangled brain is when a variety of commitments, desires, plans, thoughts, and scheduled parts of life seem to all land on the freeway of my mind at precisely the same moment causing a bottleneck-traffic jam of major proportions in my neural networking. Anyone who has experienced a bottleneck on the highway knows that traffic reduces to a crawl, or even a dead standstill, until a lane opens up ahead or there’s a reduction in the number of cars.

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Bottleneck  traffic jam

It’s the same with a tangled brain. An onslaught of stress or confusion results from too much input coming together at once, and too little capacity to deal with it efficiently.

Like combing out snarls, it may be a painful process trying to sort out the effects of major changes while also dealing with unexpected responsibilities mixed with everyday routines.

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It’s an interesting fact that, just when I see the approach of a free-flying chunk of “time” making its way toward me like a fly ball I’m straining to catch, some all-absorbed outfielder named Opportunity comes at me from one side, a focused short stop named Commitment comes at me from the other, and both slam into me with such force, the ball pops out of my groping mitt, and falls out of play with a thud. It’s happened to me so many times, I can’t even begin to count.

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It’s my own doing; I have the freedom to choose. Yes or no. Accept, or reject. I can decide. Mostly, I choose to accept. Accept is, perhaps, too passive a word.  Invite is more appropriate. I invite these kinds of fly ball responsibilities because I believe in the principle of service. The kind of service I’m speaking of doesn’t understand the meaning of the word “convenient.” I suspect that most true acts of service—the kinds that cause you to put someone or something else ahead of your own selfish desires—are rarely, if ever, convenient. I seriously doubt the Samaritan found it convenient to care for the man he found on the road during his travels.

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The Good Samaritan – Luke 10:25-37

I wish I could say that I always invite, or accept these opportunities with a willing and cheerful attitude, but that would be a lie. I have kicked against some of the opportunities I’ve had to serve, I’ve whined and I’ve complained. The result has always been the same. In the end, I have felt so grateful that I didn’t say no, even though I wanted to.  And not only did I feel grateful, I benefited. I benefited – and in every case, I probably benefited more than the person or organization I was serving. I stretched, I grew, I learned, I became more aware, I became more skilled. I found balm for my soul—my soul. I benefited. So in the end, who was really served? And was the sacrifice I thought I was making at the time really a sacrifice? The unequivocal answer is NO! It was not a sacrifice because of what I gained. Even though I used a portion of my time to do something I had not planned on doing, it really was not a sacrifice, because I was one of the beneficiaries.

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Dr. Seuss’s Grinch 

The best benefit of all is a changed heart. Like the Grinch, when I choose service over the selfish hording of my time, my hard and shriveled little heart softens and grows. I become a little bit better in my heart, a little less selfish, a little more generous.

Many years ago, I heard Camilla Kimball quoted as saying, “Never suppress a generous thought.”  That thought surfaces every time I contemplate any act of kindness, large or small. It has encouraged me in making the choice to serve over indulging in selfish desires. 4dcbbd7950dada094bcc65f827bbd178

So, here it is, the New Year. My brain is tangled up with a conglomeration of anticipated, as well as unexpected events, responsibilities, needs, desires, and opportunities for service that all seem to be converging on the same bottleneck portion of the calendar without regard for the fact that I also have regular, routine things to attend to during that same time slot. The (not so) strange thing (when you consider the explanation about the free-flying chunk of “time” I thought I saw heading my way) is that I had, at least for a moment, anticipated a nicely ironed out length in the fabric of time to do some of the things I have been setting aside for just such a vacant space. That sudden jam-up in my space-time continuum is threatening to create stress that I, frankly, don’t need or want.

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The thing is, I have something to say about that, too.

Looking at my history, a pattern is revealed, which is this.

  • I think I have a chunk of time.
  • It gets filled.
  • It clogs.
  • I stress.
  • It all gets done, (and usually with enough time to spare for a lot of other things).
  • I look back and wonder why I got so stressed.
  • Repeat from the beginning

That’s the pattern.

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(1)Think I have time                              (2) It fills and clogs 

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(3) I stress                                  (4) It all gets done

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(5) I look back and wonder why I was so stressed

Here’s an example of that pattern from my own experience. I’m lying awake in bed at night fretting over a checklist of responsibilities I will face during the course of the next busy day. The list is long. It is demanding. Each item on the list requires a chunk of time. Because the list has so many items, my brain, immediately, becomes tangled. That cluttered, tangled brain reacts with “It’s too much! I don’t have enough time! I’ll never get it all done!” Then that same brain begins to dwell on the first item on the list until it appears to have a dark cloud looming over it in a threatening way, causing it to take on unrealistic proportions. A small puffy cloud grows into a roiling thunderstorm. The more I think about it, the more it grows in my mind into a task requiring super-human effort and hours of time (which is usually a falsehood my brain imagines—not based on reality—like unloading the dishwasher when I was a kid. I thought it would take an hour of my precious playtime, when in reality, it only took about eight minutes.)

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The next day, I get up, and with anxiety, I begin my list. Right away, if I don’t dawdle about beginning because of the stress I’m feeling, I attack the first item, and discover that it only took fifteen minutes, not two hours. I recalculate the remainder of the day’s list based on this new discovery, and my stress level goes down a notch. Because my motivation increased with the time I gained, I complete the second item in a fraction of the time I imagined. My stress level drops another notch. And this continues with the rest of the list, until noon arrives, and my list is completed. I eat a leisurely lunch, while marveling at the weight lifted from my shoulders, the brightness of my mood, and the lightness of my heart as I contemplate how quickly that dark cloud dissipated.

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I know this pattern. I’ve lived it time and again. So for my current brain-tangle, I have made a decision. I am going to work backwards. I am going to look ahead, knowing the outcome, and forewarn myself that there will be time to do ALL of what is required with enough extra time to do many of the other things I have been saving up for, and want to do. I will paint a bright, light vision for my brain to focus on, so I will approach upcoming events and challenges with a bright and cheerful forbearance. I will weigh real-time, instead of tipping the scales with dark presentiments and false anticipation. I will cheerfully, willingly accept and invite these converging opportunities with the absolute understanding that I will be a beneficiary. But more importantly, I will be motivated and inspired by the hope and desire that someone else will benefit at least as much, and hopefully, even more than I do.

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The truth is, and it’s been proven conclusively, that when my heart is right, and I’ve placed my trust in He who is the Author of all Goodness and Service, I am strengthened, guided, and blessed. I can manage and untangle any snarls that come my way, while maintaining a proper perspective about time and my use of it.

Suddenly, my bottleneck is opening up! The snarls in my brain are beginning to untangle because in a very real way I can envision chunks of space in time, and chunks of time in my space.

I will enjoy the moment I’m in and the privilege I have of being alive to live it.

End Piece

© January 10, 2017

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear friends, for reading.

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4 Comments

Decisions! Decisions!

Blog Post #19

Decisions! Decisions! I am, at times, stricken by critically insignificant decisions (such as which shirt to wear with one of two pairs of jeans, or where to go for lunch.) These kinds of decisions weary my poor brain with their indifference.
I can guess what you’re thinking. You may think I’m being ridiculous; that I’m exaggerating. You may think I’m talking a few grains of salt, not the Great Salt Lake. These are just little  things. Not realdecisions. Not weighty, hefty matters. These are minuscule choices. Not worth mentioning.
 
Grains of Salt
Great Salt Lake
 
I think it’s the relentlessness of these little decisions—these lurking-around-every-corner-to-nag-and-exacerbate kinds of decisions—that encumber and exhaust my brain cells with unwanted clutter.
 
Neurons

 

First thing in the morning—every morning—I face an enormous decision-making obstacle: what to wear. I stand before my open closet, morning light pouring through the window casting a good-humored beam on the drowsy articles of clothing that never awake from their insurmountable sleep of death–the result of hanging in my closet. I stare vacantly at the drooping scene. When nothing screams, “I am amazing! Wear me!” I walk two steps to my dresser and open the drawers.  Again, vacant staring. Like watching the spoiler for the same mystery show every morning, there’s no need to wonder about the outcome, I know there will be no surprises in store for me. And even though I’ve repeated the same combinations of shirts and pants for decades, oddly enough, I still deliberate over what to wear with what. After wasting ten minutes, staring blankly, I finally put something on, and stand before the hall mirror. Yup. Same old, same old. Odder still is the fact that, one day, the same old thing looks okay, while the next day it looks horrible. I always think the things in my closet and drawers will transform into crisp, new, attractive, nice-fitting, flattering fashion statements while I sleep.  No wonder I am reluctant to face this decision each morning. 
 
 
Let me point out that there are other equally perplexing insignificant decisions that plague wishy-washy people like me during a typical day. For example, after many hours of resolute labor, sewing like the busy little mice in “The Tailor of Gloucester,” my daughter and I make a trip to the post office to ship orders to her customers (my daughter sews for a living—I sometimes help). 


From “The Tailor of Gloucester” by Beatrix Potter


When the order is in the mail, and on its way, our minds cry out to click up our heels, but our bodies are so weak with hunger from working through lunchtime we’re too withered to do it. Like limp and tired little herbs in need of a bit of refreshment to revive our droopiness, we drag our faint and weary selves to the little sandwich shop across the barren seedbed of the street for some nourishment.
 
 


The café is a tiny place, cluttered with pictures, handbills, flyers, and information on every wall.  Still famished and lacking mental dexterity, I find myself consumed by the information thrust at me on every side. Waiting behind the counter are voraciously happy, peppy, friendly people poised to take our order with pencil and pad, who offer a cheerful and encouraging greeting. Absentmindedly, I look up at the menu which is posted above said prodigiously peppy people—and find a mass of words that, for all their familiarity, might as well be written in Greek. Certainly, I recognize the words, but in my current state of weary confusion and inertness, they read more like an eye chart in an optometrist’s office.
From a 10th-century manuscript of Thucydides
Eye Chart in Greek
 
“May I take your order?” says the perky waiter to Cait and me. “What would you like?” I think to myself, “I’d like someone to simplify the menu for my famished neurons which are teetering on the brink of that shaky kind of hunger and mindless thinking born of going too long without eating. Will someone just circle in red the item that most appeals to me?” After standing aside letting other decisive people go ahead with their orders, I mull over the menu as if I were deciphering hieroglyphics in the Book of the Dead. 
 
Book of the Dead
 
Finally, I decide on the chicken salad. Yes, the chicken salad.  Then, I must decide if I want a full, or half order. Are we sharing (as we frequently do), or ordering separately? Remarkably, the (still smiling) waiter endures patiently as I think aloud, consulting with Cait about immediate and pressing decisions as we stand, conspicuously taking up precious space, at the ordering counter.
 
Chicken Salad Sandwich
My daughter, long ago having grown tired of my process of choosing a place to eat, as well as what to eat, turned the entire mass of decision-making over to finicky me. Cait says, “I don’t care where we go. I’ll eat anything. You decide.” I’ve heard this jaded dictum many times before. Ugh. After pleading looks, she helps me decide that we’ll share the chicken salad sandwich. “Is it for here, or to go?” says Mr. Cheerful. Again, pleading looks (not wasted on Mr. Cheerful).  Finally, the waiter decides for us. Sometimes, noting our creased eyebrows and hem hawing around about if we have or haven’t got time, he decides he should make the food to-go. Other times, calmly smiling as we try to read each other’s thoughts, we supply just enough evidence that we’re not quite ready to leave. While they make the food, we discuss whether we should sit inside, or out. It’s only 106-degrees F. outside. The heat should prompt a snap decision, but the imagined charm of sitting at a sidewalk café delays the verdict. When a girl with a computer leaves one of the few little inside tables, we quickly decide to stay inside where it’s cool, and snatch up the spot against the wall with alacrity and a sense of triumph over all other aspiring (and perspiring) customers.
 
 
 


We’ve repeated this process several times in past weeks, with varying results, but we always go through the same process of decision-making. It doesn’t seem to matter how many times I enter that little shop—which I really like!—I patently reenact the same decision-making fiasco. A day or two ago, we again made a delivery and went to get a sandwich. “Mom, do you want chicken salad again?” my daughter probed with a subtle pleading in her voice, (the true meaning of which was: “Must we share chicken salad again?” Whereas I am a creature of taste bud habit, she likes a wider variety of palate pleasing tastes. Sharing with a finicky eater can be boring for the adventurous connoisseur of lunchtime cuisine.) “We don’t have to get chicken salad, Cait,” I said, explaining my apparent dyslexic confusion with the menu. I added, “To hurry things up, I always get the same thing.” (And I like the chicken salad.)  There is often a line behind us, and I don’t want to make people wait eons while I decipher the Rosetta Stone.
Rosetta Stone
 
She helped me focus on and order a turkey sandwich—the optimistic waiter sensed a breakthrough at this speedy-er decision. He hastily scribbled “to-go” on our ticket, only to have to change it to “dining-in,” as Cait pointed out during the ensuing at-the-counter-discussion about whether we should stay or take it with us that she had other errands to run before returning home. To his credit, our waiter, Mr. Cheerful, never lost his ever-jovial demeanor. While we consumed our half turkey sandwiches, I struck on a plan—I studied the menu while I ate, and decided in advance on a custom sandwich for our next visit. Yes! I will be ready for the next sandwich order. I will nip the demon decision-making weed in the bud.
 
But what of all the other critically insignificant decisions that have to be made throughout the day?  Should I put the dark clothes in the wash first, or the white clothes in to soak? Which direction should we go on our walk? Shall we take brownies or chocolate chip cookies to the potluck? (That there’s chocolate requires no decision.)  Walmart or Target? And the most infamously, critically insignificant decision of all: What shall I make for dinner?
 
 
 


Giving credence to things that really don’t matter may give one a false sense of decision-making prowess. (Either that, or make one crazy!) Although I will probably continue to puzzle over menus, chicken salad sandwiches, and my closet, these insignificant things really aren’t worth expending thoughtful energy on, so unrelated to and irrelevant are they when compared with the real, truly significant, heart-wrenching, life-altering decisions we all face from time to time.
 
 


These insignificant kinds of decisions are best summed-up in a few short sentences:
Madonna Lilies
 
And why take ye thought for raiment? *Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?  … For your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.  But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. (Matthew 6:28-33)
Madonna of the Lilies by Alfonse Mucha


 And this, my dear friends, to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, is truly a good decision, worthy of thought and energy. I know when I do this, all other decisions–great and small–fall into their proper places and I feel peace.

 

End Piece

©  October 5, 2014

 
From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear friends, for reading.
 
 
*I’ve included a link to a beautiful, peaceful Youtube recording of “Consider the Lilies.” Sit back, relax, and clear your mind as you enjoy this lovely song.