“You’re Happy”

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Such a simple sentiment, but so profound the meaning. My mother, recently hospitalized, spoke those words to me as she lay waiting for a procedure to assess the severity of her cardiac disease. My sister and I were by her bedside in the cath lab, and, true to form, rather than being somber and stone-faced, we were joking, laughing and enjoying each other’s company.  Mind you, I am not insensitive to the seriousness of medical conditions, or certain of life’s happenings, but helping to ease the burdens of others through levity and the pure joy of lightness and laughter cannot be underestimated.

As we awaited the procedure, and amidst lighthearted banter and muffled laughter (there were, after all, patients on the other side of those curtains), my mom looked at me and said, simply and sincerely, and with that kind of loving smile that only a mother can give, “You’re happy.”

This, I think, is the best compliment one can receive. Being happy and joyful in the face of life’s hardships not only helps us, but it helps those around us. I’ve had my share of struggles with heartache and loneliness. I barely make ends meet and have often felt like the “odd” one in the family. At one point in my life, I was so low that I fervently and tearfully prayed every single night that I would just fall asleep forever.

Thankfully, I had a moment that led me away from the depths of sadness and toward the light. It was ever so subtle, like a parent who gently guides their child with a simple light touch on their shoulder. Instead of fighting it, I accepted the change of direction and have not looked back. Being happy and joyful takes work. It is a conscious choice, and one that must be nurtured and supported and prioritized. I’ve learned that you can’t be happy if you simply allow your emotions to run the show. Entrusting your happiness to the whim of daily life puts you at the mercy of things that you cannot control—traffic, weather, gas prices, an unreasonable boss—you get the picture. Instead, choose to find what makes you happy, focus on that and let the “other stuff” float out of your life like a passing cloud in the sky. Easier said than done? Absolutely. Getting to that place where you can remain in a state of joy in the face of tribulation is hard work. But it is so worth it!

 

 

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Infinite Hope

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There is no doubt that 2017 was a difficult year. Newscasts, social media feeds, even strangers in the check out line at the market are lamenting the difficulties and tribulations we have faced, collectively, as a nation, and individually as human beings.   The hate, division, greed and absolute lack of compassion for people and Earth has consumed this nation.   We cannot ignore this any more than we can ignore a raging wildfire.

“We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope.”

– Martin Luther King

My infinite hope for 2018 and beyond is a kinder human race. One where neighbor will help neighbor, ‘just because.’ One where respect and honor for our differences unite us rather than tear us apart. One where kindness reigns over the need to be right.

True kindness does not seek recompense for its’ deed. True kindness is unselfish and finds joy in the joy that it brings. True kindness is devoid of ego and the need to be right, to be rich, or to succeed at all costs. Changing our world starts with changing ourselves at the most basic level.   It involves fearlessly facing our own faults and shortcomings and committing to be the best “me” possible.

Changing the world involves never losing infinite hope in the goodness of the Universe.

 

 

Panama

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I recently took a long overdue and much needed vacation.  Over the years I have taken time off from work, but always in the form of a staycation.  You see, I have become quite the homebody, often preferring to tuck away in the comfort and security of my home of 20-plus years rather than exploring the world.  Much of my choice to enjoy a staycation over a real vacation has often been financially motivated–as a single mother it often was simply not in the budget to travel outside my state.  Another factor is simple energy.  Working full time (plus!) at a very demanding job, then coming home at night to be mother and father didn’t leave much else in the way of gumption to dream about traveling, much less actually doing it.   Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t change anything about the last 19 years,  but now that my son is grown, I find that my time and energy is freed to focus on how I would like to finish this journey called life.

So, recently I took that leap and, with a dear friend of mine (who also was long overdue for a vacation!) we traveled to Bocas del Toro, Panama.   Bocas is an archipelago off the Caribbean coast of Panama, near the border with Costa Rica.   Odd and really off the grid choice for my first vacation in a long time?  Definitely.  When I told people where I was going, I was often met with blank stares and that “Oh..” you say when you really don’t know what to say.   After all, I wasn’t taking it safe; I was going to travel through the rainforests of Costa Rica on my way to a place that most people have never heard of.  What was I thinking?

As the day neared to depart on this adventure, I admit that I was nervous.  I was a novice traveller, journeying with a fellow novice traveller to Central America on a trip that we had planned completely on our own.   We flew into San Jose’, Costa Rica, and boarded a shuttle for the six hour drive to Puerto Viejo where we stayed the night in the middle of a jungle (bats, geckos, howler monkeys and all!) before heading to the Panamanian border the next morning.

I can honestly say that from the moment we landed in Costa Rica, I was completely at ease.  Traveling to a not-so-touristy destination is exactly what I needed.  We and our four fellow shuttle mates formed a unique bond on the 6 hour trip across Costa Rica to Puerto Viejo. Sharing laughs and a common experience with complete strangers was, in a way, comforting.  Crossing the border into Panama via the Sixaola Bridge (on foot), we were assisted by Luis, who helped us navigate customs on both sides of the border.

Upon arriving at our final destination on Isla Caranero (after a 30 minute water taxi ride from Almirante to Bocas Town), we were met at our over-the-water Inn by the caretaker, who spoke little English.   I fell in love with the Inn’s resident dog (who ended up greeting me with a smile and happy tail wags every morning when I went downstairs for coffee).   Our rooms were simple, yet comfortable.   Once settled, I knew that this was the best decision I had made in a long time.

Bocas del Toro is not fancy, and admittedly not for everyone.  It is rustic and some would say, primitive.   There are places that are poverty stricken, with people living in shacks on stilts, and children running around with no shoes.   But it was insanely beautiful, simple and genuine.    Sitting in a restaurant, or walking down the street, you don’t see people fixated on their phones.  People don’t rush.  You can sit in a restaurant for hours after you finish your meal without fear of being shoo’d away.  Sitting and talking replace watching TV.  People are friendly and actually smile and say hello (or hola!) as they pass by.  The goal of each day is to live life at a pace such that it can be enjoyed and savored.

Of the many things that this trip taught me is that I want to travel.  I want to see and experience places outside of my cocoon.  There are so many cultures and ways of living that can only enrich and bring meaning to life.  At its’ core, our journey is not about how much money we make, or what titles or things we acquire.  It is about experiencing what this world has to offer, its’ people, its’ cultures, its’ community.

As our vacation ended and we were on the water taxi back to Almirante, tears filled my eyes.  A piece of my heart was staying in Bocas, and as the taxi motored across the water, I was already longing to return.  I will be back, perhaps to stay, to this place where I truly felt like myself, like the person I was born to be.

 

Celebrating the Connections

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Recently I had the privilege and honor of being inducted along with my girl’s basketball teammates into my high school athletic hall of fame. Now you may be thinking “what’s the big deal?” and, frankly, a part of me felt the same way going into this event.   But now, having seen my teammates from nearly 40 years ago, and heard the speeches of the other inductees, the importance of this event in my life has been profound.

I have been overwhelmed lately by feelings of isolation. Isolated because I’m single. Isolated because of my job that consumes so much of my time and energy.  Isolated because, well, sometimes I just need to be alone and away from the busyness of life. It’s not a bad thing to be alone, and one can often find renewal in solitude and quiet. But when isolation leads to the destruction of connections to loved ones and to those who are and have been a part of our lives, it can deeply affect one’s feelings of connection to the universe.  A sense of purpose can be lost.

The decades that have elapsed since the last basket was made have in no way destroyed the memories of that time.   Seeing my former teammates for the first time in many years could have been awkward. We have all gone our separate ways, and most do not keep in touch, except through Facebook, but even then what do we really have in common? Our lives are vastly different now than they were when we were teenagers.   Yes, seeing them could have been awkward, but it wasn’t. We hugged, talked, cried and laughed as though those decades that had passed were mere minutes.   The shared experiences that we lived through as teenagers created lifelong connections that lay dormant in my memory until I stepped through the door to the auditorium.

Reflecting on my emotions of that evening, I realized that we are forever connected to those who cross our path. Separation by time, distance or even death does not destroy the connection. The connection lies in our memories and, more importantly, in our hearts.   If we simply allow them to come forth, we can celebrate them for how they have enriched our lives.

 

 

Beauty Survives the Storm

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Over the past several days, northern California has been pummeled with heavy rain and wind. Streets are littered with tree branches and other remnants of vegetation unable to withstand the battering winds. Swollen creeks and overloaded storm drains leave behind mud and debris. All in all, it’s been a mess, however much needed in our parched State.

During a short break between storms, I ventured outside to breathe in some fresh, rain-washed air and to survey the damage to my back yard. After what seemed like non-stop rain and winds for the past several days, the first thing I noticed was the stillness. Not even a breath of wind stirred the rain-soaked earth and what remained of the bare trees. Taking in this wonderful stillness, amidst the dormancy of winter, I observed a single brilliant rose, perfectly formed, still holding the raindrops that had doused its petals.   A rose, still beautiful, even after the storm.

Redwoods in the Forest

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In fully taking advantage of my holiday time off from my 9 to 5, the other day I went for a solo hike at Big Basin, a redwood forest only several miles from Silicon Valley.  Every time I visit Big Basin, I am struck by the presence of a divinely beautiful forest located only a short drive from the center of the technological world.

Solo hikes are a great way to meditate on the move, so to speak.   Being completely alone on the trails in a heavily wooded forest (save for the occasional fellow hiker to say ‘hello’ to) provides me the time to think about nothing but the beauty that surrounds me.  As I started my hike, I stopped for a moment to breathe in the cool, damp, mossy air, filling my lungs completely with it.  I took a moment to just look up, and look in, thankful for how fortunate I am to be in this place, at this time.  I took the time to be enveloped in the silence that only a forest can bring.

Along my hike, I paid particular notice to the enormous redwoods all around.   Oftentimes grouped in threes or fours, these mammoth trees form cathedrals that simply take your breath away.  Standing in one such redwood cathedral, looking up to the heavens to which they seemed to touch, I thought about everything these trees had seen in their hundreds-year old lives.  From a small sapling, they had experienced the warm California sun, enjoyed a stunning view over the Pacific Ocean, endured torrential rains and hurricane force winds, and still, they stand, majestic and divine and more beautiful than words can describe.

These trees whisper their tales of endurance and perseverance, and they are all the more magnificent because of it.  They  were created not only to endure, but to thrive.

Much like these resplendent gifts of nature, humankind is also created to grow in beauty and strength.  Each storm, much like each sun-kissed day, is designed to not only fortify us, but to remind us of our gloriousness.  If we take the time to really see ourselves, and those around us, focusing not only on the triumphs but also the struggles, we will be awestruck by radiance and beauty much like we are awestruck by the redwoods in the forest.

 

Light

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As 2016 comes to a close, I have found myself doing what many do this time of year. Christmas is over, and a new year approaches, along with new possibilities, new chances to better ourselves, and a renewed hope for the coming year.

For many, myself included, 2016 has been a tough year.   For me, perhaps the hardest part of this year has been realizing more than ever that there remains a lot of darkness in our world. From the massacre in a Christmas market in Germany to the refugee crisis in Aleppo, to our own presidential election, this year has seen a lot of hate, vitriol, exclusion and oppression.   Focusing on these events, and the people at the center of them, is a recipe for cynicism and fear.

Imagine you’re in a dark room, not knowing where to turn to find your way. Suddenly, you see a small light. What do you do? You head toward that light.

I am determined to not become consumed with the darkness. Darkness manifests itself in so many sinister ways, that we often do not realize it has become such an integral part of our being.   We yell at the person driving 50 mph on the freeway, only to pass by and see someone’s grandmother on her way to church. We gossip about the coworker who is unproductive and unreliable, only to find out that she struggles with addiction. We fail to acknowledge the young man who proudly holds open a door for us because we are too busy with our own life to actually see and appreciate the people around us.

Knowing that the smallest of flames can break through utter darkness, I intend to not only move toward the light in this world, but to be a light for those searching in the darkness.   I intend to treat people with kindness, love, appreciation and forgiveness. My hope is that if one person finds light in my presence, then they will, themselves, become a light for another. As the light grows, there can be no more darkness.