Old Friends

There’s something about an old friend that can provide connection to the past to keep you grounded.

Sometimes, you just need to spend a little time with an old friend. Sometimes, being with someone you haven’t seen in years can do wonders for your soul. For your well-being.

On Friday, I had an opportunity to spend some time with just such a friend. We hadn’t seen each other in years since we live on opposite coasts, and the opportunities to get together are minimal. But we picked up as if we had just seen each other the previous day.

What I realized is that spending time with an old friend can bring life into sharper focus. It can remind you who you are, how far you have come, and where you are going. Your old friends, they knew you back when life was new and fresh, and opportunities lurked around every corner. You were still figuring out where you fit and how you could contribute to the bigger picture of life. These friends… they helped you to form your identity as you struggled through challenging times, navigated new environments, and started to settle into your adult life, forming new perspectives that were truly yours (and not your parents’).

Old friends are the best friends. You can go years without seeing them—or even communicating much at all—and yet, you always find yourselves right where you left off. Conversation is comfortable and casual as you move from one topic to the next, sometimes circling back in that weird way in which conversations flow. And yet, it never seems weird.

Sometimes, you just need an evening with an old friend. An evening to re-examine who you are and who you’ve become. An evening to reminisce and remember that change is not always a bad thing. An evening to look ahead as life changes from one phase to the next and you continue to evolve… even through midlife and beyond.

Sometimes, you just need an old friend to help you reconnect to all that once was, and still is, and will be important in life.

Refocus

What is going well in your life? I would love to hear about it.

We have trained ourselves away from asking that question. We focus on what isn’t going well, and we endlessly pick away at those bits as if throwing ourselves into what isn’t good will somehow make it better. We believe that strengthening the weak areas and taping up the cracks that threaten our lives will somehow make us happier.

We throw resources at our lack of talent and our lack of happiness. We chase after the goals we can never reach—but that wouldn’t make us happy, anyway. These goals are not ours, but someone else’s goals imposed upon our lives.

And these are just band-aids.

What if, instead, we focus on what is going well? What if we take some time to truly examine our lives and untangle the good from the not-so-good. The amazing from the “eh….” And then, once we have figured out what is working, what makes us happy, we focus on those areas. What if we look at life from the standpoint of abundance rather than from lack? What if we concentrate on the things we do well and the things that make us happy? I believe we should take what we’re good at and the activities that bring us joy and do more of those things. These things, these activities… they will lift us up.

This is a strengths-based approach—to use our abundance to create more happiness. If we bring more positivity, the rest will work out. By focusing on what is working, we will be happier. We will be more rested. We will feel cared for. And rather than making the “tough” our main struggle, tough can be our side job. Because focusing on the things we are good at and the ones we enjoy, we can make the tough that much easier.

So what is going well in your life? I would love to know!

The Path


Photo by David Talley on Unsplash

The path we travel is seldom straight. It twists and turns, skirting the edges of danger as we hold on tight. Our path takes detours around pothole-ridden streets and over stumbling blocks in order to set us in the direction we are headed. It redirects to new routes and sometimes presents more opportunities than we can handle. And others we might not want.

Nowhere is this meandering more evident than in our young adults. They spend their early years in state-mandated school until then they are suddenly expected to choose what comes next. The choices can be overwhelming.

There is no doubt there are many 18-year-olds who know exactly what they want to do for the rest of their lives. They step from high school graduation onto a fully paved path they’ve planned out for years, and they never waver. They go on to reach their lifelong goals in careers they chose when they were small children.

The vast majority of young people, however, have no idea what they want to do when they ‘grow up’ despite teetering on the line between childhood and adulthood. And a large portion of them are afraid to admit it. We put so much pressure on kids to know what they want to do that they feel they should know even though they don’t have enough experience to know. Or worse, we have steered them in the direction that we think they should go rather than letting them decide for themselves what is best and which path(s) they will travel. The pressure to choose a direction is so intense for kids this age.

What they don’t realize is that very few grownups know what they want to do next week, let alone 10 years from now. Adults—young and old—are expected to be solidly on a path with one career in view. But this is not often the way life works anymore.

Young people are much better off when they take the time they need to figure out their own best direction. Will they pursue a degree? Work? Go to trade school? Join the military? There’s nothing wrong with trying out some of the available options before they settle on one. The only way to figure out where you truly want to be is to recognize where you don’t want to be. Rather than push kids to make premature decisions about their futures and expect them to know exactly what they want when the emerge from high school, shouldn’t we be laying out their various options? Maybe we should be encouraging our children to experiment and try new things rather than taking the “safe” road and ending up somewhere they suddenly realize they don’t belong.

The path is not straight, and it is not easy. The bumps along the way…, the uncertainty in the choices that arise…, these are all part of the process. They help us to put things in the proper perspective. And for young people, this early part of the process sets them up for many of the obstacles they will face on their journey through life.

The path we travel is not straight, and the obstacles are many. But somehow, with a bit of trial and error, we all figure it out.

Lost

Photo by Dunamis Church on Unsplash 

When I look back on 2021, I will remember this as the year I lost my way.   

At the beginning of the year, everything seemed to be going along pandemic-fine, thank you very much. And by “pandemic-fine,” I mean I was figuring out how to exist in the world with the constant ebb and flow of the waves of COVID virus. It took a little time, some deep thinking, and lots of creativity, but we had even figured out how to work side-by-side with students without infiltrating their enlarged 6-foot radius of personal space. At the beginning of 2021, I kept my head down, plugged along, and stayed the course.

Things were going along fine—at least… they seemed to be. Until they weren’t.

I had been so focused on what I was doing that I must have missed an important turn. Or maybe I took a turn that I shouldn’t have. Because when I had the opportunity to look up and study my surroundings, I didn’t recognize anything. There was more shade than I’d grown used to. Space seemed a bit warped from what I remembered. And time had a unique way of crunching together while simultaneously stretching out to the horizon. Seriously, nothing looked familiar. And try as I might, I could not figure out how to get my bearings when I didn’t recognize anything.  

For a bit of time, I walked the line between fear and intrigue. How would I find my way back? How would I ever get back on track? And did I even want to? I just couldn’t see how this situation would right itself.

But as time dragged on and direction remained elusive, I settled in to experience the ride and figure out what had happened. Time is a funny thing. And Lost is a curious place. I kept working, hoping for familiar, and a funny thing started to happen. I started to get used to being lost. I started to recognize the unfamiliar, and I became just a bit more brave. I took on tasks I didn’t know I could complete. I made small changes that surprised me. And I forged a new path because no matter how lost you are, you still must continue to move forward.

Of course, hindsight is 20/20, and from here, I can look back on my journey and see it for what it has really been (and continues to be)—a shift of focus. A readjustment of priorities. And a need to exit the fast lane. I now have a new focus and a new direction.

Somehow, in the busyness of life, I got caught up in what I do, and I forgot who I am. I forgot why I’m here. I forgot that life is short and finite. Losing my way has made me realize I am not where I want to be. I am not living the life I want to live. Somehow, I lost myself when I lost my way. But the disorientation that always accompanies Lost allowed me to reconnect with something deeper. It allowed me to reconnect with the real me and the meaning of life—the meaning of my life, but that also allowed me to find my way back to a better life, a stronger me, and a greater sense of purpose.

Maybe I didn’t lose my way after all. Maybe I just took a scenic detour and ended up traveling in a new and unexpected direction to a brighter and more appealing destination.

The journey from Lost is not over. In fact, this journey—the one that will take me into the new year and beyond—has just begun.

Running Ragged

Lately, I have been run ragged by life. If I were a toy, my seams would be ripped, my stuffing spilling out. It’s funny (or not), but sometimes life does that to you. I have slumped into a funk that I can’t escape. I keep pushing to move beyond this point, so I can get back to the energy and light that creativity brings. And so I am working to develop a strategy to get me through.

I am pulling myself away from noise and into silence. It is in the silence that we can hear what is going on inside our heads. It is the silence that reveals the truth.

I am turning away from busyness and moving toward stillness. Busyness pulls and rubs and irritates, but stillness is peaceful and soothing. Stillness is like the hug of an old friend—warm and comforting.

I am rejecting chaos and clutter for simplicity. Chaos and clutter are a result of the worldly and material taking over as the focus of life. Simplicity brings calm. Simplicity allows us to disconnect from the material to reconnect with the spirit.

Sometimes—often, in fact—you need to reject the ways of the world if you are to see your own light. If you are to spread your light in the world.

Sometimes, you need to be alone in reflection to see where you fit in the world with others and within your own life.

Don’t be afraid to take the steps necessary to care for yourself, to rediscover yourself. Too often, we get caught up in the everyday. We try to live in the expectations of others, of the world, and we lose ourselves. We lose what makes us true and right and unique. We lose our passions.

Without passions and creative energy, our light dims. Our candle burns out. Our life becomes a series of day upon day upon day with no real rhyme or reason.

It is only in pulling back into the silence that we can escape the noise. It is only in seeking stillness that we can recognize the poison that is busyness. And it is only in letting go of all the trappings of the here and now that we can truly find ourselves among the simplicity.

So let go. Find your way back and reconnect with your true self.

Wreckage

My train of thought has derailed. I got caught up in the What ifs of life, and my thoughts were swept away under their own momentum. Remember the Little Engine that Could? That determined little engine used positive thinking—I think I can… I think I can… I think I can…—to pull its cargo of toys and treats up a hill it didn’t think it could climb.

In my case, it is a whole train of negative What ifs that has pulled me off track. In fact, the mantra What if… What if… What if… has been growing stronger and steadier. My train of thought picked up speed going down a hill. It was going faster and faster, and when the track veered off to the right (or the left, I can’t even remember anymore), my train of thought stayed straight and derailed.

Now, I am sitting in a pile of steaming wreckage. Twisted metal rises around me casting spooky shadows against the foggy night sky. All the cargo that was neatly in its place is now scattered across the landscape—a million pieces of life that will never fit back into place all tidy and neat as before the derailment. A million pieces of which I may find only half.

No, sometimes life needs some shaking up. Sometimes, we get too comfortable in our day-to-day, and one thing comes along—be it good, bad, or indifferent—and steps smack into our path with a challenge: “Think you’ve got everything figured out? Try THIS!” And while these challenges force us to re-examine various parts of our life—or maybe the whole thing—seeing life from a new angle can be helpful as we search for a creative solution to a difficult situation or a path to a more productive (and more positive) future.

And so… I sit here in the rubble that was my thinking, my life. I sit in silence, not distracting myself with any of the occupations of life that got me into this situation in the first place. The longer I sit here, the sharper my perspective grows. Of course, it helps that the derailment occurred in the dead of night, and the dawn is slowly claiming the darkness. It helps that the outline of what is left of the train is ever more visible against the faint tint of early day. And as the sunlight begins to poke up over the horizon, beams of light illuminate tiny tendrils of smoke winding their way out of the wreckage. The longer I sit here, the brighter my thoughts become, and I gain a sharper realization of the steps I must take to move forward. The longer I sit here, the more certain I am that I will rise from the wreckage of my What ifs, leave this mess behind me, and move into the future carrying a smaller portion of the weight of the world.

And I’m pretty sure that as I move on and leave the What ifs behind, I will take with me only what is needed for today.

Piece by Piece

Pieces of an intricate antique puzzle

I have become the keeper of the puzzles. These puzzles, they are very old, yet nearly new. They are barely used, but they’ve been saved for decades, tucked away in a box under the eaves in the attic, a treasure long ago forgotten. They were created with great care and attention to detail back at a time when all things were created this way.

These puzzles are the definition of jigsaw puzzle—cut from a sheet of thin plywood. They are in boxes that look like standard gift boxes, some red, some white, and some off-white, weathered and stained. They come with no photo of what they will look like when they are assembled. Hundreds of pieces. No photo.

That’s right… the puzzles of yesteryear were sold without a guide, so when you first remove the pieces from the box, you have no idea what goes where. Color won’t help you other than grouping like-colored pieces together. Pattern is irrelevant. Even the edge pieces—or the pieces that appear to be edges—could be assembled upside down before the orientation is slowly revealed. It is only in the process that the end-product starts to make sense. Piece by piece.

As I put these puzzles together, I have realized they are much like life. We did not arrive here on Earth with a guide. There is no manual for many of the things we experience as we travel our journey. There is no map or even a sign to point us in the right direction. We are simply left to figure it out as we go.

The pieces we discover along the way are random—sometimes they fit, and sometimes they don’t. Most of the time, the pieces make sense. We can see their colors and shape, where they fit—and how—as soon as we discover them. Their edges slide seamlessly into the bigger picture. Sometimes, the pieces are here for a time, and then we discover that their angles are too sharp, their picture is too dark, or the color disrupts the environmet we are creating. And every now and then, we acquire a piece we don’t want, that absolutely doesn’t fit, but we are forced to make it fit. We must do the work to smooth the edges and reshape the experience, so we can work it into our lives and find a place where it not only fits but somehow enhances the whole.

As we move through life picking up pieces, we need to remain open to possibilities, and we need to draw upon the vast array of resources we have accumulated. The more of life we have traveled and the more experiences we’ve endured, the closer we may be to figuring out how to proceed with the next piece—unexpected or not—that we stumble upon. If we are having difficulty with one piece or other, we can lean on those around us for support. They may have dealt with a similar piece, and they can share how they eventually got it to fit in their own puzzle.

No, there is no guide to this on-going challenge we call life. But with patience, persistence, a lot of work, and a little bit of luck, all of the pieces will eventually fall into place in a way that is far more beautiful than you could ever imagine.

When we are together…

When we are able to be together again—whether post-pandemic or as the waves recede for now—I am going to smile my warmest, unmasked smile in your direction, and I’ll greet you with a hug so tight, it might feel like I’ll never let go. I really miss hugs. And smiles. I so miss seeing people smile.

When we are together again mid- or post-pandemic, I will stand close to you while we talk—close enough that I will feel your warmth. I will watch your mouth move in familiar patterns as you shape the words you speak. I will nod in agreement, and I might reach out and touch your arm while we joke about one thing or another.

When we are together again, we will sit side-by-side on a bench or across a small table from one another. We might sip coffee or tea or maybe an adult beverage. We will talk and laugh and snack on finger foods we share from a plate that rests between us.

When we are together again, we will have much to catch up on. I will ask how your life is going and how it has changed in recent months. I will ask you about your work, your home improvement projects, your crafts and reading, your mindfulness and reflecting, and how you spent your time in lockdown and in the months since. I will ask you about the ways you’ve found to cope in these most unusual times.

When we are together again, I will tell you about the projects I worked on while I was home, the ones I started and the ones I completed. I will tell you how a project of scanning childhood photos turned into a soul-searching rediscovery of a girl long ago forgotten. And how I reclaimed some of her traits and pulled them back into my now-life. I might even tell you that I’m not sure it was the photo-scanning that prompted the reclaiming, but perhaps the time alone and long moments of reflection served to ground me back into myself. I had pulled apart a bit over the years—my soul tearing from my physical being just enough that the disconnection was real, but not detectable through the hustle and busyness of normal life. I am working to carefully stitch those parts back together so as to avoid a recurrence of this detachment in the future.

When we are together, I will try to explain how very much I needed to be a “helper” when the waves of covid were rolling in. But I felt helpless. I will tell you how that feeling made me dig through my drawers of old fabric and begin making face masks to distribute to family. I will tell you this was a project that lasted through a shortage of elastic and snail-speed shipping on supplies and stretched on for months—even into 2021. Every time I felt like I needed to be more helpful, I would sit down at my sewing machine and stitch face masks. A few hundred face masks later, I have begun to slow my pace—not because I don’t think they will be useful, but because I want to tackle other sewing projects and finally use some of the fabric I bought years ago. It’s part of my intentional recovery and reconstruction.

When we are together, I will tell you about the rethinking I did about my life—about the fact that I am transitioning from being Mom, in an all-the-time kind of way, to mom-to-grown-adults. While I am still mom to three kids, my day-to-day life is no longer defined by my role as somebody’s mom, and that is a difficult but necessary change to navigate. The quiet time of the pandemic has given me an opportunity to think about who I am now that I am not who I was. I will tell you that this time, in many ways, has prepared me for that transition. I will also say that the pang of grief of this transition wound its way through and around the Covid stress-grief and these two feelings became nearly inextricable.

I will tell you that I had many projects I could have done around the house and in the garden, but lockdown meant I was working. Harder than usual. And I took on my second job since life was restricted, and food became (and remains) ridiculously expensive. I will tell you that money was a worry, but that I am fortunate that I have been able to maintain my work thus far. I will tell you that worry is part of my DNA, and I have always worried. A lot. About stupid things. I will tell you I need to let go and let God deal with my stress… and the things I have no control over. Because amazing things happen when you let go of what you cannot control and fully embrace the knowledge that God’s got you.

When we meet again on the other side of the pandemic, I will tell you that it’s good to see you. To be with you, and to talk and to sit in silence. I will tell you that I know the pandemic is not over, but I will enjoy our time together. When we are separated again, I will have these moments to hold onto, to dig into, and to help me realize that I am strong, resilient, and able to find all of the necessary resources when required to do so. I will let you know it’s good to be back. It’s good to be together. But the changes we experienced in the past year? They were good, too. We are stronger now. We are better now. And I hope these changes will stick and weave their way into our new existence, whatever that may eventually look like.

Understanding

Understanding. I am trying to approach everyone I meet with understanding as I contemplate their unique perspective on the world and their individually challenging situation.

A bit before class last week, one of my students emailed me. “I’ll be on Zoom today. I have to babysit.”

Normally, babysitting is not an excuse to be out of class. Class is important, and if you’ve ever taken the time to figure out the price (per class) of a college course, it’s fairly expensive, as well. So no, I do not condone skipping class.

But this is not a normal year. In fact, there is little that even faintly resembles “normal.” Excuses abound in Covid time. “I have a doctor’s appointment.” How can I argue that? “My mom’s car broke down, and she took mine.” Yep, Mom has to get to work so she can make money. “It’s snowing and I have to get home to help out with my little brother.” “I was exposed to Covid, and now I am in quarantine.” Ugh. So many excuses.

I am a proponent of attendance in class, but I also try to be flexible. In the past, I would have asked for a doctor’s note, a court summons, or whatever. Documentation can excuse you from class.

But this year is different. This year has been tough. Everyone has a different situation. I don’t know who has younger siblings that might need supervision. I don’t know whose family is struggling and whose parents have lost jobs. I don’t know which of my students has taken on a job (or two) to help with the bills. I don’t know unless they tell me. And some students aren’t ready to be that vulnerable.

But I do know that people are struggling. I know that my students are struggling. The world, as they knew it, disappeared just as they were preparing to graduate from high school and move out in the world and work on their independence. It has been almost a year since that time. We are all tired of this. We all have pandemic fatigue. We all want to see a relative or friend, go to a concert, attend a wedding, have dinner out with non housemates…. There is so much we are missing about our former lives.

So I take a step back and I ask myself, is it my position to question this student’s situation, or is it simply my position to express understanding? I am not going to judge anyone in a year like this.

Like everything else this year, I am exercising flexibility. If you tell me you have to Zoom into class because you have to babysit, I am not going to ask. I’m going to send you the Zoom link and see you, virtually at least, in class.

Everyone is struggling. Not necessarily in the same way. In fact, not likely in the same way. Understanding is what we need. From where I sit, understanding is the best path forward.

{Photo by Jeffrey Hamilton on Unsplash}

Comfort Zone

It has been cold here in New England recently. Earlier this week, it was bone-chilling, teeth-crackling cold. So cold, in fact, that even the thought of going for a walk made me shiver. But after a week in quarantine, working from home, and barely going out, I was stir-crazy, and I forced myself to go for a walk.

I bundled up and stepped out the door and into the cold. The air was still and no one else was out as I walked down the path past the pond. The bare trees of mid-winter reveal the landscape in new ways, and I could see the stream through the twigs and branches that line the path. In warmer months, these twigs would be dense underbrush. I could see where the stream split in two then rejoined as one before emptying into the pond. Far above me, the trees whined and groaned in the slight breeze.

The normal acoustics of the outside world seemed muffled by the cold, the snow on the ground, and my hat on my ears. An airplane flew low overhead preparing to land, and the sound was much quieter than at other times of year when the volume can be deafening.

When you are willing to step outside and brave the elements, you are often rewarded with peace and fresh air and sights not seen indoors. As I walked up the hill, I spotted a sundog gracing the clouds up ahead—a wink from my dad, the spotter of rainbows and shooting stars, letting me know he’s here even though I cannot see him. And at the end of my walk, as I approached home, the wispy strokes of an angel-like cloud danced in the sky, beckoning me forward.

Here’s what I know. When you are willing to step out of the warm comfort of your home and pay attention to the world around you, it feeds your soul. When I stepped outside, I opened myself up to the sights and sounds that awaited me. The smell of snow, the clouds against the blue sky, the shape of a snow heart set off by the dark pavement.

But here’s what I want to know. If these are the possibilities with a simple walk outside, what are the possibilities if you step out of your comfort zone? What kind of growth is possible if you take the step you’ve been putting off? How will you change if you take the risks that you know you want to take, but you can’t quite muster the courage?

True growth happens when we make ourselves vulnerable. When we do the thing we have been putting off. It might be to leave a comfortable job for a new opportunity. It might be to reach across the void of years to reconnect with an old friend. Or to leave a relationship that isn’t healthy. It might be venturing out on your own to create the life you desire and deserve.

Yes, it may be scary. Yes, you will be able to come up with a million and one excuses for not doing the thing. But what do you have to lose if you take the risk? More importantly, what regrets will you have if you don’t take the risk and do whatever it is that is calling your heart?

No doubt, the first few steps will be cold and uncomfortable. No doubt the journey will be bumpy and at times unsettling or even downright discouraging. But when you find your footing, when you take a look around, you will notice the beauty. You will realize your strength. And you will begin to find your confidence.

Take the step, whatever that may be for you. Venture beyond your comfort zone and discover the joy and wonder that lie just beyond your current reach. You just might be surprised by what life has in store for you!