Archives for category: Life Lessons

One of my closest friends swears that she is cursed by the rock group Heart.  Every time she hears one of their songs on the radio, something bad has happened right before, or will happen shortly after.  She says gets bad news, she suffers an accident, she loses her wallet, she drops something precious and it smashes into a million pieces…

You get the picture.

I usually play music on my docking station after my students leave and I plan for the next day.   If my friend happens to walk into my classroom and one of Heart’s songs is playing, she will spin on her heel and walk out.  Secretly, I have scoffed at this behaviour, I do admit.  I mean, really…

But, in walks April.  The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Month.  Alexander got one day and he wanted to move to Australia.  Big deal!  I want to shake him out of his all-white, stripe-less sneakers.  Poor kid.  He doesn’t know what real problems are!

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I know that April has it in for me.  I really do.  Year after year, I approach April with optimism and a fresh regard and it turns around and stabs me firmly in the back.  Then it gives a little twist.

“Ha! Ha! Ha!” it seems to cackle, “You thought I’d make this EASY on you?!  I am APRILLLLLLLL!”

What has April done to me?  Let’s see…

On Easter Weekend, our car was T-Boned and I split my head open, from my hairline to the bridge of my nose.

My dad died in April.

I miscarried on Earth Day.

My mom has been in hospital for the entire month of April.

This month at work has been a disaster.

I could go on…but I won’t.

Alexander’s day was so bad that he declared that he was moving across the world.  His mother told him that some days are terrible, even in Australia.  Last time I checked, Australia has an April, so I am out of luck there too.  However, May has finally arrived, and I am looking forward to the end of the showers and many, many flowers.

Maybe I’ll give April just one more chance…next year.

 

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A couple of days ago, I had a look through some of my past posts and was stuck by the trend of negativity toward the old, or aging, in general.  If there was a thread of agism emerging, I set my sights on squashing the trend and writing some positive things about my experiences with the elderly.  I have been blessed with some very positive relationships by virtue of some years volunteering and working in residences and old age homes.

There.  I waved the white flag.  I’m not a hater.  Honest.

I never dreamed that only one day later I would go to bed with a pocket full of new stories.

Yesterday I was in the pharmacy and lined up behind a sweet old woman who had just finished paying for her items.  She was having difficulty getting her credit card back into her wallet because her hands were shaking.  She was frequently glancing back at me apologetically and, as fate has it, the harder she tried to move faster, the slower she went.  A couple of items dropped out of her purse and her face wore a grimace of the stress she was feeling.

The cashier was folding her arms and looking frustrated.  She beckoned me toward the counter, and said, “Come on up.”

I said, “I’m not in any hurry at all.”

The lady was scrambling and once again the cashier said to me, “I can ring you through.”  At this point she swept the woman’s purse, together with her purchases, down the counter with her arm, not unlike a pinsetter in a bowling alley.  There was no reason I could see for rushing her.  No long line up.  No busy store.  All I saw was one impatient cashier.

I remained rooted, “I’m not in any hurry.  Let her finish…it’s okay.”

To the older woman I said, “Take your time.”

She finally was able to get herself organized and departed with a smile of relief cast back my way.

Shortly after I left the store, I stopped to allow an old gentleman who was carrying packages, to cross the road in front of me.  He was trying to hurry but was only accomplishing walking that kind of hop-like step involving far more vertical distance than linear travel.   His back was rounded in deep kyphosis which caused him to keep his gaze directly on the ground ahead of him.  I wasn’t sure he was even aware of my presence, when at the last moment after crossing, he turned to give me a deep and courtly nod that would have rivalled anyone in the upper echelon of 18 or 19th century society.  I grinned from ear to ear and he grinned back.

Later that morning I had the pleasure of encountering Doris, who is more than 90 years young, as we waited together in our Doctor’s office.  I offered her my seat in the waiting room and she proved to be worth her weight in gold in the entertainment she provided.

We jointly joked about speaking to the Doctor about providing us with tea and cookies, “…since he’s kept us waiting so long!”

“Do you prefer tea, Dear, or coffee?”  Doris asked me, “Because I’ll speak to him about setting out both, if you think that would be best.”

We enthusiastically agreed that the Doctor really should home-bake the cookies,

“…after all, nothing store-bought will do, certainly not.”

Truth be told, our doctor’s longest wait time would be a dream day for any other doctor’s office I’ve heard of, so it truly was all in good fun.

We continued with some banter over the Bruins and the Leafs and she recounted her thrill at receiving a personal card from Bobby Orr for her 90th birthday.   Although, she said, her daughter had needed to send “her Bobby” both the card and the dollar for the stamp…and he never returned the change from the price of the stamp.   She said she is still considering writing him a letter to ask him for that nickel!

Everyone in the office was in giggles thanks to Doris.

In each of these situations, I made an offering of one small thing;  I slowed down and made space for an older person.  In each situation I was rewarded ten-fold;

By a smile, by an acknowledgement, by a story.

The elderly have many gifts to give.  As we all do.  Let’s slow down and find some time to give them.

Over the last couple of years I have been plagued with daily headaches.  I have tried nearly everything to remedy them, from medication and diet, to massage, acupuncture, and chiropractic treatments, with no success.  It’s been a slippery slope of generalized exhaustion and pain, resulting in weight gain and emotional depletion.  In the pursuit of a more centred me, I have recently made a concerted effort to return to the yoga mat to achieve a little zen.

My first effort was a class at a local hot yoga studio.  Previous classes had taught me a lesson; 90 minutes of intense yoga poses in 105* heat necessitates  hydration.  My last hot yoga class, over three years ago, had resulted in a middle of the night awakening with a migraine that wouldn’t abate for over 48 hours.  The last thing I needed was a repeat of that experience, so I made sure that I hydrated throughout the day prior to the class.  I felt ready.  I was going to find my spiritual centre and reacquaint myself with the athletic me, even if it was hiding beneath 35 pounds of lethargy.

I arrived early and found a place at the back of the class and placed my water and towel near the wall.  I laid down on my mat in savasana and began to ready myself for the upcoming class.  My years of yoga practise returned to me like an old friend;  I easily found the quiet place within me.

Hey, I was thinking, I can do this. 

A few minutes later I heard a shuffling noise beside me and cracked open my left eye.

Hmmmm… I mused (my zen rapidly retreating), apparently Barbie does hot yoga too.

She was stretched out beside me, wearing a pink neon Lululemon tube top and what appeared to be boy short bikini bottoms.  Her hair was gleaming and her make-up flawless.  I glanced down sheepishly at my yoga capris, barely restraining my buddha belly and tee-shirt.

Evidently I missed the memo.  

I began imagining stretching a clothesline from one of her bony hips across to the other and then hanging tiny little Barbie clothes with itsy bitsy Barbie clothespins.

What was wrong with me???

I tried to return to my quiet place and ignore the smell of coconut body balm wafting over toward me from Barbie er, the young woman lying beside me.

Why did SHE have to choose to lay down beside ME? 

Oh man…I was unravelling, and the class hadn’t even started.

OK.  Enough of that now.  I had to  regain control.  Close your eyes and find your happy place. 

Focus. 

…oh no… didn’t the instructor say,, “Don’t focus”?

Crap! 

Many people flooded the room and I was relieved to see all shapes, sizes and ages emerging through the door.  A very large man settled his things on my other side, and the class began.  The intensity of exercising in 105* is really something to experience and, very quickly, we all began to sweat.  I should note that some of us perspire…and some of us sweat.   The difference being, of course, that sweat really stinks.

I was determined to stay in my happy place and attempted to ignore the  intense odour emitting from the large man beside me.  As we transitioned into warrior pose, he extended his arms in my direction, and launched streams of sweat off his fingertips, spraying me in the face and body.

SPLAT!

I was so disgusted that I froze, doing the only thing I could think of.  I shook his sweat off, mopped my face with my towel, and resumed the pose.  But who was I kidding?  I knew then and there that it was over.  My quest for zen was a flop.  I was trapped, sandwiched between Miss America and Mr. Rotting Onion.

My life seems to be like that these days; a series of bungles and missteps.  Most of the time I still manage to laugh at them, so I must be ahead of the game.  I feel that my experience in the yoga class was truly a metaphor for my course my life has taken.

I recently read a book about a woman who lost her memory and awoke thinking that she was ten years younger.  I felt acutely akin to the character and all she went through.  I realize that 20 something men are not looking my way as I pass, like they did when I was in my thirties.  I’m not at the gym 6 days a week anymore, and you certainly couldn’t bounce a quarter off of my rear end.  I should be clear that this is not my mission in life and that, no,  I do not feel defined by the attention of post-pubescent males…but it’s a change indeed.  Many days I find myself wondering, Where did I go?

At the end of the novel, there were some questions offered for reflection.  One question asked what my 10-year-younger-self would think of the present day me.  In truth, I think that the 30-something me would be absolutely stunned and probably a little disappointed.   I feel that I woke up one day and found myself in the 40-somethings, wondering where my 30s went, and my youth and beauty with them.

I know, where they went, without a doubt.  They went with my priorities changing from a focus on myself to a focus on my child.  It began with motherhood, which has been an all-consuming experience for me.  My daughter is my everything, my world, my miraculous, shining star.  She is an incredible person that I feel so blessed to have the honour of mothering.  So my 30-something-self really has absolutely no clue.

However, somewhere along the way, I vanished and that isn’t healthy either.

Life is all about balance…on and off the mat.

On my way home from a walk with Charlotte, I ran into our neighbours, who have just adopted a gorgeous, Golden Retriever puppy they named Caleb.  They had just purchased a nifty plastic container to hold doggie kibble.  Since I had just mentioned to my husband how disgusting Charlotte’s kibble smells and how much I would love to get some kind of sealed container to hold the kibble, I found this quite the happy coincidence.

Our neighbours told me they had purchased the container at Home Sense, so directly after dinner, I started to head out the door to go and pick one up.  Our daughter asked if she could tag along and I figured since it isn’t a school night, it wouldn’t be a problem.

In Home Sense we quickly found what we were looking for when I stumbled across a wonderful sign for the wall.

BE, it said, in large bold black letters.

In a smaller font size, and descending from top to bottom, it read;

kind, creative, funny, loving, loyal, honest, genuine, fearless, generous, original, brave, grateful, unique, happy

I read it to our daughter.  “What’s loyal?” she asked.  I gave her a brief example involving friends and a situation that would require loyalty.  “Good description!” said a woman walking by me, pushing a baby boy in a stroller and holding the hand of a sweet girl about the age of 5, “Those things are so hard to describe to kids…I never know what to say.”

The little girl and our daughter struck up a conversation about our new puppy Charlotte.  The woman told me that her daughter would love a dog but she didn’t feel it was a good decision for them right now.  “Well,” I said to the little girl, “You have a beautiful baby brother…we wanted another baby, but we couldn’t seem to get one…so we settled on a puppy instead.”  The woman glanced at me and said, “Don’t give up.  We never thought I’d get pregnant again after we had her…we tried and tried with no luck.  Then, four days after my husband died, I found out I was pregnant with Ryan.”

“Your husband died?” I asked, “…and you found out you were pregnant?”

“Four days after he died.” she answered.  Her tone was absolutely matter-of-fact and her face showed little emotion.  “So don’t give up…you never know what life will bring you.”

“Wow…can I give you a hug?” I tentatively asked.

I reached my arms around her but I could tell she needed the hug to be brief, so I quickly embraced her and let go.  She said, “You know…ah…my girlfriends call me and complain about their husbands…and I get it…you have to deal with life – your life – how it is…and everybody’s reality is different.  But, you know, my girlfriend calls me to complain about her husband because he won’t pick up his underwear off the god-damned floor…”

There was a long pause while she looked at the floor.  In a smaller voice, she began again, “I still have a tub downstairs filled with my husband’s dirty clothes…because I can’t bring myself to wash them…I would scatter those clothes around my house for the next twenty years if we could only have him back.”   

Her husband had woken with a terrible headache and decided to stay home from work.  A couple of hours after they said their morning goodbyes, he died of a massive aneurism.  They had arrived home later on that day to find him there.  She told me her daughter saw things the day her husband died that she should never have seen. She said her daughter’s teacher took her aside after school today to say that she wouldn’t draw on white paper.  Her daughter told the teacher she hates white, because white is the colour of the foam that she saw coming out of her Daddy’s mouth.  

“Oh God in Heaven, I have no problems.” I stood thinking,  “I am so grateful.”

I was dumbfounded at her candour and stood listening, with tears brimming in my eyes.  The tears are still brimming even now.  I told her that she was unbelievably strong.  She told me that when she finally stops crying herself to sleep every night, then she will believe that she is strong.

I thanked her for the message and the lesson within.  I told her I needed it, more than she will ever know.  She told me not to forget it; life is short – enjoy every minute because…you just never know….

Marriage isn’t easy but I absolutely know that I do sweat the small stuff far too often.  Tonight I complained for close to a half hour about housecleaning and equitable division of chores.  I know with all certainty that I would clean bathrooms for the rest of my life rather than lose my husband.  I’m not suggesting by any means that we should bow down to others and compromise ourselves, but perhaps a glance from time to time at the bigger picture?  This woman was the first to say that we need to live in our own realities, and that I can’t live her life or her loss.  But if I lost my husband, would I consider the issue of bathroom cleaning important enough to waste a half an hour talking about it?  Not a chance.

Tonight I am sending out prayers and thanks to this extraordinary woman who had the courage to give me the gift of her story.  Why this woman chose to confide in me, I will never really know.  I believe in everyday angels, and I know this lady was one of them.  I believe that this message was divinely sent and meant for me to hear tonight.

I won’t ever forget it.