After 17 years of writing a column syndicated in Northwest CA (and on this site), I will be in my first national magazine!
You can read the article by following this link.
The date on my calendar doesn’t yet agree, but climate pays no heed to the small square, dated, boxes hanging underneath “December” with a cute picture of a furry otter that adorns my office wall.
Not too long ago, I walked my neighborhood wearing shorts and a short-sleeve shirt. Today, not only am I in heavy jeans, turtleneck, and fleece vest, but my feet are warmed by “heat holder” wool socks, and there’s a space heater glowing orange by my toes. Winter has made itself recognized; I prefer the blues, greens, yellows, and warmth of Summer. Gray, ashen, pewter, and cold don’t do much to boost my disposition.
Realizing I’m now closer to 90 than I am to 40, I’m in a place in my life where I am attempting (not always successfully) to not let that which I cannot control, control me – especially my attitude. In my oh-so-much-younger days, I would go all cranky over the inclement chill of mid-December. Today, I’m as much into “acceptance” as I can be. Beyond giving up grousing, I actively look for the beauty that envelopes me, even if painted in a drab, drizzly, dark sullenness.
To that end, I’ve noticed how many perfect moments in which my life is wrapped; should I just be open to experience them. They’re omnipresent; in any instant, everywhere. I simply open my eyes and soak them in.
My dog, 20 pounds of curls and ears, is a wind-up toy of joy and love. Adorned in his holiday finery – a red, blue, white doggy sweater decorated with a pattern of snowflakes and trees – he bounds through our house, full-steam, back and forth down the hardwood hallway, nails clicking, stubby tail wagging, an oversized doggie-bone proudly transported in his jaws. All feet and ears as he slides along the floor, attempting to find traction, the excitement knows no restraint. Dog: uncontrollable joyfulness. Watching him, the love inside me explodes and I cannot help but laugh. The cold swathed around my bones dissolves. I ask for nothing more; this is perfect.
Although I now bundle up to take my morning walk and the nippy dampness pierces the puffy jacket dedicated to keeping me warm, one of the countless things I like about living here is that people smile and wave as we pass each other.
“Happy holidays!” shouts a chap about my age, wearing an obviously well-loved, slightly frayed, Santa cap. He waves with gloved hands from across the street.
“You too,” I call back. “Have a joyous season.”
I smile – as does he, and accents it with a pretend salute as he passes into my memories. I don’t know him; probably never will. It doesn’t matter; at that moment he improved my life, making a perfect instant better than I could wish for.
That’s peculiar when you realize I made a living traveling the country, delivering speeches, workshops, and presentations. One might think I’d be used to travel; it would be second nature.
I’m not “nervous” in the sense that I’m afraid the plane will fall from the sky. I mean, sure, turbulence gives me a bit of the willies, but, overall, I feel safe in the air. I’m more anxious about the logistics. For example, will the flight be canceled and I’ll be stuck? Will I be re-directed due to fog? If I’m stuck in the airport, where will I sleep? (In fairness to me, these all happened and I ended up missing engagements.)
To assuage those dreads, I inspect weather reports of the departing and arriving airports days in advance, tracing where my plane will be coming from so I can monitor its weather – as well as the airport before that, and sometimes even the one prior. I set up numerous phone alarms and am familiar with every flight-tracking app on this side of the stratosphere. Not surprisingly, I arrive at the airport three days early (slight exaggeration) and prefer long layovers to avoid missed connections when flights are inevitably delayed.
None of this helps guarantee the trip will go as expected, and, to be honest, I’m not sure it doesn’t feed my anxiety, but, what can I say? It’s my thing.
I feel more in control when driving, but up here on the rugged Northcoast of California, that’s no guarantee either. We have skinny, twisty, mountain roads so inclement weather, accidents, and all manner of fallen objects close the main thoroughfares more often than I like.
With that as backstory, my wife and I were heading to a cabin in the mountains amid a predicted “Bomb Cyclone” that was set to soak Northern California the day we were planning to leave. (Cue nervousness and me checking weather apps.)
The good news was – as is usually the case – worrying was wasted energy. The sun broke through the clouds as we were leaving, and it was going to be an easy drive. Better yet, one of the most brilliant rainbows ever appeared as we pulled from the curb. Everyone likes rainbows. I mean, how can you not? From the time of Noah, the colorful arc that spans the firmament signifies hope, peace, and beauty. For my family, rainbows also signify a message from our departed cat, Tiger, who crossed the Rainbow Bridge last year.
What made this even more affecting was that the kaleidoscopic arc remained to our west for the first hour of our drive. Each time we took a curve, there it was; peering over the mountaintops, shining through the trees, hovering always to our side; watching and protecting us.
Here’s the amazing part. As we rounded a bend, the end of the rainbow was immediately to our left, culminating a few dozen feet off the road. (No, there wasn’t a pot of gold.) We only viewed it for an instant as the highway turned again, but the rainbow was enormous; its colors brighter and more vibrant than anything I’ve witnessed in my almost-seventy years; almost blinding. Upon witnessing the breadth, scope, and beauty of the rainbow, both my wife and I let out a simultaneous gasp. If we both hadn’t seen it together, at the same time, I’d be convinced it was my imagination.
But it wasn’t. [Read more…]
I know I say this every year, (admit it, you do too) but it always seems like a surprise. Stores starting setting up Halloween displays sometime around March (slight – but not much of an – exaggeration.) Christmas displays have been unveiled in the big box outlets for several weeks already. And, almost as quickly as it began, summer has left us for cold mornings, thick jackets, and wool caps.
Especially after being hunkered down for almost two years, it can be difficult to stay on track during the upcoming “holiday party season,” that period from when Halloween candies hit the store shelves until the last New Year’s party has faded with the final chords of Auld Lang Syne. This is not new. We’ve all been around the block a few times; we know how difficult it can be to get back on track come January. We could just stay on course for the next couple of months. Yet, if we all know what this time of year is like, why do we do this to ourselves every year?
To permanently change habits, we need an accurate understanding of what they are. Most people mistakenly consider habits to be repeated behaviors done without thought; developed over time. Whereby that’s partly true, it misses focusing on the more significant elements: everything which precedes the behavior. Not understanding the entire chain condemns us to be victims of our actions instead of their masters.
That said, let’s re-define more accurately what exactly is a habit: “A recurring pattern of thoughts and feelings triggering a repeated behavior, which all work together to simplify our lives.”
We are not mindless Zombies, aimlessly wandering the landscape, driven by impulse and instinct, reacting without any control. Instead, since most of us have functioning brains, we develop patterns – rituals – which allow us to lower the cacophony between our ears and think less. The benefit of which is that it simplifies our lives by putting much of it on autopilot. After all, it’s hard to constantly be “on,” we need relief.
I consider this space to be a respite from the negativity that seems to crash as a tsunami over us without end. To that point, I’m working on acceptance and surrender; and to my credit, I think I’m doing well at it. It’s the bedrock of my spiritual principles and beliefs. I really do (mostly) believe that all is unfolding as it needs to and the Universe is conspiring for our greatest good.
However, just like you I’m a real person, and I imagine just like you, I’m having a hard time processing what’s happening to us yet again. I’m really ornery about what I think is a preventable fourth (or is it the fifth) wave of the pandemic.
I held faith that when 2020 came to its close, for so many reasons, life would improve. I don’t think any of us felt we’d hold hands and sing Kumbaya while we shared a Coke and taught the world to sing, but there was a bright star rising in the dark sky and, especially as the vaccine made itself known, there was a collective deep breath; a sigh of relief.
Oh well. Here we are, into another surge which is already worse than last summer as well as having the added insult of being preventable if not for people being selfish. (Yes, I get it; some people cannot get a shot but that’s a small percentage of the unvaccinated. Most are either misinformed, confused, or – for whatever reason – consider the vaccine a political statement.) What makes it more frustrating than last year is that in 2020, COVID was still novel and we didn’t know what we were doing; the science was unfolding and we didn’t have a vaccine. Its spread was unavoidable.
I got my vaccine as soon as I could. Virtually everybody I know did the same. Yes, we did it for our own protection, but there was also a sense of community spirit, patriotism, and a realization that we have to all work together for the greater good to overcome a common enemy. It felt hopeful. I was proud.
Yet, as they say, “all good things must come to an end” and now we watch as people needlessly die or have their lives ripped apart because they refused to do the right thing. [Read more…]