Tuesday, April 22, 2014

In Search of Inspiration

“Unfortunately, we don't have all that many good examples to follow. The people that our cultures label as "successful" are the ones who have become wealthy or famous or celebrities, but the truly successful people--those who have become happy and who are living happy, loving, giving lives--aren't often featured in our newspapers or newscasts. We see the politicians and the criminals and the athletes and the entertainment "stars," but we don't see the people who can truly inspire us to be happy by being just who we are.” 
― Tom Walsh

The author of this quote, Tom Walsh, business columnist for the Detroit Free Press, could be describing our current culture, at least as I see it.  And coming across his quote to a degree reassuring. I'm not just an old-fashioned prude, or out of touch - not with it.  I was beginning to wonder if I were sounding like my mother in her final years, something I vowed I would never do. But I have felt this way for some time now.

It's not that there are no wonderful, courageous dedicated folks out there.  It's that we, as a culture, don't seem to value them very much, if our media is an indication of what we hold to be important and cherished.. We are inundated with stories of the rich and famous (or infamous); we are asked to vote on who is to blame for the latest assault; our respect is demanded by people who do not appear to respect others; we are "entertained" by people who dress and behave as though they don't respect themselves.  It's enough to make a grown woman cry. Or become cynical and even, occasionally, afraid.

Fortunately, there are wonderful, courageous and dedicated folks out there. Occasionally, they even show up on TV, usually on Sunday morning, or after a catastrophe or disaster.  Everyday folks who rise to the occasion or who are dealing with personal challenges with grace and dignity.  Like the survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing.  Like the individuals and communities that band together to help a family in need or to clean up neighborhoods.  And the occasional celebrity who makes a genuine and dedicated commitment to a cause - I immediately think of Gary Sinise and his support of the Wounded Warrior Project.  

We all can use good examples.. Not just children.  We need them at all stages of our lives. Not to emulate but to inspire.  To inspire us to live "happy, loving, giving lives."  Not  perfect heroes or heroines or  larger than life figures.  But people we can identify with.  People who present possibilities within our reach if only we will reach a little higher. People who strive for something other than money or image, who care about others, who treat others with respect. The neighbor who watches our home when we are on vacation or the stranger who stops to help with a flat tire.  Perhaps someone ahead of us in the stream of life.  Or someone behind us from whom we can learn or just enjoy being with.

I used to ask workshop participants and coaching clients to select five individuals, living or dead, real or imaginary,  who would serve as a board of directors for their lives.   They would find the task challenging, if not impossible.  Today I would ask a different question, one that I am asking myself.  Who inspires you from the people you know and engage with?  With great relief and satisfaction, I can answer that question - easily.  My list includes a friend who can defuse any potential upset with humor and finesse.  Another who is facing a terminal illness with awesome dignity.  My sister who has the clearest and most responsible boundaries I have ever experienced.  My brother who has an insatiable thirst for learning, not mere knowledge, but genuine learning.  My husband who really does forgive and forget....and more.

But I have to admit, I also find Dame Judi Dench inspiring!

Who inspires you?



Sunday, April 6, 2014

What a Difference a Day Makes

"In having less, and less to do, we give ourselves a chance to feel rich with contentment."
~ Meg Wolfe

I came across this quote while in the midst of my simplification efforts.  One of several quotes from The Minimalist Woman that served as an inspiration to continue donating, consigning, repurposing, tossing.  

This particular quote, however helpful,  began to niggle at me.   For though I definitely could see that I had less and I had less to do (clearing out the stuff had prompted me to reduce a few of the obligations I had undertaken, and I am retired after all)  I became acutely aware that I  wasn't consistently content.  Oh, there were plenty of moments, but I couldn't seem to sustain it for very long.  Because, truth be told, I have to admit -

I'm a worrier.  And the funny thing is (well, not so funny), that  I wouldn't have acknowledged this a year ago.  Chiefly, because I can catch myself when I start to fret  and then bring myself back to the present.  In fact, I can do this so well that the frequency with which I do this had become transparent to me.  Until a few months ago when, in a conversation, my sister called me a worrier and laughed when I protested. Laughed, incredulously.

So, I started to pay attention and was appalled.  I hadn't realized just how often I had to brace myself against dark imaginings, or made plans for dire circumstances.  Whenever my brother or sister said they were going in for a checkup, I couldn't relax until I heard they had a clean bill of health.  Whenever John would catch a cold or say he wasn't feeling well, I had to catch myself, interrupt my immediate chain of thoughts or I'd go from thinking his lymphoma had returned to my being a bag lady on the streets - a chain that was forged within a nanosecond.  And whenever I forgot something, like where I put my glasses, or a word I was sure I knew, well, you can guess...onset dementia!

Then, this past month John returned to Houston for his annual checkup. The full battery of tests. And I waited to hear if he was still in remission.  And I worried that we might learn the other shoe had dropped - it has been nine years, after all.  Wondered whether this would be the year...  Knew he was worried too, perhaps even afraid.   Vacillated between mere worry and outright anxiety.

The news was different this year.  Not only were his test results good, but they were better than ever. So good that he does not have to return for a checkup for two years.  So good that his doctor is confident that we are out of the woods.  The wonderful news, the miraculous news - that was once one of the worst diagnosis - non-Hodgkins lymphoma -
now has a high degree of successful treatment with the protocol John received nine years ago.  That anyone who has received that protocol - a stem cell replacement - and has remained cancer free for over three years, need not worry about recurrence.

Not worry?!  Novel idea.  In the weeks that have passed since his visit, I have enjoyed the first crocuses, daffodils and tulips of spring. Enjoyed lunch with friends.  Enjoyed watching The Voice with John and catch-up calls with old friends.  Enjoyed walks in the afternoon and reading mysteries in the evening....in short, I've enjoyed a worry-free zone, "rich with contentment."

I am not naive, however.  I realize there will be another challenge, another crisis, just around the corner.  That this may just be a lull in the storm of life.  But for now, for now I want to enjoy it and learn how not to worry about what might be.  Worrying about what is, well, that's enough for anyone. For now, I want to enjoy our tulips.