I’m Grateful for Check-Ins

It’s that time of year again where I struggle with the accurate spelling of “mantel.”  Or is it “mantle”?  Like “Capitol” and “capital,” this distinction in spelling gnaws at me (in a good way, I suppose).  In any case, as you can see, my mantel is doing just fine.  And so am I .  Thanks to check-ins from many unexpected friends and caring neighbors.  And of course, my constant therapy buddies, Pudgey and Vanilla.

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There is something about the month of December that always leaves me feeling warm, loved and grateful.  It’s not just the ordinary pre-Holiday buzzing around that sustains me.  In fact, it is the opposite.  I like the quiet, reflective times of December and I defiantly make them a priority.  I started reading about “minimalism” a few years ago (check out Joshua Becker’s becomingminimalist.com and the excellent writings and Netflix documentary based on the thinking of Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus, theminimalists.com).

More than anything, studying the principles of minimalism has offered space and support in my thoughts and lifestyle these past few years to begin a transformation that has led to the greatest clarity and personal satisfaction of my life.  I don’t need more “stuff,” I need less clutter.  I don’t need more “fake friends,” I need a small circle of amazing friends who check-in with me.

Quite unexpectedly, I left a great job this month and immediately became completely helpless  to a very painful sciatic joint “situation.”  I’ve been knocked off my horse and there’s very little I can do about it.  Yet I feel joyful.  I have abundance.  I see goodness.  I am hopeful.  And my small circle of amazing “check-in” friends and family are exactly where I want and need them to be.  Lovingly offering kindness and ready to ease the pain of loneliness or regret or whatever my ailment of the moment happens to be.

For whatever totally undeserved reason, I have received the gift of loyal friendship and support of friends I was close to twenty and thirty years ago back in my life recently.  Old friends are the most comforting treasure in the world.  One glance or utterance can unfold memories, laughter and complete understanding between old friends that gives meaning and purpose to my humanity in the here and now.  Just yesterday, I reconnected with Shelley, a pal from my twenty-something, unmarried, professional days over lunch.  We are both married, in our fifties now and navigating raising teenagers, nurturing marriages of twenty-plus years, and learning to laugh at our common mid-life physical and emotional challenges.  She texted me first thing this morning:

“I’m so very proud and impressed with all your personal accomplishments!  You don’t give yourself enough GRACE!”

My dears, when a friend who knows you inside and out says these beautiful words to you, I don’t care how or when or in what format, you are LUCKY.  You are enough.  You make a difference.  And you are certainly loved and appreciated.

Like the beautiful fresh greenery another dear friend recently draped across my mantle (or is it mantel? More amazingly, she did it without duct tape!), life is full of simple joys that can be overlooked if you don’t intentionally slow down.  Check-in with your soul on a regular basis and feed it with acceptance, inspiration, a cup of tea, a conversation with an old friend, or a friendly chat with the neighbor walking their dog down the street.  These are the gifts I am grateful for this December, regardless of what packages happen to end up under my tree.

I hope that 2019 brings you lots of positive “check-ins” from loving sources you have encountered and nurtured throughout your life.  A check-in doesn’t have to be lavish – just a few simple words to express what you’re feeling in the moment are all that another person needs to feel supported and ready for a new day.

I dedicate this to all my check-in friends of 2018 and look forward to growing that number in the coming year: Shelley, Pam, Mary, Melissa, Vicki, Vickie, Victoria, Jennifer, Jeanne, Sherry, Stevie, Johanna, Christine, Susanna, Malin, Kit, Laurie, Kelly, Carol, Lincoln, Rob, Mark, Alex, Julie, Susan, Erin, Jenny, Carmen, Alejandre, Ann, Linda, JoEllen, Sarah, Mike, Gwyneth, Bill, Caryl, Sheila, Isa and Mario.

Merry Christmas, friends.

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The Path that Found Me

My husband and son are out of town on a big adventure for several days and my daughter and I are relaxing, enjoying some down time.  As is my habit when I have a little extra mental space and time, I go digging through old boxes in search of old letters, pictures, tokens from my past.  Though I have seen this photo so many times this morning it startled me:  she’s so young and fresh, like the strawberry she’s posing with next to her friend.  At 52, it is wonderful to have arrived at an age where I can recall a story for nearly every little scrap I have saved in my “special box” over the years.  Here’s what I remember about this picture.

The friend I am with was a special one for a short time.  We were both recently out of Graduate School and beginning our career paths, though mine was in the nonprofit world and her’s was health care administration.  Her career-obsessed, interrupting, impatient colleague drove us to the dinner we are enjoying in the photo.  I was half-heartedly pursuing what I thought would be a good “career path” for myself, though 50 percent of the people I met who were serious “career-oriented” people were way too intense for me.

Silly then, sillier now.  That’s me.  But I was ashamed of it then.  Looking at this sweet girl in the picture, I want to love her and reassure her that the right Path will find her. That it ultimately does not matter in life who you impress at meetings or how high you are willing to climb to earn a career.  The rude colleague of my friend ultimately achieved the highest honors in her career and she received accolades, awards and respect.  Good for her.  My “non-path path” has been glorious, sometimes painful but always given me the right kind of experience and space I needed to grow.

My son brilliantly summed up for me the most valuable part of any journey when he exclaimed his woes about his second day of kindergarten on the car ride home:  “My day was horrible!  The teacher only gave us 7 minutes to daydream!”  This kid is so my kid.  To resist externally imposed structure so resolutely at age 5 was both a blessing and curse for him and I have personally witnessed the toll an absurdly rigid school routine can take on his soul.  My advice to him and all you other free spirits out there:  trust yourself enough to know that the choices you make in life will yield abundance in many beautiful ways.  You may not choose a path that is laden with financial rewards and career milestones worthy of publishing in a business journal.  But this much I know:  THE WORLD NEEDS DAYDREAMERS!

So the path that found me was the one that was inside my heart as a youngster.  I loved getting on my bicycle and playing “carpool” with my imaginary children.  Unfortunately, as a woman in the eighties and nineties, it wasn’t very cool to admit that all you really wanted to do was “just be a Mom.”  But that’s what I have done and it has been my greatest joy in life.  I have a daughter, too, and she’s a creative genius and force of nature.  And I married a guy who does my favorite thing in the world:  he writes great love notes.  This one popped up when I was treasure hunting in my special box today.  We had been married exactly 5 weeks, I was undergoing testing for terrible allergies, and my guapo half Argentinean new groom wrote me these words:Love Note

My life has been rich and the journey becomes sweeter with age, as anybody over 50 understands, because we know each day is so precious.  I am so happy I decided to go through that box today and even happier that the Path I always dreamed of found me.

 

Love Between Sisters

As the youngest of 5 sisters, “sisterly love” has been a major theme of my life.  One thing I absolutely know to be true:  if you have a sister, you have an ally, best friend, confidante and personal coach for life!  As a youngster, it was fun for me to write letters to my three oldest sisters who left for boarding high school (each one following the next, one year apart) starting when I was 4.  My goal was to entertain, make them laugh, and convince them to let me “tag along” behind every teenage adventure they had.  I remember hiding behind a curtained window hoping to catch one of them kissing a boy in our driveway – everyday was a new adventure (or violation, from their perspective)!  My relationship with my sister just 3 years older than me was much more like the traditional sibling rivalry yet unique because we have always had completely opposite personalities.  As anyone from a large family can attest, my identity and purpose throughout life has largely been framed in the context of being an “annoying little sister”!

A sister can enrich your life more than any other connection.  Between sisters, there is a shared lens on the world and life formed so strongly and early that it is nearly impenetrable.  What one can see, the other feels, maybe another interprets for the rest.

Sisterhood is a flowing exchange of perceiving reality and washing it in the bonds of caring, safety and love created when we were young – and giving it back so the world feels softer, more tolerable.

As I get older, washing the pain I feel in my sisters’ lives is the greatest act of love I can conceive.  These champions of my spirit move through the world and experience human pain, suffering, joy and the like but to me they seem larger than life, as if immortal.  I want us all to stay little and innocent forever.  For my psyche to process actual pain and suffering is an excruciating emotional task.  I do feel “one” with them.

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Embracing my sister on her wedding day after some huge life difficulties!

The past decade my sisters and I have all moved into middle age and experienced the natural illness and loss of a parent and the challenge of creating a loving environment for our Mom, who is very ill.  Throughout these days, life has brought us each some pretty difficult health, financial and emotional challenges.  The laughter we shared feels distant many days.

It’s hard to accept that the people you love most in the world can be cut at the knees by life yet the purpose of life is to flow freely through the pain and darkness and share joy and light with one another.

This much I know for sure, I may disagree with my sisters philosophically, politically or any number of ways, but THEY ARE ME.  We belong to each other, and that is the most important thing in the world.

Some people believe we make “spiritual contracts” before entering the physical world, and part of that is choosing the souls with whom we travel through life.  It makes sense to me when I consider the love I have for my sisters and the joy that comes from witnessing their high points in life.  This year, I want to be a better sister, I hope to be able to do more than just entertain and make them laugh.  I want to fill the vessel of sisterly love until it overflows.

When I feel wounded and scorned by an intolerant world that does not understand me, my sisters are there protecting my heart.  My sisters are Grace personified.