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purple flowers in tilt shift lensThe lockdown due to COVID-19 has changed our lives and caused hardship, but it’s also a chance to take stock of the blessings we all take for granted:

  • A steady supply of food and water (so you can make meals, eat too much, try to exercise it off and, finally, re-hydrate).
  • Paper products for the posterior (like those inexplicably sold by a family of bears on television).
  • The ability to travel wherever you’d like at any given moment (to spend money in foolhardy ways, then wonder why you’re always broke).
  • Being able to get together with friends who just “get” you (so you can split a piece of cake three ways, thus draining all the calories out of it).
  • Interactions with humans (just the pleasant ones. The unpleasant ones, not so much. Feh.).
  • Information (from reliable sources who help us live healthier and happier lives. Not from ones promoting dangerous misinformation).
  • Income (if you work and are currently on furlough), so that you have enough Outgo (the monetary opposite of income) to pay the bills.

For me, this time in our history is about remembering that all of humanity is connected. The virus is passed from one human to another, but so is compassion. People are healing each other by treating them in hospitals, volunteering to deliver groceries to those who can’t leave home, and by the kind gestures being shared online to keep us all in good spirits.

Just as you “suit up” to go to the grocery store — mask, gloves, sanitizer in hand — remember to keep that same kind of armor around your psyche. Focus on what you can do, stay positive, and leave the rest in God’s hands. 

selective focus photography brown cat lying over black catWith so much of the world on lockdown due to the CoronaVirus (COVID-19), many people who are not used to being at home for long periods are feeling lethargic and unmotivated.

Since depression is a medical/psychological condition, perhaps its cousin, ennui, is a soul state, and it’s treatable — not by a pill, but by:

  • A project.
  • A purpose. 
  • A passion. 
  • A place to belong.

Many of us have been “sheltering in place” for years now — some, like me, due to a disability, and others, like Lori and SueBE, because they are freelancers who work from home. This blog is an example of a meaningful project, and also one of the places I consider a second home. A place I belong.

Being at home all the time, my work is whatever is in front of me at the moment. It may be washing the clothes, which is a project unto itself, as my washer doesn’t always work properly. Will it agitate this time? No? Okay. I’ve got to roll up my sleeves and get a nice “bingo-wing” work-out by sloshing the clothes around in the water for ten minutes. It gives me a sense of purpose to know that I can overcome obstacles like this and get the job done. I’m not just building my physical muscles, but my reserves of resilience as well.

Encouraging others is part of my job as well, and really is my passion. I can even do this virtually, while playing “Word Chums” as I exercise on my stationary bike. “Just checking in on you, chum,” I’ll message during a game. “How are you holding up?”

Staying in touch virtually with each other, as well as connecting to the divine through prayer, is a constant comfort in challenging times. Remember: this too, shall pass.

close up photo of water lily flowerIn these days of social distancing and self-quarantine, it’s a good time to shore each other up — virtually, of course — and offer the human nutrients of encouragement and inspiration. We can’t see each other in person, but we can still check in. So, how are you?

For those of you who are sick at home with the Coronavirus (COVID-19), our prayers are with you. For the rest of us, hearing about states shutting down and shoppers fighting over toilet paper, it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed right now. 

I could tell you not to get stressed, but that doesn’t even seem reasonable. What I will offer is this suggestion: Gather all the facts you can from reputable sources. Do all your due diligence, then take your mind off everything virulent and volatile. That includes viruses, of course, but also people who are trying to amp you up, make you anxious, or otherwise just get on your nerves.

This is a good time to protect all that is precious to you, and remember: The order to shelter in place extends to your soul. Do all the things you can to stay sheltered in a place of peace. Take your mind off the catastrophe as a whole and focus on one thing at a time.

Remind yourself that you’re doing everything you can at this moment. You’re safe at home. Everything is okay where you are. Let it be okay. Don’t go back and check the stats every ten minutes. How many cases are there in my town today? What’s the latest terrifying news? 

Step away from the stress. Sit down and decompress. All will be well and life will go on. We’ll get through this together, and before you know it, the “new normal” will just be “normal” again. 

Sophia Grace LeBlanc is recognized for her heroism by Premier Stephen McNeil at a Medal of Bravery Award ceremony. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Congratulations! You’ve won an award. For your efforts, you’ll receive:

  • A pat on the back
  • A piece of paper, and,
  • An uncomfortably close, cringe-worthy photo op with an elected official you’ve never met before!

Did I mention that the “you” in question is six years old? Sophia Grace LeBlanc, who bravely climbed from the wreckage of her family’s crashed car to get help for her injured mother and siblings, received an award for heroism. When she learned that the “award” was just a piece of paper, she spoke her mind.

“I thought because I was so brave, I thought I would get something a little better,” said Sophia.

She had done a wonderful, brave thing, and probably would have liked to receive some toys, or to be taken out for pizza with her friends. A piece of paper? A hug from some random (presumably unintentionally) handsy man? No thanks!

When do we unlearn honesty? Should kids be taught to be quiet, be polite, and tolerate the strange man huddling in for a cuddle? Is it rude to say, “Thanks, but no thanks”?

Setting boundaries is humane. That way, the person who is offending you won’t have to apologize later, and will be educated since they didn’t know they were crossing a line.

Saying what you mean is compassionate. That way, everyone knows where you stand and eventually, the people around you will re-calibrate and reciprocate.

Saying it right at the moment of impact, when someone commits an infraction, is an act of kindness in every direction. That way, you won’t have to bear the weight of that grudge you would have been holding, and your relationships will become more meaningful.

Nobody knows they’re a noodge, do they? I didn’t realize I was one myself until one day when my son was fixing his bed frame and I stopped in to offer “encouragement.” I’d say, “What if you tried it this way?” He’d say, “That won’t work, Mom.” I’d offer, “Do you need a wrench for that?” Finally he said politely but firmly, “That’s not helping. Please stop now.”

My version of “help” was really not helping. Sometimes when you don’t know how to fix an issue, you flutter about, making it even worse. Maybe that’s what’s going on with negative emotions that just won’t let up. 

That nagging voice in our heads that we call guilt really doesn’t see itself that way. In fact, it regards itself more as a quilt, seeking only to cover you with a patchwork of memories so you don’t make the same mistakes again. 

And fear is really a deer, lost in the woods, trying to find its way home. It doesn’t want to harm you; it’s just trying to navigate the unknown alone.

God embedded us with these emotions, so there must be a reason for them. Maybe it’s just to learn that our feelings — and in fact, most of the people in our lives — are trying their best. 

So, I know I’m a noodge at times, but I’m learning to scale back my fluttering and s/mothering of those I care about. Harping isn’t helping. Someday, I’ll be a former noodge. Maybe I’ll do a PSA to help others to deal with people like me. It might even help you as you deal with all those misguided emotions that hassle you relentlessly. Be patient with them, but be direct when need be, as my son was with me. “Move along, now,” you can tell them. “I’ve got this.”

Crossed wires. Chaotic interference. Misunderstandings. Bad intel. Instead of seeing things clearly in 2020 (yes, that’s an optometry joke), we seem to be struggling with miscommunication. Some of this derives from how we say things — using texts and social media tends to obliterate shades of meaning like inflection and sarcasm. But part of the problem is the simple rise of noise: Everybody’s talking, but no one is listening. And even the people listening aren’t really hearing. What can we do about it? Let’s start by uncrossing some wires.

Being human is getting us nowhere;
it is time for us to be animals again.
Let go of your body, settle into fur,
into feathers, into exoskeleton
and antennae, into scales, scruff
and haunches. Purr when you’re happy.
Growl when angry. Pester like a fly
until answers emerge. Most of all,
stop touching words as if each is a
thistle. Land on them as blandly
as a bee, touching lightly, springing
from petal to petal. Open your heart
to the simplicity of winter sleep,
tucked in together with no more
motive than merely getting through it.
Share your den with the whole wide world,
wordlessly, remembering our common blood.

Early this morning, I opened the blinds and looked out at the yard. Hmm. Frost on the grass. Chilly today. The usual puddle at the end of my driveway is a frozen mini-lake, perfect for passing crows to do a bit of ice dancing and squawking. Oh, great. The mailbox was knocked out of place by wind again. Note to self: Buy sturdier mailbox. Find contractor to install it. 

As I was walking away from the window reviewing my mental to-do list, I saw the edge of a box in front of my porch near the bushes. It was in a secluded location, perfect for passing package-thieves.

I got the package into the house and opened it. Oh! Adorable. It’s a tiny cactus crafted by our own SueBE! Wonder how she made this? Add to mental to-do list: Must find out how it was made.

Cactus sitting outside in this freezing weather? Poor thing. She must be traumatized. I’ll put her right by the heat vent in the kitchen. That’s where my Plantie sits, so I introduced them and sat her down. Looks perfect. 

My to-do list continued in my head: I really should complain about the package being left outside like that. My new mailman, Bob, is great, but he’s on vacation. I know it’s a busy time of year, with all the gifts being sent through the mail, and hate to get the substitute person in trouble, but realized that sometimes feedback is necessary.  

That should be standard on everyone’s mental to-do list: speak the truth in a spirit of kindness. No need to poke at a person with a cactus spine. Feedback should be fair, because someday, the truth might just be fed back to you! Remember: The Golden Rule is the only gift that is one-size-fits-all.

So I’ve decided that today is “Find the Good” Day. If all goes as planned — and doesn’t it always? 🙂 — I’ll be able to cajole a smile out of even the grumpiest of people around town. I’m determined to find the good in everyone I meet and in every situation. 

This approach was put to the test immediately as I had to wait a long time to see my doctor. My appointment time, 2:30, came and went, as did 3:00 and 3:30. Once I was checked in, though, I realized the wait is long because she takes time to listen to each patient. I had a lot of questions and she spent a long time with me, answering every one of them.

“Find the Good” can be used as you go through the day.

Traffic’s bad on the road today? Great! Another chance to listen to some audio books. 

Sink’s clogged? No biggie. Now you can try out your DIY skills. YouTube has plenty of helpful videos on the subject.

Can’t find those pants you need for work tomorrow? Terrific. It’s a perfect time to organize your closet so you have everything in its place.

Of course, it’s not always easy to find the positive in a negative situation, but if every problem is really a project in disguise, it’s not as much of a burden anymore. 

“Find the Good” Day is another way of saying, find the good day. It’s always there, waiting to be found. Bad news may always make the headlines, but finding the good can become the story of your life.

bowl of vegetable saladsSueBE wrote about having lost weight on a diet, and she did it the right way: sensibly and over time. I did it the wrong way recently, cutting out everything with any fat, sugar, salt — heck, even taste. Ate only fruit and veggies. Sauteed squash with a bit of olive oil and Mrs. Dash turned out great, but other dishes weren’t as tasty, so it was discouraging. I was convinced it would be worth foregoing all foods with flavor when I got on that scale at the doctor’s office. Cut to: I’d gained five pounds! 

So what went wrong? It was a diet of deprivation, and I was focusing only on the numbers, not on how I felt. 

I’ve realized since that draconian approach failed that I really do love fruit and vegetables, just not as the only items on the menu. I’m keeping “heart healthy” and have shifted my focus to sticking with the basics: eating the things that are good for me, along with an occasional thing that just plum tastes good. (Plums are among the things I love, by the way.)

I’ve also gotten into the habit of moving more and sitting less. At a seminar for people with MS, a nutritionist told us this:

“Sitting is the new smoking.”

This means that the adverse effects of a sedentary life-style are on par with the negative impact of smoking on a body. Yikes. Okay, I’m on-board. Now I get up every hour, and if I’m reading a book on the computer, I’ll put it on “read aloud” so I can do some stretches while listening. 

Small steps over time. That’s how to make lasting changes, and stay positive along the way.

I was reading a book online and decided to put it on the “Read Aloud” option. A robotic voice named “Microsoft Mike” narrated the text without inflection and, often, incorrectly. When it got to the word “Malignity,” it pronounced it as, “Molly Good-Nighty,” which made me laugh. That sweet name sounds like the antonym of the word’s true definition, which is “malice or malevolence.” 

I was still cackling about “Molly” when I came up to a page break, which looks like this:

*****

And the robot-reader announced in its flat affect: 

“Asterisk-asterisk-asterisk-asterisk-asterisk.” 

It was a book with a heavy theme, so these unintentional comic breaks were actually welcome.

A robot narrator has its limitations, and one of them is that it has no soul. It’s just reading a script as programmed. In real life, it’s hard to stick to a script. Days rarely go as planned. There are detours on the road. Unexpected delays on a project. 

When things get heavy, taking a laugh break might be just the answer. Laughing involves breathing (which we often forget to do fully when stressed), movement and social interaction.

Moments of levity can be the difference between going through the day on auto-pilot and feeling like yourself again.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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