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This morning I woke up and was so tired, I slid right back into that pocket between sleep and wakefulness. That seems to be the place where I hear sage advice from someone.  (God? My own psyche? Relatives who have passed on?) 

And this time, I heard these words:

Expect the best like a dinner guest and set it a place at the table.

Then someone (my mother? A teacher?) said to me:

What are you punishing yourself for?

And I realized it was both a mildly exasperated, head-shaking statement, as well as existential question.  

So I had to mull it over. What am I punishing myself for? What do any of us give ourselves angst over?

  • Choices you made when you had no choice.
  • Stopgap measures that turned into persistent problems.
  • Mistakes that led to doing penance in perpetuity.

Many of us feel we’re in that pocket in between what we’d envisioned life would be and life as it is actually lived. We may end up making peace with where we are and making do with what we have. But maybe “expecting the best” is the mindset that precedes its arrival. Or perhaps it’s the clarion call your blessings need to hear. 

What if they’re flying overhead right now, waiting for you to tell them where to land? If changing your mind meant changing your life, we’d all set that extra place at the table. That way, when “the best” comes knocking, it will already feel right at home.

Time, Scholarship“Gravity” would be a great name for a girl, like “Charity” or “Felicity.” And you know, Gravity used to be my friend. We could hang, she and I. But lately, she has not been kind to me. Just like Time used to be on my side. Now, he just keeps rushing past, like he doesn’t even recognize me!

To tell you the truth, my old pal Gravity has just been bringing me down. As you get older, you realize that “the tincture of time” only applies to broken hearts. Not faces, hands, and…other assets. 

But Gravity’s just doing her job, and Time is on the clock, too.⏰ They all work for Providence. Nobody can play a role for which they’re not designed. The same is true of humans; we were made to live the full spectrum of experiences, including aging. 

At least it rolls out slowly, like a grey carpet of sorts. At first, you think, “Grey? Where’s the red carpet treatment?” On second thought, you realize that grey is a great choice for a carpet. Hides the dirt. Goes with every kind of decor. It’s soothing.

So, eventually, you’re going to look older as you age. I know that’s no great newsflash, but until you experience it, you may not realize it can affect how you feel about life. 

But you’re still the same person you always were. Gravity and Time may be contractually obligated to do their jobs (as an older person, I’ve realized they must be Teamsters), but Providence is ageless, and there’s no expiration date on Grace.

On jury duty years ago, we were given a break during a case so we could stretch our legs. I went to the snack store, picked up some noshes and got in line. When it was my turn, the cashier asked, “What have you got today, ma’am?” In response, I said, “Oh, just a couple of these things,” and absent-mindedly waved toward my snacks. “I’m sorry, ma’am, you’re going to have to be more specific,” he said. “You see, I’m unsighted.”

I apologized profusely — so much so that he realized I didn’t just mean I was sorry for the flip answer. I’ll never forget his response. He said, “No need to feel sorry, ma’am. If the Good Lord had wanted me to be sighted, he would’ve given me sight. I work around it.” 

His strength of character was impressive, but so was the collective moral compass that switched on for those waiting in line. The man could tell which coins he was being given by their weight and size, but the bills all felt alike, so he had to ask what denomination he was being given. 

Suddenly we all had eagle eyes. You say you gave him a twenty dollar bill? Let me check on that. People were craning their necks to keep everyone else honest. It was as if a tiny Community Watch had formed spontaneously.

I think of that day when I lose faith in humanity, or when I think I’ve got it hard due to my own visual impairment, which developed later. That man soldiered on despite the hardship and got it done. And those people in line did the right thing without being asked. The truth is, the milk of human kindness hasn’t yet soured into yogurt. Just under the surface, the still, small voice is speaking loud and clear.

Where did the phrase “under the weather” come from anyway? Surely no one is over the weather. Or above it somehow. Maybe there’s a travel agency for millionaires that allows them to exist in a pocket just above the jet stream. They get to bypass any dark clouds that rain on the rest of us.

Of course, that’s not true. Anyone can find themselves “under the weather.” It coincides with that moment when you realize you’re just not yourself. Who are you then? As it turns out, a stranger with bad intentions.

That happened to me last week. I became so consumed by the negative that I forgot there are always good things to focus on. You almost want to give your sad state a name, as if it’s a location on the map: Deep Doldrums, New Jersey. Not a nice place to visit, and you surely don’t want to live there. The roads are comprised entirely of potholes and litter. There are no traffic lights. No sidewalks. No safety features of any kind. Why? It’s designed by your own mind to be a dead-end street with no off-ramp.

The answer is to figure out what’s got you down. For me, it was health issues that seem to have no resolution, along with financial concerns. It took a week to work its way out of my system, but dawn finally broke. Once I shifted my focus to the part of the situation that I can improve and gave the rest over to God, I felt more hopeful. Lori and SueBE let me know they’ve always got my back, which helped more than words can say.  An answer will come along, but in the meantime, dear readers, don’t give up. A new day is on its way.

What do you do when you feel overwhelmed? It’s not just all in your head. Your experience is valid. Even if no one else shows up to support you, remember to show up for yourself.

Walk out of the room where negative notions gripped you. Keep walking until you find the room you’ve designated as Home Base. A grace-place where all is well, no matter what else is going on in the world. 

Search online for deep breathing techniques and calming music videos.

Watch a live stream from a cat cafe.

Breathe in through the nose. Out through the mouth. 

Remind yourself: You’re here, not there.

Be here, where that virtual cliff’s edge isn’t. Be where the worst that could happen, hasn’t.

Be in this breath. This breath is blessed.

Do something symbolic, like stretching toward the sky, reaching for the clouds. Light a candle. Watch old sitcoms. Go to Mayberry, or even Petticoat Junction. Everything’s okay there.

Talk to your own mind. Stay here. Don’t go down that dark alley that doesn’t really exist yet. In the peaceful place of yes, you may find the antidote to that no. Shelter in place until the looming doom passes. Keep the faith: The sun will rise again.

This morning, I woke up dehydrated and in pain. The first thought that occurred to me was, “I shouldn’t feel this way every day. There must be an answer to this!”

The answer in this case was to drink water. That’s the first thing to address. Lots and lots of water. Oranges are replenishing, as well. That’s the short-term answer to feeling dehydrated. Re-hydrating may seem obvious when you’re parched, but I had to take the problems separately, and also, not take them personally. Everybody’s got troubles. 

I’ve also been feeling unmoored, like I’m not really as connected as I’d like to be. Connected to what is unclear. To God? To a social group? To resources? All of the above, perhaps. Also to a meaningful project. A sense that I’m creating and building toward a goal.

But as I sat and thought about it, I’ve already started in that direction. I’ve been following through on my commitment to healthier eating and exercise. I’ve been writing every day. Trying to learn new things. Staying in a positive frame of mind. Granted, most of my energy goes toward finding creative ways to cover all the bills that are due each month. Figuring out how to access the infusions I need for my MS that cost a small fortune. This depletes my stores of energy and concentration, but I still keep going.

You may be in a similar situation. Feeling like you’re not moving forward. But don’t give up. You’re on the right track. Sometimes, you can’t even see the train because you’re on it.

Don’t lose hope when you realize there’s still so much to off-load. You’re carrying that cargo, sure, but you’re still moving through the countryside. Don’t lose heart. You’re almost to the next station.

When I was driving my son and his friends everywhere during his school years, I couldn’t wait for him to reach driving age so I wouldn’t have to be their chauffeur anymore. As it happened, soon after he got his license, I had to take myself off the road due to my visual impairment. It turned out to be a tough decision, though, since not being able to drive anymore really limits your — wait for it — autonomy.

As I thought about all of the things taken from me by my MS, I’ve come up with a theory. Instead of calling them deficits, I’m wondering if it isn’t really just the unorthodox method by which my psyche has tried valiantly to protect me.

Trauma from the past we’d just as soon forget getting us down? Inner me waves a wand. Poof! Don’t remember things anymore! Have some memory issues!

Don’t want to feel this bad ever again? Poof! Don’t feel things. Have some neuropathy!

So what if I have to Google “how to hard boil an egg” every time I want to make an egg salad sandwich. I’ve let go of the guilt of not being able. Everyone else can do X. I can’t. Okay, I’ll focus on doing Y. What I can do is tell you my stories and offer encouragement to get through your own hardships. When I’m not sure if my thoughts make sense on the page, I can always rely on Lori and SueBE to proofread for me. Find your team and you’ll find your way. I focus on what I can do, and do it.

We’ve all got our share of dark clouds in life, but the silver lining is this: you’re still you. You’re still here. You’ve got the chance every day to carry on.

We’ve all been there: driving on an unfamiliar road, suddenly realizing we’ve gone past our turn. That’s never a good thing, especially if you’ve just finished a large coffee and a bottle of water. You really need to find a pitstop, as it were.

If you miss your exit while driving on the New Jersey Turnpike, you’ll have to travel a long way down the road until you can finally turn around. Once you realize you’ve passed your off-ramp, it might be ten minutes until there’s a U-Turn.

If a situation seems to be draining the life out of you, it’s critical to the care of your soul that you get out of that situation. You may be shaking your head. But you don’t understand. If it’s a marriage, I can’t leave. My religion won’t allow it. It will have a negative effect on the children. Or if it’s a job, There are bills to pay. Health benefits I need. I can’t walk away with no job lined up.

Fair enough.

But until you can extricate yourself from it, or somehow improve it, think of this time in your life as a long, wrong turn. Stay as true to yourself and your future as you can while still stuck in this present, untenable situation. Map it out. Plan ahead. Draft a blueprint in your mind of the life you actually do want to live.

What would you do if your blessings showed up at your door one day? If the situation suddenly changed and you were free to live on your own terms? That’s the place to store your soul while you put a down payment on better days. Then, when you get to the next stop, you’ll be ready. This time in your life will be on the road behind you, visible only in the rear view mirror.

I was searching for good news stories online for a post yesterday, but for some reason, I couldn’t find an angle to write about. I realized later that I couldn’t detect the good news. I was in a bad mood.

Yes, even your Kindly Auntie can feel hinky. Not from New Jersey? That just means that something’s not sitting right but you don’t know why. You feel unsettled. Brittle.

So I sat down to try to put into words how I was feeling, and this is the closest I could get: Something rightfully mine hasn’t reached me yet.

I know these words are insufficient, but there was a kind of vague sense of why-not-ness. Why can’t I have what others seem to have, whatever it is on your checklist. Money. Love. A break. Just a pure, true good day. Other people have all their ducks in a row. Or do they? It could be that they just disregard their ducks.

Never assume that everyone else is living a perfect life, despite what you might see on Instagram. That’s the sound of a civilization giving up. Throwing up its collective hands and saying, I don’t know how to achieve a sense of accomplishment, a sense of community, a sense of peace, so instead, I’m going to present this image of fulfilled, joyous completion in its place. It’s a mock-up for where a good life might have been.

Luckily, when I woke up today, I was back to center. The good life finds me every day here on this humble blog. I’ve had all of the things and situations that we’re told will “complete” me, yet none of them did. Maybe that’s the point. To keep learning, growing, reaching, becoming, expanding. And to leave space for blessings yet to arrive to come in for a landing.

At 3 AM, I woke up suddenly, and these words popped into my head:

Major drama in one minute.

Within a minute, a massive clap of thunder shook the house. Lightning flashed and crackled. Torrential rain flowed like a river from the sky. It was as if a switch was flipped. Peaceful. Click. Tumultuous. It turns out to have been a micro-burst, a powerful storm that knocked down trees.

It was the kind of sudden loud surprise that makes you curse, even if you really don’t curse. What the -! Holy -!

And in that surprised, scared, angry space, I actually had this thought: Well, if you can warn me it’s coming, Lord, why can’t you just make it not happen in the first place?

Bad things happen to people. It could be the loss of a loved one. A betrayal by a spouse. I’m not sure what the net benefit will be as you go through it, but going forward, it builds your resilience muscles. It gives you experience to make informed choices in the future. It will almost certainly deepen your reserves of compassion, now that you know from the inside of the tunnel how scarce light can be till you pass through it.

It’s not that unexpected, unwelcome things aren’t going to pop up like a sudden storm. They are. Who knows why. All I can assume is that God’s got his reasons. But you are going to get through them. Sometimes you’ve just got to hold on until morning.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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