Saturday, August 29, 2009

Summer fades to Fall

This is my final weekend before I report back to work (next Thursday).

So what am I doing special?

Not much.

Why not?

Because I like my life. I've had a great summer vacation. I think it's been one of my best ever. Those of you who follow this blog will know that I've not done anything particularly spectacular. So what made it so good?

Because I like my life. If "Happiness is not a destination, but a way of travel," as I heard from my Grand-pa, then life should be full of happy times. My summer has been.

The summer hasn't been all golden moments, but the scene's have been more pastels than dark browns.

One of the labels on this blog is "Navigating Through Life." That's what I've been trying to learn, and what I've learned, I try to pass on. (Hence this blog.)

Summer is now fading into Fall. At first I didn't believe it. I heard it from other bloggers, mostly those who live further north. I've learned a lot this last year as I've "listened" to the voices of fellow bloggers musing on their weather, their lives, and their locations. I've come to see my own weather, life, and location differently.

The local American Elms confirm that summer is fading to fall. They are starting to lose leaves. Other trees disagree, they are putting out blossoms. (Welcome to Southern California.) The temperatures have been climbing, not falling. Late August and early September are some of our hottest times. (My son, when a student in Maine, saw his breath, at noon, in September! Shocking!)

My dog is going to miss me when I return to the work-a-day world, so I took her on a nice walk. Fullerton has horse trails and bike trails. Heidi and I took a nice walk on one. She didn't know it, but it was my going away present to her. (We took pictures!)

Before the heat came, we had a few cool days: we even had cloud cover til noonish. I took advantage of the cool to wax my two cars. I'd been putting off the task, because I remember the day when car waxes required a lot of buffing. Thanks to Turtle Wax Ice, and such products, those days are gone. (I was hoping they were, but I din't know.)

This summer I had the time and inclination to change TV carriers (now I have DVR), refinance my car to a better rate, out-fox my cats and save my sofas, book a half dozen mini-vacations for the next 12 months, fix some lawn sprinklers, and do some writing on my blog and letters to friends. (And that was just highlights from week one of my eleven week summer break.)

Nothing Earth-shattering, just organizing my life, just fulfilling one of my affirmations: My life is an enjoyable POOGI (Process Of On Going Improvement). Sustainable, enjoyable, involvement with life: That's been my summer.

Of course, in many ways, that's what I'll be doing this Fall and Winter. Another personal affirmation/choice is this: "I choose to make a positive difference wherever I go. I let it be easy." That's my intent and expectation.

That's my life. And I like it.

Last Christmas, my oldest daughter and her family were visiting from Illinois. At one meal, my youngest grand-daughter (2) looked up to her dad and joyfully shared her personal epiphany , "Daddy, I'm happy."

Me too.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Looking forward...

"The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure."

Funerals are strange. They make you think. They make you ponder, assess, and remember. But then... a few days pass, weeks pass, and eventually years pass.

One of the most difficult parts of a loss is the change of focus. Life is like driving a car. We glance in our rear-view mirrors, but we don't gaze in them, at least not while we are moving. Life moves and as drivers we are required to look forward.

Upon losing a loved one, or a job, or a home, sometimes our focus becomes the rear-view mirror of life. I've learned not to dwell there. The heart of the wise may be in the house of mourning, but the heart of the wise also recognizes that life has seasons, or times...

"There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace."

Times change and we learn to change with them. Last year I changed teaching assignments. I put in a transfer from a junior high to an elementary school. This self-inflicted change brought with it an unexpected period of mourning, especially as the summer was ending. I thought, I'll miss my old friends. I'll miss the students. I'll miss the events and the routines I've grown to love...

I caught myself looking too long in the rear-view mirror, so I got the keys to my new room and started building some new memories. I still have the old memories, but they are not my constant focus. Sometimes when I'm driving, I notice a really good vista, in the rear-view mirror. I'll tell my wife to check her side mirror. We ooh and ahh for a moment, then we re-focus on the road ahead.

There is a time to look back, and there is a time to look forward. The past and the future deserve some consideration, but we must not forget... the only day we have for living is today. The house of mourning helps us realize what matters the most, what present moments to savor, and what choices to make... today.

My Dad would have been 80 on August 23rd. He died in 1996 about three weeks before my first wife. I visited Patti's grave yesterday. "Born 1952 - Died 1996." We picked out the gravestone before she died. (She had cancer.) We put my name on it too. (Not an idea I recommend in retrospect.) Your name may not be on a gravestone, yet, but if you're reading this... you are... living your dash... that little line between day of birth and day of death.

So, as long as it is called today... live. the. dash. (Look forward.)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Encouraging words...

Yesterday I went to a funeral. A co-worker's wife passed away last week after a 10 year bout with cancer.

Having lost my first wife to cancer 12 years ago, I wanted to lend support, but I felt inadequate. However, I've learned not to let a sense of inadequacy stop me, so I went. An old hymn says, "We go in faith, our own great weakness feeling..."

My friend had told me six months ago that his wife's cancer had returned. We talked a bit, I gave him a hug and offered my "encouraging" words. At the reception, after the funeral, my friend informed someone that my words back then had helped him. What profundity had I shared? I had simply said, "It sucks."

Helping someone die is difficult. Watching your best friend and true love slowly evaporate sucks. It just does.

But then it ends. Death arrives and sorrow fully invades.

"Today is the worst day of my life. Don, just tell me everything's going to be okay." These were my friend's words just before the grave-side portion of the funeral as we hugged. I'm no liar... I paused... and I said in his ear, "Everything's going to be okay."

Life goes on. The worst day ends. New days come. Pain fades to ache.

Love never ends. Memories last. But eventually, everything is okay.

Those who have been bereaved unknowingly become members of what I call, "the fraternity of the broken-hearted." It's co-ed.

Encouraging words most often flow from a sense of compassion and care. Compassion is born through personal suffering.

The light of encouragement shines out not through the beautiful stained glass of our accomplishments, but the light of encouragement shines out through the cracks of our shattered humanity. A broken heart can be a good lamp.

I have believed... therefore I have spoken. God is good, but sometimes, life sucks.