Do it now

“Will this matter at the end of my life?” was a question posed in a book on prioritizing where I spend my time and energy. I read that book at least thirty years ago, but now that I am getting nearer to the end of my life, that question has taken on greater significance.

What will matter at the end of my life?

One thing I know is that I do not want to have regrets because I did not do something I had wanted to do.

While working at a cancer support center for the past seven years, I have met so many people who said things like, “I really want to see the Grand Canyon before I die,” or “Going to Europe is on my bucket list” or “I want to sky dive” (or any other risky activity). You get the idea—those things we think about and daydream about doing or seeing—and sometimes don’t get around to.

When I write my story, “What I have learned from working with people facing cancer,” one of the top things will be the importance of doing what you want to do now (NOW) while you still can. No one knows when cancer will be diagnosed, so if you have an impulse to do something, do it now.

My friend Ted wanted to visit the Missions in Southern California and Jim wanted to see the Grand Canyon. So why didn’t they? The answer is that they waited too long and then cancer stopped them.

So, the take-away is do it now. See the places you want to see. Write the book you want to write. Gather your courage and jump from a plane or zip line in a jungle or raft down a river. Or learn to fly fish or develop a meditation practice. Whatever it is that catches your fancy and occupies your daydreams—act on the impulse.

Making our dreams a priority will make our dreams come true; postponing dreams can easily lead to regret.

Autumn yellow flowers

Ms. Liz explores colours in New Zealand and her post on spring yellow flowers inspired me to notice the autumn yellow flowers on my walk at the Lake St. Clair Metro Park in southeast Michigan. The flowers may not be as abundant as spring flowers and the colors may not be as vibrant, but they still made me smile.

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Letting go of what was to be open to what is to come

The image of the trapeze artist letting go of a swing, suspended in air before grabbing onto another trapeze artist, has been appearing to me lately, perhaps because I have been practicing letting go of both my job and my daily routines around my mom. I am like the trapeze artist in mid-air—I have let go of what was, but I have not yet grabbed onto what is to come. I am in transition between what was and what is to come.

vulnerability-grief-transition

I think this situation is common in grieving a death. We are forced to let go of how the relationship was because the person is no longer physically with us, but imagining what the future will be like without that person can be a challenge.

This kind of letting go happens in other situations, too—divorce, change of location, loss of job, illness, leaving school, etc. What once was is no longer, and what is to be is still unfolding.

Sometimes we hold on for too long to what has been, past the time when it is good or healthy for us. I have tended to do that with relationships that would have been better off ended, but because of loyalty, guilt or fear, I have stuck around. I have also done that with jobs—stayed past the time when I knew the job was not working for me, that it was constricting or toxic.

Letting go and the changes that come with it can be difficult. I crave what is familiar, even when I know that the familiar is not in my best interest. I like routines and traditions and often cannot see another way.

When I left my job, I prayed to be open. I want to see what is possible, and the best way to do that is to stop clinging to what was, to let go and to allow myself to live in this in-between place, to become more comfortable with a lack of routine, with the unknowing. I keep reminding myself that I can only receive something new when my hands are open and empty.

Letting go of what was to be open to what is to come

The image of the trapeze artist letting go of a swing, suspended in air before grabbing onto another trapeze artist, has been appearing to me lately, perhaps because I have been practicing letting go of both my job and my daily routines around my mom. I am like the trapeze artist in mid-air—I have let go of what was, but I have not yet grabbed onto what is to come. I am in transition between what was and what is to come.

I think this situation is common in grieving a death. We are forced to let go of how the relationship was because the person is no longer physically with us, but imagining what the future will be like without that person can be a challenge.

This kind of letting go happens in other situations, too—divorce, change of location, loss of job, illness, leaving school, etc. What once was is no longer, and what is to be is still unfolding.

Sometimes we hold on for too long to what has been, past the time when it is good or healthy for us. I have tended to do that with relationships that would have been better off ended, but because of loyalty, guilt or fear, I have stuck around. I have also done that with jobs—stayed past the time when I knew the job was not working for me, that it was constricting or toxic.

Letting go and the changes that come with it can be difficult. I tend crave what is familiar, even when I know that the familiar is not in my best interest. I like routines and traditions and often cannot see another way.

When I left my job, I prayed to be open. I want to see what is possible, and the best way to do that is to stop clinging to what was, to let go and to allow myself to live in this in-between place, to become more comfortable with a lack of routine, with the unknowing. I keep reminding myself that I can only receive something new when my hands are open and empty.

Soften my edges

Wispy pink clouds,

fluffy puffs,

like cotton candy,

dot the morning sky.

They speak to me of dreams and hopes,

of things delicate and precious,

of fairy tales come true,

and remind me of  

the people who bless me

with kindness and generosity.

Every pink sky is an invitation

to soften my edges and receive

what the world offers.

Noticing the holy in ordinary lives

God-meditation-mindfulness

The words of Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) have been catching my attention recently. He reminds me to dwell in the present and pay attention to what is going on in my everyday life, because that is where the sacred is waiting to be noticed.

In praying with Scripture using Lectio Divina one of the main ideas is to notice what word or phrase catches my attention—the idea being that that particular word or phrase is what God is speaking to me in that moment—and then repeating that word or phrase. By sticking with one word or phrase, I can allow it to sink in and glean deeper meaning. The Bible is so big, yet Lectio Divina focuses on the smallest part—just one word or phrase.

Ordinary life is like that, I think. Sometimes it is the smallest thing that brings the greatest joy—a kindness, hug, generous gesture.

I attended a memorial service this week for a woman from work who died in the spring. She was also a Zumba instructor at a community center, and her loyal followers wanted to honor her life by planting a tree and placing a bench in the park where she taught. One by one, people stood and paid tribute to this woman who had touched their lives by her upbeat personality, zest for living and generous nature.

Shonece had a beautiful smile and an easy laugh. It was not that her life had been easy or without suffering—she was a three-time cancer survivor, and during the first year of the pandemic, five people in her family died. She faced her loses and still chose to be upbeat and optimistic.

Tear flowed easily at this service—so great was the loss. And through tears, people recalled the simple acts of kindness Shonece had done for them. They talked about how her smile welcomed them when they came to Zumba and her spirit encouraged them. They shared stories of meals she delivered when they had family crises and all the simple acts she did to show her support for them.

I walked away thinking of another quote of Abraham Joshua Heschel.

God-meditation-mindfulness

Perhaps one of the luxuries of not working and having fewer responsibilities is that I have more time, space and energy to notice something and then ponder it. What I am noticing is that the holy dwells in the ordinary, just waiting to be seen and celebrated.

Creating my vision board

I recently created a vision board, something to help me focus during my sabbatical year—travel I am planning, the things that bring me joy and goals I have set.

Vision-wisdom-vulnerability

Even the first step of writing down what is important to me was helpful in identifying what I do and don’t want to do.

Without a job to go to or my mom to care for, I have plenty of free time, and I want to focus that time on exploring the next chapter of my life.

I scoured magazines for pictures to illustrate my dreams, goals and vision; and in the process, I realized how people my age are often portrayed. We are the parents who have memory issues and need care (often shown as an elder with a fifty-something adult child sitting on a park bench). Or we are the empty nesters looking to downsize (which usually means moving to a planned community where everyone is our age).

Where are the pictures of people like my friend Betty, who for her eighty-eighth birthday went on a twenty-mile bike ride? Or my mother who lived in her own home until she died at ninety-five?

Where are the pictures of us hiking at a state park (as I did with some friends a few weeks ago)? Playing cards (our memories still intact enough to remember the rules)? And gardening, kayaking, walking, running and biking?

Where are the pictures of us in classrooms, learning new languages, skills and hobbies?

Or in classrooms teaching younger generations skills that will help them in life?

Vision-wisdom-vulnerability

I am not denying that with age comes decline. I cannot run like I did when I was forty, and I am usually asleep by 10:30 p.m., 11:00 at the latest. I no longer go to bars for nights of drinking (not that that was ever a good thing to do), and I am much more conscious of my calorie intake (I use fewer calories as I am aging).

I do, though, still look forward to the future. I am excited about the prospects of my next chapter and am still discerning where and how I can best use what I have learned in my life. I want to follow my mother’s example and live until I die, open to new ideas and learning new things. I want to keep discovering what brings me joy and where God is calling me to share what I have learned from life.

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Linger

Sit by the water’s edge

and rest.

Linger here,

without worry or hurry.

Feel the breeze that

brings life,

swirling around,

wild and untamed one minute,

gentle and caressing the next.

Listen for that little voice,

that tiny whisper,

inviting you to

immerse yourself in the silence surrounding you,

to dip into the quiet and

let it speak hope to your heart.