Tag Archives: goals

We are only as sick as our secrets

Secrets have been on my mind for the past year, ever since my mother revealed a secret she had been keeping for almost fifty years—which sparked my own awareness of a secret I had been keeping even longer.


Since then, I seem to be very aware of others’ secrets and how often people shade the truth or tell half-truths to frame things in a different light.

For example, I recently attended a talk about Etty Hillesum, a woman who lived in Amsterdam during World War II. The speaker talked of Etty’s affair with her professor but failed to mention that Etty had had an abortion. I wondered why. Etty wrote about the abortion; it was not a secret, yet this person recalling Etty’s life left out this detail.

Was she trying to protect Etty by not talking about the abortion? Did she have feelings of shame around abortion that led her to omit it? This presentation was at a Catholic retreat center, and I wondered if the setting and the audience prompted this omission. But why did she include the details of the affair? It was all a mystery to me.  


Secrets abound in the British detective tv shows I watch. Often, some secret is being kept which is key to solving the mystery.  “Why didn’t you tell us?” the detective asks in exasperation when the secret finally comes out. The detective doesn’t care that the grandfather had a child with the maid or that the mother had a wild past or that the children have squandered their inheritance. The detective just wants the facts and not an edited version of history.

It seems that we can be our own worst judges when it comes to our secrets, believing that the worst will happen if our secrets are revealed.

The truth is that we are the same people we were before our secrets were revealed, and those who love us will continue to love us once they know our secrets.

People may be surprised or even shocked to learn of some traumatic event in our past. They may have to adjust their image of us. They may review the relationship in light of new information, but if they really love us, they will get over their shock and adjust their image. They will remember that we are the same person we were before they knew our secrets.

I have always been open about being a rape survivor, but not everyone in my life knows about it, mostly because it does not come up in everyday conversation and because I have moved around a lot. The “getting to know you” phase of new friendships don’t usually include talk of rape or other traumas, so while my history is not a secret for me, it usually doesn’t come up until a relationship is established.

My goal is to have nothing to fear, nothing to prove and nothing to hide. I desire to live transparently, holding nothing back and keeping no secrets.


What I want

Last week Rachel Mankowitz wrote about hearing and trusting her internal voices speaking of what she does and does not want to do. I resonated.

I learned early on (probably before I was five) that what I wanted or did not want mattered little. I did what I was told—whether I wanted to or not—and rarely got anything I wanted, so I learned to stop wanting.

The depth of the disconnect was made clear to me when I was twelve years old and had my tonsils removed. On the way home from the hospital, my mother stopped at the grocery store and said I could pick one thing I wanted. I had no idea what I wanted and was overwhelmed by having to pick something. I remember standing in the store paralyzed by indecision. What did I want? No idea.

So, I picked something practical, something I thought my mother would like—dill pickles.  


I have spent a lot of my life doing things other people wanted me to do—out of guilt or not wanting to hurt someone’s feelings or some other version of making other people happy—while ignoring my own desires.

Therapy in my early thirties started a process of discovery, and by my late thirties, I began to identify some things I wanted.

I took my first real vacation, a windjammer cruise, when I was thirty-seven. It was thrilling to realize that I knew what I wanted and that I could make it happen.

At the end of a retreat in my early forties, I read Coming Down the Mountain by Thomas Hart, and I have kept a “cheat sheet” of questions from that book that I refer to regularly.


These questions have helped me gain clarity, and after years of asking them, I am much better at knowing what I want.

But I can still fall into the old patterns.

When I turned fifty, I made a “travel wish list” of places I wanted to visit over the next decade. Other than the Holy Land, my destinations were in the U.S. or Europe. Included at the end of that list was a thirty-day retreat, something my friend Jim had done, and he thought it would be good for me to do. I put it on the list more as a reminder because I could not foresee a time in my fifties when I would have the money and time to do it.

My sixties’ travel list included the retreat, along with the Holy Land and some of the European counties I had not managed to visit, but my sixties were full of upheaval, and I did not do much traveling. So my seventies’ list closely resembles the sixties’ list, including the retreat.

Now, I am in a place where I can do the thirty-day retreat, and so I signed up. I told my spiritual director, expecting her to be thrilled, but instead, she asked why I wanted to do a thirty-day. “Because Jim thought I should,” was my first response, and even I could hear how lame that sounded.

She suggested I pray about the retreat and ask God for clarity. So, I prayed, and I got clarity.

I realized that I feel passionate about European travel. I am energized by my volunteer work (especially supporting survivors of sexual assault) and the consulting work I am doing. I am excited about the Internship in Ignatian Spirituality and have clarity around how I want to use what I have learned (mainly in helping people process the experience of pilgrimage or mission trips). I am also drawn to officiating at weddings and funerals.

Where is the retreat in all that? I am indifferent.

Discernment is a big part of Ignatian Spirituality and following the process has helped me gain clarity about where God is calling me, and what I want to do.


Exercise and prayer

“Run like that lady,” the gym teacher at my neighborhood elementary school would instruct his fourth and fifth graders as he pointed toward me. I was known as “the running lady” in my neighborhood because I ran at the school’s dirt track every morning.

I was in my forties then, and I would lope along at a comfortable nine-minute-mile pace, lap after lap, until I had completed my three-mile daily run. The kids clearly thought my way was too boring, and they would sprint past me, stop to catch their breath, walk a bit, and then sprint again. The teacher would shake his head in dismay that the kids could not see the wisdom in pacing themselves.


Having a running routine taught me a lot about myself, and I am grateful to my running mentors who encouraged me along the way.

I remember running with my friend Bob Hickey who would give me tips as we ran. He loved a run with a hill at the end because he said it “builds character.” I remember wanting to stop mid-way up those hills and Bob saying, “You can do it,” and I did.

Bob was part of the Hash House Harriers and he was always looking for a “rabbit” to catch—someone up ahead who was just a bit slower. Overcoming other runners taught me about setting goals and then pushing myself to achieve them.

Establishing a running routine and setting a pace that I could sustain was also how I approached my prayer life.

I remember my first spiritual director, Sr. Catherine Quinn, SHCJ, suggesting I set a specific time every day for prayer. “Just fifteen minutes a day,” she would say. I was resistant, telling her I thought that a routine like that would somehow stifle the Spirit. I finally followed her advice, and the Spirit didn’t seem to mind.

In both these practices, I can look back at my resistances and see how yielding led to greater freedom. I can see how setting aside time every day for exercise and prayer has made them as integral to me as eating and sleeping.

My doctor tells me, “You are my patient I don’t worry about,” because my vitals are good, and I don’t take any medication. Some of that is genetic, of course. But I think the daily exercise and prayer have helped me become more centered, less encumbered.

During both exercise and prayer times, I gain insights into where I am resistant and what is holding me back. I reflect on my day and where I am feeling drawn toward God and where I am feeling pulled away.

That awareness helps me to lean into my fears and anxieties, to let go, trusting that God is with me, encouraging me and sustaining me.

I am turning seventy this week and I can look back and see how my exercise and prayer practices have impacted my life; and I am grateful for the people who encouraged me in both.


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.


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?


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.


Rich interior life

I used to joke that I was going to wear something by Eileen Fisher when I went on the Oprah Winfrey Show. That line contained two examples of my rich interior life—that I would ever be on Oprah’s show and that I could afford Eileen Fisher clothes.

People who didn’t know me well would be confused—more about the Oprah part than the Eileen Fisher part—and ask if I was really going on Orpah’s show. “In my dreams,” I would say.

In truth, I never saw the Oprah Winfrey Show because I worked during the day, but I heard a lot about it, and it seemed like a show one would want to be on—a bit of a fairy tale. (At some point, a friend suggested I change my aspiration to the Ellen Show, which I had also never seen, but seemed just as attainable.)

As to Eileen Fisher, I sometimes browse in her store at the mall. Most of her clothes are in neutral colors, but occasionally, she will have something in a bright color that catches my attention, and when that happens, I imagine being wealthy enough to afford the piece and therefore famous enough to be on television.

A few weeks ago, I was on the road with some friends and one of my favorite dance songs came on the radio. “I am going to dance to that song when I go on Dancing with the Stars,” I said (out loud).

I have watched DWTS, and I do know I not a likely contender, but I love to dance and if I get famous enough to be on television…who knows?

I think lots of people have rich interior lives, but they don’t tend to say out loud what is going on in their heads.

My friend Ted used to tsk, tsk when I shared my inner thoughts and dreams, which was kind of funny because Ted would share some of his inner thoughts with me. They usually ran along the lines of some very attractive woman being romantically interested in him.

“In your dreams,” I would respond, but he would insist he had picked up some vibe. “You have a rich interior life,” I would say.

I have been thinking of Ted’s rich interior life lately because a couple of men have recently chatted me up—one while waiting for a take-away order and the other while walking in a park. Ted died a few years ago, so I cannot call him to tell him about these encounters.  

I imagine, though, that Ted would appreciate my rendition of these chance encounters and indulge my fantasy about returning to those places to see if I can recreate the experiences.

It is all in good fun, and I think the world needs a bit of fun, a bit of fantasy.

And who knows? Maybe one day there will be a television show featuring ordinary people living ordinary lives, and then I will get my big break.


And then

Just let me sort through this paperwork,

finish this project,

complete this assignment

and then I can listen to you.

Just let me clean the house,

do the laundry,

cook supper

and then we can take a walk.

Just let me mow the lawn,

wash the car,

sort through the stuff in the shed

and then we can play.

What is most important?

Why not do that first

and then tend to the rest?


My grandparents all came from Poland, and my desire to visit my ancestral home has been with me since I was a child. I had asked my mother to take me to Poland as a college graduation gift, and the trip was on—until martial law was declared in Poland my senior year, and the trip was off.

It took me another thirty years to get to Poland. Once there, I realized that Polish people thought I was one of them. Time after time, people in shops and restaurants spoke Polish to me, even after I explained I did not speak Polish. How I looked was more convincing than what I said. I felt I had come home.

The next year, I returned to Poland for an immersion language course, and I stayed with a host family. Again, I had a strong sense of belonging. Everywhere I looked, I saw people who looked like my relatives, and I was continually doing double-takes.

On that second trip, I decided I wanted to go a third time—an extended trip (maybe even a few months) to see more of the country and visit the places my grandparents came from.

Then life intervened, and ten years have passed without a return trip to Poland.

I recently attended a workshop on Empowerment, and the presenter asked us to write down what we hoped to accomplish in 2021 and why. The why part intrigued me.

I remembered something from adult education theory about how adults need a reason to learn something. Unlike children, who can soak up random knowledge just because they are told to, adults need a reason. We need to see that what we are learning will help us in some way, often help us achieve a goal, and the goal must have a purpose.

In adult education, we tried to help people who needed a GED or were learning English to see how their lives would be improved by achieving their goals. Writing down their goals and their reasons for the goals helped keep them on track.

I have been studying Polish off and on for the past ten years because I want to be able to communicate my basic needs when I go back to Poland (mainly things like making sure the doughnut I pick has the filling I want).


During the Empowerment workshop, I shared my desire to go to Poland, and the presenter asked why I had not done it. I had not given much thought to the reason behind my procrastination, but in that moment, I could see it was not just life intervening, but also unconscious messages were stopping me from achieving this goal.

The presenter suggested some possible reasons: I don’t deserve it, or I fear people’s judgment or I am scared of failure. All possible for me.

After ten years of saying I want to return to Poland, my goal for 2021 is to plan the trip and be ready to take off in 2022.