A guiding light

Sambro Lighthouse (Halifax, Nova Scotia)

 

“Lighthouses are endlessly suggestive signifiers of both human isolation and our ultimate connectedness to each other. ”   

Virginia Woolf 

My grandfather was a lighthouse keeper… almost a century ago and on the other side of the ocean… far, far away. I wonder what he thought, all by himself – day after day –  in the middle of an endless sea.

Twelve years ago, my mother and her sister (my aunt) died within two months of each other. My mother was 79, my Aunt, 86. According to their express instructions, they wanted to be cremated and requested that I scatter their ashes in the open sea – so that they would go back home to Europe. It was an honour and a privilege to fulfill their wishes. One of the most peaceful and serene moments in my life was when I leaned across the fishing boat, said a prayer and – one-by-one – scattered each beloved woman’s ashes. I said my goodbyes and wished them a safe journey. Despite the moody sky and the very (very) rocky waves, time stood still.  I knew, in my heart, that the steady gaze of the lighthouse would guide them home.

“I can think of no other edifice constructed by man as altruistic as a lighthouse. They were built only to serve.”    

George Bernard Shaw

—– Photo Cerdit: By Dennis Jarvis from Halifax, Canada [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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In Memoriam 2016 – the loved and the lost

“It’s so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone.”

– John Steinbeck, The Winter of Our Discontent

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A perspective on life and loss

Recent political developments in the United States have caused quite a stir across the globe.  Social media is flooded with comments and rantings from both sides of the political spectrum. I myself have contributed to this “animated” discussion. But when someone (be it a friend or a family member) passes away in the middle of all the histrionics, everything screeches to a halt. It’s amazing how quickly we re-align our priorities…. because, at the end of the day, it’s family and friends that really count the most.

There will be other elections. Other presidents. What is done in one term can be undone in another. So, let’s chill out and focus on what really matters.

This post is dedicated to all of our loved ones who have gone too soon. And to the families and friends who are left behind to grieve their loss.

I love the poetry and writings of Kahlil Gibran and I always take the wisdom of his words to heart.

I hope you do, too.

On Death
by Kahlil Gibran

You would know the secret of death.
But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life?
The owl whose night-bound eyes are blind unto the day cannot unveil the mystery of light.
If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life.
For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.

In the depth of your hopes and desires lies your silent knowledge of the beyond;
And like seeds dreaming beneath the snow your heart dreams of spring.
Trust the dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity.
Your fear of death is but the trembling of the shepherd when he stands before the king whose hand is to be laid upon him in honour.
Is the shepherd not joyful beneath his trembling, that he shall wear the mark of the king?
Yet is he not more mindful of his trembling?

For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?
And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?

Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.

Remembering Yesterday

keithFebruary 28, 1953 – June 30, 2015

Photo: Copyright © 2016 by Heather Joan Marinos. All Rights Reserved.

“To the outside world we all grow old. But not to brothers and sisters. We know each other as we always were. We know each other’s hearts. We share private family jokes. We remember family feuds and secrets, family griefs and joys. We live outside the touch of time.”– Clara Luz Zúñiga Ortega, Spanish author

When a sibling dies unexpectedly, it reminds us (acutely so) of our own mortality – of how precious life is, how finite our journey really is. The sorrow we feel… not only for the loss itself, but also for the words left unsaid… sears the heart. It’s hard to wrap our minds around the fact that there will never be another dinner together, or stories and jokes to tell, or confidences to share.

But amidst all the uncertainty of what life has in store for us, one thing remains fixed and certain: the memory of our loved ones will be etched forever in our thoughts and hearts.

 

Random Acts of Kindness

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“Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.”    – Henry James

Apparently today (February 17) is National Random Acts of Kindness Day… which begs the question “Do we really need a day to remind us to be kind to others? ”

Isn’t kindness an act of simple human decency – one that should come naturally … whenever, however, and to whomever?  It certainly should be.

I encourage you to read The Dalai Lama: A Policy of Kindness, by Sidney D. Piburn. It is a beautiful selection of vignettes written by and about His Holiness The Dalai Lama. You don’t have to be a Buddhist or even have any knowledge of Buddhism to read and appreciate this book.

Kindness begins at home and, as such,  our children’s treatment of others is – more often than not – a reflection of our own behavior.  There are some really good, age-appropriate books that teach children the importance of kindness. I’ve listed some of them below.

Ages 4 -6

  • A Sick Day for Amos McGee – by Philip Stead
  • Hey, Little Ant – by Philip and Hannah Hoose
  • How Do Dinosaurs Play with Their Friends? – by Jane Yolen
  • How Kind – by Mary Murphy
  • The Lion and the Mouse – by Jerry Pinkney
  • The Mine-O-Saur  –by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen
  • Stone Soup – by Jon J. Muth
  • Stellaluna – by Janell Cannon
  • Toot & Puddle  – by Holly Hobbie

Ages 7-8

  • All Families Are Special – by Norma Simon
  • The Ant Bully – by John Nickle
  • Enemy Pie – by Derek Munson
  • Have You Filled a Bucket Today?  – by Carol McCloud
  • Horace and Morris But Mostly Dolores – by James Howe
  • The Giving Tree – by Shel Silverstein
  • The Golden Rule – by Ilene Cooper
  • Kindness Is Cooler, Mrs. Ruler – by Margery Cuyler
  • Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed – by Emily Pearson
  • When Sophie Gets Angry–Really, Really Angry – by Molly Bang
  • Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch – by Eileen Spinelli
  • The Story of Ruby Bridges – by Robert Coles

Ages 9 -11

  • Bluish – by Virginia Hamilton
  • Hanna’s Suitcase – by Karen Levine
  • Number the Stars – by Lois Lowry
  • Ryan and Jimmy and the Well in Africa That Brought Them Together – by Herb Shoveller

Ages 12 +

  • Dear Bully: 70 Authors Tell Their Stories – by Dawn Metcalf
  • Freak the Mighty – by Rodman Philbrick
  • Mockingbird – by Kathryn Erskine
  • To Kill a Mockingbird – by Harper Lee

And there are so many more – for children and adults alike. Think of the wonderful conversations you can have with your children, while reading these books together!

One would hope that kindness is innate.  However, sometimes we may need a reminder.  In addition to books about kindness, look to some of the iconic men and women whose lives serve as an inspiration to all of us… like Mother Teresa, Pope Francis, The Dalai Lama and so many more.  Their life stories will ignite the kindness spark that lives within each of us.

So, make every day your “Random Acts of Kindness Day.” And while you’re at it, remember to be kind to yourself.

“Love and kindness are never wasted. They always make a difference. They bless the one who receives them, and they bless you, the giver.” Barbara de Angelis

 

 

Photo via flickr.

heatherfromthegrove’s New Year’s Revelation No 7 of 7: Celebrate Life

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“Life is full of beauty. Notice it. Notice the bumblebee, the small child, and the smiling faces. Smell the rain, and feel the wind. Live your life to the fullest potential, and fight for your dreams.”

Ashley Smith

As we reach the end of the first week of January, I wanted to finish off my 7 New Year’s Revelations on a jazzy note. Despite all of the ups and downs, dramas and drollery…. life is precious and meant to be celebrated.  Gain wisdom and strength from the difficult times and focus on the beauty of  everything – from the simple to the sublime.

Take the time to eat dinner by candlelight and talk with those you love – without glancing at your smartphone! In fact, put the damned smartphone on the charger and turn it off for rest of the night! Communicate with actual spoken words, rather than texts. Put your favorite music on … nice and loud…. and dance around the house! Kiss that special person in your life… long and slow.  Don’t rush through a meal… savour the taste of  good food and libation. Don’t guzzle a drink… sip it slowly.  You’re not going to turn into a pumpkin at the stroke of midnight… so take your time.

And, remember….. the best is yet to come.

“Live with intention. Walk to the edge. Listen hard. Practice wellness. Play with abandon. Laugh. Choose with no regret. Appreciate your friends. Continue to learn. Do what you love. Live as if this is all there is.”

Mary Ann Radmacher

Some Book Recommendations:

Rites of Passage: Celebrating Life’s Changes – by Kathleen Wall & Gary Ferguson

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Life, Love, Laughter: Celebrating Your Existence  – by Osho

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Loving Life After Sixty: Celebrating the Autumn of Your Life by Tom Paugh

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Photo via flickr.com

 

heatherfromthegrove’s New Year’s Revelation No 6 of 7: The power of Forgiveness

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“Forgiving does not erase the bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future.”

Louis B. Smedes

One would think that three of the most difficult (and uncomfortable) words to utter would be: “I am sorry.”

Not so. It’s the responding declaration of “I forgive you” (and meaning it) that poses the real herculean challenge.

When English poet Alexander Pope wrote “To err is human, to forgive, Divine,” he was echoing what many of our religious faiths teach us.  As a Roman Catholic, I’ve recited the Our Father a million times, solemnly whispering: “God forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Easier said than done…. which is probably why we’re required to repeat the prayer at every Mass before Communion and also after Confession… lest we forget our promise.

Sometimes it’s harder to forgive yourself than to forgive another person.

Sometimes it’s hard and even impossible to forgive. Period.

“As long as you don’t forgive, who and whatever it is will occupy a rent-free space in your mind.”

Isabelle Holland

Over the span of my lifetime to the present day, I can truthfully say that I have forgiven almost every person who has “trespassed against me.” Almost.

If a person – be it family or friend – says or does something hurtful towards me and they do it out of fear, misinformation, ignorance or haste (we’ve all said things that we’ve wished, in the next instant, that we could take back)…. then I forgive them. Depending on the severity of the hurt, I may not forget.  But I forgive. And the lightness of being that comes with forgiveness is wonderful and freeing.

However, there are a very select few people for whom forgiveness is simply not in the cards… as hard though I try.

If a person – be it family or friend – commits a hateful act with the malicious intent to harm me and/or those I hold dear…. then I cannot forgive them.  And that darkness is always lurking in the shadows.

Maybe someday. One can only hope.

Not for their sake, but for mine.

Some Book Recommendations:

Forgiveness is a Choice: A Step-by-Step Process for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hopeby Robert D. Enright

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The Wisdom of Forgiveness by the Dalai Lama and Victor Chan

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For Children: The Forgiveness Garden by Lauren Thompson

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Photo via pdpics.com

heatherfromthegrove’s New Year’s Revelation No 4 of 7: Surviving that undertow called Grief

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“The deep pain that is felt at the death of every friendly soul arises from the feeling that there is in every individual something which is inexpressible, peculiar to him alone, and is, therefore, absolutely and irretrievably lost.”

Arthur Schopenhauer

Grief. It is an intense emotion and a very personal experience. We all grieve differently. Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, one of the greatest authors of all time (remember War and Peace?), once wrote that “Only people who are capable of loving strongly can also suffer great sorrow.”  I know a very few people – family and friends alike – who manage to wade through their grief quickly and in a matter of fact manner.  Many others, like myself, grieve deeply and over a long period of time.  There is no right or wrong way to grieve… although some people do experience a level of grief that spirals them into a deep depression that lasts years, decades and, in some extreme cases, a lifetime.

“There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.”

Washington Irving

In my life, Grief has been a frequent visitor. We have a familiar routine, Grief and I. Grief sweeps into my spirit, like a Category 4 Hurricane.  I allow myself to remain in the eye of the storm – daring it to make me collapse.  Somehow, I always manage to survive – still standing, although somewhat bruised and battered.  As American author Anne Lamott writes: “It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.”

It never goes away. It is always with me, to some degree.  A memory, a smell, a song…  can evoke joy and sorrow and then joy again – in one full sweep.  This is why I refer to Grief as an “undertow” –  a flow or current of water beneath the ocean waves near the shore that is powerful enough to suddenly lift you and immerse you in the next incoming wave.

“Grief, when it comes, is nothing like we expect it to be. … Grief has no distance. Grief comes in waves, paroxysms, sudden apprehensions that weaken the knees and blind the eyes and obliterate the dailiness of life.”

Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking

I prefer to deal with grief privately – hugs from well-meaning people are not encouraged as I don’t like to be touched when I’m in the throes of grief.  For me, it’s a solitary experience.

According to psychologists and grief counselors, there are five stages of Grief: Denial/numbness/shock, Bargaining, Depression/sorrow, Anger and Acceptance.  However, as much as we want to give everything a label and a chronological order… the fact  of the matter is that one goes back and forth (a number of times) between these stages.  I’ve spent a lot of time visiting and revisiting the stages of bargaining (i.e. what could have been done to prevent the loss), sorrow and anger. And  as for the final stage, Acceptance, well … it is sometimes a bitter pill to swallow, but once you do, it does bring some sense of peace. Not closure. Just peace. And that’s what you need to survive the undertow.

Some Book Recommendations:

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

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Tear Soup: A Recipe for Healing After Lossby Pat Schwiebert

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*Note:  The title of this Blog, “Surviving that undertow called Grief” is the title of Volume 3 in my Baby Boomer Series™ of books (in progress)

Photo via flickr.com

 

 

 

heatherfromthegrove’s New Year’s Revelation No 3 of 7: Animals are Divine creatures… be kind to them

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“For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren; they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the Earth”

Henry Beston

I have often said that if I had to choose to be in the company of humans or in the company of animals, I’d choose the latter.

Animals are pure, beautiful and Divine creatures. Wild animals fill me with awe. Domestic animals, like (for example) dogs and cats, are trusting, loyal and love unconditionally. When humans betray their trust… by mistreating or ignoring them, this – in my view – is a heinous crime.

I condemn the act of hunting and killing animals for sport. It is, quite simply, repugnant.

In my most bleak and darkest moments, my dog and cats have raised my spirits and given me solace. It is an honour and a privilege to be their caretaker.

Over the years, my husband and I have saved and provided a haven for frogs, lizards, birds, quails, squirrels, possums, cats and dogs. We have eight indoor cats (four were born in our home and we hand-raised one that was abandoned by her mother at only five hours old). We also feed all the stray and feral cats in our immediate neighborhood – seven of them (at last count). Our beloved 14½-year-old Black Lab (“Bacchus“) died four months ago and we are still grieving. Even our cats are mourning his loss.

Animals… ALL animals… need our protection and respect.

If you are an animal lover/activist, then I am preaching to the converted.

However, if you are unaccustomed to or uncomfortable with animals, then I urge you to befriend a dog or cat. I am certain that you will be smitten after the first encounter.  But, if you’re not, simply remember to extend kindness to any animal that may cross your path.

They are the innocents. They have no voices but their eyes speak volumes.

They cannot advocate for themselves. So, it is up to us to do that for them.

After all, the very best of humanity is the practice of human kindness and compassion. It should, it MUST be extended to our animal brethren.

“Not to hurt our humble brethren (the animals) is our first duty to them, but to stop there is not enough. We have a higher mission–to be of service to them whenever they require it… If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.”

Saint Francis of Assisi

Movie Recommendation:

Cry of the Innocent: The Voices That Can’t Speak” (written, directed and produced by Katherine Lowson)

Some Book Recommendations:

For the Prevention of Cruelty: The History and Legacy of Animal Rights Activism in the United States – by Diane L. Beers

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Heritage of Care: The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals – by Marion S Lane and Stephen L. Zawistowski Ph.D

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Photo via flickr.com

2015 Tribute

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2015

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