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

 

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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 5 of 7: Beyond the olive branch

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“Family quarrels are bitter things. They don’t go according to any rules. They’re not like aches or wounds, they’re more like splits in the skin that won’t heal because there’s not enough material.”    

F. Scott Fitzgerald

Why can’t we all just get along?

People have been warring since the beginning of time. Tribes. Religious sects. Nations.

And, yes, families.

As I said a few days back, “It all begins and ends with Family.” How can we expect nations to coexist in peace and harmony when many of us can’t even manage to keep our families intact?

There are so many stressors that lead to family conflict: financial problems, joblessness, addiction, illness, death, inheritance and even something as basic as incompatible and/or strong personalities. It is healthy and normal to argue, debate and occasionally fight.  It is unhealthy and hateful to harm others – physically, emotionally, in their business and their reputation within society.

Problems rarely, if ever, solve themselves. Resolution (to problems) usually requires compromise, which inevitably results in loss (i.e. giving something up, to keep the peace).  If  there is love, respect and a willingness to work through the conflict – because of a deep-seated desire to keep the family together – then there is hope.  Sometimes an outside mediator, such as a therapist, counsellor or spiritual guide (i.e. priest/minister/rabbi/imam) may be needed to assist with the process of resolution and reconciliation.  Hopefully, the conflict gets resolved… without too much collateral damage.

“Problems are like washing machines. They twist us, spin us and knock us around but in the end we come out cleaner, brighter and better than before.”    

– Unknown

But what if we can’t all just get along? Not now. Not ever. It happens all the time.  Parents divorce. Children leave home for good, pledging never to return. Siblings each go their own way, losing all communication with each other. Family members become estranged. It’s sad, even tragic, when that happens.

I don’t have any answers. What I do know for sure is that family is fundamental to our well-being.  That said, for family to coexist as a united and loving unit… each and every family member must want it to be so.  Some people need time, space and distance to gain perspective and eventually reunite.

Alas, there are some families so fractured that they are beyond the olive branch.

And everyone moves on – each going his/her separate way.

Sometimes it’s for the better.

“Sometimes problems don’t require a solution to solve them; instead they require maturity to outgrow them.”    

Steve Maraboli

Some Book Recommendations:

Peace Catalysts: Resolving Conflict in Our Families, Organizations and Communitiesby Rick Love

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Mom Always Liked You Best: A Guide for Resolving Family Feuds, Inheritance Battles & Eldercare Crises Arline Kardasis and Rikk Larsen

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*Note: The title of today’s Blog – “Beyond the olive branch” – is the title of Volume 4 in my Baby Boomer Series™ of books (in progress

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

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

heatherfromthegrove’s New Year’s Revelation No 2 of 7: Keep it simple

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“As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness.”

Henry David Thoreau

swirly2This year, the inspiration for my New Year’s “Revelations” stem from some of the experiences, life events and lessons learned in the past year.

For me, it was – as Charles Dickens wrote (in Tale of Two Cities) – “the best of times, it was the worst of times…. it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”

And with each year comes more wisdom.

I hope that some or all of these revelations resonate with you.

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We live in a complex world and we , more often than not, tend to overcomplicate our lives.

Over the years, I’ve learned – both by choice and by necessity – to shed the layers of excess…. from the superficial to the significant.

By superficial, I mean (for example)… how many pairs of shoes does a woman really need?

By significant, I mean (for example)… do you need to surround yourself with a large group of so-called family, friends and acquaintances who may or may not be well-meaning and authentic versus maintaining ties with the people who have a shared history and/or heritage and who like/love you… no matter what?

Maybe it’s a function of age and acquired wisdom, but I can say that I have significantly simplified my life and I feel lighter (in the spiritual sense) as a result.

We reach a point in our lives when we have to face some harsh truths – about ourselves, about what motivates us and why, and about how we want to live/conduct the rest of our lives.

When we shed the unnecessary “onion layers” of our lives, we’re left with the essentials.

It makes life cleaner, neater, and more focused.

Personally, I feel much more at peace and happy with myself now than at any other point in my life. Simplicity, in my view, equals Freedom.

So, as this New Year commences, I urge you to try to simplify every aspect of your life… as much as you can. Think of it as a spiritual diet.  Just make sure you stick with it.  You’ll be happy you did.

“Beauty of style and harmony and grace and good rhythm depend on simplicity.”

Plato

Some Book Recommendations:

Freedom of Simplicity: Finding Harmony in a Complex Worldby Richard J. Foster

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The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify Your Life by Francine Jay

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Photo via flickr.com

 

 

heatherfromthegrove’s New Year’s Revelation No 1 of 7: It all begins and ends with Family

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“The family is the nucleus of civilization.”

Will Durant

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Happy New Year everyone!

This year, the inspiration for my New Year’s “Revelations” stem from some of the experiences, life events and lessons learned in the past year.

For me, it was – as Charles Dickens wrote (in A Tale of Two Cities) – “the best of times, it was the worst of times…. it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”

And with each year comes more wisdom.

I hope that some or all of these revelations resonate with you.

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It all begins and ends with Family. It forms the core of our belief system and is the springboard from which we go on to conduct the rest of our lives.  Family supersedes nationalistic ideals, political aspirations and even religious dogma.  Family. Is. Everything. Well, at least it should be.

In a Utopian world, the family should be a “safe harbor” where we are loved, cherished, encouraged, and understood. It is an entity that should be devoid of judgment, jealousy, gossip, or hatred and replete with loyalty, familiarity – a strong sense of shared history and kinship. It is a clanship which fosters collaboration over divisiveness. In a Utopian world.

There are some who are blessed with an idyllic family.

There are others whose families do not withstand the passage of time and who crack or even fall apart when tested by hardship or tragedy.

Sadly, there are still more who are born into dysfunctional, damaged, and abusive families.

And then there are those who are left adrift – with no family at all.

“There is no such thing as a “broken family.” Family is family, and is not determined by marriage certificates, divorce papers, and adoption documents. Families are made in the heart. The only time family becomes null is when those ties in the heart are cut. If you cut those ties, those people are not your family. If you make those ties, those people are your family. And if you hate those ties, those people will still be your family because whatever you hate will always be with you.”

– C. JoyBell C.

My husband and I have built, for over three decades, that safe harbor we call our intimate family. It’s just the two of us… and all the beloved four-legged creatures who inhabit our house. This “safe harbor” has withstood the passage of time, despite many storms and even some typhoons. We are weather-beaten but happy sailors in this journey that is our life. Unfortunately, we have witnessed a few wreckages along the way.

“There is no greater blessing than a family hand that lifts you from a fall; but there is not lower curse than a family hand that strikes you when you’re down.”    

– Wes Fessler

And, as we all know, blood does not necessarily form a family bond. Families can be born from the heart… by choice. However the connection is formed, the important thing is to understand and maintain the true notion of Family.

We may not live in a Utopian world… but we can (and should) certainly strive to get there.

“In every conceivable manner, the family is link to our past, bridge to our future.”

Alex Haley

Some Book Recommendations:

Family Values: The Ethics of Parent-Child Relationshipsby Harry Brighouse & Adam Swift

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Why Can’t We Get Along: Healing Adult Sibling Relationshipsby Peter Goldenthal

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Photo via pdpics.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Thanksgiving Prayer: Remember the hungry, the jobless, the homeless and the suffering

A Thanksgiving Prayer

O God, when I have food,
help me to remember the hungry;
When I have work,
help me to remember the jobless;
When I have a home,
help me to remember those who have no home at all;
When I am without pain,
help me to remember those who suffer,
And remembering,
help me to destroy my complacency;
bestir my compassion,
and be concerned enough to help;
By word and deed,
those who cry out for what we take for granted.
Amen.

Samuel F. Pugh

Images of praying hands and Thanksgiving dinner via Wikimedia Commons.

 

The Economic Crisis Through The Eyes Of A Child

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The Second Edition of Casualties of the (Recession) Depression will be coming out late Fall – complete with new and updated socio-economic statistics, additional vignettes and chapters, and sporting a new cover.

This series of vignettes depicts the many faces of the Recession (really a 21st century depression).  These are the firsthand account stories of real people. Their names have been replaced by the generic “he” – “she” – “they” … both to protect their privacy and also to bring home the point that it could happen to anyone, including you or me. In the context of this book, the objective was to record real, and sometimes raw, moments experienced by people who have been adversely affected by this long economic downturn.  By capturing these brief episodes and providing a written backdrop for each year – in the form of an economic and political commentary– the reader can see the transformation and progression of this (Recession) Depression from its conception to its continued existence in the present day.

Here’s an excerpt from the book:

VIGNETTE: Through the Eyes of a Child

She skittered behind the stairwell and sat down. With her arms wrapped tightly around her knees, she watched through the space between the stairs. Her long ash blonde hair cascaded around her like a shawl. Her clear, blue eyes were wide and close to tears. The lady who lived next door was talking with her mother and as they passed by the stairs, the lady spotted her and smiled. She put her finger up to her nose silently. The lady understood and didn’t tell her mother that she was hiding under the stairs. They went into the next room.  

She hadn’t seen her father all morning. The night before, her parents had a terrible fight. They were always fighting. But last night was the worst. They had been yelling at one another and then she heard her mother crying. She had buried her face in the pillow, to block out the sounds. After awhile, everything went quiet.  From her bedroom window, she heard a noise on the back porch. She looked out and down, towards the porch, and saw that her father was sitting on the steps. She wiggled out of bed and tip-toed downstairs. She opened the screen door just enough so that she could see him better.  He was bent over with his hands around his head. He was making a sound that she had never heard before. Daddy was crying! She had never seen her Daddy cry before. Things must be terribly wrong. Her heart started beating fast. She covered her mouth to stifle a cry. Quietly, she closed the door and went back upstairs to her room.  She cried herself to sleep.

This morning, her mother told her to stay out of the way because men were coming to take all their furniture and things away. She didn’t understand why. There were four of them. Big and sweaty, they were taking things out of the house. Nobody noticed her behind the stairwell. She saw them take her princess canopy bed away. Her mouth began to tremble and she bit her lip, to keep from crying. A big man with no hair came out of her playroom, carrying her toy box and on top of the box was her favorite American Girl® Doll, Caroline.  Caroline had blonde hair and blue eyes, just like her.  She gasped.  The big man heard her. He turned around and bent down slightly, squinting his eyes. Then, he spotted her. He saw her staring at the doll on top of the box that he was carrying. He started to turn away towards the front door, but her tear-stained face and big blue eyes stopped him. He looked around. No one else was in sight, or so he thought.  Quickly, he grabbed the doll and slid it under the stairs. He put his fingers to his lips, “Shhh…” and gave her a wink. Then he was gone.  She grinned from ear to ear and clutched Caroline to her chest.

She heard a noise and looked up. The lady next door extended her hand. She put her hand in the neighbor’s and, holding Caroline tightly, she got up from under the stairs. The lady called out to her mother and said that she would take her (and Caroline) next door for some tea and cake. She and the lady had always enjoyed their little tea parties together. She would miss the kind lady when they moved.

As they left the house, she saw the man with no hair. She gave him a shy smile and he looked at her. His eyes were soft and wet. “Maybe he’s coming down with a cold,” she thought.

Copyright © 2013-2014 by Heather Joan Marinos

All rights reserved.

 

Nothing in life that’s worth anything is easy

“My recovery has not been easy. Nothing in life that’s worth anything is easy.” 

—  Sergeant First Class Cory Remsbur

Many of us can attest to that.

In his last words, during yesterday’s State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama said:

“My fellow Americans, men and women like Cory remind us that America has never come easy.  Our freedom, our democracy, has never been easy.  Sometimes we stumble; we make mistakes; we get frustrated or discouraged.  But for more than two hundred years, we have put those things aside and placed our collective shoulder to the wheel of progress – to create and build and expand the possibilities of individual achievement; to free other nations from tyranny and fear; to promote justice, and fairness, and equality under the law, so that the words set to paper by our founders are made real for every citizen.  The America we want for our kids – a rising America where honest work is plentiful and communities are strong; where prosperity is widely shared and opportunity for all lets us go as far as our dreams and toil will take us – none of it is easy.  But if we work together; if we summon what is best in us, with our feet planted firmly in today but our eyes cast towards tomorrow – I know it’s within our reach. 

Believe it.”

I do.