That’s Not What Ships Are For

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While on our road trip with my cousin, Kate for the past two weeks, we had the time and opportunity to talk about many, many things, ranging from the silly to the profound.

Some of our conversations during those days on the road drifted away with the wind, while a few of them hit home with me and gave me cause to think seriously about some things in my life. One of these conversations centered around my feelings about my place in my family.

As the youngest of four children in our family, I felt like I was always being compared to my older siblings. They were smart, made good (and often, great) grades, and set their courses in life – and it seemed to me – with ease and little or no stumbling blocks. I had to study really hard to make good grades, and I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. Both of my brothers married their high school sweethearts, to whom they are still happily married after 60+ years. My sister married at the age of 25, and she and her husband will be celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary this year. They are all comfortably retired and living in homes that have been paid for and enjoying enviable financial freedom. As the baby of the family, and from my perspective, the black sheep, I look up to them and wonder what happened to me?

I bucked the system, and broke my daddy’s main rule about getting married. He wanted all of his children to have a college education, and desired especially that his daughters would have a career before marriage “to fall back on” should it ever be needed. My sister got a degree in nursing, which made Daddy very happy, especially since my mother was an RN. I, on the other hand, walked down the aisle at age 19. I was a sophomore in college and had no clue as to what I wanted to major in. It seemed sensible to me to get married and worry about college later, but it took some convincing to get my father to bend his rule and give his younger daughter away to my young teacher husband.

To add insult to injury, I got divorced, not once, but twice. Thankfully, my parents only experienced my first marriage failure and understood, even though their hearts were broken. Both died before Husband #2 and I split up in a crash and burn scenario five years ago. It wasn’t pretty, and nothing that my older siblings could ever imagine would happen to me.During those dark days, I often felt like I was a failure as a daughter, as well as a mother to my two sons.

During my first marriage, I was able to get my bachelor’s degree, and then at the age of 45 my Master’s. But I hadn’t achieved the financial success and comfort that I wanted, and after my second marriage fiasco, I found myself homeless for a short period of time, until I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and started all over again.

This is what I was moaning and groaning about with Kate on our trip. I was feeling sorry for myself, that at the age of 69, I am still working even though I love my job. And while I have made giant strides in the financial aspect of my life, I feel that I do not have the reserves I will need as I head toward my retirement years. She gently reminded me that while things are tight for me right now, I have a great potential at my fingertips, unlike my brothers and my sister, whose lives are in the final stretch, and they no longer have goals to reach or accomplishments to pursue. In many ways, my life still stretches out in front of me, with many adventures yet to be had, paths to wander, interesting people to encounter, and stories to write.

With Kate’s wisdom soaking into my brain, I changed my perspective and as Jimmy Buffett sings, I made a change in latitude and in attitude. The world is my oyster, so to speak. I am not pinned down to any one geographical area, and I have a lot of living yet to do.

It was after this conversation that we stopped at a little gift shop in the Amish country of Pennsylvania. A small plaque caught my eye, and I bought it. It spoke to me as a reminder of who I am and what my life should be. I don’t need to compare myself to my brothers and sister. My ship is different from theirs.

My ship is still at sea, where it is supposed to be.

 

 

Playing in the Key of C

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When I was taking piano lessons as a child, one of my exercises was playing scales. Of course, C was the easiest to play – all white keys. It got a little more complicated as the scales of F and G were added, one with a flat and the other with a sharp. Then, they got harder and harder as more sharps and flats were added, and constant practice was needed to teach my fingers where they should go.

Among the simple little pieces my piano teacher gave me were hymns. Of course, I began with the ones in the key of C, and mastered them pretty quickly. “Tell Me the Stories of Jesus” was one of the easier ones. Another was “Jesus is Tenderly Calling.” I moved on to hymns with one flat or one sharp. Since I learned to read music the traditional way, I read both the treble and bass clef, and didn’t know about chords or chord progressions until years later when I took organ lessons. My brain was forced to look at both clefs and relay the message to each of my hands about which notes to play.

I remember my teacher showing me each new hymn and making me study the music before I ever put my fingers on the keyboard. She would tell me to think in that particular key. For instance, if the hymn was in the key of G, she had me look for all of the F sharps in the song and picture in my mind my fingers going to the black key. I learned to concentrate on the key of the music before I ever attempted to play it. I would then play a few scales in the key of G to warm up.

The difference between flats and sharps never bothered me. I have friends who are amateur or hobby musicians like I am who tell me that they can’t play flats, or they can’t play sharps. They hand pick the hymns as those that fit their particular criteria. Because of the way my piano teacher taught me, I was never daunted by the difference.

I did freak out, however, when the hymn had more than two flats or sharps. But by using the approach I was taught, I was able to play, if not master, most of the hymns I wanted to learn.

Isn’t life a lot like playing in the key of C when things are going smoothly in our lives? We find that we travel effortlessly along the white keys of life. We don’t even have to consider, worry about, or work to avoid the black keys. But as life becomes more complicated, and challenges pop up in our musical score adding sharps and flats along our way, our fingers have to work a little harder and train themselves to maneuver in order to make sweet music. We discover that sometimes we need to stop and study what is going on in our lives, and anticipate the change in the pathway. Through prayer, contemplation, and meditation, we are able to set our hearts and souls for the change in path.

These days, my music page of life has turned from a song in the key of C to one in another key. Things aren’t quite as predictable as they have been for the past couple of years. I am facing new challenges, unknown melodies, and probably some sharps and flats in my life. I need to set my mind to think in a new key, and prepare myself for some time on the black keys.

It may not be easy, but I’m hopeful the result will be some beautiful music.

Four Quotes to Live By

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I heard the following quote somewhere along my way and wrote it down on a scratch piece of paper I found while cleaning off my desk recently. The source is not clear, but it is attributed to John Lennon, Paulo Coelho, an old Indian proverb, and the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. I recall that it was the movie where I heard it and wrote it down. I think about this when things aren’t going my way. It is:

“Everything will be okay in the end, and if it’s not okay – it’s not the end.”

Another quote that I try to live by is this one, coined by me in a moment of clarity while talking about the uncertainties in my life:

“Relax, and let life happen.”

And the third one – one I wrote a story about in my recently published book, Sunshine Leads the Way, is:

“There is no normal life, Wyatt. There’s just life.”

This was spoken by Doc Holliday as he lay dying, to Wyatt Earp in the movie, Tombstone.

As I begin the last week of a job I have had and loved for almost two years, these three quotes keep rattling around in my head. Leaving was not my decision, but that of the institution of higher education where I am employed. Higher ups decided that a part-time librarian was no longer needed, that a degree in library science was not necessary for the position. My job ends, and a newly restructured position will be announced soon. What it will be is still unknown.

This brings me to another quote that my friend, George, uttered – his own words – a few weeks ago as we were walking up the hill to his home after putting his chickens in their pen for the night. We were talking about our families, growing old, and slowing down in our lives. He said, wearily, “Sometimes I feel unnecessary.” I assured him that, indeed, he was necessary, and needed in many, many ways by lots of people and animals, but his statement resonated with me and lodged in my heart as I thought the same words and applied them to myself.

How can I weave these four quotes into the fabric of my life as I face a new path and the uncertainty of an income to supplement my retirement funds? Sometimes things just aren’t okay, and life is far from what I believe to be normal. My sons are grown and living independently on the west coast, across the continent from me. I have no grandchildren to dote on. Like George, I sometimes feel unnecessary. I keep telling myself to relax and let life happen. Everything will be okay.

But it isn’t that simple. Life changes. What looks like it might be the end turns out to be the beginning of something new. But what will it be? It’s scary, not knowing.

I need to take a few deep breaths, be patient, let life happen, and wait for the “okay” in my life to reappear. I’ll not search for “normal” in my life. I will embrace the changes in my life, and discover places where I am necessary.

As I look towards the future after this week ends, I think about my writing.

Will I have more time to write? Is there a chance that I may be able to supplement my income through my writing? Since I self-publish, is it at all possible that someone of importance may stumble across some of my writing, find value in it, and want to take a chance on me? Who knows? This could be a pipe dream of mine, something that will never happen.

But then again, it might.

A Circle In The Sand

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In her book, Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert has this quote, “But I was always coming here. I thought about one of my favorite Sufi poems, which says that God long ago drew a circle in the sand exactly around the spot where you are standing right now. I was never not coming here. This was never not going to happen. ”

There have been a few times in my life when I felt very strongly that I was standing in my very own circle of sand, being where I was meant to be and believing that I would be there forever. Then, the wind would begin to blow across my life, picking up the sand and redistributing it. The result was that my circle in the sand would fade away, and I would become lost, not knowing where I was or where I should be, at least for awhile.

Four years ago I found myself in a situation where I was standing in a vast desert of sand, without a circle to surround me or define me, or a horizon to guide me. I had lost my sense of home, and the future looked very bleak from where I was standing in the desert, with the hot, dry winds of fear, doubt, and failure swirling around me. I didn’t know where to go, or where I belonged. I was physically and emotionally homeless. Thank God, I was not spiritually homeless, even though at times I felt as if I were.

It turns out that I wasn’t alone or homeless, at all. God was in the wind that blew; God was the wind that found me wandering in my personal desert, promised to deliver me, and led me to Monroe, Georgia. With the help of my family and some very special friends sent my way by God, I was lifted from the violent sandstorm that raged around me and engulfed me, and was gently set down on a quiet street in Monroe, where the storms of my life settled down, and God once more drew a circle in the sand for me, and caressed me with gentle, healing breezes.

I can identify with Elizabeth Gilbert’s feeling. I was never not coming here. This was never not going to happen. If you had asked me 10 years ago if I thought Monroe might be a nice place to live, I probably would have given you a blank expression of “Where?” written all over my face. Monroe was not a city in Georgia that I yearned to live in, nor was it even a spot on a mental road map of favorable Georgia towns. But here I am! And I can clearly see the circle drawn in the sand where I am standing. I feel as if I belong here, that Monroe was waiting for me to arrive, and that I really had no say in the matter, after all.

I have found sanctuary here. My little apartment is my nest and safe place, where I can pray and meditate, write and dream, laugh, sing, dance, and cry. The sidewalks of Monroe have become my friends as Sunshine and I walk them daily, observing the changes from day to day and season to season along our path. My neighbors have my back, as I have theirs in my little community of apartment homes. People wave to me from their cars as they pass when I am out walking or sitting on my front porch, and speak to me on the sidewalks or from their porches as we stroll through town. The owner of my favorite restaurant knows me by name and gives me a hug whenever I go there for a meal. Monroe police are a visible reminder as they patrol the town that I am protected from danger here. My newfound friends in a weekly Bible study are my new prayer warriors, as my spiritual life is enriched and expanded with each day.

God, indeed, has drawn a new circle in the sand for me, and even though it was through some very unfortunate events in my life that sent me here, this is the place where I am supposed to be. I was never meant not to be here. I pray that my breezes will be gentle and light, and that my circle won’t shift for a long, long time.

Monroe, Georgia. Who’d have thought?

I am home.