Perspective Makes All the Difference

Cherry Blossoms on a rainy dayAt the time I was born my mother was newly come to the US, a bride of less than a year. Except for my father, she was very much alone in a big city, and I was her only companion for quite a while. I have often thought that my persistently positive perspective on life may have had its roots in my trying to cheer her up when she was sad and missing her family and friends back in her home country. Over the years since I have come to understand the power of a positive perspective on a potentially negative situation or experience.

This has become essential to my work. When I tell people I am a writer, they often ask me what I write. If I say I write essays, it sounds as though I am writing from a scholarly point of view. If I say I do inspirational writing, it sounds as though I am coming from a religious perspective. In truth, what I am doing in my columns is to simply present a different or alternative point of view from that which some might take about any given situation or experience. I write to be helpful, but it is self help I write about. Helping others to help themselves is my intention and my goal.

There is little we can do about circumstances. Daily life presents us with issues and difficulties we must deal with. The school of experience is our ever-present teacher, one we cannot escape no matter what we do. I’ve often felt that maturity or adulthood truly begins when we’re willing to learn from this teacher rather than moan, groan and feel as though we are victims of fate, circumstance or those who might perpetrate it. It is a lot easier to complain than it is to “bite the bullet” and admit there might be something to learn from any given situation.

I believe the expression “bite the bullet” comes from battlefield medicine when in the days gone by the surgeon had to amputate or otherwise operate without anesthesia. After whiskey was poured liberally into the patient, a bullet was put between his jaws to bite down on as a way to keep from crying out. Whether this is actually true or not it makes a good metaphor. When our focus is put not on complaint or disappointment but on what can be gained from whatever is happening to us, coping becomes easier and wisdom more accessible.

In my own life right now I am dealing with a change in lifestyle and a need to take better care of myself. I have learned that much of what I used to take for granted, I no longer can. Exercise is not an option it is a necessity. I need to do additional work on my body to restore it to better working order. I could complain, or even bemoan my fate. Instead I rejoice that I now have a good way to lose weight, that I can become stronger and healthier with effort and that it is good and helpful to be made to do that. Therefore I bless these circumstances and state firmly that I am exceedingly grateful for them.

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The Importance of Self Care

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As children we are often told to be kind, to be sharing and giving, and to show our love to others by how we treat them. We are seldom told to care for or to love ourselves. I remember as a child sending for a nurse kit from Quaker Oats. It was advertised on a radio program I listened to every weekday. I liked the idea of being a nurse. It was a way to care for others, as I was told to do. After my little kit came I bandaged up my teddy bear and treated him to a hospital stay as I played nurse in my little white cap and apron.

As young people we feel invulnerable; we can go for a night without sleep and hardly notice. Unless we have allergies or some medical condition, eating whatever we like is the rule rather than the exception. We seldom need to sit and rest after exertion but can continue on as if we were made of steel. I was in my late forties when I began to realize I could no longer treat my body as if it were some kind of machine that could go on and on.

I began to notice that if I didn’t pace myself I would need to slow down or even stop in the middle of my efforts to get everything done. This bothered, even annoyed me. I didn’t like to stop. I wanted to do what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it. Then I had a real wake-up call: I got an excruciating pain in my neck and shoulder that wouldn’t go away. It took a number of chiropractic treatments and a lot of rest before I was able to move without hurting. The experience was extremely unpleasant. I finally got the message: I had been treating my body badly, and I needed to change my attitude.

First and foremost I realized I heeded to stop and rest between efforts. I also began to notice that when I ate certain foods I was uncomfortable; when I didn’t get enough sleep I was dragging. While this annoyed me, I had to admit it was important information. I realized that while it was strong and able my body needed a different kind of attention. Rather than treat it offhandedly as a machine that just needed fuel and occasional maintenance, I needed to treat it kindly, as if it were a faithful animal that was carrying me where I needed to go. I also had to accept its messages as needs and wants rather as impediments to what I wished to do when I wished to do it.

The importance of my self care grows with each passing year. Movement I used to take for granted has become an effort. There are even things I can’t easily do at all any more. But what is more important is that I remember to do what I need to do for my comfort as well as my health: Rest between efforts, meditate, take time to sit with my feet up, put in my eye drops, drink enough water, eat enough fiber, avoid what I can no longer comfortably digest. My list could go on and on, however I’ve made my point. Self care matters. More importantly, remembering to care for myself means I can continue to care for others, and that most of all is a good reason to do so.

Tasha Halpert

April Showers and May Flowers

Maple blooming 17 2The forsythia is blooming. Its golden flowers brighten the landscape and provide a kind of sunshine even during April showers. Gardening is present in the thoughts of those who do and in the stores as well. Pansies and other colorful flowers decorate the entrances of supermarkets and other stores that sell them. Gardening supplies are piled up ready to purchase. Even though it’s not yet time to be planting, these and other signs of spring hearten those of us who are weary of winter’s drab browns and blacks, bare limbs and withered weeds.

Gardening runs in my family and in my blood. I wish I could yet I can’t claim the green thumb of my ancestors. My great grandfather planted an orchard of flourishing fruit trees. His apple trees blossomed and bore from the onset of spring until deep into fall. His quince trees produced fuzzy hard fruit that with my mother’s diligent efforts became jelly and preserves. In her garden she grew a variety of vegetables. I can see her still working away in it, her tanned back brown in the sun.

My grandmother had a gardener named Mr. Patch. He was Irish. I remember his nut brown face and his wonderful brogue as he discussed with my grandmother what he needed for the garden. She did some work also, principally with her pruning shears as she picked her magnificent roses. She grew both flowers and vegetables, harvesting and eating from her garden all summer long. What I remember most clearly were her glorious gladiolas, the saucer plate dahlias ranging from deep red to bright orange and yellow, and the colorful zinnias that lined the gravel path leading from her driveway to her door, bounded by a white picket fence and two strips of green grass turf.

My father too grew roses and later brought back some young peach and plum trees from a horticultural show, planted them and then harvested the fruit when they grew old enough to produce it. I did have one experience with a fruit tree. Back when I had my spiral garden I had bought what I thought was a white forsythia to plant there. After three years it hadn’t flowered. Reluctant to discard it, I dug it up, replanted it at the edge and forgot about it. To my great surprise and delight, though now in the shadow of a large spruce, it grew into a white peach tree that produced three peaches its first year and many more after that.

These days my gardening is limited to a few potted plants. Perhaps one day I will have a small garden again, however I couldn’t manage anything very much more than the original three by five foot plot I was given as a child for my own. I grew flowers there, and then weeds by the time August rolled around. But it got me started on many years of garden tending. These days I write poetry about gardens together with other aspects of nature and the world I live in. My gardens have become metaphysical rather than physical, and truth to tell my back is grateful.

Spring Is Making Its Way

Blue flowers and stone wallWhen spring comes, like the creatures in the woods and fields, I feel as though I am beginning to wake up after a time of hibernation. I want to get out doors and spend more time in the light. I welcome the brightness that comes in through the windows even though it also shows the accumulation of dust that is so easy to miss in the dimmer light of winter. I get out of bed more eagerly, most likely because the sky is brighter when I do. Spring also brings me memories of what it was like for me when I was a child and the seasons were more defined by what we ate as well as what we did.

Growing up I spent much of my time out of doors. My mother believed the fresh air was good for me. As well she wanted me to be active rather than sit with my nose in a book. Whenever the weather was relatively decent, neither raining, snowing nor windy and cold, I was sent out doors to play. I grew up in the country on a property that belonged to my great aunt Alice, with a good bit of land to it. Thus I could wander to my heart’s content in the fields and marshes that surrounded her large house and our cottage.

When the spring came and the ice receded from the marsh, I would trek about looking for interesting objects that the sea might have delivered during a winter storm. Once I discovered a large log, perhaps three feet or more in diameter that formed an interesting place to play. Another time I found a pane of glass with a lovely blue design on it that was yellow on the underneath. Thinking back I can see it still. It was probably once part of a picture frame. Sadly one day it disappeared, as did the log I liked so much.

Spring also meant there was more daylight time after school to play out of doors. As I wandered around, I made up all sorts of stories in which I imagined myself having some kind of an adventurous part. Although I had no one to play with I was good company for myself, and my active imagination helped me to create all sorts of fun. I was alone but never lonely. Being on our own property I was completely safe as well. It seemed to me that I had a little kingdom all my own to enjoy. Spring brought new opportunities for adventures as well as the chance to be by myself with no one to tell me what to do.

My brother lives in the house we grew up in and whenever I visit with him I marvel at how much smaller the property seems to me now. Too, the days seem far shorter than they did when I was a child, when Saturdays especially seemed to hold endless hours in which to enjoy myself. I greeted the advent of spring with joy because it meant I could get out and explore the surrounding fields and marsh in search not only of adventure but also of signs of the new growth that spring would bring to share with me.

An Unanticipated Adventure

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Growing up I preferred tales of adventure to almost any other kind of book with the exception of fairy stories. Biographies bored me as did many of the titles on the summer reading list. Give me a book by Robert Louis Stevenson, Jules Verne or Alexander Dumas and I was content to curl up in a comfortable spot and plunge myself into the wondrous world the author created. My own adventures were often something I got scolded or even punished for. Being a girl I was not encouraged to be adventuresome.

Recently, without meaning to, I did create myself an adventure. If I had thought about it, I wouldn’t have put the new scissors I’d found in the storage unit into the suitcase I was taking with me on my return flight. If I had put them into the checked luggage, I wouldn’t have been stopped and had my carryon opened and examined. When the security guard measured the scissors and put them back in the old red nylon suitcase that had belonged to my mother, I breathed a sigh of relief and prepared to gather my belongings. Then he took a bit of white material and ran it around the inside near the zipper.

Suddenly I was asked to take off my shoes and told I would be patted down. A female guard went over my body, informing me each time what she would be doing. Knowing I had nothing to fear, I simply allowed the experience to unfold. My daughter was worried, however we had arrived early so were in no danger of missing our flight. At one level I was laughing inside at the thought that an elderly great grandmother could be considered dangerous. However, I remained calm, knowing that giggling might not be regarded as appropriate.

Finding nothing, they asked me if I took any medication. I said no, but the suitcase had belonged to my mother. Then they mentioned nitroglycerine. I remembered that my mother had told me she took something for her heart. That cleared it all up. I got to put on my shoes and collect my belongings. Feeling relieved, I left the security area behind. Apparently even after many years in storage an old suitcase could carry traces of heart medicine and in these days of terrorist precautions come across as a threat.

My daughter and I had just spent almost two whole days processing the contents of a storage unit that had been unopened for twelve years. It contained the contents of my late mother’s art studio. We separated out a considerable amount of material that will form the basis for a retrospective exhibit to be curated by my youngest daughter, herself an artist. My mother was a professional with much art and many exhibits to her credit. If she had not shunned the limelight she might be a household word. I wondered if from her perch in heaven she looked down at my dilemma and giggled. I think it would have amused her that her adventuresome daughter had though unwittingly, created herself an adventure.

Summer Through the Years

Diana's Pond ReflectionsAs a child I so looked forward to school vacation and the freedom it brought from discipline, homework and schedules. Whenever weather permitted, my time was spent out doors wandering around the rather large property where my parents and I lived. It belonged to my Great Aunt Alice, whose father had built the grand house she lived in now, as well as the cottage originally intended for the gardener. That was where I, and later on my brothers and sister lived. There was a broad, open field to roam in, trees to climb, and a small marsh bounded by a dyke that kept out most of the distant seawater.

Wildflowers grew in abundance, insects buzzed and birds called. There were trees to climb, and I also spent time high in their branches, reading. I called it my tree house and brought pillows to the platform I had wedged into my favorite tree, a big beech. Summer was a time to play. The property held plenty of room for my imagination to conjure up all kinds of adventures like the ones in the stories I read: Tarzan, Robert Louis Stevenson’s tales, and the legends of Greek heroes.

Time passed and I was a young mother. Summer meant days at a nearby beach watching my children play in the sand and splash in the waves. Fortunate to be able to stay home with my children, I hung the laundry in the sun, worked on my tan, and took the them to the local church fairs, the annual carnival, and whatever other amusement the season offered. We had picnics and explored the highways and byways of surrounding towns. Later there were softball and then baseball games they played in to attend. The work of motherhood became a kind of play in summer.

Fast-forward to a different kind of summer life, with a swimming pool to clean and care for and a large garden that took me almost as much time to look after as the children did. Still it was a delight to share the pool as well as the garden with visitors. I didn’t mind the weeding too much, or pruning the shrubs. It was an adventure to tackle the wild rose vine I planted for its delicious scent, without realizing the consequences of its rampant growth. I never knew how many would be sitting down to any meal, because people came and went as I practiced my hospitality. Summer held a different kind of play.

My summers have changed again. With age comes less tolerance for extreme conditions. My bones enjoy my home’s warmth in the cold but not its heat in the muggy weather. I appreciate air conditioning far more than I used to, and I spend much more time indoors than I did in the past. While the long summer hours of light are enjoyable, the effect of the heat on my mind is not. Labor Day signals summer’s closing. Once I welcomed its beginning with open arms, now each year I am more appreciative of summer’s end.

Acceptance of What Is Can Be Learned

Cabbage with holes           I began at an early age to learn my role as a would be peacemaker. My parents were both very special and wonderful people, yet they had a lot of differences and often had trouble bridging them. As the eldest and only child by a number of years I had a good deal of practice as a kind of go between for them when there were difficulties to be dealt with. In addition I often found myself with my hands over my ears while my parents attempted to resolve their differences at the top of their lungs. Loving both of them dearly, I was often at a loss as to how to make things better. Most of all I had to deal with my desire for things to be different, and my inability to make this happen.

Fast forward to the present. I recently found myself in the midst of a situation that was very uncomfortable, yet that I could nothing to change. Like all the other times in my life going back to when I was a small child and this was the case, it felt very similar. So in addition I had to deal with these echoes from the past as well as the experience of the present. My nature as a peacemaker, has always made it difficult for me to deal with conflict. This time, as I often do, instead of facing the situation that I was confronted with squarely, I kept wishing things were different.

To be sure that is a natural reaction. Few among us are willing to face a difficult situation without feeling regret as well as the desire to change it in some way to make things easier on everyone. Yet sometimes even with the best of intentions from all concerned, whatever is going on will continue. If I could have accepted this, I would have been better able to come to terms with what was happening. As it was, I had to work hard just to stay calm and keep from trying to help. I have been reflecting on this ever since.

The best that anyone can gain from dealing with a situation where one can do nothing is to allow for a greater sense of compassion to emerge in the heart. A wise woman once quoted me this ancient Hebrew saying: “If there were no grief to hollow out our hearts, where would there be room for joy?” As I have grown older and experienced more grief as well as regret, which is a precursor to grief, I have recognized that there is a treasure to be gained from it. Yet the treasure must be dug out from beneath the stubborn, unyielding crust of denial.

The denial can only be dealt with by my conscious acceptance of my inability to make anything different. As I accept what is and interweave it with threads of compassion, I can come to terms with my own sense of powerlessness, as well as with the pride that weeps over that, and the need to simply let go. The road cannot always be smooth. If there is no grit under the wheals, they will slip and slide without progress. The sandpaper that smooths the rough wood brings out the beauty of the grain. As I allow it to my heart can surely learn to grow.