A Memorial Day Remembrance

DSCF0171-1My father’s father died in World War One when my dad was six years old. I can still see the picture of them both that stood on top of our piano in my childhood home. It was in an old fashioned, gold toned frame partnered by one of my Great Grandmother on the other side. Tinted brown, it showed a handsome man in an army officer’s uniform wearing riding boots—he was in the Calvary, standing opposite a small boy in a sailor suit, saluting his father. It may have been the last picture ever taken of him. My grandmother never remarried but raised my father and his brother alone.

My father was a colorful character who dressed as he chose and did things the way he wanted. Although he didn’t care too much what others thought, he was in many ways a traditional person. Every Sunday he attended the Episcopal Church in the neighboring town where he had grown up, and where my grandmother had endowed a stained glass window dedicated to her late husband. On the rare occasions I attended it with him as a child, I would gaze up entranced at the light shining through the image of a knight in armor with a face that seemed to me to resemble the man I’d never met, surrounded with emblems symbolic of his life.

A square in the center of that town was dedicated to my grandfather. He was a decorated hero and had been awarded a medal posthumously. Each Memorial Day the parade of marchers would stop there and a member from the American Legion would place a wreath of Laurel leaves on the hook on the pole beneath the sign that bore his name. My grandmother and later my father would add a big bunch of red carnations. I can remember one year my father lifted me up so I could do it. Each year we went as a family for the ceremony.

My father also decorated the graves of two elderly friends who had come from England to live in our town. Their pink marble gravestones still stand out among the somber gray granite of the rest of the local cemetery. He had been fond of them and I remember his taking me to visit them when I was very small.

My father’s grave is in a family cemetery on Cape Cod where some of his ancestors lived and worked. It is too far for me to travel to easily. His headstone, a simple boulder with a brass plaque, was his unique choice for his grave. It stands out boldly among the more traditional gravestones of his ancestors and the other members of his family. He was an individualist to the end.

On this Memorial Day as always I honor my late father in my heart. When I donate to a charity I know he would have given to, when I pray in my own fashion for the good of others, as well as when I emulate his kind nature and unique sense of fashion, I am honoring his memory. I cannot place flowers on his grave nor can I tend it as I would if I lived nearby; I can honor his memory in my own way by how I live my life and carry on in the way he taught me to do.

Tasha Halpert

 

A Saving Nature

Woodenspoon1

As far as I remember my dad wasn’t one to save things, quite the contrary. He was much more inclined to throw things out. On the other hand, I have a tendency to save anything I think might be useful or could be helpful in time of need—like extra food. I believe I inherited my saving nature from my mother. Once when I visited her in their weekend cottage in Maine I helped her clear out a closet. In the process I found at least three irons, and several toasters she had bought at yard sales and stored against future need. I kidded her about it and she told me quite seriously that they might come in handy one day, and she was happy to have them.

Another time, when I visited her in South Carolina where she lived after my father passed on, I was rummaging in her kitchen when I saw she had a number of broken items in her kitchen drawers. I asked her about them and she assured me that they could be fixed one day and used again. There was something even more useful in her bathroom. My parents loved to travel and wherever they went, my mother collected the little bottles of shampoo, conditioner, lotion and whatever else that were provided by the places they stayed. They were all lined up in rows on her bathroom sink, filling the entire flat part around the basin.

Perhaps for her they were souvenirs of her trips with my father because she never did use them. She also had rows of empty toilet paper cardboard tubes stacked next to the toilet. I didn’t ask her why because I am sure she would have had a good reason for why she kept them. A while ago I noticed I had quite a collection of little bottles saved from trips myself, and I decided that rather than purchase shampoo and conditioner I would use them. I didn’t want to be like my mother, hoarding something in case of need and then never getting to make use of it. I have come to realize that as we get older we must be careful not to take on our parents’ habits.

There is nothing wrong in being of a saving nature; however, to save something indefinitely is counter productive. When we were moving to our current apartment I discovered I had quite a lot of canned and boxed food that was out of date on the shelves of my former pantry. Now I realize I need to go through things more often to make sure I use what I have in a timely manner.

My father used to kid my mother because she had kept some linen sheets exactly as she had received them as a wedding present. He would ask her if she was saving them for her next husband. I have been thinking more about my mother’s habit lately and resolving to make use of what I have. After all, what she might not have realized was that once something is gone it may often be replaced by what is even better.

Tasha Halpert

 

 

Birthdays are for Celebrating, by Tasha Halpert

Flag on Steps, Maine -15  As a child I didn’t like going to birthday parties. They often played a game called musical chairs. I hope no one plays this any more. For those who haven’t, 2 rows of chairs is lined up back to back. The children march around them to music. When it stops everyone grabs a chair and sits. Each time, one chair is removed and someone is “out.” The last person who grabs the last chair wins. I never won and I thought it was a mean game. I loved celebrating my own birthday at home.

On each birthday in the family my mother would put flowers around the breakfast setting of the birthday person. There would be presents, and special food for dinner. I didn’t have many friends so instead of a party I would be taken to the movies or out for some other special treat. I made my presents for my parents’ birthdays, usually little books or a home made puzzle.

July 4th, also called Independence Day, marks the birthday of the United States of America, the day the Declaration of Independence became official. It is celebrated with gatherings, fireworks, parades and other opportunities for fun. Some might say there is too much strife and dismay to be celebrating. Terrorist attacks, murderous rampages by vicious people who take out their rage out on innocent victims, and other dismaying occurrences sadden and frighten them. Yet this is no reason not to celebrate.

When I was growing up there was a polio scare every summer. we were frightened of the beach, or other places where there were crowds. When I was in the 6th grade one of my classmates caught it and lived out his life in an iron lung. There seems always to be something to fear. Plagues in Europe, epidemics in the US, and even savage attacks by hostile tribes. When in history has there not been a threat to survival?

Every birthday reached is to be celebrated. Within the past several years too many friends of ours have died, many much too young. One never knows when there will be no more birthdays. This is all the more reason to mark each and every one as a special occasion. Young children love their birthdays. The child in us, the part that never grows up enjoys every aspect of a birthday celebration no matter how many years we accumulate. There is much to rejoice over and be thankful for in every year of life. We do well to focus on this.

Stephen was born on the 3rd. of July, and we always gather with as many friends as can make it to mark this important day. This year on his special day he will celebrate 75 years of life. A mere hundred years ago this would have been considered an tremendous accomplishment. It is, yet nowadays with good habits and good care he can expect to celebrate many more birthdays. This year when he blows out the candles on his cake he will wish not only for himself but also for his country, a peaceful, prosperous new year of life. May it be so.

Lighting Candles

Light in the Window

The town common in Grafton was alight with candles. I looked around and saw people of all ages gathered for a vigil to honor the victims of the Orlando massacre. It was a collection of many faiths and lifestyles. With the my friends and neighbors I listened to prayers and invocations from a variety of individuals and religious leaders. With them too I lifted my voice in songs that spoke of the need for change as well as the desire for peace. Yet in all my years here on earth little has changed.

During World War II my father was an Air raid warden and had to go around checking to see that the blackout curtains on the neighbors’ windows kept the light from coming through so no targets were visible. I remember he wore a funny looking hat–a sort of helmet to identify him as an official. The windowpanes of the big windows in my school were crosshatched with some brownish tape. We were told that this was to prevent them from shattering in the event of a bomb explosion.

We were also given bomb drills, which were different from fire drills, when we all filed outside and stood in lines with our classmates. Bomb drills took place inside. I seem to remember going down to the basement, but I was small and it was many years ago. Now children are being given drills in the case of an armed person coming into their school and shooting people, and some people want teachers to carry guns.

The last time Stephen and I were at such a vigil was on 9/11, after the twin towers in New York city were destroyed. Since then the climate of violence in this country seems to have accelerated. It grieves me that the children of today have to live in such a conflicted world. I regret that they must be taught what to do in schools or other places if some crazy person arrives with a gun and begins random shooting.

The climate of violence when I was growing up was in some ways the same. The difference was that the war was somewhere else. It had not come home to our cities and towns in the form of gun wielding terrorists It seems so tragic. What can we do? One thing seems clear. We need to see things differently in order to do better. We must start now by setting an example. Perhaps if we begin in small and simple ways we can make big changes happen.

We can begin by lighting candles of love and kindness wherever we are. Let us keep a vigil each hour of each day by shining our light into the darkness of ignorance and fear. Random acts of kindness are good, daily, simple acts of kindness are even better: holding the door for someone, smiling to a weary stranger, donating used items or goods to charity, helping a friend or neighbor. When the intention is made opportunities will manifest, and every candle we light helps dispel darkness and brightens the way for someone to see better.

Tasha Halpert

 

An Attitude of Gratitude

Fall Maple Gold 2            When we first moved to Grafton I knew nothing about the surrounding area. We were back in New England because we had moved up from Virginia where we had lived for the past seven years, to be closer to family. A friend who lived in the area and liked it, had invited us to check it out. She helped us find a real estate agent, and we fell in love with a house in Grafton. Soon we met and became friends with an artist who lived in Worcester.

She offered to show me some of her favorite spots in and around the city. She and I spent the next months tramping around in the woods with her dog as we picked raspberries, blackberries, swam, and simply traipsed through in her favorite little wildernesses. It was a wonderful experience for which I am very grateful. Although I don’t see much of my friend these days, my memories of our adventures in the nature spots she showed me still warm my heart.

In my life there is much that has vanished away. As I have grown older I have lost friends and family members. I live differently now than I did twenty or even ten years ago. Of course all of this is appropriate. However when I was growing up and even in my early adult years I had no concept of the amount of change that I would live though. Were I to be regretful of these changes I might be filled with bitterness and sorrow for what no longer is part of my life. However, I do not choose to do that. I have too much to be grateful for.

When I was growing up Thanksgiving meant gathering with family at the home of either my Great Aunt of my Grandmother. I don’t remember anyone suggesting we speak about what we were grateful for, though of course someone always said Grace, a prayer of gratefulness. In those days I didn’t think much about gratitude. I was too busy caring for my home and family.

When I was in my early thirties I was invited by a friend to go to a conference where I met a remarkable teacher. She introduced me to the concept of expressing gratitude for those things in my life that I needed to be grateful for. I began then to practice my attitude of gratitude, and for many years I have said a short prayer of thanks whenever I am grateful. Some years later I had a houseguest who expressed gratitude toward his various and tools. I found this intriguing and as time went on have done this also, thanking my car for a safe journey, or my computer for helpful performance.

In a grateful heart there is no room for regret or resentment. My attitude of gratitude changed my life for the better and continues to enrich it today. The more I remember and express how grateful I am for the richness of my life and the joys that fill it, the less I miss what has passed from it. This year, on Thanksgiving as always I have much for which to be grateful, yet during the rest of the year there is no day on which I do not give thanks over and over again.

 

Smelling the Lilies

Star Lilies 4       Of all the flowers with delightful scents, there are three that are favorites of mine: Lilies, Roses, and Hyacinths. So it was that when I was shopping in Trader Joe’s last week and saw the Star Gazer Lilies for sale I could not resist buying a small bunch and bringing them home. As I had hoped they would they have filled our small apartment with their wonderful scent.

As I sit here writing my column I am breathing it in. As I do, these colorful lilies with their glorious perfume remind me over and over again how important it is to give to myself as well as to others. It has taken me more than a few years to recognize the importance of doing that. My dear mother called such thinking selfish. She was raised in a home where children came last, after guests, parents and other adults. To think of oneself first, if at all, was not encouraged.

There was no intentional cruelty involved in this attitude. It sprang from a different way of seeing the world and of acting on that viewpoint. There is a strong behavioral edict that sprang from traditional thinking that it is better to give than to receive. While it is good to give, there are psychological reasons that were not taken into account by this edict that need to be addressed. In addition there is the question of balance versus imbalance to be considered.

I was raised in much the same way. I remember once being surprised when a friend said that we must be home by four o’clock for her children’s TV program. That the wishes of children were something to consider was a new thought for me. As a young mother it never occurred to me that children’s choices were anything to be considered.

In the years since then I have done a lot of learning. A most important lesson of my lifetime has been that if I do not give to myself I will not have much to give others. My cup must have something in it before I can give from it freely. My giving must be in balance with my receiving. What I have discovered, sometimes the hard way is that if I give only to others and not to myself I develop unconscious resentment that can lead me to act unkindly, or be overly critical without meaning to. This can creep up on me and I need to make sure I notice it when it happens.

From the time I was small being kind has always been very important to me. Thus it has become vital that from time to time I assess my behavior to make sure I have been giving to myself enough to balance my graciousness to others. It is not always easy to remember to give to oneself. It often initially feels so good to give to others that it is easy to forget to include oneself. As I inhale the perfume of the wonderful lilies I am reminded again of how grateful I am for this gift I gave to myself, and of how glad I am that I bought them.

Text and Photo by Tasha Halpert

The Importance of Mental Focus

Crystals5When I began to meditate I noticed that I was much more aware of the contents of my mind. The longer I practiced meditation, the better I became at following my thoughts. This ability has grown for me over the years, and I am very grateful to be able to be aware most of the time of what I am thinking. The reason this is so important is that it enables me to monitor my mental focus.

The importance of mental focus cannot be overstated. Certain habit patterns are built into the human psyche. They are intrinsic, an inborn aspect of our consciousness. They are intended to function as a kind of safety mechanism for keeping us alive. One of these is the “fight or flight” response. As you may know, the human body is programmed to react to any perceived threat with the appropriate input for what it believes is required.

I have read statistics to the effect that much of our modern high blood pressure as well as other stressful conditions of the physical body have come about as a result of this built in response to perceived danger. This particular response was useful in the days when death in the form of an enemy or feral beast lurked behind any bush or tree. It was important when the crocodiles in the river were patrolling for breakfast. It was helpful when the early settlers of any new homeland encountered its dangers.

Now for the most part it is not only unnecessary to modern life but actually harmful. Yet in times of perceived stress our bodies continue that response. The perceived stress could be a need to get somewhere on time or to dodge someone’s criticism as a result of inadequate preparation. It is seldom a response to a true threat of death or physical harm.

One of the main ingredients of this response is that our minds have a built in tendency to notice what is wrong. This can be very helpful if, for instance, you wake up in the night and hear sounds you know are not normal, or you suddenly notice that your child is very quiet and might therefore be up to some mischief. However, as a general rule, consistently noticing what is wrong can lead to a focus upon it that prevents us from seeing what is right and good.

When I practice actively looking for all for which I am grateful, I am much less apt to be focused on what may be wrong. If there is real danger or a need to notice that something is amiss, I know I can and will. However for the most part when I focus on that for which I am grateful, I am much less focused on the negative thinking that can lead to any number of difficulties. The key to success is being mindful of the direction of my thoughts. That way I can reinforce my positive focus or change the direction of my thoughts if I need to.

Photo and Text by Tasha Halpert