Saving What Is Useful

useful bags.jpg  When my mother and I went to Russia in 1991 among the places we visited was the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. It was very impressive. My favorite part was the room with six Rembrandts. Sitting among them was an extraordinary experience. As we left we bought some postcards and other souvenirs and when none seemed to be forthcoming, asked for a bag to put them in. The cashier gave us a sour look then finally dug out a used plastic bag– an obvious treasure from her hoard and placed our items in it. Recycled bags were more common there than new ones were then.

I certainly do save and either use or recycle lots of plastic bags, however I have a stash of various sizes of paper bags as well as small gift boxes that threatens to erupt from its container. Some are saved for when we give people gifts. The ones with decorations for Christmas or birthday, for instance come in very handy. Others with no decorations or simply printed with the name of a store can be used for any occasion, and also for carrying things. I only wish I knew just how many of these decorated bags I would need in the near future so I could pass some of them on to others.

I simply cannot bear to throw out anything that is ultimately useful. Take for instance the elastics that come on things. I haven’t bought any rubber elastics for years. They come in various sizes, shapes and colors, mostly on vegetables. The small bag I have stays full because what I use gets replaced. Twisty ties are something else I tend to save. They too come in various lengths and are useful for tying up many things as well as substituting for the difficult to reuse flat plastic closures most bread bags come with. The long ones are good for wrapping around electric cords and small tools.

I seldom use paper towels unless I want to clean up a mess, thus saving paper. I tear appeal letters and ads for insurance and so forth on 81/2 by 11 sheets with a blank side into thirds, pinch them together with a clip and use them to make my grocery and “to do” lists. Smaller scraps of paper become notes, though I have to be careful not to lose those. String of any length of course gets reused, as does ribbon, and of course wrapping paper. Unless it’s torn, I fold and save Christmas and birthday wrapping paper, as did my parents.

Being of a saving nature runs in my family. My father once told me he found an envelope among his mother’s things with bits of string in it labeled “pieces of string too small to use.” However I have since heard this story from other sources, so it may have been something he borrowed rather than experienced. My mother, my father, my grandmother and my other relatives all followed the Yankee thrift rule: recycle, reuse or do without, so it’s not surprising I developed this habit and needless to say as I have discovered, passed it on to my children.

A Valentine to Loves Found

stephen-and-tasha-kissing-2087When I was in grade school I fell in love, or more accurately had a gigantic crush on a boy with blond hair named Teddy. I don’t think he even knew I existed, and I certainly made no advances toward him, being far too shy to do so. I simply gazed at him from afar and thought he was wonderful. In my seventh grade year another fair-haired boy I yearned over named Dana replaced Teddy in my heart. Some years later I discovered that before she met my father, many of my mother’s boyfriends had been blond, and I wondered if her predilections could have subconsciously influenced me in my choices.

My passion for blond men dissipated. When I was sixteen another boy named Teddy though with brown hair, became my first real love. My parents labeled it puppy love, but I knew better. Our dates were conducted via the bus because neither of us had a license to drive. We danced in his parents’ living room to the tune of “Unforgettable,” and snuggled in the movies—it didn’t much matter what was on the screen. When he went away to camp for two weeks he wrote me each day and I waited anxiously by the door for the mailman. I wore his felt beanie with pins on it constantly, which drove my dear parents crazy. I was their oldest child and their initial experience with their children’s first loves.

My first husband and I met at a dance and fell in love quite quickly. I was a rather romantic seventeen-year-old senior in high school. He was from New York, a sophomore in college and quite sophisticated. Our love blossomed over the summer and culminated in an elopement the following year. This was exacerbated by my parents’ protective attitude. They were not happy about our burgeoning relationship and had threatened to send me on a long trip the following summer to visit relatives abroad. They did what they thought best, though their antagonism probably fueled our passion. I was a young bride and soon a young mother. Our children became the focus of our marriage and of our love.

Now so many years later I look back on those early loves and I smile. In those days I knew so little of what love really was about. Most of how I viewed it came from romantic novels and magazines. With time and experience I learned about it for myself, and sometimes this was painful. Yet as I look back I have no regrets. I am married now to the love of my life. Our relationship has endured for nearly forty years. As I age I am grateful for his presence and for the love he brings to our days. As Shakespeare said, “Love is not love that alters when it alteration finds.” We have grown together, changed together, and remained together with all the joy and happiness that our experiences have brought to our relationship. He is my always valentine.

Tasha Halpert

After the Gifts Are Unwrapped

gifts-4  In days gone by when my children were small and Christmas was something of a big production, by the evening of the 25th everyone was satisfied to play with his or her toys, eat the festival leftovers and chill out. It was then that I would take my guitar in hand and drive with it to the Beverly hospital to play for the patients. I was a regular volunteer there so I would don my pink volunteer jacket and go around to the wards and private rooms to play Christmas music together with my usual folk tunes.

During my time in Manchester-by-the-Sea I used to play my guitar several times a month and sometimes even more often for the patients who were well enough to be listening. However I did have to be mindful of my lyrics. This being in the days of Pete Seeger and the Weavers, my repertoire consisted mainly of traditional folk songs, some of which had lyrics that might not sound cheerful such as: “Go tell Aunt Rhody the old gray goose is dead,” or one that began “When I’m dead and buried, don’t you weep after me,” a rousing spiritual that was great fun to sing as long as I omitted the first verse and went right into the body of the song.

On Christmas night I felt as though with all the visitors having gone home by then, the patients could use a bit of cheering up. After all, the visitors were returning to their families and friends while the patients were still in their rooms or wards and perhaps more aware of being there than usual. It was heartening to see the welcoming smiles on their faces and to receive their enthusiastic approval. More than once someone who had been relatively comatose would actually clap their hands and manage a smile.

Today my children are grown and gone and my family is for the most part scattered far and wide. Holidays are quieter. Nor do I play my guitar any longer, though next year I hope to have learned some carols on my new harp. However, I don’t expect to be singing them in a hospital. Life brings changes, some welcome, some not so. The happy memories of Holidays past become gifts to cherish with joy, more so perhaps than any other gift beneath the tree.

Now that the presents have been opened and our holiday meal consumed, I find myself reminiscing to myself over past holiday celebrations. I note familiar faces that have moved on from my life. Some still walk this earth others do not. I am reminded of the places where I have lived in the past and see again the rooms as well as the homes that hold the memories of holiday times. Each year holds its blessings. I am grateful for each and every one, and most of all I am grateful to be able to celebrate with joy the love that flows to me from those who each year remember me.

 

Cherish Every Moment with Loved Ones

tashas-birthday-party-at-dianasI remember going to church with my mother on Sundays, and how uncomfortable the kneeling benches were. She was a devout Catholic and thought God would punish her if she didn’t go faithfully. As a result we went to my father’s church, an Episcopalian one on special holidays only after we went to early mass at my mother’s church. My fondest memories of her are centered on Christmas eve when she played her violin and we sang carols in front of our tree.

While I do have many memories from my childhood I wish I had more. I can remember my late mother telling me stories about things that happened or that I did that I had no memory of, but that she had cherished herself. Children do not realize that things will change, that what is will not be there forever and must be noted or it will be lost.

The other day Stephen and I were out with my daughter and her fiancé for dinner and a movie. As we sat over pizza afterward, I thought to myself how wonderful this all was, and how much I was enjoying it. I reminded myself to cherish the moment. We never know when something will end, or at least change so that it is no longer available. I did not always feel this way; it is something I have learned from experience.

When my children were little I was a busy mother with five young ones and a husband who traveled on sales calls. When I look back on our lives together I realize my mind was too filled with thoughts of all that I needed to do to be present with them and what they were doing. I know I missed much of what I would cherish now if I could remember it. This is a lesson that can only be learned from experience.

I realize how much I may have missed in my life by not being present. A friend once said to me, “I always take special care to enjoy myself at your home because then when things change I will have no regrets.” We moved away and she went back to South America; we have lost touch. Most likely I will not see her ever again, yet because of what she said she has a presence still in my heart. When I see again someone that came to our home years ago for gatherings or classes and remembers us, and it makes me glad.

Recently I have lost a sister and a sister in law to death as well as a number of friends and acquaintances. At no time did I know when last I was with that person that I would not set eyes on her or him ever again. I am aware more than ever that when I am with someone I know, and especially someone I love that it is vital to be mindfully present, or I will miss out and regret that I did not take advantage of the time I had with him or her. Change is the law of life; nothing stays the same. Every moment is precious, most especially when we are with those we love.

 

An Appropriate Costume

halloween-three-little-witches

 

As a young child growing up in the country I was accustomed to seeing death. Baby chicks perished; Ducklings drowned; something attacked my rabbits and the ones that hadn’t died were too wounded to survive and had to be killed. Several of our dogs and cats suffered their demise in front of our house. I understood death as a natural part of life and nothing to be feared. Until I was in college no significant adults of my acquaintance passed on except my Great Grandmother when I was only four.

Halloween wasn’t a big deal when I was small. What I remember was the occasional party, with games, and carving pumpkins. We lived in the country and without a neighborhood to go trick or treating, I wasn’t taken anywhere to accumulate candy. Besides, my mother didn’t approve of eating candy; it was bad for the teeth. Later on, however I enjoyed dressing up my children and taking them around to the neighbors.

Where I live now Halloween costumes will soon proliferate as children roam the sidewalks for trick or treat,. Dressed as ghosts, scarecrows, or pirates or masked as the current political figures the wearers follow a tradition that goes back many centuries. Halloween in the United States is somewhat similar to the Mexican Day of the Dead. It comes from a long tradition of honoring those who have moved on from their bodies to the wider life of the spirit.

It was once believed that on October 31 the spirits of the dead could inflict harm or at least return in some way to communicate with the living because the veil between this world and the next is thin. Then some hoped to consult spirits of the dead, believing they could tell where treasure was buried, or what the future held. Some remnants of fear remain from then, though they are not taken seriously.

My grandmother passed on when I was in college and hers was the first dead body I ever saw. It did not frighten me. She had been prepared for burial and set out in her living room prior to the funeral the next day. That evening as I approached her body I realized it wasn’t my grandmother, that it was just clothes she had worn once and now no longer needed. Death did not then nor does it now seem to me to be something of which to be frightened. Life is more than a physical experience.

Halloween costumes can serve as a reminder that there is little to fear from the transition called death. A change of clothing is appropriate to a change of form. Just as I can’t fit into my baby garments or the clothes I wore for my first day of school, I can expect someday to outgrow this body, and to discard it for clothing suitable for the form I will then inhabit. While the unknown is always a little unnerving to contemplate, whatever happens whether in this life or the next is an adventure to which I look forward.

Death is a Part of Life by Tasha Halpert

DSCF0192 The recent announcement of President Carter’s cancer follows on the heels of my hearing about many others whose illness of one sort or another has proclaimed their relatively immanent mortality. In other words, a multitude of serious sicknesses–cancer, heart problems and other conditions of ill health have invaded the lives of people I know and in many cases, love. Perhaps this has to do with getting older. I do not remember hearing as much about such things only a few years ago.

I may have been fortunate in this respect: The death of people I knew and loved wasn’t part of my childhood experience–I went to my first funeral, an aged cousin when I was twelve. Yet death as a part of life was no stranger to me. Growing up with pets and small farm animals I had an intimate acquaintance with it. Ducklings, rabbits, dogs, cats, and the chickens we ate for dinner all lived and died as I watched. I buried my pets myself with due ceremony. I watched as the chicken for dinner was beheaded with an ax.

When I was in my twenties I thought little about death. Then my children’s father nearly perished in an automobile accident. The thought of those I loved dying now forced itself on my attention and I began more to appreciate the specialness of life and of my relationships. Still, I was occupied with life and death wasn’t something I thought much about. Time went by and my grandmother died. She seemed to me an appropriate age to pass on. While I mourned her absence, I was busy with life and my little ones, we were no longer living close to one another and I did not miss her presence.

Years later death grew more familiar. I lost my father to illness, then my own precious son. Some years later several young friends died untimely deaths. Moe and more I was brought to an understanding of the place of death in life. As much as I mourned, I began to recognize that death was indeed a part of life; that dying was merely the blowing out of the candle that was lit at birth. Life is a gift for which I am grateful and the lives of those I love and have loved are very dear to me. Yet like flowers we grow, bud, blossom an finally wilt away.

Untimely death is harder to bear than what seems a natural process. My rabbits were killed when a dog got into their pen. My dog was run over in front of me. Later on my son died far sooner than he might have. Yet even untimely, this is still death as a part of life. Although I miss him still, my sorrow is not so much for his death as it is for the life he was not able to live. We are all most fortunate for whatever time we have on this earth. In my nightly prayers I make sure to express my gratitude for my dear ones, those whose candles still burn brightly. May they continue.

Love, Grief, and Joy

There is a Hebrew saying that goes, if there were no grief to hollow out our hearts, where would there be room for joy? I would add, or compassion.

 

We learn about pain by feeling it ourselves.  We learn about grief and bereavement by losing loved ones. The lessons life has to teach may be harsh or gentle but those that teach compassion invariably revolve around a sense of loss.  Perhaps this is what is meant by the hollowing of the heart by grief. 

 

The sense of loss makes an emptiness where there has been fullness, aloneness where there was companionship.  When we feel these feelings we can cry for them, letting our tears soothe the pain and wash it away, or we can cry out against them and they will harden to rock within us and weigh us down.  What fills that hollow place is love.  But we must pour it out to our own selves

 

As we grow older, if we absorb and process our life experiences, we develop that part of us able to look with love and forgiveness at whatever life presents. Those who die and leave us behind help hollow our hearts.  As we let go the ache of missing the physical presence, it becomes easier to accept the loss.  Time is the best healer, and patience with ourselves. 

 

As I grow on in years, my losses

Leave larger holes behind;

in my life’s landscape, grief has been useful,

reminding me that all we have is now;

we had best enjoy it because it is a gift.

 

My grief is not a weight, nor a cloud,

it is not a blindfold hiding joy,

rather it is an ever giving spring

reminding me to look, to breathe, to know

that all life blooms and fades and love grows on.

 Image

Photo and text by Tasha Halpert