Archives for posts with tag: Family

In the pottery studio, we use “the four bucket system” to clean off glaze from brushes, tongs, and containers. First, we dip our item into bucket #1, then #2, then #3, and then #4 until the item is clean. The purpose of this system is to be more environmentally friendly. I’m not quite sure why it works better but I do know that it is certainly easier on the plumbing. It is a way, in my mind, to be extra clean and conscientious.

One day, I was cleaning a ladle I’d used to fill a small plastic bucket with glaze. I accidentally dropped it into the bucket. Without thinking, I reached down into the bucket, more deeply than necessary. It was like making contact with the dirtiest, muckiest primordial ooze.

Blech! How do I get rid of this? How did I get so dirty when I was trying to be so clean?

This weekend, my people at home are a bit out of sorts. It’s just a bit but I still find myself trying very hard to tread carefully. Nonetheless, I keep finding my hand in the ooze.

When people say, “Life is messy”, they aren’t kidding.

I was walking in my neighborhood last week and I passed two men. One of them had a newborn strapped to his chest in one of those little baby carriers. His baby looked blissfully asleep and his father looked like he was enjoying his time with his son.

This is not an uncommon sight where I live. It was a rather uncommon sight when I was a girl. When I was young, a man changing his own child’s diaper was considered a rarity. Men played with their babies. They were not as involved with the day-to-day caretaking as they are now. Caretaking was considered “woman’s work” and therefore “beneath” a man. It still is, to a certain extent,  but there really has been a significant overall increase in men’s level of involvement in their children’s lives not to mention an increased appreciation for “women’s work”. I have been providing mental health services to families for since 1991. When I started out this meant working with mothers and their children. Father participation was not common. It is far more common now and it is rare that I never meet with a child’s father.

When I saw the man with his infant, I smiled in recognition of what our culture has gained from the women’s movement. There is still sexism. “Feminist” is still a “bad word”. But it is difficult to deny if I REALLY think about it that men’s lives have been improved by feminism. To know your children better and to be a nurturing force in a vulnerable being’s life are gifts. With the loosening of gender roles, I also think it is easier for gay men to be parents together.

Civil rights and social movements are often met with resistance, the resistance that to give up a privilege is an absolute loss. That there is nothing to be gained through change. There is a lack of acceptance.

Loss, perceived or actual, is often a sticking point. It is a place where we hesitate, trip, or in some cases, fall into a deep pit, for which climbing out is virtually impossible.

Honestly, sometimes we want to stay in the pit even if climbing out is a possibility. We struggle. We suffer. We want to be heard, seen, and felt. At other times, we deny that we are in a pit. “What, this isn’t a pit? Everything is fine.” This is another kind of nonacceptance, and it too causes suffering. Denying and suppressing loss and the grief that comes with it, is a short term solution with painful consequences. In the world of cancer and other griefs, I see this acutely.

In the world of cancer and other griefs, I see this acutely. It can be so difficult to find balance. It is so difficult to find the time and space we need to grieve our own losses and come to some kind of peaceful place with them. On top of that, there is no final destination. Grief is an iterative process, one that we must come back to over and over. This is why we can get on with life and yet not ever “be over” a significant loss in our lives.

This weekend, I have been feeling anxious. I had awful nightmares last night. I feel justifiably underappreciated by my family. However, the way my impatience has played out in my behavior is a way that increases my suffering as well as that of my family.

I came back to my well-spring. I did a sitting meditation and I am sitting her with my own thoughts and feelings, writing this post. I can feel myself letting go of hurt and anxiety. I am not quite solidly balanced, but I am getting there. I am nurturing myself and it is radiating within. When I leave this office and rejoin my family, I am hoping to radiate compassion toward them, as well.

The Winter Solstice was three days ago. It has been so dark, which is to be expected at this latitude but it has also been persistently gray and rainy for weeks. Yes, there have been a couple of clearings in the sky, “sun breaks”, as they are called in these parts, but it has been pretty gray around here. Oh yeah, it has also been pretty windy, too windy for me to carry an umbrella during my last few walks.

As unpleasant as the weather has been, we eagerly anticipated the Solstice. This is the day when the pit of darkness finds its deepest point. On the 23rd, I took another walk. It seemed that I could actually tell that there was one more minute of morning light we had gotten. I knew that we’d get an additional minute on the end of the day.

Two minutes. Two more minutes of sunlight. I thought about it as I walked in the rain and wind. I thought about it even as the rain soaked my gloves and my hands grew cold.

Two minutes of light is noticeable.

Two minutes is meaningful.

I fixed my gratitude on those two minutes.

Thinking of this, I took another two minutes to do a visual mindfulness exercise. I turned my head to the left and looked at the plants and rocks that ran along the sidewalk. Turning away was a natural thing to do as during these moments, a rainy wind was pelting me in the face. I saw some interesting patterns and lovely colors.

In between these mindful minutes, I had a few thoughts of, “Wow, it is nasty out.” But those thoughts did not last long. I just returned to walking.

I got where I wanted to go. I found meaning. I found beauty. A couple of minutes at a time.

There are times in my life when those moments and small bits of time, the time that is not awful, provide a glimpse into a fuller reality. I find them anchoring.

Today I had more than minutes of not awful. Today I had a lovely Christmas with my family.

Ivy enjoying an extra minute of morning light. 12/23/15

Ivy enjoying an extra minute of morning light. 12/23/15

I am more comfortable giving than receiving emotional support. Nonetheless, I have found my self being “a friend in need” more than not recently. I have also been working a lot, trying to keep my head down, and keeping myself busy. It worked to a certain extent then it didn’t.

I had also planned a busy summer with lots of fun activities, spending time with friends, spending time with family, and spending time in nature. I was very much looking forward to spending three days with friends from out of town. I knew that it would be fun, they would have fun, and there would be some light and easy times.

And then it happened. I lost track of myself, my fatigue, and my anxiety. The beginning of the visit was marked by my anxiety and the bags under my eyes. I wasn’t fooling anyone. I was tired. I have slept solidly through the night once in the last two months and sometimes I am awake for a number of hours. Not sleeping well takes a major toll on me. I took on more than I could handle comfortably and then life gave me much much more. And I didn’t ask for enough help and when I didn’t do it in the way that solicits a whole lot of empathy.

Lo and behold, after a brief but intense temper tantrum, I got my shit together and focused on having a break from my daily grind, spending time with dear friends and with my husband. I had a wonderful three days. I went to mountains and islands. We talked and laughed. The tight worry in my chest and the cotton in my brain eased. I remembered what it is like to have relaxed joy.

Then I came back to my regularly scheduled program of life. I immediately picked up on the stress and anxiety in my household. Initially, I felt disappointment that I was getting wound up again so quickly. Then I remembered that I have skills. I have things to try. I started using paced breathing, a technique to strong emotions quickly. It worked. Today, I am feeling the anxiety again. And now I am writing, another strategy that helps. My heart is slowing and I am finding myself more and more in the present moment as I type these words.

I am a friend in need and I got the support I needed from both other people and from my own internal resources.

Today, I am grateful for my family.

Today, I am grateful for my friends.

Today, I am grateful for nature.

Today, I am grateful for my tenacity.

 

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It is National Siblings Day so I am reposting this one from November 2012 about my younger brother and me.

I have mentioned perhaps one or six hundred times that I have five brothers. One of my older brothers’ favorite “games” was pig pile. This involved announcing a victim and then having five siblings tackle and pile atop this person. For example the exclamation, “Pig pile on Liz!” was followed by my being tackled and piled on by five brothers, the oldest of whom was nearly 10 years my senior.

Pig piles seemed to be exclaimed on a very frequent basis and as the only girl of six children and the second to youngest it seemed that I was more often than not, the vortex to which the pile was attracted. A Bermuda Triangle of porcine piling, if you will. As the “baby” of the family, my brother James also spent a fair amount of time face planted on the living room floor beneath four sets of sprawling limbs shod in Converse low tops of various sizes.

Although our older brothers would admit to the pig piling, they would disagree with the metaphorical implications. They believed James and me to be spoiled. We avoided the horrors of ruler wielding nuns, whereas they all attended St. Anthony’s School, for example. Our family also had a little more money when I was growing up, not a lot more but just enough to fuel the “you’re spoiled” flames. I maintain that whatever advantages we may have had were more than offset by their mean older brother shenanigans.

James and I are only 18 months apart in age. Our next oldest sibling, John is 3 ½ years older than me and 3 ½ years younger than our next oldest brother, Mike. John was kind of caught between the “big boys” and the “little kids” of the family.

James and I spent a lot of time together. We played together a lot. We mostly got along very well though we could sometimes fight verbally and physically at which time my mom would yell, “I don’t care who started it. I’m finishing it. Go to your respective rooms!”

We played a combination of traditional boy and girl activities. We played with cars, trucks, and climbed trees. We designed obstacle courses in the yard and spent hours upon hours in the woods surrounding our house and neighborhood. We did not, however, play with Barbies or baby dolls. Remember, this was the late 60’s and early 70’s. My mom made us each two sets of Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls as well as a bunch of stuffed elephants. Due to her combination of genius and industry, we were able to play dramatic reenactments of family life with more socially acceptable dolls.

James was not really interested in formal music training, but he has an incredible ear and natural musical ability. He is also extremely funny. By the time I got to high school, I was pretty serious in my classical flute playing. He had a plastic slide whistle and would frequently copy whatever piece I was practicing in my room, complete with vibrato and when era appropriate, Baroque runs. When it wasn’t infuriating, it was hilarious.

These days my brother plays more music than me; he taught himself drums and plays with his 17 year-old son’s band. The only music we make together is the occasional game of Rock Band. The thread that carries over the years is that fact that my brother can always, I mean always, make me laugh.

He reminded me of this last Friday. James attended the requiem mass at St. James. I was kind of surprised to see him there since it was a pretty long drive for him and I think he hates to drive even more than I do. We got there an hour early to get a seat. During the time before the mass started, he was cracking me up and my laugh was echoing throughout the cathedral. When we were kids, due to different church rules, we were not allowed to talk before or obviously during mass. So with this as a back drop, his jokes have always been extra hilarious. I’d laugh, he’d say, “Now if any other family is coming tonight, they will be able to find us.” Then I laughed harder than before. Then he started singing family gossip in his version of Gregorian chant. I lost it again. Now here’s the thing about my brother. His antics are not particularly loud. He is actually a fairly introverted person whereas I am loud and gregarious. I believe he very much likes to set me up and watch the loud fireworks of my laughter, knowing that he is the one who lit the fuse.

James and I were successful for decades after our childhood in avoiding the bottom of the pig pile. Then I found out I had breast cancer and it wasn’t my older brothers that piled on top of me, it was the world in which I thought I had lived, that dissolved and crashed down on me. During the acute stage of my breast cancer treatment, there were many ongoing assessments and constant revisions of my treatment plan. When I was recuperating from surgery and bored, meaning prime time for worries to creep in, I called him, “James, I am bored. Tell me something funny.” And he did. And when I was anxious about waiting for the results of oncotype testing, which would determine whether my oncologist would recommend chemotherapy or not, I called my brother, “James, I have 20 minutes until I need to leave for my appointment. Can you tell me funny things and distract me?” And he did.

James does not show affection in traditional ways. I remember once, about ten years ago, his closing a telephone conversation by saying, “It was nice talking to you, Liz.” That was a major outpouring of verbal affection. But I know my brother loves me, thinks about me, and keeps the warmest wishes for my health. And he shows his love to me most consistently by making me laugh about today, laugh about cancer, and laugh about the things we did and experienced as kids.

For these things I will be ever grateful. James, you joined me at the bottom of the cancer pig pile.  I can’t thank you enough for doing that. If you didn’t realize it before, please realize it now that you have helped me tremendously. Thank you for making me laugh at some of my lowest and scariest times. I love you a lot and I know you return that even when it may come in the guise of slide whistled Mozart.

James must have been about 1 1/2 years old to my three years. It looks like we were having much fun in a rare Seattle-area snow.

James must have been about 1 1/2 years old to my three years. It looks like we were having much fun in a rare Seattle-area snow.

During one of my recent mind adventures, my memory took me back to the old 1960’s television show, The Flying Nun. It starred Sally Field as Sister Bertrille and took place at a convent on Puerto Rico. Due to her small size, the frequent winds, and her cornette (a particular style of nun hat), she could fly, hence the title of the show. After my mind took me to this show, my fingers took me to Wikipedia.

Sister Bertrille could be relied upon to solve any problem that came her way by her ability to catch a passing breeze and fly.

That sentence gave me a good chuckle and I thought, “How could the show’s writers sustain this premise?”

Plot 1: The convent eagerly awaits a visit from the Bishop. After an albatross makes off with the his miter, Sister Bertrille hitches a ride on a gust and saves the day by retrieving it.

Plot 2: Fire breaks out in the convent campanile. After accidentally breaking the tallest ladder in town, Sister Bertrille uses her flying power to reach the fire and put out the blaze.

Plot 3: A little girl’s kitten is stuck in a tree! The fire ladder is still broken. Sister Bertrille flies to the top and saves the day!

Plot 4: Run away kite!

See, not sustainable. Nonetheless, the series lasted two seasons. How did they do it? Also, how did her cornette stay on?

A fictional life needs substance to sustain itself. It can’t be utterly ridiculous.

A real life needs so much more.

Once upon a time, my blog was often humorous. Once upon a time, my blog was mostly about cancer. My blog has changed and my needs have evolved. My husband asked me yesterday, “Do you still think about cancer every day?” I told him, “yes” and I have thought about it every day since May 25th 2012. I mean this literally. Every day.

But thinking about cancer and being actively treated for cancer are different. I think back to what I needed to do during my active treatment and I can’t believe it. The extra work I had to cram into my schedule in order to take time off for surgeries, the number of surgeries, the telling people or not telling people about my health. The changing landscape of my body. The changing energy levels. The changing brain. The major unknowns about even the near future. One of the ways I dealt with the stress and fear with laughing at the ridiculousness of it. That is a coping strategy that is useful to me, it sustains me.

I think about sustainability and capacity a great deal. I want to be a healthy person. It is too easy for an active person such as myself to work too hard and to get my life out of balance.

But sometimes we just have to work really hard. Cancer treatment is one of those times. One of the hardest thing about this time as well as during other unpredictable and serious stressors in my life is that I don’t know how long I will have to work super hard in crisis mode. In the past, I used to tell myself that I would slow down once the stressor passed, for example, once I finished my Ph.D., once I got my career settled, once my daughter was older, once we bought a house, etc.

Those stressors never stop. Life is hard and complicated. Fortunately, I appear to be in good physical health and my mental health is strong. I have a safe place to live, a loving family, lots of friends, and a wonderful job. But it is easy to get caught up in moving too fast, worrying too much, and creating needless suffering for myself even in a life that in most respects is an embarrassment of riches.

As I’ve mentioned recently, right now I am focusing on having more fun with my husband. We do something, just the two of us, at least a couple of times a week. We went on a trip. We went to grown up prom. I have also started having more fun with my daughter. I think that the fact that I am more relaxed has had some positive impact on her among other things. Just last weekend she told me, ‘Mom, have you noticed that I am out of my “I hate my mom” teen phase?’ I have learned to accept these lavish gifts with understatement. “Hmm, I guess yes, I’ve noticed. Why do you think that is?” She replied, “I don’t know. I guess I just got older.”

I take these beautiful moments for what they are, moments. And they seem to be threading together into increased maturity. But her growth is not linear; it has peaks and valleys and plateaus. All of our lives are like this, even the most stable of us because there are so many aspects of life that are out of our control.

My family life is still full of unknowns. My husband and I still deal with major stressors and challenges both within our immediate family and in our extended family. We are part of what is called “the sandwich generation“. Sometimes I feel like we are the PB&J left on the bottom of a backpack for a week that ended up getting run over by the school bus.

Nonetheless, we are making time for fun. We have trips or fun visits planned for every month from May and September. My passport is being renewed as we speak. We will see two coasts, mountains, and two states. We’ll travel by planes, trains, and automobiles. We’ll be surrounded by friends, by cities, and by nature. And yes, friends, there will be photos, lots of them.

I am discovering that  I need to make time for peace and enjoyment. One of the least sustainable premises in real life is waiting for life to get easier.

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My Wednesday “learning to keep my shit together” class reconvened this week after a holiday break. The topic for the evening was acceptance, a mindfulness practice. The purpose of mindfulness is to reduce suffering. Acceptance is one process by which suffering is reduced.

I am working very hard to accept some hard truths about my life, some about my present and some potential truths in my future. These are truths about my life as an individual, as a wife, and as a parent.  As I was thinking about this, one of the instructors wrote two equations on the white board:

Pain + acceptance = pain

Pain + non-acceptance = suffering

I think of pain and suffering as synonymous.  But this is not a dictionary course or a vocabulary test. And I have to admit that “suffering” sounds worse than “pain”. Suffering sounds like pain with a large side dish of something nasty. Perhaps the space between pain and suffering, within this framework, is filled with a roil of self-inflicted things. Another way to say this is that suffering may result from coping with pain in a way that enhances it and perhaps makes it last for a longer time. Everyone does this from time to time.

There are “hot button” issues for me. There are experiences that I have for which I have an immediate, negative response. They push a fear button, an anger button, or a grief button. And as I am having the response, I often know that it is out of scale. I have gotten upset too quickly and too intensely. There are also times when I feel stress in the back of my mind and it wakes me at night or invades my dreams. I think these are examples of suffering.

Acceptance is a process, a continuum. I am trying to work my way. So far I am learning that there is a cognitive part. In order to accept something I need to acknowledge it. I need to name it. I need to reason with it. That is what I have mostly been working on for the past couple of years. The acceptance that takes place in my mind. On Wednesday, our homework was to think about what acceptance would look like for each of us as behaviors. If we accepted the aspect of life with which we were struggling and suffering, how would our behavior be different?

Changing my behavior, making it consistent with acceptance, is really hard. I have been making a concerted effort on this for the past month or so. I have seen changes. I have experienced shifts to a more positive place. My anger and fear are reduced. My pain and sadness are still there but the suffering is getting less.

 

On this day in 1954, my parents got married. Congratulations, Mom and Dad!

My mom recently suggested that my blogging so frequently about how stressful my life is, might be adding to the stress in my life.

So, Mom and Dad, for your anniversary, I will be a font of positive communication until tomorrow, at which time, we will be back to our regularly scheduled program of life, with its ups and downs. And I will be writing about both.

I also promise to post photos of pies on Facebook. That always makes everyone happy, including me.

Seriously, I love you, Mom and Dad! Happy Anniversary!

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This is a re-post from 9/20/13, which I wrote (and sang) as a gift for my mom’s birthday. Mom has been fretting about me a bit because I’ve been writing about worry and stress. She is asking me what she can do to help. I am reposting this 1) to remind her that I know that I am resilient even if my life is complicated at this time and 2) to remind her that she has already and continues to do so much for me, just by being herself.

 

Martha MacKenzie is my wonderful mom. And today is her birthday. In addition to being a mother of six and a wife for nearly 59 years, my mom is a singer. She has a glorious voice. Mom has almost no formal vocal training but comes from a family of musicians, especially singers. Her singing style can best be described as sacred classical. In other words, she is a church singer. Mom has been singing in church choir since she was six years old. Her oldest sister, Gloria, sang for KIRO radio’s Uncle Frank’s Kiddie’s Hour for a number of years, until she was about 12. Mom and her middle sister auditioned for and were accepted into the children’s choir for an opera production in Seattle, starring Metropolitan Opera’s Rise Stevens. Mom still remembers what she was asked to sing for the audition.

Mom  was SMART and graduated from high school at age 16, after which she took a music performance class, along with her older sister, Barbara at Seattle University. We have recordings from those times of my mom’s clear soprano and my aunt’s animated mezzo-soprano singing songs from 1950’s musicals. Shortly after, Barbara moved to New York City to try to make it on Broadway. She was an amazing performer but like many talented performers did not make it in the Big Apple. During the Koren war, Mom was in a singing trio with Barbara and their cousin, Betty. They wore glamorous dresses and pulled off those unbelievably dark lip stick shades that were popular in the early 50’s, while performing for the USO.

Mom continued to sing in church choirs all of this time through marriage, rearing six children, and throughout my father’s post-retirement years. She is a member of the St. James’ Cathedral Choir in Seattle. It is a wonderful choir, which has toured Europe singing at noted cathedrals such as Notre Dame in France. They also sang at the Vatican and had an audience with Pope Benedict. My mom likes to tell us how she was trying to hike up the waistband of her support hose just as Pope Benedict walked by.

Wow, Elizabeth your mom sounds great. And you’ve talked about being a musician in your youth. You must have sung. You must have sung for your mother.

Well, it’s complicated. I was in band but did belong to the choir during 7th grade. Our claim to fame was performing, “The Sound of Music” during a middle school JAZZ competition. And no, it wasn’t a jazzy rendition of the song. I don’t know what that teacher was thinking. Then I stopped singing except for a few months during college when my mom convinced me to come to St. James to rehearse for a special community choir mass. (Regular choir members must audition. Soloists are professional opera singers.) I remember singing “A Mighty Fortress” and learning a piece based on Psalm 84 (“Yeah the sparrow hath found a house…”). I learned how to articulate words differently for singing than for speaking. It was a lot of work but was really fun.

So I did a little singing in groups. But NEVER alone in front of people. (Okay, one time five years ago I sang “Goody Goody” for my neighbors Jim and Deana. I’m not sure why I did it.) Not even for my mom except for a few bars of something and even then that was when I was much older, like 35 years old. People, singing in front of people is even more mortifying to me than wearing a swim suit in public! Zoe is the only one I have ever sung to and I sang to her a lot when she was little. I would sing with her now except that she only likes to sing alone. (Annoying teen.)

My mom used to sneak next to the bathroom door to try to hear me sing in the shower. (Watch the comments section, she will deny it!) If we were in church together and standing next to each other, she would sing really quietly so that she could listen to ME. I knew that it was really important to my mom to hear me sing but it was so hard for me to do this and I’m not sure why. She wanted to know if I had “a voice”. I performed frequently as a flutist, despite my nerves, and even performed in two master classes. (A master class is when some well-known musician comes to town and students are selected to get a lesson by that person in front of an audience of a bunch of students and music teachers. I did it twice as a college student.)

My singing anxiety does not just apply to my mom. Objectively, I have a pleasant, untrained alto voice with limited range. I think I could have been an excellent singer if I had trained to do so as I had with the flute. Perhaps the difficulties started as a combination of my perfectionism and the fact that my mom’s eagerness stressed me out a bit. And then as irrational anxieties do, it gathered its own steam from my continued avoidance, and took on a life of its own.

Last July, I wrote about the co-existence of grief and joy as being part of resilience in the post, How Can I Keep from Singing? The post title is the name of one of my favorite Christian hymns. I included the lyrics in the post followed by a little message to my mom asking her to record the hymn so I could post it on this blog. She offered me the deal that she would record it if I sang WITH her. I replied to her comments with a “definite maybe” type reply. I don’t think she ever saw that reply because she hasn’t mentioned the topic even once in the last almost two months. Or perhaps she has been playing it REALLY COOL.

I subsequently decided that I wanted to record the song both for my mom and for myself, to face my fear of public singing. Unlike going on loop de loop roller coasters, I actually enjoy singing quite a bit. It’s the only kind of music I still make. My original vision was for my mom, Zoe, and I to sing one verse apiece and the last verse together. However, Zoe was not at all interested in participating at the time I asked. My mom kept going camping with my dad all summer. I ended up not talking to her about it.

I decided to go solo and a cappella. Actually, a cappella is my favorite for this hymn. Plus, I don’t play piano and ukulele accompaniment by Zoe would probably not sound right.To me, the hymn sounds a little Irish. However, it is American and although there is a somewhat complicated history behind it, the authorship for the music is attributed to a Baptist minister, Robert Wadsworth Lowry. There are a number of different versions of the lyrics. I chose the one that was closest to the one I’ve sung in church many times as a member of the congregation.

I started practicing the song on and off about three weeks ago. Then I had to figure out how to audio record myself. (No way would I have a videotape made. This audio recording is a big enough step as it is.) I finally decided, as time was passing quickly, that I just needed to get it done. So I downloaded a free recording app onto my smartphone and started recording myself. I spent enough time on it to give myself a few tries but not so many as to activate my perfectionism.

Happy Birthday, Mom! Here is a song for you. I am posting it on my blog as my kind of “performance” so you can have a cyber stage mother experience.

How Can I Keep from Singing?

My life goes on in endless song
above earth’s lamentations,
I hear the real, though far-off hymn
that hails a new creation.

Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear it’s music ringing,
It sounds an echo in my soul.
How can I keep from singing?

Oh though the tempest loudly roars,
I hear the truth, it liveth.
Oh though the darkness ’round me close,
songs in the night it giveth.

No storm can shake my inmost calm,
while to that rock I’m clinging.
Since love is lord of heaven and earth
how can I keep from singing?

When tyrants tremble sick with fear
and hear their death knell ringing,
when friends rejoice both far and near
how can I keep from singing?

No storm can shake my inmost calm,
while to that rock I’m clinging.
Since love is lord of heaven and earth
how can I keep from singing?

Summer is the driest season in Seattle. With the long days and rarity of extreme heat, it is absolutely glorious. I love the summers here. It is also the time of year when I take vacation and when my daughter does not have the stress of school.

This year, the summer seemed longer because I took two short vacations in October. One in Seattle where I acted as tour guide for a friend and the second, a trip to North Carolina from which I returned just a few days ago.

While I was gone, the rains returned in a very big way. It was raining before but we had a major wind and rain storm while I was gone. Our power went out and after trying to fix our land line phone, which I assumed was not working because it was off the hook, I have discovered that it has been out of order for the past week and no one noticed! (Note to friends: It is always better to call my cell, anyway. Note to telemarketers: Bwahahahaha!)

The weather in North Carolina was delightful. The company and sights were rejuvenating. I visited many more different people and places than I typically do on a trip. Part of this was because I had a lot of people to see and I needed to work around their availability. (I actually used a scheduling application to get everyone’s availability so that I could more easily determine the best times to see different people.) I was worried that I would tire myself out traveling, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been. I had a wonderful time. And then I came back to Seattle to inclement weather, inside of my house.

I am consistently aware that my family life is stressful. I often forget how very stressful it can get, how much energy daily living can take. And after being welcomed with a drizzle in my house, by the next day there was a storm with ebbs and flows. And although I am still mopping up the extra water and wringing out my clothes, we may have narrowly missed a tsunami last night.

One f the lessons I have learned from walking outside year around is that most bad weather is scarier from the inside of the house. It looks threatening. The rain looks grim and relentless. And just like the summer seems likes it will never end, the shortening fall days can be so disheartening.

Yesterday, I relearned the lesson of the weather. It rained constantly for a good portion of the day. I did not want to walk in it. I looked outside and thought, “How depressing. Bleh.” But I have been off of my exercise routine with plane travel and getting caught up at work so I suited up and ventured outside with an umbrella in my rain coat pocket.

I walked outside. Yes, it was raining but I immediately felt better. There was fresh air. I was moving. There were trees, grass, and flowers. The rain actually made some things look better. The leaves were glossy. There were beautiful water droplets creating light effects and textures on the plants.

I typically feel so much less vulnerable when I put myself into the situation that I am trying to avoid because I fear it. By putting myself in the situation, I can be mindful of it because I can experience it fully. I can see, hear, feel, and taste things that I can’t from within my own home, standing still, looking at the window and feeling stuck, like I belong no where.

I have to be honest. It was hard to come back home after a trip of fun and little responsibility. It is tempting to avoid bad weather, real or threatened. Life brings change, some good, some bad. Walking in the rain is not an appealing notion to most, especially when the seasons are bringing us to cold and dark times.

But when I walk into the rain, my family is there. With them is where my life is and where I want to be.

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Heart Sisters

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George Lakoff

George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (cnms.berkeley.edu).

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