Where we live, September 22 is a placeholder. An astronomically inspired bit of mathematics that has been used to define the turn of the season, and for our purposes here the first day of Autumn since the time of Julius Caesar. While September 22 is technically the first day of Autumn, at our house, we reserve the right to proclaim Autumn’s arrival based on temperature and/or the first turning of leaves. Every season has its splendor, but in my mind, Autumn offers the most effusive display of change in the world. Many Autumns I’ve been fortunate to see, and each year I find the magic of this turning in the world breathtaking.
A peculiar mix of warm color, cold air, brilliance across the landscape and the coming of darkness adorn this time with an intoxicating sense of denouement. So much has happened across the present year that will soon be relegated to memory. The garden falls to slumber and things once so bright green and forthcoming with sustenance find their way into withered repose. The canopy that shrouds our humble home dons regiment fit for royalty on high holiday. The heavy clothing that had long ago been stowed away at the last breath of spring again finds purpose as the morning dew turns to frost; the warm days trading their humid gravity for chilling wind.
During these days of true Autumn on the dark early mornings in our household, Vince Guaraldi can be heard playing Peanuts jazz from “Linus and Lucy” to the “Great Pumpkin Waltz,” the soundtrack to the season. The boys and I dance, and laugh, and remember all the Falls we’ve lived in the past; leaf pile diving, pumpkin carving parties, Halloweens, and Thanksgivings that this breathtaking season has afforded us. The end of daylight savings, soon upon us, will bring a new brightness, but no respite from the biting chill of these Fall mornings. Somehow this precursor to Winter has become our most memory-laden season; both beautiful and heart-wrenching in that time moves so quickly, and so beautifully. We have only so many Autumns left to relish.
Harvest time, the work is to be done, but the rest and reflection are soon to follow. It is a time for the celebration of another year lived and hopefully made the most of. May your Autumn as our’s be full of friendship and family, bountiful harvest, appreciation, and gratitude for the sheer miracle of our ability to know we are alive here and now surrounded by the spectacular transformation that is Autumn.
Parents! If you’re lucky enough to still have them around, excellent! If they can on occasion be challenging, that’s not uncommon; look who’s talking. If you think they did a less than perfect job of playing god to you and your siblings if you have the pleasure of sisters or brothers, you’re possibly right…they’re only human for fuck’s sake.
For the longest time, I held my parents responsible for crimes against humanity.Humanity, consisting primarily of me.Not everyone is so fortunate to experience the “victim/narcissist” posture that I somehow adopted at an early age, but some of you may be able to identify what I’m talking about.Ugh, so embarrassing!Anyway, my folks were young when they got into the kid-having business, and they set out to do their best, whatever that means.
We all do our best right?No, we don’t all do our best, a topic for another time.However, if we do our best, well done us!That, in my opinion, is how we give ourselves the best odds at getting through this monkey parade in one piece.To my youthful affronted mind though “my parents best” was less than acceptable.Precious snowflake boy? Or perhaps, ungrateful asshole? You decide.
These days I am a parent.Actually, I’m on the downhill side of the child-rearing experience with two healthy, happy-ish teenage sons.I love my role and have learned a great deal about what my parents must have faced during their “adventure in child rearing.”Unfortunately, like my parents, I found that my wedding vows could not withstand the weight of the union itself.Thus, I’m deunionised, or as we say in the vernacular “divorced.”I’m a single parent 182.5 days a year; the best 182.5 days of any given year I might add.Raising kids is like most experiences I’ve encountered.Attitude is everything!
Being married is work, work that unfortunately does not always bring to bear the fruit of one’s labor.Circumstances as they turned out to be I’ve come to realize that I have not always been the best reader of the more subtle aspects of certain human personalities.I do believe that I hear and see people clearly when ‘they speak their truth’ and glean the essence of who they are, perhaps more so than they themselves at times.Ego talk? Probably. Though if my relationships with my sons, friends, colleagues, etc. are any indication, and if I’m not wholly deluding myself, it’s possibly true.Still, I have a lot to learn yet about how to be my best.As for my misread on the choice of life partners?Romance seems to be my kryptonite, also a topic for another post.
I bring up marriage only because the majority of parenting is done, or at least initially undertaken in that construct.All of the great, and not so great parts of a marriage inform the parenting of the children in a family.What relational skills do we unwittingly gift our progeny as they bear witness to our matrimonial dance?Could we have done better? Certainly.The adage about living in a glass house while hoisting stones comes to mind again and again.No blaming or finger pointing here.
Back to my parents. They worked hard, or at least my pops did. On top of that burden, they had to figure out how to raise kids; manual not included. Dad provided us (sisters not pictured above because they were still a twinkle in the old man’s eye when the shutter snapped) with way more than anyone had a right to expect. To put it mildly, we never wanted for the basics. Dad delivered grand family vacations, money for college, and bailed us out when our youthful dances included gross missteps. My father was extremely driven and excelled in a high-stress profession his entire life. The intensity must have been nearly unbearable. Reflecting on his situation as an adult, I can’t imagine how he handled the pressure. No wonder things weren’t always Lavender bouquets and yoga mats around the house.
My father and I are different people, to put it mildly, with decidedly different relational needs. We didn’t see eye to eye on much during my childhood. It’s no one’s fault, just how that particular cookie crumbled. In school, work or social life situations, one can choose to step away from relationships of that nature, but in the confines of the family structure, we just have to make the best of the hand as it is dealt. We didn’t get to choose each other or browse the “Family Relationship” version of Match.com before we committed to a life together. So it goes.
In my twenties, I moved away from my hometown. I left with the hope of escaping my stuckness, neighborhoods with six homes to an acre, traffic, and my roadblocked relationship with my family.With all my possessions in a subcompact car, I journeyed across the country in search of the life I’d always felt I was meant to live.“Wherever you go, there you are” notwithstanding it ultimately worked.My life and my sons’ lives are good, whole, full of love, mutual respect, and acceptance.Phew!
By moving away, and thereby breaking the cycle, I was able to discover that a new relationship with myself and my parents was attainable through the grace afforded by distance.Distance allows perspective.Perspective provides the chance for healing.Healing allows courage to blossom.Courage creates the possibility of change.Change creates the opportunity for forgiveness.Forgiveness is a universal gift.
Becoming a parent affords one an opportunity to experience the disruptive effect of ripples on the pond into which the Narcissus in all of us gaze.It offers a moment for those of us who have not yet discovered selflessness to awaken, and so be humbled.Parenthood provides the chance to accept, atone, forgive, and appreciate those whom we may formerly have held in some form of blame.
I love you, mom and dad!I now see clearly that you did the very best you could.Your hearts, not mine were in the right place, and for that, I am eternally grateful.
Sometimes things feel so spot on, so figured out. Other times things feel so fucked! Honesty is both beautiful and ugly, so here we go. Glass half full, glass half empty, glass whatever until shit hits the fan. You’ve had a bad day right? You’ve had some good ones too? I’ve had both and can unequivocally offer my opinion of the difference between them; I don’t dig the darkness. It’s easy for me to be up when I’m fortunate enough to awaken on the right side of the bed, if something truly wonderful has happened in my life, or if I have an audience to entertain. It’s also easy for me to find the shadows when the hall is empty, or the vicissitudes of fate choose a game of random misery.
Spirit, soul, perspective, blow with the wind when no one is looking. We’ve all likely found darkness shrouding our path at some point. We’ve also probably been fortunate enough to know lightness. I experience both in a relatively favorable measure, but today it is the darkness that accompanies me as I make my way. Odd that a life I feel to be so fortunate should seem so dismal at this moment. History tells me it will pass. And thank god! A funny expression emanating my lips “Thank god,” as I do not currently ascribe to conventional western religious doctrine. Still, I feel it, the meaning of “Thank god,” balls to bones because I have faith. Faith not in books, nor figureheads, but in “It!” The “It” that binds us all together in this life.
How are your dark days? Mine are daunting. Sometimes I feel fearful in my solitude. Afraid that I will fail those I love. Worried that I will fail me! Ha, shouldn’t I have included myself in the numbers of the former? How will I fail? By not showing up, not delivering the promise of optimism and perseverance to which I have committed?
Depression is the antichrist to hopeful endeavor, and some days when I feel it’s weight bearing down on me I find no solace, no sense of possibility for escape. For context, I do not suffer from the type of debilitating depression that some struggle with. Fortune smiles on my brain chemistry in that regard. I am talking about run of the mill, “get over yourself” feelings of depression. The emotional state one simply has to face, and vanquish.
It is to a great extent the way in our culture to have ears only for, “Fine” or “Great thanks,” in response to the question, “How are you?” Who has time for the real answer right? To avoid pariah status, when I find my soul cloaked in crushing darkness I lie, “Doing well, thanks. You?” Perhaps being born in the United States where the concept of “Rugged Individualism” is a historical cornerstone, this automatic response is coded into my DNA. Though from what I’ve read, Rugged Individualism is a walk in the park relative to the DNA encoding that the English have saddled themselves with! Interestingly, my genealogy leads in no small way to that tight-lipped isle of rain-soaked woe. Not super surprising that an occasional down day should find me.
Today I listened to a Tim Ferris Show podcast featuring the renowned psychologist Jack Kornfield. Jack’s career began in the jungles of Thailand where in his twenties while serving with the peace corp he decided to become a Buddhist monk. As he explained, it was a painful but enlightening (pun intended) journey that lead him to new perspectives on self, self-hatred, and self-love, compassion, and empathy. I bring this up because his words struck me hard. Hard as in repeated blows of a mighty love hammer. Multiple times while listening I spontaneously began to weep. Something in his message hit trigger points over and over again. This experience crescendoed during his closing comments which left me clutching my heart, crying full voice on the futon in the family room. Futon? What am I, a college student? Whatever!
Jack’s wisdom and his message of loving-kindness (insert “snowflake quip here) touched me deeply. It afforded me a window through which I saw metaphorical rays of sunlight. The darkness that had enveloped me for the last few days seemed to cower and then diminish. Tim’s conversation with Jack somehow pierced the black veil of my personal manifestation of Rugged Individualism. It reminded me that we are not, or do not have to choose to remain alone in our struggles. Jack’s words reasserted the possibility of choosing to breach the norm of, “I’m fine.” The chance to reach for connection, and more importantly offer connection, with compassion to those we find wrapped in the solitary binds of darkness.
If you struggle alone with your demons, you can share that burden. You have options. Check out Jack’s thoughts on the subject via the link provided below. Write a comment. Please share your story. Together we are strong enough to shed light on the darkness. Together we can create brilliance!
What would I do if I learned that today was my last day on earth? Hmmm, if we asked a random group of people that question we’ed get a spectrum of answers. Would the spectrum be narrow, the answers similar, or would they be divergent, deeply personal and unlikely to overlap? Some might say; “I’d want to be with my family.” Others might choose to find a pound of cocaine and dance naked in a rainstorm of hookers. Might some go skydiving? Or Google the one love that got away and purchase a plane ticket, or find a church and pray until their tongue cramped? Perhaps some would hide in bed, crying away their last hours.
I imagine the answers might share some commonalities if the interviewees found themselves in a similar place on the arcs of their lives. If not, the answers could be strewn all over the mental universe. I, for example, am a parent, and so would hope that some part of that ‘last day’ could be spent with the children whom I love and cherish more than anything in this world. What if that weren’t possible. What if I learned at 6am that my life would end at midnight and both of my sons were nowhere to be found? Maybe they’d be hiking some distant mountain range, or off on a hitchhiking adventure across Canada…whatever. The point here being, the desired spend of my last few hours would not be attainable. Were that the case I would have to find another way to make the most of my last hours as an earthling. I could spend my last day lamenting this misfortune, or? What would you do?
Perhaps there’s a better question to ask. Maybe we’ed be better served by taking a less conventional approach, asking a different question than “What would I do if it was my last day on earth?” The query, “what I’d do” is powerful, yet impractical. If I’m asking to learn anything other than how I’d choose to use a minuscule number of hours that, statistically speaking, I’m unlikely to be presented with, it has little value. This is because the probability of finding ourselves in such a situation is infinitesimally low.
Having a plan is excellent. Carrying jumper cables in the trunk for example, or hiding a key to the front door under a rock in the yard are precautions likely to at some point take center stage under the “usefulness spotlight.” These are premeditated solutions to scenarios we are likely to face. I was not a Boy Scout, but I have borrowed, and benefitted from the Boy Scout motto, “Be prepared.”
It dawned on me today while out mountain biking in the color-rich Autumn woods, that I’d be better served if I knew the answer not to “What would I do if this was my last day on earth,” But HOW I would do it! How would I approach it…living my last day? What attitude would I take? The “how“ can be controlled, focused, owned. The “what” cannot. Perhaps you’ve already been down this philosophical road. For me, it’s a new perspective. I hadn’t spent time comparing the value of the endless passing days of my long-ass life to the single day that I knew would be my last. “How” would I approach it? Suddenly I felt in complete control of my last day on earth! That, I could choose without the need for permission or the hope of right timing.
In my case pondering this ‘How’ made the lingering color of the late Autumn woods brighter to my eye. The definition of things sharpened. If I knew this was my last look at the majesty of life, I would look closer, deeper. This perspective caused my energy to swell dramatically. I took the jumps higher, the hills faster. The strength, love, the gratitude within me grew noticeably, all because of a thought. I dare say I had a bit of a Grinch-like moment of realization, and everything in the world was better, more meaningful and more of a gift than it had been in the moments before.
The expression “live every day as though it were you last” therefore may be commonly misconstrued, or at least in my case misapplied. It tends to call up the ‘What’ when in fact it’s the ‘How to accept/approach it’ that may be the true gift hidden in that cat-poster quote. On any day leading up to my last the answer to the question “How” I would choose to live my last day on earth is a gift, a revelation, a tool that can be used to make every day more than it otherwise might have been. So Namaste friends, Nama-f’ing-ste.
Have thoughts on the subject? Please comment. Life is bigger and better with shared experience!
The wooden window frame creaks gently at the caress of the breeze. Dew drops tremble on the laden blades of grass running from the mailbox to the front steps. Sunglow shines at the edge of the world, kissing the brickwork of the sleepy cottage, built long ago for someone’s profit, filled this day mostly with love. In the kitchen, the faintest click signals the release of water, soon to be steam, then to become the rich black elixir that she loves with just a dash of cream.
As always the alarm is set but unneeded. Her long lashes flutter open to the glow of this new day. Most mornings her first thoughts are steeped in gratitude…for all of it. For her life, her child, her present moment, and still with some difficulty she embraces and acknowledges her gratitude for the past. Every day has lead to this moment, the aroma of coffee, the faint light filling the skylights, the peace that once seemed a phantom now seems a life.
“Yes, my darling one.”
“Can I have some coffee?” Her son Jonah asks.
“Certainly, but no sugar please.”
“Joey, have you noticed what an amazing gift this morning is?”
“Yes mom, I said my gratitudes,” his words wander naturally down this well-worn path.
“Excellent! I love you!”
“Love you too.”
Three paintings hang on the wall, across the room from her king size bed. The painting on the left is of an intricately patterned caterpillar making its way across a birch branch in what looks to be late Summer. The next is of a delicate chrysalis suspended from a similar branch in the Fall. The painting on the right is of a magnificent butterfly taking wing in the Spring. So it goes that not every day has been this day, full of comfort, and love. But today, a few before, and many after will be very much like this one.
Discomfort, I’ve heard tell, is the price of admission to a meaningful life. Knowing the Butterfly Girl’s story, I believe that to be true.
Have thoughts on the subject? Please comment. Life is bigger and better with shared experience!