My Love Letter.

Wisdom is denied the young.  To that end, I often feel I am called to write, as a sage, in order that young people might hear, receive and understand.  It’s to them I dedicate today’s blog, “My Love Letter”, an earnest effort in teaching young, and old, how to keep, protect, and continually flame the fires of love.

As I watch smart phones, social media and modern mores, change the face of falling in love, I’m nostalgic for the old days.  The days before texted emoticons  replaced the art of love letters and breathless anticipation. Today, on the week of my 35th wedding anniversary, I write a love letter to young lovers seeking earnest guidance on the subject of love.  I’m qualified to do so because if I’m anything, I’m lucky in love.  Not by accident, but on purpose and by design.

I’ve worked hard to understand the intimate love that exists between two people.  Studied it intently.  Read countless books on relationships.  Sex manuals included.  Trust me here:  There’s a tremendous amount to learn from King James’ Proverbs 31, The Capable Wife, all the way to, and up through, The Mutli-Orgasmic Couple (one teaches you how to live outside the bedroom door, the other creates a world unto its own behind it, yum).

A willingness to study a broad spectrum of work regarding any subject, is never a bad thing.  But it’s especially useful when wanting to understand the subject of love.  And, if there’s adequate follow through on the best guidance learned, earned or received, the study will reap untold benefits.   So keep this in mind – from biblical advice to the most secular of instructions – all is fair in love.  I encourage you to crack the books.  Priceless stuff to be mined inside.

Never let your love for one another go stale.  You’ll thank me many times throughout your life for this sound guidance.  Keep the mystery and excitement alive.  Sex inside a great relationship never loses its magic.  It’s one of the many gifts of falling, being, and staying in love.  There are much worse things than building a solid foundation on fantastic sex.

Adding to the joy of being in love are movies.  I’ve two favorite genres:  Heroes and Love Stories, with the two often going hand-in-hand.  From Braveheart to The Last Samurai.  Stories that highlight and pay tribute to the best in us, should be mandatory requirements for enhancing love affairs.  My all-time favorite romantic movies are many.  I find they serve to make relationships, often weighed down by tedious day-to-day issues, easier to nurture, grow and take to extra-ordinary heights.  Movies offer a fresh perspective and often give wings to love (Google 100 best love stories and then make a point to watch them).

My personal favorites span decades.  From Gone With the Wind to Pride and Prejudice.  Groundhog Day (yes, Groundhog Day, an absolute favorite!) to Something’s Gotta Give.  All are filled with countless ideas for keeping love alive.  Never underestimate the power of good books and movies to build happy unions.  Make at least ten percent of your date nights, romantic movie nights.  And, despite what guys say, as long as their honey is snuggled in tight, they secretly love chick flicks.  I also recommend actually going to a theater once in a while instead of just utilizing the lazy man’s “Netflix and chill” approach.  Speaking from experience, big screen time adds to the anticipation of getting home.  And more than once, making it home was a Herculean feat we couldn’t quite accomplish.   Yes, I’m bragging.

And music.  My God, music.  Music is manna from heaven when it comes to fueling the fires of love.  It’s not so much the notes, but the spaces in between that leave us breathlessly wanting more.  There are songs for every aspect of love, from falling to building to coming to terms.  Be adventurous in music.  I happen to be an easy mark for anything from The American Song Book, the Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald era, but staying current has its upside, too.  All you need do is Google, “the best music for making hot passionate love” in order to spice up your roll in the bedroom.

There’s so much more to being in love than having a great sex life, but having a great sex life is certainly one of the best things to be found in long term relationships.  It’s worth talking about and nurturing and working hard to keep alive.  That said, here’s something else to think about.

For me, staying in love all these many years had more to do with having something to look forward to.  Rather than make a wish list of “things” I wanted, I consciously traded the receiving of gifts in exchange for adventures and memories.

My husband and I established our home in October, 1982.  We married in an ultra private ceremony, at sunset, in a quiet olive grove.  Our honeymoon spent on a private 40′ sailboat in the British Virgins.  Our first anniversary was celebrated at the same hotel as our wedding night, but was more exciting at our being overjoyed by my having serious morning sickness.  Our third anniversary was mostly spent talking about our baby girl (at home with her grandmother) as we sailed the Virgins, retracing our honeymoon.

I won’t bore you with continued details covering dozens of anniversaries, but know we’ve spent very few dollars on presents over the years.  Rather, we opted for experiences (in an effort to prepare this week’s blog, I surprised myself by being able to write down nearly every memorable way we’ve spent celebrating anniversaries!).  There are endless and unforgettable ways to build a love that lasts for decades.  Many of them are free.

Though the years have changed our outward appearance, and our age difference has diminished his physical drive, I’ve long since learned love is more than unquenchable passion.  For all the little (and really big) reasons in life, I remain tenderly committed to my husband.

If one was to ask me what brought us together, I’d have to say it was an intoxicatingly powerful mix of pure chemistry. The heart simply wants what the heart wants.  When we married I was 25 and he, 43. To me, he was so incredibly handsome. He made my heart race; I couldn’t keep my hands off him; and, as he’d lie sleeping next to me, tears of joy would slip down my cheeks at the mere thought of knowing he was mine.

As we work on our fourth decade together, a million memories have paved the way to here. Of all those life events, it seems the most difficult ones define us. They’re the ones that proved the strength of our love and our commitment to our vows.  We overcame huge losses and massive mistakes. We weathered blows to our collective hearts. He carried me when I didn’t think I could get through another day of sorrow. I’d have to say, in retrospect, those days were the best days of our lives. We were tested, and we made it through more in love than ever.

I have perspective when I say the joyful memories have outweighed the bad a thousand-to-one. The loving way he reaches for my hand; the way he walks on the outside of the sidewalk to protect me from harm; the way he tiptoes from our bedroom when I’m overly tired in the hope I’ll get a couple more hours of desperately needed sleep. The way he misses me when I step out of the room; the way he’s never complained about a single one of my trillion honey-do’s; the way he loves our daughter with an extraordinary tenderness that has never once wavered, not even for a moment.  This is the stuff of which real love letters are comprised.

So, my Darlings, though I’ve long ago given up on anniversary cards and flowers and gifts as a way to say, “I love you”, know this love letter was sent to you to help you understand what it takes to build a meaningful life with the one you love.  Trinkets, though often appreciated, are empty and inadequate ways to show love.  They are incapable of doing much more than memorializing  the true essence of long love affairs.

With mindfulness, and despite how the years will change your outward appearances, you will find your lover every bit as handsome, if not more gorgeous than the day you fell in love.  That you will go to sleep each night with a song of love for them in your heart and their name, forever sweet, upon your lips.  Undoubtedly, you will be forever grateful our God brought the two of you together.

Love changes us. It makes life worth living. Yesterday. Today. And for all our tomorrows.  If you’re really looking for love to last, best to skip childish emoticons and learn, daily, to write your best Love Letter.

 

(I do not have permission to use this music.)

Tender to the Touch.

In the last few weeks, close friends have suffered serious losses.  An aged parent’s death.  A best friend dying of cancer.  The last stages of personal  financial ruin.  All heavy.

From Puerto Rico to Las Vegas to our own backyard, seems no matter where we look, there’s more than enough suffering going around.   As I sit here, I am contemplating how I can help.  The stark reality is it’s pretty much the nature and cycle of life.  Not much I can say but, “Acknowledge the pain.  Apply proper pressure to the wound.  Move forward.”

Throughout history, there has never been a time where miseries and heartache didn’t exist.  We all have our good days and our bad – and the bad days are always the worst.  The reason they hurt more these days?  Social media and 24 hour Talking Heads.  The mediums have done a number on us by forcing us into a continuous negative loop.  We’re completely inundated with bad news, and we can only take so much stress before feeling a sense of hopelessness and despair.  This fixation with current events, has left many of us exceedingly tender to the touch.  Here’s guidance to help assuage the pain.

My mother recently moved in with me.  I love her dearly and couldn’t be happier.  Now 88 years beautiful, she has earned all my tenderness.  I bring her hot tea and a tiny bite of breakfast each morning.  When I walk into her room, she’s always praying  (Hmm.  Eighty-eight years averaging a thousand rosaries per year, makes for some serious devotion.  Hard to think its had nothing but a positive impact on our family.)   While I stand there making room on her night table, she always smiles up at me and acts as if I’ve brought her the best possible present and,  like clockwork, I hear, “Oh, Cindy, you don’t need to do this!  You are so good to me!  You are a good daughter!”  My answer is always the same, “No, Mom, I DO need to do this.  You are the best mom and you deserve all the love I can give.”

And, I mean every word.

My Mom.

Born the year of The Great Depression, she lived through WWII.  She was 12 when the Japanese arrived in the Philippines in 1941.  In great fear of her life, she spent her early teens hiding in the rice paddies with her parents and siblings.  Her father endured a brutal beating during the occupation, one which would ultimately be the death of him.   Memories of her father?  Far, too tender to the touch.

She witnessed the Bataan Death March as it passed by the front gates of Clark Air Force Base.  Eighty-thousand Filipino and American soldiers of which there were “5,000 to 18,000 Filipino deaths and 500 to 650 American deaths during the march. The march, characterized by severe physical abuse and wanton killings, was later judged by an Allied military commission to be a Japanese war crime.”  It’s unfathomable that any child could endure such an experience.  But my then 12 year old mother lived it, in real-time.  The memory of which remains tender to the touch.

In the early 1950’s, she had a baby out-of-wedlock.  For heart-breaking reasons, she gave him away to extended family.  She spoke of him, not at all, for many decades.  That decision has hurt her heart every day of her life.  A tender spot she couldn’t, until recently, bear to acknowledge let alone touch.

She went on to marry an American G.I.  My dad.  Immigrated to the United States where they raised five children.  In my early teens, he simply began to lose his mind.  Three years later, .357 in hand, in a psychopathic state, he devastated countless lives by killing a man and wounding eight others.  Twenty-seven years later, he died in prison.  Her tragic experiences with my father have remained so, so tender to the touch.

She ended up being both mother and father to us.  She did the best she could.  She never complained.  She never sacrificed her children for the attentions of another man.  She never even considered dating, let alone wanting or needing a relationship.  She said we were the only loves of her life.  Her heart was full.  She never wanted or needed more.  We found her love for us extraordinary.  She told us if we did drugs, or got in trouble with the law,  or caused her any undue suffering or further shame, it would be the death of her.  Five kids, and we never crossed her.  How could we?  We knew enough to know her life was already too tender to the touch.

She worked on an assembly line for 23 years to keep us fed and clothed.  In 1994, just after she retired, she lost her youngest child to cancer.  Especially heart-breaking because he was the best of all of us.  She tried so hard not to let us know he was her favorite, but the truth is, he was everyone’s favorite.  As I look back on that tragedy, all I can see is her intense grief as she stood by his graveside.  So seriously stricken, she needed to be carried back to the car and compassionately sedated.  That ‘to the bone’ wound, still too tender to the touch.

With each day, I thank God for Mom.  Despite all she has witnessed and endured, her eyes are clear, her smile, bright, her laugh, infectious, her skin, flawless, her heart, generous.  But above all, despite her many tragedies, her touch remains as tender as tender can be.

Mom serves as a constant reminder that life is filled with tragedy.  It is the nature of being human.  No generation escapes the vicissitudes.  As can easily be seen, we are all dealt bad cards.  This month, fifty-eight people lost their lives, and 500 were wounded, at the hands of an American terrorist.  Their loved ones are enduring true suffering of the most intense kind.  All around the world, there are fires blazing.  People, maybe even us, are losing their homes, their jobs, contemplating suicide.  Many are dying from drug overdoses.  Last week, four young soldiers came home with flags draped across their coffins.  We weep.  The Death March continues.  It’s no wonder we are all infinitely tender to the touch.

I’ve shared this litany of tragedies as a reminder of the importance of keeping perspective.  None of us want war, or famine, or natural disasters.  We don’t want to be betrayed by those closet to us nor do we seek the shame of financial ruin.  None of us ask to experience the unbearable pain of losing a child .  But these conditions, have always existed and will continue to occur, I guess, up to, and until, the Second Coming.  Maybe longer.

There is nothing new under the sun.  Everyone suffers.  Everyone dies.  What’s important to understand is our life is not about the injustices we’ve endured as we march towards death.  It’s about how we conduct our lives and how we live.  How we show up.  How we contribute.  How we touch others.

We can choose to be tender to the touch because of all the pain and suffering we’ve endured.  We can cry, wail, bemoan our circumstances.  We can be mired in drama and the unfairness of life.  We can make everyone around us miserable.  Or we can choose, like my mom, despite the rawness of all the suffering she has endured, to move forward and to, daily, tenderly touch those in our keeping.  To smile in gratitude for any kindness shown.  To love deeply.  To show reverence to the sanctity of the life we’ve been given.  To help others heal through the tenderness of touch.  To tenderly and gratefully, love.  To default, always, to tenderness.

In conclusion, we can either remain neurotically tender to the touch, where every single unfortunate circumstance, every painful memory, forces us to recoil with pain … or … we can choose to let those heartaches, those great losses, create a philosophy of unwavering tenderness towards others.  In honor of my mom,  I will always choose the latter.  I hope you do, too.


Hands to tenderly touch.
Honoring the woman who gave me life.
I love you, Mom.

(Please come back to visit me again.  New blogs will be posted every Tuesday at 4 PM Pacific.  If this message has touched you, please share it with others.  Tenderly.  Me.)

Life After Facebook.

I have been a champion of social media since opening my Facebook account in February 2009.  I was fascinated by its ability to bring old friends together, allowing us to never feel out of touch.  As a network marketer, I loved how it literally brought thousands of new people into my life, allowing the platform to build powerful friendships and meaningful alliances.

But something in me has shifted.  I am no longer able to bear the myopic, extreme, and often vicious geo-political world opinions held by even the most sophisticated of people.  Once strongly conservative in my thinking, it is now my experience that the right is as virulent, if not more so, than the left.  Both sides are deeply mired in the politics of personal destruction, the hypocrisy of which finally did me in.  For all the goodness I found on Facebook, the bad instantly weighed heavy.

Social media has transformed into a world of hatred.  Bigotry.  An unwillingness to listen, let alone think to make inquiry of someone as to why they feel as they do.  The lack of civility became such that I found myself often sick to my stomach.

I am simply finished.  Despite the beautiful pictures of family, friends, graduations, weddings, births, life events and deaths of loved ones, the price paid to stay in that social media orbit, has become too staggeringly high.

One week ago today, without fanfare and for the first time, I deactivated my account.  Nearly a sixth of my life closed and indefinitely shelved.  I actually thought I’d go through withdrawals.  Most likely come crawling back after a few hours of my nausea having subsided.  I certainly didn’t expect what actually happened.

Instead of missing that virtual world, I woke up in Mayberry.

I woke up feeling it was 1987.  Pre-smart phones, social media, 9/11, and vicious politicians.  Pre-terrorism, pre-Grand Theft Auto, pre-violent and explicit music lyrics.  Pre-men hating women and women hating men.  Pre-Ferguson.  Pre-24 hour cable news.  Pre-narcissistic-selfie-taking world.

No endless “scrolling”.  No in my face “trending” news about the vile things sick men do to their newborn children.  No mothers setting their five year olds on fire.  No warnings of nuclear holocaust.  No radical biases either for or against our current sitting president.  No conspiracy theories over 550 people being attacked in absolute cold blood.  No fear based opinion pieces.

Just calm.  A sense of relief.  A day with hours of time in which I’m able to get things done without a need to check Facebook.  My personal heaven, or, at the very least, haven.

No need to be in the center of everything.  No posting what I’m doing.  No not being “present”.  Instead, I’m spending zero time “talking” about getting together with friends, but actually picking up the phone and calling them to meet for breakfast, lunch, dinner, a walk in the park.  I’m no longer tethered to my electronic devices, both phone and laptop are out of my hands for hours on end.  (Another unexpected benefit to going without Facebook was the steering clear of mindlessly bingeing on Netflix.  Such a waste watching actors living out their lives doing the work they’ve been called to do while ignoring the life I’m responsible for creating – mine.)

I’ve returned to the world of the living.

In the last week I’ve checked off countless chores.  Spent hours visiting with loved ones.  Drove 100 miles just to have a thoroughly delightful lunch with one of my best friends.  Worked hard to put out fires caused through no fault of my own.  Attended the funeral for the mother of one of my best childhood friends.  Devoted time, daily, to spiritual enlightenment.

I’ve started a half-a-dozen new books.  I’ve been rapidly writing.  I’ve been working on building a non-network marketing business that makes me feel happy, vibrant and alive (did my first full-blown presentation for my new business and I loved it!).  I’ve had the time and energy to start culling through mountains of material I’ve written through the years.  Enough to create several books without the need to do much more than edit the original body of work.

I’ve created a huge block of time to think about so many things, things that have everything to do with doing what I do best – effectively writing and sharing many of the endless, and most significant thoughts that roll around my head every single day.

Here’s something I wrote this morning that has to do with thinking on what it means to be a woman in a world where powerful men in entertainment are predators:

Regarding the sexually graphic music found in our current youth culture, let’s say I don’t understand the type of music that denigrates women and the art of falling in love.

I am currently reading, “A Youthful Diary”,  the diary of a Japanese man, age 21, which he started in May 1949.  Here, inside a few passages, his thoughts on women:

“Rainy season.  Walked to Umeyashiki Station.  The passers-by all got drenched in the summer rain.  Rain makes the female students’ white dresses stand out even more brightly.  Young girls, in your future … you may have nothing special in mind, yet you feed others’ imaginations.  You have all the elements of great art.  Perhaps you are art personified.  Without your fresh presence, this town, society, the world itself – how cold and forbidding they would be!  Like a house without flowers, or the night sky without the twinkling stars.  May your futures be blessed.”

How did we fall so far?  I find nothing at all appealing about music which assaults the beauty and femininity of womanhood.  I don’t understand how lyrics that create violent images against women wouldn’t create generations of wounded and violated women.

What is it in me, that once 16 year old girl, who in the midst of the worst beating of her life, would determine, “Never.  If I can make it out of this house alive.  Never.”?

As a woman I do feel there is great beauty to be found in the feminine.  Mother Nature.  Life-giving.  Nurturing.  I think we women have the capacity to breathe life into everything we touch.  To take a black and white world and turn it into full, vibrant, living color.

Violence begets violence.  Tenderness, and a reverence towards women, fosters deep respect and abiding love.  It’s only behind closed doors, between couples deeply in love, that I think highly sexualized language, is electrifying, sexy, and apropos.  But outside that door, anything else feels dirty.  

So, my favorite genre of music, is anything that speaks to that source.  From the romanticism of the Great American Song Book to the unexpected, non-violent, old-style romantic, “Love Letters”, released by artist, R. Kelly (a man otherwise known for his crass and misogynistic lyrics).  Music and art filled with strength, beauty, earth shaking words and images.  These are the type of music genres that work for me.

My keen love for human interests stories, stimulated by the type of thinking and writing found above, is what I was called to do.  With countless lotus petals for me to contemplate, this is merely the beginning of my journey.  I’m going to do my part to do what I do best – encourage people to get back to the work of real living verses the emptiness of virtual living.

It appears life without Facebook will be among the happiest days of my life.

 

Christmas Wish List.

If life is a box of Cracker Jacks (are they even around anymore?!), the prize at the bottom of the box, is the gift of time. Knowing there are only 168 hours in the week. Accepting that if we live to age 85, that’s only 4420 Saturdays. The understanding that even if we have 100 times around the sun, it’s not enough.

Here, in the glowing embers of my personal autumn, I’m thinking about this coming Christmas. My 60th of the 85 I hope to experience. It’s a sobering thought knowing I may only have 25 left (maybe less) … but exciting, and adrenaline filled, too, in its own way. As I look back across my life, I’ve no regrets. I made sure to do as much as I possibly could these first 60 years.

I grew up … fast. Fell in love. Raised my family. Worked really, really hard. Traveled a lot, a lot. Experienced as much as I possibly could. Lived through the death grips of excruciating pain, of which broken legs and childbirth, were nothing compared to the darkest nights of my emotional sorrows. I was forged in fire.

Having grown up with so little in the way of material things, I wanted everything life had to offer. I trained myself to think everyday was Christmas. Sadly, there were years when I thought Christmas had everything to do with what I could buy. That said, I can no longer relate.  It’s not that I don’t appreciate beautiful and valuable things, it’s that my concept of beautiful and valuable has changed. I’ve finally learned what it is I really want from, and for, my life.

I don’t want to be judged on physical beauty. We have nothing to say about our genetics. It’s why I’m so comfortable with growing older. There’s no stopping the aging of our bodies. But, God, I love how time burnished and polished the chasms of my mind.

I want the warmth of my personality to shine through each encounter. The tenderness in my voice. The gentleness of my touch. The genuine love I have for people, in general, and children, specifically.

I want to be thought of as wise and filled with understanding based on intellectual and experiential knowledge. I want to be loved for the quality of my thinking. I’m most honored when people come to me for guidance, and better yet, hold me as their most treasured teacher.  Funny how these things never stop being my favorite gifts, ever.

I’ve a never-ending quest to learn. The more I learn, the more I realize the infinite possibilities of heaven, the more excited I become at the thought I’ll soon enough be on the other side of the bridge.  The bridge between life and that long good night. Until then, all I want for Christmas, from now until my last breath, is to keep becoming the woman I’ve fallen in love with becoming.

In closing, I’m sharing something I originally wrote in the margins of one of my most important books. A prayer I wrote in 1991, the year after the darkest year of my life.  A prayer, I’ve uttered countless times and one which often comes uninvited to all the joys, as well as through all the vicissitudes of my life:

Teach me the wisdom

that lies within.

Direct me to that

which I most need to know

in order that I may

serve humanity.

Teach me what to do

and what not to do.

Keep me humble.

Increase my capacity to love

all that comes into my life.

Create perfect health

and increase my strength

for the tremendous work

that lies before me.

Lead me always towards

the Light.

Now, in the autumn of my life, little did I know, all those many years ago, I was writing the Christmas wish list for the rest of my life.

What do you want for Christmas?

“Lead me always toward the Light.”

The Last Third of My Life. Or, What I Really Want.

Experientially speaking, it’s been a well lived life.

Lots of love and loss.  Joy and sorrow.  Wonderful friends. Powerful enemies.  All of which have served me well.

I’ve found the most trying and difficult circumstances always provided the most personal growth and character development.

I’ve loved deeply and been truly loved in return.

I found motherhood suited me and children bring me the greatest sense of joy and accomplishment. I know my job is to preserve their innocence while instilling the skills necessary to navigate adulthood with grace and wisdom.

I became a better friend because of terrible mistakes I’d made. As to those friends who failed me, their actions became my constant reminder to be vigilant when it comes to important relationships.

I’ve learned all criticism can be delivered constructively. It’s not my job to be brutally honest. It’s my duty to be kind.

I’ve learned being poor in spirit is much worse than being broke.

I’ve learned much good can come from prosperity. And, that owning “stuff” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Life is about powerful learning experiences and contribution, not trinkets and leisure.  That said, I appreciate having money not for what it can buy … but what it can do.

I’m not one for small talk. It makes me uncomfortable because it feels disingenuous. I want to talk about things that matter. Life, love, marriage, children, ideas, politics.  I want to do it without rancor and without compromising my integrity. I think dialogue is more important than partisanship.

I share the above because it allows me to answer an important question recently asked of me by a trusted and dearly loved friend:  “What do you really want, Cindy.  Don’t be trite.  I want the truth.”

I share because I take full responsibility for what I’ve created in the first two-thirds of my life (every minute wasted as well as everything produced).

I share, because like many, I’m looking at the last third of my life knowing full well it’s unchartered territory.  I find the prospect exhilarating … and equally terrifying.  I’m thinking you might feel the same way, too.

As I stand here, I’m closing the book on six decades of life.  For all its bumps and bruises, triumphs and epic fails, up to this point, I think I’ve lived a reflective and meaningful life and, I think I’ve done it to the best of my ability.  All that being said, I know I can do better.

As I face the future … and the last third of my life… here’s what I want:

  • I want to lift the consciousness of others. I do this best by nurturing others with abundant love, tender kindness, comforting firmness, and resolute bravery.
  • I want to teach the disciplines required to reach inner peace. People at peace with themselves make for a peaceful world.
  • I want to continue building a life based on substance. To “take from the day” through thoughtful, deliberate, action. Living life as a “wandering generality” leaves me cold.
  • I want to do work that ignites the imagination and encourages people to become a force for good.  I want to produce until my dying day.
  • I want to inspire men, women, and especially children, by living honorably and remaining true to becoming the best version of myself.

I want to do these things because, despite all my painful detours, it’s what I’ve always aspired to have … to do … to be.

Here’s my final reason for sharing this:  What do you really want in life?

If you’re like me, and found yourself a little lost (for whatever reason), maybe it’s time to sit down and look at things closely.  Don’t rush … but do have a sense of urgency (it took me a full 10 days to be able to put what I wanted in to words).  It’s later than we think.  Thirty years goes by in a flash.  Best we get started straight away.

(So, here’s to you, my Priceless Friend.  Thanks for pointing me in the right direction and giving me a much needed kick in the behind.  Your question gave me the catalyst to get clear on what I want most in life (I hope you can see I did my best to not be trite).  I now realize my most important work lies before me.  And, I give you my word, I will work diligently towards that end.)

No Ugly Crying.

Years ago I found myself in a life-threatening situation.

I was scuba-diving in the British Virgin Islands and was overjoyed to find myself flying effortlessly along the bottom of the sea.  What I didn’t realize was I’d unknowingly dropped myself in a rip current and was rapidly being sent out to open water.  When it dawned on me what I’d done, I was immediately terrified.  I turned around and found the only way I could get out was to pull myself hand-over-hand along the rocky bottom. Not only was I frightened, but I also thrust myself into a terribly ugly cry.  The kind where you’re sobbing so hard you can’t catch your breath.  Not a good plan when you’re 60 feet under water.

When I finally made it out of the current and to the surface, I felt relief and gratitude.  I also felt a bit ashamed that I’d been so scared. In retrospect, the experience served as a lesson to handle difficult circumstances with more dignity.  To that end, I hope what I’m about to tell you will help.

For the last several months I’ve been working hard to get my head around a handful of serious issues:

One, the memory loss my beloved spouse is starting to experience. Our May-December romance has provided so much love, but nothing can adequately prepare us for watching our spouse’s journey towards that good night.

Two, the impending full-time care of my cherished mother and my determination to never send her to an assisted living facility. I know the road won’t be easy. I also know I’ll need a source of strength I’ve never tapped before.

Three, the challenges of building my business and insuring the financial security of my old age. One where I will not be a burden to my children.  One where I leave a valuable legacy for my grandchildren.  One where important decisions and disciplines are required of me, today.

No minor concerns.  These are serious issues not low on the list of life stressors.

For months, I found myself more worried than I’ve ever been; a bit depressed (situational); and oftentimes, totally drained. It didn’t help that I started stress-eating and gained 15 pounds in a relatively short period of time.  In light of the circumstances, I was tempted to spend my days crying my heart out.  But, being a person who looks for life lessons in all things, I compared where I was to where I’ve been.  I remembered other serious rip currents.  I decided an ugly cry would serve no one.  I knew I could concentrate on being pulled out to sea, or, I could pull myself together.  I decided on the latter.

Rather than drown, I prayed for strength.

I purposefully chose to say nothing because I didn’t want to burden others with my problems.  Instead, I filled my days with love and family.  Business and personal commitments. Positive messages and images.  Nothing dark. Nothing that would push me into that abyss.  Even then, my choices only got me so far.

Though I did my best to handle everything on my own … the best thing I did was to share my life issues with my one of my dearest and trusted friends, my beloved daughter-in-law. Never underestimate the power of love, especially from those who love you completely and without conditions.  We are meant to live in community and fellowship on purpose and by design.  Many hands do lighten the load and I’ve since found the courage and wisdom to open up to other trusted friends and, in doing so, found safe harbor in tumultuous seas. (True friendship is built on gratitude.  I am ever so grateful to my friends who threw me a lifeline.  You know who you are.)

I shared this glimpse of my life with you because gaining more insight into the life lessons of others is never a disadvantage.  Though often criticized, I love social media because, if used properly, it shows us the happy moments in people’s lives.  As long as I concentrate on its positive force, and steer clear of the rip currents, FaceBook lifts my spirits and gives me hope and courage.  Over the past few months, many of your posts, served as a stable rock I used to pull myself to safety, so thank you.  That said, all of us deal with serious issues most of the time.  It is the nature of life.  What we must understand is that we must guard our minds … or suffer the consequences. Especially in this day and age of 24 hour news and social media.  If we let it, the darkness and the current focus on vicious, salacious news, can easily sweep us into a sea of despair.  Don’t go there.

We must, and we can, fight with all our strength to see the gift of life.  We can choose to let our friends help us navigate difficult shores.  We must understand that the worst that could happen is that we die today … and it’s important to note there’s a 99 percent chance we won’t.  

Though each of our challenges may remain (and mine most certainly do), we have a choice:  No ugly crying.

Best to stay calm.  Take deep breaths.  Protect ourselves from dark images (they only feed our demons).   Best to set our eyes on the people we  love and on those who matter.  Our loved ones deserve to see us live our life to the best of our abilities and to move forward with grace and dignity.  It gives them the ability to be proud of us and to be grateful we didn’t give up.

No matter how difficult, no matter how life-threatening, we must pull ourselves to safety.

We will be the stronger and the wiser.

And, quite frankly, we’re worth it.

 

The Wisdom of Forgiveness.

“Thank profusely.
Beg forgiveness quickly.
Forgive every trespass immediately.”  ~ Me.

The above is my hard-earned philosophy for life.

Over the weekend, an off-handed remark to new friends about my having forgiven someone who’d broken my heart led to an important discussion regarding the act of forgiveness. I was grateful because the experience gave me an opportunity to think about its importance.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned I’ve no desire to stand on a soapbox or to preach to others.  In my youth I’d done both far too often. What I can say is that I now share my perspective based on how I’ve processed my life experiences. I offer my stories with the intent they will shed light on difficult circumstances and afford hope, comfort or guidance. Would that this one on forgiveness is timely for you.

“Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, lets go of negative emotions such as vengefulness, with an increased ability to wish the offender well.  Forgiveness is different from condoning (failing to see the action as wrong and in need of forgiveness), excusing (not holding the offender as responsible for the action), forgetting (removing awareness of the offense from consciousness), pardoning (granted for an acknowledged offense by a representative of society, such as a judge), and reconciliation (restoration of a relationship).” ~ Wiki

This journey of life has taught me that none of us will escape great heartaches and tragedies. Life challenges us unmercifully. Not to victimize or persecute us, but to test us and build our character.   This weekend’s discussion poignantly proved my philosophy as my new friend has endured the most crushing of losses. Abandonment, abuse, betrayal, the death of a child. Though my heart ached for her, I couldn’t help but admire her wisdom and strength of character. She went on to tell me she felt strongly there were circumstances that were impossible to forgive. She made her case clearly and with conviction. To that end, I fully understood her inability to forgive those who had not just broken her heart, but had remorselessly beaten it near to death.

Friends, in times of trials and tribulations, our duty to one another is not to judge, but to afford tenderness, comfort and understanding. With that in mind, I shared with her that it took me nearly 30 years of my life to forgive the sins of my father, 30 years I wish I could have back.  Thirty years where I had been held prisoner to the memories of abuse and degradation. Based on my experience, I encouraged her to forgive. But in the following moment, I also stepped back from any feeling that I might be judging her. Instead, I focussed all my effort to be present and to listen with love and empathy.  I found myself supporting her need to not forgive.

Forgiveness is a personal journey. A choice. It cannot be forced or coerced. It must be processed and understood from a philosophical and pragmatic perspective.

For me, I carried the immense weight of feeling victimized by my father for so long that when I finally came to the place where I “let go” and could actually “wish him well”, it changed my entire perspective on life. Thirty years is a long time to walk around with daggers in your heart. Forgiveness was a welcomed relief. Even so, it took me more than a decade to subsequently forgive a friend who’d wronged me professionally, but forgive him I did. (Remember, things take time. Mastering the art of forgiveness doesn’t just happen.)

As a result of the events of this past weekend, and even the past month, I sat down and made a list of all the things for which I am immensely grateful. Your name appears more than once.

I made a list of all the things for which I need to beg forgiveness. You’ll be hearing from me soon.

I made a list of all the trespasses made against me in order to forgive the trespassers. Much to my chagrin only one name appeared:  Mine.

Whoa.

At 60 years of age, I was incredulous to find I hadn’t forgiven myself for all the needless hurt and suffering I’d put myself through. I felt regret for the flood of unhappy tears, the remorse, the feelings of betrayal, failure and abandonment.  Intense experiences I’d chosen to put myself through.  How fortunate this weekend brought an end to all those past regrets and lack of awareness.

To date, the greatest gift I have given myself was yesterday, March 19, the day I looked in the mirror and kindly forgave the woman looking back at me. In that instance, I felt unburdened, light, and free. Inexplicable, really. To add to the intensity – incredibly, and without forethought – I found myself sitting down to watch a documentary on the Dalai Lama.  Wouldn’t you know it, he, of all people, had something to say about the art of forgiveness:

“Life’s purpose of happiness can be gained only if people cultivate the basic human values of compassion, caring and forgiveness.”

― Dalai Lama XIV, The Wisdom of Forgiveness

I immediately forgave myself for humorously thinking, “I couldn’t have said it better myself!”

With Love,

Me.  CindySam.

PS.  A lovely link on the subject:  http://fetzer.org/resources/consider-forgiveness-his-holiness-dalai-lama.

 

Lessons in Accepting Criticism.

Someone who’s known me for more than 20 years has never really liked me. The relationship, regardless of how much I was willing to invest, was always difficult. Recently, in the midst of discussing an important subject, I finally had the opportunity to ask this person, “Why do you dislike me so intensely?” The answer was interesting.

My happy life, my long marriage, my optimism, everything about me rubbed them the wrong way. They felt I was self-centered, needy, and fake. Nobody could be as happy as I claimed. I was disingenuous. For these reasons they really, truly, deeply, disliked me.

No one enjoys being talked to this way. No one. But, in my opinion, being willing to receive criticism is one of the best ways to develop our character (constructive criticism, verses malicious, being the greatest gift of all).  Whether the answer was good or bad, it’s important to note I would never have asked the question if I didn’t want the answer.  To that end, there’s something about my emotional make-up that keeps me from reacting in a negative or angry way to life situations.  In all reality, I was relieved with their candor. It’s better to operate from a position of knowing one’s personal truth than to continue to operate under false assumptions. They didn’t like me. Period.

My response was my opportunity for growth and to live my philosophy to act kindly at all times.  I did silently acknowledge their words … but I didn’t react (as in shooting back a reactionary reply I knew I’d later regret). Rather, I chose to look at their words from their perspective. I spent hours contemplating their answer. I shared their insight with someone who loves me (someone I knew would listen, not react, while I processed the information). In the end, I chose to thank them for their personal opinion of me.  I wished them happiness and all the best life has to offer.  And I closed with words of loving kindness. In response, they felt the best thing they could do to protect their sense of self was to “unfriend” me.

The end of relationships are always sad events.  Regardless, we must do our part and learn from them.

Friends, why did I share this story with you?

If you’ve known me for any length of time, you know I’m transparent.  It’s part of my life’s journey.  I’m an observer of life.  I write about my thoughts and insights.  I’m a person who wants to make the world a better place.  I’ve shared the greatest joys of my life with you in order to bring a sense of hope and light. But more than that, I’ve also shared my greatest, most tragic failures. I believe we can only experience our cup running over (with joy) to the extent of the depth of sorrow we’ve endured.

One of the great lessons in this most recent loss is my sense of accomplishment in knowing it only took a few weeks to process.  I healed more quickly, and found the lesson more poignant.  Poignant because I’ve been privileged to endure the death of a friendship where it took me yearsnot weeks, to recover from the sense of grief, anger, regret or loss.  Eventually I came through the other end of that loss and learned I loved my friend more dearly; appreciated our years together more sweetly; and though we’ve not spoken in years, I wish her nothing less than the best life has to offer.  That tragic loss has made all other losses of friends or acquaintances more bearable.  It’s how I knew not to say, or do, anything unkind this time around.  For that powerful lesson, I am grateful.

Life is an incredible gift. I’ve found we learn the most when life is the most difficult, unhappy, and challenging. But it’s how we react to those challenges that are the true measure of our lives.  Though I wouldn’t wish pain and suffering on anyone, I do think it yields the gift of maturity.  To realize getting through our darkest hours provides us with the best lessons of life. The lessons for which we should be the most proud.

Despite the feedback I’ve received this particular person, I remain grateful for this most amazing life. I’ve survived traumas at very high levels while fully acknowledging countless others have survived much harsher circumstances than I (those people are my heroes). I’m truly grateful for having come out of my childhood alive. I’m grateful it only took twenty years (vs a lifetime) to overcome the brutality of post traumatic stress that stemmed from my early life. I’ve deep gratitude because every other challenge (including loss) seems small in comparison. As much agony as I endured, getting through it, put everything else in my life in perspective. In the midst of real life challenges, it keeps me from melting into a wailing pool of drama and angst. It allowed me to see life in a more positive light. It allowed me to develop a philosophy of life that works for me.  A happy life.  A love filled marriage.  A commitment to love deeply and live fully.  A sense of joy and an innate sense of responsibility to be kind at all times.

But the real reason in sharing this experience of criticism is this:

There are only two choices we can make in any given situation.

We are either positive or negative. Happy or miserable. Hopeful or forlorn. Kind or unkind.

We can be the person who lights up the room when we walk in … or the person who causes the room to breathe a sigh of relief when we leave.

We can be a drama queen or the queen of calm.

We can take things personally, or not.  (I’ve learned I can’t bring myself to say something mean to another person because it’s as if I’m saying it to myself. Treating others the way I want to be treated took decades for me to fully understand and implement. Every single day gives me an opportunity to practice this powerful commandment. After lots of trial and error, “Love one another as I have loved you” works best for me. It was in the doing that I came to understand its wisdom.  Be kind.)

If there are only two choices … pick the best of the two.  It’s a philosophy for life that will pay enormous dividends.

Though it took several weeks to fully process the feedback I was given, and though it was slightly painful to the touch, it wasn’t terminal.  I knew, with time, I’d be able to write about it in a positive, powerful, uplifting way.  The experience also reminded me I’ve long since earned the right to be positive and optimistic.  And this most recent experience reinforced my coming to terms with others not liking me. I’m okay with that truth. In the end I learned that no matter how we live our lives, there will be people who won’t like us no matter who we are. Love them anyway.

See the good in all things, even the things that sting, especially so the things that cut to the bone.

Know life isn’t all happy high notes. That the real beauty and richness of life comes in not just surviving the darkest most somber notes, the sorrow, the heartbreak, the loss … the most difficult circumstances will also expose our resilient strength and give us the opportunity to thrive.  But along the way, I encourage you to celebrate the happy; remember all the kindnesses; be a light to others. And do your absolute best to forgive, or at the very least, forget, all the hurts and injustices you’ve endured.

Even when attacked, know there is much we would die for … but nothing worth killing for. Killing isn’t just about murdering the body. It’s about killing the spirit. Don’t do it.

Be kind.

In the end, it’s what matters.

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“Live as if you were living a second time, and as though you had acted wrongly the first time.” Viktor E. Frankl

Walking on Water. Doing What We Already Know.

 

“Learning is finding out what you already know. Doing is demonstrating that you know it. Teaching is reminding others that they know just as well as you. You are all learners, doers, and teachers.”  ~ Richard Bach, Illusions

The only way I can share with you what’s rolling around inside my head today is to share stories about my love for the sea and scuba diving. It’s no secret I’ve been wild about both since I was a kid. I got certified on my 18th birthday in 1975.  Just my luck, JAWS, was the blockbuster hit of the summer, and, no thanks to Steven Spielberg, it took me four years to get over being frightened of sharks. Regardless, scuba has been a huge part of my life and my love for water.

I’ve been drift diving in the Great Barrier Reef. Spent countless hours on quests for lobsters in Mexico. Donned gear and jumped into the beautiful blue abyss of French Polynesia. I’ve come across a 600 pound grouper while diving the wreck of the Rhone in the BVI. Played chicken with sea lions and never flinched. I’ve looked over my shoulder to find a school of hammerhead sharks swimming alongside (that one shook me up for an hour or two).

I’ve managed to run out of air at 80 feet because I was mesmerized by a sleeping shark I’d stumbled upon. I remembered to stay calm and blow small bubbles to the surface.  It’s the only thing that kept me from drowning in the Bahamas. I’ve found myself tangled in a forest of seaweed in the Anacapa’s and needing to use my diver’s knife to cut myself free.  There’s a lot to be said about staying calm and learning to breathe. Had I not, I could have drowned there, too.

I’ve been chased by barracuda. Chased puffer fish and gigantic eels. Been in awe of seahorses. Played with octopuses. Petted a sleeping baby manta I found in sea grass.  Another thrill was finding myself in an under water cavern completely surrounded by millions of anchovies. On my way to the surface, I found a school of dolphin frolicking in the distance. Icing on a perfect day.

On one particularly exciting trip, I found myself not paying attention and got myself caught in a rip current off Virgin Gorda. When I realized what was happening, I learned one can cry really hard underwater and that no one can hear you, and that despite the seriousness of the situation, one always needs to stay calm. Faced with being taken out to sea, I pulled myself to safety, hand-over-hand, across the rip. Had I not, it would have been a really, really bad day.

One of my best experiences was going night-diving where I sat on the bottom of the ocean and looked up through a perfectly clear dark sea only to see the unwavering moon in the night sky. That particular dive is when I knew I’d be a diver all my life.

As I recall these few highlights from my life of diving, I fall in love all over again. It’s apparent I will always be wild about the sea. Time an distance never dims my excitement.  That said, my reminiscing was a set-up to my real story, the story of doing what we already know.

Several years ago Boss and I were at our home in San Carlos. With nothing but a perfectly beautiful day in front of us, we threw together a picnic lunch and headed out to open water. Much to our delight, the sea was incredibly calm, flat as glass, and an astonishingly clear deep, breath-taking, blue. It was heaven.

My favorite perch on our boat has always been the bow. It allows me to be on constant lookout for magnificent creatures of the sea. Dolphins. Turtles. Marlins. Eyes always scanning the horizon, wind blowing through my hair, imagine my delight when I looked out and found enormous bubbles breaking through the glassy, blue water. Big, huge, circles of air.

A whale! Less than 100 feet off the bow of our boat. Excitedly, I asked Boss to cut the engine. This would allow me to stand up and get a better look. In doing so, there, beneath our boat, was a massive manta gliding as if dancing through the water. Besides myself, I was instantly jumping for joy and screaming with delight. A manta and a whale! A gift from nature not lost on me. With no time to don my scuba equipment, I did the only thing I could. I grabbed my mask and dived, head first, into the deep end of the sea.  I never thought about it twice … not even for a second.

After hitting the water, the manta swam a circle around me before vanishing into the blue a few seconds later. As I looked up and around for the whale, I saw it off in the distance, a hundred feet away. He saw me at precisely the same moment. As I hung out there, alone, in open water, making eye-contact with a creature more than 30 feet long, my new friend made a clear indication he was delighted to see me. And, with one ever-so-slight-flip-of-his-tail, that gigantic baby closed the gap between us to less than 40 feet.

Wow. More than half the distance in the blink of an eye. Hmmm.

Ok. Sometimes I don’t think things through. My only thought at this point was, “Cindy, I think you’re in pretty big trouble here.”

I’ve no recollection of what transpired over the next few seconds. All I can tell you is this:

I completely levitated out of the water … walked a few steps… and as I came back into my body (from wherever I’d been) … I found myself standing on the rear platform of our boat.  As I stood there dazed and dumbfounded, my whale passed directly beneath our boat clearing our propeller by no more than a distance of three feet. Had I not been there, it would be completely surreal and totally unbelievable. Fortunately I had a witness. My husband. If you ask him to recount the experience, he’d tell you, “She simply rose straight up and out of the water. It was the damnedest thing I’ve ever seen.”

In hindsight, all I can tell you is it was, without question, an exhilarating high point in my life. It was also one of my most sobering. I learned, after the fact, that whales have grabbed people [like me] and drowned them. Not out of spite, but pure curiosity. If it had happened on this particular outing, this could have been one of my husband’s worst days. Can you imagine him having to tell our children how I died?  For their sakes, the encounter helped to me be a bit more reserved and cautious. Not a lot, but certainly better.

All-in-all, here’s what I learned from that summer day:

My lifelong love for the sea, and this whale in particular, were designed to get my attention. A moment in time to help me teach others that we all possess the capacity to surprise ourselves. To know, without question, that people can do the most amazing things. That even when we humans get ourselves into the most ridiculous of predicaments, maybe especially so, we have the capacity to do and accomplish things unfathomed. From flying without wings, to moving mountains, to walking on water, nothing is impossible.

We are all learners, doers, and teachers. We have all experienced something along these supernatural lines. Would that we learn to harness these powers and do the things we already know. Think how much good we could do and how much more we could accomplish. These are the truths that keep me going. That keep me believing.

Yes.  We can. We already know.

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inexplicable.

inexplicable |ˌinekˈsplikəbəl; inˈeksplikəbəl|adjective unable to be explained or accounted for. don’t you love it when that happens?

Not that I want to call them miracles … but I am watchful of inexplicable events that happen around me. And I’m just wondering out loud if anyone else watches for, sees them, and thinks on them, too.  Some are good.  Some are scary good. Like the day we were going to our place in Mexico, an eight hour drive from our home.

Pulling our travel trailer for the long drive down, my husband and I came up with an idea we thought was just plain smart.  We sent our young college aged friend, Lisa, and our two children, Greg, 5, and Chelsea, not quite 2, to ride in the trailer so the kids could take a nap. We had a CB radio so we could talk to one another in the event they needed anything.  Everything was, as they say, “All good.”

About an hour later, knowing the children were fast asleep, a car passed us with the driver and the passengers frantically waving their arms, trying to get our attention, while pointing to our trailer and yelling, “Stop!  Stop!  You’ve got a problem!!!” As this was happening Lisa’s dead calm voice came on the CB saying, “Boss, would you pull over please?” (serious emphasis on “please”).

We pulled over as quickly as we could.  Thinking we must have a flat tire to fix, we walked back to the rig.  When we opened the door to the trailer we found Lisa standing by the door.   Our son was tucked in as close to her side as possible and our daughter in her arms.  She was crying and shaking and clinging to our baby for dear life.  Greg had a wide-eyed, mildly panicked look on his face. Chelsea on the other hand, was all smiles. It was an odd scenario to say the least.

Turns out this could have been the worse day of our life.

When we put our Baby Girl down for her nap, we didn’t give it a second thought that there was a window with an emergency exit handle in her bed.  There was zero clearance between the mattress and the window.  In other words, the mattress ended where the window began.  No lip.  No nothing.  (A testament to the fact that sometimes we humans don’t think things through.)  And, while hurtling down the road, with nothing to keep her from falling out the window, our Baby Girl pulled the bright red handle that begged to be pulled and … Boom! … the wind caught the window and ripped it off the trailer.

It was at this point  we grew weak in the knees.  The sobering, dawning realization of why those people were so frantic. The metal. The broken glass.  The little hand waving out the window.  Lisa a shaking mass of sheer panic and fear.  Life in the balance.  Explicable.

But I’m not writing today about the explicable stuff of life … I’m writing about the inexplicable.

Inexplicably our Baby Girl didn’t get pulled out through the window by centrifugal force and thrown on a busy highway.  A tragedy of epic proportions.  A horrible accident that would have destroyed all our lives.  One inexplicably terrible idea led to one inexplicably impossible miracle.

As I look back on it today it’s obvious to me there’s a REASON people, especially babies, should never, under any circumstance ride in travel trailers being pulled down the highway.  And, obviously, there is a God.  It was His hand that covered the window.  His hand that protected our baby.  His hand that saved our lives.

Our Baby Girl celebrates her 30th birthday this coming Sunday.  With the exception of our learning a very powerful lesson in child safety, very little has changed since that miraculous day.  We’re happy to say she never held it against us.  She continues to thrill us when she flashes that smile.  And we thank our God that she inexplicably chose us to be her parents.

Happy birthday, Chelsea Baby.

We explicably love you.  More.

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