An Instrument of Peace

Some time ago, I started another daily affirmation (I have several each morning)–this one dedicated to being an instrument of peace. It harks back to *St. Francis’ poem, which I have always loved.

I have always been quick to get angry over real or imagined slights and hurts, and getting older hasn’t changed that bad habit much. So one of my goals each day is to do my best to be an instrument of peace. For me, that means letting go of things that, in the short and long run, simply do not matter. I have said before that I am a natural “right-fighter;” when I believe I’m right, my instinct is to hammer down all opposition to prove my point.

I finally realized that the only point I made was to make a ginormous horse’s patootie out of myself. Beating down others to prove my ‘rightness’ only gave me momentary triumph, quickly followed by shame and remorse. Kind of like what happens when you decide to hork down two pieces of cheesecake–then suffer for the next 48 hours.

So what exactly does it mean to actually be an instrument of peace? I can only tell you from my own experience. I have a part-time job with a long commute; 145 miles round-trip, which is about an hour and 20 minutes each way. I cover three major highways on my commute, and have seen a lot of dumb and dangerous driving. Like most people, when I get scared, I get angry. Angry because someone risked my life by doing something stupid. But really, that’s just life in general. For whatever reason, we humans do stupid things, and that’s just a fact of life.

So these days instead of screaming and swearing in the car, flipping the offender the bird and so on, I allow myself one good long string of swears. Then I take a deep breath and say, “Ok–we’re done here.” It’s amazing what power that little phrase has! All the anger and fear drains away, and I say out loud to the offender, “It’s ok–we are both ok.” And I wish him/her well, and do my best to LET. IT. GO.

I’ll be the first to say that I get plenty mad about these things, but have to admit I feel a whole lot better once I let things go. I no longer flip anyone the bird either, by the way. And do you know why? Years ago, when I worked for a major high-tech company, I was on my way to a meeting in Nashua, NH. One of the company’s most important and influential high muckety-mucks was going to be running the meeting, and I was kind of thrilled I had been invited. On my way down the highway, I was nearly to the exit I needed, when someone crossed two lanes of traffic and cut me off AS I WAS GETTING ON THE EXIT RAMP.

I had to literally stand on my brakes to avoid a collision, and the man in the car ahead looked straight at me in his rear view mirror and our eyes met. I flipped my middle finger at him and shook it, all the while mouthing every dirty word I knew. By the time I parked my car, I was still shaking with rage. But I pulled myself together, and walked into the building and into the conference room. I poured myself a cup of coffee and sat down near the front. The speaker, the influential high muckety-muck walked to the podium, and looked at me and smiled. It was the guy who had cut me off and to whom I had presented my middle finger! That little experience cured me forever of flipping anyone off ever again. (By the way, he never said a word about it to me, and we never made eye contact again during the meeting!)

So I am doing my best these days not to commit acts of personal terrorism on others for the things they do. I am pretty sure that there are lots of things I do that make others upset with me. I am hoping that, in focusing on being an instrument of peace, that I can finally tame my baser and less lovely instincts to actually be a better person, a more forgiving person, a more understanding person. I have a long way to go, but I’ m working on it.

As this is the last day of 2014, I wish us all a wonderful, prosperous, safe, healthy and happy 2015. May we all realize our own great potential, all those things that are unique and beautiful about us, and forgive ourselves and others and learn to truly let go of anger and pain.

Be peaceful and be happy.

*”Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is discord, harmony;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

Angels Among Us

Believe in them or not, I am sure that angels are around us all the time. I’m not talking about a mystical being who wafts into your bedroom and leaves you a winning lottery ticket in the night, or grabs up your toddler who is just about to put her little hand on a hot stove. No, I’m talking about the ones who look just like us, but don’t always act like us. Or the unseen ones who guide and guard us throughout our lives.

It can be the woman who sees that you’ve dropped your wallet, picks it up and runs after you to return it. It can be a stranger who compliments you on your hair and you walk away happier than you were before. It can also be some slow poke (or, as the Crankee Yankee likes to say, “a Pokey-hontas”) in front of you in traffic who made you late for the serious car accident in which you might have been involved.

Remember all the accounts of those people who should have died on September 11, 2001 but didn’t? A woman was late to work because her little boy threw up on the way to daycare, and they had to go back home to change. One man overslept that morning and by the time he got on the road, the towers had fallen. Both the hijacked commuter planes were no where near full that day.

I believe that angels are here to influence us in positive ways, to guide rather than direct, to whisper encouragement to us when we need it, or to warn us of impending danger. I have a friend who was driving on a back road at dusk one day when she got the distinct impression to slow down. She did, and seconds later a large deer appeared on her side of the road. She wanted to slowly drive around it, but something told her to just wait. She did, and the deer bounded across the road exactly where she would have been had she driven around the deer.

One of my earliest memories was when I was about two or three years old. It was my bedtime, and my mother was in the bathroom that lead off her bedroom. I was waiting for her, and was bouncing lightly on her bed. I stopped for a moment, and felt two warm hands gently cup the back of my head. I looked around behind me, and no one was there. I don’t remember feeling afraid at all.

Years later when I told my mother about it (for some reason, I didn’t tell her about the hands that night), I told her that I was sure that it was her mother who touched me. Mom’s mother died of cancer when Mom was barely 14 years old; a terrible time to lose your mom. I was and am sure that it really was my late grandmother who touched me so lovingly.

It is up for some debate on whether humans can become angels once they pass from this life; personally, I believe that many can and do. I feel that we on this earthly plane are surrounded constantly by kindly and loving presences who wish only our highest good. I don’t believe that we go through our lives all on our own. No matter what your belief system is, I think that it is a universal construct that we are all helped from time to time from these good beings.

I know that my own life is better for them, and I hope that yours is as well.

59 Years of Marriage

Just recently my mom and dad enjoyed celebrating their 59th wedding anniversary. I remember when it all started, too….

I was about four years old when Mom and Dad married; this being Mom’s second marriage, and Dad’s first. They were married in front of the Christmas tree in the front room of my grandparents’ house; somewhere we even have an old movie of it. I remember little about it except for the cake my grandmother made for the celebration–I kept eying it during the ceremony.

Being a child, I was only aware of my own wants and needs at that time. I knew Dad was a good man; I liked him right away, and soon loved him. He spent time with me, talked with me and gave me his full attention. From the first, I always felt I was an integral part of our three-person cooperative.

I even remember feeling that now I didn’t have to worry about my mom; it was very clear to me even then that Mom and Dad really loved and liked each other. That was a big load off my four-year old mind; I knew Dad would take good care of us both.

At that age, I had no idea of what adults felt like–they were all giants to me. In my world, they took care of everything, and kept me safe. In a few moments, I became part of a larger family; my new grandparents, new aunts and uncles and cousins. But even young children have perceptions; I knew that we were all going to be fine.

When two people decide to marry, they make an unwritten agreement with each other. I can’t speak for my parents’ agreement; I only know that they had one. Mom told me years later that, in considering whether or not to marry my father, she made a list of reasons to marry him, and a list of reasons not to marry him. The reason not to marry side of the list was actually longer than the reasons for marriage–yet she went with her heart. As she once told a friend about Dad, “he’s just so good.” So began a 59+ year agreement.

We laughingly say that ‘the heart wants what the heart wants,’ but it really is true. When the right person and circumstance come along, there is a small but definite click in the heart that says, “this one–this is the one.” Often the heart recognizes what our brains don’t–that this person is the ‘meant to be’ one. This goes light years beyond whether or not the person is good-looking, successful, drives an expensive car, has a huge trust fund, etc. It is the fundamental makeup of that person–the who and the what that that person is.

I won’t go into all the details of my parents’ marriage. Like any other couple, they have had their ups and downs, but what’s important is that, no matter what, they always are for each other and are part of each other. There is mutual respect, kindness, care and love. Together they have faced illness, death, loss, pain; also great joy, success and happiness. They ran both their businesses together for years. Since Dad retired long ago, Mom now runs her own jewelry business out of their house.

So what holds a couple together for nearly 60 years? The statistics show that marriage is a crap shoot–sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Sometimes the differences between marriage partners become too vast to stay together. Often unintended circumstances drive a couple apart. Even though we all vow to stay together’ for richer for poorer; in sickness and in health;’ sometimes the marriage does not survive.

You can have the fanciest, most expensive and lavish wedding you like, featuring a dress that cost thousands, exquisite flowers, a professional band and have the ceremony in a ballroom in a luxury hotel. You can present each other with diamond encrusted wedding rings and feed each other a slice of a $25K wedding cake, then fly off to Maui for two weeks for a honeymoon. And yet–the marriage can fail.

Or you can put your trepidations aside, put on your best clothes and marry in front of a Christmas tree with your child present and vow to love and cherish each other always. Sometimes the marriage survives simply because both people are simply GOOD.

 

 

 

 

 

Things Are Seldom What They Seem

As humans, we tend to make snap judgements about other humans; it’s just the way our brains work. Our genetics hark back to times when all you could count on was your wits and timing; i.e., indecision could mean injury or death. This is an instinct we carry to this day.

One day we may be impatiently walking behind an old man, shuffling along a path or corridor and we want to get ahead of him so we are not slowed down. While we are fuming about being late, all we can think about is that if only this old guy would step aside or just move it, we could be on our way.

Here’s the thing: that old man may be a WWII veteran, still suffering with shrapnel in his legs. If we knew this to begin with, we might not be so impatient. Things are not always what they seem.

The woman who nearly ran us off the road might have just gotten a call that her mother had a heart attack and was rushing to the hospital. And so it goes.

Of course, there are many times when people do stupid and disrespectful things because 1) they don’t know any better, 2) they are only concerned with themselves and their own needs, 3) something life-changing has happened to them and they are still processing it, or 4) they are just plain careless.

One of my resolutions this year is to try and remember that often things are seldom what they seem. Even if someone is treating me badly, I am trying to think first: what might be going on with them? If I can’t come up with anything, I resolve to do my best to let it go and not let resentment or anger take root in my heart. A tall order. But it’s not doing me any good to get riled up over something I can’t help. Hashing real or imagined wrongs are cancerous–you don’t want to let them fester and grow out of control.

Instead, I’m going to take a leaf from Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore, from the song between Buttercup and the Captain, called “Things Are Seldom What They Seem.” The first verse follows:

Buttercup:

“Things are seldom what they seem,
Skim milk masquerades as cream;
Highlows pass as patent leathers;
Jackdaws strut in peacock’s feathers.”

The Captain:

“Very true–

So they do.”

Merry Christmas!

As we enjoy our holiday feasts and gifts today, may we all remember how far we have come this year. Like all fellow humans on this planet, we often take one step forward, only to fall three steps back. But even so, that is still progress. If all we have done this year is to learn from our mistakes, it’s been a good year. If we’ve been able to forgive a wrong, that’s progress. If we have been able to put the past behind us and had an ‘aha!’ moment, that’s a good start.

Personal progress and success are mean different things to different people. Falling into a huge pile of cash is great, but it doesn’t always help us forward. Sometimes what we want isn’t always what we need. Examples:

  • If we lost a job and panicked because no new job appeared, it may mean that it’s time to change focus.
  • If we had an illness this year that slowed us down, perhaps it was ultimately to give us time we needed to think.
  • If we lost a loved one this year, it makes us think of how that person affected our lives, what they meant to us, what they gave to us, and ultimately; how their lives helped to define our own.
  • If we acquired a new responsibility and it has been hard to adjust, it may mean that it is time in our lives to branch out and away from our comfort zone.

Change isn’t always a bad thing, either. Change changes us and usually makes us better in the long run. A goal for us all in 2015 may be to take that step into the unknown and see where it takes us. Let’s go on from here and be the best we can despite circumstance, family, job, and our own definitions. We are here for a reason and a purpose–let’s make a promise to ourselves to see what that is.

I wish you all a very merry Christmas and a joyous, prosperous and happy 2015. Thank you for reading! Your comments are a gift.

What Are Your Favorite Christmas Movies?

I admit it; I am a Christmas nerd. I love everything about Christmas, and especially my favorite Christmas movies, but I will also watch the Hallmark and Lifetime channel tear-jerkers to get my Christmas fix. (I am also an easy crier.) Throughout most of the month, I sing carols nearly non-stop while doing household chores, or driving. I really can’t help it.

Generally I enjoy watching my favorite Christmas movies while frantically finishing the final sewing of blankets, stuffed mice (for the cats), making one more necklace and earrings set, and trying to remember what ingredients I may have left out of the traditional Christmas chowder this year. These movies take me to my happy place in a time that is stressful and shouldn’t be; it is after all, about those we love and who love us.

Every family has their own traditions and memories, and the reason for the season is that remembrance and the hope we have for the years to come. Part of those traditions for many of us is enjoying our favorite movies. Here are mine:

  • “A Christmas Carol,” starring Alastair Sim (1951) – hands-down, the BEST version of this movie
  • “It’s a Wonderful Life,” starring the incomparable Jimmy Stewart
  • “Love Actually,” starring such fabulous actors as Alan Rickman, Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, Keira Knightley, Bill Nighy, Liam Neeson and Rowan Atkinson
  • “A Christmas Story,” based on the short stories by Jean Shepherd, based on his book In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash
  • The original “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (NOT the Jim Carey version; the animated version narrated by Boris Karloff in 1966)

Now those are what I personally consider the Holy Grail of Christmas movies. (I won’t even list the real stinkos that show up around Christmas. I won’t name them, either, just in case you like them. To each his own, I say.)

Speaking of that, I must mention here that the Crankee Yankee (my husband) is very tolerant of my Christmas movie addiction. Of course, that doesn’t preclude him saying, “Really? THIS movie AGAIN?” But, good sport that he is, he simply sighs, and goes back on the computer until my movie madness passes.

In any case, no matter what movies you like to see around this time of year–watch them, enjoy them and give yourself a little mental vacation. After all, it is Christmas time.

Christmases Past

I am a big fan of the holidays and all the froo-fraw that goes with them–family traditions, decorating, baking, singing carols and so on. As most of us do, I compare my Christmases now with the ones I enjoyed when I was growing up.

Back then, each Christmas Eve Mom and Dad and I drove to my grandparents’ house for her famous seafood chowder and homemade watermelon pickles. Mom always made her wonderful Parker House rolls to go with it. My grandfather (whom we called “Bumpa”) had strung lights up on the spruce tree on one side of the porch (he called it the “Janie tree”), and my grandmother (whom we called “Ba”) decorated the other smaller tree nearby with gifts for her beloved birds; bags of suet studded with seeds, hollowed-out pieces of wood with peanut butter filling the holes, and handmade feeders made from hollow gourds filled with birdseed.

The parlor was always our “Christmas room,” with the Christmas tree in the big bay window with all the presents underneath. My red stocking was already hung by the fire, and all my stuffed animals who had lost their little red felt tongues during the year sat all together in a wooden chair. It was a tradition to leave them out on Christmas Eve so that Mrs. Santa could sew on new tongues for them.

The Christmas tree was beautiful: Ba had made Victorian ornaments out of scraps of pretty materials such as velvet, organdy, silk and chiffon that were carefully glued to styrofoam balls and then decorated with sequins, gold braid and bits and bobs of costume jewelry. Honestly, they looked like the crown jewels to me. There were gold and silver birds with silver floss tails clipped on the branches, and strings of candle lights made the tree a shimmering work of art.

Swags of real pine branches wrapped in red velvet bows decorated the mantle piece above the fireplace, and on either side, a golden dove was placed among the branches as though they had just settled down. The Three Kings tableau I had made for Ba years ago (made from construction paper cones decorated with glued-on sequins and glitter and topped with styrofoam heads with little crowns) was in pride of place on the heavy dark wood table.

Ba’s presents were works of art. They were so beautifully wrapped that, even as a child, I hated to open them. The year I remember best was when Ba chose pale pink glossy wrapping paper and coppery lace ribbons as her “present theme.” The final touch was carefully shellacked acorn caps (collected by both of us in the fall) on their twigs, glued onto the ribbons.

I always stayed there overnight, and it was a night filled with anticipation, joy, and pure magic. “My” room was upstairs in what Ba called the “Pink Room;” she had painted it herself in her favorite rose-pink, and all the bedclothes were pink as well. Around 8:30 or 9:00pm, Bumpa would say, “Well, if we want Santa Claus to come by tonight, we ought to think about getting to bed.”

Ba would put down the book she was reading, and go to the pantry to fill a plate with Christmas cookies and a glass of milk for me. Previously, we would have put out Santa’s own plate of cookies plus a carrot for the reindeer on the little end table by the fireplace. Once I had washed up and put on one of Ba’s voluminous nighties (I always ‘forgot’ pajamas when I stayed overnight so I could borrow her nighty), I kissed them both goodnight, and Ba gave me the plate of cookies and milk to take upstairs with me.

Once settled in the pink bed, I read my book and ate the cookies, all the time listening for sleighbells on the night wind. I always opened the window near the bed a crack, and loved the feel of that cold, cold night air coming in as I snuggled in warm blankets. I thought of all the good (and bad) kids all over the world, who must be thinking, as I was, of Christmas in the morning.

When it was still dark out, I went downstairs as quietly as I could to collect my Christmas stocking. The night before it was flat; in the morning it was lumpy and bumpy with unseen treasures. I always looked into the fireplace, too–and there were Santa’s footprints in the ashes! I don’t remember how old I was when I finally figured out that Bumpa used his boots to make those footprints, but it didn’t matter to me–I still got a thrill out of it.

Once I lugged my stocking back up to the Pink Room, I got back under the covers and upended it in my lap. There was always a Lifesavers “book,” filled with rolls of Lifesavers. There were little puzzles, a small stuffed animal, a storybook or two, an orange (always in the toe), a little red net bag of chocolate “coins,” wrapped in gold foil, a little doll, a few candy canes, a silver dollar, a stretchy beaded bracelet, and, as every year, there was a carefully wrapped china angel for my collection.

There I would sit, like a queen counting jewels, in bed and surrounded by all my treasures. After eating a few rolls of the Lifesavers and reading my new books, I always fell back to sleep. The scent of freshly-made coffee and bacon woke me up later on, along with the sound of Bumpa stacking the fire with more wood. It was my signal to get dressed, come downstairs and wish Ba and Bumpa a Merry Christmas.

While I waited for Mom and Dad to arrive with all our gifts from home, I lay under the tree looking up at the lights and enjoying the sweet anticipation of all the presents under the tree. Also, each and every one of my formerly tongue-less stuffed animals had brand new red tongues!

Christmas breakfast was always Ba’s creamy scrambled eggs served in the china casserole dish shaped like a chicken; also crisp bacon, orange juice, buttered toast and caramel cinnamon rolls. It was all delicious, but by then all I could think of was all those presents under the tree. Finally, one of the adults would take pity on me and say, “Ok, let’s go open presents!”

It was Ba’s particular genius each year to give you the one thing you just couldn’t live without. Looking back, I know now that she must have saved all year long to do this. One year I got a beautiful bride doll, complete with tiny pearl earrings. Another year my favorite gift was the fashion accessory every girl wanted that year; a gold watch pendant on a long chain. Yet another year there was a set of the newest invention: hot rollers! You plugged the whole set in, let them heat up, then curled your hair with them. At that time, it was light years away from the old brush-and-wire rollers we slept (and suffered) in.

The year I remember best was when Ba gave me a Singer sewing machine. That summer she had patiently taught me how to pin on a dress pattern, cut it out, follow the directions to sew the pieces together. It opened up a whole new world for me–I could actually make my own clothes! For the price of some cloth, thread and a pattern, I could make simple shifts, skirts, long and short-sleeve dresses, and once, even a bathing suit! That was 47 years ago, and to this day, I still use that old Singer. Newer, lighter and more efficient sewing machines are everywhere, but I wouldn’t trade that old machine for anything.

Those Christmases are ever close in my heart, as well as the overwhelming feeling of love and goodwill I felt and still do feel. Before I drifted off to sleep in that wonderful pink bed, I swear I heard the distant music of sleighbells floating on the air on that magical night. As grown-up Wendy said to Peter Pan when he finally thought to come back to take her to Neverland, “I am ever so many years past 20.” But I still feel that same magic at Christmas time, and I still hear those sleighbells late at night, wafting on the wings of the wind.