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Take a Risk

I was on a solitary retreat of sorts, staying at my parents’ house while they embarked on a two-week vacation, playing caretaker for their beloved grown-up puppy, SamDog.

It was my good fortune that my mother’s upstairs studio space was available to me, and I was excited to start a new painting while they were away.  The alluring prospect of uninterrupted time and solitude was intoxicating, and I couldn’t wait to begin.

I knew exactly what I wanted to paint.  There was a sweet photo I had taken a while ago of my two little nephews during their recent visit to upstate New York. For their amusement we brought them to a nearby farm to see something they had never seen before. Cows! The photo captured the boys sitting by the pasture fence, clearly communing with the bovines grazing on the other side, enjoying a telepathic conversation.

This experience was so touching I wanted to express my heartfelt emotions and memorialize the poignant moment in paint. Concurrently, I was interested in an upcoming art show at a local university seeking submissions for the theme: Scenes in Agriculture.

A perfect fit!

Sammie kept me company as I selected a 9”x12” canvas and began to draw a simple rendering of the photo, omitting extraneous details and most of the meandering cows. I wanted to highlight the intimate interaction I witnessed as well as create a more cohesive composition. A full rendering of the photograph would diminish the narrative I wanted to portray. Less is more, as they say.

Given its diminutive size, you would expect this painting to be done in a matter of hours, but it took me a week to complete. It is an understatement to say that realistic painting is not my forte. I came across one stumbling block after another. It wasn’t easy for me to achieve the impression I wanted to create or get the details to look right. With patience and stick-to-it-iveness, though, eventually I was blessed with sleights of hand that depicted Daniel’s erect spine, Jeremy’s tossed-back head, the weather-worn wooden fence post, the sun’s shadows, the cows’ simple friendly curiosity.

I was not Winslow Homer, but the piece had a certain whimsical charm.

I think.

I had no assurance of its value.  Was it good?  Was it horrible? Should I frame it? Should I throw it out? The typical dilemma all artists confront. Non-artists, I think, cannot fully appreciate the anxiety, self-questioning, and lack of objectivity that creative people endure, no matter how often they succeed, or how many times their work is recognized and validated. It is an inevitable, painful aspect of the creative life.

There was no one to ask for an objective assessment of this piece, so I struggled mightily with the uncertainty of its quality. I rode a roller coaster of internal turbulence before I decided to go for it and submit the work, self-doubts be damned.

All along the half hour drive to the university, I battled the temptation to turn around and go home.  I managed to resist it and ultimately arrived at the school. Still, I sat in the parking lot a long time debating whether to go inside.  What finally pushed me out the car door was the knowledge that I could not accept coming this far without doing what I came to do.

So, I mustered my courage, quelled the inner terror, and just told myself to buck up.  It’s not as if the earth was going to crumble beneath me.  I was quite safe.  Nothing but my pride could be hurt.

It’s not like this was my first rodeo. I pretended to be nonchalant as I brought my little painting up to the reception desk where two old-ish ladies were processing submissions. When I handed my piece, “New Friends,” to one of the gatekeepers, she spontaneously exclaimed, “Isn’t that cute!”

My heart simply burst open. That was all I needed.  For one person to like my work, I was good to go.  Now I didn’t care one iota if the painting was selected.  I already had my reward. I walked back to the car elated and completely satisfied.

Later I was notified that my work had been chosen for the show.  Before the grand opening, I was notified that my painting had received an “Honorable Mention” ribbon from the judges!  I was flabbergasted.

From this experience I learned never to allow self-doubt to derail me. I also learned that it is imperative to take risks. There are so many blessings waiting for us, but they come only AFTER, and if, we take the risk!

[NOTE: This is a cell phone photo of an analog photo taken in the mid 1990’s. Much of the detail is lost in translation, but the image generally depicts the painting I reference in this essay]

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The Shunning

Do prepubescent hormones precipitate Mean Girl Syndrome? I wonder….

This genre of psychological warfare wasn’t a defined “thing” when I was a kid. But I learned at the delicate age of eleven all about the cruelty of the pathology.

In sixth grade I was a popular girl, securely tethered to a group of other popular girls. I did well academically. I was carefree. Life was a series of sleepover parties, giggles, pony rides, boy curiosity, and creative play.

One day, for no reason I could discern, my best friend, Louise, decided to shun me.  We were both boisterous girls, perhaps a bit bossy and full of ourselves, the presumptive class leaders. We weren’t conscious of our coronation. It’s just how it was.  And I certainly do not tell you this to boast about that dubious distinction but simply to depict that when I fell, I fell from a high perch into the abyss of humiliation and rejection.

Not only did Louise decide to stop speaking to me, she succeeded in rallying our mutual friends to her side of this manufactured battle. Worse, she made sure the entire class of boys and girls fell in line under her command.

It is well known that one of the most effective tactics one can deploy to break a person’s spirit is ostracism.  That was her weapon.  For weeks, not one person in the class would speak to me or even acknowledge my presence.  Even if they were sitting next to me, had to hand me something, had to ask or answer a question.  Louise had a firm grip on them all. 

I remember one girl. She was naturally kind and wanted to be friendly, but she refrained from doing so when Louise’s evil eye bored into her. I could feel the fierceness of that hateful gaze without even looking directly at it. I found myself feeling sympathy for the poor girl on the receiving end.

During class, the isolation was relatively bearable. I could focus on the lessons and distract myself with the teacher and the work. But lunchtime and recess were excruciating. I was left to eat by myself and play (cower) outside alone. No one would come near me.

I recall about a week into this, my teacher pulled me aside.  She noticed what was happening.  With compassion, she asked me if I would like her to intervene. I appreciated her kindness but, of course, that would be the worst thing she could do! I thanked her but begged emphatically, please do not do anything.

I remember each day after school crying hysterically as soon as I got home.  My mom comforted me, but she didn’t baby me.  She very matter-of-factly told me simply to hold my head up.  She advised me not to let anyone see how hurt I was. Like Michele Obama, she coached me to go high even if all others were going low. She believed that people would come around sooner or later. She urged me to be polite, stay strong, maintain my self-respect, and just wait it out. 

Which is exactly what I did, painful and difficult though it was.  I acted as if nothing about their behavior was odd or strange.  I was courteous and non-reactive. I literally pretended I didn’t notice what they were doing. It was hard, but I did it without faltering.  I never cried. I never begged for mercy. I smiled. I maintained poise. It was quite a feat for a young child, but somehow, I managed it.

The shunning only lasted a few weeks.  As suddenly as it had begun, Louise stopped being a mean girl and started talking to me again as if nothing ever happened. What is even more crazy, I was willing to resume our “friendship!” Once she started talking to me, everyone else started talking to me, and the whole matter just receded without a trace, as mysteriously as it had emerged.

With the hindsight of maturity and wisdom, I suspect I must have done something that sparked her jealousy or threatened her ego.  Rather than share the spotlight, she decided to grab it all for herself. Perhaps, in the end, the only reason she gave up fighting me was because the others grew weary of her tyranny. Maybe she chose to surrender before the tables were turned on her. Would I have returned fire? I don’t know.

This strange episode certainly was traumatizing at the time, but I can honestly say I am grateful for it, because quite early in life I learned a valuable thing.  I learned how to withstand the criticism, judgment, hostility, and rejection of others. Being battle-tested this way created in me an inner courage I may not otherwise enjoy now. I do not fear being rejected.  I do not worry if I take a controversial stand on some issue that others don’t approve or like.  I know how to endure negative reactions from people. I know I will survive them. This experience strengthened me so much that I can fearlessly assert my truth no matter what the consequences may be.

So, Louise, thank you for the gifts of courage and freedom you unwittingly helped me develop!

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What is Prayer?

What is Prayer?

Perhaps you think this question is unnecessary, the answer being so obvious.  I think it is worth exploring a bit. Perhaps there are facets of prayer we don’t always consider or utilize.

Certainly, the most obvious form of prayer is that of petition, supplication, aka begging!  We ask God for a house, a job, a car, a relationship, health, money, etc. We also ask for intangible support, like guidance, assistance, protection, insights, resolution to problems, and so forth. I imagine even self-proclaimed atheists, in the privacy of their thoughts, ask God for these things when they find themselves in dire circumstances.

As we grow spiritually, our prayers inevitably broaden beyond self-interest to pray for the needs and hopes of our loved ones. Maybe we even expand our scope to the community, our country, the entire world! Still, asking God for something that benefits our self or others is just one way to pray.

Another way to pray, which is also widely known and practiced, is the recitation of scripted prayers from sacred texts such as The Lord’s Prayer or Psalm 23 in the Holy Bible. I love these prayers. The words are powerful. They contain the accumulated gravitas of thousands of years of human hearts collectively yearning for the Divine.  They are succinct in their truth and wisdom. When praying these ancient prayers, I think it is important to fasten one’s heart and mind to the words as though they are being said, heard, and felt deeply for the first time. I suspect they may be of less impact if mechanically uttered by rote.

What has been growing in popularity these days is the practice of gratitude.  We are encouraged to count our blessings, to be thankful, to keep a journal documenting all the things we are grateful for.  This prayer practice opens our hearts and invites more blessings and abundance to flow into our life. Gratitude instantly engenders positive energy and feelings of joy and comfort.

Practicing gratitude is a conscious choice, and it reminds us that our perspective in life is also a choice! We choose to see the glass half full or half empty, to quote a cliché. We can either focus on our good fortune or tumble into a self-pity pit.

Confession is prayer when we recognize our mistakes and confess them to God with contrition, acknowledging our shortcomings and admitting our failure to do the right thing. If we are honest with ourselves, we know when we have transgressed God’s law. We ask for forgiveness and grace.

No one can avoid committing “sins” in life.  We all fall short. There is no shame in that. But, when we admit and take responsibility for these inevitable slip-ups, we enable God to transform them, to lighten the burden we carry, and we receive forgiveness and grace.

Confession cleanses us on the inside. It promotes humility and makes it easier for us to start again, striving to be our best selves.  I believe that confession is a private matter between oneself and God and intermediaries are definitely optional!

Praise is prayer, too. Sometimes we are so ecstatic we can’t help but express our reverence for God’s majesty. We bow our knees before God’s awesome might, boundless love and beneficence, and unceasing miracles. When praying this way, we are simply recognizing and sharing our heartfelt adoration for all God’s wondrous works. All we want to do is strive to give back to God some fraction of what has been so generously and freely given to us. Praise acknowledges we are God’s creations and not our own. We recognize a being much greater than ourselves choreographs this spectacular universe.

The most intriguing prayer to me is the prayer of meditation.  We bring our hearts and minds to God without an agenda of any kind.  We don’t even speak. We merely abide, listen, and remain fully present, creating the space for God’s soft voice to be heard. We are still and mindfully alert. It is wonderful to implement a meditation practice, but we can pray this way anytime, under any circumstance, just by choosing to stop for a moment, be still, pause, and listen.

When all is said and done, prayer doesn’t have to be arduous and time consuming. My favorite shortcut to feeling connected to God and finding peace, acceptance, and restful calm is simply to recite one or both these little prayers:

  • Thy Will Be Done
  • Be Still and Know That I Am God
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Denver Adventure – Final Chapter

Denver Adventure – Final Chapter

Just as my life took a new turn, so did the weather. January rang out the comfortable mild days and rang in frigid temperatures and blizzards of snow. I was amazed how dramatically Denver’s winter vacillated between sunny warmth and biting cold. Thankfully, after every tempest the sun quickly returned and the mounds of snow rapidly melted.

My Crabtree & Evelyn gig was over, except for occasional hours here and there. So, I could no longer postpone the existential fact that I had to find a “real” job. And soon. Right after the new year I started the search in earnest.

It was tough.

Not having a car curtailed my options. In fact, it was a huge obstacle. Before responding to any advertisement, I had to be certain the bus route near me would service the office’s location. One prospect seemed to be a good fit. The University of Denver was looking for a secretary for the Business Department Dean. I was amply qualified, loved academic environments, and knew free classes might be a perk. Best of all, the campus was on my bus route.

Thank God for Irish luck. The university called me soon after I mailed my resume and an interview was scheduled.

The Big Day arrived. Bedecked in high heels and a navy blue power suit, I must have been quite a comical sight walking on the shoulder of the highway, making my way to the bus stop as cars incessantly whizzed by.

I didn’t care.

I was excited. The University was lovely, the interview went well, and I enjoyed the people I met. On the ride home I was tired but optimistic.

While I awaited news of my fate, I continued writing, reading, going to the mall, and walking in the park. But I wasn’t relaxed anymore, and I wasn’t having fun. I became increasingly consumed by fear and uncertainty. Lack of income was a pressing concern, and I was beginning to feel quite desperate.

One day I grabbed the only cash I had (three dollars) and put it in my jeans pocket to buy some milk and cottage cheese at the Circle K after my daily walk. These staples would tide me over until my next paycheck arrived from Crabtree & Evelyn.

Standing at the checkout counter with my precious sundries, I reached into my pocket. To my dismay (horror), nothing was there!  I checked several times. There was no money in my pocket. I was embarrassed and told the cashier I must have lost it on my walk. I had no choice but to leave the items at the store and go home.

On the way back to my apartment I was uncharacteristically calm given the situation. Just as I opened my door, I heard an authoritative voice somewhere inside me say: “Don’t worry about money. It is not your true sustenance.” The words were startling, yet a sense of peace washed over me. I literally had NO money, but I felt perfectly safe and comforted.  I knew in that moment everything was okay.

How odd.

And then it got odder.

After entering the apartment, I absentmindedly put my hand in my pocket and…magic! My hand pulled out three dollars.

What???? IT WAS NOT THERE A FEW MINUTES AGO!

I was utterly flummoxed. Was this some weird metaphysical shapeshifting, where something disappears and then reappears? It was an unsolvable mystery. I shrugged it off and walked back to the store to get my food. As I paid the cashier, I smiled a Cheshire Cat grin and chuckled, shaking my head in disbelief.

During the ensuing weeks, still waiting for The Call, another odd thing happened. My long-deceased grandfather began hovering over me, a tangible presence. I could even smell the cigars he used to smoke. This invisible apparition was not unpleasant, but it was a bit smothering. I also felt his insistent prodding. I was being nudged to do something. Something I would never think to do and certainly did not want to do.

Before I continue, I need to provide a little background for this strange tale. When I was packing for the move to Denver, I made a quixotic decision to bring with me the diamond ring my grandfather had bequeathed to me in his will. As a little girl I ooh’ed and ahh’ed over that gem’s pretty sparkles, and my awe always amused him. I’m guessing that’s why he chose me to be the ring’s custodian upon his death.

There was no reason to bring this jewel with me. It’s not like I could wear it. After all, it was a large man’s ring. But I guess I couldn’t bear thinking of its light being squelched, deeply buried in the bowels of my brother’s gloomy basement.

Anyway, the cattle prod kept poking me, and words streamed like a banner across my cortex: “Sell the diamond.” I was in dire need of money, for sure, but I still resisted the idea. This was my most cherished talisman.  It would crush my heart to sell it. But the weeks were passing without any word from the University, and I began to lose hope. The situation was becoming unsustainable.

At last I succumbed to the pesky prompting and went over to the jewelry store to get the ring appraised.  What could it hurt to know what it was worth? It appraised for $3,000. The clerk really liked the stone and offered me $1,500 for it. I still didn’t want to sell. I left the store clutching the appraisal in my hand.

I awoke the next morning knowing I had to do it. No job. No income. No prospect for either. The only viable choice was to sell the diamond so I could finance my return to Washington.

I did the deed.

And then, as quickly as his presence infiltrated my consciousness, my grandfather’s spirit dispersed. I viscerally felt him depart.  I guess his work was done. Was he my guardian angel?

Flush with cash, I leapt into action and started preparing for the move back east.  I returned the typewriter.  I trashed the mounds of paper upon which I had expelled my demons. I notified the rental office of my upcoming departure, learning I would have to forego my security deposit for breaking the lease. I started packing boxes to mail. Laurie kindly offered to transport to Goodwill anything I couldn’t take with me. I bought an airline ticket.

I was starting to feel good at last, and ready to move on.

And then…

In the middle of packing boxes and deciding what to leave for Laurie to shepherd, I received The Call.

Oh, my goodness, I was floored. They apologized for the long wait. There was an explanation provided, but I don’t recall what it was. Then they offered me the job. I grappled with this surprising turn of events. I had already resigned myself to letting go of the road I was not meant to travel!  It was too late to put the brakes on now and reverse course. The train was too far down the tracks. With regret (but not as much as I expected) I declined the offer and explained I was moving back to Washington.

And that was that.

My Denver sojourn lasted five months. I suppose most would say it was a failure. Certainly, things didn’t work out as I had hoped. But this experience was a crucial juncture, a pivotal turning point in my life. It was an ideal opportunity to regroup and recharge. I discovered what I was made of in the face of significant challenges. I learned to trust uncertainty. My faith in human goodness was restored. I conquered the specter of financial privation, endured loneliness and isolation, confronted many fears, and healed the wounds of my checkered past. I was abundantly rewarded by this adventure in many unanticipated ways.

Most importantly, it fortified me to begin life anew.

Isn’t that success?

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Denver Adventure – Part III

Denver Adventure – Part III

Now what?

Well, I needed some food, bathroom supplies, towels and bedding, kitchen essentials, and, of course, a TV!  Fortunately, that big mall across the street housed a grocery store and a Kmart, which would readily provide everything I required to be fully operational. It was so much fun shopping for new things that would tide me over until my pre-packed boxes arrived from D.C. It took a few trips to purchase everything. Wisely, I enlisted taxis for the portage.

Ahhhh. Bliss.

Finally, I felt safe and settled with a home base from which I could navigate the next phase of my yet-to-be-determined plan for employment. Until then I was free to do whatever I wanted to do.

The precious luxury of unscripted time was intoxicating. I could sleep. I could relax. I could hear myself think. The nearby park was a sanctuary. I walked several miles every day, basking in heavenly Denver sunshine. I read a lot. I explored all the shops in the mall.  I went to movies.  I remember seeing “The Accused” with Jodie Foster and how scared I was walking home in the dark.

As the days passed, it dawned on me that I ought to figure out what led me to jumping off this steep cliff into the complete unknown! I started to realize that finding a job wasn’t the priority just yet. What I really needed to do was detoxify, and I don’t mean from alcohol.

I needed to detoxify from years of stressful, meaningless jobs. From multiple failed romantic relationships. From unhealthy relationships in general. From the accumulation of known and unknown emotional baggage.

It was time to self-administer Xtreme psychotherapy!

Why not rent a typewriter? Writing would help me delve into my muddled psyche and untangle what had become so unmanageable by age 30. A typewriter would enable me to write swiftly enough that my conscious mind could not interfere with the excavation of my subconscious mind, where the bogeymen lived.

I perused the yellow pages and found a company that rented and delivered electric typewriters. I was set up the very next day. Supplied with ribbons and reams, I began.

Page after page after page.  I spent hours a day typing my thoughts and feelings. Buried treasure and hidden explosives were abundant. I began to unearth the jewels and gingerly detonate the bombs. This became my mission.  My work.

As the weeks passed, I continued to write, but the initial euphoria waned. I started to feel disconnected from the world.  It occurred to me that some structure and human interaction may be important to my well-being. So, in early November as I walked around my favorite store, Crabtree & Evelyn, I spontaneously asked the cashier if they were hiring for the holidays.  I had never worked retail before, but I thought it might be fun. This wasn’t a career move.  I just needed social connection. The modest income would be a bonus.

I was hired on the spot.

As Thanksgiving approached, I was not the least bit sad or lonesome without family. I planned to celebrate the day in style. I cooked myself a genuine Thanksgiving dinner: roast turkey, mashed potatoes, lima beans, stuffing, gravy, and apple crisp with vanilla ice cream for dessert.  I watched my favorite holiday movie “Miracle on 34th Street” on my 13-inch TV. It was a blissful day.

I was also excited to get a Christmas tree that weekend. I had never been without one and was determined this year would not be an exception. Off to the mall I went and purchased a full-sized tree with no idea how I would transport it back to my apartment. I think I planned to drag it all the way across the mall and across the highway. But, miraculously, just as I was leaving the store with tree in hand, a woman who worked there was going on her lunch break and offered to throw it in her truck and take it to my apartment for me. This was such an unsolicited generous gesture. I still marvel at her impromptu benevolence.

My co-workers at Crabtree & Evelyn were wonderful. They extended their friendship to me. Laurie and I went out for meals and movies. She introduced me to her friends. She drove me to Golden where she boarded her thoroughbred horse. (It was comforting to be around horses, since they were an important part of my childhood).

Amanda took me under her wing, too. We went to see Kenny G in concert. After hearing about my cloistered Thanksgiving, she insisted I spend Christmas with her family. She picked me up early in the morning. I spent a delightful day at her beautiful home in Aurora with her children and grandchildren, and then she drove me home that evening. Her kindness and generosity toward me that day blew my mind. It was a memorable Christmas I always recall with deep affection and gratitude.

Alas, after the holidays, life took another turn. Crabtree & Evelyn didn’t need me anymore. My financial resources had dwindled considerably. It was time.

Time to get a “real” job!

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Children Inspire Me Most

Hello Again!  Since I had another writing exercise this morning and like how it unfolded, I am sharing it with you as well as my writing community.  I hope you enjoy this ditty, and that it triggers some sweet memories for you, as well!

What inspires me most is….

There are so many paths I could explore with this statement.  Too many. I will stick with the first thought that presented itself to me when I wrote those words on my pad of paper and set my timer for ten minutes.

Children. Children inspire me most. All children. Any child. My nieces and nephews, my friends’ children, even a child I never met and will never know.

Why do children inspire me so much?

I love a child’s purity of being. They have no artifice. They aren’t skilled at subterfuge and misrepresentation. They are authentically themselves, in all their charms, gifts, faults, flaws, challenging behaviors, and stunning humanity.

This is BEAUTIFUL to me.

I love the open innocence of those little faces gazing up at me.  How they make intensely direct eye contact, or shyly hide behind their parent’s leg.

I feel bliss when I am in their presence. I feel blessed.

Even in the darkest days of my ten-year bout with chronic depression, I recall babysitting our family’s little ones, and my cloud always lifted the moment I was in their presence.  Partly because I refused to impose my gloom on them.  Partly because their radiance outshone my darkness.  For those moments I was with them, I was free from my self-absorbed agony, and free to bask in their joy. It was the only relief I got.

Oh, yes, I also love children’s curiosity, imagination, and their desire to KNOW. Their willingness to hug, kiss, cuddle, and play.

Gosh, what’s not to love about a child?

Two examples of a child’s beauty come to my mind now.

There was a time when I was in yet another phase of sadness, and my sweet little two-year-old niece witnessed me sobbing.  Even in the depths of my grief, I was consciously aware that my raw adult out-of-control emotion might terrify her.  Instead, she moved toward me, to look me in the face, pat my shoulder and ask: “What’s wrong, Aunt Jill?  Mommy, Aunt Jill is sad.”  She was so concerned.  There was so much kindness and care in that soft little voice and that gentle sweet touch.

Another time I was with my sister-in-law at her home.  She was carrying her three-year-old son in her arms as she walked her mother to the driveway to bid farewell.  It had been a very sad visit, since my sister-in-law’s father was in the last stages of cancer.

As my nephew clung to his mommy’s neck, I was standing behind them, feeling the grief as the women said goodbye, and I glimpsed my nephew’s little hand patting his mother’s back with such simple kindness and reassurance. He intuitively felt her need for comfort.

Recalling those gestures of these young children moves me to tears even now, many decades later.

Children reflect what is most precious in all of us.  And we all remember there was a time when we were honest, pure, innocent, creative, imaginative, open, spontaneous, trusting and loving.

I think it is the yearning we feel to return to that state of being.

I think it is my life’s quest, actually.

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Denver Adventure – Part II

Denver Adventure – Part II

I found a dolly by the baggage claim and loaded up my luggage. Then I made my way to the taxi stand and grabbed a cab to take me to the hotel. It felt like I was on one of my typical adventures, the only difference being a few extra suitcases in tow.  I had followed this routine many times when I traveled around Europe years earlier. It felt easy and familiar. Not the least bit scary.

Once I was in my hotel room, with some of my stuff unpacked, I plopped down on the bed and assessed my situation. I may not remember accurately, but I don’t think there was any anxiety upon my arrival.  I wasn’t fretting, “Oh my God, what have I just done?”

My modus operandi when traveling was to live in the moment.  I relied greatly on my intuition to guide my path, step by step.  So, my first inkling was to explore the city. I went down to the hotel lobby and picked up a city map and headed out for a stroll to get the lay of the land and have something to eat.

It was a nice town. A cute town. There were restaurants, and shops, and movie theaters, and cultural venues. But an important and completely unfortunate detail quickly dawned on me as I walked around.

Denver is TINY.

I looked for office buildings, but there weren’t many I could identify, which meant there weren’t going to be many employment opportunities either. After a few conversations with the locals, I learned with much dismay that downtown was merely the pupil of Denver’s eye. Most of the city is a vast network of sprawling highways!

Yikes. I was not prepared for this.

How did I overlook that little factoid? I erroneously assumed Denver was just like any major east coast city. That there would be plenty of employment opportunities within walking distance from whatever home base I chose. A car would not be a necessity.

I stumbled back to the hotel in a daze, stunned by this unexpected revelation. I started to fret. Oh my God, what have I just done?

The next day I awakened with a heavy shroud of foreboding gripping me before I was fully conscious. I knew I was in trouble. I felt nauseous with fear and discouragement, but I wasn’t ready to give up just yet.

I decided my priority should be to try to find a place to live, and then focus on finding employment.  I still had a fair amount of money saved and could afford a few months without income.

As I started making inquiries about apartments for rent, anxiety and self-doubt began to close in and suffocate me.  I had no idea where to look for a viable place to live, what locations would be navigable without a car, or how well the mass transit system served the areas I was considering.  The unknown variables seemed insurmountable.  I made many calls that day but ended up not leaving the hotel room.  Before I fell asleep in the fetal position, I decided that if tomorrow was more of the same, I had no choice but to go back to D.C. and hang my head in shame and failure.

Then something incredible happened.

The third day, I awoke feeling another shroud around me, but this time it was a pervasive sense of peace, grace, and KNOWING.  I don’t know how I knew, but I knew that day was the day I was going to find a place to live.  I was completely relaxed.  And I started making phone calls again.  I trusted my feelings to guide me and when I got a sense that “this is the one,” I made an appointment for a showing and took a cab to the apartment complex.

En route, I was pleased to see multiple bus stops along the highway. Especially the one near the entrance of the garden apartments I was about to see.  I also was buoyed by the fact that fully furnished apartments were available.  There was a huge mall right across the street, so I would be able to take care of all my needs for food, sundries, even entertainment. There was also a vast public park within walking distance.

The apartment was adorable. Clean and bright. It had one large bedroom, large living room, decent kitchen and bathroom, with a dining nook.  It was on the top floor so I wouldn’t have to worry about footsteps stomping on my head. The price was right, and it was available immediately!

Absolutely perfect in every way.

I signed the lease, left my deposit check, went back to the hotel to get all my things, and was fully moved in later that afternoon.

Wow. My first essential task was miraculously accomplished.  I was so happy I completely forgot that only the day before I had expected to be leaving Denver in defeat.

What a difference a day makes.

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Denver Adventure – Part I

Denver Adventure – Part I

My eardrums began to buzz. The vibration expanded and expanded until it filled my entire head. As it permeated my brain, it became increasingly loud.  The sensation was a little freaky, but I recognized it, because it had happened to me once before.

A few years earlier, during a particularly painful phone call with my father, the same sensation occurred. First there was the buzzing phenomenon, but then there was a sharp tangible internal CLICK. Feeling existentially imperiled, my conscious mind completely shut off mid-conversation. With the flick of a light switch, my awareness turned pitch-black and my light went out. I couldn’t hang up the phone fast enough.

Sorry, I digress.

Let me start again and provide the preamble for this story.

In the 1980’s I was living and working in Washington, D.C. Being young and single, it was typical for me to go to happy hour several nights a week after work. Also, throughout those years, every summer I rented a beach house in Delaware with a group of women I labeled my “beach house friends.”  We were a clique of young hard-working women seeking escape from life’s pressures, in search of carefree fun in the sun.

One mid-week evening in late August, the beach house cohort gathered at some bar in downtown D.C., just as we had countless times before.  Nothing was different or unusual that night. It was the familiar scene of superficial banter, flirting with men, and excessive drinking.

The buzzing sensation started after the first sip of my third beer. As its volume rose, I found myself wafting into interior silence.  I could still hear my friends’ voices droning on and the cacophonous chatter of the background din, but I completely lost touch with all of it.  I was drifting away inside. I marveled that I was so far away, but not one of them seemed to notice.

As I retreated into the cavern, I heard my inner voice echoing: “I can’t do this anymore.” More emphatically: “I can’t DO this anymore!”

CLICK.

That night was the last time I went to happy hour with that group of women. And it was the last summer I shared a beach house with them. I decided to make a dramatic change. My life had been screwed up for quite a while. No need to share the details here, but I was feeling somewhat desperate to hit the reset button.  This unexpected buzzing encounter woke me up and prompted me to act.

I impulsively (intuitively) made the decision to move out west.  Get away from everything and everyone and just start over someplace entirely new and completely on my own.  Two potential locations appealed to me most.  Seattle, WA and Denver, CO.  After a little research, I decided Denver would be the better choice.  Seattle was too far away from the east coast where most of my family lived, and Denver was sunnier.

Things moved swiftly from there.  Conveniently, my apartment lease was expiring the end of September. So, I gave notice at my job, packed up my belongings, determined what I would take with me, what I would have boxed ready to mail to me when I was settled, and what I would leave in storage at my brother’s house. I cashed in my 401(k), bought a one-way airline ticket, and made a reservation at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Denver.

That was the full scope of my plan.

Not surprisingly, my father was adamantly and derisively opposed to this latest harebrained scheme of mine. Not surprisingly, his protests were merely grist for my determination mill.

I don’t recall the flight to Denver, but I do recall the four-piece set of blue and maroon Samsonite luggage I brought with me. I recall landing at Denver Airport and gawking at the mountains from the tarmac. I was happy. I was excited. I was free.

 

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I Am Ready…

I am Ready

If I were to die tomorrow….

This idea came to me this morning.  To dig deep and explore something brave.  Was I willing to really contemplate this question?  I set my timer for ten minutes and wrote without left-brain interruption.  The following emerged:

If I were to die tomorrow, I think I would be okay. Wouldn’t I? I have lived a lot of years.  I have experienced a great deal of personal growth, come to resolve many painful experiences that warped my early life.  I learned to care for and love myself. To care for and love others. I have been able to express myself creatively, through the gifts of music, art, and writing.  I have developed deep faith and trust in God, forged in the fire of severe depression, excruciating pain, privation, and existential loneliness.

I never fit into the world properly!  The way others seemed to so effortlessly. But eventually I was able to outlast the childhood labels “bad,” “troubled,” “problem child,” “too sensitive,” “maladjusted.”

Over the years I managed to develop strength, courage, integrity, character, and a generous heart. I grabbed onto the clay of my beginnings and molded my life into something solid, beautiful, authentic, and worthy. I am not done yet.  I am not perfect. I am not fully actualized.  But I succeeded in creating something grounded from a very shaky foundation. I am proud of the work I have done to create a decent human being.

I trust in eternal life, so I don’t fear physical demise.  It makes me sad to think my loved ones might suffer from my passing, but I would not feel sad for myself.

I see death as a victory of sorts.  I made it through! For all the times I believed it was impossible to survive in this world, let alone thrive, I made it to the mountaintop of joy, scratching and clawing my way up from the valley of despair.

This is my singular accomplishment. And I am so grateful I achieved it.  In case tomorrow is “the day.”

So much pain in this world, but so much beauty, too. I have felt it all.  Deeply. I have no regrets. I have left no path I wanted to follow unexplored. Sure, there is always more one can do. But I don’t expect to have everything before I go. Life is a process, an unfolding. There is no final destination. I’m okay with that.

I feel free.  Free from the unconscious robotic dutiful living we are programmed to live. Free from the enslavement of financial need, which constricts one’s ability to follow their rightful calling. Free from the self-loathing we are trained to accept. Free from religions’ definition of God, yet fully devoted to spiritual life and my ever-evolving understanding of God.

My life has been lived well. Not perfectly. Not without hurting others, or myself. But if tomorrow is the time, I can go with my head held high. I did not forsake my work. I embraced the struggle, even if I had to do it kicking and screaming.  I never gave up trying to become healthy and whole.

I am old and wise.  There is no fear.  I trust Divine timing in all things. I surrender easily. For all the decades of suffering when I cried out “Why,” I see so clearly now I am one of the lucky ones. Several Dark Nights of the Soul guided me to a life full of sunshine.

Take me, Lord, when You will. I am ready when you are!

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Irish Magic

Magic

Early in the fall semester of sophomore year, my friend, Maura, mentioned to me that one of the Irish Lit professors was organizing a student trip to Ireland for January break. She was excited about the prospect and planned to go.  She thought I might be interested, too.

The Casey/Cronin DNA in our family tree was not particularly valued by my parents, so I did not grow up with an appreciation for or understanding of Ireland’s beautiful landscape, epic history, creative imagination, and mystical spirit. Despite my cultural ignorance, this unexpected opportunity called to me like a primal echo. Without knowing any details about the trip whatsoever, I just KNEW I had to go.

There was a problem, however.  I had no money to pay for it.  The cost for the three-week adventure was approximately $1,000 (yes, this was many, many years ago), excluding any personal spending money. Ugh.

I was a poor college kid living on a shoestring budget.  My tuition and board were paid for by two scholarships, but any discretionary funds I had were whatever I scraped together during summer waitressing and my low paying part-time campus job. I did not have an extra $1,000 lying around. And I couldn’t ask my parents for money. They were paupers, too!

I knew my dream was completely unattainable, but I also knew with every atom in my body that this was going to happen. Somehow. The window for registration was open for about a month, so there was a little time to find a way. What to do?  How can I raise these funds?  I was completely bereft of a plan.

I spent the next few days, going to classes and doing homework assignments, not trying to figure it out, just holding the desire in my heart without equivocation.

At some point a random idea popped into my mind from The Void. I heard this quiet prompting: “Ask the Foundation for an additional scholarship.”  Huh? That idea would never have occurred to me!  The Foundation awarded a set amount annually for college tuition and board. Period. The grant was never offered with the option for a recipient to come back and ask for more. To do so was unthinkable hubris! So, I immediately dismissed that inner proposition and said to myself, “No, I can’t do that.”  But the idea persisted, like a mist hovering over me, until I started to consider, why not?  What harm could it do to ask?

Without one scintilla of expectation, I sat down and typed a letter to the Foundation’s Board of Directors.  I explained the nature of the trip. That it would be educational.  That we would receive four academic credits after completing a research paper on something learned from the experience.  I may have slipped in that it was personally important to me to explore my Irish heritage.

I mailed the letter and didn’t think much more about it.  I truly didn’t expect to receive a response, let alone any money.  But much to my delight and surprise, within a week or so I received a heartfelt, supportive reply from the Foundation and a check for $500.

Wow! Well, now I HAD to go!  The Foundation clearly stipulated that the funds could only be used for the trip.  But there was still the pesky issue of that other $500.  No new idea for income readily presented itself.

On the next phone call with my mom (back in the day when we used dorm pay phones and called our parents hardly ever), she told me that in her weekly phone call with her mother, she had provided the routine status update on all the grandkids, and shared that I had an  opportunity to go to Ireland and was hopeful I would find a way to do so.

Trust me, Mom did not ASK my grandmother to help me financially! My grandmother, a frugal woman, was wealthy.  But she was never prone to showering us with money.  Other than the annual five-dollar bill that arrived inside my birthday cards, I don’t recall a time when my grandmother doled out cash.

For some inexplicable reason, this time she was moved to do so.  She must have asked Mom how much I needed, because a check for $500 showed up in my mailbox the following week.  Blessedly, it arrived just as the window for trip registration was closing.  The trip was limited to 40 students, and I was the last person to grab a slot.

To say the trip was fabulous and life-altering is an understatement.  I loved everything about it.  The land was magical.  The people were charming and delightful. The music, pubs, dance, architecture, history, language, even the weather resonated with me at the deepest soul level.  It felt like HOME.  I awakened to my ancestral heritage on that trip.  I even saw my instinctive love for potatoes and beer in a whole new light!

The ancient proverb “Where there is a will, there is a way” is a strong aphorism for a reason.  Holding an intention, with commitment and determination, refusing to allow doubt to creep in, is a powerful thing. This was a miracle for me. And I learned that, if we want something with our whole hearts, and expect it to happen, one way or another, it can, and it will.

Magic exists! We just need to believe it and trust.