On Dogwoods, Aging and Beauty

If you wonder why I put this picture of our sole Dogwood tree in today’s post I’ll explain.  It has to do with my perception of beauty as I grow older and my feelings about why my perception has changed. 

Though not much to look at this scraggly lone Dogwood in our backyard is my favorite tree in the yard. I wait anxiously each spring to see how it will bloom, if a late frost will harm it and how its general health seems to be.  I tenderly trim it in the fall to stem the lankiness and promote fuller growth. 

Whatever the reason, I took to this Dogwood from the first. I wanted this tree to prosper and fill out, but in the 2 years we’ve been here it just seems to get by with minimal growth. Last spring we had a late frost and the blossoms were killed before they had much time to show. This year (as the photo shows) the tree has not bloomed on the higher branches yet. I remain hopeful it will eventually do so.

This speaks to my feelings about beauty, love and aging. It has become apparent to me that my idea of what is beautiful or what has beauty has changed as I’ve aged. I would certainly not have cared for this tree 20 years ago. Instead I would have focused on the fully blooming crab apple out front or the wild cherry tree that has already finished its blooming for the year.  My preference for It has to do with both the fragility of the Dogwood and the elegance of its sparse lines.

While the complex beauty of hundreds of blossoms appeals to many, my older eye is attracted to the rarity of blooms on the skinny Dogwood.  There is something to be said for developing a discerning eye. It allows you to appreciate what others miss. This has the effect of  making your world and your life richer. This simple ability to appreciate something as trivial as the skimpy flowering of a Dogwood tree can bring depth and context to a life that may be slowing down in other areas.

To date I have not aged gracefully. Instead I’ve fought it every step of the way.  Now, today, I see in my respect for the beauty of the Dogwood a start to that elusive grace. I begin to understand that there are distinct advantages to growing older if I will only look for them and accept them. My goal is to do just that.

One great thing that has happened to me is the understanding that I love my wife more today than when we we met. In spite of the difference in our relationship, (which I had mistakenly thought a sign of diminished love) I now understand that what my marriage has developed into has the grace and beauty of my favorite Dogwood tree.

So if there are fewer blossoms on the tree of our marriage the ones that are there are much more significant than the profusion of blooms in our youth. It has taken me some time to come to this understanding. I am thankful my spouse has been patient enough with me to allow me to reach this revelation on my own. She has often spoken about growing old together; now I begin to comprehend the beauty and grace in that process.

It has allowed me to see the beauty in our life, our marriage and each other. 

RT 

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Melancholia

There have been times in my life when my chief emotion seemed to be Melancholy. My senior year in high school and during my time in Memphis while going to tech school for the Marines are but a couple of those periods of depression. I have been a moody prick for some periods of time throughout my life .

I credit my wife of many years, Vicki, for making my existence so rich and full that these times of moodiness have been much fewer and much less frequent since our marriage. In addition, I believe my faith has helped me to understand that I’m not alone or without spiritual resources.

That being said; today is one of those days when I find myself slipping into the murky and familiar waters of melancholy. It rained this morning (God we need it) and the sky remains cloudy and the atmosphere gloomy. A perfect day to get into a real “Funk” and get in touch with my innately tortured soul.

May of this year will mark the third anniversary of my Mother’s death and also the third year since I put our dog Missy to sleep. I say I put her to sleep because it was my decision and I went into the room with her when they did the procedure. (Shit I hate that term) I held her and watched the light go out of her eyes as she peacefully died. Then I broke down and cried like a baby. To this day I cannot recall that time without a mixture of sadness, guilt and remorse at the loss of our constant companion of over 15 years. Missy was a small dog (mixed breed of Shih tzu and Lhasa Apso) with a sweet crooked grin and a loving demeanor. The sedative given to her before the death drug was administered had made her already glassy eyes (from cataracts) seem more liquid and indefinite. Attached to her front leg was an intravenous line wrapped in white bandage strips. It was if I was comforting a wounded friend instead of killing her.

Just a few weeks earlier that month we got the call on a Saturday morning from the nursing home just blocks from our house that my Mom had died before the ambulance could even be called. We threw on some clothes and went to find Mom dead and alone in what then seemed to me to be the cold and sterile environment of her room. We stayed with her till the Mortuary van came to take her to the funeral home. I helped the attendant wrap my Mom up in sheets and put her in the van. I will not ever be able to forget the sight of her in death or the feelings associated with that day. Her pallor was yellow tinged and waxen. The expression on her face seemed to me a mixture of surprise and minor pain. It did not look as if she’d suffered but that she was still thinking about living even in death.

In some ways Vicki and I were emotionally numb that morning. We had just completed bringing Mom to Phoenix (at her request), finding her a good home, (she needed 24 hour care) and making her as comfortable as possible. We were just 10 minutes from her and though she had been diagnosed as terminal, we expected a few months or weeks at least before she passed away. In fact in was only 6 days after we moved her from Selma, Alabama to Phoenix, Arizona before she was gone.

Our hearts and our wills were broken by the sheer irony of the situation.

In response to these sad and tragic events in my life I wrote the following songs. “I said Goodbye” was written about our pet Missy and “Now that you’re Gone” was inspired by the death of my Mother and the realization that I was all that was left of my parent’s family.

I place them here for your perusal and comment.

 

I SAID GOODBYE 

I said Goodbye to an Old Friend Today

I cried like a baby as she slipped Away

No one had told me that I’d feel this way

When I said Goodbye to an Old Friend Today

Verse 2

We’d been fast friends for the last 15 years

I think I saw her most every day

Now I’m not able to hold back my tears

After saying Goodbye to my Old Friend Today

CHORUS

I know the act of loving is not without it’s cost

The payment is the ending and the pain of the loss

But I can’t stop trying to feel this love I feel

Maybe that’s why I’m crying from knowing that it’s real

 Now I’m sad and wondering was the time too soon

But it was my decision and I’m left with just this tune

I guess this is my life I guess there’s nothing left to say

That’s why I said Goodbye to my Old Friend Today

 

I said Goodbye to an Old Friend today

 I cried like a baby as she slipped Away

 

NOW THAT YOU’RE GONE

 Now that you’re gone I feel so empty

Now that you’re gone I just don’t know what to do

Now that you’re gone I feel so empty Oh how I miss you

How I miss you

Verse 2

Now that you’re gone I feel so lonely

Now that you’re gone I feel so Blue

Now that you’re gone I feel so lonely Oh how I miss you

How I miss you

Chorus

If I’d had my way we would have had more time together

To get to know each other all over again

But the Good Lords plans intervened and our time came to an end

So here I am without you

Verse 3

Now that you’re gone I feel disconnected

Now that you’re gone Who do I belong to

Now that you’re gone I’m disconnected Oh how I miss you

How I miss you

  

 
RT
 
 
 

 

 

 
 
 
     

 

The 50th Anniversary of the Peace Symbol

 

Today fifty years ago graphic designer Gerald Holtom unveiled his creation at a Ban the Bomb rally in Great Britain. This design contains symbols used in Semaphore (flag code) for N and D standing for “Nuclear Disarmament.”

It has grown to mean much more or much less (according to how you view it) in the succeeding years.

During the 60s and Viet Nam it was much in evidence and has  had something of a rebirth during our present ill-advised conflict in Iraq. I watched a video today of a human Peace Symbol done in New York in honor of the 50th Anniversary.

For me the symbol will always remind me of those turbulent and yet wonderful times from the year I got back from Nam till the early 70s. I had done my bit for the good ole USA and wanted to reap some of the benefits of our free and open society. I missed out on Woodstock but wanted to have that same feeling take place in my life.

My buddy Vince and I had an apartment a couple of blocks from Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg when we were stationed at Quantico in 1970 and the first quarter of 1971. We did our best to live the Hippie lifestyle when not at work on the Marine Corps Base.

It certainly wasn’t any Woodstock experience, but it was definitely an Experience. We both had girlfriends from the college, though my first one was a local and my second dropped out to live with me. She ended up my first wife and to this day can’t stand the sight of me or the mention of my name. I’m sure she has ample reason. When we got married I was still a kid in spite of or perhaps because of 4 years in the Marines.

Since the 70s I haven’t given much thought to the Peace Symbol; not until Iraq. In 2003 before we went in the memories of Viet Nam and how messed up it was started to return. People advised against nation building and pre-emptive invasion. Nothing deterred the “Decider and Head Liar” from his course. It’s as though he and his advisors slept through a major portion of our recent history or were just arrogant enough to ignore it.

Funny how a regular guy like me can remember the lessons of Viet Nam and the President and his cabinet can’t!

Yes, the Peace Symbol brings back many memories, I just wish it would bring more Peace.

RT 

A SandwichBlogger Experience

Many of my generation have lost one or both of their parents. I fall into the latter category. The 3rd anniversary of my mother’s passing is coming up on May the 30th. I got to thinking about how much we Boomers and Sandwich Generationers have in common after reading Ronni Bennett’s series on her Mom’s final days.

I recommend “A Mother’s Last, Best Lesson” for anyone who has a critically ill parent or who has just lost a parent.

The most outstanding thing that Ronni and I have in common is that our Mothers’ deaths changed our lives in very big and important ways. I’ll let you read her series to find out how it changed her life. In my case it made me take a close look at priorities and allowed me to focus on living in the moment.

 This may sound like ethereal stuff but it is not. We moved from Phoenix to Hickory, NC. My wife and I are pursuing second careers and we are struggling with all the things our kids did when they started out. Only in our case our age is more a handicap than an advantage.

I refuse to let the stuff of life get me down these days. I have put my faith in God and my own ability to make the best of any situation thrown at us. And I know we can’t do it alone. We are reaching out to whoever can help us in job searching and blogging and all facets of our lives.

An important lesson for me has been my own vunerablilty and at times powerlessness to change circumstances.

My mother survived my Dad by 18 years and as long as she was alive I still felt connected to my family’s history and my roots. Now that I’m the oldest with the family name I feel incompetent to hand down even the little I know of my parents families and their place in History. I had always depended on my Mother to answer family questions and I miss just that small aspect of our relationship deeply.

We were not that close after I went in the Marines in 1967. We came back into close contact after Dad died in 1986 and then our lives went in separate directions again. She moved back to Selma, Alabama from Phoenix where we were and we moved from Phoenix to Colorado and then Flagstaff, Arizona. So we only saw each other every 18 months or so when we could afford to go back to Selma and visit her.

Even phone communication and letters where minimal. So we were dismayed when we got the call that she had been put in the Alzheimer’s wing of a hospital in Montgomery, Alabama. They kept her there 30 days, experimented with what drugs to give her and generally used up all her insurance and then dumped her in a nursing home. It was  an awful experience for her and a troubling one for my wife and me.

I will not go in to detail here about her last few months. That’s for another day. I will just leave you with this. The loss of a parent is a big deal to a BabyBoomer and the loss of your last surviving parent a much bigger deal. At least it was for me.

After almost 3 years I recently wrote this poem to help me deal with what happened. Here it is:

Rain & Pain

Writing on this wintry nite, drizzle then downpour, then not

Remembering cities I’ve lived in and missed getting my shot

If you’re successful in Phoenix then why go away?

Just to dodge a million people you dodged every day

There was work there and family and plenty of friends

Sure it got hot and gritty when parched by dry winds

And pools filled your evenings then hot tubs and sleep

Awaking next morning and taking the leap

Into the maelstrom of cars and business and deals

Wondering, questioning is this all real?

No water, no clouds, no green, not a tree

Is this the environment I envisioned for me?

Then getting the phone call from Parent back east

You’re needed in Selma to watch at a feast

Of mind eating, unreasonable, dementia and joy

Sure she still knows you, you were her boy

Some days you know her just like she knows you

Others less clear are the things you need do

To reconcile changes that came to your world

And talk to a Mother who thinks she’s a girl

After days and then weeks of progress you thought

To bring her more closely as she said you ought

To your town cross country at least a home near

Where she could live out her time without fear

Of being neglected and being alone

Being so fragile just skin on the bone

She sensed the necessity of travel though far

The need to be close, just minutes by car

We thought out a plan, executed it well

Were happy and pleased how her fears it did quell

Foolishly, unhumbly our hopes we dared raise

For God called her home in only six days

RT

Love is Simple and Beautiful

I am not the most romantic of men.  I’m trying though and anyway I figured I had my sense of humor to fall back on. At least I once thought myself to be funny, witty and that was why my wife loved me. In a recent poll on another blog I found out different. When she was asked about how I did on the humor scale I came out below the middle. This of course surprised me.

My mate told me I was a pretty serious guy most of the time and that was OK, but I was not all that funny.

Well, isn’t that just like someone you love to tell you the truth. So I’m working on being more intentionally humorous. I need to lighten up and since I know it now, I can work on it. The great thing is she loves me even though I’m not as funny as I thought I was. So if I increase the humor it just gets better; right?

She’s asleep beside me as I write this short post and every now and then she makes a Little sleep noise. I have listened to her in her sleep for over 25 years and still love her and the little noises. At times she has dreams that cause her to jump or breathe a little faster. That’s when I gently wake her and tell her it’s all right, I’m right here and she’s just dreaming. I know this is simple thing, yet for me these simple things are what love is all about. 

The movies tend to portray love as all passion and fierce encounters. Sure, when you’re young that’s part of it. But lasting love has to be built on a more solid foundation that just passion. You really have to like your partner, want to care for your partner and you have to enjoy the simple pleasure of just being with them. If you have that then your love is truly simple and beautiful. It doesn’t get any better than that. 

Don’t be afraid to say you’re sorry.

You just have to mean it. Simple sincerity is the key and nothing else is necessary.

Of course a little humor doesn’t hurt as long as you’re making fun of yourself. Most people will, when apologized to and made to understand your contriteness of spirit and willingness to make it up, accept an apology for some wrong you may have done them.

The severity of the incident and the time it will take to get over it make a big difference too. Sometimes in the blogging world that severity is not too bad and the time necessary to forgive and start to forget is negligible.

I know this because I involved myself in a situation recently that saw me on the wrong side of an argument or at least let’s call it a disagreement. In this case my feelings got hurt over what I considered a slight and an inference that my writing was less than ethical. I am not near the hot head I was 10 or 20 years ago, but I will still heat up quickly if I think I’m being treated rudely, unfairly or talked down to in any way.

My response in this case was to get on my high horse, fire off a retaliatory e-mail, making my case and standing on my principles. Then I wrote a blog post condemning the other party for being snobby and self -righteous. The next thing that happened was the issue became moot and my making a potential enemy of someone who I both respected and needed as a friend on the web made me seem a complete fool.

I immediately wrote an apology and even mentioned I would be eating a little crow that evening. What else could I dol? In this case I  had been just about totally wrong and had jeopardized something far more important for a principle that never even came into play! Does it get much dumber than that? Probably not, he answers to himself.

So I have done my best to make amends and that always starts with sincerely being sorry and then letting the other party or parties know that. Men especially seem to have this problem with their wives, girlfriends and female co-workers. We need to get over it guys. Nothing is more useless that bad feelings caused by the inability to recognize when you’re in the wrong. It may be unpleasant and an ego stomper sometimes, but usually that’s just what’s called for.

At times a good swift kick in the proverbial butt is what it takes to make us see clearly. Right after that should come a very sincere and heartfelt apology. Sometimes you will  find yourself thanking the other person for keeping you from making an even bigger mistake.

This has been one of those days for me. I’m happy to say I’m still not too old to learn a needed lesson when put before me like today. I just hope I can remember this one well enough to not repeat it any time soon. There is a whole world of other things I can do wrong if need be and of course the glorious opportunity to do a few things right as well.

RT

Speaking from the heart

A  few years ago, when still at work in a turnaround endeavor, I was sent to a school. This school was a “bootcamp for the brain.” The name of the company that does this training is Rapport Leadership International. The course was “Leadership Breakthrough 1” and I came back a different person, a better workmate, and it helped me become less bitter and angry about how screwed up my company had become.

It’s a good thing too, because I was eventually fired. My boss, (the VP of Sales) was fired and he was the one who hired me. I was looked upon as part of a failed regime and knew my time to be limited. Thanks to him I was recommended for the course (you must be sponsored to attend) and and the company paid the considerable fee. He saw how grouchy I had become and knew Rapport would help my attitude. That it did indeed.

The training takes place in the desert outside of Las Vegas. You arrive there on a bus with your classmates, who you haven’t met yet and don’t know from Adam. In a matter of 2 and 1/2 days you end up knowing some of them better than family members and most of them way better than your co-workers. I will not go into their practices and procedures because I don’t remember the details all that well. What I do retain is the key of the course.

What I learned was how to communicate sincerely, effectively and powerfully. It meant I had to honestly care about the people with whom I worked. It meant dealing with the whole person, but not letting that get in the way of doing our jobs. Just another way of approaching what should have been a common goal. No matter what you call it, if practiced it works.

It made a difference in  my marriage as well; for the better I believe. My wife was able to fold the improved version of me into our existence seamlessly, the way she accomplishes most things.

Now that I’m spending my days writing on the web I am working to bring what I learned to my blogs and all other written communications.

 I read from a very popular blogger on self improvement that he picks his subjects like they would be important to millions and then writes as though he’s talking to a person sitting across from him. I think  this combines speaking sincerely (or in this case writing) and picking material worthy of a large audience.

So for me, the subject of speaking from the heart is worthy of the attention of everyone. Not the kind of hurtful honesty so in vogue today, but the kind that comes from a place of humility, truth and courage. It’s tough to even think this way, much less to speak or write it. Yet speaking from the heart requires you first “think from the heart”. This in return means you must care about the people around you and from that you can learn to express yourself sincerely.

While in Rapport I listened to an Instructor tell about her childhood, her life, and her dreams and aspirations in such a powerful and sincerely passionate way that many cried. I admit to being among those who shed a tear for the words that so obviously came from the heart. Many of us do this in times of anger, hurt, or stress.

At these times we speak the unvarnished truth with a direct connection to our emotions without much filtering. The trick is to be able to express your powerful positive emotions, passion, and dreams in the same way. When you can do this even unwilling listeners  or readers will be moved to action or understanding.

It seems to me that on a blog you can only show your heart by respecting your readers and not being false in your voice. The catch is you must do this intentionally to be effective.

The older I get, the more I realize I actually know less; about anything.  So I make no pretense here of knowing how to do what I’m talking about any better than the next person, only that is an important skill or attribute to have for not only your on-line writing but your day to day communication with family, friends and co-workers.

Look to that place inside you for truth in your motives, actions and words. Take heed of the human needs of others when you interact with them and speak from the heart with power and passion when you can.

RT