I Vary Widely

by Cat Skoor

Contemplate

“What you possess in the world will be found at the day of your death to belong to someone else. But what you are will be yours forever.”Henry Van Dyke

Sunset at the edge of the Puget Sound.

Sunset at the edge of the Puget Sound.

Typical morning: Dogs are sleeping in the living room. A fire is burning. It’s cold in the living room, still, so I’m wrapped up in warm things made of flannel and knits, black, white, and gray for the morning, but when I get dressed I’ll zest up the wardrobe with a bit of color. Thin clouds barely cover the blue of the sky, and there isn’t even a hint of breeze. I can hear the wall clock ticking. I can hear my dogs breathing. I can hear a robin singing in a nearby Douglas fir.

My mother-in-law died this Saturday. It wasn’t unexpected, because she’s had Stage Four cancer for years, but the sudden turn from “tired with a lot of nausea” to “resting comfortably” happened with an alarming speed. I was horrified when I walked into her room Saturday mid-morning. She wasn’t the person I knew anymore, and I knew she’d hate it that we were sitting around her bed watching her struggling to breathe.

But we stayed anyway. We missed her death by an hour, but returned to sit with her body until the overly nice, and soft-spoken undertaker (or whatever he was) came to take her away. He made us leave the room while he moved her from the bed to the gurney. He covered her with two beautiful quilts. Two of the women who worked there: nurses? Attendants? Walked with us down the hall, into the elevator, down another hall, then outside to the white van. One of the nurses(?) held a battery-operated candle with a fake flickering light while she walked with us. I didn’t know what to do. Do I smile? Weep? Stay silent? Hold my husband’s hand? My sister-in-law took my arm and asked me about the fake candle.

“Maybe they’re just trying to be sweet,” I offered. One of the women told me how so many people visited my mother-in-law this week.

When we rushed back to the nursing home to say the first of our final goodbyes, and when we got out of the car, there was a rogue wind that blew through the both of us. The hospital is set on top of a hill in West Seattle. From the parking lot, if you turn to the east, you are looking out over the most beautiful city scene you’d ever hope to see, far above the buildings across the Puget Sound.

“It’s wonderful, now!” I thought I heard my mother-in-law whisper in the wind. I’m glad I imagined her finally free, because seeing her lying on that bed, perfectly still and permanently dead was a life changing shock. I know she feared death, and now there she was – very, very dead. I kept looking at her face, realizing she truly wasn’t there anymore. That adage about our bodies being left as a shell seemed true enough. I kept wondering if she’d breathe. I expected her to tell me a story and laugh. She laid there, completely still. So quietly.

A friend named Tim was on Facebook as I sat in that room. I told him I felt traumatized and he replied,

Oh that is a great gift. I just said good bye to a friend who died. Went in with his ex to say good bye and touch Tom. Helps make everything complete to be present. Her spirit is thanking you for staying with her. All the FB talk about gratitude is practice field for right now. She’s grateful, and I am sure your Jim is grateful you are there, too.”

Then he shared a beautiful poem by Jane Kenyon:

Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.

 

Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn. Let evening come.

 

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.

 

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.

 

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.

 

Let it come, as it will, and don’t
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.

So beautiful. I hope she felt that acceptance at the end. I hope she welcomed the evening, that she let it come, that she felt great peace. And I guess that’s something I’ll never get to know. Our journeys are uniquely our own, aren’t they?

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Intention

 

 

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It’s a quiet day. Cold in the house: 58 degrees, but we got our electric bill a few days ago and it was way too high. The space heater is in the garage and I’m going to “rough” it for a while. Can’t afford to heat this tiny home at those crazy prices. Wearing: thick and soft black and white checkered flannel pajama pants, a long sleeved black T shirt with a teal quilted vest, and socks! Thick and luscious polka dotted socks. I’ll have to switch from jammie bottoms to real pants eventually, but these are cozy/warm and I am perfectly warm — covered up in an old Amish quilt, and sipping on a latte. Come sit by me and let’s chat, okay? How is your day?

I’m thinking about intentional living today. When I reluctantly pushed the covers back this morning, I sat up in my bed and exercised my arms, did some stretching too. I said, “hello!” to my body and noticed I’ve made a subtle change. Throughout the day, I stop what I’m doing and do a set of push ups, or I pick up the weights hiding under the living room table. I use them for a few minutes and put them back. While I’m sweeping the floor, I’ll stop and do a set of squats, or (I hate these) lunges. A little while ago I realized that I am not good at huge sweeping changes. If I say, “from this day forward, I’m going to work out every day,” I’m sure to fail by day three. But! If I understand what my intention is, I can take little daily steps to that aim. I might not suit up for the neighborhood gym, but I can do push ups in my living room. I can do sit ups while I watch another X-File (I’m on Season Eight – almost done) episode.

I recently realized that I need more face-to-face time with humans. I spend most of my days tending/walking/loving dogs, and although it’s a wonderful way to live, I love humans too.  Most of the time. On Sunday, I had a date with friends to walk with our dogs in Marymoor Park. Jim was working and the house was quiet and soooooo cozy. I didn’t want to leave! I wanted to curl up with a book, but I remembered that I wanted more conversations, and if that’s really my intention, then why would I blow it off? Do I want to be with people or don’t I? I do! I do! So accordingly, I got dressed (with seconds to spare) and got in the car to go. I had a wonderful time and felt energized for the rest of the day. I learned something. I realized that who I really am is what I do, not what I think.

I invited dear friends over for dinner that evening too. Not only was it a wonderful time, it was a great way to motivate me from my typical sloth-mode to “get this house cleaned up!” mode. I realized while wiping dog nose prints off the kitchen’s French door’s panes I was surprisingly happy. I love creating a warm environment for people I love. I love lighting the candles, arranging flowers, cooking sumptuous meals. I even love sweeping up the dog fur tumbleweeds when there is company coming.

Without making sweeping, and overwhelming, life changes I am moving in a positive direction anyway. I’m not sure why it’s taken me this long to understand that small steps are not just the beginning of a journey, they are the journey!

My wish for you:

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When Evil Strikes

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I’ve been thinking about failure, about setbacks, about the moments when I fail to meet my personal goals, or when I do something stupid such as eat an entire loaf of Irish soda bread because it’s St. Patrick’s Day (after all….). We all mess up. We stumble, fall, and try to get back up. Some of us wax on and on about our failures and end up in an odd philosophical vortex of going nowhere, but at least sounding like a sage while we fail. Some of us blame our parents, our genetics, our past hurts, our delicate emotional states, and often even Satan gets the blame, or perhaps the Universe is set on ruining your life, or Karma is a bitch to you, or it’s March, a month full of birthdays and you know how much you love birthday cake!

Our excuses know no bounds. We are the most ridiculous creatures on the face of this earth, I swear!

I spent this weekend all alone, in my quiet, warm, peaceful little house, feeling a bit wistful, and certainly feeling sad, but it was okay. It was okay because I’ve learned something important recently. Failure and sorrow, “messing up,” setbacks, stupid decisions, etc. give me an opportunity to learn something about myself. I have spent over 50 years failing! I’m brilliant at making excuses! I’ve had time to hone my excuses to beautiful art. I can find emotionally stirring quotations  about extending myself grace, about forgiveness and acceptance. I can post a YouTube video of a song about the haunting beauty of failure. Oh, I am one of the best excuse makers I know! I can convince the most cynical of my friends that I am a struggling, but beautiful soul, because I’m good at my excuse making. I’m very convincing. Ha. I call bullshit on all of it. Don’t believe the lie.

When I fail, I intend to fail openly, with as much candor as I can muster, because I want to learn from what I do wrong, and having witnesses makes the learning stick. There isn’t enough prayer, mediation, yoga poses, paying it forward, or karma in the world that can change my weight if I don’t decide to refocus my life by changing the behaviors that don’t work to behaviors that do.

For instance, during the week I’m on the road driving from house to house to walk dogs during the day. Since I’ve started doing this, I determined that never again, and I mean NEVER AGAIN, will I go through a drive-thru at a fast food restaurant. I carry healthy foods in the car instead. Cut up fruits, nuts and berries, water to drink, protein drinks… If I haven’t supplied myself for the day, I’ll get a “Protein Bistro Box” from Starbucks: a boiled egg, apple slices, two pieces of white cheddar, a whole grain slice of something that’s also full of nuts and a tablespoon of honey peanut butter. I skip the grapes.

I don’t go to grocery stores when I’m hungry.

I don’t buy snacks to leave in the house. No bags of chips, or cookies, no granola bars, no popcorn…. None of that stuff enters this house, because if it was here, I’d be far too tempted to eat it. Even if it’s “healthy,” or “organic,” I’m not eating that carb-ladened stuff. No way.

I don’t bake cakes. I don’t bake breads, cupcakes, or cookies either. I won’t buy cookie butter, almond butter, Nutella (and oh boy! I learned this the hard way). I won’t buy bags of chocolate chips. Instead I buy fresh fruits and vegetables. I used steamed spiral cut zucchini instead of pasta. I roast vegetables instead of serving mashed potatoes. Yogurt instead of ice cream. More protein, less carbs. WAY less carbs, as a matter of fact.

I choose to do these things why? Because I’ve learned the hard way (have I said this too often?)! I’ve learned from my failures, and instead of making excuses, or instead of embracing my faulty self and offering up never-ending grace and forgiveness, instead of blaming evil, demons, the devil, or my damaged memories and unhealed hurts, I’ve developed  strategies to avoid situations where I’m likely to fail. And guess what? It’s working!

What did I learn this weekend? I learned I need less solitude and more laughter with friends. I learned I feel better when I write. I learned  I feel better when I drink lots of fluids. I learned that I am my own life manager and if I need to make particular changes, it’s up to me to make the changes. Me and nobody else. There is nothing to be gained by blaming fate, friends, the weather, or bad time management. Every single day, I can do something, no matter how small, no matter how big, but something that gets me closer to a goal, whatever that goal might be.

I learned especially this: I am going to be 60-years old in a couple of months. I’m getting old! Gah! I’m horrified. It’s possible I will never again squeeze into a pair of size 7 jeans. So what then? Do I throw up my hands and give up? Nope. I adjust! My goal isn’t about a good pair of jeans anymore, but it used to be. My goal is about health and a new lifestyle. Can I hike to Franklin Falls with my husband next year? Can I ride my bike for an hour? Can I enjoy walking through a craft festival for several hours without sciatica pain and aching feet? THOSE are good goals. Take that goal and drill down to what I can do about these things today.

Today I can do push ups and free weight exercises for those flabby arms. Sit ups for that waist. I can drink lots of water. I can ride the exercise bike that often doubles as a coat rack. I’ll have a berry/protein shake for dinner. I’ll finish this preachy essay and publish it, then feed the dogs and move a load of laundry along.

I don’t want to wallow in excuses anymore. I mostly just want to move. And I need to move on.

 

 

 

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