Friday, March 22, 2013

Unexpected Success in Common Hours

Walden Pond
Walden Pond (Picture from NPR)
Walden, by Henry David Thoreau, is and always has been one of my favorite books.  The stripped-down, laid bare life he chose, and what he learned from that experience, has fascinated readers for one hundred and  fifty years. I particularly love the oft-quoted lines from the conclusion: 

"... if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined,he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours."
Just now I am watching the morning sun come through the dozens of pine trees that surround our place here in the foothills and I am keenly aware of how blessed we are to be here.
                                                 # # # # #
The other day I read an article about the varying degrees of satisfaction that people find in retirement and was interested to learn that a key differentiator in satisfaction with this stage of life is the difference between focusing on what an individual hoped would be rather than choosing to focus upon what could be.

Those whose disappointment is greatest seem to see their present as a dreary imitation of what they had hoped for; rather like hoping for a closet full of Armani suits, only to discover that your wardrobe consists of second-hand knock-offs that have been badly designed and even more poorly sewn.

In contrast, those who feel their lives in retirement are most enjoyable seem to focus on what could be.  Perhaps they come to realize they are not going to own a villa on the shores of South Lake Tahoe.  Instead of stewing and brewing about it, they decide to enjoy renting a cabin in that area as often as their resources allow.

Perhaps the large and loving, close-knit family they had envisioned filling their golden years turns out instead to be far-flung and very much engaged in their own pursuits.  Therefore, they go visit when they can, invite family to come stay when they are in the area, and use email, phones, Skype , etc. the rest of the time to maintain a connection.
                                           # # # # #
Allowing ourselves to become fixated on what we hoped would be, rather than focusing on what actually could be is to choose unhappiness. Surely, only a fool or a masochist would choose unhappiness.

We don't always like to admit this.  It is easier to allow ourselves to indulge in the fallacy that "this is just the way things turned out."  While that may occasionally be true, more often it is not.

The fact is that we always have a choice.  Viktor Frankl articulated this searingly in his classic book, Man's Search for Meaning, on his experiences in a WWII concentration camp. Even in those horrific circumstances, he believed he had a choice as to how to respond to life.  He chose courage and kindness as his only weapons against despair and cruelty.  He survived and later triumphed.
                                         # # # # #

Whether adopting an outlook of resentment and bitterness, or choosing an attitude of gratitude, we always have a choice.  We can passively allow life to happen, or we can actively make a life for ourselves.

Something recently brought this home to me. Two different long time acquaintances said something to the effect that the *LOC and I were the only people they knew who were "living out their retirement dreams."  Really? Guess they forgot what life was like for us this time last year. And the year before that.

It is true that, after several years of looking and hoping, we were able to move from a city to a small town in the Northern California foothills.  We do get to travel some and we try to take advantage of what this season of life has to offer.  Some days I almost feel guilty, we have so much for which to be grateful.  From this perspective we have, indeed, found "a success unexpected in common hours."  How marvelous.

But then I recall all the years wherein we made choices; less of this, fewer of those, less frequently some other thing - not a life of lack or penury; but a deliberate lifestyle of living below our means.  For example, instead of getting a new car every year or two (as my father often did) we drove our vehicles eight or ten years each, sometimes more.  That choice alone probably paid for every trip we have ever taken.

Do we have regrets?  Yes, some.  Did we achieve all we had hoped to do?  Not all.  Is our life all that we hoped it would be?  Not quite. We are both well acquainted with loss and heartache.  Who isn't?

But are we enjoying what we can make of where we are and what we have right now?  Oh, yes. Furthermore, we are forever grateful, as we know that it could have been much different.

John Greenleaf Whittier wrote,

                "Of all sad words of tongue or pen,
                  The saddest are these, 'It might have been '."
                                        # # # # #
Let us then choose to focus on what is and could be, rather than what might have been.  It is a worthwhile effort.

These "common hours" are a treasure that money cannot buy. Further, it appears that perhaps they are not all that common.                        # # # # #

Hope your common hours are filled with quiet satisfaction in what can be.  Until next time, your common life commentator ...Marsha
(*Lovable Old Coot)
Question:  What are you taking particular satisfaction in during your common hours?  Just wondering.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Is Your Circulation Valve Open?

Valve : 3d render of pipeline on white background  Stock Photo
The warm water ran over my aching hands with soothing bliss.  Ahhhhh - so comforting.  How I had missed this small pleasure.

Of course, we do have running water, and always have had.  We are a bit rustic up here in the Northern California foothills, but we are not prehistoric.

However, for this entire winter we have had a challenge with obtaining running hot water.  First we checked the hot water heater.  Was it functioning?  Yes, it was. Nothing seemed to be plugged anywhere.  Water would run, and eventually hot water would come through - but it took for-ev-er.

We have a home warranty policy and many months ago, after a brief call to the assigned contractor, here came the licensed plumber; who assured us that our hot water heater was working just fine. 

Okay.  Thank you?  I guess.  But what about the fact that we cannot get any hot water from the bathroom faucets in less than two or three minutes, and it takes a full four to five minutes for the hot water to begin running from the kitchen faucet?  (Which, oddly enough, is the faucet nearest the hot water heater.) Answer us that, please, mister plumber-man.

Sorry, no clue.  Pay the house-call fee.  And off he drives, all full of his own confidence, based - apparently - upon very little actual knowledge.

Months go by, two more calls, even a helpful neighbor weighs in and dismantles a faucet, is pretty sure he has it solved.  Nope, still takes for-ev-er to get the hot water to come through the house.  He opines that it may be a design flaw.  We may just have to live with it.

Okay.  The *LOC and I both have a few of those, so we can deal if we must.  But icy water over my arthritic hands two dozen times a day is pretty darned uncomfortable.

Then one day the water pressure in the kitchen faucet suddenly does go kaputt.  Now that surely can be solved, can't it?

And sure enough, a different plumber-guy shows up, dismantles the same faucet, replaces a small stem-float-ball-thingy - and voile!  Pressure problem solved.

Given his magic touch, we make so bold as to tell him about the mystery that is our hot water circulation.  Yes, we have a good hot water heater.  And yes, when we can actually get said hot water to come out of various faucets it is just fine.  But it takes for-ev-er.

That can't be right, can it?

He first declines to investigate, saying that this mystery isn't listed upon his call-out sheet; he was called about a pressure problem.  True enough, but we are soooo impressed with his expertise, couldn't he just take a tiny little peek around the old scatter and see if he can identify our plumbing gremlin?

Even plumbers have egos, and when he learns that three others have failed to solve the mystery, why he hitches up his tool belt and wades right in.
In less than five minutes he identifies the problem.  Out in the garage, near the hot water heater, but not part of it, is a red valve that has been turned off. (By an earlier plumber, called about a small leak completely unrelated to hot water, who was clearly a dolt.)

When Magic Plumber-Guy turns the valve to the "on" position - hot water is instantly available - from every faucet in the house. Oh, my stars and stripes forever!
That little valve is part of the designed plumbing schematic, unique to this house, but it does work just fine when it is open.
                                      # # # # #
I don't know about you, but I have a few unique design features in my own life, one might even call them flaws.  And it has, upon occasion, happened that I could not seem to force, coax, or otherwise produce any "warm and fuzzy" interactions, hopeful signs, or hot enthusiasms.  Life was tepid at best.

I consulted various self-help books, contemplated my navel, and indulged in other attempts to solve the mystery of why my life seemed cold and unsatisfying.

Finally, after all else had failed, I would consult the Master Designer.  Why does my life seem cold, or at best tepid?  I am stuffy, huffy and stiff.  I don't like it, but I don't seem to be able to fix it.

It has happened, from time to time, that the Designer reminded me of a small, almost hidden valve that was the key to my circulation problem.  Hope could not flow, laughter did not warm me, joy did not permeate my faith until the valve of service was turned on - until the giving gauge was set to "wide open".

As has often been stated, the Dead Sea is dead precisely because it is all intake, and has no outlet.  That which does not give, dies.  Period.

If you are feeling stale and stuck, may I be so bold as to suggest you might want to consult the Master Designer of your life and check to see if your life's "circulation valve" is open.  Trust me, it makes a world of difference.
                                              # # # # #
Hope your life-circulation system is humming along nicely.  And that your hot water is flowing freely.  And forget that "cold hands-warm heart" nonsense.  I'm all for warm heart AND warm hands. Until next time ...Marsha
(*Lovable Old Coot)
God loves a cheerful giver.

Friday, March 8, 2013

On Being Present ...While Absent

Each new day is a gift.  That is why it is called "the present."
Photograph by David Lawrence.
Today I sang with a choir at a memorial in honor of a man I never met.  I wish I had known him.  He was a close friend of the pianist for our group and thus our invitation to sing at his memorial service.

It was the first funeral/memorial service I have attended since my mother died three years ago next month.  And I could not help but contrast the circumstances with her own service.

Today's memorial was held in a large hall with many people in attendance.  It was full of ceremony and symbolism, as he was a member of a fraternal order whose members had gone to a good deal of effort to honor their friend.  There were flags, and poems, and flowers, and bells tolling ... and best of all a number of heart-felt eulogies.

To a man (and woman) they spoke of his loyalty - if you were a friend of Larry's, you had a friend for life.  They talked about his generosity - if you needed a helping hand, he was your man.  They enjoyed reminiscing about his sense of humor - if you could not take a little ribbing, you might find yourself a little out of your comfort zone around Larry, who like to "stir the pot and shake things up a little."  I'm pretty sure I would have liked Larry a lot.

He was not sitting in the seat of honor reserved for him today.There was, instead, an empty chair.  He was absent.  But he was very much present in every look on the faces of his loved ones - a large and blended family, who acknowledged that it had not always been easy; but it had turned out to be worthwhile.  They smiled at remembered antics, and his sometimes goofy proclamations.
                                          # # # # #
There were only about two dozen people at my mother's services, and nearly all of them were family.  Mom was not an easy person to get to know, as she was very reserved and could be quite critical of others.  Furthermore, as I have sadly observed, she had no discernable sense of humor.  It just seemed to have been left out of her makeup.

She struggled with depression and loneliness a good portion of her life; always seeming to find it difficult to "fit in" as she hoped to do.  Still, she was a generous and giving person. I admired her courage and her perseverance more than anyone I have ever known.

She is absent - for almost three years now - but rarely does a day go by that I do not recall something she taught me or said to me, or simply lived before me.
                                           # # # # #
Whether we are well known, and much loved, or little known and missed by only a few; we all can live our lives in such a manner that for someone, we will still be present, even after we are absent.
                                           # # # # #
We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.  wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him.  (II. Corin. 5:9 & 9 (KJV)
                                              # # # # #
Hope you are very much present in your own life today.  It is a sad thing is to still be here and yet be absent from your own life.  Until next time ... Marsha