Ending and Beginning with Lessons Learned

snowflakeHere we are again at the close of another year. It has unquestionably been a year filled with change, some of it joyous, some heartbreaking, and some of the bittersweet variety. As with each year prior, it has been a year of learning and re-learning the lessons of life.

Giving back has traditionally been a community-oriented action for me, serving on a board or two here or there, volunteering for something, or making charitable contributions. This year it was personal. As Mom moved and my sister and I spent many hours embroiled in the process with her, the months of labor became a major gift back to our mother. Mom gave birth to us, helped us grow into the people we are, provided lots of advice (a little of which we may have actually followed), babysat our kids when they were small, and turned into a wonderful grandmother while still maintaining her own life and interests and pursuits. I have learned that giving back may be most meaningful when it is most personal.

I have learned that sometimes it’s okay to walk away from a fight. It’s not that the fire is no longer in me; it’s just that I can only put out so many fires at one time. I have to pick my battles and work on those that are most profound and significant in my life at the moment.

I have learned that my world view may be narrower than some but it is much broader than others. You can’t force people to find the macro view when they are intent on seeing life in microcosm.

We are most successful in life when we are resilient. Learning to roll with the punches is one of the hardest lessons of all, especially when the loss of a friend amounts to a seriously unexpected blow to the gut. But our ability to keep going is what really matters. When an individual made numerous contributions to the lives of others, the loss is devastating. Watching family and friends follow an excellent example, and picking up the shattered pieces to keep going, makes you want to stand up and applaud.

You most definitely can teach an old dog new tricks. Flexibility and embracing change may be one of the greatest resources we can draw upon as human beings. Whether we are 18 or 80, those who are healthiest emotionally and mentally are those who decide not to live in the past, but remain firmly planted in the shifting soils of the present and future.

For two dozen years we have been watching our children grow up. This year has been marked by some milestones as the younger one is now fully an adult at age 21 and the elder one moved away and is now launching her career with a full time job in her chosen field. As these changes unfold I realize once again that I can never reclaim those halcyon days of their childhood, nor would I choose to. I have learned that watching them grow into their adult selves has been the point all along, and that the most important guidance we provided along the way was the example we set of working hard to achieve goals, serving our community, and focusing on family. Even now, if I allow myself to become too pensive about the glorious paths our daughters have chosen, I will tear up from pride and love and the fact that they will be living extraordinary lives far away from our home.

As this year rolls to a close, I will carry these lessons forward into 2016 to face whatever comes our way. My wish for the New Year remains the same as in many years past: peace on earth, good will toward all. Happy New Year!

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Simply Merry

The past few months have presented some challenges, but we have weathered them fairly well. We got Mom all settled in her new home, at least until she takes on another major remodeling project scheduled for early in the new year. Almost every single weekend, and several week nights, for the past few months have been spent working on something for Mom: moving boxes, painting, installing things, and creating a home for Mom from what was previously just a quaint little house. Now it is truly Mom’s home. I have no regrets. It has been a labor of love, a time-crunched, muscle aching, labor of love for a woman who has spent a lifetime giving to others. In the meantime, with our demanding careers, much of what we normally do has been lost in the mix, especially with Christmas rapidly approaching.

Merry Christmas! This photo was taken in August.

Not a Christmas photo, but a nice picture of our girls taken in August.

For the first time ever we don’t have a Christmas card to send out. Ever since our first child was born 24 years ago we have done a family photo card. It has been an enjoyable tradition for us. We have had fun looking back at our annual Christmas photos to watch how our daughters have grown, and friends and relatives have told us how much they enjoy it as well. This year, with the elder one off to launch her career in the big city and the younger one slammed with college senior year obligations and grad school applications, it has been impossible to put together a photo card. One daughter provided a photo, but the other did not, and using something from last summer just wasn’t appealing. So here we are with no card to send. Maybe we’ll take a picture when they’re home for Christmas and send a New Year’s card.

In addition, I have done very little shopping this year. Well, to be honest, I did some shopping online late at night. While I sincerely love to support local merchants, I also sincerely have had no time to spend going from store to store and perusing merchandise to find just the right thing for each person on my list. So UPS and FedEx are my new best friends, otherwise there would be nothing under the tree Christmas morning.

Just last night I got groceries. I am certain it’s the first actual grocery shopping I have done since before Thanksgiving. When you add in a few extras for special Christmas treats, the large cart was very full and the cash register receipt was very long. But I think I’m prepared now to do a little cooking and baking this weekend, along with wrapping the few gifts we do have.

Last weekend we got a Christmas tree and dutifully put it up in the family room. I put lights on the tree, a tree skirt underneath, and a star on top. So far that’s about it. I told my husband we could go for the simple yet elegant look with no ornaments this year, but he just looked at me like I had lost my mind. I guess we’ll get around to that this weekend, too.

In a world where we feel pressure to have it all and do it all for Christmas, I am finding that simple can work. The few decorations we have at home are almost entirely made of live spruce and fir branches cut from our backyard trees and brought home for free when we bought the tree from a local nursery lot. Throw them in some containers with a few lights and pinecones, and they don’t look too bad.

The main items on my list right now include the gift of time. We will have time to spend with some friends during their annual holiday party this weekend. We will have time to spend with our daughters when they come home next week, and we will have time to spend with more friends and family on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. None of it will be formal or overdone. All of it will include our gratitude for a year filled with people who make our lives complete.

So when you don’t receive a Christmas card from us this year, please don’t feel slighted. No one else got one either. Despite the lack of mailed greetings, we do wish each of you a wonderful holiday spent with your family and friends.

No Silver Bullet

We don’t have guns in our home and never will.  I have never wanted to be a hunter. I don’t mind if other people are shooting Bambi in the woods, since we do have a major deer over-population problem in our area, but I seriously doubt that I could ever pull the trigger to kill an animal in the woods, unless it was a bear about to attack. Deer, rabbits, pheasant, and turkey all look pretty innocent to me and shooting one of them would be far out of my comfort zone.  Target shooting was never very appealing. I tried it many, many years ago with a long-since-gone guy I was seeing at the time. He wasn’t for me and neither was the target shooting.

But honestly, those are the only two reasons I can think of that people should use a gun: hunting and target shooting, unless they are in law enforcement or the military and are protecting a community or country. The reality is that even the military has found more sophisticated weapons of mass destruction now and the old hand-to-hand combat, boots on the ground and weapons in hand type of procedure is becoming outmoded when it is more effective to take out a target from the air. I admit that I am no expert on these matters, but I do pay attention to what is happening in the world and can see that we clearly have a problem which starts with the simple fact that we have too many guns and too many bad actors using them.

Now, I have never been a full-on “ban the guns” kind of thinker. I do believe that there should be thorough background checks before people are allowed to own a gun. The critical issue for me is, “why do you want one?” When people tell me they want a gun for personal protection, I can’t get on board with that. Honestly, I am a bit of a klutz and owning a gun could have more potential for personal harm than personal safety. But here’s the deal: we have hundreds of thousands of people in this country who are not getting help for mental health issues, and they have access to guns. We also have hundreds of thousands of people in this country who are serious criminals, and they have access to guns.

Because we have moved from hunting deer in the woods to hunting people on the street, in their workplace, or in their school, it is time to re-evaluate everything we have always thought we understood about guns and their place in our society.

The argument that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” is extremely narrow rhetoric. Of course it is people firing guns who are actually doing the killing. But when the weapon is a military style assault rifle, one gun-wielding person can take out many other people in a very short period of time. Those guns are specifically designed to wipe out multiple targets.

We have all become targets, you know. If you dwell on that too much you won’t even get out of bed in the morning, but the new cultural reality is that when we do something as routine as go to work, go to school, or go shopping, we are putting ourselves in harms’ way. I refuse to let that scare me. I will feel free to go about my business, even though there are people in the world who may decide to do harm even if they don’t know me, my family, my friends, or my coworkers.

Read the Second Amendment. Here’s the text: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Please keep in mind that guns were critically important to people in the 1700’s, since they had to kill their own food. They were also overthrowing another government in order to form “a more perfect union.” In addition, the guns they carried at the time were muskets, not AK-47’s. What we have allowed to form in this country is a non-regulated militia that threatens the very freedom we hold so dear.

We live in a world where terrorism is real. We cannot continue to allow home-grown terrorists to carry weapons and assault our citizens. We have seen too many mass shootings in this country. Don’t kid yourself that outside terrorists are the only threat to our society, we are threatened from within on a daily basis. The most recent incident in California was not a single crazed person with a gun, it was at least two people making what was obviously a planned attack on a community center for the disabled.

Sure, I will continue to send up prayers for those who have lost loved ones in mass shootings on our soil, but let’s get real about finding ways to stop this. We can’t seek security from the rest of the world and ignore security issues within our own borders. There is no panacea, no single right answer, and (pun intended) no silver bullet. But I am pretty sure it begins with a reasonable discussion about more restrictive gun laws, and includes discussions about mental health treatment, crime, drugs, and domestic terrorism. What we really need is an open dialogue, without the usual rhetoric, that brings people to societal solutions. It would be great if the gun lobby could actually bring some meaningful solutions to the table instead of continuing to fuel the fire with a cry to arm every man, woman, and child in the land.

Discussion around this issue will be hard work for a nation that prides itself on allowing individual rights. With freedom comes responsibility. So far we have been willing to stand firm for personal freedom, but we have been ignoring our responsibilities to the whole society.  Time for an honest negotiation that leads to change?  I think so.