I had been thinking about this very idea when Linda Marie Marten’s beautiful post landed in my inbox today. For me, 2022’s theme was “say yes to life”. I wanted to push myself to explore more, try new things, visit new places, and face some of my fears.
As I continue on this path of pursuing possibility, I find more doors opening. I now glimpse a wider horizon than my post trauma brain could ever envision.
I delighted in reading about Linda’s bold move, as well as discovering our shared love of the color red. I also own a pair of favorite red shoes!
I hope Linda Marten’s post will inspire you, too, whatever your age or circumstance.
It all started that day I saw an Osprey in a tree. I hadn’t seen one since I lived in Oregon, over 40 years ago.
It was a lovely spring day in Southern California, near a small town that overlooked the ocean. I arrived early to attend a Meetup group event at a small art museum. While I waited, I walked around the grassy wild open fields teaming with tall green grasses & purple wild flowers blooming after many days of rain. My body began to relax more and more as I walked the path beside the green, taking in the fresh air & nature all around me. I felt like I was home, closer to nature than I’d been in a very long time.
You see, I’ve lived the past 40 years in a more congested, busy part of Los Angeles next…
“So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.“
Once upon a time, I taught first grade.
I remember a humorous incident one December day just before vacation. I helped the children cut out paper snowflakes and write a wish for the New Year. After dismissal, I noticed Daniel still at his desk, stuffing his backpack with his pencil case, books, and folders.
When I asked what he was doing, Daniel replied, “I don’t want to forget any of my stuff. Oh, and thanks for being my teacher. First grade was fun!”
Time may flow in one direction. but how we experience its passage is more individual.
What does a year feel like?
During the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, people across the nation reported disorientation about time passing. Funny social media memes abound.
Without our usual schedules, social activities, holiday celebrations, and other time markers, the days blurred together. The heightened stress and fear only compounded this sensation.
Our memories got mushed.
I felt both comforted and validated hearing these reports. Now others might understand what I experienced after the traumatic loss of my father.
Grief and trauma distorts our sense of time.
Days stretch and bend. Past and present fuse. The months seem like moving parts. Memories shuffle like a deck of cards.
The future looms unreal. Waiting unbearable.
I had not known before Forever was so long a word. The slow stroke of the clock of time I had not heard.
Paul Laurence Dunbar
What does a year feel like?
A lifetime. Or a dream. A ballad or a song. A blink.
For some, this state-of-being is temporary. For others, it persists.
Your friend sends a Happy New Year wish and you’re still standing on the edge of June.
Time is a relentless trickster. It plays hide and seek on us. It sweeps by when we’re not looking. Pushes us forward whether we’re ready or not.
Lost time is never found.
Our brains are hard-wired to remember negative events better than positive ones. We recall rebuke more than praise, and rejection more than affection.
Remembering the good, especially during hard times, can help overcome this negativity bias.
So, I’ve begun making a list of all the good moments of 2022. Looking through photographs and my calendar helps.
Give it a try. You’ll get an instant lift.
Here are some highlights:
*A January sunset sail in Key West.
*Hanging out with my family members in beautiful Sarasota.
*The joy of attending my daughter’s postponed 2020 college commencement.
*The fun of a family gathering in the Catskills.
*An incredible Writer’s Retreat in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
*Welcoming a new grandson and 2 additional members to our family tree.
*An unexpected birthday gift arrives in the mail.
There are joys to be found in the present.
A sunny writing room.
A surprise message from an old friend.
Hugs from your grown kids.
Breakfast prepared for you.
Gratitude gives light to the dark days.
These past months have been very hard. I am grateful for those who stood by me.
I am grateful to the organizations that supported my writing this year: Key West Literary Seminar, Tuscan Book Festival, Joyce Maynard Write by the Lake, and Story Studio Chicago.
And I’m grateful to you readers for sharing this journey through time. Wishing you all a light-filled New Year!
“Bittersweetness is the hidden source of our moon shots, masterpieces, and loves stories.” ~Susan Cain
In her early twenties, author Susan Cain began wondering why she found sad music strangely uplifting. From Leonard Cohen to Albinoni’s Adagio, mournful songs seemed to open her heart and inspire a sense of connectedness.
She spent the next two decades exploring how humans have turned sorrow into creativity, transcendence, and love.
Her new book, Bittersweet: How Sorry and Longing Makes Us Whole, examines not just why we experience the state of yearning, but how transforming our heartaches can help us turn toward each other and bring meaning.
Do you have the bittersweet temperament? Cain offers a research-based quizto see where you fall on the spectrum. Here are a few of the questions:
-Do you tear up easily at touching TV commercials?
-Are you especially moved by old photographs?
-Do you react intensely to music, art, or nature?
-Do you feel elevated by sad music?
-Do you seek out beauty in your everyday life?
My high score put me as a “true connoisseur of the place where light and dark meet.” Not surprising, at all. I was the kid who cried at Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” theme.
Bittersweet is a word we often toss around. Cain’s precise definition really resonates with me.
A tendency to states of longing, poignancy, and sorrow: an acute awareness of passing time; and a curiously piercing joy at the beauty of the world. The recognition that light and dark, birth and death—bitter and sweet—are forever paired.
Cain sees our pull toward sad music as intertwined with the sweet parts of life. It expresses our longing for a more beautiful and perfect world. She describes Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” as an expression of the yearning for transcendent love.
This active state of yearning, particularly for the unattainable, which she names “the great ache“, has always been part of our shared humanity. This universal longing is conjured into some of the world’s most beautiful music.
Our oldest problem is the pain of separation; our deepest dream is the desire for reunion.
The author cites research that demonstrates how melancholy melodies help modulate our emotions and physiology. Kind of like having a good cry. Some of us enjoy this emotional arousal and catharsis.
She quotes a musicologist from the 19th century who describes the key of C minor as the “longing of the lovesick soul“.
Sad music can elicit “exalted states of communion and awe.” The song lyrics, as well, can make us feel less alone, as if someone else out there understands our pain. This music can offer space to reflect upon and process sad events.
Paradoxically, research shows that, for some, listening to sad music can mend a broken heart.
Cain explores other related questions in this book:
Why do we long for the perfect? How should we cope with lost love? How can we live and work authentically in a “tyranny of positivity”? How should we live, knowing that we and everyone we love will die?
Paul Klee, “Strong Dream”, 1929
Bittersweetis a fascinating mixture of memoir, philosophy, psychology, and storytelling.
Upbeat music makes us want to dance around the kitchen and invite friends to dinner. Sad music makes us want to touch the sky.
Do you find listening to melancholy music healing? Here’s one of my favorites.
In the department of random encounters, I experienced another one on a recent trip to Chicago. I’m still thinking about it.
I take a cab from the airport to my hotel. The driver misses the hotel entrance by half a block. “This is fine,” I say.
I step out into the sunshine. Just as I begin pulling my luggage across the quiet, treelined street, I see–or think I see–a startling sight.
A elderly man, well-dressed. On his hands and knees. On the sidewalk.
I run over to him. “Are you okay?”
“No”, he says, his voice shaking. “I fell.” Blood drips from his face onto the cement.
I drop my bags, crouch beside him. “Should I call an ambulance?”
His arms are shaking. “Just need help getting up. I’ve been trying…”
I ask his name. “Okay, Harold. I’ll try lifting you.”
I stand behind him, bend down, and wrap my arms around his chest. “One, two…” After some struggle, I manage to get him standing.
Harold grabs onto my arm, steadying himself. “What are you, my guardian angel?”
I smile at this term I often use, then introduce myself. “Are you sure I can’t call for help? Maybe your doctor?”
He says he happens to have an appointment tomorrow. “Lucky thing, huh?” Harold puts a finger to his dripping nose. “How bad is it?”
I look closely at his wounds, trying to figure if they need stitching. I reach in my bag for a tissue, carefully dab at the cuts. He winces. “Your forehead has a gash. Looks like you smashed your nose.”
“Well there goes my movie contract.”
His joke calms my nerves. I try to clean up the dripping blood.
I retrieve his cane. “Where do you live? Can I call you a cab home?
He names a nearby suburb, 15 minutes away. His car is parked down the block and around the corner. Can I walk with him? he asks
Trepidation. Not sure I can manage that. What if he falls again? “Harold, do you think you can drive?”
“I’ll see how it goes once I get to my car.”
Then, as if on cue, a strong-looking man exits a nearby building. His eyes widen when he sees the two of us. “Need some help?”
Harold says, “This nice woman came to my rescue.”
I explain the situation and my uncertainty about Harold’s condition. The man nods as if to say, Don’t worry, I got this.
Harold thanks me, shakes my hand. I wish him good luck.
* * *
Not until I am in my hotel room, do I notice the blood on my arms.
I scrub at the sink. Surprise tears come. Don’t know why. My brain is still processing what just happened, how I, once again, found myself in the “right place at the right time” to aid a stranger.
I take deep breaths.
A buried memory surfaces. My elderly father walking alone to synagogue on a Saturday morning. He trips and falls face first on the sidewalk.
A stranger comes over to help, waits with him for the EMT to arrive.
When I later hear about this, I picture my father in his suit lying on the sidewalk. I imagine his indignity, the pain, his bruised face. But Dad’s sense of humor puts me at ease. “I’ll just tell everyone I got into a brawl,” he says over the phone. “Good conversation starter at my age.”
* * *
I recently had the pleasure of watching my granddaughter take her first steps. Then fall down. Her father gave her a hand, and she tried again, happily toddling across the floor.
In the midst of this joyful moment, the image of Harold on his hands and knees flashes in my mind. I remember every detail: his thin voice, the feel of his grey sweater vest, blood on his white shirt collar, his dress shoes straining against the sidewalk. His watery blue eyes.
My thumping heart.
I consider the strange timing of the incident, and that, oddly, no one had passed by to help him before I arrived on the scene.
Fall.Just think about how often we use that verb.
Fall from grace. Fall under the influence. Fall off the wagon. Fall into despair. Fall on hard times. Fall for the joke. Fall into a trance. Fall asleep.Fall behind. Fall apart.
Fall head over heels in love.
This can also wound.
Whether metaphorically or physically, we all fall at some point. Let’s hope someone will be around to lend a hand.