Critical

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When we hear a friend or family member is in the hospital in critical condition, we worry greatly. They might not “make it”; they may die. Serious indeed.

The definition I’m using is: pertaining to or of the nature of a crisis; of decisive importance with respect to the outcome, crucial.

So much of what is labeled of critical importance just isn’t. We are led to believe that so much of what is going on in the world is so important that it demands our immediate attention. We are beckoned to care, to react, to be indignant, to support or condemn. It’s exhausting mentally and psychologically.

If I watch the news, and take everything as seriously as they present it, I’d be in a catatonic state. Yet there are other events they don’t mention that really are critically important. The news du jour is fickle: it may be earth-shattering today, and not mentioned the next. Yet, the media does get some things right.

While the coverage of the Hurricane Harvey and its devastation of the lives of probably millions of people is somewhat repetitious, it is of critical importance that those people be helped, in many cases, immediately. I can’t imagine living in a world where I’ve lost everything, have only the clothes on my back, fear financial ruin, have to keep my family calm and occupied in a gym with a thousand other people, and can’t even get a decent drink of water.

Look at the coverage on TV: people helping people. They don’t shun one another because they’re black, white, gay, transsexual, poor or rich — the just do it. This is a lesson in basic humanity and caring for our fellow-man (women, children, and even pets).

The next item on the news may be about how terrible the left, the right, gun-owners, extremists on either end of the spectrum, Melania Trump’s shoes are — whatever, but when it comes down to saving someone in critical condition, people help people.

I love it and think it’s great news.

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Savor

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Food samples are always available at Costco’s and the other day I couldn’t pass up a taste of cheesecake. I would never buy a cheesecake — far too many calories and fat and weight. I savored that little bite. It was creamy, sweet, but with a dash of the sour that the cheese brings. The crust contrasted with the smooth texture of the filling. And the cream on top, even smoother than the cheesecake itself. I savored that bite, and spent several minutes letting every taste roll around my mouth before it was gone.

How many things in life do I savor, I wondered. Certainly every moment is special, and once it’s gone it’s gone. I cherished the moments I spent holding my babies, and prayed the I would be able to relive those intense feelings of happiness and contentment.  Only the fact that is was special remains, but I still like holding babies! Cradling that trust and innocence and even calming their discomforts is rewarding unlike anything else.

I try hard to imprint my mind with those things that are so special: the sea when it’s a bit angry, or the sun shining on the sand, the wave of dune grasses, the greenness of cultivated fields, varying with more shades of green than available on a palette. Only photos remind me of how beautiful those things are, but only occasionally do they elicit the happy feelings.

Slowing down in life is important to noticing the extraordinary in everyday life. You have to be aware to make the most of the special moments of life, and stop and appreciate them. I’ve noticed how often these are found in nature — perhaps the most perfect of God’s creation.

Even though they can be really demanding, one has to stop sometimes and just notice how very special each child is and the little steps of progress they are making, physically and mentally. My 14 month-old granddaughter is just about to walk, and we all stop when she stands, wondering if this will be that special moment we wouldn’t want to miss. Watching them think, wonder, and discover are priceless.

Being present for every moment is the key to experiencing and enjoying life to its fullest. One book is entitled “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.” How true. If we’re bothered constantly with the minutiae of our ordinary existence, we miss the small things that make the best memories to savor.

I Don’t Get It

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I’m faced with another person I care about dying of cancer. For some reason, I accept death; I try to live one day at a time and appreciate each moment. When I go out in the car I think “I might die on this trip,” even if it’s an ordinary like going to yoga or the grocery store. You just NEVER know.

I’m not a religious person, but spiritual. I came to the realization that my life was finite some long time ago. I believe in a good God, not a vengeful one who will list my sins as soon as I pass out of this life. I expect the next phase of life to reveal things I don’t now understand. I don’t want to die, but I don’t fear death either.

Nevertheless, I do resent it when people I care about are snatched from this life before they want to go. They have plans, people who love them, a reason for being here. My brother-in-law was taken at a point in his life when everything was going well — owning and profiting from a business he loved, a caring wife, children and grandchildren, a lovely home he had definitely earned. Then cancer, almost three years of suffering with grace, dignity and faith, and death just before Easter and the arrival of the Risen Lord. Ironic. Sad. Inexplicable.

My favorite saying is “Life is what happens when you had something else planned”. I know that to be true; but knowing and feeling are two different things and they tug at each other. Sometimes with a vengeance.

We all know we’re dying. A pit-of-my-stomach fear sometimes grabs me unawares, when the immensity of that truth is crystal clear. I will die. Then what. I believe, so I do my best to accept. And trust that God will be waiting for me and tell me WHY.

That’s all. I just had to get that out while I prepare to visit a dear friend (cousin by marriage) and “be there for her”. And her husband. And her sister who is visiting from England. She is in the hand of God now, and hospice care begins in a home she loves, surrounded by nature in the lovely mountains of Virginia. Nature is God’s perfect creation, we are not. But we all live by the same rules: life, death, renewal; a cycle that continues as surely as the waves meet the shore.

Why is that sad and why does it hurt?

 

Maze

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I saw “maze” and I thought “life”. There’s a beginning and an end, but how you get from A to B is quite unknowable and often unpredictable.

Who hasn’t had a plan for life, a blue print, goals and visions for the future? Some people are more laid back, and take life as it comes, but many more have definite ideas about what they want “from” life, and how they want things to move along.

Life is like a maze. You start out thinking “this will be fun.” You set off confidently sure you will emerge victorious. You will find your way out. After hitting dead ends, realizing you’ve lost all sense of direction, getting hot and frustrated, tripping over a root, and getting hit in the face with an errant branch, you begin to wonder why you thought this would be an adventure.

Anyone who’s lived a while knows that life can run contrary to one’s plans. It happens; you react. You make bad decisions, you have regrets, you say or do the wrong thing, you hurt people you love. You’re learning, maturing, and figuring out that your best intentions do not always have the best outcomes. You move on, wiser for your experiences, even if bruised.

Life intervenes without your permission. A loved one dies; an illness short-circuits your plans; your spouse cheats on you; children come when unplanned, or don’t come when desired; you begin to realize that your life is not what you had planned.

Practice does not make perfect, but it does impart wisdom if we learn to deal with life on life’s terms. This means accepting that you are not in charge — but you do have responsibility for how you deal with life’s bad blows.

I have a friend who has had a recurrence of her cancer, badly, yet she has not lost her sense of humor. She knows this is one of life’s hardships and continues to live each day to the best of her ability, knowing that life is precious and to be lived. We all have only one day, and getting through it will grace, acceptance and a realization that it is how we react, how we get through the maze with dignity and perseverance, is what life is all about.

Dr. Scott Peck, writes at the beginning of his book, The Road Less Traveled, “Life is hard.” Yes, it is, but finding joy and the true meaning of life makes it worth living. What life brings us, may be better, deeper, and more fulfilling than what we had planned.

 

Prudent

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Prudence vs. imprudence. Cautious vs. carefree. Sober vs. impulsive. Who isn’t a bit of both? I tend to enjoy being impetuous at times, but I do know my limits, I think.
A couple of years ago my sister and I went on a four-day cruise to the Bahamas. When we got off the boat in Nassau, a bit unsure of what we wanted to do, I spotted motorbikes zipping around. I’d never ridden one (I had tried a mo-ped), and I thought that looked like fun. My sister reluctantly agreed, and we paid for our rides. We had a quick lesson in a parking lot — a bit trickier than I thought, but I knew it was manageable, and I was determined. (I was 65 — how much longer would I be able to attempt something like this.) We took a simple route along the water, getting out of the busy town, stopping at an historical monument, enjoying the feeling of the warm wind in our faces. We did get better as we went along and stopped for a quick swim at a beautiful beach with shallow, clear water. Wending our way back, we got just a bit nervous as the traffic into town got heavier. I think the bike’s owners were relieved when we returned the motorbikes on time, and in original condition.
Afterwards I reflected on my spur-of-the-moment decision. On the one hand it was just plain foolish to try something relatively dangerous (a fall could have been quite serious for either of us, though my sister is younger by 6 years), but on the other, why not? I like to learn new things, and while I don’t much like roughing it, I do like an adventure. This was fulfilling for me and I would have regretted not accepting the challenge, getting a little out of my comfort zone.
With age advancing on me far too rapidly, I respect my limitations, but I want to keep pushing myself to have new adventures and achievements. Or maybe the older I get, the crazier I’ll get. We’ll see.

Meaningless

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Every little thing we do has meaning. Doing nothing has meaning. Some things have special significance, others simply have to be done, and some of the best things are random and surprising in their occurrence and satisfaction.

Priorities play a large part in assigning meaning to a task. We assign value to what we do, even more so than in the past when there were fewer choices. I find that I try to make everything I choose to do meaningful. If I go through life thinking that this is too mundane, or that is beneath me and not worth my effort, then my life is less meaningful. I try, with varying success, to do even the smallest tasks to the best of my ability, knowing that they are part of a bigger picture, whether they relate to my home life or working life. It’s far better to think that what I do has importance and relevance. It’s also relates to my character and my self-worth.

Since I have trouble staying on task, I attempt to immerse myself in even the smallest things, liking ironing a shirt, cleaning a toilet, sewing on a button, so that it becomes the most important thing I’m doing at that moment. (That doesn’t mean I ,may not watch HGTV while doing it.) My kitchen floor is a bone of contention. Less than a year old, and it’s a disaster because it shows everything — dust, crumbs, water drops, and smudges. Still I faithfully wash it trying to get everything spotless at least twice a week. For a short period of time I feel a sense of achievement though I know within a few days I’ll be doing the same ordinary task again. Knowing I did it well is enough for the moment.

I help once a week at my elementary school’s library. I enjoy inputting data the most, but at least half my time is spent covering new books with contact paper. Boring. I trying to make it less so by making each book a challenge — to do it as well as I possibly can, not cutting corners (figuratively and actually) and doing the best I can. When I’m doing something that doesn’t challenge my intelligence, I let the quality of the work be my goal, and in this case the knowledge that the book will last longer for more kids to read.

If we let ourselves believe that anything we do is meaningless, we miss the point. Life is meant to be lived to the best of our abilities at any given time. That means focusing on the moment and making it the best and most fulfilling it can be.

To quote the very wise Mother Teresa: “If you can’t do great things, do little things with great love. If you can’t do them with great love, do them with a little love. If you can’t do them with a little love, do them anyway.”

 

Criticize

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Criticism sounds like something you want to turn away from, ignoring it as a personal attack. And it certainly can be when it’s thrown like a dart, meant to hurt.

In its best form, criticism is “the act or art of analyzing and evaluating or judging the quality of literary or artistic work, musical performance, art exhibit, dramatic production, etc.” While this kind of criticism can also sting, it is something most of us need to grow, to get better, or to hone a skill, like writing, or drawing or painting. Who is so perfect that they can’t use constructive criticism in some area of their life?

When you open your ears and keep you mouth closed, and listen to well-intended criticism, you can be a learner, and see what you’ve created through different eyes. Years ago, when I finished writing something, I felt like I’d delivered a baby, and it was beautiful, no matter what anybody else said. Now I know that you have to be much more objective about writing: it is a product, and there are rules and standards, and how the words are put together makes all the difference in how interesting it is. Words are quite remarkable: their power comes not only from making the careful selection, but also putting them together in just the right way.  I’ve found I can rewrite something several times (and hopefully each time it gets better), and still I could continue the process. But there is a time to stop.

In my writing group, someone else reads my story. Hearing it aloud, I myself become the first critic. I realize that this isn’t right, or that could be better. Then I listen to what the others have to say. This generally means I have changes to make, all for the better.

How wonderful if this could be transferred to other parts of my life (everyone’s lives) and listening becomes the first step in understanding and improvement. Of course, how criticism is delivered is very important, too. It has to be constructive, stay on the topic, and never be personal. It’s about developing, getting better at whatever one seeks to achieve. Who doesn’t have room to grow?