Monthly Archives: March 2016

Foolish Worry

spring daffodils, 2016

spring daffodils, 2016

I spent the first day of spring readying for the return of winter. A storm was predicted for the Boston area. Leaves had piled up in the corner of the driveway where, miraculously, the wind had tucked them into a tidy pile. It was breezy, but not cold—the ideal day to don a hat, fleece jacket and gardening gloves to collect leaves that take flight from the forested back hill all winter long.

I have a special method—using a lightweight, concave snow shovel, I scooped up the crinkled, thin-as-paper American Beech leaves. I worked on and off for two hours, enjoying the rhythm of lift and fill until I had two barrels full to place on the curb. Gratefully, in my town, garden waste recycling pickup began the very next day.

I took breaks, walking the winding, flag stone path of my front garden, searching out signs of new growth. I noted forsythia and lilac buds in swell, pointy lily stalks in stretch. Six patches of daffodils, many in full bloom, stood tall. I worried how they would fare if the snow was bold, icy, and fierce. I took pictures to hold the moments of their fresh growth. Daffodils launch spring and usually display their yellow and frilly petals for two to three weeks. What hubris, to think that we were home clear, that winter was spent, thanks to el-nino’s seductive warming.

The next morning, I awakened to a thick, white crystal coating on the myriad of trees and shrubs surrounding my home. So focused on worry for my plantings, I had forgotten the sheer beauty and surprise of a white-bright, morning landscape. The snow was light and wet enough to cover every surface. Feathery-branched trees and gracefully shaped shrubs sparkled while I, grateful for their splendor, shimmered with delight.

All afternoon, spring’s rising sun dissolved the winter-scape and melted my worry. By dusk, I was certain the daffodils would survive.

In three days time, the garden returned to its spring appearance, only more so. The nubile plants stood taller, appeared greener. It turns out— a fact I learned from my WBZ-Boston weatherman— that snow contains abundant amounts of nitrogen, an element which enriches growth. Curious about the details, I learned from the Farm Journal site that as precipitation falls through the atmosphere, it collects atmospheric nitrogen. When snow collects on thawed soil, it melts slowly and allows a gradual release into the soil. A natural conversion of elements takes place. Since the ground is already thawed, the moisture and nitrogen seep deeply into the soil, adding to the total nitrogen content.

I am grateful for needless worry, the gift of a nitrogen enriched soil, and the joy of spring daffodils standing tall and refreshed.

Be Alive To Everything

May Sarton, circa 1977

May Sarton, circa 1977

I don’t remember when I first read May Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude—perhaps, in my early sixties, working full time as a psychotherapist, teacher and consultant— with little awareness that solitude was an elixir, a drink to quell the thirst for my creativity and voice.

The well of Sarton’s spirit, her unhappiness, her loneliness, her ability and willingness to chronicle her deepest sensibilities was compelling to read. I marveled and envied her bravery to write about her humanity as a woman seeking balance, her need for connection to family and friends as well as her need for solitude as a writer.

In contrast, I wrote poems and journal entries in secret, a lifelong habit influenced by my Jewish/Yankee dad who often said, “It’s nobody’s business.” As a professional social worker, I was the keeper of my client’s secrets. I wrote after each session, chronicled my client’s stories in longhand, just as I write this blog, grateful for the perspective that comes from pen in hand.

At sixty-five, I was searching for a way to transition into writing more fully. I read Sarton for courage, for a close-in experience of a woman thoroughly committed and engaged with the writing life. A lesbian, she did not marry but wrote ardently of her need for intimacy. She did not hold back self-criticism, her struggles with discontent, the parts of myself I can barely face in private, never mind in public.

I resonate with her struggle to both heed and ignore the call of the every day. She experienced gratitude for solitude, the opportunity to reflect. She writes,

I feel cluttered when there is no time to analyze experience. That is the silt—unexplored experience that literally chokes the mind. Too much comes into this house—books I am asked to read and comment on, manuscripts, letters, an old friend who wants my opinion…and so on.

I have my own list of clutter. This is my silt—the unexplored experience that chokes both mind and heart, robbing time for reflection, the option to pause and consider. Too much comes into my house through snail mail, e-mail, Facebook— piles of unwanted catalogues, sales pitches for the home, the mind, the appetite, the body beautiful, politicians plea for money, the thrum of capitalism.

After posting my last blog about Mom and me, I felt at sea. Without thinking, I picked up Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude. I read, I scanned; I searched for what I knew not until the call of memory, like a compass, lead me back to her words. I am grateful to the poets, novelists and essayists who write reflectively. They inspire my aspirations. Now older than Sarton at the time of her Journal writing, I feel a kinship. How discerning is this Sarton quote:

For any writer who wants to keep a journal, be alive to everything, not just to what you’re feeling, but also to your pets, to flowers, to what you’re reading.




Mom Taught Me Gratitude

Mom & Me, Circa 1992

Mom & Me, Circa 1992

My gratitude diaries, like the shelves of my food pantry, provide staples for nourishment. By putting pen to paper, I note the ingredients—the essentials of the event or situation, which are stirred into a reflective mix and stored by date for future use.

On March 14th last year, I wrote: Is there more to writing about gratitude than the simple act of writing? Each entry marks a point in time— to be recognized, acknowledged and pondered. It is a way to separate the wheat from the chafe, which, in this speed-word driven culture is essential to my slowing down, reflecting and deliberating.

A full year later, my thoughts are the same, only more so. With the promise of an upcoming April birthday, I am aware of time passing. My mother died at 93; and I have every hope of reaching her mark or beyond. She and dad were close-knit, a traditional couple. Dad was the provider and Mom’s life was filled with tending to the care of her family and home. A widow for eleven years after Dad’s passing, she spoke with me often about loneliness.

I suggested she start a diary to put down and express what she was feeling. Mom found comfort in writing— at first, daily, then once a week and then intermittently for three years. From 1986 to 1989, she wrote in pen in graceful delicate script on lined composition paper. She numbered each page at the top and dated each entry.

Though lonely, she often wrote about her sense of gratitude. She struggled with physical issues—high blood pressure and heart disease—but along with concerns for her health, her wish for independence, her grandchildren’s choices, she wrote about being grateful, especially for the presence of her children, her appreciation of their care and concern.

I cherished the candor of her words. As she aged, she became more outspoken about her needs and wishes. As her eldest daughter, I felt inspired to help her live out her life in the way she desired. Her greatest wish was to age at home and most of all, to be of little worry to her children. At the age of 89, she wrote:

One more week in August, and summer will be over. It was a good one for me. I was able to do some things, which I was not capable of for some time and I am very grateful. I just hope and pray it should continue, as it is a good feeling to be able to act on one’s own.

After several worrisome falls, Mom agreed to a live-in companion. My parents, especially my dad, were frugal. Mom was grateful for his ability to earn and to save.

In her mind, during the years of her widowhood, he continued to provide for her. She expressed gratitude openly, both verbally and in her writing. In her final days, she got her wish; she lived out her life and ultimately died, with the help of Hospice, in her own home.



The Discipline of a Gratitude Practice

The-Beach-At-Sainte-Adresse Claude Oscar Monet

Claude Oscar Monet

I find that gratitude is not a given. It needs to be courted and noticed to be experienced. Especially in this finger-pulsing, talky tech age, when speed and the Internet dominate our lifestyles, we need to consider alternative ways of being connected to our minds and hearts.

Consider an average day. If you are a doer like me, you fill your day with work, relationships, personal and home chores. How often do you give pause, take a deep breath and think or say aloud—I am grateful for….

More likely, you take a coffee break, check e-mail messages, text, call a friend or take a walk to get the Fitbit steps up. We pursue the tech rhythm—fast, quick, efficient, or so we believe. But what of the alternative— a conscious effort to step back, to pause and take a breath and reflect upon an event or experience which might elicit appreciation and bring lift to the spirit. For some, three deep breaths can engender thankfulness for what is given.

As a child, I was introduced to piano lessons at the tutelage of Miss Burke, a rigorous and proud New England Conservatory graduate who lived and taught in a studio apartment in Portland’s Longfellow Square. A dutiful student, I practiced an hour daily, arrived at her studio once a week, nervous to please and show competence. Miss Burke was strict about what made for good performance. All these years later, I am grateful for the lessons of discipline and its ability to harness and define a space and time for practice.

During my 82nd year, I initiated a daily writing practice in a gratitude journal. The first few months, I felt like a novice, reminiscent of my beginner self at seven years, approaching the notes of gratitude just as I did piano music, substituting the pen for the keyboard, practicing the felt sense of gratitude.

Nowadays, my sense of gratitude flows more easily, imbedded as a result of a year of writing. Of course, I sometimes need to pause, to prompt my mind, to scan my day, to consider the question— perhaps, with a list as I did last night after a too-full day. The challenge to recall and name each event helped me to focus and reflect on the event’s meaning and its effect.

When gratitude arrives spontaneously, in the moment, a sense of warmth and excitement ripples my gut. I literally say to myself—I am grateful to have you arrive—my signal to pause, to stop the action, to take note of the whole experience— such as how a friend’s intuitive comment resonates, causing me to feel less alone or how I attune to the seashore’s calling at  the scenic edge of Monet’s painting, The Beach at Saint Adresse.

The sense of gratitude is deeply personal and can be deeply felt. It must be noted, experienced and appreciated to become a daily practice. To know it is to hold it.