Tag Archive | winter

Winters Aren’t What They Used To Be

IMG_2041I was born and raised in a small Iowa town nestled in a little area off a state highway, population 300. There wasn’t much to it but what was there was pretty: an oval park smack dab in the center, and when the sewer running through it was covered up, was downright enjoyable to walk through. The hills were peppered with homes of all shapes and sizes and trees of all kinds – lots of trees in beautiful summer greens or bursts of autumn oranges, reds and yellows.

The whole town was my playground. My two best friends lived at the end of my street. Dianne, Elaine and I were always together, running around the neighborhood or going to the park, and always wondering what it would be like to be all grown up.

There were two churches in the town. The one sitting majestically atop the town’s highest hill, and the smaller one at the bottom and center of the town, on one side of the park. It was a town of The Catholics and The Non-Catholics. It was The Catholics who built upon the hill. No modest, unassuming structure for them, thank you kindly. The imposing brick structure had been one of five: the church, the rectory, the convent, the grade school, and the high school. The brick convent, grade school and high school were torn down years after I moved away.

The Non-Catholics, on the other hand, were satisfied with a little white, dignified wooden structure that was heated by a pot-bellied stove. Growing up, my brothers and I were never allowed to fraternize with “those other folks”. I only know about the pot-bellied stove because I peeked through a window on my brother’s dare. To this day, I still don’t know who those Non-Catholics were, where they lived or went to school.

But the Church hill is what I especially recall during these, my adult winters. That hill was always the best for sleigh riding. It was slanted downhill just right for keeping up your speed…long so it was a good ride and worth the walk back up…and, if you got the speed of the sled going just right, and caught those sporadic bits of ice patches along the way to keep your momentum going, you could get all the way to the flat bottom and keep a’going. We kids were catered to by the grown up folks during the winter, especially after a great snowstorm. An adult, mindful of the good snow and knew we’d get our sleds out, would grab a wooden safety beam with inverted V legs, and set it at the bottom of the hill, effectively closing it off to drivers. This assured we could ride down the hill in safety and not one adult soul minded having to go around to get where they were going, or that we slicked the road so bad during our sleigh riding, that it was a bit tricky to get up in a car.

But I don’t think anyone really needed a sign. The adults just knew to keep their cars away from the church hill after a snowfall or they would run over a sledder.

We kids wanted the best ride, not just an okay one. It was an okay ride if your sled stopped at Elaine’s grandmother’s house halfway down; a good ride if it stopped at Herrig’s garage as the street leveled; but a great ride if you coasted another half block to Manderscheid’s Tavern. We diehards who would use our feet to push a bit and making it to Manderscheid’s, always got off our sleds, cocky and proud while walking back the Herrig or grandmother groups. We knew our stuff – the wind direction, the icy patches, the bit of umph when you started at the top. None of which we shared with each other.

After a couple hours, usually when the sun started fading, we’d admit the end of a day and drag our sleds home. My brother and I would park our sleds near the porch, ready to grab the next day, jump onto the porch and walk into the toastiest, warmest kitchen you could ever imagine…toes and fingers tingling and noses running. Usually, the smell of super cooking on the stove could be detected, amidst Mom’s loud “Don’t you dare track that snow into my house! Get those boots off NOW!” order. And so we did.

As I look out now upon the snow capped roofs of my neighborhood…eye a neighbor shoveling the garage driveway…thinking I should probably do the same…I am not an adult woman…I am not living here. I am a kid, racing down that hill in Iowa…and you can darn well bet I’ll make it to Manderscheid’s tavern again.

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Let it snow let it snow let it snow!

This is the winter of our discontent.   The storms that pelt against the windows, shellac the grounds with ice, and fog in the small aircraft, are mere reflections of the inner turmoil we are feeling.

Perhaps the last time you felt good about job opportunities and housing prices, the critical thinking skills our children are learning, the national budget and the cost of preventive and healing medical care is too long ago to really remember.  Or, maybe, you never felt these things.  Ever.

The absolutely astounding thing about these things is that we never stop wanting them.  Of course, it eventually becomes harder and nearly impossible to retain hope for an easier and less costly way to live the American dream of a high quality life.  You try to stay positive through months of job searching; you avert your eyes at all the foreclosure signs in the neighborhood; you refuse to watch Fox channel’s biased and unfair news or NBC’s news sound bites between unlimited commercial breaks; you try not to count the zeroes in the national debt figure (twelve); and, you pray fervently you don’t get sick and need a doctor or operation.

It’s exactly this effort that makes it virtually impossible to be content and peaceful throughout your day.

I remember being peaceful, once.

It was about a hundred years ago when I was nine years old.  My best friend was out with her folks and I was bored.  I wanted to ditch my older brother who could be such a nuisance some times and have some peace and quiet.  I felt it best not to ask permission to leave the house for a while, as I probably wouldn’t get it and would instead be put to work sweeping the kitchen floor or babysitting my baby brother.   I casually sauntered across the living room floor acting cool, and made it to the screen door without incident.  I stood there for just long enough looking uninterested, then slowly pushed open the door.  I was soon outside on the porch.  Made it!  I took off at a fast pace across the lawn, onto the sidewalk and around the corner.

It was a beautiful, sunny morning in early summer.  The birds were happily singing and hardly anyone was outside yet, which was just perfect.  I lived in a very small town where everyone knew everyone else and would tattle to my parents if they thought I was wandering too far from home and getting into trouble.

I walked the two blocks to the main part of town and took a right.  I was into my rhythm now.  Not too many people hung around the car repair shop or the farm implement store, and the tavern wasn’t open yet.  I started to skip down the sidewalk.  Right before the street ended, I stopped at Almira’s yard and picked myself a few grapes.  She was an old spinster lady who was always nice to us kids, so I knew she wouldn’t mind if I helped myself.

I kept walking past the dead end and right up to the wooden fence.  I scanned the pasture and smiled:  the cows were gone and the bull was nowhere to be seen.  I climbed over, jumping to the ground.  I steadied myself and walked purposefully across the flat grazing land, heading straight for the little creek.  I knew exactly where the spring  fed into the creek bed and helped myself to a few handfuls of fresh water.

After I had refreshed myself, I reached down and picked a few sweet purple clover buds.  A short time later I had made it to a small hill and was settling my little frame onto the grassy patch by the big bush.  I could see the entire town from here, and more importantly, if the bull decided to come by.  I wasn’t afraid of cows, I rode them on my uncle’s farm when no one was looking.  I would have preferred a horse, but I made do with what was available.  But a bull was an entirely different proposition.

I munched on the clover and then laid back for a rest, my arms up and my head on my hands.  The sky was a beautiful blue and the clouds seemed whiter and fluffier than usual.   A gentle, wispy breeze blew across my face like angel wings.  Immediately, a wave of enormous joy rolled over my little body and I felt one with everything, and everything was perfect, so I must be, too.

I thought great thoughts that day while looking up.  I just knew everything was going to turn out just perfect.  I’d have a great teacher that fall and I’d be really smart in class, maybe one of the smartest.  I wouldn’t fight with my brother nearly so much and I’d get a new dress to wear every Sunday for church.  Oh.  And a horse.  I’d definitely end up owning a horse.

When it was time to go back home, I was peaceful and content.  I got myself up, walked back across the pasture, climbed over the fence and began to walk the four blocks to home.  I waved to my neighbors as I passed them.  I was feeling pretty cocky because everything was going to be so perfect.

I often wish I was nine again, drinking fresh, clean spring water, crossing an open field of clover, thinking wonderful thoughts about my life and everything in it.  Instead, I have to be content remembering instead of being, feeling grateful that it all comes back to me so easily.  Once you know what peace truly feels like, you never stop trying to live it.  That’s a wonderful gift for a nine year old to give to the world; well…mine, any way.

Something good is going to happen next year.  I can see it in the sky.

— ( c ) St. John 2011

Are you feeling uneasy in 2012?


 

There’s no getting around it.  2011 was a bad year upon a not-go-good year, going into an iffy year.  There is not one person who has not suffered in some way, innocently or by their own behavior and actions.

We are all in this confusion and void together.  It’s not the best way to be united as a country, as a people…I’d rather be dancing…but there is strength in standing together and facing it down.

Whether your grief has been emotional, physical, economic, or spiritual…or a combination of more than one or all of the above, the wall of pain can be walked through.  You can come out the other side not only intact, but with greater peace.  I may not have the answers to get you through it, but perhaps I can lean upon others for inspiration to help guide you.

It’s hard being in a void.  The economy…environment…government…world unrest…nuclear threats.  Who knows what the heck will happen to the world tomorrow…next week…next month.  Election year only makes the void echo insanely because it is the same ole, same ole, with few promises acted upon.  Andrew Peterson, EdD, in his book “The next ten minutes” looks at the void a bit differently though.   He absolutely agrees it is a place of uncertainty and how we human beings are not wired to like uncertainty.  But he happily goes on to say about the void, “…it’s the gap between the poles, where all things are possible.  It is, in fact, the present moment.”  He’s particularly delighted about that, because that’s what his book is all about:  being in the present moment.

All spiritual books point to this present moment.  “Be in the moment, in the now.”  But when the present moment and the now are painful, why would you ever want to go there?!  Give me a great fantasy escape any day.

But I get their point.  In spite of our humanness to avoid uncertainty, we cannot avoid the lure of beauty.  And there is beauty in the moment, even if it means just paying attention to how you breathe and how you don’t even have to think about it to stay alive.  Can you imagine how tedious it would be if you had to remind yourself every few seconds to breathe?!  If I want to be reminded to “breathe…just breathe” or to “take a deep breath,” I want it to be because I am so excited about something that if I don’t slow down my breathing, I will surely faint dead away in pure delight.  But it doesn’t have to be as common as paying attention to your breathing…whatever causes you to concentrate so heavily that you hear nothing else around you…that’s the present moment.  That’s the now.  That’s pure delight.  That’s the best escape fantasy going.

I certainly hope that Andrew Peterson is right, and that all things are possible at this moment.  Because that’s how I want my dreams to come true…when I’m not paying attention because I’m having so much fun, just being.

Next I turn to Julie Cameron, a particular favorite artist/writer of mine (The Artist’s Way, Transitions, etc.).   In an inspirational prayer book she offered this consolation:

“Sometimes people fail us in terrible ways.  We are betrayed, abandoned, cast aside.  In times of such personal trauma, we must hold to the larger picture….I realize that while people may indeed fail me and turn away, there is an underlying goodness to the Universe which brings to me new friends and new situations.  These gifts heal and soothe me.  I see the merciful hand of providence despite my pain.”

The larger picture can mean many different things to each of us.  For me, it’s the idea of goodness; that it can exist in one human being or another without ever disappearing completely.  When you can reach outside of your pain and grab on with all your might to that goodness – kindness and respect – and offer it to others, you find the friends who are connected to the higher picture and can elevate you to that higher place of healing and peace.  And, better yet…

sometimes those friends even find you.

But for me it’s Don Miguel Ruiz and his book, “The Four Agreements” that really brings things home on this idea of we humans suffering at the hands of others.  Maybe I’m quoting directly or maybe I’m paraphrasing…I’m most certainly jumping around…but he gets the credit for the following perceptions:

We all love the best we can.  We all can trust ourselves.  We all suffer.

We can’t always give what the other wants or needs.  Sometimes, someone leaving your life or disappointing you is a gift.  It hurts to be with some people.  But the hurts will heal.         When the hurt heals, you can choose what you really want, how you really want to relate to others.  You don’t need to trust others as much as you need to trust yourself to make the right choice to be with them or not.   Your sadness, anger or humiliation will disappear.  When you establish a new belief you won’t be in that hell of pain ever again.  You will become immune to disapproval, shame and harsh resentments.

As for the gossips, the hell that they create when you go your own way, don’t take it personally.  It won’t affect you.  You can stand in that hell, in serenity.  The poison of harsh words will poison the sayers of them, not you.  You are not responsible for their words, neither is your behavior responsible for their unkind actions.  You did not cause the harshness, resentment of abuse.  You can stand in the middle of this pain and still experience inner peace and happiness.

Every day you will become better at being you.  You will remain a beautiful soul and you will live up to that soul.  Accept yourself.  Do not commit the sin of self-rejection.

Regardless of how high or down you are in this challenging year of 2012, one bit of prophecy or truth, if you will, keeps popping up…kindness and respect connects you to the innate goodness of the universe to other like-minded souls.  So if all those you are connected to are neither kind nor respectful, just hang tough and don’t waiver…those who already are will be grounded in your space even more deeply.  You and the goodness of others in your space will draw to you the same.   And the best part is, that those in your life who aren’t kind or respectful and can’t/won’t become so, will suddenly find there is no room for them at your inn.

Too bad, huh.  And you didn’t have to do anything, except be your higher self and stay the course.  See?  Life can be good.

(Because chose it to be.)

— ( c ) St. John 2012