Life in The Chrysalis

We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.

Maya Angelou

Tucked in amid the profusion of perennials that surround my sister’s house you will find a huge milkweed plant. Often relegated to roadside ditches or borders along the back-forty, milkweed is dwindling in number along with the Monarch butterflies who spend their caterpillar phase living and feasting on the host plant’s bright green leaves.  This particular milkweed did not suddenly appear in my sister Kelly’s garden unbidden and unannounced. It was planted and nurtured there with intention; an invitation to passing Monarchs looking for a place to lay their eggs. “Please, come. Land here. We want you in our neighborhood.” The hardy plant grew tall and strong, full of broad leaves, but not a single Monarch flew by to check out the menu or the accommodations.

Finally…a couple weeks ago, my sister, called to say that she had discovered a Monarch caterpillar feasting on the milkweed. “Come on out. You’ve got to see it,” she implored with great excitement. “It’s amazing.” So, with my mask in place and observing social distancing, I  went to watch this remarkable little fella sprint from the bottom of the stalk up toward the buds of the blossom at the top.  He was a voracious eater and quite the little gymnast.

The First to Arrive (Photo: Kelly Daab Green)

Then, just as suddenly as he appeared he was gone.  Apparently, Monarch caterpillars are considered a delicacy by the Orioles who nest nearby. Kelly was heartbroken as she imagined her little friend being the main course at an Oriole summer picnic. Perhaps, however,  her striped buddy had escaped the birds and traveled to find a more safe and secure place to construct his chrysalis. Monarchs will often hike as far as ten meters in search of the perfect spot, but whatever his fate…lunch or location…he was no longer present on her milkweed.

In the coming days, she searched the remaining leaves, waiting and willing another caterpillar to appear on her special plant, vowing that if she found other she’d bring it in and rear it, keeping it safe from predators. No one came.

Imagine her joy when days later, while exploring the back fields near her rural home, providence placed her right next to another milkweed where a beautiful orange and black queen of the sky rested quietly on a leaf. As she watched, the regal butterfly appeared to shudder slightly, pause and then fly quickly away leaving behind a very tiny, cream-colored egg. Once she knew where to look and what to look for, Kelly found many more of these pearl-like spheres no larger than the head of a pin.

Led by Providence (Photo: Kelly Daab Green)

Originally, Kelly had hoped to watch a single caterpillar progress from larva to pupa and then butterfly, instead, my little sister was rapidly becoming a Militant Monarch Mama caring for her tiny charges as they grew and she learned more about how to nurture, protect, and defend her growing army of caterpillars.

Humans have always been drawn to butterflies. It is mesmerizing to watch one of the delicate, winged creatures flit from flower to flower gathering nectar knowing that our momentary pleasure will end too soon as they hurry off toward the next stop on some ancient instinctual travel plan. The way butterflies float and drift on the currents, alighting momentarily just beyond reach is magical. Our eyes trace their carefree journey across the sky and we marvel that such fragile wings can carry them about the clouds.

On the Migratory Path, Vinalhaven, Maine, October 2019

Of course, there are many dangers and obstacles that threaten our wee friends…lack of habitat, climate change, rain, dust, pesticides, and birds… but these flying Buddhists don’t worry about such things and are not troubled with thoughts of the future. Always living in the present moment their short lives are unencumbered by responsibilities and are filled with beauty and freedom.

One early evening a few nights later, I heard the ding on my phone alerting me that I had a message. I was delighted to receive an update complete with photos. There on the screen was a close-up of a small, silky, green chrysalises and a buddy about to create one of his own. Two of Kelly’s charges were one step closer to becoming butterflies.

Caterpillar to Chrysalis (Photo: Kelly Daab Green)

Watching a lowly caterpillar snake off his jester’s garb and shimmy into a silky green changing booth only to emerge dressed in the bright orange raiment of a sovereign it’s easy to understand why butterflies often symbolize the soul, transformation, or rebirth. Their metamorphosis is the epitome of second chances and new beginnings.

While there are many references to caterpillars and butterflies when discussing change and transition I find little mention of the chrysalis or the time spent within it. What’s going on in there? How does a caterpillar grow wings? Biologists have studied the changes that occur within this hidden realm, but to the casual observer…people like me…it remains mysterious and miraculous.

I wonder if the caterpillar was surprised to find that it was slowly twisting and turning itself into the strange vessel that was to be its new home. Does he have an idea of how long he’ll be hanging there or why or what he’s supposed to be doing? Does he know that he is in the world, yet secluded from it?

No. Probably not.

“The caterpillar does not become a butterfly by telling everybody it has wings. It actually buries itself in darkness and grows those wings.”

C. JoyBell C.

Lately, I have had the feeling that I, too, am living in a kind of chrysalis…isolated, waiting, expecting, and hoping for change.  How long will this last? Will I emerge better and stronger? Will I find wings with which to fly? Will my former life on the milkweed be recognizable when I reemerge into a post-COVID-19 world. Some things, when they change never do return to the way they once were and butterflies reassure us that that can be a good thing.

“When you find yourself cocooned in isolation and you cannot find your way out of darkness…Remember, this is similar to the place where caterpillars go to grow their wings.”

Nicole Stephens

And so…we wait.

We hope.

We remind ourselves that even life inside a chrysalis is a gift.

A few days after the first two chrysalises appeared Kelly sent me another text message with yet another picture of her two charges. I had no idea that with time a small, silky, green chrysalis would become so amazingly beautiful.

Gold and Jewel Tones (Photo: Kelly Daab Green)

And…it would continue to change before the butterfly would break free and unfold its wings.

Almost Time to Break Free (Photo: Kelly Daab Green)

Like butterflies, we have the power to modify our own chrysalises. Yes, it’s true we’re still confined by limitations but it is amazing the many ways we are finding to bring beauty, connection, and joy into our lives? We attend family gatherings over Zoom; we live stream theatre and comedy shows; we create virtual choirs; we visit friends at a distance of at least six feet; we spend time outdoors, and we use our eyes to smile at strangers over our masks.

Not all chrysalis hatch you know. Sometimes they are destroyed or eaten or just don’t make it. Nothing is guaranteed. Let’s not wait for our wings. Our life is now.

Before he took flight, the first glorious Monarch to emerge, landed briefly on a milkweed blossom Kelly held in her hand. He paused for a few sips of nectar and a momentary fluttering of his wings in gratitude and affection…I think. Then knowing that he could…he flew away.

“Sweet freedom whispered in my ear, you’re a butterfly. And butterflies are free to fly. Fly away. High Away. Bye. Bye”

Bernie Taupin and Elton John, “Someone Saved My Life Tonight”
And Butterfly are Free to Fly (Photo: Steve Forsgren)

A special thank you to my sister, Kelly Daab Green for sharing her adventure with me and for allowing me to share it with you.

Crossing The Threshold

I’m a dweller on the threshold, And I’m waiting at the door, And I’m standing in the darkness, I don’t want to wait no more…I will walk out of the darkness. And I’ll walk into the light. I will sing the song of ages, And the dawn will end the night.”

Van Morrison, from Dweller on the Threshold
Crossing the Threshold
Star Island

The entire world is standing on the threshold…the narrow place between the world as we knew it just a few months ago and the world as it is becoming.  We watch as other states rush to open and we wonder when or even if we can safely return to activities we once took for granted.  So many questions.

On St. Patrick’s Day, 2019, I was on my way to church when I slipped on the ice and broke my ankle. At the time I was living in a two-hundred-year-old, cape cod house in New England. My house had plenty of character complete with sloping floors,, small doorways, and uneven transitions between the rooms. 

I never mastered crutches, so until I could be given a walking cast my mode of transportation through the house was a knee scooter. One knee and lower leg would rest on the padded seat of the scooter, the other leg provided stability and power and I had handlebars for steering. I got pretty good at making wide turns, moving on the straightaway, and even backing up. The challenge, however, came when I needed to cross the very uneven threshold between one room and another. I really had to concentrate and plan my actions so that I moved the scooter forward without putting it or me off balance. Sometimes this also involved carefully lifting the front wheels slightly off the ground, over the wooden boards, and then setting the scooter back on the floor. Occasionally, it was necessary to rest briefly before repeating the process and moving the rear wheels over the obstacle and into the adjacent room.

Crossing a threshold…literally or figuratively… involves moving from where we are into where we will be. For now, we find ourselves sheltering in place, and much like my knee scooter, we remain directly on the threshold…waiting to make the transition from life before the virus to life after. Eventually, we will cross the space between known and unknown, until then, however, we can only guess at what lies ahead.

Waiting on the Threshold
Lower level in St Peter’s Dom, Trier

Many of us find this condition unsettling, uncomfortable and our equilibrium is off-kilter. No one enjoys being in a state of limbo, but perhaps we could consider this resting on the threshold experience as an unexpected gift. A gift of time that we can use to catch our breath from the abrupt change in our lives, plan our actions for the days ahead, evaluate what we really want to keep and what we have learned to live without.

Although we are together in this space between beginning and ending some of us have had our engines running at full speed…teachers, parents, essential workers, and those working from home have not had the benefit of a little breath-catching time. The unanswered question of when, if, and how things will return to something familiar is an unwelcome complication and an additional stress for all of us, but especially for these folks.

Moving forward…getting all our wheels on the same plane…is going to take courage, bravery, and a good deal of faith.  “Thresholds are dangerous places, “ says Alix E. Harrow. “neither here nor there, and walking across one is like stepping off the edge of a cliff in the naive faith that you’ll sprout wings halfway down. You can’t hesitate, or doubt,” he says.  You can’t fear the in-between.”

The In-between
Montreal, 2019

None of us is sure how long we’ll be staying in this in-between…it would be so much easier if we did… but already we have begun to inch our way toward the other side. Until we sprout wings lets stand on the solid ground of where we are, pull on our big kid pants, lace up our shoes and put one foot in front of the other and step out in faith toward the other side. The length of our stride isn’t important. It’s that we just take those steps and keep on moving forward.

George Harrison of the Beatles once said of Elvis Presley that although they were devoted fans and his music was a great influence on their work, The Beatles always felt sorry for him, because he was alone and they had each other. They had their mates. Everything is better with a mate or two by your side and this pandemic is no exception, but even those of us who have been sheltering in place solo are more like The Beatles than Elvis. We’re all full of trepidation as we stand on this unique threshold, but we are not standing alone. We are making this journey into the future…taking tiny steps toward the other side…with neighbors, family, friends, and many helpful strangers…supporting each other with love and walking side by side. We’ll get through this together. When we support each other we find we are supporting ourselves as well.

Walking With Grandpa
Cochem, 2019

One of my friends, said recently, that we can’t really cross a threshold until we can imagine what lies on the other side. It seems that lately when I imagine what might lie ahead the soundtrack is similar to one of those movie scenes where the intensity of the horns and strings gradually increase and you hold your breath as the suspense builds until you find yourself shouting at the screen trying to warn the protagonist…”Get away! Get away! And for God’s sake, don’t open that door!” But…sometimes imagining what’s under the bed is much worse than the dirty socks that got kicked under there in the first place.

It’s also true that sometimes amazing adventures are simply beyond our imagining. Could Lucy have imagined Narnia as she pushed her way towards the back of the wardrobe or Alice imagine the adventure at the bottom of the rabbit hole? And remember, in the movie version, it wasn’t until she landed in Oz that Dorothy found color

The Dublin-based creative agency, The Tenth Man created a moving video called The Phoenix. It offers hope and an important reminder that this crisis will not last forever. We will cross the threshold. It will end.

“When this will all end we will be reunited, so now, just for a minute, let’s imagine it. The moment you’ll hear that voice again. See that face again Feel that embrace again. And we will embrace, the old, the young the family, the friends, friendly rivals, the rival rivals those you wouldn’t have thought twice about touching before and we will cry Oh, we will cry. Fat hot wet tears will roll down our faces as we hold each other tight and for far too long because when this will all end it won’t feel right to ever let go again. And when this will all end you’ll ask me to dance and I will say yes let’s dance.  Let’s dance for the dawn of a new world, for those we love, for those we’ve lost, for another chance and you’ll put on your red shoes and dance my blues away and as we sway you’ll look In my eyes at my soul reviving, burning, arising,  And those fat hot wet tears will fall and we will never ever forget it and we will never ever let go again. And this, this will all end.”

Yes, This will all end and we will find ourselves on the other side of the threshold until then we’ll just put one foot in front of the other and move slowly toward the other side.

Originally shared with the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Central Michigan, Mt Pleasant, Michigan

May 10th, 2020

From the Inside Looking Out

“Your desire to be near to a window is your desire to be close to life!” 

― Mehmet Murat ildan
Invercargill, New Zealand

Recently messages flooded my Facebook newsfeed wishing me a Happy Easter. Three of these greetings stood out from the others and really gave me pause. One was translated from Italian, another from Dutch, and the third came in Polish. For some reason, those brief Paschal blessings sent from friends around the world suddenly made our shared condition of sheltering in place real for me. Of course, like you, I had seen pictures of the eerily empty streets of Rome, London, and New York and I understood that the world had come to a halt in the abstract, but those words of hope and rebirth came not from nameless statistics, but from people with whom I had shared hugs, meals, and laughter, people who were now, in their own countries safely ensconced in the safety of their homes. The worldwide lockdown was suddenly concrete and very real. Across the globe, people are staying inside, wearing masks and keeping a distance of six feet as we connect socially through Facetime, Facebook, and Zoom. We go out only when necessary and watch the change of season from our windows.

Throughout history, people have been forced to take refuge in confined spaces for safety. I think of my ancestor, Hugh Trueman, who made the journey from Londonderry to Philadelphia safely below deck on the barque Bradshaw in 1839; I remember too, huddling in the northwest corner of the basement for what seemed like hours as tornado sirens blared; and we know many stories of Jews who went into hiding during the Holocaust, but never has there been a time in human history when so many people are sheltering in place at the same time. This truly is a singularly extraordinary time.

Lamps in lonely windows are symbols of connection. Each lamp illumines an area of the dark, and all lamps together create the community of light, sign of the human family, casting light abroad…beaming this message: ‘We who lit these lamps are brothers and sisters!’

Kenneth L. Patton

My sister recently recommended a group on Facebook…View From My Window…where individuals in self-isolation around the globe share photos of what they see when looking out. The images are as varied as the people who post them. This morning I saw views of snowcovered mountains in Norway and sunny coral colored courtyards in Morocco. There are glorious views of oceans, lakes, and rivers and urban vistas of rooftops, metal, and sky. Some people see colorful gardens full of flowers and birds, while others view bare twisted branches that hold only the promise of blossoms and leaves. Photos come from skyscrapers in Dubai, brick-red villages in Africa, and small quintessentially American towns across the mid-west. Whether grand or humble the person posting always finds something to appreciate about the view, perhaps simply because it is home. It is where they are hunkered down, finding refuge, and comfort, marking the days as we weather the storm together.

Seeing the view from the various windows reminded me of the trip Dave and I took in 1999 from Fairbanks, Alaska south through the inside passage. Choosing which type of cabin to book for the ocean portion of our trip was a challenge. As you may know, cabins are classified by where they are on the ship and the size of the window. We knew that we wanted an outside cabin with a view and, although much less appealing, we concluded that a room with a single, small porthole probably best suited our budget at the time. Dave, in charge of making the initial deposit on the trip, headed off to the travel agent with a checkbook in hand. Upon his return, he confessed that he had upgraded our cabin to one with a much bigger window. “I just couldn’t justify being in Alaska and not being able to see it,” he said. He was right. We happily spent a bit more money and were able to enjoy the scenery without taking turns on tiptoe at the porthole.

This pandemic has made it abundantly clear that we are fellow passengers on this beautiful Blue Boat Home of ours. Yes, we’re all stuck in port on the same boat, but we are not all on the same deck. Some of us are comfortable on the upper deck, drinking our Mai Tais and wondering when we will be able to use our travel vouchers from canceled trips, whether the theatre will honor our unused tickets, or when we can stroll the aisles of garden centers, bookstores, and other small shops. Everyone is concerned about getting sick but not all of us have to worry about health insurance or whether we can pay our utility bill. There are still others on this journey whose only view is from the porthole and many, many more who have no window at all not to mention the hands sweating below deck working tirelessly to keep the ship afloat.

Between the light and darkness, we dwell, knowing both joy beyond measure and trouble beyond imagining. Keep us as we would keep each other, knowing that we belong together and that when we walk through the valley of shadows we need not do so alone.

Burton Carley, With or Without Candlelight: A Meditation Anthology
Sheltering in Place, View from my porch, Mt Pleasant, Michigan

As we hunker down and try to find equilibrium in our new normal let’s fling open our windows to the world beyond our own walls, allowing light and love to wash over us, reminding us that we are definitely not alone and until we can find the tools and precious glass to construct more windows let’s also remember with caring, compassion, and gratitude those on the decks below.

I Need a Technicolor Coat

“Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar”

Probably not…Sigmund Freud

As a student, I struggled with the use of symbolism. I understood the concept but just couldn’t seem to recognize it in the text. If by some miracle I did realize that the author was using that technique I seldom had a clue what it meant or what message was hidden there. How reassuring when in a master’s level seminar, after the class had spent over an hour prying all the possible symbolic meanings from The Old Man and The Sea our professor warned, “Remember don’t get too caught up in symbolism. Sometimes it’s just about a fishing trip.”

Ducks at Chip-a-Waters Park, 2020

Shortly after my mother died, I began to have a reoccurring dream. It returned night after night. In the dream, I’d grab my computer or my phone and in panic and terror, I would plead a desperate warning: “Don’t delete the program! Be careful. Don’t hit the wrong key. Don’t delete the program! Just don’t delete the program.”

If dreams are merely stories we tell our unconscious selves why did I keep repeating this one? Knowing my struggle with symbolism I surprised myself by how quickly I came to understand the message of this nighttime vision. It seemed obvious. The program I didn’t want to delete was my mother.

The dream returned when Dave died.

It came again last week.

I woke myself up in the middle of the night, grabbed my cellphone and had it in my hands trying to find which keys I needed to push when I realized that I was once again in the dream and there was nothing I could do to keep the program from self-deleting. The symbolism had changed only slightly. It was not my mother or my husband I was trying to keep from slipping away; it was my life as it had been before COVID-19 snatched it from my grasp.

I recalled the dream the next morning when I was fully awake and had to admit that in many ways I am right back in the early stages of grief. This time, of course, I’m not alone with my private pain. This time the entire world is collectively grieving. Each of us, whether we acknowledge it or not is in one of Katherine Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief…denial, anger, bargaining, depression or acceptance.

Being sequestered in my home, I see grief being manifested in the roller coaster ride of posts on social media. Friends share silly videos, humorous graphics, and uplifting messages of hope one minute and posts full of anger and frustration the next. I feel it in my own life too. I am often filled with fury and despair at the calamitous situation in which we find ourselves. At other times, I am nearly paralyzed with sadness; my eyes welling with tears and a lump in my throat that I am unable to swallow away. I am overcome with the mirrored emotions of fear and apprehension, and yet, when I notice small green shoots poking through the pebbles reaching for the sun or watch the Mourning Doves build a nest in the big pine tree I also feel a sense of calm acceptance of things as they are. Grieving is a complicated business.

“In times of grief and sorrow, I will hold you and rock you and take your grief and make it my own. When you cry I cry and when you hurt I hurt. And together we will try to hold back the floods of tears and despair and make it through the potholed street of life”

Nicolas Sparks, The Notebook

As we walk this unfamiliar valley together…at a distance of six feet…we are aware of our interdependence and connectedness. We are all in this journey together…holding each other’s sorrow, listening to each other’s story, and taking turns soothing each other’s bouts of fear and distress. Instead of bringing brownies, lasagna, or pots of soup to assist those in mourning as is our normal custom, we are supported by courageous strangers who perform the unseen but necessary tasks that keep us fed, safe, and secure. Our hearts are full when we consider all the simple kindnesses that grace our lives on a daily basis. We worry and pray together for all of those on the frontlines doing battle on our behalf. It’s such a paradox that as we hunker-down, flatten the curve, and stay inside we are alone and yet the world entire is walking the same crowded path.

Recently, the songs of the early morning birds crept into that space between dream and waking as I tried to squeeze a few more minutes of sleep from what had been a restless night. As I slipped into my dreams once again, as often happens in dreams, one of the birds began to speak to me, “Follow me”, he said in his little bird language which amazingly I had no trouble understanding. “Follow me and everything will be all right.” I watched as the wee fellow flew into a dark, narrow cave. “Don’t be afraid,” he continued to chirp. “Follow me.” I took a deep breath and began to follow. I hadn’t gone far when, although still surrounded by impenetrable darkness, I could see sunlight bouncing off the walls ahead. Then, as in any good third-grade story…I woke up.

Once again, the symbolism seemed quite clear to me. My feathered buddy was telling me that as we enter this time of tremendous uncertainty and yes, grief, we should remember that there is the promise of light up ahead. Spring is here and summer is coming and even in the midst of great sorrow, fear, and disappointment there will flowers blooming, trees leafing out, and moments of great joy.

Hey…I’m finally getting good at this symbolism stuff, however, in case the universe is wondering, I’m perfectly happy to simply savor a night of deep, peaceful uninterrupted sleep.

Please be safe, be well, and do what you can to flatten the curve.

Long I Stood

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveler, long I stood, And looked down one as far as I could…”

Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken
The Sound of Yellow Aspen
Santa Fe, NM October 2015

“You know, when it comes to poems meant to inspire us, I think The Road Not Taken is one of the most over used,” she told me. And yet, once again, I find myself drawn to it. Not for the last stanza where attention is usually focused. “I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” No, I find myself stuck on the phrase “long I stood.” Most often we focus on the outcome not the process. The traveler stands at the crossroads deliberating for what they think is a long time before eventually lifting their foot off the ground and taking that first step.

For over forty years I stood in that yellow woods with another traveler. I seldom made grand decisions on my own. I was the one who would point out the differences, the possibilities, and the pitfalls of each decision. Dave would often listen without indicating that he was actually hearing what I was saying and then suddenly declare with confidence and finality which direction our path would take. Occasionally, I’d feel rather annoyed. Why did he get to have the ultimate say? At times I was really irked at him for getting the last word and at myself for ceding that power to him. I’d attribute it to the male/female thing, but in actuality it was the difference in our personalities and how we saw the world of choices and decision making. His world was black and white while mine was a blaze of color, glitter, and flashing lights. Together we found a satisfying balance as we chose our path beneath the banner of golden leaves.

Hidden Valley
Rocky Mountain National Park, September 2018

With his death I find that my life in many ways is off-kilter, off balance, and out of focus. Making decisions is one of the many ways this manifests itself. I keep exploring all the options, weighing the pros and cons, and considering all the angles, but there is no longer anyone there to announce that the deliberations are ended and a choice had been made. I miss Dave’s decisiveness. I feel myself on a constantly repeating loop like driving on a roundabout without ever finding the exit. I know it’s there and when I find it I’ll be able to move forward, hopefully in the right direction, but in the meantime, it’s nerve wracking and exhausting.

Frankly, I’m getting quite tired of standing at that tedious crossroads among those yellow trees. I’m also tired of the mosquitos, black flies, and thoughts that keep buzzing around my head with their constant drone of what if, what if, what if. As lovely as the woods are, I am beginning to yearn for a wider vista. Any day now…I’m going to brush the mud off my Keens, tighten the laces and…actually move.

“Did you ever have to make up your mind? And pick up on one and leave the other behind? It’s not often easy and not often kind. Did you ever have to make up your mind? Did you ever have to finally decide?And say yes to one and let the other one ride?There’s so many changes and tears you must hide. Did you ever have to finally decide?

The Lovin’ Spoonful, Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?https://youtu.be/CV9DMgVF-Nk

I’ll go left. I always go left. Decision made. Then the second guessing sets in. Oh Bummer! I want to join Jean-Luc Picard and “seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no one has gone before!” Then I think of the traffic, remember that I get motion sickness and begin to doubt whether or not I can read the map.

“You know the greatest danger facing us is ourselves, and irrational fear of the unknown. There is no such thing as the unknown. Only things temporarily hidden, temporarily not understood.” 

Captain, James T. Kirk, Starship USS Enterprise, The Corbomite Maneuver
View From the Porch

It’s puzzling to me that making decisions has become so difficult. Life itself is merely a continuous chain of decisions, but maybe some of my trepidation is recognizing that being a solo decision maker there is no one but myself to blame if I mess up.

People tell me to listen for Dave’s voice when making decisions. Unlike me, Dave didn’t generally share his opinions when he was alive, so I’m not expecting to hear his voice from the beyond anytime soon. I gradually learned over the years that he made decisions for all kinds of reasons. If you ever played cards with him you know exactly what I mean. Some of his decisions were well thought out, some were just based on a gut feeling and others were just made to shake things up, provide a laugh, or…well usually to provide a laugh. His decisions met with varying degrees of success. Perhaps that’s the message he’s sending. That it’s OK if I choose poorly, if I make a mistake, or if I should have painted the kitchen Wild Oat instead of Jewitt White. It’s all good and quoting a friend, “It’s probably not a pivotal moment in history.”

It’s true that “way leads on to way”. Any savvy shopper knows that if you find a pair of jeans that fits, buy them immediately. But Robert Frost lived in another time and was never privy to the dulcet tones of a disembodied voice instructing…”When possible make a safe and authorized u-turn.” It is possible to go around the block, dig yourself out of a hole, or simply choose again. The Merlot not so good? Next time select a Riesling.

Learning to make decisions on my own is difficult and it’s going to take some time, but I know with each choice I make I’ll grow more confident, positive, and comfortable. So, just for the practice…and since it’s chilled and open…I will choose the Riesling.

Tossing Out the Feathers

“Much of what we acquire in life isn’t worth dragging to the next leg of our journey. Travel light. You will be better equipped to travel far.” 

Gina Greenlee, Postcards and Pearls: Life Lessons for Solo Moment

Twice this week I encountered friends who were crying softly as they sorted through the accumulation of their lives. Each of them was preparing to move from their long-time home to something smaller. One was moving across town and the other half way across the country. The distance in miles was really inconsequential. It was the emotional distance that was making the journey…even though chosen and happily anticipated…challenging.

Watching Birds Through Penny’s Window. Spring 2018

Many in my generation of Baby Boomers are beginning to pitch unwanted and unneeded feathers from our nests. We spent years gathering those feathers to create a soft, comfortable place for our chicks, but while we were busy building a life and tending to their needs, they grew up. Now that they have fledged we are left with more room and more everything else than we need. Ah, but there’s the rub. Our children want none of the beautiful plumes we’ve accumulated and we struggle to rid ourselves of them, because they link us to another place and time. It’s not really the feather it’s the memory of the flight that is so hard to give up.

Following the death of my husband and after helping to empty my mother’s condo and then her assisted living apartment, I find myself eagerly wanting to simplify my life and…in my opinion…ruthlessly purging the flotsam and jetsam of my existence. Sending the bits and pieces that hold the memories of my childhood to the Restore hasn’t been easy, but then it occurred to me that I’m also holding on to the memories of others as well. I have child size Depression Glass plates that were my mothers, a collection of report cards and boy scout badges that were my husband’s, and my father’s fraternity paddle from college in the 1940s . Each of those is now destined for some form of recycling. I will still carry my memories of my parents and spouse, but I realize I am not required to continue to provide safe harbor for their memorabilia.

Another Visitor at Penny’s Window. Spring 2018

Tidying is the act of confronting yourself. The process of discarding and organizing confronts your emotions about the past, as well as your fears about the future. Your stuff (things that bring you joy and things that don’t) will show you what you value most in life.

Marie Kondo The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up

During the process of assessing, sorting, and purging, we often find ourselves confronting people and places from our past that we had forgotten. Memories rise to the surface bringing with them the joy of remembrance as well as the reminder of pain and regret. It’s not an easy process. In the end, we realize that things are only things. Freeing ourselves from the physical debris that no longer fits into the life we have or serve us as the people we have become, though challenging, is a very liberating experience. Once we pare down our possessions we find that assessing and sorting our activities, relationships, and obligations and purging those that no longer bring us pleasure, joy or meaning expands our options and provides the space and time in which to enjoy and develop those that enrich us. Keeping those negative memories also serves no purpose. Let’s ditch them too while we’re at it.

More Fun Out the Window, Spring 2018

Find what you truly cherish in life.  Cherish who you are and what brings you the most joy and fulfillment.  Don’t let stuff, or worries, get in the way or distract you from the life you want

Marie Kondo The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up

With less feathers in our nest we can use this time to hunker down and luxuriate in peace and simplicity or perch on the edge, take a deep breath, flex our wings, and fly.

Stork in Flight, Hunawihr, France 2019

A Sign?

“I keep stars in my pockets wear daisies in my hair but I tuck you tenderly in the folds of my heart and take you everywhere.” 

Melody Lee, Vine: Book of Poetry

My husband, Dave, absolutely loved to mow the lawn. He began as a young teen mowing the lawn at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, the rectory, and eventually the cemetery. When we bought our first home, much to his delight, it had a three acre lawn that required, or so he said, a riding mower. He’d spend hours in a meditative state, going back and forth, back and forth alone with his private thoughts, but more likely just enjoying the ride in a state of bliss. He especially liked to be out on his tiny tractor, ball cap on his head, when the neighboring farmers were out plowing the surrounding bean fields. He prided himself on being able to greet them across the steering wheel with the forefinger and thumb farmer wave and have them return the gesture. Simple pleasures.

It seemed that every home we ever owned was blessed with a large lawn for him to mow. Hmmm. I wonder how that happened? If the lawn wasn’t large enough, he’d gradually increase it…reclaiming area that had been devoured by the wild grasses and weeds that grew along its edge.

When he died one of my many decisions was what to do about the lawn. Over the decades his mowers had, like the lawns themselves, gradually increased in size to the point that there was no way that I’d be riding it. I’d have to hire someone, but how much should I have them mow? Dave mowed just because he loved mowing. Did I really need to keep the lawn the size he had created or could I let nature gradually take back her claim?

I decided on the latter. The first few weeks would bring tears as I watched the grass grow beyond anything he would have allowed. I remembered the joy he had with his weekly ride and the satisfaction he felt at the end. As the grass grew and the weeds returned it was a constant reminder that he was gone.

Weeks went by before I ventured out into what was now a meadow. When I finally summoned the courage, instead of the weeds and grass I had expected, it had become a field of Daisies, Buttercups, Hawkweed, Clover, Fleabane and yellow, purple and tiny white flowers for which I haven’t a name.

In nature everything is valuable, everything has its place. The rose, the daisy, the lark, the squirrel, each is different but beautiful. Each has its own expression. Each flower its’ own fragrance. Each bird its’ own song. So you too have your own unique melody.

Diane Dreher

People often talk about receiving signs or messages from those who have died. White butterflies, bright red cardinals, and delicate winged dragonflies have become reoccurring motifs for many of my friends. I was never blessed with a unique sign from either of my parents and didn’t expect to receive one from Dave either, but perhaps this field of wildflowers was indeed a message from beyond. Oh, I know that when we are looking for meaning we can easily assign the profound to the most mundane…a butterfly lands on our hand, a dragonfly swoops through a party or a cardinal keeps appearing at the window…but perhaps signs become such merely because we say they are and if they give us comfort, bring a smile, or give us courage, who’s to say they aren’t sent from those we love?

Walking among the daisies I found where a deer had spent the night. Perhaps small mammals are also making this their home; insects of all kinds for certain; and I’m sure a snake or two has slithered in as well. I didn’t expect to find a field of wildflowers, but I did. If I listen maybe they are telling me that life does go on and it can be abundant life at that. No, I wasn’t looking for it, and I’m not sure who sent it, but I’m taking this glorious field of flowers as a sign.

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