Kaleidoscope of Life

When I was a child the highest tech toy I had was a kaleidoscope. I must have been around five years old and I remember spending hours with it. Just laying there and making adjustments that allowed me to see new patterns and designs-shifting perspectives. If you pointed it towards a light there was a feeling of stained glass and the sense that light streaming through a window at church brings. What stands out depends on how the light comes in.

Lately, I’ve been revisiting a book that has had a profound impact on my life, A New Earth–Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle. They’ve been breaking the book down chapter by chapter on Super Soul Sunday with Ophrah. Apparently, I’m not the only one whose life has been changed by this book.

Chapter four deals with the ego which brings me to the kaleidoscope. You see I had this profoundly humbling realization about my ego. My ego is the operator of the kaleidoscope and normally it reflects the image and memories I want it to that support my truths. I can change it based on my different ego identities as daughter, wife, mother, sister, employee and now a grandmother.

But this week I realized if I let someone else change the kaleidoscope to reflect their memories of me the whole design changes. Those memories are fractals of the design of our lives and two people can be in the same place at the same time and come away with different memories or perceptions of the experience. It was humbling initially when I realized that all those other people’s memories might be what I would consider negative–but it also humbling to realize that they might also be positive.

I cannot change their memories to match my own, maybe I can add to theirs, but primarily I can accept their memories as their truth. But the very essence of memories is that they are the past. The real goal of living a meaningful life is to be indifferent or unattached to those memories–both mine and theirs. To understand that we all did our personal best at the time, or hopefully we did. Until your truths are based in indifference or lack of attachment you will always be judging and letting the past own your present.

Life is a kaleidoscope of memories, a stained glass window into a life lived. The important thing to remember is that it is both beautiful and fleeting.

 

Grace Before a Fall

My youngest granddaughter’s name is Grace. She has two older brothers so she’s both tough and feminine and usually keeps up pretty well. Recently we set on a hike in South Dakota that involved crossing the same mountain stream over and over again. This was hard for Grace as she’s only five and often the rocks were spaced far apart or the logs were narrow. To be honest it was hard for me. But our first concern as adults was getting her across safely and staying dry.

It didn’t take long to learn that staying dry was useless and more importantly compromised safety. It doesn’t pay to try to avoid getting wet. Mountain streams are cold and the rocks are slippery. Not only are you safer just getting wet and walking through it it is also more fun and refreshing. But it wasn’t Grace who fell, it was me.

On about our fourth pass, with Grace safely on the other side I watched my My daughter take a graceful jump across from rock to shore. I took the same leap and did one of those slow falls where you feet slip up and you land flat on your back. On solid rock. Being resilient and flexible from years of yoga I managed to keep from hitting my head. This is one of those falls that could have ended in a being airlifted out. But the rock was smooth and flat and the most damage done was a bruised tailbone and ego with a valuable lesson learned. So what if you get wet?

So often in life we make careful calculated decisions during transitions only to fall down anyway. Why not forge the streams and get wet? The water is cold and refreshing and it’s a lot more fun. In the long run it’s much better for your soul. Trying to stay dry is stressful, you are always worried about where to step next, will you maintain your balance and what if you make a mistake? Moving quickly and trusting your instincts, the process and your training works much better and is a lot more satisfying.

I jumped up, took four ibuprofen and kept going. I was not going to hold the family back. When we got to our destination devils bathtub I just sat in the cold water, in my clothes to the delight of my grandchildren it looked like I had wet my pants and we all laughed together. On the way the back I walked straight through the water and had no more stress about which step was the best one. As long as I’m healthy it doesn’t really matter.

Other lesson learned–adults also need to bring back up shoes and clothes when hiking!

Enter Stage Left

Recently I was back in my old neighborhood in Illinois staying with dear friends for the night on my way to Spain.

My dear friend Ellen had prepared a beautiful and healthy dinner—hospitality being one of her major gifts. I sat with a view across the lake of one of my former homes. I was struck by the fact that despite looking at the house for over an hour it did not spark a single memory or emotion. It was as though I was viewing a set from a previous act in a play.

Traveling provides lots of downtime for processing and this idea took root. I’ve had many acts prior to my current one and many more to come. Some were dramas, some tragedies, some comedies. Mostly they were quiet chapters with happy endings, or sometimes just endings. Some are hidden and others very public. The beauty of life is we have some control over the length and breadth of the act but no control over the span of the play itself. We can choose the theaters it is shown in but not who is watching.

While in an act you have no idea what the ending will be or how long it will take. You can spend a lot of time and effort trying to Suss out the ending but then you miss the living of it and your ability to react to it. One often knows when the act is over.

This is all reinforced by reading Michelle Obama’s book Becoming. Never did she know that she was going to fall in love with and marry a future president. Each act unfolded leading to another and a growing awareness of where their life was heading.

In reviewing all the acts that went before this past year I realize that my life has been both difficult and insanely blessed. It was what I decide it was. That every difficult part made me stronger and every blessed part made me peaceful and happy. With the grace of God I will see how this act ends and all the others yet to play out with no sense yet of how they will be recorded in the theater of my life.

This trip to Spain is the end of a wonderful act with plot twist I never could have anticipated. I loved it all. Let me close this act with a poem with this poem by Mary Oliver about choosing one’s perspective.

The Ponds

By Mary Oliver

Every year

the lilies

are so perfect

I can hardly believe

their lapped light crowding

the black,

mid-summer ponds.

Nobody could count all of them —

the muskrats swimming

among the pads and the grasses

can reach out

their muscular arms and touch

only so many, they are that

rife and wild.

But what in this world

is perfect?

I bend closer and see

how this one is clearly lopsided —

and that one wears an orange blight —

and this one is a glossy cheek

half nibbled away —

and that one is a slumped purse

full of its own

unstoppable decay.

Still, what I want in my life

is to be willing

to be dazzled —

to cast aside the weight of facts

and maybe even

to float a little

above this difficult world.

I want to believe I am looking

into the white fire of a great mystery.

I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing —

that the light is everything — that it is more than the sum

of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do.

True Horizons

It has taken me a long time to fully understand the importance of “true horizons.”

According to Wikipedia:

“The horizon is horizontal. At many locations, the true horizon is obscured by trees, buildings, mountains, etc., and the resulting intersection of earth and sky is called the visible horizon.”
My true horizon was always obscured–by my own thoughts. It has taken this year of one-third travel, one-third self-reflection and upcoming one-third of building work (I still have four months to go) to understand my true horizons.
I now realize that moving towards the future is like the pilot landing in the dark. Eventually, he can see the runway lights–but that’s all. He has to rely on his experience, his instruments, and the air traffic controller to safely land the plane.
As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts our path is never fully clear–our horizons are obscured by everything life throws at us. Some of us are better than others with being comfortable with the unknowing. That may because they have faith in something bigger than themselves, or they may be sure of what they want and stay true to it. I so admire them for their confidence.
I’ve made trying to land my plane so complicated because I did not trust my experience, my intuition and I wasn’t listening to the voice inside me telling me what was true and right for me. My runway took many turns and had bumps and trees and my plane crashed many times.
Now I realize that I have everything I need to land this plane over and over again, in the dark, in a storm, on an island…Dr. Suess could write this book, and it has always been there. I’ve learned that if you don’t remain true to your soul, that you will always get off-course, but the universe will give you many more chances to get it right.
I’ve learned that if you set an intention, but don’t work on the path to get there it will happen anyway and you won’t like the way it goes down. It’s much better to pilot the plane and trust the air traffic controller’s disembodied voice.
I’ve learned that the cabin has everything you need, in a very small space, but there can be no distractions to be truly successful when planning your strategy.
I also know this. That many lives depend on me landing this plane safely and smoothly. I don’t know those people and I don’t know why they need me to do this work. But I know that this is my purpose.
I know that if I focus on the runway lights all will be well, I know my true horizon. To inspire, ignite passions and impact others through my work and it’s time to focus on flying.

Valuable vs. Expensive

This is the most valuable experience of my life and the most expensive. My father taught me that when selling an expensive product you must highlight how valuable it is in the long run–not what it costs. This was actually one of his final lessons to me.

Another way to look at it is Cost Per Use. I encouraged my son to consider buying the Doc Marten boots over the gym shoes at the same cost as in the long run the cost per use was made the Doc Marten’s a more valuable investment.

People often ask me if I’m worried about money and what this year off of work is costing me. I tell them I’m taking a year off worrying about money–the first year since I was sixteen and working at Barnaby’s Pizza. Or maybe even earlier as I was a super babysitter since 7th grade. I’ve decided that this year is an investment in my personal and spiritual growth. In my personal resume instead of my professional curriculum vitae.

As the conversations progress, I realize they are the ones concerned about money and often enough money for retirement. They are making sacrifices every day to try and ensure there is enough money for retirement. Wise in so many ways, but ignores the realities and experiences life has to offer using alternative approaches to travel, real estate and passive income.

I once had a headhunter tell me that my career journey made me one of the most interesting candidates he had met. That everything I had overcome made me more marketable. I was a problem solver. I can think on my feet. And hopefully, I help others do that also.

This past year I’ve made investments in the following areas, all of which will pay off in dividends for the rest of my life.

  1. Travel and experiences. I’ve not gotten to everywhere I want to go, but I’ve made some progress and am excited about a trip to Spain planned with my dear friend Melanie in January.
  2. Family. I’ve chosen to live both with, and near, my adult children and their children in an effort to get to know them as the amazing adults they have become. To live with my grandchildren to experience the joys of raising children again–vicariously, the best way possible! Grandparenting is amazing.
  3. Education. I”m planning on investing in my own formal education for the first time since completing my Non-Profit Management Certification eight years ago.
  4. Spirituality. I’ve spent a lot of time the past two months trying to learn more about what I believe in. Why I believe it and what else is there to try and understand.
  5. Planning. I’ve developed a template for a strategic plan for my life based on my skills as a strategic planner for organizations. I finally realized that what works in business is applicable to our personal lives and strategy ensures that I make progress in how I want to live my life moving forward.
  6. Getting to know me, myself and I–id, ego and est. Having children at 23 years old–and five of them–didn’t allow for a lot of time for introspection. Ann Morrow Lindberg addresses this so well in her book Gifts from the Sea. This is the time for self-reflection, and I spent so much time filling my voids with “meaningful” activity avoiding this practice.

I’m finally getting clarity and breakthroughs, after 10 months of slogging through. But I could not do this alone. I’ve been blessed with a tribe of seekers living both near and far that have graced me with their own journeys. I’m not in this alone and that is the most important investment of all. In honesty and authenticity with others and responding to their authenticity. By both sharing and listening I’ve grown, and I”m so grateful to all of you.

Minding the Gaps

I chose the name for this blog, Minding the Gaps, as it stood for several things in my upcoming journey.

  1. It was a traveling metaphor for anyone who’s ever been on the London Tube. Each time the doors open a recorded voice says “mind the gaps” to keep you from tripping. You cannot go travel around London without this message being seared into your memory. Travel creates such wonderful shared memories and this is one for me.
  2. I was taking my long overdue “Gap Year” originally planned for 1981 with my college roommate. I ended up living life first. Marriage, children, career, divorce, marriage, children, career, divorce and grandchildren all came first. I honestly don’t regret the deferred dreams–but Langston Hughes was right, “a dream deferred is like a raisin in the sun” https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/46548/harlem but what happens is up to us.
  3. Mindfulness. Minding the gap of time I”m taking away from family, community and work is an exercise in mindfulness. Yes, it is trendy, but for good reason. I knew that taking a year out of my life, away from the demands of a career, from the comfort of community and the security of family would be a big step in mindfulness. For the first time in my adult life, I would have time for reflection.

All of this has been a journey. There have been moments of great joy and fleeting despair. Meeting new friends around the world and the country–and complete loneliness. It has provided an opportunity for deep spiritual growth.

I’m in my seventh month now. And like any period of gestation, I’m getting anxious for the ending. To leave the discomfort of the unknown. Sometimes I’m so homesick and I realize I don’t know where home is. Then, This morning I pulled a meditation card that gave me a lot to think about:

No Place Like Home

Home feels safe and secure; it’s a comfortable place to rest and create, a place that is known and you can call yours. This card signals that your ability to trust yourself and feel at home in your own skin is beginning to solidify as you claim your dignity and integrity, aspects of yourself no one can take away from you. You know who you are. You hold your head high—yet with neither pride nor humility. Instead, you stand as the observer, seeing through the eyes of your soul. This puts you in a position of power and strength. Authenticity is your home. You are safe here, in the house of your spirit and Spirit.

https://www.colettebaronreid.com/oracle/no-place-like-home/

Being mindful of this is one of the most difficult lessons for me to master–and I suspect I am not alone. But I am blessed to have the time, space and resources to reflect and integrate this lesson. With five more months to go and more questions than answers, I remind myself what a gift this is and the only way to truly appreciate it is to be mindful of it–no matter how difficult it is.

And, although I no longer own a home, I’ll always have a home as long as I have family and friends. It’s all about the journey, not the destination.

 

What Cystic Fibrosis Taught Me

“If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.”
–Joseph Campbell

The path is only clear when you turn around and look at all the twists and turns, hills and valleys, light and darkness. Looking forward, it’s just fog. It’s an act of faith to keep moving forward each day, to accept the unknowing.

Seven years ago my granddaughter was born two months early and rushed into surgery to a bowel resection. Yes, that’s right, a premature baby was in surgery for hours, and hours and hours. When she came out they told us that there were still holes in her intestines and she’d wear a colostomy bag until she was strong enough for the second surgery.

My son and his wife did not change dirty diapers they cleaned a colostomy bag. She was on life support and life was tenuous. She spent two months in the NICU before her second successful surgery.

When she was about 10 days old we received the news that Cystic Fibrosis had caused this medical crisis and we were no longer looking at months of recovery, but at months of recovery plus a lifetime of battling a progressive disease that could cut her life short too early. That her life expectancy was 38 years old.

I had felt despair before as a parent, but now I faced a deep spiritual crisis as both a parent and a grandparent. I had to relinquish control and become the support system my son needed. To shoulder his pain so that he could support his wife. He would call me and cry and tell me things that would make me scream silently into the phone while making attempts at providing comfort. The pain was physical –it was like breathing through broken glass, all day, every day for months. Tension is what held our bodies together.

Because the path forward was so unclear I had him focus on a point further out. This was August and I told him to focus on Thanksgiving whenever he was overwhelmed. To think about being at the table with his sweet daughter giving the most heartfelt thanks of his life. It was this vision that allowed him to take life one day at a time. A vision to move towards. Because the path is always unclear it helps to have a vision to move towards.

Looking back I can see I was sent the support I needed when I needed it most.  Not only one, but two of the women I worked with had children with Cystic Fibrosis. Peggy had told me, but since I knew nothing of the disease I did not remember. The other woman chose to keep it secret until she knew I needed to know I was not alone. Both women shared to save me. Peggy came to the hospital with photos of her now adult son throughout each stage in his life, active and happy, to illustrate what it actually looked like to live with this disease. More visions to move towards. I have countless other stories where the universe showed me grace during that time for which I am eternally grateful.

She is now a normal seven-year-old girl who loves school and Taylor Swift (maybe not in that order). She is compliant in taking her daily medications and doing her twice daily treatments. She strives to eat 2,500 calories a day and loves to dance. She is facing a liver transplant before she is 16 years old, and we will deal with that when the time comes.

We relearned what it means to be a family. That experiences are more important than things. That it is vital to live a meaningful life. She has made us stronger and brought us together into a tribe of loved ones–Adele’s Army. She has changed us for the better.

Our path is not clear, but we celebrate milestones and have visions of a healthy future and strive to be together as often as we can. We walk together, holding hands, one step at a time, in the fog of life.

Crossing the Country

Six weeks ago I crossed the country with my dog and my car full of basic necessities (and my favorite blankets and pillows) to try living in Colorado near my two middle sons.

They came out here two years ago and I missed them. I have five children and if you have followed this blog you know that I spent the summer in Wisconsin with my daughter and her family.  But when she asked me to take my grandson to American Ninja Warrior camp in Green Bay, I realized I did not want to be there for the winter! I’ve seen those Green Bay Packer games on TV and I know it was too much winter for me.

Over the next few weeks, I set an intention of coming out to Colorado for the winter and finding a fully furnished and well-decorated space–emphasis on well-decorated. I did not want to drag all my belongings out of storage and drive them across the country only to perhaps turn around again.

Once again, I learned the power of setting a clear intention but letting go of the outcome. And within three weeks I found the perfect place. Not only was it beautifully decorated, but it also has a fireplace and a stunning view. And my wonderful landlady was from the same town in Wisconsin I was living in. The power of synchronicity–another lesson.

By now you’d think I would feel confident crossing the country–I had sold my house, traveled through Europe, moved to another state for the summer, but crossing the country alone was slightly outside my comfort zone. Then I thought about my great-great-great grandmother Mary Ann Thrall Minkler who left Omro, Wisconsin as a young bride in 1852 to join a wagon train for California with her husband Cyrus Minkler. They left behind two young sons who were only 2 and 3 years old with Cyrus’ parents. What was their plan? Did they plan to get established and come back for the children? Did they plan to have the rest of the family join them in California? Were they excited? Nervous? Did they feel they had a choice?

Clearly, they had a plan, but it is lost to history, as are the details of her story. You see Cyrus died along the way after catching cholera crossing the Platte River in Nebraska. Apparently, 1853 was a very wet and rainy summer. Think about this. She is maybe 20 years old and alone on this arduous journey. This put my journey in perspective.

What I do know of her story is she made it Nevada Territory. She remarried John Kelly. They eventually made it to Janesville, California and she sent for her sons 20 years later. One of them my great-great-grandfather, Birdsey Minkler.

It is a story of pain and fortitude, of choices and self-determination. I am not the first generation of women to be resilient –I am the generation with the most freedom and opportunity. Genetically she shared a sense of adventure, willingness to take chances and live with the consequences. To make the best of any situation and the internal fortitude to thrive. I’d like to believe she had a positive attitude and lived a long and happy life.

My drive to Colorado was uneventful. I was nervous but it gave me a boost of self-confidence. I did not have to walk from the midwest and I didn’t have to wait 20 years to see my two sons.

The other night I wondered what trail her wagon train followed. As I dug into the research I found that she most likely was on the Overland Trail. And that the Overland Trail passed just two miles from where I live today.

I am connected to this place not only through my current family but through the past. Going west is part of my DNA. I am part of a fabric of stories of strong women that went before me, and it is my job to set an example for the future generations. To document and share these stories for my daughter, my granddaughters and the generations of women to follow.

 

Pioneers and Debutantes

“This looks like your great-grandfather’s lake–Minkler Lake.”

This sentence was written by my grandfather on an article that he shared with my mother, who in turn shared it with me. My grandfather was no longer alive so I couldn’t ask about this cryptic note and my mother didn’t know what it meant.

The article was by Annie Proulx and it was about the early lumber industry in the State of Washington. I knew my grandfather was a lifelong lumber distributor (I still don’t know what that means) and I thought perhaps the article spoke to him. But there was still his handwritten note, so I typed Minkler Lake into Google and the results sent me on a long journey of learning more about family history, meeting family I didn’t know and all in all, ultimately changing the trajectory of my life.

It turns out my great-great-grandfather was the only Birdsey Dwight Minkler ever according to Google and that I was descended by people who crossed the country in wagon trains, and lived with Native Americans and were among the first elected officials in the State of Washington. I had no idea.

If you asked me about my family history before this I would have said I’m Irish, English, German and Scottish. That many of my ancestors were only a few generations away from being new immigrants. That they settled in Chicago. But I only knew the stories of the men. I knew nothing of the women.

The further I dug into it, the more I learned the stories of pioneers and debutantes. Of brave women who crossed oceans and this vast country long before there were trains, planes, and automobiles. That in between the stories of the men were the names of women. Sometimes a sentence or two that made me want to learn more. Other times I just have to wonder about the sacrifices they made, the journeys they undertook and the dreams they had.

I’ve learned they had abortions, illegitimate children, they had separated and divorced. They left children that they did not see until adulthood, they died young, their husbands died young, they remarried, they started over and over again. Their husbands had very public mistresses and all of these stories were only hinted at–or were covered up due to shame.

It’s time we all learn more about the women who settled this country and who shaped our lives indirectly. We aren’t the first generation to have choices, problems, and concerns, and we won’t be the last.

Do you know the stories of the women who went before you?

Blessings or Curses?

My life has been a mixed bag of blessings and curses–and I feel blessed by the curses as they have done more to shape me than the blessings. That may seem counter-intuitive, but I now know the value of suffering.

I first read Man’s Search for Meaning in my early 30’s, a post-divorce mother of three young children. I was the last of a line of women sent to college to earn their MRS–once actually said out loud by my father. He was proud of me for attending the same university he had, I was both his responsible child, and his crier (he loved to label us). I know realize that the first label helped shape me into the woman I’ve become and I am the stronger for it. The second was how I initially dealt with suffering.

Back then I was reading everything I could get my hands on to help me navigate my new reality. I was actually living back in my parent’s home, but I was working full time–a blessing and a curse. In hindsight, my three oldest children and I were blessed to live with my parents in an extended generation household. I had backup parents for my children. My parents made lunches, attended games and shared wisdom and parenting. I wonder now if I could make those same sacrifices for my children in their time of need–and I know the answer is yes, unconditionally yes–for it was a blessing for all.

Back to Victor Frankel and the meaning of life. He helped me understand that there are three ways we access to a meaningful life–through love, work, and suffering. How we choose to respond and live within these realms gives our life meaning. We can be victims or we can be survivors We can choose problem-solving or we can choose despair. Equally so, when blessed with love and work, we can choose gratitude or we can choose complacency.

I was blessed to find meaning in my work where I never expected to. Landing at the Waukegan Public Library I was allowed to telecommute in the early 90s as it was still a new concept. I had remarried and had four children at this time. This alone made me take the job with the expectation I would only stay a short time. I stayed 18 years and acquired more skills and experience than any MBA program could have provided me. That, and I helped change people’s lives for the better as a result.

I taught design and communication at Northwestern University at night for 12 years while working at the library and raising five children. It was not easy, but now I feel blessed for the skills of teaching and public speaking. The confidence it built in me was well worth all the juggling.

I have lived with financial and health challenges, alcoholics, family members with mental illness and the most beautiful grandgirl in the world diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis. A lifetime of curses prepared me for the ultimate challenge–the ability to watch my son suffer for his child and shoulder his anguish–that I wish upon no one.

Now, as I search for meaning through travel, reflection and spending time with family and friends around the country, I know that I am blessed with skills and experience that will allow me to work for as long as I want to (or need to). That I am blessed with amazing children who love each other deeply and support each other. I am blessed to be a strong person who lives in gratitude and knows that I can’t always control the circumstances, but I can control my reaction–and add further meaning to my life as a result.