The Feast of Feasts

Thanksgiving is for being you.
There are no thanks without you.

You are the power of hopeful promise;
you are the balky soil turning upon itself;
you are bursting forth in your experience.

You are not the person next to you–
not an image or an expectation.
You are the infinite and eternal you–
blessed, and loved, and consoled
by the utter commonness
and community of our souls. ~ John Fitzsimmons

“This was long overdue,” my youngest son said. We were sitting by the bonfire that his brother had built Saturday night. We were among a small group of friends (theirs and mine) who gathered on the frigid night to continue celebrating Thanksgiving.  The front porch and garage doors had been outfitted in Christmas lights and a beautiful buffet of hot food and beverages was on display inside the garage. It was a feast for the season-that is one for the cold, cold weather. Turkey chili, black bean soup, hot cider, homemade hot chocolate filled us up and warmed our bodies too.

My youngest son had dug the pit for the fire last spring. Previous to the unearthing, we had used a small metal pit, and by my son’s standards, it was far too small!  He was used to burning pallets and larger logs and decided that our yard needed the same. Thus began his project; one befitting his size and personality. Rocks and dirt are his thing and he set out to create what a friend of mine said was the biggest fire pit she had ever seen! The pit is perfectly circular. A berm of sorts was made in the front (more or less from the pile of grass and dirt left over from the dig) and the back is graced by large rocks that my son brought out from the woods by hand. The pit had been used a couple of times by the boys this summer while I was away.  I am sure a few friends “visited” for those occasions. Since I received no calls while I was gone,  I can safely assume that nothing major occurred -phew!

Since I had yet to enjoy my son’s masterpiece, Thanksgiving Saturday seemed a perfect time to assemble our friends and celebrate.  My oldest son and I spent most of Saturday getting ready. He is a terrific party planner and we always enjoy brainstorming ideas and then setting them into action. He is also a bit more calm in the execution as I have a tendency to worry about running out of time or forgetting things.  My friends are wonderful; they made the delicious main courses for the event. In fact, one of my friends had just redone her deck and had wood that she and her husband needed to get rid of. On Friday, Dan drove over a trailer full of it. We managed to get halfway through it-leaving plenty for a Christmas conflagration!

As you know from my most recent post, I am feeling particularly thankful this year. I suppose Saturday night was an example of my “Appreciation Celebration”.  But I am not sure that it belongs to only me. And this is where my son’s expression carries some weight. My youngest is a man of few words and when he does speak, his message is usually powerful and profound. I am sure that he had been reflecting upon deeper emotions and expressing a sense of inner peace. The bonfire was a metaphor for his feelings ( as well as his brother’s and mine). Especially, especially this year. We’ve grown as individuals as well as a family. It’s a beautiful thing to begin to feel more solid and whole within yourself and to be appreciated for who you are and loved unconditionally.

This time of year can be all about food and gifts and endless holiday obligations if we let it. But it is all so much more.  Truly it is a journey toward something bigger, something hard to define but easy to experience if we open ourselves up to it-something everlasting.

Are you “long overdue?”

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Beyond Grateful

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These are days
These are the days you might fill
With laughter until you break
These days you might feel
A shaft of light
Make its way across your face
And when you do
Then you’ll know how it was meant to be
See the signs and know their meaning
It’s true
Then you’ll know how it was meant to be
Hear the signs and know they’re speaking
To you, to you                                                         ~ 10,000 Maniacs

Well, we have officially entered the holiday season. All around me, I am hearing snippets of conversations of how Thanksgiving is approaching too quickly or arriving too early  this year. Within the same conversations lie the predictable follow-up of how the Christmas season is fast on the heals of the feast-for some as early as midnight when they begin their Christmas shopping. Most likely the reason that some of us are feeling a sense of dread is that the holidays have become just another thing to do on our already overloaded “to do” list.  These exchanges obviously miss the point of our annual celebrations. As I have gotten older, I have become more and more cognizant of the materialistic and falsely cheerful feel that these holidays are supposed to imbue. Let’s be real: some of us don’t like our relations! Let’s be even more real: some of us have split families and are in the annual psychological juggle of whom we  choose to spend time with.

When we allow ourselves to get into this weird time warp of unhealthy thinking and situations, we are stealing our own joy. I remember the extraordinarily difficult time that my boys and I had with the changes in holiday traditions once their father left the house. It was so ridiculous to have to split time or have them choose between mom and dad. Now they are older and able to make their own choices that fits their desires so that the days are filled with celebration, laughter and emotional warmth.  They can begin their own traditions so that they can create life long memories of the season.

I want this year and every year to be an Appreciation Celebration. I want to dig deep and reflect upon what has really mattered in my life and savor it.  I was thinking about this recently as I drove up the highway to a favorite port city of mine. I was on a gift purchase mission for my sons and boyfriend.  Interestingly enough,  I had never driven alone to my destination and I found myself taking a different exit. I was not panicked by my detour in the least; I knew the city well enough. Also, since I only had a dollar bill, I would need to find parking on the street as opposed to a garage. So, I was quite proud of myself when I arrived at a near perfect parking spot that charged just a buck for 1 hour of parking and was close to the store!  One of the best parts about shopping at small businesses are the personal connections you can make with the store’s owner. During my shopping, the owner and I had a meaningful conversation about relationships with our children and even a bit about our own lives. He struck me a person who had experienced some of life’s hard knocks and had come out a better person as as result. I was so delighted by our talk that I left the store ready for another solo shopping adventure in yet another port city! As I traveled south, the sun was setting. Sunsets on the coast are huge-the whole sky looks like it’s awash in a golden orange. I remember thinking that I started the week basking in the sunrise and now I was doing the same with the sunset at the end of the week-very fitting. So onward I drove until I arrived at yet another terrific specialty store. And of course, my experience there was equally as positive-having made a connection with the store manager around the miracle of finding love the second time around and the challenges of a long distance relationship.

When my shopping was complete,  I felt energized by the experience. Not only had I done something by myself for the first time (on a Friday night in the dark) but I had enjoyed an authentic connection with 2 strangers!  All of us crave some form of connection to others.  Of course, I cannot expect everyone to be like me. But I do believe the we can at least be kind to one another or give a person a smile. Often we are too caught up in our own personal agendas to take the time to perform simple acts of kindness. And, of course, this is exactly what gets lost in the holiday rush.

I feel like I have finally arrived in the life that I was meant to be living. I have an unbounded sense of freedom. I am surrounded by love daily. The other day, I needed to call my youngest son while we were both on our way to work. When he answered the phone, I could tell that he was glad to hear from me just by the way he said hello. For the past two Saturdays, he and his girlfriend have asked if I have dinner plans.  What nearly 20 year old wants to hang with his mom on a weekend night? (Great way to stay out of trouble, though!) My oldest son and his girlfriend are now regular attendees at Sunday dinner. When the five of us are together, we relax, talk and chow down. What especially strikes me is how my sons’ girlfriends love the boys for who they are. As a mother, I could not ask for anything more.

Life is not only short, it is fragile. Go out and live this season and every season with purpose, love and good intentions.

 

Please note that this post was originally published on 11/19/12 as my own free write and well before I had so many wonderful and inspiring followers of my blog. It fits well with today’s prompt. I am grateful to all of you for your unending support. And I am forever grateful to Kellie Elmore without whom this blog would not have grown. HAPPY THANKSGIVING EVERYONE!

#FWF Free Write Friday: Gratitude

by Kellie Elmore

Time Out

See the world in green and blue
See China right in front of you
See the canyons broken by cloud
See the tuna fleets clearing the sea out
See the bedouin fires at night
See the oil fields at first light
See the bird with a leaf in her mouth
After the flood all the colours came out

It’s a beautiful day,
Don’t let it get away
It’s a beautiful day… ~ U2

This morning I woke up and did a rare morning ritual; I sat on my back steps and watched the sun rise. Normally, I would be out running and catch the start of the day with a mile to go. By then the sun (if it is not to become an overcast day) awakens in a glow of orange and grayish green.  As I sat in my robe sipping my hot coffee, the rise was clearly pink and blue.

I have the day off from work today, but there is always work to do.  However, the forecast for today promises to be warm and sunny; a rare occurrence in November! So, do I spend it inside reading articles for a meeting later on this week? The answer is an obvious and resounding “NO!”  Darkness begins to descend up here at about 3:30 in the afternoon. You can almost feel everyone beginning to hunker down. I guess that is why I get up so early; I want to grab the light and soak it in for as long as possible!  Fresh air is also vital to my well-being and staying indoors for a long period of time makes me feel like a caged animal. So, instead of reading or raking ( I am so done for the season), I am going to the beach with my girlfriends!

I do not feel one ounce of guilt about this decision either! My profession can be all-consuming at times and lately I find myself getting annoyed about the expectations that are placed upon both me and my colleagues. I love to work hard and I even stay late (sometimes this is the most productive part of my day-no one is around), but my job is not my life. So you can imagine how thrilled I was when I received a message from one of my friends who is a beach bum like me.

On days like these, you can expect the shore to be visited by diehards like us. Two notable contrasts from the summer are dogs and horse back riders. The no animals rule does not apply at this time of year and it truly is a beautiful sight to watch the dogs play and the horses sprint in the surf.  The sky is huge and there is even a sense of calm here as the three of us took a long walk at the water’s edge.

Strolling in the sand and surf with my soul sisters provides sustenance and a kind of emotional energy for me. All three of us are moms and working women who are equally involved in our faith community.  Finding time to tune in to one another is a challenge.  When we get together, there is a constant flow of conversation and we always pick up where we left off.  Interestingly, we also find ourselves discovering new insights into each others lives-past and present!  When you reach our age, all bets are off-no judgements, no secrets-we support one another in worries big and small and in the good stuff too.

Today we took time to notice the world around us. We climbed the rocks to watch the November sun shimmer on the water. We stopped to watch a little girl play in the sand with her bathing suit on and kids flying their kites in the breeze. We paid attention to the changes in tide and the way the ground felt beneath our feet. We watched a family climb the jetty and release a bouquet of balloons into the wind.  We marked this day by taking photos of our footprints in the sand.

Spending a few hours with my friends at the ocean has a way of raising me up and removing me from the daily obligations that at times just wears me down. I feel renewed, fulfilled and centered when I am with them. When I am in the company of my girlfriends, I find myself smiling on the outside and inside.

So as much as I would like to think that I took a time out from things today, I really took a time in. As the rest of my day unfolded, I discovered that I could get things done more easily and with a more positive attitude. I can now look to the week ahead with a fresher perspective.

So soul sisters, I bow to you!  Thank You Thank You Thank You for a beautiful day!

Small Matters

Remember there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end. ~ Scott Adams

Last week’s severe storm in my region had me thinking about the importance of small things in our daily lives. I was lucky to have been spared the worst of the disaster having lost power for just three days and not sustaining any property damage short of fallen branches.  I missed my morning coffee that I brew in the pre-dawn hours and sip while getting ready for my day. Luckily, I live close enough to a Starbucks which opens at 5 am. What a treat! I drove there in the early morning darkness in my jammies and hoodie and savored each sip. I missed drying my hair but I was getting my haircut on day two anyway. My hairdresser does such a great job that my hair even looks good after a full night’s sleep! I took fast showers; my water was still hot enough because of a sturdy gas water heater. My refrigerator is still reliable after 23 years and I did not toss out any food save cream and milk.

Still, my routine was disrupted. I was limited as to what I could do in the house as I always arrive home from work at the end of the daylight hours.  Other things were happening that disrupted my sense of balance and peace of mind.  People and situations from my past were appearing at unexpected places and times. I was beginning to feel uncomfortable. Normally, I would not have been bothered but then the spare key to my back door disappeared. I began to put an unhealthy equation together. Given the trauma from my recent past, it made perfect sense-at least to me. On the other hand, I knew that I was letting these small things bother me more than I should.  They were taking up valuable space in my head. Still, I found it difficult to settle my mind and I left for Tampa Bay in a bundle of nerves.

I was relieved when I landed! I fell into the warm embrace of the not so tropical air and the man I love. I took some time for myself as well and headed out for a 10k walk along the Pinellas Trail. The sun was comforting and the trail was very quiet. Only butterflies skittered about-a sign for me that my mother was near. I began to relax and reminded myself of the reason why I was down there.

The day before I left for the trip, I had received a beautiful necklace that my friend Emily had made in honor of my late mother. We planned on awarding it as a special gift to a race participant (as yet unknown).  The piece was clearly a work of art and labor of love (see photo). When Emily had originally presented her idea to me this summer, she had no idea of my mother’s affinity for these lovely creatures. Needless to say, I could not wait to show my father the piece.

After my therapeutic excursion on the trail, my boyfriend and I cut out to check on the pre-race preparations. My dad was in fine form as usual-running the show and attending to every detail of the event. When he slowed down enough so that I could show him the necklace, he burst into tears. In a moment of pure honesty, he said: “You should keep this for yourself.”  As much as I would have loved to have the piece, I knew in my heart that a special someone would benefit from it more than I.

The next day we arose at 4:30 am and headed to the race location on the bay. The sunrise was spectacular and there was a vibrant energy in the air as runners, walkers and their families began to arrive for the event.  As the Survivor Tent greeter, I was deeply moved by the stories of the men and women who are battling this monster of a disease. Some had traveled from as far as Central Florida and even Jacksonville to participate. As with any disease, age is never taken into consideration. I met two women in their twenties who have been battling pancreatic cancer for as long as five years. They are tough, strong and hopeful.

Sadly, of course, some who were there had lost loved ones and chose to take part to help raise funds for research. One particular family had lost a son, brother, father and husband only four months prior to the race. They became one of the race’s chief supporters. My father had gotten to know the widow of the man who died quite well and it was on race day that he suggested that we present the necklace to her. During the closing ceremonies, Suzanne (the chapter’s chief cheerleader) spoke of the necklace’s origins and presented it to Jen. As she descended the stage, Jen quickly walked over to me to express her appreciation. Then she said: “You don’t know how much this means to me. Every time that I go to the cemetery, I am visited by butterflies!” We hugged and cried and I told her that the necklace’s butterflies symbolized her and her husband.

I know that Jen will cherish the necklace forever. What I couldn’t know was how a gift from a friend of mine would begin to heal the broken heart of a complete stranger. My trip south and the connections that I made there helped give me perspective. I learned two things: don’t sweat the small stuff (the past is past and the key did turn up) and small acts of kindness help all of us heal our own broken hearts.