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We have all seen a play or two (or a hundred) in our lifetimes. Some are funny, some simply entertaining, some poignant, some shocking. In the past week, I saw two different plays, one a combination of several genres, the other profundly moving me to want to do something.

Tiny Beautiful Things is a play based on a book of essays by Cheryl Strayed, the person behind an advice column called “Dear Sugar,” her pseudonym. She wasn’t a trained psychologist but a good writer, and she acidentally fell into the non-paying job when her predecessor had to give it up.

She explores some very intimate subjects and gives her advice by sharing her personal stories and experiences. She is transparent about her lack of credentials, and gives her advice from the heart – and with heart.

People have joked to me that I have been a therapist since the age of sixteen. People share things with me in supermarket lines, while shopping for clothes, on trains. People I DON’T KNOW! So, its a gift, I guess. The reality is that helping others parse their challenges takes me away from my own problems. And I daresay, I am usually helpful as I help someone see their options or inspire them by sharing my own challenges and victories.

This blog is often filled with such nuggets of advice or inspirations, always from my experiences. My other blog, about nutrition, is also there for the taking: advice on nutrition-related subjects, culled from the science I learned in school, by credentials and experiences. And a third blog which is now dormant, awaits my time and attention, and deals with matters relating to death, dying and grief. There, my experiences surrounding the topic lend some good advice and comfort too.

So I have thought about starting an advice column. I worry it would consume me if it caught on, so I need to think more about it. But it really draws me in. What do you think? I’d like to know.

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NEW BLOG POST

The start of a new year always brings an opportunity to look back on the past year and possibly beyond. A new year is filled with expectations that things will be better than the year before, particularly when the previous one was difficult. The reality of life is that it has its ups and downs, it’s joys and sorrows, and there is no timetable for any of it.

So what can we do to take a more realistic look at life?

I really believe the most important thing we can do to help fortify us against challenges, is to stop and count our blessings. Even in the worst of times, there is good to be found. Take for example, the many tragedies that have been suffered in this world. Haven’t they always brought out the best in people? From one man stepping up to feed thousands of people in Puerto Rico after the hurricane, to the rescue efforts at the World Trade Center, to the outpouring of funds from individuals for any of the natural disasters that have struck our shores and beyond. Then of course, are those personal challenges where many of us have experienced the pure outpouring of support from others.

I speak from personal experience.

While suffering unspeakable pain, isolation and fear, I was visited by people I would never have expected to see. A work colleague with whom I had differences at times, came to offer me a facial and manicure. Another visitor, someone I knew somewhat peripherally in HS, came to see me while i was in a NYC hospital. A cousin, with whom we had limited contact as children, came several times. Another, traveled in from NJ.

And then those who I counted on, traveled from far away places to see me – my sister, cousin and son. And my dear husband, who was with me every day while in the hospital in CT, came every other day from CT to NY, spending 4 hours a day traveling, while maintaining our home, our pets and a job.

If that’s not something to be grateful for, I don’t know what would be.

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I have read much about false memory in cases of abuse or other traumatic events, and of those who might have had ideas “put in their heads” by interrogators.

I haven’t looked deeply into the subject, but this phenomenon began to fascinate me when several people recalled events different from my own recollection of them. Reasons they recall differently may be due to noble intent, even if it didn’t actually happen the way they remembered.

I’m speaking of memories they had about visiting me in the hospital during a six-month confinement. I was astonished to learn they had visited me weekly. While I recall visits, it was not close to that frequency. I know that time flies by when I’m busy, as are these friends, so it may have seemed to be often to them. But on the other side of the bed, those long days stretched more slowly and most of the time I was alone, except for my husband who was there daily, if not twice some days.

I know my friends’ intentions were good. They also looked after my husband, who had a lot on his plate, with me, his job, our dogs and the house.  They fed him often, checked in with him for reports on my health and included him in their activities. So while I, in no way, intimate that my friends didn’t care, I postulate that memories have a strange way of morphing into what one might idealize for themselves.

I was also pleasantly surprised by visits from unlikely acquaintances – those I never would have expected to see. Some had health challenges of their own, making these visits especially meaningful. And I was disappointed by some I considered closer friends, who stayed away the whole time I went through severe health crises. But I wasn’t as surprised this time, as I had witnessed this while losing my previous husband and after his death. Just a different set of people and in a different time. I still wonder about the “whys” of these situations.

As I accept “a new normal,” albeit one with limitations, I enjoy more freedom than in those days in hospitals and I am enjoying the comradery of my friends in many settings. I will ponder the phenomenon however, as the human psyche and behavior is endlessly fascinating.

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I read an article this morning (link below) that triggered thoughts I have pondered in the past. At times, we rush by people who may be rude, inappropriate, reclusive. We usually respond in kind. But what if that person just experienced something awful, was in an abusive relationship, just received a dire diagnosis, had a severe lifelong challenge? What if they were in pain, had an invisible illness? Would you respond differently?

Chances are you’d respond with more compassion. As humans of any mature age, chances are you’ve been in a situation that no one (particularly strangers) would know about, and they didn’t respond nicely to you. I’m not discounting the fact that there are some people who are just plain mean, but there is often a reason.

Next time that happens, as long as it is not unbearable to do so, stop and think before responding. The next time something is causing you not to be so kind, hopefully someone will respond to you with the same consideration.

Thanks to the author who inspired this post.

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I belong to an arts organization I founded in 2007. We recently created 6″x 6″ art canvasses to donate to an organization that raises money for vision-related healthcare abroad and on domestic Indian reservations. The organization takes the canvasses on the road to art fairs and galleries and sells them for $50 each.

I went to a fair yesterday where our group’s work was being displayed. I began chatting with a staff member and told her I was with the guild. She asked if I had any artwork in the show and I said I submitted it, but didn’t see it on the wall. She asked me to describe it. She lit up and said, “Oh, I bought that one. When I saw it, I just had to have it!” Then she asked me to pose with her for a “photo with the artist,” which of course I obliged.

I felt so good on so many levels. I raised enough money for someone to receive eye care, doing something I love to do anyway. I took a $5 canvas and increased its value to $50. I made the buyer happy to have a picture with the artist and finally, just being acknowledged as an artist was in itself rewarding. If you’ve read other posts about my lifelong struggle to earn the street cred to call myself an artist, you’ll get that last part.

I have volunteered and donated a lot of my time and services over the years. I would say without hesitation, that I got more out of it than the recipients of my deeds.

I encourage you to lend your hand, your time, your talents to those who need them. I promise you that you will receive more than you give.

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The following is from a letter I wrote to my sons five years ago. I never published it then as I was too raw and overwhelmed at the time. I came across the email today and decided I could share it, though God knows, the danger has not passed. If anything, there have been far too many more incidents of violence since. So many that we are becoming numb. This email reminded me to remain vigilant and hold onto my sons, no matter how old they get.

Dear J and D,
Ok, this is not meant to embarrass you but I wanted to share my feelings with you …
It’s been an emotional week. The bombing in Boston, just on the heels of the Newtown tragedy, has stirred my feelings of helplessness to protect my children in this crazy world.
No matter how old your children are, when a tragedy strikes – anywhere – a mother’s first instinct is to want to hug her children, as if doing so will assure me that you are ok and that I can protect you from harm. These events prove to me that we can’t always do that and it is painful to know that you must eventually protect yourself as I won’t be here forever. And even while I am here, I can’t control random crazy peoples’ deeds. So I tried to prepare you for the world as best I could. But when unexplainable things like this happen, I feel so powerless.
Yet, in spite of it, I know there is goodness – lots of it – shown through the many acts of heroism, bravery and kindness when terror struck. And that helps maintain my faith in humanity.
But no matter what, I needed to give you a hug the moment I saw you when I came home. At least I saw with my own eyes you were safe for the moment.
I am incredibly proud of the men you have become. Sensitive, with the belief you can and will make your marks somewhere on humanity. It doesn’t take a lot to change a life.
So, live your lives fully, in spite of the naysayers and the crazy, deranged people, without fear and with compassion. And remember I am by your side, whatever path(s) you choose, and throughout your lives, whether I am here on earth or in your memories.
Love you forever.

Mom

 

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In March of 2012 I wrote about connecting with people. How by some mysterious force, we are drawn to someone and find a connection. I’ve had a couple of new experiences in this past year, in spite of my limited movements within the outside world.

An old business associate of nearly 40 years, turned friend, emailed me about an alumnus of her college. Did I want to meet her? She had recently moved to my town, shared my religion and knew no one here. She wanted to get involved in her new community and my friend thought we would hit it off. I trust this friend; she knows me well. So of course I said yes. Explaining to this stranger my limited outings, unpredictable medical limitations and inability to eat like a normal person, I suggested lunch at my house. Conversation came easily and we discovered some additional mutual friends and interests. We share political views so there was much fodder for conversation and potential action. The relationship quickly turned into a familiar, comfortable friendship, one I am so grateful for.

On another occasion, the search for someone to do alterations led me to a woman from a neighboring town. She is the mother of a lady in my town, who I know only through the Facebook page our town’s ladies belong to. She was kind enough to come to my house so I could try on the clothes. There was something special about her and she felt the same. She too joined me for lunch soon after and I have been to her home to drop off or pick up more things she has sewed for me. We are on a “hug and kiss greeting” basis and express an affinity for one another like we’ve been friends for so long.

My therapist tells me I am blessed with the ability to make friends easily. I would have to agree. But I attribute it to my father and his mother who also had many friends due to their ability to talk to anyone about something they could find in common.

My life is so enriched by this gift. Some people’s involvement in my life have endured decades and many challenges; some have come and gone in short order. I’ve relished each friendship for its uniqueness and rich dimension they have brought to my life.

I’m a lucky woman.

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