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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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I thought this saying up after the mini meltdown passed. Maybe no one recognized the meltdown, least of all, me. It came in the form of 6 awakenings each night, worrying about everything BUT the actual situation I am facing. Apparently this resonated with a lot of people when I posted it, even though the majority of them had no idea I was referring to a specific, new challenge.

No matter how many challenges life throws my way, I never think, “Why me?” for two reasons.
(1) If not me, it has to be someone else and I wouldn’t wish my challenges on another.
(2) It makes me a victim and takes away my power.

So now, I concentrate on number 2.

I am not a victim! Well, actually, that’s not entirely true. We all are victims of uncontrollable events in our lives to some degree, but how we deal with them mitigates them. So I call upon my superpower, victim- fighting arsenal called family and friends, as well as my foundation of having survived 20-ish surgeries, two near-death experiences, one divorce, one spousal death, 11 moves, countless jobs, 6-7 careers and laying beside a live cheetah. Whew!

I have the BRCA1 gene. It means either lying in wait for the likely possibility of getting ovarian (40%) and/or breast cancer (85%), or I can have prophylactic surgery to remove these body parts. I’m not a patient waiter and I like taking the better odds. I can get through another few surgeries.

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I suppose you will be remembered in history books if you founded a country, but what about the founders of smaller things? Perhaps significant on a local level, or important to a cause. When that cause gets a life of its own, the founder is often dismissed as far as having any role in its being.
To be fair, some entities pay some sort of homage to the founder(s) in their history, but most do not.
This line of thought was precipitated by a wonderful conversation with one of my patients. At age 83, he has a sharp mind. We connected on some geographic and ethnic commonalities. The conversation led to Israel and he told me a story about his relative named Ra’Anan (not sure of the spelling), who had gone from NYC with a band of others early in the 20th century, to a town now known as Ra’Anana. He had become their Mayor, hence the name of the city honoring him.
I was fascinated by this as I know two families who live there. So, back at home, I tried to research the history of this town, to no avail. There was some reference to a group from NYC going there, but no one by a name similar to the town’s name appeared in any of the articles. I believed this man’s story. Thus, the founder had been forgotten.
I experienced a similar situation. When I lost a job I hated anyway, I turned to my passion – art – and decided to make a go of it. Practicing the craft was only a part of my goal. I wanted to create a community of artists of all kinds; visual and performing, to feed each other’s creativity, and bring us a sense of belonging. I rallied some people I thought would be interested in helping me. I requested the library’s community room, placed a tiny article in the paper. And they came! The need was evident!
From this group, a board was formed and we set out to deliver a community of artists in my own town. Life was good. When we were offered a chance to hire, at a very heavily subsidized rate, a consultant to help us set a course, make a plan and work out some kinks, the group began to splinter. Just a tiny bit at first, but then a huge, gaping hole opened up. Suddenly, my allies were my foes. They didn’t share my vision, which until then was working. When I started to enlarge the dream, the rebels came out.
Now power was being usurped and when I called them on it, they denied it. To shorten a long, painful story, I left the group behind. My only pleasure is that the organization continues. Sadly for me, the work I wanted so much to do is now happening – but I am not part of the community I brought to fruition.
So, that brings me back to the forgotten founder. I have moved on and do my “art thing” with other, more welcoming people. Some of the original cast of characters and I remain friends. The splintered faction is still splintered. I’m OK with it all. Except for one thing. Wouldn’t it be nice to be acknowledged as the person who brought together this community of artists? Yes, it would be.

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In November 2012, I posted about a decision my husband and I made to relocate to Pittsburgh “some time in the future.”
We did end up buying a home about 15 minutes from downtown Pittsburgh and have rented it out since then. Our move was predicated on two events: my son’s graduation from college and the passing of my husband’s mother, whose health had been declining for years.
Both events happened within weeks of each other, signaling the time to begin preparations for the move. I realized the timing of events meant we could be relocating in under a year. Fear and panic set in. I asked my husband if he really was ready to go so soon, or did he want to extend our tenant’s lease. “I want to go,” he said.
I learned quickly, that fear and excitement can thrive side by side. I also realized what it would take to get this done – a lot of time and substantial about of money. After the grueling task of disposing of mom’s assets and home, I had to begin our own weeding and pruning. The task has been made more difficult by the uncertainty of my sons’ needs for household articles in the coming months. Much of what we need to reduce is serviceable, so I’d like to preserve whatever they could use before dispensing with our excess. Also, our new house is larger and can accommodate a lot of what we have, – so I don’t want to dispose of things we might need to furnish it.
At the same time, we need to make room just to begin the repairing, painting, etc., to make the house salable. That’s why some days I am overwhelmed.
When I get started, I can usually make some decisions and put things into the tag sale or a Goodwill piles. But after a few hours, I am stymied. It feels like it will never get done, even with so much time ahead to do it.
I realize that some of the obstacles are emotional. While a new adventure awaits (and I love the idea), we leave friends behind, and will have to start all over. And that makes it hard to pack up.

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I know from experience (my own included) that if you were to judge someone’s state of happiness by their FB posts, you would often get a very distorted sense of reality.

We are told to “put our best foot forward,” “soldier on,” “keep a stiff upper lip,” “practice gratitude,” etc., etc. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, but it doesn’t allow us the true freedom to share our challenges, sadness, anxiety, etc. In spite of all the public discourse on depression, we are still not good as a society, in recognizing or treating it. Not everyone presents with the same symptoms – in fact, many cover it with a mask of cheeriness. Drugs are widely available to treat it – it’s fast and cheap – as opposed to talking about and resolving issues that need to be processed.  But sometimes things need to be faced head on, not temporarily blunted.

As is evidenced by all the shootings and general chaos, especially among our young and veterans, we are not, as a society, attending to mental health care needs. Unattended, things get worse. More turmoil creates more societal anxiety and a downward spiral of the individual.

Some have suggested that global meditation and/or yoga practice would reduce stress, creating a calm over the earth. It’s an interesting idea. It would cost less than other modes of treatment and have fewer side effects than medication. It would address the shortage of skilled mental health practitioners as it could treat groups, not just individuals. It could ultimate lower healthcare costs and reduce violence.

But I digress. The point of this article is to ask that  you remain vigilant to the signs of stress that may cause those you love to break. If they are behaving differently than usual, there is probably a reason. Offer a hand – even if it is just to lead them to get the help they need.

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