Monthly Archives: December 2016

The Slow Work of God

My daughter attends Loyola University, which is a Jesuit school. I usually don’t really read Loyola magazine — I browse through and look at photos and maybe headlines and captions —  but when this latest issue arrived something compelled me to open it and look through it more carefully. I am glad I did. This piece of writing really struck a chord with me. It might do the same for you, as we enter yet another new year and feel compelled to saddle ourselves with resolutions and other thoughts that fool us into thinking that we are in charge of our own destinies — or, in my case, that I must have done something wrong to deserve difficulties and disappointments that present themselves.

 

“The Slow Work of God”

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.

We are, quite naturally, impatient in

Everything to reach the end

Without delay.

We should like to skip

The intermediate stages.

We are impatient of being on

The way to something unknown,

Something new,

And yet it is the law of all progress

That is made by passing through

Some stages of instability —

And that may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you.

Your ideas mature gradually —

Let them grow,

Let them shape themselves,

Without undue haste.

Don’t try to force them on,

As though you could be today

What time will make you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit

Gradually forming within you will be.

Give Our Lord the benefit of believing

That His hand is leading you,

And accept the anxiety of

Feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.

— Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J.

 

 

 

 

 

Change of Heart

“I picked the wrong line,” I muttered aloud as my fellow shoppers did their best to pretend they hadn’t heard. I had gone to the Monmouth Mall to exchange an item that I had purchased as a Christmas gift for my son. The Christmas shopping crowd at the register in the men’s department had somehow convinced me to head to the other end of the store.

But the line there was just as long, and then I heard the cashier extolling the benefits of the JC Penney credit card to the woman currently checking out. “15% off this purchase, which amounts to $45, plus more savings throughout the year – and you can cancel at any time,” she said as the customer nodded. “No!” I cried out in my head, but the woman was sold. “I need your license,” the cashier said as she began what would surely be a drawn-out process. I frowned and eye-rolled and sighed, and then muttered something about “not enough cashiers on, as usual.” The young woman directly in front of me on line was clutching a box containing boots and lobbing snarky remarks to the unlucky person at the other end of her cell phone. “Is she still using those crappy heated curlers? Oh, she bought new ones? There goes that idea. Well this conversation has been spectacularly unhelpful, I still have no idea what to buy her” she said. “Where am I now? I’m at Penney’s, buying boots for myself! Why? They’re on sale for like 70% off!”

Looking for a distraction from this negativity, I glanced at the Sephora display – nothing new there, really – and then toward the nearby jewelry department. A woman walked into my line of vision and stood at the counter. She was nicely dressed with blonde layered hair and a kind and pretty face. In a word, she was classy. They say that everyone has a double, and in this case – I realized after a few moments — this woman had a great resemblance to my sister-in-law Robin’s Aunt Doreen. I just love Doreen. She is lively and generous and a lot of fun. Doreen was raised in New Jersey but now lives in California – still, she and Robin have been able to maintain very close ties.

As I looked on, the woman at the jewelry counter was joined by another woman who appeared to be in her thirties or forties. There was a resemblance between them, although the younger woman was much taller and had curly hair. She too was tastefully dressed and appeared to be a very pleasant person. I noticed the two ladies commiserating over a piece of jewelry as a sales clerk looked on. The three of them began engaging in conversation, and – in a nice change from all the hustle and bustle going on around them – they seemed to have all the time and not a care in the world. I figured that they were most likely an aunt and her niece. There was an ease about them that I couldn’t attribute to mothers and daughters. (Even at the ages of almost 90 and 58 respectively, my mother and I can’t fully eradicate what I call the “hex” factor – the air of mild tension/power struggle that hangs over us whenever we try to shop or make other important decisions.)

The aunt was trying to make a choice, and her niece was giving her all of her attention and appeared very happy to be doing so. It made me smile, and I realized that this must be how Robin and Doreen appeared to onlookers  when Robin visited Doreen and her family California. It gave me a warm feeling, and a renewed hope that perhaps I too could manage my stress levels and try to enjoy the Christmas season a bit more than I usually do.

The shopper at the register was finally approved for her JC Penney credit card, bringing to joy to the cashier who had upsold her and relief to those of us waiting on line. I realized in that moment that my mood had changed since I first entered the line. When I focused my attention toward the women at the jewelry counter, I had been rewarded. I had witnessed kindness and patience in action. And it had turned my thinking right around.

There is plenty to be negative about this holiday season. But there will be bright moments as well. We just need to look for them. Or even better, like Robin and Doreen and the ladies at the jewelry counter, we need to step up and make them happen.

 

 

“This Chair Rocks”

I’m sure you are familiar with the saying “Youth is wasted on the young.” Sure, it’s often true. But a recent experience made me realize that in some cases “Getting older is wasted on the aging.”

A little over a week ago I had the pleasure of presenting a breakout session on blogging at a one-day Conference Event –“Your Second Act: Retirement Reimagine

I arrived at Brookdale Community College on a crisp morning and was warmly greeted by my wonderful friend Mary Chiarella (who had arranged my appearance) and my fabulous mentor Jamie Sussel Turner. Jamie, a former Principal at our local grammar school, would be presenting a breakout session that day as well, entitled “The Less Stress Path to Your Next Chapter.” Jamie is smart as a whip and has always been one of my biggest cheerleaders. Starting my day by chatting with her and Mary eased my anxiety about presenting. This was a very good thing, because there were a LOT of attendees at the conference.

My breakout session – “The Fearless Blogger” – was well received, due in large part to the enthusiasm of the attendees. I was surprised to learn that many of them had no immediate plans to start a blog – there were just curious about my blog and the process. My audience was inquisitive, thoughtful, bright, and funny. Thanks to them, I enjoyed the experience a whole lot more than I had expected to.

Continuing on this high note, and frankly relieved that my “maiden voyage” was over, I headed to the large conference room where all of the attendees would gather for one of the featured speakers. Ashton Applewhite is an activist and the author of “This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism.” Ashton was everything I had hoped for and more — “hip” in her appearance and also the epitome of cool, calm, and collected. She presented facts and very funny asides and true stories to dispel harmful myths about getting older – including projected lifespan, illness, the odds of getting dementia or Alzheimers (thankfully surprisingly low), and so much more. Ashton confidently ticked off and disputed a laundry list of the items that often cause “hand-wringing” among us Baby Boomers. The large audience of conference attendees laughed eagerly and nodded knowingly while getting fired up about the subject of ageism. I could tell that they were likely to become activists as well – if they weren’t already. Unlike my mother, who is aging in place, these folks were all about “aging in motion.”

As Ashton continued to entertain and enlighten us, I found myself really starting to relax. Which was helpful, because what my friend Jamie would call an “AHA MOMENT” was headed my way.

“Why do we call it a Senior Moment when we misplace the car keys?” Ashton said. “When you were in high school, did you call it a Junior Moment?”

A light bulb went off in my head. I realized with alarm that when I make missteps in my work as a press release writer for the local schools—and in other areas of my life – I often attribute them “senior moments.” This is not as funny as I would like to think, as it has led to my fear that I will soon “age out” of my job. But Ashton the activist, the woman who was railing against ageism, was 100% “right on” (as we used to say back in the day). I had finally seen the light. My missteps were just that. They were not an indication that my age was making me unsuitable for my job.

So there I sat, yet another a victim of ageism, and at my own hands. Because I felt that it was expected, I had begun viewing myself as someone who was surely “going soft” and would eventually fade away. Instead of embracing the eccentric “crazy me” and my inner gypsy/warrior, I was picturing my future self as a more grandmotherly type. One who had selflessly filed away all of her hard edges to make herself more lovable and acceptable, and would surely go softly into that “good night.”

Oh wait. That was my grandma. I adored her. That doesn’t mean I have to be her. The “second act” isn’t about making yourself smaller and more palatable by shedding things – opinions, outspokenness, dreams, plans, or even material objects.  It’s about embracing what you’ve been given and continuing your life journey without hesitation, embarrassment, or apology. It’s about choosing your own path, without being defined by what others think. How refreshing.

I returned home later that day feeling enlightened and energized — full of “piss and vinegar,” as my dad would say. Apparently it wasn’t, as I had feared, time for me to hang up my dancing shoes and let the younger women have the floor. It wasn’t time to “give up”; rather, it was time to “get up and fight.”

I often joke that I must be delusional to think that a shopping spree at Ulta or Sephora will magically transform me into a better version of myself. But it makes me hopeful, and it makes me happy. Sure, my grandma would spend that hard-earned money on the fixings for lasagna – which she would make and share with the neighborhood. But she was who she was, and I am who I am. No apologies needed.

My new manifesto, signed by the author.
My new manifesto, signed by the author.

At the conference I purchased a copy of “This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism.” And I am finally allowing myself to envision my second chapter, the way I want it to be.

I haven’t yet ironed out the details. But I’m fairly confident that it will include a healthy amount of zip-lining.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Full Circle

When I tell people that high school was a life-changing experience for me — in a good way — they seem surprised.

Perhaps they assume that I was somehow “setting the world on fire.” Nothing could be further from the truth. I was average in every way. What made high school so special was that after four years of being tortured in grammar school (I’ll spare you the details) I finally found myself accepted by a wonderful group of friends. And this would never have happened if not for one life-changing event.

I was frankly terrified to begin my freshman year of high school. If I had suffered at the hands of my Catholic School companions, I imagined that I would be irresistible bait for those scary public school kids. Sure, all my friends in the neighborhood went to public school and frankly I wished I could have as well. But only one of them was in my grade. I knew that some of the “tough” girls a few blocks away would be my high school classmates. And I knew that I could never stand up to them.

I remember getting through the first few days of classes, the half-days, okay. Meaning that nothing horrible had happened. But I certainly hadn’t really spoken more than a few words to anyone except my familiar grammar school friends (all three of them). And then on the first full day of classes my worst fears were realized. A trio of girls confronted me in the hallway and one of them accused me of flirting with her boyfriend.

I racked my brain trying to think of how this girl knew me, and who her boyfriend could possibly be. The words “set-up” never entered my brain. Truth be told I was a flirt, for sure. But never a man-stealer. As the girls continued to stare me down and move closer, I thought my knees would buckle. I eyed the exit door behind me, planning a possible escape and not caring if I set off the fire alarm. Suddenly another girl that was standing behind the group stepped forward.

“Mary Ann is my friend,” she announced. “And if you want to mess with her, you’re going to have to deal with me.”

I was shocked and so relieved I could have cried. I recognized the girl, and knew her name was Diane, bot other details were lost on my fog of anxiety. The group of girls dispersed, angry and disappointed. And suddenly I knew who Diane was. She was my hero.

Empowered by Diane’s support, I reached out to other students and became friends with a terrific group. Diane and I remained friends throughout high school, and my heart swelled with pride when she became the first female police officer in our home town. I was thrilled to know that I might have been one of the first people to benefit from Diane’s caring and protection — but I certainly wouldn’t be the last.

Diane and I reconnected recently on Facebook, and then through this blog. As it turns out, Diane’s mom lives with her in a similar situation. Diane’s supportive comments and appreciation for my work reminded me of why she is such a special person.

I recently attended my 40-year high school reunion. For some this is a stressful experience, but I knew that for me it wouldn’t be. I was blessed with a terrific graduating class, good friends, and people who always had my back — like Diane, who had started it all.

The first person I saw was Kevin, with whom I had gone through grammar school. We embraced warmly — as all of the St. Francis graduates tend to do at the high school reunions —  like the survivors that we are. And then, suddenly, there was Diane.

“You are my hero,” she announced. I was shocked, since I had always thought of her in that way.  I knew that Diane’s thinking of me as a hero was certainly due to the blog. But had I ever told her that she was MY hero? I tried to recall, but came up blank.

The reunion was a blur, with all of us dancing and talking and trying to fit in 40 years of memories in about a three hour time span. But it was fun, and friendly, and fabulous. “It felt like no time had passed” was a frequent follow-up comment.

With all of the conversation taking place that night, I never managed to remind Diane of what she had done for me. She had changed the course of my life with her actions; and when in the course of my work for the schools I attend anti-bullying talks and presenters speak about “standing up” for someone else, I always think of Diane.

As we were walking out of the reunion, Diane had another surprise for me. Not only does she read my blog, she reads every entry to her kids.

People sometimes tell me that my blog posts bring tears to their eyes. I get that. I become emotional as well, when writing them. But honestly, I have never felt so emotional about a post as I have about this one.

I really needed Diane to know this. And now her kids will know as well.