Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Best Gifts of All...

Alas, Christmas is over… Don’t get me wrong, I love the holidays (it’s my favorite time of year) but it seems that over the years, things have become increasingly more hectic… Time is literally fleeting, lol.

I’ve also noticed that as I’ve gotten older, my taste in gifts has gotten more expensive (lol)… this same phenomena has been happening with my kids as well. They increasingly want the big ticket items, whereas when they were younger, it was easier to please them with a box of crayons, playdoh, and Matchbox cars. It’s challenging to get them to focus on the reason for the season and to understand the real gifts in life…

Thus, while reflecting about my most treasured gifts, I found myself thinking about my experiences in 2011… just what did happen this year?

Well, I certainly had my share of up’s and down’s... I was blessed with a stable job situation so my family didn’t have to worry about where they were getting their next meal or where we were going to sleep that night. I received the loving support of numerous family and friends - prodding me onward on those days when I just wanted to throw in the towel and sit on the sidelines. This year was also one of pain and loss - having to say good bye to loved ones that passed away and to relationships that moved on.

But through all things, these collective events are joined by a common thread: the fact that these experiences – great or small - were gifts – gifts that would allow me to grow just a tad bit more and helped me to appreciate the joys and follies the year had to offer. So here it is, my list of the Best Gifts of All:

RELATIONSHIPS Without a doubt, the unswaying love and support I have received over the years from my friends and family is what has carried me through the toughest times in life. This year was no exception – my friends being my source of refuge and comfort… my home base. Because of their unconditional acceptance, I can be my vulnerable self with them… they allow me to share my up’s, my downs, and my periodic lapses in judgment (lol). In the end, they always see the beauty within and have served to safeguard my spirit when life has taken its toll.

INSIGHTThe year was fraught with many an “a-hah” moment for me, helping me to gain a deeper sense of understanding as to why things happen as they do, especially when things don’t go as planned. As a control freak in recovery, I am learning to let go more and more – giving myself to the present so that I might fathom the significance of the moment, the here and now. In the words of the wise Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron, “only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible in us be found.” It is a process… and reflection and insight have enabled me to deepen my sense of self and appreciate the awakening that occurs as a result.

PERPSECTIVE While I like to think that I am open-minded and can see things from multiple perspectives… the reality is that I have some inherent limitations. My thinking is biased, colored by the many boundaries of my life experiences. Thankfully, a multitude of people – friends, colleagues, fellow bloggers, writers and even my kids -have shared with me the wisdom of their perspective. And in doing so, they have given me different angles with which to see and understand things. Oftentimes, when I am unable to see the forest from the trees, it is through these multiple lenses that I am able to not only see the forest and the tress, but the path that runs through it.  

WISDOM For me, gaining knowledge comes with living and learning. In this context, I am not referring to “knowledge” that is usually acquired by reading a book or obtaining a particular degree – I’m referring here to the idea of being life smart – learning the lessons that life has to teach me, gaining a greater sense of self and embracing the joys and disappointments in life equally. George Bernard Shaw once said, “A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.” I take comfort knowing that my many blunders this year were not for naught, lol.

COMPASSION As I listened to Fr. Boyle (founder of Homeboy Industries and a humanitarian) speak at a conference I attended, I learned what it meant to have compassion. His anecdotal stories about the homies and homegirls he worked with made me realize that compassion has no limitations – there is no “us vs. them,” only us.  “Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It's a relationship between equals… [it] becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.” (Pema Chodron) It is about seeing that in the grand scheme of things, no life is worth more or less than others; that I share more commonalities with folks than I do differences.

LOVEWhat can I say about LOVE? Probably so much that it could be a separate blog post in and of itself, lol. But here’s what my experience with love was like this year: I knew love in its many forms and dimensions… romantic love, supportive love, unconditional love… gratefully, love has continued to be a central part of my life. It is what sustains me: it rejuvenates my soul when all feels lost, and rekindles my spirit when darkness wanders in. And while love tends to contribute to the range of emotions I might experience, it is because of love that I have been given the gifts of relationship, insight, perspective, wisdom, and compassion.

Thankfully over the years, I’ve gained a richer perspective on the holiday season…
it’s made me much more appreciative for the intangible gifts in life. I’ve learned to recognize that sometimes what I want is not necessarily what I need.

I now understand that “the season of giving” did not stop at Christmas, it continued all year long for me – maybe it wasn’t exactly the way I wanted things to happen or how I had planned… perhaps it was even getting something that I didn’t want. But in the end, my experiences with people – be they brief encounters or long-term relationships – have filled me in some way… always bringing me back to me – and that is the greatest gift of all.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Owning the Age Thing...

The holidays are my favorite time of year – not only because it’s the holidays and there's festivities that surround it, but because my birthday falls somewhere in between Thanksgiving and Christmas. But this year is special… special because I am turning FIFTY, Whoo-hoo!

Now, I can proudly utter my age and make no bones about it… but I’ve noticed that that’s not necessarily the case for many people (mostly women) who are midlifers. WHY? How did we become a society where the older we get, it becomes almost embarrassing to utter our age? Why is it we can benefit from the wisdom of aging and still be stigmatized for it?

Well, I suspect that for many folks it has to do with the images we’ve been inundated with for decades, i.e., that youth or youthfulness is the ideal image to have… not aging. Hence, once many of us get past being able to “pass,” panic can set in and many folks start to resort to the promise of agelessness via the plethora of plastic surgeons, anti-aging skins creams, botox specialists, laser treatment centers, and hair replacement remedies. It’s a billion dollar industry that benefits by keeping the cultural mindset on staying young.

The unfortunate happenstance to all of this is that there is so much emphasis on our outer appearances that we fail to see the beauty within ourselves. We forget that true beauty lies within one's character not with exterior features. Now that is a shame!

For me, age is a state a mind (yes, I can say that despite the aches and pains I do feel now and then after a good workout). And getting older is as natural as living. So I’m not apologizing for getter older nor am I buying this “shame-on-me-for-getting-older” gimmick that the beauty industry would have me soak in. No, instead I choose to be me… a 50 year old who appreciates the wisdom gained with life experiences… in awe at the constant development of life and all its creatures… and one who embraces the knowledge that if life is all about the journey, then one might as well have fun along the way.

So, just for FUN, I tried my hand at creating a David Letterman’s list on the top 10 reasons why it’s great to be aging as a midlifer.


10. Your frequent trips to the bathroom can now be blamed on getting older instead of just having a weak bladder.

9. You can say more things uncensored and most young adults will not correct you but merely smile and nod.

8. It takes less time to shave body hair (although, for women we seem to get hair in places we didn’t use to it, so maybe this is a double-edged sword, lol, does this happen for men?)

7. You are more comfortable in saying WHAT you want to say, to WHOM you want to say it to WHEN you want to say it.

6. More often than not, nobody questions if you’re right or not when you’re recalling something circa the 1990’s because the younger ones weren’t even born yet.

5. You can take pride in identifying the original artist(s) and song(s) that are playing from a new song (I’ve also noticed that this applies to dance steps as well, i.e., some old moves get new names too).

4. You’ve lived long enough to know that fashion recycles itself, so if you hold on to choice pieces of clothing and shoes long enough, they always come back in style at some point in your life.

3. You can blame your momentary lapses in the brain or forgetfulness on having a “senior moment.”

2. You care less about what others think about how you look and more about how you feel when you’re with them.

1. You have more clarity about personal limitations (just because you can doesn’t mean you should); 
You have a greater understanding of what you can change about yourself and should;
And the wisdom to know whether you’ve already been there and done that.  

Okay, that’s my stab at laughing at life. How about you – what others would you add to the list???? You can probably do better than this, so please share. The more the merrier…  and CHEERS to aging, cheers to life!