Illumination V: YES & NO

Reflecting on my 80 years, and writing about them, has been one of the ways I’ve devoted some of my time on this pandemic’s “lockdown.” Here’s a bit of my noodling on becoming conscious in saying “yes” and  “no”  in life.

During my first marriage, in my thirties, I said “yes” to a career opportunity that involved some travel,  and “no” to my husband’s wishes that I not do so.  And that was the beginning of several difficult years. Ultimately we separated and divorced, and painfully said “yes” to learning and growing into a clearer picture of what we each wanted in life.    In my second marriage, in my fifties,  I allowed a stressful situation to continue and affect my health.  Without realizing it at the time, I was saying  “no” to my own desires for a relationship capable of love and stability, and “yes” to my fear of change.  Looking back, I regret my lack of clarity and bravery.

Life brings many ups and downs.  The current pandemic, the extreme partisan politics, and the changes that keep on coming, raise and illuminate  new challenges and choices for each one of us.  It’s a stressful world.  How will we manage?  Perhaps clarity on the YESes and the NOes of our journey is worth seeking.

Changes, both those that befall us and those we initiate, demand that we adapt, adjust, and shift our routines. There is a loss of what was.  Somehow we have to create for ourselves what will replace what we still require for a fulfilling life.  We have to make peace with the losses, the no longer possibles, and recreate other ways to satisfy needs that remain.  As changes occur, to what will we say “yes” and to what will we say “no”?

I will admit that at 80, scooter dependent, retired, and living in a senior residential community currently on semi-lockdown, I am removed from many of the practical displacements that many face, whether it be job and business loss, or working from home and managing children at the same time, or facing eviction.  However, due to our no-visit policy, my older neighbors and I are isolated.  While some haven’t adjusted well to this isolation, others keep going, even trying to be useful.   

Jim takes out his walker and does 3+ miles a day and has lost 15 pounds. Shirley walks 5 miles a day, often with others (6 feet apart) in a walking group. Do you know that’s 150 miles a month?

Joan, over 90,  knitted a  gorgeous emerald green sweater, just to prove she still could. Others are knitting winter hats to be distributed through Providence Ministries. Others meet weekly in person, mindful of masks and social distancing, to share the family stories they are writing for their grandchildren.  Others meet twice a week in a group limited to four, to follow a QiGong video routine.  I, a solo ager, have used this gift of time to write 100 pages of my life history for my family archives, something I didn’t want to regret not doing.  Two of us spend some time volunteering to “get out the vote.”

Swimming at the Y, going to rehab, had gotten me healthy and able prior to the arrival of the pandemic. But, in losing my former practice, I found myself in failing health and mobility.  

Now I’m finally asking, “What’s most missing for my well being right now?”  

While I’m neither feeling lost, lonely, friendless, nor purposeless, I am feeling slow and tired and stressed about the chaos in the world.  

In the list of essentials, most important for my health and well being right now is a regular routine of exercise, and I hate to exercise.  Yes, this persistent goal setter and goal getter, is finally willing to say “yes” to a serious and significant daily routine of exercise. It is something new for me, and now absolutely required.  And I’m aware of the courage it is taking to even think about it.

I’ve started to say “yes” and mean it, to practice a program that will allow me to walk more confidently.  I’m saying “no” and meaning it, to my habitual avoidance.

And now I toss the questions to you.  Take them personally.   What are your core longings during this time of uncertainty?  What will satisfy them?  To what are you now willing to say “yes” for yourself? And just as important, to what will you say “no”?

Caution:  Courage required.

Illumination IV: Living in Limbo

Someone recently  asked me how I was doing and I had trouble coming up with an answer. And so, as I often do,  I started writing to help me uncover what was going on inside. 

And yes it finally hit me…the usual epiphany for my tough times:  Oh!  That’s it!  I am/we are in the middle of a transition.”

Not just a single change from an old way, or “our old normal,” but many changes at once. We’ve lost family members to the virus, we’ve lost confidence in our government, our personal lives are affected by lockdown, our financial lives have become uncertain, many are trying to work with children at home, and friends, neighbors and family members have lost jobs. The routines of the past have gone by the wayside, to be at least temporarily replaced.  

Brainstorm with yourself and make your  own list of what has been disrupted for you, both outside of you and inside of you.  And allow each of these disruptions to have their own compounding elements of confusion and disorientation.    Feel them, deeply, and try to move on.

I am grateful to Elizabeth Kubler Ross and William Bridges who early and often talked about the normal stages of transition.  For me, over the years, this information  has always been reassuring, both to myself and to my clients.  When I wake up to what’s going on, it’s always the same epiphany.  “Oh!  Its a thing I’m going through.  And it’s normal. The first stage is LOSS and I‘m dealing with it.”

While there is plenty of room for positivity and courage,  there also needs to be room for deep feelings of grief, confusion, tears, anger, despair.  I say again, it’s normal.  And necessary.  That acknowledgment, when I remember it,  always gives me some peace.  As do my tears.

Yes, we move on. Or, we try to.

Bridges invites us to recognize that we don’t quickly move into a new normal, or even a knowing what is next.  We  move into a second stage called LIMBO. It’s where we don’t yet have a plan for the new, nor should we push to create one.  It’s about taking time to let go of the old, making space for the new, without having to know what’s next.   And by this time, Americans are aware that we may be living in the corona virus LIMBO for quite a few months more.   Perhaps we need to master LIVING IN LIMBO and take the time to polish the silver, clean out the garage, in my case, write a version of a memoir for the grandchildren.  Perhaps we create and adopt some simple routines that get us through the day like taking walks, playing with the grandchildren, meditating, and cooking the dishes we never had time for.

According to Bridges, the third stage, the NEW, will come in its own time.  Be patient!  You can nudge it along by asking questions of yourself.  Who am I really?  What do I feel called to be or do?   How can I bring more of what I love into my life?  What are the essential values and virtues on which I want to base this life of mine? 

From Maya Angelou: “Courage is the most important virtue.  Without courage you can’t practice any other virtues consistently.”  And yes, these unsettling times require courage from all of us.


For a quick summary of the stages:

Illumination III: Deep Grief

Once again…interesting times this pandemic.  At this age and stage of life I didn’t expect to be changing my routine in small but significant ways.  I didn’t expect that using this “gift of time” to clean out my files and possessions would leave me in touch with my impermance and wondering how my life mattered.  I didn’t expect that creating archives for the business I founded and ran for 20 years, now successfully in the hands of my step children, would put me in touch with both the joys of the accomplishments and the loss of those incredible joys.

I have been unashamedly grieving each day, allowing the tears to flow, and giving them permission to last as long as they need to.  I don’t like the fact that I seem to be getting in touch more and more viscerally with the fact that I am going to die. But that’s the truth. I want to put things in order.  I’m letting those tears flow.  And it is a relief. This is a major emotional transition.

I don’t know if others give themselves that same permission to just grieve deeply.  Fr.  Richard Rohr has provided some essential wisdom to me and I want to quote a paragraph from his daily meditations:  Reality Initiating Us…Life is Hard.

“I’m afraid that many of us with privilege have been able to become very naive about pain and suffering in the United States and the Western world. We simply don’t have time for it.  However, by trying to handle all suffering through willpower, denial, medication or even therapy, we have forgotten something that should be obvious; we do not handle suffering; suffering handles us–in deep and mysterious ways that become the very matrix of life and especially new life.  Only suffering and certain kinds of awe lead us into genuinely new experiences.”

We don’t know and can’t judge how others feel their losses.  Those that seem small to us, are large to others.  Certainly the loss of certainty is stressful to all, as is feeling  out of control.  Some have an easier time discerning what they can control, and just start with that.  “Today I made my bed, and made a healthy breakfast and helped my son with his schooling.”  It’s what I call the “three successes a day”  approach.

For me, letting tears flow through what I don’t even know what, is my way to clarity and relief. I learned how to “feel, cry, be angry” during several years of participation in a wonderful program available locally, ReEvaluation Counseling. (RC), a kind of peer counseling.   I feel badly for those who block their tears, for fear of being seen as really a mess.  My RC approach is always:  “Crying is not necessarily a signal of mental illness or depression.  It is a signal that you need to cry.”  It always seems to be therapeutic.

And so, while I’ve been surprised at the amount and level of deep grief I’m experiencing.  I’m not afraid of it.  I am looking forward to what this grief and this suffering will teach me and what kind of space my “letting go” will reveal for my remaining years.  I find myself surrendering to the normal cycles of life change.

Perhaps my words can help you relax into your own grief–especially if you can’t exactly name it.  These times are hard in so many, many, ways.

The first
great lesson of life to learn
is that winter will always come…
the human winters of despair and loneliness,
or disappointment, or tragedy…
The major challenge
confronting those surrounded by winter
is to not let it affect the arrival of spring
and our ability to recognize
that arrival.

~ Jim Rohn