A Week With My Soon-To-Be 91-Year-Old Mom

Mom

If it weren’t for her, I would not be here.

How does she do it?

How does she lose her partner of nearly 60 years and still have the strength to not only carry on and survive … but thrive.

How does she find the desire to call a friend in need who is hurting and comfort her?

How does she change all her bedsheets, comforter, towels, and bathroom fixtures from winter to summer colors, while I need a nap halfway through the process just to keep up with her?

How does she continue to have goals of what she’d like to do this coming winter?

How does she …?

The questions are too many to even consider.  But she carries on.

On the almost eve of my 60th birthday, I am grateful to have spent this last week with my amazing mother, learning from her how to live … how to go on giving thanks for every day, no matter how hard, because if we’re still here, we’re still not done with what we came here to do.

Before this week, I thought that if I lost the partner with whom I’d spent the majority of my life, I would have grabbed my PJs, found the nearest couch, and spent the rest of my “life” waiting to die.

But things have changed for me this week.  Thanks to my amazing mom.

As I write this, she’s on the phone with who knows who … one of her dozens of friends or relatives who has been touched by her magic.

And my mom is magic.

This morning, a dear friend from High School suggested my mom should have her own blog.

Yeah, well, that would mean I would have to write and maintain it.  And I still have my own life and partner with whom I have responsibilities, so maintaining what I anticipate my mom’s thousands of social media followers would require is a bit exhausting.  (Remember, I had a hard time keeping up with the sheets and comforter change. This would be monumentally more exhausting.)

This last week with mom has taught me to appreciate the little things … because when you’re at the sunset of your life (and that could be at any time, because none of us know how much time we have left) it’s the little things that matter… like making sure the stray cats who have adopted her are fed three times a day.

mom

I used to call the way she did things picky.  Now I give thanks for them.  Like the way I made the bed yesterday, and she remade it the way she wanted because … well, I have to admit, Macy’s, JC Penney’s, and any store that sells bedding could quadruple their profits if they hired my mom.

Like the way she follows her simple routine and notices everything.  Like the time she spends every night writing in her diary … a diary she’s kept for so many years, in so much detail, it would put historians to shame.

But there’s more.

My dad used to be the one who played the traditional role in our Cuban family. Mom was the homemaker. Dad was the keeper of all things breadwinner.

And that’s why I’m so proud of mom now when she does “simple” things, like hiring someone to have a new bathroom installed, makes her own doctors’ appointments, finds a handyman to fix the bazillion things that a home needs fixing …. and does so many things that would overwhelm someone half her age.

And while it’s tempting to assume those responsibilities for her, I know that letting her make those decisions for herself is something we both need.  I’m always here to give her guidance and support, as she has always been here for me, but as long as she’s making the decisions that will make her happy, I will not stand in her way.

As far as I can tell, my mom’s secret to thriving when most others would have given up, is to find purpose in her routine, and to share her love and friendship with everyone, from those she has known all her life, to the bag boy at Publix who knows her by name and considers it an honor to carry her grocery bags to my car in the pouring rain as if he didn’t even notice I was there to do it for her.

As I write this, I hear my mom on the phone in the other room.  And nothing else matters. I love hearing her voice.

And then she comes into the room while I am writing this, and in the midst of my Muse’s inspiration, begins a conversation with me … but not before she reprimands me for walking on her tile floor barefoot.

And I tell her I love walking barefoot.  And she responds … “So, walk barefoot.”

And then … she says something that will be a memory I will carry with me until she’s there to grab my hand and guide me from this life to the next, as she was there to welcome me into this one… Something for which I will forever be grateful.

She says … “Bueno, mi hija, me voy antes que la Musa se te vaya.” (My daughter, I’ll leave you now before the Muse leaves you.”)

I stare at her dumbfounded as she walks out of the room to go about her business.

“Tu sabes lo que es la Musa?” (You know what the Muse is?) she asks.

I suddenly can’t speak. Because mom and I have never spoken of the Muse.

But she knows. She knows my life’s purpose is to listen to the Muse and to write.

And that’s my mom. And that’s our connection.

Happy almost 60th birthday to me.  I could not have asked for a greater gift.

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Really, there’s nothing wrong …

Waveland

Waveland Mississippi Pier – copyright 2018 Barbara A. Besteni

 

That overwhelming sense of sadness that suddenly descends upon you … when there’s absolutely nothing wrong.

We all feel it.

If we look around, things on the surface look pretty darn good. We have everything we want, except that a nagging feeling of melancholy keeps hovering over our hearts like a Category 1 hurricane waiting to happen.  It may not cause a lot of damage, but it’s annoying enough to damper our mood for a while.

It’s a type of melancholy that makes teenage angst seem like an endorphin high on speed.

But why are we so afraid to admit that something is wrong?  Not just to others, but to ourselves? Is it because we fear that if we accept that there’s an emptiness inside us that nothing seems to fulfill we’ll finally have to find a way to fulfill it?

Better to be in denial and stay busy, right?  Maybe it will just go away.

But IT doesn’t.  And the more we pretend IT is not there … the moment we turn on the television, reach for our smartphone for the latest alert, troll through social media, IT is sitting right beside us, crowding our space, making us even more miserable than we already were.

And speaking of social media.  How’s that for a humbling experience, showing us that compared to others, our lives completely suck?  So, get with it!  Don’t just sit there, go do something productive to show your worth and post it on Facebook!

At the end of a day of aimlessly running around being “productive,” we reach for a glass of wine, or two, or 15, to take the edge off, but no amount of alcohol will drown out the truth that’s longing to come to the surface.  The truth that despite all the noise surrounding us every day, there’s something missing.

We grew up to be who we wanted to be, but along the way, we lost who we were.

Now, let’s face it.  All is not doom and gloom and I simply exaggerate just a tiny bit to get your attention.  I tend to do that. (Go ahead, roll your eyes in acknowledgement. I’ll take it as a compliment.)

There are moments when we glimpse happiness and fulfillment. Moments when we gaze into our significant other’s eyes, when we cuddle with our pets, when we watch our children grow up to be amazing people, when we laugh our asses off over the antics of animal videos on the internet, when we dance naked alone in our kitchens as if nobody’s watching and suddenly, somebody is. (I’m making that up. I only dance naked in the living room.)

But those moments are few and far between because we’re so busy doing all the ancillary stuff of life that real life passes us by.

Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans – Allen Saunders  

So what is IT?

IT is that little voice inside of us, screaming for us to STOP! – Stop before our bodies break down and force us to do so. Stop before we look back and realize we missed so much frantically doing so little.

And how do we tame IT?

By doing the exact opposite of what we’ve been doing.

Instead of adding more to our already overflowing glutton-envying plate of to-do lists and tasks, we need to put down our forks, step away from the table and go for a nice long walk. (Or dance naked in the living room, if that sounds like something you might like.)

IT is a cranky toddler screaming for attention. But IT knows what’s best for you.   Because IT is the you that you lost somewhere between the playground and the office conference room.

And the only way to quiet IT is to do … nothing… except the hardest thing of all …

Listen.

 

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One day you will wish you could get today back …

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Florida Keys sunset. Copyright 2018 Barbara A. Besteni

Is there someone in your life you’re taking for granted?

Consider this …

One day you will come home, and there will be no one there to listen to your complaints about how bad things are at work or school.

One day … the person who has always been there waiting for you to arrive, happy that you made it home safely, hoping they can cry on your shoulder because maybe — just maybe — they had a tough day too — won’t be there to patiently wait for you to ask how their day went.

One day … the food that person spent time preparing for you … the food you wolfed down before anyone else at the table had been served … will do nothing to satisfy your hunger because food alone can’t feed a lonely, starving soul.

One day … you will realize the time you spent pointing out the things that weren’t quite up to your expectations was a waste of time because those things were perfect just the way they were.

One day … your list of things to do will be cast aside.  Not because you’ve run out of things to do, but because the one with whom you did them is no longer there to share them with you.

One day you will give everything you have to get back the moments you took for granted.

But one day … it will be too late.

Start appreciating and recognizing those with whom you share your everyday lives.

Because “one day” may be closer than you think.

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Staying “On Purpose”

Florida Keys

Florida Keys – Copyright 2018 Barbara A. Besteni

A dear friend recently asked me how I was able to remain calm, despite all the craziness that life seems to fling at me on a regular basis.

I babbled something about taking it one day at a time, being grateful for everything, no matter how bad things seemed to be, accepting that I was on purpose, even when it seemed as if my purpose was to be confused, hurt and meaningless.  Blah, blah, blah.

Those were my surface answers.

But her question prompted some deep thinking on my part, both in my head and, most important of all, in my heart.  And here’s what she helped me discover:

I accepted a long time ago that God had a purpose for my life.  And as long as I lived every day trusting that I was “on purpose,” and listening to God’s guidance, I could relax, knowing that everything was just as it was supposed to be.

Yes, even the “bad” times are being used for the good of that purpose.

With the luxury of hindsight, I can see clearly that the times in my life when I’ve strayed from my purpose – when I decided that God was being just a bit too slow in getting to the point — I’ve been stuck, frustrated and unhappy.

But when I return to the Spirit of Guidance and follow Her lead, things turn around quickly and … purposely.

I’d be lying if I said that things were always that easy.

Sometimes, when the challenges seem overwhelming, my human nature attempts to throw it all away and pretend that God’s purpose for me doesn’t matter.

If truth be told … I pretend God doesn’t exist.

It’s then that I try to convince myself that this human life is all there is and thinking that life has a greater meaning — a greater purpose — is, well, a bit optimistic.

We’re born, we are here by accident, and we die.

But then something unexpected happens to remind me that the journey on which I am traveling is sacred.  And it sets me back on the path on which I was meant to travel.

Writing has always been part of my purpose.  In fact, it’s the biggest reason why I’m here.

The words I write aren’t mine.  They flow so easily, how could they possibly be mine?

I am merely a channel for the Higher Power who gave me the gift of … not knowing how to say what I mean … unless it’s written down.

I really suck at saying things on the spur of the moment.  I admire those who can come up with just the right combination of words to make an impact at the exact moment on which they are called to do so.

Me?  Not so much.

I think with my heart.  I try to let things go … but sometimes, not so much.

Sometimes I hold back a little bit of faith.  You know, just in case, faith is a something I should have given up on when I “grew up.”

It’s then that I get stuck.

It’s then that I try to look God straight in the eye, but realize I can’t because She’s so amused at my attempt to pretend She’s not there, that Her eyes are rolling in response.

And it’s not until I release everything to the God for which I am a channel that the lessons for which they came into my life in the first place become clear.

It’s then that my sense of purpose comes into razor-sharp focus.

It’s then that I am truly fulfilled.

What about you?  What were you put here to do?

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God, Gifts, Guilt, Gratitude …

The Sunset After The Storm

Sunset at Barbs – May 16, 2018 – Copyright 2018 Barbara A. Besteni

“Be careful what you ask for because you might get it.”

In 1969, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross first introduced the world to her theory of the fives stages of grief in her groundbreaking book, On Death and Dying.

I was 10 years old at the time, high as a kite because my favorite baseball team, the New York Mets, had won the World Series. My prayers had been answered.  All was right with the world.

Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance – were as foreign to me as grief itself.

Joy, however, was all around me, and I devoured it with the reckless abandon of a wildfire hungrily consuming everything in its path, without question, without fear, without guilt, without regret.

Then, suddenly, I wasn’t 10 years old anymore. Overnight I became a teenager, a young adult, a grownup.

And the joy I once experienced at the gifts God placed at the table of life before me became burdens, joys I didn’t deserve. Guilt entered the picture to further suck the pleasure out of the gifts that I had once accepted without question.

Life became serious.  Sadness entered the picture as people I once considered invincible and immortal left this world to continue their spiritual journey.

It’s as if grief had swooped in and snatched the joy right from under me.

I still believed in joy, in answered prayers, but I got used to not having those prayers answered.  I think it happens to most of us.  It’s part of the human condition we come to accept as we “grow up.”

We are still disappointed when we don’t get what we ask for, but not as disappointed as we had been when we were children and our expectations were higher.

But what happens if, as adults, we pray for something and we do get it?

Now we’re entering into let’s go batshit crazy territory.

 

Instead of accepting it as a gift from God, we often reject it. Sometimes we cautiously open the gift wrapping, peek inside the box, and shut it closed.

Is it because it seems too good to be true?  Is it because we’re guilty that others don’t have what we are given?  Or is it because we don’t think we’re good enough to deserve the amazing gifts life places before us every day?

Could there be five stages of accepting the answers to our prayers … even if those answers are not what we expected? Or worse!  They’re better than what we expected!

Consider this:

Stage 1: I want this. Please, God, I want this more than anything else in the world, and if you give it to me, I’ll never ask for anything again.

Stage 2: I got what I asked for – Ooops, God answered my prayer. What do I do now?

Stage 3: Guilt – I don’t deserve this. “Hey, God, take it back.  I feel worse now because a gift like this should really go to someone who is like, say, Mother Teresa, not someone like me who sits in front of a computer all day editing copy and writing random thoughts in a blog.” (OK, so maybe this blog entry is just a bit biographical.)

Stage 4: Sabotage – “You know what, God? I’ll sabotage your gift to show that I’m not a selfish person. I know you gave this to me as a test to see if I was humble enough to deserve it.  So, here, take it back.  Did I pass the test?”

But no matter how hard we try, the gift doesn’t seem to go away.  In fact, God keeps wrapping it up and giving it to us over and over again, no matter how many times we reject it.

That’s because God’s gifts are unconditional.  We don’t have to do anything to deserve them.  And if those things for which we pray are in line with Her Will, if they will further Her love, then we only have one thing left to do when She answers our prayers.

Stage 5: Acceptance

Don’t judge the gifts.  Just say “Thank you,” and move on.

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Judgment and Expectations …

Serenity

Serenity along the Gulf Coast in Waveland, Mississippi – Copyright 2018 Barbara A. Besteni

 

“Serenity comes when you trade expectations for acceptance.” — Unknown

All of our disappointments come from unfulfilled expectations and pre-conceived beliefs of how things should and shouldn’t be. They are the reference points we use to judge if something is good or bad, right or wrong.

If our expectations aren’t met, we are quick to label the feeling of disappointment as “bad.”  On the flip side, if we do something that makes us happy, but we believe it’s “wrong” because doing things for ourselves is “selfish,”  we add a dollop of guilt to the ice cream and miss out on the “guilty pleasure.”

But why should we feel guilty about pleasure?  Does guilt absolve us of our “sins” any more than saying ten Hail Marys absolved us of the sins we exposed in the confessional as children? (You Catholic children of long ago know exactly what I mean.)

Most of our expectations and beliefs are self-imposed, crafted from the residual fibers of the protective garments given to us by our parents, our teachers, and the society in which we grew up … garments meant to protect us from life’s harsh climate.

But many of those garments are no longer in style.  Some we have outgrown and should have been discarded long ago.  But because they are sewn into the fabric of our being, we continue to wear them, adding additional layers of emotional clothing on top, suffocating the very life force struggling to free us from the prison of our past.

“Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.” — Margaret Meade

Unfortunately, we took our early life lessons at face value and never learned to completely think for ourselves. We entered adulthood believing the boogeyman still lived in the closet and children in countries we’d never heard of would die if we didn’t eat everything on our plates.

Is it any wonder we’ve grown up to be a nation where mental illness and obesity are so prevalent?

But what if we entered each day with no preconceived notions or judgments of what is good or bad or right or wrong?  What if we had no expectations?

What if we put on our grownup pants and simply lived life day by day, absorbing the gifts each moment has to give without spoiling them with expectations of how things should or shouldn’t be?

Would we be better off?  Would we be more fulfilled and enjoy life more if we simply stopped expecting and started living?

Could we miss something we didn’t get if we hadn’t expected to get it?

“You can’t lose something you never had” –                                                                            Kate Hudson, ‘How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days’

Do you miss not having brothers and sisters?

It’s a question I’m often asked when people find out I’m an only child.

But how can I miss something I never had?

Sure, I can imagine what it must be like to have a sibling, or two. But miss it? No, I can’t possibly miss an experience I’ve never had.

It’s like asking a person who is blind from birth if they miss seeing. They have no concept of seeing with their eyes, no reference point by which to judge a visual perception of the world.  So, no, they don’t miss seeing because their reference point doesn’t include sight as we know it.

Let’s take it one step further. What if we eliminated the reference points we use to judge right from wrong?

We use religion as a barometer to keep us “moral.”

What if the 10 Commandments were not meant to be taken literally?

I’m not suggesting we rename them the 10 Suggestions. I am suggesting we expand our understanding of them, and all religious beliefs, to free us, rather than inhibit us.

Ten Commandments aside, many of the religious “laws” we were taught are man-made.

Eating meat on Fridays, for example, meant an eternity of hellfire when I was growing up Catholic in Brooklyn.  I always felt sorry for my Jewish friends who were going to hell because apparently no one had told them that eating a Hebrew National hot dog on Friday meant eternal damnation.

This all started sounding very fishy to me as I began to question religious authority. And had I had the benefit of Google at the time, I would have learned that since it is believed Jesus Christ suffered and died on the cross on a Friday, Christians set aside Fridays to unite with Christ’s suffering.

By not eating meat? Oh, please.

I’m not saying we should live life breaking all the rules and thinking only of ourselves as if there weren’t other people on the planet. But how amazing would it be if we lived life as it was meant to be … free of expectations, taking each precious moment and savoring it, sprinkling it with gratitude for the miracle that we are given at the beginning of each new day.

I’m full of questions today. Unfortunately, I don’t have any answers that will work for you.  I only have answers that work for me.

Are you ready for serenity? Release the expectations and judgments that are keeping you grounded and welcome acceptance.

Then watch the magic happen. Peace.

 

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Are you afraid of flying … ?

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Birds born in a cage think flying is an illness Alejandro Jodorowsky

We live as if we were going to get another chance to do so.

Belief in reincarnation aside, this is the only chance we’re going to get to live this life.

So, why do we retreat to the false comfort of our daily routines to keep us grounded — routines that offer a sense of security but do nothing but hold us back from exploring the passion that life is so eager to give us?

Why do we reject life’s gifts?

It’s simple, really.  Routines keep us sane.  They are the roadmap we follow to keep us on track to accomplish our goals, to fulfill our purpose.

But what’s so great about being grounded?

Is our desire to stay grounded an excuse we use because we’re terrified of flying?

I used to be a victim of routine.

Today, my life is anything but.

I used to get up at 4 a.m., hit the gym by 5 a.m., drive 4.1 miles to work, sit in front of a computer writing and editing news stories, get up every once in a while to chat with colleagues or eat whatever was at the assignment desk in the newsroom (trust me, there was always something to eat at the assignment desk), go to the morning editorial meeting, edit more news stories, grab lunch, write and edit more stories, go to the afternooon editorial meeting, blah, blah, blah, drive 4.1 miles home, cook, watch TV, fall asleep.

Next day – Rinse, repeat.

Weekends were a little different, except for the fact that when you manage a website for a television news station in a major market, you’re pretty much never off. I loved what I did, adored my craft and my colleagues, but I was going batshit crazy.

A little over a year and a half ago, my routine at work abruptly came to a screeching halt.  I suddenly found myself adrift in The Sea of Routinelessness (aka “unemployment”).

My first inclination was to find a new routine (aka “job”).  You know, a step-by-step daily guide to keep me from becoming a rudderless ship, tossed about a sea of madness and confusion.

But having been given wings to fly, why would I ever want to travel by land and sea again?

After months of Wright Brothers-like false starts, I discovered I could make a living and fulfill my creative desires as an independent contractor.  It used to be called freelancing, something reserved for artists, musicians, and creative types who couldn’t find a “real” job. But finding a “real job” isn’t as easy as it used to be now that the business model for many industries has changed.

Welcome, independent contracting.

Here’s how it works.

You find opportunities (or they find you) to work for companies looking for your skillset. I found out it’s much easier to find work when you’re not demanding the high salary with benefits that make up the traditional job market or job seeker.

If you’ve got the skills, work hard, and are willing to put in the hours and dedication it takes to get the work done, you can design your own flight plan at your own pace, giving you lots of time to tune up your engines, de-ice your wings, and check for wind shear and rough weather conditions before taking off.

During the flight, although autopilot can navigate while you take a break, you’ll have to grab the controls every once in a while to adjust for the slight errors in direction the automatic system may have prompted.

And never forget that you have a co-pilot.  God, The Universe, a Higher Power — She doesn’t care what you call Her, as long as you remember She knows where you’re going better than you do.

One thing I’ve learned since being an independent contractor is to treasure my time.  Despite what seems like a lack of routine, I do have specific responsibilities I must accomplish each day.

Many who still follow the traditional employer/employee model assume it’s all fun and games on my end, simply because what I do, and how I do it, doesn’t fit into the mold of what routine looks like to them.

I find this way of working is perfect for my personality. The beauty of it is, if I should ever decide to go back to a traditional work model, I can still maintain my independent contractor status, working “on the side,” as long as it doesn’t interfere, or create a conflict of interest, with any of the people or companies for which I work.

This keeps things interesting and lets me practice and perfect my craft in a unique way I never thought possible.

Now, you might be thinking, “This sounds great, Barb. But I could never do that.  I’m too much of a traditionalist to just fly by the seat of my pants!”

Which brings us back to the flying analogy.

Are you afraid of flying? Are you afraid of soaring above the routines that keep you safe and grounded?

No, you’re not afraid of flying.  No one is.  Flying is what the aircraft of your life is supposed to do.  So, no, you’re not afraid of flying.

You’re afraid of crashing!

But if you let fear of crashing keep you from pushing back from the gate and taxiing to the runway, you might as well hop into a flight simulator.  It may look like you’re flying, but you’re not going anywhere.

Welcome the discomfort of doing things outside your routine.  Say yes to the magic of living life without a concrete flight plan.  Dare to land in places that look interesting along the way.  Stay there as long as you like.  But don’t get too comfortable. Other magical destinations await.

It’s your life.  Live it as if it were your only one.

#WheelsUp

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