Everyday Magic

After the past four days of enumerating and celebrating my blog accomplishments, I woke this morning feeling uneasy. I have spent the past ten and a half years talking about my life, my grief, my feelings, my traumas, and the dramas that seem to follow me. (Before that, I mostly talked about reading and writing, but Jeff’s death blew me wide open, and that was reflected here on this blog.) Suddenly, after all this time, I’m uneasy, unsure that I like people knowing so much about me. It makes me vulnerable, and seems to put me at a disadvantage with people I see in real life. Do I really want them to know my innermost thoughts? Do I really want them to see my soul bared? It doesn’t seem a smart thing to do.

For example, too many people here have guessed the identity of the one person in town I try to avoid (this person’s insulting remarks were the last straw for me and Facebook), and that’s more than I want anyone to know. I’m also not sure how comfortable I am discussing things that bother me when I know the people involved will be reading what I write. I’ve been censoring myself to an extent because of this, but even so, I tend to think I say too much. Still, whatever a person says to an author and blogger is fair game for a writing topic. That’s what I do — I write about what happens in my life and try to find a lesson or gratitude or some sort of accommodation with the occurrence.

But it does make me vulnerable, and I wonder how wise I am to continue with my way of blogging.

One thing in particular happened, a minor occurrence for sure, but I took it to heart. This added to my confusion about continuing the blog path I’m on, mostly because I wanted to write about it and wasn’t sure if I should. And yet, it is a bloggable situation.

The other day, I was driving back from a nearby town when I happened to see a vehicle ready to pull onto the highway. After I passed, it pulled in behind me, and it stayed behind me as we headed into town. This tickled me because it was only the day before that I had seen the vehicle for the first time, and I knew who was driving. It seemed a bit of serendipity, even solidarity, on what is normally a faceless and friendless highway. One of life’s small miracles. Everyday magic.

The other driver’s reaction? That I drive slowly.

Huh? When is driving the speed limit slowly? Well, to be honest, it almost always is. Several cars had passed me, crossing a double-yellow line to get ahead of me shortly before I met up with this particular driver. I wonder what all those drivers would have done if I had been driving 55mph the way I’m supposed to. Driving 65mph is not a good idea for a car with such a small, air-cooled engine, and my mechanic cautioned me about burning out the engine. Still, I sailed along at 65 until we hit town, and then I slowed way down to the new speed limit, and then way, way down when it came time to turn.

I tend to forget that people don’t know there are cars without power steering, power brakes, and automatic transmissions. If you’ve ever driven such a car, you know you can’t slow at the last minute and then careen around a corner. You have to brake in plenty of time, and then downshift to make a safe turn.

Still, this wasn’t the point. The point is that I thought the drive into town was something special, a bit of magic, and the other driver thought I drove too slowly.

I just realized I answered my dilemma. This episode is not a reason to back off from telling my truth, the only thing unique I have to write about, but is instead a reason to keep going. Someone needs to point out the minor miracles, the everyday magic, the important lessons, and the serendipitous moments on the road of life that would otherwise pass unnoticed.

I’m sure my uneasiness will eventually dissipate. After all, considering the myriad heartfelt grief posts I’ve written, I’m no stranger to vulnerability.

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Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Does It Matter to Anyone What I Think?

I’ve been thinking about what I wrote yesterday, my being afraid to say what I think. I’m not sure it’s fear, like hiding-under-the-bed fear, that keeps me from talking about the things that worry me. It’s a healthy sense of self-preservation, but even more than that, it’s that I don’t think it matters what I think. It is interesting to talk to people, to get other points of view, to broaden one’s outlook, but when such a discourse is not available, when all people want is to propound their own point of view (emphasis on “pound”), talking doesn’t advance any cause. (Nor does burning buildings, or even oneself, but that’s a discussion for a more benign and less uncivil era.)

In a gale force wind, a puff of breath is not noticed, and certainly won’t help to calm the forces creating the wind. In a ship violently crashing from side to side because of insanely high waves, nothing one can say will rock the boat any further, and certainly won’t help to steady the craft or the people in it.

If what I said (or wrote) really mattered, I might be courageous enough to tell my truth, but when so many people have already made up their minds, locked their mental door behind them, and pulled up the drawbridge against critical thought, a single word or a thousand will not batter down those fortifications.

A greater problem than closed minds is that people hear what they want to hear, filtered through their own value system. They hear a slogan, process what it means to them, and then head out to defend that slogan without ever finding out what that slogan means to the people who wrote it and what their agenda really is. Which means sometimes well-intentioned people fight against their own interests without knowing it.

This is a relatively short blog. I’d written a lot more, even going so far, despite my reservations, as to talk about many of the issues at stake, but in the end, I deleted all that because I realized it truly doesn’t matter what I think. I’m not sure it even matters to me. Nothing I think will change anything. Nothing I say will change anyone’s actions, so is there any point in even thinking about the current situation? It’s not as if I’m young and still have a whole lot of ideological formation ahead of me. I’m pretty much a done deal. I’ve mostly lived my life in my own head, and a lifetime of thinking and reading and researching and studying and writing and being can’t be undone by new/old emotionally-charged slogans or radical groupthink.

Besides, nothing in this new world is more redundant than an old woman, no matter how perspicacious her thoughts might be.

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Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

The Best of Social Networking

Although I have always been a fan of social networking on a personal basis — getting to know people, making friends, feeling connected even when I am alone — I am also aware that it is a platform for the dissemination of a particular brand of ideas. Anything that doesn’t fit the narrative of that brand is labeled “fake news.” That most people don’t see they are being herded by this one-sidedness shows the efficacy of the brand. That those same people heap shame on those who don’t agree with the stated beliefs shows how deeply entrenched the brand is.

And yet . . .

During this past week, I have been enormously pleased to see so many posts by black people decrying the current narrative, ie: downtrodden blacks, liberal saviors, white racists (and according to this narrative, all whites are by definition racists).

I understand that the black/immigrant/minority experience is different from mine, but that does not negate my life. Does not make me better. Does not make me a racist. It makes me . . . me.

Whatever anyone experiences makes them who they are. The current narrative defines certain people by their race, not who they are individually. The posts I’ve been reading and the videos I’ve been seeing are not from blacks living the “black experience,” whatever that might be. They are individuals living their lives, refusing to claim the victimhood the narrative foists on them, refusing to be seen as anything other than as themselves, as a member of the human race, as an American.

These people don’t want reparations, don’t want to be identified with the rioters and looters, don’t want to be limited by what other people are doing and saying. They want to grab whatever opportunity (legal opportunity) they can to create good lives for themselves. They want to take responsibility for what they do without the mitigating (and oh, so paternalistic) factor of needing special compensations because of their skin color.

Normally, we don’t get to hear what these people have to say because it doesn’t fit with the point of view the media forces down our throats. And we need to hear their voices. We need to see these folks as they see themselves — not victims, not un-“privileged.” But people dealing with life as best as they can.

This — getting to hear different voices, getting to listen to people tell a different story than what we expect — this is the best of social networking.

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Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

If People Lived Like Me

I went to the store today, not because I really needed anything, but because I had to drive my car. I did get a few essentials at the store, as well as a few non-essential (but healthy, or rather healthier) snacks, such as dried apricots and coconut chips.

The most difficult part about going shopping nowadays is to figure out what hat goes with a white surgical mask. I finally decided that a simple straw fedora with a black edging around the brim wouldn’t look too silly. I’m sure it wouldn’t matter if I didn’t wear a mask — none of the store employees would say anything, particularly since the check-out clerks are the only ones who wear them. And since a mask is for their protection, not mine — and since I know for a fact I don’t have The Bob (it’s impossible to catch something when you’re not around people) — it’s sort of silly, but then, wearing it for ten minutes a week isn’t going to kill me.

A friend stopped by last night with a gift of beets and he wore a mask, but by the time I opened the door barefaced, it was too late for me to run to get a mask. (Which, now that I think of it, came from him in the first place.)

Other than donning a mask for my infrequent forays out of my hermitage, my life really hasn’t changed much during the past couple of months, and I doubt it will change when everything is open again. I never did buy much more than essentials, anyway. Hardly ever went to a restaurant. Never went to a bar. Seldom went to any sort of gathering. Probably the only thing I’d do different is have someone over for tea.

I used to think the world would be a vastly different place if people lived like me, and now that they are (except for driving newer cars), it doesn’t seem any different. But then, it’s hard to know if things are different since I am among people so seldom.

I have liked driving to the local stores, though, rather than walking or going to a bigger store in a bigger town. (I take a short drive out into the country first because I don’t think it’s good to drive less than a mile, particularly since I only go out every five or six days.) Every time I drive around here, I get to have a conversation about my car, which is nice. And it’s good, I think, for people to associate me with the bug in case of roadside emergencies or some such.

So that was my day. How was yours?

PS: If you have a good recipe for fresh beets, let me know. Thank you!

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Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

 

Being Me

A handyman who does maintenance at the prison stopped by last evening to see about fixing my washer. (It gets stuck in the final spin cycle as if the basket is unbalanced, and then it won’t unlock, in case you’re wondering.) We wore masks and stayed apart, in case you’re wondering that, too.

His diagnostic checks took longer than he expected, so he apologized and asked if he was keeping me from going anywhere. I had to laugh at that. “I’m still in lockdown,” I said. I reminded him that although the state is loosening some of its restrictions, people over sixty are still supposed to be staying at home at all times except for essential errands. Then I mentioned how isolating being isolated was when you lived alone.

That seemed to startle him, and he said, “I never thought of that.” Then he added in a reflective tone of voice, “Isolation is how we punish the prisoners.”

We went on to talk about how this crisis has affected us, and he admitted it hasn’t affected him all that much. He still goes to work, still returns to his loving family in the evening. And me? Just about the only times I see anyone are the rare occasions someone comes to work here or the rarer occasions when I happen to encounter my next door neighbor.

We went on to talk about how strongly people hold to their opinions, and how they try to intimidate others to accept that opinion, if only by ridicule or scathing remarks. I mentioned that no one ever changed anyone’s mind, and it is true. Heated argument doesn’t change anyone’s mind, but sometimes . . . just sometimes . . . a rational discussion can help the other person see a different point of view.

Obviously, the handyman’s learning that for some people ‘isolation” is not just a word in an official order but a punishing lifestyle won’t change anything except his awareness, but it reminded me how necessary it is to continue writing, to continue telling my point of view. That it is my point of view is just that — my point of view. But it is also what makes the telling so important — no one else thinks exactly as I do or sees the world as I do because they are not me.

And being me, even in isolation, is what I am supposed to be doing.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

A Single Blossom

I am not one who thrives on controversy. I just want to go along to get along, which is why I steer clear of hot issues such as politics or religion. Unfortunately, every once in a while I say something in a blog that hits people wrong, and I end up getting censured for something that was nothing more than an offhand remark.

Because the current situation continues to bewilder me — the repercussions, the ramifications, the lies and erroneous projections that were used to cause irreparable harm to so many people — I’ve been voicing my concerns. I haven’t meant to offend anyone with my comments and questions and half-facetious remarks. I’ve just been trying to sort through all the conflicting information we’re presented with, to mention the concerns I have, and to write of the things I have been thinking about. I’ve come to no conclusions, have no strong opinions. I’m simply . . . wondering.

The comments left here on this blog have been thoughtful and show an understanding of my dilemma, but those left elsewhere have been hurtful, so I’m eschewing the whole matter today and going with a topic that no one can chastise me for.

Tulips.

So far, only a single tulip has bloomed in my yard, but what a beauty!

Although a whole field of tulips can be dramatic, It doesn’t take huge numbers to make an impact. A single blossom can be just as beautiful and important and meaningful.

Which is good, considering all I have at the moment is this one flower.

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Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

 

Essential

There are some words being bandied about lately that I am getting tired of hearing. Like “essential.” They tell us that only “essential” businesses are allowed open, but some of those essential businesses are not essential to all of us. Like liquor stores or recreational pot shops.

We’re also told only to go out to do essential errands, and to buy only essential items. Despite these constant warnings, I still pretty much live the way I always do because I always only do essential errands, always only buy essential items. When one lives as austere a life as I do, when everything has been pared down to the basics, everything is essential. For example, today I went out and bought groceries. It is essential that I drive once a week to keep my ancient bug going, and today was the day, so went and got a few dollars’ worth of gas, which was essential so that I could get to the store where I bought such essential items as fruits, vegetables, as well as a bit of meat and cheese.

Essential.

Some things are essential for good mental health, such as being with friends (even for those of us with hermit tendencies), but oh, no — that sort of essential thing is not allowed.

So, apparently, some essential things are not essential, and some non-essentials are essential. What a fiasco.

Another term I’m getting tired of is “social distancing.” It’s not the act that bothers me, but the term. In fact, I always prefer strangers — and sometimes even non-strangers — to keep their distance.

Today, when I entered the store, a young woman and her small daughter were nearing the entrance about the same time I was. Since she wasn’t stopping her forward rush, I paused six feet way from them so she could go on, but then she stopped and told me to go ahead. So I did. But instead of waiting until I was inside, both she and her daughter crowded me and went through at the same time. What was the point of that? Even if we weren’t dealing with the current regulations, it would have been rude.

Luckily, I won’t have to deal with such things for another week when it is again time to drive and get my “essential” errands done.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Town Character

When I moved here, one of the first people I met was the town character, an old woman who almost always wears red, white, and blue, like a female Uncle Sam. She apparently has some issues, including no “off” button, but other than that, she strides around town like a woman half her age, and doesn’t seem to cause too many problems.

But she is notorious, sometimes spoken about indulgently, sometimes dismissively, but notorious for all that.

I worried that I would become like her since I too walk everywhere (though I have to admit, I definitely walk like a woman my age) and I too have a quirk — my hats. I need to wear a hat because of the strong sun, and the fanciness and fancifulness of the hats has grown over the years, starting from a desire to reuse expensive bows and ribbons from gifts.

Now, the same people who once reassured me that I could never be like the red, white, and blue lady admit that I too have become a town character. One friend says that sometimes when she mentions me, people will say they don’t know me, but after she tells them I’m the Pat in the hat, suddenly they all say, “Oh, yes! I know her.”

Since I’m rather a self-effacing person, being a town character is not something I have ever aspired to being. And yet, perhaps it was inevitable.

When I was young, our town character was a woman in jeans and a halter top (before either garment was fashionable), her grey hair escaping from the bun she always wore. She drove around in an old jalopy with a rumble seat, looking for lost dogs. We marveled at that ancient car, but the fact is, my car is twice as old as hers was. (Mine just turned 48 years old.)

So, to recap — someone who walks around town when she isn’t driving her old jalopy, who sports unfashionable fashions and is known by more people than she has ever met. Yep. Town character. Inevitable.

I suppose I could stop wearing such eye-catching hats, but what’s the fun of that? And anyway, I’d still be driving a recognizable old car when I wasn’t on foot, so there’s really no way I can become invisible in such a small town.

Oh, well. I guess there are worse things than being a town character, but for an introvert, I’m not sure what they would be.

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Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

 

The Pat

I spent yesterday with a friend who was recovering from an operation. Her husband had to work and didn’t want to leave her alone, and since they’re like me, with no extended family in the area, we’ve adopted each other. So of course, because I’m family, he was able to go against his usual independent nature and ask me to stay with her. (Not a hardship, believe me. She is truly a delightful woman.)

While I was there, a friend of theirs stopped by to check on her. As our mutual friend slept, the woman and I got to talking. She mentioned that she’d lost her husband a year ago, and I commiserated with her. She seemed surprised that I understood, so I told her Jeff had died ten years ago.

Her eyes got big, and she exclaimed, “You’re the Pat! I have your book! As soon as you mentioned Jeff, I knew who you were.”

As astonishing as that encounter seemed (and yes, despite this being a small town, and despite the simple explanation that follows, it was astonishing), we quickly sorted out the coincidence.

Soon after I moved here, a new acquaintance mentioned that a friend of hers had recently lost her husband and was feeling bereft and alone. I gave the acquaintance my book Grief: The Great Yearning to give to the new widow. The widow called to thank me, and we talked for a while, but then I never heard from her again. I suppose I should have called her, but since I didn’t know her, I didn’t want to come across as a crazy stalker author, and eventually, her number disappeared from my phone.

Yesterday, we met again as old friends.

Life is truly a marvel at times. There we were, three women, now three friends, from three different countries. The United States. Thailand. Malaysia. (Before I knew where she was from, I’d asked the widow if she was from Singapore. It surprised her that I came so close geographically, but her accent was the same as a woman from Singapore I once knew. The widow acknowledged that the accents were very similar.)

Just think of all the living, all the stories, all the convoluted paths and journeys, all the intertwining fates and destinies, it took to get the three of us together in the same room.

Once, I craved adventure, but now, it seems, being “The Pat,” is itself a great adventure.

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Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.