A Dream of the Future

I came across a Buddhist quote this morning: “Do not dwell on the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.”

Normally I would agree that this is a good philosophy (one, moreover, that worked well for me while I was dealing with grief), especially since all we have is the present moment, an eternal now. Though come to think of it, I’m not sure that’s true. By the time you’ve said or thought “now,” that particular now — that moment — is already in the past. I suppose the secret is to forget “now.” To just be. Though I wouldn’t know either the truth of that or how to do it now that I’m identifying as a gardener. Or landscaper. Or whatever.

For example, this morning when I was out digging up Bermuda grass and other weedy vegetation, I also tried to figure out what else I need to do now to prepare for the garden I hope to have next spring. Prepare the ground, of course, to extend a grassy area into the garden area so I can more easily get to the back of the garden to take care of those distant plants. Decide what to plant in areas denuded by the removal of dead annuals, or perhaps decide not to plant and simply wait until next spring and see if any of those annuals reseed themselves. Also decide where to move plants that need to be divided, such as the New England aster, which are growing rapidly this year. (I started out with one stalk three years ago. It grew to seven stalks last year, so I divided them and thought I was set for another couple of years, but now each of those seven stalks has spawned at least an additional seven stalks.) Since the asters won’t divide and replant themselves, I have to decide where to put them.

Admittedly, this transplanting won’t need to happen for another month or so, but meantime, I need to get an idea of where to put them and to prepare the ground if they are to be planted in what are now uncultivated areas.

All of this takes planning because all of this takes a lot of work, and I have to pace myself to make sure I can do the work despite an aging body and diminishing reserves.

So, is planning part of the present moment? Obviously, one can only think in the present moment because you can’t think today’s thoughts yesterday or yesterday’s thoughts tomorrow, but all that planning is for the future.

And a garden is, almost by definition, a dream of the future.

Dwelling on the past is also something that is necessary when it comes to a garden. You have to pay attention to what thrived and what didn’t, what you did that you might not want to do again, what you didn’t do that you should have done. (I’m still trying to figure out what I could have done differently to keep swaths of my newly sodded lawn from dying, because until I can figure that out, any reseeded grass would surely end up with the same fate.)

There are, of course, those times in the garden that one does what one does — planting, weeding, watering — without thinking of . . . well, without thinking of anything. Much of gardening is mindless work where nothing exists beyond the work itself. So that part might live up to the Buddhist ideal, but the rest of it? Not so much.

It’s a good thing, then, that I’m not Buddhist.

***

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.

Thinking Things into Futility

I’ve spent an interesting hour or so online looking for a word to describe one who tends to think things into futility. I started with “fatalist,” which sounds like it should be a word for a “futilist,” but only the end result of the philosophy is the same. Fatalists believe all is fated, all is destined to happen, which can leave them feeling resigned about life since they believe they are powerless to change anything, and in the end, that powerless can lead to feelings of life being futile.

Fatalism led me to nihilism, because apparently, the two are intertwined on the internet if nowhere else.

Nihilists believe there is no underlying grand meaning (or grand being) behind life and human existence, and that belief, too, can lead to feeling of life being futile since many nihilists believe that in the absence of inherent meaning, human existence has no particular value.

So although both fatalism and nihilism can lead to a feeling of futility, they start from completely different points of view.

Mostly, a search for a name for someone who tends to think things into futility led me to a plethora of mental health sites, as if a person who tends to think about meaning and meaninglessness has a mental health issue when in fact, such people (according to a different plethora of sites) tend to be intelligent and realistic.

The best thing I found about a person thinking things into futility is a quote from Alan Watts, a writer and speaker who translated Asian wisdom into plain English. He said, “A person who thinks all the time has nothing to think about except thoughts. So, he loses touch with reality and lives in a world of illusions.”

He makes an interesting point, though I’m not sure if it fits the premise I’m developing for this blog post. In my case, I tend to think that by thinking about thoughts, I get pulled out of the world of illusions, and that by not thinking, I am lulled into a world of illusion.

But this isn’t supposed to be an essay about illusion; it’s about my tendency toward “futilism”.

I’ve recently mentioned that I’ve been trying to look at gardening as a game, which helps me keep on doing the best I can with my yard, otherwise, I tend to think to much about what I am doing, and the work begins to seem futile. Which, in the grand scheme of things, it is . . . futile, I mean. A hundred years from now (heck ten years from now!) who will even care? The land will be here no matter what is on it and how much work was done.

Even on a daily basis, gardening seems futile (if I think about it). Life so often does what it wants. Some plants that shouldn’t live in this climate do well; others that should do well don’t. Sometimes watering is the right thing; sometimes, it isn’t. Which means, that if I want to keep up with my yard, to continue my creative endeavors on such a large scale, I have to stop thinking so much about what I am doing and why I am doing it, and just play the “game.” Thinking about what works and doesn’t work in the garden — strategy — is all part of the game. Wondering about the purpose of it all is not part of the game, and in fact, is an unnecessary complication because a game is its own reason for being.

This tendency of mine to think things into futility is not just about gardening, but about almost anything. To keep up with this blog and to write a blog post a day, I have to focus on what I am going to say and then say it, because when I start thinking too much about what I am doing here on this blog and why I’m doing it — other than as a writing discipline — the concept of blogging turns to dust in my hands, and it seems futile to continue.

I read the same way I breathe — I just do it without thinking. But when an author makes a serious mistake, it thrusts me out of the story and makes me think, which is not a good thing. In the book I just started reading, for example, the character got a phone call from a call box, the last old-fashioned coin-operated phone left in town. Okay, as unrealistic as that may be, I can accept it. But when the author goes on to explain that the phone booth is outside the drugstore, in the alley by the dumpster — that did me in. For decades that phone has been hanging on a wall in an alley, and no one ever vandalized it? How am I supposed to believe that? So, since there can’t be a phone, there can’t be a call, and if there can’t be a call, there can be no story and continuing to read the book becomes futile.

Yep — thinking my way into futility again.

It does make me wonder, though: if “not thinking” seems to give me a sense of meaningfulness and “thinking” seems to give me a sense of meaninglessness, of futility, what does that say about me? Or thinking? Or meaning? Or anything, for that matter.

Hmmm. I think I just proved my point.

***

What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.

Second-Class Mind

In a book I just finished reading, a teacher accused a grown character of doing a job anyone could do. As he said, “You have a first-class mind. Or if you want to quibble, a good second-class one.” That tickled me for some reason, perhaps because that would be how I’d like myself described, as having a good second-class mind. For sure, no one ever accused me of being a genius, of having a first-class mind. In fact, one teacher in high school said to me, “I bet you think you have a high IQ, but you don’t. It’s average.” Why a teacher would tell a student that — no, let’s be specific. Why a teacher would tell me that, I don’t know. I do know that teachers always thought I was an overachiever, as if my good grades came from constant study. In fact, one teacher told my mother that I worked too hard and that I should take it easier. I’m sure that confused my mother since she never noticed me studying or doing homework, but then, teachers never saw me for anything other than a passable, passive child who didn’t cause trouble.

I’ve been decades away from the influence of teachers who underestimated me, and yet, perhaps they were right. Like the character in the book, I haven’t been doing much with my good second-class mind. In fact, if you must know (which is a silly way to preface a comment because no one “must” know anything about me), I’ve been spending this lazy summer afternoon dozing . . . cough, cough . . . I mean reading. Or should it be the other way around? I’ve been spending this lazy summer afternoon reading . . . cough, cough . . . I mean dozing.

Either way, it’s not the day that’s lazy, but me. In my defense, I was anything but lazy this morning — watering, weeding, chatting across my fence with neighbors.

At least this afternoon was more productive than yesterday afternoon. I have a OneDrive account that I set up when I got a new computer so I could easily transfer my files, and now that my free space is filling up, they want me to start paying for the service. Instead, I spent an hour or so deleting redundant files and folders, and I accidentally deleted an important folder — my blog photos. Come to think of it, it’s not that important since all the photos have been uploaded to my blog, but still, I didn’t want to delete it. I had marked the folder as one to save on my computer no matter what, but apparently, when I deleted it from OneDrive, it still deleted it from my computer. And since the folder in its entirety wasn’t in my recycle bin (each file was listed separately), I had to restore the entire recycle bin. It took my computer hours to get everything back where I had it.

Not that what I did had any importance, it’s that the net result of my falling asleep this afternoon while reading had the very same results as yesterday’s attempt to clean up computer files.

So what does all this have to do with having a good second-class mind? Nothing really except it goes to show that whatever class mind I have (even, perhaps, no class at all), I’m not using it.

***

What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.

Apprenticeship

Sometimes I feel as if I am serving an alchemical apprenticeship as I continue my transformation into an old woman. You notice I said “old woman” rather than a “wise old woman,” because I’m not sure wisdom is something that can be apprenticed. Neither can old age, actually — we get there or we don’t — and yet there are things we can do to make aging easier.

My apprenticeship is about learning the art of living when it doesn’t seem as if life is worth living anymore. So many frail elders are beset by an existential crisis, especially when they are the last ones left of their family. (Or even if it only feels as if they are the last ones left.) It is a valid point — is life worth living when everyone you have loved has died? When you have little control over your life and yourself? When your body continually fails you? When it’s hard to see, hear, feel? When your days extent too far behind you and —even though you know you have an expiration date — seem to extend too far ahead? When all anyone cares about is how old you are, not about you and how you are dealing with your great age?

A vast old age (or even a frail younger old age) leaves elderly people feeling as if they have outlived their usefulness, as if there is nothing left to live for, as if they don’t belong here. I’m hoping, in this apprenticeship I have apparently taken on, that the lessons I learn now will become habit, so if (when?) I go through my own age-prompted existential crisis, the tools for continuing to live as full a life as possible will be at hand.

I have no idea what I will be feeling in those hopefully still-distant years. My experience with grief has taught me that we cannot imagine how we will feel about anything until we get there. I do look to the elderly people I know and have known in recent years, see how they are feeling and acting (or not acting), and try to extrapolate from them what I might need to know. One advantage I have is that existential crises are not uncommon for me, the big ones being when I hit adolescence, when allergies (and the prescribed allergy medication) tossed me into a black hole of depression, and when Jeff died. Too often, people sail along fine their entire life until they become physically incapacitated in some way, and then . . . wham! Along come all problems and thoughts that were held at bay by activity.

To this end, I celebrate the small beauties of the day — a flower, a pretty stone, a smile. I look for something to care about and to focus on — for now, it’s my yard, but when that becomes too much for me, I hope something else will come along to give my life focus. I look for something to be grateful about every day. Admittedly, it’s hard to think about one’s life here (especially if that life feels insignificant) when a person is focused on what comes next after this life. So along with the gratitude, I look for something to ground me, to connect me to life and to Earth. Right now, as with so much else, that grounding comes from my garden, from dealing with the literal ground rather than a mental one.

I am also paying attention to the ways my body works and doesn’t work to try to figure out what muscles I might need to exercise to make sure I can do for as long as possible the simple things we take for granted — stand, sit, walk, swallow. Yep, swallow. About a month ago, I was downing a vitamin when it slipped straight past my esophagus into my lungs. Yikes! Scared the heck out of me. So I researched the mechanisms of swallowing and learned that in order for the windpipe to be blocked off, it’s necessary to swallow with the tongue pressed onto the roof of the mouth. The only thing I can think of is that day I forgot how to swallow and relaxed my tongue and throat, and then . . . oops. I’m very lucky that it wasn’t worse. The pill (a capsule) was innocuous and eventually, it dissolved with no lasting effects. Now I am mindful of where my tongue is when I swallow anything. And if I don’t feel like taking the vitamins, I don’t. Even though I do feel as if they are helping me, they can’t help if I can’t swallow them.

It’s all part of the apprenticeship. There is no grade to this apprenticeship, nor is there any reward except that I get to live another day. When I feel more as if I “have to” live rather than I “get to” live, I remind myself that today is not given to everyone, and I find a way to mark the occasion. I hope I can continue to do so. If nothing else, having such a tool at my disposal will help make all the coming years worth living.

***

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.

Adorable

A woman saw me getting out of my vintage Beetle today and told me, in a distinctive southern accent, that I was adorable. Or maybe it was the hat she thought was adorable, or the car, or both. (I get a lot of admiring comments for both of those accessories.) It does come as a surprise at times that I have reached the “adorable” age, though why older women with a different sense of style (such as it is) are considered adorable, I don’t know.

I smiled, of course, and thanked her, because what I else could I do? Shortly afterward, I thought of her comment when I acted considerably less than adorable. I was waiting in line for a checkout clerk, but the clerk kept looking around and seemed to be interested in everything but me, as if I were invisible, and I know I’m not. Invisible, that is. I finally said that if she weren’t going to help me, I was going to leave. She did approach me then, but there was something about her lackadaisical attitude that rubbed me the wrong way, so I said rather irritably, “Forget it. I’m going to leave anyway.” And I did.

It was the right thing to do because by that time, I didn’t want to have anything to do with her or the business that employed her, but I would have preferred leaving the irritation out of my voice and adding in a bit of the “adorableness” that the woman from the first encounter had seen.

Ah, well. Who wants to be adorable, anyway? I’d rather be known for a razor-sharp wit (which, unfortunately, I don’t have) or . . . hmm. I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be known for. I certainly wouldn’t want to be known as an irritable old grump (which, unfortunately, I was for a moment today.)

On second thought, maybe it’s not so bad being thought of as an adorable old woman wearing an adorable old hat and driving an adorable old car.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of intriguing fiction and insightful works of grief.

Feeling Old

I had a rather cryptic e-conversation with a therapist friend who recently attended a grief workshop. She mentioned that they stressed things I’ve written about but aren’t commonly known, such as there being no way to do grief wrong (it might be painful, but it isn’t wrong). She said I was ahead, and that this wasn’t the first time.

I responded, “It’s nice to know. But then, I already knew.”

She came back with, “Yes, you did. And I am sorry you had to learn.”

I was about to agree that I was also sorry that I had to learn about grief the hard way, then I realized how remote all those years of grief seem now, so I wrote back, “It’s funny, but it was so long ago, none of it seems to matter anymore, except, of course, for the part about Jeff being dead. That will always matter to me.”

She agreed, “Except, of course, about Jeff, that will always matter. I feel that about many things.” Then we come to the cryptic part. She ended by saying, “Maybe it is age, maybe perspective, but I am feeling many things not felt before.”

I’m not sure what she meant by that final sentence, but it got me thinking about the things I feel now that I have not felt before, and only one thing came to mind: I feel old. That’s sounds so terrible, but it really isn’t. I don’t feel old as in decrepit or sick or helpless, but old as in a different era of my life.

When we were young, the old seemed separate from us, as if they’d never been like us, as if they’d always been old. Most of us were smart enough to know that wasn’t true, but since we’d never seen the elderly when they were young, it seemed true. The other side of that feeling is that we never really thought we ourselves would cross that line from youth to old age. Most young people feel they are different from the elderly, that they will be the exception and will remain forever young. Well, I certainly wasn’t the exception, and now the line has been crossed and I am on the side of the elderly.

Oddly, just as I’d imagined the elderly when I was young, as if they’d always been old, that’s how I feel. As if I’ve always been old. My youth is now as distant and as unimaginable as old age once was. That girl I was, that young woman, that half of a couple, that griever are all lost in the past and no longer seem to have anything to do with the woman I am today.

I don’t think this feeling is a bad thing since it is what it is. It doesn’t feel negative, anyway. It’s just an acknowledgement of a different time of life. The whole maiden, mother, crone trilogy, perhaps. My mother stage sort of came first because as the oldest girl of a rather large family, I so often had to take care of the younger kids. My crone stage came in having to shepherd Jeff and my parents out of this world — a midwife to the dying, so to speak. What’s left is the maiden stage, and that’s not happening. Though in a way, it is. Buying my first house so late in life, starting over in a new place. Just . . . starting. That is all part of the maiden era.

People often talk as if the elderly are simply youngsters in a decaying body, and that might be true for some people, but that isn’t true for me. Despite my facetiousness about going through my “maiden era,” I don’t feel the child in me struggling to escape the burden of age. I feel ageless, or perhaps I feel more as if being my age — the age I am right now —is the right age. And so it was during all the “right now”s of my life. (Meaning that whatever age I was, that was the right age for me at that time.)

The bad part of being old is that the body is wearing down and wearing out. Weird little things happen, such as rolling over in bed and suddenly the knee is out of whack and you can’t walk or your trusty immune system doesn’t work as well or things slide down the wrong tube when swallowing. But even these matters don’t seem so much a part of growing old as of . . . entropy, perhaps.

I might change my mind about all this as I slip from a young elderly age into an older elderly age, but whatever happens, I hope I can continue to see the aging process as just another phase of the adventure we call life. After all, that’s how I tried to deal with grief: accepting it as much as possible as another experience — a rather painful experience (to put it mildly) but no less valid than the pleasant times.

Just as our culture seems to frown on people who admit to feeling grief, as if grief is failing, it seems to frown on people who admit to feeling old, as if that too is a failing. But I didn’t hesitate to admit to feeling sad, so I certainly am not going to hesitate to admit I feel old. It’s just the way life is. And it’s just the way I am.

***

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.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

When I left my parents’ house and was living on my own in an apartment, my father said he never worried about me. It wasn’t so much that he thought I could take care of myself. It was that when I was out of sight, I was out mind. This sort of philosophy has followed me much of my life. People always enjoyed being with me, but when I wasn’t around, they seldom thought to call. (When I was in my mid-twenties, I had a lot of friends who seemed to like me, but I got tired of being the one to carry the friendships, so one day I decided to wait until one friend called and then I’d check in with everyone. No one called. Not one person. Either they didn’t like me as much as I thought they did, or they succumbed to the whole “out of sight, out of mind,” mentality.)

Apparently, despite the spectacle I make of myself with my fifty-year-old iconic car and my fancy hats, I am forgettable. Though he denies it, my contractor forgets me, which is why, when I haven’t heard from him in a while, I text him to remind him I am still here and he still has work to do on my place. The text doesn’t get the work done because as he becomes involved in other things, I slip from his mind again. (Though to be fair, he did send someone out last week to pound down the metal edgings along my pathways without my reminding him.)

My car mechanic is the same way. Every week for the past few weeks, I’ve stopped by to find out what he’s doing about getting the part for my brakes, and every time he says he’ll drop by my house to take a photo of the necessary part. (The part he ordered didn’t fit, even though it was supposed to.) And every week, as soon as I left, he promptly forgot me.

I’m being halfway facetious with this “out of sight, out of mind” scenario because I could nag the poor workers until they finally showed up. But maybe they wouldn’t show up anyway. Considering how busy they are, even if they didn’t forget me, they probably wouldn’t be able to fit my atypical jobs into their schedule. And in a way it’s okay since this gives me a lien on their time, so that when emergencies arise, I feel comfortable calling. And they are very good about taking care of emergencies.

Are my brakes an emergency? They could have been. With all the nearby fires last week and all the evacuations, I would have been in a pickle if I had to evacuate. Of course, my neighbors would have offered a ride (if they remembered me), but then I’d have to leave my car behind. Generally, though, the brakes not working don’t qualify as an emergency since I walk to do local errands, and I go with a friend when she hits the “big city” to stock up. (We joke about the big city, but it’s merely a slightly bigger town with a Walmart.)

Today, as usual, I visited the mechanic’s shop, and he seemed a bit embarrassed when he realized that he’d spaced me again out last week. So he promised to come for sure today.

And he did.

Now that he has a picture of the part he needs, it’s just a matter of finding it. I did tell him about an air-cooled-VW parts place that has a help line, so if he can’t find the master cylinder, they might be able to help him get one. You can buy all the parts necessary to build your own classic VW Beetle from scratch, so it seems rather strange that something as important as the brakes would be hard to find, but what do I know. Even though I’ve had the car for fifty years, I still don’t know a whole lot about how it’s all put together. (I’ve actually learned quite a bit over the years, just not how to fix anything.)

The mechanic doesn’t need to remember me to order the part; he just needs to look for it, and I’m sure he will do so since a part is probably more memorable than I am.

Once the VW bug is fixed, maybe I’ll start bugging my contractor more frequently to see if we can get some of the work done around here. Maybe.

***

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.

Accidentally Noticeable

When I was outside today, checking on the weather, someone walking by stopped and commented my yard, saying I have the greenest grass in town. (Not surprising since most grass around here hasn’t started greening up yet.)

It seems odd to me how often people stop to look at my yard, or comment on my hat or my car, as if I’m so very different from everyone else, and perhaps I am, though I never planned to be so noticeable. Each one of the elements of my persona (for lack of a better word) started almost by accident.

The first thing that catches people’s eye are my hats. The sun tends not to agree with me and sometimes even causes small hives on any skin left bare, so I always cover myself on sunny days. Long sleeves are a must, as are wide-brimmed hats. I used to just wear a plain straw gardening hat because it was cheap. When that disintegrated in the sun (better the hat than my head!) I started using a straw cowboy hat that Jeff had bought and never used, and then as that hat wore out, and as I found new ones, I started stocking up. People seem to have such a distaste for “hat hair” that hats have so fallen out of favor they tend to be hard to find. The decorations on my hats were also . . . not exactly accidental, but not planned, either. Several years ago, I set my then current hat next to an ornate bow I’d taken off a gift from my sister that was too pretty to dismantle. The juxtaposition seemed serendipitous, so I slipped the ribbon over the crown of the hat and oh, was it pretty! And thus “Pat in the Hat” was born.

My distinctive car is also something that happened by accident. Back when I bought my Beetle, it was the same as half the cars on the road. Nothing special. What is special is that years after the majority of those VWs disappeared, I still have mine. Over the decades, it became rather a mess, and I wasn’t sure it was worth keeping. A few car guys salivated over my bug, telling me that if I bought a new car, in five years, I’d have a piece of junk, but if I restored the bug, in five years, I’d have a little gem. In the end, it was the potentially huge automobile insurance bill that would accompany a new car that made me decide to keep — and restore — my bug. As it turned out, it was a good thing (at least until recently and the problem of getting the right part to fix the brakes). It certainly made my cross-country trip memorable because of all the people who sought me out to talk about my car and to tell me their VW Beetle stories.

The most recent thing that has set me apart is my lawn, which truly was accidental, and the attention truly surprising. I mean, it’s just grass.

But apparently not. As the passerby today said, no one in town has grass as green as mine. It’s so emerald-bright, that it’s hard to miss. The funny thing is, I had no idea what type of grass I was getting. My contractor had told a landscaper that I was interested in sodding a corner of my yard; not long afterward, the landscaper contacted him and said he had a couple of pallets leftover from a job. Even though I didn’t think it would be enough for the small square of lawn in the front corner of my lot, I said I wanted it. Well, it turns out there was about four times what I needed, so they kept laying down the sod and laying it down until it was all gone. And wow! So much green!

The rest of the landscaping, such as the path meandering around my yard, was also somewhat of an accident in that I never planned it. My contractor, knowing I was trying to elder-proof my property, suggested the paths, and I agreed to let him do it. Even the red of the path that offsets the grass so well was his choice. (Or rather the landscaping company’s choice since it was all they had in stock.)

It’s amazing how accidents and happenstance turned me and my life into a spectacle of sorts, which, come to think of it, isn’t a bad thing for someone as self-effacing as I am. Any of these things gives people a reason to stop and chat. And even if they don’t stop, they for sure know who I am.

It does make me wonder what the next thing will be that adds to my persona. I’m certainly not planning on being any more noticeable than I already am, but then, I never planned any of these things. They just . . . happened.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of intriguing fiction and insightful works of grief.

Safe and Well and At Peace

I am very grateful to be safe and well and at peace today, with only minor irritations to plague me, such as smoky air and wind. It doesn’t seem right to be grateful on my own behalf when there are so many problems in the world right now, not just internationally, but locally. Wildfires on either end of town pretty much isolated us yesterday because the highway had to be closed. (Not that the closure itself is a problem for me since I wasn’t planning on going anywhere, and even if I wanted to, I can’t drive until my brakes get fixed.) Some friends were evacuated, though most were allowed back home today. (The smoke is so bad in town, I can only imagine what it’s like out there near the burn zone even if they are so lucky as to be able to return home.) Others are still homeless, and from what I understand, a couple of houses did burn.

Then there are all the people I know who are still suffering long term affects from The Bob, as well as those with new and old cancer diagnoses.

I don’t even want to get into the whole war thing, except to say, doesn’t such a hot war seem out of place in the world today? Don’t we call ourselves homo sapiens sapiens? Not just wise man, but wise, wise man. Yeah, right.

On the other hand, even though it feels wrong to be grateful that I am safe and well and at peace, as if I were indulging in a bit of smugness (though truly, I am not), wouldn’t it be worse if I were not grateful? As if I took my good fortune for granted?

You grievers of all people know how little I take my good fortune for granted. We all have suffered such great losses and because of that, we are grateful for whatever peace and safety and wellness we manage to find. We also know how quickly fortunes change — health disappears in an instant, death comes between one breath and the next, what is given can be taken away.

I guess I’m answering my own question. Not the one about war, because that is unanswerable, but the one about it being worse if I were not grateful. Yes, it would be worse to take whatever good comes my way (even if it’s only good in relation to other people’s ill fortune) as if it were my due.

So, today — as every day — I am grateful to be well and safe and at peace. And I wish the same for you.

***

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.

Small Town Girl

A friend asked me if I missed Denver, and I didn’t even have to stop to think to be able to answer that no, I didn’t. In fact, although I was born and raised in Denver and lived there during my early adult years, I was done the city long before I left it.

This (my leaving) was back in the “imagine a great city” era, where the first Hispanic mayor (a transplant from Texas because Texas already had an Hispanic mayor and Colorado didn’t) bought a name for himself with the promise of growth. And grow, Denver did, but so did graft and crime and various boondoggles such as the whole mess with Denver International Airport and the Silverado criminal activity. (I’m not saying that mayor was directly responsible, but it is interesting to me that two of the major players in the destruction of the Denver that I knew and loved were both Texans.)

I definitely don’t miss the city Denver was growing into back when I left. I don’t even miss the Denver of my childhood, though back then, it was a good place to grow up. The air was clear, traffic was light, there was no skyline to speak of, and almost everywhere you went, you could see the mountains. (Oddly, the ubiquitous mountain views masked my lack of innate orientation because although I can’t feel the compass directions as some people do, I always knew where I was in relation to the mountains.)

If there would be any things I miss, those are the very things I have found in my new town, such as the feel of the air, being able to walk everywhere (especially the library), knowing people, not having to deal with traffic, and the lack of megalithic stores. (My trip a few days ago through three of the major front range cities in Colorado left me feeling exceedingly claustrophobic. There was just too much of everything; too many people, too much traffic, too many too-tall buildings, too much pollution, just . . . too much.)

Oddly, I don’t miss the mountains, which formed the backdrop to most of my life, not just in Denver, but on the western slope where Jeff and I spent most of our years together, and the high desert of California where I lived for almost a decade after Jeff died. Admittedly, it would be nice to have a distant mountain view to keep me oriented, but it doesn’t really matter. I’m gradually building a map in my head of the area I now live, and can mentally turn it around to match what I am seeing, but even that doesn’t really matter. I just follow the streets, and they take me where I need to go. One thing I have here that I never had before was a next-door friend. The neighborhood I grew up in was mostly inhabited with older folks, and there weren’t any girls my age on the block. The neighborhood I now live in is also mostly inhabited by older folks, but it makes a huge difference that I am one of them.

A major reason for my not missing Denver has nothing to do with geography or politics or population or anything else outside of me. It’s that I am not that person who grew up in Denver. Sometimes it seems as if the woman I am sprang up full grown sometime after Jeff died, but I know (as do you), that any peace I have attained, that any growth — mental, emotional, spiritual — was hard won.

I am exceedingly grateful, actually, that I don’t have to live in Denver. Somehow, despite having grown up in a large-but-not-yet-great city, I turned out to be a small-town girl at heart. And metro Denver is anything but a small town.

***

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.