A Day to Celebrate

Despite the controversy surrounding Thanksgiving in the United States — people say that it celebrates colonialism, brutality, genocide, epidemics, and slavery — it’s still a day of celebration for most of us. We don’t celebrate the mythical origins of the holiday, we merely take the day as it is presented to us — a day of being thankful, of being grateful for the good in our lives.

And truly, that is a wonderful thing — people getting together to celebrate thankfulness.

Languages evolve over time, meanings evolve, holidays evolve. What a holiday once meant, it no longer does. (In fact, the word “holiday” no longer means what it once did; it’s come a long way from the original “holy day.”) Just look at Halloween. It means something different to everyone, from the most religious to the most profane, and yet, there it is.

Thanksgiving is turning out to be the same. For most of us, the story of the first Thanksgiving has no meaning. We are newcomers. (I am a second generation American. The woman I spent the day with is a naturalized citizen.) And so we create our own traditions layered upon the older traditions.

I had no intention of getting into all this even to the extent that I did, but I wanted to point out that despite its mythical and self-serving origins, Thanksgiving is still an important day. Though come to think of it, I don’t need to have a day set aside to remind me to give thanks. Every time I look around my house or meander the paths in my yard, I give thanks for what life has offered me.

Today I did have a special reason to be thankful. A friend spent the day with me, and we feasted both on food and good conversation.

And that, too, is worth celebrating.

***

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.

Life’s Path

The weather pattern was weird today. Normally, at this time of year, the highest temperature is around 2 or 3 o’clock in the afternoon, but today started out in the fifties (Fahrenheit), and got increasingly colder. Luckily, I checked the weather before I made plans — though to be honest, my plans are rather uncomplicated. In fact, I had no plans (plural) for the day. I had just a plan (singular). And that plan was to water my grass. Since I checked the weather, I was able to get out when it was relatively warm (relative to the expected lows of 18 degrees), though relatively warm still meant wearing a coat.

I must admit, I do feel silly being out there watering in these last brisk weeks of fall, but I would feel even worse if my grass were to die of neglect before it even rooted itself. And anyway, it gives me a chance to meander around my paths. They don’t form a labyrinth, but as with walking a labyrinth, walking my paths seems to center me. A labyrinth is a journey into wholeness, a symbol of life’s path, and a reminder that we are on the path we are supposed to be on, and with my paths, I am literally on the path I’m supposed to be on. I don’t need the symbolism of a labyrinth. (The photo is of a labyrinth I walked when I was on my cross-country trip.)

I am hoping that over the years as I become more adept at gardening, every bend in my paths will lead me to something beautiful to contemplate, whether flowers, a bit of artwork, and of course, the grass that I am so assiduously caring for.

I still haven’t planted my wildflowers yet. I’m waiting until right before the first snow, though despite the chill today, it doesn’t seem as if we will have snow for a while. If there still isn’t any snow by Christmas, I’ll plant the seeds anyway and hope for the best. If they don’t come up in the spring, I can always plant more in the spring.

I’m trying not to hurry myself through the fall and winter months (I try to take each day as it comes), but I am looking forward to seeing where my paths (both life and garden) lead me.

***

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.

Reading to Sleep

I was reading when I had to stop and think about what I’d just read. Oh, it wasn’t anything important, not one of the issues of the day or the eternal questions, just a silly thing, really. In the story, a mother read her child to sleep. It’s a common thing, for sure, but suddenly, it struck me as all wrong. By reading to children until they fall asleep, it makes sense that it would give them a love of stories and perhaps help them develop the habit of reading, but just as often, wouldn’t it tell youngsters that books are boring? That they are a soporific, not an intrinsic part of one’s day?

My parents didn’t read us to sleep, but I do remember my mother reading to me once when I was sick. (“The Land of Counterpane” from A Child’s Garden of Verses.) I’m sure she read to us at other times, just as I read to my younger siblings, but it was never at night. I realize one example does not prove a point, but I am a reader and my parents never read me to sleep. Coincidence? Who knows.

On the other hand, but still on the subject of reading to sleep (which is what I do, come to think of it — read myself to sleep — but then, I also read myself awake, read while I eat, read while I wait, read while I think), I wonder if that learned tendency to fall asleep when reading is why so many books promise to keep you awake all night or at least until you finish the book. (I also wonder how that sales technique works with insomniacs since so many find reading an effective sleep aid.) The truth probably has to do with the plethora of boring books. I tend to fall asleep even in a bright afternoon if the book is boring enough. So saying that a book will keep you awake is just another way of saying that the book isn’t boring. But boring is in the eyes — and mind — of the reader; one person’s thriller is another person’s yawner.

It’s funny, now that I think about it, that such an intellectual activity as reading has become so intrinsically entwined with both falling asleep and not falling asleep. I wonder why that is. Maybe I need to add that query to the list of eternal questions, such as the meaning of life, if the dead still exist, and where consciousness came from.

***

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.

Being Myself

It’s no surprise that people all over the world have ill-formed ideas about people from the USA, and that we have ill-formed ideas about people from other countries. Unless one is well read (meaning a familiarity with books by various authors from various countries on various subjects), one’s perceptions are created by the media. It’s the news agencies — national and international — that decide what is worth printing or talking about or recording, and decent people going about their daily activities of taking care of themselves and their families are not fodder for news. Instead, the world is fed a constant diet of articles and editorials showcasing the worst behavior of people in the United States, for example.

That’s the same here. The worst behaviors are newsworthy, and so that’s what we hear about. If I only knew of my fellow citizens by what I read in newspapers or see on television, I’d be disgusted, too. Luckily, I don’t read newspapers or watch television (except sometimes with the older woman I help care for), so I am free to make up my own mind — without preconceived notions — about the people I meet. I have also defriended people online who are so single-minded they can never conceive that their ideas, fostered by the media, can be wrong, and so they perpetrate the same myths about the horror of life here in the USA.

It’s a good thing, too, that I accept fiction for what it is — made up stories told by people with their own particular world views — otherwise, I’d really have a bad idea about this country. When so many books detail murders and serial killers and vigilantes, you’d think this truly was a terrible place to live. As would be Canada and Britain and France and Scandinavia and all the other places where the books I read take place. All those countries would also be places that are riddled with ghosts and things that go bump in the night as well as enough heat from sex scenes to add to the ambient temperature.

Wait!! I just thought of something. Around the same time that global warming began to be heavily touted, books began to serve up steamy loves scenes at a greater rate and greater heat than ever before, a direct result of ebooks. People who would not be caught dead reading soft porn paperbacks could suddenly read such fodder without anyone knowing, and “hot” books proliferated. Could there be a connection? (You do know I’m being facetious, right? At least, I think I am.)

If grief — and my writing about grief — has taught me nothing else, it’s that we are all so much more alike than we ever imagined. I have “met” people from all over the United States, from every economic strata, from cities to farms, as well as people from all over the world. And we are all suffering the same sorrows, all going through the same patterns of grief, all missing the one we love.

So, in my own little way — just being myself, writing about my grief, my trips, my dreams, my life, and now my house and yard — I am promoting a sense of peace and amity (and sanity) so often lacking in the news media. I don’t delude myself that it makes a big difference, but I’m not adding to the negativity, either.

***

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.

Assumptions

In my wanderings through the internet, I came across one of those ubiquitous articles trashing the USA, written from the perspective of people from other countries. I don’t know why I even looked at it since I don’t appreciate such articles, mostly because they don’t reflect my life at all. What people hate about us are so often the policies enacted by politicians without regard to any of us — neither those of us living here, nor those living elsewhere. And if it’s not those policies that earn us such disregard, it’s the international corporations that destroy us as much as anyone else. (Why such corporations are considered to be American, I don’t know. Maybe because it’s easier to talk about how horrible the people in the USA are then point the finger at themselves?)

What stuns me is how much contempt people have for us while at the same time they have their hand out for the USA taxpayer’s money. (I read somewhere once that the United States should declare itself a third world country, that way some of our foreign aid could go to fix our own problems.) As for why we are handing out money — I don’t understand that, either. For example, we send money to China, yet we borrow money from China so that we can send it to them. Even more absurd, the people we send aid to hate us just as much as everyone else. And most absurd of all, so many of those same people want to move here so they can change this country to be just like theirs.

But none of that was in the article I mentioned above. It was more about cultural expectations and assumptions. Some people found it shocking that each of the states and each section of each state has its own particular culture and history and lifestyle. Others found the level of patriotism a bit over the top. Others were appalled at both the level of fitness in the country as well as the level of obesity. Some were shocked by the huge open spaces while others were stunned by the reality of the big cities, as if they’d assumed New York and Chicago were sets created as backdrops for various movies, even though neither are in the top ten of the largest cities worldwide. Some people thought the number of stores ridiculous, even though some areas (such as where I live) have very few stores. Some people were shocked that contrary to the hype, we generally are a friendly bunch. And on and on and on.

To me, this article wasn’t about the terribleness of the United States, but about the ignorance of the people who made these assumptions. A few minutes spent with Google, for example, can tell people that New York is real, and as large as it is, other cities in other countries are so much more populous.

Also, a brief look at statistics can show why assumptions of any kind regarding the USA are ridiculous, especially for those who are looking for some sort of uniformity throughout the country. Although the corner of Colorado where I live is approximately the size of the Netherlands, only about 100,000 people live here compared to the 17.4 million living in Holland, and yet this area is part of the same country that includes unwieldy cities such as New York, Chicago, and Seattle. And that’s not all. The USA and Europe are roughly the same size, though there are twice as many people living in Europe as live in the USA and 45 times more countries in Europe than in the USA. (45 European Countries vs. 1 USA country.)

So, what have I learned from all this other than that assumptions are simply assumptions and not fact? That’s easy. Stay away from articles purporting to tell me how terrible we in the USA are.

***

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.

The Limelight

I’ve never thought of myself as particularly conceited or self-absorbed beyond what is normal and healthy. In fact, I tend to be more self-effacing than is probably good for me and am seldom comfortable seeking the limelight.

[I had to pause here to look up “limelight.” Interesting to note that it actually was a “lime” light — a cylindrical piece of the mineral lime that when lit produced a bright white light that was used to light theater stages in the early l800s. By the late 1800s, “limelight” had already taken on its present meaning of being the center of attention.]

Despite my unease at being the center of attention, there are times that I enjoy being noticed, or should I say, there are things about me that I enjoy being noticed. For example, my car. When I took my various trips, from coast to coast and border to border, it thrilled me that so many people noticed and commented on my vintage VW. It’s the same with my hats — people notice me because of my fancy headgear (actually, it’s not me they notice but the hats. Without a hat on my head, I’m not sure as many people would recognize me).

And now, I have my grass. When I am out there watering, passersby all comment on my gorgeous lawn. The color is bright, for one thing, and for another, there I am, in the middle of November, watering the greenery when everyone else has let their grass turn brown. Of course, “everyone else” hasn’t recently spent a small fortune on their lawns, so it behooves me to take care of my investment.

[Yet another aside: my silly self is acting up, wondering if a horse can be said to be behooved.]

You’d think my books would be on that list of accoutrements that bring me notice, but although they originated with me, they’re not part of my personage. You can’t tell I’m a writer by looking at me the way you can tell that I am “Pat in the Hat.” In some way, my books don’t feel as if they are a part of me at all, though I do take the credit when someone tells me they like one or another of my tales. Now, if I were a recognized “name,” things might be different, and who knows, there still could come a time when I can test that theory.

But for now, I take my fame — and the limelight — where I can get 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.

Pointless and Plotless

I accidentally checked out a Christian novel at the library the last time I went. Normally I don’t care what I read because almost every book has passages and even pages that I skip, such as graphic sex in romance, over-the-top violence in thrillers, and gory scenes in horror stories, so it’s no problem to skip the proselytizing in books written for a religious-oriented readership.

But this book . . . ai-yai-yai. Not a page went by without a sermon, and most of those “sermons” were given by the loving husband, which if they were given to me, would have turned me against him and religion both. He wasn’t a preacher by trade, which would have made his preaching understandable. I think he was a fireman, but that bit of information was swallowed up in the excess of religious rhetoric, so I’m not even sure if that’s the truth. He wasn’t a dynamic character, that’s for sure!

I did like one point he made, though, that when Jesus calmed the waters, he not only saved his disciples, but also all the little boats that were in the turbulent sea at the same time. It’s always interesting to think about those who we might have influenced that we never knew about. (Although I looked, my name was not listed at the back of the book with all the folks who unwittingly influenced another person.)

Still, one point does not make a story, and the story in this particular book was a cheat, mostly because there was no plot. (And despite the preaching, there was no real point to the story, either.) No matter what happened, God saved the heroine. For example, she found out later in life that killers had been set upon her when she was young. When she finally met one of her nemeses and found out about the contract on her, she asked why he didn’t kill her as he’d been paid to do. He told her it was because of the ten armed bodyguards that always surrounded her. (Not bodyguards with ten arms like the goddess Durga, but ten bodyguards with guns.) Apparently, they weren’t bodyguards but angels. Still angels with guns? But that’s an issue for another time.

That wasn’t the only case of her being rescued by angels. Oddly, there was nothing in the book that made her so special that she was surrounded at all times by an army of angels, and why other characters were so unspecial they were left to their fate. But ignoring that whole issue and going strictly by a literary rather than religious perspective, where’s the suspense? What could have been chilling encounters ended up being . . . nothing. Because nothing happened. Basically, she did what she wanted, and everything turned out for her. The only conflict was of her own making, if the mild unease the character experienced from time to time could be called conflict.

Oh, well, I can’t say this is the worst book I ever read. Some well-respected works that won major awards I found even more ridiculous, but that’s the risk one takes when one grabs a handful of books without spending time vetting them.

***

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.

Settling In, Not Setting Out

A blog I wrote the other day reminded me of one I’d written a long time ago called “The Importance of Being Important,” and I wanted to quote from that old post. I never did find the post; apparently, I had planned to write it, had written the title down on a list of blog topics that eventually got thrown away, and then I forgot all about it. I have no idea what I wanted to say about why we need to be important, but at one time, the idea must have been important to me.

I do think we humans have a need to feel important — to ourselves, if no one else. Importance could be tied in with a need for purpose, for being needed, for feeling that life does mean something, because feeling as if we aren’t important in the scheme of life is a crushing burden.

But that’s not what I want to talk about. In searching for that non-existent post in my archives, I came across essay after essay about my dreams for an epic adventure, plans for such an adventure, preparation for such an adventure, as well as actually setting out on various ventures. It struck me how different my life is now, and how different I am. Instead of setting out to experience more of the world, I am settling in to a world of my own making.

Even if it’s not actually a world I am making, it’s definitely a home — a place of refuge, a place where I belong, and most especially, a place that connects me to the rest of the world. In that respect, it is a way of experiencing more of the world, or at least experiencing the world in a different manner.

After Jeff died, I was afraid of settling down. Since I was well aware of my penchant for being a quasi-hermit (though it’s possible it’s more laziness than an actual penchant because sometimes it takes too much energy to be social), I feared that in settling, I would become a crazy cat lady (sans cats, of course, since I don’t want that much responsibility) and that when my expiration date came, weeks would go by before anyone would know I was gone. Luckily, I have neighbors who keep an eye out for me, and anyway, the role of crazy cat person in this neighborhood is already taken by a man who lives across the street.

[If I ever do write my small-town novel, there are certainly plenty of archetypes to choose from — the aforementioned crazy cat person; the hoarder who won’t let anyone in his house; the neighborhood talker; a generous and civic-minded man and his greedy slumlord brother; the tireless club woman who is active in just about every organization in town; the neighborhood drug dealer and thief. Except for the clubwoman, all the characters are men, which puts a bit of spin on the archetypes.]

Until the Bob issue, I did a good job of finding people to socialize with, but oddly, it’s my place itself that makes me feel as if I am settling in (which to me means taking an active interest in making a comfortable life for myself) rather than settling down (which to me connotes staidness and passively accepting the status quo).

The place seems almost like a presence in my life, as if it wraps itself around me in a comforting way. (I’m laughing here. That sounds almost like the premise of a horror story rather than a pleasant feeling, and perhaps, that’s how crazy old ladies living alone become crazy.)

It’s still early days, of course. I have been here less than three years, and I am just now beginning my journey into elderliness, so who knows how the experience of settling in will turn out. But so far, although I sometimes miss the excitement of setting out, settling in has been good for me.

***

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.

Eternal Good Luck

1000 origami cranes is called a senbazuru, which translates as “1000 cranes.” Legend says the crane lives for 1000 years, and from that legend arose the mystique behind the senbazuru. Paper cranes have come to be a symbol of peace. Before that, they meant healing. Before that, a person who folded a 1000 paper cranes was said to have one special dream come true. Originally (at least I think it was originally — the legend has become so entwined with the story of Sadako and Hiroshima that it’s hard to find the original meaning), folding 1000 paper cranes gave a person longevity and happiness — one crane per year for a thousand years — as well as eternal good luck. (Which is why the cranes are often associated with weddings.) Further, the cranes must all be folded within a year. 

I had no special wish when I started folding my 1000 cranes at the beginning of this year, though I was taken with the idea of good luck forever.

I’m not sure my 1000 crane project is strictly a senbazuru because from what I can gather, a senbazuru has come to mean 1000 cranes strung together and mine are in plastic bags, 10 cranes per sandwich bag, ten sandwich bags per gallon bag. That was the easiest way for me to keep track of how many I had folded, and now that I am finished and my good fortune stowed so neatly, I see no reason to string them. (Though I did string some other origami birds and hung them in my garage so I know where to stop when I pull into the garage.)

Whatever the name — “senbazuru” or simply “1000 paper cranes” — I just finished folding my origami cranes, well within the required time frame. So now it’s a matter of waiting to see what will happen.

Even if the cranes came with a guarantee of eternal good luck, I don’t expect my life to change all that much. I used to think I was bedeviled by bad luck, but over the years I have come to see that I have more good luck than perhaps I deserve. So often, I don’t get what I want (becoming a better selling author, for example) but more often, I get what I need (a temporary job, for example,) Even better, I sometimes don’t get what I neither want nor need (the Bob, for example. I didn’t want it, didn’t need it, and didn’t get it even though I was definitely exposed to the virus).

The biggest example of more luck than I deserve comes in the form of my house and even perhaps my yard, which, with a little more luck will one day be breathtakingly beautiful as well as safe for an aging woman to navigate.

Whatever the future holds, I know I did my part by folding 1000 origami cranes this year.

***

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.

Back to Work

My hiatus — my isolation — is over. I go back to work tomorrow, and I’m feeling a bit ambivalent. Not that my job is onerous — it’s not — it’s just that I have become used to an unscheduled life. My ideal has always been to wake in the morning with an empty day stretching ahead of me. The day doesn’t stay empty, of course — there is always something to do, whether undertaking a chore, exercising, writing a blog post, playing on the computer, or reading. (Always, there is reading.) And then there are the unexpected treats, such as a visit from a friend. So it’s not doing nothing that I particularly crave, it’s having a wide open day to do with as I wish.

On the other hand, working gives me focus, company, and . . . yep, money to pay some bills. And in a way, it’s its own special blessing. There will come a time when the job ends, and all I will have are empty days stretching ahead of me. I wonder if those empty days will seem as fraught with possibility when there is nothing to compare them to.

But that isn’t a conundrum I have to face quite yet.

What I do have to face is inclement weather. Tomorrow is supposed to be the coldest day we’ve have so far this fall, with low temperatures barely in the teens. Since I will be going to work, I won’t be able to stay cozied up all day as I’d planned but instead will have to go out and brave the chill. Brrr. I’m shivering just thinking of it. But then, I have warm coats and hats and mufflers in which to bundle up, and anyway, the walk is only two blocks, so I’m sure I will survive the indignity.

Luckily, in this time off, I managed to get caught up on all the little chores that have been niggling at me, such as the last of the planting and a couple of minor paint jobs (a door frame and the handrail on my front ramp), so I can enjoy my day at work without thinking about what else I could be doing.

So, work or not work. — it’s all good.

***

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.