Doing the Best We Can

I was talking to my sister the other day and I mentioned that the sum total of all that I have learned in my many years of living is that no one is just one thing and that we are all doing the best we can.

Well, except for me. Somehow I don’t include myself in that “doing the best we can.” I’ve been noticing lately how negative I am about myself and how much I beat myself up for not doing what I think I should be doing. For example, the pendulum of my lifestyle swings slowly from doing all I know how to do to be healthy to not doing anything to promote my health. At the moment, I am at the far reaches of the arc — exercising very little and eating very much the wrong thing.

Every night as I review my day, I castigate myself for my stupidity of falling into the sugar trap. After all, if you know the right thing to do to promote health and don’t do it, you are either lacking in discipline or not very intelligent. Or both. Still, it doesn’t help the situation to berate myself for my foolishness. In fact, it exacerbates the problem because it underlines the situation and makes it even harder to rectify the matter.

I’ve been trying to work on this — not being so negative about myself, not judging my actions, believing that I really did do the best I could that day even if it was far from my ideal. More than that, I’m trying to get away from the habit of reviewing my day. (It’s a fairly recent habit and I have no idea how it came about except that perhaps it started when I began to talk to Jeff’s picture when I was getting ready for bed to help relieve the onset of late night loneliness, which is also a fairly recent phenomenon.)

It seems to me that the very act of reviewing one’s actions is a judgement and that an active acceptance of one’s actions is a sneaky way of judging without judging, which is why I want to get away from the habit of reviewing my day. Whatever I did or didn’t do each day should be left in the past and truthfully, everything is in the past. Obviously, as soon as something has been done, it’s already part of the past and not the present. (Which leads me to question if one can ever actually live in the moment since the moment is thinner than a knife edge and by the time one has acknowledged the moment, it’s already in the past.)

Even though this negativity about myself is something I’ve been struggling with, I haven’t wanted to write about it because it would seem to contribute to the whole concept of beating myself up, but lately I’ve come to realize that this is a fairly common problem. So many of us hold ourselves to a higher standard than we do others. (Or do I mean a lower standard?) It makes sense when you think about it — our most intimate relationship is with ourselves. No matter where we go, there we are. We are witness to our most base body functions, our ignoble thoughts, our failures and foibles. I think it’s hard to accept all that as “doing the best we can.” We could probably do better and probably have at some time or other, but on any given day, I tend to think that perhaps we really are doing the best we can. (In this case I am including me in the “we.”)

I doubt making this effort will change my life in any significant manner, but if it helps bring me peace, then it’s all to the good.

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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.

Lessons From a Garden

A garden is a lot like life. Come to think of it, on a list of silly things to say, that would rank quite high because a garden is life.

Perhaps what I really want to say is that the lessons one learns in a garden are lessons that pertain to the rest of one’s life, too.

Lesson one: You get what you get and what you get is not always what you deserve. You can work hard and do everything right — or as right as you know how to do — and still get the wrong results. I have mentioned that on one side of my path, the grass is bright green and healthy, while on the other side of the path, a mere three feet away, the grass is dead. Both areas of grass were treated exactly the same, and yet the results were completely different.

Lesson two: If you’ve done everything you know how to do, then you have no other recourse except to accept what you have. For now, I have no choice but to accept the dead grass because I can’t do anything about it. Come fall, I can reseed, but until then, I have to accept that, whether I enjoy the looks of the grass or not, it’s what I have. I can be glad, I suppose, that the grass is simply brown and not overrun with weedy grasses like the section of lawn right next to the dead patch.

Lesson three: Take care of that which you can, and if things grow out of your control, do the best you can with that, too. I got rid of some of the sunflowers that planted themselves in my yard because they grew around one of my baby plum trees, but other sunflowers I let go, and now they are too big to deal with. The stalks are as big as my arm and taller than the garage next door. The best thing I can do, I suppose, is wait until fall and hack them off at the base when they die.

Lesson four: Be patient. So many things are growing out of control (my tomato and tomatillo plants are growing so big and so fast they seem to be taking over the garden areas where they were planted) that I feel like ripping them out in preparation for fall clean-up, but we still have a lot of summer left, and despite the relatively cool days we are currently experiencing, I’m sure there is a lot of heat ahead of us. And anyway, there are still blossoms on the tomato plants, so perhaps I will still have a small harvest. On the other hand, some plants grow so slowly they don’t seem worth having, but again, there is still a lot of summer left, so if I am patient, there might still be some color to show for all my care.

Lesson five: Don’t be intimidated. I must admit, plants that seem to be growing hugely due to the rain and the other growth-inducing weather we’ve been having, intimidate me. I’m not sure what I think they can do other than tower over me, but apparently, I’ve read too many plant-based horror stories over the years to be comfortable with looming plants. Still, in the real life of my garden, I tend to think I have the upper hand.

Lesson six: Some things live, and some things die. Eventually, of course everything dies, but no matter how much we might want something to live, its survival is not always in our control. Actually, this is a lesson I learned in life that I am applying to my garden rather than a lesson I learned in my garden that I am applying to my life, but either way, it’s a good thing to remember.

I’m sure there are other lessons, but these are the lessons that seem to concern me most right now. Let’s hope I learn what I need to.

***

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 Lessons

Being cranky and impatient with the shenanigans of others as I currently am has a good side. At least for me. Being hyper aware of people’s shortcomings is like a having a mirror that shows me my own shortcomings, shows me what I need to work on.

The people who insist on making everything about them are reminding me the world does not revolve around a single person. We all revolve around each other, all have a place, even if it’s hard to concede another’s place, even if it’s hard to hold our own.

Those who refuse to take responsibility for their actions, including seemingly simple actions that affect others such as asking for more than is offered, are teaching me to be mindful of how everything affects everything else, and to accept the consequences of what I do.

Those who insist on always being right are teaching me that sometimes kindness and discretion are a greater right.

Those who insist on having the last word are teaching me to hold my tongue.

Those who insist on always doing their own thing even in a synchronized dance class are teaching me the importance of cooperating to get harmonious results.

Those who constantly one-up others, who have done more, been sicker or healthier, been more successful or more victimized, are teaching me that modesty has its place. (Actually, this is something I already know. But these poor folks remind me why I do not like to push myself forward.)

One of these days my hypersensitivity will pass, but these lessons will remain with me. I hope.

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

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The Healing Power of Stories

I attend a bereavement group every week, which surprises me, considering that I’ve always been a do-it-yourself sort. I only started going to the meetings because I wanted to know how to survive the terrible agony of grief I experienced after the loss of my mate. I didn’t learn how — it’s something no one can teach another — but I learned that one could survive those first unbelievably painful weeks when I met people who had survived them. I keep going to the group because of those same people. We have something in common, a shared understanding, a survivor’s respect. And now, after five months, I am one of those who, just by being there, show the newly shell-shocked bereaved that one can learn to live with the devastation of a major loss.

Each meeting begins with a lesson, and today’s lesson was about the importance of stories and how they help us heal. The people who attended the meeting today all happened to be women who had lost their mates after decades of being together, and the counselor asked each of us to tell the story not of our mates’ deaths, but of how we met. We all knew the end of each of our love stories — over the months we have told the story of our grief many times. But this is the first time we talked about the beginning of our love stories, and in those stories we found hope, comfort, smiles, a reconnection to our past.

According to the handout we were given, the benefits of telling stories are:

  • Searching for wholeness among our fractured parts
  • Coming to know who we are in new and unexpected ways
  • We can explore our past and come to a more profound understanding of our future direction
  • We can seek forgiveness and be humbled by our own mortality
  • We can discover the route to healing lies not only in the physical realm, but also in the emotional and spiritual realms.

An unexpected result of today’s lesson was a new understanding of the importance of writing. For me, anyway.

These past months, I’ve spent a lot of time reading. I have always tried to lose myself — and find myself — in fictional worlds during periods of trauma, but this time it’s not working the way I hoped. I’m not finding healing in current books. The authors seem to be going for the shock effect of not-so-good versus unbelievably-outrageous-evil, for story people who have identifiable characteristics but no character, for fast-paced stories with little substance or truth. How does one find wholeness in such stories? How do we come to know each other or come to a more profound understanding of our future in trite mysteries and unrealistic thrillers?

Perhaps it’s not important. Maybe entertainment is all that counts when it comes to fiction, but I want something more. And I especially want something more when it comes to my own writing. I don’t know where grief is taking me — it is changing me in ways I cannot yet fathom — but I hope I will end up writing stories of truth, of understanding, of healing. I hope I will make people smile. I hope my words will matter.