Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Life's Persistent Questions

As part of its adult education program, my church offers UUnity Circles. The circles are a group of 7 to 10 adults who meet approximately every 3 weeks. Each circle has a "theme" that they discuss. For example: there is one entitled "This I Believe" based on the NPR program and yet another is geared towards discussing Buddhism, and another may discuss spirituality in every day life.
The groups are formed "as a way for people to explore their deepest understanding of life in the midst of a community of faith" as stated in the brochure promoting the circles. When I heard about the UUnity circles I was interested, excited and eager to join. I am not an active member of my church so I thought this would be one way to still be part of the church community.

The group I selected was "Life's Persistent Questions." Each person (there are 10 of us) put several questions into a "hat" and each time we meet we discuss one or two questions.We meet in each other's homes. The meetings begin with the chalice lighting, a short reading chosen by the host or hostess, a check-in from each person and then the discussion, followed by another reading at the end. We meet promptly from 7 to 9 pm.

This time the question was: Suppose that today were the last day of your life. As you think back over your life, what were your happiest, most joyful and/or meaningful experiences or relationships and what have you accomplished that makes you the most proud?

I have really been thinking about this. Up until about 5 or 6 years ago I would tend to think about the negative things I had done - and there are plenty! I remember shortly after I bought my house I was commiserating about what I saw as all negatives in my life. I was with my gal pal, Sally. Finally she got fed up listening to me and basically said, "Girl - look around you. You own a home. You have a good, stable job. You have a loving family and lots of caring friends. Wake up and smell the coffee!" And, slowly I began to see things differently. With the help of good friends, supportive family and a good man in my life, I realized there are and I have done far more good than bad and I should be proud of what I have accomplished thus far.

But thinking about them and then discussing them openly with others seems like tooting your own horn. The old negatives creep in: I'm not college educated. I don't have a high paying "power" job. I haven't had a successful marriage. I don't have wonderful children (or any children). I haven't gone back to school mid-life. I haven't served in the Peace Corp or raised millions for charity or yadda, yadda, yadda.

See a pattern here: NOT, DON'T, HAVEN'T - all negatives. So, what have I done that I am proud of? What are my most joyful and/or meaningful experiences? Well, here's goes. Not in necessarily in any order unless otherwise stated, here is what I talked about:

First and this is the most important accomplishment of my life because without having done it I deeply believe I would not be here right now. On August 29, 1993 I walked into an AA meeting for the first time. I have remained sober since. I have been active in meetings, made some wonderful, awesome friends and have turned my life around in every single aspect. This hasn't made me a perfect person by any means and boy, do I have my faults, but it gave me the tools to live my life in a much better way then I had lived up until that day in August, 1993. Thank God I took that first step and thank God for Bill W. and Dr. Bob. All the good in my life since that day in 1993 is a direct result of being in AA.

Through instinct or just being blessed, I have surrounded myself with good people. Good friends who I treasure and love more then they will ever know. From gal pals that I have had since childhood, to my wonderful church ladies, co-workers who became friends. They have loved me and supported me and put up with shit from me, hanging in there for whatever it was worth. I only hope that I have been there for them when they needed me and that they know I will always be available to them.

One of my greatest accomplishments (not sure that is the correct term) is being a bone marrow donor. Having been an avid blood donor most of my adult life and just over one year into my sobriety, I was able to donate bone marrow to a young, vibrant woman who had leukemia. Becky is healthy and happy, all these years later. We have stayed in touch, much to my joy. She has a wonderful husband and they have adopted 3 great kids. It was such an easy thing to do, yet had such a huge impact on so many people besides myself - Becky (obviously), her husband, Cary, their families and friends. And, there are 3 little kids in Michigan who have awesome, loving parents because of me. And, again, it was soooo easy!

Through some other grace, I have been with my job (albeit in a ton of different positions) for over 30 years now. The word "pension" and "security" that my parents pounded into my head must have stuck! I haven't always been happy with my job, but right now I am in the best place I couple possibly be and look forward to retiring in less then 3 years. Halleluiah!

Shortly after my divorce I became involved with a very loving and caring man who was raising his 4 children on his own. Because this was my first "sober" romantic relationship, I look on it as the first "adult" relationship I had to this point. While we were only together for a year, this relationship had a huge impact on how I look at loving relationships and what I really wanted in a relationship. During the course of that year I became very close to his youngest daughter. For a few years after we broke up, I remained close to her and spent a lot of time with her. Both relationships, with him and his daughter taught me I deserve the type of love I always wanted and dreamed about and, it taught me that I would have been a good mother if I would have had children (and been sober). I learned so much about myself during this time.

In the late summer of 1999, with no money and no resources, I bought my house. For someone who lived and continues to live, barely from paycheck to paycheck, I think this is a great accomplishment. I love my house (see previous, older posts). It is my home.

As I grow older I have deepen my appreciation of nature. From puttering in my little garden to hiking up mountains, down canyons, or walking along the beach of an ocean, nature is everywhere. Many, many of my greatest experiences or times of joy happened experiencing nature - zip lining in Costa Rica, seeing the land of Georgia while I sky dived, looking out of a cave in Sedona, AZ, the mountains in Ireland, the lochs in Scotland, the birds out of my living room window. Times of pure and simple grace have happened while I was planting annuals in my yard or pulling weeds. I have learned to be open to all of this and let nature show me her beauty.

I have learned the pleasure of simple joys. Playing gin rummy with Phil, laughing with my girlfriends, listening - really listening to people, laughing at the antics of my dogs, watching my great-niece take her first steps and to be, oh, so very grateful and thankful for being given these simple pleasures.

I am glad I really got to know my parents and was able to see them through adult eyes. They are and were wonderful people who truly loved each other and their "girls." They raised us the best they could and did a darn good job. They knew when to help and when to let go. I am blessed to have the parents that I did.

I am sure there will be more accomplishments to come, more happiness and joy - along with the rain that falls into all lives. There are things I would change in my life if I could, things I would do differently. But, overall, I have a good life, a full life and a happy life. I like what I see, and in the end, that is all that matters.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Good Reads / Bad Reads

I have read or listened to a couple of books recently. Two of them are for my book group. The others are just for pleasure - although I consider reading (or listening to) a book one of the greatest pleasures in the world.

In January the book club discussed The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst. The overall consensus was that it was well-liked and enjoyable. It is the view of a marriage from the husband whose wife died when she fell out of tree. He is trying to come to terms with the fact that she was mentally ill and committed suicide. The only witness to her death was their dog, Lorelei (great name for a dog). Therefore, he feels he must get Lorelei to tell him exactly what happened. It is the story of a breakdown and the coming back from a great loss. It does also tell the story of some very sick people who believe dogs actually can talk (communicate like humans) by surgically altering their vocal cords, jaws, etc. Luckily, that part is not a large part of the story. I enjoyed it. I thought it had interesting characters and character development. The main character was not interest in surgically altering his dog, so the way he was trying to teach her was both sad and funny. The book was a fast read, too.

In February we will be discussing Plain Truth by Jodi Picoult . Let me begin by saying that when my girlfriend, Sally, read Picoult's My Sister's Keeper she called me up and said, "Girl, you got to read this book!" She went on to say the ending would "knock me on my ass!" Well, I did read (actually listened to) My Sister's Keeper. It was an awesome book and, yes, the ending blew me away. When the surprise twist came at the end I actually pulled my car over. I couldn't believe it.

So, I looked forward to Plain Truth. It is about an Amish girl who delivers a baby in the family barn, which is later found dead and the high powered, burned out lawyer who defends her. While I enjoyed the basic story, learning more about the Amish and liked most of the characters, I found the story turned sluggish and I got a little bored. The "surprise ending" was no surprise. All throughout the book I kept thinking, "why isn't she (the attorney) asking the obvious question." So, when the question was answered, by a character volunteering the information, I was more angry at the author than surprised at the story punch. Duh! A good attorney would have asked this question from the beginning. Oh, well . . . it will be interesting to see what the book group thinks.

I listened to, or tried to listen to Half Moon by Alice Sebold. Having loved her book, The Lovely Bones, again I looked forward to this book. The story is about a woman in her late 40s who has been caring for her elderly mother all of her life. One night she snaps while caring for her now 88 year old mother and smothers her to death. The next 24 hours examines the daughter's life with the domineering mother, the actions she takes and her relationship to others around her. Now, I really can't relate to a "mother from hell." I had a warm and loving mother. So, maybe this had do with not relating to the main character at all. I wanted to slap her upside the head and yell "SNAP OUT OF IT." Therefore, I stopped after the 5th CD and skipped to the last CD and listened to the last few minutes of the book. The whole thing irritated me. I really didn't like the main character and since she narrated the book, I didn't care for the book. Also, the "reader" of the book on CD had a monotone, bored voice. This didn't help.

As for Pillars of the Earth? I'm well over half way through and still plugging along. I still am enjoying it. And, I will finish it. Really!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Rate My Life

Took this quiz. Thank you Earth-bound Spirit for the link. I think I have a pretty darn good life. And, according to the quiz, I rated higher than the average person. I'll keep it!

This Is My Life, Rated
Life: 7.5
Mind: 7
Body: 6.6
Spirit: 9.2
Friends/Family: 5.6
Love: 7.7
Finance: 7.5
Take the Rate My Life Quiz

Friday, January 18, 2008

Next Super Model

We don't get many perks as government employees. No bonuses. No fancy business trips. No holiday parties paid for by the company. So, once in a great while when something comes along that might be fun, I jump at the chance.

Today there was a video shoot and still shots taken for our new recruit brochure and Public Service Announcement. I was asked if I would like to pose as a "victim" (or customer, however you want to look at it, I guess) in a med unit. Being a camera ham and seeing a fun opportunity, I agreed.

Since I had on a sweatshirt that had a MFD patch on it, I turned it around on my body and climbed into a med unit. I had never been in one and hope I am never in one again, but it was cool. I posed with Josh, who is a paramedic and assigned to my division in Community Relations, and Jenny another paramedic assigned to the field. Josh, by the way, will be moving on in a week as he will be promoted to a paramedic lieutenant!

Josh hooked me up to an IV, Jenny took my blood pressure and hooked me up to the heart monitor and Darin, our AV guy, shot video and then stills.

I was suppose to look very sick. I think I did a great job! Ha! One of the 20 still shots Darin took (similar to the ones in in this post) will be on the front of the brochure. Boy - I can't wait to see how bad I look in the video!

This last picture was taken for laughs, although I am sure there might have been a few times that Josh wanted to strangle me!

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Plugging Away

My boyfriend read Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth. It took him a while, but he loved it and refers to it as one of the best books he has ever read.

After he was finished he gave it to me to read. And, I have been reading, and reading, and reading.
I must say that I am enjoying it. All 973 pages. I'm currently on page 442. And, I will admit to glazing over part of it.

It is about a monk in the 1400s who builds a cathedral. Now that is a grand simplification. There are a dozen subplots and all of the characters are interesting. I am learning about the Middle Ages - its mason work and how these great cathedrals were built, the Church and its influence over every day life, politics of the time, what life was like for both the peasants and upper class, life on a monastery, etc. It was not an easy life not matter where you lived or what you did! Plus, there is a lot of violence, raping and just plain meanness going on. On the flip side, it also shows love between a man and a woman, love of family and love of God.

Since I started it I have read one other book (Dogs of Babel for my book club, which I recommend). I doubt that I will take another book break from it as I'm pretty caught up in it now that I'm almost half way through.

So, if you want to spend these long winter evenings reading a good book, I recommend this one. It will take you through to spring!

Oh, one more thing. I thought of listening to it on CDs in my car. Thirty-two CDs for the unabridged version! I'd have to drive to China and back!