Writing on Wednesday: Honest. Human. Smart. Ferocious. Revelatory. Heart-wrenching. Loving. Devastating. Hopeful.

Nina Gaby, Editor

Nina Gaby, Editor

Those are some of the words used by the authors who wrote blurbs for the anthology, Dumped: Stories of Women Unfriending Women (She Writes Press, March, 2015).  The twenty-five essays in this powerful collection are as diverse as they are universal. What they have in common is, as Neil White says, “a rare, uncensored, sometimes terrifying glimpse into the female psyche.” Nina Gaby, the editor, is a psychiatric nurse practitioner. She ends her introduction to the collection with these words:

As we explore the fragile and unfathomable nature of lost friendships, we find our own resilience in the stories of others, these wise memes, these templates for redefinition. Lost friendships, betrayal, emptiness, lessons learned–the unthinkable leaves us in that dark place, but only for a while. We rebound because we must, because we are vital. And we rebound because loss, among other things, only serves to make us stronger and to make what remains that much more precious.

 

Victoria Zackheim writes in the Foreword:

 

To fully comprehend the trauma of a friend severing ties with us-or, as Gaby words it, of being unfriended and unceremoniously dumped–we must first understand the importance of friendship. The friendship between women–whether we harken back to the biblical, historical, literary, or junior high school variety–has ever been an alliance in which we share part of our selves: secrets, fears, petty gossip…. We trust friendship, put our faith in it, sometimes forget how precious it is, and occasionally betray it.

 

Excerpts from a few of the essays: (Buy the book and read all of them!)

She stonewalled me. It was inconceivable but true. I’d been dumped by my closest friend, the woman who was dearer than a sister. She had erased herself from my life. And worse: with no explanation.—Carol Cassara, “Keeping Secrets”

 

Suzanne Herman

Suzanne Herman

 

There is no friend like that first. There is no confidant or partner so dear. The first love learned, our first friend is our mother, our spouse, and our child. But once that second soul is gone, the need for it fades. Thoughts aren’t communal anymore; desires are not spoken. And what of it? Much worse things have been left behind, much more of history has wilted and been forsaken. The lame cannot be carried along.—Suzanne Herman, “Ten Days”

 

 

Jacquelyn Mitchard (author of "The Deep End of the Ocean" and other novels)

Jacquelyn Mitchard (author of “The Deep End of the Ocean” and other novels)

Your marriage ends; someone dies. It’s horrific. It’s unbearable. And yet, quickly, a circle of compassion surrounds you. People offer condolences, companionship, and casseroles. You lose a friend and, unless you tell, no one even knows. If you do tell, no one much cares. Not even other women, who know that the loss of a friend is very different for a woman than it is for a man, that it’s a crushing, terrifying experience—yet they say she was “just a friend.”Jacquelyn Mitchard, “Since I Don’t Have You”

 

Alexis Paige

Alexis Paige

I didn’t know how to stay through pain or peskiness. With girlfriends, I didn’t know how to work through their or my own ugliness, how to fight for the friendship. I left because it was easier, and the story went that she broke my heart…. But the truth was I had broken my own heart with pride and stubbornness and timidity…. I would have to learn how to fight for the women in my life. I would have to learn how to fight, ultimately, for myself.—Alexis Paige, “Bridezilla or Chill Bride? Which One Are You? Take This Quiz to Find Out!”

 

 

Susan Cushman (feature writer, high school newspaper staff,  1966, the year she was dumped)

Susan Cushman (feature writer, high school newspaper staff, 1966, the year she was dumped)

I’ve forgiven the girls who unfriended me in high school, but Cindy’s words will always be with me. And maybe that’s not a bad thing, if I can use them to become a more authentic person without going all introspective in a navel-gazing way. Maybe I was being superficial in my approach to finding happiness. I know now that my wounded teenage psyche was doing the best it could to survive what might be the most difficult of all life stages. Maybe we never do get over high school.—Susan Cushman, “High School Never Ends”

 

Early friendships were fraught with hyprocrisy, contextual shame, and cultural marginalization, equations far too intricate for a thirteen-year-old. Dumping was a more complicated phenomenon than we ever acknowledged, and easier to do than to try to understand. I had to pretend it didn’t matter. I learned to project a safer perspective onto a wall between me and the pain. It made me independent with a never-quite-fulfilled craving for closeness. Maybe that was part of the problem. The resultant sheer avoidance never made it any easier, not at thirteen, not at fifty.—Nina Gaby (Editor),  “Simply Geometry: The Art of War For Girls”

 

Mental Health Monday: Spring Forward

daylight-savingsThis is my third in a series of posts reflecting on Joan Chittister’s book, The Gift of Years: Growing Old Gracefully. If you missed them, you can read my first two posts here:

“Joy… Bring It!”

“The Twinges of Regret”

Today I’m reading her chapter on “Time.” I woke up yesterday morning wondering what happened to the hour we lost we when sprung forward into daylight savings time. Fortunately I had gone to bed early and really didn’t lose any sleep.

My dear friends Daphne and Sarah feted me with a birthday luncheon on Saturday!

My dear friends Daphne and Sarah feted me with a birthday luncheon on Saturday!

And when I woke up it was my birthday and although I had been feted big time on Saturday with a luncheon, gifts, cards, emails, phone calls and lots of Facebook birthday wishes,  the reality of being 64 didn’t set in until Sunday. My husband—a huge Beatles fan—has been going around the house singing, “When I’m Sixty-Four” and telling me he will still love me, he will still need me, he will still feed me, and although he didn’t mean it that way, I couldn’t help envisioning myself diminished by Alzheimer’s and him feeding me. But I also felt great love in his cheerful antics.

Back to Chittister’s chapter on time. She opens with a quote from Picasso:

It takes a long time to become young.

And then she reflects on that:

The beauty of the later years, in other words, is that if we have learned through life to trust our own insights at least as much as we trust the insights we have been taught, we find ourselves at the end of a very long life with a very young soul. Time has done for us what needs to be done. We have deepened as people. We have broadened as personalities. We have softened as thinkers. We have abandoned arrogance and authoritarianism for reflection on new ideas and respect for others.

Her words remind me so much of Richard Rohr’s teaching in Falling Upwards—about becoming cultural elders, generative people. About learning to really be present. To really live. Some “bullet points” from Chittister about time:

Time ages things… It ages our irritations and allows us the relief of ignoring them….

Time deepens things, too…. Whatever the many deaths of the day, resurrection is coming.

Time ripens things. It brings everything to fulfillment. We ourselves become more mature, more accepting, more serene…. It gives me a heightened sense of life. It urges me to discover it all.

seaoatssunsetOne thing I love about daylight savings time is that my husband arrives home from work in time to walk with me to the river to watch sunset. And one thing I love about being 64 (and 66) is that we have the time and the mindset to enjoy the gifts those sunsets bring. We are ready to spring forward.

(Photo on my favorite beach – Seagrove Beach, Florida, where I’ll be this Saturday!)

Faith on Friday: Nine Ladies Dancing and Choirs of Angels

dsc_02223Happy 9th Day of Christmas! Some folks believe the twelve days of Christmas are those days leading up to the holiday, but historically the meaning has been applied to the 12 days between Christmas and Theophany (January 6). This is the time of feasting and celebrating the birth of Jesus and the beginning of his ministry on earth. I’ve always loved singing the song with a group of people, but I didn’t realize until a few years ago that it was created as a secret method of teaching Christian catechism during a time of persecution. Two meanings have been applied to the 9th Day of Christmas:

Nine Ladies Dancing—This verse is about the fruits of the Holy Spirit described in Galatians 5:22:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, with modesty and continence added to the original 7 gifts listed in the scripture. It’s good to focus on these virtues that can easily be forgotten amidst all the flurry of shopping and gift-giving and cooking and partying during this season.

Saint Basil the Great

Saint Basil the Great

We hosted three parties over the past few weeks—two of which were actually during the preparatory days leading up to Christmas (known in Western tradition as Advent and in the Orthodox faith as the Nativity Fast). Although partying isn’t recommended before Christmas (in the Orthodox faith,) I felt that our gatherings were very much in keeping with love, joy, kindness, and goodness, as they brought together friends and neighbors in a spirit of friendship. Our third and final party of the season was our annual New Year’s Day Open House (yesterday) at which we also celebrated my husband’s Name Day: the Feast of Saint Basil the Great. (Saint Basil was a priest who also established the first hospital, which makes him a wonderful patron saint for my husband, who is a priest and a physician.)

 

 

Nine Choirs of Angels—Another meaning attached to this day is the nine choirs—or orders—of angels.  These nine orders are divided into three hierarchies:

Seraphim

Seraphim

First hierarchy: Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones (On a related note, today is also the Feast Day of Saint Seraphim of Sarov.)

Second hierarchy: Dominions, Virtues and Powers

Third hierarchy: Principalities, Archangels and Angels

 

Cherubim

Cherubim

How will you celebrate today? My dancing feet are a little achy, so I think I’ll embrace the fruits of the Spirit instead of the ladies dancing. But I’m always dancing in my heart. It’s cold and damp outside, and I’m pretty tired from yesterday’s party, so I’m going to stay in and catch up on some writing and editing. Tonight we plan to go see the movie, “Unbroken.” I think I’ll learn something about the fruits of the Spirit from this brave man’s story.

Archangel Michael

Archangel Michael

Archangel Gabriel

Archangel Gabriel

 

 

By the way, all the icons in this post adorn the walls of our parish here in Memphis, Saint John Orthodox.

P.S. I’m beginning the New Year by continuing Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditations. Here’s his entry from January 1: “A  New Beginning: A Journey of Faith.”

Happy New Year!

Mental Health Monday: Loneliness Revisited

10676176_10204573984943436_1343299145081619027_nI’m sure lots of folks experience loneliness at some time in their lives, whether they live alone or with a spouse. Even with a houseful of children. On my morning walk today I thought about loneliness, even as I enjoyed the cool breeze on my face as the sun began to warm up the day. I sat in the harbor and listened to the birds and watched the sun glistening on the water. I knew I was going to write about loneliness today, but I didn’t know what to say.

My post back in June, “Eudaimonia,” addressed some aspects of loneliness. This morning I found an article (it’s not new but I found it helpful) in Psychology Today, “Six Tips for Battling Loneliness,” that mentions the difference between loneliness and solitude. I get that. There are times when I love to be alone—to think, pray, read, write, walk, or even to watch a TV show without interruption. But then there are times when I hunger for a human connection. Even something beyond what my husband can provide.

 

This weekend was one of those times. Our best friends had gone to New Orleans and on to Baton Rouge for the Ole Miss-LSU football game. We decided to invite someone over to watch the game Saturday night and share some BBQ pork roast. I put the roast in the crock pot before we began calling people, hoping our last-minute plans would work out. Three phone calls later we had struck out. All the people we thought of inviting were either at the game, at the beach, on their way home from an out-of-town wedding, or babysitting a granddaughter. A granddaughter who lives in town. (Ours are in Denver, remember?) 

Gretchen Rubin

Gretchen Rubin

My husband rarely feels lonely. He’s happy to be here with just me, the ball game on TV, his lap top computer, and some good food. I tried to keep my spirits up, serving our BBQ (and freezing lots of leftovers) and making frozen margaritas. We cheered for the Rebels ‘til the bitter end. The next day I went to church and had another one of those mornings when I felt lonely even amongst a crowd of people. I know it’s something inside of me that needs more work. Here are some of the tips that Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, offered in her Psychology Today article. I hope none of my readers are lonely, but if you are, I hope this helps.

1. Remember that although the distinction can be difficult to draw, loneliness and solitude are different…. Loneliness feels draining, distracting, and upsetting; desired solitude feels peaceful, creative, restorative.

2. Nurturing others — raising children, teaching, caring for animals — helps to alleviate loneliness.

3. Keep in mind that to avoid loneliness, many people need both a social circle and an intimate attachment. Having one of these elements may still leave you feeling lonely.

4. Work hard to get your sleep. Sleep deprivation, under any circumstances, brings down people’s moods, makes them more likely to get sick, and dampens their energy, so it’s important to tackle this issue. (Fortunately I’m sleeping well these days, so this isn’t part of the issue for me.)

5. Try to figure out what’s missing from your life…. making lots of plans with friends isn’t always the solution…. Sometimes you need the quiet presence of another person.

6. Take steps to connect with other people (to state the obvious). Negative emotions like loneliness, envy, and guilt have an important role to play in a happy life; they’re big, flashing signs that something needs to change. The pain of loneliness can prod you to connect with other people. (Which is what happened on Saturday, but our plans didn’t work out.)

Okay, I hope this doesn’t sound whiny, because I’m moving on with plans to host another literary salon at our house tomorrow night (expecting over 20 women for this one) so I’m off to finish shopping for some of the food and beverages. I love creating special events. They’re not a cure for loneliness, but they’re a step in the right direction. Have a great week, everyone.

Friends, Fiction and Fashion on Friday: Day Trip to Oxford

Deb Susu Jon 1978Today is my friend, Deb’s birthday. I offered to take her to lunch, but she asked if I would ride with her to Oxford (Mississippi) to visit her mother. It was a gorgeous, unusually cool and breezy day, so I was thrilled to be dropped off at the square to shop while she visited with her mom for a while. Later I met them at the University Club for lunch, where two more of her mom’s friends joined us. Delicious food and stimulating conversation with these lovely ladies.

So, instead of writing about “Faith on Friday” (although today is the Feast of the Procession of the Cross and the first day of the Dormition fast which leads up to the Feast of the Dormition of Mary, the Mother of God) I’m just sharing a few happy moments involving other “F” words:

FRIENDS: Deb and I have been friends for 45 years. We lived right across the hall from each other in Brown dorm at Ole Miss during our freshman year (1969-1970.) The above photo was taken in 1978 (that’s my oldest son, Jonathan, in my arms). I treasure our friendship which has endured all these years.

Snow QueenFICTION: I picked up an autographed copy of Michael Cunninghams “darkly luminous” new novel, The Snow Queen, at Square Books today. Since Cunningham’s novel, The Hours, is a favorite (and was inspirational while I was drafting Cherry Bomb) I’m curious about his latest book. I’ll keep you posted.

(And no, I didn’t buy the book to match my blouse! But what a fun coincidence.) I enjoyed some time reading up on the balcony at Square Books, where memories of the original Yoknapatawpha Writers Group sessions filled me with happiness.

 

sweater coat

FASHION: Shopping at Neilson’s Department Store on the square is another favorite activity… and I always find something artsy and different and lovely. Today I found this amazing sweater-coat by Damee NYC. A perfect weight for Southern falls and winters, and it’s machine washable!

So thankful for this lovely day and all the ways it fed my soul.

Faith on Friday: Life Just Is

oh crapToday’s post really isn’t so much about faith as it is about friendship and serendipity. A close friend and I have been discussing aging recently (we’re both 63) and how to shift gears into this stage of our lives as gracefully as possible. Physical ailments—especially chronic pain and fatigue—are kicking our butts more often than we are “managing” them.

I continue to discover some amazing new friends in our neighborhood, like Maggie, whom I wrote about last Friday and again this week on Monday. So today I’m going to mention two more friends who each live a stone’s throw from our house.

CronePriscilla (whom I met through church before we became neighbors) is packing to move and said she had a book to give me. So this morning as I walked across the street to take her some boxes, she gave me her copy of The Living Spirit of the Crone: Turning Aging Inside Out. Priscilla is a little older than me, and we are both cancer survivors and we share the same concerns that so many women our age have.  But here’s where serendipity comes in. The book was written by another neighbor and new friend, Sally Thomason, who lives directly across the street from me.

I fell in love with Sally the first time I met her. She reminds Bill and I of his favorite Aunt Betsy, who lived most of her life in Boston. Sally is former Dean of the Meeman Center for Special Studies at Rhodes College, and is also the author of a short novel, The Topaz Brooch.

Sally Thomason

Sally Thomason

But it’s her book on aging that has me turning the pages today. And being thankful for this chain of friendship that seems to be circling my life. I may write more about the wisdom between the pages of this book later, but for today, I’m going to share an excerpt from the third chapter, “Beyond Patriarchy.”

I was probably in my late sixties when I came to the stark realization that I would never, could never, figure out my life. Life just is. And life is to be lived not figured out. It is not ours to control but a gift we receive in all its wonders and complexity. I know we are connected deeply and irrevocably to all that is, yet we are also exquisitely a separate entity that experiences the gift of life in a unique and singular way. But even stranger and more perplexing is that we ourselves are continually changing, growing, diminishing—a living, self-conscious process that ultimately defies reductive definition. However, because we are acutely aware of how the human species in spite of individual differences, conforms to patterns of structure and behavior, our very nature demands that we build theories and myths to explain and control our existence. This is part of our humanness.

Ten years ago when I started a serious study of aging, I focused on the way our society fears old age and defines it almost exclusively by biomedical, physical criteria. I learned a great deal about our culture’s history and beliefs, which are shaped by a tradition of patriarchy and allopathic medicine, as I describe in the next chapter. I also learned, by talking with older people, a great deal about the human spirit and the impulse of some aging individuals to defy cultural expectations and live a full and abundant, though vastly different, life from what they previously lived.

That’s the life I want to discover—or to chart for myself—as I continue into my sixties and, God willing, beyond. Today I’m thankful for friends and neighbors who are on this journey with me. Especially for Priscilla and Sally.

Mental Health Monday: Maggie and the Bean Stalk… Friends Forever!

This message appeared on Day 7

This message appeared on Day 7

Remember the joyful friend I wrote about in my blog past last Friday? Her name is Maggie. When she and her husband came to a party at our house on July 11, she brought me an unusual hostess gift. It’s a Nature’s Greeting bean plant.

 

I followed the simple instructions—opening the little can, watering the plant, and placing it in the sun light (in my kitchen window). Within a few days the bean sprouted, shed its shell, and revealed a secret message on one side, “Friends Forever,” and a happy face on the other side.

 

You can watch this video to see what happens beneath the surface (if you can handle the hyper narrator and music).

 
And here are my photos of the bean plant in progress. It makes me smile every time I look at it. I think I’m going to send some to my granddaughters and spread the joy around. Have a joyful Monday!

Day 5

Day 5

The bean shell with happy face imprint

The bean shell with happy face imprint

Happy Face Day 7

Happy Face Day 7

Day 8

Day 8

Day 9

Day 9

 

Mental Health Monday: Unraveling with Help From COURAGE, COMPASSION and CONNECTION

The_Gifts_of_Imperfection_Book_-_Brene_Brown_-_Front_Cover__28813_zoomLast Monday I did a post about Brené Brown’s appearance on Super Soul Sunday. I mentioned Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection, and ordered it immediately. Today I’m going to share a few reflections as I begin reading what Brown calls “Your Guide to a Wholehearted Life.”

The book has 10 chapters that she calls “Guideposts,” and I haven’t even gotten to those chapters yet, so this is just a few thoughts I’ve gleaned from her introductory chapters. Each one is packed with information and insight, so I don’t want to hurry my reading of this book or its impact on my life.

I turned 63 last week, so I’m past what most people would call “midlife.” I already had my midlife “crisis” about twenty years ago. And yet, I seem to circle my wagon back around the same issues that almost derailed me at forty—mostly having to do with the disparity between my dreams and my life as I was living it at the time. I feel that same distance today. Brown explains why:

People may call what happens at midlife ‘a crisis,’ but it’s not. It’s an unraveling—a time when you feel a desperate pull to live the life you want to live not the one you’re ‘supposed’ to live. The unraveling is a time when you are challenged by the universe to let go of who you think you are supposed to be and to embrace who you are.

As I read those words, I feel that I have been unraveling for much of my life. Brown explains that it’s not just midlife when one can experience this, but also at any significant life changes, such as “marriage, divorce, becoming a parent, recovery, moving, an empty nest, retiring, experiencing loss or trauma, or working in a soul-sucking job.” I have experienced most of the changes on that list, and you probably have, too. So how do we get through these situations in what she calls a “wholehearted” way? She defines three tools that we need—and these three will be expounded on more throughout the book—to let go of the things that are holding us back as we work our way through this journey. Here’s a peak at the tools—courage, compassion and connection.

COURAGE

The root of the word courage is cor—the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage had a very different definition than it does today. Courage originally meant ‘To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.’… Today courage is more synonymous with being heroic…. Heroics is often about putting our life on the line. Ordinary courage is about putting our vulnerability on the line.

e-e-cummings_quotes_courageWhat she’s talking about here is the courage to reach out to another person and share our shame stories—to tell them what we did that’s making us feel crappy. I talked a little bit about this in last Monday’s post. Especially about why it’s important WHO we choose to share with. It needs to be a person we can trust to hear us with compassion, without judgment or the need to “fix” us. Someone who has proven to also have the courage to say, “Oh, I’ve done that, too.” Or as Brown says, it must be someone who is willing to go into the darkness with us in order to help us find the light.

COMPASSION

The word compassion is derived from the Latin words pati and cum, meaning ‘to suffer with.’

compassionThat person we choose to share our stories with should be able to suffer with us. Brown was impressed with the American Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön’s writing on compassion and relationships:

Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.

This is powerful stuff. I believe this compassion has to start with a love and acceptance of ourselves. Combine that with courage, and we can reach out to others. This reaching out is the third tool Brown talks about.

CONNECTION

Many of us are willing to extend a helping hand, but we’re very reluctant to reach out for help when we need it ourselves. It’s as if we’ve divided the world into ‘those who offer help’ and ‘those who need help.’ The truth is that we are both.

goodbye-to-you-my-trusted-friend-300x267I love this. My journey has brought me through times when I was almost exclusively one of “those who offer help.” I was a woman’s retreat speaker, chairman of many committees, a busy volunteer. There were some years when a number of people would call me for advice (a few still do) or a shoulder to cry on in a crisis. During those years I found myself only willing to ask for help from someone “above” me—like a spiritual father (pastor) and mother (nun) with whom I had developed a relationship. Or someone with professional training in psychology. There’s nothing wrong with these relationships, as long as they are healthy ones. But most of us live ordinary lives among ordinary people, and we need to develop a healthy connection with those around us—especially with a chosen friend or two who have earned the right to hear our stories.

Stay tuned for future posts from this powerful book. And of course I’d love to hear from my readers who are on this journey with me.

Faith on Friday: Circling Faith with Flannery and Facebook Friends

imaginary-friends-cartoonIf you’re on Facebook, you probably already read about my disposal exploding Wednesday afternoon—just as I was finishing up cooking a meal for a friend who had surgery. This has happened before, but with my neck and ankle still healing, I knew I shouldn’t get on my hands and knees and lean up under the sink to clean up the mess. So, I decided to put a picture on Facebook, and lo and behold, a neighbor saw my plight and came over to clean up the mess! Sweet Rachel Rieves and I had only met once, at her daughter’s wedding last year. But because of Facebook, she knew about my situation and stepped in like a life-long friend.

And then the next day, another friend came by to purchase three copies of Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality, to give as gifts! She had heard from someone else that I had a few copies that didn’t sell at the library’s Bookstock event a few weeks ago. I was honored to inscribe them for her. It’s exciting that a book like this, which came out a year and a half ago, is having such an ongoing life. We will even have a panel at the Louisiana Book Festival on November 2!

oconnor_crutchesAnother dear friend, Charli Riggle—who used to live in Memphis but now lives outside Seattle, Washington—sends me links on Facebook to things she knows I’d love to read. Yesterday she sent me a link to this interesting blog post, “The Mean Grace of Flannery O’Connor.” She knows I’m an O’Connor fan, and this piece was really good. A sample:

The work of Flannery O’Connor could be harsh, violent and discomfiting. And yet it is also thick with truth, grace and redemption…. to those willing to consider her work more deeply, powerful themes of deeply religious truths become apparent. Perhaps the greatest and most pervasive of these truths in Flannery’s stories is the pain, suffering and “meanness” that often accompanies the beautiful grace of God.

The author goes on to point out that O’Connor had the “right” to write about suffering because of her own painful experience with lupus, of which she died at age 39. I’m not sure one must experience something in order to write about it, but I do believe our life experiences inform our writing.

HERTHEOPH-01Having moved back upstairs (just yesterday!) to sleep in the bedroom I share with my husband, after three months in a hospital bed downstairs in my office, I re-discovered the wonderful little book of quotes and stories about the lives of the saints that we keep in our icon corner at the top of the stairs. I’ll close out today’s Faith on Friday smorgasbord with these words on prayer. Prayer is something I’ve embraced a bit more since my accident, which has definitely increased my faith. But I’ve already noticed that the stronger and more mobile I get, the less inclined I am to prayer. When I could only lie in bed all day, struggling with pain and discomfort and boredom and anxiety, it was more natural to turn my heart towards God. Now it’s easier to turn towards pleasurable activities. Not that the two are at odds with one another. It’s just that I know I need to tend to my soul first, and then partake of God’s blessings with a thankful heart. “Real” prayer is hard work. Here are some words from St. Theophan that really help:

So, morning or evening, immediately before you begin to repeat your prayers, stand awhile, sit for a while, or walk a little and try to steady your mind and turn it away from all worldly activities and objects. After this, think who He is to whom you turn in prayer, then recollect who you are; who it is who is about to start this invocation to Him in prayer. Do this in such a way as to waken in your heart a feeling of humility and reverent awe that you are standing in the presence of God.

Amen. Have a great weekend, everyone!

Mental Health Monday: A Little Help From My Friends

I-get-by2I woke up this morning with this song on my mind.

Two months ago today I was taken by ambulance to Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola, Florida, following a head-on collision (with another ambulance) near Fairhope, Alabama, late the night before. I remember an incredible amount of details from that evening and my first day in the hospital. Questions asked to me by people at the wreck site and in the hospital. Kind, attentive people telling me what was happening each step of the way:

“We are taking you to x-ray now, Mrs. Cushman.”

“We are going to do an MRI now, Mrs. Cushman.”

“We are prepping you for surgery now, Mrs. Cushman.”

externalBut I was virtually alone—450 miles from home—while I was being rescued from the accident, transported to the hospital, admitted and treated by neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons, nurses and technicians, for multiple broken bones in my cervical spine and right leg and ankle. My husband got there as soon as he could get a flight and a rental car from the airport. By the time he arrived, I had survived a life-threatening trauma and two surgeries. Alone. But the medical professionals who cared for me were kind and communicative, and for that I will always be thankful.

neck scarOnce we got home to Memphis (three days later) I began to experience compassionate care on a whole new level. My husband of 43 years has been at my side every minute that he can, caring for my every need and beyond. And friends have been here constantly. I know I’ve already blogged about some of this—about the flowers and cards and phone calls and emails and home-cooked meals—but I had no idea how much help I was going to need—and receive—in the coming weeks. For the first few weeks, I could not be alone, even during the day, so friends stepped up and gave up their mornings or afternoons or both to “sit” with me and help me with tasks that I had done for myself for over sixty years. Bathing. Dressing. Getting food. Taking medicines.

i-get-by-with-a-little-help-from-my-friendsBut today, two months later, I thought I would be independent. And I’m not. Not even close. Well, closer than two months ago. I can bathe myself and get food from the kitchen and even do a little simple cooking, so long as it doesn’t take long since I have to balance on one foot while standing at the stove or the sink. And I can walk to the car on crutches now, so that my husband doesn’t have to push me in a wheelchair. But I still can’t put any weight on my right foot (which is now cast-free!) and I have another month with the neck brace. The stiffness and swelling in the ankle may take months to heal. Months. But I can flex my ankle. Just a little bit, but more than I could three days ago.

When my husband was recently away overnight, I needed help from 3 friends and 2 neighbors (who are also friends) just to get through the day:

One friend brought in the morning paper and put my mail out.

Another friend came over to help me with physical therapy (she’s a P.T.).

Another friend brought me lunch.

A neighbor put our trash can out.

Another neighbor brought in my mail.

lucy-my-lifeIt occurred to me that some people live much of their lives this way—depending upon the kindness of others. It’s very humbling to ask for and receive help like this. I look forward to the day when I can be “independent” again. But I think I will forever have a different view of how we need each other. And maybe—just maybe—that’s the main lesson I’m supposed to learn from all of this.

I haven’t always believed that I was loved. By God. By others. The textbooks say that some of this is because I was sexually abused as a child. But I think there’s more to it than that. I think that needing other people is vital to receiving love. From family. And from friends.

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Yesterday I got a phone call from a friend from high school whom I’ve only seen once since she was a bridesmaid in my wedding in 1970 because she moved to Ohio.  She had heard about my accident from a mutual friend and just wanted to talk. We talked for a long time, about our friendship back in the day and about our lives now. Our husbands. Our children. Our careers. Probably some of the same things we said to each other at our 40th high school reunion four years ago. But that was an evening filled with music and dancing and champagne and dressing to impress. Our phone call Sunday afternoon was  stripped bare of pretense. It was just an old friend reaching out to another old friend in her time of need. Now that’s what friends are for.

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