Wednesday, October 13, 2010

In Search of President Lincoln

I just came back from a week in Washington, D.C. and I have to say that I am happy to be home. D.C. is an amazing city and I did not begin to make a dent in seeing everything there was to see. I did, however, get to see some amazing things. My husband was tied up in two conventions for the Project Management Institute so I was on my own much of the time...a rather daunting idea for a small-town girl like me.

My first full day on my own I caught the shuttle bus from our hotel and after a twenty-minute (or so) ride, there I was at the corner of 12th and Pennsylvania Avenue standing in front of the Old Post Office and a life-sized (if not larger) statue of Benjamin Franklin.

After being pointed in the right direction by our very helpful bus driver, I set off down Pennsylvania Avenue, turned right at 15th Street (I think) and found myself in front of the White House (well actually it was the BACK of the White House but it's the part we usually see on TV). After a few minutes of camera duty, off I went to the George Washington Monument. At 550 feet, it is a great landmark if you are kind of lost or at least a little unsure that you remember the directions correctly (trust me on that one!).

After a short walk on this beautiful sunny day, I found myself standing in front of the ticket office where I secured a free ticket to go inside the monument and take the elevator up to the top. I asked for directions (I seemed to have done a LOT of that this past week) to the restroom and, after successfully locating them and taking care of business, I turned my attention to the very large stone structure in front of me. I followed the sidewalk and slowly wound my way closer and closer and as I did so, I unexpectedly became aware of the fact that there were tears in my eyes. I blinked them away and realized that a part of me wanted to cry.

Filing that part of me away for future reference, I took my place in line, and as I waited my turn, struck up a conversation with a very nice retired couple from Massachusetts. The time passed quickly as we shared our stories about how we came to be where we were and we parted ways when their small group went up into the monument ahead of me. My turn came at last and up I went to see some pretty spectacular views of the city.

Upon returning to ground level, I set off down (up?) the mall to pay my respects to President Lincoln, not realizing that the object of my desire was further away than it appeared. I walked along in the bright sunshine and found myself at the World War II Memorial, an amazing creation, indeed!

Being a woman on a mission, I spent little time there as I could see my goal getting closer. However, I was there long enough to see the old men standing in small groups quietly talking, laughing, sharing their stories and having their pictures taken under the wreaths with their state's name engraved below them. I quietly said a prayer and a thank you for the sacrifices these men and women made so that I could live in freedom and I pushed onward.

As I walked along the reflecting pool, I began to realize just how far apart the Washington monument and Lincoln memorial really are. As I walked, I met up with the couple from Massachusetts again and, after making jokes about stalking, I propelled myself forward finally leaving the reflecting pool behind and standing at the bottom of the 58 steps leading to what I can only describe as the GINORMOUS Lincoln Memorial building.

One by one, I made my way up the steps, finding my pace slowing as I neared the summit; partially from fatigue but mostly from awe. I stepped into the building, made my way around the cool stone columns and there HE was. I stepped closer, tears filling my eyes and, perhaps, one or two sliding down my cheeks. I blinked and stepped up to the velvet ropes oblivious to those around me taking pictures and talking. I had no time for them. I was standing at the feet of Abraham Lincoln.

After just BEING in that moment of being awestruck and overwhelmed, I slowly made my way back down the steps and made my way to the Vietnam memorial. Again, I took in this famous landmark saying a prayer for all those names on the wall and their friends and families.

I have seen pictures of these places but nothing prepared me for seeing these things in person with my own eyes. Touching the cool stone, feeling the hush in these quiet places (even with people milling around them). I was actually HERE. This was REAL. These things were put here for ME and for every citizen of this great country. They were not created on a sound stage in Hollywood. This was not a work of fiction.

They exist not only as a way for us to honor those that they represent but to connect us to them. To give us a tangible THING to hold onto. We are physical beings, we need to use our senses to make things real. We need to see and touch and smell and hear (maybe not taste in this instance...) these things. I am beginning to realize the importance of preserving our past and perhaps, one day, I will be more inclined to actually set foot into a museum (not one of my favorite things to do) but until then, I certainly have a deeper understanding of why we have them and for that I am grateful.

Finding Joy in this (long-walked) Journey,


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Montreal: An Adventure in Communication

Montreal is a very vibrant, lively city! We spent five days there at the end of July and really enjoyed just walking the streets, shopping, eating, riding their fabulous Metro system and just hanging out.

The biggest challenge was that the only one who spoke French in our group was our son who had four years in high school. What was wonderful was how willing people were to speak English with us, especially when they could see that we were really trying to speak French...perhaps they took pity upon us!

Along with having a lovely break from home and some quality time with my family, I found a much deeper level of compassion for those who come to the United States with very little English. Just reading a sign or a menu or buying a cup of coffee can become a major project. It is exhausting!

Had we been there longer than a week, the immersion in the culture and the language would have really started to turn things around for me and it would have gotten easier. As it was, we were willing to try and I found my vocabulary growing. Our son did a fabulous job but even he found his limitations of knowledge. I think that's the key: trying. I know I probably looked silly and my accent was atrocious, but I checked my ego at the door and chose to laugh at myself which gave the person I was attempting to talk to permission to laugh, too.

I hear a lot of people saying "This is America...we speak English here!" and I have to confess that I've felt that way on occasion but I've come to realize that it goes beyond language. We are all human. We are all in this together. We all have common ground and common bonds and we need to connect on the human level.

We need to try to meet halfway. If someone is here in the U.S. who speaks little or no English, we can still communicate. Willingness to try, laughter and a smile go a long way. It's challenging and exhausting but isn't it all about the connection?

My daughter is studying Japanese and we had the opportunity to host an exchange student from our school's sister school in Chiba, Japan (in fact, my daughter spent a week with her and her family this summer). Our house guest, a lovely sixteen-year-old girl, would light up when I would try to speak a word or two in Japanese. We spoke from the heart with smiles and hugs and mangled English and Japanese and we connected. We hugged each other and cried when our visit was over.

I made a suggestion to my family. I'm not sure it will happen, but they all liked the idea. We pick a language and get a computer program, such as Rosetta Stone, and we study the language and speak it in our home. The hardest part may be getting us to agree on a language...I'm willing to try.

Enjoy the Journey!


Friday, July 30, 2010

Coming Soon...Montreal: The Blog

After 7 years, we are taking a family vacation! My husband had to present a paper in Montreal this week so here we are: Me, my husband, our 17-yr-old daughter, our 20-yr-old son and his 18-yr-old girlfriend.

Details coming soon! I am typing this on hub's laptop at 3 a.m. as we're just too busy for me to get much computer time.


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

I'm Not Your Mother!

Last night my husband and I were at TJ Maxx. He sat down near the entrance to the mall and waited while I purchased a belt. Upon meeting up with him he pointed out two TJ Maxx shopping carts sitting in the middle of the entryway, 10 feet away from where the carts belong and he told me he had watched 2 people just leave them right there....

My son and I stopped at Starbucks on our way to Bass Pro Shop/Outdoor World. While my son shopped, I browsed and finished my drink and went off in search of a trash can. I didn't see one so I asked an employee who was standing nearby. He pointed one out behind me. I hadn't seen it because people were standing in front of it. The employee actually thanked me for throwing my cup away! He said that normally they would just find them sitting on shelves throughout the store....

A friend of mine told me about being at the gym and having to ask a man to remove the 50 lb. weights from a machine because they were too heavy for her to move and the dirty look he gave her....

I'm not even going to mention some of the stuff I've seen in public restrooms....

And people have been sticking chewing gum to the undersides of tables since, well, the invention of chewing gum...

What is up with that? Why do we feel that we are not responsible for our stuff? Why do we expect other people to clean up after us?

Now I must confess that I have set my cup or water bottle down and gotten distracted and walked away which is a different story. That's only because I can be a total airhead!

Is this getting worse or is it just me?

When was the last time you were out shopping and knocked something over? Did you pick it up? Did you walk by pretending it wasn't you? When was the last time you picked up something that somebody else knocked over?

I am at a loss as to why this is happening. I can think of some possibilities: apathy, laziness, irresponsibility, a feeling of entitlement to name a few.

So when we are out and about, let's remember that 'the other guy' is not our mother or our maid and take care of our own stuff!

Enjoy the journey...and help clean up the path!


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Ripple Effect

The world seems to be filled with a lot of grumpy people. You see them behind counters, behind steering wheels, behind you in the checkout line.... You may not even realize they are grumpy because you don't have to interact with them, but there it is: grumpiness festering beneath the surface like a boil, waiting for some unnamed pressure to cause it to burst onto the surface.

What happens when that grumpy boil bursts from pressures throughout the day and splatters all over an innocent bystander? What could that look like? Road Rage? Emotional/Verbal/Physical/Sexual Abuse? Self abuse such as drinking, drugs, gambling, overspending, overeating...and whatever else is out there?

I believe that we have direct positive or negative influence on people and the people they interact with after we encounter them. That positive or negative energy is going to spread out into the world like ripples on a pond. It is entirely possible that by the end of the day somebody, somewhere is going to boil over because the negative energy in their life kept growing.

So, how can we change that? Do you realize that through small, simple measures, we can make a HUGE difference in the world? Holding the door for someone, a look and a smile, an acknowledgment. Don't we all just want to be noticed? To know that someone sees us? To know that we are not invisible?

Is it possible to stop road rage by simply allowing another car to merge in front of us? Is it possible to turn someone's day around to the point that they do not go home and kick the dog or yell at the wife and kids simply by acknowledging someones' existence? Have you ever been in line at the grocery store with a cart full of stuff and the person in line behind you only has 2-3 items and you invited them to go ahead of you in line?

I expressed these feelings to a former church pastor of mine awhile ago and he responded by saying how he'd wished I had participated in a study group that summer that focused on teaching people this principal (remember WWJD a few years back?). I was rather dumbfounded that this idea needed to be taught.

I don't expect to be remembered in 100 years, but I truly believe that people remember me today because I took a moment out of my busy day to acknowledge them in a positive way. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a saint and I'm not perfect and I fail at least 50% of the time but my goal is this: To look at people and really see them and, when possible, do a small thing that might influence them in a positive way.

What small thing have you done lately to spread positive energy?


Monday, July 12, 2010

I've lost my mind(fulness) again!

The other day I misplaced my phone three times, lost my keys, stubbed my toes more than once and only half listened to something my husband said to me. Oh, and I almost left the house without letting the dog back inside.

Sound familiar? How much time do we spend not being present to the, well, the present? We're always thinking about something else; what we need to do next, don't forget ____, I can't believe what so-and-so said the other day blah blah blah. That's an awful lot of noise being created inside our heads! It's no wonder we misplace stuff, have accidents and relationship issues! Not to mention the amount of over-the-counter pain reliever we're taking for headaches!

This is our life and we spend hours/days/weeks/months/years mentally checked out from it! What would happen if we actually made the effort to focus on the task at hand? Even something as simple/boring/tedious as washing the dishes?

Try it. The next time you notice you are not present to what you are doing, pause for a moment, take a slow deep breath and focus on what you are doing. Let all the other thoughts come and go and focus on your task. Notice your breathing, slow it down. Nothing matters but that very moment and the task at hand. Notice what is going on in your head. Is it quieter? Calmer? More peaceful? Notice the stillness.

Notice how you feel when you are finished with your task. Take a moment to observe yourself. No need to rush into the next task. It will still be there after you have taken this time to pause.

Congratulations! You just meditated! You don't have to go sit in a quiet place with candles and complete silence or weird music. You can find the time and space to meditate anywhere, at any time!

Being mindful also has other bonuses: less time spent looking for phones, car keys, whatever because you actually notice where you put them as well as better relationships because you focus on the person you are with and believe me, they will notice!

Try it and let me know what happens!

Enjoy the journey!


Sunday, July 11, 2010

I'll Post...Later.

I am such a procrastinator! Why is it that we put things off? Even those things that we enjoy doing or are important to us get put off. I think one reason is that we get so bogged down with the little things in life: the paperwork, the errands, the housework (well ok, I can't really be accused of that one because my house is trashed 90% of the time!). We get caught up playing computer or video games for hours (After a year I gave up my FarmVille, Cafe World and, finally, Mafia Wars because I wasn't getting anything done).

It occurred to me today that it is possible that all of those mundane, 'safe' things are just excuses not to step out of our comfort zones and maybe, just maybe, really accomplish something amazing.

Our days are numbered. We don't know what tomorrow will bring. We need to have a sense of urgency about us. A sense that we need to be amazing RIGHT NOW, at THIS MOMENT. There are opportunities out there: people we need to connect with in a meaningful way, passions that need to be followed, differences we need to make in this world.

I began Yoga Teacher Training in February of this year. My assignment from last Monday was to create a new sequence for this Monday. Well, it's Sunday and I'm just getting to it today, Sunday. Why? I don't know! I did not feel creative and then I felt the weight of the assignment upon my shoulders which made me feel even MORE uncreative which made me avoid the exercise...on and on and on, 'round and 'round and 'round. Once I started it, I was having fun and the creativity returned as did my energy and sense of lightness.

We spend our time putting off the important things and then we feel bad about it which makes us put it off even more and the next thing we know we're paralyzed, our energy is drained and we spend more time doing the mundane things we hate or hiding out playing video games or on the computer.

So, I close this post and go back to my mat to finish my sequence so that I can move forward in my passion: Teaching yoga. After that, some time with my karate, another passion of mine. After that...mundane stuff, here I come!


Saturday, July 10, 2010

Happy Birthday, Dad!

Today is my dad's birthday. That is always a challenge. Finding a card that doesn't sound fake, not too much sentiment, stuff I don't mean or, more likely, am afraid to say. It's hard with my dad, even at 50 years old, my inner child is still afraid to step out there for fear of getting hurt.

It's been a long road and, I'm grateful to say that we have a good relationship these past 20 years or so. We each know that we only have each other, I am his only child by birth, the only living link to my mother, his wife, who passed away in 1973.

He is a troubled man with hurts reaching back to his childhood still haunting him. I asked him once if he thought he could ever be at peace with his past and he told me no, it was too big. I think that's true sometimes. Our history seems just too big, too hard to tackle and so we go on, carrying our past with us as if long-ago pain happened just yesterday.

Making peace with the past is not easy and not a task to be undertaken lightly but let me tell you from experience that the hard work is worth the effort. Going through that dark forest and finally stepping out into the sunny meadow is worth all the work. The lightening of the spirit brings about deep peace and joy.

As you journey into the past, don't forget your supplies: a compass so you always know you are going in the right direction, a box of tissues to dry your eyes and a soft place to fall when you are too weary to walk any further.