Monday, February 27, 2012

Guilty as Charged

As I drove to my Yoga class this morning I told myself over and over, “Leave all of your baggage here in the car for the next hour and a half.  It will still be here waiting for you when you come back.”

During the class I had to remind myself of that as my mind kept jumping out of the present moment and returning to a past that weighs heavily on my heart and a future of “gotta-do’s.”   All of us have a hard time being in the present and releasing our minds from all that plagues us, but it is important for our health, both physical and mental, to gift ourselves with moments of nothingness.  So much harder said than done, especially when guilt is added to the mix.

My husband claims that I never say “I’m sorry.”  Perhaps he’s right, I don’t say those words too often, but I say it’s because I try really hard not to do things that I have to apologize for.  Arrogant answer, I know, but it’s a philosophy that I try to live by, even if I don’t always live up to it.  I think aspiring to live a guilt-free life is a goal that keeps me mindful to be a good person.  I also think that guilt is such a wasted emotion, one that serves no purpose but to weigh you down.  But, growing up in a Catholic family, guilt is imbedded into my psyche and when it hits me, it serves a devastating blow. 

Right now my heart is heavy with it. 

One of my dogs, my favorite, Maya, was attacked and badly injured over a week ago.  Due to financial constraints as well as fear, I chose to care for her on my own, not taking her to a veterinarian where I was pretty confident the prognosis would force me to decide to either go into debt to try and save her or to allow her to be put down immediately without taking extraordinary measures to save her. 

I believed I could, with my love and ministrations save her.  I was wrong and she died. 

There are so many emotions and images that just cannot be held at bay: I see her trusting black eyes looking into my own; I remember the feel of her head upon my shoulder when she wanted to snuggle; her annoying barking and hyper energy, her last moments as her body gave in.  She was not just a dog to me and the truth that I did not serve her in her time of need haunts me.  As a friend said by way of comforting me, “You’ve been down this road before.”  Yes, that is true, but my heart was tied up in this one dog deeply and the circumstances of her death should not have happened. 

Love and guilt – a volatile combination.

I told my husband that each day gets a little better.  Crying about my loss happens quite suddenly and is set off by the most mundane things.  I have a photograph of her close at hand, her collar in my desk drawer and her name tag around my neck.  I believe that over time I will be able to relinquish these things, putting them among my many treasured mementos.  

Maya’s passing reminds me that as I get older, this experience will visit me more frequently as I will have to say goodbye to people I know and love, that I will only have treasured memories to sustain me once they are gone. 

Maya taught me many lessons during her short life with me.  Love was one; I hope forgiveness is not far behind.   This time, "I'm sorry" just doesn't seem to be enough.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

What Story Does That Photograph Tell?

A recent story in Parade Magazine, My Story in Five Faces (February 19, 2012) is just the kind of thing that motivates my writing.  So I decided to write a small portion my own story using photographs of me throughout my five decades, just as the writer of the piece did. 

Perhaps my readers will be inspired to dust off their own photo albums and if not write a life-story blog post, maybe they will verbally share the memories that long-ago self elicits.

Although I've shared this picture in a past post, it felt right for me to start my pictorial life story with the first image of me.  This is me with my mother, Patricia Ann Oberlander Gioia.  I think she is smiling because after birthing 3 boys, she finally has her girl.  I am bundled and secure in her arms, yet that would last but a year.  Just a month after my first birthday my mother would be gone. 

I wonder if my subconscious has any remnants of memory of these moments?

I have just received my First Holy Communion.  That is my grandmother's prized Lilac bush behind me.  This was my day to be a princess.  I see how special I feel in this picture and know I have made my grandma proud.

I am not longer a practicing Catholic (or religious person of any denomination), but I did inherit my grandmother's love of gardening. 

Here I am, all grown up and on my own.  High school is behind me, college is over and I have the whole world of opportunity in front of me.  Here I am in Happy Camp, California.  I am on the last leg of a post-graduation road trip with the man who would soon become my first husband and the father of my children.  The path to that future is filled with many harrowing bumps in the road, but at this moment I feel the freedom that comes from having no responsibilities (school, a job, children).  I am surrounded by things I love in nature: the Siskiyou Mountains, pine trees, the Klamath River, and wildlife. 

The memories made during this time and the things I learned here formed much of the woman I am now.

In my third decade I become a wife for the second time.  This union is the beginning of stability for me and my daughters.  As restless as I am and as often as I resisted the stability, my logical self knew this to be good for me.  Twenty-four years later (which happens to be tomorrow), I am still restless but acknowledge the good fortune I have in being loved and cared for by a devoted partner.   The lessons I've learned from being a wife and mother have enriched me beyond all measure.

I celebrated my 45th birthday on Half Dome Mountain in Yosemite National Park.  With me on that momenteous night of a full moon is my best friend since the age of nine, Nancy.  For an entire summer I am surrounded once again by the beauty of nature unleashed.  I am also at the beginning of a new career path, one that ends with me going back to school for a graduate degree and working professionally as an archaeologist and historian. 

While I can see in this picture that my cute, young self is evolving into a mature woman's body, I understand deep down how vanity is replaced by the love of friends, family, and possibilities.

I am fifty-four years old now. I am the grandmother of 3, the proud mother of two, a devoted and loyal wife to one and friend to many. I have found my footing in life, yet continue to push the boundaries as I am not yet ready to stop learning and experiencing things. 

My future has yet to unfold and I have yet to discover all that there is to this life. I am still searching.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Is This What They Call "Venting?"

As many of my blog readers know, writing has been my outlet to work out issues that have affected me in profound ways. Many people that are in my life have reacted differently to my approach at “self-therapy.” Some are supportive and generous with their praise and I am so grateful for their unconditional love; others have chosen to shun me to express their disapproval. 
I do realize that writing my blog and publically sharing certain details of my life, feelings, and experiences is disconcerting, but I promise, I try very hard to remain respectful. That said, I have a need to write at this time as this has been a very trying week, full of challenges that test me.

Because of the nature of the challenges and the people and events that have generated them, I will not be specific. Not this time. But allow me the forum in which to release my demons.

Deepak Chopra’s book, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success is a book that sits upon my bookshelf and must be pulled out during times such as these. One of the laws resonates with me on this journey through life and that is not to judge anything. A difficult task for us humans, to be sure, but I have had to remind myself of that often. There are some people in this life that have proved to be a great disappointment to me, yet I must allow them their own life’s journey. One of my favorite sayings comes from the book, Into the Forest by author Jean Hegland: “You are your own person.” When I see people that I love or that are in my life doing hurtful things to either themselves or to others, my natural instinct is to try and “fix” them. That is not my place.

Someone in my life whom I love dearly has disappointed me greatly. They are destroying themselves and I am powerless to stop them. It breaks my heart.

Because of certain life-changing events I have experienced, acknowledging anniversary dates as is a common practice for me. Each one of my parents’ birth and death dates, for example, do not go by without reflection.

So, from this point forward Valentine’s Day 2012 will be a date I will remember because I had to make a decision that was necessary, but one that caused me great distress. It was not a good day and I feel a great deal of pain at what occurred, but I take the experience and allow myself to feel it and, the truth is, I believe it makes me so much stronger.

Sometimes when I am these reflective moods, I have what I consider to be the most profound thoughts about life. I pay closer attention to my surroundings: the sky, moon, wind. I allow myself to feel the love I have for my family and friends. I reach deep within me to truly feel what these people mean to me. Sometimes I am brought to tears at the raw emotion these moments evoke in me. The best thing that happens is that I become hyper-aware of how beautiful this life is, that this is the one and only life that I will have and that making the most of it: the painful and the joyful parts, is worth every single tear and smile.

Forgive me for this soliloquy, but just as I thought, writing it down (and even sharing it with the world at large) has eased me.

I believe I will be able to sleep tonight.