new horizons

Metaphysically speaking almost anything can be a new horizon. A new calendar year, a new job, a new home, a new day. Every year as long as I have known her my ex-mother-in-law has acknowledged my birthday, though at times I imagine she wished I did not have one, and has shared Christmas with a gift of a 3-month subscription of lovely seasonal fruit.

When Hurricane Florence threatened my area as a category 4 storm this thoughtful woman offered to have me stay with her (she lives about 250 miles inland) and had even advised a nearby veterinarian I would need to board my dogs. She let me know she had done all of this and I was deeply thankful to her for caring about me after 40 years. The forecasts about this storm changed constantly and, crazy as it might have sounded to her I said I needed to see how bad it would be since it would be difficult to return in the aftermath (it was, very) and I’d rather be there in case my home sustained any damage so I could report it quickly (it did, though minor thank God).

Though I sent her flowers this apparently was insufficient to appease her or convince her of my (slightly) insane decision to stay. For the first time in all these 40-plus years I did not receive a birthday card from her.

Ouch.

Nor did I receive the annual Christmas gift of fruit. Admittedly, her family sustained a terrible shock just before Thanksgiving in a completely unexpected death in their family so I truly did not look for anything from her. Quite the contrary I found myself at loose ends as to what I could do to help because our lives were not connected at any significant depth.  Yet this is a new horizon for me. A new phase where I proceed in life without her in it as she seems to have chosen to end contact.

This happens in life. We gain friends, we lose friends, people. Circumstances change. New discoveries are made that can change how we see everything.

Very early New Year’s night this happened. My son (who has done this since he left home) called to wish me a happy new year. I suddenly remembered the New Horizons space craft had been scheduled to encounter the outermost object in our solar system, the Ultima Thule (too’ -lee).

UT-approach-3D.jpg(courtesy NASA.gov)

What this object is as yet is unknown. The New Horizons has gone behind the sun so extracting data about it is not possible for a few days. Once it returns to a receptive position NASA will begin a 20-month extraction to determine what this is, how old it is and, ultimately, they hope to better understand the origins of the universe.

God gives us gifts. I admire those given the gift of aerodynamics, science, astrophysics and anything that enables people to create that which, in my small brain, defies the logical capabilities of anything. I’m a total geek about space travel and discovery. When the space shuttles still flew I cried with joy everytime one returned safely to the Kennedy Space Center and watched as those enormous parachutes opened to stop its forward velocity.

This is all so incredible to me. I receive email notifications when the International Space Station is on a trajectory of my area’s longitude and latitude and I am given coordinates and times so I can go outside, if it’s clear, and watch this tiny dot of reflected light arc the sky overhead. And I stand there in awe of what God has enabled mere man to do.

So people, things, events, circumstances come and go in life. I have learned to enjoy them, be grateful and see them for the gift that they are however they present themselves and when they go, to continue to look ahead without regret or discouragement. Only God knows the number and substance of my days.

I hope to live them well.

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Reunions and family gatherings

I grew up in a painfully honest family. We couched nothing in kid gloves, we told it like it was so consequently we all had pretty warped senses of humor. We had to have a strong sense of the ridiculous because that’s what our lives, laid completely bare, were. Nowhere to hide.

Fast-forward to my 21st year. I still only had one brother, a Mother and a Father. Two cousins that I had seen twice in my life since we lived in North Carolina and they were in New Jersey. And one visit was in New Jersey after my dad was transferred to New York and we lived just outside Princeton.

I married someone who had an enormous family. His immediate family consisted of both parents, one brother, but his mother’s family had throngs of siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins– first, second and third, and then they started on the removeds. I thought this must be just wonderful. A never-ending sea of potential friends, cohorts, partners-in-crime.

Boy was I ever wrong.

I doubt all large families are like this. Most likely warmly recall the frog stuck in Auntie May’s purse when she wasn’t looking and then went to find a pen… or Uncle Bob’s attempt at a one-and-a-half gainer and the resulting broken ankle. The stories told as dusk faded to black, or as darkness turned to the groggy eyes of dawn on a stroll to the lakeside for a little pre-breakfast fishing.

No, this family was like none I had ever seen. I only made two of these “meetings” and both terrified me. I am still unsure of the purpose of them every two years, but from what I understand (I bowed out of this family only 5 years into it) they still happen. And now the relatives are so distant I wonder they even recognize anyone at all. My son still attends them, occasionally, but comes away in such a foul mood I can’t imagine what can be the point of going.

Most families relish the joys of recollection or sharing of personal successes, commiseration of unexpected setbacks. Not these. They fed on one-upmanship and critiquing, unsolicited, and to embarrassing degrees. I often wondered whether any of them would want to even see the others, ever. But sure enough, next time I attended there they all were.

I guess people show love in different and peculiar ways. Which may be why I remain a shy and reticent observer, happy to stay out of any limelight, but also happy to share anyone’s joys, recollections, or empathize with setbacks and restarts.

Snipe hunting anyone? Not me, thanks.

~Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some sort of battle.

Benediction

Relationships are so fluid. Some neighbors can be closer than family, some friends almost seem to understand what it is like in your own skin, it’s eerie. Then the relationship changes.

A friend I have known for many years, more than 15 anyway, suddenly dropped off my radar. Just like that. No more emails, no responses, replies, no communication. She and I were never what I would call particularly close, but seemed like-minded in many ways and shared interesting aspects of our lives. So maybe that funny little email that goes around every so often “Friends come into our lives for a reason or a season” actually means something. Or I am just at an age where I think nothing will change, then a small, imperceptible ripple and *poof* someone disappears.

She and I have acquaintances in common but no one seems to know. A mystery I suppose of perhaps a butterfly that happened between our lives and so altered a cosmic metaphysical aspect such that we are on entirely different wavelengths. We no longer hear the same harmonics, or feel the same rhythm. Sad, but it happens I guess.

As John Donne claimed, “No man is an island, entire of itself…” we feel it when someone fades from view. A piece of our world has cracked or been pierced and must be mended. It will be, in time. In the meantime we continue on and eventually realize we are whole again, healed, and healing.

Thanks my friend for having enriched my life for however brief or long a time. All good things to you.

Connected

con·nect·ed  (kə-nĕk′tĭd) adj.

1. Joined or fastened together; 2. Mathematics: a. Not decomposable into two disjoint nonempty open sets. b. Having a continuous path between any two points. Used of a curve, set, or surface; 3. Related by family; 4. Logically or intelligibly ordered or presented; coherent: a stroke that left him incapable of connected speech; 5. Associated with or related to others, especially to influential or important people: a photographer who was well connected in the fashion world.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
 
So this definition from the Free Dictionary (aka American Heritage dictionary) says this word is an adjective. Which, by these definitions it is. But I am thinking of how it is used in the form of a noun. To be connected. Do you feel more connected with all the technology, telephonics, satellites?
 
I get this a lot, especially in surveys which I really enjoy (so long as they are about stuff I know). Am I connected? Do I feel more connected because of cell phones, Internet?
 
Well, yes and more, no.
 
I can talk to anybody anywhere whenever I want because of cell phones. I can go online and share information with people, most of whom I have never met, on a facebook/myspace/linkedin or some other page. Yes, I see there are people who think as I do, who are as passionate as I am about many things. But do I feel connected? No, not in the sense other than that we share this common interest. I have never looked in their actual eyes (except by avatar or thumbnail). I have never noticed the hint of a smile, shyly maybe at first then spreading as we discover a shared hope or wish or interest. I can’t see them cry or laugh other than that ridiculous “lol” which I never liked as an alternative to actually hearing someone laughing out loud. Anybody can say lol, but maybe they are too self-conscious to be able to actually roar out an lol. Maybe they are too proud to let somebody see them cry and I can’t see they are trying to hide their tears. Maybe they want to appear aloof and typed words have never, in my experience, been able to give any accurate indication of inflection or intonation or emphatic insistence. They are just words. Indifferent. They lie flat, two-dimensional, only their meanings are expressed by definition, not by how they sound.
 
No, I would not say this makes me feel more connected. If I did I’d be living in a vacuum.

Left No Forwarding Address

So a week ago I was buying a house. In the next 24 hours the sellers defaulted on the contract; they did not offer anything in writing showing they would provide for or perform repairs the inspection turned up so we terminated.

But when I thought I was going to move, I marveled at the amount of catalogs and junk mail that gets stuffed in the mailbox, especially this time of year. So I told myself, just give forwarding information to magazines, organizations and people I want to have my new address (all my bills are paid online) and don’t leave a forwarding address. None of that stuff will follow you.

Then I began wondering: what kind of life am I living where people will know what kind of address at which I will ultimately find myself? Of course at that point I will be unreachable (despite what Mitch Albom’s new fiction novel purports in receiving communications), but like my parents and a few friends who have already moved into a new dimension I’d like for people to think better of where I wind up.

Nobody can send anything to me (except prayers), I can’t bring stuff, but I doubt I will miss any of what is down here. Which makes me wonder why it is so difficult to let go of some things?

I have a necktie my dad used to wear to the office when I worked with him. It has a knight in armor, lance drawn, on horseback. It’s a pretty garish tie, brown and orange as I remember, not silk even, but that tie is one of my cherished possessions. He would wear that tie on days I felt the smallest, most hopeless and wondered whether or not I could ever accomplish any of the things he was working hard at training me to do. When he wore the tie I knew he had figured out something to fix everything, and he did. Presumably when my time comes I will see my dad again, and my mom, but I still can’t bring myself to give her silver to my brother, who entertains far more than I and might make good use of it, nor can I get rid of that tie.

I have my dad’s shaver, a camera still in its box, and the barrel to my brother’s .22 rifle that Dad taught him how to shoot with. No idea what ever became of the stock.

Oh, I also have some photos and a scrap book with memories of the Nutcracker in New York which Dad took me to see every year from when I was around 8, sugar packets from a trip to Aspen, matchbooks, playbills and cocktail napkins. Somehow these tangible things make me feel closer to my memories of Dad, but more than that I guess both he and my mom still speak to me in my heart, if I make myself very still.

So families and very good friends, no matter where we go, somehow keep our addresses, and we theirs, and we don’t lose touch

Touchstones

This is an interesting word. For me it’s always meant someone who brings me back to earth, a reality check, someone by whom I can find comfort or place, or peace. The word actually is defined as “a test or criterion for the qualities of a thing”, it’s something- a stone- that was used to determine the purity of a precious metal (read: gold). For me it’s another word for a good friend. Someone who, even if they let you down they are still in your life. It’s not like they drop out of your realm of existence. I have a very few friends like that, well only a couple really, who I may not hear from in oh, maybe a year, but when we reconnect it’s like time never passed. We are essentially the same, whatever we are reconnecting for- a problem, a joy, just to talk. These people do not flatter, they do not lie, they do not manipulate or try to figure out what it is I “want” to hear. That’s why they are so important. They tell the truth and what I need to hear. And they are always right. We want what is best for each other, we have no agendas, no subversive motives.

And if they do let you down, maybe it’s me who needs to look at the disappointment. Maybe it’s something I need to redo, relearn, understand better. We are on the same wavelength, our radars read the same blips. Sometimes those blips are better handled with a friend like this. Sometimes when I do try to handle something on my own I find out the hard way I needed someone with me in it.

Family members can be touchstones. My brother is one. He and I have a history- our entire lives- together. So by virtue of what we lived through we have a basis of understanding we won’t have with anyone else. We lived through the function or dysfunction of our family and learned to use it for strength or how to laugh about it. My son is another. As he has grown into his depths he has learned to temper a lot of what he and I lived through with greater compassion, but we still laugh about things, too.

I guess touchstones, when they are people are not so much a thing that tells you the quality of a precious stone, they are the precious stone itself.

Tangled webs

“Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” People quote this wrongly attributing it to Shakespeare. I first heard it from my ex-husband who did not credit it to anyone. It was in Walter Scott’s poem, “Marmion” (1808). It’s kind of the moral of the poem, based on a love triangle where somebody actually dies. Suffice to say it really makes things bad when someone lies. It complicates everything. The person(s) lied to believe it because we don’t want to have the baggage of trust issues all over us, and basically we want to believe in people. So the liar has to perpetuate the lie, or completely discredit him/herself and own up to being a liar. Who wants that? Then it takes on a life of its own, this lie, kind of like a cancer. Its host, the liar, abandons reality in order to perpetuate this alternate universe, started by a simple, little lie. It’s easier to eat some humble pie, admit to the thing and get on with it. Maybe s/he loses credibility with a person or some persons. Maybe a lot of people. Maybe those people believe in second chances and the liar had a clean slate before. Then it’s easier to put the trust option out there again. But if this was a chronic situation, second chances having been had all around before it’s way harder. The liar might as well move, change jobs, or just dig a hole and wait things out. Do people forget? Some might. Some might not, but are willing to forgive, but they remember what happened so their antenna are up, you know, just in case.

What the heck. Being honest, telling the truth is a whole lot easier. At least you can sleep.