Friday, January 30, 2015

Saying "Yes."

Towards the end of my drinking, "No," was my standard response to invitations, opportunities, and life itself. Locked into my own dark and tormented world of spiritual decay, I was incapable of participating in the joy, the magic, the beauty around me. The outer vestiges of my life still looked good. The beds were made. The kids had clean clothes. Groceries got delivered (thanks, blessedly, to PeaPod). Luxury cars lined the driveway. We still took fancy vacations. A ceramic plaque hung above the hearth of our sprawling Colonial, "A mother's love is the heart of the home." Regrettably, this mother's heart had shut down years before. I went through enough motions to make you think everything was fine, but inside I was an empty shellServe the world? I'd throw money at a cause, but give of myself, my time, my energy? Never.

New England experienced a snowstorm this week, and while it never quite reached the epic proportions predicted, the Northeaster did drop at least a foot of snow and higher drifts. Scrolling through Facebook the day before the storm, I came upon a link for an organization, Serve Rhode Island. The headline read, "Hundreds of volunteers needed to shovel." Curious, I clicked on it, and decided to add my name to the list of volunteers willing to help the community's elderly and health-challenged residents. I graciously submitted to a background check, and by the end of the day, I received an email notifying me that I had been selected. I received my marching orders and drove enthusiastically out to Coventry not knowing what to expect. I discovered a disabled, arthritic woman, a cancer survivor, a woman perhaps younger than myself. When she came to the door to greet me, she looked past me and asked, "Do you have help?" I laughed out loud and pointed to my shovel. Half-way into the job, an entrepreneurial plow driver and his assistant stopped and offered to "finish the job for twenty dollars." When I explained that I was just a volunteer, doing it for free, they both looked at me quizzically, smiled, and went on their way.

My neighbor came to the door a half-dozen times, expressing concern for me, my safety, my heart, offering me water. When I was all finished, and pretty proud of the wide swath I had cleared for her to get her car out,  I thanked her. I explained that by asking for help, she gave me and countless other volunteers the chance to be useful, to provide a service. We exchanged phone numbers like good neighbors sometimes do.

I won't lie. The snow was light at first, and my movements were swift, but as I got closer to the curb where the plows had mounded several feet of wet, slushy snow, the work got tougher. By the time I got back to my car to await my next assignment, I was flushed, but grateful that at sixty years old, I am strong in body, mind, and spirit, and that I have learned to give an enthusiastic, "Yes," a hearty thumbs-up, to life.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Fully Present

Hi, everybody. I am writing this blog post from the Wired Lounge at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Management, and presumably the majority of guests staying in the dormitories and private rooms here, frown on the use of portable electronic devices. For me, however, the retreat experience has less to do with yoga and Swami Kripalu than it does with meditation, contemplation, and the creative process that inherently springs forth from such mindfulness. Here I sit, with a few other kindred spirits, creating an experience that works for me. Part of the R & R experience this weekend, unlike a typical speaker program, has been to participate (or not) in certain group activities such as lectures, hikes, meals, and classes. I have done none of the above. My purpose in booking this last-minute retreat was to garner some reflective time in a safe, nurturing place without breaking the bank. Kripalu's guests are graced with a sauna, whirlpool, healing arts, great food, and expansive grounds. At 6:00 this morning, I signed up for a 9:30, two-hour, intermediate, roundtrip hike along Kripalu's extensive trail network. Within an hour of our departure time, snow was falling heavily and the fog had settled in around the base of the mountain. The weather didn't necessarily dissuade me, but the thought of trooping around with a group of hikers did, and I felt my enthusiasm waning. I'd promised myself I'd do a few things this weekend: I'd use the sauna and whirlpool, I'd consider getting a massage if the price was affordable, read, take some photographs, hike. The hike was the last promise, and I knew that if I blew it off,  I'd feel I cheated myself. It occurred to me that I could still go on a hike (this isn't my first time here), solo. I went back to my room, donned my long Johns, my flannel socks, ski pants, vest, hat, boots, and in a flash I was transported back to weekends I used to spend with my young family in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Dressing for a day on the slopes was an intense affair, one that involved layers of clothing, equipment, arguments, tears, and work. (At least my dry drunk self invariably viewed it as work.) Today, of course, I realize that I didn't know what I didn't know back then, and I squandered away some mighty fine opportunities. As I slipped effortlessly into all my winter gear this morning, I thought back to those winter weekends at Waterville Valley, those two youngsters who are all grown up and chasing lives of their own now, and I smiled, because even though I can't change the past, I am fully present for today.