What If Today…We Remembered When?

I slide out of the car reflecting on how much I love my mom. I just spent a couple of hours with her and her books and her wisdom. She makes me feel alive . Every time. Never fails. I wasn’t sure I had the energy or time to see my dad, but that’s where my car ended up, so here I am.

The parking lot is always so quiet. So is the foyer that houses beautiful furniture that is admired more than used.

I think the floor in the elevator is new. But #2 is still the button I push when I want to see my dad.

The doors open to the same smells coming from the Common Room across from the elevator. Animated staff talk to the air hoping to revive the residents who have been rolled to sit at the table in the center of the room.

They slump and snore and stare into space. I’m pretty sure I would do the same.

I search for souls behind the eyes.

My dad’s old roomie babbles something to me as I wave and say hi. I think he asked how are you?

They told my dad he was dead. Makes me laugh whenever I think about it. For a guy who has a very hard time communicating he made sure they understood that he needed to be moved to another room. My dad’s a lot of fun!

I pass a few more people in wheelchairs and staff on the phone at the nurses station. Nobody has time to talk.

“Bets? Is that you?” I shuffle around the man planted in front of the sink in a wheelchair and around the curtain to my dad.

Pizza is the topic of the day today.

“You share pizza with the guy next door? And you send some to the woman across the hall, too? Dad, you never get out of bed. How do you know them? Do they come to your room to visit?”

“No.”

“Then how do you know they like pizza?”

“I listen through the walls. And if I have too much I tell the nurse to send them a piece. They love it.”

This place is teaming with life. A different kind of life. I love it here.

I shake hands with Charles, Dad’s new roomie on my way out and wonder how long he’ll last. My dad already told me he didn’t like him. I guess you have to live on the other side of the wall or corridor to be an approved member of the exclusive Steve’s Pizza club.

I look across the hall and try to get a glimpse of my dad’s pizza-sharing woman friend. She’s sleeping.

The nurse’s station is still busy doing stuff, and the guy I passed on the way in is doing his darndest trying not to fall asleep again.

I back into the elevator and look across at the men and women in wheelchairs who had families, homes, and gardens, pets, and jobs once upon a time. But nobody talks to them about those things. They prop them up to play Bingo instead.

Most people I’ve talked to feel sadness at nursing homes.

Me? My heart smiles as I think about my captive audience.

This is my playground. Bodies and (sometimes) minds have deteriorated significantly so that all that remains is the purest essence of the person.

All they can do is talk. And they love to talk about themselves!

I want to hear about their lives, how they spent their time on earth. I want to listen to love stories and watch them get that far away look in their eyes and then wait for them to unwind a confusing thought that leaves them at a dead end.

I want to hear them giggle and see them laugh as I stare long enough to smooth out wizened faces, revealing who they “really” are and how they still see themselves even though they rarely look in mirrors any more.

I want another day to spend with them because “remembering when” is what we’re left with as storms are approaching that make us reflect on the peace we’ve unknowingly taken for granted.

Sandy will move in some time tonight. I’m happy and at peace. I went to talk to my parents today. I feel more alive than I’ve been in a while.

How do you feel when you visit or think about nursing homes or old people?

What If Today…You Chose to Learn Something New?

Today is a guest post by Joe Passkiewicz who has a blog called Leading by Serving  www.leadingbyserving.com  that discusses leadership and life principles through serving others.  Joe believes that leadership is for everyone!

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The alarm goes off.  As your eyes begin to focus, you grieve your pillow and fight to break the chains of the comfortable bed.  Another day at the salt mines as they say.  You hit the shower and think about how sick and tired you are of doing the same thing over and over again… 

The same drive to work.

The same manager greeting you there.

The same work over and over again.

The same old routine.

Life can just wear you down.  Although you know that you really are good at what you do, the repetitive nature of life can turn the world to black and white.  All the color of life washes out to gray.  You know your talent is a blessing and that you earn a reasonable living and this provides you with a level of security in a world that seems increasingly less dependable.  Yet, you yearn for something else.  Some color.  Some excitement.  Something to fill in the blanks.

How about learning something new…?

What would be your choice – guitar or piano?

I have been pondering music lessons.  I love music, yet I avoided the typical youth music lessons as my parents didn’t push them on me.  Learning an instrument may seem like a tall order for someone in their early 50s, yet I know that learning something new adds a special vitality to my life.  Something new provides me with a goal to think about as I go through my days in the “salt mine”.  This kind of pursuit is not new to me.  I have worked hard to master many things that intrigued me. 

Cabinet making, making bread from scratch and growing dahlias in Florida to name a few of my adventures. 

Each presented a unique challenge with specific difficulties and special rewards for success.  What I have found is that it’s not really the final destination– it’s the journey that makes it special.  The process of success, failure and refinements as you improve your process and techniques are the things that have kept me moving forward.  If it was easy or if I used a recipe, it would not have gripped my attention.

I can’t tell you how many pieces of wood I ruined or the amount of bad bread or dead dahlias I have produced along the way.  Yet, every now and then, I’ll get a glimpse of success.  Everything will come together to produce an exquisite result.  This is all I need to keep striving to find the little secrets and subtle techniques required to really master the task.

Cabinet making- A sharp blade is a must.  You can’t make up for splintered wood.

Bread- Need moisture in the oven as it bakes or the bread will not rise.  

Dahlias- Grow them in a shady spot in Florida, morning sun only and grow in a pot of rich soil.

Each set back presents a fork in the road.  The choice to persevere and overcome or throw in the towel and give up.  The more challenging the goal the more it grips me.  Can I do it?  Will I be able to really do this right so I can consistently produce a superior result?  

Success is the goal- yet the challenge and the journey are really the keys!

So are you up to a new challenge?  Do you find yourself mired in the monotony of the day-to-day march?  Maybe it’s time for you to try something new. Something that’s not easy.    Something that will help to bring the color back.  Are you ready to venture out?

  • What are some of the barriers that you have experienced to trying something new?
  • Can you relate to my feelings on the need to add color back to your life?  
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About Joe Passkiewicz

Joe Passkiewicz is a construction executive for LandSouth Construction with over 30 years experience in construction management.  Joe specializes in the development and implementation of standardized policies and procedures, development of ISO 9000 compliant quality assurance programs, process engineering using LEAN and Six Sigma principals, employee accountability and engagement programs, benchmarking and statistical analysis.

Joe is a member of the board of directors for the Rough Cut Men Ministries and is on the advisory board for Here to There Ministries and The Martha Project.  Joe is also active and a contributor in charities including Builders Care, The City Rescue Mission,  MS Society, and the American Cancer Society.

 Twitter: @JoePasskiewicz
Facebook: Joe

What If Today…We Let Nature Heal?

‘Healing,’ Papa would tell me, ‘is not a science, but the intuitive art of wooing nature.’

~ W.H. Auden

She’s here.

We know. We’ve been waiting.

The storm of cruelty came without warning and threatened to catch up with her unless she could outrun it.

Jumping out of her car she kicked off her shoes and made her way through the outstretched arms of the trees whose leaves tenderly wiped her tears, and apologized too late for unintentional scrapes from the branches that had the hope to caress and to soothe.

Pebbles, fallen sticks, and finally sand absorbed the weight of her burden as she trudged to the familiar spot.

She felt nothing.

Three layers of clothing were soaked through in minutes. She hugged her knees and stared at the horizon, refusing to shiver. The boulder of the ruin sat stalwart and brave with her until she started to feel its roughness under her numbing hands and stood to follow the pull of heart strings that were longing to join the song of the sea.

Taking its cue from the wall where she stood, the waves whispered melodiously over and over again, breaking the hypnotic spell for the first time since she’d arrived.

The barnacles of the jetty rock breathed a collective sigh, welcoming her as she dangled her sandy feet in the only home they’d ever known.  The rock lay bare and open to the water that poured from her hands, and the  trickles sang a complementary cadence with the  water that ebbed into the pool, massaging her legs.

She stood tentatively, seeing the boat moored to a stick, receiving an invitation for another day to go into deeper waters and explore.

Pebbles at her feet,  longing to be the chosen ones, laughed as they soared into the water off shore, sending back ripples of joy and gratitude when the surface broke, swallowing them whole.

Gulls applauded and cheered and occasionally swooped with hopes that there were morsels of food being shared.

Spent and cold she turned to say thank you to the beauty and peace that had welcomed her hours earlier. She’d be back on happier days, she promised.

The moisture and the sand clung to her, witnessing their loyalty and devotion to her as she wiped their evidence from her feet and clothes before starting for home.

The only thunder in existence lay beating softly in her chest.

  • Do you feel healed by nature?

What If Today..You Daydreamed With Me?

“If you’ve never stared off in the distance, then your life is a shame.”  ~Adam Duritz,

Tucked neatly in the side of a hill just around the bend is a cozy little bed and breakfast. It’s not too small that one feels like there’s no privacy, and not too big to provide room for too many guests.

My favorite room has a canopied four-poster bed laden with a feather bed and white down comforters and piles of pillows that are perpetually entertained by the dance of the flames in the fireplace across the room. An over-sized pale pink armchair sits diagonally in front of the crackling fire, promising to make room for me when I’m ready, right after its nap.

I throw my books on the small table next to the slumbering chair and head for the french doors that open to a private balcony shared with an old weeping willow. Golden strands whisper hello and I smile watching them play with the Autumn breeze.

Freshly fallen leaves crunch as I wander down to the brook sending soothing earthy smells to fill me till dinner. The water gurgles and sings, silencing all other sounds of nature, inviting me to follow its twists and bends until the sun warns me of its departure and I turn back the way I came, my hair carrying some souvenirs, my pockets brimming with others.

After flirting with me mercilessly, soup and freshly baked bread settle themselves cozily in my arms and I make my way upstairs, avoiding the chatter wafting from the sitting room nearby. The over-sized cookies beg to come along, but I only have so many hands so I promise to steal them away at midnight when eating isn’t real.

Refreshed and exhausted I finally curl up under the comforter, balancing my book in one hand and a mug of soup and a chunk of crusty buttered bread in the other, carefully adjusting everything until it feels just right- all except the crumbs who’ll challenge my patience all night like the ticking of the mantle clock.

The willow tree and the fire take turns distracting me but finally lose interest and die down, leaving me to join a world already in progress, between the pages of a novel that should have been finished weeks ago…

I fall asleep remembering that you said you’d be here tomorrow by noon and that you’re looking forward to…

[Your turn…]

What If Today…We Chose Kindness?

“The ideas that have lighted my way are kindness, beauty and truth.”

~Albert Einstein

We’ve all heard the story of the man on the bus with his unruly children. His children were misbehaving and upsetting the other travelers, one of whom asked if he could help the father settle them down.

“Thank you,” the father said in response to the stranger’s offer. “We were just at the hospital. Their mother died  and they’re having a hard time.”

What if the stranger had been cruel with his words? What if he only thought about himself and took the role of spokesman for the other travelers, and demanded that the father do something about his children?  Can you imagine the outcome? Or how much worse the father would feel?

And what about the ripple effect of our kindness and cruelty?

The opportunity to be kind instead of cruel presents itself every day. Sometimes we don’t know it was there until we see and understand how our cruel words would have fallen on someone and we breathe a sigh of relief because we never let them fall from our lips.

I watch my children’s’ behavior a lot and look for signs of the negative ripple effect…a day void of kindnesses. When they lash out at each other I know that they’ve had a hard day. It would be easy for me to jump into the flow of negativity and let it consume me to the point that I send it back to them or the next unlucky soul to cross my path.

But when I stop and consider the needed healing that a smile, a hug, or a listening ear can make room for, I absorb the bad and do my best to carry their burden with them instead of turning my back on them simply because I don’t like their behavior.

And then the magic happens: the splinter rises to the surface. Then the tears start to flow, exposing the pain and cruelty that was inflicted.

The burden and darkness start dissipating, and love starts making its way in soon after.

And the ripple starts flowing in the opposite direction.

I hope to do that more often.

When I was in my 20’s I worked for a bit at a French pastry shop on Main Street. I always worked alone and I was typically overwhelmed because there were a lot of business people who swarmed in for an hour every day.

One day, as I stood behind the counter, I watched as the front door opened half way and an older disheveled woman poked her head in and viciously called to me,” DON’T look at me with that CAT smile!” And then she walked away returning a little while later. This time she came all the way in.

The customers who’d witness the strange confrontation said nothing. I was dumbfounded to be blind-sided with such rudeness, but I kept smiling, hiding the hurt. I instinctively knew something wasn’t right.

She slid into a chair and sat. I asked her if would like something to eat.

No, she had no money, she quipped.

So I paid for her lunch. And she came back for the next two days for more until she asked for money for a bus ticket home and disappeared out of my life. My friends chastised me for being so gullible and such an easy mark for “someone like her” to take advantage of.

But I knew exactly what she was doing. The way I saw it I had three choices, maybe four.

  • Ignore her.
  • Feed her, but nothing more.
  • Do what I felt was right, no strings attached.
  • (here’s where you give me another option…)

Nobody backed me on my choice to “let go and let God”. And I didn’t really care.

She may have walked away laughing at my gullibility. But I walked away with a memory of a friend that I had for a few days who chatted with me as she ate food that I’d prepared for her. She shared some of her stories and brightened my days. Her life was rough.She didn’t ask me to fix it, and I wouldn’t have known how to or where to start anyway. I was just so happy to see her smile every day as she learned to trust me. I really felt connected to her. I didn’t pity her. I didn’t judge her. My motives were all about friendship and showing up as myself for the brief time we shared.

I will never forget her smile and kind eyes.

I’m pleased with the choices I made. And I’m pretty sure that the Man Upstairs is, too.

  • Do you think it’s important to be kind always?
  • Is it hard for you to be kind with no strings attached?

What If Today…We Felt Connected

Since you cannot do good to all, you are to pay special attention to those who, by the accidents of time, or place, or circumstances, are brought into closer connection with you.
~Augustine of Hippo

 

“Where’s Connor?” I sent them all out as a group while I stayed home with the baby, and I expected them to come back together.

I counted the children. The rest had made it home from the 4th of July celebration at the beach. It was dark and everyone knew instinctively to keep loved ones close so as not to let them get swept away in the tide of people making their way back to their cars parked about half a mile away.

Connor was gone. And he was only 4.

He’d left the beach with the group we sent him with, but when they turned right he went straight. I don’t remember how it all came together, but we got a call that he’d made it to Main Street and a man, seeing he was lost, flagged down a policeman who just happened to know our family, and were reunited.

There were so many people that night. One took action. I’m in awe when I think about how differently it could have turned out.

We are all brothers and sisters. That’s my belief. And families look out for each other. We notice each other and are engaged when time and circumstance permits.

One at a time. That’s how we connect. To me nothing is random. Everybody’s important.

Last night I went with a friend to visit an elderly couple. He’s 93, she’s 90. My friend cooked them dinner and I did a little cleaning and chatting. The husband came and whispered that his wife needs more help because she won’t stop driving. A new schedule of caregiving was made and he went to  break the news to her as she ate her dinner. That car was her only connection to the outside world.

That and the mail.

My friend and I listened to the woman complain about the difficulty she was having sorting through all of it. Honestly, I think that the mail was the only thing she could think of talking about. And sorting it kept her busy. My friend secretly went through the stacks and got rid of the junk and piled up the important pieces for her to think about.

All I could think, as I wandered around their house was that they must have photo albums.

We are going to have to sit down together so they can tell me some stories. I’m sure they have plenty of them.

There is loneliness in the world, even in families that don’t know how or don’t desire to connect.  For me it’s so simple. Everyone is a walking story. I’m enriched whenever I meet a new one. Sometimes the gift is reciprocated, but people are busy and very out of practice when it comes to having a conversation. We all want to be heard.

Connecting requires listening, asking questions, and serving in meaningful ways.

Just a thought. And two questions:

  • The Internet connects us as “friends” and “followers”. How has that worked for you?
  • How aware are you of the people who cross your path every day?

What If Today…We Did What Matters to Us? aka, Finding Our Banana

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the  only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the  only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet,  keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when  you find it.” ~ Steve Jobs

Sitting on my living room floor, my box of family history files open and silently taunting me, I prayed to be guided to SOMETHING, ANYTHING that wouldn’t bore the socks off of the 8-11-yr-old children in the class I was asked to teach only two days earlier.

To top off my anxiety, my daughter would be in the class, and she reminded me a zillion times to “make it fun!”

I had two predicaments: One, I didn’t have a passion for family history anymore. It was dead and buried back in June. And two, I felt like I was going to be a zoo-keeper for an hour to a group of children whose attention depended on a grandiose performance that would entertain and mesmerize.

The answer to the second predicament would fall into place if the Heavens would just open up and talk to me. Little did I know that the first problem would be solved by the end of the night.

My assignment was to teach them how  to fill out a pedigree chart and a family group record. If we all wanted to go home crying I’d stick to that plan. But I’d already told their parents to do what they could and to send them with filled-out charts and forms to avoid the  train wreck of putting six monkeys in a cage with no banana.

So, there I knelt searching for my “banana”.  And in my desperation I found it. I still had no idea how the evening would unfold. I still couldn’t escape the vision of glazed-over eyes and writhing bodies on the floor that would be all my fault if I failed to deliver. But, if nothing else, I felt a distinct confirmation from the Man Upstairs that there was a story to tell and a satchel full of things to share.  

My banana.

I greeted the children after eyeing a bag of lollipops sitting on a chair nearby, promising me to step in as a carrot on a stick if my banana turned rotten. After a quick agreement between me and the lollipops, I breathed a sigh of relief and pulled out the small leather pouch with the story waiting inside –   the story of my two great uncles, serving in different regiments,  meeting  in France during the first World War on the day one of them would be killed in action.

The storytelling lasted about five minutes, but time stood still.

By the end of it I knew something profound had happened.

Our hearts had been touched and real learning had taken place. The children sitting before me around a table in the middle of the room hadn’t stirred. They’d  become emotionally connected to three people – my great-grandmother, Olga, and her two sons, Vic and Roy. They remembered the country where Roy had died, the year that World War I had started, and a bit about the mode of transportation and communication of that era because Olga received news of her son’s death by telegram and couldn’t just jump on a plane to attend his burial. My ancestors had become real to these children, and they started to wonder aloud at what had become of them. History had come alive and was exciting, and was easier to understand and remember.

AND…the children had remembered my ancestors’ names! I was so moved.

Why that story? (Read it here) I felt Roy’s presence the strongest. Maybe because he had died so young. I think he likes hearing his story told. I felt like he was really the teacher.

By sharing his story he helped us all feel deeply about what truly matters in a chaotic world that is full of meaningless distractions that leave us hungry and thirsty for more.

More love. More deep connections to people who matter to us.

THAT’S my banana! My passion is being available to people who want to share it. They’re out there. They might just need to be enticed a bit to get started. THAT’S my job and my joy. The reward is the emotional connection we both feel. It’s very fulfilling.

My passion for family history has been rekindled, but if the flame is going to burn brightly I will have to “just do it”, as they say. There is no magic formula for me to feel fulfilled other than focus on what brings me to that place where the boundary between this world and the next is obscured. That is where I feel an intense desire to find, enjoy, and tell my ancestors’ stories, and to stand ready to help those who want to do the same, but need a little help.

Roylston Frederick Lowrie, 16.

I contemplated why I’d lost that connection. I felt a smile from Roy. The words came to my mind, “We’re always here. You’ve been very distracted. If you want to keep the connection strong you’ll have to make an effort. A one-sided relationship isn’t a strong one.”

So much like life. Isn’t it?

  • What matters to you? What is your “great work”?
  • What do you do to keep the passion burning bright?