What If Today…You Just DID Something?


Photo by Suzanne Demello Livingstone, Photos by Suzanne

“So, do you want to do a Polar Plunge with me on New Year’s Day?”

“No!” she said as she continued to tread water in the warm, salt water, indoor pool.

I remember the thoughts I was entertaining like it was yesterday. But it was exactly a year ago that I was days away from joining my son at the beach at 5:30 am, New Year’s Day morning. The wind was blowing very cold and made the bare-footed walk on an icy parking lot very difficult. A friend joined us to take pictures, but all we really did at first was to laugh with and at each other because of the absurdity of what we were facing – a dark and churning ocean that seemed to be telling us to “Just go home already!”

A friend said to me over 20 years ago, “Betsy, you have a very small gap between thinking a thought and following through with it. I’ve never met anyone like you.” I wasn’t sure that was a compliment, but I became very aware over the years that the gap was widening and I justified every inch of space I’d allowed. I’d started to believe the illusion that my thoughts were actions. But they weren’t. They were just thoughts. Inside of them I was still an artist and a lover of life. Outside of them I was surviving, not really living. But I thought I had been. I felt happy enough. But I wasn’t really excited about life. I wasn’t really joyful. I was sort of sludgy. You know? Do you ever feel sludgy? Like everything’s fine but there’s this gnawing feeling in the back of your head that you’re not a kid anymore and that’s NOT a good thing?

And then came the struggle of wills on the beach.

That’s when I woke up.

We were tired, excited, scared, nervous, laughing, giddy….and paralyzed. We wrapped our towels tighter and shouted through the wind at each other.

“Come on! Let’s go!”

“NO WAY! It’s too cold!”

That’s when I knew who I was.

I was going in by myself because the torture of living with a thought that hadn’t been given wings was not an option. Not that day. And the ocean welcomed me,  punched me in the arm for laughingly cursing at it for licking me with its freezing waves, and thanked me for playing for a second, gently depositing me back on shore with a slap on the back for good measure.

And then I walked out to a new world where everything was possible again.

I was alive like I never had been before.

Colors, sounds, people, stuff – everything was richer. And I felt so calm inside. It was as if I’d fought a dragon and we’d both come away unscathed but stronger and happier.

Once a month I continued the plunges and waited for cold weather to return this November to resume them after a long stretch of lazy summer days. Starting in November I’ve been dipping every Saturday morning. I’ll continue my weekly plunges ’til June 1st, 2014.

I still hear about how cold it is and how I must be brave.

I’m not brave. I don’t know what brave is.

I was given the gift of a thought that was triggered by a memory that I decided to listen to.

So, I guess I’m grateful.

I’m grateful to have in front of me the gift of time to greet the cold water and colder air every Saturday until June 1, 2014.

I’m grateful to know that nothing about the experience will change, but I will be growing with each plunge as I follow through with the thought to “just do it.”

I’m grateful to live near the ocean, for cold wintry days, for bitter winds, for snow and ice – all the things that show up consistently to remind me that they are being themselves and it’s time to go on a spiritual journey of sorts and to see that….

under the fear

under the excuses

in spite of my tiredness, stress, and questioning attitude

in spite of all that and more, nature keeps doing what it does best…

to let me experience IT so as to better know who I AM. It’ll be interesting to see what we find. Don’t you think?

  • I’ll be posting on my Facebook page regularly (see the Facebook “like” box to the left of this post). If you’re in the area on Saturday mornings, I (sometimes we) dip at 10 am at Chapaquoit Beach, in West Falmouth, Ma.  It’s a great time and I’d love to share the experience with you!


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We are so careful. We set them up high, behind glass, away from clumsy fingers – appendages dangling from Innocence and Wonder.

We wrap them up tenderly and tuck them away for Important Times, Celebrations,Parties, and Worship.

We teach the Little Ones with curious and clumsy hands that these  things are Special; they mean something. They represent what we value and hold memories that we cherish.

Don’t touch!

Just Look.

Breaking HAS to be avoided!

And once in a while, when there is opportunity in the quietness of her little world, she touches and sometimes breaks the beloved thing. Wedged right between the moment before and after it shatters mercilessly on the floor at her feet, there is truth.With eyes wide open in awe, she sees it and feels it.

Where once it was whole and beautiful, it is now shattered and reflecting light from hundreds of scattered shards that expose a reflective inner beauty that was imperceptible before the fall.

But no one else sees it.

There is sadness, anger, and a flourish of sweeping away, and an explosion of lament instead. She forgets  the truth and spends her life being careful so as never to break anything ever again. But when the inevitable happens, she doesn’t remember to look for the truth born from getting closer to the beauty.


She comes to you in tears and questioning, feeling broken and shattered herself:

“He said I’m stupid….

….an idiot




…you name your pain.”

And you ask her how that feels and why? Her tears say the words that she is too inexperienced to share. Those things can’t be true, they say to her heart!

But she still wonders…

“Perhaps your heart was broken on the outside,” you suggest, “so that you could see the beauty of who you are on the inside. Where once you thought you were whole, now you can really see how much light and beauty shines out of you without even trying! Where once you were beautiful, now you’re magnificent!”

Just a thought.

Searching For Christmas Gifts

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I listened to the conversation – the one that always comes up this time of year, the one spawned by the desire to connect, to share love, to let someone know that they matter in this season of giving.

We want to let each other know that we care and that no one is forgotten.

So we visit with gifts and inspiring messages. We hope to inspire and to lift the spirits of those who we think are lonely or invisible, homeless or forgotten by family members. Our hearts crave that feeling of having done something that makes another smile.

But I had a thought as I listened to the brain-storming of how to “do that” this year. In the conversation, buried just below the surface was an assumption – a belief that people are lacking and we can fill a gap with our giving. I did a quick exercise of putting myself in the seat of the receiver and suddenly knew what was “lacking.”

For a second I went back to the story of the Wise Men that is retold many times during this season. They arrive with gifts for the Christ child. But he had no need of those things. Instead he had a gift to offer them.

He wanted to be known. Their journey brought them face to face with him. The gifts were actually a prop -an excuse to give the more import exchange room to grow.

If we take that story and apply it in our lives this season and year round, we’ll be giving the greatest gifts.

When we walk in to a nursing home bearing treats we’ll learn to sit and listen to life stories, looking for the gifts that a person brought to the world personally. Who are they really? What did they come here to do? What did they do with their gift? What stories do they have to tell? We’ll anxiously probe until we find that gift, drawing it out of them until they feel like it has been seen and received.

We will sit with a child after giving him a gift and wait. We’ll follow his lead and talk about and do what he wants to do during our time together and look for his gifts. Hopefully we’ll tell him what he means to us and how he brings us and the rest of the world joy because of who he is.

And because we go to them and others with the intention of finding their gifts they’ll receive our real gift: true love.

Love that says:

“I see you.”

“I value you.”

“Thank you for being here.”

“I love who you are.”

I hope that we turn Christmas around this year and instead of just giving gifts we actively search for and receive each others’ gifts.

It makes all the difference.