Confusion

I have been thinking a lot about why my life seems so confusing at this particular point in time, at this particular age, and in regards to my marriage. Recent instances of confusion have included:

1.Why my relationship with my husband is so confusing and hurtful after over 30 years of marriage.

2. Why I give away my power so often.

3. What I should be doing with my life knowing where I am at in the present time and where I would like to be in the future on my life’s journey.

The dictionary defines Confusion as:

1.disorder; upheaval; tumult; chaos:

The army retreated in confusion.
2.lack of clearness or distinctness:

a confusion in his mind between right and wrong.
3.perplexity; bewilderment:

The more difficult questions left us in complete confusion.
4.embarrassment or abashment:

He blushed in confusion.
But I am not convinced that this is the complete definition of the word. I think it encompasses more and I think we have to get at our own truths in order to minimize the distraction that confusion brings.

I am beginning to believe that when you are confused, it is the result of attempting to cling to an illusion, faced with seeing your own truth standing right in front of you.  So these two images “Illusion/Truth” collide producing confusion. That is because one part of what we see is based on wishes and the other is based on the truths that we recognize deep within our souls.

All too often I think we ignore our truths or change them to fit what it is we think we need. We keep these illusions because they are easy or less painful than what we might have to do to be living in a way that is authentic for ourselves.  Eventually, I think that if you keep examining the confusion; you will find the clarity you need. But this will only happen if you are being true to yourself and honest about what you see.

As I struggle during middle-age I am beginning to think about how the confusion I am feeling might be the result of ignoring my own truths. How it might arise because I worry about what everyone else’s truths are and try to take them on as my own. How I try to FIX instead of just observe.

There are so many things I am discovering at this point in my life and confusion reins supreme. But one thing I do know is this: Confusion will stand right in front of you, blocking your way to the future and towards greater clarity, when you are not being true to yourself.

So here’s to truth. And here’s to vodka. I’m going pour me a drink because my head hurts with all the confusion floating around in it. And who knows maybe I will find that vodka brings about clarity quicker than being mindful of all this confusion.

Bottoms Up! It’s five o’clock somewhere!

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Living With Joy

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The last couple of weeks have been busier than usual. These days I find that I practically live in my car which is why I would love to have an old VW bus to decorate to my heart’s content as a travel around the world each year. Between school car pools, sports carpools, and the like, I put over 50,000 miles on my vehicle last year and I am going to be putting on more this coming year. Why? My new “job.”

My son, West, says I cannot call it a “job” since it is a volunteer position.

“Not the same as a real job Mom!” he exclaims.

I beg to disagree.

I have started working for an end-of-life provider. My job is to go visit people, spend time with them, read to them, do dishes…whatever makes their lives a little more comfortable. This is right up my alley.

Many years ago when I worked in a long-term ventilator care unit I spent time with the dying. I thought there was nothing more tragic than dying alone so when I knew someone was on their way out I used to spend time with them so when they crossed over they were not all by themselves. We don’t come into the world alone and I don’t think we should go out of it alone either. Just my humble opinion.

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Admittedly, I will probably not be with any of my new friends when they die. But I hope that I can make them laugh a little, help them cry a little, or tell their life stories if that is what they need to do. I am fine with it all and I am exciting for this chance to give of myself in whatever way is needed.

This week has also brought our family to its knees. My sweet niece (I’ll call her Sally) is an amazing woman married to a wonderful man (I’ll call him Joe). They have four young children. This holiday weekend Joe was seriously injured in an accident and has been designated an Asia B in regards to paralysis. This morning he is once again in surgery his second in three days. It brings home the fact that life as we know it is often fleeting and can change in an instant. It reminds me that those I love are so much more important than the everyday irritations that life brings our way. Irritations that distract us and take up time best spend on other things like the people that bring meaning to our lives.

Think of this… if you live to be 80 years old that would be a life span of 960 months or about 29,000 days long. For me, that means if I am lucky, I have a little less than 8,500 days left on this earth.  When I can see the “actual”  number of days I have left suddenly it seems like a shockingly brief period of time. And when I think back to the number of days that have been spent worrying about things that never came to pass I cringe. Life was never meant to be a struggle yet so many of us live like that is all it us.  Struggle is what Joe is facing. Everyday ordinary life is not a struggle for most people in the United States.

So today, lets all try to live our lives joyously, whole heartedly and with gladness in our souls. Let’s tell our loved ones why we are proud of them and what we love about them. And lets all try to make a difference rather it be big or small. For life is meant to be lived fully and when we practice living fully we find happiness within ourselves… Amen to that!

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Departing Wisdom

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Recently I saw a sign which read: WHEN ANGER ENTERS, WISDOM DEPARTS. These words touched my heart as well as the profound which rests in my soul. I felt as I read this simple truth that the words were meant for me alone and that they were there because I needed that gentle reminder.

This summer has been hectic what with sports practice five days a week, my volunteer work and with my chauffeuring  kids to college and high school summer school. The reason for my increasing anxiety over the summer is a very tight schedule in which pick up and delivery had to be perfectly timed. Frankly, I don’t do being late well. For whatever reason since I was a little kid it was hardwired into my brain that you are not late. EVER. And I have lived by that rule my entire life. Except once. That was the time I was 5 minutes late and it haunted me for days.

“If you are late it shows a complete disregard for others and that you think that your time is more important than theirs. Your time is no more or less important than any one else’s. Don’t forget that!” admonished my father throughout my growing up years.

And so I have a heightened sense of anxiety if I have the slightest inkling that I (or anyone I am responsible for) will be late.

The lengths to which I go to ensure that I am never late come with a price…my sanity. I am three hours early before taking an airline flight. I am 30 minutes early for my Gracie’s orchestra performance. I am early enough to get my choice of premium parking spaces and my favorite pew at church. I get the best seats at the movie theater and I am always the person who is waiting for their friend to show up for coffee. Anyone who knows me knows that if I am 10 minutes late that means I am probably stone-cold dead.

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And so with back-to-back obligations this summer it is hardly surprising that I found it difficult to just stay calm. Unfortunately, as my anxiety rose it often turned to anger. This is not to say that I yelled…I didn’t…but irritation crept into my voice way too often and words came out of my mouth that that are not meant to be heard by a child. Thoughts of shooting the bird to that 85 year old woman driving at a speed of 10 miles per hour entered my mind on way too many occasions. And as my anxiety/anger increased I became distracted and I once almost mowed down a kid on a bike doing stupid tricks in the street to impress his buddies.

As I reviewed my actions during these dog days of summer  it became apparent to me that in those moments of high anxiety and anger; my wisdom did indeed depart because:

I said thoughtless things.

I thought evil thoughts.

I showed my children a side of me that they do not want to see.

And I disregarded my own health by letting stress take minutes off my life multiple times a week.

So in an attempt to increase my sanity I made a change. I now have the saying WHEN ANGER ENTERS, WISDOM DEPARTS taped to my dashboard. I find it comforting. And now as I drive along and the tension starts mounting, I just look down to give myself a gentle and loving reminder that wisdom in all aspects of my life are important if I am to become all that I am meant to be.

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Control…Do We Ever Really Have It? Or Raw II

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You ask me why I have a need to control things. The short answer would be my sister’s severe illness when I was such a young child.  A young child whose parents thought she was too young to know all that our family was facing. I remember being snuck into the hospital (back then siblings were not allowed in) and seeing my sister, after many months of absence, now reduced to a human skeleton, not the happy normal-sized kid I was used to seeing. The guilt I felt was tremendous because I did not understand the situation. I was not told. I guessed a lot and interpreted things wrong. Guilt at wondering why bags of presents were being delivered to our home for her and not understanding why I was not thought of which in my young mind =not loved and not noticed. And how, I wondered even then, could I feel that sense of hurt and jealousy when she looked like death. There was also the guilt at hearing her scream when her shunt was cleaned daily and knowing I was okay. And even all these years later that guilt that rears its head in my professional life and makes me pass out on the floor when I hear a patient scream. I can look at anything but don’t let me hear the pain or I am a goner.  In my book guilt can sometimes=need for control= if I am in control less chance of guilt/suffering/pain. I know its wrong but sometimes my mind still takes me back to that little lost/confused and sad child.

I remember during this time of sickness and confusion, being moved from place to place while my parents sat a bedside vigil. That sense of unconnectedness does things to you. I understand the need to do that now…as a parent…but I didn’t as a child. Yes, my parents were sure I was in good hands. I knew most of the people I was with but some were strangers. It made me scared because back then I didn’t know for sure what was happening and no one thought to tell me. And being left and having no control in where you are going invoked feelings of jealousy that made me wonder why my sister was so special and I was not. Everyone knew where she was…did anyone know about me?

Being so aware of death/illness makes you acutely aware of the little control you actually have so I guess I have spent my years trying to control all aspects of my life which we all know is an exercise in futility.  Some people handle it by drinking. Others have sex with strangers trying to make a connection that somehow they feel they missed.  Others drive too fast, take too many pills or eat too much. Others show no obvious issues with it at all. Mine is control. And control, and the lack of it I feel in our relationship, makes me frightened to death and sometimes I push for a resolution because I feel like that little girl again. Her world chaotic. Her world upside dow. Her world with no forthcoming answers. Her world in control of others and now the master controller is B. And I feel like 1,000 little scattered pieces laying about, disorganized, without the glue of control to hold me together.

You wonder why I feel the need for control.

I watched my parents divorce. All the heartache and stress that went along with a cheating husband. My mother’s pain written in a note I have to this day. And then they divorced and within three years my mother was dead at 50, killed, I believe rightly, by all the stress which took her, a non-smoker, in the form of lung cancer. And I look like her. I have the same moles. I have the same body type. The same nose. And I don’t want to become a statistic like her. Illogical I know. But still dead after all this upheaval… after all the pain none of which was her doing…though that is not the case with me. I have caused some of my own pain. But this I know: stress kills and I am sure it is killing me. Maybe like it did her.

I have enough stress with two children who have significant challenges in their lives. Autism = stress. And now my marriage teetering on the edge of HWY 1 with no guardrail and a 1,000 ft drop to the ocean below. And sometimes I wonder if I will just drop dead of a heart attack or will it be a slower more painful way to contemplate the end of life as I know it because this much stress is like a IV drip of poison creeping into my veins. And so I want to take back control from B in a misguided attempt to avert what was my mother’s fate and not have it be my own. Because I want to live free of heartache, being responsible as much as humanly possible for my own pain, when I must endure it, and not have it foisted on me like a drunken sailor grabbing me from behind and taking what is not his to take.

The mind is a funny thing. We know that what we may be thinking is be wrong.Screwy thoughts  that we recognize as inaccurate.  But those feelings are what trip us up and make us believe things that we know in our heads don’t make sense but to our hearts don’t matter. Our hearts often have a mind of their own, too busy working to keep the blood flowing, rather than worry about correctness of how it is being done. Yet, my heart hears unsaid words. It sees hidden emotions on a persons face. My heart squeezes the truth that goes coarsing through my veins and it ignores the science of it all. My heart stings. It whispers with every whoosh. And for the past few days, I would bet my bottom dollar that it has cracked in two, blood leaking into my drowning sticky soul.

You ask me why I feel the need for control. It’s because I no longer trust you to take care of my heart and the love that it holds. You have held my heart in your hands and you have not been gentle with it. You have treated it as callously as a hooker treats her next trick.I no longer trust you to take care of me the way I felt I was not taken care of  when I was a child. I no longer trust that my pain is just pain and not leading to something more deadly as in the case of my mother. I no longer trust your words or your actions because you don’t love me and trust is the glue that holds love together.

You wonder why I feel the need for control? Because parts of that little girl remain behind and while I may be a very strong and capable woman sometimes that little girl is stronger when she faces what she perceives to be danger. And she tantrums and pushes for resolution while trying to gain control. Because she is unsure. Scared. Feels unloveable. And somehow she incorrectly believes that control will give it back to her and make her feel whole again. Strong again. Capable once more.

Someday I hope that someone somewhere will take that little girl her by the hand, thrust a mangy stuffed gray much loved puppy into her empty arms, and along with a great hug; tell her that it will all be okay. And maybe someday she will understand in her heart of hearts that control is an illusion and that the only thing she really ever controlled was herself and, finally, that will be enough and she can just let go and get on with living and playing hopscotch again.

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Chiggers

 

My therapist tells me that I need to “just sit with it.”

Don’t make any decisions and don’t go planning out your entire life

In a moment of fear or concern

Just sit with it…listen to it

But how does one do that with this sort of news?

Because as I sit in the silence

Trying to meditate myself out of the place I am in

I hear the incessant buzzing of an annoying insect

Trying to tell me something

That I don’t want to hear

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Just sit with it…feel it

But instead I feel the sharp bites of chiggers

Trying to get my attention

Biting around my ankles

So I will get up and move

From this place that is suppose to be a refuge

Away from what is suppose to be a peaceful spot in my mind

While agreeing with myself that sitting with “it”

Is much too hard

I know I over think… over analyze

I have enough 20-year freeze dried food

In my pantry I feed us for a year

In case of a holocaust

I am prepared for every disaster, every emergency

Except this….not this

B says, “I don’t want to think about the future

I just want to live in today”

Smart man

I wish I were that way

Able to block out what I do not want to deal with

Or compartmentalize things in lockers so deep

You die with them stuffed deep inside

Locks rusty and worn but secure

Taking them with you

To God knows where

Maybe that is hell

Having to look at those items over and over again

The things you refused to see

When you were alive

The things you could change  but chose not to

Or maybe hell is that place

Where you go over your plans a million times

Trying to change the outcome

But are unable so you remain in that

State of anxiety for eternity

Neither sounds appealing

So I will go and get the bug spray

In an attempt to remove these distractions

And sit with “it”

In the silence

Alone

 

 

Lhasa, Tibet-Meeting Compassion Face-On

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There are places we travel to in our mind wishing with all our might that we might one day arrive at this “in-our-dream” destination. There are spots we travel to and remember every sight, sound, smell and voice that we heard. There are places we visit that forever remain stuck in our soul try as we might to pry them out. Tibet is that place for me.

It was a hard journey. Two airplane flights totaling 18 hours and altitude sickness that brought the youngest members of our small group of seven to their knees. Luckily, being a tough old broad, I adjusted quickly except for the times I would wake up in the middle of the night feeling like there was an elephant sitting on my chest. Shivering in our freezing cold hotel room, I would quell my panic by counting sheep and meditating to slow my breathing as I tried to gulp the thin air like a person who suddenly comprehends that they are drowning at sea.

I could see my breath in my hotel room between the hours of 8 p.m.-9 a.m. which is when it finally warmed enough to remove all traces of “morning breath” haze exiting my mouth. All my past medical training threatened to overwhelm me with anxiety as I checked everyone’s nail beds for signs of cyanosis. The constant dull headaches, sinus “pops” and lack of energy taking its toll on some in the group. That is what 11,975 ft/3650 meters does to you. It makes you temporarily miserable and somewhat nuts while time slows down to a crawl as you wait for your body to acclimate. But then I visited Jokhang Temple and suddenly everything slipped into its proper perspective.

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Imagine rounding a corner and being swept away into the mass of religious pilgrims forever circling clockwise around the large outdoor square surrounding the temple. Colorful prayer wheels whirling, canes of the ancients clacking on the stone, babies crying and old men chanting as you are pulled into something deeper than yourself and what you momentarily comprehend as a “life force” which sweeps you all together for a greater purpose. Imagine the pungent smell of incense catering to believers and non-believers seeping like coal dust into your pores and pouring into your soul. And imagine in all your disbelief and mesmerization almost tripping over a pilgrim who is two years into his journey and only 1,000 ft away from his goal of achieving a better future for himself and his family; this accomplished by devoting himself and his life for those years to the Buddha. You watch as his scraped and dirty hands first clasp together at his head (to think of the teachings of the Buddha) then at his mouth (to listen to the teachings of the Buddha) then his hands moving to his heart (to feel the love and compassion of the Buddha). And then, I watch with morbid fascination as the man soars like a bound eagle just a few meager feet forward until he crashes prostrate on the ground. The only thing moving now are his charcoal black bare feet which twitch in anticipation of rising once more so that he may move ahead only as far as his body length to start the entire process over…day after day, week after week and year after year. Truly, if he can show this sort of dedication I can surely see that my slight “suffering” is nothing compared to his. Suddenly this cold ache I have been feeling since I arrived never felt quite so alive and warm.

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Dinner is yak. Yak milk tea (yuck!), yak cheese soup (double yuck!) and hot right-out-of-the-oven pastry stuffed with yak (mighty tasty). I think of the faithful outside of the temple wondering if they will have anything warm to fill their bellies tonight as they circle the temple three times to complete their journey. And I finally comprehend the importance of alms in this era of “ME, MONEY and MORE” as I think back upon the times I could have showed greater compassion. Because in the end (according to the Buddha) in order to alleviate suffering (both our own and the immense suffering within the world) compassion must be practiced. And for compassion to develop we must be willing to open our eyes.

So here I am Tibet…my eyes are open…show me what I need to see, teach me what I need to know, and let me experience those things that will shake me to the core. Thuk-je zig.

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Jigsaw Puzzle of Life

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We never enjoyed doing jigsaw puzzles until this summer when my 90 yo aunt introduced us to them while we sat on the summer porch looking over the lake. After that, Gracie and I were hooked.

There is nothing quite like time spent doing a jigsaw. Life slows down, your senses are heightened and magic begins to happen as an image slowly begins to form. All that hard work and in the end you see the results unlike so many things we do in life in which we never “see” what we actually do. But the best thing about the jigsaw that happens is the time that Gracie and I spend together. We sit in near silence except for the “eureka” that is voiced triumphantly when we find an elusive piece.And sometimes in this quiet time a different type of magic occurs and little bits of conversation emerge that never would otherwise.

“Mom,” she says with a sense of pain and frustration that catches the words in her soft little voice, “Celeste (her nemesis) asked me in front of my friends, “Can you see out of your eyes?”

I give a snort of indignation.

“So what did you say?”

“I told her, what, do you see me with a white cane or something? How can you ask such a stupid question?”

“Well done. I hate when people try to get our goat and I am proud that you didn’t let her.”

These are the types of conversations that my tween and I have as we stare at 1,000 little pieces scattered over one small card table. Brief, sweet, insightful…I hear things I normally wouldn’t have as we sit in the silence together. It’s perfect amount for a 12 yo who is not sure she needs her mother anymore and enough for me not to put my foot in my mouth and say something unnecessary or unneeded. And in that, I realize our words together are a lot like those jigsaw pieces…small, misshapen, but often fitting together until a picture is created. And that is enough for both of us right now.

A No Negativity Day

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One of the things that Pema Chodron talks about on her Udemy lecture is exceedingly difficult but excitingly profound.

Chodron says that once a week we should strive to not talk or act out of a place of negativity and that by refusing to act out of negativity it creates a sense of heightened awareness. This is especially true to observe in regards to ourselves. None of that negative self-talk (I should have know, I should have done better, I am so stupid…or whatever it is you say to yourself that is done in a negative state of mind) is helpful; its only destructive. Chodron states that when we engage in negative self talk we are just throwing kerosine on the fire of our soul.

When you are going through an “almost divorce” it is difficult to not engage in self-talk that is defeating and detrimental. The “what-if’s” and accusations of all that is wrong with the relationship and YOU are difficult to not take on when a monsoon of sadness and negativity is swirling around you. But in order to see things with a new perspective and to gain our grounding we must.

So let’s challenge each other to each live tomorrow (Friday) within the positive instead of the negative. Then on Saturday we can go back to being as negative as we desire LOL!

Sit with the Frustration

frus·tra·tion
frəˈstrāSH(ə)n/
noun
  1. the feeling of being upset or annoyed, especially because of inability to change or achieve something.

As I go back over the notes I have written during my therapy sessions one thing is abundantly clear. My therapist keeps reinterating that I need to sit with the frustration I am feeling and just be. Another thing that remains abundantly clear is I STILL struggle with this. I guess I am rather like a two year old… I want what I want, when I want it. And this means NOW.images-2

Coming from a family where life and death hung in the balance by only the newest that science could offer; that lack of control and unsettledness continues to effect me in ways that I am still unpacking and just beginning to understand. When you have life-threatening illness at your doorstep for years it doesn’t stop banging on the door just because the patient is doing better. In my case I was not the very ill child, my sister was. But in those days parents tried to protect their other children from “the truth” believing that they shouldn’t have those burdens put on them at such a young age. However, in my case, the lack of true understanding and knowledge lead to envisioning things in my mind that were probably worse than any real facts would have been. And basically since that time I have spent my life trying to mitigate surprises and always planning ahead. Frankly, this just doesn’t appear to be compatable with sitting in the silence, sitting with the unknown or sitting with frustration very well. I want purpose and I want action…NOW DAMN IT!

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Making this “sitting with frustration” even worse is that I am suppose to wait until B makes his own discoveries about himself and his own truths instead of spoon feeding my perception of the truth to him. His process is suppose to be his own process but like a famous Hollywood director I have the script already written and filmed in my mind about how the scene is suppose to go. And because feelings are on the periphary for him which makes any sort of immediate action of self-discovery difficult; I am afraid that this film is going to be WAY OVER BUDGET both emotionally and financially.

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And so I sit. Tired and frustrated. Tired of sitting. Tired of waiting. Tired of thinking about all this sitting when suddenly it occurs to me that B is probably just as tired of waiting for me to just sit. What a gift it could be it I could just be comfortable being in this limbo and in doing so freeing him up to make his own discoveries on his own timetable instead of feeling the silent pressure of my discomfort in sitting having to sit with my frustration. This realization sends a shiver of freedom down my stiff spine as I contemplate what it would be like to let others set their own timetables instead of trying to get them run on mine. And just like a passenger waiting for a delayed train getting annoyed at the situation isn’t going to change a thing and it certainly isn’t going to get the train there any faster. So today..a breakthrough… I finally “get” that I must tolerate this frustration without disappointment or anger because in the end I am not in control of it anyway.

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Living For The Magic Of The Moment

Many years ago I lived in the Midwest. Our property sat on a bluff overlooking the town and in fall the leaves were so vivid and red that it seemed that they were painted in rich shimmery oils aptly named CANDY CANE or FIRE ENGINE RED. We had an idyllic six acres on which to roam. On the north side a succulent pear tree grew silently upward, its branches winding silently around an abandoned wood pile, while hybrid cold-weather wine grapes dotted the steep hill out front. But the best place to be was near the back of the property where remnants of a old fort lay rotting on the ground and a bowl-shaped mass of thorny gigantic red raspberries grew; the best I have ever tasted. Seriously. All these years later I haven’t experienced anything that comes close.

It was a sliding-into-fall sort of day. Jackie and I were taking a walk at the back of the property where an old car lay on the other side of the fence being claimed by no one for the past 30 years. The sun was starting its descent while still warming the stagnant air when a monarch butterfly floated by; the light shining through its semi-transparent wings like the Rose window at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. We were surprised when another butterfly glided by, soon to be followed by another, and another, and yet another. So we began to follow them to the far back edge of our land, a place we rarely visited.

As we rounded the corner we were suddenly blinded by intense hues of orange, black and green swimming in the trees. Swarms of Monarch Butterflies, starting their migration, clung to the limbs one on top of another like necklaces of cascading orange pearls. It was mesmerizing … wings sunning themselves in the remaining light of the day and legs climbing one over the other as the dominant butterfly would make it’s way to the top of the chain.I had never seen anything like it. And then it happened…

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Our beast of a dog ran up to us barking joyfully and the butterflies released themselves from one another and the trees, swarming and swirling outward and upward, luminous in flight with hundreds upon hundreds of the magnificent creatures filling the sky. I still remember the chorus of the velvety fuzzy flap of their wings as the flew around us, some alighting on the pear tree and others settling on our heads and arms. It was one of those exceedingly rare “Take Your Breath Away” moments; the kind that you remember as you take your last dying breaths. The kind that you try to artificially create time and time again but can never quite capture the vivacity, artistry and allure of that type of spontaneity again. Yet, it doesn’t stop us from trying with mostly disappointing results.

What is it about these elusive and precious seconds that makes us want to experience them many times over? Moments like those few first seconds when you meet someone and immediately you know they are the soulmate you have been waiting for your entire life.  Or the first cry of the baby you have anxiously imagined during the last nine months. Or the moment your child shows empathy towards someone who is struggling and you realize that how you have been parenting this kid has been right all along. It’s those rare fleeting glimpses of beauty, compassion, love and mystery that give us idea of who we are and what we want for the future.They provide a meaning to life and it is in these special moments that we are reminded of the possibilities that still exist. They give us hope for something better and sometimes closure and the peace that come with it. And if you are lucky and on a day least expected, sometimes you can find those magic moments right around the corner and in your own backyard.

Copyright 2015