Searching for the spirit of Christmas

The last couple of years I have searched for the spirit of Christmas. I began writing this post two to three weeks before Christmas. I went back to it off and on. most of the time I sat idly in front of my computer, fingers poised over the keyboard as if waiting for a spontaneous rain of thought to begin to move them.

When I was younger, the spirit of Christmas meant something very different from what it does for me today. I suspect this is similar to what many others think. We have grown into such a materialistic society. I know that means that I don’t have to jump on that bandwagon. It is difficult as much of the advertising begins months before this season.  When I was a child, Christmas meant gifts, fun, food and more importantly spending quality time with family. Christmas also revolved around endless discussions with friends about what we hoped to get and the day after Christmas was when the competition for who got the best gift began. These comparisons were often emotionally painful.

cookies

My wife and I decided not to purchase anything for each other. I, being the guy asked several times if she really meant what she had said. I didn’t want to get caught up in “Don’t get me anything for Christmas” and then when I don’t, I look like the schmuck.

Materially, my wife and I are pretty simple individuals. We choose experiences, spending time with each other and surprising each other throughout the year with small tokens of our thoughts for each other.

Our gifts this year were spending time with each other and with family. The icing on the cake as it was, was watching our soon to be 3-year-old grandson open his gifts.

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It’s early and I am still searching for the meaning, the spirit of Christmas. It is actually the day after Christmas and I just returned home from a very early run in temperatures which are sure to make any normal person think twice about leaving the house for anything, let alone a run. The Christmas tree remains lit in the darkened living room, the house quiet with the exception of the fountain pen I am using gliding across the pages of my journal. Beneath the tree remains the material trappings of Christmas. As I start at the tree, I try to find some meaning in the lights and the ornaments. My heart, worn and tired from always giving reminds me that the meaning of Christmas remains elusive.

mom & dad

I continue to write because I know writing always helps to clear away the noise. The smell of a freshly brewed cup of coffee and a freshly inked fountain pen help me as I continue this search for the meaning of Christmas.

I find the road, as I grow older is not always a straight line. I also admit I can be a slow learner. Chasing childhood memories of the simple pleasures cause me to struggle to see the path which I am on. When I was younger I found myself despising this fact. It was the destination and now it has become more about the path and what I notice along the way. I am able to see because I allow myself to see the gifts which are bestowed upon me along the path. They can be difficult to see because they are not wrapped nicely in bright paper and with a bow. There is no name written on the gift denoting it is for me. It is my willingness to look inside which tells me this is a gift. I find it easier to accept the often relentless pace of change and accept the inevitability of change as part of my life.

 

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Long ago I stopped comparing myself and my life to others. My father remains the master of pointing out the fact that when you think your life is terrible, a simple look around serves as a good reminder that this is not always true. This definition, in and of itself is subjective and serves if we maintain it as truth to allow us to grow more disillusioned, angrier and ultimately, less happy.

My children, now grown and having their own lives still gather with us to celebrate dates on the calendar which we have identified with some level of importance. For this, I am grateful. It is times such as these that remind me of the importance of understanding those things which bring a smile to our faces. For me, my gift this Christmas was being with my family and sitting back, with a smile watching. Christmas, as I write is now two days old. Retailers will tell you there are now just 363 shopping days until Christmas visits us again.

Chase

As I write these words having come inside from a run where I found myself fighting to stay warm against the 6-degree temperatures. I am in my element, the element of silence. It is silence which allows me to witness the gifts around me and to know, that regardless of what happens, I am blessed to have this time on earth. “Waking up this morning” as Thich Nhat Hahn says, “I smile knowing there are 24 brand new hours before me. I vow to live fully in each moment, and look at beings with eyes of compassion.”

The spirit of Christmas, was right in front of me the whole time. It is encompassed in the photo of my parents, the hands of my mother as she passes around chocolates, more worried about the happiness of others; it is in the photos of my grandson both as he looks toward me and as he smiles playing with his favorite gift of the night. It is sitting back and enjoying the chaos of family and the time spent with loved ones.

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Early morning run

Early morning run. The sound of my running shoes as they mingle with the frozen snow the only sound. My breath forming a cloud as it leaves my nose and mouth seem to hang in the air before dissipating.

The temperature is 15 degrees. The wind-chill dropped the temperature to a “real feel” of 0.

I rounded a turn and headed east. A gust of wind blown directly into my face stealing my breath but at the same time reminding me I am alive.

For others, life has been fleeting. They have entered and left this earth bothered by the trauma of one kind or another; alcoholism, drug addiction, and other issues, often beyond their control. I now look for the magic in each moment. At times this is a difficult task despite the magic being directly in front of me. I have allowed myself to be distracted and not witnessed the gifts which may be hidden from my view.

As I grow older, I look for these moments and cherish the good health which, at this point has been bestowed upon me. My mother, like her mother, have suffered fromsunset macular degeneration. I am sure this “gift” will be lurking around the corner for me like a receding hairline. Until that time arrives and as long as my vision remains intact, I will continue to enjoy reading, making photographs and witnessing the beauty, which, despite being in plain sight, remains hidden from view for many.

In the Shadow of the Mountains

Roadway in autumn forest

I rose this morning, the floor cold to my bare feet.
Golden daylight falls through the barren branches of the stand of white birch trees.
As I stare through the stand of trees, I see the silhouette of one of the Adirondack ranges standing majestically.

Hot black coffee.
Alone with my thoughts,
As I stare out the window.

Things are simpler here.
I can just be…
There is no judgment, no expectations, no goals,
No fears.

There is no one to please, no one to help.
The quiet solitude of leaves as they dance on the breeze.

Black Friday

I slept well last night until I rose at 2:30 AM to use the bathroom. I looked out the window and wandered back to bed. Sleep did not find me as easily as it did when I first retreated to bed. Thoughts on my daughter’s predicament danced through my head. After tossing for the next 30-minutes  and focusing on my breathing, sleep finally found me again.

I rose, showered, made coffee and drove with Marissa and Chase to the Buffalo Science Museum. We spent the next four hours looking at many of the exhibits and watching Chase partake in all of the hands-on activities. It’s always rewarding to watch him play. Even when my kids were small I found more joy in watching their exploration of their surroundings. Watching Marrisa engage with him also brought a smile of joy.

I kept my distance and at times found myself sitting by myself, by choice. Thoughts of her predicament and trying to manage my thoughts regarding her life decisions kept me occupied sometimes staring blankly into space. I wonder about her decisions and hope medication and counseling will assist her. My role as a social worker causes me to struggle because like the relationship with my clients, I also cannot fix her problems. Watching her encourage Chase helped bring me back.

We returned home and I sat outside with a cigar enjoying the solitude.

Temperatures today reached 51 degrees which is unseasonably warm for November 24th. I become lost in thought about all of the things for which I am thankful. It is 5:40 PM. Daylight is fading fast, but before it leaves, there is a reminder of the beauty which graced us today. Fading sunlight backlights the clouds with brilliant oranges, which, as they continue to fade change to bright pink.

sunset

I could not think of a better way to spend “Black Friday.”

Namaste

Time

I greet you with hands clasped together in gratitude for being given another opportunity to grace this earth. For being able to take another breath and enjoy the things in my life which brings a smile to my face. For my eyes and being allowed to see my beautiful wife, children and grandchildren and whatever else graces my view throughout the day.

I have spent quite a bit of time in thought thinking about how I spent this past Sunday. I was on call for Crisis Services. Despite this and my usual Pavlovian response as I nervously wait for my phone to ring; I decided to relax and spend the day the way I wanted to spend it. When I’m on-call I make no concrete plans because a call can come in at any time. As I grow older I see less and less value in filling each day with concrete plans. There are things which need to be done, tasks which need to be completed. Those will get done for there is little which needs to get done at that moment. I found the world will not cease turning if something is left undone.

Jack and I rose and we went for our usual Sunday morning walk. Before returning to the inside of the house, we perched ourselves on the front porch and based in the solitude of the morning. There is, for me no other time of day which brings so much joy. The morning paper was where it is normally tossed by the delivery read and the CBS Sunday Morning News was watched. There remained two cups of coffee in my thermos. I chose to take those outside and sit. To simply sit.

The morning paper was where it is normally tossed by the delivery person. It sat protected in its orange cocoon protecting it from the elements which may have otherwise disturbed my ability to read its contents with some modicum of joy. Jack watched as I ground beans for my morning coffee. As his eyesight fails at his age of 15-years, his eyes grow cloudy with cataracts, he thinks he is going to be fed again. I allow him to smell the freshly ground beans. he takes a quick sniff and turns his head away in obvious disgust as he realizes this treat is not for him. read and the CBS Sunday Morning News was watched. There remained two cups of coffee in my thermos. I chose to take those outside and sit. To simply sit. I have this new coffee an Instagram friend suggested I try. Don’t tell my friends at Death Wish coffee, but I really enjoy this smooth taste. All of the information if you’d like to find them on the Internet and give them a try is right on the bag.

coffee

For those of us who reside in the year 2017, sitting and doing nothing is difficult. We all know this and many of agree using one of the excuses which make every hair stand on end; “I just don’t have the time!” First of all, this is Bullshit!!!! We have nothing but time. It is all in how we choose to spend the time we have. So, when done correctly, the ability to sit and do nothing productive, is, in fact, a momentous achievement. There are some people who see me doing nothing as defined in their terms because whatever activity in which I am engaging does not fit their definition of productivity. These are the people who would disagree with me. That’s too bad because I find reading, lying in my hammock, playing with my grandson, writing, smoking a cigar and drinking a couple fingers of a good whiskey are being productive.

coffee

In the past, I had struggled with sitting quietly alone. I felt like I need to be in perpetual motion. It seems as though the minute I sit my brain begins to wander. My eyes also wander. I begin to see things around the house which may or may not require my attention. Most certainly those things do not require my attention at that time. My son joined me. We both noted it had taken him 4 hours to clean his car inside and out. It’s not that the car was that dirty, it’s that he stopped several times, sat and we talked.

I have a salve for my spirit. It comes in the form of silence, of solitude. When I am physically able to run, it comes in the solitude which I feel during a run and which accompanies my spirit for some time after the run has concluded. It also comes in the form of reading, journaling and smoking a good cigar. My entire professional life I have found myself chained to a calendar and a clock. Questions abound such as “Do I have enough time to do this or that?” These things have resulted in a perpetual feeling of anxiety; of being on-edge. When I apply the salve, which ever one I have chosen, the grip which anxiety has had on me begins to weaken. The difficulty arises when I do not apply the salve as often as is recommended. When I neglect an application, I feel out of place. My mind wanders and guilt, self-imposed guilt reenters or should I say I allow it to reenter. I regret now not doing more in my work life to disrupt that configuration.

Try it sometime. You might actually become addicted to “not doing anything productive.”

namaste

The walk

I rose, my legs needing to move; feeling restless. I could not stand to sit any longer. I walked to the picture window, parted the drapes and watched as the sun began to slowly inch its way toward the horizon. I asked her if she wanted to go for a walk. She said “Yes.” We reached for our jackets and met at the car.

We drove silently for the Niagara River and the river walk which snakes its way along the contours of the river’s edge.

path

We walked, hand in hand. Words were not exchanged; none were needed. I felt the pressure on my hand increasing as she gently squeezed it. I gently squeezed back. this was all that needed to be said. We walked the path, the setting sun warming our shoulders. It would be dark soon. I stopped and she took two more steps before our hands strained at the pressure. She stopped and looked at me. She smiled and asked, “What?” I said nothing as I pulled her to me, held her by the hips and kissed her on the forehead. I pulled back slightly and gazed into her smiling eyes. Every care in the world melted away in those few moments. The world could have collapsed around us and it would not have mattered. We were together and that was all that mattered.

Namaste

Anonymity & being Anonymous

I woke this morning with a heart full of gratitude for so many things. Today I feel gratitude for having the time at my job to take off and enjoy this beautiful summer weather we have been experiencing.

I woke this morning ready to start my day.

I was aware yesterday the NYS Office of Mental Health would be in the office today to review our program. Been there and done that. It doesn’t mean what it did in my career 20-years ago. It’s important, don’t get me wrong but I’m not in that top position anymore and I have to say, I enjoy not being in that position.

They came they saw and they reviewed. Today they’re in the office during which I spend the majority of my time and I’m off today. My boss is more than capable of managing what needs to be done, so the little bit of guilt which I have has been pushed to the side.

I was watching the Tour de France last night and I received a call from my dad asking if I was off Friday. I lied and said I wasn’t and he asked, “I thought you said you were off the next three Fridays?” I knew what was coming and I was right. I’ll be heading there sometime Saturday to “fix the computer.” Unfortunately, my dad is 79 and he often touches things he should never touch. I asked him what was wrong with his computer and he said: “there was a paper jam and when I tried to fix it a spring popped out.” Now we all know there aren’t any springs in a computer. Did I forget to mention my dad’s memory is beginning to fade and I am watching him become more and more confused. It’s sad. There are three kids and I am the only one who is ever called on for assistance. It’s not that I mind but there’s that anonymous thing again.

I thought about being anonymous. What a joy I think that would be. Not that guy in the mask anonymous but anonymous as in no one knows I’m there. No one knows I’m around. No one knows I exist. I want to do the job I enjoy and fade away into the quiet solitude of the night. My friend Henry Thoreau had quite a bit to say about solitude as did his counterparts John Muir and Ralph Waldo Emerson. One of the things I really enjoy about going on vacation is the fact that for all intents and purposes I am anonymous; at least for a short while. U2 wrote the song “Where the streets have no name.”

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I’m done. I’m going to cut the grass with my headphone listening to some Pearl Jam and enjoying the solitude of my relative anonymity. I’m hoping you enjoy your day.

Namaste