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Archive for December, 2011

A new year is upon us.  Time to think about and carve out some new endeavors and adventures we want for this year; some goals and dreams to go for. 

New things involve – you guessed it – Risk-taking.  “And the day came when the wish to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”  Anais Nin

Are we prepared to blossom this year and take some risks? 

Without being an active player in our lives and taking on new challenges and things that are important to us, that resonate with our values, that are on our bucket list, that tap into our interests, we risk facing the biggie known as Regrets. 

As Mark Twain said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.”

I recently read the book, The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die, by John Izzo I highly recommend it.  It’s not at all the typical self-helpy book.  It’s a beautiful book on living well gleaned from interviews with ‘older’ people.   One very poignant and revealing  question he asks in the chapter on Regrets is this:  “What might I do differently right now if I were living from the perspective of an old person on the porch looking back at my life?”

I pose this question to all of us as we look out onto a new year ahead of us.  Answering this question just may help drive us in the direction of doing some of what we really wish to do, despite those gnawing feelings of fear and doubt. 

Failure, setbacks, mistakes are all a part of life and a part of being human. But the sad part is stopping ourselves from reaching for what we want, from going after our dreams and goals, from trying out some of those ‘ify’ things, because of what ‘could’ or ‘might’ happen and because of our fears.

But then regret sets in –  “I wish I had; why didn’t I try; I wish, I wish”……. Often times it’s too late to go back and do it. 

We can’t allow fear to become more important than what we’re going after.  We can accept our fear, say hello to it and then push beyond it and say to it, ‘bye, bye, I’m passing you by now.  You can hang out there but I’m getting beyond you.’ 

Same thing when we’re upset that things didn’t work out as we wanted or planned.  Welcome it in, grief it and move on.   

I tried to get a book published a few years ago – a memoir on my daughter, Nava’s, year long hospitalization and her three miracles.  I had a collaborative writer and an agent actively working on my behalf to try to ‘sell’ the book to a publisher.   After about 60 rejections, we called it quits.  Now I know that the very first Chicken Soup for the Soul book got about 75 rejections.  But we decided to put it to rest at that time.  We all worked on this for a year and a half and gave it our all.  Naturally, I felt badly that my project failed;  that my dream of doing something positive, was not met.  But I never regretted for a minute going for it.  I obviously didn’t get the outcome I had hoped for, but I went for what was important to me.   And that feels good. 

Here’s a great quote from an old-timer, Milton Berle.   Just read it in my {upcoming} interviewee’s book.  (stay tuned for the blog interview Jan. 1st )

“I’d rather be a could-be if I cannot be an are; because a could-be is a maybe who is reaching for a star.  I’d rather be a has-been than a might-have-been, by far; for a might-have-been has never been, but a has was once an are.”  

In thinking about what you want to do, if not doing it hints of possible future regret, then go for it. 

So what will you go for this year?  Call upon your courage to stand tall against your fear in order to do…. What??

 

Wishing everyone a wonderful New Year filled with Health, Joy and Meaning; and the pursuit of your dreams.

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Lately I’ve been thinking how it seems to take a lot of work to live well.  But what’s the alternative –  cruise along life on auto-pilot and not really be too aware and conscious of what and how we’re doing.  But this working to improve ourselves, to grow, keep up the positive attitude, strive, push through, overcome, work on our relationships,  can sometimes feel exhausting.  It can feel like so much work to keep ourselves in check with trying to live optimally. 

My prior neighbors (they moved away a few years ago) – a couple who to me seemed to really live well – just died.  The wife passed a month ago and now the husband just died this weekend.  He was sick but I believe once his wife of over 60 years passed on, he was ready to join her.  Similar to my favorite aunt and uncle who died 15 months apart from one another.  There is such a thing as dying of a broken heart, when the mind decides not to push the body towards healing and health but rather to let go and join the departed.  The will to live fades and the body succumbs. 

Both of these couples lived well, in my book.  They pursued their interests with vim and vigor, be it traveling, tennis, gardening, home decorating, cruises, volunteer work; all after raising families and having long-time satisfying careers.  I didn’t know the inner dynamics of their lives, their personal struggles, angst, soulful quests but I did see the external manifestations of lives well lived.  I saw qualities of humor, integrity, acceptance, loyalty and love.   

I have chairs from my neighbors which I love; I have a beautiful richly colored area rug from my aunt and uncle.  My den walls are covered with enlarged photos of our travels, a design I copied from my uncle’s love of photography.   So many of my travel tips have been taken from my neighbors’ exotic destinations.

We take facets of people, concrete and abstract, and incorporate them into our lives.   That is how they live on, their life lessons live on and their memory lives on.  

But these things make me extremely pensive and reflective and even sad; and sometimes makes me go to where I don’t like – the futility of it all – {all this work at living well} when we’re all going to die.

In general I live my life in an active and passionate way, with excitement and high interest.  Things matter greatly.  I feel sometimes I need to adapt more of an attitude of, let it be.    

For me the real theme here is that I want to know I make a difference.  This is a universal theme, this quest to matter.  And not just to close family and close friends.  To know that others are positively affected by our well-lived lives.  Obviously we can’t all be Steve Jobs who had such an impact upon the world by changing its technology. (There’s even a statue of him being built in Budapest.)  But we can be and do in ways that live on in people’s lives. 

I think of my job of 20 years that I recently left.   I hope I made a difference in some parents’ and children’s lives.  It all continues on whether we’re there or not.  It’s the old, life goes on, life moves on with or without us.  But we all want to know our time there mattered.   

Perhaps I’m rambling, feeling a bit like I need to cozy up and veg out as I reflect upon hopes and goals for the new year.   This morning I stayed in bed a bit longer than usual, read my book while lounging, and then got up to go walking around the track.  I focused on why I was walking- was it because I felt I had to as my daily exercise chore or because I wanted to.  As I was walking in the sun and wind and my mind was bringing up new ideas for my projects , I felt the enjoyment of my walk and was reminded that I walk everyday  because I love it; because I think more clearly and love the energy boost I feel as I increase my pace.   

I think it’s time for a little self-TLC and some down time without the self-imposed expectations right now.  I will let this week be an ease-up week and hone in on the homefront with what brings me joy and satisfaction – turning to my books, pictures, some journaling and perhaps a winter hike.      

Here’s to recharging for 2012 – for new opportunities and new adventures in life. 

My daughter gave me this sign as a gift –  “It Is What It Is…But it will become what you make it”

Let’s make it Good, Meaningful and Joyful.       

Thanks for stopping by and reading.  Comments are welcome.  I invite you to subscribe so you will automatically receive  2 posts a week and an inspirational interview once a month.

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Last week I was invited to do a coaching session with a support group for people with traumatic brain injury (TBI).  My topic was dealing with the holiday season.

When I asked my introductory question,  “What does this time of year bring up for you”?  the typical answers were shared aloud – celebrating, partying, giving, sharing, presents- all the good stuff. 

Just as I was going to shift it to the less upbeat ideas, a woman spoke out and said, “I don’t mean to burst anyone’s bubble here but for me it brings up loneliness and sadness.”   I reassured her of the absolute reality of these feelings for many people; that she’s certainly not alone in her feelings and that she was articulating what many people there were feeling.  Because as she said it, many heads shook in agreement.  And then more people piped in around these ideas.  And so we were off and running- the good, the bad and the honest in-between.

The theme of gratitude was a biggie as many were glad to be alive considering what they had been through. 

One man spoke of wishing he were dead since his life is so radically different than Before the accident; he feels no reason to go on living, other than for his children.  That’s kept him here for the past 10 years but in a chronic state of purposelessness and emptiness.

I’ve learned that I must be very concrete and specific in my focus for the group and in the points I want to get across.  My two for this session were Self-Care  {during this time of year}  and Giving. 

We need to take care of ourselves in order to manage our stressors; and we all have what to give no matter what our issues or limitations are. 

We need to give ourselves permission to feel whatever it is we’re feeling – no ‘shoulds’.  That way the pressure to feel a certain way – jovial- during holiday season is off. 

I ended with the question, “I want you all to give yourself a present; what will that be?” 

One guy’s answer was:   he’s reducing his sugar intake so he can start to lose weight.  How’s that for a great doable baby step; he must’ve had his own private coach! 

Another guy is buying himself the present that nobody else will buy for him (as far as he knows);  and if he ends up with two, he’ll return the one he bought himself.  But he needs to guarantee himself what he really wants.

Everyone gets a chance to talk.  It’s very interactive, fun and lively.  Everyone is listened to.  They shake their heads, nod their heads, clap their hands – the responsiveness to one another is invigorating.  And I leave with a big smile on my face  in awe of the group.     

And so I put this out to you, my readers:

 How do you take care of yourself during this holiday season?

How do you give to others? 

If this time of year is rough due to loneliness and sadness, then stepping outside ourselves and doing for another is a great ‘mitigator’ of depression.  The world expands beyond our own four walls when we think of others and what we can do for them.   We all have strengths that can benefit another.       

Here’s to a good holiday season for all.  Create it the way you like it.  Make it reflect You.  Add in pieces of Joy and Fun throughout.  And if things come to be that is not to your liking, breathe it in and out deeply and think how this too shall pass. It passes all too quickly, it really does. 

Goodness and peace to you all.   

 Thank you for reading.  Please share; subscribe; comment.

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I thought it might be apropos to follow up my most recent interview of Judy  Shepard  with photos and  comments from my visit and tour of Theresienstadt, a site of another horrific hate crime of huge proportion known as the Holocaust.  This ‘model’ ghetto, as it was known during World War II, is in the town of Terezin about an hour outside of Prague. 

I have always wanted to visit the concentration camps in Poland, as I strongly believe that everyone, all mankind, ‘should’ be witness to the atrocities perpetrated upon groups of people that others, in this case the Nazis, felt to be unfit and unworthy to live.  Seeing the historical remnants might be more apt to ruffle our feathers and wake up some of our apathy towards the plight of other unfortunate souls.  One or two or three groups of people may be the target and scapegoat, but hate crimes are in their purest essence attacks on us all.   For we are the breed of Humans here to safeguard and protect our species no matter what our different externals portray – color, worshipping practices, abilities- and no matter what our differences of opinions are.

Environmentalists work to protect our environment from harm;  we all must work to protect our people from harm and extinction.   

When we decided to go to Prague for a few days en route to Israel,  a Terezin tour became a ‘must’.  I cannot put an adjective in to describe how it was.   So when people ask me, I can’t quite sum it up.  I have to talk about some specifics which I will portray with photos below.

Theresienstadt was known for its famous prisoners, many of whom were artists of all kinds, and for its visits by the Red Cross.  Within this ‘model’ camp was a real concentration camp where 60,000 people were forced into an area which originally held only 7,000 residents.  They were tortured by virtue of their unlivable conditions and died of ‘natural’ causes – starvation, disease, contamination.   Those who escaped death here were transported to Auschwitz – the real ‘death’ camp where people were gassed to death.       

 Work Sets You Free

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ell room which held 60 people

 

 

 

 

 

 

Air vent for room above

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sinks put in for Red Cross visit; later taken out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of 4 ovens in crematorium

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fake’ graves; bodies were burned. Broken tree in background represents broken lives.

 

 

 

 

 

Remains of railroad tracks for transports to Auschwitz.

 

 

 

About 4,000 people now live in the town of Terezin.  Barracks where the Jews were kept are now renovated houses.   The crematorium provides salaried jobs for a few people who man it and sell memorial candles.

 

We humans were given free choice.  Let us use it to benefit our species and keep us all standing proud and upright.  Let us pray that goodness prevails over evil for all. 

 

Thank you for stopping by and reading this post.  I hope you’ve taken something positive away.

 

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Interview with Judy Shepard

“We are trying to do what we think Matt would want us to do with this opportunity of having a voice. He’s with me every day when I do this. I know it or I couldn’t do this because I’m a shy, private person.”  Judy Shepard

I’m back from vacation and eager to present  ( a bit late) my December interviewee, Judy Shepard.  Ms. Shepard is the mother of Matthew Shepard and founder and director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation 

In the fall of 1998 Matthew Shepard and Laramie, Wyoming became unfortunate household names across the country as people watched and listened intently to updates on Matthew’s medical status.  He was a victim of a horrific anti-gay murderous hate crime.

Ms. Shepard and her husband took their loss and turned it into a cause to make our world a more tolerant, compassionate, accepting and respectful one.  Thus the Matthew Shepard Foundation was set up to carry on Matthew’s legacy and promote his causes of social justice and equality for all. 

I am so pleased that Ms. Shepard agreed to this blog interview as this is a most crucial and unfortunately prevalent and growing problem.  We need all the consciousness-raising and education we can get around these issues of bullying, taunting and violent hate crimes.  It’s not about whether we agree or not with someone’s lifestyle or choices; it’s about safety for all.

  1. What personal qualities have helped you carry on and move in a positive direction?

I don’t think I can answer that question about myself – too introspective- but I’ll try.  I tend to go with what feels right and not question myself about why.  I trust my instincts about people and situations.

  1. Did you go through a period of self-pity?  If so, what helped lift you out?

I have never been one to spend time on things that can’t be changed so ‘self-pity’ is a foreign concept to me.  I’d rather move forward with ‘lessons learned.’

  1.  Was there a specific moment, thought, epiphany that helped guide you to a better place mentally, or has it slowly evolved?

With this question, you are assuming that I was once in a bad place or a worse place than I am now.  Of course things have evolved because of my life experiences since Matt’s death, but I’m not sure I would say my mental state is ‘better.’  I grieved, I cried and I still do, but I have figured out a way which works for me to keep Matt and his dreams alive.  I have an opportunity to be a game changer in my own way.

 

  1. What are your day-to-day coping skills that keep you afloat? 

Day-to-day coping skills – one foot in the present and the other in the future.  I don’t dwell on things I can’t change but I don’t avoid thoughts of Matt.  I embrace them and go with whatever feelings come with those memories.  I focus on things I can change.  I embrace the family I have now – a family that has grown.

  1. What thoughts/actions propel you forward?

My goal and that of the Foundation is to make the world a more accepting place for everyone, regardless of perceived differences.  I can’t bring Matt back no matter what I do, but I can preserve his legacy with my actions.  I can continue to share my story so folks can see the growth of the movement for LGBT (lesbian,gay,bisexual,transgender) equality – so they can see what went wrong and what we all can do to make it better.

  1. In general, how have you managed to rebuild/recreate your life after this horrific tragedy?

I’ve had the love and support of countless friends and allies, and I have a purpose.  I have a goal in mind as well as an understanding that achieving that goal is part of my future, but not my entire future.

  1. What advice, if any, would you offer someone going through a tragedy, in the hope of coming through the darkness intact?

I think you are assuming that one can emerge from the darkness, that it is a possibility.  In my personal experience as well as that of many very close friends and family members, you don’t ‘emerge.’  The darkness is always there; it just gets different.  It becomes something you can look at with some objectivity.  We still have joy and happiness in our lives; it’s just different.  At least, that is what it has been for my family to date. 

My advice is not to let anyone tell you the accepted time limit for grief – it is limitless.  That being said, it must also become something you embrace rather than fear.  We’ve encouraged our friends and family to still share memories of Matt; not to shy away from remembering him.  He will always be a part of our lives and that is a good thing.

Judy Shepard’s book, The Meaning of Matthew, came out in 2009.   Here are two more links for additional interest and information:  The Laramie Project, a film of the effects of this tragedy on his town;  The Matthew Shepard Story, a film on the story.

Thank you for reading.  Please leave comments.  And please share this interview.  There are more and more of these horrible tragedies happening now. 

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