Wednesday, May 30, 2007

My birthday celebrations of the past 12 years

Looking back on the birthday celebrations I've had over the past 12 years that I've lived in this area, I see how the changes in the celebrations reflect changes in my social life. Early in my time here, someone asked me what I was planning to do for my birthday, and I said, "Stay home and wait for the phone to ring." I was expecting a lot of calls from out of town family and friends. At the time, I had not yet established a life here, but had strong ties to people from the places where I have lived in the past.

Some years later, I spent my birthday out frolicking in the park with a group of friends. I thought back on that earlier birthday, and thought of how now I had found a vibrant social life here.

Some years after that my birthday was largely ignored by people around here, though I did get a few of those phone calls from out of town people. At the time, I was feeling unpopular, and the lack of recognition my birthday got from local people reflected that situation.

This year's birthday celebrations demonstrated how my life has come back into balance. My life is no longer focused exclusively on local people or out of town people. I received birthday greetings from all directions: family, co-workers, a local friend, a college friend, a friend I met here but who now lives elsewhere, someone at the radio station. Greetings came from local people, as well as from Florida, Washington DC, New England, and Taiwan. I celebrated all month long. Two people remembered the month but not the date, so they got their birthday greetings in toward the beginning of the month. On my actual birthday, I had a picnic and a concert with family members. Yesterday I had what I think is probably the last of the month-long celebrations: strawberries and ice cream with Jesse. (Strawberries and lilacs are my personal birthday traditions.)

I like the way my birthday turned out this year, and it's a good reflection of where my life is currently at.

Birthday parties

Yet another example of how I feel out of step with the people around me: mainstream people seem to think that if someone has a birthday, the people close to that person should throw a surprise birthday party. People in my family don't do that. Birthdays may not always be celebrated with a party, but if they are celebrated with a party, the person having the birthday is either the organizer of the party or has substantial input into it. To me that is much more sensible. That way, the birthday person gets to have things exactly how they want it. I wouldn't want someone throwing me a surprise party, because what if I was planning to do something else that day?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Favorite charities

Sometimes when people get married or die, people are requested to make donations to charity in lieu of gifts (in the case of marriage) or flowers (in the case of death). I'm not planning to get married or die soon, but being the kind of person who likes to make lists, I was thinking of what charities would I want donations to go to in such a situation. I found there are many. I think I need to narrow it down to a more reasonable number, but for now, I'll just list them all.

As I think about this, I think most people I know aren't any richer than me. They need all the money they can get. So it seems to me it would be better for me to donate to these charities rather than to ask my friends to. And in fact, I do donate to many of them. So in the case of me getting married or dying, I'm not sure I'd want the people to give money to these charities. I'd rather they buy themselves a house or something, if they have money to be spending. In fact, if I suddenly got rich, I'd want to make sure all my friends and family were taken care of before I started giving money to my favorite charities.

So I'm not planning to die or get married soon, and even if I was, I'm not sure I'd ask for people to donate to charities, so there's no rational reason for me to list my favorite charities, but I like making lists of things, so here we go.

I find I tend not to list organizations I've worked at or otherwise been involved in. I think it's because I've been close enough to see their flaws, so it's hard to give my wholehearted support. The organizations I haven't been so close to probably have as many or more flaws, but I just haven't seen them yet.


To me, there are two seasons, summer and winter. Summer is when I can go outside after work. Winter is when it's cold and dark after work. In summer, I can lie in the grass next to my garden, enjoying the fragrance of growing plants and the feel of fresh air wafting across my skin. In winter, instead I lie in front of the TV. In summer, I can wear comfortable, pretty clothes which encourage free-spirited movement. In winter, I huddle under many layers of clothes. In winter, my body is tense with warding off the cold. In summer, my body relaxes to drink in the fresh air and sunshine. In winter, the trees and fields are bare and gray. In summer, they burst forth full of life. Just looking at the green of leaves and grass makes my heart happy. I like summer evenings, with the feel of soft cool grass beneath bare feet, and the way the sun low in the sky gives a golden glow to the green of the leaves. I like sitting by the river at sunset, with the water looking so smooth and pink. I like the joyful bright yellow of dandelions. I like the feel of the earth in my hands as I work in my garden. I'm so glad summer has arrived.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

With a little help from my friends

Often when someone talks about their problems, the instinct of the listener is to suggest solutions to those problems. Sometimes advice is helpful, but other times it's more of a hindrance than a help. We give advice because feel we should do something to help. It's hard for us to realize that just by listening, we are helping.

Sometimes being a good friend can be sort of like watching a sunrise -- it's about being there to witness and appreciate as something beautiful unfolds. If someone does that for me, if they observe my strengths, then it helps my strengths to grow. It may seem like just being present is not really helping, but it can actually have quite a powerful impact.

One friend said to me, "If you ever feel too exhausted again to do stuff like groceries, please let me know and I'd be happy to pick stuff up for you. That's what friends are for!" Things like that make me feel so much better! When I'm sick, I fear what will happen if I become too sick to care for myself and there is no one to rescue me. Even if I never actually ask the person to do something, it's so reassuring to know that I won't be stranded.

When I was feeling that as a sick person, I have little to offer, one friend said, "You can still be wise and thoughtful even if you're tired and sick. (But I guess it's probably harder.)" This friend made me feel that I do have something to offer, and at the same time, with the part at the end, helped me forgive myself for not being able to do more.

I'm glad I have the gift of knowing these two friends.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

I once was lost

I used to be a Quaker, but I quit because I didn't get much out of it. However, in recent months, I've been feeling that my outlook and values are straight out of my Quaker background. I've also been feeling surrounded by people who don't get my values. So last Sunday, I went to Quaker Meeting for the first time in over 10 years. Maybe I'll make a habit of it.

1-2 years ago, I was lost. I was depressed that my former friends had evaporated. I enjoy being alone but I don't like being frequently around someone who in subtle ways is constantly reminding me thatI am second-rate. And then I got sick. The illness helped to strengthen my depression, and yet I also see it as the turning point of coming out of my depression. As I emerged from the worst part of the illness, I also emerged from the depression.

That was one year ago that I was beginning to emerge from illness and depression. It has been more of a steady crawl than an exuberant bursting. My health does not leave me energetic, but I have re-adjusted my lifestyle, and I enjoy restful pursuits. I am no longer depressed. I am also no longer sociable. I have re-adjusted to a solitary lifestyle. Now, I walk my own path. Quiet, solitary times lead to looking inward. Many around me are dancing to a different drum than I. I just walk steadily forward on my own path.

The framework that keeps my steps on the right path is thoughts like, "How would a Quaker view this?" and "How would Grandma Lawn view this?" It's not that I am looking to external sources to guide me. It's that looking at questions such as these takes me to the part of myself where I find the serenity and strength of being true to myself.

Looking to Quakerism to find myself is not some new wisdom that I didn't have 1-2 years ago. It's that there are times when it isn't enough. Life's path traverses many different terrains and climates. There are times when the cold gusts of wind extinguish the flame. But I patiently nurtured the embers, and kept on walking, until my journey brought me to a climate where the flame could burn steadily once again.

My current sense of inner peace will not always endure. The path of life will continue to traverse many different terrains, and I will continue to weather whatever life brings.