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Archive for February, 2010

There’s no greater fan of Charles Dickens than I – and these words introducing A Tale of Two Cities, one of my favorite books, are most appropriate to describe 2009:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us; we were all going directly to Heaven, we were all going the other way.”–Charles Dickens

Because Lou and I traveled to England in the spring, and one of the highlights was visiting the Dickens Museum in London, this 2009 letter has a “Dickens theme.” The year had its ups and its downs. I described 2008 as the best year of my life. Although I can’t say 2009 was the worst year of my life, it had its challenges. Suffice it to say that I learned early on to block worries as much as possible, to live for the moment, and not to let “what hasn’t happened” worry me too much. I said last year that the two happiest days of my life were the day Louis was born and, secondly, Barack Obama’s election.

The third happiest day was Inauguration Day, 2009. I made that bus trip to Washington, traveling with my friend, Robin, on an extremely cold day packed into the crowded streets like sardines, but everyone ecstatic!

We treasured every moment. We never got near a “Jumbotron TV,” but we heard the speeches, and it really didn’t matter where we were – which was, finally, near the Washington Monument. No one appeared to mind the cold or the crowds – people jammed breast-to-breast were unfailingly polite (“Excuse me” constantly), loving, happy.

February brought worries about my job. Suffice it to say, I’m hanging in there – and I learned daily how not to worry constantly. I also started thinking about what new life I could create if necessary, so I discovered a lot about myself, about how I could make it, how I could reinvent myself. I have no plans to retire, so I made up my mind that age must be irrelevant; it’s not part of my vocabulary. No making excuses for age, no worrying about it. I also learned to fight hard for whatever I need/want/deserve, which makes me extremely happy. We formed a wonderful group of “Progressives Coping Together,” mostly former Obama volunteers coping with layoffs, forced retirements, financial issues.

Through this process, I grew in ways I never expected. Last spring Lou and I went to England for the first time. He gave a paper on suicide bomber psychology at the Oxford Roundtable on terrorism. It will be published soon, and he’s working on a book on the subject. We loved London and Oxford; and we’re returning next summer. I spent a day in the Cotswolds, at Warwick Castle, and at Stratford-on-Avon with a woman whose grandmother was attending the Roundtable, a great international group of great thinkers.

While we were in Oxford, Louis was in St. Petersburg, Russia, all semester, taking classes in Russian with Russian students and professors (so his language skills obviously are very good). Louis graduates from Oberlin next spring, is applying for a grant to work with a Quaker enclave in Moscow next fall. and then start studying for a Ph.D. in history (focus: Russia/Eastern Europe). If he goes to Russia in the fall, we are definitely going over for a visit to Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Although I said I don’t focus on age, I call my mission to teach myself Russian my “Alzheimer’s Prevention Program.” Speaking of prevention programs, a loved one recently had a broken bone as a result of osteoporosis; and I cannot emphasize strongly enough to everyone the absolute necessity of daily weight-bearing exercise, muscle-building, and consuming enough calcium and Vitamin D. It’s hard sometimes because I have so many other things I’d much rather do – but it’s essential. I just keep emphasizing to myself how long I want to be totally self-sufficient as I do my dailies.

“Cheerfulness and contentment are great beautifiers and are famous preservers of youthful looks.”–Charles Dickens

We in The Chester County Peace Movement just finished seven years (that’s right, approaching 400 days!) of weekly peace vigils at the courthouse. We may hold the record in that category, as someone told me recently! The only Saturday we “took off” in seven years was the Saturday after President Obama was elected (we proudly put a sign out saying “WE DID IT!!” that Saturday). We gave ourselves that gift….then got right back on that corner the next Saturday. I can’t tell you how wonderful these past seven years have been, even though the cause is often too tragic. We have met so many wonderful people –thousands at this point. I hold my “Honk for Peace” sign every Saturday, and the honks can be deafening on some Saturdays! People sometimes walk or bike by saying, “Honk, honk” – adults and children, too.

Aside from our vigils this year, we have sent over 100 boxes of clothing to Afghanistan refugees who live in utter despair and poverty, often in mud huts. We send the boxes via the U.S. Army, and their chaplain and volunteer soldiers at Camp Eggers distribute the clothing every Friday to people who are often walking around in harsh winters without even shoes. In the spring, we send sandals and summer clothes for the equally harsh, hot summers. I have never participated in anything more important than this project.

I have also officially joined Birmingham Friends (Quaker) Meeting recently, as a “convinced Quaker.” Friends are truly friends to all people. Their values are such that one is always aspiring for more kindness to others, for more serenity in life. I’ve heard that some call Quakerism “the Zen of Christianity.” I have never known a more loving, kind group of people – they give me inspiration and ideals to which I can only aspire.

“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”–Charles Dickens

Next year looks to be better than 2009 in many ways. I learned so much about coping with various challenges this year. One thing I had no idea I could ever cope with was pain. I have always admired people who are in pain but who lived their lives as though they weren’t. I learned about that in the past five months with undiagnosed, sporadic, unpredictable gum/dental area pain, which I am learning to “manage” by observing the triggers and how to stop the pain. I’ve learned a lot about what I can endure and how I can cope with pain – and with life – from this experience. I end this letter with a final quotation from Dickens, and this is my hope for all of you for 2010:

“Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has plenty; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”–Charles Dickens

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