EPIPHANY – Redeeming Dreaming and “Phenomenal Woman” by Maya Angelo

My father died in 1988, my mother in 2014.  They visited me last night in a dream.

The Dream opened with me starting up a staircase in a home I had never seen before.  I got to about the fourth step and looked across the banister to the door.  There stood my parents with suitcases in each hand, wearing ‘travel clothes’ and identical expressions of expectations they knew I couldn’t meet.

“Oh, you came back.”  I froze on the step.  It wasn’t exactly the best way to greet my long dead parents but it felt like they had just stepped away for a moment.  I wasn’t surprised but confused as even in my dream, I knew my life would be theirs again.  My father secretly molested me from early childhood through my mid-teen years; he was what was known as a ‘spook’ in the Air Force (spy work) and loved playing destructive and manipulative mind games with me.  My mother was an unintentional, unknowingly selfish person whose needs outweighed everyone else’s.  In that instant I knew I would go right back to being her caregiver, best friend, emotional support, parent (yes, the roles reversed the last two years of her life) to the detriment, perhaps extinction, of my late blooming personal life.

Time and scene morphed in the way it can only do in dreams.  I was in my real backyard – not the dream house backyard, standing behind a tall, well preserved, red tobacco barn.  I was consumed with creating an art scape using the ‘bacca barn’ as the backdrop.  This was a feverish, frenzied, “I have to do this or else I’m gone” feeling which compelled me to create something of my own.

I made a shelf of sorts about two feet off the ground which ran the width of the barn then  drilled holes every six inches and inserted six foot tall curly, good-luck bamboo in each of the holes.  It looked beautiful against the barn.  Then a silver birch tree suddenly appeared next to the barn, and where a swing would normally go, I hung a window.  A simple white framed window.  Trees kept magically appearing and I kept hanging windows.  The dappled sunlight through the clear glass panes twinkled like daytime fireflies as the windows gently rocked back and forth, keeping time with the music of a perfectly warm Autumn breeze.

Whirling through my psyche the whole time I was creating was the feeling of my parents predisposition to disappointment: that I didn’t stop what I was doing when they returned, that I didn’t welcome them home and take their suitcases upstairs the minute they came in the door, that I didn’t wait on them hand and foot, that I found something of mine more important than dancing attendance on them.

I suddenly felt cold and found myself back in the dream house, racing up the stairs with my father’s luggage.  I was eagerly explaining over my shoulder what I had done outside and how proud I was of it.  Still jabbering I ran down the stairs, grabbed my mother’s luggage and ran back up.

I felt simultaneously like an accomplished artist and an eager child.

“Look at what I did.  Isn’t it good?  It turned out so well.  I’m really proud of myself for accomplishing this backyard bit of beauty.”  In my dreamstate, I observed myself turn a beaming, hopeful, expectant face toward them.

Emotional silence emanated from my parents core, from the very being of who they were.  For the first time in my life, I didn’t shut up and shut down upon receiving no feedback from them.  Looking into their blank faces, I had an epiphany.  A truly life-changing epiphany.  I wasn’t the one who was less-than.  It was them, my parents.  Always them.  They simply didn’t have any emotion to give.

I heard a voice that was neither male nor female telling me: “Cath, you’ve been chasing their approval (vis-à-vis their love) your entire life.  They are dead.  You are never going to get it.”

My eyes flew open and I felt such a sense of peace: as if 60 pounds – one for each year of my life – 60 pounds of sorrow and anger and shame and blame and less-than and shrinking and secrets and hiding had been literally ripped off of my soul.  I let go of wishing for and hurting over what should have been.

My heart is light.  Light!  I had read that phrase throughout my entire life but until about 3:18am today, I had never experienced the actual sensation of ‘light heartedness.’  I feel taller.  I feel thinner. My step feels springy.  I feel and revel in my intelligence and creativity.  There seems to be a sway in my hips I’ve not felt in forever.  I feel like an Amazon warrior princess who wears her strength as her loin cloth.  And….drum roll please…..I feel beautiful.

How good it feels to say I am alright.  No, that’s not accurate.  How good it feels to know on my soul level that I am a wonderful and wonder-filled woman of worth.

I’ll be 60 on September 26th. While it took me that many years to get to this point of self-love, of acceptance for all my beauty marks and warts as well, I no longer have regrets of how my life played out while I was blinded by my quest for parental love.  Clear eyed vision is manna to those who couldn’t see.  Overnight, I have undergone a metamorphosis: from larvae in a cocoon to a beautiful butterfly.  I am a Phenomenal Woman.

Phenomenal Woman

By Maya Angelou

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.

I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size

But when I start to tell them,

They think I’m telling lies.

I say,

It’s in the reach of my arms,

The span of my hips,

The stride of my step,

The curl of my lips.

I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

I walk into a room

Just as cool as you please,

And to a man,

The fellows stand or

Fall down on their knees.

Then they swarm around me,

A hive of honey bees.

I say,

It’s the fire in my eyes,

And the flash of my teeth,

The swing in my waist,

And the joy in my feet.

I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered

What they see in me.

They try so much

But they can’t touch

My inner mystery.

When I try to show them,

They say they still can’t see.

I say,

It’s in the arch of my back,

The sun of my smile,

The ride of my breasts,

The grace of my style.

I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

Now you understand

Just why my head’s not bowed.

I don’t shout or jump about

Or have to talk real loud.

When you see me passing,

It ought to make you proud.

I say,

It’s in the click of my heels,

The bend of my hair,

the palm of my hand,

The need for my care.

’Cause I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

 

Day 20 of 100: Gratitude Practie ~ Fuck You, Norman Rockwell. This is MY Mother’s Day

On Mother’s Day:

There was a woman whose children made her a cake, took her out to an expensive, decadent lunch, gave her presents, cards and best of all, the gift of their presence.  Yet she was not happy because they didn’t give her the MK purse she wanted.

There was a woman whose children weren’t close enough to take her to lunch but they mailed her a gorgeous rose bush and a gardenia for her yard, they sent her beautiful, heartfelt cards and called her; this woman wasn’t happy because they weren’t physically there.

There was a woman whose children didn’t have enough money to fly in for an expensive, decadent lunch, they simply couldn’t afford to give her lavish presents or the gift of their presence. However, they took the time to shop for, pick out and mail her a beautiful card and the heartfelt gift of a scarf they knew would look great on her and she would love.  She wasn’t happy because they didn’t call before noon on that sacrosanct Sunday morning.

There was a woman whose children sent a card on Mother’s Day.  She cried because she so dearly needed to hear their voices.  She cried because the flowers she hoped for never came.

There was a woman whose children made the obligatory three minute ‘Happy Mother’s Day’ call.  She cried because they didn’t take the time to buy and send her at least a $ .99 Hallmark card.

There was a mother who didn’t receive a call or a phone call or flowers.  There was no present, thoughtful or otherwise.  There was no ‘Mom, we’re taking you out to dinner as just a simple Thank You for all you did for us.’  Her heart shattered into a million pieces because she didn’t get any acknowledgement that she had birthed and raised a child to the very best of her abilities.

Mothers, don’t do this to your children.  They didn’t ask to be born.  It’s your job/journey to care for them, to raise them as decent human beings and then let them go.

Don’t guilt them that their efforts, regardless of the magnitude or sparseness of their gift, aren’t enough…. If you raised them right, they are going on with their lives without you.  Mamas, it’s the natural order of things.  If they are happy, know you did a damn fine job and that that is enough.

Don’t be ungrateful for what you don’t have today; be grateful for whatever crumbs or feast you have with them at this moment.

Toast yourself today.  Be gentle with you and celebrate that today you, along with millions of other woman, are sharing the same experience.

Revel in that kinship.

You neither cry nor rejoice alone.

Let go, mamas.  It’s so much easier on you and your children when you drop your expectations of a picture perfect Norman Rockwell Mother’s Day.

After all, this long-dead man painted from his own male imagination of how any given holiday/moment  should be….The mamas of this world know how it truly is.

 

Written in memory of my mother, Patricia Lou Williamson Nicely Underhill and in honor of my beautiful daughter on this Mother’s Day, 8 May 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

Day 9 of 100: Gratitude Practice ~ Flowers and Fishiness

To all the admins out there:  HAPPY ADMINISTRATIVE PROFESSIONAL’S DAY!

APD

I am in gratitude:

For the perfect desk-size arrangement of roses and mixed flowers (along with a Starbucks Gift Card) I received today from my managers.  I am proud of what I do, I enjoy it and work very hard at providing excellent service to ‘my guys.’    The gift was not obligatory; I worked for a different group last year and the day came and went with not even a ‘Hey – thanks for what you do for me/us’ so this meant a lot.

That yesterday I followed through on the opportunity to nurture a budding friendship

For Nora Roberts’ Cousins O’Dwyer series

That I joined a diverse group of co-workers at a vendor-sponsored Seafood Fest and had fun.  Got lots of culinary ideas to use when my gal pals come over.  Have you ever seen a Shrimp Tree?  Love it.  And the watermelon whales were adorable!

    Seafood Fest 3             Seafood Fest 1             Seafood Fest 2

I’ll close this post with a last thought:

Today, I am in gratitude for the strength I feel growing in me every day.

Day 8 of 100: Gratitude Practice ~ Leaving My (Dis)Comfort Zone

path

It’s a stretch for the gratitude meter today but I’m gonna reach anyway.  Today I am grateful for the 50 pounds I have to lose.  Yeah, I said I’m grateful.  I had to think about how I could be grateful for what I know is going to be sore muscles, eating habit changes, much less wine, soreness, and did I mention soreness?

Notice I didn’t say “want” or “need” or “would like” to lose regarding my weight. I have to lose this weight for my physical, emotional and psychological health.  So, where does the gratitude come in?

Today, I’m in gratitude:

For being proactive:  making an appointment and GOING to Gold’s Gym to check out what they have to offer.  I’m not sure I can afford their rates but there are other fitness centers in the area.  If I quit buying books (hardbound and Kindle) I could afford Gold’s but that’s a tough call for me.  I’ll research all my options before I give up my books.

For calling a Registered Dietician for help with my food cravings

That my mind is still flexible enough to challenge myself in setting and keeping a goal

That I can acknowledge but then move past my fear of failing at this task.  NOT getting healthy is simply a choice I will neither offer nor allow myself

For not tying this goal to any one-off event or fleeting social moment.  It’s strictly about my long term health.

That I afford myself an opportunity to test my resolve one pound at a time

For both the physical and mental strength I know I will feel as I tone up and slim down

For my strength of will yesterday: there was a guy next to my desk who was munching on Fritos and the smell wafted through the air and surrounded my desk and set off my taste buds.  I’m grateful for that mini-test of my resolve.  I was hyper-aware of when he moved on and took the REALLY FREAKIN’ BIG BAG OF FREAKIN’ FRITOS with him.  And also when the aroma started to dissipate.  And my hand didn’t go anywhere near them.  I’m grateful for that.  This is gonna be tough but do-able!!!!!

I’ll close today with this last thought:

I am in gratitude for caring enough about me that I choose to give myself this frightening yet sstrangely liberating gift of a healthier life.

Days 6 & 7 of 100: Gratitude Practice ~ Wallowing In The Good

bright

Too many times, we find ourselves so consumed by the ‘bad’ in our lives that we forget to celebrate when our lives are smooth, grounded, just plain good.

Such is my life right now and this past weekend, I did just that.  I celebrated the even keel of my life, the daily waking without feeling weighed down by a thousand and one negative thoughts all vying for my attention, the (new to me) feeling of liking who I am and the anticipation of what each new day will bring.

All this good in my life….I walked around with a smile all weekend.  I did housework with a happy heart.  I did laundry with a light spirit.  Went to my friend’s house and cried with her as we watched a chick flick.  I felt my daughter’s pride in how well her career is going as we spoke on the phone.  Laughed at my dog’s determination to play with a squirrel who didn’t want any part of him.  I reveled in the good mojo that is my life.  It was time for me to roll around in the happy, to actually wallow in the good.  So I did.  And it was great!

I’ll close this post with a last thought:

I am in gratitude for all the simple things that bring such light into my days.

Day 5 of 100: Gratitude Practice ~ Fifty Shades of Green

green

Today I am grateful for the greening that takes place after a long, gentle overnight soaking rain.  I opened my doors early this morning and was overwhelmed by the both the beauty and sheer volume of Spring’s greens.

I am in gratitude this day, this morning:

For the fragrant, piping hot espresso at my fingertips

To my fur baby’s tiny bladder: by waking me so early to go out I was privileged to see such a beautifully crisp moment of green shimmering through the luminous morning light

That the rains brought such growth energy overnight to all growing things

For the wonderful connection to and conversation with gal pals after work yesterday

For the family of cardinals that returned again this year.  The daddy bird’s brilliant red against all this glowing, fresh green is a visual feast

I’ll close this post with one last thought:

I’m in gratitude for the warm glow and comfort of the candles I am burning.  May I reflect that and serve as a source of light and comfort to all I meet today.

 

 

 

 

A Gift on Earth Day

birds nest

On this Earth Day I was gifted with a sweet reminder of the heartbeat of Spring:  the renewal of life.

As I came down the few steps from my kitchen door to my car I noticed movement of some sort around my front tire.  It made me a little uneasy because I didn’t have my glasses on and couldn’t immediately identify it.  It was brownish and roundish and my wheels and car were a bit dirty so it blended right in.

My first thought went to *shudder* ‘Please not a snake.’

It was tiny baby birds, no more than two inches long.  Four tiny baby birds were nestled on the rim of my front tire, one on each spoke.  It was such a cute sight!  They looked like they had just left the nest; they still had the fluffiness of down in their feathers and both their chirping and their attempts at fluttering their wings was tentative at best.

I didn’t want to start driving with them still on the rim so I stood next to the tire and tried to wave them off.  I got tickled imaging what my neighbors would think if they were to see me:  there I was, 6:50 in the morning, looking at my tire and flapping my hands while saying ‘Shoo, Shoo!’ to my car as if it needed a boost to turn on and go.

First one bird hopped off and landed at my feet.  It kind of waddle-walked away to safety then another bird jumped down.  This one was more adventurous and flew close to the ground the whole eight feet to the side of my house then huddled where the brick met the ground.  I’m still waving and shooing to get the other two to move.  After all, cuteness only goes so far then it’s like, “Come on little birdies.  I have to get to work on time!”

Bird number three finally decided he’d had enough of this crazy lady invading his space so he puffs up his chest as if he were taking a big breath to bolster himself then flies to the side of the house and lands on the brick about halfway up the wall.  I couldn’t help but laugh as I watched him start a slow, sideways slide down the brick to the ground.  The little guy scrabbled to grab the brick with his talons but wasn’t quite strong enough yet.

The littlest and last remaining bird was perched on the metal rim closest to the ground with his wings wrapped around himself and quivering just a bit.  He had an endearing way of cocking his head to the side and looking up at me as if to say, “I don’t see you.  You don’t see me.  I’m safe here and I’m not leaving.”  My mother instinct was to pick him up and comfort him but I knew that wouldn’t be good for him.

I backed up a foot and sat down on the bottom step.  I gave him a final wave and ‘Shoo’ and waited to see what would happen.

He finally jumped the four inches from the rim to the ground.  And promptly froze in place for a few moments.  He slowly looked around for his siblings and upon seeing them against the wall, suddenly got brave and threw out his wings, sailed to the top of the wall and stuck the landing!

The baby birds are leaving the nest, the flowers are blooming and bees are buzzing.  The air is warming up and the heady perfume of fresh cut grass and sunshine floats in and out of our awareness.

I was gifted a wonderful moment this morning and appreciate the opportunity to share it with you.

May our spirts soar as we fly with the beautiful breezes of Life, of Spring.

 

Cathy

Day 4 of 100: Gratitude Practice ~ Cloudy With A Chance Of WTF

grey

If my spirit were a color it would be a rainy, soft grey today.  Perhaps it’s because all kinds of weird crap is going on at the office that quite frankly makes me feel redundant and just a little fearful of both my place and my professional worth.  I don’t know my office anymore; I feel I have a lot I could contribute but no one has need of my knowledge or help.  Am I a dinosaur?  Have I outlived my career value?

To top off my little pity party, all this hyper-awareness I’ve been experiencing has forced me to admit there are some things I dream of that I know are never going to happen: like learning to blow glass from the legendary artist Dale Chihuly.  Or meeting Rosamunde Pilcher to simply say, “Thank You” for the joy of re-reading each year her beautifully written books, ‘The Shell Seekers’ and ‘September.’  I have accepted I probably won’t get to Venice in this lifetime, I am never going to write a best-selling novel or weigh 125 again or be kissed goodnight and spoon with my man’s arm around my waist – I think that one is weighing on my heart the heaviest.

Be that as it may, I also have to admit that I have a pretty damn good life.  I’m able to (finally) pay my bills each month and have just a bit left over for me.  That’s a real positive step!  And I have some good friends who accept me for who I am.  I have made steps to reconcile with my sister and while I know things will never be the same as they were before our mother’s death, we won’t be estranged from each other either so that’s another positive.

Maybe I can find a glass studio here in NC and go observe for a weekend.  I can write Rosamunde Pilcher a letter of thanks for her timeless stories. I do write at home and I really enjoy it…and I have this blog.  While I would love to have it read by millions all over the world and appear on Super Soul Sunday to be interviewed by Oprah and have long lunches with Brene’ Brown after I do my TED Talks on gratitude and reclaiming your life after a long, slow fall to failure (see-there I go dreaming again), I can’t discount the satisfaction I get just doing this for myself.

So WTF?  I made a commitment to myself and to you, my future readers, to develop and keep a practice of gratitude.  Regardless what comes my way, and now that I’ve written those words I realize it’s the entire purpose of this blog, I’m keeping my word.

Everyone has clouds in their lives and eventually, the other colors seep out from the dreary blanket of grey to shine.

Come on, Cath. Get over yourself, and practice the gratitude you preach!

I’m in gratitude:

For the ability to recognize and acknowledge the ‘grey’, analyze it and honor its reason for being by living in it for a moment, then transform it to a color better suited to my spirit

For Sea-Salt Caramel Gelato

That I have made it to Day 4 in my gratitude practice

For the giggle I get each time I look at the hot pink elephant print I found for my bathroom

I’ll end today’s post with this last thought:

I’m in gratitude for pulling up my big girl panties.

Day 3 of 100: Gratitude Practice ~ The Almost Car Wreck

simple joys of life

 

Yesterday on my way into work, I was in one of those slam-on-your-brakes-on-the-highway-and-pray-you-aren’t-killed situations.  Shaken to my core at the aggressive driver’s intentional action, my depth of gratitude for remaining safe knows no bounds.

I’m in gratitude:

For the reminder of just how dear life is to me

That I have more time with my daughter

To that driver for the lesson of being mindful of the moment I am in

To that driver for showing me how toxic emotions can affect total strangers

To that driver for the lesson of always, Always, ALWAYS practicing kindness and consideration for others

That I get to re-read my favorite book again this fall like I do every year

For the fun of lipstick and nail polish and girly-things that make me feel good

For gardening, and cooking, and being with friends and life in general

That my daughter did not have to go through the shock of receiving “the phone call”

For my crazy, busy, frustrating, funny, hectic day at work

For the invitation to a beach weekend with a great friend

For the invitation to the SeaFood Fest from a new friend

I’ll end this post with a last thought:

I’m in gratitude for the extra-ordinary joy of living.

Day 2 of 100: Gratitude Practice

enjoy this moment

 

While I’ve been actively practicing gratitude (as opposed to simply thinking ‘oh, that’s a sweet/nice/kind thing’ and going on my oblivious way) for a bit over six months now, it occurred to me yesterday evening that my mindfulness has increased in leaps and bounds.  I suppose for most that would be a no-brainer but for me, some lessons have to percolate a bit before I can truly internalize the Ah-Ha takeaway.  Such is the case here.

I am more mindful of the passage of time.  I’m aware of the position of the sun when I awake and also of the moon when each evening I step outside to kiss the day goodnight.  I celebrate each season for its unique qualities without wishing it were another time.

Recognizing strife and anger in the voice and words of others, I’m mindful of my tone of voice and my choice of words; in being so, I am able to react in a positive or at worst, neutral, manner when confronted with a negative situation.  Having hurt others terribly with my words, I will be ever mindful of each word before it passes my lips.

Mindfulness seems to have sharpened my senses as well.  I have always enjoyed waking to birdsong in the mornings but now I can differentiate between parts of the winged chorus.  No, I don’t know which bird is doing the singing but I hear its voice as a complement to all the other lovely songs being sung.  The pattern of my wind chimes speaks to the strength of the wind.  I am more enamored than ever with the scent of the dirt right before the rain comes.   And my sense of taste?  I need to be more mindful of the health side of that than the taste side LOL.  But hey – we all need something to strive towards, right?  And a healthy body is now close to the top of my list.

I mentioned in my last post that I am in gratitude for the ebb and flow of life; I’m also very aware of the balance behind it all and that we cannot appreciate the light without the dark, the yin without the yang.  The sensations of being soaked in sunlight or bathed in moonlight cause me to feel I am at one with the push and pull of the life force on this lovely planet.

I’m in gratitude:

For choosing and truly enjoying a salad instead of the cheeseburger and fries

For choosing water instead of sweet tea

For honoring my resolutions and intentions during a (very brief) personal pity party moment

For the laughter my dog affords me each day

For the mindfulness I’m experiencing as I look for opportunities to be grateful

That I am out of the fray

That I am worthy of giving love and accepting it in return

For the upswing in my sister’s health

For the surprise and delight of stumbling upon several beautiful blue baby-sized iris clumps behind the shed

That I have allowed myself to be comfortable with age.  While I’m nowhere near old, aging into the crone stage has brought me comfort in my spirit, trust in my intuition, and a definite liking of the (sometimes) bad assed woman who has emerged.

I’ll end this post with a last thought:

I’m in gratitude for the inter-connectedness of all things.