It was a foggy morning, and I was making my first trip to the Naples Botanical Gardens since we did our snowbird flight a month ago. I have been to the garden before when it was foggy so I was excited. It is a magical place in the fog and I enjoy taking macro photos when there isn’t the harsh shadows from the bright Florida sun. There were some other photographers who thought so, too.
There were some beautiful water lilies in bloom. I go on Tuesday mornings when members and dog owners can get in at 8:00.
The fog works its magic on spider webs, leaving tiny drops of moisture along each strand. They are hard to photograph because the slightest breath of air moves them. I also had to move around to find a perspective where the background allowed the web to show at its best.
There are a lot of banana trees growing in the garden and I have a tree with bananas ripening outside my kitchen window but this was the most beautiful bunch I have seen. The way they develop fruit really fascinates me. The flower petals lift up to expose the small yellow flowers inside – that the bees pollinate. The fruit grows at the base of this yellow part of the flower. Later the red petals fall off and new ones raise up with a new hand of bananas ready to form.
The fog lifted but didn’t burn off when I was ready to leave. It was really humid so I didn’t stop for something cold to drink and a scone at the cafe. Maybe next week.
In the bleak, cold, grey days of Michigan winter, we look for color wherever we can find it. I did cheat just a little by decreasing traces of color from rocks, grasses, and tractor in post processing.
Last week I was looking at videos of Christmas’s past. My grandsons’ mother died this past year and there were home videos I wanted to copy for them so my beloved grandsons could sort out their memories of their lives with her. She suffered from mental illness so life could be crazy sometimes. My goal was to give them something to use as they grieve and to help them sort out the naughty and nice of this part of the tapestry that is being woven to define who they will be as they age.
As so often happens, I got hijacked along the way by my own tapestry that continues to be woven, even as it is fraying along the edges. The video I watched was of Christmas, 1995. It doesn’t sound that long ago but it was, 20 years long ago. The wine I drink and the cheese I eat haven’t aged that long. In 1995 I hadn’t yet arrived at the decade I would consider the prime of my life.
I became nostalgic as I watched that video of Christmas 1995. My whole family was together – my mother came from Florida, one sister from Wisconsin, and my other sister came from Grand Rapids. They brought their husbands and children. Our son was still married and they were there with our two grandsons, along with our youngest daughter who was home from college. In the video our home was bursting with activity and laughter and stories. We were all together – well almost, except my father who had died 14 months earlier and our other daughter who was living in Russia that year.
I felt sad when I realized it was the last time we would all get together as a family for Christmas. I enjoyed watching my mother talking and laughing and teasing me – she remarried and never came to Michigan for Christmas again, dying about ten years later. My baby sister moved to northern Wisconsin, a two-day drive away, making visits for holidays difficult – besides our children have grown, with families of their own. Between my offspring increasing and my other sister not wanting to travel the two hours to our home we didn’t see them at Christmas much after 1995. She died about three years ago. I have invited my brother-in-law and two nieces to our Christmas Eve celebration but they can’t come because of work responsibilities. My son’s marriage broke up so my daughter-in-law was no longer a part of our gatherings; her death three months ago didn’t have an impact on our gathering.
As I watched Christmas Eve 1995, I also realized that our youngest daughter hadn’t met and married her husband yet so he was missing, and they hadn’t given us our three bright and beautiful granddaughters. The Christmas video reminded me that families change over the years as some people leave, others are added, and sometimes configurations change.
On Christmas Eve 2015 we once again gathered – and our family was all together again. Except it was a different configuration from 1995, and our oldest grandson, his new wife, and our new adorable (step) great-grandson couldn’t be here. This year our daughter-in-law and her two young-adult children are “official” because they married our son last summer. We had welcomed them as real family several years ago, but this year was special because of the legal change.
It was a lovely gathering, full of joy and peace and good-will. Our home was alive as gifts were lovingly exchanged, and we laughed over our feeble attempts to explain how words (like poop) are related to the Christmas story as eight people gathered for a game of Scrabble (with new rules). We gathered around a long Christmas table set and decorated by our youngest granddaughter, sharing food the better cooks lovingly prepared. There was more laughter and bantering as children and grandchildren bartered unwrapped stocking stuffers they had picked from a pile in the middle of the floor.
I took video clips throughout the afternoon because I know that someday in the future the people we shared this beautiful and sacred day with will look at it and think about how Christmas used to be, feeling sad about those who are no longer present and how much things have changed. And then, hopefully, they will feel contentment with their new Christmas traditions filled with love, joy and peace.
It is easy to sit down on Thanksgiving Day and make a list of what I am thankful for – but I felt almost repulsed by that exercise this year. Besides, after 50 years of adulthood lists they begin to look very similar – except for the occasion year when all I could be thankful for was that the prior year was over. My one daughter is there right now after a difficult year for her and her family.
This year I feel a need to do something different than think about what I am thankful for. This year I feel a shift in my being – a shift from a pause to be thankful to a different way of being in each day. I think it has to do with the aging process. I no longer need to “make it” in the sense that I did when I was in my younger years, when I was thankful for events and accomplishments that made me more “adult.” I now live with a sense of peace that I accomplished what I needed to accomplish and can forgive myself for what I wasn’t able to do. I also know that I lived a good life, attributed in part to good decisions but also because that unpredictable, uncontrollable fickle finger of fate worked in my favor bringing opportunity and wonderful family and friends into my life along the way. Occasionally I have brief moments of sadness over paths that I could have taken “if only…,” until I remember the joys of the paths I chose. Sometimes I’m hit with grief over family and friends who have died, but also feel the joy of having had them in my circle of love.
That seems to be where my mind goes when I pause to be thankful – I think about the past. Then I start thinking about the future and how I want to live my life in my remaining years. Those thoughts seem to spring from some notion that I need to give back for all that I have received. I think about how I could use my mind and ability to write – to make a difference in our national politics. Maybe I could even write so powerfully as to convince a few people that wanting to ban semi-automatic weapons has absolutely nothing to do with wanting to take guns away from law abiding citizens who use them for hunting or the sport of target practice or who collect antique guns. (Oops, how did that editorial slip in??)
When I start thinking about all the things I could do I begin to feel dragged down. If I am honest with myself I know I am limited in the things I can do, and what I choose to do I need to plan well and be vigilant about energy and pain levels. I don’t feel like I have the energy to give as I would like – and that makes me sad. Really sad.
How can I be thankful when my life is limited and, because of my age and fibromyalgia, I know it is only down hill from here? Do we reach an age when we are no longer expected to give; when we can just take? When I taught about adulthood and aging, I discussed with students the theory of role reversal, the reversal of children taking care of aging parents. It was clear then – now that I feel it beginning to happen, not so much. Back then the emotional part was more theory than real. Now it is in-my-face real.
I still want to age gracefully, with joy and peace and love and laughter and stimulating activities. I thought I was doing a pretty good job. I had decided to take each day as it came – finding joy in doing chores and fun activities (like making quilts). Being thankful each day for what I could do without thinking about what I used to be able to do or want to do in the future. Today. Joy. Thankfulness. Wow.
Then we brought the Christmas tree upstairs, the pre-lit one that we cut all the lights off last year because half weren’t working. I had a plan. I would sting the lights securely so I could leave them on. I started stringing the bottom third with colored lights in the center (JB wanted colored) and white on the ends of the branches (my choice). I did a little and then would do something else that allowed me to sit and rest. Then I did a little more. I was able to make the strings of lights end so I could start new ones on the middle section. I worked on the tree Monday and Tuesday. Took lights off on Wednesday because they weren’t ending at the top of the middle section.. Decided on Thursday (with tears of frustration) that we wouldn’t have a tree this year, but instead I started putting lights back on. Friday I bought two more strings and put them on. Friday I took those off because I had bought LED and they didn’t look right with rest of tree. They also weren’t long enough so JB went out to buy two longer strings. The lights still weren’t going on right so Friday night I took most of the lights off. Saturday I put lights back on, with a new plan of taking them off after Christmas. JB’s worked with me on the top third that gave me the energy to finish with the light stringing.
It is beautiful. JB and I agree that it is the most beautiful tree we have had in many years. But it took me a week to put lights on the tree and it wasn’t a graceful process. I cried and cussed and was surly. I gave up several times, lost sleep over it, and felt very little joy during the process. Not the way I want to live – but it isn’t my normal way of living.
During this same week I designed and bought fabric for a darling quilt for my new two-year-old great-grandson. I am so excited about it, and thankful that Kaden is a part of my life and that I can bring joy to my grandson and his new wife. And what about the tree? Yes, I wasn’t at all graceful but I kept going back, I kept doing as much as I could, I persevered and changed my plan as needed, and I “got er done.”
Maybe I don’t need to always be graceful. Maybe I need to take on challenges and fight my way through even if it isn’t good for my body and spirit. If most of my life is lived with joy and thankfulness, I think I can forgive myself for those moments (or weeks) when I’m not feeling it so much.