Monthly Archives: January 2012

Tennis the Second Time Around

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Watch the ball! Not where it is going! Swing, hit. Swing, hit, Swing, miss. You looked up. You didn’t even look at that ball you were so busy looking where you wanted it to go. Swing, hit, swing, hit. Swing, hit. Swing, miss. I know. You don’t have to tell me. I took my eyes off the ball.

I have not advanced as quickly as I had hoped when I picked tennis back up after a more than two-decade hiatus. When I had a total knee replacement I discovered I could run again although I limit myself to doubles generally. I come home in considerable pain in my arthritic shoulders, neck, and wrists, but stretching, ice packs, and adequate ibuprofen controls these bothersome indicators that I may never achieve my dream level of competitive play.

My husband used to shake his head when he came home from work. “Why do you put yourself through this when you know you are going to hurt so badly?” He doesn’t ask anymore. Neither does my physical therapist prod me to choose some other sport that won’t tax my injured joints. You see, it is obvious to all, tennis makes me happy.

But why? I love to move. I love to play. But tennis is not the only outlet that offers play and movement. I’ve found delight in a form called Interplay that involves dance and storytelling and improvisation. But as much fun as I have in Interplay, the bodily demanding sport of tennis reaches down and grabs me at a more primal level. There is something I need to learn from tennis as I struggle towards my next steps.

One friend notes that I spent many years before retiring in courtroom law, where competition and even a fight mentality are in the woof and weft of the profession. While this is true, I left the competitive fighting years ago when I moved from divorce trials to mediation and collaboration. Another friend notes that when my grandchildren visit, I like nothing better than to join them in a no holds barred wrestling match, or a fast game of Quirkle where I’m certainly not inclined to give away any points to my 8 year old granddaughter!

Okay. I am competitive. I am physical. But I’m writing this blog to figure out what is next in my life. And I think the energy and dedication I give to tennis have some clues that might be helpful if I can only see them.

Sure, I know people become fixated about sports. My father at 90 doesn’t have a good week if he doesn’t play at least three times. But I am not my father and I am not 90. I’m 61. Unlike my father, I don’t win with any consistency. I’m just not that good. Don’t get me wrong. I love to win. But being successful since I’ve resumed tennis has not been the motivator.

So. It is physical. But again, so is Interplay, walking, playing with my dogs.

Tennis teaches me a lot in a setting of social competition, strategy, and the sheer joy of intense movement that causes me to forget distracting discomforts I may experience later. Watching the ball as it comes off your opponent’s racket, tracking that ball, and running to give the ball a good clean stroke or block before a second bounce requires total presence.

Okay. So although I love the spontaneity of Interplay, I engage the anticipation and strategy and yes, fight, of tennis in a way that connects with some deep aspect of my personality. Both disciplines involve learning forms, and the possibility of reaching a point where the forms become a marriage of technique and art. Both give me outlets for my extroverted social energy.

While competition may be the distinguishing factor, competitive edge only carries me forward so far in my current search for how to use my energy in meaningful ways. While modern science can do wonders regarding joint replacements and repair, I have to be sure I don’t allow myself to be overly distracted by limitations which may just require adaptation. They are not barriers to play. Or, as my orthopedist blithely concludes: “Nothing life-threatening here.”

What might I take away from my experience in playing tennis this second time around?  Just as I’m finding in other areas of my life, I don’t need to focus on what I don’t do as well as I would like, or used to, whether due to age, or for other reasons. In new activities, or a new job, I do need to focus on questions about whether I’m filling my life with experiences that are “all encompassing” in the moment. Do they have an element of competitive play and strategy? Am I so engaged that there is nowhere else I want to be during the activity? Whatever temporary discomfort I may suffer after I finish am I ready to return to another round of the activity with the same enthusiasm and intention?

Age and circumstance give me the luxury of choosing a life composed of activities I enjoy and find meaningful. I want to continue to seek clues from my recreational life to see if I can weave from these clues a pattern that will help direct me to what else I want to be doing with my life. Physicality. Total presence and engagement. Strategy and competition. Without the necessity of winning. All these are pieces of the puzzle.

Swing, hit. Swing, hit. Swing, miss. Keep your eyes on the ball. Don’t worry so much about where it is going.

Blooming at 70: an interview with a Giant Saguaro

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Giant Saguaro Cactus, by glennia

The Giant Saguaro

I recently visited Tucson, AZ, the home of the Giant Saguaro.  (I found this photo by “glennia” but haven’t learned to place the credit correctly. sorry).

These awesome cacti led me to have the following conversation.

HG:  You are quite an impressive specimen GS. I can call you that, GS, mightn’t I?

GS:  Of course. As long as you don’t forget what it stands for. At almost 40 feet I am indeed a Giant saguaro. While the tallest on record is 59 feet, an average mature height is closer to 25.  You don’t get to be as tall as I am until you are over 100 years old!

HG: Actually aging is part of what I’d like to talk to you about. I’m struggling around how to lead a meaningful life now that my primary career is over and the children are grown. I mean I play tennis, and visit grandchildren, and do volunteer work. I’ll visit new places and deepen friendships, but . . .

GS: Is this interview for you to talk or me?

HG: Sorry. So, tell me a little about yourself, GS.

GS: What do you want to know about my aging process? We saguaros don’t focus on age, as such. We focus on blooming! and sprouting! Age really has little to do with it.

HG: I don’t understand. At almost 62 years of age, I feel like my halcyon days may be behind me. Like, “the bloom is off the rose” and all that. I can’t imagine being 100. I would feel so — dried up.

GS: Since we are native to the desert, if anyone is going to be dried up it is a saguaro. But while we are still standing, we are most definitely not concerned about that inevitability. I didn’t produce a bloom until I was 70 years old, and the timing depended on nutrition, not age. Am I absorbing enough rainfall to grow? Then I’ll bloom. It actually takes very little water. A little bit of rain goes a long way. I produce flowers for months on end. And 4000 seeds can be spread around my territory from those blooms.

For most saguaros, the first bloom occurs between the 40th and 75th year. I wasn’t too injured by storms and didn’t suffer from lengthy droughts, just your everyday desert existence.  I absorbed adequate rainfall. When I grew tall enough, about eight feet, I produced a gorgeous bloom.

So let me ask you, at a mere “almost 62″ are you taking in enough sustenance? Are you continuing to grow? Are you blooming? Or are you letting old injuries or storm damage put you on a course of decline?

HG: Wait a minute. We did establish that this interview was about you, not me. So in addition to blooms, you talked about sprouting arms. How old were you when that happened?

 GS: There you go focusing on age again. Okay, I sprouted my first arms when I was 75.  Many saguaros are older than that before they branch out. They are just one single stalk like most of my brothers and sisters out here in the Sonoran Desert. It is about resources — rain. Not age, but about how I use what I receive.

HG: Don you have any fears about getting old?

GS: Someday a flood may uproot me, or a strong wind knock me over. But, until that happens I’m going to continue to grow. I’m going to continue to bloom. I’m going to continue to spread these thousands of seeds. Why would I focus on age? Look around. The desert is beautiful. And I get to live here. I love being a Giant Saguaro!

HG: Thank you, GS. thank you.

Coyote Medicine: lessons from Native American healing by Lewis Mehl-Madrona, p. 269-270

“Within the desert, time slows. Thirty years pass and a saguaro tree is still a short, stubby pup. Seventy years pass before it grows arms. The sacred beings remain accessible in the desert stillness, listening for our prayers, waiting to answer them. They have been driven from the cities by our cruelty, by our disregard for sacred spirits. We must leave civilization behind if we wish to commune with them. “

Measure of a Life Post-Career and Child-raising

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I want to live with a “dancing heart.” Not just now, in this moment. But for the rest of my life. Why does this seem harder now, when I have more freedom of time and space than when my career and child-raising were in full swing? I’m aware of needing to be more intentional about what I eat, how I exercise, amount of sleep and the use of my time. Arthritic joints, a tendency towards ADD, and life-long mood swings have always challenged me. But somehow the hectic pace of raising a beloved child, growing and maintaining a fulfilling career, and taking on interesting leadership roles in socially active organizations eclipsed the tough times. I thrived on being needed and understood clearly my roles in life.

Understanding why my life matters and choosing how to live it well confronts me differently in this my seventh decade.  Now I have to believe in myself without the feedback of concrete career achievements and the pride in my child’s small steps towards adulthood. My career is done. My child is grown. And although I love being a grandmother, and look forward to ever greater delights in this role (subject of a future post!), only my husband lives in my geographic proximity (and his working full time means I can’t just roll smoothly from “working person” to “retired couple” status — oh dear, another post topic for the future!).

I still acquire new skills. I take tennis lessons, voice lessons, and hopefully am learning to navigate the ins and outs of writing a blog, but these are not the measurements of my life. My religious commitments do not hold me so comfortably as in the past. Everything seems to be in question — like a second adolescence but with enough life experience to not get discouraged easily.

As I gaze around our sitting room, I see my collection of children’s picture books, and am drawn to several to seek a few clues about what guideposts to use as I consider “the measure of a life,” the measure of my life. (While I’m quite aware that the word “measure” may imply for some that I am limiting myself to linear quantitative thinking, I want to assure you I am not.)

Today I’ll look at a book that my daughter gave to me several years ago, Libba Moore Gray’s My Mama Had a Dancing Heart. In the first wonderful illustration by Raul Culon, a mother and daughter lounge with legs outstretched at the top of an outside porch steps, with text that reads, “My mama had a dancing heart and she shared that heart with me.”

I so hope my daughter gave me this book because she believes I shared a dancing heart with her. Given my periodic bouts with depression and an ambitious drive towards excellence and competency in my chosen profession, I sometimes wondered whether the joy and dancing heart that is also part of who I am, and that she always evoked in me, got through to her. Was my sharing “adequate.”

Now I glance on the facing page with the author’s dedication to her children, “who through the years have made my heart dance.” And I somehow know that it is in the sharing of mutual delight where the dancing heart knows its greatest expression. In this place of exchange of energies, the issue is not one of adequacy but presence, showing up.

This is where I must begin this year’s journey living my perplexities and discoveries of next steps.  Where do I live with a dancing heart? In what activities and times of sitting quietly do I experience my heart dancing? And can I trust that when I live with a dancing heart, the sharing of that joy is completely and utterly of its essence.

 

New challenges for a new year

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While cleaning my teeth, my dental hygienist expressed dismay that her 79-year-old mother was still working as a nurse. Without the financial need to continue her career, her mother persevered with a two-hour daily commute because she enjoyed the social interactions with both colleagues and patients. Although I’ve made a different choice for now, I can readily understand the mother’s preference.

I sometimes wonder the opposite. Why aren’t I still working at age 61?  I didn’t need to close my mediation-law practice five years ago. But my retirement resources were adequate so that I could choose to take “early retirement.” I successfully began a new “post-retirement” consulting business, but now find myself turning down potential clients. I am somewhat perplexed by my own actions.

My husband still works long hours.  We live in the “suburban countryside” on two acres of land complete with red and gray fox, barred and screech owls, deer, and the occasional sounds of gunfire from hunters who have strayed away from the limited areas reserved for them. It is great for spiritual reflection and long walks. And if I time my outings the distance from the city does not discourage me from leaving to interact with others.

Yet, I have begun to feel uncomfortably comfortable. I want more challenge in my life, and  desire for more people-interaction. It feels like my circle of friends has grown smaller with time, and now that I’m not in the work world, my schedule doesn’t mesh with my still-working friends who live in the city.

But I’m resisting returning to my hectic pre-retirement days of cases and clients. As a next step I have at least identified my interest in developing more lasting relationships than I have managed to foster in the projects and cases of my past careers.

There is also this nagging belief, perhaps left over as one who came of age in the late 60′s and early 70′s, that to justify my existence, I must be about something that is making the world a better place.

I turn to a couple of favorite authors as I reflect on this new stage of my life. In her 1990 bestseller Composing a Life, Mary Catherine Bateson reflects on her maternal grandmother’s influence on Bateson’s mother, anthropologist Margaret Mead. Bateson concludes her reflections with,

For Americans today, composing a life means integrating one’s own commitments with the differences created by change and the differences that exist between the peoples of the world with whom we increasingly come into contact. Because we have an altered sense of the possible, every choice has a new meaning. (page 59)

So what meanings show up in the choices I have made in recent years to step back from my life-long career path and explore other avenues for experiencing life? In fact, what is important to me these days?  What matters? I play tennis. I volunteer for a few hours each week. I play with my dogs. I see friends. But it no longer seems enough. Not once I place myself in the context of “the differences that exist between the peoples of the world.”

And so my first challenge of this new year is to discover what principles, or what observations, or values need to guide me in this stage of my life. My behavior makes clear to me that the assumptions of earlier life-stages are no longer front and center.

Composing a life no longer feels like the operative phrase for how I am approaching the next unfolding of my life.  Rather, I turn to another image introduced to me by the second author, Terry Tempest Williams.

MosaicShe writes in the beginning of Finding Beauty in a Broken World:

A mosaic is a conversation that takes place on surfaces.

A mosaic is a conversation with light, with color, with form.

A mosaic is a conversation with time.

And then a little later she writes:

A mosaic is a conversation between what is broken.

Williams travels to Ravenna to learn the basics of becoming a mosaicist from Marco de Luca. He tells her:

Out of randomness, you create order. I express something very deep and then deny it immediately.”

I want each mosaic to have maximum liberty to be itself.

These words resonate with me. Especially the yearning to exercise the “maximum liberty” to be myself. But haven’t I been doing this all the way along? What makes this season of my life feel so perplexing? So much a beginning? So different from the orderliness of practicing law, raising a child, volunteering to do good in the world?

I don’t know. But I think it has something to do with the juxtaposition that Williams captures in the title of her book with beauty and broken world.

Favorite Charitable Contributions

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I’ve listed my favorite charitable organizations below, both international and domestic.

I have wonderful memories of sitting head-to-head with my daughter perusing the Heifer International catalog. Heifer, in case you don’t know, provides animals to families in developing and poverty-stricken countries. If the family is able to produce more chickens, or goats, or pigs, then they will donate at least one to another family.  You can purchase a fifth of a pig, or an entire chicken, in honor of someone you love. S. has many cousins who lived out of town and every Christmas we would choose which animals we thought that cousin would enjoy learning about from Heifer’s mailing when we made our contribution in his or her name.

I still make end-of-year contributions, but with more resources at my disposal at this stage of life, my contributions are more varied and chosen for the organization’s specific mission. I also make all my contributions online now, not from print catalogs. My husband and I have worked out a budget where I have a certain amount of our family income with which to do this.  Find a full list of my 2011 contributions below. Most have received donations in past years. A few are new. Every choice engages me. I carefully make out a list of organizations, balancing local and international, and how much each will receive. Most of them are grassroots, such as Fonkoze that provides microfinancing for women’s businesses in Haiti. Others, like Interfaith Works or House of Ruth, perform community services for those in need in the metropolitan D.C. area. Quite a few I read about in Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, the powerful book by Nicholos Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, http://www.halftheskymovement.org. (haven’t learned how to link yet on my blog).  The local ones I’ve known people active in the organizations, or volunteered with them myself. For instance, the long-time director of National Center for Children and Families served on the first board with me of the Collaboration Council for Children, Youth, and Families many years ago.  My husband and I were mentors with the Friends and Families program with Interfaith Works for years. So if you have any questions about why I chose a particular organization, or one that you have chosen to contribute to, let me hear from you.

International:

Women’s Learning Partnership

UNICEF

Women Thrive International

Bokamoso

Somaly Mam

Fonkoze

Hearts with Haiti

Child Fund International

Center for Reproductive Rights

Women’s Environment and Development Organization

The Panzi Hospital Foundation

Domestic:

Higher Achievement

Latino Student Fund

Interfaith Works

Community Ministries of Rockville

For Love of Children

National Center for Children and Families

House of Ruth