Door to the Future

The wooden sign hung on the wall in the bathroom hallway and ingrained its message into the fiber of my being from the time I could read until I left home at eighteen.

Standing with legs crossed and butt cheeks clenched, waiting for a sibling to flush and unlock the door, I committed its words to memory:

On every visit home over the years the little plaque was still there to remind me. 

When had that message been more pertinent?

My seventieth birthday brought with it a paradigm shift of proportions not seen before in many lifetimes – perhaps ever. Foundations were rattled. Belief systems challenged. Trust in the order of things was upended.

For me, it felt like being stuck in the center of a bowl of lime jello. I could move a little and see fuzzy shapes through the green haze. But my hands had nothing to grasp. I couldn’t get out. I was forced to be with myself.

In the pressure cooker of Covid, the flames intensified under anything left on the back burner to deal with later. Later, was at hand. Emotions, the closeted things I hadn’t wanted to look at, were storming the gates.

Grant me the serenity…

Stoic Capricorn knows how to stuff it, move on, and don’t look back. That can work for a long time and it did. It took me on a glorious Bali adventure. It allowed me to compartmentalize the trade-offs – seeing family perhaps only once a year for a few weeks and living the dream in paradise the rest of the time.

 But plague ravaged the earth and everything changed. All at once, I was restricted. I couldn’t just hop a plane back to the States. Vaccinations wouldn’t be available to ex-pats for many months and to fly I needed proof that I’d had them.

Life, as I’d known it in the village of Ubud, disappeared overnight. Locked down without the distractions of friends and fun, the walls of defense cracked. Feelings tumbled out, messy, tangled, unruly, demanding attention.

Accept the things I cannot change…

Weeks and months dragged on. I wrote, meditated, did yoga, journaled. “What’s next?” I asked the Universe and the All-Knowing said, Take time to reflect. Having nothing but time, I did as directed. Slowly, like waiting for a Minnesota winter to end, I dug through my psyche, dusted shadows off neglected data, deleted old stuff, and upgraded the system.

I Zoomed with family. As soon as we finished and the screen went dark, so did I. I’d cook something. Take a solitary walk. Bury my nose in a book. And sob.

I learned a long time ago that nothing changes until I know what I want. It was easier to know what I didn’t want. I didn’t want the coronavirus. I didn’t want isolation. I didn’t want to live with fear. I didn’t want to miss my family. But the Universe doesn’t respond to negatives so I remained stuck in the jello.

What I needed was a want big enough to dream about, to energize me, to propel me toward a goal.  

Courage to change the things I can…

What could I change? What did my heart long for? I sank onto my meditation pillow, raised my hands to offer gratitude for the many blessings I still had in my life when a voice resounded in my ear so loud and clear it made me jump. What are you doing here?

In Minneapolis, 2009, bored and miserable, I’d asked myself that same question. My answer had been immediate and shocking: “Just marking time waiting to die.”

I’d come full circle. If I was honest with myself, I’d felt the rumblings of impending transition for the past two years. But a new dream hadn’t taken shape and there was nothing to do but wait for it. There is no forcing the door to the future.

The shift in energy, however, was undeniable, and the tug toward children and grandchildren grew to an overwhelming ache.

The vaccine was eventually offered to foreigners. I got my first dose and was given a date for the second. There was, as yet, no big dream, but I knew I had to connect with my family and I hoped if I took that step forward, light would shine on the path ahead.

I made the circuit from California, to Minnesota, to Pennsylvania, basking, wallowing, and delighting in joyous reunions. I’d booked a round-trip ticket when I left Bali. Now it was time to catch my return flight. I’d left everything there, a beautiful home, dear friends, a life. But the closer the time came to leave, dread filled my heart. I couldn’t go back. At the last minute, I detoured to Mexico.

It had been forty-six years since I’d been in that country, but I knew people there. I quickly acclimated and yet the big dream, the overarching want eluded me. Until I realized…

…and wisdom to know…

Family was the force tugging at me. Roots. Familiarity. A foundation that wasn’t continuously shifting. I wanted accessibility to loved ones without crossing an ocean or needing a passport. Mexico was still too far away. There was only one place that checked all the boxes: the family farm.

I arrived in northern Minnesota in late August to begin the rest of my life. It was an idyllic autumn. The weather was perfect. Leaves changed and held their colors as tamaracks turned golden. Work on my 400-square-foot tiny house progressed.

And then…

It snowed.

As I stare out the window at a landscape gone white and gray, I’m once again flooded with emotions hooked into memories that sent me fleeing the north country years ago. Tangled up with those feelings are others that speak to my soul. I am winter’s child grown old. I’ve come home to embrace what I rejected in my youth, peace, stillness, mortality, and the cold, dark nights between November and June. Unwritten stories whirl in my head. Plots twist through my dreams. I’m excited about the future. I’m excited about the present. My heart and mind are primed to plug into the resilience of my Norse ancestors. My body will adjust!

Meanwhile, I want to paint a plaque to hang outside my bathroom door. It will go something like this: Grant me the serenity…

What’s Controlling You?

Projection: the mental process by which people attribute to others what is in their own minds.

Projection is a bad idea but everyone does it – often. We’re the sum of our experiences. A few we recognize. Others, buried in our subconscious, are all the more damaging because we’re ignorant of them. Our forgotten memories determine how we respond to life.

Here’s an example of projection.

I walk into a café and see someone I know. He looks up and scowls in my direction. I assume he’s reacting to seeing me and I think, “OMG! I’ve just ruined his day. I had no idea he felt that way about me. He hates me.” I do a hasty about-face and exit the café.

The person who looked up just then has a throbbing headache. He notices me and thinks, “I haven’t seen Sherry in ages…” He’s unaware that his pain shows so openly on his face and begins to stand to greet me. As I turn and flee he thinks, “What the…? Why’s she avoiding me? I’m sure she saw me…”

Mine is the only head I can be in – the only thoughts I can access. Anything else is pure imagination. Both of us assumed we knew what the other was thinking. Things like this happen all the time and cause misunderstandings, ruin friendships, parent/child relationships, and marriages.

There’s another way projection can warp our perceptions.

Today I opened my curtains and saw lopped-off branches heaped in the garden.

My heart did a vertical plunge and landed near my feet. I had to muster every ounce of self-control to keep from dashing outside, wrestling Ketut to the ground, and tying his saw-wielding hands behind his back.

Wouldn’t you think by now I’d know he’s a master gardener; that his pruning is essential or the well-groomed landscape would become an impenetrable jungle gobbling up everything in its path?

And yet I have the same visceral response every single time.

After the first surge of adrenaline, I was able to breathe, unclench my fists, retrieve my heart, and appreciate the fact I have a brilliant helper to tend my yard. Granted, for one day after he’s hacked it back it looks like a bad haircut. But thunderheads roll in, rain streams down and in less time than it takes to mourn the loss of the trumpet vine, there are ten new ones covered with flowers.

I’m projecting on Bali my experience growing up in northern Minnesota where a garden, if we were lucky, lasted two months. Buds were holy. Blossoms, revered. A flowering tree was immortalized by hundreds of photos so we could remember through the nine months of winter that life did exist and would return.

On the left, it’s 1965. I’m 15. My younger siblings and I made a snow horse and behind us is the snow fort. Missy, our black lab, never figured out she wasn’t human. On the right it’s 1951. The family’s been out for a walk with Mr. Chips, our collie. Dad took the photo.

That was the past I was stuck in when I looked out my window.

* * *

I define projection as a need to control a situation by basing it on a familiar remembered experience and acting accordingly.

If we can stop at any point before action is taken and ask, Where is this coming from, and honestly assess what might be at the root of our assumptions, how many heartaches would we avoid?

That’s what I managed to do this morning. I stopped before making a seventy-year-old fool of myself thinking I could win any kind of wrestling match with Ketut.

I ditched the bitter Minnesota memories and drew on recent experience where, in Bali, a wildly luscious garden is an everyday fact of life not a mirage that disappears under frigid mounds of white.

I hurried outside, my pores oozing gratitude, and thanked Ketut for being such a magnificent steward of my treasured tropical surroundings. Then I promised to make him famous by featuring him once again in my blog. “And put it on Facebook,” he said, like the true, attention-loving Leo he is.

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