I’m spending Thanksgiving with my family like countless other Americans today.
For me it means getting on a plane and flying to Ohio or Tennessee to see my sisters’ and their families. We’re lucky. We all get along really well. It could be in part because we don’t spend much time together, but I prefer to think it’s just because we genuinely like each other.
What weighs six pounds, is covered with white fur and has horrible halitosis?
That would be my cat O’Connor, whom I believe may be 19 years old, but I am not totally sure.
I have always had a cat in my life. When I was six, my brother brought home a tiger-striped kitten he found while playing war down at the wooded stream near our house. Tiger (such an original name) was absolutely an outdoor cat. He had the war wounds to prove it, and would drag himself home from a rather nasty night of what I can only imagine was vying for the paw of some much sought after female. He lived a long life, but his ears were ragged and he sported a collection of battle scars. A no nonsense guy who did not like a lot of coddling. Just as well, since those decades ago we didn’t treat our pets like children. They lived outdoors, and trips to the vet were few and saved for dire medical emergencies only.
Today my cats are kept indoors. I had learned the hard way that letting them roam in suburban neighborhoods with a prevalence of cars and coyotes was a bad idea.
According to statistics, Americans spent more than $60 billion on their pets in 2015. A lot of this was on food, but a significant chunk was toward vet bills, grooming and designer doggy purses. We are truly kookoo over our furry friends. Just look at the prevalence of pet spas, heated beds and silly outfits on Pinterest. We humanize our animals for sure, which perhaps the petless cannot truly understand. We do it so much it has earned a fancy clinical term:anthropomorphism.
Yes, I talk to my cats and believe they understand me. (As much as a cat wants to. They’re so stuck up! Like the snotty, pretty-girl clique in high school.)
But let’s look beyond our regular pets at the four-legged heroes – cats that sit with dying nursing home patients; military and police dogs that risk their lives to protect humans. They are truly remarkable, and only ask that we keep them fed and loved.
My friends tease me because I am so soft-hearted about pets that it’s put me off SarahMcLaughlin forever. Meanwhile, give me a juicy episode of “The Walking Dead” and I’ll watch unflichingly as the heads roll. It does not make sense I know, except I just feel that animals are so much more defenseless than people. They provide such comfort that it makes putting up with a roommate with bad breath who doesn’t allow you to wear black outside the house well worth the small sacrifices.
Just when it seems darkest, one of my tribe reaches out with a Coleman lantern and waves it in front of my face.
I am fortunate to have a family I get along with. But since they have always lived an airplane ride away, I have formed wonderful relationships over the last several decades with many friends who I will now refer to as my tribe members, since the line drawn between friends and family has become so blurred.
Today, sitting drinking my morning coffee, I get a text message from one of the tribe elders, Pam.
“Call me when you are up. I have ideas!”
Many people besides myself were impacted by the loss of my husband. Pam has found it to be especially tough, coming on the heels of a year when she helped her husband through a bout with cancer (he is now fine) and other events which have made her question her life’s purpose at this juncture. It was a tough year for all, indeedy-do, in Pam’s lingo (and as I may have mentioned ever so tactfully, in a previous blog).
But Pam has already been trying to pull herself back up by her boot straps. We are part of a core group of friends who met in junior high school and camped together a lot. We gals thought nothing of packing a cooler and tent and heading for nearby Vermont for the weekend. We still see each other. Most of us went for a walk on New Year’s Day at a local park. We have more shared experiences than we could ever hope to remember. That’s why I know my friends were happy when I met James and married. At last I had found my mate as my friends had decades before me.
In either case, back to the text message. I immediately picked up the phone and without preamble, asked Pam for a run down.
“Here’s what we’re going to do. I’m calling it six in six!”
“Like a lottery scratch off game?” I responded.
“Well, yeah…OK,” she said, used to my offbeat quips.
Pam’s idea takes the New Year’s resolution to a different level. We would each commit to plan something to do together. It could be read a book, take a day trip, sneak into the movies, steal a car (haha) – something we have either never done or want to revisit with fresh eyes, she explained. She takes six months of the year and I take six months and we plan one event per month.
We are all familiar with the typical type of singular resolution. The gyms are full of them come January. This idea appealed to me. A new twist that could inject some life back into our lives. Something we both needed desperately. It recalibrates the stale idea of making a resolution. Create a roadmap of experiences to look forward to throughout the year and share them with a friend.
I could already feel a small ember in my core, starting to be fanned ever brighter by a light breeze. It was not a giant plan, we would never conquer Everest, but maybe it could inspire us on to bigger and better?
“I love the idea!” I said to her, already starting to think of what we could do as the year unfolds.
The wheels are starting to turn, a bit resistant due to recent rust formations but moving all the same. So I dare you – go ahead – foment your own kind of revolution in 2017.
I say feeble, because I can’t seem to blank out my mind for more than 30 seconds at a time. I know it takes practice, and I keep thinking there is some magical knack I have not yet come across, so I keep at it.
It’s not that I have a lot of stress in my life, it’s just because I am intrigued with the notion of finding inner calm and in new-agey language “feeling more centered.”
The reality is I am the antithesis of the stereotypical earthy crunchy, down to earth type. (I hate the smell of patchouli. My late husband James equated it to the smell of bug spray. Maybe that has something to do with it.)
The monkey mind is a Buddhist term meaning restless, unsettled, confused. That is the state of mind for many of us in this oh so modern world, where responsibilities, addiction to electronics, and too much Netflix swirl around our brains like cookie dough in a Vitamix. (I do love Netflix. I’m not trying to judge. Hhmmm…now I want a cookie.)
During my recent trip to the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health I took a class about leading a more contemplative life. It was very interesting and oh so full of spiritual nuggets we all know make sense but can’t seem to get the hang of, such as:
Make time for contemplation
Try to find your true meaning – what do you really value and make it a priority
The woman leading the class admitted there is no answer to the contemplative question -just more questions. It is the process we go through that informs us of how we can make our lives a bit more meaningful (journey vs destination?).
So what can we do more of?
Better self-care. Not just health-wise. We’ve all heard that until we’d like to punch someone in the throat. It’s about the whole self, and giving yourself a break for being human.
Gain greater appreciation for the small things. The lady in the grocery store who lets you cut in line because you only have three items; your cats greeting you at the door after work.
Expand your curiosity. Don’t be afraid to try something outside your comfort zone – like going to a Yoga retreat by yourself.
Appreciate the power of silence. Shut off the tv and put down the cell phone for a few minutes. Gaze out the window at that pesky squirrel that shakes its tail at you while climbing a tree in your backyard.
The class ended with a 15 minute meditative practice. I think I came as close as I ever have to actually clearing my mind. It took effort, but I focused on one word over and over again that I am trying to be more mindful of, and to still my simian thoughts.