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Living An Unexpected Life

I let go of regret.

did you dream your life would be like? 
Do you still have dreams and expectations about how your life will be in
the future?  It seems there’s been so
much written about “bucket lists,” things people always wanted to do
but never got around to and so they are making an extra effort to do it now
before it’s too late.  There’s been a
movie by that title and there’s a country-western song about it too.  I certainly have a list.  Mostly it involves places I’d like to see
before I die.  My husband bought me a
book called, A Thousand Places to See Before You Die. I immediately
started going through it to see where I had not been.  He was looking at it too but he was noting
all the places we’d already been, two very different perspectives.

to my Ennegram type, type 7, I am always looking for the next experience, the
next adventure.  My “type” is
not easily content.  I am always on the
lookout for what I might have missed.  In
some ways it makes life exciting but in other ways it can prevent me from
relishing the present, always looking forward. 
For me, dreaming and planning for the future lead me to feeling
optimistic.  I like believing there will
be a future to plan for.  But, I believe it’s
also important to let go of things we imagined might have been.

once mentioned to a woman that as a young woman, I had dreamed of living and
working in Manhattan.  She told me it was
never too late to pursue a dream.  I
believe that but I think sometimes it’s better to let go of some dreams.  I expected to graduate from college and head
off to NYC.  I never dreamed of being on
Broadway, I wanted to be on Wall Street. 
But, my life took me in another direction.  No, I made decisions which led me to suburbia
and even further out into rural America. 
I’ve lived in several states but I’ve never lived in “the
city.” Sometimes, I found myself fantasizing about the life I had dreamed
about.  It was very different from the
life I had.  Boy, was I good at imagining
all the wonderful experiences and adventures I would have had.

attended a retreat once with a woman who had six children.  She also had a sister who had become a
cloistered nun.  She told us she was much
younger than her sister and was very confused and saddened by her sister’s
choice.  She said she could only go visit
her once a year and it was so quiet and seemed so lonely.  Then, she shared that after being married for
twenty years and raising six children, she’d had many moments when she wished
she’d joined the convent.  I know she was
teasing us but there was also an element of truth in her statement.

story in the cartoon UP, revolves around a married couple who had a dream about
moving to an exotic country and living above the waterfalls.  Every year they saved for their travel and
every year something came along that derailed their adventure.  When the wife dies, the man who is now quite
elderly and very depressed decides it’s finally time to give it a go.  He attaches hundreds of balloons to the top
of his house and he floats away to find the waterfalls.  Once again, he’s derailed but this time he
has a new friend, a young boy who has hidden away in his house, who helps him
see the world differently.  In looking
over his wife’s “dream journal” he realizes she had added pictures to
the album that had nothing to do with their ultimate goal of moving to the
exotic location, she’s added pictures of their life together.  She’s added pictures of the adventure they’d
had, pictures of their life’s journey.

a study that shows people age better when they can let go of regret.  Carol Klein addressed this issue in her book
“Overcoming Regret.” What happens when we hang onto regret is that we
idealize a situation that may have turned out completely different from our
imagination.  Once we realize that we
don’t have a clue how something would have turned out, perhaps if we could even
imagine how horrible it might have been rather than some fantasy we’ve been
clinging to, maybe then we can let go of that regret and fully appreciate the
life we have.

title of Queen Noor’s book is, A Leap of Faith, Memories of an Unexpected
I wondered when I saw that title how many people have lived an
expected life.  I took a small survey and
asked several friends if they’d lived an “expected life.” I only had
one person say “yes.” What is your answer? I can tell you right now,
I never dreamed of the life I’ve lived and am now living.  Never, never did I imagine myself living in
North Carolina surrounded by my family. 
I never thought I’d travel to China or Ecuador or some of the other
amazing places I’ve been.  My life has
been a series of adventures and mysteries and it’s been great!  Once I was able to let go of the “what
might have been”, like the man in UP, I was able to appreciate what has

the secret is not let go of our dreams, even our “bucket lists” but
to let go of expecting life to be exactly as we imagined and to embrace it as
it is, to relish all we have experienced, all we have learned.  Perhaps the secret is to treasure whatever
life has afforded us, the expected and the unexpected. 


Affirmation:  I expect to be treated the way I treat

traveling through Ecuador I observed a family on the side walk.  There appeared to be two couples one much
older than the other.  The eldest woman
was in a wheelchair and the younger woman kept reaching out to hug the older
woman and pat her head and give her a kiss periodically.  The traffic in Ecuador is horrific, worse
than any city I have ever visited or lived in and I was born in New York City
where the Long Island Expressway was referred to as “the world’s largest
parking lot.” Because we were stopped for so long, I had the opportunity
to watch this family for several minutes and I was quite taken with the love
and kindness they were showing to the elderly woman. 

Life in
Ecuador for the elderly appears to be much different from what I’ve seen and
experienced in the United States.  Life
for most families revolves around the whole family.  Many homes consist of residents who are
multi-generational.  My husband’s family
was like that when he was a very young boy. 
He comes from an Italian background and tells stories about the large
gatherings they had at least once a week and for all the holidays.  When his maternal grandmother was 42 her
husband died leaving her with 11 children, her mother and her father-in-law all
living in the same house.   My
mother-in-law tells how the older children stepped in to help the family.  They lived in an area that had a huge mafia
influence but the children in her family never became connected to that
world.  The older brothers kept a very
close eye on them and on her.  When the
children were grown, her mother never lived alone.  One son and one daughter dedicated their
lives to her care.

I know
there are many subcultures in the US where this kind of “village
approach” is still in existence. 
Several years ago I was lucky enough to do a yoga presentation to a
hospital that served a huge minority population.  The day was designated as a “spa
day” for breast cancer survivors. 
One of the young women I found myself chatting with had taken the day
off from work to accompany her mom to the event.  When I commented on how nice that was of her,
she stopped me dead.  “All my life
my mom has cared for me.  It has been my
dream to be able to care for her one day and now I can.  We live together and she helps me with my
children and I would do anything for her.”

I love my
mother and I love my mother-in-law.  I
love my children and love my grandchildren and we spend a lot of time
together.  But, we don’t live
together.  Truth to tell, it’s not part
of our culture.  Somewhere along the way,
we changed that.  I think our family
still forms “a village” but it’s more of a virtual village. 

One of my
favorite shows ever was The Golden Girls. 
Do you remember the jingle, “Thank you for being my
friend.”?  The Golden Girls was an
American sitcom created by Susan Harris, which originally aired on NBC from
September 14, 1985, to May 9, 1992. Starring Bea Arthur, Betty White, Rue
McClanahan and Estelle Getty, the show centers on four older women sharing a
home in Miami, Florida.  The Golden Girls
won several awards, including the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy
Series twice. It also won three Golden Globe Awards for Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy. 
All four stars each received an Emmy Award throughout the series’ run
and had multiple nominations. The series also ranked among the top ten
highest-rated programs for six out of its seven seasons. (

I must
admit to this day when I hear that jingle I tear up.  I know it wasn’t a real life situation.  In my mind it represented an ideal.  Four very different women sharing their
lives:  their dreams, their challenges,
their stories and their flaws.  Over the
years they went through every type of situation imaginable.  They laughed, cried, argued, hugged and
loved.  I know there have been many other
sitcoms that have stirred the emotions of many of us.  Fictional people who seemed to become our
family.  This, for me, was a prime
example.  I wanted to tell them if the
day ever came when I was left alone, I planned on moving in. 

having the opportunity to spend an extended period of time with my
daughter-in-law’s mother (three weeks), I think if I find myself alone, I would
thrive in such an environment.   When my
son’s in-laws first came to visit they stayed for three months.  I was quite concerned about how stressful
that might be.  I had always been told
company and fish had the same shelf life. 
At the time, my son and his wife lived in a one bedroom apartment and
the parents were not renting a car.  I am
pleased to tell you that not only was my daughter-in-law sad to see her parents
leave but my son was sad.

In the
United States today a relative who is visiting is restricted to three
months.  I’ve spoken with many people
whose relatives visit from other countries. 
When they come, if possible, they come for the whole three months.  Interestingly enough I’ve never heard anyone
complain.  I can tell some are not too
fond of the extended visit but it is not part of their culture to complain
about or criticize their family.

husband and I have had several opportunities to go to The John C. Campbell Folk
School in Brasstown, NC.  It is a school
dedicated to creating community through crafts. 
It’s over 75 years old.  It’s such
a treat to be there.  Every aspect from
Morning Song to family style eating is about community.  Many of the teachers are octogenarians and
older.  It’s one of the few places I have
been in the United States where the wisdom of the aged is honored.

there’s wisdom or not, it’s awe inspiring for me to see how some cultures
respect and honor the generations before them. I think many in the US feel the
senior citizen is a bother and a nuisance. 
For me I want what Aretha sings about “R E S P E C T.” That’s
what I want and if that’s what I want, it’s what I need to give.

There’s the story about the indigent farmer who
has made a box for his elderly father. 
He encourages his father to get in the box and then quickly closes the
top.  He begins to push it towards the
cliff.  He’s had it!  He’s finished!  Then, he hears knocking from inside the
box.  “What! What do you want old
man?” His father says, “Son, let me out.  You can just carry me to the cliff.  Your son will need this box for you.”

Easy to Unhook

Affirmation:  I embrace the concept of being “easy to

Ecuador,in the home of my nuera, my daughter-in-law, there is not a TV in the
living area.  In fact, I’ve visited
several of their relative’s homes and none of them have a TV in the main living
area.  I know that there are homes in
many parts of the world that cannot afford a TV so that’s the least of their
issues and I know there are some homes in the United States who also keep their
living areas TV free.  A couple of my
friends actually have this practice but when I visit Ecuador I have the
privilege of staying with my consuegra, my daughter-in-law’s mother sometimes
for extended periods. Perhaps the simple fact that they have a word for the
mother or father of their son or daughter’s in-law is an example of how
different their culture is than ours.
home is not TV free.  We have managed to
keep the TV out of the bedroom but it has a strong presence in our
kitchen.  When the families that I have
met in Ecuador gather their main activity is conversation.  I was lucky enough to be invited to the home
of one of the aunts for Fanesca.  We were
away from the city and her family was gathering for a traditional Ecuadorean
feast.  It’s celebrated after Easter
(Semana Santa.)  In the past, all the
farmers would come together after they harvested their grains, which normally
occurred after Easter. It was explained to me that different farmers grew
different types of grains and so each family would contribute to the fanesca, the
potato type soup.  It also contained many
different types of beans.  The
celebration I attended had a fruit salad as its first course.  In Ecuador the variety of fruit is
amazing.  I was told there are 40
different types of bananas.  After the
fruit came the soup. When the fanesca was served I was amazed that they had
enough dishes and glasses to serve everyone, no paper or plastic. The
accoutrements for the soup included empanadas, pickled vegetables, hard boiled
eggs and some sort of fish that looked like flaked tuna but tasted much
saltier.  You decided if you wanted all
or some of the sides to put into your soup. 
I tried them all but I had been forewarned about eating too much of the
grain-bean entree because visitors didn’t necessarily digest the soup
easily.  After the soup came birthday
cake and ice cream.  I knew I could
digest that just fine.
the aunt’s home there were three buildings. 
The first was the home of her son and his family.  Then, there was her home.  It was a simple stone building with 1
bedroom.  There is no heat or air
conditioning.  If it’s cold, you close
the windows; if it’s hot, you open them. 
The third building was the family gathering space.  The day I visited, there were around 30
people, all ages.  When we arrived I, a
complete stranger, was kissed by everyone there who could walk. If someone was
chatting with another or sitting down or running around playing, their activity
came to a halt and they came over to greet us. 
were there about 4 hours.  We talked and
then we talked some more.  Most of the
adults made an effort to come over and sit with me and let me share some of my
visit in my halting, stumbling Spanish. 
The really good news was how many of them are fluent in English.  I also watched.  The children even the teenagers either ran
around playing outside or just gathered and talked.  There wasn’t any type of electronic gadgets
being used by anyone.  Although many of
the adults had cell phones, few of them paid any attention to them.  I wondered if the existence of the cell phone
was the beginning of the demise of this delightful “unhooked”
we went during my visit it was the same. 
Warm greetings from all and people who seemed to value time and
connecting to each other more than what was going on somewhere else or what was
coming next.  Most evenings at home with
my host family, we sat and talked or my daughter-in-law spent hours helping me
with my Spanish.  One evening we sat and
played cards, four of us including one of the teenage granddaughters.  It was delightful.
had been thinking of redoing my living room to include one of those big screen
TVs that they show in all the commercials. 
We have a TV but it’s behind a cabinet and it’s seldom used.  After my Ecuadorian experience I’m wondering
if I shouldn’t remove it and the kitchen TV and try life “unhooked.”
I wonder if our family gatherings would include more talking or if everyone
would simply go off to find their personal way of connecting somewhere else.  My eldest daughter and her husband and his
boys are good at being present to family and friends.  I wonder if it’s a personality trait, a
cultural trait or if it’s something that can be learned?  I wonder if our American culture will allow
us to “unhook?”  I actually
find myself worrying about us loosing the art of visiting and
cartoon Wally was a satire about what will happen to us in the future if we
don’t make an effort to change.  The
people of earth were now living on a space ship because they had wrecked the
earth.  Their arms and legs no longer
functioned because they had floating recliners and in front of them they had
floating monitors and that’s how they communicated.  They weren’t even aware of the people next to
them until this rogue robot appeared and kept upsetting everything. 
know our monitors and chairs are not floating yet but have you watched people
on the streets or in the airports or at parties?  How many times have you been talking with
someone when their cell phone rang and they answered it, like you’re not even
there or  like this person calling is
more important than you or like the caller will never call back or not leave a
message?  Once again I am being called to
stay present to the moment and to the people I am with.  My daughter-in-law describes my son, a
computer programmer, as someone who is “easy to unhook.” He doesn’t
even take his phone with him when he plays golf.  I think that’s great!

my goal, I want to be “unhooked.” Actually, I’m pretty good at it.
The issue, and that’s a whole other story, is that I want my whole family to be
unhooked and I know I am not in charge of changing anyone except myself.  I think if I suggested removing the TV from
the kitchen, some in my family would revolt. 
Maybe I could just cover it with a towel and try doing without for a
week or two.  I’m also considering
putting a basket by the front door in which people can drop their gadgets.  Do you think anyone would come visit us
anymore?  What if I promised to still
feed them?  What if I promised they could
retrieve them at any time as long as they used them outside the house, like
most public places do with cigarettes.  I
can see it now, most of my family standing on the front steps or in the driveway
until I call “dinner is served!”