Regrets From Living With No Regrets (or are they just teenagers?)

I have been thinking lately about choices I have made in my life.  Like my choice to leave my now ex-husband, my choice to dedicate my life (for nearly ten years) to leading the Wisdom Course for Landmark Education, my choice to retire from leading that course, my choice to marry my husband Rich and my choices around my work and creating a consulting business based on working with non-profit organizations.

Since they were born, I strived to live by example for my children. A core example I wanted to give them was one of living life to the fullest, following your dreams and honoring yourself as well as those around you.  I also wanted to give them an example of being accepting of their limits, though not being limited by them but using them as the edge you can push up against and move beyond.  I think I have done a pretty good job at doing all of this for them and my life has been extraordinary because of it.  Except… lately I notice that I have regrets.

A couple of days ago Rich and I were driving to Vermont for a week-long vacation in Stowe.  I felt very quiet and didn’t know how to explain it so I allowed myself to be quiet for the 6 hour drive.  “Are you ok?” Rich asked me at least twice, if not three times.  “Yes”, I replied, thankful for his ability to let me be even though he had some inkling that something was brewing.  I used the trip to observe my thoughts and my feelings associated with those thoughts. Much of what I thought about centered on my life as it is today and how it might have been different if I had made other choices in the past.

My children are now teenagers and I long for the days when they were young, soft and cuddly.  I long for the days when they were thrilled to be with me and to talk and share everything – but those days are gone and no matter how much I long for them they will never be back, at least not the way that they were.  As we drove, I wondered what it would have been like for them, and me, if their father and I had never divorced.  Would we have found a way to be happy?  Would I have been able to follow what was really important to me?  Would the way we worked or didn’t work together have changed?   I reminded myself that I’ll never know.  I wondered to myself if there were something that could have saved the marriage. Of course, I thought, I’ll never know.

Then I thought about Rich and our relationship and how lately I have been distant trying to get back to being connected and close.   We have such great lives and it is really something remarkable that he finds such joy in having me have what I want in life.  I thought about what I want and I notice that my longing for a past is something that not even he can give me.

Our relationship and our life together is so very important to both of us and to our children that I decided to dedicate this week’s trip to us, my love for him and what we are together now and what we will be together in the future.  We have something very special.  Thinking of this makes me smile.

Continuing on, I think about the level of training I have received and the skills I now have from years of leading the Wisdom Course.  Just last week I led a workshop for the Human Services Coalition (HSC) in Ithaca for 17 Volunteer Coordinators.  Scot, a seasoned professional in the non-profit world as well as the person accountable for the training programs offered by HSC commented when I asked him how he thought the training went that “I think you are amazing, I have seen many trainers and the way you handle a room is masterful.”  He continued on saying that I should tape myself and then sell the tape as a training on how to handle a room in a training setting.  My response to him was “I have been highly trained” which was a short response for the several years and hours I dedicated to being successful in my role with Landmark Education.  My ability is something I achieved from having worked hard, loved the experience and seized the opportunity, and yet, in the background was this lingering of regret…

Regrets…  My children grew during the time I gave my all.  They were four and six when I started and thirteen and fifteen when I finished.  Those years are gone.  Don’t get me wrong, they were good years but at the same time what I remember most of those years was my growth and development as I became more and more facile at leading programs as well as the difference I made for hundreds of other people who participated in my courses.  Secondary to this I remember the special times I spent with my kids.  I was on calls almost every night, traveling to deliver trainings for between 3 and 5 days at least once a month and my mind was often occupied with what I needed to do.

I am sure that this is much like many other mothers who work, but for me this is very personal.  Having my children and being there for them was and is one of the most important aspects of my life.  I did the best I could and my kids are great kids but somehow it feels as though I missed out on enjoying them.

Lately I have contemplated how to stop time or rather, how to go back in time which is obviously crazy making.  I cannot stop time, I cannot turn time back and I cannot push my children back to stages that they have grown through.  The years where they were so open and preciously excited to be with me, where they listened and shared everything with me are gone.  These times have been replaced with short responses, secretive actions, keeping things to themselves and once in a while letting me know what is happening.  They are teenagers.

Yesterday I realized that what I was doing in all of this pondering of regrets and suffering was losing the chance to enjoy my teenagers where they are now.  They need me here where they are today, not where they were yesterday or a year or two or five ago.  I need to let go of the past. I need to let go of the longing for a time that will never come again.  I need to forgive myself for not being a perfect mother, for getting swept away in something that I loved so much that my kids took a back seat for a while.  I need to forgiving myself for not having balanced my passion for my work and my passion for my children very well.  I need to forgive myself for not being able to say no when I needed to.  It is time to forgive myself for being human.

What I love about my husband is that when I shared all of my thoughts, feelings and insights with him over dinner once we arrived he listened.  He heard my pain, my suffering, my humanity and he heard my insight.  And in his own special way, without saying it specifically he let me know that I was on the right track.

Welcome to the life you have created Shirley Brown, it is a glorious life.


Waiting for something to say…

The volleyball tournament was a complete success.  Looking from a coaches perspective all of the corrections I put in place were obviously noticeable   The girls were clear of what was expected of them and they all stepped up in a very amazing way… They handled the scorekeeping, down reffing (an assistant to the ref), and lines.  They were awesome!  Though I didn’t, I realized at one point that I could have even left the scorekeeping table and all would have worked.  They played giving their best.  They pressed up against the limits that each of them had.  We won two out of the eight games we played.  You should have seen us when we won.  We  Were  Thrilled…  In the next and our last two games we got stomped –  – bad. It was sobering and at the same time it was like the exclamation point of what was missing in our overall performance as a team. To play against teams of the caliber we are going against is what we came for.  Losing to them is the best place to learn what we need to be great. Yeah failure!

Now, about the title of this post.  It may not make any since to you but, I have been waiting for something to say since last Sunday when we finished the tournament.  I started probably 6 or 7 different versions of this post and just couldn’t say what there was to say. It seems that each time I started I wasn’t able to find the passion or enjoyment in what I was writing.  But when I thought about waiting for something to say as a possible title to the post I suddenly realized that there is something that is kind of bubbling in the background that I want to say yet, I don’t know what it is.  I know I may sound a bit crazy but really, it’s how it seems for me.  Has that ever happened to you? They happen in those times when you are ready to start something new but you don’t know exactly what it is.

What I really love about my title and that bubbling up thing is that by thinking about writing about waiting for something to say I could finally post an update on the Volleyball Tournament.

The writers mind…..  a great adventure.

Reverence for Life

The other afternoon I was driving to pick my daughter up from track practice after school.  We live in a small village in upstate New York and there is no traffic to speak of. This particular afternoon was stupendously beautiful and many young mothers were out walking their babies in strollers and accompanying their young children riding bikes along the main street I take to get to the school.

I slowed as I edged my way past the first Mom and stroller and then, with another car coming from the opposite direction, I had a split moment of trying to figure out the best way to maneuver around the upcoming children on their bikes.  As I slowed to a stop, and waited for the on-coming car to pass I was suddenly struck with how lucky I was to be in my car, stopping for these beautiful children on this amazingly wonderful day and I said to myself, “what if we lived and taught a reference for life.”

As I continued along the road to pick up my daughter I realized that having reverence for life is not just doing what was right so that those children would be safe or making sure that I obeyed the laws of the road or looked socially and/or politically correct.  Instead I was present to the preciousness of life all around me and including me.  Young mothers with their children out on a Spring day, walking in the fresh air teaching their kids to stay on the right side of the road as they wobbled down the street happily being alive and me driving my car happily on my way to collect my daughter.

I loved the early years of my children’s life.   On our walks I would pull my son’s radio flyer wagon down Via delle Mimose, the street we lived on in the Italian countryside.  At first both kids sat inside the wagon and later my son started to ride his “bicicletta di Superman!” and we walked down to the Coffee Bar to get an ice cream for them and an espresso or iced tea for me.  If we didn’t go to the Bar we would go the opposite direction to feed Solero, the horse.  I often wonder if we ever gave Solero a stomach ache for how many apples and carrots we brought him.  Still today, the kids talk about Solero.  Those days are gone.  Life is passing, my children are growing, they and I are fully emersed in their teen years and now I get to see others enjoy their young children and watch as a friend of mine goes through her first pregnancy.  All of this and at the same time observing and supporting my friend Betty as she deals with the reality of being in the nursing home doing daily rehab, fighting courageously to be able to dress and bathe herself as well as get in and out of bed alone so that she can go home.

I am, fifty.  Twenty years ago I was thirty and in twenty years I’ll be seventy.  When I am seventy my son will be thirty-six and my daughter thirty-four.  They will be around the same age I was when I gave birth to them.  Who knows, maybe they will be parents too at that point.  Where will I be?

My yoga teacher said something the other day which I really liked.  “We learn that we are not trying to get connected to nature but that instead, we are nature.”  We are born, we grow, learn and develop and continue doing so through our lives, just like the trees, flowers, animals and all that surrounds us.  Where were we before we came to this earth and where will we go when we leave here is a grand question.  I think it is an important question to consider and to thoughtfully answer for each person individually.  It is important because without an answer that fits for you, that inspires you, your life today is being lived in a context of something other than your answer.

For some the answer of where we came from and where we are going is an inherited answer that others came up with many, many years ago.  For others we are fighting against, or for an answer that resonates with what we truly believe and what makes sense for us.   I find that just asking myself the question and reading, studying and exploring the world and people somehow gives me an answer – today I would say that Reverence for Life is the best way to explain it for me.   So, if I say that it would mean that, we come from reverence and will return to reverence?  Hmm, maybe but what I find really  fulfilling is having reverence today, in this moment while I write this blog, and as I drive down the street and bring my car to a stop so the young children on their bikes can pass.  Maybe we come from reverence, are reverence and will return to reverence.  I think I’ll sit with that one for a while.

Transitions smitions, Enough!

All right, it has been a year now since I resigned from leading The Wisdom Course for Landmark Education.  At first it was such a delightful thing.  My time was once again mine.  And to top it off, my husband had resigned from leading the same course and we were both freed up to do things we hadn’t done before.  We had (and have) a lot more time to be with each other and to do whatever we want to do.

My kids have prospered in this past year.  It was nearly a decade that I had been on the phone a lot, travelling frequently, and occupied by my accountabilities and suddenly I was there and available to them.  It has been good.  They have blossomed and our relationships have become quieter, stronger and I am more in tune with them.

I am thrilled with the difference my being more available to them has made.  My daughter is thriving in school.  She has blossomed into a responsible, self managing teenager.  I just love her and I have grown so much with her in this past year.  And my son, well, he has continued surfing the teen years and is doing it very well.  What I love most about being more available to him is that I am observing him and watching him grow.  He is now pulling more and more for his independence and I am so lucky to be a part of this young man’s life.

As for my husband and I, well we watched the entire Mad Man series, and are looking forward to the season premier later this month, the entire Guardian series and we caught up on a lot of other television.  We go to bed earlier, get up earlier and spend more time together.  That may seem very ordinary, but to us being able to sit on the couch, side by side, with our legs intertwined, holding hands, just being together is like pure decadence.

My house is clean, I do it myself, with the help of my kids on their chore day.  My garden is tended, I am waiting for the plus 700 bulbs I planted last Fall to blossom.  I have connected with friends in my community and have Friday morning coffee with a group of women who are delightful and a lot of fun.  I go to my yoga class three times a week and I am a class advisor for my son’s class.  This Sunday I’ll be coaching the first tournament for my daughter’s club volleyball team for which I am the head coach.   In addition to this, I have been working on completing my degree, though I must admit things in this domain have slowed down over the past few weeks.

It has been a great year of what I would call “down-time” after the years of balancing a family with extensive responsibilities and being available to and leading hundreds of people in their discovery of what matters most to them and then having it happen in their lives.  This year has been a good thing.  It was the right thing to do.  I am stronger, healthier, my family is tighter and calmer.  And yet lately it has all come to a place of “ENOUGH!”  It is time to….   What?  Well, that is the question.  What is it that is next for me?

As a Wisdom Course Leader I remember telling people that answering the question – – what is it that calls you in life?  What is it that touches your heart and while you are doing it time stands still?  Answering that question is something that only the questioner can do.  It is my turn.  Only I can answer that question and *&%$#@ I don’t have an answer!  I have come up with many possible answers which have all fallen flat – – Yoga Instructor, Transform the School’s Athletic Program, Athletic Director, Political activist and more.  Lately I have surfed the non-profit sector and have a couple of speaking engagements and a workshop scheduled to support Volunteer Coordinators in managing their volunteer programs.  That last one is fun and something I am continuing to explore.

I have thought lately of another Landmark course I participated in just before I became a Wisdom Course Leader.  It is called Partnership Explorations.  What I keep thinking of is one specific conversation where Angela (then my course leader, now my friend) said we are going to take you farther and farther away from shore – – where you cannot see land and we will have you become more and more comfortable with being there – in the unknown.  In that moment, as I have shared with many people over the years, I found that statement so unnerving, so threatening that I was ready to leave the course, but I didnt’.  Thanks to my friend Tina, I stayed. And I am glad that I did.  The course and having the skill of being in the unknown has been extraordinarily valuable to me.  But here I am, in my life and I seem a long way away from shore.  Can’t leave, don’t have an answer and I am ready… ready for some excitement, to be swept away by something that touches my heart and lifts me into action.

So… I ask, when will it come?  Some say that there is no answer to that other than it will come when it comes (that has been my answer too).  But somehow, just writing it here helps.  It is good to just say it out loud (even though I am writing to whoever it is that reads this and then, maybe no one will).   I love coaching people, I love leading and performing, I love having my life make a difference for others.  I love being with my children, I love having couch-time with my husband.  I love tending my garden, being with my friends and practicing yoga.  And there is this place in my heart and maybe it is out there somewhere in the eternal or in my connection with all of it that keeps whispering……. But  I just can’t hear it.

You know, today in yoga something amazing happened.  I was doing my handstand practice (I really love that I can say that I can do a handstand, even if it is at the wall) and my teacher Rachel said, look down and press the top of your head into the wall.  I did and in that moment I could pull my feet away from the wall and all that was touching were my hands and the top of my head.  At first I was thrilled.  I did it again and then again.  And then I noticed that my mind couldn’t quite make sense of it – – what just happened somehow, in my mind defied logic.  I was physically able to do something that I had been trying to do for months – – pull my feet away from the wall.  I wonder now, maybe, just maybe that is all that I need.  Maybe I only need to press my head into the wall (instead of beating it) and let my feet move away naturally.  Whatever that means, I am not sure but it is fun to think about it or consider it. 🙂

We’ll see how things progress.  But for now, thank you for reading.  Thank you for listening.

On my drive

I was coming home last night from visiting Betty.  Her rehab in the nursing home is progressing.  She feels better than a week ago, she is getting stronger.  She said it would be a miracle if she can go home by April.  And it will be.

The forty-five minute drive on Ridge Road from Horseheads to Trumansburg is one of my favorite drives.  The rolling fields, old homesteads and barns are breathtaking in every season.  Each time I drive that road I am filled with awe.  Last night it was dark.  I couldn’t see the scenery but the silence of the road, and being the only one on it for at least thirty minutes of my drive was a new, peaceful way to experience this drive I love.

I was listening to satellite radio, as I often do.  I roam the channels. Sometimes looking for relaxing SPA music, sometimes Classic Rock and Roll or varying types of Blues or Jazz.  When my kids are in the car, they take over the roaming duties, looking for current stuff.  I enjoy listening to what they like to listen to.  But last night, I had the channels all to myself.  I came onto a station that was playing songs I listened to as I became an adult.  Back then I thought I was an adult already — but that is another story.  Singing along I noticed how my voice isn’t as good as I used to think it was.  I conversed with myself in my thoughts: “If I took some lessons I could actually be pretty good.”  “Yeah, but not good enough to be a real singer.”  “Agreed.”  Then I continued on down the dark road comfortable yet at the same time pondering over the various conversations I had just had with Betty and her daughter, Nancy.

Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, family differences, bank accounts, her breathing, doctor’s appointments, Betty needing to advocate for herself when the staff give her meds she doesn’t need, the food being served not being adjusted to someone who is diabetic with high blood pressure, water retention from congestive heart failure and other complications – – last’ night’s meal was a chile dog on a white bun, potato chips, a piece of cherry pie and a small cup of canned fruit cocktail.  Salt, sugar, little to no fiber, how can this be part of a rehabilitating environment?  The issues to deal with when caring for someone elderly you love are great.

All of these thoughts were there, in the background and as always, after my visits with Betty I was poignantly present to the gift that life is and then, an old favorite came on the radio.  “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas.  I turned up the sound and sang along.

“I close my eyes

only for a moment and the moment’s gone.

All my dreams

pass before my eyes of curiosity.”

As I sang I thought about how the moments in my life have come and gone, continually.  I thought of  how sometimes I have thought situations were unbearable or that that they would never pass. I felt trapped.  And then, that too passed.  It all passed.  Everything in my life up to that moment (which has now passed) when I was thinking these thoughts.  And my dreams.  How many I have had and they have come and now passed.  Traveling and living in Europe. Learning Italian, working for the United Nations, becoming a mother – having two beautiful children. Returning to the US.  Loving and caring for my children all the way through the difficulties of my divorce and along the way finding a man that was part of a dream from long ago.  Marrying him, leading transformational programs for hundreds of people, building a beautiful home, returning to school, working with people, making a difference, bringing my voice to issues that really matter to me and to the world.  Being known in my community as a resource. Life is rich and my dreams have been many.  My dreams have been full.  Whatever I have been willing to dream and hold has past before my eyes, I experience it and then… I dream some more.

“Dust in the wind, all they are is dust in the wind.”

Like Betty, someday I will be facing the ending years of my life.  All that she dreamt, like me, has passed before her eyes.  She has had a rich life.  She has loved and been loved.  She has laughed, cried and now she is resting, working on getting stronger so that she can continue to dream.  And then she, like I, will die.

“Same old song

just a drop of water

in an endless sea.

All we do

crumbles to the ground, though we refuse to see.”

This was when my eyes teared up, my voice cracking as I continued to sing along. The beauty of life and the slipping nature of how it continues on.  How thinking that what matters is that conversation from a year ago or that thing I need to do next week or next year, when really what matters is this moment right now.  That this moment is a moment well spent.  That we are present, experiencing it, experiencing the love surrounding us, the beauty of the world and the people who are important to us.  That moment passes and then there is the next one.  It is never stopping. Ever.

“Dust in the wind

All we are is dust in the wind.”

Egyptians, Romans, Mesopotamia, Native Americans, grandparents, parents, Betty, me, my children.  All of us.

“Now, don’t hang on.

Nothin’ lasts forever but the earth and sky.

It slips away.

And all your money, won’t another minute buy.”

I had never heard the lyrics this way.  Don’t hang on.  My first thought was Betty.  Don’t hang on.  This moment, right now is passing by.  Another will be here to follow.  Enjoy each moment with her as they pass.  My children, right now are growing, learning becoming more and more independent.  “Don’t hang on.  Nothin’ last forever…”  All of it is changing, moving, slipping by into that next beautiful moment under the sky, on our precious earth.  Money will never change that.

“Dust in the wind.

All we are is dust in the wind.”

It seems to me that being able to come to a place of acceptance of our inevitable death is one of the most empowering things we can do. How to do that is an interesting question.  I am grateful for Betty for many things. One, being that as I walk with her through this phase of her life, she is giving me the gift of cherishing life.  Of cherishing all that I have, all I have done, all that I will do and that in the end, I too will be dust in the wind.  There is something liberating about accepting that.  I am overcome by a sense of  peacefulness, a vulnerability and a deep sense of compassion for humanity.