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.


A gathering of the ordinary extraordinary

Tomorrow I am speaking at the Volunteer Conference hosted by the Institute for Human Services in Horseheads, NY.  Yes, that is really the name of the town :-).  Since the first time I heard “Horseheads” I have been trying to imagine how it came about and I must admit, I am a bit afraid to ask.  But that is another story.  I am so, very excited.  As of an hour ago almost 100 people from non-profit organizations all over the southern tier of NY State have registered to attend the conference and, it keeps going up.  Hmm…  120 anyone?).

If you are curious, as I was, check out a few of the mission statements from the various organizations being represented:   mission-statements   After you check it out, imagine a world where each of their missions is realized….  Wow.  I can’t think of a better way to spend the day than by being surrounded by people who make a living or volunteer a major part of their lives working to make the world a better place.

I have attached the conference brochure, too.  Pass it along if you know someone who might be interested. volunteer con brochure-final

I gotta pinch myself.

From The Mystical to Cliché and Back


Cliché:  an expression or idea that has become trite. (Webster’s)

Trite: worn out by constant use, no longer having freshness, originality or novelty; stale. (Webster’s)

“Follow your bliss” is a phrase that is commonly used today.  When I googled the phrase I got 5,980,000 results in .20 seconds.   When I hear this phrase being used my reaction is one of slight annoyance.  Don’t ask me why, it just is.  You won’t hear me saying “follow your bliss” very often – maybe I have said it once or twice in my life.  I also don’t listen very well when others use the phrase.  In fact, to tell the truth, I actually dampen my listening, pull back or maybe you could even say that a kind of filter overtakes how I listen and I become less interested in what the other has to say.  I check out. Gone.

I find my reaction to this phrase as kind of interesting, especially when you consider that the first entry in Webster’s definition for bliss is: “Great joy or happiness.”   So, why would I not like or listen to a phrase that means to follow my great joy or happiness?  Could it be my cynical, dark side or is it something else?  

Reading on to the second entry in the dictionary it says: “spiritual joy; heavenly rapture”.  Well, for me, that one immediately pulls up organized religion and oops, look there is my cynicism yet again – wars, killing, right and wrong us versus them.  Yikes. And then reflecting further, I know that spiritual joy and heavenly rapture are not the same as organized religion, the first two are an experience the last is an organizational structure to which people belong. None-the-less, religion is the first thing that I think of when I read that second entry of Webster’s definition. 

Does my automatic thoughts of religion have any underlying meaning in my lack of love for the phrase “follow your bliss?” I have no idea but, it is interesting to consider it all.  Then I think of  Buddhism, Hinduism, and other spiritual ideas or practices.  I can sit with bliss here, a bit.  The peaceful nature of these philosophies are less problematic when I think of bliss and yet I wonder.  I wonder why it is that when I am in a room of blissful spiritually connected people (outside of the confines of religion) do I feel so uncomfortable?  They gaze into each others eyes, smile, express their love and appreciation for one another and I am uncomfortable.  I can barely watch bliss much less be in it in those situations.  Alas, I believe my cynical dark side is showing yet again… 

Back to Webster’s and the third definition of bliss:  “any cause of bliss [slang] to experience or produce ecstasy or intense pleasure or satisfaction from or as if from a hallucinogenic drug, or a mystical experience…”  So, drugs for bliss, or maybe a mystical experience, all right then, one is easy to come by and the other seems elusive or perhaps the result of being in the right place at the right time or the result of several hours of practicing say, a spiritual ritual.

The other night I watched the movie “Pina” which is a dedication to German dancer and Choreographer Pina Bausch.  By the time the movie was over I was present to the beauty of following what makes me happy and I was reminded of expressing what is at the inner depths of my being.  As I sat there observing the dancers expressing themselves in ways that made no sense or had no inherent reason they each revealed a deep, inner unique expression which tapped into something belonging to all of us.  It was beauty, it was truth and it was goodness.  I watched and I became present to something that I wouldn’t call spiritual joy or heavenly rapture but I would say that it was an essence of my humanity that longs for expression. Sitting there watching, I suddenly realized that there are places in my life where I was doing what seemed the right thing or what made the most sense instead of following what captured my love, my passion and my joy.  In the middle of that movie I realized that many of my biggest current issues were in fact, small distractions from focusing my attention on that which touches my heart.  In that movie I let go of something small and drifted out into a place of excitement and joy. 


This, perhaps is what someone meant when they coined the phrase “follow your bliss”, I don’t know.  But who would have thought that watching a movie of beauty and profound human expression would reach in and rearrange my world. 

Wait… is it?  Could it be? I do believe that this just might be a mystical experience.  @ :-)~

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.

When you screw things up…

I am sitting here with my daughter and one of her friends and volleyball team-mate in our motel room in Herkimer NY.  Herkimer is a little town near Utica in Central New York.  I guess it is most famous for the Herkimer diamond minds, a place where you can go and chip on rocks and come home with some pretty crystals.  Many of us who live in Central New York and have children have some of these famous “diamonds” somewhere in our house.  My son brought some home to me when he came here with a friend one Summer day.  He had a great time and that was when I learned of Herkimer NY.  I have no idea where those crystals are today.  I never thought back then that I would be here today nor that I would be coaching a girls volleyball team who is playing in their second tournament tomorrow.

Our first tournament was two weeks ago.  It was not only our first tournament but it was my first time as head coach and my first time participating in any tournament, ever.   My assistant coach wasn’t able to be there.  I really had no idea what I was in for.  Within a few minutes everything that was happening seemed as though it was coming at me at a hundred miles an hour.  Girls asking if they could go do their hair, referees asking me who the captain of the team was, scorekeepers asking for the line up and at the same time I needed to get the team on the court and warm them up for the game…. warm up?  What should I do.  Right then without looking up, in my mind’s eye I took in the rest of the coaches and their teams and they all seemed so cool and collected.  Doing warm ups, handing in their line ups, they all seemed to be handling everything with ease and familiarity and some of them were looking at me… That was when the panic began to hit.

Panic is a funny thing.  For me it seems to follow a thought.  There I was balancing, it all like a juggler at the circus, (except they skillfully make mistakes) and then wham, this thought runs across my mind that everyone else has it under control and I don’t and they are watching me! . . . . PANIC button!

Well, I made it through the day, I must say thanks to my generous husband who I recruited to help me after our second game. The number of mistakes I made is beyond being able to count but I also learned more about coaching in one day than I had learned in the several months prior.

I learned that I without the girls clearly knowing what I expect of them, they don’t have a place to measure themselves in how they are doing.  I also don’t have something to hold them to.

I learned that I am coaching the girls, not their parents.  I respect their parents yet they may or may not understand what it is that I am doing as a coach.  Having clear expectations of the parents and a clear statement of who I am and how I coach and what they can count on is important.

I learned how to substitute players, correctly 🙂

I learned all the particles that I have to manage in a day-long tournament.  Score keeping, line and down reffing, line up for each game, substitutions, breaks …and so much more.

When we met before this first tournament I talked to the girls about going beyond where they know that they can go.  I challenged them saying that them going beyond what they think is possible is what I wanted for them for that weekend.  I hadn’t thought that in challenging them that I was also challenging myself.  I had forgotten that when you set a bar for those that you are teaching or coaching or training that you also set a bar for yourself.  Set the bar I did.

Well, here I am heading into tournament #2 with these same girls and I am a different coach.  I have the line up for every game set, I have the working schedule set, I have the expectations written and ready to hand out and I have given parents the responsibility of making sure that their players eat and drink water on our breaks.  I have recruited Rich, my husband, to be my assistant coach and we have gone over all the play plans and other items so that we are on the same page.  We are ready!  I am ready.

Learn from your mistakes.  That is a sentence that I have repeated over and over to the girls at the last tournament and in our practices.  What really excites me about tomorrow’s games is that I have learned from mine and I can now guide them further into learning from theirs.

Game on.

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.

Hospitalists and whose minding the store of continuity.

Two days ago I assisted in moving my dear friend, Betty from the hospital to the rehab unit of a nursing home.  Betty will be 84 in April.  After nearly four weeks in the hospital moving Betty was a relief yet, it was a sad day.  The nursing home was the last place she wanted to go.  At her age many people don’t come out and she knows that.  But at the same time, with the care she was receiving in the hospital she was not improving.  So we were glad she was moving, in hopes that she would now receive the care she needed to improve.  Time will tell.

I visited Betty nearly every day.  As a close friend I was added to the list of people who could speak to her doctors and who could call to talk to anyone in the hospital about her case.  From the beginning I was vigilant to ensure there was a continuity to her care.  In the ER I made sure that her current list of meds was entered into the hospital system (the last time when she was discharged we were given a list of meds “she had been on when she was admitted” and the list was inaccurate.  So this time, I made sure that the list in the hospital’s computer was updated.

A week after she moved to her room and was treated for an irregular heart beat which peaked with a heart attack, she was still coughing severely, the main problem she came into the hospital for.  Her breathing was stressed and though her heart issues seemed in control, she was not getting better.  After talking to a good family friend who is a  pulmonary specialist I addressed her doctor, who had no pulmonary specialists to work with as the hospital does not employ one.  He agreed to speak with our friend, then ordered some tests and voila’ discovered that Betty was hyperventilating because she was breathing too fast.  She started to seem better as they coached her in how to slow her breathing down and they gave her some anti-anxiety meds.  Things were moving along and all of a sudden, new symptoms and a new doctor.  Those new symptoms got dealt with and a few days later yet more new symptoms arose and we got yet another new doctor.

In the nearly four weeks Betty was in the hospital she had 5 doctors and two specialists working with her.  The specialists were always the same and while the hospital didn’t have a pulmonary specialist, her heart doctor and hemotologist seemed to know what they were doing.

The most upsetting aspect of Betty’s stay in the hospital wasa the constant change of guard and the seemingly lack of turn over from one doctor to the next.  It was us, me and her family, who were the ones who ensured the continuity of care.

I haven’t gone into all of the details of Betty’s care here – – they were numerous and required many meetings with each new doctor, keeping track of what was happening with and for her all the time she was there. What I am left with after this stint of being with Betty and ensuring, as best I could, the continuity of her care is a new view of what it is to be cared for in a hospital – at least in our local hospital  – and from interviewing doctor friends who work in hospitals, it seems to be something that is happening in all hospitals, at least in NY State.

At one point during Betty’s stay, when the change of guard marked a radical change in care and resulted in Betty not getting some of the meds she had been taking as well as breathing treatments which eased her breathing, I called the administration of the hospital and asked to talk to someone.  It wasn’t a complaint about the individual doctors that I wanted to register but instead a concern about the organizational structure the doctors were working inside of. It seems to me that this type of structure – on for 4 or 5 days then off and another doctor takes over, and when the first doctor comes back he/she is not necessarily reassigned the same patients.  The same with the nurses.  Betty had great nurses but she would have one one day and the next that nurse been moved down the hall to new patients.

I expressed my concern to the person who answered the phone in the Administration Office and a few hours later received a call.  My complaint I was passed on to the head of nurses, which made absolutely no sense to me.  I expressed that and he assured me that he was the right person to talk to however, when I started to speak knowledgeably about what was happening to Betty, he didn’t want to talk to me because the slip of paper which had my name on it showing that I was approved to converse on Betty’s behalf, had been thrown away.

With this dilemma, in front of him, he didn’t hear what I was saying and instead defended the doctors and ultimately hung up on me. Well, I did get a little hot under the collar just before he said “I am not going to have you holler at me, I am hanging up on you now.”   He later apologized (once he discovered the missing piece of paper) and listened to what I was saying and suggested I go to the Doctor in charge of all Hospitalists.

All of the doctors and nurses cared about Betty and wanted to provide the best possible care for her.  I think, however the way in which they are scheduled doesn’t allow for THEM to provide continuity of care.  At best they can write good notes and then when they come on duty with a new patient read the notes the last doctor or nurse left very carefully.  That is something but it isn’t reliable.  People get tired, get stressed and forget things. To turn over critical information about patients is something that requires extraordinary skill – – and the amount of turn over being required by these doctors is an added responsibility which, I believe takes them away from what they are there for – – to care for the patient effectively.  To have an environment which allows for the medical staff to excel and be extraordinary doctors and nurses there needs to be a structure that allows them to do that.  This is not it.

Now the question is, what am I going to do about it?  The system is so big and so entangled that I couldn’t possibly understand it all from here – outside as a friend of a patient.  Saying something is really the only action I can take.  Calling the doctor in charge of the hospitalists is a start.  Perhaps a letter to the editor is another step.  The other thing I can do is research where there is a better hospital to plan for any possible emergencies I or my family might undergo – that is for my own peace of mind.  I could do all of these things.

One step at a time, pressed up against the resignation of being able to truly make a difference in such a large and intricate culture of unworkability.  I can chose to step or I can chose to ignore it.  Well, I guess writing this is a step, isn’t it?  A phone call is not a difficult thing to do.

“Hello, may I speak to Dr. Stellone?”