Wednesday, September 19, 2018

September 19, 2018

One thing in life that makes me a little sad is the very real fact that some people don’t know how to laugh. They don’t have a sense of humor at all. They go through their days not only not smiling, but more, not enjoying that lightness of spirit and heart that smiling and laughter bring with them as their guaranteed side-effects.

Have you ever seen someone walking down the street with a face that looks as if its owner has just sucked a dozen lemons? Faces like that are, unfortunately, plentiful these days. These are people whose “resting expressions”, the one they wear when they’re alone, is an expression called “just plain miserable”. You don’t want to talk to these people, because you just know if you do they’ll either insult you or depress you. And that is sad for us.

How much better it is to be a person who can smile or laugh. Better still, to be a person who can smile or laugh often, and especially to be a person who can laugh at oneself.

If I’m feeling low, as I sometimes do—because hey, I’m only human and humans get down—I go to YouTube and search out videos of laughing babies. Babies are amazing laughers! They don’t have any emotional or mental baggage yet, so they laugh and give it their all! Trust me when I say that nothing will put a smile on your face faster than the sound of a baby’s deep belly laugh.

One of my favorite sounds in all the world is the sound of my husband’s laughter. I hear it a lot, and I always have. He has the kind of laughter that makes you want to smile in response. His laughter usually says he’s just tickled pink by something.

I can recall when we were dating. Sometimes, we would go to see a movie. In those days there was often a cartoon shown before the feature—even if the feature wasn’t a kid’s movie. Oh my, give him a Roadrunner cartoon, and no matter where he is—at home or in a packed movie theater—he’ll laugh, loud and long.

These days, the times I most often hear his laughter is well after supper, and after we’ve watched some television together. I’ll go to my office to try and wind the day down—record the number of words I’ve written that day, record my steps, and maybe—just maybe—play a game or two.

David? He’ll go to his computer, and, if he isn’t just looking stuff up, he will head over to Netflix and search out either favored or new comedians. He loves stand-up comedy. I always know when it’s door number two, because the laughter begins. If the comedian is exceptionally good, the laughter will be rich and full and nearly to the point of tears.

I believe have mentioned a year or more ago, that when I was a fairly young teenager, I happened upon a recording my mother had, of a speech by famed psychologist Dr. Murray Banks. One point the Doctor made in this particular speech, was that it was physically impossible for the human body to produce laughter and ulcers at the same time.

I recall thinking then that if that wasn’t true, it should be. I still feel that way.

People spend a lot of money trying to “feel good”. They take spa treatments, or they pamper themselves with “retail therapy”. They drink alcohol, and some indulge in drugs—be it legal or illegal. The faster life gets, it seems the more desperate folks become for some kind of panacea, some secret remedy so that they feel good, and have full hearts.

People don’t need to go outside of themselves to find a cure for life’s perceived miseries, for the stress of living, or the heartache of the news. The magic cure is right inside their very own bodies. All they have to do—all we all have to do—is laugh.

Learn to see the ridiculous, the sublime, and the just plain silly. See them, appreciate them, and then let ‘er rip!

Like most muscles of the human body, the more you use your laughing muscles, the better honed they become, and the happier you’ll be. And if you want to give a booster to that laughter, so that the good feelings last longer and feel richer? Go and do a good deed for someone, help with a community project, just plain get involved with helping someone.

I guarantee the curative properties of your actions will be more potent than any pill you can name. 


Love,
Morgan
http://www.morganashbury.com
http://www.bookstrand.com/morgan-ashbury

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

September 12, 2018

My beloved has a list, and I don’t know whether I should be afraid, or not.

After many years of not being able to bring himself to work on this house of ours, since he retired, he’s come to understand that there are things—cosmetic things, mostly—that need to be done. For appearances sake, yes, but also to add whatever can be added to the value of our house, with an eye to the future.

Eventually we will probably have to leave our home and go into some form of assisted living facility. We’re both hoping that won’t happen for at least a couple of decades. But the truth is, we’re not getting any younger.

There are still things my husband is capable of doing, and so he has a list. We had an excellent builder in earlier, as you may recall, who put drop ceilings in the kitchen and the living room. We still have a few projects we’re hoping this gentleman can handle for us in the next couple of years, but in the meantime, there are a few things my husband can do for himself.

Our entrance way, just inside the front door, was never finished, from when he and our late son worked on the renovations. This project was the next one on his list after the bathroom plumbing (done) and “finishing” the steps going to the upstairs (done).

 Mostly what the area needs is new drywall. He has two cordless drills which he uses alternately to install the screws in the drywall. He also had to buy another step ladder as the one he had is too short, and the extension ladder too difficult to use in the narrow space.

Getting the 4 x 8 sheets of drywall (you may know that product as gyp rock or sheet rock) was the easy part. Our local building supply store delivers. That arrived last week, and David had the driver and his assistant lean the sheets in the hall, blocking the door to my office. That was no problem. I have two doors in my office—opening into the hall and the kitchen. Being unable to use the one doorway was not a problem and moving past the other door into the living room was just a bit of a tight squeeze for me until he used up a couple of the eight sheets he’d had delivered. It was more a matter of side stepping for a few paces.

David did as much of the work as he could do each day, including replacing a small piece of drywall in our living room, a piece that had a hole in it. He was finished covering the area by Thursday, and we called our grandson to help him carry the left-over pieces upstairs. I had thought he’d ordered too much when it arrived but didn’t say anything. That very morning, he confessed he’d done just that. This isn’t a problem, because we have a few other areas that are in need repairs, and those two sheets will give him a good start on them.

He did a good job, and of course I told him as much. He had only one “oops” in the entire process, involving a part of the front door frame, but he was able to fix that. It’s one of life’s truths that as you get older you wonder if you can actually do what you need to do or what you want to do. Sometimes, you can’t. For this reason, I gave him lots of praise each day. It should be noted that he does the same for me, when I attempt a new recipe and actually succeed.

As we stood together admiring the installed drywall, we made plans to go to our local Canadian Tire store and get poly fill, so, he said, he could cover the screws, and be ready to paint. Hands on hips, he nodded, as if that nod meant, “and that’s all”. I agreed that we needed to get that, and, tape as well, for the seams between pieces of drywall. He gave me his best annoyed face. “Do you know what a pain that stuff is to work with?”

Once he understood that I wasn’t going to budge, he told me he guessed he could watch a couple of YouTube videos, and see how to do it. I told him I had faith in him. I didn’t really have to fight to get my way. There really is no sense in doing a job unless you’re going to do it right. And that sentiment is one that he’s espoused many times in our many, many years together.

He’s got one wall done now, taped and “mudded”. He gained confidence as he worked, and realized that, since he’s older now and has more patience, maybe that tape isn’t as difficult as he expected it would be.

Next week, hopefully, he paints. After having the entrance hall and living room be an interesting shade of pink/mauve for more than a decade (my choice), he’s told me I can choose any color I want for the newly prepared walls.

As long as that color is beige.

Love,
Morgan
http://www.morganashbury.com
http://www.bookstrand.com/morgan-ashbury

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

September 25, 2018

I found it very gratifying to see the depth and breadth of the tributes paid to the late Senator John McCain. No matter who you are, from where you hail, what language you speak, there are core definitions connected to basic humanity that do not change. These were all honored last week.

Integrity is; compassion is; honesty is; heroism is—and Senator McCain embodied them all. I wanted to wait a week before I gave any comments, because I didn’t want to intrude. I am a Canadian, but that has never prevented me from seeing people as they are, for respecting those who exemplify the best of what we humans can be.

I have admired several of your luminaries in the past, irrespective of their political party. I am neither a Republican nor a Democrat. I’m just a simple woman who has tried to live her life according to certain principles and standards that I have come to expect of myself and pray to see in others.

I try very hard never to lash out in anger; never to return slights, or insults, or even injuries with like actions or words. I’ve come to believe that kindness and consideration are far more powerful weapons than are hate and vitriol. This does not mean that when I meet an injustice, I become a door mat. When I see or hear of a wrong, I stand up and speak out. Couching my opinions and actions in what some might see as meekness does not diminish them. You don’t always have to scream to be heard. Sometimes the most impacting words can be conveyed in whispers.

So, I was gratified to see the respect with which many responded to the Senator’s death. That he would ask two of his fiercest political opponents to eulogize him speaks more eloquently of John McCain’s character than even the most lavish words of praise could ever do.

The speed of life is faster now than ever it was. Solitude, peace and quiet, and moments of reflection appear to have lost their value in today’s world. These three qualities are invaluable to the individual psyche. When I meet people, ones who don’t like to be alone, who don’t like to take the time to surround themselves in quiet, then I pay attention, because in my mind—and friends, I have no scientific evidence to support this, just experience—I feel these people are troubled and lacking in some way. Sometimes, it’s a case of their having very low self-esteem—and sometimes it’s the complete opposite of that.

And once in a while you encounter an individual who wraps his inner sense of worthlessness in a gaudy cloak of loud egotism. People who have to always be the center of attention, who by their actions and words are constantly shouting, “watch me, watch me!”, are people who are deeply troubled and in need of help.

My late son, Anthony, was like that. I wish I’d been mature enough, wise enough, to truly understand the danger a narcissistic personality could be. I’ll always wish I could have done more, but I understand there are limits even to what a loving mother can accomplish. I remember one counselor telling me that there was no cure for narcissism. The very best you could hope for, she said, was if you could somehow convince the narcissist that they needed to behave differently. Then, she told me, you might be able to get them to modify their behavior and their responses, but, she cautioned, beneath it all, they would still believe all they ever had about themselves. They would still be narcissists.

Whenever I hear people talking about those who clearly are narcissists, I shake my head when I hear them say, “well, maybe they’ll stop doing this, and do that instead. Maybe they will see reason and understand they need to put others first.”

No, they won’t. Because as they see the world—themselves at the center of everything—that is their reality, that is their truth. They often will not accept that there is anything wrong with them, because they know they have no problem. They’re perfect just the way they are.

After my son’s death at the age of 29 caused by substance abuse, I sought the help of a therapist. We mothers will blame ourselves when our children make those wrong choices in life. I certainly did, and it took me a long time to understand that I could not have affected changes in my son’s behavior, no matter how hard I tried. He simply wasn’t wired in a way that would allow him to see the long-term implications of his actions, or that his choices were wrong, or that his actions hurt all those who loved him.

The last two years of his life, desperate to help him if I could and also to protect myself, I set boundaries. And if you don’t think that haunted me in the aftermath of his death, you’d be wrong. That was one of the reasons I needed the help of a professional. He’s been gone now for just over twelve years, and I have since come to accept that changing him was never in my power, and never, in truth, my right.

Expecting a narcissist to behave in such a way that they begin to have the welfare of others at their center has the same probability for success as expecting the sun to rise in the west.

The best you can do is to know there is nothing you can do that will change them. Accept that truth, and then respond accordingly.

Love,
Morgan
http://www.morganashbury.com
http://www.bookstrand.com/morgan-ashbury

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

August 29, 2018

It seems to me that the last few years, we’ve been gifted with a week’s preview of autumn, occurring sometime during the last two weeks of August. I know I’ve mentioned this before in past essays. The expression I use is that it seems like the sky has “turned”. In appearance, it looks as if it goes from the deep blue of summer to the slightly fainter blue of fall, almost overnight.

I’m willing to admit the possibility that this is all in my head. However, it’s happened again, just in the last few days. When we headed out last Saturday to attend a craft show, I told my husband that it felt like autumn. He agreed with me. Then it rained very hard later that day, and I wonder if that was what I was sensing, an oncoming storm.

Rainy days are both wonderful and horrible for me. They’re wonderful in that aesthetically, I love them. I love the sense of coziness I feel, the sound of rain on the roof and windows, and that “let’s just snuggle down in a comfy chair with a nice blanket, a cup of coffee, and a good book” kind of vibe. I was driving home from the craft fair in the pouring rain and felt that was what I wanted to do as soon as I got home.

I think being attuned to the weather is one of those primal senses buried within us all. In the beginning of human life on this planet, paying attention to the weather was a matter, often, of life or death. Then as we moved from being cave dwellers to becoming an agrarian people, we knew the weather and our food supply were inextricably bound together. In those days, you had to grow it yourself, because there were no other alternatives.

Today our thinking vis-à-vis the weather, for most of us, is more of a secondary matter. We look to the forecasts to see if we need an umbrella, or if it’s going to be a good day for a picnic in the park—or hanging laundry on the line. But knowing the weather, having the ability to forecast is vital to a lot of people, especially those in coastal areas, in areas dubbed “tornado alley”, and of course, for those who live in the more usual paths of hurricanes and cyclones.

The horrible part of rainy days? I apologize for thinking of myself here, but the horribleness is that a series of wet days means that I’m bound for more arthritis pain that normal—and normal is pretty darn bad to begin with. I’m almost like that proverbial character of folklore, the grizzled old woman who lives on the corner and can predict the rain because of the throbbing of her aged joints.

Getting older is not for the faint of heart.

And neither, lately, is the weather we’ve been getting in North America! There are droughts and awful fires on one coast, torrential rains and flooding on the other. I watch American network news each night, and I have one thing I’d like to say to all of my friends in the U.S.: y’all just can’t catch a break, lately, and I’m sorry for it.

We’ve been lucky where I am the last couple of years. The winter has been not too early or severe, with a few milder days here and there; rain has fallen in the other seasons on a regular basis, but not enough to flood us out. And we’ve had a few very hot days this summer—in fact, we have had more than a handful of days of high, thick humidity with stifling heat, with more coming in the next couple of weeks, apparently. But it hasn’t been endless. I don’t tend to go out too much on those days. That’s why I have central air. Now, in our September years, my husband and I feel as if we’ve earned the right to stay comfortable in our home when the mood strikes.

I am, however, concerned about the coming winter. I haven’t looked at the farmer’s almanac, nor have I read the predictions of Environment Canada. No, I’ve been watching the squirrels just outside our house. Those little buggers are running around like crazy, gathering their bits of food, and hiding it all away. In the heat of August.

I may not know much but I do know this: that early industry by nature’s little critters just can’t mean anything good.

Love,
Morgan
http://www.morganashbury.com
http://www.bookstrand.com/morgan-ashbury

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

August 22, 2018

Over the last several months, I’ve slipped into the habit of getting up fairly early in the morning, for a “retired” person. There are a couple of reasons for this. The one I’ll most readily admit to is, no matter how comfortable one’s bed is, after several hours, if one has arthritis, one’s body protests being horizontal.

Yes, I turn over from laying on my left side to laying on my right, but the moment comes when arising is really the best option to ease the pain. I aim for crawling into bed between eleven and midnight each night; it’s true that an adult my age is “supposed” to get eight hours of sleep, but let’s face it. That’s not happening for me. I don’t even, except if I’m under the weather, take an afternoon nap to add to my sleep hours. I might doze off for fifteen minutes or so in the afternoon when I have my legs up, in my recliner, but that’s it. So, in bed hopefully by eleven-thirty, up between six-thirty and seven, that’s seven hours. But then you take away the couple of trips (usually) to the bathroom, and you’re looking at about six and a half hours sleep on a good night.

With arthritis, I find that just getting up and moving helps. Even with morning stiffness adding a great degree of discomfort to the moment, by the time I’ve moved around for a few minutes, it’s easing up a bit. So getting up early and taking a longer time to officially begin my day, makes things more tolerable.

But there is another reason for me to get up early.

When the kids were here, and parenting was my major focus, and I worked outside the home in a job that was Monday to Friday, I would get up a little extra early on the weekends. I’d be up at five a.m., and I had a very firm rule: no kids up and about until I’d had my second cup of coffee.

That usually took between an hour and a half to two hours. And I figured, that meant the kids could get up at seven or a little after, and I was good; I’d had those precious, precious minutes of solitude. Just me in my domain, my trusty cup of coffee in hand. If I had that time to myself each weekend morning, I knew I could handle whatever came my way during that day. Usually.

Well, as you know, my children are long grown and living lives of their own elsewhere. For several years now, it’s been just the two of us here. And until last November 24th, I got to enjoy a high degree of solitude, as David left the house around five-thirty a.m. and didn’t get home until four-thirty, or sometimes, later.

Now of course, he’s at home all the time. And that has been a good thing. However, basic principles in life rarely change. And since my husband usually stays up past one or even two a.m. and has a wake-up call in (with me) for nine a.m. every morning except Sunday when he wants up at eight…my getting up early is a necessity, not a luxury, and certainly not a foible.

If I’m lucky, I get two hours of solitude each morning to begin my day. To do my devotionals, first, then wake up my mind by playing a few games. To have my first coffee, and yes, maybe even my second coffee.

It seems somehow appropriate that my Fitbit tracks my steps-per-hour beginning at nine a.m. – and the first steps that go into that count are from my office to the bedroom to awaken the males (man and dog) of the household.

Life of course is never perfect. Every once in a while—rarely, in fact, but it does happen—I get out of bed at six-thirty, head to the bathroom—and then head right back to bed. Yes, I do once in a long while sleep in until eight! Less rare but no less annoying vis-à-vis my daily routine? My beloved wakes up ahead of schedule—around eight—proud that he hadn’t needed his wake-up call that day.

Those are the days I recall that old truism: if one’s daily schedule is disrupted early, one’s entire day is shot, right out of the gate.

Love,
Morgan
http://www.morganashbury.com
http://www.bookstrand.com/morgan-ashbury

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

August 15, 2018

I never thought I’d see the day. But I have, and now, as I reflect upon it, I can’t help but analyze the entire situation.

I’d often heard it said that couples who stay together, over time, tend to shift and change and more resemble each other than they did at the beginning of their union. They become two peas in a pod. Sometimes, they even begin to look alike!

I’m not altogether certain I ever believed that. I did know there was a quality of being married for a number of years that seemed to possess every married couple I knew who’d been together more than a dozen years. And that was an inclination toward bickering.

Not nasty fighting, not name calling or blame throwing, just nit-picking bickering. These back and forth exchanges at times resemble an existential one-act play—or a tennis match. I’d experienced it in my own marriage, of course, but I’d also witnessed it with my parents-in-law, my brother and his wife, good friends, and even our eldest son and his wife.

In fact, that last example? I can still recall the first time I heard my son and his wife begin behaving like old married folk. I laughed.

So the bickering, yeah, that’s normal. But that other thing? That becoming like two peas in a pod thing? Nah, that couldn’t be right. In fact, a part of me even thought, “say it isn’t so!”

For those of you who’ve read these essays over the years, y’all know that my beloved has been what I called a “traveling fool”. Nothing, in his mind, was worse than having a week or two of vacation time and going nowhere. He loves traveling, going and seeing and doing. He’s not a world traveler, but he’s a continental one, and even a slightly off-continental one.

Over the last dozen years we’ve been to a number of major cities in the United States, including Puerto Rico, as well as a few resorts in Cuba, The Dominican Republic, and the Bahamas, St. Thomas. We’ve even cruised to Bermuda—twice.

You may recall, as well, that at least once a year he and our daughter would head off to Cuba, for some sun, sand and sea. And, of course, reading. Our daughter is as voracious a reader as we are, and as is our oldest son.

I was worried, as the day of my husband’s retirement loomed, that I wouldn’t have much writing time in the months and years to come. I feared that he would want to be going and seeing and doing, that he would be loath to stay home all the time. After all, being the home body, preferring to be within my own domain as opposed to going and seeing and doing, was my thing. I was the hermit in training, not he.

The operative word in that last sentence: was.

The day I never thought would come has arrived, and it did so quietly, and without fanfare. We were coming back from the city next door about a week ago, having had to run a few errands, and my beloved said, “I’ll be glad when we get home. I really don’t like going anywhere anymore.” No traveling, I asked him?

“It’s just such a bother,” he said. “Maybe now and then, at some point in the future. But for now, I just want to stay home.”

When he said that, I very nearly protested aloud that he was stealing my lines! And then, I thought about it some more. And I thought about that theory, that long-married couples tended to blend. And I realized it was true, at least for us.

Time was we spent our days apart, he at work and me here, at the keyboard. Then he’d come home, and he’d relax, eat the supper I’d cooked him, then read or watch the television while I…returned to my keyboard. He was tethered to his job, and the routine that created, and I was here, being a hermit. 

And now here we are, two long married people, at our keyboards each day, loath to go out into human society. Not really wanting to travel so much as just…stay home. Weekly grocery runs are even an ordeal at times. We’re seriously considering having them delivered.

There remains but one major difference in our days: he likes to stay up later and then get up later than I do. So, he has a couple hours after 11:30 at night to have the house to himself, and my couple of hours of solitude come before nine in the morning.

His title of “traveling fool”, while well earned, needs must now be, as he is, retired. There’ll still be the odd excursion in our future, including one to San Antonio next February for a writer’s/reader’s event. But going and seeing and doing far away from home will be more a memory than a way of life.

Times, and life, change. We both believe in embracing what is, and in seizing the day, be it long or short. Happiness, in my view, is easiest realized when you cherish the moment that is and look fondly on the past as a lovely place you used to be.

Love,
Morgan
http://www.morganashbury.com
http://www.bookstrand.com/morgan-ashbury

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

August 8, 2018

So many people today are broken. Sometimes, you can see that brokenness right there in front of you. It’s not hidden, but in plain sight. Some people see it and turn away, just in case it’s contagious. And some people have become adept at dismissing the condition from their conscious thoughts.

It doesn’t affect me, so I refuse to acknowledge its existence.

But there are more people who are broken than even the most empathic eye can see. Just as some people have trained themselves not to see the brokenness of others, other people have learned how to hide their own tattered condition from the world—not only from strangers, but, and likely most especially, from family and friends as well.

When you have a loved one who goes through horrendous circumstances, sometimes all you can do is simply be there for them. Be the shoulder that supports a head, the ear that listens to a heart that’s breaking, and the arms that hold body and soul together, allowing a moment of rest. You don’t always have to have answers. Most times, even when we’re the most broken, the only place answers can be found is within ourselves. You don’t hold my answers, only I do. I don’t have your answers—I can only support you while you search for your own.

Until we’re strong enough to take up the search for those answers, we need comfort and caring and to know that we’re not alone. We need to know someone else has been through this. And we need to know, that no matter how destroyed we feel ourselves to be, we matter.

People matter. In fact, if people don’t matter to you, then everything else that does matter to you is as worthless as ten-year-old mouse defiled hay.

I believe with all my heart that the main reason we are here, on this earth, is to help others. That doesn’t mean you must live 24/7 for other people. It does mean that when those moments happen, when those people come into your life, then you need to take care of them in the way that, if you look inside yourself, you understand you’re expected to do.

You see a homeless person on the street, and you feel the urge to feed them? Feed them. It’s nearly Christmas, and you feel the need to buy food or toys and give them to someone who needs them? Buy them.

The person in your office whom you don’t really care for is having a horrible time—take them for a cup of coffee or tea, and just listen.

Most of what we’re called to do to help our neighbors, whom we are supposed to love as ourselves, doesn’t cost us anything but time and a bit of compassion. And the wonderful thing about compassion is this: the more you give away, the more your human heart manufactures for you to give away.

The side effects of this process include but are not limited to: an easing of your own sorrows, a sense of achievement, an insight that you’ve done something good and righteous, a lighter step, and a heart more filled with love.

These days in which we find ourselves are rife with anger, sadness, and a sense of being adrift, of having lost our way. We feel the very foundations of our society—honesty, decency, compassion, and fairness—being battered by the forces of pure evil.

This is nothing new in human history, though it may be new to us as individuals. And the only cure, the only way to beat back the dark is to invite in the light—to bring our better angels to the fore and follow their prodding.

Love,
Morgan
http://www.morganashbury.com
http://www.bookstrand.com/morgan-ashbury