Author: Laura (page 1 of 41)

Gouda good enough?

The meaning of life.   Cheese and crackers.

Which would you choose?

This is the message behind a wonderful New Yorker cartoon, where a wise looking man in a cloak with a staff comes to crossroads and sees these signposts…one pointing in one direction to the meaning of life, the other pointing to another direction to cheese and crackers.  Powerful stuff there!

On the one hand, wow, actually having a grasp on what life is all about…the purpose of everything that has brought you this far…the meaning behind the pain and joy and monotony of each day’s events…and yet, there’s that whole ‘what do I need right now’ thing.  Like maybe a little protein. Some nice artisan cheese, crackers from Trader Joes.  A little Sauvignon blanc.  Put my feet up.


How easily we could choose the cheese.

Life’s hard enough, right?  Actually understanding the meaning of life, now that could take some time. Might make our heads hurt.  Because surely it’s complicated and difficult…and we left our notes at home.

Or is it.  Is it actually so simple we would be stunned.  Unable to even take it in, believe it, process it.

What if it was just, be kind to others?

Be gentle with the earth?

Love one another?

Wait…is that easy, or hard?  Guess it depends on how you look at it.  Who you are.  And what kindness means to you.

And once we knew what the meaning of life really is, we’d have to actually follow it, right?  We couldn’t just go back to how we’ve been doing things.  Like cursing other drivers.  Or pretending we don’t see the elderly person walking painfully slow alone in a parking lot.  Or not helping someone who speaks another language figure out how to get a transit ticket.

Cause we’d know better.  And then what?

We eat cheese for a lot of reasons.  It tastes good.  It goes great with certain beverages.  It’s fun.  And it’s protein…a little shot of strength that can keep us going.  Why else would we put it in strings that can be consumed on the go?

And for full disclosure, it’s at this point I have to confess my favorite name for a band of all time is The String Cheese Incident.  You can check out their music here.  They hail from Colorado, so you know they’re good.  Best name ever.

But I digress.

Maybe the real lesson to this cartoon is that we sometimes just have to stop and laugh.  Look for humor in what is often a very unfunny world.  Try to find that bit of silliness that really I think exists in just about everything anyway. Because life itself can be exhausting sometimes. And sometimes, you just have to take a break.

Perhaps the best solution is to carry a little sustenance with us as we make the journey, so can keep moving forward toward self-actualization without having to turn back when we get too tired.  Or hungry.  Or scared.  Or bored.  So our backpack should have some protein in it.  Something delicious we enjoy.  Comfortable socks in case our feet get wet.  A whistle in case we need someone’s attention.  A compass in case we get lost.

And lots of belief in ourselves. Enough to take us all the way there.  So when we arrive, we aren’t empty.

Have the cheese.  Eat the crackers.  Add a little dessert.

Your path matters.  But don’t forget the small moments of joy along the way. They are what will get you home.

“Here is the world.  Beautiful and terrible things will happen.  Don’t be afraid.”

      Frederick  Buechner







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Hiraeth: the longing inside.

Sometimes you feel a restlessness. Like you’re not quite in the right place, as though you’re supposed to be somewhere else, but you’re not sure where.

You feel like you have to get back to something, but don’t know what it is.  Or, is it that you’re supposed to be on your way to something else…but can’t see far enough ahead to guess what it could be?

Maybe things just used to feel better.  Like your life.  Your daily routine.  You had things to look forward to, or at least it seemed that way. It might have been nothing more profound that finally organizing the garage or getting all the family photos catalogued.  But it was something you could get up for and then move on to something better.

And maybe what you are longing for never really existed…except in your mind now, when you’re antsy in the present and some part of you thinks if you could just get back….

It’s funny. Now that you are older, you want to be fueled by a stronger energy, a determination to do some of the much more important things you’ve always dreamed of, such as visiting Italy or learning how to fly fish or hiking the Oregon Trail or finding your true love if you messed that up when you were young.  Yet there are days when just thinking about that is exhausting.

Is there still time?  How would you even start?  Do you have the energy to take on something big?  Where did all the years go? And where is this place you are longing to be?

The Welsh have a word for this.  Hiraeth. It is said there is no true translation of this word, but suggested definitions include a homesickness for a home to which you cannot return.  A home that never was. The grief or sadness for who or what you have lost.

And trying to make “home” feel like home is something that seems easier when you are young.  Because the road ahead is long and full of possibilities.  Who know where you will end up?  Who you might meet along the way? What wonderful things will happen?

Then we get a few years on us and some of the air comes out…ever so slowly.  Not enough to make the balloon come down to the ground, but it’s lower. We instead find comfort in where and what we are.  And there’s nothing wrong with that. Because we learn that life is in the details.

One way to look at the word hiraeth is a longing where your spirit lives…your soul…is it a place you can return to, or just a feeling in your mind that overcomes you when you are doing something specific or with a particular person?  Maybe it’s a feeling that you never have unless you are reminiscing, so even if you returned to a beloved spot, it still wouldn’t give you the same feeling.

Or maybe it always has lived in your imagination, and that’s the only place you can find it now.

We all need hiraeth. We need to have a place, real or imagined, where when we visit there it’s what we need, what makes us feel at home and welcomes all we have become.  For some, it’s a childhood neighborhood where a familiar tire swing still hangs over a brook.  For another, it’s the majesty of the ocean and memories of carefree summer days.  For me, it’s the mountains, with their gentle breezes and peaceful vistas that whisper and soothe.

But I’m also finding it’s something else…something along the lines of “can’t be defined.” As I age, it’s a tug-of-war with being okay with how things are, versus wanting so much to keep learning, exploring and achieving.  To not worry about how many years are ahead but instead consider each step and where I am taking myself right now.

Some days that’s as far as the couch.

Other days, it’s a revved up energy to do as much in one day, week, or month as I possibly can.

Because I’m just not ready to give up what brings me joy.  Maybe I can’t hike as far as I used to, but I can still get out there and be awed by a glorious trail.  Maybe I let a little more dust settle on some things than I once did because I’d rather use my energy for reading a book or walking my dog.

And for sure, I have to be watchful that I don’t let that lazy part of my mind start to convince me that something is only for younger people.

As my mother used to say, bushwa.

Hiraeth has a sadness to it, but it also hints of a joy that can’t ever be taken away. It’s your joy.  Your spirit.  Your life.  Don’t let anyone else’s idea of what that should be get in your way.

If you’re feeling restless, a yearning, or something else strong, listen to it.  You might need to go “home.”

You might already be there.

Or you might have yet to discover where it is.


“Your true home  is in the here and now.”

       Thich Nhat Hanh




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Putting ourselves back together.

I have this clock. It’s a great clock.  I have had it for almost 40 years.

I found it many moons ago at a flea market.  There, amidst the rows and rows of people selling everything from crocheted coasters to plants to license plates to baskets, was an older gentleman who clearly had a way with wood. He had several items he had handcrafted. I saw this clock and was immediately drawn to it.  It wasn’t particularly beautiful, it was more how simple it was.

A very large face with large numbers (having always been quite nearsighted this was an immediate plus) and on the back was  small box that was attached…almost like a kit…the literally was the “guts” of the clock.

There are four buttons on this box.  Each one can be pushed, as well as turned.  The first one lets you choose a particular chime.  The second lets you adjust the level of volume for that chime.  The third button lets you decide if you would rather only have the chime during the morning hours or the evening hours.  And the four button is the one you push to simply get the clock to start ticking.

And it only takes two batteries to run the whole thing.

Over the years, I have loved how dependable this clock is.  I’ve enjoyed the chime, although in later years, I value my sleep  more so I haven’t elected to hear that. But it’s been so easy to keep running. When time changes, all I have to do is open the glass front..turn the hands…close the glass and push the button the back and it’s ticking again.

It’s like an old friend.  Familiar.  Dependable.  Something I can count on.

And it’s been with me through a lot of tense times.  Evenings I stared at this clock wondering why a boyfriend didn’t call.  wondering what time I would hear about a loved one’s outcome from a medical procedure.  Dreading the day ending when I didn’t want to face the next day’s events for whatever reason.  Or wanting time to stand still so a moment would last forever.

It’s moved with me at least five times, two of which have been across the county.  So recently, when I made a move that was only about 20 miles away, I of course assumed my clock would go with me and find a new home on the wall.  That changed when I opened my trunk after many trips to unload personal items and the clock fell out and hit the garage floor, its guts hanging out the back like strings of spaghetti.  Or to  be more graphic, like real guts.

Intestines.  My intestines.

It really felt like I had killed something.  I was crushed.  I vowed I’d find an old-fashioned clock repair person and get it fixed.  Weeks went by and I didn’t do it; the injured timepiece sat in a box, disemboweled and silent.  Then one day I thought okay, this is ridiculous, either take it somewhere for repair or put it completely out of its misery. Get a new clock.  Move on.

I did neither.  I sat down with it, started trying to fit the pieces back in the box, loaded the batteries back and accidentally hit one of the buttons.

And it chimed.

I started laughing.  This can’t be.  So I pushed another button.

It started ticking.

Even though some of the guts still hang from the box, the clock is working again.  Keeping perfect time.  It just was waiting for me to give it a chance.

I can’t help but think how that clock is me in many ways at different times of my life.  Maybe you can relate.  You feel like your insides have been ripped out of you.  You are wounded.  Hurt. So disappointed in someone or something that you feel like things can never be the same again.  Never work like they did before.  It’s all over.

And yet, if you’ll pick things up and rearrange them a bit, they snap back into place.  As though the universe has just been waiting for you to realize that nothing is every really broken.

True, sometimes it’s smartest to walk away from something.  Turn the page.  Trade it in.  Start fresh. Let it go.

But when that broken thing is us, maybe we just need to be reminded just how strong we are.  How our guts have gotten us this far and they are still inside us.  How our heart might be broken but it’s beating.  How our mind is so very tired but it’s still on our side.

And when it seems someone else is unraveling, we can sit with them until they can put their insides back together as well.

I’m so glad to have my clock back.  It was always there, just waiting for me.

I hope I can do the same for someone else.

“Sometimes when we think things are falling apart, they might just be falling into place.



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Sand in the Vaseline

As we age, we’re supposed to grow wiser.  That’s what we always heard would be the reward, that we would know more, have more experiences to draw from, and maybe even have more patience with the little things because we’d seen it all.  So in theory, we would not get as upset about things or at least, we would let the little things upset us as much.

That’s the theory.  I’m still waiting on that to kick in.

Granted, there are a lot of things I don’t worry about anymore, which is a very good thing.  I attempt an acceptable level of hygiene, but I don’t get too wound up about a wrinkled pair of jeans or the different shades of skin that cover my legs.  I actually have moments in the car when the tailgating hot rod behind me doesn’t send me into fits of bad language.  I can let it go when I have to step over a present a neighbor’s pet left for me.  Okay.  That’s all quite evolved.

But I’m finding that other things really are like sand in the vaseline.  Irritants that my soul just can’t abide.  And maybe surprisingly, it’s directed quite often at other baby boomers and beyond. Because surely they should know better!

For example, I don’t understand:

• How can you still think you are better than someone else, just because you happen to be born a certain color?

• How can you still make inappropriate jokes that demean other human beings?  Or let your friends do the same and not say something?

• How can it be okay with you to attend church each Sunday and then give your allegiance to a politician who advocates lies, sexual misconduct, hatred, greed and disregard for people whose profession is checking on the government and reporting the truth back to the people?

• How can you visit a beautiful, pristine wilderness area and toss your garbage out the car window, leave your campfire smoldering in a fire danger zone, blast your iPod on trail, and honk at a fawn that isn’t crossing the road fast enough for you?

• How can you think cheating someone else is okay, whether it’s through cheap tipping, cutting them off in line, or not letting them into your club/neighborhood/place of worship/swimming pool?

I just don’t understand.  We’re older.  We’ve lived. We’ve been hurt.  We’ve learned how hard life can be sometimes.  How fragile we all are, and how we have no idea if the person next to us is dealing with a disease, a major loss, fears or worse.  And since we don’t know, we should know by now to err on the side of kindness.

Because we know how easily that person could be us.

These things irritate me, I admit it.  Which I don’t think is a bad thing, because the day they stop bothering me, i will know that I have really checked out on the world.

I know there are those who will say well it doesn’t really matter, as long as you don’t actually hurt someone, you can do or say what you please.  I disagree.  I think you are hurting someone.  I believe that principle that the ripple of a butterfly’s wings really does eventually reach the rainforest.

And I think we who are showing some gray have a responsibility to add some gentility to the universe.  Not just for each other, but for ourselves as well.  According to Random Acts of Kindness:

“Witnessing acts of kindness produces oxytocin, occasionally referred to as the ‘love hormone’ which aids in lowering blood pressure and improving our overall heart-health. Oxytocin also increases our self-esteem and optimism, which is extra helpful when we’re in anxious or shy in a social situation….According to research from Emory University, when you are kind to another person, your brain’s pleasure and reward centers light up, as if you were the recipient of the good deed—not the giver. This phenomenon is called the “helper’s high….  Like most medical antidepressants, kindness stimulates the production of serotonin. This feel-good chemical heals your wounds, calms you down, and makes you happy!”


Of course the irony is that I’m getting irritated at how hateful other people are.  So I need to chill, right?  Like I said, I’m trying.  But I’m also hoping maybe others will stop a minute to think about the impact they are having on younger people. The example they are setting for their grandchildren.  And how they are affecting their own health.

Wisdom is a gift.  Let’s use it for the greater good.  And maybe all of us can see in each other a soul that has walked a journey we can’t imagine, but we can respect.

Life is short.

And maybe if we stop clenching our fists and holding on so tight, we can receive even more.  It’s way past time to worry about what the “other guy” is getting that we didn’t.  That’s kinda what progress is all about it, right?  That the next generation has it a bit easier?  And for sure, that next generation isn’t going to look exactly like us.  I’m all for that.

Just some things to think about.  I’m going to work harder myself, especially when the internet goes out again.

Breathe.  Just breathe.  It’s worked before.  I have a lot of practice at it.

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”

       Henry David Thoreau







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