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Thirteen Reminders

2013“2013 was a very unlucky year for the Bartletts. It must have something to do with the number 13.”

Those words were uttered by my mother, who is perhaps the least superstitious and most practical woman I know. But all of us have our uncharacteristic moments, and I completely understand why my mother had that one.

Several family members dealt with some difficult situations in 2013. But as I look back on the year that is almost over, I am more inclined to describe 2013 as a year when experiences, rather than simple words, served as reminders about life.

I also prefer to think those 13 reminders are gifts.

Reminder #1: Patience is a skill, and like any skill, it requires practice. Just like some people are born athletes or musicians, some people are born with more patience than others. But also like athletes and musicians, the skill must be practiced to be beneficial. Practice is even more important to those of us who weren’t born with a great deal of patience.

Reminder #2: No experience is completely bad. Something good, whether it is a humorous story, a new relationship or a change of direction, generally grows out of what we often consider a “bad” experience.

Reminder #3: Trying to influence the opinions of others is generally a waste of time. We can only act in a way that exemplifies our own beliefs and values. Life will teach us that being true to ourselves is much more important than ensuring other people understand.

Reminder #4: Life will always be a series of ups and downs. If we are constantly complaining about the struggles up, we often miss the joy of the ride down.

Reminder #5: The joyful ride down is usually consists of little moments, not grand accomplishments. We need to take time every day to appreciate those little moments.

Reminder #6: Living a life without goals is like playing a basketball game that has no final buzzer. The only thing we achieve is exhaustion.

Reminder #7: People who are mean-spirited generally don’t realize how mean they really are. They are so focused on meeting some unfulfilled need in their own lives that they unconsciously try to create holes in the lives of others. Giving kindness and compassion to such individuals is difficult, but it is still easier on our own souls than anger will ever be.

Reminder #8: Compassion and kindness for mean-spirited people doesn’t mean we must make an effort to keep such people in our lives.

Reminder #9: Miracles happen every day. To witness them in our  lives, we just need to believe and look for them.

Reminder #10: The greatest gift we can give another person is to remember something important about him/her. No one likes sharing a piece of themselves only to be forgotten.

Reminder #11: The greatest gift God gives us are the challenges we overcome. They teach us so much: to believe in ourselves, to understand the struggles of others and to prioritize what is truly important.

Reminder #12: The only thing that complaining about your circumstances will change is the people who want to be around you. Very few people can tolerate much whining. Seeking sympathy never changes anything. Taking action does.

Reminder #13: Everything that happens in our lives is an experience that prepares us for what will happen next. The mystery about that next thing is what keeps life interesting.

Champagne-toastHere’s to all the adventures, and reminders, that await us in 2014.

Happiness Should Be Like a Dog With a Snowball

photoThe year 2012 ended with a white Christmas, which is fairly unusual here in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia. But then, Mother Nature hasn’t been very predictable, or even very kind, over the past twelve months. Her random and sometimes disruptive behavior was fitting for a year when too many people experienced upheaval and loss. But just like Mother Nature, 2012 also brought bright and sunny moments along with the storms. All serve as reminders of the lessons we  need to learn and/or remember.

Lesson 1: We Should Experience Happiness Like a Dog with A Snowball  My German Shepherd, Rodney, adores the snow. He loves bounding through it. He loves smelling it. He loves eating it. And most of all, he loves playing in it. As a true fanatic for all things that can be thrown and caught, when the white stuff is on the ground, he begs for someone to pack and throw a snowball.

This Christmas, I noted how thrilled he was with every snowball he caught, even though each fell apart or dissolved in his mouth. Instead of being disappointed when a snowball was gone, he was just as eager for another, which he enjoyed with no concern that it too would disappear.

We should all appreciate our happy moments just like my dog appreciates snowballs. They may be fleeting, but instead of worrying that they may not last, we should enjoy each moment and remain steadfast in our belief that there will always be more.

skittyLesson 2: We Can’t Always Control Our Circumstances or Protect Those We Love, but Any Attempts To Do So Are Always Good for a Laugh At the end of June, the Eastern Panhandle, like the rest of West Virginia, was hit unexpectedly by a derecho, or a land hurricane. Most of us had never heard of such a storm prior to the event, and since there were no warnings, we didn’t initially realize the severity of what had happened. We discovered the extent of damage the next day when we saw the downed trees and power lines and when many people experienced a loss of electricity for weeks.

The event left its mark, so in October, when meteorologists called for the Eastern Panhandle to be in the path of Hurricane Sandy, most of us wanted to be prepared. Some of us over-prepared. And some of us even freaked out… a bit.

For my part, I decided my family should ride out Sandy in our basement to avoid the hazards of trees crashing through our roof. We were all safely downstairs when I realized that Skitty, our cat, wasn’t with us. Since Skitty has a tendency to hide in unusual and hard-to-find places, I immediately assigned all family members to search for her. As the wind howled and the trees creaked, we took turns calling her name and shaking a bag of cat food, which is usually the best way to get our over-weight feline out of hiding. This time it didn’t work, and I began to worry that my cat, who is generally too lazy to go outside, was battling the elements.

Just as my anxiety got the worst of me, my son, in his usual dry and sarcastic way, told me that the cat was safe. As it turns out, the only thing she was battling was her disdain for a family who didn’t realize that she’d taken shelter in the basement long before the rest of us. My cat had the sense to do what she needed to do and not be bothered by the drama that surrounded her. I should have done the same.

I hadn’t had enough warning to worry about the derecho, and we managed through the storm and the aftermath just fine. I had way too much warning about Sandy, and even though we also managed through that storm and aftermath just fine, my stress level had gotten so high that even my cat chose to ignore me.

Sometimes, we get so wrapped up in either avoiding a situation or in worrying about what might happen, we simply forget that we can only do so much, we must accept that some things are beyond our control and we should believe in the sound judgment and appropriate actions of others. The results won’t always be what we hope for, but too much worry is only good for providing memories that allow us to laugh at ourselves later. mailboxes

Lesson 3: Life Rarely Goes According to Plan, but When Bad Things Happen, We All Have a Great Capacity for Resiliency and Recovery  No one in my family expected the snow that arrived on Christmas Eve, and, even after it began to fall, none of us expected it to last long. But last it did. And in the midst of final preparations for our Christmas celebration, the snow covered the grass and then it covered the roads.

When we realized we were going to have a white Christmas, we celebrated by taking a family walk with Rodney. Unfortunately, Rodney was more excited than all of us, and the jumping, the barking and the lunging, drove my husband crazy to the point he just wanted to go home. Instead of enjoying the beauty of the untouched snow, we were trying to control an overly enthusiastic dog. I worried that our Christmas Eve would become a battle over the dog.

As Rodney began to calm down, we began the climb up the hill on the far side of our neighborhood. When a truck came speeding down the snow-covered hill, we immediately jumped off the road and into a neighbor’s lawn. And then we heard loud thumps and bangs. We turned to see that the truck had gone off the road and taken out two mailboxes and multiple newspaper boxes. Packages littered the ground, and I was relieved that Rodney’s behavior was all but forgotten.

We empathized with the driver and the home owners that such an incident happened on Christmas Eve. But when put in perspective with the loss some families faced this Christmas, the event was far from tragic. For many, Christmas isn’t always just a reminder of family traditions and family warmth. It can also be a reminder of could-have-beens, might-have-beens and regrets. And yet, most of us still believe in the magic of the holidays.

Yesterday, as I was walking up that same hill with Rodney during yet another unexpected snow storm, I noticed the mailboxes were already back up. As is true with human nature, the owners were trying to get everything back to normal. Seeing the mailboxes standing so quickly after witnessing their near demise less than 36 hours earlier was a reminder that no holiday is ever perfect. But planning for perfection only leaves room for disappointment, and planning for disappointment only leaves room for anxiety. But planning to enjoy life’s imperfections only leaves room for joy.

I plan to carry that lesson with me forever and to look forward to whatever the weather, and life, have in store for  2013.