Life is a Present

Someone reminded me the other day that life is a gift. Someone else told me that my deceased life mate/soul mate is in a better place. The juxtaposition of these two ideas used to perplex me. If life is a gift, why was it denied him? If he is in a better place, why am I here? I don’t think about this conundrum any more, at least not much. Somewhere along the line I conceded that he might have gotten the better end of the deal. (It was easier to accept his death that way than to think he was missing out.)

gift2Life, with all its pain and trauma, seems a dubious gift at best. It’s more like a present, something that was presented to us whether we wanted it or not. Or like a presence: being present (being here now) in the present (this moment).

Considering all the possible gamete connections, it’s amazing that any of us are here. (Though I suppose it’s like the lottery. Someone will win the lottery even though the possibility of any one person winning it is astronomically small.) Our presence could be deemed a gift, yet there is the matter of pain and trauma, angst and ill health, grief and stress and old age, along with all the trials of everyday life. (There’s no need to mention joy or wealth or friendship or any of the other wonders of life — we know those are gifts without ever having to look for a bright side since they are the bright side.)

Perhaps the gift of life is emotion — joy and sadness, laughter and tears and all of the thousand other emotions that we humans experience, both pleasant and unpleasant.

When my profound grief over the death of my soul mate started to wane, I missed it, as odd as that might seem. There was something so very immense about such grief, as if I were standing on the edge of eternity, one foot poised above the abyss. I also missed the constant life lessons grief taught me about myself, about will and survival, even about the workings of our bodies. Would I choose to feel such grief for the rest of my life? Of course not, though knowing I will always have upsurges of sorrow doesn’t bother me like it used to. Mostly, I am grateful I was able to feel such grief and to honor his life in such a way.

It’s rather a literary cliché, one that most of us have come to believe, that the more intelligent a person or species is, the less emotional. Mr. Spock from Star Trek and Lucy from the recent movie Lucy are two such examples. But what if this belief is not true? What if emotion is a form of intelligence, and the more emotional we are the more intelligent? Are ants emotional? Are cockroaches or rats or cows? I don’t think so. Some animals do feel some sort of emotion, but no other creature can experience the range of feeling we do.

(Even if emotion isn’t a gift, it probably has some sort of survival mechanism because otherwise, why would emotion have developed?)

Not even all humans feel emotion. Sociopaths don’t feel emotions, or if they do, the emotions are very shallow. (There could be 30,000 non-killing sociopaths for every murderous sociopath, so this is a fairly common emotional disorder. See: Your Mother-in-Law, the Sociopath.)

So perhaps life is a gift after all, including all the parts like pain and sorrow that we would just as soon live without.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, andDaughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Want. Not Want.

At lunch with friends today, the topic of “wanting” came up. I said I didn’t want anything. “You have no ambition,” one woman remarked. Ambition is defined as an earnest desire for some type of achievement or distinction, as power, honor, fame, or wealth, and the willingness to strive for its attainment. So yes, she’s right. I have no ambition. Since I have no earnest desire for anything, I have no particular willingness to strive for its attainment. I would like to be renowned as a writer, of course, but that’s not really an earnest desire, more of a wistful longing. Still, some people love my writing, so that’s renown of a sort, maybe even more so than being recognized by an admiring (or unadmiring) bog.

I do want to dance yinyangbetter, and I am willing to strive for that goal by doing my best at as many classes as I can take, but dancing is not really a “want,” maybe more of a need. Learning is what I do — the ability to learn is the one true talent I have — and at the moment, I am focused on dancing.

I softened the blow of my non-ambition by admitting that I did want to want something. My family, my life mate/soul mate, my various loves — both human and inanimate — have defined my life at different times, but now there is only me. Wanting something would help set a path, create a passion, establish a goal. Wanting something would define my life for me.

And yet . . . I am just mystical enough to not want to want anything — to simply go with the flow of life and see where it takes me, to be open to possibilities of all kinds, to be spontaneous and follow my instincts of the moment, to experience the world in a more intimate way than through the shutters of a familiar room. (Besides, the very act of definition imposes limits, and I am trying to open up my life, not limit it.)

Taking dance classes came from a spontaneous flowing when I noticed a nearby dance studio. I never had any desire to dance, never even conceived of such a possibility, in great part because I am not limber, disciplined, or musical. (To show how non-musical I am, for the past seventeen months in Hawaiian class, we’ve been doing two different types of warm-up exercises to the same piece of music, and I never even noticed that the music was the same until someone pointed it out to me a couple of days ago. Eek. How is that possible?)

I also want an epic adventure, and to that end, I consider such foreign ideas (foreign to my nature, that is) as walking across the country, hiking a national trail, stealth camping wherever I might find myself, and whatever else my magpie mind fancies at the moment. But whether I physically set out on such a journey or just live as fully as I can, there will always be epic adventures. Dancing is such an adventure for me. Leaving my father’s house after it is sold, will be another adventure since I have no idea where I am going or what I will do (except continue to take dance classes).

So . . . Want. Not want. Either way, it doesn’t make much difference to me. Seems as if that’s an adventure in itself.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

A Good Day

I woke this morning with no energy, no enthusiasm for anything, no ideas. I lay there dozing until long after the time I would ever admit to staying in bed. I finally dragged myself from the warmth to take a walk. Took more energy than it should have. In fact, when I sat to put on my shoes before I left, I just sat. And sat. Not thinking anything, not doing anything. Just sitting.

Eventually, I did make it out the door. It was a lovely day — blue skies, moderate temperatures, barely moving air currents. Due to other activities, I haven’t been out to the desert in two or three weeks, so it was nice reconnecting to that wild world. (Or as wild as land so close to a housing development ever gets.)

desert roadAs I walked, I found myself wondering what it would be like to simply continue walking, heading . . . wherever. And it dawned on me why the idea of an epic walk keeps nagging at me. I feel most myself when I am walking. To be honest, I’m not sure exactly what that means except perhaps that when I am walking, I want nothing else, need nothing else. The easy movement, the ever-so-slightly changing scenery, the present moment are all enticingly hypnotic.

I am not so naïve as to believe that an epic walk would be as beguiling. There would be no shelter from the night or unpleasant weather, no home base, no ready source of water or food once I used up the small amount I carried. And yet. And yet . . . I’m sitting here smiling at the very idea.

I often express my worry about settling down — not just creating a nest for myself, but settling for less than I want. When I expressed that sentiment to a friend today, she first asked me what I wanted. I had no answer other than that I wanted to become enlightened, stronger, wiser, more courageous. She told me that I was too far on my path ever to settle even if I did settle, which is comforting. Life is a terrible thing to waste, and I want . . . I want . . . I want something I can’t even imagine.

Luckily for me, all I have to deal with is today. And today, I got out of bed. Went for a walk. Lived in the moment. And now I am writing.

As it turned out, despite the inauspicious beginning, this was a good day.

I hope your day was rewarding, too.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Here’s To a Life Of Insecurity, Uncertainty, Failure

Yesterday was a wonderful day. Not only did I have two separate and delicious get-togethers with good friends, I felt no sadness, no tears, no angst when I was alone again.

I seem to have turned a corner — maybe not with the sadness, because sadness seems to be a constant underlying theme of my life even when I am otherwise happy, but with the angst. At the moment, I feel good. Unconflicted. Accepting. Though to be honest, I don’t know what it is I am accepting. Maybe that uncertainty is an acceptable way of life — because, truly, any certainty we feel is a matter of hope over reality. That the unusual doesn’t usually happen helps fuel the fantasy of certainty, but anything can happen to any of us at any time.

A friend sent me the following text: So here’s to a life of insecurity, uncertainty, failure, and most of all adventure. And oh, that sounds so strangely wonderful! We tend to think that security, certainty, and success are all things to be sought after, but what if they aren’t? What if security lies in uncertainty and failure? What if certainty lies in failure and insecurity? What if success lies in failure, uncertainty, and insecurity?

I don’t know what succarouselcess is since it remains elusive. I don’t know what failure is, either, though I have suffered too much of it. Still, success sometimes brings unrealistic expectations, forces us into a role we aren’t comfortable with, or steals time from loved ones, and aren’t those all failures? Failure often brings knowledge of a sort, and isn’t truth a success?

Truth has always excited me, though the keys to life’s mysteries — life’s truths — seem out of reach. Each truth learned hints at greater truths, and so we truth seekers are always seeking. (Always failing, too, because truth can never be grasped.)

Although I miss my soul mate with all my mind and heart, when I am brutally honest with myself, I know we went as far as we could together in our search for truth. For us to have remained together would have stifled that glow of barely sensed knowledge, would have kept us tethered to ordinariness. But by his death, he took me to the ends of my reach, showed me emotions I didn’t know existed, let me feel the bonds of eternity and the bounds of the earth.

I sense something more for me in this life, sense . . . whatever it is that lies beyond the cone of my vision. I haven’t a clue how to move beyond my own grasp, though I sense that a life of security, certainty and success is not the way to do it. All of those are ties that bind, and since I am free and boundless for the first time in my life, I’m not about to tie myself in knots again, at least until life and age do it for me.

Sometimes I sense laughter deep within the universe. Sometimes I sense the playfulness that holds everything together.

Once a very long time ago when I was immeasurably young, my classmates were trying to read each other’s minds. They sat there, brows furrowed in concentration. My then best friend was one of the would-be-mind readers. I was bored with the whole thing, and played my own game of trying to break their concentration by shouting out gleefully anything I could think of. The gameplayers were so annoyed at me they blocked me out, so no one realized that I unwittingly shouted out the right answers whenever my friend was the one sending the thoughts.

So playfulness, laughter, uncertainty, insecurity — these are things to be gleefully and joyfully embraced. Oddly, I don’t know how to play, to be playful. Never did. I was a serious child, and except for moments here and there, I’m a serious adult. But seriousness will never get me what I want. Truth is a shy creature that can’t be hunted, only enticed with promises of play.

I’m being foolishly poetic, perhaps, but maybe, just maybe, I’m on to something. If nothing else, maybe I’ll learn to be playful.

***
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, andDaughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Life Happens

I’m beginning to get a bit nervous about discussing my impending future because the uncertainty of my life bothers people — bothers them a lot — and I don’t like putting them in such a position. Oddly, the uncertainty doesn’t really bother me all that much. In fact, I am more fearful of settling into my solitariness and stagnating than I am of uncertainty, which keeps me dreaming of impossible adventures.

(In case you’re new here, after the death of my life mate/soul mate, I came to my nonagenarian father’s house to look after him in his declining years, and now that he’s gone, this house will soon be sold, and I will have to start my life from scratch.)

I have suffered so many losses in the past few years that I feel lost myself, but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. I don’t want to remain the same forever, nor do I want to do the same things I’ve always done. It’s time for me to try on different lives to see what (if anything) will fit. It does feel strange, though, that my options are both limitless and limited (limitless because a world of possibilities awaits me, limited because of a lack of resources). Such extremes add to the uncertainty. How do you choose a path when thousands are open? How do you deal with the requirements of modern life when resources are few? And most especially, how do you sort through all the things you don’t want to do to find the things you do want to do?

I have no idea how to begin a life from scratch, but as one lovely woman told me today, “You do it one step at a time.” And she should know — although she’s still fairly young, she had a stroke one night and woke up blind. Talk about having to start from scratch! I’m lucky. I don’t have to start from so far down. I can start from where I am right now, with all my baggage, both welcome and unwelcome.

But even she has cautioned me to make immediate plans. To make a decision — today.

The truth is, life happens. It’s as simple as that. You take one step, then another, and all of a sudden you are somewhere you never imagined. I had no intention of ever looking after my father, no thought of taking dance classes, no dreams of dancing on stage, and yet, those things have all happened, one unwitting step at a time.

The first step toward my new life is now in progress. I’m sorting through all my possessions, weeding out the superfluous and packing the rest. I’m also sorting through my immaterial possessions, such as responsibilities I have undertaken and friendships that no longer bring joy, to see what if anything is worth taking with me into my new life and what needs to be discarded. My next step will be to wait to see what happens with my father’s house. It might take a while to sell, and if so, maybe the executors will allow me to stay here until it does. Either way — staying here a or leaving shortly — my third step would be to find a storage place and move all my stuff there. And then . . .

That’s as far as I’ve gotten. Seems a good enough plan for now. So don’t worry. I won’t starve. Won’t be on the streets. I’ll just be . . . wherever life has taken me.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

All Jazzed Up

I was invited to dance today. I don’t always get to dance when the class is invited to perform because sometimes — like today — there is only room for a few dancers and others in the class are more experienced than I am, but today I was given a turn, and oh! What a joy! Of all the surprises life has thrown at me in recent years, the most surprising is this love of dancing and the privilege of being taught by a professional dancer who has studied with many famous dance teachers in Hollywood, Las Vegas, Australia and Hawaii, and who is willing to pass on that knowledge to both the promising young and the unpromising mature. (Unpromising because of age, not enthusiasm. None of us adults will ever be prima ballerinas, nor we will ever wear toe shoes, though perhaps we — meaning me — might eventually be able to point our toes in a dancerly way.)

We didn’t wear fancy costumes today, but we looked jazzy all the same. BTW, in case you don’t recognize me, I’m the second from the left with the page boy hairdo.

Let’s boogie!

20141122_141237b

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Throwing Paint at Life

Life is a great big canvas

I try to throw as much paint as I can on my life, but sometimes all I manage is to dab a bit of color onto the canvas. Today was a dab day (well, except for dance class — that always adds a spash of brightness to my life), so I thought I’d repost this photo as a reminder for me to be bright and bold, and not sit around letting my recent losses narrow my life.

Wishing you a big, bright, bold day!

(The flowers are a photo of paradise poinciana that I shot and turned into my version of impressionist art.)

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

 

Being Important

I’m feeling restless tonight as if I should be doing something important, but here I am at the computer, playing games of solitaire. (Well, I was playing games. Now I’m playing a different kind of solitaire called “What will I blog about tonight?”)

When life is all about family, spouses, soul mates — creating a shared life — everything you do seems important, but when you are alone, importance is hard to feign because the isolation of being the only one in the room makes even breathing seem unimportant.

Despite the way it might sound, I’m not depressed or sad today. I’m feeling good, actually (probably leftover endorphins or adrenaline from dancing). I’m not lonely, either, just alone, and sometimes aloneness echoes in empty rooms, making it seem like some sort of lack. It is a lack, of course, but it isn’t a lack of life or . . . importance. It’s a lack of companionship and maybe a lack of “other energy.”

fireThere are some things I don’t necessarily understand when it comes to dancing. I call myself tone deaf, but I’m not — I just hear a single track of melodic (and not so melodic) noise and find it hard to separate out one particular sound or thread or beat from all the rest, which is why barbershop quartets hurt my ears and simple tunes are soothing. (I can count, though, and as my dance teacher says, if you can count, you can dance. Or something like that.) One woman I particularly enjoy dancing with (she’s so very elegant and graceful she makes me look good!) hears sounds and beats that pass me by  even when she points them out, but I pick up on something she doesn’t — the energy of the group. When we are all dancing as one, I can sense the energy we generate, as if we are tied together with invisible strings, moving arms and legs, heads and torsos in perfect rhythm. There’s nothing quite like that feeling, at least not in my experience.

Even when we are not all in harmony, as often happens, there is an air of connectedness in the studio, with all of us focused singlemindedly on the steps. One woman came with her husband last month, and though he didn’t bother anyone, it gave those classes an uneasy feel because it disrupted the flow of electricity of connectedness among the dancers. (This isn’t as mystical as it sounds. The energy I sense is more of a focus rather than waves of electricity, though I know we all respond to the electricity we generate.)

That energy from another person or a group — that “other energy” — is missing in a solitary room.

Some people spew energy even when they are alone, so rooms don’t seem as empty to them. I don’t spew energy, which makes my presence in a room even smaller and quieter than it would normally seem. And makes whatever I do seem unimportant, as if I am just passing time.

But the truth is, “being” is important, so even when we are alone, regardless of how it feels, we are being important.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Adventurous?

A friend recently complimented me on my adventurous spirit, but last night while driving back from the ocean, I had to wonder if, in fact, I have the spirit of an adventuress. I was cold, tired, hungry, driving in an insane amount of traffic for a dark Sunday night. I felt desolate and isolated, and very grateful to be headed for a warm house and a familiar bed.

I tried to imagine what it would be like if there was nothing familiar on the other end of my journey, and all I could imagine was even more desolation and isolation than I already felt. Despite all those miles of civilization alongside the road, I didn’t see motels, camping spots, or even any place to pull off and hunker down. Even worse, though my poor ancient VW had zoomed to the beach without a single hiccup, it began backfiring and sputtering (something to do with the spark plugs, I think, even though they’d just been replaced).

Luckily, I didn’t have to worry about being stranded on that six-lane highway. The car sputtered and coughed and fought me all the way back but didn’t completely die until it was safe in the garage. I was safe, too, and a few minutes later, I was also warm and fed, but still, the thought lingers about my suitability for an adventurous life. I like comfort too much to enjoy being cold and alone in the vastness. I’m also too much of a natural hermit — I could (and probably would) surrender to isolation, which would be even worse than the stagnation I fear would ensue from a more settled life.

It’s strange to think I once dreaded coming here to my father’s house to look after him and stranger to think that now I dread leaving. But I don’t have to worry about that tonight. Nor do I have to worry about possible isolation or stagnation, adventure or inertia. For now, I still have a familiar place to stay and tomorrow I have dance classes.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

The Day My Father Died

Something profound happened the day my father died, something I’m not sure I understand. I was holding him because he was too weak to sit by himself, and he couldn’t breathe when he was lying back against the pillows. I told him it was okay to die, that his wife and son and God were waiting for him. He said he knew that, but he didn’t know how, then he added, “Help me die.” “Okay,” I said. I told him I would be fine, not to worry about me, and I could feel him relaxing into what seemed to be acceptance. I laid him back on the bed, gave him his full morphine and haloperidol doses, which I had been hesitant to give him, knowing the sort of disorientation they could cause. The doses were fairly minor, not at all the massive doses that would be prescribed later, but they calmed him. Shortly afterward, his blood pressure began falling, and he never moved again. Just slowly slipped away during the next twenty hours. (I never had to give him the high doses of morphine and haloperidol — he was too far gone by then and besides, he couldn’t swallow.)

He died when I went to take a nap, but it didn’t bother me that I wasn’t there. It seems that he had died when he was in my arms, and all that was left was a body running down like an old wind-up clock that had reached the end of its coil.

I’ve made no secret of the rocky relationship I’ve had with him. (For most of my life, I did keep that secret within the family. It seemed to be one of those unwritten rules we lived by, though none of us knew where those rules came from, what they were, or why they existed.) I came here to my father’s house after the death of my life mate/soul mate partly because my mate wanted me to — he needed to know I would be safe before he could leave his diseased body — and partly because I wanted to resolve the complications with my father. I knew I’d be starting over when my grief waned, and I didn’t want to be dragging old pain, bitterness, and conflict with me into a new life. My time with my father seemed to add to those conflicts, though for the most part we got along okay. (Largely because I left him alone so he could pray in peace.)

But now, there are no conflicts. It’s as if by helping him die (though I didn’t really do anything specific), by releasing him from his fatherhood, leaving only our two souls locked in some sort of compact with death, that I also released myself from my past.

The focus, control, and insistence on having his way that made being his daughter difficult also made him a man whole unto himself. And in the end, that is what he is/was. Not father, son, husband, grandfather but a man unencumbered, rushing to meet . . . whatever was waiting for him.

It seems almost mythic, his passing. Mythic for him, perhaps, but certainly for me, as if I’d been on some sort of hero’s journey, and in the end I’d accomplished my quest. I’m not sure I’ll ever understand all the permutations of what has happened during the past four and a half years here — my grief, my father’s aging, my dysfunctional brother’s presence, the terrible journey to take him back to Colorado, my father’s dying, and my being set free — but I don’t think it matters if I understand. I just need to process it during the next couple of months of peace, and then go on from here as a woman unencumbered, whole unto herself, rushing to meet whatever is waiting for her.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

 

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