Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Personal Celebration... One Year And Counting

     As the new year moves forward, each of us will mark the days with a thought or memory of last year. Noting how far we have come, what has changed, what is better, what was lost, it is our natural instinct to mark the passage of time.

     This month, in only a few more days, I will be marking a special day, and will celebrate a personal achievement. It will be exactly one year since my last hospital visit. One year without pain, fevers, hospital rooms and the hopeless expressions on the faces of doctors who just don't know what else to do. I will be celebrating hospital-free good health for the first time in twelve years. I will be celebrating having my life back.

    Last January nineteenth, I walked out of Wesley Long Hospital after two surgeries and twenty nine of the longest days of my life. For the first time in years, I had hope that my kidneys and liver would last a few more years. Maybe, if all went well with my recovery, I might even wake up one morning without pain. I'll admit that I had my doubts and fears. I have been down this road before. I told myself at the very moment my son helped me maneuver my weak and tortured body into the car, that I would make this day a milestone. I would get my health and my life back, and I would give myself one year to do it.

     It's been a long journey. I knew that if I was to overcome my challenges, then I must first get my physical strength back. It sounds so simple, but when the realization strikes you that just walking down the drive way, even with the arm of a strong son to lean on, is the best you can do, it is hard not to get discouraged. None the less, everyday, I determined to go a little farther. First half a block, then to the corner, then walking alone to the next corner. It wasn't long before I could walk my dog around the block, slowly at first, but with purpose. Now it is nothing for me to walk my faithful, patient companion for an hour or more through the trails of Guilford Courthouse Park several times a week.

     I have also discovered my limitation is the process of healing. Accepting them took some concentrated effort, and I had to learn to respect new boundaries.  Jogging is out of the question for me now, as are rigorous gym workouts, but that's fine. I'm thrilled with what I can do. And even more amazed that by April of last year I was no longer in pain. A simple walk in the park is pure joy to me these days. How easy it is to take for granted what we once did without thought.

                                                                             by Gustov Klimt
    There have been other adjustments beyond the physical. Years of bad health all but destroyed my career, and my finances. I was forced to take early retirement last January. I can no longer put in the long hours I once spent on my feet, and the demands of very physical photo studio work. It would have been easier to throw in the towel. But I discovered that part of the joy and purpose in my life is my love for the creative work I do. What I found is that I'm simply not happy without it. I had to find a new direction. Using my old skills as an illustrator, I have managed to rebuild a market for my creativity. While I may be limited to working fewer hours, I find I am still able to supplement my meager retirement income with what I can do, and have always enjoyed. With effort and perseverance, I've managed to get out of debt, and have some fun along the way too.

    What is even more important to celebrate on this one year anniversary is my new found sense of what is of value. In finding my way again, reinventing and rediscovering my life, I have also discover a new balance. Things that once seemed vital, now seem an unnecessary expenditure of precious energy. I have learned to say no, without regret or guilt. I have learned the savor quiet times, and the great reward of contemplative thinking. I have learned that peace comes from within, and that like any growing thing it needs to be nurtured and cultivated. I have learned that time is a gift, and is not without end. I have learned that the true freedom of life is in the moment. It is up to me to make each day count.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

To Make Resolutions for the New Year, or Not to Make Resolutions? That is the question..

     I have always struggled with New Year's resolutions, primarily because by mid-February they are already starting to fizzle. By August, they are all but forgotten. None the less, the start of a new year always fills me with ideas of hope and possibility. Who doesn't need a fresh start now and then? The fact that we have this annual marker for saying farewell to the old and stepping into the new is always invigorating to me.
     The thing is, as years pass, I have learned that one cannot predict what the future has in store. I find it is best not to make promises to myself that are too easily waylaid by life and circumstances. I've never liked being disappointed, especially in myself. If I promise that I'm going to jog a mile every day, then break an ankle stepping off the curb, my heart will ache forever. If I decide it's time to fall in love again, but don't meet Mr. Right, how can I be anything but disappointed? This doesn't mean I don't ponder the possibilities, or even try out some new ideas. I simply find that goals work better for me than resolutions, and that those goals need to be based on things I can control with at least some small measure of certainty.
     In a recent post on my favorite blog My French Country Home, the author listed her goals (which I have shared below) for the new year, and I found them inspiring. This is the kind of list that makes sense to me, primarily because it's about being a better person, and living a richer, more rewarding life. These are things to be contemplated every day, not just at the beginning of a new year.

 laugh more - moan less

waste less - live in a more eco-friendly manner

more generosity -  less selfishness

more open-mindedness  -  less prejudice

less deciding for others - more listening to them instead

more time with real people and less in front of a screen!