by Conlee Ricketts
Traditions all around me are crumbling to the ground: Weddings, funerals, birthdays, graduations, baby showers, gender reveal parties…
Currently I’m mourning the loss of “the graduation ceremony.” A ceremony that is steeped in so many institutional traditions that both students and parents anticipate what it will be like potentially years ahead of the event. I have attended many different graduation ceremonies across the school systems I’ve worked and the college I attended. I’ve come to a conclusion; the grander the production and deeper the traditions, the harder the emotional blow of this type of loss. The loss of a ceremony due to the need for social distancing, quarantines, and staying away from one another in order to protect one another.
It feels overwhelmingly terrible, sad, and hurtful. All the work done to help students feel celebrated is amazing. But it can’t really “fix” the sadness and feelings of loss. And it shouldn’t. I’m a firm believer in feeling the pain, acknowledging it exists and has a place in my personal journey, and therefore deserves some bit of honoring the very fact that it hurts so damn much.
Once I honor my pain, my “survivor-nature” kicks in and tries to figure out how to avoid this type of pain in the future. For that, I turn to my very basic-toddler level understanding of Buddhism. Being alive means I will feel pain and/or suffer; a lot of the pain I feel I am likely creating myself—typically by my nature of wanting things to be other than the way they are. So, to ease my pain and suffering I need to learn to detach from the outcomes I “demand” and “want” and accept things as they are.
Sounds pretty simple right? Hahaha….wait a minute while I stop rolling my damn eyes.
So, being fairly pragmatic I need to start making a list. My list of things I should start detaching myself from right now, so I can (maybe) prevent or at least, lessen the level of sorrow and grief I'm feeling right now.
My child will be starting her senior year of high school in August under what I can only imagine will be uncertain and/or unusual. Will there be Friday night football games for her marching band to perform at half-time? Will she get a Senior Night in the stadium under the lights? Will she finish out her senior year at home just like this year? Her summer band camp, parades, and street concerts have already been canceled so “the last time” to enjoy those already happened. We just didn’t know at the time it was “the last time.” She couldn’t wear the awesome dress we picked out for her Junior Prom; will there even be any dances or Senior Prom?
To prepare myself for the potential loss of these traditions by acknowledging that the loss may happen is the only way for me to detach from the outcome. Every year at Senior Night in the football stadium I would get teary-eyed and imagine my daughter surrounded by all of us celebrating her final year in Marching Band. It would be a lie to say that I can easily detach from this; I can’t. But, I need to have my list to emotionally prepare for the potential of all these “losses.”
My thoughts are that the list is helping me. I'm certain I will still be blindsided by some “loss” that didn’t make it on my list, but if I can tell myself today, “Yes, this may happen,” then I have already taken a single step toward detaching from the outcome.
My full heart goes out to everyone suffering any type of unexpected loss right now. Take time to feel this and take care of yourself. Just know that someone out there is thinking of you. -xoxo Conlee
Art work by Mary Anne Radmacher. Author, Artist, Actionista I Adore!
I am ending day three of re-organizing, cleaning, examining, thinking, and discarding in my writing and creating space. It’s an “office” but I like to fill it with promise and hope of the great creations to come; creations of all kinds –both the written word and the messy artsy kind.
I think I’m going to need a day four or even five. I had saved a lot of “what if” kinds of things: what if I need this someday; what if my daughter could use this for school; what if I have a great yard sale. The new sidewalk construction in front of my house has sent a clear message: NO YARD SALE, so I hauled three big boxes to Goodwill today. That created about four square feet of new floor space.
Piles of old receipts, tax papers and other stuff from 10 to 20+ years ago have all been shredded. I set up my shredder the kitchen. Every time I went out there for water, snacks, making lunch or dinner, or to let the dogs out, I stood and shredded pages. I had to pace myself so I wouldn’t burn out the motor on the shredder. There was a lot of paper! It feels great to release all that paper. There’s no reason to hang on to those documents of some younger married woman living a life I don’t even recognize anymore.
I threw out a stash of cards and notes that were a piece of my life I no longer want hanging around. At the time they were saved because I cared. Now I don’t. That sounds brutal but having those memories around now only serves to remind me of something I’m actually humiliated by, so discarding them gives me permission to release the humiliation as well.
I also found a stack of letters my daughter had written me. It was refreshing to read her perspective on our life and my mothering skills. Apparently I “give her so many wonderful things” and I am “the best Mom ever!” I will accept that endorsement. I saved this little stack as my mini pep talk whenever I beat myself up for not being a better, richer, prettier, skinnier, more successful…etc. mom. You get it.
So many times my fear of lack or my fear of never having enough to offer her gets in my way of remembering that the only perspective of childhood she has is hers—and that’s the only perspective that really matters to her. What my parents were able to give me is completely irrelevant to her. She could care less because my childhood was an ancient time of dinosaurs and cavemen—it was 1965-75 after all.
I can see the floor once again and now I have those tiny stacks I didn’t know where to put to tackle tomorrow or the next day. I even found a great place for that outdated, ridiculous, Jenga tower of music CD’s that has been nervously stacked on top of a two drawer filing cabinet for 13+ months. I hated that tower, mocking me whenever I opened the drawers, threatening to fall on me.
The site of my office, which I couldn’t even walk into, had me near tears. I knew the only answer was to roll up my flippn’ sleeves, find the floor again, and get rid of needless shit and painful memories that met me at the door whenever I tried to get inside. I realize now that I was avoiding the work and not the pain. The “painful memories” really weren’t that painful. The problem (or pain) with some of the stuff that got tossed was the humiliation and shame I felt being reminded of the fact that I had made these mistakes here and there—either financially or emotionally, but I am on a journey to improve how I speak to myself. The rest of the world usually benefits from my kindness, generosity, and careful word choice long before I extend that love to myself. So my trip down Shame Lane was more gentle than usual. I think it’s because I believe that I keep some things because for some crazy reason or another I think I deserve this reminder as a kind of punishment for believing in the wrong person, or for being so “stupid,” or for making such a poor decision.
I no longer feel the need to be reminded of my past goofs. They no longer belong here in my room. I have learned many lessons from my past experiences; I licked my wounds long enough; I am ready to move forward.
Make room. It helps.
is for Zest
It feels like a hundred years ago, but one Christmas I got a gift from my grandmother wrapped in holiday alphabet paper: A is for Angel, B is for Bedtime, all the way to Z is for Zestful. I memorized that list that year and had my parents quiz me constantly. I recited the list so many times that year waiting for Christmas morning when I could finally unwrap my gift that my mom, dad, and brother also knew the entire list: R is for Rocking Horse; S is for Stocking.
My dad saved that paper and it became a Christmas tradition when the decorations came out to see if we could remember all the letters. My mom used to enjoy this the most. I can still remember her being the first one as the holiday approached to start the list, “A is for Angel…” she’d begin, “Let’s see…B is for…boxes?”
Over the next twenty years as would be expected the paper started to tear so my dad, able to find three A to Z panels, had them framed; one for me, my brother, and Mom. It was always a grand accomplishment if we could all collectively get to Z is for Zestful without any cheating and peeking at the paper.
The best part of still having my forty year old framed wrapping paper is the fact that although my mom died when she was just 59—a mere ten years older than I am today—I can still hear her voice prompting us all, “Let’s see… A is for Angel…” and laughing as we would all compete to see who came up with the next letter/word combo fastest.
So here’s a toast to me, my mom, my memories, and to anyone who has made it from A to Z with me on my 26 Days to Practice Peace for even a portion of the journey. I’m feeling a bit zestful having made new friends through your comments, and I have learned a lot about myself by reading those comments.
This was a wonderful month for me and I owe it to the people in my life and in my comments that helped me learn, grow, and get to this final letter.
is for Youthful
I’ve always attributed my youthful attitude to the fact that I spent 23 years around 10-18 year-olds trying to get them to love math by making an ass out of myself, but it may or may not be the direct cause. It could be a chicken-or-the-egg kind of relationship. Maybe my inner goofiness and childlike qualities made me perfect to teach math? Notice: I said childlike not childish. I just wanted to put that out there.
Maybe it's genetic. My dad is 87 with a mother who made it to 101. While he was here for a visit last month he said, “…of course I always feel like I’m 12.”
My dad is a very youthful 87 year old. Most people who meet him are shocked to learn his age. He only seems “old” when he’s sad, I can hear it when he calls me up to tell me about a death in the family or among his “contemporaries.” That’s what he calls his friends in the “over 50 community” where he lives—and even then they might be as much as twenty years younger than he when they die.
Like Dad, I don’t feel my age either; I don’t feel 49, but I also don’t feel like I’m 12. I think I hover somewhere between 20-35. My interior youthful feeling doesn’t always match my exterior abilities, like how my body reacts to jumping on the trampoline with my daughter. I don’t think that’s age though I think that’s my lack of exercise catching up with me, but what if it isn’t. What if I’m kidding myself and I really am getting old? Nope, not today.
I don’t spend a lot of time in front of a mirror. I probably max out at three times in a day; this isn't intentional but this may be helping me maintain the illusion of my youth. I enjoy playing with my daughter, being goofy, laughing, and just plain acting silly. I’m fascinated with how young I feel—inside. I think this phenomenon is amazing because when I do catch sight of me in a mirror I am almost always taken aback by my appearance. I see my mother looking at me which isn’t a bad thing; it’s just a shocking thing half the time. I am not expecting her to show up in the mirror; I’m expecting the version of me I see in my head to show up in the mirror.
Regardless of who joins me at the mirror I think playing, being goofy and silly, and not taking everything so damn seriously is the key anti-aging formula I bring to my beauty routine. I just need to remember to apply it every day.
is for Xanadu
The perfect place.
The word “perfect” doesn’t scare me. Using it doesn’t set me up for unrealistic expectations even with my perfectionist tendencies. I think it scares other people more than me because I find that people like to remind me “nothing’s perfect” or “perfection is overrated” as a way to comfort me when I use the word, you know, just in case. I don’t know why they feel the need to protect me, but I’m not even sure I completely agree that “nothing’s perfect.”
I learned about an exercise a year ago to help me visualize better and feel better. I close my eyes and try to experience how it would feel in everything in my life were perfect—and yes that is the word that was used “perfect.” If you know to whom to credit this exercise to, please let me know.
It’s a surprisingly easy and relaxing thing to do—to imagine how perfect feels. The key is the feeling of perfection not the seeing of perfection.
I did this for a few days—stopped—life got in the way—shitty—and I neglected my perfect. Then one morning after I sent my daughter off to school, and the silence was screaming at me, and I was beating myself up for being taken advantage of, humiliated, or betrayed—take your pick—I decided I needed to sit and feel perfection for awhile.
I sat down, closed my eyes, and let out a big sigh. As I was sitting there imagining the feeling of a perfect life I had an epiphany—the perfection I was feeling was the way I felt about my life right now. I am living a perfect life. My eyes popped open and I was smiling—my life is perfect right now—wow.
Perfection was a feeling--not the tiny house I rent, or the temporary feelings of sadness I had, or the balance in my bank account. It wasn’t the weather, the city where I live, the chipped china plates, nail polish stains in the sink, broken floor tiles, or muddy dog prints on my floor. I am in the middle of having a perfect life and it feels like peace.
The circumstances I find myself in will come and go and waiting for the perfect life isn’t necessary at all. It took me awhile but I get it—it’s not a place; it’s a feeling, and if I can tap into that feeling every now and again to remind me, then I get to experience perfection right now. I get to set down the hurt and anger and realize how great I have it right now—muddy dogs and all.
is for Wisdom whoops...Willingness
When I wrote “T is for Trust” I explained where my words came from and how I hadn’t changed any of them—until now, and I think it’s appropriate that my W word became “Willingness” because I needed to be willing to be flexible when it came to changing my word.
I was having trouble writing for Wisdom. I had an idea of what I wanted to share but it just wasn’t working. I was discussing my list and my W woes with my new friend and co-worker, Eric. Out of 72 computers in a room I was lucky enough to get the assigned seat next to Eric. My row of 6 people are wonderful, but to end up next to a person who is a Reiki practitioner and who offers monthly guided meditation circles can’t be any better sign from the Universe that I’m on the right track. He and his wife own Transformative Balance, LLC in Columbus, Ohio. I'm glad to have found this resource.
So Eric asks me, “Does it have to be wisdom?”
“Well...I wrote down my list of words months and months ago, and I’ve never changed one…but I guess it doesn’t have to be.” I could feel myself getting all bristly at the thought of changing a word--my word. I had already been so prideful about my list assuming each word had something to teach me.
“How about willingness?”
Ding, ding, ding, we have a winner. I knew he was right the moment he said it, but I sort of felt interior resistance for a moment about changing my word. It was a fast realignment inside and I realized that I had to be willing to change. Duh. Maybe this was Wisdom’s lesson for me after all. Stop being so frickin’ rigid, let others in, let someone else help, and for Pete’s sake be willing to do all of the above.
So keyboard and virtual paper in hand I will make a list of willingness with the BIG ONE first:
Willingness is the key to having any new experiences at all, or to making any changes whatsoever in the way things are going. I can feel it in my belly when I am unwilling—sometimes that’s a good thing; it’s a warning that I need to pay attention, but sometimes it’s just regular run-of-the-mill fear trying to keep me in my rut. Fear knows that getting out my rut would require a change, perhaps a new me, with new friends, and new ways of seeing the world, and that might make my old friends very uncomfortable, but I am not responsible for how they feel about me.
I am excited about my list and need to take some time with each of them, but all I really need to do for the traction to start getting out of my rut is to start using this phrase, “I’m willing to consider that,” and then see where it takes me.
is for Vision
My vision for the future is in major transition. In fact I think it would be very cool if I could “receive” a vision of my future, my life, my anything, just to give me a hint to know which way I should go.
I believe it's important to have a general hope for the future, a loose road-map for life, buy my problem has typically been setting those expectations of how it should go and being far too attached to the outcome. Most of the time the attachment to “my way” and the expectation of “should be” has led to deep disappointment in myself and my fellow man. So much so that I am now setting a course for a future that I am drawing a complete blank about.
I have my priorities: food, shelter, health, safe child, healthy pets, happy home, and comfy clothes (big unattractive pajama pants that make my butt look huge are the norm) but I have let go of my previous visions for my future. Nothing turned out as expected which is not a crime, it really isn’t even horrible, I am the happiest I’ve been in years, so my lack of precise vision isn’t troubling me too much. The pajama pants may be just a little, but not my lack of vision.
I think perhaps the best way for me to express what my true vision for the future has become is to be happy. Be happy—that’s it. I have learned that I am completely capable of doing many jobs, leading many people, organizing many projects, and solving many problems. I've done this in very different settings over the past 30 years and what matters most to me is the happiness I bring with me while doing these things. It's the people and the fun I remember from all those years, not the list of accomplishments or accolades.
In the process of losing my compass and the panic that followed I've had some seriously shitty days but laughter has finally returned to my world along with an appreciation of the smallest of things. Worry has subsided and my all time constant companion called Fear has been shown the door. Yes there are still moments of worry and fear but I am much better these days at holding an accurate view of what’s realistic worry/fear and what’s totally over the top outta my mind stupid worry/fear. This is a major achievement for me and my life, and I attribute it to my new and improved vision for my life—happiness.
is for Trust
The idea for 26 Days to Practice Peace came to me months ago as a list of 26 words flew through my fingertips onto a page in my notebook. I thought what a great idea to create something for people to work their way through for 26 days in the hopes that at the end there would be a subtle shift in their life from one place, maybe isolation, maybe stagnation, maybe scattered feelings to a place of comfort, focus, and confidence.
I made the list of 26 words in a matter of moments not really thinking about them at all. Then the list sat and sat and sat for a few months until now. I have never changed one of the words corresponding to its letter. I think the word that popped for me is a word that I myself need to spend a day with and spend some time getting to know and understand why it came to me on the list.
Trust is very much one of those words that needs some serious work on my part.
Lately I have given up the need to feel in control of my life and the direction it is taking. I tell myself that I trust the Universe to point me in the right direction to learn all that I need to learn. I just need to consistently show up each day dedicated to being the best version of myself, take what life offers, learn the lessons presented, and keep the faith so to speak. Trusting the Universe is a piece of cake for me; trusting my fellow man is where I am struggling.
Like everyone I’m sure, I’ve been let down by the people I know, the people I love, the people I trust. My problem is that after a few let downs I have chosen to withdraw and stop investing myself in trusting others. When people say they will do something for me my typical reply is “No thank you, that’s not necessary.” Why do I do that? Because over the years people I loved and depended on to deliver on their promises did not. It occurred to me that it was safer to stop asking for things—like help—because if I never asked I could never feel let down and disappointed by others.
A small example of this is a story I tell to demonstrate that “let down” feeling. It happened about 20 years ago around Valentine’s Day. I was asked by my significant other (at the time) what I wanted for Valentine’s Day. I said that if he really wanted to do anything at all for me it would be to take the dogs to get groomed. Not very romantic on my part, but it was a luxury I wanted to give my dogs and myself because this way I would have to bathe them. I reiterated how desperately I wanted this; I said I didn’t want any Victoria’s Secret (the typical gift) and if he really wanted to be my hero he would take the dogs to the groomers for me. When I got home from work on February 14th I found two lovely pink boxes from Victoria’s Secret on my bed.
These types of events are what I started to notice was a pattern of me asking for A and getting B in return. So I ultimately have stopped asking because I don’t trust people anymore. This is a dangerous place to live—not trusting others. My dog/under garment example is not a huge betrayal or let down in the grand scheme of things, but my loss of trust in others is a result of a series of these tiny events along with much larger and more painful series of abuses both emotional and physical, that have made me perhaps a little too stubborn and resistant to seek help or kindnesses offered by others.
I have decided to use this day to continue to trust that the lessons I need to learn will present themselves to me in ways that I can understand and resolve with little pain. I will work on learning to take people at their word and more importantly to not feel as though I am somehow to blame if they don’t follow through, and to not determine I wasn’t worthy of their follow through if they are unable to deliver, and to stop assuming that just because I may ask for a certain type of help in the form of A that perhaps B can’t be useful too.
It is okay to ask for help and to trust the people in your life, but if other people don’t behave in ways that we perhaps expect them too, well duh…that’s not really realistic in the first place is it? The only person I can control is me; I need to re-enter the world of trusting my fellow man and letting go of my expectations.
I will enter my day with a sense of trust that things will go exactly as they should, and if someone offers something I will trust that they mean it and hold only good intentions for me.
is for Service
A 24 hour period to be of service to anything and anyone in need is where today will take us. Look around to see where it is you can lend a hand. It’s true that helping others is really helping ourselves. Whether or not I get acknowledged for providing a little extra help has become completely unnecessary. I admit I used to want a little bit of praise for how wonderful I was to do this or that for you, but the more help I gave the less I wanted any attention. I grew out of it I guess you could say.
It is easier than you may think to find little ways to be of service. Picking up bits of paper as you walk the halls at work, throwing away the trash on the sidewalk you find as you make it from point A to point B. Opening a door for someone, sweeping the sidewalk, mowing the side yard shared with a neighbor, or letting some frazzled looking person ahead of you in line.
Simple things that might impact someone else’s day are acts of service. Exploring the extra things that need help getting finished around you might lead to exploring the larger things around you where you can lend a hand. Finding the time within your life to take part in larger service projects like neighborhood clean up, food banks, or animal shelters can seem overwhelming because of how busy your life feels. Finding that elusive time starts with finding the small bits of time within your current day that you can fit in some extra help. Start small perhaps by picking up a few extra things at the store when you’re shopping and dropping them into an extra box that you keep in your pantry, closet, or under a desk and when it gets full move it to the trunk of your car and when your trunk gets full of boxes drop them all at a shelter or food bank. Maybe look around your house and find a few belongings that sit and stare at you unused and longing to be useful to someone else.
You never have to leap into the deep end first thing if you don’t want to. Being of service to others becomes a habit if you start small and introduce the mindset to yourself with the little things. Remember that just because it’s a small act of service doesn’t mean it isn’t filling a giant need for someone else.
is for Respect
One of the three definitions of respect in the Concise Oxford English Dictionary is “due regard for the feelings or rights of others.” This is the respect I am offering today.
The primary definition (if they are written in a hierarchy) typically focuses on an admiration based a person’s qualities or achievements, but this is not where I place my attention today because I think I might neglect many people and things if I waited for them to impress me with a particular quality or achievement.
In fact I prefer to extend respect to others regardless of whether or not I agree with them, like them, or even know anything about them. The feelings and rights of others…a person’s right to maintain an opinion contradictory to my own…I respect that. I respect a person willing to disagree with me politely. I don’t like confrontation; I enjoy civil discourse; I love a good debate; what I don’t love is another person’s refusal to let me speak my piece. I will, however, respect the fact that they have different feelings, opinions, behaviors, or social protocol than I and then will then remove myself from the unpleasant interaction.
Because I respect you never means I need to continue to interact with you if I am no longer enjoying the interaction. Disagreeing with you doesn’t imply a lack of respect. Any behavior toward you that is mean, hurtful, malicious, or spiteful would demonstrate a lack of respect for your existence, and this is the kind of behavior I avoid because it literally causes me physical pain to witness these types of interactions.
Lately I’ve had many interactions that feel either confrontational to me or that feel as if I have been completely disregarded as being present in the room or conversation. I’m not a big fan of these feelings, but I realize they have something to teach me about how I interact with others. I will work on paying deep attention to others in order to feel less ignored, and I will work on listening intently to others in order to help myself feel heard.
I firmly believe “you get what you give” so I offer up my respect for the day to all the people, places, plants, and animals that I encounter. You deserve it.