CLICK Here for the link to my new nj.com piece on blame, grief, and compassion.
CLICK Here for the link to my new nj.com piece on blame, grief, and compassion.
Sharing my latest post on gossip on nj.com at this link HERE…
As always thanks for reading. I look forward to reading your feedback!
Today is November 2nd, All Souls’ Day. The burning red and glittering gold leaves dance in the wind showing us both how to live and how to die.
Today would have been my mom’s birthday. It still is her birthday wherever she is.
Whether she’s flickering amongst the most brilliant stars, breezing through southeastern trade winds of Asia, sitting in Heaven beside Steinbeck discussing his use of characterization, walking her dogs with her dad or as I sometimes suspect, standing right beside us pushing us onwards, she remains an integral part of us.
Although the workings of the afterlife remain somewhat of a mystery to me, I am certain that mom never loved being in the spotlight for her birthday.
An educator for over four decades, year after year, our mom had told others that her birthday was in July. Never much for obligatory gift-giving or being the center of attention, she believed she had escaped the fanfare with a summer birthday.
It didn’t end there. Many birthday gifts I gave her ultimately ended up gifted to someone else. Despite the sincerest expressed appreciation, the gift then became someone else’s gift.
I later learned it was not because she didn’t value the sentiment, as quite the opposite was true. She valued things so much so that she wished to share them. She was excited to share with others. She understood the joy of giving much outweighed collecting stuff.
And here is the magical conundrum in it all. She minimized the annual attempts to celebrate her life yet treated each year of her life as a gift – a gift she could regift to others.
In honor of her life and memory, it seems fitting to share some truths she has shared with us. Whether you knew her well or are just meeting her through shared memories, consider practicing one of these shared truths to honor her and all those we have lost.
1 If you must choose between laundry and reading to your children tonight, choose a good book.
2 With older children, read the same book your kids are reading so you can discuss it.
3 Excavate the courage within yourself to tell someone the truth.
4 Do secret good deeds. Tell no one.
5 Work hard.
6 Believe in what you do. Believe your contribution matters.
7 Hold your ground with children. It is ultimately in their best interest.
8 Keep secrets that have been entrusted to your care. Make your word worth something.
9 Poke fun at yourself.
10 Still find things funny enough to laugh so hard at that you snort.
11 Embrace the parts of you that are cracked and vulnerable not just the strong parts.
12 Listen well to others. Hear the unspoken, as well.
13 Don’t panic – it won’t affect the outcome anyway.
14 When given the choice to discuss other people or ideas, choose ideas.
15 Know that moments matter much more than things. Always.
16 Infuse your life with compassion.
17 Treat the unknown like an adventure.
18 Wit is a saving grace of life. Humor is a silver lining.
19 When you can laugh or argue with your spouse, laugh.
20 Think before you speak.
21 Do not waste a moment of your time in conforming your life to the way others think it should look.
22 When playing with children, get down on the floor with them.
23 Advocate for the underdog.
24 Don’t fish for approval from others. Cultivate a garden of self-worth within.
25 Remember words have the power to inexplicably change things.
26 Take accountability for all that you are, the good, the bad, and the flawed.
27 Pay attention to how you fill the cracked parts of yourself and what you fill them with.
28 Pray daily. Pray pleas for help. Pray praises of wow. Pray thank yous of gratitude.
29 Let your authenticity shine. Let your brilliance of your authentic self shadow what it means to be perfect.
30 Fight for what you love.
31 Fight fairly.
32 Choose your battles.
33 Invite friends and those in need to your home. Don’t underestimate the power of breaking bread together.
34 Seek understanding before judgment.
35 Have a dance party with your kids, even when your children are old enough to have children.
36 Recognize animals as gentle souls. Learn from them.
37 Don’t be solely concerned with returning favors. Pay the kindnesses of others forward.
38 Be punctual. Value other’s time as much as you value your own.
39 Be an active listener to those who trust you enough in life to share their story with you.
40 Approach all opportunities that require new clothing with extreme caution.
41 If you must choose between a luxury to spend on, choose education.
42 Keep in mind that other people’s opinion of you, for better or for worse, are a reflection of them not you.
43 When anger is a catalyst, sleep on it before you respond.
44 Spend time in nature.
45 Send holiday cards. Value connection.
46 Be a fearless advocate for your children and family.
47 Be the most tireless and exuberant cheerleader your children could ask for.
48 Practice forgiveness. It is good for your soul.
49 When practicing forgiveness, don’t forget to forgive yourself.
50 Remember humility is an extraordinary strength even when mistaken for weakness.
51 Stand with others in their suffering. It is for the sake of yourself as much as others. It is transformative.
52 Be present. Immerse yourself in the now.
53 Rock a good pair of boots.
54 Don’t easily offer your children all the answers. Leave a breadcrumb trail. Teach them how to follow it.
55 Be careful not to allow other peoples’ opinions of yourself guide your actions.
56 Teach your children the art of sacrifice. Learn to say ‘no’ to them when necessary.
57 Be cautious around assumptions.
58 Be mindful that our mistakes and failures are really lessons cloaked in humility.
59 Concern yourself with what is right not with popular opinion.
60 Don’t let the small things distract you or steal your joy.
61 Choose a favorite charity. Donate time or money or whatever you can.
62 Infuse your children’s lives with confidence.
63 Be cautious of comparison. Comparison steals momentum and squanders joy.
64 Take the time to write those you care for letters and notes speckled with truths and kind thoughts. They will later grow into treasures.
65 Always find time to take the dog for a walk.
66 Care about the most vulnerable members of our population. They are us.
67 Do things outside your comfort zone. Push back on your fears.
68 Be mindful that you are your thoughts.
69 Do not accept every invitation to do battle.
70 Get comfortable with feelings of uncertainty and vulnerability. Try them on. Walk around in them, strut and get used to them because they never totally disapate. Tame them and then go out and try new things anyway.
71 Fail over and over and learn how to fail better. If you’re not failing often, you may not be trying hard enough.
72 When lost for an appropriate prayer, try this favorite night prayer of mom’s. Lord, guide me and inform me of all I need to know for tomorrow.
73 The person in the arena trying and stumbling deserves much more credit than the individual on the outskirts giving the critique.
74 Don’t let someone else hold your self-worth. If they do, take it back now.
75 Know that the most courageous choice is usually the best path.
76 Stick your nose in a book. Often.
77 Do not believe all that you read. Question the source.
78 Spend a few moments of each week doing nothing because it is something.
79 Believe that the universe, even in the darkest of times, is conspiring in your favor because it is.
80 Make it a point to learn something new each week.
81 Be interesting because you are interested in others and in life.
82 Live a life informed by faith.
83 Never aim to be better than others. Aim to be better than your former self.
84 Thankfulness is a repeated consistent practice. Happiness is a choice. There is great power in perspective.
85 The same life lessons show up disguised in different ways unless we deal with them face-to-face.
86 Be okay with spending time alone.
87 Develop a financial sense. If you’re not generally good with money, try even harder. Depending on someone else’s financial sense is one of the biggest risks you can take.
88 When a great song comes on the radio, turn it up loud.
87 Take the time and space to discover what you can contribute to this world. Pursue your calling with indefatigable enthusiasm.
88 Plant seeds whether you will fully see them harvest in this life or the next.
89 Take the less traveled road. Make your own path when you need to.
90 Lead by example.
91 Lead through service to others.
92 Cultivate gratitude daily.
93 Find meaning in your own suffering otherwise it is just pain.
94 Find dignity in your choices.
95 Become a spiritual warrior.
96 Be the heroine or hero of your own life.
97 Trust in God’s blueprint.
98 Leave the world a kinder, better place because of your time here.
99 Be mindful that this human world is the challenge …full of sacrifice, humbling, and opportunities to learn how to love. The next world is the reward.
100 Learn how to love abundantly and tirelessly before you depart this world.
101 Know the best is yet to come.
Happy Birthday Mom! Watch over us.
A fews days ago I heard the unfortunate news that someone from town had passed away. Moments after hearing the shocking news, I picked up my phone to call my mom.
As quickly as I picked up the phone, I put it down. I sat there even a bit surprised at myself.
I can’t call my mom. She died in December. I am surprised that sometimes I still forget.
After months of her valiantly suffering, a long hospital stint, a wake, a funeral, sorting through her things, discussing her estate, and talking with my widowed dad every single day, I still sometimes forget.
Maybe it is because she was my Go-To Person. When I have an incredibly good day at work, when I have some exciting news about my writing, or when I have something funny to share about my daughters, I still pick up the phone.
Perhaps it is because we often think of loss as a date on a calendar. We think of death and the loss we experience as a moment in time on a certain day at a specific hour at a precise minute when a loved one left this world.
Loss really isn’t a thumbtack pricked through a calendar date. Loss is more of a thread that is stitched through our lives, sharply shredding through the fabric of our lives at a certain point in our existence then slipping below the surface and re-entering again.
The truth is that we don’t lose our loved ones on a set date. We lose them again each time we awake from a dream. We lose them every time we celebrate a birthday, an anniversary, or a milestone that we had believed they would be a physical presence at. We lose them while strolling down the sidewalk at 3pm on that random weekday afternoon when a sudden bittersweet memory rushes to mind. We lose them each time we begin to place a call that cannot be answered in the way we had become accustomed to.
Maybe the realignment is much needed. Perhaps we need to pause and look at the still shot of life and ask what is part of the real picture and what is the negative.
The opportunity to look at what is real and what is an illusion is valuable. The chance to question what matters and what is backdrop is there for our taking. I suspect the things we often prize as priorities matter less, and as Antoine de Saint-Exupéry suggested, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
Perhaps each death is actually a beam of light. Perhaps death and the sobering moments it carries with it are actually beams of light cracking through a stormy, charcoal clouded sky to let us know there really is a blue sky above. We just cannot see it.
It is peculiar how words and messages can work like beams too. They seem to have an energy. They have a idiosyncratic force behind them. They have a way of finding us through the thick storm clouds.
In the midst of my own storm this past week, I found myself sorting through a box full of mementos. I found a card that my mom had sent me several years ago. She had mailed it to me right after my first miscarriage after the birth of my second daughter. My mom was no stranger to miscarriage as well. We spoke little about it but I knew that she understood.
At the time, I don’t remember thinking much about the card. Perhaps I was too sorrowful. Perhaps life with two toddlers, three dogs, and work was just too busy.
Years later, like a thread stitching its way across the years, this note has re-entered the fabric of my life at the most peculiar of times. Its message resonates deeper now. It speaks on a unique level to her mortal life and my loss.
It gracefully answers the questions that I have thrown up to the heavens in the darkness of the night. It quells insecure thoughts. It softly hushes doubt. It brings with it a peace that inspires and persists.
Here is the card and her message below. May it speak to you too.
Front of card: “When you come to the edge of all the light you have known & are about to step into the darkness, Faith is knowing one of two things will happen…there will be something to stand on, or you will be taught how to fly.”
Inside card, ” Dear Ann Marie, Been there, done that…and I can guarantee what this is saying on this card is true. God’s plan for us somehow eventually reveals itself. What would we do without faith? My heart, love and prayers are with you. As ever, Mom”
I love you Mom. I miss your voice even though you continue to speak to me, as ever.
Patricia Ann Jones O’Rourke
In the wee hours of a cold, winter night well over a decade ago, in an encroached, wood-paneled living room in a Bayonne, New Jersey apartment, a wager was made.
After several bottles of wine, bits of laughter, the sparring of intellect, and a fiercely competitive round of Trivial Pursuit, two couples decided that the winning team would plan a trip where they all must travel to.
Following a fortunate guess about an American president, victory was ours. Tickets and lodging from New York to Shannon, Ireland were secured at dubiously low prices for the second week in February.
At the time, I was living alone in a humble apartment in Bayonne, New Jersey on the salary of a social worker employed by the county. Those modestly priced tickets nearly broke the bank. Somehow on a meager diet of Ramen noodles and tap water among a few other sacrifices, I made it happen.
For some curious reason, I recently have been thinking of that trip. Perhaps because they were some of the sweetest days.
I find myself returning to the same question: Why were they some of the best days?
While we planned our trip, the universe planned an epic snowstorm. We spent the first thirty-eight hours of our vacation sleeping atop of our luggage under the departure boards at John F. Kennedy International airport. After some pleading, conjuring, and self-determined ruckus at the counter combined with a miracle of sorts, we boarded the next plane over to Ireland.
We could have let the storm break our spirits but it didn’t. We were simply grateful to board the plane.
We landed in Dublin. Arriving in the city of our planned departure, our painstakingly planned itinerary was null. We decided to wing it. We secured two of the smallest rental cars in history. Long before international cellphones, we communicated via walkie-talkies as we drove on the wrong side of the road up and down the countryside stopping in villages and at Bed & Breakfasts.
It is true that many of the B&Bs had lumpy beds and showers with the water pressure of a leaky garden hose. It is also fair to say that what many of the pubs were lacking in cuisine, they made up for four-fold in live music, whiskey, beer, and authentic congeniality of a kind and strong people.
It is perhaps most essential to note that some of the most breathtaking hillsides, enchanted forests, ruins of castles, and herds of painted sheep were just there in the vast, open, blessed world waiting to be seen.
We stumbled upon remote shore villages, roadside farm stands and family-owned shops. We visited pubs full of genial, local gentlemen with a knack for the age-old art of storytelling, and stopped at centuries-old cemeteries that told different stories with their silence and peace.
But first, I’d like to return to the issue of the shower.
I imagine what it might be like now in my life if the water pressure was poor while on holiday. There would be phone calls downstairs to correct the problem, the scolding of staff, and discussions about “what we paid for” and “what was expected” not to mention what was “unacceptable”. There would be adamant requests to change rooms and then we would probably spend the next hour and a half at dinner discussing the poor water pressure and how it was adversely affecting our trip.
It is probably safe to say that I would have even missed those breathtaking hillsides and brilliant moments while complaining. Perhaps I wouldn’t enjoy the local fiddler at the pub because of my fixation on the bothersome shower trickle. He might just be background noise to a sob story of my own conception. I suspect those enchanted forests would have seemed a bit less extraordinary because of my dim perspective. I may have wholly missed the forest for the trees in my ranting.
In recent years, I have undoubtedly been on many more fanciful trips with five star accommodations and four diamond dining than my jaunt across the Emerald Isle. I’ve dined at establishments with fine, plush stools to place your purse atop of and ordered entrees with ingredients I couldn’t identify (and sometimes shamefully could not pronounce). There have been en-suite bathrooms I could have parked the entire contents of my Bayonne apartment in, with soaking tub jets that had the water pressure of a NYC fire hydrant.
My experience of Ireland had no fancy bathrooms, no purse stools, no tongue-twisting appetizers, and no attentive wait staff at my beck and call. Our concierge was often a widowed B&B keeper with the grit, wit and wisdom of a convivial, world-traveled sailor. Our accommodations were simply the authentic, unfettered results of a brave woman’s entrepreneurship in an uncertain global economy.
I realize why it was a great trip. It was a grand adventure simply because the water pressure did not matter. Life was not about what I expected and when I graciously accepted that, I was able to appreciate that life was even better.
Somewhere at some point since my Ireland trip, I lost sight of the most essential amenity of all: a liberating perspective.
It is peculiar how the modes of comfort we surround ourselves with – the amenities, the plans, and the fancy technology we possess, were intended to make life simpler yet often make it more complicated and bothersome. The more things we acquire to make our lives simpler and freer, the more they can begin to burden us. We build our own house of cards. The piles and piles of stuff we own starts to own us. The heaping bits of expectations that we build up begin to weigh us down.
The solution is simple yet so drastic it seems radical. I knew I needed to cut the ties of expectation and entitlement. Life doesn’t promise us fair weather, comfy accommodations, and steady water pressure. It is almost a guaranteed certainty that we all will have our share of trickles and amendments to the plan. It is a given.
Maybe life isn’t about the best laid plans but about letting go. I had to let go and let grace in.
I found that the moment I accepted the truth that I’m not owed anything by anyone in this life, things transformed. For me, this spiritual, swift kick in the ass, had had a sobering and instantly enlivening effect.
A return to a grateful and humble perspective transformed the world around me into a brighter place full of hope. Life certainly did not become perfect but who would really want it to be. It became wildly astonishing in the most humbling of ways.
In God’s unpretentious, dark sense of humor, we are repeatedly reminded that the spark of liveliness in spontaneity outshines our doleful, scheduled plans. In the universe’s thundering ironic undertone, we receive the same frequent lesson, that there are far better plans in store for us than those we could dream up. All we must do is resign ourselves to possibility.
A life resigned to possibility may look a bit scattered or messy from the outside but those inside that life know a secret: there is space and calm for the unscheduled and spontaneous to occur. There is room for mystery, magic, and evolving faith. The unplanned occurs whether we like it or not, friends get sick, new opportunities arise, loved ones pass on, and life constantly changes outside our control. The more we make peace with it, the more contentment we can find.
On that fateful trip overseas, my best friend and her boyfriend became engaged. Three days after the trip ended so did my relationship with the guy I had been dating. Not much of a loss, it was the worst type of relationship – those born out of convenience. Nonetheless, my best friend and I promised, no matter what or who may come and go, that this would be the first of many similar trips.
As tends to happen, something happened to our promise. A dozen years later, two husbands, five children, and three dogs between us, the trip never occurred. There have been many adventures yet no trip. Perhaps it was the demands of life, evolving careers, different social circles, raising children, or mere geography. Perhaps these are excuses on both our parts. Perhaps all of the above is true.
Although I am wise enough to know that these moments cannot be recreated, I know that so much of what we experience is within our control. We can tell a story of sub-par accommodations or we can tell a story of a stunning countryside with congenial, unforgettable people.
I also am certain that there are new moments waiting to be seen, heard, tasted, and felt. Life is springing with new, blessed possibilities all around us, underneath us, and beside us, if we are just willing to look past the water pressure.
And with all of this in mind, I plan to be more unplanned in 2015. May your New Year surpass your own expectations.
After dropping off our two oldest daughters at camp, my husband and I packed up our cooler and our two-year-old daughter and walked past the dunes out to the beach. That is what people do on vacation. They make an effort to relax.
Eight-hundred miles from home on a vast, vacant shore, we scooped up shells, built lopsided sandcastles, returned living sand dollars back into the sea, and swam with our daughter.
We floated in the calm seas under the balmy sun taking in the wild air. We were in paradise.
We were in paradise yet I was somewhere else. To the untrained observer, I was a mom peacefully floating along the Atlantic Ocean at low tide. Inside of myself though, there was a looming tempest swirling about.
I wasn’t floating in the calm, warm sea. I was re-living a week ago in my mind.
My husband and I recently had the experience of being deceived by someone we trusted – a person we trusted with our household, our rescue dogs, and our children. The feeling was awful.
I was angry. I do anger well. The letting go of anger part – not so well.
I was angry at being lied to. I was angry at being played for a fool. I was angry at myself for not trusting my gut and not confronting the lies earlier out of convenience or comfort. My head was bursting with shoulda-coulda-woulda’s. I replayed conversations in my mind and second-guessed events in my head. I was torturing myself.
Once the deceit was revealed, I had tried to take the high road. I just didn’t expect the high road to feel so low. I just couldn’t seem to let go of the anger and the hurt.
I then realized this: It is not about my response or the expected emotional outcomes of high and low roads. It is about forgiveness.
The thing about forgiveness is that it is noble in theory yet difficult in practice. In conceptualizing forgiveness and truly grasping what forgiveness is, it is perhaps best to acknowledge what forgiveness is not.
Forgiveness is not a free-pass. It does not mean we return to the same circumstances. Forgiveness does not mean we will trust that person again. We can learn from a moment and not return to it. We can forgive but not forget and that is acceptable. Forgiveness must not always accompany forgetfulness. Forgiveness, however, most always tends to precede forgetfulness. The memory, nonetheless, does not dissipate. We just must not wear our hurt around our necks, on our sleeves, and on our skin. We must acknowledge it and then tuck it away.
Forgiveness is not an eraser. It doesn’t wipe away the hurt. The practice of forgiveness doesn’t minimize what has happened.
Forgiveness is not a do-over. It doesn’t change the facts or alter the past but it does change every moment forward. It alters our future.
Forgiveness even alters our present. Forgiveness forces us to be present in the moment. Forgiveness releases us from reliving the past. It removes us from the future and our forethought into getting even or setting the matter straight. It returns us to the present which is the greatest and the only gift we have.
Forgiveness is not a one-time action. It is an attitude, a continual practice. Forgiveness is a state-of-mind. When you truly contemplate it, most all of our journeys in this life are adventures in forgiveness.
Forgiveness isn’t exclusively offered for those who are sorry. We must forgive others even when they aren’t remorseful – especially when they are not remorseful. Forgiveness isn’t about the other person’s acknowledgement of guilt or wrongdoing but about our ability to accept apologies we will never get and to move forward. In the words of Oprah Winfrey, “True forgiveness is when you can say, “Thank you for that experience.”
Perhaps experience is at the root of forgiveness, especially self-forgiveness. Forgiving oneself may be the hardest type. Although guilt is one of the most purposeless emotions, it remains one of the most paralyzing. Yet in the midst of our own tempest of regret, we must look to the anchor of experience. Experience sheds meaning. Although we are powerless over the past, we are not powerless over our perspective.
Failures can be our greatest teachers. Our missteps can be some of the most important steps on our life journey. If we allow the anger of others to teach us forgiveness, the apathy of others to spark compassion, the cruelty of others to give way to kindness, the deception of others to ignite flames of truth, and the violence of others to birth peace, a greater transformation has occurred only on the other side of a struggle whose summit was marked by unbridled forgiveness.
Forgiveness is not for the weak-minded. It is so easy for most anyone to uphold a grudge and to hold on to anger. Anger ulcerates the soul. Holding onto anger is corrosive. Holding onto the hurt is paralyzing.
Anger is a sneaky thief – robbing us of present joy and stealing our precious time. Anger slams the door to hope. Anger constricts the senses cutting off our ability to perceive, to connect, and ultimately, to thrive.
Forgiveness is indeed an attribute of the brave. It is releasing yourself from the chains of hurt and allowing all that the universe has to offer you at the present in.
Forgiveness is abandonment of a past that could not be any different. It is the act of ceasing to re-read a chapter that will not read any differently no matter how hard we try. Forgiveness is about moving onto the next, new, unwritten chapter illuminated by hope, by potential, and by an unburdened perspective to allow the opportunities of the present into your soul.
In the calm seas of that August morning, I floated along with my arms outstretched and earnestly prayed to a forgiving God and an all-knowing universe to release the burden of failing to forgive and witness me in offering up my forgiveness fully.
In that moment of transformation, there was no parting of the sea, no tidal wave, no dark storm clouds, no lightening bolt from the sky, or burning bush in the dunes but I had magnanimously returned to the humble sea. No longer was I living in the past but I was right there in the water. I could taste the salt air. I could see the pelican overhead flying underneath a brilliant, open sky. I could feel the coarse sand of the ocean floor beneath my feet. I could hear the laughter of my husband and daughter’s chuckles flutter through the air. I could see paradise for what it was – not necessarily an external place but a state of peace within.
There is all of this recent talk of women and how far we have come, how much we are entitled to, and what is fair. It is an age-old discussion with the same expected political twists and turns.It seems that our initial inclination is to segregate ourselves into categorical divisions. Who is a feminist? Who supports what political agenda? Who is on what side of each hot topic argument?
Undoubtedly, we all bring something different to the table. How old we are, what country we grew up in, who we had as parents, what religion we were born into, our education level, our race, our income level, and so many other personal criteria combined offers a unique melange. It is an bio-psycho-social DNA of sorts. This criteria makes each of us unequivocally unique but when dealing with overarching themes of justice, of equality, respect, and human decency, it seems necessary to search for common ground rather than where we divide. There are universal threads in all of our experiences.
Although the issue of women and our progress is not easily addressed, it is in the forefront of my mind. Now, I am not just a woman but a mother of three daughters. It is not just about me and my journey. It is about three more souls with kindness, grace, grit, and potential. I wonder how the world will treat them, and how they will treat the world as they grow thru this life.
For each women, their reasons for caring about women’s issues vary. I thought I would share a dozen of the reasons that come to my mind in the twelve photos I have come up with below:
What are your reasons?