Shedding the excess

Getting older finds me methodically reviewing my involvements in life. I’m identifying situations, endeavors, and people I’ve mistakenly allowed to drain me of time and energy.  Getting older puts the unavoidable fact that none of us lives forever in sharp relief. So, I’ve said to me recently on more than one occasion,  why not shed everything and everyone I identify as being an unhealthy drain of time and energy.  Accurately identifying who and what falls into this category is is not always easy and not always painless.

The plus side to the shedding-the-excess endeavor is more time and energy becomes available. For example, I’d like to visit a friend of mine named Dave Hausman. Dave  owns Big Dave’s Bagels in North Conway, New Hampshire. I’ve known him for years and its been too damned long since I’ve seen him. I’ve never known anyone with more integrity, and, the man is brilliant-smart and deeply compassionate.  I miss him and his remarkable wife, Susan, who matches him on the integrity, smarts, and compassion fronts. There are other people and places that fall into the Dave category. My nephew, Joseph Kahrmann, his wife, Tara, and their children for instance. I respect no one anymore than I respect my nephew.

I’d like to go back to the places of my childhood and walk around my old neighborhoods. The hamlets, towns and villages. The streets of New York City, the place I was born, and where so much that makes me who I am today happened. Of course I will continue to write and read and advocate for those being oppressed.

I think the shedding-the-excess endeavor aligns me more with what Henry David Thoreau meant when he said, “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined.” Earlier this afternoon I was reading a long piece of writing my birth-mother Leona wrote to me right after we reunited on January 8, 1987. We were separated on October 9, 1953;  I was seven days old. Her emotionally courageous and loving and heartfelt missive ended with the words, “My son, my son, I’ve always loved you.”  And she did, always.

Not long before she died of liver cancer on December 19, 2001 I asked her if she had any advise for me in life. “Yes, Peter; be good to yourself.”

I know that freeing myself from all that makes living the life I’ve imagined more difficult is exactly what she’d want me to do.

I love my mother, born Leona Patricia Clark, my whole wide world.  I love my life my whole wide world too,  all the more because she gave it to me.

Thanking Messrs. Wilde & Thoreau

I love and cherish various phrases that, for me, put reality in a clear light, and, in some cases, inspire.  I like phrases that right-size some or all of life’s ingredients. Lately, I’ve been spending time with Oscar Wilde’s, “Be yourself’; everyone else is already taken.” While there appears to be a nearly endless string of speculations as to why we exist in the first place, I think it safe to conclude that part of the answer – no matter the speculation – is, to be yourself.

(Note: I will not be surprised if a reader writes in informing me that one or more meaning-of-life speculations does not include, to be yourself. More than okay. In the event I am so informed, I have my response fully polished and ready to go: I don’t agree.)

So many of us get the message or messages that there is something wrong with who we are. That somehow, were we to give ourselves permission to, as Henry David Thoreau wrote: “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined,” we would be mucking up the works. Not true! Giving ourselves permission to live the life we’ve imagined will undoubtedly result in a happier life. In the first place, living the life you’ve imagined likely means you will be engaged in things you enjoy. Whether you meet every single solitary goal is, when it comes down to it, not the sole point of things. The joy and wonder is the journey itself. Conversely, denying yourself permission to live the life you’ve imagined or, more precisely, denying yourself your right  to be you, will undoubtedly result in a less fulfilling and, as a result, less happy life.

There is another gift that comes with being yourself. You will find yourself among those of similar interests, a reality that makes for solid and healthy friendships (or more) because you don’t have to abbreviate or surrender parts of yourself in order to connect with the others.

Yes, it is quite true that no two people are alike which means any two people will have their differences. There will be, in any meaningful connection between people, the need to compromise. But, and listen closely, healthy compromise and giving up who you are are worlds apart. Healthy compromise is a way of adapting to your environment which, of course, includes the people in your life. Compromise, adaptation, is how species continue to exist and, if they are lucky, flourish.

Compromise promotes one’s growth. Giving up who you are stifles growth, fuels resentment, and leads to a story that never ends with the words, And (he, she or they) lived happily ever after.

So, this writer would urge you to heed Messrs. Wilde and Thoreau: Be yourself; everyone else is already taken, and, Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined.

Lastly, consider this. Had Messrs. Wilde and Thoreau not given themselves permission to be who they were, we would not have these two wonderful quotes to guide and empower us.

Choosing Change

There is nothing unique in saying change can be scary. It often is. Even when you choose it as I did recently when I resigned from the New York State Council on Independent Living, as remarkable a group of people as I’ve ever worked with.

The heartfelt commitment I witnessed in council members to the rights of people with disabilities to live independently, which means as equal citizens, is breathtaking. I hesitate to mention certain members because all deserve to be mentioned, but I’m going to do so anyway. The two who dazzled me most were and are Bruce Darling and Brad Williams, the former being the head of the remarkable Center for Disability Rights  and the latter being the executive director of NYSILC.

I resigned from the council for three reasons: it is time to focus on my writing, my stamina level is not what it once was, and, at age 57, I don’t know how many years I have left. There are books I am writing and want to write along with short stories, blog essays, and, well, anything else that strikes my fancy. I need to finish a memoir, I task I’ve let lag far too along with two novels and a non-fiction work about working in the field of disability, brain injury specifically, a book I’m calling It’s All About Respect.

Do I find the change I’ve chosen scary? You betcha. But there is an expression about fear I wrote some years back that I love: It’s okay to be afraid, don’t let it scare you. If we wait until the fear leaves before we make the changes we want, they’ll never get made.

Henry David Thoreau’s line was a great help to me in summoning the moxie to make this change. “Go confidently in the directions of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined.” This goes for you too.

The Unlived Life

How many of us live in the heartbreaking company of the unlived life? 

This chilling question brings two quotes to mind: "For of all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these: ‘It might have been!’ " from John Greenleaf Whittier (the most haunting sentence I know) and Henry David Thoreau’s “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”

And what is the unlived life? It is the life we want to lead, were meant to lead. In short, it is being who we are.

Being who you truly are can be a daunting task given the fact we are in so many ways taught to be anyone but. Moreover, we live in a culture that seeks to control and dictate who we are. More than many are wedded to texting, computer games, television that saturates us with the message, buy, buy, buy. And, while your at it,  buy these medications because if you don’t horrible things will happen to you and oh, by the way, if you do take these medications, watch out for side effects that include growing eyes in back of your head, sprouting apple trees from your tongue, and waking up to discover your butt cheeks have melted together. Humor aside, we are controlled by fear and the nurturing of greed. And through it all, we are distracted and forget to be who we are and live in the world we live in.

I watch people of all ages walk by sunsets, beautiful skies, marvelously designed buildings, and never see a thing because they are glued to some wireless device. And then of course there is the ever present underlying poison of capitalism which is misguided belief that life is about gaining  material wealth, which is a load of crap, if you’ll forgive my eloquence.

Be you. As my friend David says, “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.” And to give you a lift, think on these two quotes from Thoreau, “Live each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each”  and “Live the life you’ve imagined”.

You were put on this earth to be you. Not some dysfunctional version of you. Being you, after all, is the greatest gift you can give to yourself, and, believe it or not, to the world around you.

You have a right to claim the unlived life that is you.


Free Spirit Walking

There have been some rather remarkable walkers throughout history. Charles Dickens was known to walk hours at a time, sometimes throughout the night, his dazzling shape-sifting imagination working away. Jean-Jacques Rousseau too, a distant relative of mine, very distant to be sure if you were to look at my current walking regimen, was another, and then, of course, Henry David Thoreau. 

Tonight I was reading an essay on walking written by Thoreau when I happened on the following passage: “When a traveler asked (William) Wordsworth’s servant to show him her master’s study, she answered, “Here is his library, but his study is out of doors.”” There is something familiar and spiritually delicious there. As if we are being allowed a peek into something ineffably special. I am by no means unique when I say that immersing oneself in nature brings you about as close to God, or higher power, or essence of life as you can get. You are dipping into nature’s design, untrammeled by the whims of humankind.

Since I was a boy I’ve had and still have a wonderful relationship with nature. There is a kind of freedom to free spirit walking, the body warming up, settling into its own rhythm, and then the mind opens, ideas move into the open, perhaps carried on the mellifluous song of a bird, or the rhythmic percussion of  tree branches dancing in the breeze, or the joyous beat of the heart you feel when a baby rabbit darts into the open, gives you a quick look, the disappears so quickly you wonder if you even saw it in the first place. Your mind, heart and spirit open, and you are alive, joyously so.

Life is good. Live it. It’s here for you too.