Eve and the “Yes, but” Cloud

Once there was a little girl named Eve. She was smart, funny, and kind. Although Eve seemed to be happy-go-lucky on the outside, internally she was suffering. She really wanted to be happy, but she always fell shy of true bliss. Everything that was positive in her life had a competing negative that seemed to cancel it out. Nothing ever seemed to work out for her. Eve really hated that her life was this way, but she had no idea how to change it. A cloud seemed to follow her wherever she went, but it was only a cloud Eve could see.

One day Eve decided to take a walk on the beach. This was Eve’s favorite place in the entire world. On this particular day, the sun was out, but rain was forecast later in the afternoon.

“Wouldn’t you know it’s going to rain on my day off? It will ruin the only time I have to go to the beach! That’s just my luck!” Eve said out loud to no one in particular.

Eve decided to go for a walk anyway. As she walked she encountered several people she knew. The first was her friend Margaret.

“Isn’t it a beautiful day?” Margaret said.

“Yes, but it’s supposed to rain later. It may not, but I thought you should know” Eve responded.

Margaret’s smile faded a bit as she kept walking after bidding Eve a good day.

Eve walked along wondering how soon it would start raining. Beauty surrounded her in every direction, but she saw none of it. She was lost in her head and too worried about the clouds to come.

Eve then saw her friend Carol who was walking her dog.

“Eve it’s so good to see you! It’s been too long! I have great news, I’m getting married!? Would you please come to my wedding?”

“Yes, but one in four marriages ends in divorce? I’m sure your marriage will last, but I thought you should know.” Eve replied.

Carol’s shoulders slumped as she walked away. She told Eve she would see her at the wedding.

Eve kept walking, pondering why she couldn’t seem to be happy. The waves were crashing, the pelicans were flying overhead, and sailboats floated by, but Eve stared down at the sand trying to figure out the key to happiness.

She then ran into her friend Ron who was tying up his boat.

“Eve it’s so good to see you today! Did you hear I just won a million dollars in the lottery?”

“Yes, but you know most lottery winners go bankrupt in the first year? I’m sure that will not happen to you, but I just thought you should know.” Eve replied.

Ron’s excited glow faded as he walked back toward his boat and wished Eve a good walk.

When she finally arrived at the rock jetty, a cloud was thick over her head. She sat on the rocks trying to gaze out at the ocean, but she could not see anything for the cloud. It was not like any cloud she had ever experienced before. It completely obstructed her vision. She knew she should have stayed home. This was bound to happen on her day off.

As she drifted further and further into despair, she was startled by a seagull that landed on the rock beside her. He looked at her squarely in the eyes with his head tilted to one side.

“Hello Eve, my name is Jeremy. Is it okay if I join you?”

“Yes, but you know seagulls can’t talk. It’s impossible.”  Eve replied.

“Is that so?” Jeremy said.

“Of course it’s so! Everyone knows seagulls can’t talk. How did you find me anyway? I can’t see anything but this cloud around my head!”

Jeremy, who had seen this cloud many times, asked Eve if he could share a story with her. Eve, seemingly forgetting seagulls can’t talk, agreed to listen.

Jeremy explained that when he was a young gull, his response to anything positive someone told him always began with “yes, but.” He felt it was his duty to keep his friends informed about all the possible negative consequences of everything. He thought he was protecting everyone in the same way he protected himself. It felt safer if he was always aware of what could happen when things invariably went wrong. This protected him from being disappointed and he wanted to offer the same protection to everyone he met. Eventually a cloud formed over his head and he could no longer see anything. He cried out to the universe to please remove this cloud from his head! He knew he could no longer fly with this cloud around him and he would surely die.

Jeremy’s grandmother heard his cries and put her wings around him as he sobbed. She told him he was surrounded by the “yes, but” cloud. She explained that every time he said the words “yes but” another one was added to the atmosphere surrounding him. Eventually, as the atmosphere became saturated, all those “yes buts” formed an impenetrable cloud. The cloud keeps him from seeing the beauty of the world around him and prevents him from experiencing true joy.

Eve listened intently to this talking seagull and was intrigued. She did not realize she ever said “yes, but” until she thought back over her life. Even as recently at her walk to the jetty she said “yes but” to three people! No wonder this cloud was surrounding her. Panicking that she would never be rid of this cloud, she realized that Jeremy no longer had one. She took a breath and asked how she could get rid of it? Would it be enough if she promised to never say “yes, but” again?

Jeremy anticipated her question and smiled. He then told her about the paradox. The only way Eve could rid herself of the “yes, but” cloud was to continue to say “yes, but.” Eve’s shoulders collapsed and her head dropped to her chest in utter confusion.

Jeremy explained that the words “yes, but” themselves are not the issue. The problem lies in how those words are used. Instead of responding with “yes, but” when someone shares good news, the better time is to use “yes, but” in response to negativity. He provided this example. The next time someone says “It’s a horrible rainy day” respond with “Yes, but the sun is forecast to come out tomorrow!”

He explained that every time you use “yes, but” in this way, part of the cloud disappears. He offered a word of caution, however, with this practice. The words “yes, but” should not be used to diminish or take away someone’s pain. Sometimes people just need to be heard. They need space to feel their feelings. Using “yes, but” to take away our own discomfort with someone else’s suffering will not help remove the cloud from our own heads, but will instead cause the “I don’t matter” cloud to form around the other person.

Eve asked how she would know when to say “yes, but?” Jeremy told her to think before she speaks, to put herself in the other person’s place, to be kind, and to always follow her heart. If she practiced those things she would be successful most of the time. Jeremy then put his wing on her shoulder and gave her his blessing before he flew beyond the cloud of “yes, buts.”

Eve still could not see clearly, but she knew the only way to release the cloud was by returning to the world. She began her journey in faith and almost immediately encountered her friend Don who was peering at something in the water beside the jetty.

“Hey Don! What do you see?” Eve asked.

“It looks like an old sailboat that’s been underwater for years. It’s covered in barnacles. I bet it was beautiful in its day.” Don replied.

“Yes, but it is still beautiful.”

“I suppose it is.” Don replied as he smiled and saw the submerged boat in a whole new way.

Eve noticed she could see a little more clearly. Part of the cloud dissipated as she continued on her way.

Next, Eve saw her friend Lani looking for shells at the water’s edge. Eve waved and Lani walked toward her with a hand full of beautiful shells.

“I was looking for angel wings, but all I found were these shells.” Lani said.

“Yes, but look at how beautiful those shells are!” Those are really treasures!” Eve replied.

Lani smiled and quickened her step as she returned to the water to look for more.

Eve again noticed the cloud clearing and she continued on her way.

She next encountered her friend Brenda who she had not seen in a very long time. They exchanged greetings and she noticed Brenda was crying. She put her arm around Brenda’s shoulders and listened.

“Last night we lost our house in a fire and all or belongings were destroyed. My boys and I were able to get out and no one was hurt, but my dog is gone and has not returned home.”

It was obvious Brenda was in pain and Eve’s first reaction in her head was to say “yes, but you and your sons are alive, you have insurance, and you can buy new things”, but she remembered Jeremy’s words and thought before she spoke. Rather than say anything, she chose to listen instead. Eve’s cloud dissipated even more and Brenda felt more at peace.

By the time Eve arrived home, she was drenched, but the “yes, but” cloud was gone. From that point forward, not only did she use “yes, but” in a healthy way with others, she also treated herself more kindly and used those words in her own thinking. In time, “yes, but,” in the affirmative, became a habitual way of thinking and the joy that previously alluded her became her companion. She thanked every seagull she saw and never doubted again the methods used by the universe to speak to her soul.

Advertisements

ALGORA

It was an exciting day for Algora.  Her long wait on the shelf was finally over and it was time for the big birthday party.  This was the day of Algora’s birth, but the party was not for her.

As the shopkeeper filled her with helium, she felt her skin expand and stretch beyond what she previously thought was possible.  She felt like she was awakening from a deep sleep, even though she did not remember sleeping.  Just when she felt like she was going to explode the expansion stopped.  A string was tied around her to keep the helium in.  This was comforting because it provided control and it kept her close to the other balloons.  Algora was the last balloon from the box to be given life.  She was in awe as she studied the others in her group.  Other balloons, in a rainbow of colors, surrounded her and shared her eager anticipation of what was next.

The journey from the store seemed like an eternity, but finally they arrived at the party.  A covey of excited children began lunging at them, but Algora was the first to be claimed.  She became dizzy as her young captor raced around the room, but she was also exhilarated by the speed and sense of freedom. Some of her balloon friends; however, were not as fortunate.  One of the children had a sharp object and joyfully ran around the room piercing the other balloons and shattering the room with a horribly explosive sound.  It saddened Algora to see their lifeless forms lying on the floor after only a few short moments of life.  She did not understand why their lives had ended so soon.  The other balloons seemingly failed to notice the fate of their friends as they reveled in their playful and carefree existence.

It was not long until Algora and her friends were abandoned by the children who were playing games in the distance.  Some of the balloons were tied to objects in the room and others, like Algora, were left to float to the ceiling where they hung helplessly.

After several hours, Algora noticed some of her friends had given up as their lifeless bodies withered and sank toward the floor.  Algora was confused.

“What’s the point of lives that end so soon?” she said out loud to no one but herself.

She could not bear the suffering that surrounded her and she feared a similar fate would soon befall her.

As she floated, captured only by the ceiling, she began to take a closer look at this room which was her world.  Something told her there must be more to life than this.  No sooner did the thought appear when she spotted the opening. One of the children left a window open on the opposite side of the room and Algora could feel the breezes beckoning her.

The currents began tugging her toward the window.  At first she resisted in as her friends warned her to stay away from the opening.

“Balloons are not meant to be free.  You may not like life in here, but at least we are safe” they said.

Algora knew she wanted more than what she found in this small place, so she surrendered to the breeze whose forces drew her closer and closer to a new world.  Her friends continued their pleading.

“Algora don’t go!”

Her string was already being tossed about by the currents on the other side.  She was very frightened, but it was too late to turn back.  Her course was set as she surrendered to the wind that pulled her to freedom.

It was a magnificent day and Algora felt more alive than she had ever felt before.  She was moving faster now, even faster than when the youngster had raced her around the room.  She scanned the horizon and realized how small life in the room had been compared to what she could now see.  As she ascended higher and higher, her perspective continued to change.  Soon the house which had been her whole world, was just a small dot below her.  The yard which had seemed huge through the window, was only a small square beneath her.  The higher she rose, the smaller her previous world appeared.

Algora was so immersed in the glory of her ascension and freedom that, at first, she did not notice her discomfort.  It soon demanded her attention when she began to experience the pressure.  She could feel her whole being pulled and stretched.  She felt as though she was going to explode once again.  She tried to resist climbing any higher, but it was too late.  She was no longer in control and there was no turning back.

The explosion was louder than anything she had ever heard.  She was certain her life was over as she watched the familiar red skin float lifelessly toward earth.  She quickly realized that she was still very much alive.  A sense of freedom and peace surged through her being that was unlike any sensation she ever experienced.  The skin that had protected and contained her was gone.  The possibilities for her soul were no longer finite, but infinite.  She was transformed from being loose to being free.  Separate no more, she returned to all that is, all that was and all that will ever be.

And so it is.

Alma Heathman Walker, A Remembrance October 12, 2012

 

If you are here today, it is likely for one of two reasons.  You are friend of either me or my sister and you have heard the many stories we have about our mother or you knew her personally and have stories of your own.  Either way, we all have stories about her.  She was never in the background of any situation and she was usually the cause of the situation.

She was born in Versailles, KY in 1926 to the late W.J. and Pearl Heathman, and was the last of five children and the second girl.  She was also the last of the Heathman clan to pass.  Her sister-in-law, Mary Lois Heathman, is the lone surviving spouse of the Heathman family.  Both of my grandparents on my mother’s side died before I was born.  My grandfather owned Heathman’s grocery in Versailles and my mother and her brothers grew up helping in the store.

She was a lover and collector of animals as a child.  Her favorite stories revolved around her pet pigeon named Ouigi.  Ouigi was a wild pigeon that stood perched on her shoulder while she rode her bike through town.  He also used to peck her toes every morning to wake her.  She loved that bird, but one day he flew off never to return.  I don’t think she ever fully recovered from that loss.  One of our many dogs growing up was also named Ougi in his honor.  He remained her favorite dog long after he left us for another home.

She attended the University of Kentucky for two years where she attempted to fulfill her dream of becoming a journalist.   My sister and I were told many times growing up that, if she had not married and had children, she would be living in a penthouse in New York City and working for the New York Times.  Yet another loss from which she never fully recovered. She continued to tell that story to the staff of Heritage Hall in her last months.

When my grandfather became too ill to run the store, she dropped out of college and returned to Versailles to manage the family business.  She met my father while he attended UK and they married in 1950.  They remained married for 54 years until his death in 2004.

I do not have too many stories about her past, though not from failing to ask questions.  Every time I would ask her something about her life, she accused me of writing a book and she refused to answer.

She raised two children in the 50s & 60s when women still had few choices.  She was a frustrated career woman who wanted a different life, but it was never to be.  As a result, she never seemed to be really happy.  She tried to make do and to live her life through her children, but we were not always cooperative in those efforts.  I think almost everyone who knew her tried to make her happy or suffer the consequences.  I was always amazed; however, that no matter who she met, most everyone came to love her.  This pattern endured even in the nursing home where she spent her final months.  As difficult as she was to care for, she was loved by each and every member of the staff.

Perhaps it was her obvious strength and strong will that people found attractive.  No one ever had to guess where they stood with her.  She either liked you or she didn’t and she let both be known.  She had a great sense of humor, loved a good joke (the dirtier the better), and she was the queen of witty comebacks.  Even as she lay dying and in the throes of dementia, one of the nurses raised the head of her bed and said “Alma, a penny for your thoughts.”  Mother said “my thoughts?” The nurse replied “yes, your thoughts.”  She then stated “My thought was why is the head of my bed going up?”

During the last eight months, she also interacted quite a bit with the dead, a common symptom of Lewy Body Dementia.  She saw my father, her friends Mary Lou and Jim, her brother Bud, and her sister Ebby.  To her they were all very much alive although on some level she understood they had all passed.  One day she asked if I had seen Ebby and I told her no.  She then said Ebby was getting ready to fly to Nebraska.  After looking wistful for a moment, she looked at me and said “You know those dead people sure know how to live.”

As I reflect on her life, I ask myself continually, what did she teach me?  She taught me right from wrong.  While we rarely agreed on anything from politics to religion, she taught me the basics.  She taught me to be honest, no matter what, and to be willing to suffer the consequences of my actions.  She taught me to be good to others as you never knew when the tables would turn.  She taught me that anything is possible and if I want something – go for it.  She taught me to follow my gut and not to worry if others disagreed with my course.  She also taught me the power of a strong will and how to set my mind on a goal until I achieved it.  She taught me to embrace change and never to fear the unknown.  Her greatest gift to me though was a love of writing.  She taught me almost everything I know about the art of writing.

Perhaps the biggest lesson I learned from her, however, was not a lesson she intended or consciously taught me.  I learned from her how to forgive and to love.  While she provided me with many reasons to be angry with her, by the grace of God, I learned how to forgive her.    A wise woman named Carla VanHoose once told me “You can keep going to the hardware store for bread, but you will never find it there.”  When I stopped trying to make her someone she wasn’t and when I accepted her for the mother she really was, I found peace.  When I found peace, she and I became more peaceful together.

Finally, life taught me a huge lesson in the last week of her life.  As I sat by her side and heard the stories of all those who cared for her, I was reminded that life is really a matter of perspective.  I knew who she was before the dementia and the broken hip.  She was a strong, proud, independent woman who prided herself on her appearance.  She loved to walk and be active.  As the dementia took over and the hip failed to heal, she lost all the traits that previously defined her.  Her greatest fears were realized and she was unable to jump off the Tyrone Bridge before it happened as she had planned.

The mother I had known for 55 years, had lost any quality of life.  However, to those who cared for her in her last months who had no concept of who she used to be, she was full of life and she was the life of the party.  She became one of the girls, staying up all night and eating pizza with the night shift.  They gave her jobs to do and she listened to their stories and told tales of her past.  As several of them told me, she was always full of advice.  Some things never change.

I realized, from looking at her through their eyes, that life is constantly evolving and that we should never limit ourselves or others by the past.  The past does not define us or limit us.  Used properly, it is no more than a guide.  Instead, each day is a new beginning and, as my mother taught me, anything is possible.  I am very happy that she is finally at peace, but I miss her very much.

Lessons in Taking Care of and Aging Parent

My mother was difficult my entire life.  She was a complicated woman who both nurtured me and damaged me with her “love”.  A woman who taught me many things and helped create the person I am today.  It took many years of therapy to sort through the maze of emotions surrounding my mother and to truly forgive her to the point of being able love her at the end of her life.  My feelings for her were not only as a daughter loves a mother, but they became something more universal. I loved her as one human being loves another who is suffering.  In forgiving, I was able to be present to her pain and to let go of trying to win her affection, praise and gratitude. I was there for her unselfishly.  I stopped going to the hardware store for bread and I understood the futility of seeking what would never be found.  I really understood that such searching is the root of all suffering.

As I watch my friends deal with aging parents, I feel called to share what I learned in those last months of her life.  As she descended into the depths of dementia and the mental illness that plagued her most of her life, I became an observer.  My first instinct was an old one, that of rescuer.  I had always taken care of my mother.  As young as four years old I got her cold washcloths and rubbed her neck and head when she had one of her recurring headaches.   I caught myself as an adult, however, and took a new tack and that made all the difference.

The roles reverse when we take care of aging parents. We become the parent and they become the sometimes obstinate child.  Some parents grow old gracefully, but I suspect those parents always carried such grace. Some, like my mother, just become more difficult at the end when the few filters they once had gradually disappear.  They refuse to accept reality and sometimes fight to the bitter end. As children, we can be caught in the crossfire.  It is important both for them and for ourselves to get out of the middle. We can rarely help anyone who has fallen in a hole if we are in the hole with them.  If we lift them out, we are only left behind.

My mother fell often in the last several years of her life.  Sometimes the falls were serious and those were the only ones I knew about for certain.  The rest she kept hidden.  She insisted on living independently and, although I knew she was no longer able to do so successfully, nothing I said would convince her otherwise.  She was still able to make decisions because she did not meet the legal standard of incompetence, yet she was making poor choices.   Like the parent of a small child, I had to watch her fail knowing ultimately there is no substitute for experience as a teacher.  It is hard…excruciatingly hard to watch, but she still had that right. I could not make those decisions for her and it was her path to learn the hard way.  Yes, she could have died as a result of her choices, but after watching a mother you love in the depths of dementia live out the last ten months of her life in a nursing home, you realize death is not the worst thing that happens to any of us.  Saving a physical life is not always the most compassionate choice.

She refused my help at every turn.  When we went anywhere and came to a curb or a step she emphatically refused my assistance.  I had to let go, let her fall and catch her on her way down which happened every time.  I could not stop her from trying and falling, but I could catch her and prevent injury.  That became my role in her life.  When I was not around she landed hard, but that was her best teacher. Any other interference on my part was futile.  Once I accepted that fact, I was able to help her in the only way available to me.  When she insisted that “she could do it herself,” I had to let her fail.  If she made demands on me that only enabled her delusions, I had to say “no.”

This is the time of life when we can easily become puppets.  A parent can be demanding of the inconsequential things and we jump to help because we are so thrilled to be asked.  We long to be useful and we hope it’s a gateway to being involved in the bigger decisions, but it’s not.  It’s the continuation of a pattern.  We become like a hamster on a wheel, running like mad and getting nowhere.  We fall in the hole and we are too exhausted to get out.  If we are still searching for love, approval, and appreciation, we are even more devastated.  Once again lost in the hardware store and no bread in sight, we add insatiable hunger to the mix of unrequited emotions.

So where does this leave us?  What can I share that will catch you when you fall or maybe prevent you from stumbling? Well, here goes:

  1. Death is not the worst thing that happens to us and can be a blessing. It is our ultimate fear, yet knowing this deep in our being releases us from hyper-responsibility for the life of an aging parent.  They are going to die no matter what we do to prevent it and sometimes it’s the kindest and most compassionate thing that can happen.
  2. We do not know what is best for another person, even our parents. When we think we do, it’s time to let go again.
  3. The only thing we can really do is to help relieve suffering where we can. Prevention is not usually an option even if the other person is willing. We can’t make them willing.
  4. Many times there are no good decisions to be made. Sometimes we just pick the least offensive one and let go.
  5. All we can offer a parent is unconditional love. That means we no longer expect anything in return. If we have not forgiven, now is the time to work on it.
  6. If we have not received what we needed from a parent at this point, we are never going to. Accept this fact. Nothing you do is going to change this reality and there is peace in acceptance.  Resistance is the root of all suffering. Make the hardware store and bread your constant mantra.
  7. If the parent lives long enough, there may come a time when we do have to take over the decision making process. You will know when this time comes and the only hazard is ignoring it when you know it.  We can only do our best to make sure our parent has food, shelter, and medical care. You will likely not be popular when this time comes.  Accept not being popular.  (Reread #4 and #6)
  8. No matter what, you have done the best you can. Accept that fact it and don’t live in regret.  Offer yourself the same compassion you give to others.
  9. Take frequent breaks. Schedule something fun that evokes laughter at least once a week.
  10. Spouses and significant others – be supportive, but don’t interfere. Only give feedback upon request.  This is very hard.  Accept that it is hard.
  11. Know that you are not alone in this struggle.  Reach out…there are many of us who have been there or who are there.  It makes a difference to talk about it and get perspective.

Moonbeams

At first she was a glimmer

A mere spark across the sky

As day gave in to darkness

She held her head up high

 

Her fullness overcame the sea

It became merely her reflection

No longer could it hold her back

She could see from all directions

 

As she rose up to the highest point

The stars no longer bright

Her light was more than they could bear

This beacon of the night

 

She held me in the darkness

Her beams around my heart

She let me know that I’m alive

And that we would never part

 

Ultimately she will surrender

And allow the sun to have its day

As she awaits another night

When again she’ll have her way

Happy Dependence Day

I’ll be happy in the right relationship

It depends

I’ll be happy in the right job

It depends

I’ll be happy when I live in the right house

It depends

I’ll be happy when I have enough friends

It depends

I’ll be happy when I win the lottery

It depends

I’ll be happy when I’m happy

It depends

 

Happiness is illusory

Dependent on nothing

Independent of everything

It comes, it goes

Can’t hold onto it

Like grasping water

Slipping through my fingers

Soon they are dry

Just in time to be drenched again

Someday maybe

I will hold everything

With an open hand

Trusting and grateful

That nothing lasts forever

I Am Home

Too tired to keep running

Too afraid to stop

Mind racing with possibilities

Heart full of regrets

Dreams still worth dreaming

Fear they will never come true

Passionate longing for something

No idea what it is

Restlessness fills my days

Nowhere to go

I am everywhere I go

There is no escape

I turn to greet me

My hand outstretched

Instead I am embraced

I merge into me once again

I am home

Christmas Fog

As I awakened on this 72 degree Christmas morning, I was excited to go to the beach to watch the sunrise. When I arrived, fog as thick as gelatin obscured any view of the sun. I was disappointed and I began reflecting on the past year of losses: love lost, love found, and love lost again; saying goodbye to my four legged angels; and mourning the lost connection with my sister which does not get easier over time. I could have turned around and returned home, but I continued walking because that is what I do. My love of the ocean runs much deeper than loving her only when she is pretty.

I trudged forward in the soft sand, loosened by high tide, and I came across a flock of gulls similar to the ones I saw on a sunny day only weeks ago. They were just as beautiful as they were that day and they seemed unaffected by the mist. I then came upon a man and his young daughter still clad in her Christmas pajamas. We exchanged “Merry Christmases” and talked about the fog. This young girl in the wisdom of her youth said “Maybe fog is a close as we get to snow!” No wiser words were spoken to me this morning.

I am reminded that just beyond the cloud of losses, the sun is shining, the seagulls are flying, and the ocean continues its march toward shore. I know these things are true, not because I see them this morning, but because they continue to show up when the fog lifts. I need only wait. It’s called faith. On mornings like this maybe the fog is as close as we get to God and that is close enough.

I am grateful for all those whose lives intersected with mine this past year. You have brought more joy into my life than I thought possible. I am so blessed! Merry Christmas or happy whatever holiday gives you hope this morning. I love you all.