A New Chapter: Entering Retirement

This past week I entered a significant time in my life.  My last day of full-time work, prior to retirement, was last Thursday, June 11.  It was a memorable day, with a lovely reception held at the nursing home, where I’ve worked as a chaplain for the last eleven and a half years.  It was a beautiful day of greeting others, expressing my thanks and receiving theirs.  I left that day feeling grateful and even overwhelmed by the many kind words and well wishes I received.

My entry into retirement was preceded by a few years of gradually feeling a need for change and a longing to experience life in a new way.  At first I wasn’t sure what this newness would be or what it would look like, but I knew that this yearning inside me was real and that I needed to pay attention to it.   Over time, ever so slowly, an idea was planted and a new dream took hold.

Next month my husband and I will move to our newly-built home in Charleston, South Carolina.  Our main reasons for doing so include being closer to our son and to experience the outdoors more frequently throughout the year.  If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that running is a passion for me and I find much spiritual depth when I’m in nature. Though I love Minneapolis and am so grateful to all I’ve learned here, this next chapter in a different city will also be an opportunity to learn and grow, I’m sure.

I’m not sure exactly what I will do in Charleston.  I hope to stay in touch with the core of chaplaincy work:  to listen to the stories of others.  I find this a sacred endeavor that touches me deeply and from which I learn so much.  As I told my nursing home residents, they were my best teachers.  I’m deeply grateful for them.  And my hope–and my plan–is that I will keep learning from the gifts and life experiences of others.

Meanwhile, I’m ever so grateful to those who have assisted me so far in my journey.  There is so much that I treasure and hold dear.

Bouquet retirement party
Bouquet given at my reception. Photo J. Stanton, 2015.

The Short View and the Long View

The other day I had a conversation with a friend about how we see the events and circumstances of our lives.  She talked about the “short view” versus the “long view.”  She stated, “Sometimes if we can’t change the big picture [the long view], we focus on the little things [the short view].”  And this can be problematic.

Throughout the day I kept thinking about our conversation.  And whenever I respond to something with surprising interest, I believe there must be a reason for it.  Maybe I need to learn something. Or be aware of something.  Or reframe something. So the next morning I settled into a comfortable chair with my journal, opened it to a blank page, and began to write, asking myself: What does “short view” and “long view” mean to me?  Here’s my summary:

The short view, I wrote, can cause us to get “tripped up” by unexpected and unwelcome setbacks in our journey.  These “bumps in the road” could be logistical, like an unexpected expense, or emotional, like a hurtful, discouraging remark.  These events can drain our energy, diminish our self-confidence, and cause us to lose sight of the hopes, dreams, goals and possibilities of the long view.  As its name suggests, the short view is short-sighted.

This does not mean, however, that I should ignore or repress my memories and feelings about a short-view setback.  I’ve learned that every moment is a teaching moment, and I can learn from the most unexpected places at the most unexpected times.  But when the short view begins to look like the long view itself, I know my vision needs correction.

The long view. Columbia, MD.
Photo JStanton

The evening following our conversation, I had this dream:

I was running in a marathon.  (I do run distances but not marathons, at least not yet!)  About half-way through the race, I got a little lost.  I had approached some turns but I wasn’t sure which turn would keep me on the marathon course.  There were no signs telling me which way to go, and there were no other runners around to give me direction. (I’m sure they were all ahead of me—something I can truly believe!)  Finally, I asked the volunteers stationed along the way where I should turn. They tried to help me, but several turns later only resulted in short streets (the short view?).  I never found the extended, stretched-out course of the marathon (the long view?) that I needed to be on.   

So there you have it.  A dream as a teaching moment.  Perhaps I’d find it worthwhile to ask myself: Where am I too focused on the short view?  And what is the long view I need to be on at this time of my life?  Whatever I learn and discover, I’m sure it will be an adventure.  I look forward to it.

Remembering Elizabeth Cady Stanton

 

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 11/12/1815-10/26/1902
Photo: Wikipedia

A nineteenth-century father, whose young son had just died, sat grieving in a darkened parlor.   Seeking to comfort him, his eleven-year-old daughter sat on his lap, her head resting against his chest.  With his arm around her, this father took in a deep breath and said, “Oh, my daughter, I wish you were a boy.”

Searing emotional pain rushed through the young girl.  Still in her formative years and deeply devoted to her father, she wondered: Why would my father say these hurtful words to me?  Why do I not measure up to my brother?  Though unable to answer her questions, she was eager to fill the emptiness of grief in her father’s breast.  “I will try to be all my brother was,” she uttered.  And so she did.

She achieved honors in Greek.   She learned to ride horseback.  She carried out her promise to be all her brother was, but she never heard from her father the words she longed to hear:  “a girl is as good as a boy.”   The tears she hid from him contained the hurt and confusion she felt. 

This little girl was Elizabeth Cady, who later became Elizabeth Cady Stanton.  The impact of her father’s words, though painful, helped serve as the passion and drive for the life she lived and the work she pursued. 

Stanton grew to be a gifted writer and orator.  Along with her close friend and colleague,

Stanton with close friend Susan B. Anthony
Photo: Wikipedia

Susan B. Anthony, Stanton worked tirelessly to challenge the culture that oppressed the voices of women.  She kept busy traveling, writing, and giving speeches on behalf of women’s rights, especially the right to vote.   One of her first accomplishments, done in collaboration with four other young women, was to organize the first women’s rights convention, held in Seneca, New York, on July 19-20, 1848.

In this month of Stanton’s birth, I remember her with admiration for her outspokenness, determination, perseverance, and courage to work passionately for what she deeply believed in.   

I must do the same.

“If we consider [a woman] as a citizen, as a member of a great nation, she must have the same rights as all other members, according to the fundamental principles of our government”   –Elizabeth Cady Stanton

 

Pursuing our Dreams

Recently I read a short essay by Joan Chittister, OSB, from her book,  “Aspects of the Heart: The Many Paths to A Good Life.” In this essay, Chittister talks about dreams. Not night time dreams but those goals, desires, hopes, ambitions, and aspirations we hold for ourselves, our children, our grandchildren.

Chittister states, “The kinds of dreams we have determine the quality of our lives.  The problem is not that we don’t dream.  The problem is that we seldom dream high enough.”

Her words made me pause.  Perhaps we resist dreaming high enough because pursuing dreams involves some risk-taking.  Yet what would a risk-free, dreamless life look like?

When we dream, it seems, we embrace a piece of our identity that’s waiting to be realized, waiting to be lived.   Perhaps this dream, this quiet beckoning, is a distinctive piece of our vocation, a portion that could not have been sought or realized at any other time in our lives.  Like the butterfly in the cocoon, we are now ready to experience something new and free, to spread our wings, to soar into something unfamiliar yet trustworthy.

Could this pursuit of our dreams be likened to the ancient tradition of pilgrimage, where even failures and hardships are welcomed as fundamental and integral to the path itself?

And might the difficulties of this quest lead to a journey imbued with the treasures of a meaningful life, riches that we would not trade for the world?

In fact, might even snags and hitches along this dream-pursuing path work to our benefit as we become more acquainted with a deeper aspect of ourselves, where the blessings of meaning, possibility, and fulfillment loom in ways that could not have been imagined at any other time of our lives?

These are questions worth pondering, I suspect.

How do you respond to the voice of your dreams?

As Labor Day Approaches: Honoring Our Work

Labor Day is fast approaching, a day that symbolizes the end of summer and the beginning of a new school or work year. Picnics, family gatherings, and an extended weekend are welcome as we stand on the threshold of a new school year, job, or other personal new beginnings, propelling us forward into new changes and challenges.

Labor Day is also an opportunity to reflect on our work. Whether paid or unpaid, our work plays a prominent part in our lives, and it is well worth the time and effort to observe this day meaningfully, to not let it slip by without reflecting on work’s significance, nature, and role. A few thoughts:

Work makes the worker more human and the world more just. When we carry our load, we grow as persons while contributing to the world as well. Work provides its own ascetism, with all its drudgery, irritations and disciplines. Even the fourth-century monastic Desert Mothers and Fathers braided baskets, not only to support themselves and to give to others, but to provide their days with the rigor that strengthened their spiritual disciplines.

Work is co-creative. Because the world is unfinished, work enables creation to go on creating. Keeping an attractive, ordered and clean home, planting a garden, writing a letter to representatives about hunger concerns, driving a van for the elderly who could not otherwise get out, providing affordable child care, and supporting those who suffer from lack of work are all ways that we build up creation.

Work gives us a vision. When we work, we become participants in hope. More than a means to fill our days or earn money, work enables us to become part of a possibility, while at the same time, discovering gifts and talents we may not have known we had.

Work builds community. We never work for our good only. Work is our gift to the world that links us to our neighbor.

Work has creative, hopeful, and connecting qualities that assist our growing into the fullness of being human.

Happy Labor Day!

Life on the Other Side of the Fence

The Buckeye Tree

Few activities excited me more when I was ten years old than biking with my friend to “the convent” on Heading Avenue.  A big, grassy yard and a tall, chain link fence (presumably designed to keep “outsiders” like me out), surrounded the brown brick building.  I did not understand the life of those who lived within the convent’s fortressed walls; I only knew that sisters religious lived within, and to my young eyes, their life appeared pale and unmercifully boring. 

 No matter.  The only reason my friend and I visited the convent was to gather buckeyes.  Buckeye trees, planted along the inner perimeter of the fence, dropped their shiny, brown nuts along the outer perimeter of the fence, where my friend and I parked our bikes and started our fervent hunt.

 A plethora of buckeyes spread themselves across the ground like shiny, copper pennies.  Equipped with a brown paper bag, we gathered our treasured coins and greedily stuffed them into our sack.   I adored each one’s uniqueness.   

Some were perfectly round; others less spherical, even distorted, though none the less beautiful.  I loved their radiant shine, and if any lacked the brilliance I thought they deserved, I took a soft cloth and buffed them to a glossy finish.  Each one was my prized possession.

Yet while I focused on these precious jewels, another awareness hung in my consciousness.   I was mindful of the convent, looming in the background.  I felt awed but ambivalent by its presence.  I dared not get too near. 

One day, I saw a nun in her long, flowing habit, standing on the other side of the fence.  She saw me gathering buckeyes, and when I looked her direction, she glared at me.  I dropped my eyes and squirmed with guilt and shame.   Maybe I shouldn’t be having so much fun, I thought!  Oh well.  No way she could get me.  I was on the other side of the fence, and to my child’s mind, on the other side of life.

Why did I venture so eagerly to the convent?  Was it the buckeyes and their shiny gloss?   Their unique individuality?  Their hard, solid touch?  I don’t know, but I kept returning, and I never tired of returning.  I was fascinated.  I was drawn.

Perhaps it wasn’t the buckeyes at all.  Perhaps I was not drawn to buckeyes but to the place where I collected buckeyes.   Though the convent was an enigma to me, and the sisters frightened me, I still kept coming.

Perhaps I liked being mischievous.  Perhaps I enjoyed pushing boundaries.  Perhaps I relished playing the rebel.  Or, perhaps I was simply responding to an inner, relentless desire to learn more about life’s Mystery that I perceived on the other side of the fence.  Perhaps.  

The Happiness Factor

Recently I watched a TED talk called “The Happy Secret to Better Work,” given by Shawn Achor, CEO of Good Think, Inc., a Cambridge-based consulting firm and author of The Happiness Advantage (Crown Business, 2010) .  I haven’t read his book, but I enjoyed his talk.

TED (the acronym for Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a private nonprofit organization known for its conferences on “ideas worth spreading” in the fields of education, technology, religion, healthcare, psychology, business, medicine, the arts, and science. 

Mr. Achor challenges the popularly held belief that achieving our work goals will make us happy.  In other words, our conviction that we will achieve happiness only when we get that job, make that sales target, or attain that promotion is not only mistaken but “scientifically broken.”  In fact, he states:

Our brains work in the opposite order.  If you can raise somebody’s level of positivity in the present, then their brain experiences what we now call a happiness advantage, which is your brain at positive performs significantly better than it does at negative, neutral or stressed.  Your intelligence rises, your creativity rises, your energy levels rise.

I believe it.  I’ve experienced this myself.  When I feel supported, encouraged, and connected to others, my energy level does indeed rise and my productivity and creativity increase.  The barriers that I previously experienced, whether real or imagined, disappear and I feel capable of not only reaching my goals but doing so easily, effectively, efficiently.  Happiness first; success second. 

So how do we learn and incorporate “positivity” into our lives?  Is it achievable?  Mr. Achor insists that it is indeed attainable, and we can experience the “happiness advantage” by training our brains like we train our bodies–and we can do so in just two-minutes a day for twenty-one consecutive days.  He says:

In every single company that I’ve worked with, getting them to write down three new things that they’re grateful for for twenty-one days in a row…and at the end of that, their brain starts to retain a pattern of scanning the world, not for the negative, but for the positive first.

Other recommended practices to rewire the brain toward happiness include:

  • Journal about one positive experience every twenty-fours–causes the brain to relive this positive experience.
  • Exercise–demonstrates that our behavior matters.
  • Meditate—helps increase focus in a multi-task world.
  • Perform random acts of kindness–perhaps send a compliment to someone’s email inbox.

As I think about Mr. Achor’s scientific work, I begin to see that I share in some personal responsibility to care for myself in order to contribute something positive to the lives of others.  When I feel energetic, I share that energy with others.  When I am focused, I listen more attentively to others.  When I perform random acts of kindness, I contribute something positive to someone’s day, and a “rippling effect” of such practice begins to happen.  Mr Achor states:

We can reverse the formula for happiness and success, and in doing so, not only create ripples of positivity, but create a real revolution.

What an exciting thought!