Posts Tagged ‘perfectionism’

Lately I’ve been getting slammed more than usual by this disease.  I’m fairly sure there’s no pain in my eyelashes 😉 but the level of pain, exhaustion, immune system uproar, migraine attacks and other neurological nasties have left me breathless – oh, wait, that’s the asthma kicking in.


I’d say I don’t mean to complain, but I suppose that’s not entirely true, I’m SICK of this!


Whew, that felt good and yes, I see the pun 🙂


I’ve smiled my way through several important events that brought me great joy even as I knew I was getting much worse.  Balance, it always comes back to that.  Now it is time to begin to tip the scale back to where I do best – living each moment in quiet spontaneity.   Healthy or not, it only makes sense; we are not promised a next moment and, while reflection on the past can be fruitful, moments in the past are gone – we have only this moment.


Okay, I’ll admit, that even at the least demanding of times, it’s not completely possible to be without thought of the next moment, the chore that can’t wait any longer, the appointment that must be made and kept, the commitment to my spirituality that strengthens me in every way, but the more I can build that quiet spontaneity into my life, the better I do.  Yes, it takes a conscious effort to choose – to build – that peaceful place, to recognize an opportunity; even the busiest lives have them.


Yesterday was one of those precious spontaneous days. 


My husband asked me what I was going to do with my day.  I smiled and recited one of our family jokes, “I don’t make plans that far in advance.”  I asked him what he was going to do and he said he might cut the grass.  Now, the last time he cut the grass I’d compromised but this time I knew I desperately needed the quiet and that lawnmower makes me feel driven as I try to escape the noise and the allergens.  We have a small parcel of land here, so cutting the grass takes several hours on a riding mower.


So, I did the unthinkable; I asked for what I desperately needed.


Luckily, my always-has-to-be-busy husband is also very good to me so he agreed to find something else to do and joked about someone calling the Grass Police.  (We live in a semi-rural area, I’m not sure anyone would do anything about it if we let the whole place go wild.)  So I looked forward to my quiet and a day with absolutely no obligation other than the times of prayer in which I find peace and solace. (See the Divine Office link to the right of this page if curious.)


After a morning spent “going slow” as I think of it, I was finally dressed and ready to spend some time on the screened-in porch.  I set my favorite pillow on the lounge chair and stretched out; I read for a time, I listened to the birds and thought about what I’d read.   Just being able to do that – retain what I’d read long enough to think about it – was huge!


When 3pm came, I went upstairs to pray Midafternoon Prayer as is my custom, and came back to the lounge chair.  Then the weeds began to call.


They did.  Honest!


Several years ago, my husband built a two-tiered flowerbed just outside the screened porch.  Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can contain the growth of mint if you plant it inside a pot in your garden!  I think I’ll be pulling it out for the rest of my life and much as I like mint, well, email me if you ever need some 😉 


So, the mint and friends were calling and I, in that moment, felt I could clear a little section.  With my cane for balance and my trusty trowel, out I went.  After a couple of minutes, the lessons began to form.


I set my sights on clearing every weed from the midst of an Autumn Joy sedum that has gotten quite full and lovely.  Just that spot, I thought, let me get that one spot completely cleared.  I began with a few inches leading up to the sedum when the first lesson came.


My husband and I had done this already earlier this spring.


What we had not done was put something in the place of the weeds.  Pull something unwanted out, the careful gardener puts in something that is wanted – lest the weeds grow back.  Clear a space within myself, something better needs to take its place lest I end up back where I began or worse, grow an even bigger crop of weeds.


I moved forward, still determined to perfect that one little area.   I began to work on my lovely plant, carefully separating the sedum stalks to follow the weed to the roots when the second lesson came.


No matter how carefully I pull out the roots, I can never get every last little strand; the weed will grow back eventually without vigilance.  What progress I make must be carefully watched and nurtured.


I moved to the other side of the plant, having cleared the front and looked back.  Wait just a minute!  I just cleared that!  I’d swear there wasn’t a single weed left in the front half when I moved to the back!  But there they were, waving merrily in the wind, weeds I hadn’t seen though I’d thought I looked so carefully.  I’d felt pretty proud of myself for my thoroughness and yet I completely overlooked these taunting flags!  Therein lay the third lesson of the weeds. 


The weeds in me require my vigilance, my effort, my patience, and my perseverance but I will never clear my garden of weeds.  There is only one Gardener who is able to see and completely root out each weed and it isn’t me! 





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I’ve had snippets of this post brewing in the back of my mind since last fall.  Did I ever admit to procrastination?

It wasn’t until today, after having taken part of the banister off the wall yesterday in an attempt to control a fall during a period of blacking out (POTS – a kind of orthostatic intolerance, and a partial branch bundle block along with other non-life-threatening electrical glitches) that I saw how to better (I hope) write on this topic.

I again caution:  If you are newly diagnosed or if you do not have symptoms mentioned here, please do not assume you’re going to end up like me!  There is every reason for anyone reading this to hope for improvement!

Now, preface over (I can just hear the sighs of relief), onto the topic.

My husband and I often share grins over the behavior of our cat; especially when he’s acting the mighty lion over something silly.  Sometimes, though, it’s not so silly.  He’s an indoor cat but has access to our back porch where, three times now, he has managed to kill a vole seeking shelter when the weather turns to winter.  He’s thrown himself at screens wanting to get at birds.  My husband and I turn to each other, seeing our fuzzy companion as the skilled predator he was designed to be, and say “We can’t blame him for being what he is.”

Living in this semi-rural area, we are able to keep chickens.  They provide us with fresh eggs, much amusement and will eat out of our hands.  They are also capable of killing a newcomer to their roost.  “We can’t blame them for being what they are.”

(The fish mentioned in the title aren’t forgotten, they’re just waiting their turn.)

So, how does this extend to me? I cannot blame myself for being human. I cannot blame myself for being ill.  In those respects, I cannot blame myself for being what I am.  I can, however, think hard and make efforts to do better; yesterday and the days which preceded it have proved to me that I have much work to do in meeting that responsibility.  It took a literal falling down on the job to make me see that I’d been figuratively falling down on the job for several weeks – just when I’d thought I was worthy of superhero status.

We’ve had a home repair job going on here for several weeks.  It became one of those odysseys that begin with one minor repair revealing a bigger problem revealing a larger one yet.  That little ten minute repair revealed a need to dismantle and rebuild our bathroom.   Remembering our youthful days of working side by side taking on any job that needed doing, knowing how well we work together and how expensive it would be to hire someone, my husband and I agreed that we could do the work ourselves.

Wait, don’t laugh quite yet, here’s the biggest “DUH!” moment of all – I shopped for materials with him while sitting in my wheelchair!  “Yes, Dear, I will help all I can” said the woman who couldn’t even stand up and walk through the store.  Reality check on aisle 9, please!

I know, I know, 21 years with this disease…one would think I’d have more sense!  It’s a good thing I never said I was perfect.  Well, I never said it out loud, anyway.

By my actions over the last two weeks, I was saying it, though.  Though my husband actually did need my help sometimes, I began to feel as though nothing could be done without me in the middle of it.  Somehow, with me there, the result would be better.  Since I couldn’t stand, I worked on the floor, since I couldn’t stay on my knees, I sat, when I couldn’t sit, I lay on my side to set tiles or mush in grout (“mush” being a technical grouting term.)  When an intricate piece of tile setting was called for, I completed it even though dizzy and nauseated. I resolved that I was done for good with what I could do on the project.  I knew I was so deeply down the well that I’d be lucky to see daylight again.

The next day, yesterday, I deliberately put on a nightgown after showering to add insurance that I’d do what I knew I must – rest and stay out of things.  I announced my intent.  I had my husband’s understanding.   But there was just one more thing that only I could make better – yep, you read it right, complete arrogance there and could not leave well-enough alone; a lesson I should have learned decades ago since I’ve wrestled with it all my life.  So, I decided I could do just that one thing and began to work on it, nightgown and all.  Then it happened, “I’m going out” I remember saying and stumbling with jigsaw vision out of the bathroom to the hall (another poor choice, the top of the stairs are right there.)  Having dealt with this kind of thing many times alone, I knew I had to control the fall and as my legs went, I grabbed the banister and managed to end up safely on the hall floor.

The details of the project are endless; in fact, as I type this my husband is painting over the patchwork we had to do and preparing to reinstall towel bars.  The difference today is I am resting and reflecting on being what I am; a woman in her 50’s who has been seriously ill for 21 years and a monastic soul who has a long way to go.  A woman who remembers what it was like to be physically strong, but who has lived long enough to know there are far more important things than the physical.  A woman who has been especially foolish lately and made herself so sick she can’t make any choices at all except to share her foolishness in the hope of helping others be wiser than she.

Oh, and that one little thing that only I could do?  I messed it up and my husband had even more work today to correct what I’d done in arrogant stubbornness.

Wait, I forgot the fish you say?  Well, perhaps you didn’t say but I have a little more typing in me before I go.   In the place where I spend most of my time, I have the blessing of an aquarium where five beautiful fantail goldfish reside.  I can see them now, contained in an unchanging place, sometimes coming together to touch, sometimes swimming or drifting alone.  Food appears and they seem joyful.  Food eaten, peacefulness returns.  They never seek to be somewhere or something they cannot be.  There is no discontent, no unrest.  In that quiet blue place there is only –


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It’s been quite an August! One which feels like it surely has been at least 90 days, not a mere 16.

I’ve had a good deal of reason in these 16 days to think about choices.  Currently, I’m paying a big physical price for some of my choices and have been on an emotional rollercoaster about others.  No more.  A simple quote changed all that turmoil yesterday, just when I was a broken-down tearful mess.  But, I’ll get to that – you know I never make this easy on the reader by revealing all right away!

Now, onto just some of the choices:

Early in the month, a loved-one was disappointed when I couldn’t dog-sit.  It’s a very nice little dog, I like her very much, and until I became too ill to give a dog what it needs, I’ve always had a dog. I miss having a dog! But, there was that key phrase “I became too ill to give a dog what it needs.”  In addition, my husband needed to be out of town for two days – yet another August choice and challenge that I’ll explain next – which meant the care of the dog would fall completely to me during that time.

I’d asked that the loved-one bring the dog over ahead of time to see if it got along with our cat. When we brought our cat home from a shelter in 2008, we’d accepted the paperwork which said he needs to be the only pet.  That was actually a plus since I was having trouble accepting that I couldn’t have a dog anymore; this way, I’d be prohibited from ignoring my own truth.  (Yes, I am an undisciplined person who frequently requires reality checks.)

Well, to make a long story short(er), there was a very good reason for the shelter to write down that the cat needs to be the only pet.  I could hardly bear to see our normally fearless cat in such utter terror for even the duration of that visit, let alone subject him to it for a week.  My loved-one was very disappointed and had to scramble to find someone else to take the dog for the week that they’d be on vacation.

I wanted very badly to be normal – to do this thing I was asked for someone I love so much.  I take disappointing people I love very, very hard.  I think most of us with chronic illnesses find that to be one of the hardest things with which to cope.


My husband was heading out of town to a wedding I had to choose not to attend.  Our nephew, my godson, in fact, whom I dearly love, was having his celebration about four hours from here.  My husband and I both knew that going would be a really bad choice for me.  We knew, in fact, that there really wasn’t a choice.  I can’t think of anything that I can do for four hours straight – not even sleep soundly – and that was just the first leg of the trip.  If the celebration had been right next door, I don’t know how I’d have managed it (the noise, the socializing, the sitting-up), but four hours away?  From my point of view, that’s about par with it being on the moon.

My husband booked a room in the hotel where the reception was held, but for me, that still doesn’t help much.  I don’t know about others, but I’m lucky if I can get some sleep in my own bed, much less a strange one.  No matter how tired I am, I never seem to be able to sleep (barring general anesthetic!) anywhere but home.  Now, before anyone suggests getting a sleeping pill for the night, let me say that sleeping pills and myoclonus, sleeping pills and any part of this disease, do not mix for me – at all.  It’s a really, really bad idea in my case and doesn’t even produce sleep.

It’s hard for people to understand how just sitting in a car can become an exercise in enduring torture. It’s hard for me to understand.  The usual response is along the lines of “You can put the seat back. We’ll stop as often as you need. You can rest all night in the hotel before you have to go back…”  Sound familiar?  I can’t blame others for having a hard time understanding what I can’t understand myself.

There’s pain, oh boy is there pain! There’s also a concerted effort by my immune system to go insane creating swollen, painful lymph nodes, those awful sores and other goodies.  Did you know that when the immune system goes into overdrive it’s making fevers and chemicals that, though miraculously designed to target invaders, also make us feel really sick? And the neurological glitches – over the top!  When asked if I need a restroom stop, I don’t know the answer because the nerve signals get messed up; so, I deliberately avoid fluids, skip my kidney medication, and hope I’ve gambled right or we’d never get there.

Then, of course, there is the price to be paid afterward – a price my husband pays, too.  Each time I’ve pushed myself to endure when I know it’s the wrong choice for my body; the disease has taken a more damaging hold.  So, my husband and I knew there really wasn’t a choice, though I felt I’d still made a very painful one – to leave myself out, again.

Since that weekend, the choices just kept on coming.  One of the monks at the monastery with which I am affiliated passed from this life, and in my heart, those men are my brothers – I needed to go there for a little while.  The emotional price of not going would be higher than the physical price if I went. With my husband’s help I was there for an hour.

Again with my husband’s help, I chose, 48 hours later, to push myself to keep my commitment to two hours a month of volunteer art instruction at a local gallery.   I chose to push some more to visit a sick friend afterward.

I chose to push to try to help someone who is thinking of suicide.  I may never know if I made any difference but not trying was unthinkable to me.

Yesterday, I chose to do what I knew was right, listen to my husband’s advice and let him deliver a grandson’s birthday present without me.

Yesterday, I chose to push in an effort to help my brother who is mentally ill and who depends upon me – a very upsetting situation had arisen.

And then I began to fall apart.


I mopped at my tears and painfully, slowly made my way out to the mailbox and back.  I sat down at the dining room table with the mail and lost it…just lost it…


Too much upset, too little care for my health, too much skewed perspective… Wait – what?

Yes, though it took something that came in the mail to put it all together that way.  A little booklet I thought I’d seen before – but which, if I had, I’d never really seen before – with a quote front and center on the first page.

“Pray, Hope and Don’t Worry.” Padre Pio


I dried my tears (again) and read it twice.  I began to see clearly that I had, indeed, done all that I could do in each choice I’d made. I’d made no decisions without prayer, thought, and counsel. I’d achieved the best balance I was capable of between what others needed and what I needed.  I’d put resources into the hands of those who needed them and I’d put the situation with my brother into the hands of his expert team (for whom I thank God!)  What I hadn’t done was balance it with what I now see to be truth.

It is time to begin again to look after my peace, my health.  It is time to surrender.  Not to give up, but to accept that after I have done what is in my limited power to do, it is time to surrender the outcome. 


Peace is mine again.


May it also be yours.



For those who pray, please pray
for the eternal rest of Father Daniel Homan, OSB and the needs of the community
of St. Benedict Monastery.

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Though I don’t get out much, since my last post I’ve had a number of occasions to ask myself the title question – by whose scale shall I weigh my value?  By whose measure shall I live?  I think it’s an issue that everyone deals with, and in living with invisible chronic illness I have found it to be something that crops up with sometimes distressing intensity.

Sometimes I feel as though I am coming apart in twenty different directions as I struggle with internal turmoil over the expectations of others, my intense desire for understanding, my own ideas of how I should be living, and how I know I live best with the very real demands of this disease.  Weighing obligations against consequences, trying to figure out what my obligations to others truly are, oh how stressful! 

Stressful – that word alone is a clue.  When I take time to be silent – to turn off the TV, the radio, the MP3, the world, rest when I need to, open myself to awareness of God, do what tasks I can that do not bring on the clamoring whirlwind – then I feel peace inside.  Maybe that’s all the answer I need – to be tuned into the feeling of being in peaceful balance.  If I am feeling stress, something is not in balance; the scale is skewed instead of floating evenly.

Do you ever compare yourself to others in terms of what they can do, are doing, and what you can’t? I have those times and they are anything but balanced and peaceful.  Sometimes they come just from watching TV or reading a newspaper or a book – real or fictional characters and lives lived with obvious contributions to the world really get to me.  Sometimes I have to limit my contact with those who are out in the world.  Sometimes my inner torture is much more personal, my children’s in-laws so involved with their lives while I exist in some nebulous otherness, the knowledge that my husband deserves far more of a partner than I am, the wish for friendships I’ve no strength to nurture or the big, involved, extended families of others.

Recently, Br. Jerome Leo (see link section for Holy Rule daily meditation) reflected upon a much-loved mentor who said to him that there will always be people who do more than we do and people who do less.  Such a simple statement – such a balanced outlook.  It’s a simple fact, some do more, some do less, let’s go forward, no need to agonize over a simple fact… Wouldn’t that be wonderful?  To arrive in that place where I might no longer hurl myself against what my heart knows is true and right – in this instance, that I must take care of myself as well as I would take care of others in the same position.

I love how St. Benedict wrote for the least of us, how he over and over refers to the weak as well as the strong and insists upon consideration and balance – and he does it with absolutely no judgement.  As though he is saying,  “Some need more, some need less, that’s just how it is in this life, go forward with that in mind just never give up trying to be the best person you can be – wherever you fall in that range.”

Needing more, needing less – no condemnation because that would be as silly as saying that blue is superior to green, apples to oranges – they are what they are and each has beauty and value.

So, am I at that place where I no longer anguish over balancing myself on the scales of others?  No, I can’t say that I’m there yet, but I have come to a place of increasing honesty about my health versus what is asked of me.  I am increasingly okay with saying “In my desire to avoid talking too much about the disease I have, I am sometimes guilty of  not explaining enough to help others understand.  I am not going to be able to _______ because I _______” (am too ill to plan that far ahead, won’t be able to handle being upright that long, am likely take so long to recover strength that I won’t be able to…  some general phrasings I use, also letting them know how much I wish it were otherwise!)

One difference between people who are chronically ill and people who are healthy is that when the healthy people extend themselves to do something, they don’t have to give up everything else in their lives in order to do it.  Unfortunately, many of us do and that can be a very poor balance with consequences beyond ourselves.

 My failure lies not in being ill, but in failing to have the courage to weigh my decisions on my own scale, help others understand with a simple but honest explanation, and then letting it go.


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Quite awhile ago, I published a post about how I handle “The Dreaded ‘How are you?’ “  Now, I find, in a new time of my life, that I have to re-think it.

The old post still has merit, but no longer does it work in my life with my spouse.  Sometimes I need to be clunked over the head with the obvious; thankfully I figured this out in time to have a quiet discussion with my husband rather than a lump on my head 😉

I’ve been dealing with this disease for a long time.  Long enough to have passed through a number of phases of life: raising kids who were adolescents when it began, seeing my kids become adults, marry, begin their families…

In those phases are also phases of my relationship with my husband.  He worked very hard and brought work home every evening.  Dinner times, weekends, and vacation times were, while the kids were home, time for family.   During all that, we also made time to remember we were a couple before we were parents, fancy dinners made in our own kitchen after the kids were asleep…you get the idea.   Now he is enjoying a well-deserved retirement – which makes me very happy and which is teaching me new things about community.

And during all of those phases, I have been sick.  Dreadfully sick with this disease.  Legally disabled though I kept fighting to be able to lose that label.  I also fought to minimize the impact on my family.  Putting makeup on just before they were due home, countless things they’ll never know.  Among those things are some that are just part of who I am.  Today I learned that though they were effective for over 50 years of my life, they are not always effective anymore in my relationship with my husband.

So, what’s the big revelation, you ask?  Okay, maybe you didn’t ask but since I have control of this keyboard, I’m going to tell you anyhow – trust me, I’m getting to it. 

I’ve always been a person who just handled it.  It being whatever came along.  When I got sick, it was the same, I handled it.  Afterall, nobody was home, they were at school or work.  If I sat on the floor of the shower in order not to fall down in it, I waited until I could get myself back over the side and lie on the floor where I waited until I could sit up; where I waited until I could get a robe on, where I waited until I could stand up, where I waited until I could stumble back to the bedroom.

Because I couldn’t stand up long enough to fix something to eat, I grabbed quickly at what I could – a chunk of bread, a banana – and stumbled back to my couch or bed until I could manage to eat it.  I often drank from the bathroom taps, they were closer than kitchen.

Eventually, I planned ahead, keeping emergency medicine and a few other helpful things in my nightstand.  Years passed and a friend I finally confided in talked me into getting a shower chair – which meant admitting to my family that I needed one – not easy but a big help and something I’d not even thought of – being one who just handled it.

During all those years, I dodged, quite artfully I will say, the polite question “How are you?”  I dodged it because I didn’t want to burden my husband with a laundry list after he’d had a long day himself.  I dodged it because it was awkward; I didn’t want to lie and didn’t know how to tell the truth.  I dodged it because I didn’t want to become the person people avoid.  I dodged it because it didn’t occur to me that anyone would even want a real answer.  I dodged it because I am that person who just handles it.

Looking back, I’ve just handled some amazing things in my life.  Not the least of them 20+ years of a poorly understood, life-altering disease that can garner eye rolls just by naming it.

So we have 20+ years of me saying as little as I can about what happens to me on a daily basis.   Today I figured out it is no longer a service to my husband, now that he’s retired.  There’s that new phase, he’s retired now, he’s here, he sees me with this disease like never before and I’ve been presuming I know best how to help him live with it, too.

 Here’s what it took for me to arrive at that little well-clunk-me-over-the-head-and-call-me-goofy moment.

It was late last evening, we’d been watching TV in bed where I’d been for many hours as I was unable to sit up and was having signs of neuro stuff breaking through (auras, myoclonus.) It was time to begin the ritual of teeth-cleaning and pill-taking before turning out the light. (Ever notice how much longer it takes to get ready for bed when you’re over a certain age?  Sheesh!)  I got up and was walking toward the bedroom door when my husband said something.  When I turned my head, the room spun and I could no longer see.  It’s happened before – countless times  – and as always, I handled it. 

I continued to make replies to what he said, I knew where the door was though I could not see it, got through it and nearly went down the staircase the hard way as my balance was suddenly gone.  Adjusting for the lurch to the right, I crashed into the bathroom doorframe on the left.  I found the light switch and got jumpy, sporadic visual confirmation of where things were.  A controlled fall  let me use the facilities and after I thought I could avoid crashing into anything else, I stood at the sink waiting for the visual to catch up.  I handled it. 

I got my nighttime pills and could see better so I headed out of the room, only whapping myself twice as the balance issue leveled out.  Getting back into bed, I turned out my lamp still not seeing quite right and still handling it.  Then the migraine pain hit – aha! that’s what had been coming.  And instead of telling my husband what had happened, what was happening, I settled in to continue handling it, turning away from him, saying nothing even when he got up and I was desperate for an ice pack and the emergency med he would have been happy to get for me.

This morning it finally occurred to me that he might have felt hurt that the woman who’d been chatting with him a short time earlier had gone silent and kept her back to him for reasons he couldn’t fathom.  So, I finally, belatedly, did the obvious,  I talked to him about it!

And now we come to the moral of the story.  The further answer to “The Dreaded ‘How are you?’ “  A different approach to handling it.

I have learned today that my other ways of handling that question work for most folks in most situations.  But sometimes, sometimes it is the far kinder thing to ask the other, “How do you want me to handle it?”



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Yep, I know, it looks like I’ve truly gone off the tracks this time; a conspiracy involving people and a gerbil? Believe it or not, it appears to be true.

Over the past couple of weeks I seem to have been the recipient of lessons – again. Being probably particularly thick-headed, it has taken me awhile to catch on and today, it took a gerbil to put things together for me. I suppose that means I shouldn’t feel superior to the little gerbil-brain – sigh – yet another lesson in humility there. But now, onto the conspiracy…

Last week, after what is probably more than a year and with my husband’s help, I was able to visit very dear friends who live about 10 miles away. It was an absolutely wonderful visit for both my husband and me. We have shared interests, we love one another, and they are a delightful couple who exhibit marvelous values. Never have we felt so welcome anywhere as we do in their home! They are completely free of the Perfectionism Plague (a dread disease I wrote about in December ’10) and in their 80’s, show all who care to see where the joy of life truly lies – in loving, in serving, in creativity, in appreciation for countless blessings of life and togetherness, whether a glass of wine, watching a tape of a much-loved opera together, or filling the birdfeeders and watching for visitors. Chores have little place in life for them now, living to impress others is given no room in their home; they’ve distilled their days into the essence of what matters – loving each other and all who cross their paths. Never have I met anyone who exceeded them in the wisdom of what matters about daily living!

I thought I got it that day, I really did. My husband and I eagerly discussed all the ways our friends have “gotten it right” on our way home. Apparently though, what I thought I understood was not enough to cover all the fragments of the lesson being offered because they were only the first members of the conspiracy 😉

Enter the second set of players; neighbors at an earlier point in life, raising children, working, being supportive spouses. The neighbor called one day from another city and asked for help which involved my husband having to enter their home. We’ve never been invited inside their home and it used to bother me a little, though I would shrug it off. When my husband came back, he said that he thought all was okay with the house but he had a hard time checking because a lot of stuff was piled around.

“Aha,” thought I, “maybe I’ve not been invited in because of that.” Then I got to thinking that I might have presented myself and our home as part of the Perfectionism Plague and made the neighbor uncomfortable. So, I pondered on several occasions and conversations and felt bad wondering if I’d given them reason to think I’d judge their housekeeping. Well, clunk me over the head – what arrogance in those thoughts! Yes, arrogance!

It hit me when I saw the neighbor driving home from work that they were busy living! Taking active and important parts in the activities of their children, supporting their material needs and the stability of their home-life by working hard in a tough economy, no matter the job, troubling to care for their obviously loved pets – all far more important than caring what someone may or may not think of how they choose to live! Though it was not a bad thing to think about any ways in which I might have made them uncomfortable, the idea that any of their choices would have anything to do with me was ridiculously arrogant. They’re living fully and well, not fussing about what is transient and doesn’t matter!

Like the couple in their 80’s. Okay, surely I “get it” now, right? Well, it seems to me someone upstairs must have been shaking their head and saying “Nope, not yet you don’t. Let me illustrate further.” (Okay, I have a fanciful imagination but it serves me well sometimes.)

This morning I was checking on my little gerbil friend. I know, a grandma who keeps a gerbil, well, call me strange but I like the little critter. Each morning I check to see what he needs and provide him with a little busy-work. Sometimes it’s a newspaper crumpled into his tomato-sauce can, sometimes it’s a cardboard tube from a paper-towel or toilet-paper roll, sometimes a new stick to gnaw on. No matter what it is, he comes out from his nest of shredded everything-I’ve-given-him-to-tear-up-since-the-last-cage-cleaning and works furiously to shred the new item.

He tears and gnaws and shreds with frantic intent as though there may not be another minute to do it – it must be accomplished right now! Quick, quick, quick, hurry, fast, get it done! It always makes me grin but today it struck me that the little guy was part of the conspiracy to get the lesson completely into my thick head.

Now, before I reveal all, let me say that I am especially thick-headed because I know this lesson – I read it regularly in the Holy Rule of St. Benedict and even think often about how it applies to my life. So, there is all the more reason for me to be humbled that it took two sets of people in different eras of their lives and a GERBIL to drive it home.

It’s so obvious it makes me shake my head and smile.

I have only so much time. I must act on what truly matters while there is time. I must distill, figure out, filter, and live what truly matters, now.

Chronic illness will certainly distill one’s life to the essentials, but I am too often not aware of the benefits of that distillation. When will I live fully, if not now? As I type that and think about it, what is superfluous seems to make itself known and fall away. Pressure lessens. Anxiety calms.

Life becomes simple.

I like simple. I can do simple.


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For once, a very short post to share with you a line I read. 

That single line, along with the perspectives of many of you who read my previous post,  has put the period to what I struggled with in that experience.

  “…self-emptying and self-destruction are two different things!”

The wisdom in it comes not from me but from Brother Jerome Leo, O.S.B. who is kind enough to share a daily reflection on the Holy Rule of St. Benedict.


Balance – the middle way.  Again.


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