Sunday, October 13, 2019

Beauty and Joy

For a year and a half I have gimped around with a bum knee.  Life provided many reasons not to get it fixed.  Too busy, medical care dictated by insurance companies (a whole-other post), and good old fashioned stubbornness. It finally got to be too much pain and the surgeon I had been seeing announced that his last surgery would be performed at the end of September 2019.  Time to get off the dime and get the knee replaced.
The mental and physical preparation that took place involved a hefty amount of "recovery time will provide the opportunity to do all sorts of things I never get to" kind of thinking.  There were many things that would be great to do as I was "just sitting around."  Chief among them?  This journal, of course.  Surgery was three and a half weeks ago and here I am, making myself write.  It turns out that recovery really does take effort of the emotional, mental, and physical types.  I haven't just been sitting around with all sorts of time on my hands.  More importantly - you need inspiration to write - and for me, inspiration does not come in the form of pain, diminished independence, and virtual confinement to your family room. So, I thought it best to start with one of the old stories not yet told.  While reviewing inventory, I was reminded that I tend to be a whiny-baby when confronted with life experiences altering my lifestyle.  In thinking about past experiences, I realized that I had, indeed, witnessed a lot of beauty and joy - sitting here in recovery mode.  These somewhat connected examples of some of the many things that are right with my life all presented in the last week. So we will save old stories for another time and instead, celebrate October 2019.
The last entry I published here was about the best day ever as seen through the eyes of a five year old.  His proclamation came when he was preparing for a day of fun, with no responsibilities, on "the lake."  "The lake" for us is Keuka Lake in the Finger Lakes of New York state.  Keuka has been part of my life since I was 20ish and for me, Keuka will always live in my heart.  My actual time on Keuka comes in brief trips and vacation mainly in the summer months, although we now schedule day trips to experience the other seasons on Lady Keuka.  My dream of being a year-round lake inhabitant may never come to pass, but my heart melts, nerves calm, and breathing is deeper when even thinking about Keuka.
Keuka and the surrounding communities have been one of the best-kept secrets in the US.  It is always a double-edged sword when a writer for a travel column highlights Keuka life in a national publication.  I delighted in a "Coolest Small Town in America" ranking for Hammondsport, NY a couple of years ago, while silently screaming "no, no, no" in my head.  It is not uncommon for lake dwellers to be in love with Keuka with no desire to share with others.  The draw is physical and emotional , which is part of this entry.
In my times when a trip to Keuka is not a possibility, I experience Keuka through a Facebook page, literally titled "I Heart Keuka Lake."  There, people share their Keuka heaven through their own lenses.  Many of these folks live on the lake year-round and are generous in sharing the many faces of the lake.  With the change of seasons this week, it seemed as if the pictures posted each day were of different lakes.  But the beauty shared was always from Keuka and you know that as beautiful as each picture is - the reality of each shot was surely more breath-taking.

These are images from one week at the place where one little boy articulated his joy this summer.  The beauty and serenity experienced by the lucky few Keuka lovers continued to add to the beauty and joy in my life, even if I was observing from afar this week.  Each image elicits a response similar to experiencing the lake - a deep breath, peace, and the warmth of lake memories enriching my life for the past forty plus years.  I ♡ Keuka Lake.
Let's also stay with the five year old as further reminders of joy in life.  This "little" mind has an insatiable thirst for information and understanding.  He loves watching our traffic and fire incident app to determine why he might hear sirens. In this review, he must fully understand the map.  Yesterday, he asked about Lake Ontario.  Why so large?  Great lakes?  And finally, is this "our" lake?  So, we pull up a map of the Finger Lakes, explain how our lake is distinguishable by its Y shape.  We reviewed points of interest around the lake, and finally he asked me to show him where our cottage is located.  Later last night, more questions about the great lakes and the finger lakes.  
In his effort to fully understand just about everything, he asked to see my scar on my knee.  No wide-eyed response, but rather a studied approach to questions.  So they cut there, lay open the leg, take out old knee, give you metal knee and staple you?  His interest was met with one cursory glance from his seven year old sister who merely said, "Uh, yeah."  I'm with her.
One other conversation that made me laugh was with the second grader who declared when she is in fourth grade she will have her choice to either be safety patrol or a kindergarten helper at school.  There was absolutely no doubt, the only job for her is kindergarten helper.  I asked why not safety patrol?  Her answer? "Why would I want to stand around and say 'walk' all day?"  My next question - is kindergarten helper a better job?  "Yes, because that makes a difference."  Maybe she's ready now.
This is a very long-winded way to say - appreciate the important stuff around you everyday.  Appreciate the beauty and simple joys even if you are not currently enjoying your optimal life.  Beauty and joy is all-around us.  Message to myself - stop being the whiny baby, enjoy the simple stuff because that is the stuff that matters.  Thank you Jack, Keuka, and Emma!

Picture credits to members of FB page, I Heart Keuka Lake.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Best Day

It was still early morning when he stood in the middle of the room, at five years old, clenched his small fists close to his chest and declared, "This is the best day ever!"  He then spun out like a top and went on to fulfill his prophecy.  What makes a day "the best day ever?" 

For Jack, on this day, it was quite simple.  It was skipping stones, family and the most fun uncle, new places to explore, playing in the lake until your skin had a blue tint and the shaking of your limps on exit was almost seizure-like.  It was food, ice cream, and cookies.  It was running, swimming, and being free to just have fun. It was creating the dream of how you would one day swim across the lake.  It was being five.  It was simplicity.

While sitting back, admiring the simplicity of it - I had to wonder.  What was my best day ever?  I considered all of the big ones: graduation, wedding, birth of first child, birth of second child, a trip, summer days on the lake.  None would classify as the best day ever.

I kept coming back to one day that requires just a bit of background.  My family was of limited means.  We were an Irish Catholic family in the late fifties or early sixties (I wish I could remember the actual year).  My Dad worked 9 - 5 as a wholesale food salesman for a national brand.  To subsidize this income so that Mom stayed at home with the kids (didn't most?), Dad worked a second job as a meat counter guy on evenings and on Saturday.  When we did see Dad in the evenings - the man was tired.  There were many nights with Dad asleep in his chair.  I don't remember a lot of fun in those days.  There were responsibilities of school, church, chores, etc.  We were clean, warm, and most of the basics were covered.  We were loved.

Yes, I'm getting to it.  The best day ever was a Saturday.  It was the Saturday when we rose to find Dad sitting at the kitchen table.  He had quit the second job, he would be spending Saturdays with us.  We were going to spend this first Saturday as a family, picnicking in Ellison Park.  That's right - the McCarthy's were going to have a fun Saturday in the park.  I remember perfect weather and no other specifics.  I remember running and playing all day.  I remember feeling free, feeling unencumbered, laughing, and being with just my family. This day was like no other our family had experienced.  In the memories of the best day ever, I remember no tension, no chores, no responsibilities, no cross words - just fun, sunshine, and happiness.

The commonalities of Jack's best day and my best day are evident.  Family, fun, freedom, and a rush of joy.  But I wonder - must "best days ever" be experienced at an early age?  Is it possible to attain that high as an adult?  Are adults capable of accepting the joy with only a positive outlook, as a child does?  Can adults experience a joy-filled day as just what it is?  Make an effort to accept things as they are, don't search for the hidden ulterior motive or the hidden meaning of actions.  Focus on the good, the positivity, the possibilities.  It is what it is; move on.

I leave you with an English translation of Matsuo Basho's haiku:
The old pond,
A frog jumps in:

It is what it is.  Maybe (who knows?) - the best day ever!