Friday, May 29, 2009

Homeward Bound

Home is a place not only of strong affections, but of entire unreserve; it is life's undress rehearsal, its backroom, its dressing room. ~Harriet Beecher Stowe

My daughter, Caroline, just completed her freshman year away at school. As we began the arduous task of loading up my car, we realized she had doubled the amount of 'stuff' she'd accumulated during her first year of school in Massachusetts. As cramped as my car was on the drive south this past August, it was even more complicated trying to fit in every bag, every item, and all her new belongings. Caroline had acquired two milk crates filled with books, a shelving unit holding even more, and lots of new furnishings. She had received projects, awards, different types of recognition and been part of many photographs. In short: we weren't loading up the car, trudging up and down two flights of stairs, and then back across the green simply with accumulated junk...we were loading up her first year of memories. With every bag, with each book, with every parcel, there was a story. Each new item contained a memory of her freshman year. Caroline remembered which she skirt she wore to her first day of class, the pair of shoes she wore giving her first Biology presentation and each athletic award's significance. Her mug reminded her of getting tea with her dorm mates, her pillows were ones that matched her with wonderful roommate and her books either evoked wonderful, or dreadful memories of particular classes. It was a cluttered car, but that car was filled with conversations to have on our way home, and then even more as we began to unload and put things away.

As proud as I am of Caroline's success during her first year away, I am thrilled to have her home again...and for all her independent spirit, she's very glad to be home too. Despite the fact that many freshmen feel a sense of disassociation when they complete their first year and arrive back at their homes, Caroline expressed an exuberant joy and loving her school, but loving being back in her own room...with all its childhood memories. She realized that she didn't need to be a leadership role model, at the top of her game (academically or athletically) or even particularly mature. She was able to just be herself again...her persona that she kept tucked in her back pocket while she was at school. Caroline was able to be a daughter and a sister once again....and to enjoy mingling her school things with the memories of her growing up.

Home can be a wonderful place to which to return. As proud as we can be of our accomplishments out in 'the big world', who are innately, our strengths, as well as our weaknesses, can be let free. There are times and places in our adults lives, and especially in the lives of young adults, that we must adopt and enact a vision of our ideal selves. These ideal selves are often more articulate, more well read, more coordinated and better prepared than we truly feel. Our inner selves can feel out of our element, confused, inferior and unworthy. But, when faced with a challenge, we often rise to the occasion by projecting all the qualities we wish to possess. As we become more comfortable in each new situation, and as we face each obstacle, we may well gain confidence in these new abilities. And yet, there are times in which these personality traits we have "tried on", as we would try on a new coat, feel heavy and burdensome. When we come home, we can peel off that overweight layer at the door, and leave it there...choosing either to pick it up, or not, when we leave.

In Yoga, in the beginning of each class I teach, we take a few moments to leave our personalities, egos, preconceived notions and outside worries outside the door. I encourage my students not only to mentally relax, but to physically let go of those areas of competition in our hearts that are holding us back from truly realizing our authentic selves. One way to accomplish this is to practice the "Breath of Joy". This exercise is a three part breath, with the exhalation allowing the yogini to completely release. Not long ago, one of my students shared me how much this small part of our practice meant to her. In her own words, she told me that the "Breath of Joy" felt as she was "coming home after a long, hard trip". This description made me feel exceptionally pleased because that is the asana's full intention: a sense of letting go, and coming back to that inner place in which we feel completely ourselves.

My wish for my children is that, as they grow up and move on with their lives, they always know that their father and I will always be their touchstone...their home base, their place of comfort and familiarity. But, for many of us, our childhood homes no longer exist. Either our parents are no longer with us, or they have moved to a different place. We are incredibly fortunate, however: we carry the blueprint for creating our sense of home within our very nature. We can find time, space, and intention each day to slug off those burdens we carry, check in with our true being. Sometimes it may just finding a quiet place to breathe and clear our minds. It may also be writing, painting or in some other creative outlet. For still others, it may be going for a run to engage our physical being down its essence. However we can tap into that sense of 'home', it has the ability to give us time with who we really are. It can also give us a gift of appreciation of all that we are able to accomplish, and the lessons we have learned along the way.

I encourage you to begin a pilgrimage: find your way home. That may be a place to visit...or it may be a journey inside your own heart. Either way, you may find yourself enriched and relaxed.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Memorial Day

The legacy of heroes is the memory of a great name and the inheritance of a great example. ~Benjamin Disraeli

The last Monday in May brings with it Memorial Day...the day set aside to honor those Americans who gave their life in battle. For some of us, this holiday will feature parades of Little League teams, fireworks, floats, marching bands and spoken tributes. We might have backyard barbeque's or a day at the beach. For others, the day will be felt as a personal day of loss, remembering a husband, a brother, a sister, a wife, a son or a friend who was killed in the line of duty. For these families, Memorial Day will not mean a day off from school, a chance to try out new water skis or an excuse to break out the grill. It will not be about kicking off the summer season. Memorial Day will be a time set aside to remember their precious one, whose life was cut short far away. There is a dichotomy to Memorial Day that many people ignore. For those who have lost beloved family members, it feels awkward, and even distasteful, to celebrate. For those who have not, it feels a little unsettling to grasp that this day is about far more than a bank holiday.

I believe that Memorial Day has the potential to be both a day of jovial welcome to the summer season, as well as a time to honor the fallen heroes. Even if you haven't lost a soldier in your own family, it bears remembering that there are families in your own community that have been touched by war. Afghanistan and Iraq are both still very much war zones. Ours is a nation at war right now, at this very moment. Simply because one hasn't lost a brother in the fighting outside of Mosul ,doesn't mean we are unaffected by the ongoing hostilities. I can sadly promise that many of us know people who have lost someone, or who has someone currently serving. One of the kindest ways I believe we can reach out to the families of service people right now, is by not ignoring them. Because these wars have been ongoing and unpopular, there has been a tendency to look the other way at the families left here in the States. As a former Army wife, myself, I remember the long months of the First Gulf War, and living in Germany at the time. There were plenty of times I wanted to listen by the radio (as we didn't have Armed Forces television at our house in the countryside off post). But, there were other times, I would have loved to have been invited have been invited to a party or a cookout to celebrate our courage and thankfulness. Yet, during times of trouble, people often like to keep their distance.

Our family was truly blessed. My husband's unit was fine, and although it was disbanded during the time of the first Gulf War, we were fortunate to have a strong sense of community among other military families. With our husbands away, many of the women in the wives' groups had rotating dinners at one another's houses, planned outings and just generally used one another in the buddy system to keep tabs on our well being. This was one of the advantages to being abroad already: we had a built in support system in place.

Yet, for many current military families, their husbands and wives have been called into active duty from the reserves, and therefore tend to live in their own houses, in their own neighborhoods, rather than in military communities. Because of this, many families can feel invisible. Even if a woman hasn't lost her husband at war, not seeing him for 18 months can feel like a lifetime, particularly if she has children. I've heard a military spouse of a deployed Army officer say that she feels as if she carries a highly contagious disease: people feel badly but prefer to wave from a if her 'bad luck' could possibly rub off on them. She doesn't know if her neighbors ignore her because they disagree with the war, if they think she must already have support or because they simply don't know what to say. While her husband is in Afghanistan, all my friend would like is to be treated normally, and included just as she would have been before.

It's my wish that we find ways to honor our military: the fallen heroes, those currently called away in service, and those heroes left at home. The quiet hero is the mom who tells her children bedtime stories about things their Daddy loved to do with them, even if the children can't remember going to the zoo together. The hero at home is the father balancing his work and his children who miss their mom so much, they cry at night. They don't understand why she's not a nurse at the hospital up the street anymore, but has to be a nurse on the other side of the world. The hero at home is the grandmother, raising her grandson to be proud of his parents, who are in two different places far away. The quiet hero finds ways to keep the pieces of the puzzle together when the edges are all missing.

There is a Greek proverb that says "In hospitality, the chief thing is good will." I urge my readers to take a few minutes and cultivate that good will. Think of ways to be inclusive to the widow who is remembering a beloved husband, killed in action 30 years ago. Try to put yourself in the shoes of the haggard dad, busy with his job and the responsibilities his wife used to take on ,before she left for active duty. Find ways to be there for the little ones who just need to laugh while running through a sprinkler. Bake a pie, and have a cup of tea, with a woman whose son is in an area currently under attack. Investigate programs to write to soldiers who have no one else to communicate with them. Good will, the intention of cultivating the best for others, should be at the forefront of our Memorial Day.

By all means, grill those hamburgers, and spend the day on the lake. Wave flags at the parade and eat ice cream from a cart. But, remember the people who have given their lives for this country...and those who are still giving of their lives every day. Then, step out of your comfort zone and enact that good will.