May peace come


Across the globe there is stress and strife. War, hate and intolerance continue to rage in several pockets of the world, sometimes even in our own backyards. It can be overwhelming and scary. Fear and worry are powerful and some of those hurting may need solace and hope.

In honor of the late Leonard Cohen, here are two versions of his song Hallelujah. (Though there are hundreds out there, these are my favorite so far.) And then, the man himself singing his masterpiece.

May they offer you joy and peace.

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Laughing to avoid crying


Sometimes I laugh instead of cry. For one thing, it is more uplifting. For another, it energizes, rather than drains. However, sometimes it is really just inappropriate.

I am not alone though. Many of my Army friends have this coping mechanism. I also know quite a few nonmilitary people who do it too though.

I think it started when I was kid. I wanted to be the funny one. I liked when I made people laugh. I was silly. I was the high school class clown. I was labeled as goofy, silly and witty. That was cool with me as I could never compete with the rich, pretty, popular girls. So, I was quite happy being the nice funny girl who got along with all the clicks.

When I deployed, humor was just part of my personality by then. But it added something more in a war zone. It protected me. Not in the literal sense of course, but in a mental way. Comedy became a form of mental resiliency. Random rockets would hit my base in both my Iraq and Afghanistan deployments. Sometimes there were a few a day. Sometimes it was only a few a month. That was the thing though. You. Never. Knew. When. Or. If…. You also worked along side of local nationals at times. Don’t get me wrong, they were lovely people. However, there was always a story that some national on some base somewhere got violent. So you always had that ‘what if’ worry in the back of your head.

Combine that with intense work loads, little free time and lack of your normal daily life and world around you…that adds up to a lot of stress. (And then multiple that times 100 for those Soldiers who actually had much more intense and “outside-the-wire” jobs.) But for many of us, this pressure cooker situation was diffused with comedy.

One time in Afghanistan, some Monday mortars, aka rockets, landed on base and the sirens started wailing. In these situations, some Soldiers jump into action. Others Soldiers get out of the way. Not that we are hiding, but our place/mission is to go to the bunkers. It is essentially like civilian police and fire department workers. When they are needed, the rest of get out of their way. So when the sirens went off, I ran to the closet bunker. As I stood in the concrete bunker with about 15-20 other service members, we all start laughing at the randomness of our uniforms. It was around 4 a.m. after all and when rockets go off, you move. The last thing you are worried about is whether your boots are laced or your shirt is buttoned.

So here we were, a bunch of highly trained Soldiers, looking all unkempt. Hair was loose and messy and on our collars. Some wore a combination of their regular uniform and their fitness uniform. A few guys had no shirts. One service member, did have something very odd though. He had a coffee pot.

As he ran out of his bedroom ‘hut,’ he grabbed his morning joe along with his helmet and weapon. You never know how long an air raid will last, and he was going to be prepared! We all laughed at our appearances and sipped coffee from the pot as we took shelter and waited for the unknown with masked anxiety.

Years later and back in the states… when my mom died, my sisters and I were together for a few days. As we went through our mother’s things, we made jokes. Ok, well, I made a lot of jokes to make them laugh, but they threw in a few here or there too. We’d laugh at all the recipes our mother had printed…and never made that we knew of. We giggled over little memories of her being mad at each of us. We broke in bursts of laughter as we imitated her catch phrases until we had tears in our eyes.

Even at her funeral, I was laughing at things people said to. And sometimes, they were not even all that funny. I just wanted to laugh. I needed to laugh because frankly, I didn’t have the energy to cry. Everyone was stressed and sad and I somewhere became the “strong one.” I did not audition for the position, nor did I want it. Nonetheless, I had it. So there was no time for tears, and I knew that if I started to cry, I may not stop.

“There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, 

comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.”

~ Erma Bombeck ~

I have often been accused of being cold and not taking things seriously because of my humor too. I can see how a joke in certain times can be perceived as inappropriate or insensitive. However, if people looked past that, they’d see someone just pushing back the tears and finding a way to cope.

Is that really that wrong? And how many of you do the same?

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For Writer’s Quote Wednesday’s Theme ~ Comedy.

Resilient like a flower


“Keep your face to the sunshine

and you cannot see the shadows.

It’s what the sunflowers do.”

~ Helen Keller~

There is something to be said for resilience. It is the grit that makes us work harder after failing. It is the motivation that gets out of bed after something devastating. And frankly, it is the reason why many of us are still alive today.

Just think about where we would be as a human race if we were not resilient. I really can’t imagine that world. For without resilience, we would not, could not have moved passed so many events in history: slavery, war, genocide, epidemics and economic collapse. Generations of people have endured some horrific experiences.

Yet, the human race is still here. We have learned, or so I like to think, from our history. We have created a better world. We have learned to survive.

One of my mom’s biggest lessons to me and my sisters was to “be a survivor.” As kids we used to run around teasing each other and singing, “Be a survivor. Be a survivor.” We never took it seriously. I look back now and think, Mom may have been onto something there.

When I joined the Army Reserve, I quickly learned the phrases, suck it up and drive on and embrace the suck. I’d laugh and think, man, the Army must have talked to my mom!

Regardless of the source, the message was the same. Shit will happen in life that you cannot control. So, you can either learn to deal with it and move on or you can let it destroy you. That doesn’t mean you look at life like a Polly Anna and pretend the bad does not exist. No, that is just dumb advice. You can’t ignore abuse, racism and crisis. However, you can survive. But you can only do that with resilience. Because without resilience, would you ever get up after being ruthlessly abused? Would you ever want to leave your house after watching a loved one die? Would you ever want fight after a debilitating diagnosis?

I don’t think we could.

My mom survived a lot. Her mother was a mean spirited woman. She was not allowed to go past the 5th grade because she was “too stupid to learn.” (Ironically, those “smart” adults just couldn’t figure out that my “stupid” mom could barely hear out of either of her ears. Yeah, who was stupid in this scenario?) She was blamed for stealing something at a store by a “cool” kid. As a result, she was then sent off to a detention home where she was molested. Then, when she was married off, her then-husband cheated on her and beat her when she confronted him about it. So there she was in a foreign country, a near-deaf girl with a 5th-grade-education trying to figure out how to get divorced and go home.

Fortunately, my mom was resilient, and later met my dad. As a kid, I didn’t know her struggles. And naturally, I thought I knew more about the world than her. (I was a teen after all. Don’t they know EVERYTHING?) However, now, I look back and think, wow. This woman was a survivor, like literally.

According to the Helen Keller quote above, my mom survived by following the sun. She didn’t focus on her shadows, her pain. She didn’t let the dark experiences lead her life. After dealing with them the best she could, she followed the sun, the light of hope and moved toward a future. Like a sunflower, she focused on the light (good).

I will admit, before today, I never realized that sunflowers actually followed the sun throughout the day. I  mean I knew they, like other flowers, grew towards the sun, but I never thought their heads actually moved throughout the day as the sun moved.

So when I was looking for a fun quote to accompany my macro shots of some sunflowers in my yard, I found more than I planned. I found some quotes, some facts and some inspiration. (So thanks Sally for hosting this challenge!)

The Army found this inspiration a number of years ago too. The embrace the suck phrase has been replaced with a lot of talk about resilience. It is more acceptable to seek help/counseling now than when I joined 15 years ago. As a matter of fact, the old stereotypes are fading away. Asking for help or taking a break is no longer a sign of weakness. As a matter of fact, taking a knee is a good sign of leadership. It shows that a leader is self aware enough to realize they need help or a break. It shows that a leader can recognize the signs of the stress in their Soldiers if they can see it in themselves.

That makes sense and is certainly more realistic than just ignoring all the bad. The Army even teaches us resiliency classes now. They instruct us on various techniques to be grateful, find happiness and endure the bad. Essentially, they teach us to survive the bad and find hope in a better tomorrow.

And according to Helen Mirren, following the good/light/hope is a wonderful life lesson.

“I don’t think there’s anything on this planet that more trumpets life that the sunflower. For me that’s because of the reason behind its name. Not because it looks like the sun but because it follows the sun. During the course of the day, the head tracks the journey of the sun across the sky. A satellite dish for sunshine. Wherever light is, no matter how weak, these flowers will find it. And that’s such an admirable thing. And such a lesson in life.”

~Helen Mirren~

And I when I put all this information together it makes me laugh a little, and even a little more resilient. Because, now when I look at sunflowers, I will forever think of my mom, Soldiers and hope.

Forever, I will think: I am a Soldier. I am survivor. I am a sunflower. I am all three at once, and no matter what, I will focus on the sun (and Son).

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For Sally D’s Mobile Photography Challenge ~ Macro.

 

Finding Strength


April has had some incredibly hard and terrifically fun moments. I thank God for the balance. If I didn’t have it, I can’t say for sure I would be sane right now.

Balance and variety are keys to happiness, at least for me. I find that in the roller coaster I call my life, the low points are somehow more survivable by the mere fact that I know I will rise another day. It may not be much higher than my valley, but if I hold out and have faith, it will get better – eventually. When I am low, I try to remember it can always be worse and that I have endured more difficult times in the past.

If I cannot pull myself out of the slump, I get active. I go outside. I seek comfort in nature. Recently, I have learned to kayak. I adore the calm waters of slowly paddling down the river. I watch the water and how it parts from my path. I observe the raw beauty of the riverside. I notice the fish jumping and the birds flying. It is very calming.

In the last few years, I’ve noticed I crave variety in my activities depending on my mood. I enjoy everything from painting to cooking to running. I certainly am not a master at any of these hobbies, but I enjoy them regardless. My paintings assuredly have no art value or applied art techniques, but I find peace in the process. When I try new recipes, they don’t always turn out as I want. Sometimes they are even bad, but my kids are gracious enough to say, “Mom, this one was not your best.” When I run, it is not even fast enough to qualify as running on fitness applications. I say, “whatever” to those judgmental apps, lol. The fact that I am putting one foot in front of the other is good enough for me. I feel my blood pumping and enjoy the fresh air. After doing these hobbies, I tend to feel more alive, more hopeful and more ready for the next challenge.

I suppose that is the main purpose of hobbies/downtime – finding things that help us maintain our strength and hope. So regardless of whatever is happening in your life, I hope you take the time to find your strength. Go try new new things. Retry old things. Attempt activities that you think you might enjoy even if you are not great at them. Find your smile in the little things around you. Life is too beautiful to lose hope.

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iphone challenge