Wednesday, February 06, 2013

The Power of Expiration Dates

How would you live your life if you knew your expiration date?  
Would you live differently today if you knew you had 20 years?  10 years?  5 years?  1 year?

Now, I have no idea at this writing of the state of my health condition. I’m not going to borrow worry;  it will be what it will be. And besides, I could get hit by the proverbial bus or picked off by a random shooter before the disease calls 'time'.  I refuse to live in the state of fear, disease or no disease.

Some say they wouldn’t want to know, it would make them paralyzed to do anything.  

After a sudden illness five years ago that I wasn’t supposed to survive, I have a new perspective. I consider it a gift because it pulled me off the treadmill of life and forced me to learn how to be present instead of focusing on the future.   

This present circumstance is a reminder to ask the questions I like to avoid:  

1.  How do I want to be remembered?  

2.  What memories do I want to make to fuel me when I can't get out and do as much as I can now?
2012 Family Reunion
Fun w/Roman Street Performer
Visit with Theas Estelle, Kay & Angie

3.  What is keeping me from being the person I want to be and making the memories I crave?

Here are some steps I am working on this year:

Simplify, Simplify, Simplify
I have a well-known clutter problem. Paper is my arch-nemesis;  it is everywhere! 
But it is also difficult to part with certain things because 'someone' may need them 'sometime'. My neighbors call me when they need an odd kitchen gadget, super large mixing bowls, or platters.  The kids’ friends come over to borrow wigs, costumes, capes, and all sorts of art supplies for school projects. And then there are books – pick a topic and I’m likely to have at least one book on the subject (I’m not kidding – any topic).  To me, it is absolutely terrible to throw books away.  Who wants some books?

I still have a dozen boxes full of conference binders, books, and articles I authored when I was working.
News flash:  the Smithsonian has no interest in my 20 year adventure in creating nonprofits and developing affordable housing.  And shockingly, neither are my kids.  Ouch! Time for purge mode!

Attachment to Things
I am less attached to things. Don’t get me wrong, I still like nice things. But I don’t wish for much anymore.  For example, I love Waterford crystal.  My husband won several beautiful large bowls and vases in golf tournaments over the years.  We’ve purchased and received as gifts wine goblets, tumblers, and other pieces over the years.  They are beautiful and are rarely used.

I also have a collection of more than 300 cookbooks. I really enjoy reading them and purchased many along my travels. But truthfully, I only cook out of about a dozen of them. Today I’m more likely to go online for a recipe because I can print out the shopping list and have the nutritional value calculated for me.
Yet, I've hesitated to thin the herd because it would mean my collection wouldn't be as big.  Notice the irony -- thinking bigger is better… in the food department!
Who wants some cookbooks?

Use the Good Stuff
I’ve decided that as the “every day” items dwindle, due to a hungry garbage disposal, poorly loaded dishwasher, or clumsy food runner, I’m going to switch over to using our “good stuff.”

Like every good Greek-American girl, when I was engaged and preparing for marriage, I registered for “everyday” place settings, flatware, glasses, and serving pieces.  I also registered for “formal” place settings, silver utensils, crystal, and serving pieces.  These formal dining pieces are used approximately two times a year.  Since I’ve been married for 22 years, that’s less than 50 times, while the everyday pieces have been used thousands of times (and been replaced as needed).

What am I waiting for?  If I know my expiration date is coming up in a decade or two instead of 30-40 years, I’m going to enjoy what I’ve got.  The same goes for my shoes, bedtime attire, Parmagiano/Reggiano …

Demonstrate Gratitude Everyday
The practice of gratitude is a constant in my life.  It is a spiritual practice as I make note throughout the day and every night of the things, actions, and people for which I am grateful.  

When the illness became overwhelming and required me to quit working, I was furious.  I pushed as far as I could at my nonprofit and then with part-time consulting until my body and brain wore out.  My work provided psychological as well as financial income and I was accustomed to pushing through adversity.  98% of the time, I prevailed.  This was when I realized how much of my stressful yet wonderful life I took for granted.  I thrived on spinning plates at work, at home, and in community activities.

I am forever grateful that my two children are darn near perfect in health, spirit, and abilities.  I’m grateful that my husband is a loving, funny, and dedicated father and husband; he handles the new me with great care and good humor. My extended family has always been incredibly loving and supportive. I have some of the truest friends anyone could hope for.

Now I need to remind myself that even small things are worthy of gratitude.  Since I developed chronic illness and accompanying side effects such as extreme fatigue, foggy brain, bone and joint pain, muscle pain, migraines, and depression, I sometimes have to dig deep.  Hey!  I put my bra on all by myself! 

Some days, I’m grateful I can get out of bed without assistance, walk down the stairs, or sleep through the night.  Other times I’m grateful the medicine took away the pain; or I went an entire day without a headache.  

Since I’ve accepted the value of appreciating things that once seemed small, I’m taking the next step this year.  I am going to demonstrate my gratitude to others every day.  I want to be sure that people know what they mean to me, that I appreciate them, that they make a difference in the world.  Some gratitude will be expressed verbally, in writing, in person – who knows what I’ll come up with.  
But being grateful isn’t enough for me now;  I need to express it as I feel it.

Accentuate the Positive
I will also demonstrate gratitude by not piling on the negativity in the world – through social media, movies, the "news," gatherings, or other means.  I can be sarcastic and snarky with the best of them, and sometimes it feels like a good release (especially when I'm in pain or depressed).  But does it do anything to improve the human condition?

When I read comments to on-line articles and some facebook posts, I’m struck by the number of people who write things that they probably (hopefully) wouldn’t say to someone’s face. I'm guilty of it, too. It’s as if cynicism makes one feel superior. Not only do the Negative Neils and Nellys usually post opinions based on incomplete and sometimes absolute fiction, the result is raising their own and the readers’ anxiety, anger, and blood pressure.  Really?  Is this how you want to be remembered?  Showing your amygdala to the world?  

From now on, I'm working hard to moderate my expressions with the simple question:  will what I say/post/write help or hurt the situation or other person? 
The old adage, “if you don’t have something nice to say, keep your mouth shut.” Is my new mantra. Of course, I still like the southern version sometimes:  “If you don’t have something nice to say, come sit by me!”  (wink, wink)

People often don't remember what you said or what you did, but they always remember how you made them feel.  

This imperfect person is focusing on spreading love in hopes that it puts a bit more healing and motivation into the world.


Jennifer said...

The poignant truth, every moment has more value with the understanding they are not infinite. This is true for every one of us, but our failure to come to face this makes our own lives less fully lived and our actions less beneficial for generations to come. I hope you have many, many, many more wonderful moment and better health in which to enjoy them. Your bravery in sharing, your humor, and positive energy are so inspiring to me! Thank you! Sending you healing energy.

James Caskey said...

I am Martha's dad and she sent me your blog spot. She has informed us of your problems.
You probably don't remember me ... I am the guy who stopped your ear bleeding at her house one evening and have played poker at your house.
I certainly hope that you come out of this horrible illness. Mayo has by far the best medical care and I am sure they will help you. I have a good friend here who was very very sick and stayed at their facility in Jacksonville for over 3 months and they cured him.
Please know that my wife and I will be thinking of you. Martha will keep us informed.
Do NOT give up fighting!!
Jim Caskey
(If the doctors at Mayo need some advice about stopping bleeding have them call me)