Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Spiritual Reality: An Oxymoron?

We all do it sometimes: question our spiritual beliefs. We consider whether they are real or imagined; a crutch or a shoulder to lean on or a pair of hands to lift us up. I did a major confrontation of my spiritual beliefs almost a decade ago. I challenged the source.  Did I believe because I was weak and someone told me I could be strong? Or promised me I did not have to walk alone - ever? Was I caught up in a system that perpetuated my neediness? Had I found a new way of life or just a temporary home of acceptance - a tribe that said they loved me - until they didn't.

As a young woman struggling with motherhood and old demons, I was initially overwhelmed by people who hugged me and told me they cared. Words - my love language - surrounded my initial foray into fundamental Christianity. Messages of unearned love and acceptance filled me with emotions I didn't have the ability to identify. Hope seeped into my heart. Comfort enveloped me at last.

The acceptance and outward demonstrations of love were amazing until they weren't. Acceptance was not based on my love-ability; but, it did have strings attached. Follow us; live like us; talk like us; dress like us, and, maybe we will invite you into our lives. As a new believer, the reapers of souls supported and encouraged and smiled and included. And then, they didn't.

I felt I was ripped from the fold when I faced the imminent end of my marriage. When the hidden infidelity of one strangled the relationship of two and the crumbling of marriage vows became public knowledge, I faltered. I blamed. I cried. I fought. I fled. I failed. When the flight from one community into the unknown left me stranded between cliques, I stumbled. Then, I became a divorcee and I no longer openly lived like them; talked like them; dressed like them; and, maybe I wasn't like them at all. I felt alone.

I am sure there was a lot of the image of divorce in my head that really grew from my own sense of failure and shortcomings. And, I did find solace in true friendships and the genuine outreach of love by people who tried to help, but my bubble was burst, my ability to trust was wounded and I no longer felt the acceptance I envisioned would encompass me no matter what. Perhaps it was unrealistic to expect invitations for dinner or barbecue parties when I was a single with four children. The words remained and yet, I felt that the doors of homes closed. I struggled to find my solid ground, threw myself into self help books and did find comfort in the words. I forgave. I accepted my part in all that had happened. And yet, I did not feel like I belonged.

I remained connected. I moved from church family to church family pushing to find a place to settle that would meet the needs of my family and myself. Not physical needs. Social needs of acceptance and purpose. I looked outward instead of inward; and then I would look inward instead of outward. It was a battle. I made big mistakes; suffered from my own foolishness and desperation; and, sadly, compromised my base values trying to find acceptance in a foreign land. Had I ever truly belonged? I immersed myself in a church community, accepting responsibility for my own alienation, forcing myself to be willing to serve and connect. I failed - again.

Years have gifted me with hind sight and forgiveness and a reality check of my own actions and responsibility. I needed a concrete, identifiable foundation. I faced down my belief system and challenged it from my own mountain of contemplation. Did I believe because I was weak and needy and lonely? That would mean that my belief was based on pretty shaky ground and was heading for an end. The big questions came and went. Enlightenment did not march in like the hero that I wanted. I slowly addressed my spiritual self. There was no epiphany of great magnitude. Only this. I must live authentically. My values had to stay intact. My beliefs could change. My actions would follow. And none of this was based on someone else's actions. It was between me and God.

I no longer followed the same path of traditional choices. I chose to separate myself from all the legalistic rules of the Christian church and then slowly re-build around what I believed - where I would place my faith - and what I would strip away.

I believe there is a power greater than me. I call this power God.

I believe I have a spiritual component inside of me that is the essence of who I am. It is that which seeks for joy, peace, love and life. It is not done in isolation but neither is it accomplished in a building of worship. It is me and a love that is personified by God. God is love - most religions teach it, describe it, and struggle to live it. It is when I try to control it and contain it and selfishly refuse to share it that I fall into darkness - a void of one.

So, as a person facing the end of my life in a few decades or even less, I continue to seek and find. I accept the promise of eternal life but cannot define that for you. As of now, I anticipate I will live forever even if it is as a spark of energy carried in the hearts of my loved ones. I cannot prescribe for you what that might be. I feel anticipation when I envision heaven's door opening wide to welcome me or that spark of energy home but my hope is that, heavenly home or not, I will be carried forward within the lives who continue after I am gone - my family and friends who loved me.

So I come to my question. Is spiritual reality an oxymoron? Can you or I describe it as it really is or is that, because of the very nature of spiritual, impossible? We look for proof, we expound on history, but for each fact I believe there is fiction that clouds. So, I accept my spiritual beliefs by faith, test them without trepidation, practice them how I am lead; and then, I stay true to the basis of the one spiritual epiphany I have fully embraced: ".....but, the greatest of these is love."

Sunday, 17 March 2019

The Invisible Poor - seeking a roof over their heads.

The headlines say a lot about where we are at as a country, province or city. Sure, crime, fire, infrastructure problems and even park land all vie for priority on social or paper media alike. What is not often on the front page but filling up the opinion columns of small and large media formats: the affordable housing crisis.

Think about it. Beyond the poverty and homelessness that has plagued our cities over the decades, the Baby Boomers have finally retired and not all of them are living off of million dollar investments while complaining bitterly about the taxes they are paying on their RRSP withdrawal's this year. The reality is that more and more of my peers are struggling to keep a roof over their heads as well as food on their table and electricity surging through the wiring. They don't jump out as poor in the eyes of the world. I don't personally know even one who is homeless right now and living on the street - even though there are many. But, I do know many seniors who worry about it every day.

At the other end of the age spectrum, the newly graduating young adult faces a different world than his or her parents when it comes to housing affordability for those just starting out.. Jobs are disappearing at road-runner speed levels. These young people - our grandchildren - are facing the same problems as many Baby Boomers only much earlier in their lives. Rents are high and job availability and pay are low. Living at home is a short term solution for fewer as many are forced to chase across the country to land a job.  They are quickly morphing into that fringe of invisible poor - not begging on the street corner or sleeping in the alley - yet.

Hunting for affordable housing is a full time job filled with frustration and stress for all ages. For couples with combined fixed pension incomes hovering near $24,000.00 per year, paying $1200.00 to  $1500.00 per month rent and still buying groceries is becoming a bit of a crap shoot. Hardworking people who raised their kids, pursued a career (even though it was considered new-fangled living in the 1960's & 70's when women actually did pursue careers), lived a careful, productive life but never with investments that amounted to millions when they truly became too exhausted or frail to keep working. These invisible poor are hovering on the edge of becoming the visible couch surfers and homeless quickly needing affordable housing.

So, what is the solution. At the government level, personal choices, charitable support? How do we plan for the roof caving in? I have seen so much talk about experimental housing solutions and celebrate each and every discovery on Facebook. Whether governments get involved or seniors take it into their own hands, every outside-the-box solution is a consideration. Recently there was a post about the re-vitalization of an old mall facing extinction as a robust retail outlet. I love this idea of re-purposing existing structures to incorporate affordable housing. Not luxury loft condos or penthouses - but tiny affordable spaces for the working poor or the retired low income citizens of our communities. A recent one is the Arcade Providence Mall in Rhode Island (no mention of government subsidization). But think about the sprawling Walmarts and empty suburban malls accumulating in cities across Canada. Bricks-and-mortar shopping malls facing extinction in good residential areas begging to be re-purposed and re-vitalized into new neighbourhoods of affordable housing. The aging population would embrace mall living - all of that flat, walking territory would be so amazing. Young people would love the social aspect of life under one roof.

So the questions:
Would you consider renting or even purchasing a small condo in a refurbished mall? Would a mixture of rentals and owned units turn you off as a poor investment? or would you love to be able to live in a community of multi-socioeconomic diversity where the local cafe, park and mega-lounge were within a short stroll in your own building?

Your comments, as always are welcome!!

Friday, 15 March 2019

What will be my legacy?

Facebook is glutted with reports of amazing seniors riding for the support of research for the latest disease, building homes for the homeless, spending hours at the local school or hospital reading to children and so many other outstanding gifts of their time and energy to society. You don't go a day on Facebook without hearing about someone who published their first book or painted their first painting at 80 or 90 years of age. It is all commendable and exciting and .... a high bar to meet.   

I read an obituary in the local paper recently of a man my age who had been full of life and love and a memorable sense of humour. In the end, his "earthsuit was cremated in his standard garb of a t-shirt, shorts and flip flops accompanied by a picture of his sweetheart, a burger and onion rings, an assortment of licorice, some heartfelt reading material and a butter tart." I had to raise my arm and say "Yes!" and then the air whooshed out of me. Love and a sense of humour are an amazing legacy - but what will mine look like?

I have given some thought to what my legacy might be. What of myself will I leave behind when I exit this earthly body? I smile as I think about who I would ask. I believe my kids or my grandchildren would say something different than my friends? And which friends? My childhood friends saw a different person than my adult friends see today - or did they? And who really is going to embrace a legacy of an ordinary woman living an ordinary life in an average ordinary place? Does it have to be spectacular or is ordinary where most of us tread on this life walk?

It occurred to me that positive legacies are the hope of those facing death on the not-too-distant horizon; mediocre or sad or empty legacies are the fear. My generation, now facing their seventies, no longer look at an untimely death filled with trepidation.We are closer to accepting the inevitable (timely?) and can talk and joke about it without the tears and fears we experienced when looking forward to our future of finding love or a career or both and raising families or connecting with others and living a purposeful life - a life that stretched out in decades. It is not, however, only the elderly who consider this question.  I remember hearing the testimony of a close friend and her dying daughter and even at the young age of forty, her daughter's fear was: Will I be remembered? It is a significant question. 

Some of us believe in an after life and living forever; some of us don't. I choose to believe that I will live forever even if it is as a vibrating chunk of energy that my "earthsuit" releases at death. It will be contained in the hearts of those who knew me and loved me and invited me in. The rest will be unwittingly connected through the heirs of my heart-estate: my family and close friends. So, in my opinion, the world is stuck with me forever!! 

This blog has raised more questions than answers really. My answers are ever changing and could teeter between me collapsing in a maudlin pool of emotional tears on the floor or rushing out the door to publish the book I never finished! 

And, now, the big question after a period of introspection: Can you assess your life and change your legacy when you are 70? or 80? Is it even worth a thought? And would you change it if you could? (well, that was more than one BIG question!)

I would love to hear from you!!