Welcome 2012!

Happy New Year everyone!  It’s sunny, clear, and quiet today.

A perfect beginning.

Here’s a fabulous photo taken live last night from a boat in San Francisco Bay, by friend-more-like-a-daughter-really, Kit Prud’homme, who lives out in the Bay Area.  She took a series of shots that are pretty spectacular and well worth a peek if you get a chance.  (They’re a lot bigger on her site.)

Whatever “success” may mean to each, here’s wishing us all a successful next year!

copyright Dia Osborn 2011

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A Childhood Portrait Reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland and A Question Of Emotional Endurance

I’m the baby, fair budding to become a sunflower, second from left.  The young Queen Mother to my right is my only sister, while the boy doing the Winston Churchill imitation to her right is my middle brother.  Then there is the Eldest on the far left dignifying the portrait with his expression of Supreme Effort.  The youngest among us (who recently discovered this little treasure) was not yet born.

ABOUT WRITING:

LAST WEEK I RAN AWAY TO THE MOUNTAINS, and I think this is the first time I’ve ever missed posting on or around my Friday deadline.  Not a first-time I’m proud of or would like to repeat anytime soon.  I know there are tools available for scheduling a post to publish even when I’m gone so really, there’s no excuse.  (Not that I think it’s a life or death issue but still, the discipline is important for me as a writer.  So, note to self: research “scheduled publishing” tool and use it at least once before the end of the month.)

There.  Now on to the Easter Portrait.

ABOUT THE PHOTO:

My youngest brother became Guardian of the Box of Old Photos when my mother died a couple years ago and, during the ensuing sifting, has turned up a couple of gems like the one above.  We had no idea this thing existed.  Indeed, there are a whole series of Easter portraits that he’s uncovered, with a wide variety of outdoor backdrops (let’s play Guess What Military Base We Were Stationed At!), but this one clearly takes the cake.

The photo is of us but actually speaks volumes about my mother.  She was, like most women of her generation, trying to keep up with Jackie-O and, other than at Easter, we were always dressed in jeans and t-shirts, a fact that makes this snapshot-of-an-age even more absurd and delightful.

Ultimately though, I think it’s the accident of lighting that makes it most striking–we’re so illuminated it looks surreal, like we slipped down the rabbit hole in a string of held-hands and landed all dressed up in Wonderland.

ABOUT EMOTIONAL ENDURANCE AND THE DYING:

Moving on, I wanted to take a minute to answer a question about my last post.  In her comment afterwards, Linda over at Rangewriter asked what I meant by “emotional endurance.”  I thought it was a great question and, because emotional endurance is such a vital tool for dealing with difficult challenges of any kind, I wanted to address it in a regular post rather than just in the comment section.

Emotional endurance is just what it sounds like; the ability to endure one’s own emotions.  (Obviously, pleasant feelings don’t require much effort.  What I’m talking about are the painful ones like sadness, despair, anger, shame, loss, bitterness, guilt, regret, helplessness, etc.)  This skill was actually prevalent among the older generations but, during the current, unfolding age of budding-pharmaceutical options, has increasingly fallen into disuse.

And unfortunately, as a treat-and-cure cultural mindset has gradually replaced the older accept-and-endure one, the threshold of discomfort, pain, or uncertainty most people can continue to live and thrive with has fallen considerably.  Now…please.  I’m not saying medical advances aren’t a miraculous gift and blessing; they are.  Anyone who’d want to turn the clock back a century is, in my humble opinion, extreme.

However, there’s also profound value to be had from the old skill of knowing how to contain, endure, and navigate heavy emotions without needing to immediately escape them.  And nowhere was this made clearer to me than in the rooms of the dying.

In hospice I saw person after person after person, (all elders BTW,) deal with levels of emotional pain and loss that absolutely staggered me.  And, with only a couple exceptions, they ultimately did it without requiring antidepressants or a hastened death.  Over the course of their lives these people had somehow learned to navigate huge waves of overwhelm, fear, pain, and sorrow without losing sight of the beauty, love, and value that also populated their end.

I cannot begin to tell you what an eye opener this was for me.  I had no clue…no clue…how much stronger we are than I’d ever imagined, and if I could only pass on one bit of insight from all the wisdom I learned from the dying, that would be it.  Allow me say it one more time, because that’s just how important this is:

We are far, far, FAR stronger than most of us currently understand or believe.  By a multiple of thousands.  I know this, I’ve been there, I’ve seen it.  And I’m not talking about the rare hero, warrior, or saint, either.  (Although they are totally amazing.  Whew…)  No.  I’m talking about the rest of us.  All the ordinary, everyday, getting-along people like you and me that weren’t created for greatness; those of us who just want to raise our families, work a good job, have some hope, and live a decent life.  Us.

What I’d love to see is a cultural return to the recognition and development of this skill for emotional endurance, all the while keeping the growing arsenal of available treatments and interventions ready as back-up, just in case.  Y’know…for those rarer yet dangerous periods when life erupts into something that really is too much, too hard, too destructive, unendurable.

Can you imagine what we’d be capable of, what our lives would be like, what our world could become, with the power of inner endurance and medical relief at our disposal?

copyright Dia Osborn 2011

Accidental Photo II

Something happened yesterday around sunset that I hadn’t seen before.  For about one minute:thirty-five, the last rays of the sun peeked out from under tumultuous, massed storm clouds and found a sliver of pathway between the branches of three big trees, around the patio roof, and through a major tangle of wisteria to actually make it in our kitchen window.  The light was golden, dramatic, and lit up two vases sitting in the window like luminaries.  And…in a complete fluke…I had my camera to hand.  I took a dozen shots or so and this was at the peak of the light:

Hardly prize winning but it caught the effect so I was happy.  It also, funnily enough, turned out be another accidental photo.  I was only aiming for the vases but wound up capturing an entire series of worlds that I hadn’t seen when I first snapped the shot.  I mean, look at them all.  There’s…

1) the outside, distant garden,

2) the illuminated, inner world of the vases,

3) the invisible realm of glass separating the two (you can only see it by the ghostly reflections it casts),

4) the world of shadows at the bottom right, where the silhouette person lives, and then

5) the dark abyss just under the shelf.

There are more than five of course, (like the neighbor’s world through those darkened windows in the upper, right hand corner) but you get the gist. Without the camera I only perceived a single world with the vases as its dominant focal point.  All the other unique, fascinating worlds present were reduced to background noise, like visual mall music.  It took the camera to give me the time and mental shift necessary to see the rest.

I realize our brains are designed to take the overwhelming barrage of sensory detail that batters us at every moment, and filter it down to just one or two things that we can actually focus on.  And this ability is a good thing.  I understand that.  Without it we’d all have Asperger’s.

But it also means that this seemingly solid, worthy, dependable world we put so much stock in is actually made up of layers upon layers of different realities, entire alternate worlds in fact, most of which we completely miss, all the time.  Our perception of everything around us isn’t even real.

Or no…it’s real enough taken by itself I guess, but it’s only a teeny tiny sliver of what’s really real.

It’s like what the poor sun had to do to itself to make it all the way inside our kitchen window: Reduce an entire star’s massive energy field–immense enough to warm and light an entire solar system–into a low spectrum sunbeam, roughly 2 foot by 3 foot, that only lasted for a minute and a half. Talk about partial.

Having said all that though, still.  The illuminated vases were very…verycool, and I guess that’s enough.  Sometimes, the slivers alone will knock your socks off.

copyright Dia Osborn 2011