by Gwendolyn M Plano
Most of us are the offspring of travelers by sea. My ancestors came from Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England. They were farmers and miners, carpenters and fishermen. They were poor, uneducated, and desperately in need. Some did not survive the seas.
They, and many others, risked their lives for a dream – of simple things like food to eat, a place to live, a way to provide for their families. Hunger drove them to these shores. Faith provided the strength for them to reach.
I remember my ancestors today, on this St. Patrick’s Day. I think of the battles, the invasions, the revolts that took their lives but ultimately gave me mine. I think about the Butters who married an O’Brien and about a Taylor who chose a Grimes for his bride. Was it for love that they bridged the divide? Were they scrutinized, marginalized, mistrusted because they stepped into the other side?
I need to know more about my ancestors, for it seems they are alive in the events of today. For them and for so many others, a poem was crafted. If only we could hear the bagpipes sing, for I bow in respect for all of these:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
by Gwendolyn M Plano
I’ve been in Italy this past week, with my husband, and my sister and her husband. It’s been a pilgrimage of sorts, one that has slowed our pace and opened our hearts. Through the vestiges of time, we’ve traveled – from Rome to Assisi to Tuscany, where we are staying.
Surrounded by vineyards and olive groves, stone homes and cobbled streets, there has been plenty of time to wander and to dream.
A few days ago, we visited a local winemaker and not only experienced incredible wine, we were brought to the edge of tears by this man’s realized dream.
I had complimented the winemaker by acknowledging how proud he must be to have achieved what he had achieved. His response was this: “Proud?” “No, I don’t feel proud; I feel happy.”
I asked him to explain and he said, “I work sometimes 15 hours a day, but I am happy because I have created something that others enjoy.”
What an amazing statement! He had started with nothing but a dream, over time he bought a vineyard, and now produces some of the best wine in Tuscany. And his reward, that which makes him happy, is that others enjoy what he has created.
In a country where the architecture spans centuries; and where frescos, sculptures, and paintings leave us breathless; and where even the sun can have halos around it, it is the Italian people who have inspired me with their graciousness and selflessness. Mille Grazie...
by Gwendolyn M Plano
There are angels among us in borrowed skin; people who have faced or are facing extra-ordinary challenges with dignity and unusual valor. When we meet these impressive people, we often are taken aback by the beauty of the life before us. One such angel for me is writer Harmony Kent. Over a year ago, I posted her story on this site. I'm re-posting it today, because it is so inspirational.
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I wasn’t always the woman that I am today. The pathway I took to get here wasn’t a straightforward one, and—in fact--I ended up getting lost on purpose: It seemed the only way to find my way.
In the same vein, although I’ve been writing since being knee high to a grasshopper, I have only recently become ‘a writer’.
So, what changed?
I have nothing to show for my life-that-was, except for my life-that-is. And my smile.
Confidence is the key, but it wasn’t easy pulling that particular trick out of the hat; still, it saved my life. If not for already having delved deep and tunneled down to pure gold, when I suffered my catastrophic injury it would have buried me.
As a child and young woman, I had big issues stemming from a too-small ego. I had zero self-confidence, and a huge dollop of ‘impostor syndrome’: you know, that feeling that you don’t belong and that one day soon ‘they’ will find you out? The constant, nagging feeling that you’re a fake, and one day your nearest and dearest will discover what you really are. I limped from day to day, never content, always concerned.
One day, I realized that my external life situation was no longer threatening. Or, at least, not in any outward way. For once, I could say that I had everything I wanted: A home, a good relationship, a job I loved, and—while not rich—enough money to get by. And still it felt as if something were missing. And I still felt like I didn’t have a place in the world. That I never should have been born. I also believed that the world was this big, nasty place. The world had to change, not me.
Then, I did something for which nobody was prepared, least of all me. I gave up my lovely house, my relationship, and my job. I gave up everything. I went and ordained as a Buddhist Nun in a Zen temple, and stayed there for thirteen years. This was both the worst thing and the best thing that I ever did. Before long, I realized that actually, it wasn’t the world that had to change, but me. This person right here.
Then the hard work truly began. It took grit and determination. The discipline of my chosen life was huge. More than anything I’d ever experienced before. And you didn’t get a day off. It was 24/7 and 365/365. Even in the military, with their strong discipline, they get R&R … not where I went, we didn’t. There was a good reason for it, though. Who knew that by giving up my freedom, I would find my freedom?
It took me six grueling years to pop that balloon of fear that had sat on my shoulder my whole life. I remember a senior monk telling me one day that I had to allow the anger. I was like, ‘What anger? I’m not angry.’ Meanwhile, growing more and more annoyed! Ha ha. Joke was on me. By then, I had recognized that I spent every day in the shadow of some unnamed terror. What I hadn’t yet seen, and this monk had, was that I was too afraid to allow myself to feel (let alone express) the anger. Instead, I strove to maintain the peace and never rock the boat, often compromising my heart in the process. It just seemed safer than any alternatives I could think of. I’d done this since early childhood. The thing is, while anger is only ever a false emotion that masks what we truly feel, we can’t move past it until we see it, name it, and wriggle out of its grip.
Why do I say that anger is a false emotion? Well, we never feel anger in isolation. And if we look through the eyes of honesty, we will see at least one other emotion lurking beneath it. Usually hurt or despair or some kind of pain. It often feels easier and safer to go with the anger rather than that other emotion that leaves us so much more vulnerable.
So, first of all, I had to work with the fear, then the anger, and then what was really at the source of it all. With all those layers, it was like peeling an onion, and just as uncomfortable. What I found is that it’s all about the kinds of things I told myself. And, believe me, I victimized myself so much more than any other person in my life ever had. I took them all together and rolled them up into one mean SOB. The good news is, that as soon as I saw it, it lost its power over me. In the seeing, I was able to cease and desist. While the work was slow and arduous, and I hit many a roadblock and detour, the eventual ‘awakening’ came all of a sudden.
It was liked I’d pulled open the curtains and the sunlight streamed in, in all its glory. A whole world existed out there that I’d never seen before, or even suspected. Life suddenly became easy and joyful. I was content.
In most religions, there is a saying that tells us that we are never given more than we can cope with at any one time. This seems to have been all too true in my case. I had six months of grace, where life was full, smooth, and I felt content. Then routine surgery went as badly wrong as surgery can go. I almost died. I ended up severely disabled from a leg injury, and three years later I underwent an amputation. I had hoped that this would give me a fresh start and more mobility, but by then the nerve damage was too severe, and so—to this day—I suffer with high pain levels daily and limited mobility. I am grateful though. Grateful that this didn’t happen before I’d burst that balloon and faced my fears, before I’d found that confidence and contentment and no longer relied on some self-imposed perception of who I was and what my role in life should be.
Eventually, not being able to participate much in the temple schedule and doing my training mostly alone by this point, I took the decision to return to lay life. By then, I was forty years old. As hard as it had been going in, it felt ten times more so coming back out after all that time. I wasn’t the only one who’d changed. The world had too. Smart phones, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, gigabytes, and the value of money. Everything cost so much more. I had no possessions, nowhere to live, little money, and a disability. By then though, I’d learned not to turn away just because something scared me. I took a big breath and a small step: one step after another.
My life-as-it-is began at forty. Faced with empty days begging to be filled, I sat down one day and wrote. Within a few months, my first book was born. Now, I have six books published and more on the way. I also offer editing services to my fellow writers. I’ve met many friends, both online and in the flesh. I have built my life from the ground up. I’m not that mobile with my legs, but my fingers do my walking for me.
Confidence is the key. It will open any door. That’s not to say that I don’t worry sometimes, that I don’t doubt; of course I do. But I don’t let that stop me. This includes letting a door close completely behind me, leaving me in the dark and not knowing what comes next. Not once has another door not then opened. The confidence comes in knowing that whatever happens, you will be okay. You can deal with it. You are strong and capable. And knowing, too, that this situation right now will change. Change is the one constant that we can always rely upon. Nothing, whether it be good or bad, lasts forever. You have to be able to let go.
With confidence and the ability to go with the flow, to accept change as a fact of life, we can achieve what we want and be who we want to be. If I can do it, you can too. I’m nobody special. All I did was to stop beating myself up, and instead, started believing in myself. From that new perspective, I could more than handle whatever life threw my way. And just because my old habits had a long history, I didn’t have to turn them into a life sentence. What I did do, and continue to do, is to build upon them. All the hard stuff makes great bedrock on which to base our lives. It makes us strong and resilient. That’s not to say rigid, though. The safest buildings sway in the wind.
Thank you for revisiting my journey with me.
These four books are available through Amazon where Harmony's other books are also listed. Click here to visit her website.
by Gwendolyn M Plano
Hope can seem an elusive commodity these days; so it is that with this brief posting, I share some of my hope.
I am a member of the global organization of Treesisters. Quietly but powerfully, this community of women is transforming our beautiful Earth by planting trees. Simple, right? Simple and direct - something that folks like me are drawn to. Recently, the founder wrote a beautiful poem. Her question, Can you hear the wild call of Earth's beckoning? brought me into my heart and my dreams. Perhaps you will find the same.
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