In Pursuit of The Meaningful Path

“It is the very pursuit of happiness that thwarts happiness.”–Viktor E. Frankl

If you are familiar with my writing, you may have deduced that I have a significant appreciation for the Ritter Park Rose Garden. Throughout the year, I try to visit this local garden at least once per month, but more often if possible.  There is certain pleasure I derive from observing the various transformations of these bushes through each season.  I enjoy noticing the way their blossoms alter and progress through the seasons, and I even relish their stark, cut-back, bloomless appearance in winter. Throughout a large portion of the year, most bushes are not picture-perfect, but that fact does not take away from the positives each visit offers me.

It is not, per se, my attraction to roses that draws me to this garden, for I would happily regularly visit any formally planted botanical garden were there others within close proximity to my home. Rather, I have regard, not only for the miraculous seasonal changes provided by Mother Nature, but also an admiration and acknowledgement of its caregivers.  I have often encountered these seemingly tireless keepers of the garden tending to the needs of the plants in all seasons of weather and range of temperatures.  These garden custodians consistently employ their knowledge, skill, and attentiveness even though they most likely get paid a minimum income for implementing.  

“It’s the time you spent on your rose that makes your rose so important…You become responsible forever for what you’ve tamed.”–Emily Esfahani Smith

I was reminded of the talented rose gardeners while listening to bits of a podcast, ironically enough, while jogging through Ritter Park after a quick walk through of the rose garden.  The person interviewed held the basic belief that happiness is an elusive and ephemeral feeling that is not sustainable for long periods of time.  In fact, this self-proclaimed expert maintained that much shame and feelings of “less than” are associated with not feeling happy all of the time.  The same person further added that living a meaningful life was far more satisfying and sustainable than buying into the belief that one should be happy all of the time.

After about ten or so minutes of hearing this expert’s philosophical point of view, I turned off the podcast and let my mind search for greater understanding, or should I say meaning, as my feet continued their thump, thud, thump along the crushed gravel of the Ritter Park path.  My mind turned, examined, and played with this intriguing thesis.  I recalled that at one point there was a brief spike in marketing purpose-driven books and other media content, but when scrolling through current popular self-help authors, media influencers, and publications, many of these outlets pitch the if-only-you-do-this then you can lead a happy life.  This philosophy often focuses heavily on receiving and acquiring for the purpose of gratifying personal needs/wants rather than giving to or focusing on the needs of others.

The podcast had a point: there are hard times in life.  You, or a loved one, will get sick.  There is a possibility that you might lose and/or have to change your job and/or life role.  This may require learning to live in a new way, perhaps even in a new geographical location.  Income may be lost, gained, and even lost again.  Accidents will happen.  Loved ones will die.  I am told that even pandemics can occur!  The point is, none of us can always be happy.  In the words of the band R.E.M., “Everybody hurts, sometimes.”

Reflecting over the past few years, I realized the level of uncertainty, fear, and sadness many of us, myself included, have experienced due to COVID.  However, as I mulled over the podcast interview, I realized that at some point this past year, something changed within me.  In spite of experiencing some fairly significant discomfort due to changes and losses, I find myself once more satisfied with my work this year–even during this, my 35th career year in education.  If you had asked me last year, or even the year before, if I was content with my work, I would have told you that I was ready to quit, ready to walk away from it all, and look for a new path.  

“The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it.”–Carl Jung 

However, this year, in spite of facing numerous challenges, my continued role as a teacher once more seems fulfilling–in spite of not having near the financial rewards as many of my peers with 35 years of experience in their chosen vocations.  What has been the difference?  The podcast thesis hit the nail on the head: it’s the meaning I derive once more from my work–which had been greatly reduced throughout the virtual experience.  This school year, I can once again witness firsthand the difference my job makes, especially those lightbulb moments, when a student’s face lights with the joy of new found knowledge or greater understanding.  While not every day is filled with those illuminating moments, and I am certainly not happy in every moment; I know what I do benefits the students–that is the difference.  

Nonetheless, not everyone can have a career from which they derive great meaning, but there are still multiple opportunities from which to acquire meaning. From parenting to volunteering, to various roles, responsibilities, and personal pursuits, there are many ways which any of us can create more meaningful ways of living–even if you aren’t “happy” every moment in which you are participating. Consider parenting, for example. Most parents, if they are honest, will confess to not always being happy.  However, when asked if their role as a parent adds meaning to their life, most will say, “yes.” Otherwise, who would want to become a parent?  

“As much as we might wish, none of us will be able to go through life without some kind of suffering. That’s why it’s crucial for us to learn to suffer well.”–Emily Esfahani Smith

 Part of our unique human experience is undergoing a wide range of emotions, so why should we believe we are “less than” because we are not, per se, happy.  Perhaps, as a human collective, especially in the first world, if we put greater emphasis on the development of fortitude, perseverance, and stamina–which are especially important skills during challenging times–we might not feel like a so-called “failure” when we are experiencing negative emotions, such as sadness, grief, loss and so forth.  

Suffering is a built in part of life.  While not all suffering is the same, and the aftermath varies from experience to experience, the fact that suffering temporarily robs one of happiness does not equate with a less meaningful life.  Rather than constantly searching for sources of happiness, we might all better benefit from participating in more meaningful activities, especially those that focus on contributing to others.  Then, when the trials come, and you know they will, you can reflect back to those meaningful moments and know that once you get through this tough time, you can live with purpose once more.  We cannot always be happy, but we can have a life filled with moments that matter and make a difference.

Sowing Blossoms of Memories

“Good memories are the key not to the past, but to the future.”–Corrie ten Boom.

Plant seeds of memories. Plants seeds of remembrance. Plant a memory garden.  Plant a garden of memories.  On and on my mind randomly spun, attempting to capture and interpret the essence of what my sleeping subconscious brain was trying to communicate to my waking mind.

It was 4:00 am on a Saturday morning.  During the workweek, I rise at that time, three of the five days, in order to make time to exercise before work; therefore, it is not uncommon for me to wake at this time on the weekends, only to roll back over and fall back asleep for a couple more hours.  However, my mind commanded, well semi-commanded, my attention.  It was trying to send a message from the netherworld of sleep.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I do not know if this is true others, but quite often, during the night, my mind can sometimes chew over finding a solution to an on-going problem, refocus my attention to a point I had overlooked/forgotten, or–as was the case on Saturday– draw my awareness to a an idea, point, or lesson that life and/or Divine Providence, was attempting to teach me.  During my younger years, I found this helpful for retaining, learning, or understanding new information, especially when it came to taking a test.  Throughout the various changes in my career, this capability has augmented my ability to adapt, modify, and/or change roles.  Most often in my present life, that nocturnal niggle has become a reliable source of creative ideas and/or lessons in personal development for which I have learned to listen. 

Therefore, as I moved throughout my morning on Saturday, I kept mulling over those phrases.  In fact, my poor brother, at one point, was the recipient of my waxings about how those ideas came to be in my mind in the first place and what on earth those phrases were teaching/telling me.  It wasn’t until I made my way to Ritter Park late in the morning that the ideas began to bloom more fully.

Since Saturday was my birthday, I decided, rather than run, I would walk and just enjoy the fall weather that had recently swept into the Tri-State area. The sun was in and out, fighting to shine its light through the moody clouds.  I made my way towards the steep stone stairs to the Rose Garden as I chose a funk and soul playlist in honor of the infamous Earth, Wind, and Fire classic, “September,” whose lyrics I often change to the “25th of September” instead of the 21st, when singing. Fortunately, for those whom I passed, I wisely chose NOT to sing aloud since I can’t carry a tune!

“God gave us memory, so that we might have roses in December.”–J.M. Barrie.

Making my way around the Rose Garden, I was reminded of the way in which summer flowers brilliantly bloom in early fall before the first frost.  It is as if they are sucking the last bit of joy juice out of the soil before fading with the falling leaves. Likewise, candles, just before they are about to burn out, tend to flicker their brightest light.  Am I in the fall of my life, I had to ask myself.  Is that what woke me at 4:00 am? 

With this birthday, my age shifted a bit closer to the sixth decade of life.  During the earlier morning conversation with my brother, we were discussing retirement plans–with all the big questions. To what age should we continue to work?  Remain in the same job or not?  How long do we want to work at the pace/pressure in which we currently work?  How long will we still be viable and contributing members of our chosen professions?  While we both agreed that we are probably both years away from that ultimate decision, we needed to be more cognizant of this impending reality.

Earth, Wind, and Fire morphed into Sam and Dave, followed by Marvin Gaye, and then the Isley Brothers. The happy-vibe music playlist continued to offer an upbeat soundtrack to my wandering mind as my feet moved in time with the beats. Words of Robert Frost’s poem, “Nothing Gold Can Stay” floated through my mind as I watched a leaf drift downward, side to side, and land gently on the trickling waters of Four Pole Creek . . .

“ . . . Her early leaf’s a flower;

But only so an hour.

Then leaf subsides to leaf . . .”

Am I planning seeds of memories?  Am I cultivating, nurturing, and caring for the blossoms in my memory garden?  Am I a good steward of my memories?  Are there more seeds I should be sewing in this garden?  Am I sharing my blooms and planting seeds in other gardens?  Does my garden of memories offer beauty, gentleness, and goodness to the world?  Does my memory garden reflect the Divine’s intention for my life, and am I improving the soil on which I was planted?  Ultimately, when I can no longer plant seeds of memories, will I still have blooms to hold in order to shine my brightest?

What about you, Dear Reader?  How is your memory garden?  Is there more good will that you can sow?  Are you cherishing the garden into which you were planted?  Are you dispersing more seeds of positivity and hope into the world as the dandelion sends out white seeds in the winds of spring and autumn? 

“. . . So dawn goes down to day.

Nothing gold can stay . . .”

Life is fleeting, but oh-so-sweet with people you love and cherish by your side.  Make a difference in the soil into which the Ultimate Gardener planted you.  Maybe you dream of a far away land, and one day, you may, indeed, get there.  In the meantime, make a difference in the garden into which you are now rooted.  Share your gifts, talents, and time.  It’s easy to go negative.  It’s easy to throw up your hands in surrender.  Neither choice, however, will plant a garden of good memories.  

May your memory garden, and mine, be long filled with blooms.

 

May There Always Be a June

“Even the prettiest flower will die one day. It’s nature’s way of teaching us that nothing lasts forever.”–unknown

“Hmm . . .” I think, more than say, with a deep inhale as I yawned awake.  It was a rare, cool morning–a break from the typical heat and humidity of early July.  The bedroom windows were open, and I breathed in the fragrance of dewy grass, damp earth, and flowers. It was the lingering sweet floral scent that began a series of reflections regarding the significance of June and its likeness to the human life cycle.

At the time I am writing this, it is the July 4 weekend–marking, in my mind, the midpoint of summer.  Once July 4 begins, it feels like the rest of summer swiftly sails by.  Ah, but June.  June is sanguine–full of enough bright cheer to hold old-man winter at bay.  The early spring blossoms such as daffodils, crocus, and tulips have long passed.  Aromatic honeysuckle begins its fading away as the summer perennials and annuals begin blooming brightly in rapid succession.  July may be full of celebrations, explosive displays–all red, white, and blue–but, I adore June–modest, optimistic, June, and the colorful, unique flowers that blossom and thrive with its invitation to summer.

Photo by Suvan Chowdhury on Pexels.com

One morning, this past June, I was in Ritter Park to meet a friend for a walk.  However, the friend was running late, so I decided to meander up the old stone steps to the rose garden.  Sunshine, brilliantly glowed in its mid-morning slant, created a kaleidoscope of vivid colors, varying in texture, size, and shape. With no purpose other than to enjoy the moment, I wandered around the garden, drifting from one rose bush to the next, fascinated with all the minute differences not only among the varieties of rose bushes, but also among the flowers within the same bush.  Meanwhile, a gardener attentively tended the blooms.

Examining more closely, I noticed the various insects drawn to the roses. Bees, ants, beetles, moths and butterflies, flies, and even a few mosquitoes crawled, hovered, dove, and darted–busily buzzing about the roses with purposeful missions.  In one of the more isolated sections, closer to the wooded area of the park, I also observed a hummingbird dipping and diving among the various blossoms in a delightful, whirring dance of flight. As I let my gaze wander, my mind relaxed and began to make correlations with June, its flowers, and life.

“A rose can never be a sunflower, and a sunflower can never be a rose. All flowers are beautiful in their own way . . .”–Miranda Kerr

Each flower–from the number of petals to the size of each petal, from the varying life stages of each flower to the variances of color in each blossom–whether it be a rose in the Ritter Park garden or any one of the wide variety of flowers found in resident yards and public spaces–was, and is, a unique creation.  This is similar to the way each person, within the same family, or outside familial ties, is likewise a one-of-a-kind individual.  Flowers go through a dormant and a growing season of varying lengths, but all bloom seasonally, until they come to an end–whatever the life end may be. So it is with June and human life. 

The season of summer officially begins in June.  The air is sweet and heady with the fragrance of flowers. Winds and sunshine warm the air, and rain falls with purpose. Many plants are rooting and establishing while early spring greenery and blossoms are fading away into their dormancy. Daylight reaches its apex in June, while nighttime descends to its lowest point.  

Likewise, several key life events occurred and are honored in my own life each June.  I graduated from Ohio University in June.  Within that same month, I signed my first teaching contract, thus beginning the start of my career as an educator. Two year later, in June, I married my husband, an anniversary we have celebrated for 32 years.  Ten years later, our daughter was born in June.  As educators, my husband and I experience the arrival of each June as the beginning of a dormant period–an opportunity for reflection and renewal before a new school year begins in August.  Births and weddings, ebbs and flows, the highs and lows, and even celebrated endings.  It’s all there in June.

“All the flowers of tomorrow are in the seeds of today.”–Indian Proverb

I am but one person in the garden of many: my family, my work site, my community, and so forth.  All around me, younger lives are taking root, growing, and blossoming into their own personal expressions–making our collective garden more colorful and vibrant–buzzing with energy.  Meanwhile, I can’t help but notice that just as the flowers of June replace spring’s early blossoms, July has taken June’s place.  

Of course, one could argue that like the flowers, humans seem to be planted in dirt and threatened by weeds and all varieties of pestilence. However, when I was visiting the rose garden in June, it was the array of blossoms, in a rainbow of colors, that caught my eye, and made my heart smile.  They too were planted in dirt, confronted by pests and disease, but a gardener was there watching over them just as we have the Ultimate Gardener attending to our needs. 

The flowers offer their seeds and pollen to insects and birds to eat and disperse, ensuring more and different blooms for the future. Likewise, I pray that until my last petal drops, I am offering seeds of hope for others as June does for me.  One day, my memories of past Junes will fade away into permanent dormancy. In the meantime, I will savor the memories made this past June, find nourishment in the full blossoming of the July summer, and, in the weeks to come, accept August as the petals of summer begin to fall away, one by one.  

May there always be a June.