I truly believe in the healing power of positivity not only to heal us physically and emotionally, but to inspire us to live our lives seeking not what is wrong, but what is right!
That’s challenging because humans are curious creatures and it is our curiosity that pushes us into negative territory time and time again.
Now I’m not saying human curiosity isn’t a good thing. If curious humans hadn’t questioned things since the beginning of time, we probably would have been extinct a long time ago.
But when curiosity becomes synonymous with distrusting everything and everyone we come in contact with, that’s when we need to push our positivity button and say, “Enough!”
A month ago, after a major rain deluge in San Diego, my daughter texted me that the rain had caused a super bloom of neon yellow flowers to cover the slopes surrounding her home.
“Mom, you have to see this, it’s like the hillside is covered in sunshine,” and then she added, “…of course, they are just weeds, but pretty spectacular weeds at that!”
A few years ago, my reaction to my daughters joy probably would have been to chuckle and remind her that weeds after a bloom look like the kiss of death!
But I’m not the same person. Positivity has changed me.
I trusted the joy in my daughter’s text and I arranged to meet her the next day to photograph the hillside, hoping to use a photo for my blog.
Her property is up a steep hill. Natural terrain on one side, older, aging homes on the other and most with unmanicured yards…or yards in a natural state, depending on your perspective.
I can state emphatically that a few years ago, my curious mind would have wondered into negative territory worrying about unsavory characters lurking somewhere in all that imperfectness.
But as I said, I’m not the same person. Positivity had changed me.
The minute I pulled into the driveway I could see the yellow blooms. They were everywhere. My daughter was there too, her face radiant. “Mom, isn’t it great?!!!”
Reaching up the slopes to the palm nursery above her house, where little yellow blooms, dancing in the breeze and dappled sunlight. The greenery below the blooms was thick, yet delicate, and I could imagine fairies and elves living amidst their canopy.
I had brought my camera and some props for my blog post, my old tap shoes, Moe and Joe, and some other things. I started to set out all the props, but thru my camera lens I saw clearly that Moe and Joe would be just fine among the blooming weeds without the addition of any fanfare.
They were protected. Safe. Loved. Bathed in light.
There was another area of my daughter’s property, where the blooms were reaching down the slope through a chain link fence to an old shed on the adjacent property.
My old curious self would have immediately conjured all sorts of unsavory images about who lived on the property below and I probably would have blown the moment of happiness with my daughter with some negative comment about her safety.
But as I said, I’m not the same person. Positivity has changed me.
I began to photograph the shed and a thought came to mind that the old shed, sitting in a field of blooms, reminded me of the Wizard of Oz and my old, negative self.
An old house dropped from the sky into a field of yellow. And there I am, under the house, my negative-self withering in anger and fear, begging to be let out.
Let me out! Let me out! Let me out!
But positivity takes over and the image changes.
Faded boards and rusty nails, aged and imperfect like me, welcoming the sunlight of the blooms creeping towards them. The yellow of the flowers speaking to my soul in all ways positive: happiness, joy, hope. Representing all that is good in the past, all that is good now and all that will be good. Welcoming positivity.
Welcome! Welcome! Welcome!
It’s not easy to think differently. To train our curious minds to choose positivity first, especially among the weeds of life. But I can tell you personally that the reward for doing so is worth every second of the struggle.
For when we are able to see the good in the weeds, we are able to see the good in ourselves and in others.
Our human curiosity becomes not a tool for divide and conquer, but about a shared love for what is right in our world. We are empowered by a curiosity that seeks to squeeze out every ounce of value in this short time we have on this planet and that curiosity propels us forward into a land of positive change.
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It was Palm Sunday 2004, and my husband and I and our three children were on a tour of Paris, France. Our tour guide asked us if we would like to see the Dimanche des Rameaux” (Sunday of the Branches”) at the Cathedral de Notre Dame, a Holy week celebration of Jesus arrival in Jerusalem. Our kids, being huge Quasimodo fans, thanks to the 1996 Disney version of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”, were thrilled. My husband and I, while extremely excited, were still a bit unsure about putting our family in the middle of such a large gathering, only because the pain of 9/11 was still very fresh and we had already experienced a massive French military presence near our hotel and along the Champs-Elysees due to the state visit between Queen Elizabeth and French President Jacques Chirac. But children have a way of putting things in perspective and my little boys request, “I want to see QUAAAASIIMOOOO” sealed the deal.
Safety concerns aside, I silently hoped and prayed that some elfin creature would materialize from the bell tower of Notre Dame singing “Out There” or we were going to have some very disappointed children. I wondered if Jesus would help me out here.
Palm Sunday itself had started off in typical April in Paris fashion: gray and drizzly! But as our driver approached Notre Dame, the clouds broke to reveal a powder blue sky. The sun’s rays bouncing off the rose windows in the Cathedral tower reflected a kaleidoscope of colors onto the white robes of the clergy gathered on the steps below.
Our driver, could not find a place to park, dashing any hopes of us joining in palm procession, but he quickly zipped into a red curbed driveway and rolled down the windows.
“Prenez vite vos photos!” (Quick, take your pictures!).
I didn’t think twice and just started snapping pictures. Through my camera lens, I could see thousands of people, old and young, and somewhere in-between, locked arm in arm, standing in the shadow of this towering testament to gothic architecture and human survival. Palm branches were waving everywhere. I mean everywhere. With my ears, I could hear a cacophony of voices: some angelic sopranos, some altos, tenors and bass, some off-key, literally hundreds of languages singing what I later learned was a hymn called, “The Palm.” There were people who were not singing on the periphery of the crowds, but they were no less engaged. Most of them were smiling, their teeth white against a myriad of skin tones, their eyes raised to the heavens in joy, to admire the bell towers or possibly the spire atop, or maybe in hope that the wafting clouds might part further to reveal the Christ they had come to praise. Some were taking pictures like me. Others were silently holding hands with a loved one, or cuddling a small child.
I looked at my children, at my husband and gone were any thoughts of spying a Disney cartoon character. For, here was “faith”, not as a label, not even as a building as magnificent as Notre Dame, not as a theological doctrine or a set of rules that I struggled to follow, but rather “faith” in its’ purest form:
Raw, human interaction. Diversity in all its’ splendor. A celebration of the human spirit, of all we can be together. No barriers, no boundaries.
My three-year old son who was hanging out the window, turned to look at me, his tiny hands clapping, “Happy mommy, it’s happy.”
Quasimodo was forgotten. “Faith” had taken root instead!
I wanted so badly to get out of the car and walk with my family, arm in arm, towards those crowds outside Notre Dame and all of that “faith, but alas, our driver said we needed to move on and off we went in search of Montmartre and Sacre-Couer and all the other wonders of Paris.
But after we returned to the states, I thought about that moment at Notre Dame. The cynic in me argued that I was romanticizing things. Being a Christian and a regular church attendee, it’s natural that I would be excited to see such a diverse group of religious faithful joyously celebrating one of the most sacred aspects of Holy Week, at one of the most famous churches in the world.
But deep in my heart I knew I had been blessed by what I had seen in a different way.
And I began to wonder why I had couldn’t live out my life with a “faith” that simple and pure. No labels, no barriers, no ridiculous expectations or judgements, just pure happiness.
I knew how to do it. In fact, I think we all know how to do it.
Terrorist attacks, natural disasters, the death of a child…almost any tragedy, we move together without thinking as one “faith”. Oh, not the “faith” of a specific religion, but a “faith” that lives and breathes in each other, in humanity and in our very human desire to be the light in the face of darkness.
Yesterday, as the world watched Notre Dame burn, I once again saw the people gather, this time in the shadow of the flames engulfing their beloved treasure Their tear stained faces, reflecting the sorrow of what was lost, but in their eyes was a determination and hope that immediately took me back to that Palm Sunday fifteen years ago.
It mattered not where they came from. It mattered not their theology or lack thereof. It mattered not their income, their gender, their skin color, or any other label we humans assign other humans.
What mattered were the images of strangers, standing arm in arm, voices raised in song, defiant of the flames, reminding us that even in the face of darkness, happiness is just around the corner.
I need to make it a priority to not lose “faith” in my fellow human beings. There is much good there…SO MUCH GOOD!
Hope is alive. Positivity is stronger than Negativity. Let it in. Let it flow.
That’s what Jesus would want us to do. That’s what we should do!
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Have you ever thought about what your “mission” in life is?
I’m not talking about the lists of errands and forgotten “To Do’s”. I’m talking about if you could focus on something that would bring you happiness, joy, purpose, and encompass all that “You” represent to yourself and the world, what would your “mission” be?
My journey to uncover my own “mission” has by no means been an easy one. In fact, it’s actually pretty fluid and right now, I guess you could say that in this particular moment my “mission” is to spread “POSITIVITY” through my blog on PositivelyAnne.
As my life ebbs and flows though, so does my “mission”, but it might help you to understand how to define your own “mission”, if I share with you a little back story on how I have been able to find and define mine.
My journey to find my “mission” began when one afternoon, at the age of eight, I happened to hear these powerful words spoken by Captain James T. Kirk (actor: William Shatner)of the starship Enterprise in the opening credits of Star Trek: The Original Series:
“Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year “mission”: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”
I imagine you are laughing now, but I am totally serious. Totally!
You see I grew up at a time when space was on the minds of all of Americans. Once Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin planted the American flag on the moon in 1969, those grainy images on our television set of subsequent Apollo missions and the nightly commentary from broadcaster, Walter Cronkite, sent my imagination soaring. The nursery rhyme of my childhood that talked of a cow jumping over the moon, was now replaced by real people traversing the “cheese” planet with lunar landers. It all seemed so big and grand, a “mission” of the utmost importance.
In addition, my father was an aerospace executive and one of my earliest memories is standing with him and my brother in front of a rocket as it was intentionally blown apart on a launch pad as part of its’ “mission” testing. I have never heard a bang as loud as that since then. It was truly awesome to witness, but more importantly it etched the word “mission” into my subconscious. The idea of something powerful, something important, something BIG, really, really BIG!
I was too little to watch the original Star Trek series when it premiered on NBC in 1966, and if not for the growing interest in space after the moon landings, the show probably would have faded into obscurity, written off as a novelty, as were most of the shows in the early days of television. But the moon landings happened and after it’s 3 -year run, Star Trek was blasted into syndication riding high on the possibility that the secrets of space were now within our reach. I watched it as often as I could.
Now being so young, I had no real concept of the deeper meaning of Star Trek. I didn’t understand the lasting implications of the diversity of its’ cast. I didn’t understand its’ ground breaking storylines addressing differences, and inclusion and compromise I guess you could say I didn’t understand much, if anything, of the historic context of the television I was watching.
But, to be perfectly honest, I didn’t really care about any of that. I didn’t watch the show for its’ story lines, my little girls heart was captivated by the opening credits and Captain James T. Kirk’s hypnotic voice inviting us to be a part of his “mission.”
“Space, the final frontier…”
I was rapt with curiosity. I wanted to be a part of the “mission” of this crew. To explore, to seek, to go where I had never gone before.
It sounded so important. I wanted to be important. To do important work like the men on the moon and my father. I wasn’t sure that my calling would be space flight…math was not my favorite subject, but I knew that whatever I did, I wanted my “mission” to matter, to my family, to strangers, to the world.
As I entered high school, America had long ago stopped going to the moon, both in real life and on television. We discovered the moon was not everything the Gumby cartoons had portrayed it to be, let alone Star Trek. My father now worked on a new space program, a space shuttle that would be able to return to earth…a sort of “space truck”, if you will. While its’ initial missions seemed endlessly exciting to me and my heart soared along with my fathers at each successful flight, I was watching television both times the shuttle exploded. First the Challenger, then several years later, the Columbia.
I felt the horror, along with thousands of other students across America, as our disbelieving eyes tracked the sky for the glittering remains of lives lost and dreams shattered. Something in me decided that day that it was no longer practical to reach for the stars and the moon. Keeping my feet grounded here at home, where I knew it was safe, seemed the best course of action. At this point in my life, my “mission” was to get my head out of the clouds and remain rooted in practical tasks and goals here on earth, at least for the next several years. Sometimes my “mission” seemed very trivial.
I’m on a “mission” to finish my homework so that I can go out with my boyfriend.
I’m on a “mission” to pass my geometry class.
I’m on a “mission” to get my college applications completed before the deadline.
I’m on a “mission” to get my laundry done.
I’m on a “mission” to go to the grocery store.
I’m on a “mission” to finish this book I’ve been wanting to finish.
I ‘m on a “mission” to lose 5 pounds.
I’m on a “mission” to not have tan lines.
I really like those Mission Tortilla Chips!!!
Yes, the grandeur of Captain Kirk’s “mission”, the same “mission” that made landing on the moon possible and sent the shuttle into outer space, was now reduced to nothing more than making sure I had a decent tortilla chip to dip into my salsa.
So much for the final frontier!
But trivialities aside, I did accomplish quite a bit after high school. I graduated with degrees in Liberal Studies-Journalism and Business and launched a successful career, first in hotel management and then in higher education. I met the love of my life in the dorms and got married and within a few years we were expecting our first child.
One day, in the first trimester of pregnancy, I found myself on the floor of the bathroom wrapped around the toilet battling a terrible case of morning sickness. I had pretty much memorized “What to Expect When You Are Expecting” and realized I needed to do something to take my mind off of the nausea. Laying down seemed to make it worse, so bed was out, but I decided I could probably prop myself up on the couch and watch a television program as a distraction.
I crawled out of the bathroom and over to the couch and turned on the television. I had no idea what was on. I heard the opening notes of Star Trek and Captain Kirk’s comforting voice:
“Space, the final frontier…” I relaxed. The nausea left me. I closed my eyes and I began to dream about all the “missions” that had come before me and were to follow.
I dreamed about those men who braved the odds to fly millions of miles above our earth to place their footprints and our flag in the dust, only to travel home to crickets chirping once we knew that aliens were not a part of the equation. They never gave up on their “mission”, even as America lost interest in them.
I dreamed of my dad and how tirelessly he and his team worked to make space flight look as easy as driving a truck and the sadness he must have carried inside him when all that was possible for space exploration, suddenly seemed impossible. He never gave up on his “mission” of searching and seeking answers to mans quest to explore space.
I dreamed of my unborn child, the bean inside me that soon would become our son or daughter and how much I wanted them to know that whatever their “mission” in life, their father and I would never give up on them, ever!
Lastly, but most important, I dreamed of my own “mission” and how I didn’t need to let life’s twists and turns stop me from progressing. At times, I move forward at warp speed. Other times, I sit quietly in the shadows taking it all in. Sometimes, I am a great success. Other times a great failure. But, I am always, always compelled to keep trying, not only for myself, but to honor all of those who have come before me and risk it all.
I have a “mission” and it’s ever changing, like me. But I’m all in. I’m ready for the challenge and in doing so, I truly think I have a damn good shot at this whole live long and prosper thing.
Thirty years of marriage, three kids, and four careers later, I’m still trying, one positive step forward at a time. Won’t you join me? PositivelyAnne
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I entered the waiting area of the radiation oncology department a half hour early, anxiousness after all of my pre-appointments with the oncology team, and ready to get the actual radiation started. The receptionist area was still closed, a sign taped to the wire cage that the office opened at 8am, but I was surprised to see three women already seated, their heads huddled together around what appeared to be a large puzzle.
One woman was definitely in her eighties. She had a walker perched to one side of her, a cup of coffee in her hand and she was wearing a bulky, ill- fitting cable knit sweater that dwarfed her petite frame. Around her neck was a patterned wool scarf that literally swallowed her chin, and on her head of silver, was a knit cap of the same pattern. Her ensemble struck me as really odd given it was mid-October in San Diego, our Indian summer, and despite the air- conditioned waiting room, once outside it was hovering in the low 90’s. Her face was deeply lined and her skin, an ashen shade of grey.
“Wow, she must really have cancer pretty bad”, I thought.
The woman to the left of her was probably in her fifties and she was wearing a pastel pink headscarf with a beautiful jewel pin on the front. In contrast to the woman in the bulky sweater, this woman looked very elegant in a tailored crème pantsuit with a silky blouse of jade and matching jade pumps. She was leaning forward over the puzzle, a piece of it in her hand, and her face registered intense concentration.
Seated next to her was another woman, she was much younger, maybe mid-twenties. She had on yoga pants and an off the shoulder sweatshirt that said, “#cancersucks”, her hair was little nubs like grass seed that is just beginning to sprout. She greeted me with a big smile and said, “Welcome to the Club” and motioned me to come sit next to her.
I looked at her confused, what club? “Well, um, I need to check in, I’m starting my radiation treatments today.”
The elderly woman with the walker said, “Yes, we know that honey, the gal opens up at 8am, come and sit with us and help us figure out this damn puzzle!”
I was taken aback. I just stared at them. Puzzle? What in the world, are they nuts? I’m here for radiation. This is serious you idiots. I HAVE CANCER! I have no time for the trivialities of a puzzle!
I turned towards the registration counter, and read the sign again. “Open at 8am!” I turned back towards the waiting area and the elegant woman, puzzle piece in hand, motioned towards the open seat next to her. “C’mon over here and help me find where this sucker goes!
Again, I just stared.
This time my voice was a little firmer.
“Um, thanks, but I’m here for my first radiation treatment today, I don’t think I could work on a puzzle.”
The elderly woman said, “We’ve all been there honey, but trust us, together is how we beat this thing. I’m back for the fourth time, not much left to radiate, but I’m going to beat it like I’ve beaten cancer all the other times. My friend here (pointing to the elegant woman) is almost finished with her radiation treatments for breast cancer, she gets to ring the bell tomorrow. And the youngster there (pointing at the woman in the yoga pants) is a newbie, like you, but she started a couple weeks ago.”
I’ve blanked out what happened next because I certainly don’t remember the elderly woman getting up and coming to stand beside me. But suddenly she was just there, walker and all, right next to me gripping my hand. I have a fuzzy memory of her saying something like, “C’mon, it’s ok, come join us!”
I remember her hand was like ice. Cold… so very, very cold. The bones of her fingers had a gnarled appearance, blue veins standing out like cracked porcelain against the grey of her skin. Two of her fingernails were black. I tried to recoil my hand, but she held on tighter. “C’mon, we need you!
Despite her cold hand, I felt a trickle of sweat drip down my back. Fear???
The elderly woman drew me over to the puzzle area, “Sweetie, fighting cancer is like this puzzle. It takes us apart and we have to put ourselves back together one piece at a time. Sometimes we need help to complete our puzzle…lots of help. C’mon and sit a minute with us while you wait for your radiation appointment and help put “US” back together.”
Did I hear her right? Did she just say, “Help put “US” back together?”
What is this “US” business? Poor thing, she must be delusional. I’ve never seen her or the other two women before in my life. I’m here for my radiation treatment, not to work on a puzzle. Again, I tried to pull away, but the elderly woman patted my hand and softly said, “Help us.”
Something about this elderly woman fascinated me, but also scared me. It was silly. I was towering over her and she looked as if a gust of wind could topple her without the security of her walker. Something about what she said made me want to run, to hide. The sweat was now rolling down my back. She tugged on my hand harder.
I took a seat next to her like she had asked me to. I was too afraid not to.
I was 52 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My mom had breast cancer in her 50’s and so the possibility that I might someday have it was always lurking in the shadows of my mind. But my mom had beaten the disease for over twenty years and in all honesty, I really didn’t spend any measurable time worrying about cancer or any other sort of life altering disease. If I got cancer, or any of the millions of other illnesses that were possible to ravage the human body, I’d deal with it as I’ve dealt with every other drama in my life.
On my own terms, head up, and with my usual can-do spirit.
But here it was, this cancer demon not only on my doorstep, but taking over my entire house. Every room.
It was overwhelming. The neat and tidy box I imagined my cancer journey to be, was not so neat and tidy in real life. I had complications, lots and lots of complications. I felt torn apart, like pieces of a puzzle waiting to be put back together.
It was unsettling, disconcerting, humbling and frankly, the scariest thing I had ever dealt with in my entire life.
I stared down at the puzzle in front of me and back up at the women.
The elegant woman said, “We were just saying to each other that figuring out the puzzle of life is hard enough, add cancer or any other major trauma and sometimes things don’t fit like they used to because cancer changes us, not only physically, but in all ways.” She talked a bit about how she had to rethink her life priorities, particularly when her cancer returned in a new, more aggressive way.
I found myself opening up. I told these strangers about my breast cancer, the complications, the surgery I was facing after radiation to fix my colon and after that a very probable hysterectomy. I told them I was so scared.
The elegant woman handed me the puzzle piece that was in her hand. “Honey, sometimes we need a little teamwork to get us through the darkness.”
I looked down at the puzzle before me. It was one of those thousand-piece deals, of a very famous Thomas Kinkade painting. A cobble stone street stood in the foreground of a white cottage. Yellow lights winked happily from the cottage windows and the street lanterns along the cobble stone street showcased an abundant garden, flora of every color, wrapping itself around the sides of the cottage like a hug. It was a happy looking picture and I smiled, until I looked down at the puzzle piece in my hand.
The piece was not pristine white, or cheery yellow, or even red or green or blue, no, it was midnight black.
The reality of the entire puzzle came into focus then. All that was left to finish of the happy scene was one corner, one dark corner. Every piece that was left to place was midnight black and indistinguishable from each other except for the individual intricacies of their jagged edges.
Why these women wanted me to help them because this is the hardest part of the puzzle!
A solid field of darkness that requires a keen eye, patience and sheer determination in order to solve. I didn’t think I had any of that left in me.
I held up the puzzle piece to the light above me. It was unremarkable. One of those typical puzzle pieces that look like two hands sticking out from a horseshoe. Common, except one of the hands was a little longer than the other.
The woman in the yoga pants said, “These two ladies come a half hour early for radiation to work on the puzzle together.” “I thought that was ridiculous! Why would anyone come early to radiation? Then I went home that first night after treatment and the fear crept in and ever since that day, I am here early, with these amazing ladies and one of these crazy, silly puzzles.”
“We are often surprised when we arrive each day that all that is left to finish of the puzzle is the darker, solid pieces”, said the elegant woman.
“We often need the assistance of a new person to help us solve where those darker pieces go, “said the elderly woman, that’s how we met our friend here”, she said pointing to the woman in the yoga pants. “In fact, she finished this tricky corner over here yesterday.”
I looked back down at the puzzle. The dark space that was yet to be completed. Suddenly, the puzzle dissolved before my eyes and in its place I imagined myself prostrate on the table with these three women hovering over me.
“I think it might go here,” the elderly woman said trying to put a piece of me back together. “No, can’t you see that edge there is a bit jagged?”, the elegant woman said. “Keep trying”, the younger woman said, “Together we can do this!”
“Help me”, I said. “Help me to be whole again.”
I was suddenly back in front of the puzzle, the three women at my side, their eyes on me with a clarity and a knowing that was palpable. I took the puzzle piece in my hand and pressed it in place.
“You did it!”, the elderly woman said. “We needed you and you did it.”
My name was called for my appointment and I got up and hugged each of them. The radiation tech smiled and as she walked me to the back area she said, “It’s funny how a silly puzzle has a way of helping us see just what we need.”
I lay on the radiation table, bare from the waist up, hands above my head, while the radiation tech maneuvered my body into place. I was told not to move as gears began to grind and my body slowly, very slowly was placed inside a large tube.
“Are you ready”, the radiation tech said. For a split second I felt a pang of fear.
Then a warmth enveloped me and I was laying there, my three new friends hovering over me in my mind, reassuring me that they would pick me up and put me back together, no matter how hard the puzzle.
“Life is a Puzzle, We are the Pieces”
Cancer is indeed a part of my life puzzle and it has certainly changed the physical me. However, cancer also gave me the opportunity to understand that the puzzle of my life is not mine alone to solve. When it comes to the hard parts of my puzzle, the pieces that don’t seem to fit, the dark spaces where it’s almost impossible to see the light, I can rely on the kindness of my family, my friends and yes, even strangers, to bless me, to put me back together in a way that is better and stronger than anything I could do on my own.
I hope I can be that for you too! PositivelyAnne
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