Monday, December 7, 2020

The Comfort of Memories in An Age of Anxiety

Walking in the brisk sunshine chill of a December afternoon, my friend and I shared how this Christmas would be different from years past. The annual Christmas Eve party she had hosted going on three decades for my family and hers wouldn't happen. A nephew was flying home from the West Coast and since her husband was recovering from a hospital stay and planes and airports posed risks, he wouldn't feel comfortable. 

Despite the setbacks, people I know try to put an upbeat spin on things, especially those of us who are retired. We had our Social Security checks deposited monthly, owned our homes, didn't need a paycheck anymore. The don't-have-to work lifestyle came in handy these days.

Still, the brisk walk as antidote to anxiety felt desperately needed—a way to feel healthy in the wilderness that is Covid and the balancing act I’d been walking ... having friends over, but no more than a couple at a time, accompanying my son to the hospital for outpatient surgery but wearing a mask and keeping my distance from others, all the while refusing to constantly stay home because it’s no way to live. Still, I miss the impromptu trip to the coffee shop in a village above French Creek with its rushing water over antediluvian boulders ... sitting indoors with dried lavender on the table, surrounded by people whose conversation I eavesdrop.

After the walk, it felt good to come home. A brilliant red poinsettia in front of the fireplace and a mantle decorated with twinkling lights and pinecones made my little house feel cozy and safe. And, of course, Lily, my Yellow Lab, waited. 

As a friend once said to me, “There is poverty and then there is poverty, if you know what I mean.” I did. We didn’t have a lot of money growing up but I never felt deprived either. My parents weren’t perfect, but they did their best raising my brother and me. We lived comfortably, nothing fancy, Mother penny pinched at the food stores to get the best price on a cut of meat, bemoaned at times living on my father’s salary as a private school teacher and administrator, but it was a good life, a nice home, a cocker spaniel offering unconditional love. My parents even had a little nest egg in bonds and CDs. They offered love and security, that ineffable feeling of shelter from the storm where every year Dad put up a live Christmas tree and Mother sang ‘Oh Tannenbaum’ in her warbling soprano voice, accompanying herself on the upright piano. 

Mother and Dad on vacation

There was no acquisition for acquisition sake ... just necessities and little luxuries of Friday and Saturday night dinners out so Mother didn't have to cook ... a vacation to Nassau when I was sixteen but every other year the Jersey Shore or the Poconos. The lessons my father and, later, my faith, taught were invaluable. A person only needed so much and the rest had to come from within because life is an anxious and stressful affair. The importance of resilience combined with feeling empathy for others is enough, as is letting go of control, stopping to reflect and contemplate, or for Dad, at least, working the daily newspaper crossword puzzle or rereading Thackery or Whitman.

A brisk walk, a healthy meal, a good book, a writing space, cutting back on the wine, all  have become my survival tools. Mostly, though, comfort lies in the memories that return, now more than ever, the older I get. The memories of a day, a moment, a hint of tropical breeze, the soft muzzle of a sweet little dog help keep anxiety beyond my front door.

Mother and the cockers
Mother and the cocker spaniels


kathleen pooler said...

Susan, beautiful! The memories of a secure childhood do sustain me. Better yet, my parents lived to be 88 snd 96, so more precious memories were made. Indeed, the older I get, the more I turn inward and this pandemic affords me lots of time to enjoy those memories. Perhaps we aren’t as impoverished as it seems.

Susan G. Weidener said...

Well said, Kathy. I like to think that we still have a great life, good opportunities even as we age and our memories, of course, to sustain us.

Marilyn said...

Susan, your reflections on the comforts of memories resonated with me. My parents and their Catholic faith taught me that material wealth cannot promote happiness or security and true resilience comes from within. My mother was very thrifty and we rarely enjoyed luxuries of any kind, but we knew the difference between needs and wants, and our lives were rich in love and laughter. As we enter this pandemic winter, I reflect on how fortunate I am to be retired, to share my life with my best friend. And I look forward to simple pleasures, such as walking in the fresh air or watching the cardinals, bluebirds and nuthatches at my feeders.

Susan G. Weidener said...

Good morning, Marilyn. I can almost envision you by those feeders, breathing in the cool, crisp morning air and feeling the contentment that comes with reflection and counting your blessings. Thanks so much for sharing your memories here of family and faith, and keep writing, my friend. Hope to see you in 2021 when we can again share our words and wisdom in the Circle.