Bearing Witness

For twelve years I was an attendee of the local San Diego Society of Friends, more commonly referred to as the Quakers. Bearing Witness is an important part of their belief and practice.

“Bearing witness is largely nonverbal. It is being a compassionate observer to the unfolding of another person’s life or a particular moment or event.” The Power of Bearing Witness”-Judith Johnson

We, all of us, at some point or another in our lives come upon crisis, large or small, good or not so good, it really makes no difference. When crisis or trauma unfolds I believe that it is helpful to have those around us who can bear witness for each other. Sometimes we help each other sort through our feelings. More often we become someone who listens and observes while the other person speaks freely from their heart. Some times it is a quiet role of helping to hold the space so the other person can take care of the business at hand.

Guests at a wedding are bearing witness. Any time any of us gather in small or large groups we bear witness to that event in time. 

“When we bear witness, we lovingly give our attention to the other without judgment. We comfort without smothering. We play a supporting role — powerfully upholding the other starring in his or her life. It is not about us. It is about them. Yet, we make a profound decision when we do not try to fix their pain and suffering or share in their experience by telling how we had a similar experience. Bearing witness says, “You are not alone. I see you. I witness what you are experiencing. What you are experiencing matters to me. I surround you with my love.” The Power of Bearing Witness-Judith Johnson

Recently I was reminded again of the importance of bearing witness. A good and dear friend of mine received some painful news. Most of the day was spent on the phone and speaking with others. I began during this process to become aware of my role, bearing witness. Being in the immediate environment, as a witness to this time, I held the space so that she could make the phone calls she needed to. It felt important to let her know she was in a kind and loving space and she could take care of business. When and if she was ready, I was there for her to talk with. I was bearing witness.

One of my favorite quotes is “We are just walking each other home”. I believe we bear witness or honor the other person and know we are each on the same path, even though we may have different directions to get there. There is nothing more honorable and special in my heart than to help each other through all the different times in our lives.

 

Many have born witness for me over the past four and half years since my husband, Jim’s death. My community of friends has grown stronger. I am only now, beginning to recognize the importance that their role was for me in those first few years after he died. Most of these friends began to bear witness for me and Jim together when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I appreciate now, how much each person has offered to me. Some gave me space to talk and cry. Others kept me distracted, playing games, going to the movies, seeing an art exhibit. All of this support offered me space to grieve and begin to heal. We do this for each other. Sometimes it is all any of us can do.

There are many sides to bearing witness. I have become more conscious of this roll as I have matured. Although Jim’s death was hard, I still see that time as something I am so grateful for. We were all right there in the moment. It was special, unique, sad, loving and every other emotion the world. All of us that were with him until the moment of his death were bearing witness to a very special moment in time.  I may not always be happy with the outcome yet I am so thankful for the moment.

Lately I have been having these flashes of the events of the day he died.  They arrive, quite unexpectedly and then within seconds they are gone. I am left sitting at a stoplight in wonder. I feel that I am finally able to sift through that day, those events, without pain. The fact that these moments come quickly and leave quickly is important. I feel that these moments have been creating space for me to consider such topics as “Bearing Witness”.

Today I am thankful for those who have actively and not so actively held the space for me. I am thankful for the times I have held the space for others. I am thankful for Bearing Witness.

I Am On The Move

When I look back to my last post, I am amazed it has been almost a month since I posted. What? How could that be? I have been on the move.

 

I left San Diego in mid-April. Once taxes were completed and the dental work finished it was time to figure out what to do with my summer. In classic Janet fashion, sometimes I find it hard to decide what direction to go. Sometimes when everything is planned a better option shows up and there I am, my typical Libra self, once again, contemplating and making plans and changing my mind.

Friends, near and far are a life line for me. I treasure my friends. This part of my journey has been about travel and friends, and new experiences.

A View of Zion Canyon

First stop on my rambling life, Zion National Park. I have a very good long time friend that lives just outside the park.  Sharon and I have known each other since I was young and I babysat her children. When I was in my early twenties I reconnected with this family and it turns out, it was the best thing I could have chosen to do. Sharon and her husband David always unconditionally loved and supported me. Unfortunately David died a little over two years ago. Now after a 60 year marriage Sharon is on her own. She and I have joined the same club, like it or not.

I spent my week in and around the park doing challenging hikes and helping Sharon around the house. One day of hiking was followed by a day of errands and yard work. It was a great combination.

Central Nevada

From Zion I drove across central Nevada heading to Monterey, CA. I have never spent much time in this state. The byways I took makes me want to go back and explore more. Another state goes on my ever-growing list of places I want to visit. I like the solitude of the area. When a badger crossed in front of my RV, I could stop in the middle of the road to watch it. There was no traffic. Nope, not one vehicle.

Roadtreks all in a row

After all the solitude I arrived at a Roadtrek Rally located at the Fairgrounds in Monterey. The rally had forty Roadtreks and about sixty people. For three and a half days we gathered for meals and other events. We explored each other’s rigs and new ones as well. It was three days of camaraderie and learning. I discovered that larger groups of people can be fun when I have a place to retreat to for quality alone time.  Another very good use for my Roadtrek. Meeting friends can be fun. I met several people who I have met on-the-road. It helped that there were a few friends at the rally. Charlotte, a good friend and the woman who married Jim and me lives in Monterey. We were able to slip a breakfast in and catch up on new and long time experiences. She is a magical, delightful person.

Oh so good friends-Gary on the left and Ron on the right as you look at the photo.

Now I am heading north. I will get to my summer plans in a few minutes. Two nights ago, at the last minute, I called friends in Santa Rosa who I have always threatened to visit and this time I did. First you have to know, I love Ron and Gary. They have always held a special place in my heart. They are both Scottish dance teachers as well as amazing musicians and delightful friends. Not only did I get to spend a wonderful evening with them, dancing and catching up…I got to dance. Oh it has been long. My ankle is not 100% yet but it is close. Being back on the dance floor was delight. Coming back to their house afterwards was even better. I love these two men and I am glad we are friends. I have known Ron for close to thirty years. He is special.

Where to next. Well here it is, in a nutshell. I am heading north to Lassen and then to Medford. It is time to meet up with my friend Mary again. She is the one I spent some time with in the Arizona desert this winter. I am looking forward to catching up and getting some wine tasting in.

Idaho is my destination for a part of the summer. Linda and Steve, more Roadtreking friends,  have offered me and Miss Elsie their cabin in Donnelly Idaho. I am taking them up on the offer. I am looking forward to being a bit stationary for a few months. Other events on the horizon? A river trip, the solar eclipse (oh Jim would be so proud) and later in the summer, Colorado. It is time to spend time on my property there. Late summer and early fall is a delightful time to be in the mountains.

I am grateful for the western United States. I always thought I would end up in New England. I often tell people I got to the Rocky Mountains and never looked east again. There is something about this part of the country, from the mountains to the Pacific that touches my soul. I am looking forward to my mountain summer. And….you know….if any of you are in the area please be in touch. I would love to visit and explore with you.

All my friends are treasures and I look forward to spending time with each and everyone of you, time and time again.

Today I am grateful for Friends and Friendship.

 

Getting Ready to Roll

I feel like I have been in San Diego for a long time. It is not true, I have been here for a month. My RT went into the shop today to have a few things checked. She is ready to go. Oil changed, tires rotated, DEF fluid topped off, leaky gray water tank fixed today. It looks like everything is a go.

Once again I am un-nesting. I find I get anxious before I get ready to “get on-the-road”. I have delayed trips by a day or two or by a week or more because of anxiety, mostly presented by my not feeling well. I am now recognizing the symptoms earlier so I can attempt to stop the anxiety from getting the upper hand. Well, most of the time.

A wash outside of Zion National Park

Where am I heading? I am leaving in the morning, tomorrow for southern Utah. I have a dear friend who lives just outside the entrance to Zion National Park. I am anxious to see her and catch up. It also helps that I can walk from her house to the washes and take off hiking and exploring. And then, there is the park within a short drive. This is an amazing part of our country.

I would like to say that this anxiousness has occurred since Jim’s death but that would not be true. When I was working as a Tour Manager, I would feel that anxiety build before a trip. It amazes me that I have to tackle this issue when I love to travel so much. I believe that some of this anxiety is my desire to be perfect, which I will never be. Then there is also the unknown. When Jim was around he would help defer it by keeping me busy. Now it is up to me to discover tools to help with this. Reminding myself that once I get behind the wheel, the anxiety disappears. Breathing and meditating is also another useful tool. If any of you have tricks that work for you, please oh please share.

Life is a continual learning and growing experience. I am looking forward to the beginning of the next part of my continuing life adventure. I am not sure where I will land but I am certainly going to make it an adventure getting there.

Get ready Miss Elsie, we are getting ready to move out.

 

 

Challenges of a Small Home Lifestyle

Lake Jennings

I have been in San Diego County since March 19th. I have camped in two places since my return and I am getting ready to move to a third place. It is important to book ahead when Easter weekend looms on the horizon. My first campground was at Lake Jennings. It was a beautiful site, on a scenic reservoir. Now I am a bit closer in towards San Diego at another very nice campground, Santee Lakes. This weekend I will move once again and then when Easter is over I return to Santee Lakes.

Wood Duck Mama at Santee Lakes

When I really enjoy a place, where I have stopped to camp, I find it is hard to let go of it and move on to the next one. I think I, un-intentionally, like to set down roots. I believe many of us do. That is why we buy homes or land. That is why we nest.

I think it is a very good lesson to un-nest and re-nest once again. I have found, since I have taken on this experiment in living that there are two responses from people. The younger generation tells me how cool it is and that is what they want to do. The older generation ( people my age and older) don’t always understand what I am doing. I have to admit I don’t always understand what I am doing.  I do know that the longer I have been living this lifestyle the more comfortable it gets. Do I think I will do this long term? No. I miss my community of friends and eventually community will be what draws me back to settling in one place again.

There are challenges with this lifestyle, as there are with any. When I am back in San Diego I visit my storage locker a couple of times. I like sitting around what is familiar and loved. It feels like all these objects and belongings are waiting. Hmm…I am waiting too. I am not sure what I am waiting for, yet, I am waiting. My belongings know what they are waiting for. They are waiting for a home.

What are some of the challenges?

  • My living space is very, very small. Storage is always an issue.
  • What do I really need to live a comfortable life? This is a question I ask myself several times a month.
  • Things need to be orderly. I am somewhat of a slob. I am not dirty but I tend to lay my clothes and belongings other places than where they should be. I cannot afford to do this in this small space. If something is pulled out, when I am finished with it, it has to go back to it’s home instantly.
  • It is amazing how quickly this small place can become dirty. I clean every single day. The carpeted area gets vacuumed. The floor gets swept daily. The floor also get’s washed every other day.
  • I have a small “wet bath”. When I take a shower, the whole bathroom gets cleaned. This usually happens every other day.
  • The garbage cannot linger. I have to remove it every other day. Smells accumulate in a small space.
  • When I want to go somewhere in my Roadtrek, I can’t simply pull out. I have to disconnect the water, and electric. The refrigerator has to be moved to battery power. Are all the windows and doors closed and locked? And where is Miss Elsie the cat, usually sleeping in the driver’s seat.
  • I have two of everything. That means if more than two people come to visit, they either have to come with their dish in hand or I get paper plates and plastic ware, which I really do not like using.
  • When getting ready to travel, is everything in it’s place. I have a check list that, even after close to four years, I still look at. It is not unusual to miss one thing.
  • When I had a house I noticed when things went wrong, only after they had escalated. In a small space I notice more quickly if something needs attention. This is of course a house on wheels and all homes have issues over time. The time is just shorter in a small home.
  • It is amazing what I can lose in here. Now my keys go back where they belong as soon as I enter my home.
  • I used to have a whole file cabinet. Today, I have one portable file with all the essentials in it.
  • I usually do not read books. I read on my Kindle App. There is limited space for the real thing. I miss turning the pages. I would, however, prefer to read than not read. 📚
  • The cat litter cannot be ignored. That gets cleaned at least once a day. It took a bit of research, I finally found a type of cat litter that has minimal odor. Yay. Tracking means vacuuming.
  • If I have to take my RT in for repairs, what do I do with Elsie the cat? When I am in San Diego I can drop her at my friend Nancy’s (thank you, Nancy). When I am on the road I usually will put her in her cat carrier and if it is longer we find a hotel room.

I am sure that if I took more time I would discover more challenges. The challenges become a daily part of life and I don’t think about them too much. It is better to approach the unique situations as they come up. There is always a solution. The one nice thing about my RV is that if I break down somewhere (hasn’t happened) I have a place that is comfortable while I wait out the solution. That is nice.

I may just do another post on the benefits of this lifestyle. I have found there are many. Right now, though, today is moving day. I am off to Kumayaay Lakes Campground for Easter weekend. I am looking forward to staying here. Until about a year ago it was closed. Now it is open weekends and has come in handy when Santee Lakes was full. Time to do the process.

Happy Easter everyone.

 

 

Lessons of the Desert

The desert in bloom

A woman I know told me a few months ago I had not spent enough time alone, since Jim’s death. She is someone I respect. She has experienced the loss of her partner as well.

I wasn’t sure what she meant so I let it sit until I could figure it out. Then I went to the desert. I left at the end of January and returned to San Diego today, Sunday.

I know a little more now about spending time alone. The desert is not for everyone. For me it is a place of healing and beauty and more. If you ever want to be alone, not just physically but in all dimensions,  there is no better place to go than the desert southwest.

Every time I travel to the deserted places, I know a little more about myself when I return to civilization. What do I know? I am not sure. I do know that there is a stronger presence of peace within me. At the same time confusion is also present.

I believe that people go through periods of identity crisis in their life. The first major one for many, appears around our 27th year. This is often times of big change, a move, a career change, people get married, others get divorced and whatever else can be imagined. I know that when I turned 28 my life changed a lot. I was off and on the move, exploring myself spiritually, emotionally, physically and more.

Another year of great change for me was when I turned 50. I think 60 might have been a marker year for me. I did not expect it to be because of Jim’s death. It is amazing how strong one can be when one has to be. When I didn’t feel strong, my friends and family were there to support me and hold me steady. They still are. I never did celebrate my 60th birthday until my 62nd year.

With the sale of our home, last July, I finally gave myself permission to wander and be lost if I needed to be. Elsie and I moved into the Roadtrek (the little house on wheels) and began to wander. The first few months were with purpose. I was the sag wagon for my friend Cat, as she bicycled the Pacific Coast.

In November when I returned to San Diego, Pat, a friend,  kindly took Miss Elsie and myself in. Little did I know it would be for almost three months. Teeth are tricky and I became close friends with the dentist while I was there. I finally asked for some time off and with some sound advice from my dentist, I left for the desert.

After the first few weeks, I have spent most of the time alone. And, I have been wandering. My feet have definitely been wandering. Hiking and walking every day has been a good adventure. I feel as if I have gotten back to my younger roots, and have begun to wander the desert freely and without reserve. I do use my hiking poles. As a good friend, Mary would say, NBA. No Broken Ankles.

I have pondered death and what it must have been like for my parents to see their friends and acquaintances die. I am reaching an age now where I too am beginning to know of loss of health and life. I always thought that someone would miss me when I was gone but the reality of it is, is that life goes on. We may carry the memories of those who have left, yet all of our lives continue to move forward. This is hard to acknowledge when it comes to Jim. There is so much I have learned from our time together. He was a gift in my life. I know he cannot be here physically yet I can carry the memories with me as I continue to grow in my own life.

it is hard to explore some of the more fragile parts of my existence. Life is not always positive. Yet even when things are looking dim I believe I can make my life positive by acknowledging the hard things of life. We all experience those hard moments. For some moments last for years. Not for me.

One of the questions I have asked myself out in the desert is “what do I have to live for?”. Existentially, I believe we all ask this question at some point in our existence. This is a hard question to ask and expect to receive a total answer. Some days I am not sure what the answer is. Other days I have a better grasp on it. When I get low I have amazing friends who know just when to call. This happened with me a few nights ago. Thank you Mary for calling. It was just what I needed.

Here are a few ideas of what I have to live for.

  • Friends-near and far, known and unknown.
  • Miss Elsie the Cat.

    Miss Elsie the Cat

  • The basic fact is that I am not ready to leave yet. I have given this some thought since Jim’s death. There is no easy way out.
  • Friends
  • My family. I have two sisters that care about me and nieces as well. I now have a great niece and great nephew. I don’t see my family  often yet I know they are out there for me.
  • Jim’s family.
  • I still have a lot of books to read and things to understand. I am not done growing yet.
  • Photography and painting.
  • Friends
  • I am still working on how to help others. I did this for most of my work life. I feel like I needed a break. With everything happening in the world it is time for me to address this again.

I believe the list is much longer and changes from day to day, moment to moment. It is not always defined. Little “ah-ha” moments are sometimes all we have.

I made my way to the outskirts of San Diego. I am staying at a beautiful county park. My view is incredible. I have one day off tomorrow and then I become busy.

A view from my home for the next two weeks

My tax and dental appointment loom on the horizon. Yes, the realities of life.

 

Leaving the Sonoran-Arriving the California Desert

Today I move. In about two weeks I need to be back in San Diego. One more dental surgery to go and taxes need to be done. Sigh.

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Ah, Sunset

Last evening was the warmest evening I have spent in southern AZ. I could actually sit outside till long after the sun had dipped below the horizon. It was a perfect Sonoran desert evening. No wind, owls hooting, and the traffic had dwindled to a minimum. Elsie was busy watching things, out there in the world. Definitely a perfect evening.

I spent the last two days meandering the desert. There are no trails here except the ones the wild burros have made as they trek to the tinaja (water tank). I had to sign in to be on this land. The docent where I signed in said just follow the burrows. FTB. I did just that. I walked through the mountainous terrain to the valley that lies beyond. I walked into the wide dry wash and stood listening to birds. Those pesky birds are hard to find amongst the willows, palo verde and creosote.

What I thought was a dry wash revealed itself as I looked down. The burro tracks revealed a different story. I could see water at the bottom of their prints. The wash was not as dry as I first thought. Water, the life blood of the desert, the mountains and all humans. In this dry, harsh climate I have gained a new respect for water. The tracks at the tinaja were numerous and varied. Even the bees were there drinking from the green rank water. If I was really thirsty, I know I would be joining the others for a drink.

Those Pesky Chollas

Those Pesky Chollas

img_8671You have to be careful when walking in this country. Even though the cholla really do not jump sometimes it feels like they do. Most things are thorny and prickly and demand respect. There are many holes dug in the ground, big and small. They are critters homes. If you don’t observe where you walk you could stumble into one of these. It could lead to disaster. The first hike I did alone I returned to where I thought my RT was only to find I was quite a distance to the south. A strong sense of direction is a must. A map is even a better idea (I didn’t have one). I always carry a compass and in this case looked west. I knew there was a road out there somewhere.

I have seen desert Big Horn Sheep, climbing up and over the top of a rocky mountain. Two javelina surprised me as much as I did them one morning. They started up the mountain. One stumbled and slid down a rock but quickly regained his footing and the last I saw of it, it was running over the summit.img_8570

 

Desert Lily

Desert Lily

Wild flower season is beginning to happen here. With just the right amount of water the desert blooms with the tiniest of flowers. All are showy. It is hard to step around the white daisies that carpet the floor in these washes. The desert is a happy place when there has been rain. Ah, water. I could mention most of the flowers I have seen but that would take too long. The desert Lily is always one of my favorites.

Today El and I pack up and leave. I am not done with the desert yet. I am moving towards Anza Borrego State Park in the California desert. I am having a hard time saying goodby to southern AZ. I have seen so much, found some peace for my sometimes weary soul, and met some lovely people along the way. I know I will meet up with most of them again. We are all part of a group-the wandering, adventurous souls. We love to travel. It is a strong bond and one I want to explore more in depth.

17021834_10153749903052537_7288542039359449127_nI had the opportunity to visit for three glorious days with Missy and Dan. Missy and I have been friends for many years. They live on the east coast, splitting their time between Florida and Maine. It makes it hard to get together, yet every so many years we manage. It was a delight traveling, camping and hiking with them. I loved the access we had with their jeep. I love them.

I have no doubt that I will return to this country. The desert draws me back again and again. Who knew that this east coast woman would fall in love with the wide open space. Now it is time to pack and get ready to move.

I plan to carry my time in this country forward with me. It has changed me as each new experience does. I feel a little less alone and more at peace. These are good things and even if I forget these moments and feelings, I know my body and mind will hold them for me. That way I can tune into this anytime I want.

Getting ready to pack.

Listening

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I have spent the last two nights at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Refuge. It is in eastern Arizona and is a migratory stop to 7,000 plus, Sandhill Cranes. The whole valley is a stop for more than 23,000 of these beautiful birds. Each morning around dawn they leave in mass to feed in the nearby ranch fields. It is an amazing site to witness their departure and return to the refuge.

Leaving the refuge in the morning

Leaving the refuge in the morning

Arriving back at the Refuge around noon.

Arriving back at the Refuge around noon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The refuge is also home to many ducks, shore birds, owls, and yellow-headed blackbirds. Coyotes, bobcats, foxes and more make this their home as well. For those of us in our RV’s and tents, it is a free camping spot. I think the refuge provides the camping as most get up to see the pre-dawn take off.

cinnamon Teal

cinnamon Teal

Shovelers in Flight

Shovelers in Flight

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yes it was amazing to see these graceful birds. Yes I loved the ducks and all the other birds. What was most amazing were the amount of sounds that surrounded me when I stopped and listened.

  • The cranes were never silent, even in the middle of the night.
  • The ducks quacked, squeaked and more.
  • The first evening when the yellow-headed blackbirds returned to the refuge they flew directly over my head. It was so amazing to listen to the sound of hundreds of wings. They were so close I could almost feel the breeze as they flew above.

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    Yellow-headed Blackbirds Arriving at the Refuge

  • Later as I was making my back to the RV, the reeds sounded like the wind was blowing, although it was still. It took me a few moments to realized that the blackbirds were making the noise in the marsh reeds.
  • The owls hooted in the trees surrounding the marsh.
  • Night two I was able to witness a murmuration up close as the blackbirds swooped in and out of the marshes. They created their own arial dance. I could hear them as the swooped and dove, settling for a few moments on the reeds and then taking to the air again.

Listening is defined as “giving attention with the ear”. It is an art form. There are classes to teach active listening. People listen to each other. A therapist listens to their clients. Fine music can sweep one away.

How often do we stop just to listen? How does the wind sound today? How does the quiet sound, right now? When it is too quiet do we actively do something to disturb it? What does silence sound like? This refuge was so alive I cannot tell you what silence sounded like.

boywithcat

Listening to nature is a form of meditation. It can quiet the mind, still the ever present rambling thoughts. I have found that it can increase my awareness of the present moment. The more I am quiet in the wilderness, the more I become aware of the subtlest sounds. As I stood in the refuge I realized that the ultimate experience at this place, was sound. There was so much of it all around. If I had not taken the time to quiet myself, I might have missed the sounds around me.

I have noticed, since leaving San Diego in January, that quiet is becoming more important to me. It is not quiet that I seek as much as it is the increasing awareness within myself to acknowledge the sounds that I don’t often pay attention to, like the blackbirds in the reeds. It was an amazing revelation to realize that the reeds were alive with birds. It drew me back the next night and so I was able to witness the murmuration.

Now I am listening to my stomach and it is telling me it is time for dinner.