Posted in Life

Empty spaces

It’s been one long year of feeling empty, hasn’t it? At the beginning of this you know what, Papa and I flew back from our jaunt to Arizona to find empty highways on the way home from the airport. Eerily empty roads because lockdowns had begun in our state.

Following that, our empty nest became a little less empty though as our young granddaughter basically moved in with us for just about two months because her mama (our daughter) is a hospital nurse and was in danger of being exposed to the plague (she was).

Even though our lives were full of caring for our Little One, our hearts felt void and empty because we couldn’t see our family near or far, couldn’t visit friends, couldn’t attend worship services at church, couldn’t enjoy social gatherings, couldn’t lead Bible study in person, couldn’t shop for groceries or anything else except online, couldn’t travel except for nearby drives in the car….the list of could nots just seemed to empty happy thoughts out of our beings like a pitcher pouring water out until the very last drop.

The emptiness left us bone dry. Finally, a little break from that void occurred during the last days of summer. Our family braved an opportunity to venture to an ocean beach for a week-long sequester in a rented house with all of us congregating – Papa and Mama, three adult offspring, two of their spouses, and our precious three little grandchildren.

That emptiness felt in our family from not seeing one another in person for so long vacated and in its place joy and love and gratitude filled the void as we relished just being together as a family. That was in August 2020 – five months into lockdowns, restrictions, and social distancing.

Yet more empty months continued to drone on in our world. No holiday get-togethers, no Christmas shopping except online, no family outings, no mingling with other fellow humans. Instead, we hid behind masks if we did venture outside our homes and tried to express friendliness, compassion, and respect for our fellow emptiness sufferers with our eyes in place of our smiles.

The toll taken on our fellow human beings has been heavy. So many have suffered through job losses, closing of family-owned businesses, mental stresses resulting in depression, despondency, and substance abuse, isolation from loved ones, not to mention losing those who became ill and succumbed.

And as insufferable as all that is, the toll on our spirits is also most grave.

We humans have surrendered to sheer fear. We’ve further divided ourselves – the masked vs. the unmasked. We cower anxiously from other humans we encounter, suspicious of one another, and even angry because of their actions or inaction. And although the onset of a touted vaccine to ease the burden has arrived, we still consider one another with disdain – the vaccinated against the unvaccinated.

When will it stop? This feeling of emptiness that eats away at every one of us? That looms large over us even yet? That occupies space in our minds and in our lives?

“Why does the feeling of emptiness occupy so much space?” ~  James de la Vega

We hope for light at the end of the tunnel. Slowly, we see it within our grasp. Restaurants opening up for dine-in customers, in-person worship services, entertainment venues re-opening somewhat, more folks shopping outside of their online routines.

Just recently, Papa and I walked through a nearby shopping mall – a place we haven’t stepped inside for over a year. And to say I was shocked doesn’t do justice to how I reacted. We were two of only a handful of people there. But what stunned me even more was the fact that the place was empty.

Empty. Not just of people, but of stores. A once thriving place of commerce now resembled a ghost town. Storefront after storefront closed for good. Permanently. Completely dark and empty of merchandise. Absent. Gone. Depleted. How many people lost their jobs there, their livelihood?

This emptiness, this void we’ve all encountered for so long is enough to shake your beliefs, chip away your confidence in returning to ‘normal,’ unhinge your trust. But this vacuum of hollowness and those vacant places in that shopping area remind me that our lives don’t have to be devoid. It’s only so if we choose it.

“In all our searching, the only thing we’ve found that makes the emptiness bearable is each other.” ~ Carl Sagan

We can and still must reach out to others with care, with kindness, with love. As a believer in Christ, I am called to do so.

We are not empty shells just existing in a daze of futility. We have souls to reach out to God for help to cope and persevere. We have minds to think of ways to help one another. We have hands and feet to serve each other. We have hearts to feel compassion and care for those suffering more than we are. We have mouths to speak to one another with words of respect and to utter prayers for recovery for our brothers and sisters in our nation and across the world.

And we must use them to fill the empty void in others’ lives as well as our own.

“Always show kindness and love to others. Your words might be filling the empty places in someone’s heart.” ~ Mandy Hale

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 2021

Posted in Life, photography

Words for Wednesday: Reflections

On a morning walk this week, the sun radiated from an azure sky onto my face. The welcoming sound of bird songs pierced the silence.  And then a photo opportunity presented itself to me. A picture that provided inspiration when it was much needed.

Walking down a path towards a placid pond, I noticed how reflections of the trees and nearby surroundings were vibrantly visible in the water.

Reflections. That word can be defined in a couple different ways. A reflection is an image that can be seen in a mirror or on a smooth, lucent surface like water. But entertaining serious thoughts or considerations is also a definition of reflection.

I snapped a couple of photos with my cell phone since I don’t take my DSLR on my walks for exercise. Later that morning after viewing those pictures, both meanings of the word came to my mind…and something else as well.

Song lyrics. More often than not, thinking about a certain word summons a song from my memory bank. I’ve written often about this particular phenomenon of my brain, but I don’t know why it happens. Give me a word, and a song plays in my mind.

The word reflections invoked a song from 1967 by the same title and recorded by Diana Ross and the Supremes. Singing the song in my head, certain phrases seemed oh, so appropriate to describe this last year of life for so many of us during the you know what.  

Reflections of the way life used to beRecalling those aspects of life we took for granted prior to this time last year.

Trapped in a world that’s distorted reality. That feeling of being trapped while enduring lockdowns and restrictions. A reality that seemed like unreality.

Happiness you took from me… left me alone with only memories. Missing those happy moments of family gatherings and other occasions with friends which leave us revisiting earlier memories of all those good times in years past.

But then I remembered something. A quote I once found (but don’t recall where) by motivational speaker Gabrielle Bernstein: “The way we experience the world around us is a direct reflection of the world within us.”

Isn’t that so true? How we experience both the negative and positive events surrounding us truly stems from what our world is like inside our thoughts and attitude.  If we tend to view everything in a negative light, then our world will overwhelm us with pessimism. But if we perceive even the difficult encounters with a positive outlook, life is so much easier to endure and even enjoy.

A verse from my guidebook for life, the Bible, reminds me of the same kind of attitude. In the book of Proverbs, Chapter 27, Verse 19: God’s Word says: “As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart.”

Even the famous English Victorian novelist Charles Dickens attempted to advise us with his words in A Christmas Carol: “Reflect upon your present blessings  — of which every man has many — not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”  

And when we do exactly that, take time to reflect on those godsends, fill our hearts and minds with thankfulness for those, the trials of this world seems easier to persevere through.

Yet another famous writer and essayist, Ralph Waldo Emerson, who often found serenity in nature, informed us on how we discover beauty in life when we take time for reflection with these words: “When the act of reflection takes place in the mind, when we look at ourselves in the light of thought, we discover that our life is embosomed in beauty.”

Reflections. So much inspiration for life can be found when we take time to reflect on the beauty around us.

Reflections. A lesson can be learned from the image of a still and serene pond reflecting the world around it.

Reflections. Thoughts and considerations for perseverance will enable us to endure this ongoing difficult world we live in.

“The real man smiles in trouble, gathers strength from distress, and grows brave by reflection.” ~ Thomas Paine

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 2021

Posted in Life, photography

What’s been missing

large indoor events
flights to another destination
trips out of state
family gatherings
vacations
weddings and receptions
city tours
church and family holidays

“Jeez, have I been missing out on living because I’ve let my fear drive every single choice I’ve ever made?”~ Rebecca Raisin, Rosie’s Travelling Tea Shop

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 2021

Posted in Life

Once upon a stranger

I could never imagine it was something I would find missing in my life.

But that was before we were hunkered down under restrictions spanning the globe because of a tiny, microscopic thing called a virus.

For most of my adult life, I’ve realized that I’m someone who is very “approachable.”  So approachable that I often found myself annoyed by that aspect and I confess that, more times than not, I’ve complained about discussed it with my husband as to the reasons why.

I don’t know if it’s because I don’t look threatening. Or if I just exude a niceness vibe. Or if I just seem helpful. Or if I have an invisible to me, but visible to others sign that hangs around my neck proclaiming, “Talk to me, I won’t be rude to you.”

Or perhaps it’s because I am a mother. When our kids were teenagers, one of their friends once described me accordingly: “Your mom is such a… mom.”  Many of my kids’ friends actually called me mom or Mama M. Honestly, that’s partially where my blog title evolved from – “Mama’s Empty Nest” – named thusly because, in addition to our own children, those throngs of teens and young adults that used to frequent our home grew up and it became extremely quiet around here.

Whatever the reason, I am often a target for complete strangers who find me approachable and available to talk to at length. I could be anywhere, simply minding my own business in a doctor’s waiting room or perusing grocery store aisles, and someone either asks me a question as a conversation starter or just begins chatting with me. Even my husband or someone else accompanies me, I am the one who attracts those folks. It’s like they’ve never heard the term, “stranger danger.”

I must state here that I have never felt threatened by those approaches or that the person attempting a conversation with me has a dastardly deed in mind. No, I simply acknowledge that those chatters must have needed someone to talk to at that particular time and place and there I was. Approachable me.

I can’t even recall all of the instances because there have been so many, but I do remember one occurrence very distinctly. Several years ago, our car needed service at a local dealership and since Papa was still a traveling sales rep at the time and out of town, the chore fell to me.

While sitting in the service department waiting room, an elderly man began chatting me up. I mean talking, talking, and talking. I’m not even sure he gave me opportunity to respond but if he did, I chose not to encourage him with answers and attempted several times to just end the chat, not engage, look away, but true to myself, not in a rude manner. You get my drift.

Finally, one of the garage mechanics stood in the doorway and asked me to step outside the waiting area saying he needed to discuss something about the car with me. Of course, I gladly complied. Once outside the door, the mechanic confessed that there really wasn’t anything to discuss with me, he was just “rescuing” me from the older gentleman.

The mechanic then explained that apparently, that man made it an ongoing routine to visit the garage every few days, without any car needing service, just to converse with customers, continuously. Rather than run him off, the garage employees merely endured him, but also managed to assist those cornered into long one-sided conversations with the fellow escape.

Oh, was I ever thankful for that ‘rescue’ yet as I was paying my bill, the chatter tried yakking to me once again. I simply had to hurriedly walk away to the sanctuary and silence of my car to get away from him, but I vividly remember shaking my head and asking myself, “Why me?”

Why do strangers feel compelled to initiate discussions with me? Why do they desire to tell me their life’s story? Why do they have no qualms about even approaching me let alone spilling their guts?

It’s a mystery I haven’t solved yet, but it’s also a mystery that I find myself missing and I never thought I would think that. Right now those encounters are elements of the past. Of course, we aren’t out and about among strangers very often. But even so, if we do happen to visit a public place, no one approaches me for anything.

This pandemic has made us fearful of other people. Masked up, we can’t see people’s facial expressions easily. We must keep a distance of at least six feet and most people take a wider berth than that around someone in the same aisle as them as though we fear one another greatly.  No one seems to even look at another, let alone stop to chat.

It’s as if we’ve all become robots, simply going about our tasks quickly and without any personal contact with another human being. We’ve quashed human interaction. This cursed virus has stolen that from us in the name of safety. And I wonder how much damage it is inflicting on our mental and emotional health.

I miss those days of seeing other people’s faces unmasked. Heck, I miss seeing people, period. I even miss those times when a complete stranger approaches me to commence a conversation or tell me a story or, like the bearded Amish fellow who once approached me in a grocery store aisle, ask me where the maraschino cherries might be located.

I’m approachable. And I only hope I stay that way because at least it provides interaction with other human beings. I don’t want to live a solitary life without any company. We need each other, now more than ever even if it’s just a chat in a store aisle.

“No man is an island, entire of itself.” ~John Donne

©2021 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

Posted in Life, life changes

Words for Wednesday: Just smile

The list would be so very long.

Because of all the many restrictions that have been placed on us due to ongoing fear and paranoia about that nasty virus that somehow became unleashed on our world and created havoc everywhere months ago, so many aspects of our lives have changed.

And if we were to compose a list of those things we miss because of this craziness, it would be longer than a record of what a child wants for Christmas.

What do we miss? Let me count the ways. We miss gathering together with family and friends for all kinds of social events and observances – birthday parties, weddings, bridal and baby showers, picnics and potluck dinners, graduations, even memorial services, and congregating together for just plain fun.

We miss attending worship services in person with our fellow believers, and in some cases, just singing our praises to our God, not just sitting in front of a computer or phone watching online.

We miss visiting our loved ones in care facilities and they miss us desperately. We miss sitting in a hospital waiting room with family praying for a good outcome from a medical emergency.

We miss face-to-face meetings with our doctors, dentists, physical therapists, optometrists, chiropractors. We miss undergoing medical tests and procedures that are imperative to maintain good health.

We miss festivals and fairs, community events, and participatory fundraisers for good causes. We miss attending the theater, the movies, and concerts. We miss supporting our favorite sports in person, particularly watching our own children’s and grandchildren’s athletic events.

We miss enjoying a nice dinner out in a restaurant full of other people instead of eating take-out food in cartons at home or having “car picnics” in our vehicles after going through fast food drive-through joints.

We miss sending our children off to their first day back at school, knowing their teachers will instruct them well and they can play with their friends at recess instead of worrying over whether they’re understanding new concepts via online learning and hearing them cry because they can’t play with their friends while they’re weary of trying to learn from a computer.

We miss sending our young adults off to college in a normal fashion where they can exchange ideas in person and mingle together to make new friends instead of being sequestered in their dorm rooms doing online learning (why pay room and board for that??).

We miss seeing our co-workers in meetings at our physical offices, working alongside them as we converse and brainstorm in person instead of through video conferencing.

We miss shopping just for fun, not a mad dash in and out for just the basics hoping the store shelves aren’t empty. We miss wandering up and down store aisles willy-nilly instead of following the directional arrows and the social distancing areas marked on the floor.

We miss all too many locally owned shops and restaurants who have been forced to close their doors for good.

We miss being able to breathe freely without the hindrance of a mask smothering our noses and mouths, fogging up our glasses, and causing us to feel like a criminal every time we put one on before going out in public.

We miss living a life where we aren’t permanently attached to our little bottles of hand sanitizer, or wipes, or sprays.

We miss a lot! But you know what I imagine we miss the most? The touch of our fellow human beings. We miss shaking hands. We miss warm hugs of greetings. We miss a caring hand upon our shoulders. We miss a pat on the back.

And for me, I miss seeing people’s smiles.

“What sunshine is to flowers, smiles are to humanity. These are but trifles, to be sure; but scattered along life’s pathway, the good they do is inconceivable.”~ Joseph Addison

Everywhere I go, I’m surrounded by masked people, for the most part. Those masks hide their expressions from me just as this darn mask, no matter how lively or bright or playful the material is, hides my face from them.

And I hate it. I hate not seeing people smile. I hate the fact that people I pass as we must social distance (!) can’t see me smiling at them. So they don’t respond with the same gesture.

It’s depressing. It’s denigrating. It’s dehumanizing.

It stinks, it makes me angry, yet it makes me even sadder over the state of our humanity right now.

I live in a state where our governor has enforced and keeps imposing draconian measures (just my opinion, you may have yours). Where parents are not permitted to sit in a football stadium to watch their kids play, where restaurants were allowed to open for inside dining, yet could only seat at 25% capacity.

To attempt to stay sane and experience some sense of freedom during the last few months, Papa and I have taken some day-long road trips – away from home just to get away, traveling to outdoor destinations.

We opt for taking picnic lunches along with us, but on one of our journeys on a week day, not a weekend, we found ourselves still a distance away from home at dinner time. 

We located one of our favorite chain restaurants that was open for indoor seating. Donning the dreaded masks, we walked up to the hostess who was stationed outside the restaurant door. She informed us we would have a 45-minute wait.

Not knowing if we could find any other place to eat dinner besides a drive-through fast food place, we gave her our name and cell phone number so she could text us when a table became available for just the two of us. We sat in our car and waited and waited and waited.   Forty-five minutes turned into an hour and then we received the text.

Walking into that usually bustling, busy, and noisy large restaurant which was only filled to 25% capacity at dinner time was odd to say the least. It was so quiet. There were no people seated near us. Entire sections of the restaurant were closed off with only one party in them. Honestly, it felt like the twilight zone – eerie and unusually strange.

Of course, every person inside that restaurant, including all of the wait staff naturally, wore masks until their food arrived. The few folks, even while eating, weren’t talking. Everyone was quiet as if the masks, even after we took them off to eat our meals, had stolen our voices.

Masks certainly had stolen our facial expressions as no one appeared to be smiling. What once was considered a normal, entertaining thing to do – enjoy a meal in a restaurant – was anything but.

But you know what? There was one bright spot in this dismal picture. Our waitress. Even though most of her face was hidden by her mask, she exuded joy. I’m sure she was happy to just be back in employment.

Regardless, her voice and demeanor were sweet and she seemed genuinely pleased to serve us which cheered me up considerably. I took off my mask and smiled at her.

And she smiled back at me. How do I know that? She had her own mask still solidly covering her nose and mouth and chin. She smiled with her eyes! Her eyes – I could see her smile by looking into her eyes.

So if there’s one word of encouragement I can give to everyone during this most trying and difficult time – one word to help us through this, one word to make not just ourselves feel better but everyone around us, masked or not – it’s this, SMILE.

Smile not just with your mouth because another person can’t see that behind your mask. Smile with your entire self. Smile from your heart so it reaches your eyes. And I guarantee someone else will see your smiling eyes and smile back at you.

“Use your smile to change the world; don’t let the world change your smile.” ~ Chinese Proverb

©2020 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

Posted in Life, travel

Words for Wednesday: intentional

We decided it was time to see the light, take a step toward normalcy, and catch an aperture of blue sky pinpointed in the midst of ominous dark storm clouds.

Life proved to be a most daunting and unusual period of time in the last few months. Never before in our lifetimes have we encountered what’s been called a pandemic – covid-19 -and all that has transpired because of that tiny virus.

The social and physical isolation we’ve all endured has taken its toll on us, one way or another, and created an even larger raging storm to brave against for many. For some, there have been job losses, a devastating loss of income, or complete closure of their small businesses. For others, the isolation has affected mental and emotional health that is difficult to overcome.

I’m ever so thankful that Papa and I are weathering the dark clouds hovering over us fairly well. We’ve had a few difficult moments but nothing like so many others have faced. Our faith continues to be our strength and a swift antidote for the fear that has pervaded and seems to be enduring thanks to the media.

And yet, we experienced a feeling of imprisonment stemming from so many months of having to stay home, avoiding public places, sequestering ourselves from other people, even some of our own family.

In yesterday’s post, I wrote about the need to break out of “prison,” what staying at home for so long has felt like.  I shared our trip away from home when our entire family gathered together for the first time in months at our son’s home in another state.

Today I’m inviting you to come along on another one of our road trips when we just had to “get out and get away” from home for a bit.

Papa and I have traveled domestically during our 40+ years of marriage. At last count, I’ve actually visited 40 of our 50 United States of America. Of course, Papa and I hope to add travels to the rest of those sometime in the future.

Not now, naturally, as travel is restricted because of this pandemic. We did manage to travel out west and back home again right as the pandemic panic stormed our country.  And we were relieved to return home unscathed and content to stay there for some time.

But as the months dragged on, we’ve felt the need to escape home from time to time. So we began researching places right in our own back yard, so to speak, that we haven’t been to yet. Places that are within a day’s drive of our country home – alas, we found that we have visited most of them.

But a couple remained unseen, so one fine summer day, we set out for one of those destinations. We intended to visit a well-known state park in a southwestern area of our home state. This particular park is well known for some of the best whitewater rafting in the east.

Now Papa and I aren’t rafters or kayakers; matter of fact, we don’t even own a boat of any kind whether it be a rowboat, canoe, or motorboat.

Regardless, this area also features some waterfalls and one in particular that we wanted to see. We packed a picnic lunch and set out for some sightseeing, but found a detour from our plans necessary.

Once we arrived at the waterfall location, we realized it was inundated with people. I mean scads of people. Since this is normally a busy tourist and camping spot, we expected some folks, but not the crowd we saw during this period of cautious ‘re-opening’.

Throngs of humanity congregated in outdoor seating of area restaurants, parking lots so full of cars we couldn’t locate an empty spot, and hordes of people – all unmasked – walked everywhere not social distancing.

I get it – I really do. After being confined to our homes for so long, we all felt the need to get out and what better place than somewhere in nature? Somewhere that offers camping, hiking, and river recreation?

After circling round and round in search of a parking spot to no avail, Papa and I looked at each other and said, “Do we really want to get out of our vehicle and subject ourselves to this multitude of people?”

We shook our heads no and drove on. Even the hiking trails looked crowded.

Our quiet picnic spot

Fortunately, we located a serene little spot with just two empty park benches overlooking a scenic view. We decided to eat our lunch there in peace and quiet alone…until another vehicle pulled up and four young adults piled out, pulling coolers, etc. out of their trunk.

The sad part of this? We felt like we couldn’t even speak to those other folks let alone engage in conversation with them as we might normally do. Nor did they even look in our direction. Pandemic paranoia? I think so.

Time for us to move on once again. Thankfully, we had devised an additional plan to drive the countryside in search of three different covered bridges.

You can drive through this 1891 bridge

And we were successful in finding all three. At two of the sites just Papa and I were the only humans there and at the third, we encountered a family on bicycles.

Originally erected in 1802, rebuilt in 1906 & again in 2008
Built in 1830, this one is 162 feet long

We made a great choice that day. We intentionally chose to forego the busy foray, which included a large number of people, and make our own way. But I can’t help feeling a little sad that we felt the need to not engage with fellow human beings because honestly, Papa and I are friendly folks.

Just traveling through the scenic countryside, however, was like a balm to our souls and minds and we still got to see people, just not mingle with so many of them.

As an added bonus, I was able to capture some nice photos.

“Intentional living is the art of making our own choices before others’ choices make us.”  ― Richie Norton

©2020 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com