Keeping a Promise

Have you ever dreamed of a loved one who has died? I did recently. In what seemed more like a visitation than a dream, Ray, who was my brother-in-law in life, appeared. Even though he passed away in 2002, I didn’t seem surprised to see him. However, I did feel guilty. 

Keeping a Promise
Only the day before, while working in my studio, I had seen a watercolor painting of Ray’s, laying in a basket. After Greg’s father passed away, we sorted through a house full of furniture and knick knacks and treasures. Ray, who was Greg’s older brother, gifted his mother with a small painting of swans on a lake. According to the note on the back of the framed artwork, Ray created the painting in 1983. The gift hung on the dining room wall until I packed it away and brought it home last year. 

That little watercolor has been in a basket in my office for more than a year. Every time I caught sight of it, I would think I need to display that. And yet there it remained. 

When I dreamed of Ray, the first thing I said to him was I’m sorry. I apologized for not doing something yet with his work of art. I didn’t want him to think that I was unappreciative of him or his painting. 

Keeping a Promise            Baby Ray

Keeping a Promise         Ray and his dog Robbie

Additionally, I felt like my apology could have been for not understanding Ray better while he lived. Although he was my brother-in-law and we got along fine, I never knew him as well as I could have. What I did know was that Ray was creative and artistic and like all of us, trying to figure out how to fully be who he was and live out of his heart. 

And like all of us, Ray didn’t always know how to do that. He moved to a big city, hoping for greater opportunities there to create the life he dreamed of. He worked in jobs that didn’t utilize his gifts and longed for something more. He hid his disappointments behind a sharp wit and oft times, sharp words that effectively kept people at a distance. My heart breaks now as I recognize he sought understanding and compassion and acceptance. 

As he entered his middle years, Ray expressed himself through his art. He dabbled in watercolors and acrylics, creating beautiful paintings. He took an early retirement so that he could focus on his artistic talent, turning to a new passion, pottery. Sadly, a few years later he died, his life cut short by cancer. 

I have regrets about Ray. I wish I could have spent more time with him and known his heart better. I would have enjoyed talking with him about art and the creative life, and welcomed his advice. I would have listened more. Expressed appreciation. Offered from my own heart. 

All those emotions were packed into the words I uttered in my dream, as Ray sat with me…I’m sorry. But you know what? He wasn’t upset with me…for leaving his painting laying in a basket or for any shortcomings on my part during his life. He smiled. He laughed. We talked about creativity and art and living as our authentic selves. It was an inspiring and joy filled conversation, that ended with me promising to retrieve his swan painting and display it. 

Keeping a Promise
I marveled at the dream when I awoke. I believe that often, when we dream of loved ones who have died, their spirits are visiting us. That seems especially true when the encounter is a one on one conversation. I thought about Ray throughout that day…and then promptly forgot the dream and the promise. Until tonight. 

Rummaging in my studio for supplies for a creative project I was about to do, I once again spied Ray’s painting, laying in the basket. I hesitated, staring at the swans. I promised. I wavered between doing something with the artwork…and continuing with my planned project. As I stood looking into the basket, my eyes filled with tears. Ah. There was the nudge, the tap on the shoulder from the Divine. 

It was time to honor my promise. It was time to show Ray that I appreciated him and his art. 

In a few moments I had found the perfect space for Ray’s swans. The painting rests on an easel, on the table near my front door. I will look at it often and think of Ray. 

Keeping a Promise
As I prepared to write my blog post, I suddenly remembered that I had another painting of Ray’s. He gave each of his family members a cup or mug, hand painted with birds or flowers, as Christmas gifts in 1995. I searched through a cupboard until I found the five that he gave to me and my family. My mug has a cardinal on one side and a kingfisher on the other. 

I have never used my mug, fearing I would break it. But the problem with keeping an item safely packed away is that it is forgotten. I don’t want to forget any longer. I washed the mug and brewed a cup of nettle tea in it, to sip on as I wrote. 

Cheers, Ray. Thank you for visiting me in my dream. Thank you for expressing your creativity so beautifully while you journeyed here and for living your life as best you could. I want you to know that I understand now. And I won’t forget. 

Keeping a Promise

You Don’t Know My Story

I wasn’t sure what I was going to write about tonight. Oh, a topic popped up repeatedly throughout the day, however I didn’t feel ready to unpack my thoughts about it. Coming home late, after a full day, I wanted to take the easy path this evening, posting a couple of pictures with few words. 

As I contemplated creating that brief post…and titling it Every Picture Tells a Story…I realize the very word I was shying away from was there. 


That word has been coming into my awareness frequently. It caught my attention and snagged my heart earlier today when I saw this quote: 

“You know my name. Not my story.” 

As I sat undecided tonight, wavering between writing the post I knew I was supposed to write…and taking the easy out…a character on a TV show that I wasn’t even paying attention to said: “Story…” The invitation couldn’t be any clearer. 

You Don't Know My Story
Consider this post an introduction to what may turn into a series of essays about story throughout the year. 

What if…instead of creating stories about the people we know, the people we don’t yet know, the person we’ve just met, the stranger standing in line next to us at the supermarket, we stayed open and curious and allowed them to tell us their stories?

What if…we refused to accept as truth the stories that we make up about people, and stopped judging them based on our own inaccurate characterizations?

What if…we asked to hear their stories and we listened without our own opinions clouding our perceptions? 

You know my name. You don’t know my story. 

You see my skin color, my gender, my age, my size. You don’t know my story. 

You see the clothes I wear, the house I live in, the car I drive. You don’t know my story. 

You see my actions, my frustrations, my struggles, my triumphs, my successes. You don’t know my story. 

You experience my rage, fear, shyness, anxiety, silence, crudeness, sorrow, emotion, lack of emotion. You don’t know my story. 

You hear my accent, my child crying, my nervous laughter. You don’t know my story. 

I have a strong desire to go beyond the reactions I may have to people, and learn who they are, through their stories. I want to listen with my heart, get beneath the surface clatter, see with empathy, offer understanding. 

And if their stories can’t be shared yet, for whatever reason, I desire to feel compassion.  I choose to live with an I-don’t-know-their-stories awareness, rather than create stories about who they are based on my own thoughts about them. I want to get comfortable with “I don’t know”, and accept that I don’t. 

I’m not sure where this journey is going. I don’t need to know. I only know that I am being drawn, guided, inspired. I’m being invited to love unconditionally and experience deeper compassion. 

This is part of my story, and it is still unfolding. In sharing my story, you may feel inspired to tell your story as well. Go ahead. I am listening. 

You Don't Know My Story

Inspiration Disguised as Synchronicity

I love when something unusual happens. It gets my attention, causing my intuitive antenna to go on alert as I hone in on the message for me. When I opened my iPhone to Google this morning, the day’s quirky holidays were listed. I have yet to celebrate one of these unique days this year. But today’s list caught my interest. 

Inspiration Disguised as Synchronicity

Three of the holidays jumped out at me: Artist as Outlaw Day, Tenderness Toward Existence Day, and Women’s Healthy Weight Day. Robust art, tender life, and health are the focus of my journey this year. What are the odds that these three have special days, all on the same date? 

I didn’t calculate the odds. However, I accepted the invitation inspiration offered, to spend time thinking on the holidays and how my life intersects with each one. Please read about Weighing in on Ideal Weight on my other blog. 

Inspiration Disguised as Synchronicity
I couldn’t discover any information about this holiday. It seemed a strange pairing, artist and outlaw, until I looked at an alternative meaning for the word outlaw. 

Rather than seeing an outlaw as a criminal on the run, a law breaker, I considered the term outcast instead. The word originates from the Old Norse utlagr, meaning banished. Banished, relegated to the fringes of society, viewed as different, a little scary, living by his or her own rules. I could begin to relate!

And certainly, not all artists are viewed as pariahs, as outcasts. But their very creative souls allow them to perceive the world, and life, differently. From that tilted or expanded or deepened perspective flows astonishing music, eyebrow raising art, and powerful words that can change a life. 

I don’t know what the original intent was for this strange holiday, but I no longer care. I appreciate what rose within me today as I contemplated the artist as outlaw, as I thought about myself as living happily on the fringes. I am making art more robust by allowing creativity to occupy a larger part of my heart and life. Art is at the forefront of my awareness, growing stronger and more vigorous. 

Inspiration Disguised as Synchronicity
I couldn’t locate the origins of this unique holiday either, which is an unusual occurrence in itself. I’ve never clicked on a link for one of these celebrations, and not found some info. It happened twice today. 

Perhaps the personal message to me was to see where my thoughts led me. Existence is another word for life, for the state of living. Its origins are from the Latin ex – out, sistere – take a stand. Existence literally means out taking a stand or out, being. 

Tenderness is a feeling of sympathy, of compassion, toward someone or something. Kindness is another synonym. This holiday, then, could be interpreted to be a day of expressing kindness and compassion toward all living things, toward all who are out, being. 

I suddenly recalled this evening, another definition for tenderness. The word can mean a sensitivity to pain. 

How powerful this bizarre little holiday became for me. Tenderness toward existence, resulting in compassion and a sensitivity to the pain of others…ALL others. 

My heart is wide open. I want love, compassion and sensitivity to the pain of others to flow to all of existence, regardless of race, skin color, gender, orientation, economic circumstances, age, intelligence…beyond any perceived differences or imagined barriers. Compassion toward all life, all people, whether they are like me or very different, agree with me or disagree, love me or dislike me. All people. 

All life. 

A couple of nights ago, one of the possums I feed on the front porch, found his way to the back door, and into the utility room by way of a cat door. Fortunately, the utility room door opening into the kitchen was closed. But what a surprise, to have a possum indoors. 

Even though the back door was opened so he could exit, he chose not to. He was happy in the corner, beside the washer. I checked on him numerous times. There was a broom nearby. I could have attempted to chase him out. 

Instead, I spoke calmly to him each time I checked on him. I told him it was okay. He was safe. He could leave whenever he wanted. I would not hurt him. Whenever I spoke to him, he would raise his head and watch me, listening, blinking his eyes as if he understood. He never showed fear, nor did he bare his teeth or hiss. He also didn’t play dead! I’ve yet to see a possum, “play possum”. He was calm and alert. And so was I. We didn’t speak the same language, so different were we, but we connected in our mutual respect for each other. 

Sometime in the night, he returned to the outdoors. 

I thought about that possum a lot today. He offered me lessons in acceptance, grace and compassion, and in communicating beyond spoken words. He allowed me to exhibit tenderness. I am grateful. I am making life a little more tender by being aware of the sacredness of all life, of all of existence. 

If only I had grabbed a sketch book and created a quick possum portrait. I would have been celebrating Artist as Outlaw Day and Tenderness Toward Existence Day, a little early. 

Inspiration Disguised as Synchronicity