How do You Put Guilt to Rest?

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photographs boulders of snow piled up at Cass Park skating rink.“What about regret or self-blame? Or remorse?” my friend asked, adding something like, “You never write about any of these.” I took that thought home with me. For a whole week I walked around thinking I had an answer:

I don’t focus on the issues that divide or isolate people. I’d rather write about the things that unite us, like loving, living, dying, losing, and finding life is beautiful anyway.

Finished. Done. This was what I was going to tell her. But then, I kept coming back to her question.

My mind drew a blank whenever I tried to get around to the far side of what was bothering me. I told myself, it’s best not to drag up old impenetrable boulders. That it’s not healthy to wallow in matters that can’t be changed. That everyone’s got some guilt going on. So, where was my guilt? When I tried to concentrate, I got an icky nauseous feeling. It’s horrendously ugly and uncomfortable to deal with regret, self-blame, and remorse.

Later, I dug deep into my most conscience-curdling thoughts to understand what I felt guilty of and regretful about. What I found was not going to fit into a 400 or 500-word blog. It mostly boiled down to my not telling my daughter she was dying, and not saying, I Love You. In trying to protect her from the painful truth, I’d been dishonest. It’s history now. Unalterable. But I need to kill the guilt. Or make peace with it. Here’s my recipe for coming to terms with guilt:

*Excavate your darkest buried thoughts to find it, and face it. Accept what happened, and acknowledge your part in it.

*Then comes the hard work of forgiving yourself. Give yourself the same empathy you would give anyone else. Be kind to yourself.

*Remember, our mistakes are part of living and growing. They make up the layers of who we are now. But our past missteps do not define us.

*Consider what this has taught you. Figure out how you can grow from this.

*Finally, bring it forward to the future. Allow it to change you. How will you constructively apply what you learned, to what you do from now on?

In the same grueling week my good friend challenged me, other friends read my blogs and praised me for being open and honest. It all encouraged me to be even more truthful.

Guilt and truth are both brutal. Yet truth can offer comfort. I lied to my daughter. But I could not have loved her more than I did. I’ve learned that speaking the truth is a gift of love, and facing the hard truth helps put guilt to rest.

 

How do you deal with guilt? What’s the most far-fetched list you ever wrote?

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What They Don’t Mention About the Cold

Robin Botie of ithaca, New York, photoshops kangaroos in the snow during the bomb cyclone.Just when you thought it couldn’t possibly get any colder, the weather channel challenges you with The Bomb Cyclone. A new term for winter hurricane, it means more cold. In your head you see scenes from the movie The Day After Tomorrow, where a super-storm plunges the planet into a new Ice Age.

There are things no one mentions about the freezing cold. How it makes you want to just hole up at home. How you crank up the heat to avoid facing frozen pipes. How you can hardly get out of bed with forecasts promising arctic blasts, massive polar vortexes, blizzards and blinding snow, damaging winds, temperatures hovering around zero, and wicked wind chill factors. Bone-chilling cold. You begin to understand the appeal of hibernation.

But sooner or later you have to brave the elements, despite the severe winter storm warnings. You dread having to dig the car out of snowdrifts, and scrape thick ice from its windows. Its engine needs warming up but you don’t dare sit in the car while it runs, for fear of carbon monoxide poisoning, so while the car idles in place, you shovel a path out the driveway to the road. And then pray as you drive over icy roads through blowing snow.

You dress in layers. Long underwear. Corduroy pants. High, SmartWool socks and waterproof shearling-lined boots with chunky treads. Hats, scarves, gloves. You throw on your warmest hoodie and downiest winter jacket with windbreaker shell and polyester-fleece lining. You’re exhausted from the effort of wrapping up when you notice your dog giving you The Signal. It needs Out. Remembering how the poor dog shivers, and limps on alternating legs in the snow, you dress it up as well. And you don’t dare let it go out alone because all the small rodents have frozen, leaving hungry coyotes out hunting.

It feels like every part of your body is shriveling in the cold. Your joints and muscles ache. Lips crack. Cheeks burn. Fingers and toes go numb. Your nose runs. It turns red. Breathing in the coldest air, the hairs in your nostrils stand on end. Your skin dries out. Hands and feet feel itchy, rough and flaky. If exposed to the bitter cold long enough, frostbite sets in. Or chilblains. And in the dark frigid winter something in your heart turns hard and cold, as well. Depression. Irritability. You become a hermit. You become a glacier.

Things could be worse, you tell yourself.

Somewhere in the world, say Australia, it is summertime. And if you were there now, watching kangaroos sleeping in the sun, you know you’d be whining about the heat.

 

How does cold affect you? What do you do to escape the cold?

 

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Another New Years Wish

Robin Botie of ithaca, New York, photographs statue of Queen Victoria in Sydney, Australia.For my trip to Australia, I joined a tour group so I wouldn’t have to do all the thinking and organizing. But they planned everything so well, I lost track of some of the things I meant to do on my own. Like eat dumplings in Melbourne. And find the exact spot in the Yarra River where I’d tossed my daughter’s ashes five years ago. On my last night in Australia, in Sydney, by the time I finished with the scheduled dinner I was tired, so I let my last opportunity to do something from my personal list slip by. And in the middle of the night I woke up miserable about it. So, early in the morning, I crept out of the hotel and walked several city blocks to the Queen Victoria Building Plaza, to drop coins in the dog wishing well.

It was the wishing well my daughter wrote about. The bronze terrier perched above it represented the beloved pet of Queen Victoria. It used to talk. A recorded message thanked people for the coins that would be donated to the deaf and blind children of New South Wales. Now the message was gone and there was more garbage inside than money. But I felt good about accomplishing my mission anyway.

Turning back towards the hotel, I noticed the statue of Queen Victoria just yards away from the wishing well. I didn’t remember it from my last trip. But now the monument of Victoria was grabbing my attention like it had some urgent message for me. For the moment, I delayed the mad dash back to catch breakfast and the van to the airport.

All I knew about Queen Victoria was from the recent movie Victoria and Abdul. After years of cloistering herself away and wallowing in grief over the death of her husband, Victoria befriended a young Indian clerk who changed her way of viewing the world. She suddenly found inspiration to carry on with her life and responsibilities, and strength to reclaim her power to rule.

For this New Year, in a world where so much is out of our control, I’m wishing you, my readers, my friends, the inspiration and strength to take control of what you can in your lives. Life is not simply a series of events that you watch happen. I wish you the power to turn a bad situation around. To find meaning, or make meaning, when everything around you feels senseless. To fill emptiness with hope. To patch your brokenness. To reclaim your opportunities. And be the ruler of your life.

 

Where will you look for inspiration in the New Year? What gave you strength in 2017?

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Coming Home, Leaving Home

Robin Botie of ithaca, New York, photographs Andrew the resident peacock at DoubleTree Hotel in Alice Springs, Australia where he has made his home on the pool patio.This is Andrew, the resident peacock at Hotel DoubleTree in Alice Springs, Australia. One of the staff there told me, “He just found the place one day, decided he liked the patio around the pool, and never left.”

Andrew happily hangs around his chosen home. Unlike me. I come and go. Home has become my springboard as much as it is my sanctuary. My house is the wreck I escape from most mornings, or when cabin fever overtakes me; and it’s the sweet mess I gratefully return to, time and time again.

When my daughter died, my relationship with home changed, as did my ties to almost everyone and everything. And after my son left to make his own home across the country, I thought there was nothing holding me here. No one needed me. I was free to simply move on, start a new life elsewhere. But I chose to stay. Despite some of the less endearing things about the place: the pipes that freeze in winter, the potholes in the driveway. The mice. Stinkbugs. The woodchuck that lives under the deck. Smoke detectors that go off in the middle of the night. Coming home from Australia, I cried for days about these plagues of home ownership. But in every corner, the house held sweet memories from my most beautiful, chaotic times. Living here was well worth a few minor inconveniences.

Some day I suppose I will have to leave my house for good. It will have to be some quick, traumatic exit where perhaps I fall and break my pelvis, and get transplanted to a nursing home, never to recover. And maybe one day I will return home as a ghost. Maybe I’ll come back as a bird pecking at the windows, or gazing out at the pond, standing tall and still like some decorative lawn ornament.

On Day Nine in Australia I discovered Andrew the peacock on the DoubleTree patio, and crouched down at a respectful distance to photograph him. Obligingly, Andrew stood still, and then turned around very slowly to make sure I got good views of all his sides. Then he came closer and closer to where I was kneeling behind the camera. The more I snapped his picture, the closer he got. Until I got nervous, stumbled backward, quickly picked myself up, and left

 

What makes a home a home? How many different places have you called Home?

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Australia Trip: Sacred

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, at Uluru aka Ayers Rock watching a double rainbow.Everywhere I went in the first half of November – Melbourne, Adelaide, Alice Springs, Cairns, and Sydney – Christmas decorations were springing up. In Australia there’s no Thanksgiving to buffer the way into the holidays. All the sparkle and flash of the upcoming season suddenly hit me. Hard. But it had no spiritual significance to me.

I’ve always wanted something in my life to mean more, to mean everything. To be sacred. The closest I ever get to sacred is when I’m hiking. Especially in mountains. Or by the sea. Walking where people have walked for eons. To me, rock that’s been tread down, paths worn bare, and ancient places that have drawn wanderers forever, are holy.

It took all of Day 10 to travel by bus from Alice Springs to Uluru aka Ayers Rock, a big rock in the middle of the desert. I was bummed because I’d dressed expecting sun and heat. But it was raining. Drizzling on and off. Downright gloomy. Just my luck to come to the desert in Australia in late spring-almost summer, and it rains.

From a distance, the rock looked like a massive meatloaf. Only majestic. Monumental. Mesmerizing. Even from far off, the sandstone monolith seemed to have some ancient mystical spirit pulsing within. Nothing else was anywhere near. How could that rock NOT be sacred to the indigenous Anangu, or to anyone in this desert? “The home of the culture of the world’s oldest culture, it means everything to the indigenous people,” said the literature we’d been handed.

We were to watch the setting sun bounce rays off the rock’s surface. Only – there was no sun. It was cold and dismal. Still, we “rugged up” in every bit of warm clothing we could find, and headed out on the bus. “You never know what you’ll get,” our tour leader said.

At the site it was pouring. I pulled up my hood and hurried to the huge tent that had been set up over tables of champagne, smoked salmon, veggies with dip, cheese and fresh fruits. At least I wouldn’t go hungry. Along with hiking, food is my religion. I stuffed myself, and hardly looked at the sacred Uluru rock. Until somebody yelled, Miracle!

Gulping down the champagne, I grabbed a last piece of salmon. Outside people were hollering, “Double rainbow! Over the rock, it’s a miracle!” I crept out of the tent and joined the crowd that was now scrambling every which way in the finest drizzle, to capture rainbows on cameras and cellphones. An eerie light lit up the rock and the landscape around it. Two rainbows ended at the rock. The sacred place. I stood there trying to focus my camera, through tears. Remembering how rainbows meant everything to my girl. My Marika. Who I pray to, now. Who I’d asked ten days before, “You’re coming with me to Australia, right?” Who is forevermore, Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

 

What is sacred to you? What do you look for when you travel?

 

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Australia Trip: Beyond Appearances

Robin Botie of ithaca, New York, hops around a barricade that conceals a construction site in Adelaide, on her recent trip to visit with bereaved mothers in Australia.“I’m kinda nervous about this,” I confessed to the leader of the tour group, as I waited for the stranger I was to drive off with. Before going to Australia I’d put out pleas on Facebook to meet up with Australian bereaved mothers on my free days, “to make my trip more meaningful.” This was my first. Dianne. Complete stranger, all I had was a name and phone number. She had messaged back, “No worries, hun,” to everything I’d written, which made me feel icky, reminded me of extinct relationships with men. But when Dianne pulled up in her shiny black RAV, I plopped into the passenger seat, and immediately knew I’d found a sister.

“Where d’you want to go?” she asked. Envisioning a peaceful quiet place to talk, I replied, “Can we walk along the Yarra River?” She took me to the Crown Casino.

She paid $50 to park in Crown’s endless garage below the snazzy scene of casino, hotel, shops, and restaurants. Huge dripping chandeliers, Prada, expensive jewelry displays…. As we trotted by I snapped photos of the colorful lights and our distorted images reflected in the mirrored facades of slot machines. I wondered if photographing was permitted in the casino. Trekking up and down escalators and elevators, we finally found ourselves outside, on a boardwalk lined with oyster bars and ritzy cafes. There was the Yarra.

We strolled, sharing the stories of our kids who died, and then sat on the edge of the Crown dock with our feet dangling off the edge. It didn’t look like the quiet clean river I’d thrown a good portion of my daughter’s ashes in, five years before. An old, bloated tennis ball floated by. It didn’t feel at all like I was littering when I tossed in my daughter’s dolphin necklace and tiny gold ring.

At a nearby outdoor café, I bought lunch for almost double what Dianne paid for parking. As we sat, a butterfly hovered between us. Long enough that I suspected one of us would get a visit from The Beyond. It was a butterfly like no other I’d ever seen. Giant. Rugged, like a moth. Its colors, blues, browns and gold, matched Dianne’s outfit perfectly. It flitted around her, and finally landed near her heart. The butterfly rested there, like a precious opalescent brooch. And then it perched on her hand. I snapped photos.

As we retraced our path through the casino and the dazzling courts of the palatial Crown to the RAV in the depths of the garage, I clicked away until we drove off to my hotel.

And when I got back home after my trip to Australia, I found that all the photos I had taken that day with Dianne disappeared. The picture you see here of me hopping around barricade panels concealing a construction site was taken by the next mother I met up with, two days later, in Adelaide. Miserable, in disbelief, I took my camera cards to various technicians but they found no trace that I ever took photos that day. I still see them in my head. The casino lights. The butterfly. The Crown chandelier shining, like starburst. All ghosts now. But so clear in my mind, I sit at my computer, stunned, still awaiting their appearance.

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