Sunday, June 5, 2016

My Beef With the Dalai Lama

Ok, it's not really the Dalai Lama. He is such a powerful force for peace and kindness and plain ole goodness. It's really the notion of happiness I stumble over and happiness seems to be one of his key concepts. I fear that for most of us, we imagine that there is a place called happiness; a place we can work hard to get to and, maybe with some luck, settle in. Happiness as a destination. But, like any other emotion, happiness is mutable. I know that I have never been able to lasso happiness and lock it in to place. It comes and goes, just like sadness and anger and fear. Plus happiness is almost always derived from external sources i.e. the woman you like agreed to go out with you; you got a promotion; you won an award. How about the word JOY instead? Joy is not contingent on anything else happening. For want of a better word, it's a spiritual state that resides within. In fact, I can be feeling sad and at the same time experience the joy of a blazing sunrise. Maybe it seems like semantic nit-picking, I don't know. It's worth thinking about, though. We all have the capacity to cultivate joy any time, under almost any circumstance.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

A Death in the House

As I sat reading
late into the evening
shadows gathered
round the single lamp.
One, darker than the rest
crept across the floor
exited down the hall
and disappeared.

At three
the hour of random thoughts
I woke
pictured the chipmunk hiding
somewhere in the house
longing for his place
his burrow deep beneath the ground.

Was his mate waiting there?
Would I find him
weeks from now
behind a chair
or in the basement
his errands run
his smart striped coat
a pile of dust.

Bridget Harwell

* Chipmunks mate for life.

Friday, May 27, 2016


Mother cared naught for things
no precious china
no wedding rings
no photographs.
She liked ideas
politics and poetry
a small whiskey
with a good chat
tea with cream and
what she called, a decent cake.
Wild flowers stirred her
birds were companions
land treasured ... and longed for.
She loved her children
but not to excess
not under her feet
nor always in the house.
A person of deep feelings,
she disliked the sentimental;
frequent displays of affection
were foreign to her.
A pat or two on the head would do.
She expected independence
but understood failure.
"You can always come home," she liked to say.
She abhorred boasting, allowed no bragging
success was to be mentioned only in passing.
She spoke with a soft brogue
her generosity was boundless.
Shy of strangers
she warmed up quickly
leaving them overtaken with her charm.

My mother was Irish.
She sent her children out in the rain to play.

Bridget Harwell

Sunday, May 22, 2016


It doesn't do to die in May
when all the world is waking
to close your eyes to blue skies
your ears to chirp and chatter
to lay cold hands upon your chest
as if it didn't matter
the lilac bush has run amuck
and seeds wait to be planted.
It doesn't do to stop your heart
in midst of all this blooming
while my poor heart so full of love
is beating

Bridget Harwell

Friday, May 6, 2016

Thoughts on the Last Show

There are some good things about getting old.

There's a sentence that will get a reaction: something like, "Oh Pleeeze."
Notice I didn't say "getting older." Lots of people would agree that middle and late-middle age come with compensations.  If you are fortunate, you can look forward to a number of things, including: fewer parental chores, greater financial security, the peaking of a career, retirement.  Of course, everyone is not fortunate enough to achieve all or maybe any of these goals.  Nevertheless, there is a general recognition that life in one's fifties or sixties or even seventies can be good.  Being old is seen in a different light.  Viewed from afar, it appears scary and unrewarding.  And people in their eighties and nineties are not turning out a lot of articles or sending many tweets that inform us.

Every stage of development, child, young adult, middle age, has its challenges and awards, its gains and losses. We don't expect any period of life to be all good or all bad ...except, perhaps, old age. The collective picture of this life stage, greatly influenced by the media, is a fairly consistent one: being old is a very bad thing.  We do occasionally see happy faces of old people playing with grandchildren, sitting in sunny gardens drinking lemonade.  But there are few images of the old that depict variety in their lives with rewards as well as difficulties.  We see an abundance of old people shuffling along with canes, popping pills or popping up out of mechanical chairs.  Occasionally, we see them thinking ...  how to manage a funeral that will spare their loved ones expense and worry.  Even more discouraging are images of the old having fun.  See them line dance, poor dears, see them play with balloons, see them exercise in their chairs.

This narrow, one dimensional view of the final stage of life is cartoonist in its public portrayal.  Small wonder that in our society people fear old age; your body deteriorates, you lose your mind and you die.

I am deliberately not talking about illness or pain or incapacity.  I'm choosing some of the good things about being old, things that don't get much press.

In middle age, life events still pack a powerful punch.  But in old age life events even out a bit.  Even the highs and lows you recall are not as high or as low as they once seemed in the-oh-so-dramatic past.  And the highs and lows of other people's lives are viewed in the same light of experience.  You still care, but you have lived long enough to know that your ability to change others is limited and that joys and sorrows come and go and, for the most part, things have a way of working out.  And what does this relative peacefulness bring you?  The ability to enjoy the larger picture; to watch the drama of individual lives and the world as a whole without having to jump in.

When you're old, you no longer have to climb a ladder. Not the school's, not the corporation's. You have achieved whatever you have achieved.  That's not to say you won't or can't achieve more.  But no one is expecting or demanding that you finish that degree, get a promotion, make more money or use your creative gifts. The world is ready to give you a pass. Achieve whatever you like, or don't. It doesn't mean you no longer compete.  You can if you want but it's more out of choice than necessity.  To do something for pure enjoyment as opposed to making money or living up to expectations is a unique experience for many people.  In fact, guilt about having such freedom is not uncommon.

For some, making decisions about how to spend time can be a challenge, but challenges don't disappear with age.  Like almost no other stage in life, if you maintain your health you can do what you want within the confines of your means.

While we like to talk about the big values in life  little also counts.  Small things that add spice, bring pleasure and can make or break a day.  Old people that I know and those I eavesdrop on, find physical comfort very important.  Happiness can be  a warm bath or a cup of tea or a martini away.  And then there's the wonderful freedom to move through life in a more relaxed fashion.  You can wear a muumuu or a structured suit ... nobody cares.  The audience you once played for in your tight jeans and heels is either no longer there or you no longer want to play.

Yes, you may be in pain, you may have lost your mate, you may have a meager income, you may suffer from loneliness.  But think of other stages of life.  Some people have happy childhoods and some have hellish childhoods.  Adolescence, with its wonderful youth can be difficult or heartbreaking.  Parenting, for all its reward, is exhausting and at times unbelievably difficult.  And all the years you worked, unless you were blessed and loved your work, involved grinding away at a job, striving to have a better life or just make ends meet.

At each turn in life you had some success and some failure.  Why should the final stage be any different? To a degree, you shaped who you were and how you behaved at each stage. You have the same opportunity or challenge in old age.

But, wait a minute. What about the BIG thing you get in the final stage that isn't in the others. You know, death?

At earlier stages, death seems incomprehensible; it will never happen to you and if it does it will be awful.  By the time you reach old age a lot of that feeling fades.  One acclimates and accepts according to one's nature.  You can go with, "Do not go gentle into that good night, rage, rage, rage against the dying of the light."  But from my perspective, great poetry that this is, it does not seem like good advice; it's a noisy, young perspective.  One that doesn't ring true for old age.

There are other good things to be experienced besides those I have mentioned.  Some people say that this time of their life is when they are able to receive and give the purest love ... surely, that's no small thing.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016


Winter weary
I wait in line
boot slush seeping
into the industrial carpet.
Pearl earrings, cardigan
quick and efficient
Martha is my teller.
Never chatty
today she speaks.
"My cat died last night."
I stutter over a so-sorry
as she slides my receipt
gestures for the next in line.

this slice of sorrow stays with me
throughout the day.
I picture empty spaces
altered routines
gone grazing the tongue.
What have I to offer
other than this ...
of a fellow soldier.

Bridget Harwell

Monday, November 16, 2015

Catch Up

Hello friends.  It has been a very long time since I've written for this blog.  After Liz and I completed our book, Lies, I spent writing time on poetry.  Today, I realized I was missing the blog so I checked in and saw that people still stop by. That made me happy. Thank you.

I hope to pen more essays and also to share some of the poems I've been writing which I think fit in with the purpose of the blog...sharing thoughts about living.  This past week, I had a couple of doctors' appointments which I flat out hate and who doesn't.  Still, there is always something to take away even from the most mundane experiences. As always, comments are very welcomed.

Off to Some Unnatural Procedure

dressed in identical gowns
hands folded in our laps
we are wheeled in our chairs
down a long hall
towards each other
about to pass
I spy tufts of hair
blue eyes in a lined face
a rogue smile
I laugh
bumper cars
we breeze by
 in body
 in our eyes

Bridget Harwell

Saturday, January 10, 2015


The holidays have passed and they were happy for me.  But not for a few friends who suffered loss because of deaths or break-ups.  I was in the position of longing to have words that could make even the smallest difference.  I remember after the death of my husband, how awkward it was for some people who would repeat, "I don't know what to say," and as a result avoided me until I was more pulled together.  They were right, there were no magic words.  But, what I found helpful, were those friends who were able to listen.   It gave me some relief to tell my story.  In particular, I remember taking a walk with my nephew who said very little but listened with love and acceptance, not concerned about how to play his part.

Two years later, I was in a different place, in some ways more difficult.  I had gone from  deep emotion to staleness.  Staleness is difficult, if not impossible, to communicate.  Looking back, I am grateful to a couple of friends who stayed with me through that dry, dull period of my life.

I posted a blog on 10-10-11 titled "There Are No Words," and included in it the poem The Woodspurge by Dante Gabriel Rossetti which I think captures the traumatic moments of intense and numbing grief.  You can look it up in this blog's archive, if you like.

The following poem is a far distance from Rossetti's gorgeous poem, but for me, it bespeaks that period, long after loss, that I call staleness and still consider one of the most difficult things to deal with in life.  I had just visited my husband's mother who died two years after he died.  She was in a nursing home in an odd part of Columbus.The poem is about my state of mind, reflected in the landscape.

New Landscape

I went out into the dry summer air.
All around was flat land, no houses.
Low buildings, engraved with names that told nothing.

I passed pyramids of gravel,
mounds of tires,
wire bales stacked like the hay
that I had seen on a far off day.
By the side of the road, white pipes lay
waiting to be buried.
Over all, a water tower cast its shadow.

Noiseless as Sunday,
I looked up and saw a sparrow
perched and pecking at the grid.
Oh, I was glad to see a living thing.
I walked on quickly
my heart banging
like a stone in a barrel.

Bridget Harwell