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Pausing Fear, Choosing Joy

The past month has been a dance of gratitude and fear. Gratitude that, so far, my family is healthy and together under one roof — all five of us around the dinner table each night, favorite movies flickering on the TV in the evenings, coffee sipped on the deck on those warmer sunny mornings that feel like a gift. But then, often as the sun goes down or the skies cloud over, fear creeps in and, with it, an element of despair. All the “what if….” worries start to clamor for attention, pounding on the door to my heart and racing through my mind in an endless relay. Suddenly the fear of what could be overpowers the gratitude for what is.

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Defy definitions, trust your own story

Everyone has his or her own story. Our history, family, faith, environment—all of it combines to create a background story that runs through our entire life, for better or worse. Through the ups and downs, the surprise plot twists, the losses and accomplishments, we write a new chapter day by day.

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The gift of community, the joy of the tribe

The older I get, the more I like to tackle things I probably have no business tackling. In the course of the past 10 years, I’ve done everything from tennis lessons (I was never much of an athlete) to dance classes (hip hop and belly dancing, of all things), from pottery and mixed media (I was always known for being “bad” at art) to Italian lessons (Spanish was always my second language of choice). And for the pièce de résistance, I am nearing the completion of 200-hour yoga teacher training, where I am, by far, one of the oldest in the class.

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Finding God in the land of the ‘Nones’

I traveled to Seattle a few weeks ago to give a parish retreat at St. Monica’s Church on Mercer Island. Long before I boarded the plane for my first visit to the Pacific Northwest, friends on both coasts warned me that I was headed to the land of the “Nones,” where people are spiritual but not religious, and maybe not even all that spiritual. What could I possibly offer out there in a city where God seems to be dead, or, at the very least, in hibernation?

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Don’t wait. Say yes.

I first got to know Sister Johanne McCarthy, C.S.J., about 18 months ago when she wrote to complain that our Albany diocesan newspaper wasn’t giving religious sisters the same treatment priests and deacons received on the obituary pages. I had to agree with her. It certainly seemed that the sisters were getting short-changed. So I joined her in advocating for equality in the obits, and that was the beginning of a beautiful-but-too-brief friendship.

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The Things We Save

I returned home from work one day recently to see a For Sale sign on the lawn of our elderly neighbors, a retired Army doctor and nurse. They’ve been living on our street since the houses were first built in the 1960s and have been a fixture throughout our almost 20-year life two houses down. He would walk several times a day, always with a walking stick. She would keep tabs on the neighborhood happenings and report back at our occasional potluck picnics. So it was with no small amount of sadness that I learned they had both been moved to nursing home care and their children had listed the house on the market.

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The way to ease is not easy

September always feels like the start of a new year to me, much more so than Jan. 1 ever does. It must be the perennial student in me. I can’t even resist the piles of discounted school supplies that fill every store at the end of summer. I buy at least a few neon-colored, spiral-bound notebooks and one box of perfectly pointed Crayola crayons every fall. Something about it settles my soul and makes me feel like I’ve got a blank slate and the possibility of a rainbow within reach.

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Life — the daring adventure

When I was working as a reporter for Catholic New York back in the 1980s, I had one of those quote-of-the-day calendars on the desk in my cubicle overlooking Manhattan. All these years later, after multiple cross-country moves, one of those calendar pages remains with me. It was a Helen Keller quote from March 28, 1988, only two weeks before my mother would die at 47 years old in our family room: “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature…Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”

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Build community, start small

I went back to yoga class last month after a long break. Day by day, as I returned to my mat in a room surrounded by people— mostly strangers—of all ages, shapes and sizes, I felt the comfort and love of that community starting to envelop me. It wasn’t by accident that this yoga school has a welcoming feeling; the strengthening of connections, the building of relationships is done with intention.

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The world needs beauty

I was lucky enough to visit the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris about one year ago, when I went to the City of Lights with my daughter, Olivia, on a mother-daughter trip. We stood in the highest towers and looked at the city fanning out below us. We listened as people below erupted in a chorus of cheers when France scored its first goal in the World Cup. We stood beside the great bell and behind the hulking gargoyles. It was a dream come true. Then we watched in horror April 15 when the gorgeous cathedral burned out of control.

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