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Losing The Compass


Most of my new year's resolutions have focused on re-ordering the week to make the best use of time. This is a flawed premise to begin with because we can't always make that judgment, only what we think is best. Every day is a tussle between the demands under our nose and the agenda we feel we ought to be pursuing.

I've failed already, of course, though I really do believe I have a handle on it and can improve. But never underestimate the power of habit. Its genesis is in our earliest years, long before we attain years of 'wisdom' and the freedom to make our own decisions. Which seems to indicate that our underlying patterns of behaviour are laid down by the generation behind us. How often have you seen history repeated in successive generations?

Anne-Marie [name changed] a good friend of mine during the eighties, when we were in the chorus of an opera company together, underwent a crisis of faith about her role in marriage just as she turned forty when Life was supposed to begin. She said the relationship was stagnant. She couldn't feel about her husband the way she had when they were first hitched. Lovemaking was mechanical. It wasn't that she had come to despise Rob, or even dislike him, it was that everything felt flat, perfunctory and unrewarding. Her two early teen children seemed to need a degree of emotional support she couldn't give. She had been a devoted mother, but there were times when she wished she could hand over the responsibility for them to someone else. She was convinced she had come to the end of the road and made it quite clear that she was on the lookout for new horizons and a new partner.

Rob was totally bewildered as to what had gone wrong. In his view, it had been a loving, exciting, and stable marriage which had grown staid at the edges, perhaps, but even that had its comforts. He looked on dismayed and bereft, unable to reach his wife and ready to accommodate any proposition concerning a separation which would bring her to her senses and a realisation of what she was losing.

But if he was bewildered, so was Anne-Marie. You see, when she was fifteen, about the age her children were now, her adored father had died. She had lost her compass. She had no blueprint as to what happened next. She couldn't relate to the (recognised) needs of her son and daughter, nor adequately to the emotional and psychological needs of a partner. She was grieving for the vulnerable teenager she was back then.

Separation, with a view to getting back together, seldom closes the rift because, as in this case, it is usually a one-sided recourse. Rob did not want her to go. He wanted for them to work through the phase together. It was finally decided that he should get a posting to another part of the country, while Anne-Marie kept the house so that the children's lives and schooling were disrupted as little as possible.

Not long afterwards, I lost track of Anne-Marie, Rob and their children. He left and she had a sequence of lovers and eventually moved away herself. I don't know the outcome of this story and it may be that they were reunited, having forged a stronger bond through absence and having gained an awareness of what was truly valuable in their lives. But I doubt it. By then, other destinies had become entangled in the mix. There would have been other forces to deal with that regret and remorse could not breach.

No one could blame Anne-Marie for how she felt or how the sense of isolation had come about. She knew she was acting unreasonably when they had had such a wonderful marriage and were the envy of many, but that did not answer. She had once played Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz and was sure that gold was not mined from granite seams, but must be found at the end of the rainbow.

As a contrasting footnote, I recently watched a programme about how families coped during WWII with the geographic and emotional upheaval it caused. One woman who married the soldier of her dreams a few days before he returned to his regiment, told how, when the war ended, she was shocked to discover that he had been living with a prostitute for several months before he came home. There and then, she decided to sue for divorce, but her solicitor painted such a grim economic scenario and suggested that she might do better to hang fire for a while. She made up her mind to a change of attitude. She would throw down her arms - and open them! Before long, it had become second nature. When her spouse died, they had been happily married for fifty-six years!

So when the radar malfunctions and the compass goes into a spin, whatever our creed or Golden Rule, it can't hurt to keep in mind the following wisdom, attributed to Mother Teresa, as a road-map.

People are often unreasonable, irrational and self-centred. Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and sincere, people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.

The good you do today will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.


Wishing you many blessings in 2012! [updated] And even more in 2013!



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Your blog, unified around the metaphorical analogy of a compass, gives one much to reflect upon. I understand the traditional compass provides direction relative to earth's magnetic pole; so further extending your metaphor, it's the various "magnets" in life that create inner conflicts (e.g.,  Anne-Marie) concerning which direction to go.  Within our mortal limits, we choose among available alternatives and then must live with the consequences. 

One category of choice centers on the relative merits of valuing what one has (Anne-Marie's family and marriage) weighed against something more "enticing" that one envisions.  It's the old dichotomy of realities vs. dreams. Where I grew up in midwestern U.S., we had a saying favoring "staying put" and appreciating what one has rather than risk losing it for something different and and more exciting: "Jumping from the frying pan into the fire."  Anne-Marie apparently was dissatisfied with her  "flat" life in the frying pan; so she jumped into the fire and took her chances.

Hers was a basic and common existential "scream" of which I'm sure you've heard as many  variations as I: "I need to be ME, find greater fulfillment and overall experience more of the possibilities in life," echoing the question in the golden oldie song lyrics, "Is this all there is?"  I appreciate its magnetc allure, having experienced it myself (life's "siren song"), but along with the greater possibilities, there's an element of the fatal attraction of the moth to the light and heat that can easily be one's undoing.  Thus, what "seemed" the path to "glory" becomes the road to self-destruction. A select few, in their published letters and personal conversations, affirm they've found that illusory pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  But one could ask "Was it real? or self-deception protecting us from confronting unpleasant truths about ourselves?

In contrast, the wife in your other example opted to accept conditions in her "frying pan".  We also had a saying for her guiding compass or principle:  "If left with only lemons, make lemonade." One could say, in one respect, her "straying" husband was a lemon, right? However, given his "active" life, he at least wasn't a "dead battery."  So his wife possibly recognized what was of value in him and built on that to her ultimate credit and reward. We could also say she "rolled with the punches" in life and persevered relatively unscathed.  Our existential condition is that we pick and choose during our "brief shining moments", not being able to have all things, and then our time is over.

As an older person who's survived many punches, one deficiency/tendency I've observed in some young people is a preponderance of impatience and dissatisfaction over perseverance.  You mentioned War II impacting British life and, of course, it had similar dire effects on U.S. families as well. For example,  adjusted upward for our smaller population then, our loss of precious loved ones would be the equivalent of some FOUR THOUSAND per week today.  Yet our compass enabled us to persevere in the faith that the "sun also rises."

 Though in no way minimizing our much lower loss of life in the recent Iraq War and related war on terrorism (and aside from whatever "adventurism" was involved), I found the deep discontent/outcry about some 4,000 losses over  EIGHT YEARS  as an almost unbearable sacrifice to be quite a contrast, indeed, to the way my parent's generation persevered without similar complaints under unbelievably greater sacrifice during War II. Thus, our compass then was considerably steadier and stronger than whatever compass is guiding some people now. Thomas Paine (Common Sense) would have called them "summer" or "sunshine" patriots. Of course, the discontented/disaffected would say they are marching to a "different drummer," and one could argue for the merits of that perspective as well.

But what I chiefly valued in your blog was bringing to our attention the value of having a moral/spiritual compass and persevering through life's challenges without "throwing in the towel" (as some are prone to do today) when the "going" gets rough! (in the mode of Mother Teresa's axioms)

Be well,





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Brenden, I enjoy American family films...

...which, perhaps, do owe a lot to sentiment, but are nevertheless heartwarming and a kind of benchmark.

It has often struck me that family values in the US - as those you experienced in the Mid-West - are stronger than here in Britain. We are a compressed nation, without space and air, and, since the last war, disparate interests and expectations of family members have led to the nuclear model which, as is proving the case, cannot survive.Widely available education has had a lot to do with it and, whilst I'd no way deplore that in itself, it does tend to split families and communities apart because horizons can no longer be shared, or even compared, and destinies are pursued at a distance wholesale. Among English Europeans, our best hope for the family is tolerant goodwill.

The new generation is, as you say, 'marching to a different drum', one inspired by the gods of materialism and exploited by the globe's financiers.

Education has taught my son's generation that the world is its oyster. There are a myriad fantastic options out there to be grasped. This is an illusion which makes them disaffected when they meet with life's normal obstacles and hurdles. Skill is needed to pare down options, a necessary exercise; skill, and the humility to count blessings.

I love the metaphor of making lemonade when life hands you lemons :) It is something I wholeheartedly believe in. Turning disadvantage on its head, seeing how resourceful one can be in all contexts, is an art the younger generation will be lucky to discover. In the short term, corners can be cut and many difficulties overcome with a credit card. It means that people don't have to face who they are. It's always present conditions that seem wrong. Will they ever know the distance perseverance can take them? Will they ever feel the real achievement which comes from within? Are they destined to languish in dissatisfaction with life to the end of their days?

When this blog topic was mooted for Redroomers, it was linked to the idea of re-invention. Well, I doubt true re-invention stems from jumping into a whole new set of circumstances. It comes from re-aligning your strengths and gifts, those things you're good at and the blessings you have to be thankful for, so that they become synergistic and provide a stronger foundation.

Thank you so much for taking the time to respond. Your comments are most welcome.



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My appreciation to you for responding so thoughtfully with additional reflections on contemporary trends. Your compass metaphor prompted considerable introspection concerning magnets drawing one in different directions as opposed to staying on course, as the saying goes.  Another useful analogy is the ancient marriners utilizing  a "guiding star" to find their respective ways through troubled waters and murky darkness.  

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Open Arms

Losing The Compass...

Oh, Rosy,  I couldn't get 'Losing The Compass,' off of my mind all day!  This is too close to home, that I had to sleep over it. There are no words better spoken, then what you have already written so beautifully!

I immediately sent your post to my youngest sister, who is another Anne-Marie. I especially resonated with the contrasting footnote story.   If you hadn't already, read between my lines. I also continue doing my best to live, Mother Teresa's sacred words of wisdom quotes in the last paragraph.  They have been my comforter and source of grace for thirty years that has held me. So true, the last quote: "In the finale analysis, it is between you and God.  It was never between you and them anyway."

Thank you so much for sharing your sacred wisdom with all of us. When I said, I was lost for better words, I truly meant it!  Though, I felt that an excerpt from my book was appropriate here. I hope you didn't mind my sharing:

"Precious Love"   

Many years ago, while sitting in Church,  I found some letters appearing to be messages from the Blessed Virgin in Medjugorje.  One of the lost letters that remain with me, (in my own words:) "Our Lady was very sorrowful for the young children - Not only for the children born in poverty, but for the affluent children who were raised in Day Cares, Institutions, and Schools, and were away from their parents at a very young age."  She said, "many of the children in poverty were more secure than some of the wealthy children because they were in the arms of their birth mother, while the affluent children were the furthest away from the precious feeling of well-being (love) in the beginning of their journey of life.”

We tend to look upon other families and think that some are better off than others; when actually, things are not always what they seem to be.  The families in poverty, grief, or with some sort of physical disabilities are sometimes no different than those families of divorce, separation, adultery, alcohol abuse, drug dependence, or neglect, etc.,  But they are not considered impoverished or a disadvantage to most people. When in a true sense, (to me) there is not much of a difference.      

Actually, many of the families that have physical disabilities or even  grief from losing a loved one, are more accepted in our society and 'excused' for not meeting certain requirements and are usually 'supported' in keeping them sustained.  Most of them seem to find an acceptance in life with workable solutions, and a brighter outlook that the world is indeed a precious loving place to live in. Thank God.

Whereas, there are many affluent families that come from grief, divorce, separation, adultery, alcohol, drug abuse, or neglect. They are looked upon as having every resource financially, but are not considered impoverished, but are truly at the same threshold as some of those in poverty and disabilities, (if not more?)  Because they are sometimes covered over, leaving them lost and alone in a world without any resources or acceptance at all.  I think.

Perhaps, if we look at the situation of circumstance 'regardless.' We will not only find whatever resource, finances, skills, or talents, for the appropriate action we need to take, to help make a change for the better. We may even come to see the hurts of poverty, grief, and the affluent no differently?  When it is through our giving, in the sense of welcoming and joy, that opens the heart to the spirit of God, that our journey is rich.

I think that the letter from Our Lady clearly reveals the vital importance in beginning our life journey.  Take a minute and think about the euphoria you feel, when you experience this precious feeling of well- being, from another's open arms?  Then, how much more can this bring to every one of us?  Especially, to sustain our children with His promise of tomorrow.


Excerpt ~ Imprinted Wisdom  

Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence or if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)  


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...thank you for sharing the excerpt from your book. I am pleased you should think to do so. It does highlight the wisdom past generations have known, that gratitude is a grace that works silently like leaven in dough and yields results.

When we look at others and envy them, how can we know what they are really going through? The deepest scars are usually invisible. I remember a Margaret Drabble novel years ago - I think it was The Waterfall - in which the narrator says something like: How do I know that the woman I pass in the street is not an agoraphobe battling with a persecuting sky?

We are given our particular hand of cards at birth because we are unique and only we have the wherewithal to deal with them and a chance (and challenge!) to leave the world a better place for our passage through it.

Domestic violence is rife, as is child and drug abuse, and if statistics are anything to go by, are worse in privileged families. That's not to say extreme poverty isn't a curse, but all my observations indicate that economic hardship often holds families together because they have a common objective, an 'oppressor', as in war. In a culture where it's everyone for himself and success is measured only in terms of riches, how can this be appreciated?

The children - Our Lady grieves for the children, adult as well as small. But I know firsthand that she is a powerful maternal force who watches over us when we seek her and administers to us in our need.

Thank you for sharing your experiences. I am so glad this blog inspired your own thoughts and actions. It's rather spooky that the sister you mention is Anne-Marie! Ah well, 'more things in heaven and earth, Horatio'!

Love and God Bless,