Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Valleys and Summits

"It is not good for all our wishes to be filled; through sickness we recognize the value of health; through evil, the value of good; through hunger, the value of food; through exertion, the value of rest."   -Greek Proverb

This is exactly what I've been telling my family for a long time, although this proverb says it far better than I can.  I know my family cares about me.  I know that's why they occasionally encourage me to consider an anti-depressant.  My sisters absolutely swear by theirs and perhaps it's a good aid for them.  I consistently and (hopefully) politely refuse.  For me it would not be an aid but instead a crippling impediment.  

There are times when I am so overwhelmed with negative emotion.  I am so low it feels like I am in a deep fissure in the earth.  Inky darkness swallows away any shadow.  The cold snakes through my heart to leech away any warmth.  Silence pounds deafeningly.  The thick air is hard to breath.  It is a forbidding place and lonely because even the best efforts of friends cannot raise me from this pit.

Time spent in a valley is extremely unpleasant but vitally necessary.

It is only because of the valleys that my summits are so dazzlingly high, so brilliantly bright, so wonderfully warm.  It is only in comparsion to the dark that I can see and appreciate the full quality of the light.  Comparison to the cold makes the warmth warmer.  Comparison to the depth of the valley makes the height giddy and awe-inspiring.  Even if I could reach the summit without going through the valleys, without the comparison everything would be muted.

It's just basic physics.  If I trim amplitude off the bottom of the wave by chemically altering the depth of the valley I must, as a matter of natural law, lose an equal amount from the crest.  Without the deep troughs I cannot soar to the incredible highs found at the wave's apex.  As hard as it is to get through the valleys sometimes, I refuse to do anything to change that amplitude because I am so unwilling to give up the highs of riding the crest.

Copyright © 2011 Denise Duggan

Damon and Pythias

Describe your favourite fairytale, myth or legend from your childhood.  Discuss why it’s your favourite and how it has influenced your beliefs and morals throughout your life so far.

I loved mythology when I was a child -- mostly Greek and Roman.  One of my favorite myths was that of Damon and Pythias.  The story is actually rather simple.  Pythias is accused of a crime by the king and sentenced to death.  He asks to go home to say goodbye to his family.  The king refuses because he's sure once released, Pythias would never return.  Damon offers to stand in Pythias' place and, if he doesn't return, suffer his fate.  The king accepts the offer. As Pythias is returning after visiting his family he is attacked by outlaws and left for dead.  Execution day comes and everyone is taunting Damon telling him what a trusting fool he has been.  Right before the execution Pythias shows up - beaten, bloody and half-dead.  The king is so impressed that Pythias returned that he sets both men free.

Damon was willing to give his life for his friend Pythias.  Pythias withstood travel when he was already half dead to save Damon.  That kind of legendary loyalty is and always has been very appealing to me.  I hold loyalty like that in extremely high esteem.  Sometimes, when misplaced, my loyalty towards others has caused me pain, but I refuse to lower my values because others take advantage.  When I look at myself in the mirror, I have to be able to like what I see.  If I were disloyal I wouldn't.  Sure, that means sometimes I've been used.  But over the years, the users have faded from my life while the person in the mirror never has.

Copyright © 2011 Denise Duggan

Monday, July 25, 2011

Silver Lining

Prompt: Fukijima, Japan --- Mar 12, 2011

On March 12, 2011, Japan's Fukushimo nuclear reactor was threatened with a meltdown. The company responsible for operating the plant had tested it to withstand a 7.9 magnitude quake, which they considered the strongest possible.  The quake that actually threatened was a 9.0.

On September 11, 2001, the World Trade Centers in New York City were targeted by terrorists flying commercial airliners bound and fueled for cross-country flights.  The designers built the structure to withstand a crash by a single 747 jet.  They didn't foresee the power inherent in a dual attack by larger planes.

Are the designers and engineers responsible for these structures also responsible for their destruction?  Should  they have foreseen the damage that was done?  I don't think so.  It's not like they hadn't tested at all.  They prepared for what they considered the worst case scenario.  Unfortunately, the worst case turned out to be worse than what they imagined possible.

Unfortunately our human brain can only process certain levels of destruction.  No one believed a 9.0 magnitude earthquake was possible in Fukijima.  No sane person could imagine the actions of the 9/11 terrorists.  No one saw the Holocaust coming either.  The destructive power of chaos, whether natural or man-made, is something hard for humans to wrap their brains around.  We spend our lives guarding against the probable.  If we were to guard against every possibility we would spend all our time shoring up defenses and never try anything new.  If we did that we'd still be living in moat-surrounded castles.

When I worry about something too much, my husband puts a stop to it by reminding me there's an asteroid somewhere in the universe hurtling towards Earth and suggesting maybe I should worry about that for a while.  He's right, of course.  Some situations, while possible, are so far from the realm of plausible that they cannot be protected against.  Nor should we waste time contemplating them because the likelihood of them coming to pass is so remote.  But every now and again, these impossible situations do happen and when they do the results are devastating.  That's when we humans start second guessing ourselves and wondering why we didn't see it coming.

But we shouldn't.  We make the best protections against the situations we consider the most plausible and that's all we can do.  If we tried to protect against every possibility we would never advance.  Which would be another kind of tragedy.

Growth of any kind takes pain.  As painful as these events were, there was something else that emerged from them too.  After these tragedies, the human race seems to pull together.  It gets past it's stupid individualism and nationalism and helps those that need help.  As tragic as these events are, what I choose to take away from them is the power of the human spirit to overcome the situation.  It's a small sliver of a silver lining around an extremely dark cloud, but it is enough to give me a most precious commodity - hope.

Copyright © 2011 Denise Duggan

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Goodbye Letter

You've won the lottery! No, not that lottery -- the Goodbye Lottery. For some reason, as Death comes to collect you, he gives you leave to write a farewell letter to your family and friends. What do you write?

Dear Everyone,

I know that sounds a bit stupid, but you will have to forgive me.  Not everyone gets this chance and I can't decide if it's a blessing or a curse.  Death is standing here and will be taking me soon, but has given me time to write a note to say goodbye.  I guess most would consider it a boon but I'm finding it a very uneasy task.  Concentrating on what's most important to say to you as I am also contemplating the fact that I will be dead when I'm finished is a very surreal feeling.  I'm sure you'll all understand and forgive me if I'm a bit incoherent.

Katie & Christina, y'all have been wonderful friends.  It's so nice to have women friends to share my life with - especially since our kids' lives are so intertwined.  I've always thought it important to know my kids' friends' parents but seldom have I ever been so close to them.  I will always smile (if there's still smiling where I'm going) when I remember the fun, goofy times we've had together.

Jeannie, there's just something about you, girl -- something that makes me feel I can share my deepest, darkest secrets knowing they will never go further, but more importantly, they won't make you run screaming from contact with me.  I haven't had a friend this close in at least a couple of decades and I forgot how important it can be to have someone like you.  Not only can I share all my secrets with you, I don't have to explain feelings to you (like I sometimes do with King Charming - you know how that male/female communication can sometimes be a bit stilted).  I hope you one day find true happiness and a soulmate to share your life with.  I don't know anyone more caring or more deserving.

Brandy, I want you to know I do love you.  I know we've had a hard time the past couple of decades because I'm so strongly opinionated about the "mom" thing.  It must have been hard on you for me to call you Mom when I was younger but to feel so strongly about it now.  I hope you understand that my feelings stem from knowing what a mom is now and from knowing how hard the job can be.  But I want you to know that I do understand why you made the decisions you did and I recognize that were I in your place I might do the same thing.  It must have been hard on you and I want you to know I recognize that.  And know that I love you.

Michelle, funny how things work out, huh?  Remember that song "Seasons in the Sun"?  It definitely is hard to die when all the birds are singing in the sky.  I always had a hard time with that song.  Maybe some part of me knew this day was going to come just as it has.  You know there have been times when we didn't get along but know that I always loved you and all I ever wanted was for you to be happy.  You deserve so very much to be happy and not to have to have dealt with some of the trials some of the men in your life have put you through.  You have such a wonderfully big heart -- I think that's why you needed the heart surgery.  You are sooo loving and kind and give so much of your heart to the people around you that it just needed a bit of renewing.  Love ya, Kiddo!

Bobby, you're growing into a fine young man.  I know there was a time there when you had Meme very worried about you but I kept reminding her that we all go through our wild times.  You had to go through your own.  Now you're settling down and paying your bills and becoming quite a responsible young man. I'm very proud of you, Buddy.

Mom, what do I say to the woman that gave me my life?  Everything I am is based on the foundation that you and Daddy laid.  Intellect, inquisitiveness, drive and ambition, they all came from you and I thank you for always being that wind that allowed me to soar so very high.  But more than that was the love.  You have sometimes mentioned a wish that you were more expressive in your love but I want you to know that there was never, ever any doubt in my mind that you loved me and only wanted the best for me.  Sometimes you and I disagreed with what "the best" meant, but the older I grow (I guess it should be "grew" now) the more I understood that was the sole reason for our occasional disagreement.  I want you to know that my life turned out wonderful and I was very, very happy and a large part of the reason for that was the values you taught me and the love you've given me all my life.

James and Joey, what do I say to you, darlings?  I'm so glad this day didn't come sooner.  I was always worried when y'all were younger.  Remember how I used to tell you that mommies and daddies always come back?  I was so scared that decision would be taken out of my hands and then not only would I be gone but I would have lied to you.  I know you're both old enough know to understand that this is not my choice.  Oh, how I so wish I could see you finish growing up.  I want to meet your children!  I want to see the kind of men you become - even though I already know you'll both be wonderful men.  James, I hope you never lose sight of that firm sense of right and wrong you have.  Yes, there are shades of grey in the world and you have to recognize that they're there.  But it's a balancing act because having that strong sense of good and evil is a wonderful thing.  Joey, never lose your funny outlook on life.  You have such a wonderful wit and it so often made me smile.  That's a gift, baby, being able to make people smile.  My soldier and my hippy... I couldn't have asked for more wonderful children than the ones I was blessed with.  I sure am gonna miss y'all.

Jim.  You know.. I was hoping by the time I got to this part of the letter I'd have some clue as to what to say. But I still don't.  Maybe I should tell you why I love you but I'm not even sure that would be coherent.  I know it has to do with your intelligence and wit and how much fun you are, but it's so much more than that too.  How do I put into words how much you've meant to me?  I was so very young when we found each other so in a sense you finalized my growing up.  You've taught me so much over the years -- even about mechanical orange pickers ;-).  But the thing you've taught me the most is the value of loving someone completely and being completely loved.  Because there has never been any doubt in my mind that you love me completely.  And I hope you know how much I love you.  That will never stop.  No matter what lies on the other side, you should know that my love for you will continue, unending, throughout all of time.  And somehow, someday we will find each other again.  There's just no way this huge a love can be meant to be contained in one lifetime.

I guess it's time to go now.  I wish I had longer to write this and make more sense of these feelings, but Death is tapping his toe.  I guess he does have other appointments to keep.  So for now I'll just say farewell.  Whatever is on the other side, know that I'll be looking for you when you arrive, but don't let it be too soon.  Enjoy life and be good to each other.  I love you.

Copyright © 2011 Denise Duggan

Saturday, July 23, 2011

On the Border

Write about what you think about that moment before you go to sleep.

Many times I'm watching television as I go to sleep so I think about whatever's going on in the show.  But there are times when I'm listening to music or something and my thoughts wander. Sometimes they traverse issues that are going on in my life.  They touch on my kids, my husband, my family, etc.Sometimes they review good memories.  Good times spent with friends make me smile as I remember them.  Sometimes they dwell on stories or ideas I've had.

But always they're random.  As my conscious brain turns off and my subconscious takes over randomness prevails.  It's one of my favorite times of the day.

Copyright © 2011 Denise Duggan

Friday, July 22, 2011


If you have nothing else to do, look at yourself and see if there isn't something close at hand that you can improve. It may make you wealthy, although it is more likely it will make you happy.  - George M. Adams -

Let's first look at the part about "nothing else to do".  I can't think of a single woman I know to which this might apply.  Most of us have our jobs, our children and our husbands to look after.  And, shhhhhh, don't tell the hubbies, but often they're the "child" that needs the most looking after.

But let's just say, for the sake of the prompt, that I found myself with nothing else to do one day.  Let's say all my menfolk are sleeping, the house is clean, my book isn't calling me to write, I have run out of blog ideas, etc., etc.

What a magical thought.

So what would I do with myself?  What could I improve?

Maybe I could get a better handle on my emotions?  I do wear them so far out on my sleeve they're like one of those old pirate shirts with the loose and flowing cuffs that hang down from the wrists.  Maybe that's a bad thing. I'm sure sometimes it is as my angry reactions to things get me in trouble or at least did before I learned to go outside and have a smoke and let the feeling pass.  But if I get rid of the emotional intensity it would affect the good emotions as well as the bad and I'm not willing to mess with that.

Maybe I could learn to let my children go and grow?  They are seventeen and fifteen right now, after all.  Maybe it's time to let them grow up and be men.  In my mind, I know this means letting them fall on their faces now and again and learn from their own mistakes.  But my Mommy's heart cries out that I must protect them and look after them - even now.  I know it probably isn't very good for their development but that's what they have a Daddy for.  I have to go with my Mommy's heart in this.

Maybe I should learn to share only the good parts of my life with my girlfriends?  Poor things -- they didn't ask to be tied to this emotional roller coaster that is my life.  But then again, they don't back away either.  I've got really excellent girlfriends who are always there for me, good or bad times.  I count myself extremely lucky to have them and for them to  be willing to put up with all this stuff because without them I think I would explode.

So what would I change?  I'm sure there's something but I just can't think of it right now.  Sure, being wealthy would be nice but I don't see that happening.  And I don't see how I could be more generally happy than I am right now.  Am I happy all the time?  Of course not.  Am I satisfied?  Absolutely!

Copyright © 2011 Denise Duggan

Thursday, July 21, 2011


"Difficulty is the excuse history never accepts." -- Edward R. Murrow

My daddy taught me that nothing worth having comes easy.  Difficulty is a necessary pre-requisite of anything of value.  It was true in 1961 when Mr. Murrow made this statement and is still true today.  Unfortunately, most people seem to have forgotten this.

The Continental Army faced monumental difficulty during the winter at Valley Forge.  Many soldiers didn't have shoes, coats or enough to eat.  As cold as their hell was, they preservered, conquered the difficulty and made a difference.

The people of London faced monumental difficulty during the bombings of WWII.  They dealt with blackouts,  limited supplies and constant fear.  But as dark as their nights were, they preservered, conquered the difficulty and made a difference.

The Allied soldiers faced monumental difficulty during the assault on Normandy.  Their only defense was that of schools of fish and herds of wildebeasts -- the safety of the group that comes with massive numbers.  An individual might die and they all knew it.  But they enemy couldn't kill them all and those that got through preservered, conquered the difficulty and made a difference.

What would have been different if Washington's men had decided the difficulties faced at Valley Forge were too much?  How would the world have been different had the forces at Normandy shrunk back from the difficulty of the assault?

Today America faces difficult decisions.  For too many decades we have lived as if the natural course of things were to always get better.  We are now reminded that resources are finite.  We must now choose between schools and prisons, between government programs and private initiatives, between equally compelling but opposing choices.  We must find a way to untie the Gordian knots of healthcare, our tax system, public assistance programs, etc.

The difficulty of the choices has polarized us into political camps that spend their time bashing each other rather than addressing the issues.  Of course, slinging mud is always easier than finding a way to dry it out and build something.  But history will judge us on the results, regardless of the difficulty of the choices.  We must find a way to work together.  Of course, it won't be easy, but that is no excuse.

Copyright © 2011 Denise Duggan