Leave your Baggage and Unresolved Issues Outside, Please!

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Expectations can lead to disappointment, dissatisfaction and unhappiness; especially when they collide with reality. Yet without this lofty perspective, you may rob yourself of the motivation you need to complete your goals and dreams. If you are forever pigeon-holing yourself into the lower-rungs of failure through negative thoughts, how can you expect to succeed?

I’ve always thought of myself as a realist. For awhile at least, I was afraid to hope for anything better. In order to deal with the many challenges life placed in my path, I decided never to assume anything and to expect even less. By lowering my expectations I was less likely to be disappointed or hurt.

I had no pre-conceived notions. I was simply grateful for what little I received and chose not to complain, but my spirit wilted into a bottomless pit. I quit feeling altogether. I became a zombie, but without the makeup. The real me began to disappear. I spent many hours on my knees praying for patience and for ways to improve my role in life. Essentially, rather than fighting back, I continued to fall through the cracks until one day, I hit rock bottom.

I knew I had to make a change in my life or die trying. Through the grace of God I met a friend who had perhaps seen me fade into non-existence. She invited me to a painting class. Me paint, I can’t even draw? Another woman gave me an assignment to write something for a church group – a skit that the youth would perform. Me? Write? I hadn’t written since high school.

I found myself learning new things. The Public Library was my teacher. My art friends and a unique and professional art instructor introduced me to a magic world where I lost myself in a rainbow of color and creation. For those few hours each week, I was able to forget the pain and release that part of me that had all but vanished.

I grew stronger. I began to laugh again. I made new friends and made plans. I started getting excited about life. My family noticed a different person emerge; a happier woman who glowed with anticipation. For awhile, they didn’t recognize me. My now ex-husband seemed even more withdrawn and morose. I sadly noticed that he was happiest when I was down, and when I seemed happy, he threw out more sarcasm and barbs. Jealousy? Resentment? Since we rarely communicated, I had no way of knowing.

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When two people marry, each brings into the marriage their own expectations and point of view about what a marriage should be like. According to couple counselors, differing expectations not discussed beforehand usually cause unresolved issues and arguments.

If the two lovebirds don’t correct these attitudes and beliefs, it is the beginning of the end. Instead of allowing their love to bring them closer, they draw a line in the sand in a power stand-off. If one party backs down before the problems are discussed and resolved, they will be viewed as the weaker party, the one who constantly makes concessions.

If this passive behavior is exploited by the more aggressive partner, an escalation of power and abuse begins a pattern of controlling behavior that continues throughout the marriage. Constant belittling, disrespect, and outright verbal assaults teardown self-esteem and destroy intimacy.

Couple’s counseling may help, but in many instances the ruts couples get themselves into are very difficult to break. If people would only lay the groundwork ahead of time. One young bride found herself in just such a power struggle. Her husband had pulled out the “junk drawer” in anger as he searched for a tool. The drawer fell to the floor in a clatter, further scattering some of the items.

The husband went off to work leaving the mess behind. What were his expectations? “A wife cleans up the house. It is her job to take care of things at home.”  The surprise on his face when he got home, told him that something was wrong with this scenario.

His wife had her own expectations. “I’m not going to pick up after him like his mother did. He’s a grown man and can pick up his own messes. If I clean up this drawer, I will be forever picking up after him, and he will treat me like a maid instead of a wife.”

A power struggle went on for almost a month. Both parties stepped around the drawer and high-stepped over the mess surrounding it. They fixed dinner, did the dishes together, all while tip-toeing around the drawer and each other. The tension was almost visible.

Finally at the end of the month, the husband cleaned up his mess and put the drawer away. The smart wife said not a word. She didn’t rub his face in it. She didn’t say “I won!” They both had learned something about respect and how to treat the person they loved and had committed their lives to.

If these little squabbles aren’t resolved in the beginning, the grooves of habit get so entrenched that it’s almost impossible to think and behave in new ways. Make up the rules of your marriage together. Find out what each of you hope for and want from your relationship. Whether you believe it or not, prayer does help. If your partner refuses or does not want to pray together, do it yourself. One praying partner is better than none.

The joys of a close and intimate relationship equal a lifetime of blessed memories.

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The State of the Nation is only as Good as the Hearts of its People

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“Cafe’ Costa Rica” acrylic on 20 x 20 canvas (SOLD), prints available (close-up of coffee beans)

When I was raising my family, multi-tasking was encouraged for everyone who wanted to succeed. Instead of lighting the home fires, women were encouraged to engage in career acceleration, pushing many out of the home and into the marketplace. That’s when the songs “I am Woman” and “Nine to Five” were the beat we marched to in our efforts to accomplish more in less time and to be more productive.

I once bragged to a friend that I could bathe my two youngest while cleaning my bathroom fixtures and scrubbing the floor all at the same time. I made my own cake mixes, yogurt, granola and bread to save money, and I could whip up a meal and have it on the table within 30 minutes without the benefit of microwaves or crockpots.

"Queen of Diamonds" 20 x 20 acrylic mixed media on canvas

“Queen of Diamonds” 20 x 20 acrylic mixed media on canvas

A generation later, the results were a nation of hyperactive insomniacs who didn’t know how to “chill.” Multi-tasking became the cause celebre´ for depression and nervous breakdowns; the culprit for lack of focus, and the fragmenting of a person’s time and energy.

We were accused, by the so-called experts, of short-changing our spouse and our children. Some women came back home and recommitted themselves to family life, while others were too entrenched in the upward climb to turn back. They had come close to the “glass ceiling;” and by golly, they were going to crash it if it killed them. The casualties were enormous. The ones who made it never looked back.

Once abortion was legalized, women were set free to crash the barriers that had held them back previously. The toll has only recently been felt as the Social Security Fund dries up because there are not enough workers to replace those who either have been aborted or who are on welfare. America has painted herself into a proverbial corner.

The women whose children grew up and moved on in their absence feel cheated of the experience of motherhood. They rushed here and there, watched their kid’s games and celebrated their achievements, but do they really know them? How many times have they actually had a loving conversation without telling their kids to “hurry up, we’ve got to get going?” or criticized their obnoxious antics and behavior.

Today, we look around us and see not a nation of happy and well-adjusted people, but a country full of drug addicts who participate in road rage, riots in the streets, and mayhem. Our leaders are immoral and dishonest. The people in whom we put our trust are untrustworthy. Tyrants rule in our board rooms and on our streets. We have made a mockery of that which once was sacred and blasphemed the God who gave us life.

"Blending In" 11 x 14 acrylic on canvas (How often do we "Blend in, rather than Standing Up?"

“Blending In” 11 x 14 acrylic on canvas (How often do we “Blend in, rather than Standing Up?”

Collectively, we desecrate the holy, the weak, and elevate the swindler and the swine. We worship pleasure and wealth and turn our backs on the lowly and common. Children in many cases dishonor parents and parents turn their backs on the children who need them. There is a lack of common decency and respect. “It’s all about me” rings from the rafters of homes, automobiles and businesses. “I want what I want, and I want it now.”

Never in the history of the world has there been more need of a Savior to bring us back to our Heavenly roots. Jesus said: 7 “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love, does not know God because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only son into the world that we might live through Him. 10 This is God: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for sin.”
(I John 4:7-10 NIV)

“If this is true,” you say, “then why isn’t there peace on earth? Why is there so much violence?”

First off, God is not the author of confusion, nor violence, nor evil. Mankind does that very well without him. Before Christ was crucified, he did clarify this point for us: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth give I unto you.” (In other words, His peace is within) “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

Our world could use a little more peace, especially in the hearts of its people.

"Lady in Waiting" oil on canvas (prints available)

“Lady in Waiting” oil on canvas (prints available)

Interludes of Happiness are the Underpinnings that Strengthen the Soul

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“Americana” acrylic on canvas

Just when you think your life is on an even keel, something or someone wipes the gloat off your face and you’re down. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life it’s this: Change is inevitable. Unpredictability is the norm.

The in between times when love seems never ending, when peace pervades your universe and you think nothing can go wrong that’s just when it does. Those prime times are short and fleeting. They come and go like breathing in and out. They arrive just before or shortly after a crisis.

Make the most of these tender moments because they never last. They are what memories are made of when we have nothing else to live for. These heavenly highs help relationships weather the uneven tides of emotion and anger. They give life zest and nourish a heavy heart.

"Kindred Spirits" 30 x 24 mixed media on canvas

“Kindred Spirits” 30 x 24 mixed media on canvas

Think of these pleasant pauses, these cherished nanoseconds as seeds. They can’t be saved or stored except in memory; but they can reside within us and provide a web of interconnecting fiber that can give our life structure and continuity. These interludes of happiness “relieve the darkness of the past and the gloom of the present.” (C.H. Spurgeon)

Like a flickering light in the gloom of darkness, these seeds of joy gives us hope, sustain us, and keep our feet planted on solid ground even when all of life is crumbling around us. This kind of strength is what makes heroes out of common men. When a tragedy happens, they respond. They just do it, never thinking about the risks to their own mind or body nor their inhibitions and weaknesses.

Human capacity is never fully tested on this earth. Knowing that somewhere within us is the action needed to meet our convictions is reassuring. Manufacturers and engineers know all about tensile strength when it comes to machinery and materials. Tensile strength is all about the ability to be stretched or pulled out of shape before breaking. Even though human beings are not machines, they are still resilient and capable of super human fetes when necessary.

"With These Hands -- Wonder" oil on canvas

“With These Hands — Wonder” oil on canvas

These seeds of hope, faith, happiness and joy that grow to fruition within us make us stronger, more teachable, and more bendable. This ethereal structure helps us to endure sorrow, pain, anger, hatred, envy or the loss of a loved one, the failure of business or marriage. This foundation is what helps you get up when you fall, and why you take one step after another even though you don’t feel like walking or going anywhere.

Savor the good times. Remember them in the bad times. Make more of these moments every chance you get. This is the web or safety net that will give you courage when you need it the most and the resiliency to hold on a little longer when your heart is breaking.

Sea Swirls

“Sea Swirls” 24×18 acrylic on canvas

Change comes to all of us. Nothing stays the same. Ride the waves, my friend. Your life’s journey will sometimes lift you up and at other times slap you down in the grit of despair. Don’t give up in the heat of the moment. Coast and surf until you gain some traction. You will survive.

(This blog was delayed by the unforeseen, but it also gave me my subject matter.)

There are Times when Nothing Else Will Do But a Good and True Friend

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“Beach Buddies” mixed media on canvas

As long as men are stronger than women, there will never be true equality between the sexes. Strength and muscle alone dictate that it cannot be so. Since time began, power has always gone to the “leader of the pack with his prowess as hunter and conqueror” while women bore the children and handled domestic chores at home. Of course, you can also find the opposite within different ethnic and tribal groups; but they are the exception rather than the rule.

Even today there are cultures and religions in the world who subjugate the weakest members in favor of the loud, the strong, and the violent. Ruling by fear and brute force, they overpower rather than lead. They dominate rather than seduce. They withhold affection and communication in their efforts to control. This can be done by both men and women; but in the majority of instances, it is done by the male of the species.

"Broken" mixed media on canvas; SOLD, but prints available.

“Broken” mixed media on canvas; SOLD, but prints available.

You may argue that times have changed. Today women can rise above the so-called “glass ceiling;” and with divorce as an option, they can always leave threatening circumstances. True, but not without many, many hurdles children being only one of them.

When it comes to “division of property” and closing bank accounts, it is easier said than done. Did you know that a man may close a “joint” checking account, but a woman must have her husband’s consent and signature, even though she may have been the only contributor? If there is wealth involved, a costly battle may ensue.

My first husband thought I should receive a pittance since I was a stay at home wife. He told my attorney that I had not contributed to the purchase of the house nor its maintenance nor to family expenses. My attorney pointed out that I’d given him six children, took care of them, cleaned the house, shopped for groceries and school clothes, and prepared all of their meals for 30 years. Was it not reasonable to be paid for my efforts?

I walked away from that marriage feeling worthless, empty, unloved and abandoned; even though it was I who had filed for divorce. Sadly, three words were all it would have taken for me to come back: “I love you.” Words I had heard only a few times during our lifetime together.

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If you doubt what I’m saying, gather together a few women who have experienced physical abuse, emotional and verbal abuse, financial deprivation or divorce, and they will drown you out with their truth: equality is something they never knew, only fear; but I’ll save that for another time.

Now that I have your attention, this article is not about male versus female. It is about the importance of having friends to share your frustrations and your dreams (women friends for women, and male friends for men, or a mix of both). True friends can give your life meaning. They can provide the hugs, the support and the encouragement that somehow went missing in your marriage.

Friends can bring laughter into your life and a safe place to just be yourself. Even when you’ve lost the very notion of who you are, friends can provide a safe haven to “let your hair down.” Friends may give you an outlet to express how you really feel. Fear and feelings of failure can oppress you to the point of suicide if it is not allowed to surface.

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“Kindred Spirits” Lge. acrylic on canvas

Friends can hold you together when you feel that you’re falling apart from the inside out. They provide tangible evidence that you really exist and that you have value. It is difficult to get in touch with a “higher power” or to have any spiritual connection when you’re battling in the trenches for survival.

I remember a time in my life when I thought: “God is a man (or so the Bible says).” If I can’t put my trust in my husband, who is a man, how will I ever be able to trust God? If a woman has also been abused by her father or a spiritual leader, this makes it even more impossible that she will ever trust in God.

Think about that men? How you treat your young daughters, and their mothers — your wives, is in direct relationship to the way they will eventually feel about God; not only today, but forever. That is a great burden on you to treat them as God would, with love and patience.

Lead instead of pushing from behind. Let your good example do the teaching. If that doesn’t seem to work, pray together. Tell your children and your spouse that you love them. This advice can be reversed if the woman is the nagger and abuser.

Life is too short to beat on or threaten the people you hold dear. Cherish them. Tell them often that you love them. Live your life with hope for the future not with regrets.

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Living in the Present and Letting Go of the Past

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Sea Swirls

“Sea Swirls” acrylic on 24×18 canvas

Today is all you have. If you’re future focused, you may miss out on the blessings right under your nose. If you dwell on the past, you may end up with a heart full of regrets and sadness. No matter how much you would like to go back, the past is out of your control. You can’t change it. Ever!

Tomorrow is not yours, either. Predictions are foolish. Wishes are senseless, unless they’re backed up with action. Concentrate on today’s duties and obligations. There may be pain. There is often unhappiness; but if you’re honest, there are also priceless moments of joy: sunlight coming through the window and landing on a sparkling glass; the smell of peanut butter; birdsong in the quiet of afternoon; drawing a warm bath; a church bell in the distance, slipping tired feet into fuzzy slippers. You just have to watch for these mini-miracles. Savor the few and let the rest go.

Sea Breeze

“Sea Breeze” acrylic on 30×24 canvas

My mother used to say “If you want to retain your sense of humor – read the funny papers!” She was right. Even online jokes and funny stories can change your day. I received one that gave me a huge belly laugh when I finished reading it. What if I’d skipped that email, thinking I was too busy and had no time to waste? I’d have stayed down in the dumps and perhaps been impossible to live with for the remainder of the day. Don’t miss out on a chance to laugh!

Turn up the music and dance. Never wait until you’re in the mood. Do it now! It’s good exercise. If you stop feeling sorry for yourself, you may end up casting those bad feelings aside in a whirl or a jiggle. It’s hard to keep frowning when you’re jiving to the rhythm or swaying with a child in your arms. Go on – gyrate! Get those feet tapping to the music.

Connect with someone. Loneliness hurts! Pick up the phone. If nothing else, turn on the T.V. and listen to other people’s complaints. Hold your pet. Hug someone! Get out of the house and do something. The more you nurse your aloneness, the more alone you’ll feel. Stay connected until you feel better. People need people. You may still feel alone unless you share your grief with someone else. Sharing makes others feel better, too.

Sea Nymph

“Sea Nymph” acrylic on 24×18 canvas

Go for a walk. Yes, I know, you don’t feel like it; but do it anyway!  I walked ten miles one day and still didn’t feel any better than when I started, but I managed to sleep well that night. If that’s all you get out of your walk, at least you may feel better in the morning. Walking gets your blood moving. Sometimes depression may be as simple as lack of adequate blood flow to the brain. A sedentary person ages faster because the muscles and bones are starving for the life blood that stimulates and feeds them. On your walk, count the number of people you pass. Try to remember their faces. The next time you see them, greet them with a smile and a friendly hello.

If you earnestly try to do the above and you still feel like you’re stuck in a deep dark pit, get help! After my divorce, I was confused, lost and completely alone. My former friends had disappeared. My neighbors turned their heads when I passed. New friends were mostly users who took advantage of my vulnerability. I sought out help. A psychologist prescribed Prozac and I began to feel like a new person. I could think clearly, gauge my surroundings more realistically, and I regained my usual optimistic personality. Never try to go it alone. Give yourself every opportunity to get well!

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“Broken Hearted” pastel on 11×14 Bristol; matted and ready to frame

Concentrate on your own needs for a change. You’re having trouble helping yourself. This isn’t the time to change the world. Focus on you. Don’t worry about the past. Quit fretting about the future. Take one day at a time, one step at a time. Get help from a professional, and by all means, follow your doctor’s advice. If he or she says “Don’t drink” that’s what they mean (alcohol and medications don’t mix). If they say you should stay away from negative friends who pull you downward, follow their advice.

Whether you sink or swim, the job of wellness is yours. If you continue to thumb your nose at those who offer help and disregard sound advice, you will be playing the “poor me” game for the rest of your life.

Yes, you can do it! You were made for joy and happiness. Quit comparing yourself to others and start noticing your own progress. Rejoice in simple achievements. Don’t allow others to take you back to that dark place. If that means leaving certain people behind, do it! You are on a journey of health and wellness. You have a right to be happy. You are “divinely and beautifully made.” Reach for what your own heart cries out and yearns for. Don’t look back!

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“First Daffodil” mixed media on canvas

Don’t Let your Partner Browbeat or Bulldoze you!

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"Namesake" acrylic on canvas

“Namesake” acrylic on canvas

I’ve been married three times, so I’ve earned the right to “tell it like it is.” Three different men have been a part of my life, and each thought that his way was the best way and the only way!

I’ve had to relearn new ways and unlearn old habits. Just when I thought it was “economical to turn off the radio on my car when I stopped the engine,” I had to change because another spouse thought it didn’t make a diddly-squat difference.

One partner said that leaving the radio on was a drag on the battery. The other could care less. He left the radio constantly running believing that newer cars were up to the task. Who was right?

One man was a stickler for cleaning. Bathroom vents were vacuumed and washed at least monthly. The floors and baseboards were mopped weekly. Everything had to be in its place. When I was working, I felt my whole life orbited around his high expectations.

"The Dance" 11 x 14 pastel, matted and ready to frame

“The Dance” 11 x 14 pastel, matted and ready to frame

Another spouse was super casual. He could care less if I made the bed each day. He was relaxed and laidback, but then things that were in need of repair were put off. The bathroom vents were seldom touched. I found myself missing the spotless appearance of before, but happy that someone wasn’t constantly on my back.

The problem for me was that each husband expected me to comply and follow suit with his ways and wishes. If I did something my way or the way of “those who went before,” I was chastised and told, in no uncertain terms, how to do it the correct way.

All three couldn’t be right nor all three wrong. Ironically I taught my children to think independently. I told them there were several ways in which something could be accomplished. After showing them how I did something, I told them to find their own best way. They could do a chore anyway they wanted too as long as the end result met my expectations (a clean room).

I always felt a person was far more important than the things they owned or used. When we become myopic, and focus on habit and tradition over someone else’s feelings, we’re missing the whole point of bonding and forging close relationships.

When “It’s my way or the highway,” bitterness ensues. Marriage becomes a competition between two people who are at odds with each other. Cooperation is one thing, domineering is quite another. I remember the scalding reprimand I got when I cut too much off the top of a strawberry. I was told to use the point of the knife and scoop out the green leaf leaving the top of the fruit unscathed. This works well for one strawberry, but by the time you get through a box or a case you’re tired fingers turn the berries into mush.

Everything I learned in my home as a girl from my own dear mother was criticized and replaced by someone else’s means and methods. I was called wasteful by one spouse and too thrifty by another. My self-esteem floundered and I felt restricted and smothered. One abusive mate said I was the “worst woman’ he’d ever known,” and the other ignored me altogether; seldom smiled and never laughed at my jokes. It was like I spoke a foreign language.

When my current husband thought I was funny, understood what I was saying, and we started finishing each other’s sentences, I knew we had the essence of compatibility.

Once a woman breaks free – look out! My third husband caught the brunt of my former repression. Thank goodness he’s a patient man! We have good communication and he doesn’t feel threatened when I insist on doing things my own way as long as I allow him to do the same. It’s silly to waste time on trivial differences when there’s a whole world of exciting adventures to share.

A woman shouldn’t be treated (nor a man) as a doormat in order to make someone else feel powerful. Every person has the right to discover their own strengths and weaknesses. No one should have to endure demeaning or insulting remarks from someone who is supposed to “love and cherish” them. This goes for both parties! Physical and verbal abuse should never be tolerated. Your emotional wellbeing, perhaps your life is at stake! If you can’t get past it, if you can’t put a stop to it, get out!

"Kindred Spirits" 30 x 24 mixed media on canvas

“Kindred Spirits” 30 x 24 mixed media on canvas

Photographs – Instant Replay

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Andy's wedding

Andy’s wedding

Surrounded by old photographs, my past envelops me with a sudden rush of remembrance. Here we are family and friends captured in a brief, fleeting moment singled out from the countless hours, days, and weeks that make up our lives.

How happy we look smiling for the camera. How hopeful for the future as we pose here together, frozen for eternity in a fraction of a second and the flash of a camera. One click and an infinitesimal moment is recorded for posterity. Tomorrow’s pain and unfulfilled promises are unseen, unanticipated.

The girls

The Girls

Photographs are given far more importance than they deserve. We use them to document our lives; perhaps even to define us. Then when relationships crumble and children move on into adulthood with their own lives and preoccupations, the frozen images smile back at us mocking the reality of what is now – what is today.

The life we once had — was it dream or illusion? Who are these people smiling at us now – these people caught in a millisecond of time?

Me and my girls and hubby

Me and my girls and hubby

Photographs wear with age, their brightness fades and their corners become tattered and yellowed; but the images continue to smile at us as they did long ago when the shutter closed and captured one shared smile, one shared space, and one microcosmic second in a lifetime.

We have all changed since those first pictures were taken. We are older, and perhaps wiser. Photographs provide proof that we have lived, but they can never tell others who we really are. Photographs are, after all, only superficial shards of the life we leave behind.

Ring ceremony

Ring ceremony

I wrote the above article many years ago when I was feeling down. Recently, I learned of another loved one with marriage problems and this article came back to me. I felt it deserved repeating.

I’ve hidden away or torn up many old wedding photos, the aftermath of divorce and unhappiness. The photos smile back almost mocking the here and now. And yet what is it that people cherish most after flood, fire or tornado? It’s the personal remembrances of family and friends; some of whom may have perished in the disaster.

Me and the groom; my grandson, Andy.

Me and the groom; my grandson, Andy.

Contemporary life is fraught with tragedy, deception, and strife. Just watch a soap opera any day of the week and you’ll see encapsulated the sorrows of modern life. People are not only complex, but so is the world we live in. During a crisis, perhaps those celluloid copies and digital images of friends and loved ones remind us of happier times.

After a loved one is gone, or our own life begins to fade, our memories and photographs document our lives and remind us that once we hoped, we loved, and we rejoiced.

(Wedding photos are from my oldest grandson’s recent wedding)