Category Archives: community

Lost and found on the day after my father died

Stewart Cudworth, born January 26, 1926. Died, October 17, 2015.
Stewart Cudworth, foreground. Born January 26, 1926. Died, October 17, 2015.

As I climbed in the car this morning the song In My Life sung by John Lennon of the Beatles was playing on the radio. I’ve sung and played that song many times on guitar, and know the lyrics well. But never have they sounded so prescient as today.

There are places I’ll remember
All my life though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I’ve loved them all

Yesterday my father died at 3:00 in the afternoon. The call came from the hospital, a kindly doctor trying to ease me into the knowledge that my father had passed away. He was beginning to go through the medical aspects of how my father had been cared for during the week, but I already knew the details. So I stopped the doctor and told him, “Your entire staff was wonderful. You gave my father an extra week or so to live, and all his sons got to come and be with him.”

In fact, my youngest brother had just visited that morning. He was in town by chance for a collegiate volleyball tournament with his daughter. He was quite close with my dad in many ways, perhaps the main son in the family that has dispensed wth any felt difficulties over time, and it was appropriate that he was the last son to visit.

But of all these friends and lovers
There is no one compares with you
And these memories lose their meaning
When I think of love as something new
Though I know I’ll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I’ll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more

My father was a passionately curious and often insistent man, willing to challenge our perceptions on any front. I recall the evening I stated that I’d seen some ducks on the river ice that day. “They were huddled together for warmth,” I said casually.

“How do you know they’re huddled for warmth?” my father asked.

To which I responded with some sort of angry retort. But that was my father. He wanted us to know the world did not accept everything we assumed we knew.

That was a lesson to be learned over and again. But the need to understand his thinking became a quality fo life issue when he had a stroke in 2002. That was when I first began assuming responsibility for his care. At first, it was my job to support my mother in her decisions about how dad should live. He moved through several care facilities with good and bad experiences before finally returning home with a live-in caregiver in 2004.

Then my mother passed away in 2005, and the direct opportunity to care for my dad presented itself. At first it was enormously difficult, because my father lost his ability to speak with his stroke. There were still seizures, and his body was compromised with loss of function on the right side. He could grow angry and frustrated at times, and my caregiving skills were put to the test in those circumstances.

All those changes and challenges are compounded when there are emotional patterns at work. The father-son relationship we had was transformed over the years as a result of the need to work together. I became adept at asking questions in sequential fashion to ascertain what he was thinking. This was an ironic rehearsal and reversal of the challenges he had long put to us growing up. All those probing questions were his teaching style, but too often we took that as an exasperation

But as we worked together our relationship softened somewhat. The same thing ultimately happened for my brothers as well. So while we’ve ostensibly lost our father to this life, in many respects we also found him again.

Though I know I’ll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I’ll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more
In my life I love you more

Christopher Cudworth is author of the book The Right Kind of Pride; Character, Caregiving and Community. It is a chronicle of cancer survivorship, and available on Amazon.com. 

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Weeding our way through the world

Other seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. 8“Other seeds fell into the good soil, and as they grew up and increased, they yielded a crop and produced thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.”9And He was saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”  –Mark 4:8

The inner dialogue of a person engaged in weeding a garden can go in a number of directions. There is the associative focus of separating good plants from bad, and yanking the weeds by the roots. There is also the dissociative tendency to let your mind wander and weigh your life along with everything in it.

A little of both is likely required to do a good job weeding. One must pay attention to identify weeds amongst the plants we choose for ornament and beauty. But sometimes weeds are so thick it does not take much thought to do the job. You stick your hands in there and yank for all you’re worth. Little thought is required, only muscle.

Pile of WeedsOver the years, one learns the best way to weed through practice. There is no other substitute for experience. One learns which plants are easy to pull up by the roots and which break off in your hands four to six inches from the soil. That makes for bigger problems. A trowel needs to come into play. There is not enough leverage left on the slimy stem of the weed to get a grip and yank up the roots.

Otherwise the weeds come back. Well, they come back no matter the method of removal. They’re weeds. That’s what they do. There’s always a supply of new weeds to fill in for the old ones.

One learns this lesson in your own yard and garden easy enough. Weeding is a required activity if you attempt to grow anything at all.

Of course, weeds are also at times a matter of perspective. Gardeners grow some varieties of plants that can escape and propagate places where they are not welcome. Purple loosestrife is one such beautiful pest. In a garden they are quite beautiful. But unleashed in a wetland they can take over an entire ecosystem. At that point, they must be yanked or otherwise killed off.

There are entire woodlands that need to be managed for the influx of plant colonies such as garlic mustard and buckthorn. Natural area restoration crews descend on these colonies and yank, burn and poison them to death. But the weeds almost always come back. It’s what they do.

Chemistry

That makes it all the more triumphant when the results of weeding actually do work. Perhaps there is no more profound example than that of a managed prairie. It can take years of propagation and burning to kill off the weed colonies and invasive species. But when prairie plants are given a chance, their competition strategies are smart and strong. The roots grow deep and the soul of the plant lies below the surface. That means burning takes off the dried up stems but does not affect the rich underground root system that also taps deep into the soil to gain moisture. Hot summer days do not kill these plants.

So nature invented weeding, on its own. But humans love to create environments with the appearance of natural balance that are, in fact, a stripped down version of nature that can be hard to sustain. Golf courses are one such example, and for years their strategy was to bathe the fairways and greens in dangerous chemicals as weed control. The monoculture necessary to allow the game of golf to be played requires intensive weed strategies that for decades contributed to ground pollution and other problems.

Our lawns at home often depend on such chemicals. Some are relatively benign and go away quickly. Others persist, and it would be much better for the world if these strategies were weeded out of our eco-strategies.

Answered prayers

One of my neighbors does not believe in lawn chemicals. That meant her yard become overgrown several summers in a row. She could not tell the weeds from her plantings. Finally I offered to help weed her lawn. She is a good Christian woman and had been praying about what to do for her lawn. Money was tight for her at the time and a full-on landscaping company was out of the question.

So I offered to weed. My late wife was glad that I did this. The Creeping Charlie from her yard had grown all the way through her lawn to reach the edge of our garden. When I dug into the mats of Creeping Charlie it could be hauled up like sheets of laundry. That work revealed an entire system of hostas and small groundcover plants that thrived once the weeds were removed. There were giant, towering thistles as well, and old, dried-up cedar trees in need of removal.

The process took several days, and my wife grew impatient with my dedication to the task. I quietly told her it was a duty that somehow called me. Nothing else. There was no husband or helper available to our neighbor at the time. So I lent my services in that department. I knew how to weed.

Since that time a man has come into her life, and a bit of money too. First he tore into the landscaping and removed many of the weeds, mulched the gardens and tore up funky trees. Then a landscape service began to show up and a beautiful new fence was installed. I love her new fence. It’s a wonderful backdrop for my own garden.

The property of life

Recently a family I know also needed some weeding around their yard. The husband has been dealing with the progressive effects of ALS for years now. His devoted wife keeps up with everything the best she can, but the duties and commitments of things like yard upkeep are not possible, yet are relentless. The family now also has grandchildren to enjoy. This is the property of life, which is so often counterbalanced by the weeds of existence. It takes a strategy of caregiving to manage these priorities.

Weeding water bottleSo it was with some joy that we organized a small community of workers from our church to do some weeding around their yard. The resultant piles of thick weeds piled five feet high. Along the north side of their property the landscaping was obscured by groundcover gone out of control. In fact some of it had died for lack of light. The daylilies competed with thistles and mulberry trees shot up through the arms of the spruce trees. All the weeds and overgrowth had to be inspected, sorted and removed. The tall mulberries were sawed up and heaped on the curb. The weeds were stubborn and thick, but the loose mulch gave up the roots easily enough. It was hot, and it was thirsty work. But it was worth it.

Organizing thoughts

All the time I was out weeding I thought of my friend Steve inside the house. This was his garden, and his love. It exhibited his character. I could see the organization of the plants and the landscaping at every turn. His wife told me how much he loved to garden. There were beautiful plants; butterfly weed (how ironic?) and many more.

As the shape of the garden emerged again I thought of how Steve and I first met. Our children were in high school music and drama together and something between us clicked after we met. He’d join me for lunch over at the Country House restaurant where they served nice fat burgers and cold beer. There were several meetings where he talked me through issues of depression related to some of life’s changes and work issues. Then my wife had cancer and Steve was there for that too.

Meanwhile his own health issues began to emerge. It became difficult for him to open the huge wooden door at Country House. There was a growing weakness in his system that could not be identified. It progressed and was finally diagnosed as ALS.

He has never let it stop him from living life, thinking through his writing and enjoying the company of all those who love him and his family. And there are many.

Steve and I helped each other weed through those depressive instincts years ago. We weeded out the negative thoughts to make room for positivity and hope to grow. That is a garden worth tending every day. Every year. Every life.

Christopher Cudworth is author of the book The Right Kind of Pride. It is available in print form on Amazon.com. 

The real meaning of prairie

ConeflowerIn 1973 our high school biology Robert Horlock put the word out to students that he would like to have help on a visionary project to re-establish a prairie at the Leroy Oakes Forest Preserve in St. Charles, Illinois. The project began with humble scratching in the dirt. Each of us was assigned a 15′ X 15′ plot from which we removed all grass and weeds. We worked in summer’s heat and then turned the soil enough to make way for a seed stock of prairie plants that our teacher had gleaned with permission from remnant prairies.

These were precious tools and a vision that was both far ahead of its time and far too late to recover the true scope and scale of the Illinois prairie. What remained of that once massive ecosystem was 1/10th of one percent of the original prairie. The wet and tallgrass prairie had once flowed west from the dunes of Chicago beyond the Mississippi all the way to eastern Colorado. Settlers described it as an ocean of grass, but it was more than that. It was flowers blooming from June through October. Tough flowers with deep roots and flame tolerance.

The prairie was indeed both a beautiful and unforgiving place. It was filled with snakes that bit and wolves that roamed. Reaching back 10-15,000 years in earth’s geological history, the prairie grew on soils crumbled and dumped by retreating glaciers. Onto this expanse roamed large animals and small ones too. The diversity was enormous, and prairie chickens were common as hens.

Rattlesnake masterBut it was all gone thanks to development and the fertile soils created by the prairies. These riches were sectioned and cordoned by barbed wire and agribusiness. The prairie was shoved into tiny corners next to railroad tracks.

Our teacher Bob Horlock ushered us to these treasured remnants. We stared in awe at lilies taller than our heads, and sensitive plants that recoiled when touched. We learned about prairie dock and compass plant, coneflowers and shooting stars. These we saw in pictures, for the most part.

But then we planted, and waited. Within a year the first nibs of real prairie plants came up. We had to weed to keep the ugly plants at bay. But our plots bore prairie plants that had not seen the light of day in that part of Illinois for 150 years. And we were proud.

We learned the different between big bluestem and little bluestem. We watched as those greenish blue stems turned to russet red in fall. From a distance the prairie in autumn is a rusty orange, The husks of dark prairie dock leaves are speckled like aging skin.

In spring, we burned the prairie to knock back weedy plants and allow the prairie its full strength in competition.

One year’s efforts was followed by another. The “prairie” we were growing expanded in size and depth. Treasured rare species of plants like cream and blue wild indigo were brought in. Many Butterfly weedof these were negotiated for introduction by Horlock and his cohorts at the Morton Arboretum and Fermi Lab. Ray Schulenberg and Gerould Wilhelm were instrumental in this new prairie movement. So was the peripatetic plant specialist Dick Young, whose book about wild plants in Kane County is considered a bible for many to this day.

Bob Horlock was a visionary who motivated many young people to enter the sciences. I tried that path myself before recognizing that my lack of aptitude in the study of genetics and chemistry would likely be a  problem. But our many birding jaunts with Bob Horlock fueled that interest and my pursuit of art in college combined to turn me into a wildlife artist.

To this day while walking through a prairie I cannot help thinking of Bob Horlock. He actually passed away from a heart attack doing what he loved. He was supervising the burn of the Garfield Farm Prairie when his heart gave out. Unfortunately Bob was a smoker for years. But despite the fact that the physical presence of Bob Horlock left this world in 1993, when he was just over 50 years old, his legacy exists in every prairie plant that graces today’s gardens throughout the Midwest. Men like Bob Horlock popularized the use of native plants in Illinois and beyond. Entire nurseries are now dedicated to perennials that grow in urban and suburban gardens. We see them in planting beds in the City of Chicago. We see them at the entryway to golf courses, and on the golf courses themselves. The prairie may be a whisper of what it once was, but it is still talking to us.

But I loved the man Bob Horlock because his voice was not always a whisper. At his funeral many great stories of his leadership were told, and I learned that he was an avid singer in his church choir. He had a deep base voice and he used it to good effect while teaching and instructing. You knew he was a man of both authority and good judgment. His students respected the fact that he fully expected them to learn what he shared with them.

Cardinal FlowerAnd yet he knew when the learning was through. During one afternoon field trip our class had worked in the sun and heat for three hours when one of the more raucous boys in our class pushed a female classmate into a cold running stream. She emerged with a see-through shirt and Bob turned on his heel and told me, “You tell everyone to come back to the bus. I have to leave right now. Go find that girl an extra shirt.” We did what he told us.

Yet Bob was no phony saint. During his funeral one former student stood up and said, “Well, Mrs. Horlock, I agree with all the great things these people have said about your husband Bob. But I have to say that every dirty joke I ever learned was from your husband.”

The entire crowd of people roared at that anecdote. Because it was true. In fact I always knew our birding trip was through for the day when Bob turned his head with a grin on his face and said, “Say, did you the hear the one about the…” and from there it was all laughter and relaxation.

There is a stone commemorating Bob’s life at the Horlock Hill Prairie in St. Charles. I speak to it every time I run or ride by, for it sits at the head of the Great Western Trail, a converted railroad bed that runs from St. Charles to Sycamore 17 miles west.

And I walk by my personal prairie plot and think of how deep those roots now fun into the ground. It has been 40 years since they were planted. So many spring and summer and fall days those plants have faced the sky. And winter’s too. The prairie will never be what it once was, but for me, it will always be what it became again. A place to sink down roots, and to remember: All great things start with an idea and a vision.

Yet the prairie is truly a community. It is not one plant or one thing. It is many plants and many things working together. That’s the most important lesson of all.

There’s no place like home

When Dorothy clicks the heels of her ruby slippers in the movie Wizard of Oz, she closes her eyes to chant, “There’s no place like home…”

The moment is poignant because Dorothy has lived the bad dream of being displaced from the place that gives her a feeling of security and being loved. What she discovers in the Land of Oz is a world in which love for all its flaws and strange forms really does exist.

When she “returns home” and awakens to find her family watching over her, she struggles to express the deep affection she feels for them, and her home.

Many of us go through life with similar feelings. We feel pride and affection for the place (or places) we most feel at home.

Yet many of us find that the events of life separate us from these places. We feel forced to move on with our existence and not look back. Yet the longing we feel for a place to truly call home resides within our hearts and souls.

Of course it’s not productive to live in the past. There is so much to occupy us in the present the idea of ignoring it turns into a core dysfunction.

It helps instead to think about what it is that makes a place in time or space feel like home. One might look back with great affection on a childhood home, for example. Those trees you climbed and the green grass. The innocence of riding your bike around a neighborhood on a summer day. Even playing video games in the bedroom of a favorite house calls up deep emotions.

Sometimes the mere smell of a type of food calls us back into a time and place. Or, we walk out onto a mowed lawn and realize the sensation of hearing our parents call us back in for supper on a summer’s eve.

All these associations are powerful emotional trigger points. They are healthy, proud reminders that we come from somewhere, and that our memories do matter. They have helped form who we are. They may even help form the lives of our own children. We try to share the values most important to us. We hope those values will sustain the ones we love most during times of trial.

We often speak of the importance of stable upbringings and the merit of traditional families. While the human mind recognizes these values at the core, they are not the only model for what we call home or happiness. For many of us, it is the intense experiences in friendship that make us feel most at home. There is great value in that kind of pride and a sense of being home as well.

That is why so many people return to their college or high school reunions. These shared experiences form our notion of home as well as family. In many religious traditions the notion of home or the Kingdom of God is defined by a community of fellow believers.

Still others feel this community and the place of home in truly wild places. The great naturalist John Muir roamed the mountains and even clung to the tops of swaying trees in tremendous storms. He was seeking that connection to the earth and the world that most made him feel at home.

We may indeed find a sense of home in these peak experiences. People fall in love because their senses are piqued by the presence of others. One can define this sense of home in a number of ways, but it speaks to the notion of family.

We feel most alone when separated from these connections. Those of us who feel the touch of isolation due to anxiety or depression or any other very human conditions face a constant struggle between the desire to return home and the desire to never go home again. Home can thus be a source of pain and joy at the same time.

It is a reminder that the statement that “there’s no place like home” is not entirely true. That’s the ironic message in the Wizard of Oz that too many people miss. Our dreams and the longings they create are just as important as the reality of everyday life. And here’s another truth that escapes most people: It’s never exactly the same when you actually do go home. Your perceptions of the place, it’s size and everything about it have changed. This can be as jarring as a bad dream or as exciting as a good one.

Yet the concept of home is important in another way. It calls us to assess what makes us feel secure, and if we’re really lucky or smart, happy in our time and place.

The movie Midnight In Paris speaks about this alternate view of home as a time and place. One character views a point in history as perfect while another determines that it is the perception of that time and place that is most important. In the end the character played by Owen Wilson arrives at the conclusion that the illusion he was living was not the search for home at all, but the feeling of fulfillment that comes with living one’s life in earnest. And in that respect, there really is no place like home. You are home.

The infrastructure of spring

Spring is typically more a concept than a thing. We wait all winter for spring and it arrives in fits and starts that both tantalize and frustrate us. Warm days are followed by chill and clouds. Rain spits horizontally one day and falls languid and splattery from above the next. Most of all, spring is the product of an extravagant explosion of building warmth, energy and sunlight. Spring is chemical too. all processes in nature have a chemical foundation. Plans stir into life and begin their new dance with photosynthesis that works at a molecular level. We can’t see these minute processes at work, but we do know they exist. Science has provided us wonderful insights into how nature really works. No longer are we dependent on wives’ tales and myths to help us appreciate the workings of the natural world. And that is good. Science is much more satisfying because it is verifiable. We can understand the infrastructure of spring. We know how bees and insects pollinate plants. Moving from flower to flower, these pollinators perform a work of sexual magic. It is entirely programmed into nature as a symbiotic relationship. People who pay attention to spring are much like those who go about town fixing things. The infrastructure of a community, its light poles and sewers and streets, does not happen on its own. Those informed and responsible for the infrastructure therefore look at a village, town or city through different eyes. Nature does not need human beings to function. But it does need human beings to understand the importance of its functions. It has long been recognized that the human race can have profound impact on the natural world. This is not always good. Sadly this adverse impact is often based on ignorance, but also knowingly wasteful habits. As bright as people can be, they can also be greedy and wasteful. It’s true at the community level as well. People who don’t really understand how the electrical grid works get frustrated quickly when a passing storm knocks out the lights. At that moment the television does not work, or the lights. So people whine and complain inside their homes, wondering when the juice will flow back into their abodes. Those who maintain the power grid can usually trace the source of the outage and get things working again. Sometimes it takes an hour or two because safety comes first, and the massive flow of energy through the power grid is not something one can take lightly. Our water works and sewage systems are similarly dependent on repair and maintenance of the infrastructure. Think how helpless we’d all be if that knowledge base were suddenly removed. When workers in these trades go on strike (and it seldom happens) entire cities can be put at risk. It is remarkable then how poorly the average person seems to comprehend the workings of nature as well. The incurious  mind regards nature with the same bland, banal attitude that is cast upon the infrastructure of a town. Too many people only seem to care about nature when it isn’t working to their advantage or behaving like it should. You talk about lack of gratitude? The infrastructure of nature is far, far more important than the infrastructure we tend to impose upon it. Yet how many people recognize even a few species of birds in their neighborhood, or can identify the sound of chorus frogs singing from a wet ditch in spring? Spring is flowers and green grass and April showers, yet asking people to look beyond these basic cliches seems almost like an affront. That’s why it is so hard for so many people to conceive that the infrastructure of spring is at risk beyond the shifting and changing it typically does in a given year. In fact the infrastructure of the entire global climate is being impacted by what amounts to a human storm of carbon that never ceases and never releases from the atmosphere. These changes we can see happening right before our eyes. But the attitudes of some politicians is much like the ungrateful soul sitting inside a dark living room complaining that the lights are not going back on. It’s a shortsighted approach to life that refuses to look at the reasons why things occur rather than claiming the status quo is business as usual and should not have to be examined. The next time you look at a flower, be it wild or domestic, know that its bloom does not require your will to occur, yet it still depends on you caring about it to see another year. And another. Lest there come a day that it cares not that you are gone. Sooner or later we all push up daisies. Better to appreciate them while you can look them in the eye and help nature propagate its infrastructure for yet another generation.

Tackling the Christmas Closet

By Christopher Cudworth

Christmas Closet
Sorting through Christmas decorations can be a soul-searching enterprise. And that’s good.

A few weeks before she passed away from ovarian cancer, my late wife pulled me aside and said, “Chris, I’m sorry about the junk.” She was referring to the many things a couple collects in 27 years of marriage. Over the last year it has been an interesting and sometimes emotionally challenging process to make decisions about what or what not to keep. Some of it was hers, and hers alone. Much of her clothing went to friends and charity. Her jewelry went to friends with the exception of a few meaningful keepsakes saved in her favorite jewelry boxes. Room by room it has been a tour through our lives together.

But the Christmas Closet is the biggest challenge of all. Jammed tight with strings of lights and glittering ornaments, thick in boxes and wedged with holiday paper stock and more lights, that closet has been on my mind for nearly two years.

This morning seemed like the right time to pull everything out and take stock. I found a few surprises such as a box labeled “Christmas Lights 2015 Good” that would have saved a few dollars on lights for the tree this year. It seems that like most families, Christmas memories are something we treasure but also soon forget.

And one must be forgiven for that. The holidays as a whole tend to be much like the Christmas Closet at our house. A jumble of lights and half-wrapped presents and suddenly it’s over. Then we stash it all away for another year.

Only when you never attempt to clean out the Christmas Closet it becomes layer upon layer of half-utilized sentiment. And think about it: keeping a year-round closet chock full of Christmas decorations is a bit warped.

Out of Season

It’s tough to wrest ourselves free some such sentiment. In July when we’re yanking regular old wrapping paper out of the Christmas Closet to give gifts to our friends or relatives, all that Christmas stuff looks absurd. But once Halloween has turned over the mind turns to winter and Christmas lurks. First the colors brown and orange emerge for Thanksgiving. There’s plenty of that stuff in our Christmas Closet too. It tends to intermingle with the red and green of winter decorations. That’s what makes it so tough at times to decorate. It seems like the entire holiday season extends from October 15 through January 15th.

So I’ll be bold. Come out and say it. At some point, we have to clean out our Christmas Closets for our own sanity.

That means right now there is a living room full of boxes and…and strings of lights, and…and candles and you name it. Some of it has to go. Even my late wife would have to admit that. She’d several times promised to give that closet the once-over. Yet it never happened.

News of the Day

NewsThere were a couple surprises waiting at the bottom of the storage. The two newspapers featuring the election of Barack Obama were stashed there, still in the wrappers in which they arrived. She was excited about Barack. She read his books and liked his character. Before she died she wondered aloud why so many people chose to hate the man. “He’s trying to do the right thing,” she said with some irritation at the manner in which political opponents threw up absurd barriers to his policies.

Below those newspapers was another announcing the new Millennium as well. That was published before cancer entered our lives. Anyone remember what a big deal Y2K really was? It kind of makes you realize our fears and politics and ideologies really don’t matter that much. What matters is caring about others.

Soul celebrations

And that’s how it goes with things like Christmas Closets. It’s a holiday that rends our souls in so many ways. That is made so clear when watching movies such as “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The stuff that really matters lurks behind all the trappings and the snow and the trauma of family and work challenges.

So it helps in some ways to clear out our collective Christmas Closets and take a look at what our lives really mean. The junk we accumulate to celebrate Christmas is not the purpose of the holiday. Otherwise we could walk in that closet in April or July or September and pull out lights to get in the Christmas spirit.

The real meaning of Christmas is much, much simpler. It is in knowing our closets well enough to know what’s really in there. That’s the meaning of Christmas. It might help to realize that while you’re putting all that stuff away this year.

Christopher Cudworth is the author of The Right Kind of Pride, a book about character, caregiving and community. It is available on Amazon.com. 

The important relationship between forgiveness and self-confidence

By Christopher Cudworth

In the midst of prolonged stress from caregiving to a wife with cancer a few years back, it occurred to me that dealing with the challenges definitely had an emotional cost. It was difficult finding balance between work challenges and trying to keep my spouse healthy and family life on track.

For a time I tried to go it on my own, coping with caregiving pressures with a low dose of anti-anxiety drug. That helped the “how” part of coping, but it left open the “why.”

If it seems obvious from the quick description given here “why” I was feeling anxious and a bit depressed, understand it’s really not a good idea to psychoanalyze and treat yourself when you’re under that kind of pressure. All types of latent emotions enter the formula and it’s hard to separate what is actually making you anxious. Is it present worries or past failures that make you feel less capable of coping?

Getting help

I put in a request to receive counseling through the Living Well Cancer Resource Center, a non-profit dedicated to providing services for cancer patients, caregivers and their support networks. The counselor took the time to review more than our present situation. She also asked what other issues I was facing, and that happened to included my role as primary executor and caregiver for my father, a longtime stroke victim.

The emotional helix of all that family need was drawing a tight knot around my self-confidence. On a daily basis everything was getting done, but it felt like I was nearly hanging myself from the emotional burden all that responsibility required. Old hurts seemed to surface with some regularity in caring for my father. These in turn angered my wife who saw him as a bit ungrateful given our situation. And so it went, like a maelstrom of emotional concerns.

Life-changing question

As we discussed all these relationships the counselor discovered a pattern emerging. “You seem pretty good at forgiving others. How are you at forgiving yourself?”

That was a question for which I was not prepared. All those years of training in personal faith had taught me the importance of forgiveness. I’d seen the very real benefits of forgiveness toward others.

Forgiving yourself is an entirely different dynamic. It requires both an admission that you have done things wrong in the past and a will to not blame yourself to the point of eroding your self-confidence. Those two attributes are very much like the two wheels on a bicycle. You arguably need both to make healthy emotional progress in life.

Personal history

In fact self-confidence had long been a challenge in my life. It’s a funny thing however. Low self-confidence and self esteem can come from many sources. It’s both a nature and a nurture issue, but an in-borne propensity for anxiety never helps.

Her question about my ability to achieve self-forgiveness set off an interesting process of self-examination. Actually it was self-revelatory. Acknowledging my flaws was no longer so devastating. That opened up a vein of self-confidence born not so much of bluster or pride, but of humility. The ability to look at your past and say, “I did my best” makes it so much more possible in the present to honestly say, “I will do my best.”

If that isn’t good enough now and then, you learn to forgive yourself and keep trying. That kind of persistence is really important in caregiving. it is also important in other pursuits from sports to business to creative ventures of all types.

The important relationship between forgiveness and self-confidence is not easy at times to understand, but it is worth knowing there is a connection and keeping your emotional eyes open to opportunities to forgive yourself. That can be life-changing.

Christopher Cudworth is author of the book The Right Kind of Pride, a chronicle of cancer survivorship and facing life challenges in a positive way. It is available on Amazon.com. 

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