Every Morning

I woke up this morning feeling more peaceful than usual, with some words going through my head: The sun still rises every morning, no matter what is going on in your life or in the world. It rises whether the sky is clear or covered with a blanket of clouds. It still rises at the darkest time of year and on days that carry an emotionally charged significance. The sun still rises every morning, no matter what is going on. Attune to that as you discern what to do about everything else.

The words kept spinning in my mind like horses on a merry-go-round, and I watched them go around and around again until it finally occurred to me that there might be a reason why they came to me at that moment, like a morning alarm, with such persistence. So I opened my eyes and looked out my bedroom window, and sure enough: The sunrise looked more compelling than I had seen it in quite some time, although I was catching the tail end of what I knew had been deep, fuchsia clouds becoming lighter by the moment. Had I opened my eyes the first time the words spun through my head, the colors would have been much more dazzling.

It feels great to wake up on the river again every morning, after spending so much time away tending to my parents’ house. But I return home with greater clarity and a better idea of what I ultimately want and am considering moving this year due to changing circumstances and certainly not because of the view. I have become accustomed to a fabulous sunrise view of the river and love being able to store the kayaks on the dock and simply walk across the street to paddle during the warmer months. I would miss that view and the easy kayak access so much.

Then I remembered that, for a few years, I wasn’t even able to enjoy kayaking on the river because of the massive General Electric PCB dredging project that one year took place literally right in front of our house. Other years, it happened so close that the constant boat traffic made it unsafe to venture onto the water.

It was anguishing to live on the river and not be able to do the thing that made it so worthwhile to be here in the first place – the activity I looked forward to during the cold months. Kayaking was the way I released my energy after a rough day at work and how I restored my peace of mind. I called it “paddling for peace.” Many summer evenings, I’d float close to our dock, taking in the sunset sky canvas and wishing I could bottle the feeling and share it with everyone. That’s why I started this blog four and a half years ago.

The dredging years were long ones, but now they are in the past. We got through them. Now we can kayak again and enjoy the peace of this quiet stretch of the Hudson, without any dredging traffic barreling past us, only the occasional pleasure boat.

I remember the day we went kayaking on the river and paddled around the bend only to discover a fleet of dredging equipment anchored there. So that was the source of the increased boat traffic! The feeling that, “This is really happening, and right in our own neighborhood!” was sad, infuriating, surreal. It felt like an army had invaded, and there was no escaping it. 

It wasn’t the only time there was tension and danger around the Hudson River that flows by my house. My next-door neighbors still have the remnants of a Revolutionary War field hospital on their property. This is where the Battles of Saratoga took place, the Turning Point of the Revolutionary War. And predating that, there were conflicts between Native American inhabitants and French, Dutch, and English settlers. Some quiet evenings, I would go paddling after sunset and think about how dangerous it would be to navigate the river alone throughout history, and yet, there I was. I could almost feel the spirits of former inhabitants and soldiers around me. Even though the dredging project was a big deal, the river has known worse. Despite all the struggles and strife it has been witness to, it still flows.

The year when the dredging project was scheduled to take place right in front of our house, we considered finding alternate housing because we were concerned about safety issues such as airborne PCBs. So I did lots of research and had informal, off-the-record conversations with scientists who did not have a personal or professional bias or vested interest in perpetuating any kind of propaganda. I monitored the data recorded online daily and contacted the media when I noticed airborne PCB levels were elevated for a number of days in a row. I also found a more inviting body of water for kayaking, where there was a kayak available to me. I made the best of a challenging situation.

Aside from having limited or no access to kayaking on the river, the greatest challenge during the dredging years was discerning fact from fiction between the two opposing camps. Simply stated, pro-dredging environmental groups asserted that removing as much of the PCBs as possible from the river was integral to the long-term health of the river ecosystem, whereas local, anti-dredging groups countered that the PCBs had sunk deep down below the river and that wildlife was returning to the river because the river was taking care of itself naturally. The anti-dredging camp believed the PCBs were less of a problem if you just let them be and that dredging would stir them up again and create a “toxic soup” that would set the health of the river ecosystem back decades. So one side was saying to leave it alone – let the PCBs stay way down below the river – and the other insisted they must be removed and that G.E. must be held accountable for its actions and make it right. Yes, dredging would be a massive, messy, disruptive undertaking, and the PCB levels in the water would increase for a while, but conditions would improve over time, and the river would be much healthier. The conversation was about maintaining status quo vs. literally stirring up a huge, toxic mess.

Not a scientist myself, I listened to the arguments coming from both sides. Once, I sat quietly on the riverside, asked the river what it wanted, and listened deeply. It seemed the river preferred to have the toxins removed. My personal preference was to be able to continue enjoying the river – my little paradise – but ultimately I wanted whatever was best in the long run, for the greater good. If dredging would produce widespread, long-term benefits, then it was worth some personal sacrifice and temporary disruption. Believe me, there was nothing fun or beautiful about dredging up suspected carcinogens that had been put into the river decades ago. It was disturbing to watch the sloppy process up close, and we had front row seats for a time.

Meanwhile, I watched great blue herons gulp down fish that were swimming in PCB infested water, only to migrate in the fall and bring traces of PCBs with them, contaminating other parts of the earth. It is impossible to separate a river from the rest of the world. It flows to the ocean, which covers the whole planet, and has a whole ecosystem of its own that attracts wildlife that comes and goes. It’s also part of the water cycle that involves vapors rising in one place and falling in another. 

You see where I’m going, right? This isn’t “really” about PCB dredging any more than the movie, Field of Dreams, is “really” about baseball. Though the dredging metaphor may not be perfect, I have been getting that feeling again.

Whether the massive, ambitious, and expensive Hudson River PCB dredging project will be viewed in the long-term as a success, a catastrophe, or something in between has yet to be seen. All I know is that we got through the dredging. It didn’t last forever, even though it felt like it would at the time. And from experiencing it, I learned there are times when we must defer our personal interests and preferences to pave the way for more widespread, long-term benefits and perceive the process from a far greater perspective…or we will make ourselves crazy. We must have patience. To do this is a radical act of faith that hopefully is neither ignorant nor complacent. Sometimes short-term disruptions produce long-term benefits and greater awareness because they motivate us to do our research and inspire us to take action. To come together and be more involved. To speak up and communicate from the depths of our hearts. To look out for one another. Sometimes situations that seem dire and threatening serve to raise our personal and collective consciousness and show us what we are really capable of.

Although the dredging years were challenging and sometimes scary (especially when PCB levels seemed to spike), we finally made it through to the other side.

And we will do it again, one sunrise at a time.


If you’re not doing so already, I invite you to follow me on Facebook and Instagram!


The photographs in this blog (except for those attributed to other owners) and in my Flickr photostream are available for purchase as prints or cards through my Etsy shop by selecting a “custom print” in whatever size you prefer and indicating either the name of the print or the blog post and order in which it appears.

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2017. SHARING IS CARING, and I appreciate my work being shared with others! Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (River-Bliss.com). Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this website’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. In other words, I put my heart and soul into my writing and photography and want to be credited for it and have some traffic sent my way. It’s the high vibration thing to do!  🙂 

My Mother’s Piano

Happy New Year! I hope 2017 is off to a bright and hopeful start for you.

It’s been a month since I’ve written a blog post because immediately after publishing the last one, we accepted an offer on my parents’ house, and the world started spinning faster than ever! We accepted the offer on December 7, which included agreeing to close by December 30.

Well, on December 7, everything my parents owned was still in their house. To say the house has generous storage space is an understatement, and their belongings filled up all that space. We had on our hands the accumulated possessions of a lifetime – and not only their lifetime, but my grandparents’ lifetimes, as well. There were boxes upon boxes of my grandparents’ things that appeared not to have been touched since the day they were brought into the house. It became obvious that my parents saved everything. And that made for a ginormous job for us, during the holiday season, no less.

There was only one weekend available before the projected closing date to have an estate sale: the weekend of December 17. I had met with a woman who organizes and runs professional estate sales, and she told me to get back in touch with her when we have a buyer. Then we wouldn’t have to worry about staging the house for showings anymore and could organize for a sale. However, given how soon the closing would be and the time of year, that option was out. So I researched how to run your own estate sale, took copious notes, and researched values of things, while working around the clock hauling items and boxes out of the far reaches of my parents’ storage spaces to see what we were dealing with. I had no time to price things, so almost everything was “make an offer.” And in the midst of that inhuman workload, I came down with my first cold in at least four years, and it was a bad one. I was sick for 12 days straight, including the weekend of the sale, when I could barely talk above a whisper! AND there was a snowstorm that weekend, which made driving perilous. And of course, it was the last weekend before Christmas, as well, so people had lots of other things to do besides help with or attend an estate sale. However, a few angels showed up and helped me organize for the sale and were on hand during the sale for moral support. I couldn’t have done it without them – or even come close!

Needless to say, the outcome of the estate sale was disappointing. If we had more time to work with, or if it were a different time of year, it would have been a completely different story. At the end of the weekend, aside from getting rid of some furniture, it looked like we had as much stuff left as we had begun with. So then we started bagging and boxing donations. My sister rented a dumpster, and I rented a self-storage unit to literally buy some extra time to sort through things at a more leisurely and mindful pace.

Let me tell you: They were the craziest weeks of my life. I intend to write more about the whole experience because there is so much to say about it. But for now, I want to focus on the piano.

The Mehlin & Sons 1954 spinet piano was my mom’s first big purchase when she was working in her first job at General Electric after graduating from high school. She was passionate about music and taught herself to play. When I came along, she bought me a toy piano (pictured partially below) that I adored, and I became fascinated with “the big piano” and couldn’t wait until I could learn to play it.

I started taking lessons in third grade, and piano quickly became not only my passion but also my identity. My mom was delighted. She worked at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center and arranged for me to interact with dozens of classical pianists and musicians through the years. When she thought my motivation to practice was waning, she asked Andre Watts to have a little talk with me. I met Liberace more than once and babysat for Emmanuel Ax’s son, which involved interacting with Mr. Ax both before he left for the performance and when he arrived back home.

In high school, I was piano accompanist for school choral groups and played piano (and marimba) in jazz band. I accompanied vocalists outside of school, played for weddings, and even competed on piano in the local (county level) Miss America pageant at age 19 and won the talent competition (which was the only reason I was in it). Piano was the first Great Love of my life.

It turned out I didn’t have the confidence or resilience to pursue a career in music or even major in music in college, and that is something I still regret. And stage fright was an issue, too – because I was playing for the wrong reasons. I was more focused on impressing people (including pleasing my mother) and doing it “right” than on expressing the music in me. I think I also was not playing the kind of music that resonated most with me – which I know now to be more meditative, flowing, and new age. I remember how I dreaded being called on to solo in jazz band because improvisation felt too personal and vulnerable. It felt safer to play the notes on a printed page – someone else’s music. 

I went to Ithaca College, a school known for its excellent music program, where I majored in psychology. When I took a piano performance class with music majors, I felt like I was out of my league and dropped the course. I’ve continued to play now and then through the years, but just for fun and relaxation and almost never in front of another human being – although there have been very occasional jam sessions that felt really good. However, when I’m playing (often with headphones so nobody can hear me), there’s no feeling quite like it. I feel totally in the flow and joyful. It feels as if, in those moments, I am doing the thing I came here to do (i.e. be my authentic self), especially when I have no music in front of me and play from my heart. So I guess you could say that I’m quietly picking up the broken pieces of my abandoned talent and putting them together in a more authentic “Zen and the Art of Piano” way. I have other Great Loves now – namely photography and writing – but piano remains my first, and first loves can be especially powerful and hold a special and enduring place in our heart.

So I married a man with a music degree, and after we got divorced, I married a professional musician who doesn’t read music and is all about improv.

My daughter took piano lessons (which my parents paid for) and played my mom’s piano, and my son taught himself and played it, as well. One of the most poignant memories during the last few weeks of my mom’s life was on Mother’s Day, when the house became quiet and heavy with the realization that she would be gone soon. My daughter broke the heaviness by going to the piano and playing “Hallelujah”, and my mom made her way to the living room with her brand new cane, to sit close and listen.

So that Mehlin & Sons spinet piano means a great deal to me. It was my first Great Love and possibly the deepest connection my mom and I shared. It filled her with such joy to hear me play it and to fall as deeply in love with it as she had. I wished I could keep it, but I couldn’t because I don’t have the space or any kind of storage area for it. So it became important to find the right home for it. And when the right person approached me and expressed interest in buying it for her son and granddaughter, I could not put a price tag on it. The personal value was too great to be measured, and it felt better to give it away to a good home.

Two days after Christmas was the Big Day when the piano movers were scheduled to take the piano to its new home. Although I hadn’t planned anything beforehand, I woke up early that morning knowing exactly what I needed to do before going to work. I jumped out of bed and into my car and drove to my parents’ house to play a final, private concert for my mom on our piano.

All that remained in the living room that morning was the piano, a lamp, and an easy chair – which was perfect for such an occasion. The piano needed to be tuned but always had such beautifully weighted action. (I will miss that familiar touch so much.) And I knew exactly what song to play: “Flying Free”, a choral arrangement with a simple, flowing piano accompaniment that I hadn’t played in many, many years. When I asked what I should play, that song came to me so clearly and instantly that I didn’t question it. It was neither challenging nor impressive – in fact, I considered it “easy” when I played it back in seventh grade – but it was a song that always felt soulful and uplifting to play and that I could play through inevitable tears. Even the lyrics (though I was too choked up to sing them) were perfect on so many levels.

After all, discovering and expressing my soul is what my relationship with piano has been about all along. It’s a path that wouldn’t work if it was based on comparing myself to others rather than being truly inspired. It needed to be authentic and include music and mentors who stirred something in me and led me to the threshold of my soul, where my own music resides. Improv, the thing that scared me most, is perhaps what I needed most to learn, to take me to another level where I could feel and express the music flowing through me more authentically. And that’s something I can still work on when I’m alone with my keyboard and headphones – although I yearn to ditch the headphones at some point and not give a damn what anyone will think or whether I’m “good enough” to be heard.

Playing this farewell concert was what I needed to do to honor my relationship with this piano and with my mom (who gave me the gift of music for which I am so grateful) the best way I knew. I cried a lot as I played, but it wasn’t because I was sad or depressed. It was because I was expressing what was alive and real in me, rather than pushing it down and denying it. When you are able to risk being emotionally open and vulnerable, you can go to some incredibly beautiful and transcendent places and flow with the music within you that longs to be set free.

It was like making love to a cherished lover for the last time.

As I played, I imagined for a fleeting moment that I was back in high school, practicing piano while my mom was in the kitchen making dinner after getting home from work. The house was filled once again with love, light, warmth, cozy furniture, framed art on the walls, and the comforting aroma of my mother’s cooking. Even though she didn’t particularly enjoy cooking, my mom was happy listening to my pre-dinner music.

But mostly I allowed the music to flow through me like a prayer. A somewhat out of tune prayer, which was actually a lovely testimony to the instrument being played and loved through the years. 

When I closed the cover over the keys for the last time before leaving for work, it was like closing the lid to a coffin and saying a final farewell to a dearly beloved person. I caressed it, patted it, gave it a kiss, thanked it, thanked my mom. Two hours later when I was at work, my sister texted: “Piano is gone.” I blinked back the tears that would flow like a waterfall after I got out of work and was alone.

At least I know who my beloved instrument has gone to and feel that it has found its way to its next rightful home. I hope that if the new owner ever decides he no longer wants it, he will contact me, and maybe I will be in a position then to take the piano back. But if not, at least I got to say goodbye to it for real and play a last concert for my mom. A friend suggested that perhaps my dad was there, too, and they were dancing in the room as I played. I love that idea. I hope they danced.

A few days later, on New Year’s weekend, the new owner sent me an email expressing his gratitude for the piano. It included a picture of him and his young daughter sitting “at the helm of our new treasure” with their hands touching the keys. The little girl was beaming. It was the perfect closure for me and the perfect ending to a very difficult year. That piano was the most cherished of all my mom’s possessions, and she would be so pleased to know that a young girl will be able to enjoy it now and learn to play on it, just like I did. And so am I.

P.S.  Since  I very rarely let anyone hear me play, it was terrifying for me to share online the humble, imperfect recording of me playing my mother’s piano for the last time. However, a voice from deep within insisted that I must. So I did. And it felt like recovering a very significant part of myself that had been banished for a very long time. It felt like healing!


If you’re not doing so already, I invite you to follow me on Facebook and Instagram!


My 2017 calendar is still available for purchase!  Click HERE to order!


The photographs in this blog (except for those attributed to other owners) and in my Flickr photostream are available for purchase as prints or cards through my Etsy shop by selecting a “custom print” in whatever size you prefer and indicating either the name of the print or the blog post and order in which it appears.

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2017. SHARING IS CARING, and I appreciate my work being shared with others! Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (River-Bliss.com). Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this website’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. In other words, I put my heart and soul into my writing and photography and want to be credited for it and have some traffic sent my way. It’s the high vibration thing to do!  🙂 

Climbing the Stairs

So many lessons and reminders can be extracted from time spent with babies and young children if you pay attention. Right before little Ava started climbing the stairs this morning, I wondered: What will I write about next? Within minutes, I had my answer.

Ava’s mom (my daughter) left Ava and me downstairs in the family room and disappeared up the stairs to take a shower, which of course is something of a luxury for mothers of little ones, especially when you’re in transition between homes in an environment that hasn’t been babyproofed and don’t have access to the various aids and equipment that make life with newly mobile babies easier. (Back in the day, the original Exersaucer made it possible for me to take showers!)

As soon as she saw her mother disappear up the stairs, Ava lost interest in the toys she had been exploring and started crawling toward the stairs fueled by a burning desire to be in her mother’s presence. In addition to reinforcing the strength of the mother-child bond, she taught me that…

If you want to get to the top of the stairs, focus only on climbing the stairs. And keep in mind why you want to get to the top of the stairs. (Maybe because when you get there, you will be nearer to your mother, and won’t it feel great to hear her voice and see her smile!) Pay attention to where your hands are, where your feet are, how your weight is distributed, the sequence of movements that get you successfully from one step to the next.

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Focus on one step at a time, and give it your full attention and effort. And be patient! Let love, curiosity, and the feeling of your wish fulfilled propel you forward. 

Don’t allow yourself to become distracted by sounds or wondering where other people are or exploring tiny pieces of leaves (with both your hand and your mouth, of course) or turning around and looking behind you because multitasking compromises your concentration on the task at hand, and looking back might throw you off balance and send you tumbling to the bottom of the stairs! That’s not to say there’s no value in pausing to explore a leaf if you find it intriguing, but don’t lose sight of the reality that you are perched precariously on the stairs and haven’t yet mastered your stair-climbing or balancing skills, both of which call for focused attention at this stage of the game!

Allow your determination and desire to attain your goal to overshadow any doubts you may have about your ability to succeed. Move confidently in the direction of what you love.

If you slide down a step, no worries. Learn from it. And trust that the Universe wants you to learn and grow and will support you, and there will be someone to catch you if you fall. Focus single-mindedly on climbing to the top of the stairs, and you will reach your goal.

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This morning’s mindfulness and manifestation reminder is brought to you by Ava (with a little Dr. Wayne Dyer and Abraham thrown in) and a couple grainy cell phone snapshots because she was moving quickly, like a newly hatched turtle intent on reaching the water, and I didn’t have time to grab my “real” camera. Wishing you a fruitful week of making progress toward whatever goal is dearest to your heart and having gratitude for all the gifts and blessings that are already in your life!


My 2017 calendar of contemplative images and reflections is still available for purchaseClick HERE to order yours today! You also can order by credit card over the phone by calling 518-312-1853.

frontcover

marchcollage


If you’re not doing so already, I invite you to follow me on Facebook and Instagram!


© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2016. SHARING IS CARING, and I appreciate my work being shared with others! Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (River-Bliss.com). Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this website’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. In other words, I put my heart and soul into my writing and photography and want to be credited for it and have some traffic sent my way. It’s the high vibration thing to do!  🙂