Another year is almost over, and we’re still grappling with Covid-19. Whether or not you got the vaccine, it’s still a little scary wondering if you will get the virus. I’m still wearing my mask in indoor public places, even though so many are not. I wonder how this holiday season will go with many people deciding to celebrate as they have in the past, traveling and partying and spending a lot of time indoors with small to large crowds. It remains to be seen what the numbers will reflect when it’s all over.

Meanwhile, the December holidays are spread throughout the calendar, and some of us are looking forward to them, while others will just be glad when they’re over. I’ll be with my mother, and my sister will be with us for a few days before she goes home to spend Christmas with her family. I expect it to be a quiet time for reflection and gratitude for the many good things that have graced my life.

My family celebrates Christmas, so that’s the only tradition I know much about. There are two other cultural holidays in this month that many people celebrate: Hanukkah is the Jewish eight-day “festival of lights,” celebrated with a nightly menorah lighting, and Kwanzaa, a holiday that celebrates African heritage and identity. Various, lesser-known holidays are sprinkled throughout the month, too. It’s good to have these celebrations in the darkest, coldest part of the year. I like seeing all the lights that people decorate their homes with; they brighten the nights that sometimes seem intermitable.

The winter solstice is this month, too, the shortest period of daylight of the year. Here is a poem that spoke to me with a few writing prompts you can use to reflect on this time of year:

Winter Solstice Prayer by Edward Hays

The dark shadow of space leans over us…
We are mindful that the darkness of greed, exploitation, and hatred
also lengthens its shadow over our small planet Earth.
As our ancestors feared death and evil and all the dark powers of winter,
we fear that the darkness of war, discrimination, and selfishness
may doom us and our planet to an eternal winter.
May we find hope in the lights we have kindled on this sacred night,
hope in one another and in all who form the web-work of peace and justice
that spans the world.
In the heart of every person on this Earth
burns the spark of luminous goodness;
in no heart is there total darkness.
May we who have celebrated this winter solstice,
by our lives and service, by our prayers and love,
call forth from one another the light and the love
that is hidden in every heart.

How does the lack of daylight culminating with “the shortest day of the year” affect you? What can you do to counteract any feelings of depression or anxiousness that may bubble up during this time?

Write about the goodness of people. It’s easy to complain about the negativity in the world, but write here about something positive that lightens your mood.

Celebrate the winter solstice this year by lighting a candle to illuminate the dark and then list some of the things for which you are grateful as this year ends.

It’s sunny today, but cold and breezy. I will probably walk later when it’s a little warmer, but for now I’m looking at the bright day from my window. The trees have turned! It is beautiful here in Southwest Missouri. I am grateful for everything I can see out my window.

This is a month especially for gratitude. Thanksgiving is on the 25th this year, and the first thing I am thankful for is that my sister and brother-in-law will be at my house for the week. There are so many more things I am thankful for, some of them I have come to realize are the basic things some people do not have: a warm, comfortable home; fresh food to eat; transportation that I can take to anywhere I want to go; resources to buy things that make me comfortable, happy and safe; and on and on.

I have been sitting in on a community task force meeting monthly that works tirelessly for homeless youth. I am trying to find a niche where I can fit in to participate in their work. Because of the pandemic I was reluctant to volunteer for some of their activities, but I hope to find something I can do to serve this community of often ignored young people. No one should have to be homeless, but children, especially, should have a safe place to live and resources to thrive and have hope for the future.

There is a daytime facility in Springfield call the Rare Breed, where young people can find shelter and meals and help with other needs. Unfortunately, it is not an overnight shelter. I helped with a group of others a couple of times in providing dinner for the youth who frequent this shelter. It was heartbreaking, but so satisfying, too.

I sat at a table with a young woman, maybe 16, with a child and pregnant again. I think I’d feel crushed and hopeless, but this young woman was upbeat and friendly. She has remained in my heart and mind ever since, and I wrote a poem about her:

Rare Breed

She sits at the table beside her young child,
with another one on the way,
and feeds him the donated food
we brought for this one night’s meal
in this place of temporary sanctuary,
and I wonder how she got here.

“There were too many drugs at my house,
too many people coming and going.
My mom and dad didn’t even know if I was there
most of the time, and didn’t care.
I knew they wouldn’t miss me,
so I ran.”

Her voice is steady and matter of fact;
it’s just the way it is for her.
I want to weep for her,
her children and her future.
How will she get past the barriers
blocking her path:

a child herself with two young children,
little education, nowhere to go,
never knowing where she will sleep
or when she will eat
or what comes next.
She has had no childhood.

I watch her laugh with the others
around the table,
all young teens, homeless,
hanging strong, holding back,
giving nothing away that might hurt
or shatter the walls around them.

I will find my place at some point in part of the solution for homeless youth; I’m not sure how or when, but somehow it will happen.

What is a charitable passion of yours that you want to give, or already are giving, yourself to? Write about it and some ways you are or want to serve that passion.

Make a list of things you are thankful for. Choose one to explore in depth: what makes you thankful for it, describe how it makes you feel, how it makes you act.

How can you make a difference in the world, even in small ways, that make it a better place to live?

I am posting this early so you can get prepared for World Smile Day on Friday, October 1.

The first Friday of October every year is World Smile Day. What a wonderful idea that originated with the yellow smiley face icon created by Harvey Ball, a commercial artist from Massachusetts, who designed it for a State Mutual Life Insurance company advertising campaign in 1963.

His original intent was that it would spread goodwill and cheer throughout the world. When he became concerned that it was becoming too commercialized, he declared the first Friday of October World Smile Day, a day dedicated to smiles. After he died in 2001, the Harvey Ball World Smile Foundation was founded and serves as the official sponsor of the happy observance.

Of course, since then the smiley face has become ubiquitous and has evolved into many forms and designs and uses. Who hasn’t used this emoji or its spinoffs in their correspondence with friends and family and even work colleagues. It can soften a message, make someone laugh and help say what you really want to say.

The benefits of smiling are many, such as:
• Improves mood
• Lowers blood pressure
• Relieves stress
• Betters relationships
• Boosts the immune system
• Relieves pain
• Increases life expectancy

There are many ways to celebrate World Smile Day:
• Do a random act of kindness for someone.
• Use a smiley face emoji on every text you send.
• Spread cheer by handing out smiley face stickers.
• Give a smile to everyone you come across.
• Tell someone a funny joke.
• Play happy songs like “Happy” by Pharrell Williams or “Don’t Worry
Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin.
• Take a selfie of your own smile and share it on social media.

In these days and times, a simple thing such as a smile can change the entire atmosphere around the smiler and cause others to smile, too. It is something that takes little effort but can have a huge impact. Let’s celebrate World Smile Day together!

The information in this article was taken from the following website:
https://nationaldaycalendar.com/world-smile-day-first-friday-in-october/

What are some other ways you think a smile may benefit someone or yourself?

What are some other things you can do on October 1 (this year) to spread goodwill and cheer?

Do one activity on World Smile Day and write about the results.

. . . and have a happy day!

Most of us are celebrating and honoring those first responders to Covid-19 and other major health and disaster issues especially in this month of Labor Day. We’ve taken them for granted in the past, but recently we have been putting them up front and center recognizing their tireless work in these, “the worst of times.” They represent some of the traits in people that are good about our country: bravery, resilience, compassion, dedication, and respect for those they help. Thank you first responders; we’re behind you all the way!

I have written a poem about one of the groups of first responders whom I think need to be remembered, recognized, and honored each day:

Nurses

They stand in the midst of chaos
ignoring the din around them,
working feverishly and efficiently,
hoping for positive outcomes,
reaching out to those who stream in
more than one at a time,
moving from one to the next
to the next and the next.
They may not know their names
or where they are from;
they only know they must work quickly
to comfort them – save them.
Though the fatigue threatens to overwhelm them,
they work on through the day
into the night
and into the next day.
They weep for those they lose,
silently and alone,
but move to those who may be saved,
again and again.
Life is fragile here,
and they handle it with care,
with love, with determination.
They will not give up or give in
until it is over, but they wonder
when will that be?

© Dorothy A Joslyn 2021

Think about a first responder you may know or have heard about, and write a tribute to that person, or just write about first responders generally or a specific group. Maybe a poem?

What are you doing now in this upsurge of the virus that you thought you wouldn’t have to do again? How do you feel about that?

Write about when the worst of Covid-19 is over what you will do first.

As I write this I have just returned from the grocery store with quite a few bags of food. I don’t have to think about what I can buy or how much, but there are those in our city and country who can’t even go to the grocery store let alone buy sufficient food for themselves or their families. In this rich country of plenty, no one should have to go hungry, but there are many who do.

In this month, gardening is at its peak, and people are harvesting all sorts of vegetables and berries and fruits. Fresh produce is available everywhere, but many people don’t have access to or can’t afford the healthy food they need to survive. Individuals, families and seniors suffer. I especially worry about the children who are not getting the nourishment they need to thrive. And many people who are hungry are homeless.

Homelessness is another thing I think of when I come home to a house that I own and in which I feel safe and comfortable with heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer. I can store my freshly purchased food in my pantry and refrigerator to be available whenever I want or need it. I am blessed and very lucky.

Springfield is a generous and caring community, and so many of our citizens and organizations are working, often behind the scenes, to provide food and housing for those who aren’t as lucky as I am. It’s a never-ending task, and the dedication of those who serve our most vulnerable citizens is admirable. I am especially humbled and awed by the Community Partnership of the Ozarks and Ozarks Food Harvest, only two of the many organizations that serve our community working to eradicate hunger and homelessness.

What can we do to support these efforts to make our community a better place? We can make financial donations. We can volunteer. We can educate ourselves about the issues that face our community and that affect all of us, whether or not we are aware of it. All communities have these same issues and those who serve to make them better places. Wherever you are, there are plenty of opportunities and work to do.

Write about your thoughts and feelings regarding hunger and/or homelessness. Then think about some of the things you can do to help relieve these two issues for people who suffer from them.

Explore the internet for charitable organizations working to eradicate hunger and homelessness. Then write about one or more of them and how you might join them in their missions.

Do some volunteer work for an organization that helps hungry or homeless people if you are able. If you can’t, contribute what you can to a worthwhile organization. Keep a journal of your activities so you can remember your work and to help you feel grateful for what you have.

As we celebrate our freedom from the tyranny of being ruled by a country across the ocean, I would like to be able to celebrate freedom for all of us in this country: black, white, brown, Native Americans, Asian Americans, LGBTQ, immigrants, refugees, and all other people who call the US home. This is a huge country; there is room for all of us to live peacefully and together. I’m not sure why we aren’t doing a better job of that.

Giving others freedom does not reduce our own; it only enhances the diversity and richness of our society. It makes us more interesting as a people and culturally inclusive. It gives us opportunities to grow and learn about other ways of living and being.

I have a difficult time with the lack of acceptance by some people of those who are even slightly different, let alone very different, from themselves. I love to learn about other cultures and how others live their lives. It makes a vibrant life for me. And yet some people seem to be afraid to let others into their narrow lives. It’s as if those “others” are somehow wrong or invasive. They aren’t.

I wrote the following poem looking to find where I stand and what I feel:

A Freedom Prayer to the Universe

Let freedom ring.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive our shortcomings,
but teach us to overcome them, too.
Help us to keep fear at bay
and permit others to live as they wish.
Show us how to incorporate differences
into our lives and celebrate them.
Let us share with others what we have;
there is plenty of everything to go around.
May we take a hand; give a heart;
bloom into a beautiful flower
that lights up a world that can be.
Help us start from the bottom
and work up to higher ground
where the air is fresh and free.
May we be brave and purposeful,
open and kind, accepting and inclusive.
Give our country peace
and freedom for everyone!

© 2021 Dorothy A Joslyn

Examine your prejudices and try to determine where they come from. How can you soften your stance and become more accepting of all people? This may take ongoing attention and writing.

What do you think you might lose if you extend the freedoms you have to others? Write about it until you really understand where you’re coming from.

Pick a line from the poem above and write about how it speaks to you.

Anna Jarvis created Mother’s Day in the US in 1907 when she celebrated her mother in a memorial service at St. Andrews Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia. She lobbied to make it a national holiday, and in 1914 Woodrow Wilson declared it a national holiday to be celebrated on the second Sunday in May. It originally was meant to be dedicated to peace, as Anna Jarvis was a peace activist, but it wasn’t long before it became commercialized with cards and gifts and flowers, especially the carnation. Jarvis was angered by this change in emphasis and even organized boycotts against Mother’s Day.

You might notice that Mother’s Day is spelled as a singular possessive rather than the plural, Mothers’ Day. That is because Jarvis meant it to be a celebration of individual mothers by their families rather than the collective mothers of the world. I thought this was an interesting fact that I’d never heard before.

There are Mother’s Days around the world in different months and dates with varying traditions and histories and many that celebrate on the same day as the US. Celebrate your mother on May 9 this year in maybe a quiet way Anna Jarvis would appreciate. But please do remember her in some way by calling or sending a card (or both).

I’m lucky to still have my mother alive and doing reasonably well. I will be seeing her soon for her birthday in June. She reared five children under sometimes difficult conditions, but we’re all thriving in our individual lives.

I wrote an alpha poem using the word “mother.”

Moving quietly through the house checking on everyone already asleep,
Overseeing the ending of the day, she
Trusts that all is well in her world.
Her love creates a shield against forces she can’t control, an
Ever present shelter from the world outside the walls of home,
Reviving her family’s spirits so they can thrive another day.

Write a brief story about something your mother has done that you remember still. It could be something funny, sad, or heartfelt.

Write your own alpha poem using the word “mother.” I’d love to see it in the comments below.

Describe your mother in detail, including physical and behavioral traits that make her Mom.

My magnolias are blooming in full! They started a couple of weeks ago during a very cold snap, and I told them I hoped they wouldn’t be disappointed. They carried on, however, and in what seemed to be only hours, they burst open to spring. The air is full of their fragrance, and fallen blossoms carpet the new grass coming up. I guess it was time after all. Every year I marvel at how quickly flowers and trees and lawns spring to life. It’s a real spirit-raiser.

It came at the right time for me this year, because a friend’s son died unexpectedly, and I, as well I’m sure she, needed this season of renewal and rebirth to help her get through it. It made me think about the juxtaposition of sadness and joy, beauty and ugliness, life and death. The cycle of life includes death; we just hope we have plenty of time to do what we want to do with the life part, but sometimes we don’t. That’s why I stood outside in the sun for a brief time on the first day of spring while waiting to go in to the funeral. Then, when I got home, I wrote this poem:

Spring

It slipped in quietly this year,

and beautifully,

but I spent the afternoon

attending a funeral

for a young man,

the son of a friend,

who died suddenly and unexpectedly.

As I rest in the stream of sunlight

pouring from the sky,

a man is being lowered

into perpetual darkness.

He was a son, a father,

and a friend to many,

a heartbreaking loss

on such a glorious day

of renewal and rebirth,

but continuing the natural cycle of life,

through grief and joy,

an odd pairing

but existing together nevertheless.

Standing in the warm clean air

a breeze brushing my face,

I see beyond the edges of time and place,

see myself fading into

whatever is out there,

then opening my arms to Spring.

© 2021 Dorothy A Joslyn

 

Write about a time when joy and grief came together for you.

Write a spring poem that expresses your feelings about its arrival.

Think about your life up to now, and write about your intentions for moving forward, knowing of course that there will be an ending.

A friend of mine and I meet weekly at my house for breakfast, conversation and writing. We have been writing alpha poems for the past few weeks using the word “light.” An alpha poem, or acrostic, uses each letter of a word as the first letter in a line of poetry:

Lingering in a spot of sun coming through my window,
I ignore work that needs to be done. Instead I
Give myself a moment of peaceful contemplation,
Holding on to time stopped,
Throwing to the wind my good intentions.

It’s a fun exercise and makes us think of words and put them together in coherent ways. Some of our poems have been silly, lighthearted, or even profound.

There are many definitions of light: something in the universe that allows us to see (the sun lights the day), an expression of mood or emotion (lighthearted), illuminate (turn on a light), ignite (light a fire), not heavy (light load), and others that I’m sure you can think of.

In this time of coronavirus, thoughts often feel heavy and weigh us down. We’re uncertain of what’s going to happen or when: will we contract it? when can we get the vaccine? will the vaccine work? Maybe we can take some time out and think lighter thoughts, thoughts that may make us feel lighter for a while. What might they be for you? Maybe a memory of something you’ve done with a good friend. Maybe your favorite food (then fix it and eat it!). Maybe just a beautiful day when the sun is out and the temperature is warm for this time of year. We need the break! Or you can pick one of the prompts below and write lightly!

Use “light” or think of another positive word and write an alpha poem.

Write about light in some form or another, how it speaks to you, how it resonates.

Think of another word that might make you stop and wonder what all the meanings might be. Then look up the definition, and write a brief piece on the word.

And as an afterthought: in this month of Valentine’s Day, I wrote an alpha poem using the word “love.” Maybe you can create one, too.

Living day to day, frequently
Oblivious to emotions that arise in me, but
Venturing forward today into a morass of feelings
Ever present but not often acknowledged.

Regardless of the chaos we seem to be living in currently, the bigger picture includes opportunities to be grateful. Sometimes it’s difficult to find gratitude in our hearts; we have to dig deep to find things, even small things, that enhance our lives. But they are there. For example, the past few days at my house have been cold, rainy and gloomy, but today the sun is out, and it’s a beautiful day. It raised my spirits. There was even something good about the preceding days; we needed rain badly, and the earth drank it in.

I continue to maintain my gratitude journal; I list at least five things a day that I’m grateful for, and I always find them as I rethink my days. Doing that task helps me sleep better.

Can we find gratitude in the undeniable facts of our world: a nail biter of an election, Covid-19, wildfires in the west, hurricanes in the south and east, deep racial unrest that must be addressed? Those are all serious issues that we can’t just gloss over; we have to meet them head on and work through them. So, I’m not talking about a Pollyannaish view of things, just an invitation to take brief breaks from the negative reality to look at what it positive, which is also reality. Doing that may help sooth our fears and anger at all the carnage around us.

The first thing we must do at the beginning of this month is vote. It’s a concrete way to have our say and is critical in these times. If you haven’t already voted, please do so.

Another thing we must do is work toward our goal of corralling the coronavirus by wearing masks, washing our hands, physical distancing and staying away from crowds. These are easy things to do, and they have been shown to help.

We may not be able to do anything directly about the fires and hurricanes, but we can support in whatever ways we can those who are helping relieve the devastation of both of these natural disasters.

We can educate ourselves about racial injustice, and follow through with whatever actions we can take to stop the oppression of races other than white. Why I have to write that confounds me. It is long, long overdue.

Then, November 26 is Thanksgiving Day. Let’s take a little time to rest in what is good in our lives. The chaos will still be there on the 27th, and we can continue to deal with it then.

Another thing that can help get us where we want to go is write about our experiences, feelings, actions and all the things that matter to us. Here are a few prompts to get you started.

Think about something you can do to contribute to solutions to the problems that face us as individuals and as a part of the community of all people and write about your conclusions. . . or questions if that’s all you have right now.

Make a list of gratitudes you have. Include everything you can think of, no matter how small or how inconsequential they may seem. They all matter and can make you happy to write them down.

What is the most important issue to you right now? Write down everything you can think of about it and why it means so much to you.