My so-called “600 Pound Life”…

While spending time with my siblings at my niece’s wedding in hot and torrid Arizona, I jokingly mused about my feeling of utter and total oneness with those poor souls who are the focus and subject of the show, “My 600 Pound Life”. Nearing 60 years of age, I am experiencing the dreaded “slowing down of the metabolism” that I could just as well call “too lazy to bend over and pick up the TV remote”… You see, though it may have seemed easier in my youth to drop 10 pounds in a minute by doing a few quick crunches or altering my diet for a few days like no sugar in my tea, the fact remains that my level of activity on any given day in my late 50’s has probably diminished by about 40% compared to my 30’s and even 40’s. Dropping 10-15 pounds at this point seems just as hopeless and unattainable to me from a psychological standpoint as the 300 pounds the folks on the TV show need to lose to save their lives… Denying yourself, cutting things you love out of your diet, butter-less popcorn, no fried foods, or even more horrendous, no sweets, not eating when you’re feeling sad or not snacking when you’re not hungry – I go back to my original assertion – I totally understand the “600 pound” feelings of despair and hopelessness. Though I am possibly being a bit tongue in cheek about this topic and certainly not intending to offend anyone nor trivialize the pervasive issue of obesity in our country, I stand on my assertion that I get it. Or maybe I should just take my brother Rene’s advice when he said maybe I should stop worrying about the 10-15 pounds I would like to lose (so I can feel better about myself) and accept the gut and the fact I will probably never again have a close relationship with a six pack (unless it’s in the form of a really tasty Mexican beer), embrace my ever-widening waistband, fall on my sword and then buy the next size up anyway. It’s all relative until you want to put on some skinny jeans and realize, “That’s not a good look for you!” There’s always going to be someone slimmer than you and someone heavier. Some days it’s about self acceptance and other days it’s about ego. I guess there is a certain level of joy I should have just being here. So I’ll stick with the joy.

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I’m so afraid Mom’s life will fade into a distant memory

unday nights have always been problematic. The quiet anticipation and sometimes dread of Monday morning that hover over the soul – feelings of fear, melancholy, anxiety, sadness and other such emotions seem to reign over Sunday nights. Not sure why but it’s also the time that you are forced into that corner where you ponder and question your existence. 

On this particular Sunday night I fear the loss of my mother’s memory. I want to describe the smell of her Belmont Dairy apartment – full of cooking and love permeating even my suitcase and all it’s contents lying open on her living room floor – so I don’t forget… The sound of her voice and the words she used to comfort, to admonish, to share, to advise, to love… on this Sunday night I miss her with such an intensity. An intensity that is filled with seemingly endless gaps of silence ringing in my ears. A feeling that I haven’t felt before because I never didn’t have my mother to turn to, to count on, to be there in times of joy and times of sorrow. 

There’s a hole in the soul of all of us who have lost our moms. A void that cannot be filled with any of the myriad sayings that try to convince us “they are in a better place” or “their suffering is over.” My selfish me doesn’t want her in a better place – I want her here next to me so I can tell her how much she means to me, to just give her a big hug even though in her own words she was not that “huggy” type; to just sit with her reminiscing about all the experiences we had together and revel in the stories of her youth – our connection to our past; to admire her strength and tenacity and “doorzettingsvermogen”; to remember she too cried and laughed and lamented and had disappointments in life. 

As I finish writing these last thank you cards to all the loving friends and family who expressed their condolences, I weep realizing that the tangible connections to her are waning. I’ve been wearing one of Mom’s gold chains to keep her close to me. I’ve been picturing her smile, hearing the sound of her laugh, feeling her gentle healing touch. I’ve been talking to her – telling her how much she is missed, how much I miss her and how she left behind so many who remember her with such fondness and joy. 

And so on this particular Sunday night and this bout of Sunday night blues, I write this in memory of my mama in hopes she will never ever be forgotten. 

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Why my mother’s love is irreplaceable…

10353315_10152403631888567_3354031190194508798_o.jpgI can remember back in the far recesses of my earliest memories my mom’s ability to always make everything better… If my ankle hurt, she rubbed Vicks on it and gently wrapped it up as if it were broken and it made me feel better. If I was sad or worried, she would tell me to pray to God for help and then help me herself. When I needed cheering up, she made me the best cup of hot tea imaginable even though it was just Lipton. Sometimes she would feed us hot rice and semur ayam (chicken cooked in sweet soy sauce) blowing on it to make sure it wasn’t too hot (we would line up in a row from oldest to youngest – usually that would be me, Lorette then Michelle)… like little birds waiting for their turn to eat.

I remember putting my head on her lap so she could clean my ears with the korek kuping (we don’t believe in QTips). This simple act calmed my nerves and put me in a state of tranquility that no amount of meditation can reproduce. She knitted me countless sweaters, scarves and hats to keep me warm – to this day, I don’t know how she found the time to do this with a household of 9 people to take care of. On my birthday she would make me my favorite meal: karbonaadjes (breaded bone-in pork cutlet) with rice and special sauce (really just ketchup and mustard mixed together) and usually some atjar ketimoen (pickled cucumbers) to go with it. We would do gardening together and I remember digging the holes for her much loved rose bushes or flowering cherry trees – it was always fun if I was doing it with Mom. She hemmed hundreds of pairs of pants for me over the years, getting out her sewing machine and lining each side up using precise measurements – with always the most perfect results. Mom was so good at so many things though she portrayed herself as not being good at anything at all… humility to the extreme given that, in fact, Mom was good at EVERYTHING.

I remember in the 70’s right after the movie Saturday Night Fever came out, I really wanted this shiny black satin striped disco shirt – it was something like $19 which back then seemed like a fortune. Mom gave me the money and said go buy it even though she would never have spent that much money on herself (and this is just one example from momleeloo1hundreds of times she gave me money for something I really wanted). My brother, Rene, wrote about how Mom was really willing to sacrifice her life in every way for us – nothing was a bother or too much. Whether it was to pick us up from work in the middle of the night or cook something for us at 11pm because we “looked” hungry. And she did everything with loving care that most of us just don’t know how to “do” any more in this fast paced age of luxury and convenience.

I don’t want to lose a single memory of my mom’s love and goodness toward me and countless others. I want to savor and cherish them in the present and future – never letting them slip into the box of the hard to remember past. By writing about her and talking about her as if she were right here next to me, I feel like I am keeping her close. Her legacy of love, kindness, gentleness, bravery and courage  must live on in each of us. Mom’s reach is far beyond the biological, it is mystical, magical and spiritual. I will forever keep her alive in my heart, my mind and my spirit.

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Sadness and loss

We are never prepared to say goodbye to a loved one. As they slowly but surely slip away from the consciousness of their surroundings, we grieve the loss of recognition, acknowledgement and clarity. But that’s a selfish perspective on our part. We are sad because their interactions with us become obtuse and mostly foggy. We expect them to “know” we are there and somehow validate our presence. We want them to be rooted in our reality for us. That “me” focus is human but misplaced and frankly quite self-centered. What’s happening is something we can’t see. It’s behind the scenes work that God is performing  in them and for them – preparing our loved ones for that inevitable transition – the one we dread but know is the kindest most merciful path. 

Simply stated, we go into mourning with a feeling of impending doom – even though as people of faith we should be rejoicing their passage to perfection and life eternal, free from the craziness, pain and suffering this world brings. 

Then we try to convince ourselves we are ok. Some of us show an avalanche of outward emotion. Others privately lament an impending loss. However the process unfolds and it always does, we find solace in family and friends. Some have communities of faith that pray most powerful prayers for healing for us and for the one in transition. Healing from the inside out, on this side of the veil or the other. So healing is the key. But the sadness hangs heavily in the air – permeating the atmosphere with a darkness felt but not seen… 

When finally that time comes, will we get past the guilt of finding and wishing that peace for that someone we love so dearly? Or is the guilt that plagues our soul built on the fact that we secretly and desperately need and want that person with us even though their “limbo” existence is tragic at best. 

I’m back and forth on what and how I feel, so I put our dear mom in God’s plan and wait for the time we can all be together again in spiritual love and eternal happiness. In the meanwhile, let’s cherish and lavish love on those of us left behind. 

A collaborative post by Ludy and Rene van Broekhuizen 

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Living [for] those moments

The joy and delight we experience when we make new discoveries, gain valuable insights, see personal growth, take positive actions, nurture intimate relationships, or facilitate change for the better are moments we wish would never end. But we string ourselves along sort of like waiting for the weekend and on any given Wednesday feel a sense of despair as if Friday afternoon will never come… as I often say, weekends are amazing; how to survive what falls between, that’s the challenge.

So we search our souls, thirsting for meaning or maybe just a break from the intensity of the Monday-through-Fridays of our lives. For sustenance many of us, if we are lucky, are able to reach out to our loved ones and center ourselves inside concentric circles of family, img_7546friends, faith communities, colleagues and acquaintances. Others turn to physical pursuits like weight training, zumba, hiking, or cycling among a host of healthy distractions that challenge their external bodies and assuage potential internal struggles. Still others dive inward and through prayer or meditation, self awareness building or self help resources pursue and sometimes see the proverbial light. Then there are those who instead of fleeing the Monday-through-Friday life cycle, embrace a Monday-through-Sunday work week, burying themselves under often self imposed deadlines, responsibilities and inexhaustible lists of to be completed tasks. Most of us can probably see ourselves in any combination of these life scenarios and have traveled inside one or another of these based on our  circumstances and the season of life we are in.

But getting back to the moments we cherish, the moments we live for… how can we maximize them so we are more often than not tuning in to the frequencies that bring us joy and delight and minimize the noise? By being mindful and creating a heightened consciousness of what we want for ourselves and proactively planning them both in the abstract and the concrete, we pave a path toward a lived happiness that could very well transform what we call a life.

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Life is complicated

Even before I finished typing the words in this post’s title I was doubting their veracity. In fact, I believe that life is meant to be simple and we are the ones who make it complicated and overly complex. But by making this statement, I have already implicated myself in my own conspiracy theory, entrapped myself in a vicious circle of my own creation. In searching for the meaning of life, our raison d’être, the reason we get up in the morning, there isn’t some deep, dark demon lurking in the shadows bringing us down, engendering depression, nor causing us to question our lives. It is we, we are us, it’s a completely internal journey upon which we have embarked by our own volition. In Socratic terms, a life unexamined is a life not worth living. The extent to which this questioning drives us to death-of-socrates-Hbecome better and greater versions of ourselves makes it a noble endeavor. But when deep introspection prevents us from living life abundantly and creates so much existential angst that we are paralyzed by the dreaded fear that we may not matter at all, we must return to the notion of the simplicity of our being, our connectedness to everything and everyone, simultaneously simple and complex.

I believe that this collection of matter, this interconnectedness, is God. It cannot be otherwise given the inextricable web, the cause and effect of every one of our actions. Called karma in some belief systems and labeled as Newton’s third law, it is actually the divine order of things. My personal spiritual belief is that we are saved by grace through faith and this is God’s gift. Not earned by us but freely given. So I’m taking this gift of life, shaking it up from time to time, examining it as needed, and making sure I don’t take it for granted. But any way you look at it, life is complicated.

 

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I guess that’s why they call it the blues (blahs)…

Have you ever been in a wonderful space where everything seems to be going your way and life is just excellent but you still wake up with an empty feeling deep inside, a gnawing at your consciousness, the thing that keeps you up at night without your really knowing why? I have been living in that place for the last few days. Prayer and meditation are helpful – but somehow don’t eliminate the feeling of dread. Counting your many blessings reminds you why you shouldn’t be feeling this way in the first place. This, of course, only serves to push you even further down the funnel acknowledging how wrong you are for being so ungrateful. Being at work and going through the motions just remind you that you don’t have any control at all… Our destiny, God’s plan can be so elusive in these blue times. I find refuge in expressing these feelings and emotions through this blog in hopes that they are recognizable and even possibly shared by others. It engenders this feeling that we are all in this together. One simple “like” can make all the difference in the world. During these times you don’t want to hear how you just need to “pull it together” nor that this feeling will “pass”. Sometimes a nice deep wallow in the depths of dark despair is just what the doctor ordered. As long as it’s just for a moment. Until you rise back to the surface and your eyes are again opened to the wonders of this beautiful world and this unparalleled experience called life. I guess that’s why they call it the blues. 

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Tomorrow is not promised…

Tomorrow is not promised… If we lived each day of our lives with this in mind, would we change what we do, how we do it, whom we spend time with, what occupies our thoughts, where we go, or how we feel? This morning during my daily commute, I had a really good cry as I missed my two sisters, Ruby and Rose, who both passed away at a relatively young age. Tomorrow was not promised to them. And as I remember their last days on this side of the veil, they were difficult and painful. Cancer had taken away so much from them, their hair, their health, their mobility, their ability to do the things they love. And all we could do was stand by and watch their demise, comfort them in whatever ways we could, and pray for their release. As Rose would always say, “Let go, let God.” And she did.

So I’m exhorting all of us fortunate enough to still be able to take in and release a deep breath of life to rejoice and push ourselves to the outermost limit of happiness right now, wherever we may find ourselves. For tomorrow is not promised.

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Believing in the goodness of humanity and a retrospection…

This morning I was filled with the feeling of gratitude for my life. It’s so easy to get dragged down by all the negative stories and images we see and the pessimistic and combative words we hear. Today, I choose to believe in the goodness of humanity. For every negative event that occurs I firmly believe there are one hundred positive ones happening at the exact same time. A kind gesture, a helping hand, an earnest prayer, a hopeful spirit… If we focus on all that is good and right, I believe that will also be our daily lived experience.

During the Oprah and Deepak meditation today Oprah shared a letter she wrote to her 19 year old self. For some reason it struck a chord in my soul and I wept deeply and uncontrollably as I pondered what I would write to my 19 year old self today 37 years later. I know  I would marvel at my innocence, chuckle about the things that I feared so intensely, wish I had spent more time with my brothers and sisters, lived less carefully… I think the exercise of actually writing the letter is important. So here goes:

Hey buddy! As I picture you in that 1970’s bubble, I know you couldn’t even imagine you would be living this miraculous life decades later. I’m pretty sure you were relatively clueless about most things but your sincerity and convictions about the world were so right on. So many fears. So Ludy19-1much inner turmoil. So many secrets. So much soul searching. But on the surface, you kept it all together with your jokes and happy face – the tears of a clown. I wish I could have told you to take it easy, relax and enjoy the ride. I wish I could have told you that our society would change for the better in the most unexpected and wonderful ways. I wish I could have told you to take more risks and not to worry so much about the outcomes. I wish I could have told you to pursue your dreams with total and utter abandon. But if I had been able to do that, you would not be the person you are today. So maybe my message is to my 56 year old self from my 19 year old self and I actually have it turned around. Wow, I think I just checked myself…

What would you write to your 19 year old self?

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Indo-ness…

What does it mean to be Indisch, Indo, Dutch Indonesian, Indonesian Dutch? Most of us Indos believe it is all about the food – sate, sajoer assem, sambal, pete, lontong – the Resep-Lemper-Abon-Ikansnacks: lemper, loempia, risolles (is that one rissoles and two risolleses???) – or great single words that have so much meaning: rakoes, bohong, sombong, tjerewet, senang; or maybe a system of pretty traditional, conservative, yet super generous values: never go to someone’s home empty handed, never accept drinks or anything offered to you the first time (wait until you have been asked at least twice – if you accept so eagerly, people will think you don’t get enough at home), NEVER call an adult by his/her first name without Oom or Tante before it.

The sum total of Indo-ness is so completely individual, it may not be describable, but at the same time, it’s easily recognizable, comfortable, and familiar when you know the extremely subtle and mostly unwritten rules of engagement…

In the days when we were all fresh off the Holland America Lines’ Maasdam having sailed from Rotterdam to the port of New York City and then by train across the country to Portland, Oregon, the Indo community was tight as can be — everyone helped each other out and though the roddelpraatjes (gossip) abounded over who was on IMG_2264welfare, who got free government cheese, who went to which school in Indonesia, who was more “Dutch”, who claimed not to speak any Maleis, it didn’t prevent Indos from helping each other find jobs, make ends meet, come to the rescue in a crisis (like when our house burned to the ground except for one bedroom and eight kids and 2 parents were suddenly without a roof over our heads) – yes, that’s when Tante Fien van Waardenburg who worked as a school cook brought food for the whole family daily until we figured out what to do on our own (restaurants were out of the question since they were far too expensive)…

Generosity abounded within the Indo community – if someone had enough, there was always room to share and stretch it even further. Oom Gaby Ladage must have given my mom at least a couple dozen canaries and beautiful finches over several decades of friendship because he knew how much she loved those birds. Tante Gerrie Bergman (nee van Dien) was always cooking something delicious in her kitchen and sharing it with us kids not the least being her enak sekali (super delicious) oblok-oblok. And I’ll never forget Tante Mien Verdonk who passed away so long ago, but has a corner of my heart IMG_2251always because of her kindness – I was her “hired” garden helper as a kid who worked very little but sure had lots of homemade pasteitjes and other refreshments at her place. She would always pay me much more than she should have because she knew our family struggled financially.

As a group that came about as the result of racial and ethnic mixing in the context of a very distinct colonial infrastructure, Indos come in every size and color. There are tall ones, short ones, dark and light skinned ones, and brown haired and blonde ones. Some feel very Dutch and minimize their native-ness while others cannot but express pride in their hybrid culture being neither Dutch nor Indonesian. Some Indos trace their mixed Dutch East Indies roots back 350 years while others have a much more recent and more clearly defined mixed background with one Indonesian Oma and a totally Totok (Dutch) Opa who arrived in the Dutch East Indies to fight the Japanese during World War II. My family on both mother and father’s side go back at least three centuries with the first figure22apaternal Dutchman arriving in the colonies in the mid 1600’s and my maternal seafaring ancestor sailing into the Indies in the early 1700’s. Then there is the fact that we are not talking exclusively about a mix of ethnically diverse Indonesians with Dutch colonizers. The Dutch East Indies was a super diverse trading society so the population very early on included Chinese, East Indians, Africans, Arabians, Austrians, French, Belgians, British, Portuguese, etc. It’s a wonder with the huge differences in Indo-ness that there could be anything we can call Indisch at all! But as a folk that has always had to fit in and adapt, we are and we do, for now anyway.

My fear is that with the daily loss of our direct connection to this place we call the Dutch East Indies which no longer exists except in the memories, customs, traditions, values and actions of our parents, grandparents, and great grandparents, this mestizo culture will fade into the distant past and we will be assimilated into wherever the current generation landed. Australians, Americans, Nederlanders, Canadians, Brazilians, Spaniards and Indonesians, to name just a few, but with roots in a magical almost mythical place faraway in distance, memory, and history.

To my generation born in Indonesia and the Netherlands: Listen to and document the stories and carry on the Indische traditions however modified and adapted they may be – remember it is your story to pass on or to lose. Tell your children and your children’s children about our journey – whichever one it is because there are many – all of them valid Indo histories. To the next generation who probably is not reading this and may not be particularly interested anyway: don’t let yourself be totally subsumed and assimilated into the mass culture that surrounds you. It’s an inevitability and much easier, but with the loss of your individuality, something deep inside you is also lost. Your DNA has a stamp on it that places you squarely on the shoulders of so many who came before you who lived expansively, took risks, sacrificed, bled, cried and suffered but still managed to live and love so that you could be here… Teroes adja…

NOTE: I mostly used the Dutch East Indies conventions for spelling of words in Maleis as a nod to the past…

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