If you look deeply into the palm of your hand,
you will see your parents and all generations of your ancestors.
–Thich Nhat Hanh
I was on the internet again, spending too much time on Facebook and doing Google searches. BTW, this is definitely on my list of attachments to address. Anyway, I was looking at Facebook posts when I suddenly got a ping. Someone asking to be my “friend.” The last name was familiar – someone with the same last name as my recently discovered German cousin. Perhaps his wife? His sister? I accepted the friend request and immediately got a private message. Yes, it was another member of the same German family. She introduced herself as my recently discovered cousin’s mother. She is my grandfather’s niece. I never knew she existed.
My heart pounded. Up until recently, the only foreign relatives I was aware of were from my grandmother’s Norwegian side of the family. My grandfather died while I was still a young child. Since then, I’ve heard stories that he was from a poor family in eastern Germany that was under Soviet control after World War II. As I chatted with my new Facebook cousin, I learned that she lives in a northern German city which sustained tremendous bombing damage during World War II. She told me that my grandmother and grandfather sent her family clothing, chocolate, and flour just after the war to help them get back on their feet. In broken English she also said that she never forgot the kindness that my grandparents showed to them in those difficult times. She went on to say that she was sad that she had not reconnected with my mother before she died in late 2015. So am I. Finding out that her German cousin was alive and still remembered her would have made my mother very happy.
Finding and re-connecting with long lost relatives and friends is common among seniors. We not only have the time available but new social networking tools make connections easier than ever. As I mentioned, I enjoy Facebook a lot – maybe a little too much. I recently used Facebook to re-connect with a dear high school friend that I haven’t seen or talked to in 40 years. Shortly after this reunion, my mother passed away. To my great surprise and joy, my high school friend showed up unexpectedly at my mother’s funeral service. Because this gesture meant so much to me, I decided to do the same for another long lost friend that I reconnected with. Her husband passed away this summer and I attended the funeral, which was held in another state. I know she was grateful to see me there.
Our retirement years offer such fantastic opportunities to connect in a meaningful way. However, they can also present pitfalls. One of my new retirement friends ended our friendship after a misunderstanding. I have apologized but the damage is done. I am left with sadness and regret. Another good friend, who hasn’t yet retired, acknowledged that she is just too busy to visit me. These lost connections are to be expected during our major life transitions but what can we do to deal with the lingering disappointment, sadness or loss?
In my experience, it’s not enough to tell ourselves “Just let it go.” This is easier said than done. Others might advise us, “Get over it.” Or, my favorite suggestion is, “Pull your big girl panties up.” These admonitions don’t help either.
The world changes, with each heartbeat, with every breath. In meditation, we focus on our breath to stay mindful of each present moment. Breathe in and we take in the new moment. Breathe out and we let go of the old moment. It is gone. We can think of this repetitive process as loss or change – but it is really the totality of life. The world changes moment by moment. You change. I change. “There is no static being,” says Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher. “no unchanging substratum. Change, movement, is Lord of the Universe. Everything is in a state of becoming, of continual flux (Panta Rhei).” He continues: “You cannot step twice into the same river; for fresh waters are ever flowing in upon you.” (www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/various/wheel186.html)
The Buddhists think of this as impermanence. It is common, especially in Buddhist lands, to see followers offer flowers and light oil lamps before a Buddha image. We westerners think they are praying to the Buddha. in actuality, they are not praying to any god or “supernatural being.” The offered flowers fade and the flames die down. For Buddhists, this speaks of the impermanence of all things. The spiritual path reminds us not to run away from the thoughts and feelings we have about the losses or changes in our lives. Instead, we should become intimately aware of the intractable conditions of human existence.
“Everything passes; nothing remains.
Understand this; loosen your grip
And find serenity.”
–Lama Surya Das
So I think back to my online conversation with my newly found German cousin. She bubbled over with enthusiasm for having reconnected with me. She sent almost a dozen photos of her family, and of mine, when my mother was a little girl. In one of her last comments, she said, “Please tell your children and grandchildren about your German family. Especially about your grandfather and his niece.” I promise, I will. It will be a another great moment to experience!