November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving comes more than once a year

Posted in Between Us column, Relationships, Spirituality at 9:44 pm by dinaheng

When I was four years old, my parents took me to my godparents’ house for dinner one night. My mother, who was anxious that I make a good impression, drilled me on being polite and what to say.

So as soon as my godmother opened the front door, I told her, “Thank you for dinner. The food was delicious, and your house is very nice.”

Clearly, I wanted to make sure that I wouldn’t forget to say thank you.

Feeling gratitude for the blessings in our lives is a lesson many of us often forget. We go about our lives, readily complaining about the things that go wrong in the course of a day, not realizing that negative energy reinforces problems, not solutions.

The more we dwell on the challenges and hardships in our path, the more challenges and hardships the universe tends to send us. Fortunately, the opposite is also true.

Think positive thoughts, and what’s the worst that can happen? You may not always get what you want, but if you’re positive about whatever happens, you’ll probably avoid sleepless nights, irritable bowel syndrome, and any number of stress-related illnesses.

This Thanksgiving week, my heart is full of gratitude for so many things, large and small.

One of my dearest friends was diagnosed with ovarian cancer a couple of weeks ago. A tumor was found during her yearly gynecological exam, and she had to have a hysterectomy. As we talked, in the days leading up to the surgery, I held a positive feeling about the outcome, knowing that she would be okay.

Thankfully, doctors were able to remove the malignant tumor, and tests showed that it had not spread. So she will not need to have chemotherapy. I know that the prayers of many people surrounded her with love, and have no doubt that all that positive energy contributed to a positive outcome.

On the home front, I’ve been battling pesky little gnats for nearly 11 months. No matter what I sprayed on the plants, they still kept flying. I finally realized that not only were they coming from the plants, they were coming out of the bathroom drains in the guest bathroom, which isn’t used often.

So I poured some organic potion down the drains to digest the slime that gnats feed on, and the bugs have disappeared.  I ended up throwing out nearly 20 plants in the process, and am down to my last two, but I’m so thankful that the house is FINALLY gnat-free.

I’m now in Houston, visiting family for the holiday, and my nephew Mark, who has had the worst time getting potty trained, proudly showed me that he knows how to go to the potty on his own now.  If that isn’t something to be thankful for, I don’t know what is.

Gathering together for a special turkey dinner may happen only once a year, but gratitude is worth expressing every day.



November 19, 2009

Cherish every birthday…

Posted in Between Us column, Health, Relationships, Spirituality at 7:29 pm by dinaheng

A couple of weeks ago, I was talking on the phone with my friend Jean, who was due to turn 83 shortly. When I asked her what she would be doing on her birthday, she said, “Nothing.”

One son was out of the country, visiting his son, and her other son lived in another state.  Knowing Jean, she raised both boys to make “sensible” decisions, and it would not occur to her to ask anyone to even take note of her birthday.

I, being not so sensible, decided to fly out to celebrate the day with her. In my opinion, no one who’s lived into their 80s should be alone on their birthday.

I was able to find a good air fare, leaving Los Angeles on Friday the 13th, arriving into Washington, D.C. before midnight, in time to take Jean to lunch before getting on a flight back to L.A. that would get me back home before midnight on Saturday.

The weather was drizzly and cool, but our visit was joyous. Saturday morning, we spent a couple of hours, just sitting and talking, catching up on our lives. I brought her a book and chocolates for her birthday gift, and she surprised me with a gift of her own.

Handing me a small box, she said, “I’m starting to give things away because at 83, you never know how long you’ll be here. I’ve always thought of you like the daughter I never had, and I wanted you to have something to remember me by.”

I was so touched by her words, and smiled when I saw what was in the box. There were three pieces of jewelry — an amethyst ring, a silver owl brooch with amethyst eyes, and a cameo ring with three dancing women on it.

“Those are the Three Graces,” Jean said, pointing to the three daughters on Zeus, known in Greek mythology as the goddesses of joy, charm and beauty. “They would sing and dance, and their purpose in life was to make people happy.  I hope they will always keep you happy.”

Happiness seems like such a fleeting thing, at times. We spend so much of our days worrying about things that are or have not happened. Happiness has a chance to seep into our consciousness only when we stop thinking about the problems we’re wrestling with.

Yet if we turned that around, and concentrated on the blessings that grace our lives every day, the problems we faced would not seem so insurmountable.

I look at Jean’s life, and am inspired by her intelligence, strength and goodness. She was an arts editor for a small newspaper when we first met years ago. But she had a chemistry background before getting into journalism, hence her very practical nature.

Our political views mesh easily, as she is a great believer that racial identity does not define who we are, but creates differences that enrich the human experience. Her life stories always have wisdom and a bit of humor in them.

As we talked about the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, she put her own take on the difficulties of veterans returning home from combat.

“Soldiers today come home with all kinds of physical injuries that would have killed them in past wars,” she said. “My ex-husband served on a ship during World War II, which was torpedoed. If he had been down in the bowels of the ship, he would have died. But when the shift changed, he was late getting to work, so he was just thrown clear of the ship in the blast.

“He hung onto a huge, dead fish in the water until he was rescued. Afterward, he had nightmares for some time about that incident, and he wasn’t even badly injured. I can’t imagine what people coming home today, with missing limbs and more, have to deal with.”

Hers is the generation that did what it had to, and when Jean had to have her hip replaced, she did what the doctor told her to do. She got up out of bed after the operation and exercised. She walks everywhere, and now that she’s given up driving, takes public transportation to continue her volunteer work, helping the elderly with their taxes and working in a public garden.

I can’t imagine a life more well lived than hers, and only hope that mine will reflect something of the same one day.

We can’t always be with those we love on their birthdays, but when we can, those are the memories that we’ll cherish the most. For life, after all, is about the memories we make every day.



November 12, 2009

Sit up straighter

Posted in Between Us column, Health, Spirituality at 6:14 am by dinaheng

I’m sitting up straighter these days. A pinched nerve in my neck has caused some tingling and numbness in the extremities on and off. Since I never want to have neck surgery, I’ve been doing more exercises to strengthen the neck, and to relieve the pressure on the disks between the vertebrae.

A friend of mine showed me how to gently tug on my neck to elongate it, which has helped to stop the tingling sensations.dinah-eng-21

Funny how finely tuned our bodies are to the changes that bombard them every day. If only our spirits had stronger backbones.

Last weekend, the House passed the most significant healthcare bill since the creation of Medicare 44 years ago, which guarantees health coverage to an additional 36 million people by 2019. This plan would leave 4 percent of the nation without coverage, compared to the estimated 17 percent who do not have insurance now, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

It’s a victory that falls morally short of insuring every American, but it’s better than continuing to haggle over no change for change’s sake.

Listening to insurance companies, doctors, lawyers and politicians debate over what’s the best way to take care of everyone makes it excruciatingly clear that people still care more about their own pocket books than they do about the health and welfare of fellow human beings.

It’s the same kind of thinking that makes people short change the mental healthcare needs that people who go to war have when they return home. Until an Army psychiatrist allegedly goes on a shooting rampage after learning that he would soon be deployed to Afghanistan.

It would be easy to say, “Poor man was already haunted by the wartime disabilities of soldiers he was treating. Who in their right mind would want to go to war and experience those things firsthand?”

Brave men and women in our military put their lives on the line for the rest of us who stay behind. We should honor their courage. We should also honor the courage of those think war is not an acceptable option.

Should we excuse the U.S. born Muslim of Palestinian descent for his allegedly deadly actions? No. We have no idea yet what motivated the shootings at Ft Hood. Neither should we condemn him without condemning the ethnic taunts he apparently endured from Army colleagues, and the patient workload that would not let up.

We’re not living in healthy times. We’ve all been affected by the rising price of everything and fewer resources to make ends meet. We all wish healthcare were affordable and that war would not plague us.

The question is, are we willing to pay the price to make those wishes come true? When we are, we’ll all sit up straighter.

November 5, 2009

Start the holidays now…

Posted in Between Us column, Movies, Spirituality at 2:22 am by dinaheng

If store fronts and movies are any indication, the holiday season has started, and it can’t be too soon. With an economic grinch that has stolen the joy out of many pocketbooks this year, we need a reminder of what’s really important in life.

Last week, I went to a studio-hosted holiday buffet and screening of Disney’s new version of “A Christmas Carol,” which premieres in theaters November 6. The carolers were lovely, the food was delicious (except for the cupcakes, which were prettier than they tasted) and the movie was, well… in the spirit of the holidays.dinah-eng-21

The friend who went with me to the screening thought the film was dreadful. “I can just see it as the next thrill ride at Disneyland,” she whispered to me.  I could see her point of view.

At the same time, call me the ghost of goodness and cheer, but I thought it was a fun rendition of a classic tale for a new generation. When you’ve seen multiple remakes of the Charles Dickens story, the question becomes, “Why do another one? Can’t they make anything original anymore?”

But kids who’ve not seen “old” versions of tales may relate more to the “new” ones, so good remakes can make sense, as well as money.

In this case, Jim Carrey does a credible enough job playing the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, and the lesson that what we give always comes back to us is one that every generation needs to learn.

Viewers like me, who were born without depth perception in one eye or both, won’t care for the 3D effects. I watched the whole thing without the annoying glasses that allowed things to jump out of the screen at you.

We all could use a reminder that holidays come but once a year, but the spirit of the holidays need to be honored yearround.

I was in New York a couple of weeks ago, walking through a pouring rain storm that broke one of the spokes in my umbrella. As a friend and I dashed into a bar, just to get out of the wet, I was delighted for the excuse to just sit and talk over a drink, rather than go on to the next task.

We get caught up in work, the politics of work, the soap operas at work, yearround, and when do we stop to be grateful for the opportunity to do something meaningful with our skills? When do we take a deep breath, realizing that office politics are nothing more than other people seeking appreciation and to be valued for who they are? When do we stop gossiping about others, and start loving ourselves?

We’ve all seen enough Ebenezer Scrooges around to last a lifetime. The miracle is when we see them change in their attitude toward others. If we had anything to do with that change, the joy is even greater.

The holidays are a time to count our blessings, be open to miracles and look forward to the future. Why not start your own, personal holiday season today?