When the Earth Moves

Last week the world rocked itself to the very foundations, as the worst earthquake in recently recorded history sent its shockwaves around the world. Watching it and the devastating consequences of its rippling after-effects, reminded me of that oft-repeated phrase, “No man is an island”.   But natural disasters aside, when the ‘earth moves’ in our personal lives and everything comes crashing down around our ears, how do we cope? How does it impact those around us? Join the Mountain Farmgirl as she explores this recent world tragedy and brings it back home and personal for each one of us.  How do we cope when our world is suddenly turned upside down? Do we have a meltdown … or do we keep on marching, putting one foot in front of the other?

Life rocks!!  But when it doesn’t, life can sometimes rock us. This can take the form of a sudden natural disaster, an out-of-the-blue diagnosis of cancer, divorce, the loss of a loved one, a failed business, or any number of unplanned, unwanted things that can shake our worlds.  As I watched the live broadcasts and up-to-the-minute You-Tube clips of last week’s earthquake from my laptop, I saw the earth literally move for thousands of people on the island of Japan, half a world away. I also saw the earthquake’s after effects, as folks from Hawaii to the west coast of the USA braced for the dangerous tsunami waves which followed. Even as I write, surrounding countries still anticipate the very real possibility of radioactive contamination from the nuclear power plant, monitoring the situation minute by minute as their fates unfold. To give you an idea of the immense power involved with these primal forces of nature, I have heard several accounts telling that the entire island of Japan has been permanently relocated 13 feet from where it was before the quake!!!
I think the images that affected me the most, however -- and haunt me still -- were the scenes of whole villages being washed away … and HUGE tanker ships  knocked onto their sides, bobbing like bathtub toys in the middle of a churning, chaotic sea of debris that only hours earlier was dry land. How about all those houses floating out to the ocean, crumbling and collapsing as they went? Whole lifetimes -- generations even -- of possessions and memories were literally being destroyed in the blink of an eye as I watched it all half a world away. HOW, I wondered, do you pick up the pieces when such a perfect storm of destruction pulls out all the stops and turns your life upside down like that? Most of us will never personally experience the effects of an earthquake, or hurricanes the size of Katrina or Andrew, or a fire that destroys everything in its wake. But catastrophes such as these help serve the rest of us by putting life back into some sort of real-scale perspective.
Sometimes catastrophes take on a less tangible form but are no less real. Sidebar: Once in a great while at my inn, a troubled soul will arrive as a guest at my front desk. One of my everyday missions as an innkeeper is to try to make all of our guest’s worlds a kinder, safer place, if only for the short while they are staying here with us. Over the course of their stays, I love watching the tensions of life dissolve as folks from all walks of life partake of our mountain hospitality. But once in a blue moon, no matter how hard we try, it just doesn’t work.  Sometimes people don’t want to relax or heal; they themselves are hurting, and though not intentional, they want to complain and inflict pain on others. Have you met anyone like this? No matter what you do, you just can’t please them or make life ‘better’.  In those rare situations I have often thought of handing out  a little ‘reality check’ with my friend’s web address on it. It would say, “If we think we have it bad, check out my friend’s website. She is a wife, mother of 3 beautiful home schooled boys, and she has cancer. If she can cope, maybe so can we… ”  Wakeup call!! We all need a jolt into the present from time to time, to realize that in many cases, no matter what we’re going through, life could be worse. Hopefully, we discover that some of those things we thought were important were perhaps not worth sweating over after all. But that doesn’t mean that we will never get the wind kicked out of us in other ways, or feel the kind of despair that victims of these greater tragedies do.  When life gives us lemons, it’s a well-established fact that Farmgirls everywhere know how to make great lemonade. But what happens when the whole truckload of lemons detours into our front yard, bringing case after case of ‘lemons’ smack dab down on top, smothering and crushing us in the process? What then?
Here’s a perfect example. Our son Noah has a friend at college named Nathan; they’ve been in the same computer science classes since freshman year. Two weeks ago Nathan was riding his bike to school and got hit by a car. He flipped up, over and then got pinned underneath it.  He was badly burned from the heat of the engine; he got crushed by the weight of the car and his heart stopped for an undetermined length of time. Nathan has been in a coma ever since, and while his doctors are optimistic that physically he will live, they do not yet know the extent of the brain damage he has sustained. I can’t imagine what his family is going through right now. Senseless tragedies like this one happen every day. How is it possible to go on with our daily lives and make sense of it all in light of such a tragedy? As a person of faith, I know that God works all things to the good. Yet, if this had been my son, faith or no faith, would I ever be able to put one foot in front of the other and keep on going? I honestly don’t know.
It’s easy to speculate how we might act in a theoretical situation, but hard to know how we would actually deal with one in real life until we are right there in the middle of it. Everything else is just optimistic conjecture. We all have real-life war stories, don’t we … and what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, right?  Well, here IS one I actually survived firsthand that totally devastated me at the time and very nearly gave me a nervous breakdown. While it wasn’t in any way comparable to last week’s earthquake, it rocked MY world, definitely hitting a 9.1 on my Richter scale, and was no less devastating.
It happened a few years ago. My own world came crashing down when relatives of mine offered us a ‘deal of a lifetime’ … the acquisition of an historic inn within the same village we currently live and own our Lodge.  It’s important to remember that when opportunities seem too good to be true, they usually are, and that any business deal no matter how big or small -- especially ones involving relatives – need to be in writing.  Needless to say, we were taken on a joy ride for 2 ½ years, after which time they not only cheated us out of a very large sum of money, they tried to steal our son’s hard-earned college fund which he had loaned to their business for a year for capital improvements!  My husband, lawyer though he is, is a super honest guy whose handshake is as good as his word.  Unfortunately, not everyone else’s is … and such was the case with my uncle and cousin. Our near financial ruin from the fiasco sent tsunami waves of tension and stress crashing at our family shores, threatening the dissolution of my marriage and causing undue stress within our whole nuclear family.  Feeling betrayed by these so-called relatives, angry at my husband for trusting them too much and not protecting us enough, for not  pulling out sooner when the handwriting was clearly on the wall, and feeling devastated by the personal  financial implications … it all sent me lower than I have ever been before. As I look back on that dark and anguished time, a very real estrangement was staring me in the face, the possibility of divorce was in my future, and I was horribly depressed – the ‘can’t-get-out-of-bed-and-don’t-even-want-to’ kind of depression that makes you feel numb and hollow because anything else just hurts too much. I have never been that low before or since. Sparing you all the ugly and shocking details of my relative’s debased behavior, this was MY personal earthquake – the biggest ever to register in the annals of my life. How did I cope, and get my life back on track again? What things would do YOU do if life hit rock bottom?
For me, it took almost two years to be free of the anger, hatred and hostility I felt. If you’ve got something going on in your life that involves these emotions, then this is your #1 top priority, because anger and bitterness serve no purpose other than turning themselves inward and affecting our own mental and physical health. This is easier said than done, however! When I could no longer stand being so dramatically depressed and somehow managed to get myself ‘vertical’ again, I started writing. Writing is always cathartic for me, but the trick is to find something – anything – that you love to do that can start the healing process. I wrote volumes about the situation … chapters for a magazine article and the rough draft of a book about it in fact.  I also wrote letters that were never sent, essays that put it all in perspective, and I journalled my thoughts and very raw feelings. I even wrote a mock newspaper article, complete with headlines, exposing my relatives’ unethical deeds to the community, their lack of honor and principles as men. I never had any intention of publishing it of course, and everyone knew their reputation anyway because it is a very small town, but it felt so good to get it all out!
Now I may be a Farmgirl and I may be strong, but I’m not a saint. Sometimes anger has a way of not bowing out gracefully; it does not want to let go! I was guilty of this, and I found that physical activity is not only a good release for it, it is a lasting cure. Long walks, taking a run, bike riding … all contributed in a healthy way, but mine was a particularly difficult case. Since voodoo dolls seemed childish, I ended up buying a punching bag nearly as tall as I and weighing a whole lot more. After nearly breaking my wrist once or twice, I learned how to use it properly and I found that it to be a highly effective channel for pent up aggression. Therapy also helped. While I like to ‘do things myself’ without asking for help, I discovered there was some residual anger that I could not control. With the help of a professional therapist who helped me identify it and learn to channel it productively, I was able to manage it well. A few sessions were all it took.
I have found that ‘work’ is an amazing therapy in and of itself.  I have always loved-with-a-passion the various things that I do for a living, so it doesn’t really ‘feel’ like work at all, it’s just part of being productive in a right-livelihood sort of way. I love that feeling!  But busy-work for its own sake can be helpful, too, when you are trying to come out of a deep personal slump.  The act of shifting your focus from your problems to something outside of yourself, even something menial, is vital. Work can do this for us by helping us concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other. Just going through the motions at first is sometimes enough until it becomes second nature. Then one day we realize that it isn’t so much of an effort anymore. That’s progress!
Thinking of others is another great way to shift that focus from ourselves. Helping other people and making them feel better is an excellent way to forget our problems, do some good and feel better as a by-product. Volunteering locally, or just performing kind acts for others is all it takes.
‘Expressing yourself’ artistically in a myriad of ways is another. Create something beautiful … a painting, or a sculpture perhaps … pull out all the stops and let yourself go! If you are musical, play an instrument and make some music. I’ve gotten lost for hours in this way, and I feel so good afterwards. The creative process is definitely one of the healing arts.  But then, so is digging in the dirt!  I love to garden, and where I live, it soon will be time to start thinking of the flowers and vegetables I will plant and the landscaping I want to do. Like the act of splitting wood, outdoor activities such as gardening make me feel good-to-the-core at the end of the day. Not only do I feel accomplished, I’ve unleashed some creativity, and I sleep really well at night!
These are some of the ways I have learned to cope with troubles when they loom out of control ... when ‘the earth moves’ in my personal life. Having lived through a situation that shook me to the core and nearly destroyed  a 40-year relationship, I now have more patience and empathy for those ‘hard-to-please’ folks who are in pain and suffering --- lashing back at the world. While ‘get a grip’ may be good advice for those needing to see the bigger picture, I have learned that until we can walk in someone else’s shoes, we can’t really judge others … they may just be going through their own personal earthquake.  As the Mountain Farmgirl, I know we all have peaks and valleys; that life can be an uphill climb, and our walk along its paths can sometimes hurt. While the view from the top is spectacular, looking at the mountain top from down below can also be a good thing, helping to guide and steer us to greater heights. After all, it’s the journey, not just the view that makes up our lives. How do you cope when tragedy strikes close to home? Where do you find yourself today, in a peak or a valley?
Much love and blessings from the Mountains,
Mountain Farmgirl
P.S. Welcome to the new Beach Farmgirl, fellow New Englander, Debbie Bosworth! Here is NH we are proud to have 13 miles of coastline, and on a clear day from the top of Mount Washington, I can even see the ocean!




By: Debbie ( Beach farmgirl )
On: 03/19/2011 15:01:18
Hi Cathi! Thanks for the warm welcome from the mountain top! I love that you can see the beach from up top on a clear day.You know, we all have those moments or times in life when we feel drug through a knot hole backwards. Whether we do it to ourselves or it's an outside attack, getting through it is just plain tough. Family betrayal is one of the hardest to take and when your world rocks from the inside out everything hurts all over. Seems like nothing but time and massive does of forgiveness can heal such low moments. It's hard when we realize just how vulnerable we are. I think as we get older it's so important (for our own health and those we love) to work hard at letting go of anger, once we've allowed it to fester and create it's share of ruin in our lives. All things you suggested work! Creative expression, physical activity, supportive friendships, spiritual nourishment, and patience for time to do it's magic while each of these remedies goes to work. At 49 years, I've had a turn or two in the valley of despair, and witnessed it in my circle of family and friends too. No one can really escape it forever can they? As for this moment? I'm counting my blessings, no one or thing is rocking my world at the moment. In fact, I'm celebrating!
I just became an official member of the MJF family and it's gonna take something as momentous as an asteroid hitting the earth to shake me off of my own personal cloud 9!
Welcome back to lighter days my fellow N.E.farmgirl blogging sister!
As always, wonderful words and message today!
Love, and...
Beach Blessings,
By: Margaret
On: 03/21/2011 07:41:05
Bless you Cathi!
Your words really hit home for me! I'm so happy that you survived your trouble and are with us now! I'm 63 and have been a widow since I was 46. When I was younger I thought of the future and how it would be. I'd be the plump granny, baking and gardening and rocking grandchildren and doing all my crafts and needlework, living along side my hubby until the end, boy was I wrong! Over the years I've had many valley and peaks. Right now because of the economy my childcare business is going under but I'm holding on! I decided that even though things are on a down cycle that it will go up soon and I've been working on ideas to get things even again! When we look at the tragic things that have been happening around the world, we can bury our heads or realize that life does go on! I can not even imagine what those poor folks are going through in Japan but I pray for them. I think one of the things that helps me keep going is my extened family. I believe that even though we are born into our blood family, often those who help us through things are those that we have made our family! I have my grandkids who are my lights and through various realtionships that my children have had I have bonus grandkids! I am closer to some of my bonus family than to some of my blood famliy and they get me through things. You have to look at yourself and know that you are worthy to be happy and get over anger and hurts. I decided that even though business is bad I still had to have an outlet, so I bowl, I joined a quilt quild and can share my creations there and then I joined Maryjane's sisterhood! Life is good if you can jump over the hurdles! Just keep on moving!
God bless!
By: Debbie
On: 03/22/2011 11:02:33
Cathi, Your comments regarding your very tough family crisis hit home.My family and I are still navigating some rough financial waters out here in WA state. We're doing the best we can and I appreciate all your timely advice. (The punching bag was the best recommendation ever!) Take care :)
By: Brigitte Farmgirl with a heart
On: 03/23/2011 06:58:20
I had goose bumps when I read your family drama...In the past I had problems with family members...But since one year and some dust, I had problems at work. The new director where I worked tried to rules everything, but like a (#!""$#@!), so after experimenthing HIS new ways of thinking, many of us wanted to say out loud what we were feeling...And, as usual, I was the one whose was pushing at the front to "try to explain" ours feelings regarding HIS news rules! HE first NEVER wanted to sit with me to talk...ALWAYS had something more important to do (like reading HIS E-Mails!?!). But one day HE had enough and DECIDED that HE wanted to talk to me! So the experience was terrible!!! HE was SHOUTING at me, HURTING is desk with HIS bigs hands...I was so affraid of HIM, that I had to quit! I'm triying to rebuilt myself brick by brick... But I too wrote many, many letters to HIM...even putting some in envelopps...But time, my sister (whose is my best friend too!) plus all my pets are helping me...And so you are!!! With all your great stories and personnal experiences...PLEASE, don't stop...Your farmgirls friends need you...God bless you...
By: Karin
On: 03/23/2011 16:28:42
Cathi, as someone who is starting to climb out of the valley, thank you for your words of hope and all the wonderful suggestions.
By: Christine
On: 03/28/2011 12:07:40
I finally was able to sit down and read your blog. I just turned 50 and am have a hard time looking at what my life is, not where I'd like to be. Your blog has help me some. I know its only Me that can get going to where I'd like to be but debt and my husband's exwife makes my life misserable. Will continue to press on and pray for guidance from God.
By: Kathleen Robinson
On: 04/04/2011 09:11:34
I am 63 and having some down time with a relationship of 15 years. I was causing myself physical and mental health problems but I had something unique happen for me at this time, I had signed up for a course called The Landmark Forum. This course is designed to transform our lives and create a new Realm of Possibilities for ourselves and our life. It is working for me and is keeping me focused on the new results I want for my life. It is keeping me focused on being present in my life.

Thank you for your words of wisdom and personal advice. I have found that sharing our stories with others helps us to focus on creating the good things available in our lives and remember that others storms are much worse than some of ours.

By: Vickie
On: 04/13/2011 16:39:17
Cathi, thisthe firt time that I have read you blog and you hit close to home. My huband is a contractor and we have almost lost everthing that we have woked for in our 23 year marriage. The house is next if we don't sell it. We bought it ten years ago and put in ALOT of sweat equity and we will never get it back. We have found twenty acres on top of a mountain no water no power that we are going to purchase so I have a long climb to the top. I just hope and pray the this will all work out....feeling overwhelmed! Vickie (farm girl name) MYRTLE 4/13/2011

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Cathi Belcher

Cathi Belcher,
an old-fashioned farmgirl with a pioneer spirit, lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. As a “lifelong learner” in the “Live-Free-or-Die” state, she fiercely values self-reliance, independence, freedom, and fresh mountain air. Married to her childhood sweetheart of 40+ years (a few of them “uphill climbs”), she’s had plenty of time to reinvent herself. From museum curator, restaurant owner, homeschool mom/conference speaker, to post-and-beam house builder and entrepreneur, she’s also a multi-media artist, with an obsession for off-grid living and alternative housing. Cathi owns and operates a 32-room mountain lodge. Her specialty has evolved to include “hermit hospitality” at her rustic cabin in the mountains, where she offers weekend workshops of special interest to women.

“Mountains speak to my soul, and farming is an important part of my heritage. I want to pass on my love of these things to others through my writing. Living in the mountains has its own particular challenges, but I delight in turning them into opportunities from which we can all learn and grow.”

Column content copyright © 2010– Cathi Belcher. All rights reserved.

Mountain Bounty

“Keep close to Nature’s heart ... and break clear away once in awhile to climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods, to wash your spirit clean.”
– John Muir