Life is good, most of the time, damn good in fact. Sometimes however, things happen that call that goodness into question; things that make me almost forget that the sun is sure to shine bright again; that it will come back in time with all of its glory, not just for me, but those I love and care for.
Over the past six months, our family has experienced steady doses of irony. Joy and sorrow arrived so disproportionately that polarity was actually tangible. At times, exhilaration and excruciation jumbled together so rapidly there was no time to truly feel or process any of it.
As this year began, we were beyond excited; we would welcome not one, but two daughter-in-laws; A nephew’s marriage out west would be coupled with a siblings trek through Olympia Forest; there were travel plans up north and to California; I would begin graduate school and best of all, our extended family would be together more than once.
It is now October (dear blog I have missed you) and yes, all of these things took place. The weddings in particular were each spectacular in their own right. They were beautiful, blessed and sacred events. Thankfully, in my heart my memories of both are intact and will always be. They are stored away as perfect days and for that, I am truly grateful.
Yet, through all of these events, the amount and level of emotional tugs went so far past my ability to comprehend that in retrospect I can only stand awestruck at the grace of the grooms and their brides throughout. At times, the challenges and grief that life presented to our children and our extended family was so excruciating, there was nothing to do but choose joy and light in the midst.
A bridesmaid died tragically and a fluke accident left an uncle on life support until his passing on wedding’s eve. Another bridesmaid caused a different kind of grief and concern; a guest’s TSA challenge put a damper on things; an elderly relative was rushed to the ER…and on and on it went. I remember trying to carry all of it like a load on my back, not for me but for the kids; I wanted their sacramental days to be perfect and tried to stand ready to take on whatever necessary to shield them. I have come to realize that perfect is relative, not absolute and that the people I love are incredibly resilient.
For months, the challenges kept wanting to pile up, but with faith as a guide all of us, everyone in this amazing extended family absolutely refused to let them overstep bounds to the brides or grooms happiness. Yes, we honored every sad and difficult moment as they came, but we then chose to shelve what could be, while keeping at hand the rest so as to push forward to celebrate and honor two very special couples and all the family members who showed up for them.
Family wedding planning is stressful under the best of circumstances; two in one year makes for double the stress. There are scads of decisions and logistics needing ironing out, budgets to determine, family dynamics stuff and perhaps a tad too much control from one direction whilst not enough from another. On top of these things, the multiple life stressors coming down the pike could have yielded quite different results, because at times there was no way to know exactly what to feel; this even in the midst of feeling excited and happy.
Grief stung like a bee time and again, though each time the only choice was to bravely pull out the stingers and dismiss the pain in order to process what kept inevitably coming around the bend. What keeps coming to mind is, “You just can’t make this stuff up.”
As everything unfolded, and as real and justified tears interspersed with elation, the weddings were spectacular. Of course, a multitude of family photos hit Facebook walls and Snapchat and in unison and connection, relatives sighed with gratitude that the Joy we chose through both instances won out over any grief and the special days were just that – very, very special.
And then, after some weeks, just when we were sure we could now breathe easily, when we just knew that any family stress had to be behind us and we all, along with the newlyweds were headed back on track to happily ever after, another life thing happened.
In the midst of planning travel for the third family wedding this year, my nephew’s out west, something happened making the trip, the plans, and the world stand still. Another nephew, a beloved young man who had recently rocked the dance floor and smiled big in family photos was gone; he died ever so senselessly. So totally were we caught off guard by this loss, that the only choice we had, my family and I, was to brace for this new crash and hope that we could somehow help our little sister put the pieces back together later.
Once again, this year, in the midst of planning for something wonderful, there appeared a very dark shadow. Once again, we would eventually push through to the best of our abilities, because we would, we knew deep in our hearts, actually have no choice. We also know now however, now that the funeral services are over, that we are different on the other side. Life will never be the same, especially for my baby sister and her girls.
The first time I read the words, “Life is difficult,” I thought they were ridiculous; “there was no need to think that way now was there?” Now, I know differently. Sometimes life is hard, very hard and I am not sure whether knowing this is half the battle or not. However, it hit me this year that knowing it is a necessary part of surviving.
An old mentor, Mary Mac, once told me, “in order to be happy you have to accept ’life on life’s terms.’” I had not a clue what “terms” were when she said it, and had no idea what she was talking about, but today I know exactly what she meant. Over many years, terms have presented themselves in the form of challenges and joys as birthdays have come and gone by the wayside. The only thing to do through all of them has been to find a level of acceptance and although it has not always been easy, it has been the only way.
The acceptance part must inevitably find its way; it will, once we decide it must. Sometimes it only comes after true struggle and amidst shattering heartache, but it comes. It comes with a willingness to remember that life is not happening TO me or TO anyone else I love and care about, even though it sometimes feels that way. Instead, life forms as a direct result of what we do with what happens, whatever happens. This is not a simple statement, particularly after a year like this last one for our family. Sometimes life’s events pile so that it seems there is a personal attack from the universe going on; comfort or anything resembling it seems impossible. The key I have learned is even at these times, to seek acceptance and to push through with everything you have to get to it.
This, because it turns out that Life is just that, life, and no matter what, it will go on; it will continue no matter what. It’s not a simple science; even with a substantial amount of spiritual tools amassed, I can still shake to my core when working to accept what feels unacceptable, particularly things dramatically affecting those I love, but I have learned that even then, even amidst the trembles, I have no choice.
This most recent loss, my nephew’s death, was so very painful and utterly senseless and now that some weeks have past and life is trying to get caught up to life, I can only pray that our family, my sister in particular, will find some true peace in our hearts and at least some tiny measure of acceptance as a beginning.
I will never understand the why’s of these last few months and frankly, I don’t have energy left even to try, but within every 24 hour every period, with every walk towards the light there seemed to be something else behind a solution, some challenge behind a joy. Some next circumstance came up so fast that processing any of it felt almost, yet not quite, impossible. Even though the horizon line almost got lost, there it always was again, in the form of a fresh new day.
No, I may never be able to fully process this year. I might not be able beyond that to figure out why, even now, even after all these months of stress mixed with joy mixed with turmoil mixed with awe, why my current “life on life’s terms,” things going on yesterday and today, are carrying yet new challenges to my family in the form of medical issues and injury. However, I will remember to keep these current small things just that, small. The Grace comes in the perspective that compared to what they could be, compared to what they might be, compared to what they have been, these new things are absolutely, positively, no problema.
Although in the midst of our day to days challenges, it is sometimes hard to see, the light is always there behind the shadows, waiting, waiting, waiting to shine. I hope it will shine bright on my family. I hope it beams down on my sister and her girls very, very soon and when it does, I hope they will be able to recognize it. I pray that they, we, will remember always, even after forgetting, to reach up and out to the source of All good things, the One shining that light for us to find.
No, I may never understand many of the “terms” of this past year, but even though I will likely not understand, I still must accept. I must accept and then move out and beyond the explanations, remembering that we will not always know why … but always, always, we are meant to remember How. We are meant to keep looking for the light. We simply have to.
Over the last few days, it seems the theme around me has been relationships. Within conversation, one friend was processing some sadness about her former partner while another, her present one. Both turned to me for advice: “How do you know when the person you are with is the right one for you?” “How do you know when he’s wrong and the time has come to move on?” “How do you stand the feelings while you figure it all out?”
First, let me say that I am by no means an expert on relationships! However, because my peeps and I seek one another out for solution, I was compelled to give the best answer I could in both situations, “It’s not that simple. What I have learned from experience is that you know simply because you decide to and then you work within and towards that decision every day.”
My friends’ questions provoked powerful emotions within me, mostly ones of gratitude but also of sorrow and regret. They prompted a hope that once they make their choice they will know that whatever unfolds from that point on, will be right and true and good because that is who they are inside and because they will decide to work at making it so.
All my life, I stood in terror of making decisions. I was afraid to go right and find out later that left had been the way for me. Because of this, I lived always positioned for a move, ready to turn, as if waiting for a tennis shot; poised for either a forehand or back, but never too firmly planted on my feet; just ready, always ready. With this type of stance, it was difficult for any relationship to seed, take root, grow strong and flourish. The garden that was my life was one filled with annuals, never perennials, and I could not understand why flowers were not re-blooming year after year. Instead of planting new ones, knowing that the former’s gift had come and gone, I thought I must have picked the wrong patch of earth. Sure, I watered sometimes, but there was so much more critical work required. There were weeds to pull, soil to turn over and fertilizer to spread. Because I thought once I planted, pretty colors would be forevermore, when things went bare and brown I panicked. I did not understand.
Today, I can only wonder at how it was I believed I should always know, know Who and What and Where and When. How I thought I should be sure and certain in whatever I picked or chose. I wonder how it was that I so naively thought we all were supposed to find our custom designs out there, so easily, so surely. Did I think there were memos to help or sky-written messages from above to guide the way? Did I remain so afraid in my decisions, because I never got those memos, those messages? Was it because I felt abandoned somewhere, by what or whom I am not sure, but forgotten and left to pick my way through life on my own? It is laughable today, but laughable in the most gentle sort of way, to think about how terrified I was of getting it all wrong; the big IT of life; the guy I should be with, the career path to travel, the neighborhood to live in and the bestie to trust.
This morning, I have decided to smile with gentle kindness at all of it, appreciate the similarities between all of us fellow travelers and pass along what I have learned. I have opted to use the feelings stirred up from relationship conversations this week and remember to reach upward towards the blessed prayer of St. Francis of Assisi and its words that will guide me for the future. I choose today to head in the direction before me and to believe that help will come as I go, not in memo form, but in daily dialogue with God and His Angels.
Right here, right now, I choose to be one of the brave and decisive ones as I step out, one of the courageous ones, one unafraid to choose left with both feet on the ground or go right with everything I have inside of me. I commit to a willingness to make today’s choices gracefully and while doing so, believe that whatever they are will be good and true; because no matter what unfolds, the gifts will come in the lessons therein.
The most important choice I will make today will be once again to believe with all my heart, with absolute certainty that there is no right way and no wrong, but ever so perfectly, there is simply the way I will choose.
Almost two decades ago, my first spiritual mentor came into my life. A beautiful soul, she crossed my path suddenly and very coincidentally. In retrospect, I am sure our meeting was God’s handiwork, because it happened soon after I began seeking Grace.
At the onset of my quest, although I could almost taste what I sought, I did not yet fully understand what Grace even meant. As it turns out, it is so much more than I had thought. Yes, it is a relationship with God, as I believed it was; salvation even. Beyond that, it is all that you are; it is personal freedom, strength in vulnerability and the capacity to stand true and unwavering as your very best self at a given time. It is also “all that you simply cannot manage to be, even though you might like to, at a said given time.” Some might express the last sentence as “all that you are not,” but I prefer my own understanding.
One of the first things I remember discussing with this spiritual guide was that, “Ideally we want to get to a place in our lives where we don’t feel a need either to Explain or Complain.” The “Not having to explain” part, because if we stay true to trying to do the next right thing in our lives, we won’t have to prove anything to anyone. The “not complaining,” because doing so will just keep us stuck in our ego and that, as I have learned through very painful life lessons, will simply never do.
Whilst traveling a route towards God’s favor, I have done my best to honor many along the way with friendship. In learning to do so, as often as I have been able to remember, I’ve used this “Don’t Explain, Don’t Complain” mantra and it has been priceless. In the midst, I have received precious gifts of time and loving kindness and have offered the same in return. However, it is at times impossible to fulfill the needs of others or even to communicate fully why we are unable to. Work stuff takes a little longer than usual or the car has to go into the shop. The cat gets out or a neighbor distracts with a request to borrow sugar. Someone asks for help, or my husband wants to spend time; a writing deadline looms or a migraine hits.
When these things happen, these tugs, these ways that take me away from what I might really want to be doing in order to do what needs to be done, life can start to feel awfully lifey. Through it all though, I still need never explain nor complain. What I must do, is simply that which is immediately pressing in front of me in the very best way I can.
When living in this simple “Don’t complain, don’t explain” mantra, life has the potential to be grand. No, it’s not as simple as it sounds, not exactly, but it really does work as long as it’s basis is on trusting those you have relationships with to know who you are at your core; to know that you would never intentionally hurt them with what they perceive as your wrong.
When I find myself tempted to give a lengthy dissertation of why I didn’t or couldn’t or can’t, I have to stop and remind myself that getting fearfully embroiled in having to explain what is sometimes unexplainable is unnecessary, especially if my connection to God is intact. Those sometimes pulls, the yanks towards the need to be absolutely certain that others understand the why’s and what’s of my decisions can be let go if I remember that those why’s and what’s don’t really matter as long as God and I know the reasons.
In the big picture of life, what others think about my actions or inactions need have no bearing on my reality. Just as others have no idea what fully goes on in my total day to day, I have no idea what goes on in theirs. There are so many tugs, twists and turns in one twenty-four hour period that to try to be all that we desire to or to explain every situation encountered is a daunting and sometimes seemingly impossible task.
And so, as that long ago mentor also told me, I must trust that when I ask God each morning to guide me to His will, that what he puts in front of me is right and true, even when it changes or deviates from what I had planned. I can be firm in my choices, including re-choosing, even when those choices feel slightly uncomfortable, and do my very best to remember that He alone can judge; though he never even will, because He loves me so. How cool is that!
Time is so confusing. It seems to go so slowly when we are waiting for something to happen and trying to honor that “time takes time.” Yet, in actuality, it goes by so fast. The hours become days then weeks and then years. Where does it go, where does it disappear to, this time? There seems never enough of it to be able to catch up with those I care about and honor, those living their day to day in the same way as me. I often wonder when there will be time to connect. Will it be today? No, not today, today is just so busy, so very busy. Tomorrow maybe, but then again tomorrow is very busy too.
I imagine that many others feel the same way and sometimes wonder too, “What is happening with “So and So?” or “How is this person or that?” “I must call her when I get a chance,” or “I will check in with him just as soon as possible.”
So often, I find myself thinking about someone and realizing that it has been ages since we have spoken, eons at least since our last luncheon or coffee or since we have spent any time together. I seem regularly to realize this while sitting in traffic. I don’t know what it is about time behind the wheel, but at red lights or in congestion, that is when my best thinking happens, my best remembering.
For some reason when I have a few second STOP, an unplanned moment in the midst of busy days while waiting for red to turn green or cars to start moving again, I receive snippets of inner wisdom. Out in the world heading to a destination is where I often remember all the other destinations I want to get to later. It is when I ponder all the places I must go and the people I must see because I miss them so; it is where I am reminded of all I want to do, after of course I get to wherever I am getting to on this trip and after doing whatever it is that needs doing there.
The other day, in one of these out and about moments, a friend crossed my mind, someone I have not seen or talked to in quite some time, someone I miss chatting with. Our span of time unconnected has been, on my end anyway, because of busy hours turning to days, then weeks and then months before I even realized how long it had been. I take solace in the realization that I am truly trying to pay attention to all those who matter, but with only two arms to reach out there seems not a wide enough span to grab hold of every moment with every person I care about. There simply are not enough hours.
With a loving thought, I made a call to her feeling a bit shy as I did, insecure even, though I can not exactly say why. I sometimes worry, when I reach out like this after a long while, “They probably don’t want to hear from me, after all, the phone works both ways and they would have called or whatever, whatever.” “Maybe I shouldn’t bother; what if they forgot about me?” Random thoughts based in fear might have stopped me in the past, stopped me from dialing a number to send greetings and salutations, to let someone know that, if nothing else, they matter to me in some way, but not anymore.
Although some measure of insecurity still sometimes tries to creep in before I squelch it, it excites me to know today that I can refuse to buy into uncertainty in relationships in ways I never knew were possible before. Always now, when my head asks, “Should I call?” my heart answers, “Yes, Yes, Yes!” Yes, because the thoughts that would have stopped me have no basis in whom I want to be today. Anyway, even if these thoughts had some truth, in the scheme of the spiritual life I try to live, “Could it ever be wrong to reach out anyway?”
In the midst of making the phone call , when voicemail prompted, I left what I hope were thoughts filled with love, though I could not be exactly sure they had come out right. Let’s face it, whenever you hang up from leaving a message, you are never one hundred percent sure about what you said. I remember a long ago television episode of Seinfeld where Elaine, leaves a message on a guy’s answering machine and then is so paranoid about what she said that she gets Jerry, George and Kramer to help her get the answering machine tape before the guy hears it.
Yeah, sort of like that, whenever I leave a loving message, especially after a long time between chats with someone, I think, “Did that come out right?” “Will they know I really care?” I always hope so. Anyway, I left that message and felt happy I did; I sent love and friendship and that was the point no matter what the outcome. Then I went about my day.
When I returned home that night, I opened up email and there, in my inbox was a message from the recipient of my afternoon voicemail. The message tugged my heart to the point of tears. First, she thanked me for the call and then open-heartedly, from the tone of her beautifully written words, she filled me in on the past eleven months of her life, on things that had transpired since last I had seen her. The months she wrote about were rife with loss and family tragedy, loss of the worst kind. As I read, any measure of self-doubt or insecurity I had felt earlier when leaving the message suddenly seemed laughable, shameful almost. Yet, “No,” there is never any shame in what you feel in matters of friendship, or reaching out or willingness towards another person, no matter how much time has passed since the last attempt on either part.
Then it came over me almost as a sob, that I never, ever, ever know what is going on in others’ lives, just as they have no idea about mine during any of the time we may be disconnected. It also hit me, quite hard actually, that when I think of someone, it is critical to let him or her know, because life and whatever time we get go by so very fast and before we know it one of us may be gone.
I stared at the computer screen long after reading her message and my thoughts wandered to so many people that I miss, friends and family that I have not seen or heard from; people I have meant to call and send letters to. I wondered what was going on for each of them and suddenly I needed a hundred addresses to send letters to; I wanted to send flowers and cookies or gifts, some token of appreciation and acknowledgment for each person crossing my mind in an effort to express what they have meant over all the decades of my life.
In the world of texts and social media the connection is not enough, so I promise myself I will call Debbie and Norma, Maggie and Ali. I will write Natasha and Dan, Ro, Colleen and Mary. I will for sure connect deeper very soon, just as soon as I get out of this traffic, as soon as I get the groceries home. I will the minute I finish the laundry or type up my work recap. The very second I walk in the door I will get on it and reach out to the people I love that I have not seen or talked to in so long.
Inevitably, however, when I arrive home I forget; being hungry or tired takes over. I need a shower or a cup of tea; the mail is waiting, the trash needs taking out or the cat needs feeding. There are always so many here and now things requiring immediate action. They take precedence because they are in front of me and so I do them, until suddenly, another week has gone by, another month, another year. So many of the calls went un-dialed, the cards were only written in my head and never made it to paper and ink; the flowers remained at the florist. I don’t suppose it counts that I sent them in my heart. No, I don’t suppose it does.
Today I must make the phone calls and send the greeting cards. I must tell all of you how much you mean to me. I must do this now before it is too late. I am logging off, yes right now to do so, but wait there is a notification on my screen. There is another email. one from work. I have to read it first and then respond and then…
It feels like I have been holding my breath for the last few months. And just when I thought I could take a deep fresh inhale because the presidential election was finally over, the oxygen seemed to disappear again. Before I could grab even a gasp of air, it was gone, sucked away over discussions about the inauguration and who planned to boycott, over worry that the marches around the country may not stay peaceful and well just all of it … all the muck being stirred up that seemed to have no end. I don’t know about anyone else, but to me suffocation started to seem inevitable when all I wanted was to exhale with relief that all the hateful commercials were finally over.
Yes, I mention the presidential election, thankfully the charade has come to a conclusion, but I am not writing about Hillary or Donald or any of the reasons I have either to applaud or mistrust either one of them. I am not writing about who I voted for and I am especially not writing a ‘my candidate is holier than thou’ tirade, first of all because neither of the choices exactly qualified and secondly because I have learned that none of us humans are without flaw, without mistake.
What this blog post was for when I started it was to begin to work out, by typing, some of the angst I realize I have been carrying for months. It was an attempt to release some of the C so that I can get at the O2 and finally catch my breath.
Why I’ve wondered, do so many choose to remain so defensive still, even when the White House’s new resident has already moved in? Do they really know all the truths involved in what they think they are raging against? Why oh why is there an inability to accept an outcome which was achieved by tallying peoples choices and one candidate coming out on top? Why can’t we all begin to act with the kind of hope that made our country great in the first place? These are the questions that have been blocking my windpipes. As well as, and this one from the fashionista in me, why was it necessary to give Melania’s outfit choices so much airtime last Friday? Was it too much to say she looked lovely and leave it at that?!
Last night, a Thursday night in late January, a full week after our new President took office, a President I pray will incite desperately needed change in this country, I finally started to breathe again. The deep breath happened unexpectedly while I stood in line at a local TooJays deli waiting for takeout next to an elderly couple doing the same. It occurred during a tender exchange wherein we had opportunity to honor one another and this great country.
The conversation started when we agreed that the chicken soup we both ordered was just like homemade. When the woman commented about the chocolate/vanilla cookies also part of her order, being almost as good as Ebingers bakery in Brooklyn, bonding was inevitable. Ebingers coincidentally was home to my family’s desserts, especially our all time favorite blackout cake and the half moon cookies she was talking about. To think that this couple knew about this place from my past made for an instant connection.
The old man sported a black and gold “WW II Veteran” cap and when I noticed it, the strangest thing happened, my eyes filled with tears. Caught almost off guard by how moved I was, I quickly wiped them away, “Thank you so much,” I said, “Thank you for your service to our country.” When he answered, his speech was slurred and I found out long after we were handed our packages and both our soups were getting cold that he had recently suffered a stroke.
For some reason, after so many months of exhausting election media frenzy, I needed to stand and talk to this couple. I needed to connect if even for an instant with this man who knew of Ebingers and who had once fought for his country, my country, our country. I needed to feel the moment of gratitude towards him especially now. Especially when so many are picketing and resisting and creating what feels to me like a war at home and especially when I don’t know which conflict on which news program is real and which is bought and paid for.
Maybe I needed this moment to bond with a cane wielding veteran last night because of recently seeing the movie “Hacksaw Ridge” and being emotionally moved by one mans refusal to be violent. Perhaps I needed it because the film’s graphics bluntly depicted what the man next to me may have gone through as a young soldier. Maybe I needed this instant of kindness to help me forget the many other citizens so defensively guarded and unwilling to let go of their fear, even a little and believe that a graceful future just may be possible.
Perhaps I just needed to hear an old man’s spirit when he said, “I voted for this President and I have great hope for our future. I also proudly fought for my country and would do it again in a heartbeat.”.Maybe it’s because In am confused by actors who think they should use acceptance podiums for political statements, especially those I revere. Perhaps it’s because I just wanted a moment where I could be naive again and where I could remember that God is and always has been trying to bless all Americans, young, old and on line getting takeout.
I feel a bit tired and yet, I realize that I can refuse to be tired. I can decide to stay alert and awake and willing. I can not so much fight back as stand steady in the midst of all of it, and smile in peace and love and hope and belief in the future, our future. I can choose not to jump – either in or up and down at all, but instead remain open-hearted in acceptance. I can refuse to watch as the media tries still to sway me on an election and an outcome that have already reached a conclusion, where the winner is already at work.
Back to last night, as we walked out the restaurant door, the friendly veteran said “I just wish people would stop fighting internally; I am sure they would if only they knew what I know , if only they had experienced what I have. If so, they would realize how very lucky they are.” When we got to the parking lot, his wife turned to me, “Thank you so much for saying ‘thank you.’ That means the world to him; he is so proud. We are both so proud of his service to our great country.” As she said it, the tears started again, only this time I allowed them. They trickled down my face as I gently shook hands with this lovely couple and then headed towards my car and home, where my husband and I would be comforted by soup just like our moms used to make way back when…
I remember a time when being a young American Girl allowed me to believe.
I believed in the idea of reverence for Heroes, Olympians, Religions, Movie Stars, Political Parties, Presidents, First Ladies, the Media, Teachers, Police Officers and even just my Elders. In school, we celebrated Washington, Lincoln, King and Columbus with holidays, plays and homework worksheets hot off the Mimeograph machine. We honored them, admiring what they had done well, instead of picking apart that which may not have been so great. Revering not so much the individuals, we placed value on what they represented. We respected authority, our nation, its beginnings and stood willingly awestruck by things so much bigger than the sum of their parts. We placed esteem because we needed to. It gave us something to believe in and it was awesome to believe, instead of standing armed with poison pen to pick apart the legitimacy of those beliefs.
I remember reading a biography on Abraham Lincoln many years after making crafts with cotton and black crepe paper for the class bulletin board and thinking, “Wait, he sometimes failed too? He had flaws? He had haters? Good ole Honest Abe was imperfect, wait, what?” I was so happy not to have known any of Mr. Lincoln’s limitations (or anyone else I revered) when I was young because it gave me time to hope and dream about what America offered to me. I needed to believe in all my heroes, in what each stood for and to this day, I am glad that too much information did not get in the way of those beliefs.
As a little girl, I stood proud with hand on heart when my class pledged allegiance to the American flag. Doing so was not open for discussion and I learned to respect the teacher who held us accountable. Along with my classmates, I recited poems about the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria and wondered not only how the earth could possibly be round, how anyone could be brave enough to set sail in order to find out. At least back then, we wondered. I liked imagining what it was like for explorers to set out and find spices and places to call home some new day in a faraway place. It seemed back then, that talking about discovery was much more important than being politically correct about the discoverer.
As for Columbus and his men and the fact that some cities now refuse to celebrate him anymore, I am not saying that all they likely did upon arrival (even if that arrival was by default) in already inhabited land would have been things to revere. I am saying however, that as a young child having a chance to do so, allowed me to believe in the idea of discovery. That belief mattered. Was it really so terrible, those of you who insist on banning Columbus Day, to allow children to believe in a story of “sailing the ocean blue in 1492?” Did it really have to become an ethnic battle cry? Can you not see that the simplicity of the belief back when, served to help some of us dream of exploration of our own some day?
Regarding trophies and grades, the way it worked was this: we played games resulting in a winner and loser; some kids got trophies and some did not (I was one of the “did-nots”), but no matter what, we learned about perseverance, disappointment and sportsmanship. We experienced the feeling of victory and yes, the agony of defeat, but within each we were compelled to stand still in emotion. We got A’s when we worked hard and D’s when not so much and we felt joy and disappointment depending. Does that even happen anymore? Does anyone have to feel disappointment? Do our children even have to stop long enough to feel? I read that some colleges cancelled class and allowed students to bring pets to the dorms to help them process unhappiness during this past presidential election. Seriously?? Today, our nation focuses so much on making sure that everyone is comfortable and everybody wins that we seem to have lost sight of the value that discomfort and even losing have in forming our individual dignity and strength. This refusal to stand still in emotions anymore within our schools, our sports, our games, our elections, our country, this avoidance of discomfort in such an enormous way in our society, makes me so very uncomfortable.
Maybe that is why so many potential young discovers these days seek their high from drugs. They set out for the instant gratification, dopamine buzz from a substance instead of the long-term one that comes from setting out and trying and even sometimes failing, from an origin of purpose. Perhaps many of our young Americans today are just going with what they are learning, to cop out and make excuses instead of feeling. Or, maybe they feel blocked from seeking new heights because they are afraid of the judgment fishbowl they will likely have to swim in after they achieve them, the one in which every move, every thought and every comment will be picked apart by society and the media. Perhaps it is because no one is teaching our young people anymore that life is not about being always comfortable or always understood or always right. It is about striving along the way.
I remember the notion that I could safely strive for greatness someday; it gave me something to hold onto back when; I was in awe of athletes, strong, able and excellent competitors and loved watching the Olympics and being proud of another medal for my country. There was a sense of awe, of connection, of belonging to something so much greater, something that I may be able to try to know or find someday. I am glad I was naively unaware of which athlete drank too much or smoked pot or took steroids on their down time.
With our celebrations, our explorers, our Presidents, our heroes, there was a spirit of hope. I loved being a little American girl. I loved not knowing as much as I know now about each one of the individuals that helped me believe in their greatness. I am grateful to understand how flawed I have been myself in getting to any measure of accomplishment achieved in my own life; and am so very thankful to understand that we are each so utterly human. It saddens me that so many refuse to allow others the right to their humanness, with all that being human entails.
Back as a girl in school, although I did not really like all the rules, I understood them. Being accountable helped sure up the foundation under my feet. I loved that a teacher could still give a hug if I scraped my knee. I treasured, yet dreaded the excitement of getting a test back after studying hard for it and when the paper was void of a gold star, I valued the sense of effort from having to work harder next time.
I loved Christmas being Christmas and Hanukkah being Hanukkah and the fact that we did not have to watch out for offending anyone when we wished them Happy or Merry. Thank goodness, the news was not on round the clock and that we were not privy to every sideways sneeze someone famous made. I loved being a little American girl when I was one and I pray for those who are growing up now in this world that seems so afraid of grades and awards and hugs and mistakes.
I realize that today, I get to choose to love being a grown American woman and that is the choice I proudly make, although it is not always easy when I watch what goes on out there in America land. I must choose not to grab hold of the ugliness thrown out as bogus factoid grenades each minute of every day and remember how nice it was not to know what I didn’t’ know when I was little; how awesome it was to still believe in people, in their greatness. Each morning I commit to remind myself that I, that we, are flawed humans striving to do better and that yesterday I was not nearly as far as I am today so maybe you weren’t either. Things I said or did in my past, especially thirty years ago, are laughable because I am no longer that woman who spoke without always meaning what she said and I must ignore the media asking me to judge the latest person up for slaughter this week for what they said during their own back when. I am aware that I have made heartfelt mistakes and stand grateful in the knowledge that if my every quote, deed or action through life had been under a microscope the way our coaches, teachers and politicians’ are, I would likely be very lonely. For I have said, done and even thought things that would not bode well in the public eye or even within my inner circle.
Why are we so afraid? Why are we scared of mistakes made along the road to excellence? Why do we focus so much on ugliness and errors? Why do reporters so willingly tout what is bad instead of what is amazing about a person? Why do we the public pay so much attention? Why are we so terrified to give our children A’s and D’s when they deserve either as grades and why, oh why, don’t we understand that getting a D just may inspire someone to work harder next time for the A? Why do we think that everyone should get a trophy, whether for first place or last? What is happening here? Why are so many so quick to smile at or “Facebook like” things that are unkind and result in others undoing? Why do picketing and rioting get airtime, so very much airtime, when both incite confusion and violence? What happened to grace? Why does everyone have to argue about everything? Why are folks so fearful of healthy competition and why are some so intent on slander?
I wish, I hope, I pray, I dream that there are a few others out there that remember a time when we were naive enough to believe; a time when what we didn’t know allowed us all to grow. A time when you did not have to be afraid of picking plain milk over chocolate in the cafeteria, for fear someone might misunderstand and when you could bring a peanut butter sandwich without having to sit alone at a lunchroom table or even a boardroom one. I wonder if please, please, please we could stop going over the top to make sure everyone’s rights are being valued, because it seems like in doing so, we are getting lost and blowing others rights to kingdom come.
I wish we would start by opening our heart to honoring one another more simply and not taking anyone apart piece by piece to prove they were not or are not worthy of making the difference they tried to make or are still trying to make. Forgive them, those in the past, those in the present and one another for being human and move forward in that humanness so that we can all find love and respect along the way. God Bless all the American girls, boys, men and women who, like me, are grateful for the seekers and the finders, the settlers and the pioneers. God Bless the Indians and the cowboys, the military and the peacemakers, and PLEASE Dear God, help us find some balance. Thank goodness the earth is round so we can’t fall off the end of it, or worse yet jump. Wait, are we sure it is round? Who knows what the next explorers, pioneers and politicians will find out, if only they remain brave enough to set out and try; if only they remain unafraid of failing or being judged long after finding whatever they may find.
As a young girl, I dreamed of the day I would walk down the aisle towards my soul mate. I planned for it, focused on it, obsessed even. I pictured myself sauntering slowly, moving in a sea of ivory and flowers past hundreds of smiling faces, all there to share in my joy, in our joy. Of course I had no idea who the other half of my “our” would be, but I prayed he would be someone wonderful. I spent a great deal of time visualizing, fretting even about my prince, “Would I know him when I saw him?” “What if I missed a cue and he rode off without me?” “What if my feet were swollen on the day he showed up with the slipper?”
At the forefront of my visions, always, was the wonder, “What would it feel like to be “picked” for good, for always? What must it be like to be chosen?”.It hurts my heart to think about how much of my girlhood was spent looking at marriage as a chance to be “picked” or chosen, as if another’s action would be the ultimate completion for my one half, instead of my one whole meeting someone else’s and our mutual choice to come together. Naive, I had no idea that marriage is not about a suitor’s validation, but actually about partnership and compromise, and about honoring that each already so utterly matters of their own volition before any proposal.
Today, I fully realize what this means. Ever so gratefully, I now live in the experience of coming together as two wholes, as partner to my husband.
I have only come to this understanding many, many dreams and visions after first walking down the aisle as a very young bride, but I do finally understand. I am well aware, having learned the hard way, that marriage is an opportunity for two individuals to inspire each other to be their best self. Each person gets to hold the mirror for the other to reflect beauty not flaws in a framework based on mutual respect. It is a place where both are able to risk being vulnerable and courageous at the same time.
Within the structure of our marriage, my husband and I will soon have pieces of both of our pasts coming together. These pieces will form our family’s future. My son and stepson are both getting married this year. They have each picked a special someone who (and here is the important part) picked them back and it is wonderful to watch from the sidelines.
As a mom to a future groom, I am thrilled, ecstatic even for my son to walk down the aisle next June. The woman who will be by his side loves him; he loves her back. She is beautiful, loyal and kind and I know she will honor my boy. I can see that they are truly happy already, even before they go down the aisle so that their vows will be merely a culmination of the partnership they already honor and share.
As a stepmom to a future groom, I am overjoyed for this young man to go down the aisle next March. His future bride is lovely and kind. They love one another and have found happiness already, even before the walk down the aisle, so that their vows will merely be a culmination of all they already know and share.
The part that makes it complicated, at least it feels a bit so, is that there are exes and steps and past and present and stuff, all the pieces that make up a blended family today. I know this just means that these two young men and their future wives have more people to love them, but in my heart sits a feeling of longing. The longing is a desire for a very sure sense of family somewhere in the midst of all of it. As I spend time now reviewing hotel and airfare reservations, working on logistics for extended family and shopping for attire and gifts, I wonder how we will all gel together. In the midst of this wonder, of doing these things, a sense of exhilaration overtakes me and I realize that I am blessed to be part of all of it.
Ladies, let’s face it. We rock! We rule! Strong and capable warriors wrapped up in nurturing caregiver packages, we get it done. We get it all done. We are amazing.
Now, if we could just remember this! Although realistically, “How could we?” Messages telling us we are somehow “not-enough” inundate us regularly. Constant communications bombard us to lose ten, freeze off our flab, flatten our tummies and augment ourselves in ways, well in ways too many to address, just to be OK let alone awesome.
In a world where media messages tell us to change who we are to matter, we can feel pressured to have a certain body shape or smoother looks. Striving constantly to uphold a standard of excellence and perfection that is next to impossible, we seem to have lost sight of who it is we are trying so hard to impress. Perhaps this is because of all the suggestions “out there” that we are somehow limited. “Change to conform,” they say. “Weigh less to be more.” “Alter your bodies to be more appealing.” “Tweak your looks to something better, but whatever you do change ladies change!”
These messages tell us, often all too subliminally, that our number one goal should be to kowtow to a societal ideal that is confusing. On one hand, dress size, there is a very small number attached, on the other, breast shape, a very large one. These numbers are actually nothing more than a set-up, but they are nevertheless in place, put there by some faceless, nameless rule-makers out in the world, imaginary rule-makers at that. Ones who cause havoc with our self-esteem and sense of security regularly. These rule-makers are not real. They do not exist. Do not buy in. You do not have to.
Collective standards teach us that we are in some way competing with one another as we follow dictates hypnotically. We may as well be walking off cliffs because we are not truly sure who is leading us, yet still we follow. We get behind the bandwagon with the most clicks or tweets or likes, often even before we have formed our own opinion. In doing so, we set up a model based on fluff and lacking substance, yet its templates are cookie cutter – Marketing 101. We blindly buy in to clever ploys designed to sell products and keep us buying.
Have you ever taken a moment to ask yourself what it is you are really getting when you do this “buying in?” Is it not actually more stress than relief that rings up with your sale? Stress to be … well, whatever it is they tell you is the right way to be for now. Do not get too comfortable with your purchase though people, because whatever it is will surely change fast. So much time gets wasted keeping up that it makes me wonder, “How can we even be who we are supposed to be? Who the heck has time when we are so busy figuring out how to look like everybody else?”
How might you feel if you simply relaxed into being yourself? If you really want to “buy in” to something amazing, buy every inch of you. In doing so, you will be heading towards a much deeper existence than “survival of the fittest.” Consider what it even means to be “fit.” Merriam Webster’s definition of the word includes the following: “adapted to the environment as to be capable of surviving; acceptable from a particular viewpoint, put into a suitable state; adapted to an end of design; suitable by nature or art; sound physically and mentally.”
So considering key words in this definition, “fitting in” would seem to involve much more than your dress size, breast shape or the flatness of your tummy. If “surviving” involves being acceptable from “a particular viewpoint,” why not decide to start making that acceptable viewpoint your own? Opt to be suitable for you. When you make a decision to fit, to “adapt” into your own beautiful package, to feel “suitable” from your own “viewpoint,” a shift takes place, one of self-acceptance and self-love. Within that framework lies an opportunity to honor all that you already are, exactly as you are. The result: healthy mind, healthy body, healthy spirit, healthy world and a life that can then be about so much more than just “fitting in” or “surviving,” but thriving.
How do you get there? It can be difficult to imagine if you have spent years beating yourselves up over what you see as your proprietary flaws, “I wish my body were different. I wish I looked like “her” or “her” or her.” How about putting down the “how you look” baseball bat today and deciding, “This is who I am. This is what I’ve got and as of right now, I am rocking it.” Why not, “Yay Me! I am the prize baby, and by the way, I am so much more than OK with it.”
Imagine the difference it would make in your life if right here, right now you began honoring your body as lovely. Think of how good it would feel to stand before the mirror and imagine yourself clicking “like” for you. Never mind how many times a day you click it for others. Try for an attitude of approval for yourself instead of dismay for what you perceive you are not. Consider the shift in your energy today, at this moment, if you accepted yourself, your very own self, the whole shebang, (love handles, tummy, stretch marks, wrinkles, blemishes, whatever, all of it) as being perfect. What would your day be like then? How would it be different if you went out to do your tasks being proud of the person you were in all of your “amazing-ness” instead of frustrated about not looking better while you tried?
I hope you will join in, will come together with all of the rest of us out here trying not to buy in. We need you. We really do. Will you please join us?
Your Soul Sisters
I love cosmetics departments, absolutely love them. From the buzz of electricity around the latest and greatest product, to the makeup artists attitudes, to the smells (most of them anyway), to the mirrors and bright lights, I love them. I even love the product pushers and chuckle when they approach me these days (unlike years ago), because I have come to understand that “No” is a complete sentence. If they suck me in, it will only be on my terms. I think the main reason I love these arenas though, is that on my most recent visit to one I realized I am no longer the “what do you think and do you like it” woman I used to be.
My approach to cosmetics departments is positive today, because I fully understand them. Having worked as a Business Manager for one of the largest “beauty brands” in the world, I know the schpeel. I am privy to the quotas, sales goals and all the psychological nuances used to achieve them, so I know that it is all a game; a game won simply by not letting on that you are playing. Because of this, I get a real kick out of the opponents working to convince me that it isn’t one, especially those who in doing so, are utterly transparent.
Even though I know the tricks of the trade and may not fully “buy in” these days, I must admit that I still feel eager and hopeful every time my skin care sale is rung up. There is just something about what calls out to me from the jars of lotions and creams,
It’s the the promise of … well, just the promise. When I dabble in them before buying, (always using Q-tips of course to take out my dollop, unlike some people) I feel my long lost child coming out in me.
Back when I was a little girl, the feel of Playdoh and paper mache was too icky for me, but now as I warm skin care products between my palms and fingers before putting them on my face, I am more than OK with the squishy feeling in my hands. I realize this is my sandbox. It is where I play. It took me a long time to get here, to this place of truly letting my hair down, of sharing things and leaving them nicely for others to use and even of saying “No” confidently to bullies. So, now that I know how, I like to play often.
I love the gifts with purchase and deluxe samples from some of the higher end makeup counters. They are like the goody bags from long ago birthday parties. The beautiful boxes and the promises they hold within them, delight me in the same way wrapped presents from friends did when I was a kid. I feel giddy as my eyes pop open wider with a smidge of liner and bronze shimmer dusts my cheekbones, so much so that it makes me wonder why I never did fool around in mom’s makeup case the way most little girls do.
On a recent visit to one of the newer cosmetic stores around, I found myself incredibly disappointed with the others at play there. I watched as one woman grabbed tube after tube of lipstick, unwrapped the plastic seals to try them on then put each one back, used, because she didn’t like the way they looked on her. A girl nearby stuck her fingers into a jar, slathered cream on her face and then went back in for a dreaded double dip. All I could think of was, “Ewwww,” as I watched. Of course, there was a glass of plastic spatulas right next to her, but she ignored them.
After witnessing this, I began looking around me and paying even closer attention to the others in the store shopping alongside me. What I saw made me feel the way I used to when one of the kids flung sand in my face or was mean to someone else. I wanted to stand up on a chair (the ones I learned, as a trained skin care consultant, to get customers in to because they always buy more if they are comfortable) with a megaphone: “Attention shoppers, what the bleep are you doing? Do you care about anyone but yourselves? What about the store owners who have to write off the products you just damaged? How about your sisters (and even some brothers too) who will not be able to afford to shop here after prices are raised because of your disrespect? Do we really want your GERMS? Why are you so selfish? Do you understand that the safety packaging, Q-tips, spatulas and alcohol are there for people’s health and safety?”
Yuck, just yuck! That is how I felt. I wanted to stamp my feet and cry. When I got home, I sat down at the computer and posted on Facebook. I guess it was a bit of a rant, and that is not usually my Facebook style, but I figured it was OK. I mean, how else do we start to raise consciousness in today’s day and age? I am not saying that I lost sleep over my experience, but it did make me disappointed in consumers. It also made me realize how good it feels to be someone who actually tries to do the right thing, who uses store testers appropriately and who actually “shives a git” (mom used to say it like this) about others not only in cosmetics departments, but in other places as well. I am glad I know that “live” merchandise is “live” and not a sample the way some folks think it is and that using a salable item and then leaving it behind unpaid is stealing.
I find it truly ironic that women shopping to feel more beautiful, young and lady-like often do such immature and ugly things in their efforts to get what they need. They want to buy glamour in jars or tubes and have no conception that by being graceful and considerate as they shop for it, they will actually be “super-sizing” what they buy.
In a world with so many warped messages thrown at us about what beauty is, I just wish more “kids” playing alongside me in the sandbox would pay attention to trying to be lovely on the inside first and to be thoughtful of others. That attitude would certainly radiate from within and “Wow,” how gorgeous that would be!