Born free


I have regrets. There are things that haunt me now and again – things I should (or shouldn’t) have said or done, people I’ve hurt, opportunities I’ve missed. I’m not alone in this, I’m sure. I don’t think you can experience human life past age 5 without racking up a couple of really juicy regrets.

What I think is most interesting, though, is that I don’t regret the things I’m supposed to. Our culture tells me in a lot of subtle (and not so subtle) ways that I’m not living my life correctly. If you watch TV or movies, or read books, single people are usually the subject of pity. The message everywhere in our culture is that it’s not okay to be alone and be happy about it. Love is the answer and the question. We don’t care what your family looks like much anymore – 2 dads, single mom, grandparents raising grandkids – whatever. Anything goes – that is – any kind of family, as long as you have a family, or you at least feel bad if you don’t.

I don’t.

I never wanted to be a wife, and I never wanted to be someone’s mother. I knew from a very young age that I wouldn’t be good at either. What I understood about marriage and family growing up with my mother and father was that you couldn’t be free – to be yourself, to do what you want to do, or go where you want to go. In a family, if one person has trouble, it becomes the whole family’s trouble. (The same is true of joy, presumably, but I didn’t experience as much of that.)

When I was young I thought I would probably have to get married and have children cuz I grew up in the 60s and I only knew one person over the age of 25 who wasn’t married and/or a mommy or a daddy. She was a spinster, “whose fiance had been tragically killed in the war and because her heart was broken she never married, and she lived a sad a lonely life.”

I didn’t want to live a sad and lonely life, but I knew family life wasn’t what I wanted either. Imagine my joy when I got old enough to realize that not only wasn’t it mandatory, it wasn’t a tragedy if it didn’t happen. By the time I got to college, attitudes had changed pretty dramatically about women and family and while some folks are still taken aback now to find out that at my advanced age I have never married or had children, I don’t think most people give it a second thought.

The truth is, I don’t care what they think, because my life is right for me and not marrying and not having children are two things I do not have a single regret about. There have always been spinsters and bachelors, and I’m happy I’ve been spared the kind of assumptions that have been made about single people throughout history – that there is something odd and sad about them or that there was *ahem* something wrong with them.

Certainly, in the past, some men and women remained single because they were gay and unable to marry. That’s changing and that is as it should be. No question that if you wish to be in a relationship and to make that relationship public and/or binding, you should be free to do so, no matter what. Ditto raising a family.

Conversely there are people, like me, who wish to be free of relationship – gay, straight, or otherwise – and that should be okay, too. I think for the most part it is. I live in a small town, and even here, most people just accept me as is. I’m sure there are some folks who think I’m gay, and that’s okay. I’m not, but the reality is that it’s none of their business what I am, so they can just wonder. I’m good with that.

For me, though, the biggest non-regret has been my decision not to reproduce. I probably would have been willing to marry if any of the men I was involved with over the years could have allowed me the degree of freedom I require to be happy. Having kids, though, is – as they say – a whole ‘nother sack of cats. Pregnancy never scared me – the deal breaker was being responsible for and raising a good human being. Yikes!

I had enough trouble handling my own life and my own faulty brain chemistry and general craziness. How on earth would I have managed to guide a child through the minefield of life when I couldn’t see the way through myself? No, I always knew I was not cut out for motherhood. I didn’t want to be responsible for unleashing another damaged human being on society, and I didn’t want to watch someone I had brought into this world and loved struggle in the ways I had growing up.

So no regrets. My way through this life is not right for everyone, but it has been the right way for me. Ultimately, that’s all we can ask, isn’t it? As human beings, each of us should have the opportunity to live on our own terms, whatever they may be. For better or for worse, I am free.

To do or not to do


I’ve been owly since the moment I woke up this morning. I could list a lot of reasons, I guess – it’s snowing again, it’s only Wednesday and I’m tired and ready for the weekend, drama at home, blah, blah, blah. I haven’t slept well the past few nights, which is not all that unusual, but is annoying nonetheless. I have very strange dreams and I wake up in a panic several times a night: not conducive to well-rested days.

So mostly I’m tired. I’m physically tired, but also emotionally and mentally. I’m tired of the drama at home. I’m tired of some on-going issues at work. I’m beyond tired of the weather. Winter returned yesterday with a vengeance and while I’m not dumb enough to believe that winter could be over this early this far north, it had been pretty nice the past few weeks and I was nursing a pretty good case of Spring Fever. Then *BLAM!* winter’s back. Yuck.

So, okay, I’m tired. Big deal. This too shall pass. All of it will pass, and then there will be something new by which I’m tired and tried. I’m okay will all that. It’s life, and in the scheme of human suffering, I’m not even anywhere near the bottom of the scale. I have a good life. I’ve been very lucky, and I’m deeply grateful, both for all that I have been given, and what I have been spared.

Here’s the thing, though. Someone got the brunt of my owlyness this morning and it wasn’t fair to them and it was disappointing to me. Here I’ve been thinking and meditating and writing about being kind, and trying really hard, but when the rubber really met the road, I failed miserably over something small with one of the last people I want to be unkind to.


I apologized and it’ll be alright with my friend, but my disappointment in myself will be a little harder to let go of. Historically, my temper and my mouth get me in all kinds of trouble. I’ve alienated a lot of friends, family and strangers alike in my 50-odd years. I’ve accepted that, and now in my old age (!) I’m trying to do better. I’m striving for enlightened communion with folks now. I’m pretty far away from that goal, but I’m working toward it and today I tripped on the path and fell flat on my face.


I don’t have any illusions about who I have been, but I guess I was harboring some major illusions about who I believe I’m becoming. So I’ve been humbled and now I go on. That’s really the only option. I’ll lick my wounds for a short time, and then I’ll have to just get back to it: Being Kind. Just that. Trying, trying, trying.

But we know, don’t we? As Yoda said:

“Do or do not, there is no try.”


Future shock


So true, that. Wanting to control things over which I have no influence – time, events, people – really is my problem most of the time. Occasionally I even find myself praying to a God I don’t necessarily have faith in, trying to hedge my bets for the outcome I want. That’s when I know I’m really off-track.

That’s when I try to convince myself to come back to the moment. This moment. NOW. And then I try to come back to myself, which is, of course, the only thing I have control over – how I conduct myself in each moment. And then I breathe. Just breathe. It quiets my mind and calms the anxiety. When I’m back in my body and not sending my thoughts spinning into the stratosphere, I have choices.

Of course, it’s a lot easier to write or talk about this, than it is to actually do it in the heat of the crisis. When everything seems to be falling apart and the future is so uncertain, all I want is reassurance that everything is going to be okay. I just want someone to fix it, and to tell me I’m going to be alright. It’s the not-knowing that makes me feel unsafe, giving rise to the mind-numbing anxiety.

If I can remember to breathe, though, that’s all it takes. I remember that I can’t control the future, that everything passes, including the crisis at the moment, no matter how bad it seems. Nothing lasts forever. Sure there are losses, and that’s hard, but I’ve survived them before and I will again.

Whatever is going to happen will happen, whether I stress about it or not. So my energy is better spent calming my mind, focusing on what’s happening now. I’m safe in the present. I know where I am and what I’m doing. The same is not true of the next moment, until it comes, and trying to anticipate what’s going to happen in two hours, two days, or two weeks is just impossible.

So stay here now. Breathe. Accept whatever comes. The only other choice is to worry, and that’s wasted energy – it changes nothing but your blood pressure. Let go of the need to control. Feel the relief! You are not responsible for the outcome. You are only responsible for getting through whatever happens and then going on. That’s it.

As Dory says, “Just keep swimming.” That’s all you have to worry about. Take it one stroke at a time and breathe.

Just breathe.


Of feathers and flocks…


My best friend has chickens. Last week, the whole flock ganged up on the smallest hen, and beat her up pretty badly. They pulled out all her tail feathers with such force that chunks of flesh were gone, too. My friend took her to the vet and she’s going to be okay, but she won’t be able to be returned to the flock.

About the same time another friend told me that she had had to send her 14-year old daughter to a different school, because she was being bullied so badly by “the meanest group of 8th grade girls” this woman had ever encountered.

Even my two little cats – my sweet babies – are not immune. They’re only about a month apart in age, and I got them both as kittens, within a couple of months 6 years ago. The first kitten was an “only” for about a month before the second kitten came in to our lives, but that was long enough to feel threatened, I guess. She was merciless in her treatment of her new furry roommate. Now, 6 years later, the bullied kitten has become the bully. Payback? I have no idea. They’re both infinitely gentle with me, but they try to kill each other at least once a day.

Clearly this is a thing in all of our brains – not just human brains. We want to believe that babies (and kids and kittens and all creatures) are gentle by nature. Perhaps they are, but that’s not all there is to any of us, apparently. There is something so integral to creature brain structure that it spans all species and manifests in similar ways.

Perhaps it was a survival tactic that no longer serves us as humans living privileged lives, or chickens or cats, for that matter. Maybe it was beneficial to try to make the weakest member of the flock stronger by threatening it, or encouraging it to leave the group so it’s not longer a drain on resources, or even killing it to get rid of it and its genes so that only the fittest continue on.

It must have served some purpose, but like many residual brain things no longer necessary for modern life and survival, it doesn’t serve us. I don’t know, but I know I have a mean streak, and that at times in my life, I have treated weaker people badly. At the time I didn’t realize I was doing it, especially when I was a kid. I look back now, though, and I can see it pretty clearly. I wish I could say that I grew up and became an enlightened person who always reacts correctly to everything with kindness and wisdom.

Far from it, and still not true, even though that is exactly what I aspire to. Why not? Why can’t we all just get along and be nice and do the right thing all the time? All the religions tell us that’s what we should aspire to. All the self-help books, TV talk shows.

I used to have a poster that a friend gave me that said “If it feels good, do it. If it doesn’t, don’t.” I think in the 70s this is what passed for wisdom. 🙂 I think that poster pretty accurately sums up the way most humans live, including me. Maybe not the Dalai Lama, but the rest of us regular folks, just trying to get through the days.

What happens when you feel superior to someone, especially if you’re being cheered on in your thinking or your actions by other people? You feel better about yourself. You feel great! You feel special. All your doubts and fears about how horrible you are disappear in an instant. Who can resist that? It’s heady stuff, especially in a world where what we see on TV and in movies every minute of every day tells us – especially as women – that we are NOT okay as we are.

There is great comfort in thinking that you’re doing it right and others are wrong, and for some reason, it’s not enough to just think that, it’s necessary to prove it to other people – or chickens or cats – as well. And really, that’s the problem; making other people wrong in trying to make yourself right.

I think bullying in schools is one of the biggest problems we, as a society, face. It’s getting worse all the time, and real damage is being done to young creative minds. I think it’s all mixed up in the constantly rising level of addiction and mental illness in this country, cuz people feel so bad about themselves all the time – the bullies and the bulliedthat they have to find a way to escape the overwhelming anxiety.

But if it’s integral to our brains – a fundamental part of all life on this planet – what can we do? I don’t know. I don’t have answers. I wish I did. I’m part of the question, like most everyone else. I can’t fix myself, let alone all the problems in the world. I’m trying though.

Let it begin with me.



A friend died recently. He wasn’t a close friend, just someone I had known since we were in school together starting at age 6. Later on in our lives, we worked at the same company for a while, and even later, we were neighbors in a duplex quite by chance. He wasn’t a great neighbor (he was loud and always had people over at all hours), but he was a good guy and I enjoyed his company. He was one of the funniest people I’ve ever known. Always friendly, and oh, so funny!

So he’s gone now, and I find that I feel disproportionately bad about that. I have no idea how he died – he was only 55, and as far as I know he hadn’t been ill; I find myself just hoping it wasn’t suicide. I would hate to think of him so unhappy. I suppose I feel bad partly because he was my age and I hate to think of my own mortality this soon, but that’s not all of it. I feel sort of bad that we lost touch, but we were never that close, so it’s not that surprising. I’ve lost touch with people I was much closer to – that’s just the way it seems to go as people get older and lives and personalities age/change.

I think mostly I feel bad cuz he was one of the good ones, and now he’s gone. It doesn’t seem there are so many left that we can afford to lose any. He was a gentle and kind soul, with a little bit of a drinking problem and a great sense of humor. He was probably never going to make a mark on the world at large, but he made an impression on everyone he met, and the world is a little emptier without him. He had close friends and family, and he was here in a big way to those who knew him, and now he’s not here. Just that fast.

I suppose it will be that way for all of us, and it makes you think about what it’s all about and what you’re all about. Will I leave a mark? Will people not in my daily life mourn my passing? What kind of an impression will most people I’ve known be left with? I have a feeling it won’t be as good as the feeling Mike always left people with, and that makes me sad. I haven’t always been a particularly nice or friendly person, nor am I always now. Depression was responsible for some of that, but still, I probably could have been better.

I don’t want to live my life for other people, and mostly I don’t care what they think of me, except that I think I would like them to feel that I was at least kind. I would like them to be left with that memory. They can think whatever they want about the way I live my life, or the way I look, or anything about me, except that. If I drop dead tomorrow, I want someone to say about me the kinds of things I’ve been reading on Facebook about Mike.

So I realize I’ve just set myself a pretty good goal: Be Kind. Just that. I don’t know if I can achieve it, but now that I’ve identified its importance, I will try to be more mindful of it.

RIP Michael. Thanks for the memories, and thanks for the nudge.