Where the light peeks through

This ruined house - Shikibu
Everything is relative and perspective is what makes the difference. My mother dislikes sunny days. I love them. She likes cold weather, the hotter the better for me. I read fiction, mostly. I have a friend who reads non-fiction almost exclusively. Cats for me, dogs for a friend.

We’re all different and what matters to me may or may not matter to you. Doesn’t mean either of us is more or less than the other, just that we’re not the same. Though different, we’re all deserving of love and consideration. What matters is that we remain true to ourselves and do what’s right and best for us in our own lives.

You can’t see life from my perspective, and I can’t see it from yours. You are upset about the wind. I’m rejoicing in the moonlight. I can say to you, “Forget about the wind! Look at the moon!” You say to me, “Are you crazy? Who cares about the moon? I’m freezing!”

Both things are present; both are true. Which is the “best” way to think about that situation?

It’s all in the perspective. We are each of us entitled to our view of the world. No one sees things in exactly the same way I do. I can tell you what I think and feel, and you can share your perspective with me, but neither of us can get inside the other’s head and really know what the view is like from there.

This is something I’ve struggled with all of my life, especially with my mother. When I was young, I simply adopted her view of the world in order to be accepted. I learned early on that she wasn’t at all interested in my view, and if I made the mistake of sharing my thoughts or feelings about anything, she was quick to explain all the ways in which my view was incorrect. Period.

I was just wrong. All the time. So I simply dissolved into an extension of her. It took a long time and therapy to distinguish myself finally from her, and to believe that the way in which I perceived things, including myself, was equally as true as her view. I’m not wrong, just different.

We’re not the same person. She’s not wrong, and neither am I.

Living with her again these last 7 years has certainly put this principle to the test. It’s a challenge everyday for each of us to accept the other as she is. There is lots of common ground, and we meet there and enjoy each other’s company most of the time.

Every so often, though, we unintentionally prod old bruises and one of us is tempted to think of the other as the villain and lash out in retaliation. Suddenly I’m 6 years old again, only now I’m not afraid to speak up for myself. I have to remember, though, that she’s not a villain; she is simply a human being doing the best she knows how to do – always was – and that ultimately she wants the same things I do: to be loved, to feel safe, and to be happy.

When I see her that way, with compassion, everything changes and we’re back on common ground again. We are the same, and we are different. Both things are true.

Nobody’s wrong, and no one is to blame. We’re different, and we’re both okay as we are.

We’re all okay, just as we are. I feel the wind, you see the moon.

It’s all good.

The shadow knows

Manifestation

Proverbs 23:7 For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.

“Be careful what you wish for.”

Such a simple concept – you are what you think – but not really evident in common practice in all areas of life in this 21st century, or I would venture to say, the last half (at least) of the 20th century; especially in the United States, especially in business, and especially in politics.

Really unfortunate, cuz it’s killing us. Personally, and as a species, and we’re taking the whole planet with us.

In exalting the individual, we have doomed community, in doing so, we have lost sight of all of those things that used to be more common in human interaction: truth, fairness, goodwill, friendship and equity. We’ve turned love into a Hallmark card, and concern for all beings? Hardly.

We are destroying the earth, the home of all life as we know it, and we are destroying ourselves, all the while thinking we’re doing great. The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting more desperate and resentful and everyone is losing a little piece of their soul everyday, but Hey! Look at me on Instagram! See my Facebook? I’m doing great!

So everything’s fine. If you’re not fine, that’s your problem.

Meanwhile, our self-hatred is manifesting in the world. Our thoughts have power. There is a black river of ick and pain running underneath all of our shiny, happy wonderful lives. There are so many humans on the planet now that our dark thoughts have tipped the balance of nature, disrupted cycles of renewal, and brought us to the precipice of annihilation.

We are personally and globally unable to acknowledge our human shadow side; our thoughts fester away in our individual brains, mostly unacknowledged, certainly not exposed to the light for examination even if we know they’re there, but becoming part of the collective unconscious and getting stronger everyday just the same, with each new damaged spirit, each new disregarded soul and pervasive unacknowledged resentment.

Anxiety, depression, substance abuse, gambling, domestic violence, gun violence, child abuse, sexual violence…

Humans are not being treated fairly or properly by other humans and that is where it all begins. The resentment and frustration is palpable these days, running through every discourse, framing every encounter. Love and goodwill have been replaced by resentment, distrust, blame, and a general sense that something’s wrong.

Can’t be me, must be you. You’re wrong. I’m right. I’m getting mine. Screw you.

Fingers pointing everywhere, running from responsibility. Not me! It’s the Mexicans. It’s the Muslims. It used to be the Irish, the Germans, the French; anyone other than me. It’s women. It’s men. Too religious. Not religious enough. It’s not my fault. Look at me, I’m fabulous! Check me on Twitter! Find me on YouTube! 10,000 followers on Facebook – I must be doing it right!

I was impressed by Felicity Huffman’s apology for her part in the college admissions fiasco. She took responsibility for her actions. Her humility and remorse will save her from a withering heart over time, and beyond that, I hope it helps young people who look up to celebrities to know that everyone makes mistakes, and that sooner or later lying catches up with you. She is helping the whole community by standing tall in the face of her mistake.

Life is hard. It’s hard for everyone in some way. It’s hard to be a person of integrity, in our culture, in the world, but it’s the only path to survival. We have to start being honest with ourselves and with each other about who we are personally and collectively. Stop pretending, start getting real.

I read a lovely post this week on a wonderful blog – The Hummingbird’s Journal – about redwood trees and how their roots are actually quite shallow; surprising for such enormous trees. In order to survive and to remain standing, they intertwine their roots, so they are quite literally holding each other up.

Reading that almost made me cry. That’s exactly what we have to do, if we are going to survive. Get down to the roots. Get back to community. Civility, integrity, concern for others, and for ourselves.

Acknowledge the shadow. Step into the darkness, find what’s there and bring it into the light to be healed. Acknowledge your thoughts about yourself and understand that’s what you are offering the world – to your neighbors and your kids, to everyone you love – not just the happy smiley persona you think they see.

Your thoughts – your unwillingness to forgive yourself and others –  manifests in the world whether you intend it or not. Your unkindness to yourself is felt by others and absorbed, especially if you have children. The guilt you feel is cast onto others as blame. That knot in your stomach is felt by all of us, all the time.

Help yourself and in doing so help us all be stronger, taller. Just like the trees. We’re all in this together.

If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete. – Jack Kornfield

Lumping along

Love is - Williamson

I’m just slogging through, trying not to do any damage today. My plan for the day is sloth and subterfuge. Yesterday was a long, mind-numbing adventure fraught with stress and emotion and today I’m still recovering and processing. I’m not the least bit interested in any of the tasks on my to-do list at work, so I’m just sort of a lump in a chair staring at a screen.

I feel snarly and slightly bruised so I think avoiding people is the best plan. I don’t want to piss anyone off and I don’t want to be pissed off, which is a very likely possibility in any human interaction today. I’m fortunate in that my office is pretty far-removed from my 80 co-workers, so with the exception of my officemate and the conversation we had this morning when he came in it’s fairly easy for me to go the whole day without speaking, at least at work.

I’ve perfected the art of dealing with my mother while experiencing any kind of mood, so the hour that I’m home making our lunch should be fairly straight-forward and then this afternoon, when my officemate is gone (part-timer) I can crank the tunes and continue my lumpish day. I think going to the gym after work will inject some vim into my brain and body, so that at least then maybe I’ll be a more animated lump.

There’s always hope. LOL!

Last night, after a very long day which had sort of already brought me to my knees, I had the opportunity to witness myself in action 25 years ago, made possible by a younger woman in my book group. She dominated the conversation cuz she was passionate about the subject and was rude without meaning to be to everyone who tried to challenge her position. She was judgmental and felt justified in being rude to people because they were wrong. She was sooooooo condescending it set my teeth on edge. It struck me half-way through the meeting that I was exactly like that when I was younger, and I was always stumped as to why I alienated so many people.

I felt such a deep level of compassion for her as she waded in deeper and deeper, oblivious to the effect she was having on the group. I know she didn’t mean to come across the way she did, and that it stemmed from her own harsh judgment of herself more than anything else. She’s still convinced utterly that there is RIGHT and WRONG and that all things and all people, including herself, fall within those boundaries. Her very survival depends on being RIGHT.

It made me really sad. She sets herself apart and doesn’t understand why she feels so alone. I wanted to kidnap her for the evening and shower her with my hard-fought wisdom, but I knew that was inappropriate and that really, there was nothing I could do for her. She’ll have to come into her own wisdom in time. She would never believe that I understand how much she hurts.

It was startling though, to see my own behavior and pain in her so clearly. I am grateful that I feel and act so much differently now, but my heart aches for her and all that she has gone through, and will continue to go through in the coming years until finally she surrenders the need to be RIGHT and gives in to the reality of simply being human; until she can feel compassion for herself, and in doing so, feel compassion for others.

It’s really something, this life, isn’t it? We are all challenged everyday to open our hearts and minds, to live life in its fullest measure, and to fulfill the potential of the human spirit.

And it’s just so, so, hard.

Simple, not easy

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“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” ~Buddha

So Valentine’s Day was last week, and everyone’s feeling warm and fuzzy about romantic couple love, but I think just as important and maybe even more important, in that I don’t think you can really make a relationship work without it – is the love you show yourself.

It took me a long time to get this. Growing up, my mother and other important adults were critical of me so I got the message that I was unworthy of love, and that message stuck in my head for a long time. I got other messages, including those on TV and in magazines, and from other people throughout my life that reinforced the original message, so I had an idea about myself that I felt had been proven over and over again.

There is something wrong with me.

50 years later I look back and I see that nope, nothing wrong with me at all. Never was. I was different from other people, certainly, but only in the way that we are all different from each other in our particular ways of being in the world. Just being myself, walking my path, trying to figure life out just like everyone else. No more or less deserving of love and compassion than anyone else.

It’s a shame it took so long for me to get that, but I have now, and for that I’m grateful. I push myself to do things that mean something to me, including spending time with people who are important to me, but all the goals and ideas I had about what my life would be like – should be like – have been replaced by only one:

Appreciate and experience as fully as possible every single moment of my life, and offer the best of what I have within me to myself and others.

That’s it. Simple, but not easy, I assure you. It’s a process, and while I’m getting a little better at it over time, I’ll never be “finished.” Two things have helped a lot:

  • I’ve developed a mindfulness practice, including meditation, in the last few years that helps keep me grounded and appreciative of what’s here now.
  • I check in with myself and how I’m feeling – what my body is telling me – before agreeing to do anything outside of work or caring for my mother – some things I say “yes” to cuz they’re what I want to do or need to do to stay true to myself, and/or support my mental and physical well-being. Other things I say “no” to for the same reasons, or simply because I don’t have time or energy and I don’t do well when I’m overwhelmed.

Again: simple, but not easy. As a recovering people-pleaser, saying “no” is especially difficult. I think of it as a muscle I’m exercising and making stronger – just as I’m building muscle in the gym 3 times a week. It’s good for my health, and my longevity, and it’s worth it, even though sometimes it’s uncomfortable.

Throughout my life people have taken me for granted, taken advantage of my willingness to do almost anything or become almost anyone in order to be liked, and not really taken much notice of who I really am or what I want. That’s fine, really, as I didn’t always know, either, and that was more about them than it was me, anyway. Those people have exited my life now, most because they chose to, but some because I pushed them out the door and closed it.

I have a couple of really good friends now – folks who truly know me and like me – and I don’t worry about the rest anymore. Life is not a popularity contest. Further, I’ve come to realize that ultimately, the only person I really need in my life is me. I’m the only one who’s been there the whole time. No one knows me as well as I know myself. Therefore, no one can love me as well as I can love myself. All of me – the good, the bad, and the really unattractive – it’s all there for a reason, and it’s all deserving of love and compassion.

I’m still learning – I hope I will be until my last breath – and I’m still struggling. I probably always will be, cuz I’m less than perfect. (Pro tip: we all are.) I’m completely okay with that, though, cuz the alternative is really unpleasant – trying to be “perfect” and being stuck in people-pleasing, self-loathing hell as I was for so many years. In so many ways I feel reborn everyday lately, cuz so many things seem new and fascinating and wonderful to me, including myself.

What a joy it is to be alive and to experience all that this precious life has to offer for as long as we can! Nature impresses me. Art and poetry and music impress me. Laughter impresses me. Sometimes other people, but mostly not so much. We all have something to offer, me included. None better, none worse. All impressive, none impressive. Everybody just getting on as best they can. That’s enough.

It’s going to take all of us, giving our best, impressing ourselves, offering the best that’s within us, uniquely ours, to solve some of the problems we, as a global community, are faced with. It starts with me, and with you, and it’s not at all about who has the best stuff, or the best job, or the slimmest waist, perfect kids, how many things we can do at one time, or whatever. That’s not what’s impressive about any of us.

It’s what’s inside. Look there. See what you find.

Are you impressed?

Dispatch from the other side

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I struggle a lot with my expectations of people. I’ve written about it here before. It’s an ongoing thing; one of the lessons I’ve grappled with since I was very young.

When I was young and people let me down, I assumed it was my fault. I thought there was something about me – I didn’t know what it was – that alienated people and I accepted that as fact. I grew up believing I was unlovable. Again, I didn’t really know why, but I took my cues from the way important people treated me – my mother, other adults, kids, and the reality that my birthmother gave me away. That seemed like proof-positive to me that I was indeed, unlovable, certainly unwanted.

I felt that way well into my 40s. Less so, perhaps, but when people treated me badly or let me down I just chalked it up to me being hard to love. I’ve lost enough friends to populate a small town. It got so it wasn’t really even a surprise anymore, just another loss. My lot in life.

My fault.

Three years of therapy and 10 years on some powerful drugs went a long way to convince me otherwise, and alleviated the depression that went along with those thoughts and feelings. I’m perhaps not the easiest person to love, but I’m not unlovable, either. No one is.

We are all worthy of love.

So now I realize that it’s not just me, but my expectations are still too high. I keep getting tripped up by them, even though I know better. Because people let each other down. That’s just what happens. As the young, mostly unhelpful, but very nice policewoman said to me last weekend:

Most people really only think about themselves.

She’s right. I would like that not to be true – about myself and other people – but I think that’s really it. It isn’t so much that we don’t care about other people – we do. In theory, and sometimes even in practice. It’s just that for the most part – for whatever reason – we don’t go out of our way for others, even people who matter to us.

Mostly.

I can think of a couple of situations in my life in which someone rose to the occasion for me and really tried to make a difference. I’d like to think I’ve done the same for others a few times, at least.

Mostly, though, we just plod along, and try to get through on our own as best we can. At least, that’s been my experience. I can think of quite literally hundreds of situations over the years in which people have let me down so completely that the thud reverberated for weeks in me. It goes the other way, too. I can think of times I let people down, especially when I was deep in the abyss of depression. No one’s perfect, and when it comes right down to it, we are all fundamentally alone.

It’s become increasingly clear to me over the years that being disappointed really has nothing to do with my friends, or co-workers or people in general; it’s all about my expectation that I should matter to anyone other than myself.

That’s the mistake I keep making. And here’s why:

I’m a people-pleaser. Always have been because of the way I grew up, mentioned above – always trying to figure out how to get people to like me/love me. Scanning every word, every movement, every expression for a hint at how to give them what they want so that maybe they’ll like me. A chameleon, changing shape and color to be pleasing to the person I was trying to connect with.

I was astonished as an adult to realize that other people don’t do that, for the most part. Some do, most don’t. No one cares what I want or need, at least not to the extent I’d like them to, even people I’m close to. They’re not trying to please me in the same way that I’m killing myself for them. While I’m knocking myself out to figure out just the right birthday or Christmas gift, or rushing to answer an email or get a card out to someone for an occasion, or worrying myself sick over why I’m not hearing from someone for a while, they’re just getting on with whatever. Not thinking about me, not worrying about me, even if they care about me. They put themselves first.

Imagine that.

I alienate people cuz I expect more than that.  I really think it’s just that simple. I kill friendships by caring too much, trying too hard. I wear people out, and I must have seemed very needy until I finally wised up. Now I think I’ve gone in the other direction, actually.

I’ve been thinking about the metaphor of the snow “wall” in my driveway (I love me a good metaphor!) and I think that’s what it represents to me – the ways in which I’m cut off from other people, mostly through my own choices and life circumstances in the last few years, but not entirely. A few people in my life have had a part in erecting that wall from their side.

Whatever.

I’m doing better at pleasing myself and worrying less about pleasing others, except when it pleases me to please someone I care about. I still get caught up in expectations, and I still get let down when I least expect it, but that’s probably just the way it’s always going to be. That’s just who I am. An idealist. And that’s what being vulnerable is all about, isn’t it? Keeping our hearts open is risky, cuz we can be hurt, but it’s also the only way to connect and heal the rifts caused by life.

It’s the only way to melt the wall. 

It won’t happen quickly, but it will happen. Life goes on. This too shall pass. We’re all just doing the best we can, including me. What’s called for is forgiveness; not blame, not anger, not shame or retribution. Just forgiveness for our broken humanness.

As with everything else, at least for me, it’s a work in progress.

The time to be slow

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This is the time to be slow,
Lie low to the wall
Until the bitter weather passes

Time will come good;
And you will find your feet
Again on fresh pastures of promise,
Where the air will be kind
And blushed with beginning

John O’Donohue, from To Bless the Space Between Us

This poem by one of my most beloved poets showed up on a favorite blog yesterday. It brought me to tears. Lie low to the wall until the bitter weather passes. 

This last week has been so, so hard. Not just the weather here in northern Michigan, where we have dealt with ridiculously low temperatures and two feet of new snow in the last 7ish days, but in all areas of my life. All the black boxes have been ticked off at some point: disappointment, discouragement, despair, exhaustion, outrage. I’m all in.

Saturday was the final straw for me. I could feel my tender heart breaking in half, and every part of me screamed, “That’s it!”

After a challenging morning with my mother, I went over to my house to shovel the drive. I was anticipating that it would take a while cuz I hadn’t been over there all week and we have gotten a crapload of snow, as mentioned previously.

What I discovered when I got there, however, could not have been anticipated. Someone had plowed up a 6-foot tall, 3-foot deep wall of snow at the end of my driveway all the way across. I was completely flummoxed. So angry I could hardly breathe, and so distressed and confused I couldn’t think. After 15 minutes of sitting in my car in the road freezing, I finally decided to call the police. I don’t know either of my neighbors and was too angry to speak to either of them about this.

A very young policewoman finally showed up about 45 minutes later. By then I had shoveled the part of the driveway I could – from the wall up to the house. She spoke to one of my neighbors and got the name and phone # of her plow guy, and called him. He said he didn’t think it was his fault, but he’d stop by and take a look later and if he thought one of his employees had done it, he’d plow it out, if not, I was on my own. The policewoman told me this and said there was really nothing more she could do. Good luck. See you later.

Whatever.

I write a lot about community and kindness and about staying in the moment and surrendering to things outside of my control. I believe all those things I write about. This week has put it all to the test, and I still believe those things. But, man, it’s been hard.

There were good things, and they are what I’m hanging on to:

  1. I met one of my new neighbors. It was an unfortunate way to meet, but she was very kind and I’m happy to know she’s there now. Her name is Martha. She’s older, perhaps late 60s, or early 70s. She’s a Mennonite. She was very apologetic, even though in no way was this her fault, obviously. I appreciated her kindness and understanding, and it instantly made me feel better.
  2. An older man in a huge black truck stopped on the road while I was shoveling and asked if I was alright. He offered to help, but by that point I had already shoveled what I could, and the police were there. He didn’t have a plow on that big truck, unfortunately, but just the fact that he took a moment to see if he could help – a complete stranger just passing by – mended a piece of my heart.
  3. I recognized I was too upset and angry to speak to people. So instead of marching up to Martha’s door or to the neighbor on the other side and ranting, which is something I most definitely would have done when I was young, I waited until I could think of something better to do. The policewoman was a disappointment, but she tried, and it was better than confronting people I don’t know with a huge chip (wall of snow) on my shoulder. That’s how people get shot, right? So, good all the way around.
  4. I’m able to realize that in the grand scheme of human suffering none of the crap I was hurt by or upset about this week was very important. I’ve been saying to myself over and over this too shall pass. So true. In this morning’s meditation my focus was on letting go. 
  5. Though I was feeling pretty sorry for myself in the 15 minutes in my car before I decided what to do Saturday, it passed and I got up and did what needed to be done, in the words of Garrison Keillor. (Man, I miss that show. PowderMilk Biscuits – I could use one of those right now!) A friend said to me one time, if no one else will feel sorry for you, sometimes you just have to do it for yourself. I did, and then I let it go.

So, that’s not it. I’m not all in. I’m not done. There’s more to me than that. Good to know.

Still, I’m going to lie low to the wall for awhile. Until I find my feet again on fresh pastures of promise. Lick my wounds, and piece my heart back together. Patch it up, as I’ve done so many times before, and will again, I’m sure. That’s just the way life is. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. I’m getting stronger and smarter all the time, and that’s a good thing.

Here’s hoping this week is better: where the air will be kind, and blushed with beginning. Monday is a good day to start again.

And again, and again. As many times as necessary.

Kindness matters

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When I was in business, I had a client who used to make big speeches about “random acts of kindness.” He had read a book, and was convinced that the secret to life required only these unexpected gestures; even the smallest act could yield enormous results. He was very excited to think that each person could make a difference. He always made a point of relating every such act he had performed recently in order to illustrate the theory and how well he was adhering to it. The upshot of the speech was, of course, what a great place the world would be if everyone was as thoughtful as he was. What a great guy.

The truth is he was a good guy, but he evidently was only committed to random acts. Anything as structured and regular as paying invoices on time didn’t seem to qualify. He didn’t pay me, he didn’t pay his employees, and presumably he didn’t pay his other suppliers. His delinquency was one of the contributing factors in the loss of my business, and certainly caused hardship for his employees. He was aware of the effects of his actions, but was not able to take responsibility for them.

He was causing other people pain, but kept talking about kindness.

The reality of who we are is often divorced from who we think we are. Most people see themselves as either far better or far worse than they really are. Not many people see the truth: that most of us are just doing the best we can. Sometimes we get it right, sometimes we don’t. We are both the best and the worst that we think we are, and a lot of stuff in between.

I remember a conversation I had once with friends at a Chinese restaurant. Someone’s fortune said: “Everything will now come your way.” Everybody oohed and aahed over it. How great! Everything is going to be terrific! I pointed out that it doesn’t say “Everything will be terrific.” It said, “Everything will now come your way.”

Big difference, but it took them a while to see it. Everything is simply…uh…every thing. All things, good and bad, welcome and unwelcome. And that’s life. Everything does come our way, but we reject some things as being “bad,” and rejoice at the rest. Where there is light, there is shadow. We forget the shadow part — forget that it is a normal part of life — that without the shadow there can be no light. Light is defined by shadow, and vice versa. Black needs White, Good needs Evil. They both have to be present.

Often we can’t accept the shadow in ourselves. We don’t even see it most of the time. It’s there, believe me. In everyone. No one is perfect, and I think, actually, that is the point. The shadow — our own, others’, the country’s, and the world’s — the shadow side of life in total, is our path to freedom, but because it’s strewn with big ugly rocks that are difficult to pass, and guarded by big hairy monsters, we’d rather not go down it. We keep thinking there must be another way.

I would like to believe there’s an easy way, too. But I just don’t think there is. There is just the one path, this “human life” road, rocks and monsters and all. The thing is, though, that it’s an exciting journey; for better or worse, and sometimes it’s a lot of fun. Sometimes beautiful, sometimes arduous. But it is always worth it.

Yes, I believe that. Even when people let me down. Even when life lets me down. Even when I let myself down. We’re all just here, and we’re doing the best we can, and that’s okay. Be kind to yourself, be kind to others. It’s hard for everyone.

Step into your shadow. Examine it. Understand it. It really is everything coming your way.

Ultimately, it’s the only way.

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Shine a light

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On my way to work this morning I passed a semi-truck with Christmas lights strung across the grill and the windows of the cab. It was still dark and they were wonderful – so colorful and sparkly. So unexpected. The truck could be from almost anywhere, (we were on a US highway), and headed who knows where, but for one second, our paths crossed, and the driver, who I will never meet, put a smile on my face, because he took the time to do something fun and offered it to the world as a gift.

I love that! I like people like that. I would like to be like that. I am lucky to have friends who are like that, and that spontaneity, sense of humor/fun and generosity of spirit is exactly what I love about them most.

People often disappoint me. I get discouraged when I make the mistake of reading the news or hanging out on Facebook or Twitter too much. Or when I overhear a situation in which someone is being treated without respect, or bullied, or thought to be “less than” for some reason. Or when I encounter someone – usually in traffic – who appears to think only of themselves, and in doing so treats the people around them as though their needs don’t matter. There is no shortage of reported instances – especially in the United States lately – in which people are less than kind to each other.

This is when I start thinking of other people as “them” or “those people.” Of course, I know there is only US – ALL of us. There is no “them.” We are all human and sometimes wonderful, sometimes horrible. It’s a package deal. It’s hard to remember that sometimes, though.

I have to take a step back and think: do I do all those things I listed in the paragraph above? Absolutely. Not intentionally, at least as an adult, but I do, and that’s true of most of us, probably. I am the least perfect person I know.

Life is hard, and harsh and sometimes we humans buckle under the weight of life and act less kindly or patiently than we hope to. Sometimes I say or do things that make me cringe, and I disappoint myself, cuz that’s just not who I want to be. In the heat of the moment, though, especially if I feel threatened, some ugly black thing slithers out of me before I know it.

Perhaps that’s the worst part about being human. It’s in most of us, I wager: that ugly black assemblage of past hurts and slights and mistreatment. It’s so disappointing. With a few notable exceptions, I guess, we all have our moments. And I’ll bet even Mother Theresa and Ghandi had those moments at some point in their lives, too. They were human, and it comes with the territory.

But, there’s so much more.

The best part of being human – putting Christmas lights on your truck to spread some cheer, just because you can – is in us, too. We’re all trying our best in difficult circumstances, but sometimes we do better than that. Humans are creative and loving and kind, too. This time of year, especially, there are instances of the best humans can be and that’s heartening.

I’m not any of those “best” things often enough anymore, though, and seeing those lights this morning helped me realize that. Decades battling depression and the stress of the last few years have dimmed that light in me.

I accept that I’m a work in progress, and I have to remember that about everyone else, too. We’re all just doing the best we can, but sometimes someone does something good that reminds us that we can do even better.

My lights are dim, perhaps, but they’re not out completely, and I’m going to make it my goal this next year to figure out how to get the spark going again. We can all do it. Give expression to that fun, loving, creative part of ourselves and see what comes out. Figure out what we have to offer the world and give it freely.

Whatever I come up with probably won’t make a bit of difference in the world, but I hope it makes a difference in me. I hope it takes me another step closer to the person I’d like to be. I hope, too, that whatever I have to offer has the impact on someone else that the anonymous truck driver had on me this morning. In that way maybe we can change the world, one person at a time, one light at a time.

Let it begin with me.

Give me a break

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I haven’t had a vacation since December and the last 6 months have been very stressful. So I think this is a great idea. I need a break. I’m taking the 2 days prior to the 4th of July off next week, which  means I have a 5-day weekend coming up. It won’t be a complete break as I will still have all my mom/household chores, but 5 days of sleeping in and leisurely afternoon bike rides will be fabulous, and I’m really looking forward to it. The weather is forecasted to be really warm and sunny, so reading on the patio might be on the schedule, as well.

Really, though, I’m not making plans for those 5 days beyond the appointment I just made to have my hair trimmed on Tuesday. I’m giving myself permission to do only the necessary daily chores for those 5 days, and the rest of the time to just do what seems fun and/or relaxing. For me that means riding my bike for as long as I wish to in the sunshine and warmth of a summer afternoon, and then sitting in a comfortable chair reading. I don’t have nearly enough time in my “regular” schedule to do either of those things as much as I’d like to, so this will be my chance.

So – two breaks in one – I’m giving myself  some time away from work and I’m giving myself permission to do nothing “useful” for those 5 days if I don’t feel like it.

It’s probably going to eat at me a little that I’m not cleaning out the garage or weeding the flowerbeds, but I will persevere. My mother will probably make a few “suggestions” of constructive uses of my time, but I will tune her out. These are my 5 days. I’ve earned them, and I’m going to enjoy them.

I used to be really great at “wasting” time, but I used to have a lot more of it, too. There was time enough when I lived alone to get everything done AND do the fun things. That’s not true anymore. Stuff has to get done for life to be pleasant for the most part – cooking, cleaning, dishes, laundry, cat care – I feel better about life and about myself when those basic things are taken care of. Ditto mowing the lawn, feeding the birds and watering the flowers.

Over the Memorial Day holiday I had a list of 10 “big” things to do to get ready for summer and I got them all done. I felt good about that, and I didn’t regret spending that time that way. I like to be productive, mostly. It’s possible to do too much, though, and to get burned out, and that’s what I’m trying to avoid.

The older I get the more I understand the value in pacing myself. There is always going to be a TO-DO list. There is never a point at which everything that can be done is done. My mother’s needs alone are like a giant swirling abyss I can get lost in if I’m not careful.

So I’m tired and I’m giving myself a break. Before I break.

And I’m going to enjoy every lovely minute of it.

 

 

Rest in Peace

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Kate Spade. Anthony Bourdain. Julie Farmer.

The first two you know. The third one you probably don’t. She died this week, too. Unlike the other two, she didn’t choose to die. Cancer stole her life just as thoughtlessly and heartlessly as a thief in the night. She was 47 years old, beautiful and kind, and the mother of three children. She wasn’t rich or famous, but she had lots of friends and family – people who loved her and stood by her until the end, which was brutal. She was brave and loved life, even as she lay dying.

Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain took their own lives. For whatever reason they felt they couldn’t go on. We will probably never really know. To look at them from the outside, they seemed to have everything. We look at them in the media and think how lucky they are, how easy life must be for them. Money, and work they loved and were good at, travel, excitement. Awards and accolades, fame, luxury. They had everything we think we want. In the end, apparently, none of it mattered. It wasn’t enough.

No one understands depression and suicidal ideation better than me. Believe me, I get it. I’ve considered suicide on a regular basis since I was a teenager. I have deep compassion for anyone who makes that very final choice. Depression whispers in your ear – it’s hopeless, it will never get better, there’s only one way out. It convinces you that the problem is not that life is hard, and that it’s hard for everyone, even if it doesn’t look like it from the outside – the problem is you. You suck. You can’t cut it. You’re a loser. What’s the point?

Depression lies.

It’s like cancer, in that it steals your life, your mind, your joy.  Maybe Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain discovered that all the money, fame and success are not what makes life worth living. Those things are nice and they bring us momentary happiness and the buzz of millions of endorphins. None of us would turn any of that down. But it’s not what lasts. It’s not what gives us the strength to keep going when things aren’t so great.

To truly find joy in life and to make it through the hard times, you have to have one thing: LOVE.

Love for yourself, first and foremost. You’re fine. Life is hard for everyone. It’s not just you. You’re not perfect. No one is. We’re all just doing the best we can. Don’t compare yourself to others – you’re only seeing the shiny clean outside wrapper, not what’s going on inside. There is no such thing as a perfect life.

There is only your life and mine and what we make of it. You don’t have to save the world. You only have to save yourself. Don’t worry about what you imagine other people think about you or your choices. The only person you have to answer to is yourself. This is your life. It’s the only one you get and it’s short. Be kind to the part of you that’s broken, that tells you you’re less than or that you’re doing it wrong, or that you’re unloveable. Love that part of you and then let it go.

Love yourself and then you can really love others. In this life love is the only thing that matters. It’s not a cliche. It’s simply true.

Love yourself. You’re here on this planet and you’re doing the best that you can, and you’re awesome. You’ll be gone before you know it, so enjoy the ride. Don’t get off before your stop. You’ll be there soon enough.

Too soon.

RIP Julie.

Julie H. Farmer 1970 – 2018

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