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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Truth be told

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Some of the most difficult things I’ve had to come to terms with over the years are:

  1. Life isn’t fair.
  2. You can still fail, no matter how hard you try.
  3. Not every problem can be solved.

Like most children, I learned the first one pretty early on. I wasn’t happy about it, and I’m still not, but I certainly know it’s true. Over the years and into adulthood, it led directly to a distrust of the idea of the Christian God, or any god worth believing in, cuz in my mind, what would be the purpose of a god if not to make life fair?

I was drawn to Buddhism, and more simply, mindfulness, because it starts out by telling you that life is hard. Period. No illusion. No Santa Claus god. No notions of good and evil, fair or unjust. There is only us, here now, and this life and being kind. Embracing everything and then letting go, cuz none of it matters ultimately. It’s all in the past. There is only what is, not what should be. Not only what’s fair, but what isn’t. All of it. Everything.

The second one hit me square in the gut almost 20 years ago when I lost my business and had to get a job and file for bankruptcy. Like most American kids, I was raised with the idea that if you worked hard enough, you could achieve anything. The American Dream! I was living exactly the life I wanted, the one I had worked for, for a while, and then BAM! It was gone. I was stunned. I had been so determined. I had worked so hard and I wanted it so much, surely that would make it so.

Nope. I fell to earth and landed on my butt with a resounding and painful thud. It took me a long time to come to terms that what I had been told and what I believed to be true all of my life to that point was not true. There it was again: Life is not fair. Add to that: It doesn’t matter how hard you try, you can’t make it so.

Ouch.

Even though I had struggled with depression since I was a teenager, that event and finally realizing that fundamental truth about life was the thing that made me decide I couldn’t go on. Prior to that I believed the I was the problem, Not life. That I was doing something wrong. I had hope that someday I would get it right and then life would be what I hoped it would be, what I thought it could be. What I thought it was supposed to be.

I always knew that people suffered horrible lives, especially in other countries and in other times. I was an avid reader and some of the books I read were about really difficult lives, but I guess I always thought they were just unlucky or they didn’t work hard enough, or something. I don’t know what I thought. Maybe I didn’t really think about it, or maybe I just thought that it would be different for me because…I don’t know.

I was absolutely convinced growing up that despite all evidence to the contrary, I would have a wonderful life once I got to be an adult and could take control of my life. I was raised in the Christian church and I fell for all those stories in Sunday school about right and wrong and God helping good people and punishing bad people. I believed all the stuff in school, too, about the American Dream and Manifest Destiny, George Washington never telling a lie, and Abraham Lincoln walking through the snow for 1000 miles to return a book cuz it was the right thing to do.

I had fought through the depression over and over again because I believed that I could have the life I wanted if I just worked for it. Then, suddenly that was all a lie and I felt betrayed and stupid and that there was just no point in going on with this ridiculous unfair life – in which bad people thrived and good people got screwed. Knowing that there was nothing I could do to change that – no matter how hard I tried – was more than I could take for a long time. It took 10 years of medication and 3 years of therapy to get me past it.

The third thing – that for some problems there are no solutions – was the last bastion of earlier life to fall. Living again with my mother and her health problems finally beat that one down. Not only are some of her medical challenges baffling, even to her doctors, but more simply, the challenge of living with her and caring for her has become less of a problem to be solved, and more of a truth to be accepted.

It just is.

She’s not a problem to be solved. She’s a person. My difficulty at times with this situation can’t be solved, either, it is just part of my life, something I have to embrace and then let go of, just like everything else. It’s another step on the path for both of us. We’re traveling together on this journey.

Life.

Not a problem, not fair or unfair, not good or bad, just what’s happening now and no matter how hard I try, I can’t solve it all for her, or for me, or for anyone. We celebrate the good things and mourn the losses, but ultimately it’s all the same. What is, and what was, and what will be.

Us. In it together. All of us just doing the best we can to accept the truth.

Life is hard. And beautiful. And painful. And amazing. So big sometimes it crushes us, and other times lifts us to great heights. It’s everything and nothing.

And that’s the truth.

Trust in me

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Trust is hard for me. I suppose it is for most people. For the most part throughout my life I didn’t trust anyone or anything – not people, not circumstances, not even myself sometimes. It’s something I’ve worked on over the years, and I think I’m better at trusting now then I ever have been before, but still it’s hard.

I’ve worked especially on trusting myself; being someone I can count on even if everyone else lets me down. I try not to take anything personally, I try not to beat myself up when I make a mistake, and I give myself permission not to know everything.

I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t expect to anymore. I no longer compare myself to other people, nor do I care what they might think of me. I would like to be liked, of course, but I get that I’m not everyone’s cup of tea, nor are they mine. That’s okay. There’s room for all of us here, and though we do have to get along and be kind to each other, we don’t have to like each other.

The Golden Rule says, “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.” It doesn’t say, be like everyone else, or that other people have to be like you. We just have to treat others as though they matter to us as much as we matter to ourselves. Be nice. Be patient. Be compassionate – to others, and to yourself.

Human beings are complex. With a couple of notable exceptions, no one is all good or all bad. In my experience, given a chance, everyone will let you down at some point, including and especially yourself. Humans are fallible. We can do better, probably, but mostly we don’t. We talk a lot about it, usually in reference to a book about a god, but mostly we do what we want, what feels good. That’s okay, we’re human. We’re not perfect.

 

What I really have trouble with, though, is in trusting God, or the Universe, or the angels/spirit guides/life energy – whatever you want to call it. I recognize there is a force in the world, and that there is order in the world that emanates from that force.

I feel it, I see it in nature, and I have to admit sometimes I have been witness to small miracles, for which the only explanation could be incredible luck or other worldly intervention. Other times, not at all, usually when it is most needed, unfortunately. So surprise – it’s not Santa Claus – you can’t just ask for what you want and get it.

So my feeling is that it’s no more trustworthy than humans, and usually, downright not trustworthy at all. Not perfect either, apparently. It seems to be random, and that’s fine. Sometimes I’ve been given a gift, and I’m deeply grateful, and I benefit. Other times – no dice.

So okay, that’s fine, but how do I trust that? Believe in it? Maybe. Probably, even. But trust? No way. What good is a god/spirit guide/force in the universe that’s no more reliable or helpful than us? Honestly? If I’m here on my own and can only count on myself and other humans, well then, okay. At least I know that.

But so many people believe in the Santa Claus God, (Christian, Hindu, Muslim – it doesn’t matter) and I’m thinking, if they’re right, then what’s wrong with me? What could I have done to piss that god off so badly that I’d be the only one not on the “nice” list?

Oh, right, it’s not just me. How about kids with cancer? How about all the people who lose their homes and/or their lives everyday in weather-related disasters – “Acts of God.” The list goes on. What’d they all do?

If believing in and trusting in god is the same as not believing in and trusting god, then what difference does it make? So far, I can’t see where believing in a god does any good, but it definitely seems to do a lot of bad. So much evil is perpetuated in the name of one god or another. Really, is god as petty and horrible as the worst in human beings? Doesn’t it seem like any god worth its salt would be a little more evolved? Doesn’t it seem that such a being would be all about LOVE and nothing else?

Do you see love at work in the world on a daily basis? In your life? In the life of anyone you know? Yes, maybe. Is it winning? It doesn’t seem so to me. So where’s the loving god who’s going to make everything okay? Where’s the Perfect God?

Believe it or not, I’m not a cynic. Really. I’m not. I just think chasing our tails trusting in a god “out there” is killing us. I think we need to trust ourselves and each other. We have to become people who are worthy of trust. Our only hope as a society and as a species is to stop looking “out there” and start looking “in here.”

Find the good within you, and within me. Be kind to yourself and then to someone else. Then be kind to the Earth. Live gently. Take your eyes off heaven and look around here now. Nurture yourself, your fellow human beings, and our Mother Earth. Not because of a rule, but because it’s the right thing to do.

It’s the only thing to do.

To do or not to do

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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.

Rats.

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.

Blast.

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.”

Damn.

Legacy

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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.