What’s in your wallet?

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19 years ago, at 7 am in a near blizzard, I got in my 9 year old Subaru Loyale, and drove 50 miles to bankruptcy court. My lawyer, whom I had met with once, several months prior, was supposed to meet me there.

He was an hour late, citing the weather. He got no sympathy from me. Even the trustee was unimpressed. He pointed out to him that I had come farther, and that I had been on time. I missed my scheduled time because of him, so I had to wait until the end of the regular schedule for my hearing.

I think the trustee felt sorry for me that my guy was such a loser, but that didn’t stop him from levying a $37,000 judgment against me. I had to borrow the money to pay the judgment from my parents, who had to take out a second mortgage on their house to get it. It was 3/4 of the total amount I owed. So much for starting over.

I paid my parents $500 per month for the next 7 years to repay that debt. They wouldn’t let me pay interest. I had a good job, and after a few years I was able to get a secured credit card, so was able to start rebuilding my credit. In 2009, I was able to get a loan to buy a house, and I felt like I was in the clear.

Then my dad died and I moved in with mom. Dad had been ill for a long time, and by the time he died, the house was in severe disrepair. Those repairs, along with the steep property tax owed for the next few years, forced me into credit card debt once again. Given my history, I didn’t make that choice lightly, but neither mom nor I had any savings, so I had no other recourse.

I had built good credit over the years, though, so 3 years ago my credit union offered me a high limit, low interest credit card that I used to transfer all my debt from the other high interest cards.

This past Saturday I made the last payment on that card. As I write this, I have no credit card debt. In fact, the only debt I have now is the mortgage on my little house, cuz last fall I paid off the car I bought 5 years ago. I don’t really consider my mortgage a debt, per se, cuz if I wasn’t making a house payment, I’d be paying rent, so to me it seems like the same thing.

No debt. I can hardly believe that’s true. I feel free in a way I haven’t since I left high school. Student debt that took 12 years to pay off, credit card debt, car payments on 6 or 7 cars over the years, the bankruptcy judgment, more credit card debt; owing someone something has been a constant in my adult life.

Owing, or being in debt is a powerful metaphor. Not only do I believe in karmic debt manifesting in this life, but I think psychologically I always felt I had to pay my way here because I didn’t really belong. As a child and then young adult, I felt that there was nothing here for me; that my presence on the planet was a mistake, and that I had to make up for what it took to sustain me.

I don’t feel that way now, thank goodness, so I’m hoping that my new found freedom from debt is permanent. The tide has turned. The money that was going to debt payment is now going into savings. After 20 years at Acme Health Services, I have a nice pension fund building. I’m hoping to refinance my house soon, and in a couple of years, transfer it to a reverse mortgage or sell it.

So I’ve kind of backed in to a good financial situation. I’m not rich, and I’m probably not ever going to be unless Publisher’s Clearinghouse is involved, but I feel good about my financial future in a way I never have before, and that’s a very good thing. On that day 19 years ago, I never would have imagined this day would come.

I found my way through the blizzard, and I can see my way forward clearly. It took 58 years, but I made it. Hallelujah!

 

 

Signposts

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Winston Churchill has been a hero of mine for quite a while. To me, he embodies the word “resilience,” and that’s something that has meant a lot to me over the years. My goal throughout all of my life, through some pretty rough stuff, has simply been to keep going. No matter what.

I didn’t want to. There have been plenty of times, deep in the cold morass of the blackest depression, especially, that I’ve thought of giving up. In the middle of bitter disappointment, abject failure, burning rejection, aching loss, I asked myself, “Why?”

Why keep going? What is this all for? What will change?

I didn’t give up, though, and it turns out the answer to all those questions is: ME.

Life hasn’t changed – it’s still hard, and will always be so, but I’ve changed. Turns out I’ve always been resilient, though I didn’t think of myself that way. When I look back at my life, though, I see it. I kept getting up. I took some pretty hard blows, but I got up every time and went on. Bruised and bleeding, for sure, but I got back on my feet and I went on. Every. Time. Sometimes I had help, sometimes I didn’t. Either way, I was the one who had to find the strength to go forward and I did.

As I’ve gotten older I find that I get up faster and that I see those difficult times differently. That’s what’s changed. I see the benefit, the opportunity for growth, quicker than I used to, and while I probably still don’t welcome hardship, I am able to embrace it more fully and faster than I used to. For that I’m deeply grateful.

Last weekend brought me to my knees, literally and figuratively. It pressed all the buttons, hard. In thinking about it now, though, I realize a couple of important shifts.

First, I didn’t get angry. Amazing, cuz that’s my first reaction to most everything unpleasant, typically. I didn’t this time, though cuz I didn’t take it personally. I joked about being punished for taking time off, but it really was a joke, not something I truly believed. It was all just stuff that happened, and I got that right away.

Second, I didn’t make more of it than it was. I did what needed to be done, for myself and then later, for my mom, which is normal. I’ve always been good in a crisis. Afterward, though, I didn’t obsess about it for days and days, and that’s new. It was nasty, and not something I hope to go through again anytime soon, but it’s over. Life goes on.

Resilience.

Never give up. Never, never, never, never. We all have the capacity – that resilience. All creatures are resilient, but for humans it’s different, in that we have a choice. You have to make it over and over.

Everyone I know goes through really rough stuff, again andagain; really gnarly rotten stuff. We all have our own curriculum here in Earth school, so the obstacles are different for all of us, but there are always obstacles, no matter who you are, or how in control you think you are. There is no way to do it “right” so that everything goes well for you. There just isn’t. There’s no point to that. We don’t learn from easy.

We don’t get stronger. We don’t get better, unless we’re challenged. That’s another thing unique to humans. That’s just the way it is. Getting angry, or bitter, or blaming someone else, or numbing out in some way is not helpful. Those are not ways of going on; they are ways of getting stuck.

Stand up. Dig deep and find your own resilience. It’s in there. Shake off the past. It’s over. Look ahead. Check in with yourself right now. Figure out what you need to do to keep going and do that thing, whatever it is. Take care of yourself and soothe your wounds. Reach out if you need help.

Then go on. Take a step, and then another,  and before you know you’re on to the next thing. The other thing – the past – that’s a part of you now, part of your life resume. It’s not all of you, though. You got through that. Pat yourself on the back. You did it!

There will be more, and you’ll do that, too. Cuz you just keep going. That’s all there is. There is no other way. No matter what. Through all of it – the highest highs and the lowest lows – all that this amazing human life has to offer.

Never give in – never, never, never, never. Thank you Mr. Churchill, for showing me the way.

What it’s like here

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Autobiography in Five Chapters

ONE

I walk down the street
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I fall in
I am lost … I am hopeless
It isn’t my fault
It takes forever to find a way out

TWO

I walk down the same street
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I pretend I don’t see it
I fall in again
I can’t believe I’m in the same place
But it isn’t my fault
It still takes a long time to get out

THREE

I walk down the same street
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I see it is there
I still fall in … it’s a habit
My eyes are open
I know where I am
It is my fault
I get out immediately

FOUR

I walk down the same street
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I walk around it

FIVE

I walk down another street

© 1977 Portia Nelson


I love it when the universe sends me a love note. They don’t always get through – my “mailbox” isn’t always open, I’m sad to say – but when they do, they are appreciated. This time the love showed up in the form of this poem, which, at the time I heard it for the first time this week, snatched all the air from body in a most insistent way for a moment or two, and hasn’t given it all back yet. It made me laugh, and then it made me want to cry, cuz, man, ain’t it the truth?!

This is the autobiography of all of us. For each of us the streets and the holes are different, but we’re all out there everyday falling prey to the again-ness of life over and over and over and over, aren’t we? You drag yourself out of whatever hole – hell – you stumbled into, and then, right around the corner, there it is again. Different hole, maybe, but the same stinking pile of muck at the bottom of it.

Again.

Yep. That’s life. The poem ends, but the holes don’t, even on another street. The autobiography continues to be written for as long as you’re walking around, right? Many more than five chapters, I hope. Some of my holes have been patched. Some of the really big ones, I’m happy to say. But I’m always discovering new ones, or old ones on new streets.

Most recently I encountered one of the larger craters on my particular street – my birthday.  It comes around every year, and that’s a good thing, right? I’m so happy to be alive for another year. Truly. I never thought I’d live this long, so every year is another milestone reached. I couldn’t be more grateful for the life I have and for the life I’ve lived.

The hole’s still there, though, of course. In the bottom of that particular gaping pit labeled “Birthday” is a great big pile of steaming, stinking dung that I’ve plunged into every year for a long time. Even when I finally could get out, I still had the stench of it all over me for a while.

Adoption. Loss. Rejection. Abandonment. Muck. The anniversary of the pain of my entry into the world, for me, and for everyone involved. A month later joy for my adoptive parents – yes! But that day, there was only the sadness of a young women giving birth to her first child in a strange place – a baby she would never see or hold or care for – and the sadness and fear of a baby without a mother.

Ugly Black Sticky Stinky Muck.

Though I have no conscious memory of the day, that baby resides somewhere in me still, and she is hurt, and angry and so, so sad. When I was a kid and a young adult, I was sad only for myself, and I was down there in that hole alone, unable to share my pain with anyone else. As I got older and could better understand my birthmother’s experience of that day and the days after, I was sad for both of us.

Now it’s a part of my autobiography, but not the all-consuming story it was for so many years. I don’t fall in that hole very often anymore. In recent years I’ve stumbled over it a couple of times on the actual day, which is mostly the only time I think of those events anymore, but I haven’t fallen in. It’s not the months’ long slog through the depths trying to claw my way out that I experienced as a younger person. Thank goodness for that.

This year, I didn’t even stumble over the hole. I saw it was there. I stopped, said a little prayer of gratitude for both my birthmother and I, and then walked around. I realized that it really doesn’t matter anymore. It probably didn’t really matter for as long as I agonized over it, but that’s just the way it happened, and I forgive myself for that. This is my autobiography, and I’m writing it with my one-of-a-kind pen. If I could have done it differently I would have.

I wish her and myself well. Happy Birthday to both of us. We’ve survived. Our lives went on, chapters have been added, and our autobiographies are still being written. She’ll be 77 in August and now I’m 58. We made it to another street.

Wow.

I would like to meet her, but that’s probably not going to happen. We corresponded 10 years ago, or so, and she answered all my questions. That contact helped me make peace with the whole thing, and I’ll always be grateful to her for that kindness. I’m sure it cost her something. She doesn’t want to meet me, and though I wish she felt differently, I have to respect her choice. She doesn’t owe me anything. She gave me the greatest gift of all – life – and that’s enough.

So on to the next chapter. There will be more of all of it: streets, holes, chapters. A lot more, I hope. For all of us. Each of us writing our own autobiographies, describing for each other our own again-ness, sharing our stories of what it’s like here in these bodies on this planet at this time, in this moment. Right now. Tell me yours and I’ll tell you mine.

Happy Birthday to me. Happy Birthday, Linda.

Many more.

In ourselves

It is not in the stars

One of my favorite parts of my job is doing the social media posts for Acme Health Services and our affiliate organizations, one of which is a hospice volunteer group. In that capacity, I spend a lot of time wandering around the web looking for content that might be meaningful to our followers. For the hospice page I search for articles about grief, of course, but also about all aspects of caregiving, cuz presumably the folks who follow us are probably now, or have been in the past, caregivers to a loved one.

As a caregiver myself these last 7 years, I find these articles useful as well. There are a lot of us out there: middle-aged people caring for elderly parents or other family members in some capacity, and there is a lot of good information about staying sane and healthy available on the internet, thankfully. I live in a small town in a relatively sparsely populated area, so it’s a real boon to be able to connect with folks in other places who are going through the same thing I am.

This week I stumbled across the blog of a woman about the same age as me who is living with and caring for her 80-something mother, who has dementia. We are different in that my mother is still pretty sharp. For that I’m grateful. My dad had dementia, and that was a difficult road to travel.

In many other ways, however, we are scarily alike. This blogger has never married, and never had children. She works full-time outside her home. Other than cats, this is essentially her first experience as a live-in,  day-to-day, hour-to-hour caregiver for another human being. Same for me – all of it – so the similarities in our current circumstances, and our lives in general, really struck me.

I encounter people all the time who are surprised that I’ve stuck with mom this long, or that I agreed to do this to begin with. Sometimes I’m amazed myself, but here I am, by choice, doing the best I can for mom and trying to take good care of myself along the way, every hour of every day. This has been my life for 7 years, and it will continue to be my life until one of us takes her last breath.

It’s been up and down, for sure, and I’ve struggled mightily at times. It hasn’t always been an uplifting story and it remains to be seen whether it’ll turn out to have a happy ending. Many times I’ve felt that I couldn’t go on, and yet I did, and I will, to the end, whatever and whenever that may be, for no other reason than it is the right thing to do.

This blogger put it this way: What else am I going to do? Yes! Exactly.

What else is there to do in a life that is more meaningful than offering another human being – especially a family member – the love and care every human being deserves when it’s needed? The first 50 years of my life I thought a lot about how I could live a meaningful life. What do I have to offer the world? Do I matter? Why am I here?

Now I know. I don’t think about any of that any more. This is what I have to offer. This is why I am here. As it turns out, a life-long failure at most everything by which society measures people, finally I know I belong here and I’m a success. I matter to my mother, and perhaps my story matters to someone else, as that blogger has validated my experience.

Really, what could I be doing right now that would matter more? What else could I have been doing in the last 7 years that would have transformed me in the way this experience has? I have been forced to become so much more than I was, even so much more than I thought I could be. I still have a long way to go, but I am a much better person than I was when I moved in here. Not only have I become responsible for the care of another human being – which is not something I ever wanted – but I have become responsible for myself in a way I never was before.

This has been a win for both of us. I have benefitted from this experience as least as much as my mother, and our relationship, which was turbulent for most of my life, has been repaired. That’s no small thing. The irony that she and I would be the two left standing in our family and would be required to rely on each other this much at the end is almost too much to be believed given our history, except that it’s exactly the way the universe works, and it’s clear to me now that it was always going to be this way. This was where we’ve been headed all along.

That’s about as close as I’ll come to believing in destiny. Really, it could have gone either way. I could have said “no” at any point, or I could have given into the resentment that rears its ugly head every now and again, especially when I compare my life to that of my friends. I still could – it ain’t over yet. The end could be tomorrow or it could be another 7 years. The future is uncertain.

For now, though, I’m resting in the knowledge that I’ve made it this far. That’s all. I’m grateful for that, and my wish for all of us on this caregiving journey is simply that we can rest easy knowing that we’re right where we need to be, and that we’re doing the best thing we could be doing at this time.

It matters.

Shadows on the wall

Treasure - Joseph Campbell

I came across this quote from Joseph Campbell a while ago and it struck me immediately. Yes! Of course. Life is hard. It’s not a bug; it’s a feature.

If you’re having a hard time, you’re not doing it wrong. It’s hard for everyone, even if it doesn’t seem like it. Most importantly, you’re ready for it, even if you don’t know it yet.

Humans are equipped for difficulty. We are outfitted for adversity by design with our big creative brains. We are hard-wired for problem-solving. We have the ability to think about the past, the present and the future; to remember and to anticipate. We can visualize our place in time and space.

We can control our thoughts. We can learn from mistakes. We are able to empathize with other creatures – to think beyond ourselves and our own needs. We can anticipate and avoid danger, and this has helped us survive as a species.

Somehow, however, we have become so averse to experiencing hardship and it’s accompanying emotional pain that we’ve convinced ourselves that it’s not supposed to happen. Worse, we believe that there’s something we can do or something we shouldn’t do, that will ensure a carefree life.

Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy!

But here’s the reality: That’s not the way life is, and it’s not how it is meant to be. It just is what it is. Up and down, good and bad. There’s nothing you can do, or anything you can stop doing to ensure a smooth journey through a joyous life. You can’t avoid experiencing the bad stuff. Full stop.

Every being on this planet experiences hardship.

Sadly, though, you can avoid dealing with the pain of those experiences and that’s what’s getting us in trouble now. Our big brains have solved the “life hurts” problem in the short term with all sorts of distractions – food, drugs, sex, social media – it doesn’t really matter what the distraction is as long as it pings the pleasure centers in our big brains, and gets those magic endorphins swimming around in there.

I say in the short term, because typically you can only employ these methods for a relatively brief time before they start contributing to the “life hurts” problem more than solving it, and that’s only if your distraction doesn’t kill you and/or something in your life that matters to you.

Honestly, our happy shiny/everything’s fine/I’m okay you’re okay/skating on the surface/ first world existence is killing us and the planet. Everything is not okay, and our belief that if we’re not “happy” all the time, and doing everything “perfectly” according to society’s whims we’re doing something wrong, is sad, dangerous, and just plain incorrect.

Give yourself a break. Life is hard, and if you get that and you’re facing it head on, then you are doing it right. Bad stuff happens, good stuff happens, and your reaction to both is what has the potential to make your life meaningful, to yourself, other people, and to the planet.

Instead of trying so hard to avoid stumbling, and avoiding the dark places, the problem we should set our big brains on solving is how we can better help each other go in after the treasure, holding hands, and reassuring one another. No more distractions. No more shadows on the wall. Let’s get real. In this year of perfect vision, let’s take the blinders off, and gently, kindly, help each other find our way through in the dark.

If your life is going smoothly right now and you’re having a blast, good for you! Enjoy this time. Regroup and recharge.

If you’re stumbling, do the best you can to keep going. You’re not alone. It doesn’t seem that way if you spend a lot of time on Facebook or Instagram or watching TV, but that’s all fiction. Rarely is real life depicted there. Hang out in the dark for a while until you come out with the treasure. It’s there, and you’ll find it if you look for it, rather than trying to distract yourself from the pain. Be brave.

Feel the pain, but don’t dwell on it. Listen for what it’s trying to tell you and then let it go. Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.

You may need a guide to lead you through, or maybe just a helmet and some rope. Get what you need. Take care of yourself. Take sandwiches; you may be in there a while. Wear warm clothes. It’ll be scary, but don’t give into the fear. Find your way through, grab the treasure – the wisdom, the healing, the fundamental truth about yourself, and/or your life, the understanding, the ability to go on – and come back into the light.

We’re waiting for you with open arms.

 

Equal Opportunity

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I believe this. I believe this is what people mean when they say “everything happens for a reason.” I’m not willing to speculate about whether things are “destined” to happen a certain way, but I definitely have come to believe that every “bad” or hurtful thing that happens in our lives can be used as an opportunity to grow – to encompass and process the experience, and in doing so to become a more peaceful, whole, and useful human.

You can think of these experiences as “tests,” but what’s at stake is much more than passing or failing. In fact, failure is usually more effective in teaching us whatever lesson is available. In my experience, getting to the place emotionally and mentally at which you are able to process the “lesson” can take a long time, but if you’re open to it, that I could have had a V-8 moment comes quicker each time.

Something happened at work a couple of weeks ago that really hit me where I live. I stumbled and fell hard for a couple of days after, and to some degree, I’m still reeling a bit.

Anything that angers you teaches you forgiveness and compassion.
Anything (in this case, anyone) that has power over you teaches you how to take your power back.

I’m trying to get to the “lesson learned” part of those sentences, but it hasn’t been easy, and I’m sorry to say I’m not quite to forgiveness and compassion yet, or figuring out how to get my power back. It’s not keeping me awake at night any more, and I have started processing it (which is why I’m writing about it – it helps), and that’s a step in the right direction, but it’s been a longer journey than I would hope for.

The difference between what we know to be true and what we feel about any situation can be vast and seemingly unable to be reconciled. I can tell myself all kinds of rational things about the dynamics at play in the situation, blah blah blah, but what I felt and still feel to some degree, is betrayed, disrespected, devalued, and lots of other “someone treated me badly” emotionally charged words. It happened. I didn’t imagine it, and I didn’t misunderstand. I didn’t see it coming, so that made it that much worse.

I haven’t had to see or speak to the person who…uh…gave me this opportunity to forgive…since the meeting in question, and now I’m out of the office for two weeks, so even though I have evolved from the younger and less wise version of myself who would have said exactly what I wanted to say at the time (almost never a good idea, right?), that’s a good thing.

I’m not still angry – oh man, was I angry – but I am still hurt. Bruised and achy in some places, and not ready to face another encounter – good or bad – just yet. She won’t apologize, cuz that’s not who she is. She’s young and in a powerful position and I’m sure she felt she was completely in the right in what she did and in the way she did it. That’s okay. I’m not in charge of her growth; only my own.

The knowledge that someday she will be in my shoes and that likely the same thing will happen to her brings me a little comfort, but not much, cuz actually I think it’s just really sad women of any age step on each other that way in order to get ahead. I think we all lose when we treat each other the way most men treat us. In telling me a story once about something that had happened to her in her own career, a former boss said, “She’s knocking herself and everybody else out trying to get to the top of the hill, and doesn’t yet realize there is no hill.”

Yep.

My challenge is to forgive her, for my own peace, and because I have to continue to work with her. Secondly, I either have to prove her wrong in her assessment of me (unlikely) or simply continue to be true to myself and my abilities and trust that it’ll all come right at some point. That second option is made simpler by the reality that I am going to retire in a few years, so I’m not interested in ascending the proverbial ladder or even maintaining my place on it anymore.

Even if it doesn’t work out all right, I realize I don’t care that much. My objective these days is really just to remain employed, and I don’t have any reason to believe that this situation endangers that objective. Continuing to collect my very comfortable salary serves my purposes now and as far as this job goes, beyond the value I find in the good work we do for the community we serve, that’s about all I’m interested in.

So rather than getting my power back, I just have to remember where it is (in here, not out there), and what that means to me. I work hard and I do the best I can always, and that won’t change. My day-to-day priorities and idea of who I am and what I have to offer the world have changed, however, and those changes have come into clearer focus as a result of this event.

So I can thank that young woman for that. She offered me a mirror in which I see myself and who I am now very clearly, and I like what I see, even if she doesn’t. I forgive her, cuz she doesn’t know any better, apparently, and I have compassion for her because someday she will. I know now not to trust her, and that’s probably a good thing going forward cuz she has proven herself unworthy of my trust, but it makes me sad, just the same. Finally, I would hope for some warning next time, but that’s rarely the way the universe works, so I just have to let that be.

I’ll continue to heal, and I hope to be ready for the next…uh…opportunity. It will come, for sure, because that is the way the universe works, and if we pay attention, we can benefit from these rocks in our path, even if they don’t seem helpful right away. I’m certain I’ll continue to stumble over them, but as long as I keep getting up again I’ll be okay –  bruised, but not broken, and still moving forward. That’s all that really matters, and it’s all I hope for these days.

Just keep moving forward.

Birds of a feather

I am an optimist by nature, so despite years of debilitating depression, habitual failure in every area of life, and persistent evidence to the contrary, I’ve held on to hope that someday my life would be as I imagined it could be. That the world would be as I imagined. That the happy ending was just on the next page. There was no doubt that it would come. The only question was “When?”

That death-grip on hope for the future has saved me time and again. My life has been distinguished by loss and failure, but I don’t think of myself as a loser, or less-than anyone else, because I have always believed (and still do) that everything is temporary and that someday it’ll all come right. The ending hasn’t been written yet, and until it has been ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE.

Life is uncertain. No one can see into the future, and as it turns out, that’s a good thing. That uncertainty allows us to hope, and to believe that everything will be okay. If it weren’t for the knowledge that anything is possible in any moment and that life can and does change in an instant, how would we keep going? If you know how the story ends, why read it?

Uncertainty forces us to be creative, and hopeful, and resourceful. To solve problems, rather than wilt in the face of them. To overcome hurdles, because we don’t know how it will turn out until we try.

Yes, it’s uncomfortable, especially when you’re in the middle of an seemingly intractable situation, or faced with a problem over and over again. You never know what tomorrow is going to bring. The next thing you try may be the answer to the problem you’ve been dealing with for years. Or not. Or something may happen to you, or to someone else that changes a situation instantly and makes it better. Or worse. Bad things happen, but so do good things. Anything is possible in every moment.

We don’t know ahead of time, so all we can do is hope for the best. Cuz the alternative is grim. We all know someone who’s given up; someone who is cynical and/or grumpy, because they’ve lost hope that anything can be different than whatever misery they’ve faced or are facing.

I had a conversation this weekend with someone about something that concerns both of us and the greater community, and I heard myself saying that I didn’t think anything she was doing to try to solve a problem was going to work. The problem is huge, and involves a lot of people, and I heard myself say, “I just don’t think there’s any point in trying.”

Yikes.

I got off the phone and thought a lot about the conversation that afternoon and yesterday, and I’m thinking about it now. That’s not who I am. That’s not who I’ve ever been before. Do I really believe there’s no hope?

No.

One thing my life has taught me is how quickly things can change, and how unpredictable human beings are, especially. As long as those two things are true, anything is still possible. There is always a point to trying. Even if you don’t succeed. Just hanging on to the hope that makes trying again possible keeps your heart beating and your head in the game.

Having said that, what I recognized as I was thinking about all this was exactly what I wrote about in my last post. I’m depleted. I need a rest. The battles I’ve been fighting are not big, and they’re mine alone, but they are difficult just the same, and I’m tired of fighting. I need to regroup. I think that’s what I should have said in that conversation, and I think ultimately I did. I hope so anyway.

I feel that there’s no point in trying because I don’t have it in me right now to fight this fight.  I will support you in your fight, however, in whatever way I’m able.

Uncertainty is the human condition. Hope is the cure for anxiety about that condition. I became aware of the following poem early on in my life, and I’ve had a copy of it posted on my office bulletin board for years. Truer words were never written. It’s all we need to know:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

-Emily Dickinson

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.

In the middle

Life is not so much about beginnings and endings as it is about going on and on and on. It is about muddling through the middle.

This has been a good week and I’m enjoying life in the middle. Not really muddling all that much, though, and that’s what’s made it feel so good. I have felt comfortable this week resting in what is – who I am, what I’m doing, and the way in which life is unfolding in every moment. Content to be present and able to welcome life as it comes. It wasn’t a kidney stone week, and that helped, for sure, but it wasn’t easy-peasy, either.

It was just regular life – some happy things, a couple of scary things, some annoying things, some sad things, and one or two downright disheartening things. Nothing extreme on either end of the spectrum, just the regular stuff, and a little bit of Spring thrown in to give the heart a leg up to start.

Doesn’t happen all that often, and I know it won’t last that long, but for the last few days I’ve felt steadfast. Ready. Willing to go on. Hopeful, even, that somehow everything will work out for the best – even if it’s not what I want, whatever happens may be just what I need – if I just get out of my own way and just let things be.

That’s not easy, and I’m not usually very good at it, but this week it was like a gift. It’s been effortless. I’m grateful for it cuz the week before that nearly sent me spiralling into the abyss. I was muddling through, frustrated with the again-ness, beating my head against the wall of familiar intractable problems – at work, at home, with the house and my health – and so so so discouraged.

I kept getting out of bed and facing the days, though, getting through, and somehow, now I’ve gotten over that wall. I can’t honestly say I know what changed, but Tuesday it was all just different. I was different. I surrendered. Instead of giving up, I gave in. Instead of apathy, acceptance. Another layer of resistance peeled away; scraped off by the abrasion of life.

So I’m reminded that all I have to do is show up. Be present. Muddle through the middle, as Anna Quindlen says. What matters is the middle. Rest easy in the knowledge that everything passes, and then comes again. That’s just the way it is. There is only now, and me, and what is. There is no way to live life so perfectly that there are no problems. Somehow I keep thinking that I’m going to get to a place where everything is all right all the time. Rationally I know there is no such place and that there is no way to get there. There is still a part of me that’s not convinced, though, so there’s more to learn.

My challenge is to welcome the problems as lessons, the again-ness as the opportunity to learn them well; to reach a deeper level of understanding and acceptance over and over again. That’s why I’m here, and that’s what’s best for me, even though it doesn’t always seem so.

I’m probably not ever going to fully accept that, but I think I’m getting better, and this week I had it knocked. Next week I’ll probably trip all over myself again and fall flat on my face. Whatever. I know I’m doing the best I can, and that my intention is on track, and that I’m heading in the right direction. That’s all that’s necessary.

Just muddling through until I get to a good place to rest for a while. I’m happy to be here.

Now.

 

 

 

Dream a little dream

 

Last night I had a vivid dream that has stayed with me all morning. I’ve been trying to determine what it was trying to convey to me, cuz it was so clear and memorable. I don’t usually remember dreams. I wake most often with heart-clenching anxiety over dreams I can’t remember. So this one was unusual.

I had just moved into a new house – a mobile home, one that I lived in for 12 years, actually – and I was so happy! I was unpacking and setting all my stuff up just so, just the way I wanted it to be in my new home and feeling so lucky to have this great place.

I was in the bedroom putting clothes in the closet and singing, when I became aware of voices in the back yard. I looked out and there were 10 or so people out there, kind of rough, backwoods kind of people, mostly men. Two of them were starting to cut down a tree and another one was digging a hole.

I ran outside and on my way to the backyard around the front of the house, I could see that they had laid traps – the kind that are like jaws with big teeth – on chains all across the front lawn. I ran around to the back and yelled, “Stop! What are you doing? This is my house!” They all turned to look at me with blank stares for a couple seconds, and then went back to what they were doing.

I ran over to one of the men who had a long white beard and a huge halo of messy white hair and asked him what they were doing there. It took him a long time to answer, and then he said, “You can’t have this all to yourself. This is for everyone.”

I was devastated. I had been so happy! Then I had the thought that I have had quite often in my life – whatever I want, whatever I love, whenever I’m happy, if I enjoy it too much I’ll lose it.

Then, still in the dream, I relaxed. Not in a defeated way, but in an accepting way. I went back in the house.

Okay.

What they were doing outside was not really affecting me inside. I had not lost anything, as long as I was in the house. I had been happy inside, doing my thing. Singing. My space, my stuff, my voice, my self. Outside was a bunch of stuff that I don’t like or approve of or support, but that I have absolutely no control over. I was fine until I looked outside. The traps were right outside the door of my house.

And it isn’t true that I lose everything that makes me happy. Sometimes it true, yes. Cuz that’s just life. Sometimes things work out, sometimes they don’t. But I’m learning that the more something I want is based on something that someone else is doing, or being, or having, the less likely it’s going to work out for me the way I would like it to

Sometimes I let myself down and that’s heartbreaking, but it’s also something I have control over, for the most part, and something I can change. I can stop doing that. I can show up for myself.

What I can’t do – THE THING THAT GETS ME IN TROUBLE ALL THE TIME – is count on other people to show up for me. Thinking that it’s necessary for other people to behave as I want them to for me to be happy or safe or whatever sets me up for disappointment EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

Cuz other people aren’t me. They have different desires and goals and paths to happiness or fulfillment. Sometimes their desires and goals and paths will coincide with mine. We can be together, work together for a common purpose, support each other. Human life is a communal experience and finding common ground is crucial to our survival and purpose.

However, we can’t be each other. We’re all entitled to our own stuff. Ultimately, we all have to follow our own path, do what’s right for us alone, show up for ourselves, stand in our own integrity. And  I think what the dream was trying to teach me was that it’s not up to me to decide if someone else’s sense of who they are or what they should be doing in this life is right or wrong. I can look at them and decide that who they are or what they’re doing is not who or what I want to be or do, but beyond that, it has nothing to do with me, even if it affects me.

You can’t have this all for yourself. This is for everyone.

The only thing I can do is take care of myself if I’m hurt, look away or leave if what they’re doing is too painful to watch, express my view if I really feel I need to do that, while being fully mindful that it probably won’t change anything, even though it might make me feel better.

So really being happy comes down to minding my own business. That seems easy, but it’s not, is it? Simple, but not easy, as is true of so many things in this wonderful and interesting life. This is not the same as self-absorption – quite the opposite – it’s simply the realization that it’s not all about me, except for what is inside me.

I’ve been circling around this concept for a while now. It’s a theme in what I’m reading and thinking about and experiencing, and I think this dream was my mind’s way of tying it all up with a little bow and handing it to me. I love it when things work out like that. Helps me to feel supported, even though I don’t have a clear sense of where that support comes from. It’s still good to know it’s there.

So a good day in Earth School. Of course, the final exam is the next time I encounter someone who’s doing something that bugs me.

I wonder how I’ll do?