The home stretch

Compassion - Kornfield

I can’t say this about very many days, but I know exactly where I was at this time on this day 21 years ago. I know because it was the day my life started to unravel. Just a little thread that day; I didn’t realize that it wasn’t easily repaired and that ultimately everything would come apart. I would lose everything that mattered to me, including a business I put heart and soul into for 5 years. I would end up in bankruptcy court and the judgment would be harsh. It would take years to recover financially, mentally and emotionally.

But that was all still a long way off on this day in 1998. That day I was starting a new job waiting tables at the Country Club. I know it was this particular Saturday because the first day I worked was on the afternoon of the Kentucky Derby that year. I was working as a waitress, serving wealthy people who came to watch the Derby and drink mint julips in the lounge with their rich friends. I think of that afternoon every year on Derby day. I’ll never forget it, for lots of reasons.

First, never in my life had people been so rude to me. I had worked in restaurants on and off since 1976, but I had never waited table. I wasn’t very good at it, and the people I was waiting on were not very understanding. It was a LONG afternoon. It sucked, but I went back the next day, and the next night and on  and on for a couple of months because I had to.

I had a business, and a client who didn’t pay on time and I was in financial turmoil. I had to do something to keep myself and the business afloat, so I took that second job at night and on weekends to bring in some cash. During the day I did client work as usual, and at 4 o’clock almost everyday I put on my uniform and sturdy shoes and went to work serving privileged and unpleasant people.

I hated every minute of that job. Every single second. The chef was a tyrant and the members were unkind and dismissive. I had one man tell me he thought I should go get a job at Burger King because that seemed to be more my pace. This after he had known me a half hour, and because I had made a mistake on his wife’s drink order. Please, just shoot me now. What would make you believe it would be okay for you to say something like that to a complete stranger? And what makes you think it’s so easy to work at Burger King, asshole? Money does strange things to people.

They were all like that. I would like to report that most people were kind, but that would not be true. With the exception of one couple who were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary and had obviously saved up for a special dinner out, every single person I waited on for the two months I was there was simply unkind and impatient at best and verbally abusive at worst. I’ve never been so happy to leave any job in my life, and I’ve had a lot of jobs.

I left after two months because I got a job at a different restaurant in town where I could make more money and where I knew a lot of the staff. It was better, and I stuck with it until Thanksgiving that year. The extra money helped and I thought I would be okay then, but the writing was on the wall and two years later I would have to admit it was there and that it was true. I closed the business and got a “real” job doing graphics work for Acme Health Services. I’m still there today, and it has been a good thing, though it has taken me a long time to see it that way.

It`s been a long road. It was hard and on any given day I would have said that I would never recover all that I lost that summer and after. But here I am, and I’m okay, and if I need money like that again I know exactly what I won’t be doing. I’m grateful for the experience though, for several reasons.

  1. It humbled me. I took the job cuz I thought it would be an quick way to make money. I never considered that I wouldn’t be good at it. As I said, I had worked in restaurants on and off for 25 years at that point, bussing tables, hostessing, and even as the bookkeeper one summer. I thought I knew everything there was to know about hectic dining rooms, eccentric staff and rude clientele. This experience opened my eyes about just how horrible human beings can be to another when they believe they are superior to someone else.
  2. It taught me that sometimes you just can’t have what you want, no matter how hard you try to get it. For a long time that made me REALLY bitter. I carried around a chip on my shoulder about that experience and the client who had done me wrong and caused me to have to go to those lengths to survive. It got too heavy, though, that chip, and I finally laid it down. I realized that it had been my naivete as much as his callousness that had gotten me in that situation. It was a valuable lesson in just how much control you have over other people (zero) and that good people don’t always do the right thing.
  3. Not having any money and the bankruptcy experience taught me so much about so many things.
    1. Failure doesn’t kill you, but if you let it, it will transform you.
    2. Poor people are not lazy or stupid. I didn’t believe this to begin with, but this experience deepened my compassion for people who are down on their luck.
    3. Not everyone is good at their job and even people who are supposed to be on your side will let you down. My attorney was late for my banktruptcy hearing, didn’t have everything with him that he was supposed to, and didn’t say a word on my behalf during the hearing. The judgment was harsh (it took 10 years for me to pay it off). After the hearing, the attorney said he hoped I had learned my lesson. I considered not paying his staggering bill, but finally decided that was not in my best interest. A year later he was dead of cancer. I had learned my lesson, but I wonder if he learned his before he died.
    4. Being forced to give up my business and take the job at Acme was one of the best things that has happened to me in my life. I didn’t see it that way for a long time, but looking back I see it very clearly now. I think I was on the right path in my business – it was the happiest and most fulfilled I’ve ever felt – but financially it wasn’t working and I wasn’t seeing that. I believe in karma, and looking back, I see that situation with my delinquent client through that lens and then it makes sense. I was getting deeper and deeper in debt (metaphors in our lives are very powerful, aren’t they? The universe is so eloquent) and I had to give up something that mattered very much to me to pay the karmic debt. The money took a lot longer, but I paid that debt, too, thanks to the stability of my job at Acme. The other things I’ve gained in the last 19 years, and the ways in which I’ve grown through my relationships there and the work we do, all tell me that I’m right where I should be, doing exactly what I should doing, even though some days it’s not what I want to be doing.

It wasn’t all sunshine and roses (or mint julips), but the whole experience, beginning on that day so long ago, has been worth the pain and the struggle to survive. I wish I had been wiser and could have made those changes without the body-slam from the universe, but that’s not how it happened then, and I’m not sure it would happen any differently now, though I fancy myself as being a little wiser than that waitress in 1998.

Humans are a hard-headed, stiff-necked group, though, and I’m 100% human. I hope the next time I’m so clearly headed off-course, that the universe will steer me right once again, though a little more gently next time, please. It’s those hard come-arounds that give you whiplash and do damage to the ship. However it happens, though, I trust that there is more in store for this old girl.

I hope so. Cuz, man what a trip around the track it’s been so far!

Transitions

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There is some spring-ish weather forecast for the end of the week — 52° F on Thursday, oh my! — but it’s snowing today, and I’ll have to shovel the driveway this afternoon so I can get out and go to work in the morning, in the dark, thanks to Daylight Savings Time.

Yee. Ha.

I love Spring, but the transition is hard, what with the industrial strength mud and ice and rain, rain, rain. Winter doesn’t give up easily, so I’m not too excited,,,yet. Last year the worst storm we had all season came in April — two feet of icy snow the consistency of sand that defied shoveling and nearly did me in.

So, though I feel almost desperate for Spring, as I do every year at this time, I know it ain’t over yet. It’ll take a while for all this snow and ice to melt, and it’ll be 2 months or more before the temperature will be above 50° with any regularity, at least 4 months, maybe 5, before I’ll be experiencing one of my favorite so-hot-I can’t-breathe-properly bike rides on the trail by the lake.

I’ll bundle up and get out for short rides on those 50° days, and I’ll enjoy them, but there will be a part of my brain, as always, that is cursing the cold, and asking myself why on earth I don’t live somewhere warmer. The answer to that question is simple – cuz my mother won’t leave this place and I won’t leave her.

Still I ask it, and 100 other questions over and over. They all start with Why, not who or what or how, cuz those are all “doing” words, and I’m limited — by many factors, not just my mother — in the amount I can do to change anything in my life right now, but I think about what I would change all the time.

I try not to — I want to be in the moment, accepting what is — but I forget, and before I know it my mind has fast-forwarded to 5 years from now and what I think I’ll be doing and where I think I’ll be doing it. That is, unfortunately, where I seem to be happiest lately — in the future.

This is an improvement over years past, when what I thought I wanted most was not to be somewhere else, or doing something else, but to be someone else. That is painful beyond measure, and I’m so grateful for the drugs, therapy and time that eased that burden finally.

I’m sitting here now, typing this, watching the snow fall out the window in the hall, and I realize that when I can just get back to the gratitude, that’s where all the answers to those why questions are. There is finally peace in just letting it all be, and allowing the gratitude and relief I feel for simply being able to experience life fully, on any terms, to fill my heart. It is in gratitude that I find happiness and contentedness with what isand where I am and who I am.

Honestly, I find it hard to be grateful for snow, or winter in general, or losing an hour of sleep. If that’s the price of admission, though, I’ll pay it. If I can find happiness in shoveling the drive for the 50th time this winter, then, man, I’ve got it knocked! It’s there if I look hard enough: I am alive, and healthy enough to shovel my own driveway. I have a house and a car that necessitates a driveway, and a job that requires me to keep it clear of snow.

Not everyone is that lucky. Really, I don’t need to go much further that the first one, do I? I am alive. That in itself is a gift — this life — and I honor it by showing up and fully giving myself to every minute of it.

What more could I possibly need?

Still hoping Spring comes quickly, though! What does your forecast look like?

The Thing Is

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The Thing Is
by Ellen Bass

to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you’ve held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.

“The Thing Is” by Ellen Bass, from Mules of Love. © BOA Editions, Ltd., 2002.


That is the thing, isn’t it? The secret, the very essence of this human life. The moment of your resurrection: To love life even when you have no stomach for it.

To say: I will love you, again.

Life is so hard and it breaks us over and over again, but we forgive and go on. Despite the mind-numbing weight of disappointment and grief for all we will never have and all we will never be.

I will take you, life, I will love you, again. It’s the again that causes my breath to catch in my chest. Yes. Again. I will get up after falling, after being brought to my knees by the crushing weight, and I will keep going. Again.

And again.

As many times as it takes until life is finished with me. It’s the again that matters. We all love life when things are going well; when everything makes sense and you feel like you finally understand and have some aptitude for getting along day by day. That’s the easy part. That’s the part where every gift is wrapped in gratitude and joy fills every fiber of your being.

Then there are the other parts. The times when it doesn’t seem possible to bear another day, another moment, another second of the pain and the slippery, twisty, unapologetic weight of ALL THAT IS WRONG. In your life, in the life of someone you love, of someone you just met or don’t know at all. Sometimes all that anguish just penetrates your skin and inhabits every cell and you stumble. You are unable to carry your heavy heart – the burden of the obesity of grief – another step. The harsh blows life deals all of us cast you to the ground and bruise your soul so deeply you don’t think you will ever rise again.

But you do. It takes time for the bruises to heal and the pain to subside, but you rise slowly, gingerly, carefully cradling your tender heart, and you go on. And in doing so you say to life, Yes, I will love you again.

You forgive life, other people, and yourself and you go on. Maybe you can set the weight aside for a while, maybe leave it behind completely, or maybe you’re still carrying it and it tires you, but you go on. You keep trying. You keep doing. You keep giving.

You offer life what’s within you – all that’s yours to give, all that you brought with you in the hope that it will be of use, be valued, be loved. Sometimes your gifts are welcomed and your dreams are realized; more often they are thrown back in your face in a most devastating way.

You rail against the rejection, the loss, the pain of being tossed aside, of being dismissed by life so casually. You close up like a flower in winter, gathering in your soft petals and tucking them deep inside your center, waiting for the return of Spring, when you will once again risk everything and bloom.

Until then, you wait. Nurture your roots in the darkness and repair the damage to your battered heart. Because you know:

forgiveness
renewal
gratitude

will come again and you will say to your love, this life, I will take you.

Again.

Because that’s the contract. That’s the deal. What we signed up for. No good without bad, no happiness without sorrow, no gain without loss, and no renewal without death.

No courage without vulnerability.

No love without forgiveness.

No life without love.

Finding my way through, one step at a time

Today I’ve had my own personal cloud following me around. I haven’t slept well the past couple of nights and I feel out of sorts today. Kind of owly and fragile and not really interested in anything except feeling better. Lack of sleep for sure, weather maybe, February probably.

Not much is the way I want it right now, and it’s been a challenge today to find the good in each moment. I’m not sure if I can’t see it because it’s not there, or because I’m just too caught up in the cloudiness of my thoughts and the lack of energy in my body. Maybe a little of both.

For me, there isn’t much good in February in northern Michigan. Today it’s very cold and gloomy and every walkway and parking lot is covered in ice from the big storm we got over the weekend, so even just walking to my car at lunchtime was an ordeal. I’m at an age now where I worry about falling and breaking a hip or something else, and about what would happen to my mother if I had to be hospitalized (or worse).

Work is challenging this week, and I’m not really in the mood to be challenged. I enjoy working less with each passing day, but I really have no choice but to stick with it until I retire in 5 years, cuz this is a really small town and there just aren’t that many jobs, especially for an “elder” worker like me.

I know, also, that my dissatisfaction/satisfaction meter fluctuates wildly most of the time – most days I love my job and Acme Health Services, so I know that my less than stellar feeling about being at work today is most likely fleeting, and that tomorrow I could feel completely differently, so I’m trying not to get too caught up in what is probably just a blip on the screen. This too shall pass.

I think overall the biggest contributor to my flagging spirits is simply waiting. It seems everything I want is just out of reach and I never seem to get there: retirement, Spring, freedom from my obligation to my mother, even the weekend. It’s all “out there” and today it seems so far away, and I wonder if I’ll ever get to those marks on the path ahead. I feel like I’m just plodding along (picking my way carefully across the ice), headed nowhere.

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Fortunately I’m not so cloudy that I don’t know that the biggest share of my angst can be attributed to not staying in this moment, right now. Thinking about the future and wishing it was 5 years from now is not only a waste of time, it’s downright demoralizing. Wishing my life away, failing to recognize what’s here in this moment, in my present reality, is just not helpful.

I know better, of course. It’s hard, though, not to harken to the siren call of the future’s promise that everything will be great when… I’d have everything I want if only… The future is all potential, not reality, so it can be whatever my little brain thinks up. I can talk myself right into believing that it’s going to be better at some other time and in doing so, completely lose faith in whatever’s happening now. It’s not as exciting. It’s not as promising of good things.

It’s not as hard.

Meanwhile, life is passing me by, and that’s not what I want. Can’t enjoy life if I’m not truly experiencing it, can I? No siree, Bob. So what’s a girl to do?

Focus on being here now.

At work: Take a day off to enjoy all of the above! Or…wear warm clothes. Drink some of Chris’ nerve-jangling coffee to really wake up and get into the day, or make a cup of tea. Listen to favorite music with iPod and earbuds so as not to disturb officemate. Take frequent breaks and stretch or walk upstairs for no reason.

At home: Curl up with a good book in a room with soft light and some music playing and thoroughly enjoy indoor-ness. Revel in the soft warmth of wool, flannel and fleece. Conjure up a hot brew – coffee, tea, hot chocolate. Burn a flowery candle or some jasmine incense.

At the gym tonight: Walk on the treadmill and listen to an audiobook or podcast on the shiny new MP3 player I gave myself for my birthday. Row or ride to someplace warm.

Write down 5 things that aren’t wrong today. They’re there  – think hard. I’m alive. I have a job. I have a home. It’s not November. It’s not Monday.

Locate and reinstall sense of humor.

Remember: This too shall pass.

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?

Patti LaBelle’s got nothin’ on me

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I’ve been making some changes. Internally mostly, but externally also. You may have noticed a new name for the blog, and if you access it via the web (not via WP reader), you’ll notice a new look.

I started this blog over 10 years ago, and I’m not the same person I was at all then. Frankly, I’m not the same person I was 2 months ago, or even two weeks ago, before the snow wall and a couple of other things that have happened recently. I still drink a lot of green tea, and I’m still grateful for my life and all that daily existence on this planet teaches me, but it’s time for a broader view.

The prompt for the 12 Short Stories challenge this month is “New Me” and I’ve been thinking a lot about what my short story is going to be about, and what my story is about: the story of me and my life and how I navigate my path through it.

Non-fiction.

Last week I wrote about my idealism and how it gets me in trouble now and again. I look for the best in people and I’m often disappointed. That has everything to do with me, and my expectations, and almost nothing to do with them, as they are just living their lives, walking their own path as they see fit, and none of that has anything to do with me. None of us knows what another is here to accomplish or learn; we’re all unique and we’re all alone on our particular journey.

There is common ground, certainly, but each of us has a perspective on life that no one else on this planet has. We can tell each other how we see things – about our experience of this life – and sometimes it resonates with someone else’s experience. But we can never really know what another person is thinking or feeling or what it’s really like to walk in their shoes.

That’s a good thing and a bad thing. Two sides of the same coin, as so many things of importance are.

I have a dual nature, in that my astrological sign, Aquarius, has two rulers, unlike most of the other signs in the zodiac – Saturn and Uranus. Saturn rules time and is the taskmaster, the stern schoolmaster teaching difficult lessons. Saturn is all about structure – creating and maintaining – at all costs.

Uranus is more volatile. Uranus is all about surprise and behaves unexpectedly, powerfully, bringing change and new possibility. Uranus crushes structure, if necessary, to free the higher mind and bring about a new era. Uranus is electric.

Saturn is conjunct my natal sun, which essentially means Saturn has been sitting on my head all my life, making sure I followed the rules, towed the line and behaved as expected, i.e. lived up to my responsibilities, of which I’ve had many in my life, from the time I was very young.

Uranus resides in my natal 5th house, hanging out there with my True Node (or North Star/True North in folklore), which lights the way to my soul’s highest purpose and desire in this life. The 5th house is the house of creativity and creative expression.

Boom.

So, I’ve been towing Saturn’s line all my life – reliable, serious, studious, disciplined. I think it’s time to give more attention to the other side of the coin. Now I’m going to try a little less reliability, or more appropriately, predictability, more creativity, and more FUN. I’ll still be reliable, especially where work and my mother are concerned, cuz that’s still very much who I am, but I’m also going to give free rein to some of the other parts of me that haven’t received much attention to this point.

There’s going to be more of what I want, and less of what others expect of me from now on. More going with the flow and reveling in it, rather than dreading it and fighting against it. I’m going to work with my electric nature instead of trying to tame it. Embrace the unexpected in myself and in my daily life, rather than letting it upset me.

More rule-questioning and less rule-following.

I’ve done the dance with Saturn. I’m tired of that old tune. Time to have a go with sexy Uranus. The bad boys are always more fun, if a bit dangerous. Time for a new song and a new step.

Time for a new me.

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.

Frugal living

wine + cheese night

A couple of years ago a friend and I were in an antique shop. She collects miniature tea sets, and they had a couple; one in particular that she really liked. I suggested she should buy it, and she said, no, it’s not good to get everything you want.

I think of that statement quite often. It’s one of two things in my life that someone said to me that changed the way I thought about something instantly. It’s not good to get everything you want. Wow. I came across a quote by Bertrand Russell this week, in which he claimed pretty much the same thing: “To be without some of the things you want is an indispensable part of happiness.”

I think it`s absolutely true about stuff. It is human nature to become spoiled by instant material gratification. I think much of what is wrong with American capitalist culture stems from consumerism, and the ease with which those with money can get stuff. We lack appreciation for the way things are made, and for the people who made them. I definitely see it in young people in my small, generally quite well-off community, and the way they take for granted easy access to instant communication, computers, cars, clothes, etc. If material needs are met too easily, human beings tend to become bored and unappreciative of the stuff they have; always wanting more, more, more.

What about less touchable things, like how you’d like something to play out, or how you’d like someone to treat you? Those kinds of expectations trip me up all the time. I find my mind wandering off into the future, conjuring up scenarios about an event or situation. How I think it’ll all go and how wonderful (or not) I expect it to be. Or I think I know how someone will react to something, or what they’ll do, or even who they are.

It’s silly, really, that I would still be allowing myself to indulge in these little fantasies. Certainly if life has taught me anything, it’s been that I can expect nothing. Nothing ever turns out the way I think it will (for better or worse). People are hardly ever who I think they are (for better or worse). In fact, the more I expect a certain outcome or action, the less likely it is to be anything even remotely resembling what I was expecting or hoping for.

All situations teach us. What we learn is sometimes dubious, but we learn, nonetheless. Have I been made stronger by my unmet expectations, or do they debilitate me? I think the answer is: both. I have been forced to look within myself for what I need to keep going, and that’s a good thing. I can take care of myself, and I’ve learned to be a person I can count on. Definitely good.

And sometimes I am surprised. Several wonderfully surprising things happened in the last few days; things I wasn’t expecting, or even imagining. Four people went out their way to do nice things for me. It made up for the myriad ways my expectations fell short, and then some.

So, an indispensable part of happiness? Yes, I think so. I aspire to live frugally on surprise. Expect nothing. I think ultimately all I can hope for is keep striving to be the person I needSituations change, people change. Nothing in this life is static. I can count on nothing but my own ability to adapt, so that had better keep getting stronger. Counting on anything external – including other people – for one’s own well-being is certain disappointment.

I’d rather be surprised! It’s not easy to let go of those expectations. It requires staying in the moment – being fully with what’s happening now – with no thought of what’s past or expectation of the future. No small thing. It’s an arduous journey, but worth the effort.

Note to self: Go slow. Take snacks. Rest when necessary. Pay attention. Welcome everything.

We’ll get there sooner or later. All is well.

 

This little light of mine…and yours

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An old Hasidic tale…

The rabbi asked his students: “How can we determine the hour of dawn, when the night ends and the day begins?” One of the students suggested, “When from a distance you can distinguish between a sheep and a dog.” “No,” said the rabbi. “It is when you can look into the face of human beings and you have enough light in you to recognize them as your brothers and sisters. Up until then it is night, and darkness is still with us.”

The student is never right in these stories, is he? You think you have the answer, but no, once again, you`ve got it wrong. All your study and striving in life means nothing, because you still don’t have it right. And you probably never will. At least, it feels that way.

Because, as always, the answer is within you — the last place we remember to look. Why? Perhaps because it seems to all be happening OUT THERE. That’s where the action is, the really interesting stuff. Out there. Not in here. In here there is only me, and I’m sick of me. I’m tired of being in the dark. I want to be out there, where it seems to be bright and interesting, warm and inviting. There doesn’t seem to be enough light in me. So I reach out there, out there, out there.

I reach out to you, because I think I can see your light, and I want to be warmed by it. I reach out to God, whatever I think that means. I reach out to anybody – like a plant, I turn to any light I think I see, in the hopes of receiving nourishment, fulfillment. I want reassurance, warmth and comfort. I reach out there, to the flash and pop of modern life. I reach for food, or drugs, or alcohol, or money, or sex – whatever I think will give me that buzz and blast of light. Come on baby, light my fire. When there is no real light, artificial light seems like it’ll work. And it does, for a while.

For a little while. Then you start to feel cold again, and you realize, yup, still in the darkness. Still in here. Still me. All of us/only me. All in the darkness together, but it’s too dark in here to see anybody else, so I think I`m alone. And really, I am.

Because there will be no real light in the world until I nurture the light within me, and you nurture the light within you. Find the light and protect it, build it up, until we can all see by it. Not OUT THERE. In here.

In me.

In you.

In us. All of us.

Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled—
to cast aside the weight of facts

and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.
I want to believe I am looking

into the white fire of a great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing—
that the light is everything—that it is more than the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and falling. And I do.
Mary Oliver, House of Light.

A guiding light lost to us. RIP Mary Oliver 1935-2019.