Along for the ride

She who succeeds in gaining the mastery of the bicycle will gain the mastery of life.(1)
First “real” bike ride of the season last Sunday, and I enjoyed every minute of it. It was sunny and warmish, so I got on all my cold weather gear and headed out on the Pretty Purple Bike. Only 12 miles, but a lovely first outing. My spirit was soaring all the way and for hours afterward. Today looks promising, too, if the temperature nudges up a little. We’ll see.

I’m so grateful for the role cycling has played in my life. I wouldn’t say I’ve mastered it (and I certainly haven’t mastered life), but it has made my life more enjoyable and healthier. It has helped me manage depression, and given me something to be excited about throughout the years. Something I can do by myself, for my health and enjoyment, outside my house and my head, which sometimes is a very big deal. It’s also just a really lovely way to be out in the sunshine and the air, with the trees and the flowers and the birds and the lake and to feel a part of the world; to be moving and free, and alive.

In Susan B. Anthony’s time the bicycle gave women increased autonomy and was representative of all women sought to gain in 19th and early 20th century America: freedom from dependence on men, equal access to activities outside the home, and visibility in society, not to mention healthy exercise.

Susan B. Anthony has always been a hero for me.  A fellow Aquarian, she never married, so those are the most obvious connections we have, but we share a common world view and hard-core idealism, also. Unlike me, however, she had the drive and the intelligence to pursue her dreams and attempt to change the world, which she did, alongside other women, among them most notably Elizabeth Cady Stanton, another hero.

I had the desire, but not the drive or the intelligence to change the world. Depression throughout my life crippled me and made simply managing my own life an all-consuming challenge. I was lucky that not marrying is not that odd now – it was a much bigger deal for Susan B. Anthony to choose that path in her time. I was able to attend college, Susan was not. I had many advantages she did not, but I fell short of my goals. I admire her because she had so much against her and in spite of it all she succeeded.

Susan B. was not interested in personal success or fame. Everything she did was out of a sense of justice and morality, fueled by her Quaker religion and innate idealism. She was not celebrated in that time for her views. She was an abolitionist, a member of the Temperance movement, and a leader in the fight for women’s rights. She was about as far from a Kardashian as it is possible to be. She wasn’t popular and she and her compatriots sacrificed a lot personally to pursue what they knew to be right, and in doing so they changed history.

That’s the path I want to be on. I have a long way to go and not much time, though. I don’t have anything to show for my life. Yet. There is still a chance I will be able to do something worthwhile for someone other than myself. I don’t think I have it in me to change history, but I could maybe change something for someone somewhere. That’s something to aspire to, I think – just the hope that I could leave this planet having made life better for just one person in some way.

I’ll think about it some more on my ride this afternoon. See you on the trail.

PS – It’s Mother’s Day in America, so if you nurture someone or something, Happy Mother’s Day to you.

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!

The shadow knows

Manifestation

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

“Be careful what you wish for.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The law won

I love you

I was astonished to hear about the college admissions scam, in the way I’m always slightly surprised when I remember that some people who seemingly have everything are willing to risk it all to have more. It just doesn’t make sense to me.

I’ve thought about it a lot in the past 2 days since the story broke, and what I really can’t wrap my head around is why the parents, especially the celebrities, didn’t think they’d get caught? Why would you risk going to prison for something that could have been accomplished in other ways? Spend money on a tutor to help your kid bring his grades up, for example. Spend your money on a better prep school. Instill in your child the idea that school is important and that you have to study to get into a good college. Teach them that money can’t buy everything and that some things are worth working hard for.

What it all really comes down to is privileged people thinking they’re entitled to something the rest of us aren’t. Not a new concept in the US, certainly, especially considering the person who currently holds the highest office in our government, but as Americans, that’s just not the way we’re supposed to do things. We’re all equal, right?

Right?

Ask your black neighbor if they’re surprised by this turn of events. Ask a poor child or any person of color, in fact, if they’re surprised by the assumptions of wealthy white people that they matter more then the rest of us.

I doubt it.

I’m not surprised by the attitude – I’ve encountered it personally many times living in a resort community most of my life – but as I said above, I am surprised at the level of risk involved for what seems to me to be a small reward. One day you’re a fairly wealthy actress/celebrity living the dream life, and the next the FBI is at your door. Prison awaits you, and you know that, but you risk it all and go ahead and break the law to get your kid into a particular college?

Wait a minute…what?

Exactly. You had it made and you blew it. Accept that your kid was too lazy, or not a good enough student to get the grades to get in. Accept that you’re like everybody else. Accept that life happens to you in the same way it happens to every other human being on the planet – there are consequences to your actions, and not everything is going to go your way. Life will humble you sooner or later. There will be a reckoning.

I guess maybe you don’t understand that if life has, indeed, gone mostly your way cuz your parents or you paid your way through the hard stuff. But just because karma hasn’t caught up with you yet, doesn’t mean it’s not going to. Sooner or later it’s going to have its way with you and you’ll find out that it’s true for everybody. Karma is an equal opportunity experience. It doesn’t discriminate. It is though, I believe, especially tough on people who don’t quit while they’re ahead.

I have compassion for all involved, cuz they’re going to pay a big price for their cluelessness, and their kids are going to pay an even larger price in some ways. The humiliation is epic. This is an opportunity for self-examination and growth, though, so if they recognize that they will ultimately benefit, but it’s going to be tough sledding until they get to that point. It’ll be painful and that’s too bad, because it really didn’t have to happen, but I suppose most crime is that way.

But I also have to say that it gives me hope to know that laws still matter in this country, even for the wealthy and celebrated, and that karma works. It does my heart good to know that there is order in the universe, after all. Not always, but sometimes, and for me right now, that’s enough. Cuz for 2 years I’ve been watching someone in power run roughshod over our democracy and our laws and it’s made me quite sad and feeling hopeless about the future of this country.

But this week, our laws worked, and someone who thought they were above the law was proven wrong. That makes me happy and hopeful that we might just survive as Americans and as humans going forward.

This week the law confirmed that we are all equal in this country still, and that is as it should be. Thank goodness.

 

Float like a butterfly

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Sometimes I just need the library. Like having a craving for a specific food, sometimes only the library will do. Occasionally a bookstore, but mostly the library. I love libraries. When I was in college, we had a 4-story library on campus with wide floor-to-ceiling windows in each corner on every floor. I spent hours in those corners when I lived on campus. It soothed my overwhelmed psyche just to be with the books, to feel so close to the sky, and just to be quiet. The dorm was anything but quiet, but that was okay, cuz I could go to the library.

We have a beautiful big library in my little town. It’s quiet and it smells good, and sometimes the sun is streaming in the windows and it’s warm and bright. And of course, there are the books. Rows and rows of them; more than I ever would be able to or would want to read. It humbles me always, to be in the presence of all those thoughts and words.

I am reminded that there’s A LOT I don’t know. I’m reminded that the world is big, and is filled with every kind of thing imaginable. Mostly I think all those precise rows help me to believe that there is order in the world, and that it’s as evident as the Dewey Decimal System. Cuz mostly I don’t feel that way — I’m not sure that anything makes sense sometimes — but look at all these books! People wrote down all kinds of ideas and thoughts about things they wanted to make sense of, and they’re offering their thoughts and their sense of the world to me.

Nearly 150 years ago, Dostoyevsky wrote:

My younger brother asked forgiveness of the birds: it may seem absurd, but it is right nonetheless, for everything, like the ocean, flows and comes into contact with everything else: touch it in one place and it reverberates at the other end of the world.

Nowadays we call that the Butterfly Effect and it is central to chaos theory, which, in effect, comes down to: “simple laws can generate extremely complex behavior, and deterministic systems can behave randomly.” Or, a butterfly flapping her wings in Australia can affect the weather in Canada.

Dostoyevsky apparently thought that if we could just see how everything fits together–that the whole earth and all of its inhabitants are all part of a single whole–that it would change human nature. An optimist. Or maybe he knew that the all-embracing love would not be enough; or that we as a species would not be capable of that kind of love. Perhaps he was heart-broken because he could see the future and he knew we weren’t ready for it.

I don’t know, but to me it is heartbreaking in that I think we’ve moved farther away from that love than ever before in the history of our country, certainly; and in the world as well. That just seems so sad.

We are creatures capable of understanding the beauty and structure of the very smallest things and the mind-bendingly biggest things. We understand our world from the quantum level up to the enormity of the universe.

But we still don’t understand ourselves.

And that renders all the rest of it meaningless.

Ins and outs

 

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Me (on the right) in college roughly 100 years ago.

I have never been cool. I’ve tried; but I just can’t pull it off. Not when I was a kid, not as a college student, not as a thirty-something, not now. I’m geeky, wear what I want, do what I want (currently within the bounds of my responsibilities at home), and I’m not at all interested in most of the things that American culture says I should be interested in.

In school, while other kids were passing notes and giggling about boys, I was reading every book I could get my hands on, and playing at home with my new microscope, or writing a new story or play. I put on puppet shows. My mother made me wear my hair cut very short, and she picked out my clothes until I was 14 or so.

Not good.

In high school I wrote poetry, and was on the student council. I was in the French club, and on the Drama and Debate teams. Total geek (or nerd, as we were called then). I worked and bought my own clothes, and my mother gave up on the hair thing. So I didn’t look like a loser anymore, but I still wasn’t cool.

Which is not to say I didn’t have good friends, and actually I got along okay with everybody in my class. I smoked, so there was common ground with the “burn-outs,” and my best friend was a cheerleader, so I had an “in” with the  “popular/jock” kids. True Aquarian–everybody was my friend. But I was still not cool, and I knew it. Sometimes it bothered me, sometimes it didn’t.

In college I was wild about computers and journalism. My roommate was cool, and I got a little “cool” benefit from her, but mostly I was really into school, but not really that into the social aspects of school. I didn’t have very many friends, but I didn’t really care that much. I got along okay with the girls on my floor, and later with my apartment-mates, and we had a lot of fun, but mostly I was more involved with the sort of obscure things that interested me, and not much into the things that went on around me.

My college boyfriend was a geek at heart, but was still trying really hard to be cool. Mostly we just did our geek stuff, and talked endlessly about computers and writing and how we were going to save the world from itself. But coolness was always very important to him. He was a “yuppie” before the term was even invented; and we just couldn’t bridge that gap. Ultimately we parted ways. It took me a while to get over it.

I have always been drawn to the people on the fringes. They were usually the people who were interested in the same things I was. The ones just trying to find their way; certain that there was more to life than all the superficial stuff going on around them. They accepted a lot in me that at the time was hard even for me to accept–depression and self-doubt, especially.

So I have been fortunate to know some extremely interesting and unusual people, and now I’m able to understand that they are the cool people, after all. They (and I) didn’t fit in with popular culture at any time, but that’s okay. For whatever reason, we had to make our own way, and when we were able to do it together that was great.

So, I’m a little past middle-aged now, and not worried anymore about being cool. I worry about being a decent human being and my health, and that’s pretty much it. I still have long hair and I still wear what I want, without worrying about whether I fit in. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t.

It’s okay either way.

Maybe people should worry about whether they fit in with me. Who knows, maybe those of us who are a little bit “out of it” are the “in-crowd” after all. Ultimately I think we’re all okay, and there’s room for us all on this great big planet. Cool or not, in or out. We’re all just us, doing the best we can, and that’s what really matters.

Life is with people

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Life is With People is a book I read in college. I’ve never forgotten the title because it’s so true. The book was specifically about Jewish communities throughout history, and how the idea of community is woven so completely into the fabric of Jewish life that it never occurs to them to question the value of it.

I plodded through the book then – it was required reading for a Jewish Studies course I was taking; the course was great, but the book was not – and beyond the simple description I just gave, I don’t remember a thing about it, except that the cover was bright orange. I think of the title often, though.

Here’s the thing: my Aquarian heart knows that life is with people. I was born knowing that. Aquarians are hard-wired for brotherhood, sisterhood, neighborhood; whatever ‘hood you want to name. When in Sunday school they told me that Jesus asked me to love my neighbor as myself, I got it. I did then, and I do now. I embrace the idea of community, completely, wholly, happily.

Exclusion makes me angry. I can sniff it a mile away, and it always turns my stomach. The idea that some people are acceptable, and others are not – for any reason – is simply ridiculous to me. More than ridiculous, it is repulsive. Exclusion requires judgment, intolerance, and fear. People cite all kinds of reasons for exclusion – most often morality – but let’s be clear: it’s about ignorance and fear, and nothing else. There is nothing moral about prejudice. The Bible, supposedly the last word (no pun intended) on morality is pretty clear on this point, too: Judge not, lest ye be judged.

I don’t find any ambiguity in that statement at all. Same as “love thy neighbor as thyself.” Clear, concise; no room for misunderstanding. Is there?

Is there?

I was a card-carrying, singing-in-the-choir Episcopalian for most of my life. I explored every other religion/belief system/moral tenet out there when I was a young adult. Some resonated with me, others did not. I took what had meaning for me and left the rest. So I had sort of a hybrid personal religion, but I always maintained ties with Christianity in general, and the Episcopal church in particular.

Until 10 years ago, or so. I still love the Episcopal church in general, especially the little one in my tiny town. My parents were married there, I was baptized and confirmed there. I really did sing in the choir. When I got older, and understood the poetry and beauty in the liturgy, I loved it even more. I loved the community spirit of the congregation. I loved coffee hour. I looked forward to Sunday. I was a believer, baby!

I believed in God, though probably I defined that more broadly than even most of my pretty broad-minded-as-Christians-go fellow Episcopalians. And I believed in people – the power of the human spirit. The Episcopal church was the first to appoint an openly gay man as a bishop. Further evidence to me that these were my people. 

Then our beloved priest retired, and we got a new one from out east. He was a bigot, misogynist, and a homophobe. A man of God. Believed in Christ. Believed that people of color, women and LBGT people were less than God’s cherished creatures. He protested the appointment of Bishop Robinson, openly and vehemently. When our bishop came to visit the parish, he embarrassed us by spewing his hate following the Bishop’s speech to the congregation.

Yikes.

So I’m thinking, okay, this is a test of my belief that everyone has a place at the table. God has a sense of humor. He’s testing me.

All are welcome?

Okay, how about this guy?

I failed the test. I didn’t condemn the priest as human being, but I couldn’t deal with him and his hypocrisy every Sunday. The worst part was that I discovered that some of the congregants, many of whom I had known and loved since childhood, shared his beliefs.

It broke my heart. I stopped going.

Years later we got a new priest and I started going again, but it was different. It was tainted. I gave up after a couple of years. I realized finally that I no longer trusted any of it, including God.

Mainly I didn’t trust myself, and that’s what I had the most trouble with. Confronted with people who didn’t believe what I believe, I crumbled. Judge not, lest ye be judged. I couldn’t do it. I’m as much a hypocrite as that priest. I judge him for judging others.

Ack.

I believe there is a place for us all in our community, and yet, when it really comes down to it, there are people I would exclude, maybe. Ideas I would exclude, certainly. Clearly I have more to learn, more work to do. I’m challenged to accept intolerant, judgmental people as readily as I welcome people who think as I do, or I am just as intolerant. That’s the paradox. There’s no way around it.

Life is with people. They only way for us all to survive is to accept and live that. Everyone must be welcome, no matter what. We are each of us unique, and our challenge is to find our common ground and work together to benefit us all. Community.

No small thing.

And yet, everything.

 

Finding my way

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Is the American Dream still a thing? Do kids still believe in it – the belief that you can be anything you want to be, if only you try hard enough? I admit I used to believe it. I grew up in the 60s and 70s and I think we all believed it.

Maybe it’s just a youth thing, and isn’t unique to this country at all. Everybody thinks they know how to do it; everybody thinks they have the secret to life when they are young, and that they will be successful. It’ll be different for me. But some of us – I would venture to say most of us – have learned the real secret of life: it’s about failure, not success, after all. Success is easy. It’s failure that stretches us and helps us to grow.

I read stuff all the time about people who have risked everything to follow their dreams and who have succeeded big time. Yay for them! The message I get from these stories is that I should do the same; all I lack is courage. My lack of courage is the only thing stopping me from living the life of my dreams. Hesitating, or stopping to consider things like money or time or the rest of the world has more to do with my lack of courage than actual reality, because, after all – here it comes: I create my own reality. Right? So all I have to do is create what I want. Presto! If what I have in my life is not what I want, then I’m just not doing it right.

Well…I just don’t believe it’s that simple.

I have to say, I do believe in the esoteric truth of this principle. I think someday (if we and the planet survive long enough) we’ll have a better grasp on our ability to manipulate matter at the molecular (energetic) level. I believe thoughts have power. I believe in the collective unconscious, and I believe that everything on this planet and in our bodies ultimately comes down to the balance of energy and the power of the human spirit. But I do not believe that I create my own reality by simply changing my mind, or wishing harder, or dreaming bigger. Nor frankly, do I want to.

I have learned the hard way that when I try to “make things happen,” or create my own reality – I get kicked in the teeth. On the other hand, when I let things flow, everything turns out pretty good, or at least not horrible, most of the time. Not exactly what I had cooked up in my grandiose little ego-mind, but okay nonetheless. I think if I hear one more person say “Let go and let God,” I’ll have to spit on something, but that’s exactly what I try to do now, though I would substitute Tao for God.

Here’s all I know for sure: Life is hard and wonderful. The range of stuff that can happen to human beings on this planet goes from short-lived really terrific to longer-than-you-think-you-can-endure really horrible.

So I think the trick is not to dream bigger or try harder, but to be happy with whatever is the reality right now. Be grateful everyday for all that I have and all that I’ve been spared. We have to honor our struggles and our pain, and then just get on with it.

Stop trying to “create” the life you want. Live the life you have.

If there’s something you really feel called to do, do it, or at least set your sights in that direction and plan a route. Just know and accept that nothing’s guaranteed. Life is just going to be what it is, no matter what we do or want or think. You will succeed or fail or experience something in between. Don’t be surprised, though, if they all look like the same thing. Our ideas of success have nothing to do with the way success is defined in universal or spiritual terms.

Clearly, some people are here to dream big dreams and to do big things, hopefully things that improve life on this planet for all of us (including the furry, feathered, buzzing, growing, and swimming things, too). That’s their path. But most of us are called to live smaller lives, to tread a less celebrated path, and we must learn to live as sweetly and as gently as possible along the way.

I’ve given up on my American Dream grandiosity, and am now concentrating on what I believe are the truly important things; the challenges that have been put in front of me right now, right here:

Be kind. Tread gently on the planet. Be of use, help out whomever and wherever I can. Be a good friend. Do good work.

I’m still riding along on training wheels for all of that stuff, and probably will be all my life. I started out on a tricycle, though, so I’m doing better, and I’m grateful for that. I remember writing a few years ago that I was in training for greatness (yes, I confess: affirmations seemed like a good idea at one point).

Now I believe I’m in training for not-greatness.

And that’s just where I want to be.

 

No joke

Why don’t cannibals eat clowns?

Because they taste funny.

Ba dump ba!

That’s my favorite joke. It always makes me laugh. Now you know: I’m really rather easily amused!

I’m trying to cheer myself up. I had a less than perfect day. Waaaaaay less than perfect, as a matter of fact, and I’m beat. Still I have to remember: the reality of my life is that my worst day is still usually better than the days at least 50% of the people on the planet experience.

I have a job. I have enough food, and I have teeth with which to chew a warm nutritious dinner. I have a warm, cozy house to come home to at the end of this less than perfect day. I have a car that runs, money to pay my bills, good health, eyes to see, and two legs to carry me where I need to go. I haven’t lost my home to a tsunami or forest fire, or my life to a murderous dictator.

I love this poem by Wendell Berry:

What We Need is Here

Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.

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The trick is to remember that, especially on less than perfect days, because sometimes it seems like something’s missing, or something is out of place, or not right. If only I had…If only it was…I wish I could…

It depends on where we choose to look, I think. At least, that’s it for me. Not that the problems aren’t there, and not that they’re not difficult sometimes. Life is not easy. Not for anyone. But it is definitely harder for some than others, and I don’t ever want to lose sight of that. My life is sometimes challenging, but it has never been really horrible. It doesn’t even register on the scale of human suffering. I have what I need, though I may not always have what I want.

I think that’s a distinction we’ve lost sight of in this country. Want vs Need. They are not the same thing. We have an idea that we deserve better. I hear people say that a lot – that they have rights; that they deserve attention because they think someone is getting something better than what they have. Better stuff, more stuff, better treatment, whatever. Entitlement is an idea that has taken over our culture. Why do we imagine we’re entitled to anything? Aren’t people in Bangledesh or Afghanistan entitled, too? What do they deserve? Is it just people in this country? Have we done something to “deserve” special consideration?

What about people in Rwanda, or China, or Russia or Liberia? Does our American citizenship make us more deserving? A certain color skin? A religion? A way of life? Are we entitled to a perfect life because we work, or don’t work, or give to charity, or disapprove of the homeless? Are we better because we haven’t landed on the street or in a shelter?

No! Of course, not. It’s all just us, folks, and until we really understand that — that we are all in this thing together, and that nobody wins until everybody gets in the game — we aren’t entitled to anything.

A Jewish parable: “There were some sailors in a boat, which started to ship water. One sailor began to dig a hole under his seat to let the water out. The others stopped him at once. He was very surprised and rather angry. ‘What right have you got to stop me?’ he said. ‘I was digging a hole under my seat, not yours.'”

This life doesn’t come automatically with fresh air and good schools, good food, big houses, let alone freedom. A good share of the human beings on this planet have no idea what it is, or can only dream of what it might be like.

We got lucky, if we were born white in the United States of America, were able to get an education, keep all our teeth, work to feed our children, and have time and money left over with which to get fat. It was just luck, plain and simple. Why was I lucky and someone in India was not? I don’t know.

I don’t think why matters. I think only how matters now. How are we going to make it right?

How can we ensure that everybody has the luxury of thinking about a less than perfect day?

Fences

I’m not wealthy, but I do have 2 houses – one I live in and one I own.

I live in the house I grew up in with my mother. I moved back in 2012 following the death of my father. I had been living in the house I own for 3 years when that happened. I still own it, and currently it sits empty as I’m reluctant to rent it and I don’t want to sell it.

My mother’s house is on a reverse mortgage, so after she’s gone I’ll be moving back into my house. In the meantime, I go there regularly. I do my laundry there every 2 weeks (long story) and in the summer I walk there from work to eat lunch on weekdays. A couple of times a year my best friend comes up and we stay there.

It’s a great house. I keep the lawn and the flower beds up as best I can and I keep the inside clean. It’s pretty small, but it’s perfect for me and I love it. I look forward to living in it again.

Last year, just before Halloween, I got new neighbors next door. They’re renting. I rented for most of my life, so I’m reluctant to judge anyone based on that, but so far they’ve been a disappointment. I don’t know them, and have only spoken to them a couple of times, briefly, as one of us was coming or going. They’re an older couple, and I’m sure they’re nice people, doing the best they can, but like many people I encounter lately, they’re inconsiderate of those around them. They’re hardly ever there when I’m there, so it makes it hard.

The first thing that happened was that they gave their plow guy the wrong address and he plowed my driveway. Okay, not the end of the world, even though he gouged my lawn in several places. I don’t have my drive plowed for that very reason, and because it’s expensive for the little bit I’m there in the winter. But mistakes happen, so okay. They sent their grandson over to apologize one day when I was there. Whatever.

Then the plow guy started plowing their drive, but pushing the snow onto my lawn. I wanted to say something to them about it, but I was never there when they were, so I let that go, too. Yesterday I was over at the house raking and mowing and discovered that he gouged that part of the lawn pretty badly, too. Lovely.

Strike 2.

At some point this winter I noticed snowmobile tracks in the snow in my backyard and saw 2 snowmobiles parked in their backyard. Hmmm. Yesterday I found a 2′ x 2′ patch of dug up lawn and tracks through the rest of the lawn that lead over to their house.

Strike 3. YOU’RE OUT!

So now I have to think of the best way to deal with this. I hate to leave a note on their door, but as they’re never there, I think that’s the only option. I’ll be nice, but I need to make it clear that my property is off-limits. Period.

What gets me is that I have to tell people who should know better that it’s not okay to destroy my lawn. What’s up with that? I don’t know my neighbors’ name or anything about them, really. I hope they don’t have guns. I hope they don’t retaliate. I hate that I have to think that way. It makes my little Aquarian heart sad. But there it is. I hate confrontation, but I can’t let this go on. Apparently it’s not obvious to them that it’s not okay to wreck my place.

I get that people are not always good neighbors. After all, there is that saying that “fences make good neighbors,” and we don’t make up adages for things that happen infrequently. I’ve lived a lot of places and I’ve had less than perfect neighbors before. I’m tempted to think this is a new thing, but I know it’s not, though I do think it’s getting worse. Courtesy in our society is breaking down, in my opinion, and that’s hard to take sometimes.

I’m not naive, but I am an optimist, and my heart gets broken easily sometimes. This is one of those times. I feel disrespected and treated as if I don’t matter, and that’s a real hot button for me. The difference for me now is that I intend to let these people know that it’s not okay to treat me that way. I wouldn’t have done that even a few years ago, because I thought I didn’t matter.

They’ll either stop or they won’t, and if they won’t I’ll have to think about what to do next. But right now this feels like a win already – just standing up for myself is a victory, for which I’m very grateful. I have no control over the outcome, but taking action to try to stop someone from hurting me is better than doing nothing. Also, knowing that I’ve reached a place where I’m able to respond, rather than retaliate is satisfying, too.

Baby steps, but I’m getting there. Thank goodness.