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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

WHY ARE YOU STILL SITTING?

A few years back, a couple of stories in the news had parents everywhere getting their armchair-quarterbacking-game-on!  Because seriously—who lets their kid crawl into a gorilla enclosure?  Or get eaten by an alligator while on vacation at Disney??  Can you BELIEVE these people???

The ones judging, I mean.
My first thought when I heard about the gorilla enclosure incident was—“Wow, that zoo has a real problem if 4 year olds can figure out how to breach a habitat”—NOT “where was the mom?”  Because I know exactly where the Mom was and if there is any parent alive who has not looked away for a second and had a child vanish, I would like to meet them.

My first reaction when I heard about the alligator was to cry.  Because that’s what you do when another human being is confronted with a horrific, tragic incident that costs them their beloved child.  You cry.  And you thank your lucky stars that no alligator emerged from the many lakes on the Disney property you had visited, because now you know it could happen.  I admit, it never crossed my mind as possible before.
All screens large and small have made us voyeurs into each other’s lives; whether on the limited stage of Facebook or the infinite stage of cable television and the internet, our increased access to the travails of our fellow man seems to be engendering more a haughty sense of self-righteousness than a compassionate sense of connection.  Why is this so? 

Is it the fact of the screen itself that makes others seem like fictional characters on a soap opera; or is it our own isolation from self-reflection and one-on-one engagement that causes us to disconnect from the raw emotion?
Although the advent of social media has been a boon to judgers everywhere, I believe the real voyeuristic creep began way back when we made the transition from having three TV networks to the vast landscape of cable television.  With so many channels there couldn’t possibly be enough scripted programming, so quasi-reality began with things like Divorce Court and talk shows like Jerry Springer; and with the popularity of those, the entertainment industry got the hint that we were becoming quite avidly interested not so much in other people, but in other people’s problems. 

Once TV became no longer just a relative handful of sparkly celebrities we admired, but also a whole boatload of regular Joe’s, we became more critical.  We were enjoying not their superiority, but smugly, our own.  And with this inevitable self-comparison to the idiots on Judge Judy, we started thinking, “Why I could be on TV!”
The weird shift frompeople-who-are-on-TV-because-they-are-talented-performers-telling-an-interesting-story” to “people-who-are-on-TV-because-they are-imbeciles-who-make-freakishly-bad-decisions” commenced; reality TV became the craze, where actual human beings connived and backstabbed and behaved their very worst for fun and prizes! 

And we watched and we thought, “I could do that”.  For a million dollars, I can become my very foulest self on national television!!!  I can leave an indelible impression on this world of my sneakiest, most morally bankrupt, most intimacy-impaired persona!!!  Bring on Big Brother, For Love or Money, Survivor, The Apprentice et al!   

And more and more people thought…gee, I can do that.  And so someone invented a darling little thing called YouTube, where you can make videos of yourself and post them publically for the whole wide world to see.  You might want to sing a song, or make a short film; but, if you’re troubled for time, a racist rant or the callous objectification of a suicide victim might get you a lot of attention, too.
But let’s say you are just not even that motivated.  You don’t want the hassle of filling out applications for reality TV, you can’t afford a phone with a decent camera…what is there for you, who dreams of being famous but just doesn’t want to put any gosh darn effort into it?  For you, Mark Zuckerberg invented Facebook. 

WAH-LA!  Now everyone can be a “star”, everyone can have a page all about themselves and they can grant access to anyone and everyone they ever met and even people they haven’t met but who maybe got drunk once with their second cousin. 
This shift has happened gradually—your life as entertainment!—and the pressure to perform is tremendous.    How many “likes” did you get?  How does your life compare to the lives of your family and peers?  And why wasn’t I invited to that party???

So now insecurities get triggered and we have to figure out a way to quell them—hence, the judgments begin.  We talk a lot about cyber-bullying in relation to teens and the ease with which cruel messages can be relayed without having to look the other in the eye; this same principle is at play when so-called adults start theorizing about how much better they could have handled any given situation or openly attacking each other’s views from a safe cyber-distance.
Let’s face it, even in real life we all armchair quarterback our friends and families because a) we actually know them and have a genuine sense of both the personalities and circumstances at play and b) we have perspective on and love for the people in question.  I’m not saying this is right or wrong; I’m just saying we have a CONTEXT for what we are doing.

With strangers and acquaintances, however, we are getting a tiny soundbite of their lives and then making sweeping judgments and pronouncements based on it.  Isn’t this the same principle at the very heart of prejudices?  What is the difference between judging someone you don’t really know for one element of who they are—a women, a Muslim, a homosexual, a Mexican for a few examples—and judging someone you don’t know for one post, tweet, comment or otherwise out-of-context moment in time?
So that brings us to present day, with the reality TV star we elected (yes, we did!) in the White House (who daily makes an indelible impression of his sneakiest, most morally bankrupt, most intimacy-impaired persona and who, not coincidentally, openly judges women, Muslims, homosexuals and Mexicans, for a few examples) living his whole life in soundbites.  Here we are, with our nation’s disassociated citizens gunning each other down in record numbers, more and more often in cold blood.  Here we sit in our armchairs, staring at our screens, judging and attacking each other in a voyeuristic frenzy of self-righteousness.

Here we sit, staring at our screens, while our children are murdering each other at school.
My first reaction when I heard about the Parkland shooting was to cry.  Because that’s what you do when other human beings are confronted with a horrific, tragic incident that costs them their beloved children.  You cry.  And thank your lucky stars that your own child has not been killed in his or her classroom, because this is something that happens now in the United States of America.  It never crossed my mind as possible when I was a kid.

Columbine occurred before the Parkland kids were even born.  They have grown up, every minute of their lives, knowing that such a thing is possible.  They have grown up watching us sit in our “thoughts and prayers” armchairs and do nothing to prevent this from being so; they have grown up watching lawmakers connive and backstab and behave their very worst for fun and prizes (from the NRA)!
And these kids, these actual survivors, have decided they have had enough with our armchair quarterbacking.  They are taking to the streets AND screens, declaring their intention to succeed where we have failed in protecting them; they are calling out the reality-TV-star-in-chief on his feeble impotence, in spite of his insistence that they pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

And, like many generations before them who have called adults out on their complacency and bs, they are leading the revolution.  Just look at them go!  You’ll be happy to know you can do this from the comfort of your armchair, where you are slowly dying to the idea of your own humanity.
Those of us who grew up before the internet, before camera phones, before the 24-hour news cycle, still live with the delusion that there is someplace to hide; these kids, who have grown up on the world wide web, know the truth.  They will not have their existence reduced to soundbites; they will not “get over” the experience of watching their classmates killed before their eyes; needlessly, violently.  They will stand, they will speak out, and they will fight.

So why are you still sitting?
 

 

 

Friday, February 9, 2018

WHY I THINK I LOVE YOU!

Do you believe in love at first sight?

I think most of us do, not necessarily in the some-enchanted-evening way and not necessarily because we’ve experienced it ourselves, but because it has an odd sort of logic.
You can’t go through life without acknowledging that we all come so front-loaded that there is no way that some essential part of us (commonly referred to as the “soul”) has not been bumping around for a good while before our actual birth.  And that with all those souls out there bumping around, some must have bumped into each other before as well.

Even if you have never had the romantic love at first sight experience, certainly all of us have had such an incredible “click” in a first conversation that you feel as if you’ve known the other person for years instead of minutes.  Or you’ve mistakenly thought you recognized someone who turns out to be a total “stranger”.  Or you’ve walked into a place for the very first time and felt immediately at home.
These connections are powerful and undeniable; there are just some people, places (and yes, even things) that somehow jibe with the essence of who you are instantaneously.  It’s always an exhilarating feeling to meet up with these external pieces of your self—the serendipity gives you a secure feeling of being in “the right place at the right time”.  Life seems to make sense and be on track; all is well in your world.

Then, of course, we also have the less often discussed “hate at first sight”.  That icky feeling someone gives you before they’ve even said a word; a skin crawling, get-the-heck-out-of-Dodge urge to turn the other way and run.  We call this our “instincts”, but doesn’t it seem possible that it may also be the recognition of a soul encountered before, except in a most disagreeable manner?
The thing is, whether you believe we are born empty and new with that “clean slate” or if you agree with me that we are steeped in myriad energies from a past, present and future we can’t quite “remember”, you will still have these reactions to people and places.  It’s a part of life we all accept; how many times have your “instincts” saved you from disaster or brought you good "luck"?  And how often have your “love at first sight” friendships grown into the most important connections in your life?

I have written here before about a friend once “insulplimenting” me by saying that I look at everyone as if I were in love with them, and I won’t deny it; the fact of the matter is, most of you just kill me, in the good way.  In fact, the name of this blog, Your New Best Friend was inspired by my husband once telling me, “You don’t know how to be somebody’s friend…you ONLY know how to be their BEST friend.”
Another friend once opined: “If Kara doesn’t like you?  Then you must be REALLY working at it!”  This is also true; I may set the bar low, but once you are under it, all bets are off.  Despicable people are blessedly rare—my God, doesn’t it seem like it would be a LOT of effort???—but once I have identified you, I have enough faith in myself to steer as far clear of you as possible.

As for everybody else?  You are all innocent until proven guilty and P.S. the judge is a total pushover!  In other words, even if we haven’t met:  I think I love you!
So in honor of all of my yet-to-connect true loves out there, I am going to give a shout out to a few of the fine folks I only came into contact with once, but will love forever:

THAT GUY ON THE MASS TURNPIKE:  here’s the set-up…I am in college and my parents dropped a car off on campus so I could join them after classes on Friday at my older sister’s home in Massachusetts (I forget the occasion).  But when I turn the key in the ignition, the fuel gauge reads nearly empty.  I am broke, and I figure my parents would not have left me without enough gas to make the journey (wrong) so I head off on my merry way.
Yeah, NO, the car runs out of gas and I literally coast into a gas station with almost zero money.  I scrounge every nook and cranny of the car for change and huffily put all I scrape together into the tank (less than four bucks, but in those days probably good enough).  And then I get off on the Mass Turnpike where I am immediately confronted with a TOLLBOOTH (and not the phantom kind)!

I have no money, it's the 80's so no cell phone (or pay phone, I am on a highway ramp) and not enough gas to make it back to campus.  CUE:  crying!  ENTER: That Guy.
He pulls over and taps on my window to ask if I am alright.  I breathlessly explain my situation at which point he tells me exactly what the tolls will be and gives me enough money to cover them and then…leaves.  I’m pretty sure even though I was in some kind of trauma-induced trance I did manage to say thank you.  Because I LOVE That Guy.

MRS. ANGEL: (yes, her real name!)  I never actually met Mrs. Angel, but one time in a mad dash to calls my folks and tell them which train I was catching out of Grand Central, I accidentally left their calling card on the pay phone console.  Mrs. Angel found it, got in touch with my mom immediately and mailed it back to us.  Mrs. Angel is aptly named, right?
RANDOM PERSON WHO (like Mrs. Angel) USED A PAYPHONE AFTER I DID:  okay, we are sensing a theme here (my idiocy), but one time, a-way back before GPS, I got some bum directions and drove for over an hour before I pulled over and called to confirm said bum directions.  Turns out, my destination was actually mere minutes from my house, but in the OTHER direction.  In a panic, I jumped in my car and sped off, leaving my Filofax (damn, I’m old!) on the payphone (really old!) with not only my driver’s license, but cash and my bank card and oh-my-God, I’m an idiot.

Random Person found my Filofax and drove for an hour to drop it off at my apartment and didn’t leave a name or any other information for a reward or anything.  It was there by the time I got home from the job I had arrived almost two hours late for.  Random Person, I love you so much it makes me cry a little bit.
Then there’s the pizzeria owner who gave my girlfriend and I a free pizza just because we told him we were having a bad day.  The cop who let me off with a warning when I drove the wrong way down a one way street (presumably because I jumped out of the car to explain myself wearing pajamas.  Way back before “wearing pajamas in public” became a thing).  The man who would gleefully shout “There’s the walker!” every time he saw me one summer I spent on Martha’s Vineyard without a car, walking every inch of that island.

The woman who told me, as she checked me out at the register, that my name sounded like something that should be announced from a podium at an awards ceremony.  The anonymous person who washed my filthy car while it was parked out on the street.    The two cops who came up behind me on a street in Philadelphia and lifted me, each taking an elbow, out of the way of a speeding car.
Actually, every single person I met the one time I went to Philadelphia.  They do not call that place “The City of Brotherly Love” for nothing! 

Oh, I could go on and on and on!  Because isn’t this how most of us live our lives?  Not only do we help and support the people we know and love, but we are constantly aware and on the lookout for those opportunities to be the “random stranger” in someone else’s story.  Our souls recognize each other and call for it, and more often than not we find ourselves exactly where we need to be to at the exact right time(like when my mom’s car CAUGHT ON FIRE and the guy in the car behind her HAPPENED—ahem---to be a volunteer fireman).
“Love one another” may sound like a cliché, or pie-in-the-sky, but here’s the thing…it’s really NOT THAT DIFFICULT.  We are all just a big pot of energy soup, combining our ingredients to make something savory or something bland or something downright inedible.  But the more we tune in to each other, the more likely we are to create the savory; the more we listen to our soul, the more likely we are to fall in love at first sight each and every day.



 

 

Saturday, January 6, 2018

WHY I CAN'T KNOW


 "Mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get."  Forrest Gump
For most of us, the beginning of a New Year feels, symbolically at least, like an opportunity for a fresh start.  We reflect on the year just ended with a mixture of pride and melancholy and look forward to learning and growing and building on the progress we have made.  For many of us 2017 was a uniquely challenging year we should be glad to see the back of; however, instead of welcoming 2018 with open arms we feel a weariness at what we have already been through and a dread of what is yet to come.

I am a planner.  I like to have, in my mind, some kind of map as a guide to my next steps and I like to imagine the possible future scenarios in a way that helps me define my preferences.  In other words, if life actually WAS a box of chocolates, I’d prefer it to be a Whitman Sampler, with the handy guide that lets me know exactly what I am getting into ahead of time.  I have never enjoyed the experience of choosing what I thought was a toffee, only to discover it was actually a maple crème (ugh!).
2017 was a year full of maple crème for me.   A lot of uncertainty that left a bad taste in my mouth.  A lot of difficult dilemmas, and no map or guide.

When a friend of mine’s son was a very little boy, he would always answer queries that baffled him by saying, I can’t know! instead of “I don’t know”.  Of course, everyone thought this was adorable and hilarious, because it is.  But in the last year I found myself facing a lot of questions to which I wanted to scream, “I CAN’T KNOW!!!
Naturally, what is adorable and hilarious in a small child’s behavior will, generally speaking, not translate well in a very middle-aged adult.  Adults are supposed to KNOW THINGS; and, when we don’t, we are meant to FIND IT OUT (made so much easier these days by Big Brother!  Oh…I mean, GOOGLE!).  “Not knowing” is frowned upon, but to say I can’t know sounds downright defeatist.

But I will tell you something…not only is I can’t know a valid response, it’s a pretty liberating one as well.  Recently, I haven’t known up from down; but ironically it is when your life is facing its greatest upheaval that people who care about you start pressuring you constantly to accurately PREDICT THE FUTURE.  What are you going to do? seems to be the favorite question of those who see you dangling off a cliff’s edge while on fire. 
Ummm….I’m going to burn here until I let go, at which point I will plummet into the ravine.  Also, why are you asking me questions at a time like this?????

I CAN’T KNOW!!!
Sometimes, whether we like it or not, life becomes about the mere act of survival:  making it through the day intact and making sure, to the best of your ability, that everyone else in the family does as well.   Crying helps with this—just giving yourself a little privacy and having a good old-fashioned sob-fest is a good cleansing and releasing ritual.  But I know, when people ask me “What are you going to do?” the answer they’re looking for is not bawl my eyes out.   So I would say a little of this, a little of that, or, if feeling utterly overwhelmed, “I don’t know.”

But inside?  (Scream) thinking, I CAN’T KNOW!!!
“Being at ease with not knowing is crucial for answers to come to you”, says spiritual master Eckhart Tolle, which is really just a fancy way of saying “life is like a box of chocolates”.  But with so many different aspects of my life spinning in so many different directions, NOT knowing felt especially terrifying.  On the other hand, accepting the fact that even when we feel dead-right certain about a thing, we still CAN’T KNOW for sure how things will play out has been a really helpful thought as I waited for even one aspect of my life to get back on solid ground.

It was a loooooooooong wait.  With a couple of disastrous false starts.  One afternoon last fall, while grappling with the fact of an unsustainable, temporary “solution” that had manifested, I had what can only be described as a mini-breakdown. 
Crying?  CHECK!  Screaming?  CHECK?  Railing against the fates?  HELL, YEAH!

After I finished completely and totally melting down, I went for a long walk, which is my daily solution to most stressors.   I did a lot of deep-breathing, I sincerely congratulated myself on having made so long before having a serious meltdown, and then I started a one-sided conversation with my beloved Dad, who passed on 11 years ago.
I explained to him how frightened and angry I was feeling; I also described to him in excruciating detail what needed to happen in order for things to even begin to get back on course.  I acknowledged that I had zero control over the situation I was demanding resolve for, and therefore COULDN’T KNOW how to “fix” it.  I told him that if there was any way he could help, or even just comfort me, I would greatly appreciate it.

I felt calmer when I got home; the venting, the release, admitting that even in my vulnerable position I felt worthy of my “wants” was healing.  But I was still in day-to-day survival mode.  Let me make it through this day and woe to you that asks what I am going to do tomorrow.
A few more tomorrows came and went in this manner, with me KNOWING what I wanted but accepting the fact that under these circumstances I CAN’T KNOW how to get it.   And then, less than a week later, my prayer to Pop was answered (Thanks, Dad!).  Miraculously, suddenly, in a serendipitous, almost unbelievable way; in a way I could not have imagined or known.

Have you ever had a wish come true like that?  I had definitely experienced little moments of magic in the past, like the day I was wishing for a white hair tie and a beautiful one appeared, perched atop a garbage can.  More dramatically, when we moved to Virginia I became obsessed with a house that was already under a contract; I looked at it every day online and just kept praying that if I couldn’t have that house, one equally charming would come on the market before we had to settle for something less.
Lo and behold the contract fell through and we snapped my dream house up (and it really was my dream house; I was crushed to leave it).

But this was the first time something so big and so ideal just fell out of the sky and solved several major problems at once.  The relief I felt cannot be described in words; my gratitude profound.  Most importantly, the reminder that while we can’t always know how things will work out, they usually do.
Now, this is in no way a recommendation NOT to make plans or set goals or take action (or read the handy guide on your Whitman sampler!); all of those things really work and waiting for a miracle is NOT a strategy.  However, even if you do make plans and set goals and take actions, understand that you CAN’T KNOW how it will all work out, so stay flexible and be OPEN to the possibility of miracles.  Sometimes they are small (the hair tie), sometimes they are large (the dream house) and sometimes they are life-altering moments of mind-blowing synchronicity.

I can’t know how my life-altering moment came to be, but because it did I can start making plans and setting goals and taking action again.  It didn’t convince me to give up and wait for answers; it convinced me that “being at ease with not knowing is crucial for answers to come to you” and that answers always come.  So the next time you are stuck and you don’t know which way to turn, remember:  you CAN’T KNOW.
None of us can.  We just do our best on a daily basis with the information we have and we have to trust that is good enough.  Because the one thing you CAN KNOW for certain is this:  YOU are good enough, even when you are struggling, even when you feel lost.

Adults are supposed to KNOW THINGS; and, when we don’t, we are meant to FIND IT OUT, it’s true.  Just sometimes (often in fact), it is in accepting our ignorance instead of blundering and blustering our way through that the answers FIND US.  When we allow that we CAN’T KNOW, we open the door to more possibilities than our limited knowledge could ever have planned for; we open the door for miracles.
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday, December 1, 2017

WHY LOSING SANTA MATTERS

On the far East Coast of the United States where I live, people “look forward” to “falling back” into Daylight Savings Time with nothing short of stated dread.   By mid-November the sun dips below the horizon by 4:30; come winter solstice we will experience only a little over 9 hours of light.  The angst this causes in the majority of residents recalls the superstitious fears of the years long past, where malicious spirits were thought to roam the earth freely during the seemingly endless nights.

I am one of the only people I know who actually enjoys the time change; the bare trees look enchanted in the low light of late afternoon and the spirits I imagine wandering among them remind me of the magical hours of my early childhood spent anticipating the arrival of the holiday season.  Decades before “The Elf on the Shelf” became a thing, my older siblings warned me that Santa’s helpers were lurking about the woods and peeking in through the darkened glass of our windows to make sure I was being nice, not naughty.  I envisioned the shadowy streets of our quiet neighborhood filled with otherworldly creatures in felt hats, reassuring me that my best behavior would surely be rewarded on Christmas morning.

The story of Santa Claus, in its many incarnations, can be a very important one for children to hear, I believe.  The idea of being good for goodness sake is a simple one; but to have goodness incarnated at the superhuman level St. Nick represents is in and of itself a powerful lesson.  The generosity of this character, who has devoted his life to making and distributing gifts to children around the globe, is incorporated into the young psyche as not only possible, but probable; the loss of this belief can be truly devastating, but also represents a unique opportunity for healthy growth.

My parents meticulously and seamlessly wove this mythology into my childhood and I was immune to school bus taunts that indicated anything other than the definite existence of the Jolly Old Elf.  I pitied those who had lost their faith, luxuriating in my surety.  Christmas morning was always a breathtaking spectacle, not so much of material gain but of magical surprises.

As I got a little older and experienced the understandable sleeplessness of excited anticipation on Christmas Eve, I also began to encounter a bit of anxiety—what would happen if I didn’t fall asleep in time?  Would Santa pass us by? 

One year as I fretted that my sister, a decade older than me, had not returned from a holiday party by what I considered a reasonable hour, I actually saw a small red light gliding across the tops of the trees in the woods behind our house and panicked…

Was it Rudolph?  Had my sister selfishly managed to forfeit a whole year’s worth of gifts?  I hid under the covers, my heart pounding.

As an adult I can assure you that I saw what I saw.  We lived in rural Pennsylvania, not near an airport and in the long ago far away time before cell phone towers.  I never saw the gliding red light before that night or ever again.

I saw what I saw.  And, at the time, I believed I knew what I was seeing.  But the next morning our stockings were stuffed full as usual and my worries seemed a million miles away as we had ourselves a merry little Christmas Day.

My loss of illusion would come, as it does for all children, and when it did I grieved.  But my mourning was brief, for I had a younger sister as well, and I was committed to keeping the story alive for her sake as long as possible; I became part of the team.  And it quickly became a role I relished.

When my son was born I was determined that his childhood would be as full of enchantment as my own had been.  The internet and round-the-clock TV along with the ubiquitous problem known as “other children” would make this more challenging than it had been for my parents, but I guarded the story of Santa ferociously…and kept my son off the internet entirely until 6th grade, when it became necessary for school.  At that point I knew Santa’s days were limited anyhow, and was proud of his very excellent run.

I had never tried to sell the story of a one-horse (actually, 8 reindeer) operation; starting when he was 4, I took him into New York City to FAO Schwartz (RIP) ever year at Christmastime and told him that everyone there worked for Santa.  Likewise Santa at the mall, likewise at Macy’s, which hosted the Thanksgiving Day parade and boasted large red mailboxes in all of their stores to get letters to the North Pole quickly.  Santa was real, but to pull off the now Herculean feat he had taken on so many years ago, he required a vast network of helpers from every walk of life.

And like I believed my older siblings when they told me elves were lurking in the woods around our house, my son believed me.  Anyone might be working for Santa; it was a worldwide conspiracy for GOOD.  I also told him that one day he would no longer wish for the kinds of gifts Santa delivers and he would voluntarily take his name off of the list to leave room in the sleigh for other, smaller children.

He accepted all of this easily.  He wrote his letter each year, he carefully laid out cookies and carrots (for the reindeer) by the hearth every Christmas Eve.  He would only receive a gift or two from the big man, but each was chosen for maximum wow factor, like the year he became obsessed with Kiwi birds and found a beautiful stuffed toy rendering of such peeking out of his stocking.

“Santa really KNOWS me!” he marveled, hugging the toy to his chest with glowing eyes; you cannot trade that kind of parenting moment for anything in the world.

His faith was strong; even with the whole internet at his fingertips, he never thought to ask or look.  When others mocked his belief he was incredulous, just as I had been as a child.  “I don’t understand how people can NOT believe in Santa.  Could anything be more obvious?” he demanded.

His loss of illusion would come, as it does for all children.  At the hands of Google’s aggressive manner of guessing what you might want to know before you finish typing, he had written only “Is s” when Google thoughtfully suggested “Is Santa real?” as a completion to his query.  Thanks, Google, btw.

I came into his room a short time after, not knowing what had happened, but I could instantly tell he was out of sorts.  He is not a blurter, so I started asking questions about what was wrong and what could I do to help.  After a few minutes of this, he demonstrated what had just happened using his school laptop.

Oh, how my heart sank.  A month before Christmas…really, Google???  His beautiful eyes filled with tears and he said, “Mom, there was never a doubt in my mind.”

Of course there wasn’t, my love.  Because could anything be more obvious?

Santa may not be “real”, but losing Santa surely is.  We lose our belief in the obviousness of goodness, the obviousness of true generosity, the obviousness of magic.  When we lose Santa, we lose the security of knowing for sure that all of those things exist “out there”.

But what we gain is the clarity and wisdom that all those things actually reside within us.

Believing in Santa teaches us that “Santa” is who we can be—essentially good, essentially generous, but also allowed to exercise discernment.  We give our gifts to those who are capable of receiving them, the people who believe in us.  We understand that “magic” will always be a question of perception rather than “fact”, and in knowing this we will recognize it easily when we see it—we will know what we saw.

My son is adjusting quickly to the loss of Santa and is excited to be part of the team; when I asked him to promise me he would never tell another child that Santa isn’t “real”, he teared up.  “Why would I ever do that?  Santa IS real!” 

Yes my son, there is a Santa Claus; and we are him.
 
 

Monday, September 11, 2017

WHY HOPE IS NOT A STRATEGY

“Hope is not a strategy”…these somewhat harsh words of wisdom spoken by an old family friend who happens to be (drumroll, please!) a LAWYER.  So legally speaking, the man makes perfect sense.  He also happens to be (plot twist!) one of the kindest, loveliest human beings I know, so this advice was also coming from a true heart.

Actually, he didn’t give me this advice directly; it was shared in an anecdotal way for general consumption.  But I found myself repeating the line often in the weeks that followed.  A nerve was hit, but I couldn’t say just yet why.
Of course the last year of my life has been so fraught with uncertainty and turmoil that some days hope was the only strategy left available to me; but like a band-aid covering a permanent scar, the relief was illusory.  It occurred to me, not for the first time, that hope is a very different animal than faith, although we carelessly pair them up with some great frequency.  “Hope” is a yearning uncertainty; faith is a grounded knowing.

So this line, hope is not a strategy, brought into my mind the old “hope chests” of yore…used to collect items such as household linen by unmarried women in anticipation of married life.  Or the more contemporary “vision board”.  Not that having a vision of what you want to bring into your life is in any way wrong, or a bad idea.
But hope is not a strategy.

Now I am sure my friend’s intent was not to drain people of hope, but rather to indicate that a winning strategy must entail some ACTION!  You know, planning, researching, executing, that sort of thing that we all do every day whether we realize it or not.  But the reason we do so much of it unconsciously is because (drumroll, please!) most of the time we assume we are not going to fail.  In other words, we have FAITH that our actions will produce the desired results.
Example:  when we pack our kid’s lunch and make sure he has done his homework and put him on the bus in the morning, we don’t “hope” that he’ll make it to school and have a productive day, we assume that he will.  Because he has the tools and has taken the appropriate actions to make that happen.  When we make a list and head out to the grocery, we don’t “hope” we’ll be able to find enough food to make our family supper; when we pay our bills on time and maintain a positive balance in our bank accounts, we don’t “hope” our electricity doesn’t get turned off or our credit score isn’t ruined.

We have faith that our actions will produce the desired results. 
So if we are able to do this so well that it is virtually unconscious in most of our day-to-day routines, why are we not able to make this leap when it comes to our “hopes” (cough, cough) and dreams?  And why do we call them “hopes” anyway?  HOPE IS NOT A STRATEGY!

The problem with “hope” as I see it, is that it has its own handy-dandy little built-in excuse:  DOUBT.  If you “hope”, you doubt.  I “hope” I can lose some weight! (um, of course you can)… I “hope” I can meet my deadline! (24 hours in a day!)…I “hope” I can make it to your party! (well, now you’re just lying).
You might as well say I doubt I can lose weight, meet my deadline and make it to your party.  Because that is the belief you have reinforced when you say you “hope” you can do something you so obviously CAN DO.  Sorry, tough love—but hope is not a strategy.

As useful as hope can be when life has kicked the tar out of us and we are on the mat wondering if we’ll ever get up, the bottom line is that hope is a band-aid that covers up our doubt—the relief is illusory.  The only thing that can make you rise again is faith.  And here’s the kicker—it doesn’t actually have to be faith in a so-called “higher power”—it can be as simple as faith in yourself or as logical as faith in logic.
Some of us have faith in the intrinsic goodness of humanity; some of us have faith in science.  Some of us have faith in chaos; some of us have faith in pronoia (the idea that everything is working in our favor).  Faith is the biggest driver we have towards action, ironically; ultimately it is our belief in the inevitability of certain outcomes that causes us to take the steps we need to get there.

Whew!  You still with me here?  Are we getting the realization that hope is not a strategy?
I “hope” so, meaning of course that I doubt all of you are.  But I have faith some of you will get it and in fact some of you are even ahead of me on this particular path.  We need to transform our hope chests into faith chests if we want to produce the desired results.

Whenever we are stuck in life it means we doubt our ability to discard the unwanted and accomplish what we desire.  But why would we ever do that?  When you think about it, not only do we manage the life we have planned for on a day-to-day basis, we also handle so many curve balls it’s no wonder baseball is considered the great American pastime. 
We do so damned much successfully, it’s amazing we haven’t been laughing the idea of “hope” in the face for years.  So what is it you are “hoping” to do?  If I told you there was not a doubt in the world that your actions would produce the desired results, what would you be doing differently?

Or is “hope” your excuse for not taking any action at all?
 
 

 

 

 

Saturday, July 15, 2017

WHY I AM GRIEVING MY BIRTHDAY

Soon I will be celebrating a “milestone birthday”.  Not a fun milestone, mind you.  We are not talking Sweet 16 here.   We are talking officially over-the-hill and on the way down.

People stopped making a fuss over my birthday ages ago. 

No one has ever thrown me a surprise party or taken me on a spa weekend (hint, hint).  Nine years ago I literally spent my birthday at a family wedding.  Someone knowingly scheduled their wedding on my 41st birthday and I was required to attend.  
They are divorced, btw, for a while now.  Happy Birthday to me.

So there’s the math for you; I can’t say the number out loud but UGH.  How did this happen? 

I remember my 11th birthday like it was yesterday!
We were about to move away from the wonderful neighborhood where we had spent the last 7 years, my entire elementary school education.  My parents let me throw a going away bash with my best local friends plus my childhood BFF from out of town.  A sleepover, no less!  We stayed up practically all night, raided the fridge, ran around the yard in our pajamas.  We listened to the soundtrack of Grease, which I had received as a gift. 

That was the hot movie my 11th summer.  More math for you.

I remember that birthday perhaps more than any other in my lifetime because it truly defined “the end of an era”.  Life was never as simple and free after we moved away.  Of course, this was partly the function of dawning adolescence; but it also was the leaving behind of people and a place where I felt truly comfortable and truly at home.
That feeling of home and belonging has been somewhat elusive ever since.

So here I am, on the eve of another big birthday and I just got some difficult news; our beloved next-door neighbors from those many years ago, a devoted couple, passed away last weekend within hours of each other.  It’s hitting me hard, I admit it.  As anyone who reads my blog knows, the last year of my life has not been a good one and I had been, as a result, horribly remiss in being in contact with them.  They had recently left that house I grew up next to and moved into an assisted living facility where they had no private phone (they never took to the internet), and I (lazily) had neglected to write, a habit we had been in since I left town in 1978.
Ironically, I briefly chronicled our relationship on this blog after what was to be our very last phone conversation in 2015.  That conversation reminded me that what is real is forever; the handful of times we spent together after the move provided tangible proof.  They were my tribe, my people.  And even though they are gone now, they will always be a part of who I am.

This is a good thing to remember as I grieve this “big” birthday.  Another year has gone by where I didn’t make changes I have been determined to make and didn’t hit goals I thought would be under my belt ages ago.  The deeper I wade into middle-age, the more urgent these desires become; time’s a wastin’!  No time like the present, old lady!
I am not anywhere near where I imagined I would be by this age.  Nothing about my life seems settled or set; I feel more adrift than I did 20 years ago, when I still believed my path was leading somewhere specific.  Turns out, not so much.

But losing these old friends has reminded me that often it is not the trail we beat our way down that leads to contentment, but rather the path we stumble upon.  I certainly did not “set an intention” to live next-door to those good people for seven years; being the young child that I was, I can hardly believe I earned their lifelong affection through any deliberate behavior or choices I made.  They loved me and I loved them because we did.  We just did; and it was real and it lasted “forever”. 
I grieve their passing, but with gratitude for all the comfort and happiness that relationship brought me.  And so I will grieve this birthday as well, grieve that passage of yet another year where I did not “make happen” what I wanted to happen.  But I will grieve with gratitude for all the comfort and happiness so many people in my life still bring me in spite of my shortcomings.  Because it is the goodness we did not “earn” that makes us feel most blessed; the love we perhaps don’t always “deserve” that is the most healing.

We spend our lives, between those birthdays, working for what we want and working to keep what we have that we enjoy and working to get rid of those things we don’t.   We are always working at something, with wildly varied results.  But when we sit back on that day that is meant to be celebrated, it is the gifts we rejoice in most…and I don’t mean the birthday gifts, although some may qualify.
I mean the things life has “gifted us”, the things we didn’t “earn”…a strong body or a strong will, a beautiful face or a beautiful disposition, a kind heart or a kind neighbor.  These are the things that make us feel at “home”; these are the things that help us to understand that we matter, no matter what.  That we are intrinsically worthy, even if we never make that first million or the cover of a magazine.

I have had a hard year and the smoke doesn’t seem to want to clear for me.  I am wandering a bit blind at the moment, wondering if there is something I should do differently or some call I am not hearing.  I am grieving the clarity of my youth while embracing the uncertainty of my future.
I certainly wasn’t looking for something specific when my family moved to that neighborhood the year I turned four, but the gifts of those years have resonated deeply within me every day since.  So on my birthday I will have faith, as I blow out the metaphorical candles, that there are gifts before me I cannot even anticipate, or imagine.  And those are the gifts that will make me feel most blessed—the ones I did not even know I wanted or needed.

My wonderful friends, with my mother and son, c. 2007

Thursday, June 8, 2017

WHY WAITING IS THE HARDEST PART

For a person who writes about ME all the time (as one astute reader put it:  you seem like you’re really self-absorbed), I consider myself to be relatively private.  I tend to be vague in my descriptions of life challenges, writing about them (mostly) with 20/20 hindsight and its inherent wisdom.  While I may be some people’s definition of “uncensored” (that would undoubtedly be the profanity), I am no one’s definition of “raw”.

But today I am going to write about something pretty damned raw.  That is your “trigger warning”, as it were; look away if you don’t want to see.
The last year of my life has been in most ways a SHIT SANDWICH (there’s some profanity for you, right up front!).  And while some of the most pressing challenges have eased, a LOT remains up-in-the-air in a crazy making way.  It has been an extended period of one-foot-in-front-of-the-other-is-as-good-as-it-is-gonna-get-today.

But because I am ME, the relentless, churning nature of my stressors has not prevented me from my usual hyper-vigilant routines; two weeks ago, that meant going for my yearly mammogram, a somewhat unpleasant but never before upsetting event.  My technician was an obviously nice girl who was currently suffering from a condition we like to call being “hangry”.  She spent the entire exam talking about how she couldn’t think of anything but lunch at the moment and that she and her co-worker had been fantasizing about food for the past hour.
At one point she accidentally “pinched” me with the machine—yes, OUCH—but apologized and corrected it quickly.  Afterwards I had a weird sensation like I was going to puke or faint (a first) but it passed quickly.  I went about my day and didn’t think much about it.

I had some residual soreness on the left side because of the little mishap, but I certainly wasn’t worried.  Until I got THE CALL, a few days later; there was something hinky with my results, and I would have to go back for more imaging.  Cue Munch’s “The Scream”.
Of course not only were they scheduling a week and a half out, after I grabbed the very first appointment available I was quickly informed that I was being pushed out another day.  I took the next appointment available, only to be soon told that I was being rescheduled YET AGAIN.  Tears got me in the same day as the previous appointment, but in the late afternoon rather than the morning.

And so the waiting began.
Now, a little medical background:  my personality, which as I said I often describe as “hyper-vigilant”, goes into overdrive whenever medical issues arise.  My doctor has admonished me on more than one occasion that if I had JUST LEFT IT ALONE, things would not have gotten so bad.  But I am a Jedi Warrior when it comes to potential threats against my health.

Not only do I employ “The Force” (Mind-over-matter, I can WILL myself back to good health!), I have a cabinet full of DIY remedies, both homeopathic and traditional, that would put Gwenyth Paltrow to shame.  I had an ear infection last fall right after the election (I attributed this to a psychosomatic desire not to HEAR the results), and went after that bad boy with everything but the kitchen sink.  When I finally admitted defeat and headed to the doctor’s office, she took one look, informed me it was a virus and would pass in another week or so and oh, btw, would I please stop FUCKING WITH MY EAR (more profanity).
So now that you know me a little better, we can go back to my mammogram results.  My first reaction was “THIS IS BULLSHIT!” because anger is my first reaction to most bad news but also because the Jedi Warrior in me insists there is NO WAY this is right.  But, you know, my left breast was still kind of sore, so the obvious solution was to start CONSTANTLY EXAMINING IT and the surrounding tissue and then Googling anything I found that I had questions about.

Am I the only one who does that?
Of course Googling can be alternately comforting and terrifying, for those of you who have never succumbed to this siren.  So there was a lot of flip-flopping between I’M DYING and I’m fine.  Meanwhile, the self-exams were happening spontaneously on the street, as I kept grabbing myself like a baseball player with jock itch to make sure I didn’t feel anything unusual.

More backstory:  anyone who reads me regularly knows that my SHIT SANDWICH OF A YEAR was kicked off by my FIRST EVER traffic accident last summer.  Since then, my left shoulder has been “out”—yes, I have addressed it with massage and chiropractic treatments plus my usual barrage of DIY remedies, but it has never gone completely back “in”.  And the stress of this situation made it go “out” even worse than the triggering accident.
Which meant that my left side (same side as the pinched girl part) was in progressively more pain as the muscles cinched themselves tighter and tighter and the knots along my rib cage multiplied (I Googled it; it’s a thing).  So I started FUCKING WITH IT while continuing the relentless breast examinations.  Which meant the entire left side of my upper body hurt like something that needed to be amputated as my retesting day drew near.

Lest you think this is how I spent the ENTIRE week and half leading up to my second examination, I will say that I continued my life as normally as I could, including daily meditation and walks and meeting deadlines, eating healthy, doing yoga etc.  I could even get so absorbed in my work that I forgot all about it!  But like how your tongue can’t resist a canker sore, my mind couldn’t resist this frightening puzzle.
The universe responded accordingly with a little lesson in "the power of attention", of course.  I’d click on a link with a title about writing and it would actually be about BREAST CANCER.  My homepage on the internet (undoubtedly due to my Googling) was suddenly full of stories about CANCER.  One day I even walked to the mailbox to find a lone postcard from my former insurer (NOT the one that paid for this mammogram) informing me that all costs related to BREAST CANCER would be covered due to a law that requires it.  Oh, and have a nice day.

The day of reckoning finally arrived, but I had to be patient until the late afternoon.  The weather cooperates with my mood by being cold and wet and gloomy.  I walk anyway.  I pray.  I meditate.  I even work!  I wait.
As I am driving to the hospital I feel surprisingly calm; I have decided if the retest is bad, I am still lucky because it has only been a year since the last one and we are catching it early.  Walking up to the building, though, my fear must have shown on my face because a nurse saw me and asked where I was going.  I told her and she made sure I got there without a problem, like a ministering angel.

I try handing my insurance card to a woman at reception but she ushers me right in to change.  She brings me into the screening room and tells me, yes, it is a problem with the LEFT side.  My stomach drops; remember, my left side currently feels like the entire thing needs to be amputated.
She is gentle (not hangry) and kind; she takes two pictures and tells me she is going to talk to a radiologist and will be back in ten minutes; she returns sooner and says—everything is clear—you are fine.

And I start to cry.
She apologizes for how long it took to get me in and says if I ever (knock wood NO) need a rescreening again please call her and she will get me in IMMEDIATELY.  It is hard not to hug her.  She tells me to have a nice night and I tell her, “I will now!”

I text the four people I told about this and share the news.  I come home and start a dinner of spaghetti and meatballs, perfect for such a cold, gloomy day.  I get a phone call from my adorable primary care physician who cheers my good results.
But I can’t stop the instinctual self-exams.  Or giving thanks that I am fine, because one in eight women will not get that same happy answer.

You know, I like to try to gain a little wisdom and perspective from this thing called life and this lesson was a doozy;  the first thing I had to acknowledge is that so often we are going through some kind of challenge like waiting for results.  At any given moment anyone could be grappling with something you know nothing about and I wonder, what if I were able to say to myself whenever people are unkind or unpleasant—they might be waiting for results. 
Or, even worse, they just got some bad news.  Would that change how I react to them? 
The other thing I had to admit to myself was the powerful lure of my own attention--how because I was thinking about cancer, I was seeing it everywhere.  I am not blaming myself for thinking about this possibility after getting THE CALL, that was a totally normal response.  But I do now realize in a practical hands-on way that we see exactly what we are looking for.
So if I can live my life understanding that everyone is going through something AND being more mindful of where I focus my attention, this experience becomes a blessing; miraculous, even.  Let's remember what potent medicine kindness is and look everywhere for our blessings, okay?  That way they will show up as a certainty.