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Friday, May 11, 2018

WHY "DO THE RIGHT THING" CAN BE A WRONG TURN

A few weeks back, I sent a seemingly perfectly healthy child to school and picked up a boy that afternoon with symptoms so alarming (to me, he was not overly concerned) I brought him into the doctor a few hours later.  I am a no-stone-unturned and no-time-like-the-present sort of gal.  His pediatrician confirmed a bacterial infection and prescribed antibiotics.

I drove him to the pharmacy with a strong sense of being a superhero mom, and even treated him to take-out Chinese, so great was my feeling of “mission accomplished without even breaking a sweat.”  End of story, right?  Yeah, I wish.
A few days on the antibiotics and things are about the same; he remains unconcerned, so I take my cue from that.  Then Friday, day three, I get a call from the nurse at school—my son is in her office, in pain, and she is understandably worried.  I pick him up and get him home for the weekend with pain relievers and ice packs and now I am Googling. Yeah, I know—always a mistake.

His symptoms should be getting better by now, Google informs me.  Maybe these symptoms are pointing to a much scarier diagnosis, Google warns.  If you don’t catch it in time, there could be the direst of consequences, Google threatens.
Now the boy (who also has access to Google, or “The Great Santa-Slayer”, as I like to call it) is getting alarmed.  His symptoms are not only NOT improving, they are actually marginally worse; in fact, there are some NEW symptoms.  He is freaking out, I am trying to play it cool—surely, this is nothing catastrophic--and no good has ever come of Googling symptoms; we can convince ourselves of any malady if we obsess over it enough.

Nevertheless, Monday the follow-up call to the doctor is made; and although done without any overwhelming sense of urgency I detect, an ultrasound is ordered and scheduled for the next day.  To “rule out” any of those other possibly devastating diagnosis.  Truthfully, I don’t have much of a poker face, but I summoned every ounce of my will to present confidence and reassurance to my son; we will get answers, we will heal him.
And as the next day dawned, my front became my reality—a calm descended and that reassuring mantra repeated on a loop in my brain.  If you saw us in the hospital, you would have believed we were there on a lark; smiling, joking, hugging as we made our way through the corridors.  We were there to get answers; we were there to heal him.

Very fortunately, the answer was this:  he will be just fine.  We needed to tackle the infection with a stronger antibiotic and within a day we could see signs of his symptoms abating.  His physical symptoms, that is.
Because my son had caught something more powerful than a bacterial infection; he had caught a bug we call ANXIETY.

To be clear, my boy has always been an easy-going, even-tempered, happy-go-lucky child.  Even as a toddler, if you can imagine such a thing.  No grabbing, no pushing (well, once, but that’s another story.  A GREAT story, actually), no demands, no tantrums.  On the rare occasion that something displeased or upset him, his reaction was generally appropriate and he was always responsive to reason.
But this illness caused a tear in his worldview—he believed, and had consistently confirmed, that when you “do the right thing”, you get the “right” results.  Yeah, I know.  I guess most children figure out the whole “life isn’t fair” before 12, but most children have siblings, and NOBODY ON EARTH can drive that point home quicker than a sibling, amiright???

The expediency with which we had addressed the problem (going to the doctor) and the seeming surety of the solution (antibiotics are magic!) had accounted for his breezy attitude in the first few days of his illness—we had done the "right thing" right away.  The fact that the foolproof solution had not only failed to yield positive results but seemed to be distinctly edging his recovery in the wrong direction was more than discouraging to him—it was frightening.  What role his swirling fear and rising anxiety played in those worsening symptoms we will never know, but what I do know is this:  even after his recovery was reassured by the ultrasound and the palliative effects of his new medication were clear, he STILL FELT ANXIOUS.
As a parent, I believe most of us try to impart to our young children a sense that we are a sure thing.  We will have answers, we will have comfort, we will provide support and encouragement and we will always be there.  We try to make them feel that with us, they are 100% safe and secure.

In other words, we lie.
And just like (damn, you!) Google unmasked Santa Claus for him last fall, this experience taught him the hard truth:  there are no guarantees.  And even when we do our best we can fail.  And even when we seek the assistance of “experts” like doctors, they can make mistakes (like prescribing the wrong medication) that impact us negatively.

In other words, this was a game-changer.
So we talked it out; I told him that stress and anxiety, so new to him, are actually a pretty normal part of the human experience.  I also told him that “negative” emotions, like sadness and fear, can often serve a positive purpose.  Most importantly I told him that the fact that we can “do the right thing” and still find things take a wrong turn is actually great news.

He had a bit of trouble with that last part there, understandably.
But here’s the truth:  when we do our very best and still “fail”, we learn a really gorgeous lesson…that is, that perfection isn’t a “thing”, at least not for us mere mortals.  AND (spoiler alert!) sometimes we TOTALLY and COMPLETELY SCREW UP and have things work out just fine.  You know it happens; more often than not, actually.

When you accept that doing the right thing doesn’t mean circumstances are always going to go your way, you breathe a sigh of relief.  Because the pressure is off to “do the right thing”.  And, as John Steinbeck wisely put it, “now that you don't have to be perfect, you can be good.”
My son is almost well again and is back to being his happy, good-natured self.  At the same time, he has changed; he has assimilated this new learning for better and for worse.  He knows that he doesn’t have to be perfect, AND he knows that sometimes, sh*t happens; a lot of times, in fact.

And I learned something, too:  my 12 year old doesn’t need a “superhero mom” any more than he needs Santa Claus.  He needs a real-live human Mother who says, “Hey, I get anxious too.  I make mistakes too.  I get scared and frustrated too.  And I don’t have all the answers.  But if we need answers, I will leave no-stone-unturned to find them with you.”  He needs to know perfection isn’t a “thing” and my desire to give him a “perfect” childhood, while understandable and sweet, is misguided.
It devastated me to see my son, my sweet baby, so anxious and afraid.  But he got through it and now he has a much bigger coping skills toolbox than before.  When we try to make things “perfect” for our kids, we rob them of the opportunity to face challenges and learn that they are equal to them; we rob them of experiences necessary to thrive in the world.

Sometimes we do what we think is “right” and it goes “wrong”—or does it?
Maybe we just needed a not-so-gentle reminder that adversity provides the building blocks for our soul; that grit is as much a part of great character as compassion.  Maybe we need to understand that perfection is not a “thing” because perfection is BORING.  Maybe we need a wake-up call that no matter how hard we try to “do the right thing”, life is messy, unpredictable and glorious because of it; and sometimes a "wrong turn" can be the beginning of a great adventure.

Maybe we needed a reminder that every great story has beginning, middle and an END.  And it is the fact that there is an end that gives true meaning to the beginning and the middle.  And there is no truly “right” thing to do, but follow your heart and know that in the end, all will be well.
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

WHY SPRING IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER

My favorite series of books for children, hands down, is Frog and Toad Are Friends (sorry, Harry Potter!).  Arnold Lobell’s charming stories about two amphibian besties are remarkable for the simplicity that belies their true depth.  The profundity of these tales, which tackle such big subjects as anxiety, fear, risk-taking, self-esteem, the importance of patience, perseverance and goals and yes, most of all friendship, is mind-boggling (especially when you consider they are part of the Scholastic “I Can Read Series”, Level 2).

In the collection Frog and Toad All Year, a book about the changing seasons, there is a chapter called The Corner.  The friends get caught in a cold rain storm and Toad, the resident curmudgeon, declares the day “spoiled”.  Frog, the eternal optimist, soothes him with tea and cake and a story about how when he was small (“not much bigger than a pollywog”), his father promised him on a gloomy day that spring was “just around the corner”.
And as children (pollywogs) are wont to do, he takes his father at his literal word and spends the day searching for the corner spring is just around, without success.  Until he returns home and, turning the corner of his own little house, finds his parents working in the garden.  “I was very happy”, he says, “I had found the corner spring was just around.”

In case you hadn’t heard, spring has been very slooooow to arrive for those of us living in the Northeastern U.S. this year.  A particularly ambitious winter has reached its icy fingers deep into April, what with three decent snowfalls and only two days above 60 degrees so far (and most well below 50!).  Trees are leafless; grass is dull, sparse and yellow, flowers are few and very far between. 
It’s like the fabled Miser brothers got into a snit and Snowy emerged decidedly victorious; never mind the groundhog’s prediction of 6 more weeks of winter, we have hit 10 weeks and counting!  And the sun has been a no-show more days than not, to the point where we have started greeting it with a verrry sarcastic, “Well, helloooo, stranger!”  In the thought bubbles over our heads, not out loud; New Englanders are die-hard and prefer to suffer in silence.

Ha, ha, ha, but not ME, of course!   I suffer very loudly and publically, as anyone who reads my blog regularly knows.   So I won’t re-hash how freaking miserable things have been around here for the last 18 months or so, because you have heard all about it ad naseum.
But recently…dare I say it?  It seems perhaps Frog’s father is right:   spring is just around the corner!  Metaphorically speaking, that is—it is FREEEEEEZING and miserable as I write this.

In that same collection, there is a story called Christmas Eve in which Frog is late to a holiday get-together and Toad, considering all the horrible fates that may have befallen him, rushes about collecting the tools he would need to solve these (imaginary) problems. Although I prefer to think I favor the level-headed and wise Frog, there are several incidents where Toad expends extraordinary effort in order to accomplish something that could have been done with ease.  Like when he sings, plays music and reads stories and poems to his seedlings to get them to grow; or when he makes Frog spend an entire day searching for a lost button that was on the floor of his room the whole time; or when he literally bangs his head against the wall trying to think of a tale to tell his ailing friend.
Yeah, that’s right.  I’m more like Toad.  You can say it; I know.

In yoga, we are told to find the balance between effort and ease; it teaches us to harmonize our willfulness with our acceptance of the flow.  In spite of the fact that I have been practicing yoga regularly for going on 5 years now, I am still heavy on the “will” and light on the “acceptance”.  In fact, I am cringing a bit thinking of all the times my very excellent teacher will call a pose I can do with ease and I override her by doing something that requires a great deal of effort.
Effort is KING!  Ease is for lazy people!  Now, excuse me while I stage a 4 act play in order to assist my garden in growing!!!!

Is it just me?

So here’s the thing:  we all know that whether I stage the 4 act play or not?  Spring is just around the corner.  The sun will grow warmer, the garden will grow; trees will be reborn.
Spring is just around the corner!  And, as Dr. Seuss might say, it will come without begging, it will come without work. It will come without mowing, hoeing, or us whining like jerks.  Spring will come whether we have “earned” it or not; spring is given freely to everyone, the whole lot.

What I am starting to understand is that this is how MOST of life actually works.  Spring will come whether we lift a finger or not; we then repay the bounty we have been gifted by tending to our gardens, literally and figuratively.  The seasons exist to teach us, over and over again, that “patience is power…not an absence of action; rather… wait(ing) on the right time to act” as  Fulton J. Sheen puts it.
Patience is power.  We can run around like Toad planning for a future disaster or spend a lifetime searching for the “right” corner to turn, but what if we could just accept that spring will come and prepare for that future bounty?  Can we stop trying to force things and become more flexible in both our timetables and our goals?

Effort and ease.  Willfulness and acceptance.  Yes, "go confidently in the direction of your dreams!” (to paraphrase Thoreau), but observe poolside rules—no running and NO DIVING.
I cannot tell a lie (and people HATE this about me, btw)…on this very day, I found myself expending manic effort trying to solve a problem--the signs of spring in my own life, after such a long, hard winter have made me eager to hurry it along.  Yeah, I AM TOAD, and I admit it!  So I speak not from a lofty priestess perspective; I am down here in the trenches, trying to teach what I must learn.

Spring is just around the corner.  And just as it is the law of nature that the flowers will bloom again, so will we.  When we accept the ebb and flow of life, we trust that "to every thing there is a season" if we only have the patience to wait for it.



PS You can buy the ENTIRE Frog and Toad collection on Amazon for $7.99! 

Thursday, April 5, 2018

WHY SNAKE OIL* CURES ALL!

In the classic film The Rainmaker, Burt Lancaster plays con man Bill Starbuck, who promises desperate drought-stricken communities that he can produce rain—for a fee, of course.  And of course he can do no such thing.  But Starbuck is not a man without merit; he understands the power of faith.  And in encouraging a young woman to believe in herself, he not only helps to make her dream come true, he ends up “making” rain, after all.
We are all susceptible to what I will call “the expert opinion”; that is, when we have determined someone else has greater authority on a subject than we do, we will defer to their position.  This seems like common sense.  But as anyone who is aware of “the placebo effect” knows, in many cases our beliefs about a subject can be far more powerful than any facts; in other words, if you believe snake oil is a cure, it may very well be.  It is our faith in the expert or the cure that encourages positive results.

In the recent challenges I have been facing, I have realized what a transient thing faith can be for us humans.  When things are going well we feel blessed, but when things are going not-so-well?  Our minds tend to run amok, twisting our perception of our lives into an endless loop of “worst case scenarios”.  It is our desperation in this virtual drought that sometimes causes us to turn to the snake oil salesman for an answer.
And what I have learned is that this need not be a bad thing, actually.  There is power both in the surrender and in the notion that we ourselves don’t have all the answers.  There is power in asking for help.

I remember when I was in high school, a girl I knew was told by an “expert” of some kind that all she needed to do to lose weight was simply to stop drinking diet soda.  He told her just this one thing would help her shed pounds.  Now, she didn’t actually share this with me, a mutual friend did.  Of course I scoffed at the ridiculous advice and began to logically point out all the reasons why it was a ludicrous prescription.
To my surprise, my friend shushed me and told me not to share my opinion with the girl in question.  When I asked him why not, his answer was simple:  because it’s working.  Naturally I harrumphed, but in retrospect I see how wise he was; it was her faith in the “expert opinion” that did the trick.

My father was a bit of a “rainmaker”, when I think about it, because most children think Dad is an expert.  Until we don’t.  But still, there remains that parental mystique; the idea that the people who took care of us and “made everything better" when we were kids retain the magical power to heal a boo-boo by kissing it.
My Dad’s brand of “snake oil” was a faith in goodness.  He had this sweeping tendency to name everything good, or if not good, at least fine.  As in “everything is going to be fine”.   When he said it, I believed him.  And he was usually right, by breathtaking margins; his ability to accentuate the positive in any situation was often a game-changer.

Going through tough times has forced me to confront my own “faith deficit”.  My obstacles have at times felt as insurmountable as the odds Moses faced in crossing the Red Sea…but we all know how that turned out for him, right?  In this space we see logic is not always our best ally.
I inherited, by way of the universe’s awesome sense of humor, both my Dad’s absurd level of optimism and my Mom’s hard-core practicality.  My parents, who rarely fought in reality, have full-on knock-down, drag-out fights in my head; the part of me that says “Don’t worry, be happy” (Dad) gets cold-cocked by the part of me that says “tie up that damn camel” (Mom).  Faith and logic can be strange bedfellows, to put it mildly.

To complicate matters further, I am a gal who likes to make decisions (a “J”, in Myers-Briggs speak)…logic demands it!  All the while faith whispers, “don’t force things, let them unfold under grace”.  This push-pull creates a lot of frustration because, to be perfectly honest, once I make a decision my patience level for waiting to meet my goal is, um, subterranean.
And here we return to the snake oil—just like often it is our belief in a thing that makes it efficacious, it is almost always our belief in our decision that makes it “the right one”.  “Snake oil” is just a stepping stone to faith, once you realize how powerful your beliefs about anything can be.  Once you learn to overlook that which interferes with your goal and concentrate on everything you think will help you meet it, you become pretty unstoppable.

But still, faith requires patience.  And (grrr, I hate this) patience is actually the epitome of both faith AND logic.  Because even if you make a firm decision to go to San Francisco, you are still going to have to gas up the car and drive 3,000 miles.  It will take time to reach your goal, and if you cannot accept that?  Well, maybe your new goal should be to invent a teleporting machine.
In The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz writes “Every human is a magician, and we can either put a spell on someone with our word or we can release someone from a spell. We cast spells all the time with our opinions.”  Like the “expert” who cast a spell on my friend to lose weight, or my Dad, who “cast a spell” to create positive outcomes, what we think and say about ourselves, our goals, other people and things can pack a far more potent punch than we comprehend. 

So use your “expertise” wisely.  Or, as my practical mom would put it, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”.  That goes for your self-talk above all.
You are a “rainmaker”, whether you are doing it deliberately or not, so be mindful that your opinions are either a blessing or a curse to those who will listen.  Your faith is the “snake oil” that heals all wounds and conquers all obstacles.  And even if you won’t believe you have the power to part the Red Sea, don’t you dare tell Moses he can’t.

Anthony Trollope wrote:   “Above all things, never think that you’re not good enough yourself. A man should never think that. My belief is that in life people will take you very much at your own reckoning.” 

Believe in yourself, even if that feels like “snake oil” at first; believe in other people, and help them escape the trap of self-doubt as well.  With each new day, new person and new situation, remember you have the power to cast whatever kind of spell you want. Choose wisely.

*metaphorically speaking, don’t sue me.  also, Mom is right:  tie up the damn camel.
 
 

 

 

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Why I (SCREAM!) "Uncle"!

When you were a kid, did you ever get “tickle-tortured”?  You know, when someone tickles you so relentlessly that you are gasping for breath and simultaneously scream-laughing the scream-laugh of the damned?  I will not mention any names, but BROTHER, did that happen to me a LOT more times than I would have liked, which would have been ZERO times.

My parents usually ignored this pernicious behavior of my torturer because I was, after all, LAUGHING (the scream-laugh of the damned).  But as anyone who has been there can tell you, this is not a joyful experience in the least.  In fact, I would liken it to ye olde dayes, when people who were still alive were accidentally interred and woke up entombed, scratching and gasping for another breath.
Nope, not exaggerating.  Still not mentioning any names but BROTHER, did it SUCK.

I am remembering this now because as of late I feel as if the universe itself (here I WILL mention names!) has been relentlessly tickle-torturing me for about, um, 19 months or so.  The analogy is apt, because when I call friends or family to recount the latest unfortunate event in a series of unfortunate events that would make Lemony Snickett envious, I find myself more often than not scream-laughing the scream-laugh of the damned.  Breathless, hysterical laughter that once more belies the simple fact that I feel like I might actually be in hell.

So back to tickle-torture:  if you were, like me, an unfortunate victim of this behavior, what did you have to do to make it stop?  You had to “cry uncle”; complete surrender and admission of defeat.  And what would prevent you from doing this instantly? 
Pride, in most cases I would imagine; in my case, however, it was the knowledge that it wouldn’t work.  The tickle-torture ended when the tickle-torturer decided it ended and I had absolutely no control.  Still, I do remember scream-laughing “uncle” what felt like hundreds of times, because yes, in fact, I DID give up; there was no chance for triumph over my oppressor and I was smart enough to see that.

With the universe, however, I have been just a WEE BIT more resistant to surrender, mainly again because I think it won’t work.  The tickle-torture will end when the tickle-torturer decides it will end, and scream-laughing “uncle!” won’t change a damn thing.  Except, perhaps a bit ironically, this time my pride couldn’t quite acknowledge that there was no chance for triumph over my oppressor, so I kept on clawing at that sealed coffin.
Ah, life!  How patiently it repeats the lessons we refuse to learn!

So having overcome a few of the gargantuan obstacles that had been in the way of progress and shed a few of the situations that were dragging me through the mud in the past few months, I decided I could actually take a vacation.  Ever heard of such a thing?  Essentially you leave your regular environs for a more pleasant environs and eat food more pleasant than your regular food and sleep in and don’t engage in unpleasant activities such as “doing laundry”.
Sounds pretty good, right?  So I bought my tickets and made my plans and…God laughed. 

You may have heard about the little weather systems we have had roaming around the Northeast (that’s Nor’East to you!) for the past month and well, let’s just say that losing power (water, heat, internet, phone) during spring thaw adds a rather watery dimension to a basement that is ordinarily kept quite dry at this time of year by a neat little invention called a “sump pump”.  Which runs on electricity.  Which we’ve lost THREE TIMES in the past two weeks. 
And the day I was supposed to be winging off to a tropical clime?  Blizzard warning, 10-15 inches of snow (turned out to be a little more than that) and high winds.  Which means I had to stay right where I am, because I’ve actually grown rather fond of my furnace and I didn’t fancy returning to find it submerged.

Yeah, God laughs.  And we scream-laugh the scream-laugh of the damned.  But you know what?
I cried uncle.  And you know what else?  IT ACTUALLY WORKED.

Let me explain…so the first storm, our power went out within hours.  I went down to pick up my son from school and we went out to dinner because, you know, NO POWER.  By the time we got home, the sump pit was overflowing.
A quick check of the national grid website told me that this was going to be one of those “long haul” power outages (5 days is our record so far!) so as I was bailing out the pit (every fifteen minutes) and sopping up the overflow, I felt a weird sense of calm descend over me.  “This is it!”  I thought.  “This is how I will spend the next three to five days.”

Yes, I was bailing and sopping up in my cold, wet, dark house (but hey, at least we had PLENTY of water to flush toilets with, SILVER LINING), when I got a call from my neighbor.  My wonderful, beautiful, amazing neighbor.  Who said, “We have a spare generator, can we come down and hook that up for you?”
Jesus wept.  And so did I.  And my wonderful, beautiful, amazing neighbor and her wonderful, beautiful, amazing son came to my house and hooked up the generator and I had to BAIL AND SOP NO MORE! 

In fact, crying “uncle” worked so well, that as each new storm and crisis arose, I just found myself saying over and over “I give up”, and yes, still scream-laughing the scream-laugh of the damned, but perhaps a little less maniacally. 
Now, that’s not to say everything went off without a hitch.  In fact, our cable box got burned out by the first storm (and the cable company sent me AN EMPTY BOX by FED EX instead of a replacement), my son’s fish died because the filter backed up into the tank, my Pella door got ripped off its hinges by the wind, the fire alarm/carbon monoxide detector went off in the middle of the night, I went out to get gas for the generator and the power company subsequently blocked every conceivable path to my house (causing me to go totally Shirley MacLaine in “Terms of Endearment” on them—yes, they DID move the trucks out of my way!) and, oh yeah—I had to cut my first real vacation in a year down from 11 days to 4.  So, not entirely awesome.

BUT:  as harrowing as the last few weeks have been, every single time I cried “uncle”, the help I needed was there, thanks to good friends, generous family (my sister whisked my son away to Universal in Florida for the third storm!) and great neighbors. 
So, two things I have never been very good at are saying “I give up” (no, really—this CAN be a bad thing if you don’t know when to quit) and “I need help”.   This month?  Those two lines have practically become my mantra.

And here is what I have learned…maybe, just maybe, the last 19 months would have been a little better and a little easier if only I had used them more often.  When we don’t accept the lesson in front of us, the universe always turns up the heat until we relent; which in my case, won’t be until I am scream-laughing the scream-laugh of the damned.  Ah, how well the universe knows me!
I GIVE UP.  And I do need help, at least sometimes.  And I will enjoy the four days I get of this vacation more than any vacation I have EVER had in my entire life, I can promise you that.



 

 

 

 

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.