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Saturday, March 25, 2017

WHY THIS TOO SHALL PASS (At Your Own Risk)

So the home we currently live in I bought “sight unseen”.  That is to say, of course I had “seen” it via the world wide web, but I hadn’t visited it up close and in person.  This factoid stuns and amazes most I share it with, for good reason.  Who makes the biggest investment of their lifetime in something they have never actually laid eyes on?

This girl!
Here's the backstory:  the house we were leaving sold in 2 weeks and my husband had already moved to start his new job and he'd been scouring the local market to no avail for over a month.  I sent listings to him nearly daily, but up until this point he had assured me nothing he had seen was suitable.  I was home alone with a 3 year old and a dog and my despair.

Then, one fateful Tuesday (yes, I remember what day of the week it was) THIS house came on the market.  I had those little heart palpitations of excitement as I looked over the listing and quickly sent it on to both my husband and our realtor with an urgent flag:  get into this one IMMEDIATELY!  Then I set off to pick up our son from preschool.
When I returned home no one had responded to my URGENT online request, so I called and left URGENT phone messages.  The realtor FINALLY responded (later that afternoon, but I was VERY anxious so it seemed like an unreasonable wait) that he had an appointment for Thursday.  THURSDAY!!!!  Like Wednesday just didn’t exist, you know???

I was on pins and needles until they FINALLY got in to see the place (36 hours of torture) to confirm my intuition…we had finally found “the one”!  I was ready to hop in the car and drive 10 hours, but that is just not done when there is a toddler expecting preschool and a nap the next day and a dog needing to be fed and walked and such. 
Then the horrifying news that there was to be an OPEN HOUSE on Saturday!!!  MY house could be stolen right out from under my nose before I ever even had the chance to see it!  So I did what any reasonable person would do:

I authorized our realtor to make a full price offer that very night.
You are probably the one suffering heart palpitations at this point in the story, right?  But I am an intuitive person and I trusted my intuition.  Luckily, our offer was accepted because some totally jerky idiot from the open house wanted to make an offer too but backed down when he heard there was already FULL PRICE on the table.  What a jerk! (jk!)

Okay, now I secure appropriate care for the kid and pup and head up to see my dream home with a song in my heart.  I meet up with my husband who drives us there (here) for the first time without the local realtor navigating and having mistakenly relied on Google maps to set our course.  You see where this is going:  we get lost.
But not run-of-the-mill-I-made-wrong-turn lost, more like omg-have-we-entered-the-7th-circle-of-hell lost.  We find ourselves on this weedy, bumpy, unpaved little rural road that seems to get narrower and narrower the further we drive and we literally keep having to stop because chickens and goats are wandering into our path (yes, I know what literally means.  This is how it happened).  Of course, my response to the apparent fact that I am about to move my life and child into some kind of outtake from Deliverance causes me to burst into hysterical tears.

I sat sobbing cooperatively as my husband tried to figure out where things went awry.
But all’s well that ends well and we finally found MY house (on a PAVED street!  In a LOVELY neighborhood!  With NARY a chicken or goat in sight!) and now we have lived here nearly eight years.  And, as an added bonus, the people we bought the house from have become good friends in a serendipitious turn of events, so we were doubly blessed.  That, my friends, is intuition in overdrive and a very happy ending!

But there were a few bumps in the road on our way here, right?  Literally.
So now I tell you about that mysterious little chickeny, goaty trail we found ourselves on;  it’s like the “ye olde fashione” version of a major bypass  WITH THE SAME NAME which is why the splendidly helpful Google Maps mistakenly routed us that way.  I am a big walker and walk almost daily the couple of miles to the entrance of this makeshift “road” and often warn drivers who have been given the same bad intel from the fine folks at Google to stay clear.  It seems to be mainly a place where kids drive their ATV’s and possibly drink a few beers with the farm animals.

Then recently we had a big snowstorm and afterwards I was tromping my usual path and frankly fretting about my current life challenges.  When I arrived at the trail of doom, I saw the plows had just piled up everything from the road I was on, totally blocking the entrance with a pile of snow taller than my head.  And as I contemplated the icy wall, wondering how the chickens, goats and ATVer's would feel about all of this, I had the sudden thought:   this obstacle is temporary.
And then, upon further reflection, I decided that most ALL obstacles are temporary.

And in realizing this, I went about my way with a lighter heart, knowing that the obstacles in my life would eventually melt away like the snow, and I would see my way clear again.  Or, as the common wisdom mandates, this too shall pass.   But it is not quite that simple.
Each day, as the snow melted more and more I imagined the obstacles in my own life getting smaller and smaller too.  I felt a renewed sense of energy and faith.  And then one day, sure enough, the wall of snow was completely gone; the obstacle had been removed.

As if to bring the point home, the ATVer’s had already driven their machines up over the last remaining hump of dirt the snow plow had left, mashing it to the ground with heavy tread.  I felt liberated!  And then I saw it:  a brand new handmade sign that someone had tacked to a tree:
PASS AT YOUR OWN RISK. 

Yes, like the sort of thing you would see outside of a child’s fort or treehouse. Not the most uplifting end to my tale, I know.  Yes, the obstacle was gone, but that means I have to move ahead now AT MY OWN RISK. 
And that’s how life is, isn’t it?  We think IF ONLY there weren’t these OBSTACLES! But then when the obstacle no longer exists or is overcome, fear may still assert itself; just because the pathway has been cleared doesn’t mean we don’t still have trepidation about going forward.  Going forward means being brave and being brave means there is always some risk involved.  We know what we have to do, but will we be brave enough to do it?

Now to answer your questions:  YES, all of this actually happened (literally).  YES, my brain does work this way ALL the time and there is no such thing as “just” a melting pile of snow (or a cigar).  And finally NO, I didn’t have buyer’s remorse having pulled the trigger on a house I had never seen.  I trust my intuition; it has given me good reason.
So the moral of the story is this…even on the path of intuition there will be obstacles; these obstacles are always temporary and are testing your resolve.  And when these obstacles are overcome, bravery will still be required to move ahead.  But if you can remember all of this, it will help keep you sane while you are on the path to your very own dream house, dream career, dream life. 

In life, you pass at your own risk.  But as Keirkegaard put it, “Without risk there is no faith.” And what is faith but making the biggest investment of your lifetime in something you have never actually laid eyes on? 
 

Saturday, March 4, 2017

WHY THERE AIN'T NO BAD GUYS (Darn It!)

You know how you get a song stuck in your head and it just replays over and over on a loop?  It’s quite possible I just did that to you with my title.  Sorry about that.

But Dave Mason’s “We Just Disagree” may be a good anthem for the times we are going through right now.  Darn it.  Oh, I know…but theybut theybut they…I know, truly I do.
I’m not saying no one ever does anything “wrong”.  I’m certainly not saying no one ever does anything unkind.  I’m definitely not saying no one ever does anything hurtful.

I’m saying that our need to draw those lines, to label people as “good” and “bad” and “right” and “wrong” is really not terribly productive and may be more damaging to ourselves than we realize.  This anger we feel, that we believe is directed at “the other” is actually a swirling storm going on inside of our own minds.  Like the song that replays over and over on a loop, this game of shame and blame becomes our own toxic trap.
Okay, it is hard right now with all of the dangerous, dishonest collusion dangling right in front of us to recognize our righteous anger as harmful.  So let’s take the discussion to a more personal level; have you ever been witness to an ugly divorce?  One where dangerous, dishonest collusion may have been involved?

The sense of betrayal and heartbreak in the “wronged” party can be excruciating without a doubt, and good friends will not only validate the experience of grief, they will also channel much of their own anger towards the “bad guy”.  This provides a temporary sense of relief and support for the person as they extricate themselves from the unhealthy situation.  But what ends up happening when they hold on to the anger and blame instead of moving on?
We have (unfortunately) all seen parents who (inexplicably) try to turn their children against the ex-spouse after a divorce.  If it is not common sense to you that this is a miserable idea, I am not going to Google the kabillion articles that tell you so on your behalf.  But even if there are not children involved, how many people do you know that hang on to the bitterness and sense of victimization long after the relationship has resolved?  How do these people tend to do in forming new, healthier connections? I won’t Google that for you either.

I once knew a woman whose husband had betrayed her on a level most of us will thankfully never experience; essentially, their whole relationship was a lie.  But they had children and even though this man continued to treat her with mind-boggling disrespect after their divorce, I never heard her say a word against him.  They maintained a cordial relationship for the kids and she made every effort to allow them whatever access to their father that they chose.
I was young enough to be outraged on her behalf and awe-struck by her lack of anger.  But as my life evolved and I witnessed the beginnings and endings of more and more relationships I began to see how wise she was.  First, because her ex was the father of her children, vilifying him would have meant on some level rejecting them; but also, he had taken so much from her already, she wasn’t going to let him steal another moment of her peace and contentment.

So you are wondering—is this guy not a “bad guy”, in spite of her stalwart efforts to not empower him to ruin her life?
Here is my opportunity to give you the whole back story and make you if not empathetic, at least more intellectually understanding of why the man behaved as he did.  But I’m not going to do that.  I am simply going to point out that there is always more to the story, always.  And to paraphrase Neal Donald Walsch (who himself claims to be paraphrasing the Almighty):  no one does anything wrong given his/her model of the world.

Ugh, that is hard to accept, isn’t it?  But now we can return to those lawmakers who do all of these (horrible IMHO) things with big self-righteous smiles on their faces—smiles we self-righteously want to wipe away—and realize the ugly truth of it…they actually think they are doing the “right” thing.  ARRRRGH!  SO. HARD. TO. ACCEPT!!!
Given my model of the world, they are 12,000 kinds of wrong times a million, but I have to understand that they think THEY are “the good guys”.  They think they are protecting me from my naiveté.  They think they are putting in place a system that supports the people who “deserve” that help.   ARRRRGH!!!!!

Okay, the good news is, like the song says—we can disagree.  And unlike the song, we don’t have to “leave it alone”; we are 100% within our rights to stand up for each other and against policies that we believe are dangerous or damaging.  That is democracy, and we are seeing it in action now on a daily basis.

The bad news is, when we self-righteously attack their self-righteousness—well, you see where I am going.  We A) aren’t getting any closer to a solution and B) are living in an angry space of our own making.  Anger breeds anger, contempt evokes contempt and it is just as pointless to vilify someone who we think is making a mess of things (even on a colossal scale) as someone who is having a bad day. 

ARRRGH!!!  I hate that I’m right about this, I promise you that.
If your child made a mistake in class and the teacher screamed at him and told him he was “bad” or “dumb”, you would just about lose your mind, wouldn’t you?  The child is in school to learn, and mistakes are part of the learning process; demeaning a child for his mistakes is not going to accomplish anything positive.  So why do we think this is the way to go when dealing with other adults?

I hate that I’m right about this.  But when we spend our time and energy, whether in our personal and professional relationships or in our global politics, screaming about how “bad” “dumb” and “wrong” the people who disagree with us are, we aren’t getting anywhere we want to go.  Mistakes have been made; this goes without saying.  The question is, are we going to fixate on it and let our anger feed on itself in that endless loop in our heads?
When we (or someone we care about.  Or people we don’t even know.  Or our country.) have been “wronged”, we have every right to say—“This is unacceptable to me”.  We have a right to walk away from people and situations that feel harmful or disrespectful to us.  We have a right to make a stand for people who may not be able to stand up for themselves.  We have a right, as citizens, to vote, protest, petition and rally.  We have a right to speak up for ourselves and our beliefs.

But let’s try to remember that (again, as the song says) we’ve all “grown up differently”.  There is always more to the story than meets the eye, always.  And as we learn each other’s stories, we begin to understand a little better that we are all doing the best that we can, given where we came from and what we know. 
My Aunt likes to tell a story about me as a tiny child; she overheard me saying that I thought she must not have gotten enough sleep, given how cranky she was.  She loved that even though her crankiness was directed at me, my empathy was with her.  Maybe it is too much of a leap to accept that our lawmakers may just have not “gotten enough sleep”; but if we can start from that point of compassion with the people in our lives, it would be a step in the right direction, don’t you think?


Monday, February 13, 2017

WHY STICKS AND STONES GET A BAD RAP

Do you remember “sticks and stones might break my bones but names will never hurt me?”

Is that still a thing?  Or did it go the way of “retard”* and “that’s so gay!”* (we can only hope)?
I would like to take this opportunity to speak out on the behalf of sticks and stones everywhere:  that is to say, words are much worse.  Much, much worse.  Like, see above (*) worse.  Like “you were seriously concerned about her e-mails” worse.

The older I get (and the more I put my own words out there as a writer), the more I realize that the pen is ACTUALLY mightier than the sword.  Our words are our weapons, and social media has made it all too convenient to levy them against people we don’t even know.  Words are the epitome of the cliché—they can be your BEST friend or your WORST enemy.
As your unofficial best friend, I would like to encourage you to use your words wisely.

It feels like my country has plunged into a war of words that shows no signs of abating; we have a “so-called” leader who uses words (the BEST words) so indiscriminately it is entirely clear that he has no idea what he’s talking about most of the time.  The worst part of it is, the person who is supposed to be the voice of our nation is instead the voice of division, fear, pettiness, ego and tyranny.  The worst part is, the man who should be our voice of reason is instead the voice of destructive deceit.
This puts us all into a uniquely awkward position:  how to disavow this man without using words destructively ourselves?

It is interesting to note as you go through your day how powerfully the words you speak and hear impact you.  How quickly can a “bad” day be turned around by kind and uplifting words from a friend or stranger?  How wonderful do you feel when you pay someone a compliment and they light up?  How encouraging is it when you hear something you needed to hear at the exact right moment, sometimes even just as lyric on the radio?
It is amazing how careless we are with our words, considering how they can literally make or break any experience or relationship.  When cruel or spiteful words are directed at us, they can take our breath away more than even a physical punch to the stomach; but we recover from hurt muscles so much more quickly than hurt feelings.  The broken bones from sticks and stones will inevitably mend; the devastation viciousness levies on our hearts and psyches can become an eternal feature of our consciousness.

Yet it is so tempting to meet meanness with meanness, intolerance with contempt!  Language is our medium and we fling it about all day long with so little care.  Even inside our own heads, what are the words we play for ourselves on that endless loop?
“The Power of Positive Thinking” gets brushed off as New Age nonsense in an unusual show of solidarity between intellectuals and the undereducated alike; yet it is the thoughts we are thinking that have the greatest impact on our lives of all.  Not just the self-critical thoughts, either.  It is crucial during this challenging time to remember that as important as it is to stand up for our morals and beliefs, it is equally important not to spend our days and nights stewing about injustice, either.

In the Harry Potter series, the arch villain Voldemort is more often referred to as He-who- must-not-be-named because of the belief that speaking the word increases its power.  Many people have adopted this approach regarding our current government leader because to refer to the man by his job title seems to legitimize his destructive words and behaviors.  I think this is a much more effective strategy than name-calling and insult hurling (although I will admit to being the first person to laugh at a particularly clever insult under these trying circumstances) because it takes away his power.
How does it take away his power if he still has the job, you ask?  Here’s how:  if you are anything like me, trying to put the word “President” in front of that name not only feels wrong, it actually causes an anxiety response.  Calling him “45” or He-who-must-not-be-named does not.  Anxiety can have a crippling effect on our cognitive ability (here, I googled so you don’t have to).   So I have taken away his power to have a crippling effect on my cognitive ability.  That’s a good thing, right?

But this is true of all the different kinds of thoughts we think.  When we focus our attention on words (President) and things that make us anxious, we are actually debilitating ourselves.  Now, if you are a person who suffers from an actual anxiety disorder, there is help available to cope with that.  But if you are like me and are simply using your own words and thoughts against yourself, now would be a particularly good time to cut that sh*t out.
In addition to all the aforementioned anxiety provoking stimuli, I have a lot of major stressors happening in my personal life all at once right now.  I have to be vigilant with my words and thoughts in order not to get swept away into overwhelm.  This is an every minute of every day endeavor, and some days I am more successful than others.

On a recent day when I was trying very hard but being not-so-successful, I made a run to the grocery store.  As I was mentally trying to “talk myself away from the ledge”, I parked my car and when I got out right there was a truck with a quote from the Philippians stenciled on the back:  “Be anxious for nothing”.  And of course I went from fretting to laughing in a heartbeat.  Those were the exact words I needed to see at just the exact right moment, and I wish I had left a note on that vehicle telling the people who owned it as much.
Another great truth put forth in the Book of Matthew is this:  “By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.”  Our words and thoughts are the most potent means available to us to be effective and impactful, not only in our own lives but in the lives of others.  In every exchange we have we are choosing to serve fear or faith, oppression and exclusion or openness and oneness. 

Sticks and stones might break your bones (but usually not, bones are pretty sturdy things) but now more than ever we see words have nuclear capability.  To the cliché “is it kind, true or necessary” I would add “helpful” and “productive” to the litmus test for the words we are using.  By first changing our words and thoughts, we are well on the way to changing the world.
 

Monday, January 23, 2017

WHY TODAY IS YOUR LUCKY DAY!

Growing up, I often heard my Grandmother say about my Dad, “If he fell into a bucket of scheisse, he’d find a diamond ring.”  I also heard my Father tell anyone who would listen, “All of my life I’ve had good luck.”  Now, in a chicken and egg scenario, I cannot tell you which actually came first:  Dad having extraordinary good fortune, or Dad being told that he had good fortune, but the end result was the same.  He always got the big half of the wishbone, and he counted that blessing daily.

I, on the other hand, never considered myself to be particularly lucky.  I wasn’t athletic or naturally competitive, so “winning” was not really part of my skill set.  I was the most physically delicate and emotionally fragile of my siblings, so I suffered both injury and insult at their hands.  I never had difficulty making new friends, but I was also never what you would describe as “popular”.  Unlike my Dad, I didn’t have an intrinsic sense of being fortunate; I believed hard work, academic achievement and living according to my morals would be the road to a successful and happy life.
However, in spite of graduating from an excellent college and continuing to conduct myself in business and relationships in a way I felt proud of, my streak of not-such-great-luck continued into adulthood.  Mountains of effort produced very little achievement (or so it felt to me) and things that seemed to come so easily for most presented virtually insurmountable obstacles.  In spite of this, I would never have described myself as an unhappy person.  I genuinely liked being me (still true) and I had a lot of wonderful relationships that reflected the idea of my value and lovability back to me. 

One thing that I did occasionally experience was what I call grace, but for the sake of this discussion I will call supernatural level-luck.  That is to say, although my day-to-day existence often felt bumpy and filled with disappointments, I had moments in my life that could only be described as “divine intervention”.  Like when I left my Filofax (remember those?) containing my driver’s license, bank card, money and all of my personal contacts in a phone booth (remember those?) on my way to work, and when I got home that night found it waiting for me because a stranger had driven an HOUR to return it.  I have a whole series of stories like that, and they never fail to amaze my listeners.  And although my professional life failed to yield any breakthroughs, I did finally have my dreamed of (and worked for) child.
Life was good.  But I still didn’t consider myself lucky.  And then, the scheisse hit the fan.

I have written before about how heart-wrenching and continuously challenging the four years following the birth of my son were; they sort of epitomized the adage, “If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all”.  There was personal loss, job loss, upheaval and a little person depending on me who needed more care, attention and intervention than most children.  I spent four years putting out fires in my super hero cape, and a lot of the hopes and dreams I had for myself simply fell by the wayside. 
Surviving, not thriving was the order of the day.

When the dust finally settled and I looked around, I saw that not only had I survived, but I was raising a happy, healthy kid who had inherited my Dad’s “lucky” gene; the butterflies always landed on him.  And crawling out of my self-imposed emotional bomb shelter, I started forming friendships and connections that felt healthy and supportive.  In this new reality, I started to revisit some of my own hopes and dreams.
In this new reality, I started to realize that “All of my life, I’ve had good luck.”

In viewing my life story as a retrospective, I began to marvel at how the pieces of this intricate puzzle all fit together irrevocably…you can’t pull even one of them out without distorting the picture.  During those difficult years, I started saying, “Today’s bad experience is tomorrow’s funny story”, a somewhat diminishing way of voicing this essential truth.  Every loss, every disappointment, every challenge somehow became a building block to a more authentic existence.
Recently a young Pastor at my church gave a beautiful sermon about his early days in ministry; he was assigned to a parish in a very economically depressed community.  During his first visit to the church, he noticed what he thought was an unusual stockpile of communion bread.  When he asked about it, he was informed that many of the families in the congregation were so poor they counted on that food for their Sunday meal.

Shortly after his arrival, he was called upon to write a sermon about how “The Lord Provides”; in looking at the poverty of his parishioners, he felt uncomfortable preaching such a lesson.  He struggled with the message all week, and entered church that Sunday uninspired.  It was the habit at that particular parish to start each service with petitions, so before he spoke, he let his congregants offer their prayers for intercession and give thanks for blessings.
Aristotle wrote, “He who cannot be a good follower cannot be a good leader.” A woman stood up, a woman the Pastor knew to have very little financially, and gave praise to God for her tremendous good fortune.  She was thankful for the air she breathes; she was thankful for her community; she was thankful for the knees she got down on to pray.  Her litany of gratitude was so extensive that the young man realized on that day that he was her follower.  She had taught him that “The Lord Provides”, not the other way around.

In thinking on this, I have decided that this thing we call “luck” is actually just our normal day-to-day experience.  Most of the time we have air to breathe, community to engage with and knees.  We have a beating heart and a thinking brain.  We have the capacity to learn and grow and most importantly, love.  Most of the time, we are not engaged in the tragic, the earth shattering, the soul rendering. 
Most of the time, we are lucky.

I believe now that my Dad understood this to his very core, and that was the message he was trying to teach.  Misfortune is the anomaly, but even misfortune is often simply a stepping stone to greater success or enlightenment.  Another thing my father was fond of saying was “Every day is a good day”; so I will now pass his wisdom on to you in this form:  “Every day is your lucky day”.
Every day you have a beating heart, a thinking brain, more to learn and love to give is your lucky day!  You decide what comes first, the chicken or the egg?  Will you decide you are lucky and then gather the evidence to support this truth, or will you have the experience and then bless it as lucky? 

Because the end result is the same:  Today is your lucky day!


Monday, January 9, 2017

WHY A CHANGE'LL DO YOU GOOD

I like to think I am fairly normal in that the very idea of change has always exhausted me.  Seriously, I don’t even like to change into my pajamas at the end of a long day and have been known to sleep wearing the same sweater and scarf I was sporting earlier at the Stop and Shop.  I enjoy my personal routines and get ruffled when they are interfered with in any way.  I hate surprises.

No, really.  Don’t test that.  It won’t go well.
That all having been said with emphatic self-awareness, I also realize, with the pristine 20/20 vision of hindsight, that my resistance to change has more often than not meant it has to be thrust upon me in a chaotic, uncontrolled manner.  Because I don’t frequently CHOOSE change and because change is inevitable, I have unfortunately found myself in a sh*tstorm that was not of my own making on too many occasions for it to be a coincidence. 

My takeaway on all of this is:  if you don’t embrace change, change will try it’s damndest to CRUSH you like an Acme anvil.
So here I am, gently (HA!) rolling down the other side of the hill and finally starting to learn that change is really a GOOD thing.  Because my resistance in the past has frequently caused change to be an unpleasant experience, what I had rolling down that hill was a virtual snowball of fear…the more I resisted change, the bigger that snowball got and the faster it moved.  So my indecision (fear of doing what I want to do rather than what I “should” do or what I have been doing) had me so off kilter that all of the systems in my life started crashing all at once. 

Recently, circumstances have pushed me over so many virtual cliffs that I have lost count, and in my free fall I am realizing that I had been teetering on the brink for so long I no longer even understood what “solid ground” felt like.  I have been living with one foot in the way things are and one foot poised over the way I want things to be.  I have been having an understandably difficult time finding balance in such a posture.
Okay, sidebar:  a friend and I were recently laughing about how growing up in the era we did and watching films and TV, you might have thought that being swallowed by quicksand was a top ten cause of death.  An epidemic of mythic proportions.  An imminent threat.

I don’t know when exactly the “quicksand” era ended in filmmaking, but it occurs to me that quicksand IS actually a top ten cause of death…meaning psychic quicksand and psychic death.
The older I get, the more I recognize we do have a tendency to get ourselves stuck into situations that suck the life and hope out of us; and like those old heroes of film, we believe that struggling against it will only make it worse.  Best to bear up and face our impending doom bravely.  As we nobly, slowly sink into the morass we have created; the proverbial captain going down with his ship.

But I’ll tell you the truth:  I have always thought nobility might be a little overrated.  I remember being scandalized by the fact that Cordelia put her personal aspirations to noble martyrdom over the well-being of her kingdom in King Lear.  And it turns out it’s a good thing I didn’t put much stock in it, because it’s damned hard to be noble when life has become Roadrunner to your Wile E. Coyote and all of your plans have backfired in your face.

“Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans” said a really smart guy whose classic wisdom would henceforth be misattributed to John Lennon because that’s just how it goes sometimes, ironically.  Change is what happens to us whether we make plans or not.  So I guess the bottom line here is that we may do better for ourselves if we plan to change.
My life has been forcing me to make all kinds of changes at gun(cannon)point recently, and while I wish I had been brave enough to take action before I was threatened, now that I am making the moves they feel pretty good.  Instead of feeling scared or overwhelmed, I feel invigorated and free.  Oh, and maybe a little overwhelmed, who am I kidding?

And as I am starting to embrace change, I am also totally starting to embody that old, totally un-P.C. expression “Ain’t nothing worse than a reformed drunk”.  Because I see people I care about who think they are stuck in situations that aren’t serving them and I feel a little giddily drunk myself, wanting to remind them they are free to make another choice.   And how much better would it be to make that choice rather than be forced into it?
The dust has not yet settled on my personal journey and more changes are currently in the works.  But I no longer fear the piano dropping out of the sky on my head because I am on the move.  The literal and the virtual are starting to work in tandem as I am clearing space in both my physical world and my mental one.

"Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change," says Stephen Hawking, a fellow who knows a thing or two about adapting to change.  A change’ll do you good.  Without change, there is no growth; even if you have to take the proverbial two steps back, the person who makes the one step forward is more evolved and equipped than ever before.  That is what change always teaches us, ultimately:  we are capable of so much more than we imagine, if only we give ourselves a chance to try.
 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

WHY I'M NOT AFRAID ANYMORE

In the delightful holiday comedy Home Alone, 8 year old Kevin McAllister is quite mistakenly left behind by his large and boisterous family as they embark on a trip to Paris during the Christmas holidays.  While this unexpected bit of freedom is initially invigorating to the child, he is also forced to confront, without the protection of his buffering brood, his fear of the basement.  And his creepy loner neighbor.  And eventually, the idiotic but destructive cat burglars who menace his home.

Not unlike Kevin, I have recently been going through some life changes where structures I thought I could count on are suddenly not there anymore.  And like him, I have found myself both invigorated and forced to face some fears that were long overdue for a showdown.  But in this month of miracles, I have turned a corner that made me think of this film for the first time ever in relation to my own life.
As the days pass, Kevin becomes more and more confident in his ability to handle himself under the extreme circumstances.  He is able to overcome his fear of the basement (to do laundry) and his neighbor (to make a new friend and ally) essentially by walking up to the lion.  But it is his fear of the unknown (the cat burglars) that presents his greatest test.

His initial reaction (understandably) is to run and hide.  How often do we, even as adults have this same impulse?  But then the moment comes (for him and us) where understanding dawns:  this is our life and our domain and if we don’t take care of it, no one else will.
It is at that point in the film that Kevin utters these immortal words:  “Hey, I’m not afraid anymore!”  It is at this point in my life that I find myself essentially on the same trajectory as an 8-year old in a comedy film from the early 90’s:  I’m not afraid anymore.

It is important to note that nothing in my external circumstances has changed to prompt this epiphany.  In fact, by all objective measures, things have gotten progressively worse over the last several months of my life.  But the huge and discernable difference I have been feeling is that I am not the subject of my circumstances; they are merely the subject of my attention or lack thereof.
In the movie, Kevin decides to fight back against what would most likely appear to be insurmountable odds to the majority of children his age (and perhaps even some adults!)  His methods of resistance are both devious and ingenious.  His response to the threat to his security and well-being might be the very definition of “thinking outside the box”.

Now I would like to, as an aside, confirm the fact that Christmas films, generally speaking, have the most plainspoken wisdom about the human condition available.  A Christmas Carol?  “Mankind is my business” and it is never too late to repent.  It’s a Wonderful Life?  “No man is a failure who has friends.”  While You Were Sleeping?  “Life is a pain in the ass.”  All profound truths, right?
But I had never quite seen the mythic quality of Home Alone until this year.

Kevin takes a three-pronged approach to the assault on his security; first and foremost, ACTION.  He booby-traps his house in a manner that would stymie even the most determined crook.  Secondly, he SEEKS ASSISTANCE.  He reaches out to the big man in the red suit to restore what he has lost.  Third is PRAYER.  He requests divine protection on his quest.  We would all do well to follow his guidelines for a happy and thriving life.
The beauty of Home Alone, however, is that there is no Deus ex Machina involved in his salvation.  He wins the day through his own directed behavior, the compassionate alliance he has made with his neighbor and his faith that all with be well.  He defeats the men who were threatening his home, but still makes time to prepare for the return of his family, as he has both prayed (to God) and asked (Santa) for; the stockings hanging on the hearth are a symbol of his active faith.

How often in life do we act without faith?  Or pray without acting?  Or seek assistance without being clear what we really want?  Or fail to seek assistance when we do? 
Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”  I don’t know what the kingdom of heaven means to you, but to me it is perfect faith and self-assurance, no matter what is going on around me.  Faith that all will be well (no matter what) and self-assurance (that I can handle it, no matter what). 

I’m not afraid anymore.  Life is a pain in the ass, but there is nothing life can throw at me that I am not equal to.  I’m not afraid anymore.  Mankind is my business; there is nothing worth doing or having or being that isn’t worth fighting for, and I am both worthy and to my very core a fighter.  I’m not afraid anymore.  No one is a failure who has friends, and I have faith that there are people who will support me and love me (no matter what). 
I’m not afraid anymore. 

Sometimes, when we face our fears, we discover they are silly (the basement).  Sometimes, when we face our fears, we realize we have been missing out (the “creepy” neighbor who turns out to be a savior and friend).  Sometimes, when we face our fears, we realize there is a fight ahead of us (the cat burglars).  But always, when we face our fears, we realize we are equal to them.  We realize it is a fair fight.
And then, we are not afraid anymore.


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

WHY I BELIEVE (IN SANTA)

Last week my 11 year old son boldly stated his intention to write a letter to Santa this year; the reason he felt the need to clarify is because last year I prepped him for the eventuality that one day he will no longer choose to do this.  I explained that as we outgrow toys, we outgrow the need for a visit from Santa and step aside to leave room on the sleigh for the requests of smaller children.  He accepted this notion without question, but was firm in his resolve to make his heartfelt wishes known to the man in the red suit yet again.  I told him it was fine by me, at which point he said with incredulity, “I really don’t understand how people can NOT believe in Santa.  Could ANYTHING be more obvious?”

He makes an excellent point.

For a guy who only shows up once a year, Santa has some kind of mad PR machine working for him.  Has there ever been anyone in the history of the world who has had more books, movies, songs and TV shows written about him?  Has any character appeared in more artwork, advertisements or on more street corners?  I’m not even going to attempt to research this, but in terms of public awareness, I’d say there is no one and nothing that ranks above St. Nick, with the possible exception of GOD.

See what I just did there?

My son’s canny observation prompted me to engage him in a conversation about the importance of our beliefs.  I explained to him that beliefs shape our perception of what we experience, so it is crucial to establish a strong and positive belief system about everything, most especially ourselves.  Our internal dialogue about whom and how we are is the number one factor in our effectiveness in engaging with others and the world at large.

He seemed to easily grasp the idea that his beliefs about himself would impact his life, but had a harder time understanding how denial of the obvious—Santa’s existence and climate change were the examples he used—could change or influence anything.  I told him that it all comes back to personal responsibility; what we believe drives our behavior and our behavior is the stone that causes the ripples in the pond.  We are powerful and influential beyond our wildest imaginings, so it is critically important to be a force for good.

This conversation caused me, naturally, to re-evaluate how my belief system has been working for me recently.  I have always been one of those everything-happens-for-a-reason people (with my apologies to the many wise and rational folk this understandably offends) because it is a belief that is helpful to me in looking at my experiences, most especially the frightening and damaging ones.  This belief has helped me to reframe some harshly negative incidents into something more empowering and useful.

However, I have also come to realize that I am a person who values clarity and certainty perhaps above all other things; this means whenever I am facing a challenging situation with no clear course to resolve, I have a tendency to panic.  My need to impose a positive meaning on all that is happening to me undermines my ability to let go, go with the flow and TRUST.  In other words, I have a constant urgent yearning to skip to the end of the book (they lived happily ever after!) instead of living in the uncertain and messy present.

I want the wisdom and reward without the journey.  Is it just me?

There is a great deal of uncertainty in my life right now, and therefore my son’s as well; it is not surprising that he would want to dig into his belief in the positive (Santa) during this challenging time.  I had a dream recently that I was in the woods alone at night on a snow covered trail; the only light was the moon and walking in the deep drifts was arduous work.  I was overcome with fear and doubt—should I turn around or keep going?  Except I couldn’t remember where I was coming from or how far I’d already walked; also, I wasn’t sure where I was going or how long it would be until I got there.

In the dark, cold woods, alone at night with no idea whether I am coming or going sounds about right these days.  But in my dream I heard the voice of a beloved friend urging me on:  “Just stay on the path.”  I cannot tell you how many times I have repeated this line to myself since I had that dream.   Keep going, keep moving and stay on the path.

In this place I have become interested in the fact that the words “belief” and “faith” are often used interchangeably.  Living with uncertainty and strife, I have come to realize that while my belief system is undeniably strong, my faith could actually use some work.  My tendency to apply positive meaning in retrospect, while helpful, is nowhere near as powerful as an ability to find value in the present.

The holiday season is called “the season of faith” because it is a time of hopeful expectancy.  As Christians await the birth of a savior, children await the visit from St. Nick and we all await the New Year, our gratitude goes before us—there is absolutely no doubt these things will come.  And it occurs to me this is the very definition of faith:  gratitude in advance.

A child who has misbehaved still waits with an optimistic view that Santa will deliver; as adults we trip and fall but go forward with the idea that our missteps are still leading us somewhere we want to be.   My belief in myself and my capabilities and in the essential goodness and healthy symbiosis of mankind is fertile ground for inevitable growth and mutually beneficial shared experiences.   However, it is actually my gratitude for all that is yet to be that helps me stay on the path.

This Christmas, I think I will be writing a letter to “Santa”.  Like my son, I will share all of my heartfelt wishes knowing that whether or not I have been “good” or “bad” I can still be grateful for all that has been, all that is and all that will be.  As with Scrooge’s ghosts, I can take stock in the past, present and future knowing that every moment has the potential for a new beginning.

And when we are grateful for each and every moment we have knowing without a doubt that good is coming, we are living in faith.  That is what Christmas and Santa remind us to believe every year.

Could anything be more obvious?