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Sunday, December 29, 2013


We don’t like difficult things, do we?  Not difficult people, places, chores or recipes.  We love things to be easy, right?  Is there higher praise for a family get together than the phrase “It was easy”?  Ditto for a shopping trip, good meal or any kind of task we had been dreading.  We believe that “easy” makes us happy and “difficult” makes us unhappy.  Have a difficult time finding a parking space and you probably get a little tweaked.  Having to wait in a long line behind people who still insist on paying by check will undoubtedly make you exasperated.  Getting halfway through a complicated recipe only to realize you don’t have enough of this or added too much of that can ruin your whole day.  Why do things have to be so difficult?  If only life were easier, we could all be happy, right?  But hold that thought for just a minute…

When you were a kid, was there any greater put down than “It was easy”?  A puzzle, a game, an assignment at school…you know the gesture, the lazy shrug that is a little like the ultimate eye-roll, followed by the phrase “It was easy” sliding out of one side of your mouth, as if it were not even worth engaging your full set of lips over.  Kids are not impressed with “easy”.  Kids are not satisfied with “easy”.  “Easy” is BORING, plain and simple, and what in the world is more aggravating to the under-18 set than BEING BORED?  Being challenged, accomplishing something that took a little doing, being fully engaged were priorities when we were young.  When does that change?  Whenever I watch children running through sprinklers or playing with water balloons or doing any activity that involves getting soaked to the skin, I privately shudder and think, “At what point does the hassle of getting wet outstrip the joy of it?”  When, exactly, do we fall in love with the idea of having an easy life?

It is “easy” to make the argument that this starts to change once we are paying our own bills and making our own way.  And perhaps we can further conclude that the metamorphosis completes when we have children of our own and really learn the definition of the word “difficult”.   Maybe it is because we allow so many of the unexpected twists and turns along the way to shake our confidence instead of building it.  Lack of sleep, lack of support and lack of funds are real buzz killers to be sure, and we experience all of them at one point or another, and sometimes even all three at once.  I, for one, am rarely in the right frame of mind for a water balloon fight.  Or even for tackling a particularly challenging recipe.   And there is nothing I love more than getting a good parking spot at the store, waltzing in and finding everything on my list and then walking right up to the checkout stand, no wait.  Woo-hoo!  It’s exhilarating!

But that temporary high is not a platform to build on.  It is transient; it comes and goes with no residual gain.  The difficulties I have faced in my life, however…here is where I learned I am a warrior.  Here is where I learned to trust myself.  Here is where I realized the true meaning of friendship.  Here is the solid ground upon which I can build a life.  When life challenges you, you have been given a great opportunity to grow.  The things you learn in any dark parts of your journey will ultimately be the most valuable, not only to yourself but also to the people whose lives you touch.   Pain is inevitable in this world, but as we make our way through it, we learn to survive; and as we survive we teach others about endurance.  We begin to understand that the emotional hoops we jump through in our relationships are so often just an exercise in guilt or just plain confusion; we learn to stand our ground and not engage in melodrama.  Being present is the most important gift we can give to each other.  And although it is in many ways more difficult than running around like a chicken without a head, it is also much more rewarding.
In this upcoming new year, I am blessing you with the gift of difficulties.  I am bestowing on you the reward of challenges.  That is where you truly find yourself and that is how you grow great and strong.  Ask any kid, they know.  And so do you.  When life is difficult, you are at your best.  Your best is a marvel to behold and an incomparable fortress.  The easy days blow through the windows and flutter the curtains prettily with a breath of fresh air, but the difficult ones provide the foundation and the strength of your walls.  And the stronger your fortress, the less the challenging days will bother you.  You welcome them as a friend and teacher and you move past them often exhausted but never defeated.  They are coming, whether you want them to or not, so why not greet them willingly and be open to the good they have to bring you?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Why The Island of Misfit Toys is Total Crap

If you have never seen Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, you might be better off for it. 

I hate to admit that, as I am a well known super-fan of all things Christmas, perhaps most especially these so-called Christmas specials that bring me right back to the magical holidays of my childhood. My parents really did Christmas right, and no matter how hard I try I will never be able to recapture that wonder I felt on Christmas morning, or the deeply comforting energy of a house full of three generations of family. Those were good years, a time never to be duplicated in this new world of scattered families and virtual friends.

But that’s a topic for another day. Today I would like to explain why the Island of Misfit Toys is so totally messed up!  Santa’s atrocious behavior on this particular program has been brilliantly dissected…honestly, who would want that difficult, cantankerous, ungrateful old coot coming to visit, even with free toys? 

When he tells Rudolph’s father that “he should be ashamed of himself” when the red nose is finally exposed to the herd at large, we have no idea if he means he should be ashamed of his son’s “defect” or he should be ashamed for hiding it. This is not a good thing to be confused about, especially if you have any “defects” of your own.

Which leads me to these so-called “misfit” toys. By what or who’s standards are they misfits? Have they been rejected by the obviously at-fault toymakers or by actual children? Because most kids I know would KILL for a water pistol that shoots jelly, you dig? I’m amazed this fun snacking device has not been manufactured en masse to this day. Pure marketing gold, I’ll tell you! Also, obviously once the jelly is gone you could, if you lack imagination and wit, just fill the damned thing with water. Seriously, this is hardly an insurmountable obstacle.

And as for the Jack-in the-Box named Charlie…huh?   If you hadn’t gone on national TV crying about it, I’d be none the wiser, pal!  And if you are so despondent at your fate, exiled to a frigid island by some mysterious tyrant, why are you being so stubborn about the name Charlie?  Would it kill you to go by “Jack” for professional reasons,  really? I think the problem may be more your attitude than your name. 

Same for the cowboy riding an ostrich. His unfortunate voice notwithstanding, I’m sure he could find himself a nice toy horse if he really looked around, rather than moping on the frozen tundra. And while I understand the difficulties faced by the train with square wheels on the caboose, I would venture to make a rather cutthroat suggestion: lose the caboose. Most kids are only interested in the engines, anyhow. Maybe the ostrich can pull the caboose around?  Let's think outside the box, Jack.

Finally, about those toys with no apparent defect who still choose to hang out with the "misfits" (I’m talking about YOU, dolly named Sue…) This may be an esteem issue. If we are to take a positive message from this otherwise disturbing biopic of the red-nosed reindeer, it would be to not only respect our differences, but embrace them. 

It did not appear at first that a red-nosed reindeer would be terribly useful, but then look how that all turned out! Unfortunately, by lumping in a perfectly good doll (and a polka dot elephant?) with all the "rejects", a far less uplifting message might be heard…you may not know what is wrong with you, but WE DO. 

And we are willing to exile you at a moment's notice without warning or provocation. It’s a losing battle, Sue. You’ll never be pretty enough, sweet enough, good enough. You are a misfit because WE SAID SO.

And that’s why the island of misfit toys is total crap.