theorangeinkblot

Looking at life through orange colored glasses…

Archive for the category “Personal Reflections”

Being Temporarily Abled

My vision without my glasses is pretty bad.  My own hand in front of my face is blurry and even though I would probably be able to identify a large object that is ten to twenty feet away (something the size of a car or larger) I can’t see smaller objects or read any lettering or signs.  Anything further away then twenty feet is just a fuzzy blob of shape and color.

About twenty years ago, I went to a ‘Lenscrafters’ in a shopping mall in suburban New York. The frames to my glasses had bent but could be repaired while I waited (in about an hour!).   I sat down in a chair in the waiting area and picked up a magazine which I quickly realized I couldn’t read unless I held it about three inches from my face and even then it was tricky.  I put the magazine down and just sat there for a minute or two and then I thought of my friend who is has a visual disability and has used both a cane and a guide dog to assist her over the years.

I decided that instead of sitting in that chair for an hour staring at a fuzzy wall, I would use the time as an opportunity to try to gain even the smallest glimmer of understanding of what it would be like if my ability to see without glasses was the best that I could expect.  I assigned myself a task to find a coffee shop, buy a cup of coffee and then find my way back to ‘Lenscrafters’.

I was able to complete my self assigned tasks but not without asking for help.  Being unfamiliar with the mall I had to ask someone to help me find the coffee shop and then I had to ask the coffee shop employee to tell me what kind of specialty drinks they had and how much they cost.  I had to hold my money pretty close to my face to make sure I was paying with the correct bill.  I had to navigate getting on and off the escalator with limited vision.  By the time I returned to Lenscrafters,  I was grateful to be reunited with my glasses and my ability to see.

It was an interesting experiment which definitely required me to step out of my comfort zone. I felt vulnerable and a little uncomfortable having to ask strangers for help. But let’s be honest, any discomfort or vulnerability I felt was tempered by the knowledge that it was temporary.   Still, when I told my friend who is blind what I had done, she was touched.  She said very few people would even try to take it upon themselves to understand what it is like to be a person with a disability.  She also said that most able bodied people take for granted that they will always be able bodied, when in fact, at any time, any one of us could be faced with an illness or injury that leaves us with chronic pain, mobility issues, or an inability to see, hear, speak or think the way we used to.  Any one of us able bodied people could very well be so temporarily.

Why am I telling you all this?  I have a good friend who deals with chronic pain on a daily basis. She has recently had two major surgeries and hospitalizations but sadly has had no relief.  In addition, she is now facing mobility issues and finds herself needing to use a wheelchair to travel any significant distance.  To add insult to injury, as she has reached out to her friends and community for help and support, she has found that many people are shutting her out.  Some people have just stop taking her calls altogether.  Others have told her that her level of illness makes them uncomfortable or that they are not comfortable having a friend who uses a wheelchair.

I have two lines of thought about these feelings of discomfort:

1.) I understand that feeling uncomfortable feels, well, uncomfortable.  Anytime we are faced with a situation that is unfamiliar or new or in which we don’t know what to do or say, the temptation can be to avoid the situation altogether and shut down that uncomfortable feeling.  This can apply to visiting or supporting our friends when they are sick or injured or any other plethora of new or scary situations.  But before moving into avoidance and denial consider that the feeling of discomfort is also signaling an opportunity for personal growth.

By being willing to sit with that feeling of discomfort, we give our brain the opportunity to confront and resolve the cognitive dissonance between how we are actually feeling, and the guilt or shame we may feel for feeling that way.  Then, we can find our courage, lean in, and access feelings of empathy and compassion instead of succumbing to fear.  We may find that we are awkward and clumsy in our attempts to reach out in these situations- but at least it is authentic. And the more we are willing to try, the less awkward and clumsy it becomes.

2.) Consider the idea that your able-bodiedness may be temporary.  How would you feel if tomorrow you found yourself unable to use your body in the way you are used to using it.   Scared? Confused? Frustrated? Angry? Sad? Now imagine that feeling all of those feelings you reach out to people – who have been your friends for years – for emotional support or assistance and their response is that due to your not being able to use your body in the same way you used to they are no longer comfortable being your friend.  How devastating would that be?

It’s okay- normal even- to feel uncomfortable.  Imagine though, how that discomfort can be transformed into something so much more powerful if we are willing acknowledge that we can simultaneously feel uncomfortable and also make an effort to be empathetic and compassionate.  Can we find the courage to say, “I’m feeling uncomfortable with what you are going through but I’m working on it and want to find some way to try to be supportive.”

We don’t have to make a commitment to “fixing” whatever our friend is going through- there may not even be a viable solution.  And it is totally healthy to set boundaries.  I am not suggesting that it is required or even appropriate to be available to someone 24 hours a day.  I would say to try, for a moment, to put yourself in that person’s shoes and think about how you might feel if you were going through what they are going through.  Remind yourself that at any moment on any day your world might be completely turned upside down.  Imagine what it might be like if you needed to learn to navigate the world in an entirely different way.  And then choose your actions based on how you would hope your friends would respond to you.

It’s easy really- treat others the way you would want to be treated.  Even if it makes you feel a little uncomfortable.

 

The End of An Era…

When I dropped off my daughter at school this morning I let out a breath I didn’t realize I had been holding.  Today is her last day of Middle School.  I feel like I should bake her a “you survived middle school” cake.   My daughter had a very mixed middle school experience which (like many others) included mean kids who said mean things sprinkled with an abundance of early teen drama.  But when I look at the kid who entered seventh grade compared to the one who is today finishing eighth I can tell you, she’s come a long way.

Even though I’m frustrated about some of the more negative aspects of her middle school experience, today, I primarily find myself feeling grateful. Education happens as much out of the classroom as it happens inside of it.  Part of the benefit of having forty minutes twice a day in the car with my daughter is that we have had a lot of time to talk.

Here are some of the important lessons my daughter has learned in middle school.

When you set a goal of learning how to “deal with difficult people” (as my daughter did this year) the universe sends you a lot of “difficult” people to practice on.  She is still practicing.  However, she is learning that sometimes it is important to call people out on their words and behaviors and other times it makes more sense to let it go and walk away. She has learned that sometimes people are “difficult” because they are hurting and others are just mean. She has learned that her choices go beyond making friends or enemies.  It is okay to have neutral relationships.

She has learned that sometimes when you tell the truth people will try to quiet you.  Tell the truth anyway.  My daughter was criticized quite a bit in middle school for her “radical honesty.” When I pressed the administration for more information they said that she wasn’t being mean or saying anything that was untrue but expressing honest thoughts that were making other people feel uncomfortable. One example of her radical honesty turned out to be telling visiting students the truth about her experience at the small private school which meant she had perhaps become a bit of a marketing problem. My daughter has learned that she has no obligation to make herself smaller or to lie to make others feel more comfortable.  She has some pretty important things to say.  Good luck trying to stop her.

 

18620366_216075162239581_1825342389076944715_n.jpg

Going out in style on the last day of Middle School.

Finally, she has learned, when you have a group of loyal friends who have your back, you can survive almost anything that middle school will throw at you. I am so grateful that my daughter found a group of friends who have really stood by her.  They have shut down gossip about her on days she was absent and they have stood up for each other, particularly when some of the boys have made mean or inappropriate comments.

My favorite story she has come home with is this one:

One of the boys in my daughter’s class told her friend that her bra strap was showing and it was “distracting” him. The four girls, in unison, said, “So, don’t look.” So, the boy tried to explain: this girl was more attractive, more developed than the other girls in the class and so he felt it was beyond his control to not look and therefore he was “distracted.” My daughter, in all of her radically honesty, called the boy out.  “Is it more or less distracting” she asked, “then when you and the other boys stick your hands down your pants during class to shift your private parts?” (Drops mic, walks away.)

I used to worry about my daughter.  I mean, she’s my daughter so I’ll always worry about her to some extent.  But I don’t worry about her the way I used to. She is gaining self-confidence, finding her voice, and figuring out how to put herself out in the world in a way that is authentic to her.  She has learned that she can endure but that she can also set her own boundaries. She is learning that she has the same right to exist as everybody else and she won’t apologize for taking up her space on this planet.

If you ask my daughter about her middle school experience, she will probably focus on some of the more negative experiences she has had.  I am writing this so when she looks back later I can remind her of how much she grew as a person during these tumultuous two years and because I have never been so proud of all she has accomplished.

 

 

I am light.

I will be completely honest.  When I woke up yesterday morning and confirmed the election results, I had a moment where I wished I could be my dog; blissfully ignorant and content with digging holes in the backyard and receiving the occasional belly rub. Like many parents, I struggled with how to tell my kids that our candidate had lost.  Like many of my friends, I was worried about what this election means for our country.  And like many people I have spoken to and read about, I have shed some tears.

I have stopped reading the articles that try to articulate how we got here because the fact of the matter is this is where we have landed.  We need to decide how we are going to move forward and in doing that, each of us has a decision to make about how we are going to put ourselves out into the world from here on out.  The great thing is, that with so much work to do, there are many roles to play.  So how I decide to put myself out there doesn’t have to look exactly how you decide to put yourself out there.  The important thing is, we have to put ourselves out there.

Yesterday, my daughter, who is an 8th grader, texted me a selfie of herself and her good friend Lubabah.  To see this beautiful picture of my Jewish daughter with her Muslim friend reminded me of why we must continue to do meaningful work to affect change and why we must refuse to be silenced.

I woke up this morning with great clarity of my purpose in this world. As I drove home after dropping my daughter off at school, these were the words that were streaming through my head:

I am light.

I am peace.

I am love.

I am calm.

I am listening.

I am a beacon in the storm.

I am a safe harbor.

I am gratitude.

I am powerful.

I am kindness.

I have clarity.

I  have purpose.

I have vision.

I have been practicing for this moment in time for my whole life.

I am a soul.

I AM LIGHT!

I am shining.

I am unafraid.

I am unstoppable.

 

This is how I am choosing to put myself out in the world.  Every day. I will make a difference by putting myself out into the world as the best version of me that I know how to be.  I am excited to see how all of you put yourselves out there too.  With every great challenge comes great opportunities.  Go be the best you.  Only you can make your contribution.

Accountability. Kindness. Forgiveness.

I was driving my 13 year old to school this morning and I may or may not have committed a minor traffic violation.  Without going into too much detail, I allegedly made a left turn at a four way intersection at a time when I apparently was not supposed to make a left turn.

There was a woman in her car, stopped at a stop sign at this intersection who started honking and yelling  at me as I made the left turn.  I didn’t realize at first why she was yelling so when I cleared the intersection I stopped my car and rolled down my window.  To say that the woman was unhappy with me was an understatement.  Her window was rolled down as well. She was screaming quite loudly, waving her arms, and pointing out my apparent error.  She was angry, really angry.

Once it sunk in that in this woman’s mind (and very possibly in reality) I had done something that had triggered this response I had to figure out how to respond.   A few thoughts went through my head:

  1. My 13 year old was in the car with me and I wanted to set a positive example.
  2. If there was even a possibility that I had, in fact, screwed up I should take responsibility and apologize.
  3. It didn’t matter in that moment whether or not I felt like the woman’s reaction was out of proportion to the situation.
  4. It was not my place to  judge that woman or her reaction to my error.

For a few seconds I sat there and just listened to her yell.  Then, when she paused, I said, “I am sorry.  I guess I wasn’t paying enough attention and I made a mistake.  Thank you for letting me know.”

The moment the words, “I’m sorry” came out of my mouth the woman’s whole face changed.  The anger disappeared. Then she looked confused for a moment.  Then she gave a small nod, quietly said, “okay” and then she drove away.  The whole interaction probably took less than 30 seconds.

My daughter and I were both quiet for a minute.  Then my daughter said, “that woman was really mad at you.”

I replied, “yes, she was.  But that’s okay.  She was allowed to be angry at me.”

My daughter asked me, “did you make the mistake she said you made?”

“Maybe,” I said, “I’m not actually 100% sure.  But I don’t really think it matters either way.”

“But she YELLED at you,” my daughter said.

“She was upset.  Or, maybe she yelled because she thought I was going to yell back,” I responded.

In those moments, it was not about who was right and who was wrong.  It was about how I thought I could best diffuse the situation; and I followed my gut instinct.

Just driving off did not seem like the right choice in this particular scenario.  I did not feel at all threatened.  I had (inadvertently) caused someone distress.  Becoming defensive and yelling back would have only escalated the situation. As soon as I apologized and saw the woman’s face completely change I knew that I had made the right choice in this situation.

Sometimes, even when we suspect we bear at least some responsibility for a situation, but especially if we suspect we don’t- and especially if someone is screaming at us, there is a temptation to flee or to fight.  If we can take a moment and take a step back, sometimes there is a third option.  Accountability, Kindness, Forgiveness.  I was completely sincere in everything I said to the woman but the look on her face suggested that she wasn’t expecting that response from me.  She looked confused, shocked, and then having had her feelings validated, and without the need to continue to yell, she left.

I don’t know if I handled this situation correctly.  Someone I shared this story with earlier today expressed concern that my safety may have been in jeopardy if the woman had possessed a weapon or been mentally unbalanced.  Perhaps.  But I also wonder how much power each of us have to diffuse a potentially negative or even violent situation if we can put our egos and fears aside and just treat each other like human beings.

It’s likely that when the woman got wherever she was going, she told somone this story.  It’s likely, that the story started by pointing out something stupid I had done.  But maybe, by choosing to apologize and be accountable, I was able to rewrite the ending of the story and she was able to choose forgiveness instead of carrying that anger around all day .  All I know is that with so much judgement and negativity in the world right now, I didn’t want to add to it.

We are human.  Sometimes we are the person making the illegal left turns.   Sometimes we are the person who yells at the person who just screwed up.  Today I decided to be the person who stopped, listened, apologized, took responsibility, forgave, and let go.

 

 

 

 

Prayer as Action

In the wake of the terrorist attack in Paris this past weekend the twittersphere blew up with the hashtag #prayforparis.  This was quickly followed up by requests that people also #prayforlebanon, #prayforhumanity, and #prayfortheworld.  I saw other people posting messages of a different nature saying, “Paris doesn’t need your prayers;” “France doesn’t need more religion;” and “Don’t just pray- actually do something.”

I both identify and struggle with both sentiments.  As a fairly secular Jew, prayer, in the traditional sense, is not typically my ‘go-to’ reaction.  However, as someone who does lay claim to the Jewish faith, belongs to an organized congregation, and feels like it is important to recognize that there are forces at work in the universe that reach beyond my comprehension, I can understand why some people immediately turn to their higher power in times of darkness.

Within my internal struggle comes a rejection of the idea that to pray is to do nothing.  This rings especially true for me if I broaden the definition of what it means to “pray.”  Traditionally, prayer is generally defined as a direct communication between a person and their deity, and that can be a truly beautiful thing.  But, I think that prayer can be broadened beyond that definition. As I contemplate the events of the past week here is how I am defining and practicing prayer:

Self Reflection as Prayer

I am fairly vague when it comes to my own definition of a “higher power.”  However, I do have a very strong “G-d Voice.”  My “G-d Voice” is that little voice inside of me that speaks up when I feel very strongly about something.  It guides me in my daily decision making, parenting choices, and choosing how to put myself out in the world.  This past week, I have found myself asking my inner voice some important questions:

What kind of American do I choose to be?

I choose to be an American who remembers that our country is a country of immigrants; that we are the protectors of democracy and freedom.  I choose to be an American who knows that our diversity only serves to make us stronger.  I choose to have the courage to approach those who are different than myself with curiosity instead of fear. I choose to seek out factual information and not buy into media hype.

What kind of Jew do I choose to be?

I choose to be a Jew who remembers that our collective history is laden with our people being forced from our homes, cities, and nations at the hands of extremists and bigots.  It was not so long ago that Jews trying to flee the Nazi Regime were turned away at every border.  Brave souls who stood up to the extremists of that time were hard to find and propaganda was easy to buy into.  I choose to be a Jew who stands up for innocent people suffering at the hands of extremists, and who knows that the only way to fight the dark is to spread light.

What kind of human do I choose to be?

I was telling someone recently about the nice Muslim family who lives down the street from me.  My daughter plays regularly with their daughter in both of our homes or at our neighborhood park.  The person to whom I was speaking with wanted to know- how did I know that this family wasn’t just being nice to my face while they were actually thinking, “we hate Jews.”

I guess we can’t ever really know what people are thinking but I choose to be a human being that evaluates people based on their words and actions and not on what they might be (but most likely are not) thinking.  I choose to be a human being who tries really hard to not make fear-based, media inspired decisions.  I choose to be a human being who believes that our best chance at peace is to look deep within ourselves and identify and then work on our own fears and biases.

Right Action as Prayer

Nothing makes that little voice inside me sing louder than when I do something to help make someone else’s world a little brighter.  Doing a good deed- whether it is donating money, standing up for someone who doesn’t have a voice, or collecting food or needed resources for people in need, is for me, as close as I get to feeling like a spiritual being.

My daughter, who suffers from separation anxiety, likes to say, “mommy is a lighthouse,” in emphasis of the idea that a lighthouse can protect and guide surrounding ships from a distance.  I love this analogy and choose to take it one step further.  We can all choose to be a lighthouse- a beacon of light, calm, and dependability- helping to steer each other through stormy waters.

Gratitude as Prayer

For me, there is no better way to pray than by practicing gratitude.  If you are currently reading this, you are likely doing so on an electronic device that you are thankful to own, in a house you are thankful to live in, or at a job that you are thankful to have.  Life is not perfect.  We live in an increasingly scary world.  It is easy to focus on the negative, the scary, the unknown.  But I am trying to see the world, each day, through grateful eyes.

I am grateful for love, for stability, for peace everyday we have it.  I am grateful for the courage to write all of this knowing that there are many people out there who will disagree very strongly with what I have written and may have less than kind words for me.  I am grateful that I live in a country where people have the freedom to disagree with what I have written without fear of persecution.  I am grateful for the voices that are different than mine because they allow me to look within and clarify my own system of values and beliefs and to broaden my scope of understanding of the world in which we live.

Prayer is many things to many people and it is completely optional.  But I don’t think that prayer is akin to “doing nothing.”  If we pray in a way that leads us to a place of greater peace, self awareness, gratitude, and right action, then it impacts the way we put ourselves out in the world and better allows us to shine our own lights.

Until next time, I will be praying in my own way for peace, love, and stability for the world.

Pulling A Sadie

(Note: All names have been changed in order to maintain confidentiality.)

My mother in law recently told me a story about a situation that a friend of hers, Millie, has been dealing with for quite some time.  The situation began about ten years ago when Millie attended her 50 year high school reunion and reconnected with a childhood friend named Sadie.  Millie and Sadie had been the best of friends in high school but had lost touch over the years.  They were excited to reconnect at the reunion and although one lived in New York and the other lived in Florida they began to speak regularly by phone.

It did not take long for an unpleasant pattern to develop.  Sadie would call and within a few minutes would shift the conversation to a topic (frequently politics) on which she held a very strong opinion.  Sadie would rant, barely allowing Millie to respond.  When Millie was able to get a word in edgewise, Sadie would immediately tell Millie she was wrong and list all the reasons why.

Eventually, Millie started to dread receiving these phone calls from Sadie.  Feeling badly that a relationship she had once treasured was becoming burdensome, she tried whatever she could think of to change the dynamics of the conversations.  Millie tried changing the subject; she tried telling Sadie that she wished their conversations weren’t so confrontational.  Millie even suggested that perhaps instead of their regular phone calls they should instead begin communicating via email.  Sadie would not be deterred.  Finally, out of desperation, Millie simply stopped answering the phone when Sadie called.  She assumed, that eventually, Sadie would get the hint and stop calling.

That was more than five years ago, and Sadie has not given up.  Sometimes she calls and just hangs up when the answering machine comes on.  Other times she leaves angry messages telling Millie that she is a terrible person.  Sadie even called Millie’s daughter in law to inquire why Millie wasn’t calling her back and expressing outrage that Millie would suggest that they communicate by email since this would require Sadie going to the library to use a public computer.

I am fascinated by Sadie’s behavior.  Clearly, by now, she must know that Millie does not want to talk to her and is not going to answer the phone.  I would imagine that this takes a lot of energy on Sadie’s part.  Not only does she take the time to make these phone calls, she is emotionally invested every time, despite being able to predict what the outcome will be.  To me, this sounds emotionally exhausting.  It begs the question- why can’t Sadie just let it go and stop calling.

The only thing I can come up with is this: as long as Sadie keeps calling and Millie continues to not answer, Sadie can justify being angry at Millie.  She can put herself in the position of being a victim – after all, she is the one being ignored for seemingly no reason.  If Sadie were to give up (or let go) and stop calling, she would no longer be able to comfort herself with the argument that she has been wronged and use it to absolve herself of any of the responsibility she may have had in causing the reasons that Millie did not want to speak to her in the first place.

In my mind, I can picture Sadie going to her weekly Mah Jong game and complaining about Millie- how once again she had called and once again Millie had not answered.  I can picture Sadie’s friends’ tutting about how rude it is that Millie has completely shut Sadie out.

As ridiculous as this behavior seems, I see variations of it all the time and I have coined it “pulling a Sadie.”  Pulling a Sadie is when someone repeatedly puts themselves in a situation that they know will have an upsetting or undesired outcome and yet they continue to put themselves in that situation and let those negative feelings fester. Or, they spend countless hours complaining about how unfair and upsetting it is that they are in that situation.  Perhaps, they continue to put themselves in that situation so they CAN complain about how unfair it is and how they have been wronged.

If I am to be completely honest then I have to admit that I have at some point or another in my life “pulled a Sadie.”  It is easy to get sucked into the drama that a Sadie situation creates and with so many emotions involved it can be difficult to see how we share the blame for that situation.  But as I have gotten older I have realized that sometimes all I can do is recognize a pattern for what it is so I do not fall into the same trap again and then do my best to just walk away.

When my mother in law told me this story, I wondered if Millie could have done more to diffuse the situation.  For example, would it have helped Sadie to get closure if Millie had written Sadie a brief letter explaining why she had decided to end their relationship? I suspect, however, that Sadie would have called repeatedly anyway, being unable to let the situation go.  Ultimately, I don’t think Millie had any other choice.  By repeatedly picking up the phone and conversing with Sadie she was continuously finding herself feeling upset and angry.  Millie walked away because she didn’t want to pull a Sadie.

Maybe it’s time to coin a new phrase- to describe someone who recognizes a negative pattern in their life and decides to break it.  I think we should call it, “pulling a Millie.” The next time you find yourself complaining about the same situation or person for the third, fourth, or tenth time take a step back and look for a pattern in the situation.  Then decide- would you rather be a Sadie or a Millie?

Think Small and Stay Home: Thoughts on Turning 40

I turned 40 recently.  The big 4-0.  Whether you consider that to be “over the hill,” “still fabulous,” or “the new 30,” turning 40 seems to come with some expectations.  My husband wants to know if I am going to have a mid-life crisis.  My kids asked if I was writing a bucket list.  My good friend asked me if I had any resolutions.

I don’t think I’m in danger of having a midlife crisis.   You won’t find me drastically changing my hair color, or clothing choices. I am in no way inclined to try Botox or have any of my fat sucked out.  I don’t want a tattoo, or a convertible, or fancy jewelry, or any of the other material purchases that stereotypically come along with the mid-life crisis.

The bucket list question was a little harder.  It’s not that there aren’t things that would be fun or interesting to try.  For example, It would be nice to fly first class some day.  But if it doesn’t happen, I don’t feel like it will be a major life disappointment.  I have seen other people’s bucket lists and honestly, it’s hard for me to relate.  I don’t want to learn to fly a plane, or perform in front of a large crowd, or ride a bull.  I don’t want to go bungee jumping or skydiving.  There are no celebrities I am dying to meet or concerts I HAVE to attend.  I have no desire to climb Mount Everest or run a marathon.  I don’t need to eat ice cream in 100 different countries.

That said, when my time comes to depart this world, I do want to feel like I have lived.  I don’t want to have regrets.  But for me, I don’t think the above mentioned activities are going to make or break me feeling like I have lived the life I wanted to live.

That brings me to resolutions.  In the moment I was asked that question, I had trouble coming up with a response.  “I’m just taking life one day at a time,” I think is what I answered.  In the days since then, I have thought more about what I want from my next 40 years- assuming that I am lucky enough to get 40 more.  The list is a work in progress and I will keep my own copy to add to as I think of other items of importance.

From 40 on I resolve to:

  • Take better care of myself.  Considering all of my genetic predispositions I really do need to start taking better care of myself.  You won’t see me running a 5k or or hiring a personal trainer but I resolve to take more walks, spend more time swinging on the swings at the park and dancing around the kitchen.  I resolve to move more and sit less; sleep more and lay awake worrying less; relax more and stress less.
  • Spend more time with family and friends.  I can’t think of a better investment to make with my time than to spend it with the people I love and with those who love me.  With everyone being so busy it is a challenge to find times that work with everyone’s schedules but it’s important to surround ourselves with loved ones.  It is healing and life affirming and it makes me happy.
  • On the same note, I resolve to be less busy so it is easier to schedule time with the people I want to see.  I have a bad habit of spreading myself too thin- committing to too many volunteer projects and completely wearing myself out so that I am of little good to anyone including myself.  I resolve to find a better balance between taking care of myself, taking care of my family, and taking care of my community.
  • Get off of the computer and write actual letters to people far away.  I have found that the less time I spend in front of the computer (and particularly on social media), the happier I am.  So I’m going to start kicking it old school and pen actual letters to friends far away.  I hope that handwriting letters will force me to slow down and think about what I really want to say to the recipient.  I hope it will show how much I really care about them- even if they are not a local presence in my life.  I hope they will get as much joy receiving them as I think I will get from writing them.  I hope they will be forced to slow down for a minute, too, while they sit and read what I have written.
  • Find the joy in little things every day.  My family thinks I’m crazy but one of my favorite everyday joys is feeding the squirrels in our backyard.  They especially enjoy whole hazelnuts.  They look super cute sitting on the back deck railing nibbling away on their tasty treat and it cracks me up when they try to carry more than one back to their tree and they can’t figure out how to hold them all. However, when they stand on their back legs and peer in through the sliding glass door as if to say, “do you have any more nuts in there?” That’s when I’m forced to admit that perhaps the biggest nut of all is me.  But it makes me happy and that is what matters.  I resolve to keep feeding the squirrels.
  • Continue to help people in need in my community.  As a mother, I can’t imagine what it would feel like for my child to be really hungry and have nothing to give them to eat.  That’s why I became involved in a program at my synagogue that provides weekend food bags for over 200 children at a nearby elementary school who are not guaranteed a meal between leaving school on Friday and returning to school on Monday.  You know what really makes me happy? Because of a contribution I make, a mother doesn’t have to tell her child there is no food today.  I resolve to step up my support of this program because children shouldn’t have to go hungry and mothers shouldn’t have to tell their kids there is no food to give them.
  • Have meaningful conversations.  I remember a time before texting, email, and instant message when people would actually speak to each other.  Co-workers would walk down the hall to have a face to face conversation; people would chat with each other while on line at the supermarket.  Now, people stare at their cell phone screens while waiting on line and co-workers instant message each other from down the hall.  It seems that people will go out of their way to avoid having conversations these days.  If someone we don’t know tries to strike up a conversation we are inclined to wonder, “why is this person talking to me?”  As we strive to communicate with each other, sight unseen, using as few words as humanly possible, it becomes more difficult to feel connected with each other.  We misinterpret tone in emails and find ourselves on the defensive.  I resolve to stare at my phone less and to talk to people more.  I resolve to seek out opportunities for meaningful conversations.

As you can see, I’m not planning any big ticket bucket list adventures now that I’ve turned 40.  I’m going to stay home and focus on small changes that I think will improve the quality of my life.  I’m sure I will think of other “resolutions” for the next 40 years as the days go on but this seems like a good place to start.  And of course, I resolve to keep on blogging, whenever the inspiration strikes!!

Reflections on BronyCon 2014

Getting into the spirit.

My six year old and I getting into the spirit.

I just returned from my first ever fan convention- BronyCon 2014.  I spent the weekend posting pictures to my Facebook Account which garnered many likes but prompted the frequent question- What is a Brony?  The term “Brony” was coined a few years ago to represent the adult (many of them male) fans of the newest generation of My Little Pony– Friendship Is Magic.  The word “Bro” was mashed with “Pony” and the term “Brony” was born.   Since it’s inception, the Brony community has expanded to include the entire fandom of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (MLP:FIM) and BronyCon- the convention for these fans is a family friendly event with a little something for everyone.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am not technically a Brony.  My husband and I attended the convention with our two daughters (ages 11 and 6) after they begged, pleaded, and nagged us endlessly about going.  That said, I have seen episodes of MLP:FIM and am supportive of my kids watching it because it emphasizes the values of friendship (friendship always wins!!), kindness, inclusiveness, and teamwork.

For the most part, the staff, panelists, and Bronies themselves seemed to promote these values too.  Attendees enthusiastically supported each other during the open mic event, chatted amiably with each other while waiting for sessions to begin and participants in costume were very generous about allowing people, especially kids, to have their pictures taken with them.

The Brony fandom is diverse and the convention sessions reflected that diversity.  There were sessions on making MLP themed plushies and pony ears and creating Cos Play costumes on a shoestring budget.  There were panel Q& A’s with show producers, voice actors, and episode directors.  We especially enjoyed “Are You Smarter than a 5th Season Producer?” where fans lined up to try to stump the people who write, act, and produce for the show by asking MLP:FIM trivia questions.  There were psychology based sessions about bullying, fandom and gender, and creating comprehensive psychological profiles of the ponies.  And specifically for the under 12 crowd were sessions such as “Pinkie Pie Party Games,” and “20 questions with Big Macintosh,” and a children’s sing-a-long.

We met Bronies as young as 3 years old and there were some in their fifties and sixties.  Bronies, it appears, come in every shape and size, and represent a variety of races and nationalities. They walk on two legs and roll in wheel chairs.  They choose costumes without regard to preconceived notion of gender.  All of this diversity was embraced and celebrated within the walls of the Baltimore Convention Center.  While waiting on line to enter various sessions Bronies would fist bump – I mean hoof bump – each other while chanting “fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun.”  All that really mattered was that everyone was having a good time.

No matter where an attendee came from, how old they were, what they looked like, or who they felt was the best pony (Pinkie Pie is a definite fan favorite) everyone seemed to feel validated as an individual.  I especially appreciated that questions to panelists asked by children were taken just as seriously as the questions posed by the adults.  And I loved watching children turn to the adult Brony next to them and ask, “Who is your favorite pony?” and then get a valid reply.  Who would have thought that My Little Pony could be the great equalizer?

I was touched by one of the questions I heard asked at one of the sessions I attended.  Leading the session was a panel of four psychologists from different colleges researching the psychology of fandoms and the Brony fandom in particular.  A young man stood at the microphone and asked the panel – so many people judge Bronies (and other fandom members) in a negative way.  How can we convince people that we have a positive message to share?   I immediately thought of something I had overheard that morning while crammed in our hotel elevator.  A man staying in the hotel was commenting in a negative way about a boy they had seen dressed as a unicorn as if this was some kind of unspeakable tragedy.  When the elevator door opened and they exited, they past a gentleman wearing a cape.  The man from the elevator turned around and gestured to his family to look at the costumed gentleman while they rolled their eyes and snickered.  I feel like the young man who was asking the question at the convention session was echoing a larger question looming in today’s society which is- How do we get people to approach each other with curiosity instead of judgement?  How do we convince people that ‘different’ is not the same as ‘deviant.’  One of the panelists commented that the Brony fandom was the most social and inclusive fandoms she had studied and that she hoped that as the fandom grew and became more well known people would become more receptive to hearing the message of MLP: FIM. I agree but would add that people who participate in fringe cultures, fandoms, or who hold strong opinions outside the mainstream culture are hugely important in expanding the definition of what is considered okay or acceptable by mainstream society.  The more people push boundaries, question the norm, and express themselves however they are comfortable doing so, the more inclusive society becomes.  As we continue to push and stretch boundaries more and more people move from being considered outsiders to being accepted as ‘normal.’   Eventually, those people who are narrow minded and judgmental will find themselves on the outside looking in.

Ultimately, BronyCon was a fun and educational experience for me and my family.  I would love to hear from any Bronies who might be out there reading this.  Were you at the convention?  Do you think that the Brony fandom is more inclusive and diverse than other fandoms?  Anyone thinking that they just might have to check out MLP:FIM when Season 5 eventually airs?

Just a few of the really creative costumes we saw over the weekend.

Just a few of the really creative costumes we saw over the weekend.

 

Patches of Sunlight on the Kitchen Floor

(Note to subscribers: My apologies for the rough draft that was inadvertently sent out earlier.  Hopefully, this will make more sense.)

I’m just going to say it.  There is no shortage of rude and thoughtless behavior in this world.  Recently, a classmate of my eleven year old daughter handed out invitations to her birthday party at school.  My daughter was not invited, but this did not stop the party host from asking my daughter to give an invitation to our neighbor on her behalf.  My daughter was understandably incredulous.  She said to me, “It’s one thing to not be invited to the birthday party of someone I thought was my friend– it’s another thing altogether for that person to ask me to help her hand out her invitations.  That’s rude, right?”

Yes, that’s rude.  Maybe even mean, depending on how much thought my daughter’s classmate put into her request.  But considering the frequent poor behavior I have seen from some of the adults that I interact with on a regular basis, I am not surprised.   This year, in my role as an executive board member of the PTA of my daughter’s school, I have found myself witness to many interactions in which it is obvious that the person speaking has either not thought about how their words or actions will affect the person they are speaking with, or worse, that they know exactly the impact their words or actions will have and choose to stay the course, regardless.  Some people were merely clueless and appeared to have no malicious intent.  Others were so sure they were “right” that they willingly threw everyone around them under the proverbial bus just to prove their point.  Others still, were quite willing to look the other way in the face of decisions with ethical implications for dozens of families because their family would not be directly impacted.

I worry that people are becoming increasingly self-serving.  There is a “What’s in it for me?” mentality that is casting a dark shadow over society, leaving me searching for pockets of hope, like my cat looks for patches of sunlight on the kitchen floor by which to warm himself.

Yesterday, I found one of those patches of sunlight.  About five years ago, before I had even met her, my friend, “N,” received a kidney donation from a stranger- a living donor, named “A,” who saved her life.  N has mentioned A to me several times – particularly to say how grateful she is to A for giving her the chance to watch her children grow up  and to marvel at how selfless an act it was for A to donate her kidney to someone she didn’t even know.  N and A have kept in touch through Facebook and when N found out that A was going to be in town this week, she asked A if she would be interested in meeting some of the friends that she is grateful to still have time with on this earth.  Then, she asked me if I would be interested in meeting A along with some of her other friends at lunch.  It was there that we got to hear the story of the transplant from A’s point of view.

A, 21 years old at the time, was sitting with her mother watching the news when she saw N on the screen making a plea for help.  N was in her early 30’s, the mother of two small children.  N’s husband, was serving overseas in the military.  N needed a kidney- as soon as possible.  When N’s blood type was mentioned, A turned to her mother and said, “I have that blood type.  I could give this woman one of my kidneys.”  A wrote down the phone number on the screen and called the next day.  She said it was one of the easiest decisions she has ever made.

It’s hard to say what was more meaningful to me- to know that N wanted me to be one of the people that A got to meet, or to know that there are selfless people out there, like A, who hear a stranger’s plea for help and respond in the most courageous way.

So what does this have to do with my frustration with people who don’t think before they speak or with the people who look the other way because THEY will not be directly affected?  None of us are perfect and it takes a very special 21-year old to make the decision that A made.  It would be unrealistic to think that we will all operate at that that level of selflessness.  Be we can look at how A put the need of a young mother above her own as an example of how we can all be a little more thoughtful and deliberate in our daily lives.

For example, before blasting someone else’s opinion in a self-righteous, ‘reply-to-all’ email, regardless of how right you believe yourself to be and no matter how strongly you feel that the person who expressed the dissenting opinion needs to be proved wrong, consider contacting only that person and asking them to explain their opinion in more depth and then share your concerns.  Or, when given the opportunity to preemptively correct a situation that will likely cause dozens of families emotional distress, even if your family is unaffected, be thankful for the opportunity to spare the suffering of others.

By inviting me to meet A at lunch yesterday, N gave me a beautiful gift.  I was reminded that we are all deeply connected and that we all have the ability to make each other’s lives better.  If nothing else, we can strive to not make peoples’ lives worse by speaking or acting without first thinking of the consequences.  Whether our acts of loving kindness are small or life saving, they all make a difference.  They are all pockets of hope creating patches of sunlight on the kitchen floor.

 

 

Does Nothing Last Forever?

Those folks who know me know what a great year my younger daughter had in kindergarten last year.  And, they know what a great year I had as a regular volunteer in my daughter’s kindergarten class.  As the year drew to a close I became increasingly sad.  I wasn’t ready for the year to end.  How was I going to say goodbye to kindergarten?

I asked my daughter’s teacher how he dealt with the end of each school year and he replied, “Nothing lasts forever.”

I get where he was coming from.  It’s true, kindergarten couldn’t last forever and time inevitably marches onward whether or not we are ready to fall in line.  Something fell flat with me about that response though.  It seemed so….permanent.  High School had ended, and college and graduate school after that.  But even though they ended they lived on- through memories and lessons learned, sure, but most importantly through the continued relationships with people who were and still are important to me.

Last year, I was privileged to spend time with 24 amazing kindergarten students who reminded me that that the world is a curious place that we should never stop exploring.  They reminded me too, that a little bit of kindness goes a long way.  Their smiles and hugs brightened my days.  That they wanted to share their stories, jokes, and secrets left my heart feeling like it could burst from all the love I felt for those children.  To just walk away from all of that with a “nothing lasts forever” seemed impossible.

It turns out I didn’t have to worry.  I am still a volunteer at my daughter’s school and I see the kids from her class last year all the time.  I still get hugs when I pass them in the hallway; they wave wildly at me from across the cafeteria; they still pull me aside to tell me a joke or a story or a secret.

When you think about it, it’s not necessarily the experiences that we have that are  important but the people that we share those experiences with.  Relationships based on shared experiences connect us on a human level and allow us to understand each other better.  These places where our lives intersect with one another’s- where our paths cross, whether for an hour, a day, a month, a year, or a lifetime, are opportunities to learn from each other, to accomplish together, to support one other, and to recognize that we are all greater than the sum of our parts.

I guess we could just have these experiences, form these connections, and then just part ways never to speak to each other again.  Sometimes, we don’t have a choice.  People pass away or for reasons we are never privy to just decide to not be part of our lives.  Even then I wouldn’t say that nothing lasts forever.  Once someone has found their way into my heart they stay there forever right along with the things I learned from them and the ways that I changed because of them.

I suppose the ‘nothing lasts forever’ people have their reasons for being that way.  Maybe for some folks it’s just too hard to look forward and backwards at the same time.  Maybe it’s an ‘out of sight out of mind’ kind of thing.  Whatever their reasons I have no choice but to respect how they feel.

However, I am not a ‘nothing lasts forever’ person.  I am a ‘keep people forever’ person.  If you are someone I call a friend or someone with whom I have shared a meaningful experience or conversation; if you are someone who has showed me or members of my family kindness or have inspired me to be a better person then I’m going to keep you forever.  And if I can’t keep you as a fixture- as someone who wants to be an active part of my life in some way then I will keep you in my heart- forever.  That’s just who I am.

In my opinion, a more accurate statement would be that that nothing stays exactly the same forever.  Kids grow up, friends move away, jobs end, people die.  Things do change and we have no choice but to change with them.  But we do get to choose the people that we keep for as long as we want to keep them.  When we are especially lucky, those people choose to keep us too and those relationships are tremendously special.  It doesn’t matter if we see those people every day, once a year, or communicate with them only through letters, emails, or social media.  The important thing is that we find ways to stay connected and keep the conversations going.  The love and support that I feel from my friends who are hundreds or thousands of miles away is no less powerful than the love and support of my friends who live in my neighborhood- even if I haven’t physically laid eyes on them in years.

In the words of John Keats, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever: its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness.”

Things may change but that does not mean they disappear.   The experiences we share, the connections we make, the conversations we have, the friendships we forge, the love we give and receive- all these things inspire and change us.  They shape who we are, who we become, they help to create the legacies we leave behind- forever.

Post Navigation