theorangeinkblot

Looking at life through orange colored glasses…

Archive for the tag “random thoughts”

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.

 

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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.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

It’s Not About You

To my daughter’s teacher,

I was very upset after our meeting yesterday.  I tried not to show it because I don’t want to undermine your authority in front of my daughter, but I was, and remain, very upset.  This is the third time I have come to you this year sharing with you that my eleven year old daughter, who struggles with anxiety and depression, is not getting the emotional support she needs in your classroom.  It is the third time I have come to you and it is the third time I have been met with defensiveness, excuses, and what feels like a complete lack of empathy on your part.

When I say my daughter needs more emotional support it means I need you to provide an environment that is nurturing and safe.  An environment in which she does not feel judged or punished for behavior that is often outside of her control.  My daughter has an emotional disability.  She will sometimes have outbursts, tantrums, or cry when she is feeling frustrated.  She may stamp her feet or exhibit other behaviors that seem inappropriate for a sixth grader.  Yesterday, at our meeting I watched you firmly point your finger into the table and tell her that stamping her feet in your classroom is not okay.  That her behavior is not appropriate for a sixth grader.  Your response did not feel safe or nurturing. It felt punitive.

My daughter is not a typical sixth grader.  Her brain works differently than that of a typical sixth grader.  Why do you think it is realistic to to expect her to act like a typical sixth grader.  My daughter is bright and capable but often lacks the emotional maturity to take a step back from her anxiety and frustration to choose an appropriate behavior to deal with those feelings.  Perhaps, in your role as teacher, instead of slamming your finger into the table and telling her how inappropriate her behavior is, you could instead validate that she is feeling anxious and frustrated and help guide her to a more appropriate response.  You say that my daughter knows the resources that are available to her and only has to ask to be able to use them.  I am telling you that she sometimes lacks the capacity to ask and needs additional support and help to find her way.

I feel like we would not be having this conversation if my child had a physical disability like the student you had last year who was visually impaired.  I’m sure you had to make some adjustments to the way you taught and presented material to compensate for the student not being able to see.  I’m sure you didn’t call that student up to the front of the class and ask her to point out the blue line indicating the Mississippi River on a U.S. map.  I’m guessing you made adjustments to your expectations and had no problems modifying assignments for that student so that her disability could be accommodated.  I am guessing that if her parents came to you frustrated about something that had happened during their daughter’s school day that you didn’t tell them that you have 22 other kids in your class to worry about like you repeatedly told me at our meeting yesterday.

My daughter’s disability is not that different from a physical disability.  Her disability sometimes requires that you provide additional support, flexibility, and modification of assignments or a change in your teaching or disciplinary style to meet her needs.  She is not trying to be difficult or get away with not doing work.  She is easily overwhelmed and has trouble asking for what she needs so while she learns how to do that I’m asking you to meet her part way and proactively provide her with a little more structure and support even when it’s not obvious to you that she’s struggling because sometimes her disability is invisible.

You said it’s hard for you to not take it personally when my daughter announces as she approaches the classroom in the morning that she does not want to shake your hand, as you ask each student to do each day.  I’m asking you to try to not take it personally.  It’s not about you.  It is about what my daughter needs to do to feel like she has some control over her day.

I watched you argue back and forth with my daughter yesterday about how many feet she was from your classroom door when she said she didn’t want to shake your hand.  Why does it matter?  Is it so important for you to be right? What I am trying to help you understand is that my child is trying to advocate for herself and tell you that she is uncomfortable shaking your hand.  She is still learning the most appropriate way to do that and you have an opportunity to help her with that goal.  Arguing with her about whether or not she yelled it from ten feet down the hallway or at the classroom door does not move her forward in that area.

I keep coming back to my daughter needing to feel more emotionally supported in your classroom.  Here’s what she really needs from you.  She needs for you to wake up tomorrow morning and imagine what it would feel like to start your day feeling completely terrified that something awful is going to happen to your wife and baby while you are at work.  Imagine that you believed in your heart of hearts that in order for them to be safe you had to stay home but because you have to provide for your family, staying home is not an option.  Imagine that it takes so much energy and courage every morning just to get in your car and drive to work that by the time you get there you are completely exhausted on top of still being terrified.  Now imagine that you go to one of your colleagues and confide in them how you are feeling and your colleague tells you that you are not acting like a teacher should act and that you need to just pull it together which makes you feel even worse.  Imagine that at some point during the day you sneak a minute to call your wife because you need to feel reassured that she is okay.  Imagine that people tell you that if you just tried harder you could stop these behaviors. Imagine that you just don’t know how you will make it through another minute of feeling this way.  Imagine that this is only a small part of the anxiety you feel every day.

Now imagine you have to handle all of this emotional turmoil as an eleven year old who does not have the emotional maturity to deal with all of these feelings, even on medication.  How would you want your teacher to talk to you if you were my daughter?  Would you want your teacher to pound his finger into the table and tell you that you are not acting like a normal eleven year old?  My daughter is not a “normal” eleven year old and that’s what we need  you to understand.  She needs you to be empathetic and kind and to help provide the structure and guidance she needs on the days that she simply cannot get there herself.

I know your job is hard.  I know you have 23 students who all require your attention.  I know that you cannot stop everything and only focus on my child.  I am not asking you to do that.  I am asking you to think about the words you use when you speak to her because she is using those words to judge whether or not you are a safe person for her.  I am asking you to put yourself in her shoes and imagine how you would want your teacher to respond to you.  I am asking you to put your ego aside, let your defenses down and consider how you can best support my child.  It’s not about you.

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!!

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.

“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” (Leonard Cohen)

For those who have been following my blog you know that last year was my declared, “Year of Meryl.”  It was a year of self-reflection and following my heart and attempting to choose happiness every day (and being mostly successful).  It was a great year filled with reading, writing, and volunteering.  I discovered new talents, made new friends, and learned a tremendous amount about myself and how I want to approach life going forward.  Over my next four or five blog entries I want to share with you what I got out of my year starting with my most recent ‘aha’ moment.

Back in June I came across this quote from a Leonard Cohen song (which I’m sure comes from another quote somewhere else):

“There is a crack in everything.  That’s how the light gets in.”

This quote had a profound impact on me.  I am somewhat of a perfectionist and have extremely high expectations of myself.  Nobody likes to make mistakes but if I feel like I’ve messed up I have a history of being especially hard on myself and while I am a master at forgiving others I have a hard time forgiving myself of even the smallest mistakes.

In thinking about the above quote I have decided to be more accepting of my flaws.  It is okay to not be perfect.  I can work towards being a better person every day while simultaneously giving myself permission to screw up and then forgiving myself when I do.  I think there is a tendency for many people to want to just cover up those things that are considered to be “wrong” with us.  They are the “cracks” in our psyche that bring us back to those dark places, bad memories, or low self-esteem moments- those voices in our heads that tell us we are not good enough or smart enough or attractive enough or successful enough that keep us from trying again.  It is the fear of saying the wrong thing that keeps us from saying anything at all.  There is an instinct to want to just plaster over those cracks, pretend they don’t exist, put on a neutral face and go about our day without actually experiencing anything lest it remind us of something we don’t like about ourselves.  After all, if we don’t let anybody in then we don’t have to acknowledge how those people make us feel.  If we don’t put ourselves out there than we can’t mess up or be rejected.

I don’t think this does us any good.  We cannot have a full human experience of our own without opening ourselves up to the experiences of others.  It limits our capacity for compassion to pretend that others are not suffering just because it makes us feel uncomfortable.   Resenting the good fortune of others makes it much more difficult to be grateful for the blessings in our own lives and less likely to want to share those blessings with others.

I have truly come to believe that our greatest vulnerabilities can be our greatest source of strength.  We can’t avoid having those cracks.  There is no such thing as perfection.   Those imperfections, when we acknowledge them and forgive them in ourselves are our greatest chance to be able to better love and forgive each other.  They can be platforms from which to grow and learn and heal the world if we are willing to use them as a springboard for better understanding ourselves and others.  If we are willing to acknowledge our cracks and let light in we have a chance to become light ourselves.

The ‘Sanctity’ of Marriage

Lately, we have been hearing a lot about ‘the sanctity of marriage.’ In particular, there seems to be grave concern that if same sex couples are allowed full marriage rights it will result in the complete desecration of the institution of marriage. But while people banter about the phrase ‘the sanctity of marriage,’ I’m not sure that many people have actually sat down and thought about what it means to them and their own marriage or partnership.

When I looked up the definition of “sanctity” on dictionary.com, I found the following definition: “condition of being inviolable.” Just to be sure, I looked up the definition of “inviolable.” It reads “secure from destruction, violence, infringement, or desecration; incorruptible.”

Considering the divorce rate in this country, it is funny to me that the words sanctity and marriage go together at all. (Not to mention the number of people to choose to remain in an unhappy marriage.) The act of getting married in no way guarantees a happy, successful partnership. It’s not even a guarantee of love. There are too many people who get married for the wrong reasons, and so many factors that can cause a marriage to be unhappy- infidelity, abuse, jealousy, resentment, disagreements about money or child rearing, lack of affection, dishonesty, miscommunication, etc. – that it seems to me instead of talking about the sanctity of marriage, we should be talking about the vulnerability of it.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t know of too many marriages that are completely ‘inviolable.’ Marriages are made up of imperfect people, and like life itself, marriages are fragile. It takes a tremendous amount of bolstering and nurturing by both partners to have any chance of a marriage both being happy and having longevity.

Instead of spreading nonsense about how allowing everyone equal access to marriage will result in the legal union of a man and his toaster, perhaps people should be sitting down with their own spouses and partners and focusing on what they are going to do to strengthen their own relationships. As far as I am concerned, the act of simply being married (whether or not the wedding takes place in a house of God) is not enough to make a union sacred.  If it turns out your marriage is one of the 50% or more in this country lacking in “sanctity”, you can be certain it has nothing to do with whether or not Greg and Gary or Lisa and Lucy can legally tie the knot.

Master of the Universe

Confession time. I have a smidgen of an addictive personality. A mild case of OCD. As a teenager, I would sometimes get my allowance in rolls of quarters which I would then feed successively into one of those claw dropping, prize grabbing machines you can find at a mall or an amusement park. I have managed to avoid any “12 step” worthy addictions but I have spent enough hours playing online Scrabble to know an obsessive personality when I see one. I have to have my coffee in the morning; I can’t go into World Market without a chaperone (self imposed); and did I mention I watched two seasons worth of ‘Sports Night’ in less than two weeks?

Now, I have a new time suck- one that I had to tear myself away from to sit down and write this blog. It’s called ‘My Town’ and I play it on my other new addiction. The iPad. ‘My Town,’ involves building a town from nothing. The player builds houses, opens businesses and schools, and provides community features such as a fire and police station, parks, and a post office. The game uses the iPad’s locator feature to allow you to buy businesses in your pretend town, that match the businesses in your real city of residence, making it a sort of personalized monopoly game- but this feature, while cool, is not what draws me to the game.

The residents of ‘My Town’ are happily out and about all the time. I like watching them amble around, leaving their homes, visiting stores, even doing their jobs. The police officers in uniform are out on patrol, the construction workers clear land and build homes, and although everyone is walking around in the middle of the street- nobody ever gets hit by any of the cars, buses, or ice cream trucks that roam the neighborhood. This is especially good because I have not yet built a hospital in my town. Sometimes, groups of residents gather together and sing- little musical notes escaping their little animated mouths. It’s all so darn cute.

But what I enjoy even more than the adorability factor is that I control the whole darn thing. I am the master of this tiny little universe. I choose the style of each house that is built and where it is situated. I choose which businesses will open, and what they will look like. If I want a park bench- poof! There’s a park bench! If I want a food cart- poof! There’s a food cart. And if I want them to disappear? Poof! They are gone. In my pretend world, unlike my real world, nobody complains, and everything is predictable. There are no messes to clean, no kids to carpool, and everyone just seems so darn well rested. In the midst of all of the chaos that surrounds me, I have control over one tiny little thing, and that gives me the ability to deal with the rest of it.

Despite all that, I fear I have to quit ‘My Town’. As is typically true with addictions, I don’t like how this game is changing me. First, I cut down acres and acres of trees to build cute little houses. Then, I knocked down all of the affordable housing to build condos and strip malls. I’ve tried to make amends by planting flower beds and completing other “beautification” projects, but the urge to bulldoze the trees and build, build, build keeps coming back stronger. I am like the bionic urban planner- ‘My Town’ can be bigger, and better and well, clearly I have issues.

Whatever happens with ‘My Town’ there is bound to be an addiction that follows, and one that will follow that. I checked the iPad today to see if there was an application to help wean people off their iPad, but it seems that there is NOT an app for that.

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