Saturday, August 6, 2011

The farther behind I leave the past, the closer I am to forging my own character.--- Isabelle Eberhardt

Photo courtesy of Meggie's inspirational farewell note.  May your
new journey and adventure build on the already spectacular chapters
in your life. Live the Present!  You are a blessing to all of us.

I like the idea of sending the past up in flames, ribbons of smoke spiraling skyward into the heavens and God’s hands.  The past is not mine to hold onto.  Not anymore.  It’s kept me trapped in a world of woulda, coulda, shoulda.  Instead of memories to enhance my days, it’s immobilized me and occassionally even worse, kept me walking around in circles.  Pleasant walks down memory lane, became extended pilgrimages to the land of what happened before when times were good.  I didn’t want to leave and so I stayed, while my life passed me by.  
Whether I focused on the good, or the bad, it never seemed to be in balance.  I let the good memories tell me I had so much... there would never be another as good as; my great job, my old home, a special time or a healthy, honorable, love.  These were the times I walked around in circles, consumed with my past abundance, leaving no room for all that was crying out to enter my life, if I just let it.   
Other times I spent way too long back there, trying to find answers.  Extended walks deeper and deeper into what had happened before would surely give me the answers to who and why I am who I am today.  Or, better yet, why someone behaved the way they did.  I hit the repeat button on the tapes in my head, over and over again, seeking answers to make sense of what usually ended up being nonsense, or unanswerable, because it wasn’t about me.  It was about them and the lessons they are here to learn.  
My character today is not my childhood, my losses, my hurts, my great loves.  My character today is so much larger than any of those things and is evolving beautifully.  It is through those things that I am beginning to make my own choices, becoming all that I want and am meant to be. 
Sending the past up in smoke, doesn’t mean it no longer exists. It’s just, today, I choose to reduce it to a small pile of smoldering ash. Every now and again I catch a faint whiff of smoke. Out of sight, not completely out of mind.  I have a choice to move away from those spots where the odor remains.   There is room now for forging character, peace of mind, and new adventure.  I don’t think I need to look back, or even look ahead.  There is plenty to see and experience, right here, in the Present.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Judgement blocks us from seeing the truth that lies beyond what the eye perceives - Rebecca Mahoney

A letter to me and those who open mouth and discover a foot....
I know better than to do this!  Early the other morning I was walking with my daughter and we passed a house.  The grass and the weeds in the front yard were a foot high, the front porch was caving in, and there were a few windows boarded up.  It clearly was abandoned and an eye sore to the neighborhood, although there were a few others nearby that looked empty as well.  The words ran out of my mouth as mindlessly as my feet were pounding the pavement.  I said, “Boy, that sure is a wreck.  Why doesn’t the city, or someone, do something about that.  No wonder everyone is moving out of town.”
Fast forward, two hours later, sipping my cup of coffee while perusing Facebook.  I see a picture that looks very familiar... why it’s my house!  The former residents who owned it sixteen years ago, must have paid a visit to their hometown and took pictures of childhood landmarks and memories. The caption under the picture read something to the effect: “Our old house.   It looks terrible!”  My coffee sputtered out onto the computer screen and tears welled in my eyes.   The next picture was a far better angle, and the obnoxious photojournalist added, “Looks better here.”  Perhaps, I was being “overly sensitive”.  In this mean spirited, narcissistic society, that’s evolved over the last decade, sensitivity, of any kind could be a positive quality. As a whole, this country seems to thrive on beating up and bullying others, saying what we think without regard. Are we really all that angry?  Shows like Shark Tank, The Bachelorette,  101 Ways to Leave A Game Show, Housewives of (pick your county) thrive, as the general overtone is to humiliate, reject, or one-upmanship others. It’s everywhere; in the schools, the workplace, and most profoundly, within the halls of the government.  
My mind spewed the most sarcastic, nasty thoughts.  A favorite quote of mine by the writer Anne Lamott, ran through my head.  “I thought such awful thoughts that I cannot even say them out loud because they would make Jesus want to drink gin out of a cat dish.”   Instead, I closed my eyes and breathed..... several times, deeply.  It really wasn’t just this one particular insensitive comment, but rather a series of smaller ones spaced out over a few weeks that had accumulated and touched some old wounds, healing slowly but still tender.  
Then, I thought about my deceased husband’s mantra, left behind for others to echo. I hear it so often sometimes, I want to say, puuulllleeezzzz, the man was not a saint!  Nonetheless, he was the most genuinely empathetic spirit I have ever known.  He said, “We shouldn’t judge others.  We don’t know their story.”  He clearly took the time to read from every genre.  He had the respect of the eccentric, mean spirited, local millionaire as well as a few social strays - inviting them to Thanksgiving dinners and welcoming them into his home.  He discovered the rest of the story often entailed profound hurts, tough times, bad luck, addictions, and loss.  He just took the time to see beyond the window dressing and learn about the human being.  He gave others the greatest gift.  Acceptance. 
So I let the retorts, sarcasm, and creative tongue-lashing play out for just a few moments in my head while Jesus patiently sipped on the gin and between gulps whispered to me, “You could BE the empathy you are seeking.”  
I decided I would say to the individual who questioned me about my lack of interest in obtaining a boyfriend... AND pointed out that I just was too persnickety.... AND if I continued to reject the advances of so many men, I would run out of options, because I am not getting any younger.... (Seriously)   “After so many years of using men to fill a void, escape the pain of bad break-ups,  stroke my ego, or get over someone by getting under someone, I had decided to try a new approach. Perhaps spending some time walking through the uncomfortable healing process of a broken heart might create a new result. Up to the last few years I have been stumbling along, crippled hand in hand, with yet another poor fit.   The discovery that I am quite entertaining and great company even by myself would be a refreshing change.  Just what would spending quality time, having fun with groups of likeminded people feel like, as opposed to the temporary high of a new hostage.   Being without a significant other does not for a miserable life make!  My ego is strong enough to now know, I have a lot to offer, but I am not offering it up for all the wrong reasons anymore.  That’s the rest of the story. 
I also decided not to spew sarcastic retorts such as, “ I am so pissed off having to go to work at my new part-time job because it messes with my daily pity party.”  After all, it takes a lot of time to feed those monsters in my head, previewing my life of poverty, spent pushing my grocery cart of belongings, through the snow."  Instead, I will kindly say, “Please don’t misunderstand me when I say I am ONLY working part-time.  It ‘s condescending when you tell me I need to be grateful that I at least have a job after almost two years.” It surprises me some, this  mostly comes out of  mouths of those who have never had a financial worry in their life. I struggle with feeling that their empathy is even close to being genuine.  I am so incredibly grateful.  If I wouldn’t be charged with harrassement, I would kiss my coworkers every single blessed hour I get paid for.  When I say to you, “I am working now, but it’s only part-time,” the rest of the story order to support my habit for food and shelter, I need another part-time job and just maybe, you might know someone, who knows someone, who needs a dedicated, talented, loyal, grateful, worker.  
Finally, I view Karma (at least mine) as just a form of continuing education.   When I walked by that house with my negative comments about its appearance, I should have imagined the rest of the story might go something like this... Honorable lady, relatively frugal, who takes her responsibilities seriously,  loses her spouse.   Holding onto one of the things they shared, her house,  provides some stability and comfort where little exists,  while grieving his death.  Even though she knows it is far more than she can handle in upkeep and financially, it is still a great house and will retain it’s value allowing her to move on when she is ready.   Adjusting to a downsizing of her job, even before her husband died, and  the household income level decreasing by half, was a big enough change,  She had no idea what she was in for trying to live on half of that again, having the same obligations in widowhood. It was a struggle, but the house was a safe place to heal.  She was prudent, went back to school, worked two jobs, stayed responsible, all by herself.  Finally, a few years later, like a butterfly breaking out of her coccoon of grief, she was anxious to move on, in every respect.  She put her house on the market, had some serious buyers.  Uh-Oh.  As the economy shook in uncertainty and fear, the banks fists tightened around their money, restricting interested borrowers from purchasing this awesome family home.  Two realtors later, and the biggest financial crisis the country has experienced since the great depression, she decided to do her best, ride it out and stay put.   But in the height of the recession, she lost her job, experienced a few other major heartbreaks, and struggled to live on unemployment which equated to an income below the poverty level.  Daily attempts at seeking employment, proved futile.  Geographically, the rate of unemployment was markedly higher in her locale than the rest of the country.  Using any available funds to keep the roof over her head, heat on, and cell phone bill paid so she could receive non-existent offers of employment, she found it increasingly difficult to continue to live day by day, let alone consider paint, siding, new windows or landscaping.  Finally, in frustration and desperation she threw up her hands, jumped in her car, which fortunately had been loan free for a long time. With a few precious personal effects and some clothing,  she rode off into the sunset, where it’s warmer at least, and minimum wage jobs abound.  Her abandoned house continued its decline into disrepair as the bank couldn't even unload it and you know what they say about getting blood out of a turnip.... Touche'.  

May we always remember to hold our tongues and spend a minute or two exploring the rest of the story.