Monday, February 27, 2012

Go Team!!

I did a good thing today, but I didn’t really feel it. A friend and I took some toys to the children’s unit of the local hospital. We spent an afternoon a couple weeks ago shopping for Play Doh, craft supplies, Hot Wheels, and card games. After overcoming bouts of the flu, unplanned work hours, previously scheduled lunch dates, and a bit of procrastination and miscommunication in both households, we managed to come to a time that worked for both of us and for the hospital for the drop-off appointment.

We met this afternoon for a wonderful pre-appointment lunch. I had the curried sweet potato soup. She ordered the grilled Portabello sandwich. There was much chatting and delightful conversation on everything from getting hit on in gyms and at the gas pump to reflecting on reflecting to Bible banging and the reasons no woman should ever do yoga in public. Despite the age difference, she is twenty years my junior, I feel a kindred spirit and am enjoying the new company. After taking care of the bill, we headed for the car to deliver the goods.

Can I just say that I thought this would be the climax of the giving? I thought, perhaps, I would feel a full heart and walk away with a smile on my face. I actually felt none of this. I actually felt not much at all. We dropped the toys in the contact’s office and that was that. And, sure, I knew that I had done a good thing. I knew that I had provided goodies for the treasure box, activities for the kids who had to be away from home in an uncomfortable and unfortunate circumstance. I know what a difference this makes because I know this feeling personally. Twice as a child I was in the hospital for extended periods. Mostly, though, I just thought after delivering the toys I would feel SOMEthing. I didn’t. If anything, I actually felt a bit of disappointment.

As I reflected on the situation, I reflected on my reflecting. Why did I feel nothing? Why did I feel let down even? I did a good thing, for Pete’s sake. At this point in the reflecting, I turned to that picture I have in my head of what I believe myself to be, that picture of who I am. I am hands on, active, and in your face. I am talking and telling and teaching. I am questioning, curious, encouraging, and inviting. I am in the thick of it, no matter what that thick of it is. I am smiling, offering a warm word, heck, offering any word. I am instant gratification, immediate feedback. I am to see and be seen. My giving was none of this. My giving was nice, but it was not me. It was someone else.

If my giving were me it would have been ladling soup, helping with fractions, teaching social skills. It would have guided and motivated and cheered and elevated. It would have enlivened, encouraged, uplifted, and maximized, albeit minus the pom pons and tiny little skirt. If my giving were me it would not have dropped grocery bags of goods on an office floor and run. It would not throw money at a situation without some sort of face to face. It would not fill out a standard gift form and say, “Here you go, have a nice life.” It would not walk away with a heavy heart or a head hung low. If my giving were me, it would let out a heavy sigh and shake it’s head and say, “Fun!! Let’s do THAT again!”

It’s good to know who you are.

Sure I could go through life giving and doing and being according to the code of another, but that’s not me. I’m not sure, should I do that, I would give or do or be to the extent I would should I go about my business giving and doing and being as me. When I throw all of myself fully into something as I so enjoy doing I GIVE so much more, I DO so much more, and I FEEL so much more.

I need to not listen to those whispers of who I think I SHOULD be. I need to listen, instead, to those shouts of who I AM. I need to touch some faces, warm some hearts, and sit on the floor making Play Doh snakes and snowmen. I need to work among the hungry, garden among the poor, and build among the homeless. I need to reach out and touch someone. I need to give and do and be, yes, but I need to do it as ME.

Friday, February 24, 2012

What's the Take Away?

Okay. So I lied. I’ve written before that I don’t get all the hype about the meaning of life, that I don’t understand what all the confusion is, that I believe life is just about taking your very best and throwing it out at the world every day in order to make that world a better place. I’ve promoted the notion that we’re not here for ourselves, but for others, we’re here to foster change and growth, to make the most positive impact we can with the limited time we’re given, to give and to love and to show kindness and compassion every chance we get. I’ve spouted off about all of this in almost every essay I’ve posted to blog. I’m thinking now that this might be a load of shit.

What if we’re not here to love or to show compassion specifically? What if our mission is not necessarily to go spread hugs and smiles and offer a hand up? What if it really doesn’t matter if we ever serve up soup at the homeless shelter or help a child learn to read or if we crochet scarves for victims of domestic abuse? What if why we’re here is not exactly about the world or our communities or our families even? What if what we CAUSE to happen while we’re here isn’t the point? What if the point is what happens TO us? What if the point is not in the doing, but in the being?

Grab your book bag and play along for a minute.

I always wonder why some people repeat the same lessons over and over. It’s like life is offering a free class and they are totally failing, like they have been messing around while the professor is talking, not taking notes, checking messages instead, or just skipping lecture altogether. They know they will have to repeat the class, but still they continue with the same ineffective patterns. I’m always surprised when I hear someone in this situation say, “I don’t know why this always happens to me, why I always get into this sort of mess.” I’m thinking she should take a few notes and actually study for the exam next time, pay attention in class maybe. I think repeating the lesson is life’s way of hitting us over the head and saying, “Wake up! This is important!! There is a lesson to learn here, and you need to get this before we can move on.”

I’ve seen a lot of bad things in my life. I’ve seen dead people. I’ve seen some people actually die. Not all of those people were old. Some were not old at all. When I was six, I came close to dying myself. But I don’t count that because I really don’t remember it. I’ve watched two houses burn. Two houses that I sat playing in just a few minutes before. I’ve experienced the negative consequences of poverty firsthand. I’ve been hungry when there was no food. I can remember seeing nothing but a bag of flour, a gallon of milk, and some old bacon grease kept in a coffee can on top of the stove and then somehow my mother would make a dinner of that. No child should ever be without food. I’ve seen a lot of bad things in my life. I like writing on bad things. I think bad things are lessons.

I like writing on things that other people won’t talk about, on things other people don’t want to look at or acknowledge or discuss. I think they feel that if they don’t look, it’s not really happening or that if they don’t talk about it, it doesn’t really exist. The truth of it is that bad stuff happens, bad stuff happens to good people even. Acknowledge it or not, but as a child I was cold and I was hungry and I was lonely. You can’t pretty that up. I was lonely because I changed houses as soon as I had a chance to make friends. I was a smart girl, but even a smart girl has trouble focusing on school when the heat has been shut off and there is no food in the pantry and her parents have spent the evening yelling at each other about money. She wants to make them stop. She wants to shut her ears so that she cannot hear. She wants to not be where she is. She wants a regular life like the other kids. I loved my books. I did, but I was getting a lesson at home that was much more important than reading or science or math. I was getting a lesson in kindness and compassion and love. I couldn’t see it. At the time I thought I was a getting a lesson in degradation and misery and humiliation.

I am big on the take away. I ask myself, “What can I learn from this? What am I to take from this situation and use in my life?” I don’t believe the bad things in my life happened for me. I believe they happened so that I could better understand others in similar situations, so that I might take something from the experience and use for the good of others. I think the bad things are gifts. They don’t look like it at the time, but I truly believe they are.

And that brings me back to the meaning of life. I’m not sure anymore that the point of living is to help others. I think that’s just the by-product. I think the point of living is to learn, to learn what it’s like to be poor, to be an addict, to be hurt, to lose someone we love. I think the point of living is to learn, to learn so that we can better understand the life of another, so that we feel a connection, so that we know what it’s like to be them, so that we then can throw our love and compassion and kindness and gifts in complete and total sincerity out to that other. I love you, and I want to help you because I AM you.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Group Hug

I used to hold my breath until I turned blue. If life presented an injustice of any sort, I would hold firm and take my stand. Granted, that stand was often to my own detriment but I would take it nonetheless. I was reminded of this the other day as I sat lunching in my favorite neighborhood café. A mom and her little guy walked by my table hand in hand, all smiles and giggles and oh happy day. The little guy soon met with an injustice in his own world. I know this because instantly he dropped to his knees leaving Mom doing the one-armed drag on him out the door. If you’re a parent, you know this move well. I found myself wondering at what point we lose this conviction. When do we lose this determination to stand firm in the face of opposition, to speak out against wrongdoings, to shout to the world that this isn’t the life I ordered and I’m not going to take it anymore?

We go to jobs we hate, come home to spouses we no longer love, and give to causes in which we really have no interest, and do it all, why? Because we feel we’re supposed to? We’re stuck? We have no choice?

I sometimes feel now like sinking to my knees or holding my breath until I turn blue, but at forty-eight that might be a bit strange. There are injustices in my world, and I so feel the need to drop to the ground and flail about in the most befitting rage. Instead of throwing fists to ground, however, I have decided to fling words to page. So stand back, give me a second, and don’t come in until I’m passed out blue.

I hate that two thirds of us Americans stuff ourselves fat while a quarter of the children around the world suffer the serious developmental consequences of malnutrition. Those aren’t handicapped individuals getting out of all those handicapped parking spots. Those are middle-agers who are just too heavy to walk, middle-agers resorting to motorized carts to maneuver their lives.

I am bothered by the fact that despite research showing we can prevent and even reverse many of the chronic diseases that compromise our health through following a whole foods, plant-based diet we continue to consume meat and eggs and dairy in mass quantities. I am disgusted by the culture we have built around illness--the pharmaceuticals, the hospitals, the insurance companies, those damned motorized carts. I am disgusted that we have accepted the likes of heart disease, high blood pressure, type II diabetes and high cholesterol as part of the normal aging process when in reality they are mostly the result of lifestyle choices we make every day.

I am saddened by the fact that so many of us live for retirement. We postpone our real lives, our happiness, for a day some ten, twenty, thirty years from now. We plan the supposed end of our lives as we plan a wedding, down to every little detail. It will be splendid, lovely, wonderful, perfect. Well, maybe this day never comes and, even if it does come, so many days have been lost in the process. I know a young girl who recently lost her brother. He, too, was young, very young. There will be no retirement for him. Nowhere is it written that we live until we are sixty plus. Nowhere are we promised life after retirement. And why should we live better at seventy than we do at thirty? At thirty we are young and eager and filled with energy. We are capable of great fun, great joy and great times. Yet we drag our rear ends to jobs that give us high blood pressure and headaches and ulcers, jobs we don’t enjoy, jobs we hate, jobs that are nothing more to us than a paycheck.

I don’t like that we verbally bash entire groups of people, people who aren’t like us. We bash gays, Christians, non-Christians, conservatives, liberals. We bash those with piercings, tattoos, body art of any type. We bash those who dress differently, act differently, speak differently. We hate while professing to love. We are exclusive while preaching tolerance. We tear each other down with our words. Sometimes, sadly, we go further than words.

We’re sick, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We’re sick. We’re sick, and we are destroying ourselves. We are destroying ourselves, and I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all. We need to love. We need to love ourselves, and we need to love each other. We need to help each other. We need to reach out a hand and pull the other up. We need to not be so greedy and selfish and short-sighted. One of my students suggested the other day that it would be really cool if the entire world circled up and sang Kum Bah Yah. Not sure about the song choice when we’re talking inclusion, but I have to admit a really big group hug sounds uber refreshing.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

I am YOU

A student asked, “Would you rather be deaf or blind?” It was a tough question. I never had considered. I gave an answer. I can’t recall what. I still am not sure, given the option, which I would choose.

I process my world through words. I always have. I talk and write and sing and think and question and wonder, out loud and with expression. I list and read and study and joke and pontificate to no end. I am a surly sort if my words stay only in my head and are not given the expression they so desire. I pout and crab and seek out groups just to gather those groups and spout off my opinion, my opinion on anything, on anything at all, on anything from Buddha to baking to breastfeeding basics. I am fortunate to have found a job that pays me to talk. I am expected, in fact, to talk, and to talk a lot. I am equally excited to have a hobby where words are a matter of course. Writing without words would be, well, would just be thinking.

But this is the thing. My words come only because of my place in this world, because of the life that is happening all around me. I am not alone here. Likewise, I must have someone with whom to express those words, those thoughts, those opinions. How, in fact, would I get my words if I could not see or could not hear?

Right now, in the middle of this busy café, could I not hear I would miss the small talk of those waiting in line. I would miss the conversation between the woman in the khaki slacks and the man in the black hoodie. She has two boys and a girl. They are impatient and typical as far as teenagers and college kids go. They don’t want much to be seen in public with their mother, so she is here by herself. She would love to be back at the baby stage as is this young father standing next to her. The father is frustrated because his daughter is protesting loudly and drawing much attention. She does not, it seems, want to be here. The woman assures him that this phase will be over before he knows, that one day he will look at this grimace-faced little angel and she will be walking across a stage in cap and gown, diploma in hand. She will look at you and will tell you how lucky she is to have you for a dad. She will give you a hug and a kiss, and with the back seat of her car loaded with all of her worldly possessions, she will be gone. She will be gone, and you will be standing by yourself in line waiting for a sandwich or a scone.

If I could not hear I would miss that great passing of life and love and lessons in parenting from one to another.

If I could not see I would miss the woman in the corner with the funky artsy cane and the red orthopedic shoes. She is old in body, yes, but not in heart. Bottle thick glasses, she reads with focus and determination. I catch a glimpse of the gorgeous gray haired senior on the cover and the suggestion that aging can be both bold and beautiful. I want this book. I want this attitude. I want to know more. But as I crane my neck to grab the title she sits the book down. I quickly turn my eyes as she reveals the other book I have failed to notice. It is a nice thick trashy romance. I am not certain guys look like that in real life. At least I know they don’t wear their jeans so low as that. Or open like that. With their hands like that. Oh, GAWD! And she is not embarrassed in the least being seen with this. She finishes the chapter and her cookie as if it is no big thing. As if she has just sat down with the morning copy of the Times, checking the weather perhaps.

I love my world. I love the hearing and the seeing of it. Could I live and adjust if either of these were gone? Yes. But as long as I CAN see and as long as I CAN hear, I am thankful for both. I am thankful for the words of encouragement that one of you sent me, the words suggesting that I am an amazing person and have made a difference in your life. Honestly, I think everyone should hear such at least once a day. The message was wonderful, and it is still in my head. I’m keeping it. I am thankful for the apology I received this morning, an apology for words that hurt me to my core without the intent of doing such. I am thankful for the laughter that surrounds me now as I sit pounding at my keyboard. Sometimes it is difficult to hear such chuckling and not respond in kind. I am smiling, but doing my best to refrain as I am by myself and may be thought strange should I burst out in a big belly laugh. I am thankful for the conversation between mother and daughter sitting beside me. I know now that my relationships with my own daughters are not so far off target and that we may be more normal, whatever that means, than I think.

I am thankful for what I see each day. I am thankful for the faces of my four beautiful children, faces that sometimes look very much younger, VERY much younger, depending on my mood and how old I am feeling at the time. I am thankful for that photo one of you sent me. It made me laugh. And I do so love to laugh. I am thankful for the message I was able to read because I could see, the message from one of you about how it is okay to be who I am, how it is okay because we are all human and human is not perfect, ever, is not without feeling or flaw. And neither is human without a fabulous light, a light that exists within each of us, a light that we are to take out each day and shine back at others.

When I reflect now on my student’s question, it is not that I am thankful for my hearing or thankful for my seeing, and would greatly miss either should it be gone. Rather, it is that I am thankful for you and would miss you should you be gone.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Nice or Naughty?

“I'm selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can't handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don't deserve me at my best.”
― Marilyn Monroe

I talk too much. I listen too little. I’m bossy, demanding. I have to be in charge. I know it all. I know that I know it all. I have no problem letting YOU know that I know it all. I’m kind and compassionate, sure, but I can tear through town like a tornado in a trailer park and have no idea the emotional damage that I’ve done. Or maybe I do and just don’t care. I’m a smart girl. I am. But sometimes the lights are on and Tammie has left the building.

Now pull out that list. YOU know the list I’m talking about. THAT list. The one you’re using to search for your one true soul mate, or maybe the one you’re using to question whether your current partner IS your one true soul mate. He has to be tall. He should be smart, funny. Dark hair would be nice. Definitely dark hair. HAIR. He needs to be fit and to care about his health. I’d like flowers. And poetry. Ok, maybe just flowers. But without having to ask for them. Shall I go on? Now let me ask this, what’s on HIS naughty list? And, no, I don’t mean THAT naughty list.

Does he scratch in public, annoy your friends, chew like a cow? Does he OWN the remote, dress like a bum? Is his butt imprint permanently etched into his favorite chair? Did he put the word “heated” in “heated debate?” Can you just not take him anywhere? Be honest, what’s on his list? Because he definitely has one.

I disagree with Santa. I don’t believe we make one or the other, always on the nice, destined for the naughty. How could we? That’s a lot of work. Nobody is that good. And, likewise, nobody is that bad. I also disagree with Cupid. I don’t feel there is one true partner, one true soul mate, for each of us. I just think we’re going about our list-making all wrong.

Do this. Look around you right now at the first ten people you see. They should be of an appropriate age and of your gender preference. I’ll just eliminate pronto that extra hefty guy riding down the sidewalk on his motorized cart, not because he’s extra hefty or because he’s on the scooter but because of that giant loogie he just took such great pride in spitting. Now, let’s just assume all of these homework characters are available. Ask yourself this, “What is GREAT about that person?” Look for the good. It’s there. Look for it. Make a “nice list” for each one of those ten people.

First two guys I see are both sharply dressed, casual, but smart. They look like they understand that others will be looking and that they care. The first guy smiled at me, a nice smile. That’s a bonus. This next guy has lots of books under his arm, big fat books. And he looks like he actually reads them. Nice. Guy number four is friendly and chatty, greeting others and making wonderful small talk. Guy number five is tall. The next three are, um, well, in a bookstore which is always a plus. Number nine looks like he cares about his health and his looks. He also looks like he cares about others. He’s fit and put together and seems incredibly approachable, sort of like if I were the protagonist in a Nicholas Sparks’ book, this would be my main guy. Character number ten is a fan of Kettle Chips, a guy after my own heart.

Now, granted one of those guys is a smoker, another a womanizer, one dresses as if he’s fourteen, another as if he believes he is Dracula. A few are, well, they are in a bookstore, let’s just be nice and leave it at that. But out of those ten, there are definitely a couple of possibilities, IF I were looking, IF I were searching for my one true soul mate. Granted, those possibilities would have to be available, but still. The point is that I changed my list-making strategy.

This is the thing. When we start focusing on what is RIGHT about someone, we tend to lose track of what is WRONG. When we focus on the good, we find more and more of what is good and less and less of what is not. And isn’t that how we want others to look at us? Sure, I have my bad points, but if that was all anyone saw I would be the first one crossed off on that soul mate search. Go grab those rose-colored glasses, that notepad and pen and get ready to make those nice lists. Greet everyone you meet with a smile as if they might just, in fact, be the one. You never know. Maybe they are.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Down to My Skivvies

You know more about me sometimes than my best friends know. Here’s the dilemma. I write as I do so you want to read more. I write the dirt, the skinny. I strut around on page in my push-up and cheekies because that holds the interest. Honestly, as a reader myself I would much rather learn of the author’s addiction issues, diva tendencies, or illicit affairs (yes, with an “s”) than to hear how it was a good night because her child went to sleep the first time she tucked him in, her husband expected nothing of her, and there was a bit of chocolate left in the fridge. Please. I have so been there. Take me away. Show me something secret you wouldn’t share with even your closest confidant. Show me that thing you did in that parking lot with that guy when you thought no one was looking. Share with me how you felt so alone and so confused at that one point in your life that you considered dark thoughts, dark thoughts that you have never considered since. Open up your lingerie drawer, your pantry, your private journal. Pour me a glass of wine and just have out with it, have out with every juicy detail. This is such insanely delicious fun when it is I who am the reader, but when I put my own thoughts to page, and I pour YOU that glass of wine, you see me as I truly am. That, my friend, is just a bit unnerving.

It is unnerving because tomorrow you will sit in my class and raise your hand. You will ask for clarification on Harlow and Ainsworth and will wonder out loud why we care about attachment theory, why it matters. As I work you through the long-term benefits of a secure attachment style you will look at me, you will look at me in my cardigan with sleeves to elbows, glasses on top of my head, looking very teacher like and you will know. You will know that underneath that conservative cardigan is a bit of eyelet or lace or sparkle. You will know that most likely it is black and perhaps with a tiny bow adorned with even tinier crystals dangling from that bow.

It is unnerving because tomorrow you will catch me during office hours and stop to say hello. You will share an anecdote from one of your classes, ask how my term is going, and complain once again about a paper or a student or work in general. I will shoot you my signature smile, make the appropriate small talk, then wish you a great rest of your day. In my head, though, I will know that you see me as that kid, the kid who drove up and down streets collecting Coke bottles with her mother and sisters one afternoon in order to get money to buy dinner that night, the kid who sat in the field all day while her mother picked cotton in the blistering Southern sun just to get enough money to buy a gallon of milk, the kid who ate squirrel and rabbits and, maybe once, the legs of frogs because those foods could be shot and killed and came into the house for free.

It is unnerving because tomorrow you will see me in church. You will take my hand and offer me the Peace. I will respond likewise and comment on, my, how your children have grown, how I remember when they were small and in the preschool class and I was teaching them about communion and Christmas, the church calendar and such, how I remember that they were the donkey in the pageant and how they were looking so forward to the Easter Bunny because, after all, wasn’t that what the purple and waiting time was for? You will nod and remember, you will nod and then you will look at me and wonder to yourself, “How can she come across so sweet, so prim and proper? How can she smile like that in such an innocent way? She writes about breasts, for Pete’s sake, and swears like a sailor.”

Frankly, it is unnerving because I am opening to you while you are staying fully clothed, tight-lipped, and more than a bit restrained. I cannot see your response. I cannot know your thoughts. I cannot feel the tension, the shock, the sadness, the grief. I cannot hear the laughter, see the smirks. Do I want you to continue listening? Yes. Will I continue, then, to write as I feel? Definitely. Will I ever be comfortable with this? I think not. However, I see no point in sharing the mundane. Yes, I had salad for breakfast. It was beautiful and delicious, but nobody cares. Likewise, I’m sure no one gives a flying flip that the mailbox was packed, but with not one item in the entire pile for me. But scoot your chair a little closer and listen up. I shared an incredibly secret secret today with someone I don’t really know all that well. I needed it out of my head in the way that an aneurysm needs to explode. It was of the mystical, the mysterious, the metaphysical sort. I feel better now, but may have opened myself to a whole lot of trouble. Now take a breath and sit back. You may have to pour ME that glass of wine before this one comes out.