Categories
Loving

We are inclined to unity

I’ve always been amazed watching animals in nature instinctively moving in sync — in harmony — with one another. It could be hundreds of birds in flight, fish swimming, herds running. Each one is so in tune with the movement of the others around them that their behavior seems scripted — orchestrated.

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We humans are instinctively capable of finding unity too. When we walk in groups, we often adjust our pace to be in step with those around us. In crowds, we start out handclapping on our own, but within seconds, hundreds of us can clap in unison.

When’s the last time you participated in a stadium wave? It takes only a handful of clustered people to stand and raise their arms in unison. Spontaneously, the people seated in the section next to them know precisely when it is their time to mimic the action. Soon the rhythm of the wave is coursing around the stadium until it loops a few times and the energy dies out.

Also, think about sporting events where you get caught up in the chanting of the crowd. Sparked by enthusiasm, choruses ring out in unison, chanting the encouraging, “I believe that we will win!” or the great-play celebration, “Olé, Olé, Olé” or the ever taunting, very specific, “Air Ball!”

One of my favorite examples is a live performance I watch on TV of Paul McCartney enchanting his concert audience with the Beatles’ biggest #1 hit song, “Hey Jude.” The song itself is about optimism and togetherness, and the coda’s repetitive “nah, nah, nah, nah-nah-nah-nah, nah-nah-nah-nah, hey Jude” is like a heartfelt lullaby. This along with the crowd’s raised arms waving and clapping in unison. I wanted very much to be there in the moment among everyone.

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These forms of unity get us involved in the excitement, bring us together as a crowd, and remind us that our enjoyment of this event and our presence in this moment make us one. We feel connected. This increases our empathy, and we become more sociable to one another.

…so then why does it feel like these days so many people are trying to divide us?

The world has been changing always. Evolving. Advancing. And while many of us need some time to adjust to change, it feels like a large portion of people have come to a dead stop. They’ve thrown out their anchors, settled into their box-shaped comfort zones, and are refusing to pursue unity with anyone outside of their “kind.”

I see these separatists as people who will turn their backs on others without giving them a chance to express their ideas or perspective. I feel separatists are not open to alternative points of view; they believe all others are simply wrong. Rather than rising up to accept people for what they have in common with others, separatists want to sink down and find the line that severs their connections to others.

In my heart, I’m a unifier. I want to know more about people who are different than me so that my outlook and perspective can grow and become more diverse. I want to learn from people who have had different experiences than me. Relying on their examples, I can avoid mistakes or achieve success that I otherwise would not have known about. And my acknowledgement of their experiences gives them validation that they’ve improved others’ lives through their own.

Here are some examples of how a separatist sees personal differences vs. a unifier:

Personal Difference
Two people are sports fans, but for rival teams.
The Separatist
Feels only the rivalry; sees the other as an “enemy.”
The Unifier
Wants to connect based on how much they both love this sport. “Who’s your favorite player?” “Let’s set a friendly wager!”

When you think of NBA player rivalries, hardly any other is bigger than Boston Celtics’ Larry Bird and the Lakers’ Magic Johnson. They first competed against one another in an NCAA championship game between Indiana and Michigan States, respectively. As pros, they competed against each other in the NBA finals three times. Both players are in the NBA Hall of Fame. With such fierce competition between them, you’d think they’d have often wished the worst for their rival. Instead they were and still are the best of friends.

In a book they published together, When the Game Was Ours, Johnson tells how they went from being rivals to being friends, “Then Larry and I sat down for lunch, and I tell you, we figured out we’re so much alike. We’re both from the Midwest, we grew up poor, our families [are] everything to us, basketball is everything to us. So that changed my whole outlook on Larry Bird.”

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Personal Difference
Two people want to improve life in their communities, but they align with different political parties.
The Separatist
Cannot “cross the aisle” in order to prioritize their common goals.
The Unifier
Is interested in collaborating and will listen to opposing viewpoints in order to develop the most-well-rounded solution.

In 1997, I volunteered as an usher for a national summit that led to the formation of America’s Promise Alliance. The objective was to improve the lives of millions of at-risk youths. The reason I was attracted to the event is because it was co-convened by political opposites, Presidents Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush. As stated by President Clinton, the goal of the summit was “to mobilize America’s citizen power in a united effort to solve our common problems, especially those that threaten our young people.”

Over the past 20+ years, the alliance has accumulated nearly 400 corporate, private, non-profit, education, and faith-based partners.

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Personal Difference
Two people each have goals to unite and inspire others, but they are not of the same religion.
The Separatist
Chooses to work alone as the other is “misguided” or “misinformed.”
The Unifier
Wants to broaden their perspective in order to develop messages that people can relate to on many levels.

I’d been reading a book called The Book of Joy, which is co-authored by Tibetan Buddhist, the Dalai Lama, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. In the 300-page book, I dog-eared just one page for the message that most resonated with me, a quote from the Dalai Lama:

“If we stress secondary level of differences–my nation, my religion, my color–then we notice the differences. Like this moment now in Africa, there is too much emphasis on this nation or that nation. They should think that we are same Africans. Furthermore, we are same human beings. Same with religion: Shiite and Sunni, or Christian and Muslim. We are same human beings. These differences between religions are personal matters. When we relate to others from the place of compassion it goes to the first level, the human level, not the secondary level of difference. Then you can even have compassion for your enemy.”

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Sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know

We can’t be judgmental of separatists. Some people have been raised to believe their parents’ and greater family’s ways and beliefs are the only correct choice. Or they commit such loyalty to a group or organization that they shut out any outsiders or new ideas.

Similarly, even open minded people don’t know what they don’t know until they make a conscious effort to focus on the “new” or the “other.”

I recently watched a video that is part of a series launched by former NFL player and current sports analyst Emmanuel Acho. This was following the wave of racial unrest ignited in America. In the video, TV personalities Chip and Joanna Gaines bring their children to Acho to ask him questions about racial relations.

Chip relayed a story about how he and his family had not had a lot of experience with cancer, but a few years ago he met a woman with cancer who conveyed her story to him about what life is like as a cancer patient. Then he and the family became advocates for cancer patients and their families, and have supported a lot of cancer-related initiatives since then.

He said, “…once I learned about it and understood it and it affected my soul, I couldn’t unforget it.”

He said it was the same kind of light-bulb moment when he realized he doesn’t know what it’s like to be a black person or part of a black family living in America.

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Many people — myself included — had simply never felt the need or desire to think this way. But now that this issue has come front and center (again), this may be the start of a greater level of social equilibrium.

People who are willing to let go of fear and anger, who are willing to be seen as vulnerable and still learning have the most to gain in this world and have the greatest potential to bring the rest of us with them toward empathy, compassion, and love.

Let’s move forward together

Balance is the key to harmony. We’re in this boat together. I may prefer the view on the starboard side while you prefer the view on the port side, but if you row your oar at a different rate than I’m rowing mine, we’re just going to keep moving in a circle. We each can have our own points of view and still move forward together in unity. For the greater good, you have to be willing to try.

Thank you for spending these moments with me, thinking about life. If you like what you’ve read, I’d love for you to share it. Spread some seeds…

Categories
Growing

3 priorities a panda taught me

There’s a lot to be said about the lessons we adults can learn (or be reminded of) when reading children’s books. And why not? Children’s books teach about kindness and friendships, sharing, caring, exploring, learning. They engage imaginations and open minds to possibilities and wonder.

When we become adults with responsibilities and pressures, we think we have to let go of childish ways in order to survive the real world. Truth be told, so much of those childhood lessons are exactly what we need to live by, but somehow they get lost in yesteryear.

Young girl reading a book
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The children’s book that taught me how to act like an adult

When my kids were in daycare, they’d bring home book catalogs. I ordered books for them every single time. I kept the books that I hope to read again to my grandkids one day. But in the meantime, there’s one particular book that I keep at the ready for me.

It’s called Zen Shorts by Jon J Muth (published by Scholastic in 2005). It’s about three siblings who befriend a large panda named Stillwater. While the friends are spending time together, Stillwater tells them stories that relate to everyday life. The stories he’s telling them are actual centuries-old Chinese parables.

Reading the book to my kids, they connected with the children and the large, peaceful bear. I, on the other hand, soaked in the parables. To this day, I still rely on them to help me adjust my perspective when holding too tightly to stress.

Stuffed panda toy with the handwritten words "love yourself."
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The package of panda parables

Here are Stillwater’s three stories and how they continue to help me:

  • Uncle Ry and the Moon – Uncle Ry is based on a Sōtō Zen Buddhist monk named Ryōkan Taigu. In the story, Uncle Ry places no value on his material possessions. He values selflessness — putting others’ needs above his own. When a robber comes into his home, Uncle Ry gives him his last possession — his robe. Feeling bad that the robber is in need of things he doesn’t have, Uncle Ry wishes he had something more beautiful to give the robber, like the moon.

Recalling this story helps me when I want to remember that the people in my life are more important to me than the things around me. I rely on Uncle Ry to remind me that people come first and, although we don’t have to literally give people the shirt off our back, helping people who are in need is a basic human kindness.

  • The Farmer’s Luck – this Taoist story is probably the most well-known of the three that Stillwater shares. The gist of it is that you can’t tell if luck is good or bad until you see the result of whatever happens next.

A farmer’s horse runs away. Bad luck? It returns with two more horses. Good luck? The farmer’s son breaks one of his legs while trying to tame one of the horses. Bad luck? The army rejects the son as a draftee because of his injury. Good luck?

This story reminds me that you can’t always control what life sends your way, but you can always control how you react to it. You can understand that bad luck doesn’t have to devastate you. You can choose to make the best of it instead. You may end up learning a great lesson because of it, which might mean it was good luck all along.

  • A Heavy Load – this is my favorite of Stillwater’s stories. It’s about a young monk who is silently agitated for hours that a woman does not thank his companion, an older monk, for carrying her across a large puddle. In the end, the old monk says to the young one, “I set the woman down hours ago. Why are you still carrying her?”

I often say to myself (sometimes even out loud), “Put the woman down!” This is when I realize I’ve been stressing over something needlessly — someone or something that’s not worth the time and energy I’m wasting thinking about it. Or something that’s out of my control to change. It’s time to focus on something more meaningful that is within my control.

Stacked stones in a pink sunset
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In (Zen) short…

Those are the three perspectives that have changed my life. Somehow, in this one simple children’s book, I found the remedy to almost any challenge. In short, my options are to:

  • Decide how this challenge impacts my relationship with the people I love. Do what I must to preserve them. Other than that, nothing else matters.
  • Accept it for what it is and gauge my response in proportion to its relevance in the grand scheme of my life. Over reacting gets me nowhere and is a waste of time and energy.
  • When it’s all said and done, leave it behind and move on.

Thanks to this panda and his groovy Zen shorts, I’m able to enjoy life most days with the peace of mind to keep my priorities and perspectives in check. I hope you are able to find this kind of peace within yourself as well.

Thank you for spending these moments with me, thinking about life. If you like what you’ve read, I’d love for you to share it. Spread some seeds…

Categories
Growing Learning Loving

5 reasons why my brand is LOVE

I guess we can consider this an all-in-one Brand Positioning Statement, “About Me” bonus track, and a “Hero’s Journey” tale.

In my journey, I’ve had to overcome obstacles — just like you in your life and everyone else in their lives. It’s up to each one of us to decide how to make use of our experiences — whether they will hold us down or lift us up, and whether we’ll bring the people we encounter each day up or down with us.

I’ve decided that love is my purpose, and I want to bring others to a place of love as well. Here are five reasons why love is my reason for being.

5. Life is tough

I grew up just another kid of an alcoholic dad. At the time, if there were kids around me that had dads that were just as bad as or worse than mine, I didn’t know about it. I thought all of my friends’ dads were great. Therefore I didn’t just feel like the winner of the “worst dad” contest — I felt like I was the only one competing. (I realize now that was not the case, but that’s what it felt like when I was a kid.)

Dealing with the shame and low self-esteem brought on by my father’s alcoholism was a daily struggle. As such, the nicknames I earned from boyfriends included “Princess of Gloom and Doom,” “Grumpy Dumpy,” and simply “Baby.” And they were guys who actually cared for me quite a bit.

I was already carrying a bunch of mental baggage, to say the least. Then along came the stalker. He was convicted and my dad died within eight months of each other.

I’m the one that found my dad dead after all the alcohol finally rotted completely through one or more of his major organs. I was 25 years old.

One would hope with both of those situations at a close that life would simply go on from there with all the pain left in the past. But that’s not how humans work.

Over the next couple of years, I was trying to make sense of the world. I had lots of ups and downs — a lot of asking “why me?”

But then I decided I was ready for the pain, fear, and self-doubt to be over. I actually stood out in the middle of a field and made a commitment to the universe to do my best to grow stronger and become kind, honest, brave, and wise.

The Celts saw the oak tree as a symbol of truth, bravery and kindness.
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But healing from all those years of trauma takes time. Imagine that my psyche was an hourglass. One bulb was reserved for hope and inspiration. Following the stalker and my dad’s death, that bulb was empty. The other bulb was reserved for pain and anger, and it held all the sand.

The day I made that commitment in the field to change my attitude, the hour glass was turned upside down. Each grain of sand fell one at a time through the narrow neck.

Even though the sand was slowly accumulating in the positivity and optimism bulb, there was still sand in the pain and anger bulb for a long while.

Over time, I was able to forgive my dad first, the stalker later. That took, no lie, around 25 years — almost the same amount of time for the trauma to accumulate in the first place.

When we’re willing to accept that life is tough but that we don’t have to allow the worst parts to be the biggest part of us, we are able to lift ourselves up from rock bottom to new heights of love and patience.

4. Life is short

Around the time I turned 30, I began counting up all the times throughout my life I had come out of some pretty dangerous situations completely unscathed. Not even counting my encounters with my dad or the stalker, there was a bad fall from some monkey bars; a runaway horse; an out-of-control carnival ride; a high-speed, head-on car crash; three one-on-one run-ins with demented men, and two near asphyxiations from carbon monoxide.

Don’t misinterpret this to think I was reckless and looking for trouble or attention. These all started out as everyday events that simply took a turn for the worse.

Beating the odds that many times felt like I was still here for a reason. I wanted to show my gratitude for having been given so many second chances. I wasn’t sure how many more near misses I had left in me, and I wanted to make a difference in the world somehow before my time here was through.

A dead tree contrasted with the infinite of space. We only have a short time on Earth to make a difference.
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Then when I was in my early 40s my mom died suddenly from health complications. I was devastated. Completely unprepared for life without my biggest cheerleader.

Seven years later my niece suffered an accidental death. All the opportunities I wasted to tell her things I wish I had said. Or to do the things with her I wish we could have done together.

When we value life and accept that it is a temporary condition for each of us, we cherish time more meaningfully. We understand that we can’t take people for granted. We need to make the most of our relationships with people while we still have the time together. Embracing this makes it easier for us to forgive and give unconditional love.

3. It opens you up to possibilities

Two years after my mom passed, when I was still feeling abandoned, my desired career path came to an end. I was shocked that I was not successful in convincing everyone I was the right person for the job that I believed I was destined for.

But I couldn’t see myself the way others were seeing me. And I learned that’s not always a bad thing.

Although I didn’t love the decision my leaders had made for me (at first), I still loved them unconditionally, and I was willing to try things their way — to see where they thought my talents could take me.

Some say daisies are a symbol of new beginnings.
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They placed me in a role where my primary job was writing. Then they asked me to mentor others as writers.

I enjoyed this role so much, I began writing for personal fulfillment. I began putting into words all the thoughts that I had been cataloging in my head for so many years. I wrote about my experiences and what I felt. I continued to write and think, and write and learn, and write and grow. That was the start of me becoming a storyteller.

Being a loving person means you are willing to be vulnerable. You risk getting hurt, but when you put yourself in the hands of people who you love and trust, you open yourself to possibilities that you might not have chosen yourself. You may find yourself journeying to a whole new place of learning and growing.

2. It gives you new purpose

When I was given the blessing of writing for a living, which turned out to be something I love to do, I had found purpose in my life. My talents, interests, and path were aligned.

I found a way that I could reflect on my experiences and write openly about how I got from there to here. I thought that maybe in telling my story, I could offer hope for someone who is in the place where I was — someone who wants to feel like they’re not in a “worst ever” contest all by their self.

Having a desire to help others through my storytelling gave new meaning to everything I had experienced. My bad times no longer felt like heavy baggage when I saw them as opportunities to maybe help someone else see their way through their own tangled mess of emotions.

Some feel the sunflower is a symbol of hope, happiness and renewal.
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I decided to make it a real thing — me sharing my thoughts and experiences to help others learn, grow and love from their pain, fear and regrets. I wrote two books (one still unpublished), and I started this blog. I’m creating a silver lining not just for myself, but hopefully for others too.

Each one of us has innate gifts and circumstances through which we can manifest love and happiness. We’re not meant to hold these for ourselves or use the rewards for our own happiness. We are meant to share our lives with others — to experience the scary, crazy, and awesomeness of being human with others, to make life better for others.

1. It lets you change the world

I believe we each have the responsibility to contribute positively to the world around us. Not just going through our daily routines on auto pilot and complaining when something doesn’t meet our expectations. I mean making a conscience effort every day to put someone else’s needs first and to make a difference in someone else’s life.

I also believe that each one of us can make the world a better place. We don’t need to have a big voice or a vast platform. We just need to do what we can within our means, using our unique talents and opportunities, to make life better for those around us.

This hybrid tea rose is named "Peace." I bought and planted it in my yard during the riots following the death of George Floyd.

And that’s why my brand is LOVE.

I write for anyone who may have trouble seeing that everyday occurrences hold meaning about the purpose of our lives. I value optimism, and I prioritize continuous improvement. I believe that when we are able to let go of our pain and fear, we are able to turn our struggles into inspiration for others. Therefore, I hope to encourage you to keep learning and growing to become a more loving person. And in doing that, we’re all spreading seeds of love.

Thank you for spending these moments with me, thinking about life. If you like what you’ve read, I’d love for you to share it. Spread some seeds…

Categories
Loving

‘He ain’t right.’ You’re not what he said you are.

In honor of George Floyd, whose tragic death is what finally opened my eyes. Not being a racist is not enough.

I feel like I’m walking a tightrope writing this blog. As I begin, I’m praying for the right words to flow from my heart to my fingertips. My intention is to share an experience from a few years ago that now has new, deeper meaning for me.

I’ve told this story a few times over the past two years as if I was merely an observer to what unfolded. Today – in response to the events which started on May 25 – I know now my role in speaking out against the kind of racial hatred that too many Americans endure day in and day out.

The participants

In January 2018, my middle-school-aged son asked me to take him to a video game store down the street from our home. I knew that this chain of stores had experienced armed robberies around Christmas time. I even knew a dad from my son’s hockey team who was in one of the stores during a holdup. He was telling me the story the day after it happened, and it was obvious he was still shook up.

I took my son to the video game store anyway, but I was on full alert walking in. Once inside, I saw there was a line of people waiting at the check-out counter. The store employee was a black man, probably in his late 20s. He was waiting on a young black man, probably around 19 or 20, and he was with a black friend who was wandering around the store.

Next in line was a middle-aged white woman, a few years younger than me. She was with a teenager who had an autism spectrum disorder. Behind them in line was a black woman, older than me, and a black boy younger than my son was with her. I got in line behind them, and my son was looking around the back of the store. We are both white.

Those are the observable characteristics of the people in the store. I’ll be honest here and now tell you about the story that was going on in my head.

The store employee looked like a cool guy — someone who’d be fun to hang out with at a backyard barbecue. The older women appeared to be the grandmother of the young boy. I wasn’t getting a “mom” vibe from the middle-aged woman who was with the teenager — maybe she was a much older sister or an aunt. The young man who was talking to the store employee looked like a computer geek, and his friend looked to me like he could be a dangerous man. Like he associates with dangerous people. I was intimidated by him.

The incident

Something was causing a delay with the store employee completing the transaction with the young man. This is typical at the video game store. He could be pre-ordering a game, updating his membership, selling back used games, processing a return or exchange, etc.

Bored with the wait, his friend started looking around the store. That’s when my son and I walked in. The intimidating-looking man and I were squeezing by one another in a small aisle.

I said, “excuse me,” and he said, “oh sorry,” and I said, “you’re fine.” As this was happening, I didn’t feel any negative energy from him. I relaxed.

Aside from selling video games, the store sells a lot of collectibles and memorabilia. There were a lot of eye-catching things all around, especially to someone who is bored with the wait.

What grabbed the man’s attention most was a rack of character t-shirts. He was getting a kick out of holding up the humorous shirts as if he wanted to buy one of them.

“Yo,” he said to everyone, “Check out my new Pokemon shirt.”

It was cute. I giggled.

He must have seen that he got the attention of the other middle-aged woman because he jokingly said to her, “When did they start selling clothes at [the video game store]?”

The woman gave a reply, and they shared a few more comments and chuckles back and forth.

The teenage boy with her was showing simple movement and sound tics. Then suddenly he spoke out loud and clear: “Ha! I can’t believe you’re talking to that n-word!”

I had turned my back to the group at this point just to see where my son was. He and I were both closest to the back of the store. When I heard what the teen said, I froze. And waited for something to happen.

The man spoke up, asking the teenager. “What did you say? I can’t believe you said that!”

The woman gasped loudly and yelled at the teenager, “Why did you say that? Why did you say that?”

I don’t think the woman knew what to do next. She just kept yelling at the teen, “Why did you say that?”

Then the man chuckled and said, “Hey, it’s alright… I can see he ain’t right.”

Oh brother. I was too afraid to move, but in my head I was planning an escape route for my son through the backroom. I would have done whatever I needed to get him out, if this situation got worse.

The woman continued to yell at the teen, saying he was going to be in big trouble. Then the man began to tell her to take it easy on him, that he didn’t want her to be upset with the teenager.

In each of the next few awkward exchanges between the two of them, there was something very distinctive that struck me as odd. She never told the teenager that what he said was wrong. She never asked him where he learned to say that. She never apologized to the man for what the teenager said.

All the while, not a single one of the rest of us said a word. Finally the woman remembered how her legs worked and she towed the teenager out the door with her, leaving behind whatever she had planned to buy. In that moment I said a prayer for the teenager. I was afraid for what he’d face next.

When they were out the door, and just as I was about to breathe a sigh of relief, the man made a comment to his friend.

“Can you believe that? I still can’t believe he said that,” he said. “Boy, good thing I was here with you. If it had been me and [so-and-so], we’d be drawin’ out!”

“Oh dear God,” I thought to myself.

Yes, it is a good thing he wasn’t with a different friend indeed.

What I did next

Still nothing. I so wanted to say something to this man. And I ran a hundred things through my head, but I wasn’t confident I could deliver what was in my heart.

I wanted to say “thank you” without it sounding like “thank you for not hurting anyone.”

I wanted to say “good job” without it sounding like a white stamp of approval.

I wanted to say something, anything that would shatter the predisposition I held of a potentially armed black man’s ability to make a good decision when addressed with such an evil word.

I entered the store that day mentally prepared for a holdup. I wasn’t prepared to witness such blatant racism.

While the woman was still there, I didn’t want to insert myself in their conversation. I don’t believe it was a place where I belonged. But I kept my back turned — literally and figuratively — on the whole thing.

Here this man was bravely facing this woman and the teenager who had said the most horrific thing to him. He was not only forgiving them — on the spot — but also defending the teenager, allowing his mental deficiency to be an excuse for this behavior.

And I wasn’t even brave enough to try making eye contact with him, with the hope that he could feel my compassion and understand that I was on his side.

Shoulda, coulda, woulda. How many times do we walk away from a situation wishing we had done something differently?

What I wish I had done after the woman and the teen left was use the man’s own words, “I can see he ain’t right,” not in regard to the teenager’s disorder, but relative to what he had said.

I wish I would have said, “I agree with you:  ‘He ain’t right.’ You’re not what he said you are.” And then I should have shook his hand.

What I know now

The murder of George Floyd and the ensuing protests (both peaceful and violent) have given me a new perspective on a number of things that I’m sorry I didn’t realize sooner.

  1. In addition to wanting to say something positive to the man for his reaction, I should have admonished what was said. And I should have made that acknowledgement not just to the one man but to everyone else left in the store with me and my son. Although the teenager’s comment was directed to just one of them, it was equally insulting to the other blacks who heard it.
  2. I was wrong to assume that the woman with the teenager was guilty by association. I don’t know what her relationship to him was, and I don’t know that she was a party to him learning how to use that word in that context. Maybe she was, but that’s not for me to assume.
  3. It didn’t occur to me until this week that by not saying anything to any of them, it may have appeared that I agreed with the statement — that they had no allies that day.

So to the universe I would like to say, if you see those two friends, the older woman and the young boy, or the store employee, please let them know that I am deeply sorry that I didn’t make any effort to show them I was on their side. I’m sorry that I didn’t know until now that not being a racist is not enough — that I need to stand with them to fight racism in my own means. I need to make it my fight too. And I won’t make that mistake again.

Categories
Loving

A blog that’s gone to the dogs

I’m a dog person. Perhaps I could have been a cat person, but cats make my eyes burn like Vesuvius and my nose pour like Niagara Falls. So dog person it is. I’ve known a lot of dogs in my life, and I’ve been incredibly blessed to have shared my home and my family with three very special dogs.

IMO, dogs are powerful healing machines. I’ve felt a love from each one of my three that is unlike any other. It’s a love that inspires me to spread gratitude and compassion to everyone around me.

June holds some meaningful memories for me and my dogs, and this blog is for them.

Sam

When I was in ninth grade, my family got the runt of a Lab/Shephard litter. My parents named him Sam. He was considered a family dog; he loved everyone in the family, but I became his person.

Those high school years were tough for me. I am the youngest of three siblings, and my brother and sister were out of the house, living their own lives by then. I was left without any allies to deal with our alcoholic dad who — every day — played fetch with my emotions and self-esteem. At the same time, my mom was strict like a Catholic school nun. As such, I didn’t have a lot of friends.

Sam and I spent a lot of time hiding in my bedroom. Our house was filled with tension and fear, and I was lost and lonely. He was there for me to pet when I was sad or anxious, or he’d just stay by my side and rest his chin on me when I was too distracted to see him. Just so I wouldn’t feel alone. Sam became my emotional life preserver.

Sam became my emotional life preserver.

When I left for college, Sam relied on my mom (and she on him), but on weekends when I came home to visit, he greeted me like no one else in the family could. I began spending more and more time at school; Sam and I spent less and less time together, but he was always there to give me the best greeting whenever I came home.

When I was 24, I moved back home again; Sam was around nine or ten years old. He and I picked right back up as best friends like we had never been apart. Then the following year, my mom decided to divorce my dad. The plan was that my dad would get his own condo; my mom and I would move in with my sister, her husband and my two-year-old niece, and Sam would go live with my brother, his fiancé, and their two dogs.

I was heartbroken over being separated from Sam again. Probably more so than when I went to college. My brother and his fiancé were dog lovers, obviously, but their two dogs were bigger and rougher than Sam. I was sleeping one night in my bedroom in my sister’s house and suddenly it seemed like Sam was on the bed with me, the way he’d always been anytime we were sleeping in the same house together.

I was sobbing a little, and I looked him in the eyes and said, “I’m so sorry that you couldn’t come with me and that you got shipped to that house with those two big dogs, and I bet you never get any peace and, they’re probably messing with your food and water and toys all the time. I’m so worried about you, and I just want you to know that I love you and I hope you’re OK. Are you OK?”

Sam’s warm, dark eyes consoled me, and in a deep but kind voice he said to me, “Yea…”

Sam lived there with my brother for a few years, but one day my brother called and said he didn’t think Sam was doing so well. The vet determined that Sam had lung issues (no doubt from my parents’ chain-smoking). He told my brother and me what to watch for and that when it gets to the point when Sam is struggling too much with everyday stuff, we should bring him back.

My brother and I gave Sam all the love we had those last few days, and the rest of the family stopped by to say farewell. When we took Sam back to the vet’s office, as we sat in the waiting room, despite his suffering, Sam did everything he could to look strong and happy and to make us smile. Then when Sam was on the vet’s table, my brother and I hugged him and pet him and cried until the vet let us know that Sam had taken his last difficult breath. Then we cried some more.

Sam loved pork chop bones and playing hide-and-seek. His love for me had given me security and taught me courage on some of my scariest days and nights, and I will never forget that.

Gabbie

I bought a condo when I was 27. I lived there by myself less than six months when I decided I needed a companion, so I completed a greyhound adoption form. I asked for the smallest one they had. That was Gabbie. She was 50 pounds, which is as small as a full-grown greyhound should be.

I got her the month that she turned two years old. That was the minimum time an owner would hold a greyhound. If the dog hadn’t earned the owner enough money by then, they were out. So Gabbie’s size was likely her greatest gift. She didn’t have a single racing scar on her, so perhaps she either never raced because of her size, or if she did race, she was so far behind the pack that she missed all the action.

When I brought her home for the first time, she didn’t know how to go up stairs; she had never seen herself in a mirror. She didn’t know what it meant to be a pet. She didn’t come near me for two weeks. I sat on the couch one day crying because I had gotten a dog to keep me company, but all she did was lay by herself in the bedroom.

Then once she came out, she became one of the best friends I ever had. She was an incredibly graceful, poised and polite creature. Gabbie brought a lot of class to our relationship.

Gabbie brought a lot of class to our relationship.

She saw me through a couple of break-ups. She met my future husband and loved him as much as I do. She moved with us into our first house. I had been telling her for years that one day I’d get her a yard to run in, and I was so overjoyed to see her do just that for the first time.

She was with me through two pregnancies, and she was by my side as I took care of my young sons.

Then one day I was standing on the edge of the kitchen, getting water from the fridge dispenser, and I caught sight of Gabbie as she paused on the stairway landing before coming all the way down. Immediately I knew. How could I have missed it? I was so occupied all the time with my sons that I wasn’t noticing her health failing until that moment — when I knew it was too late.

It was almost the same story with the vet as had been the case with Sam. They told me her bloodwork indicated a severe battle with cancer; if they had to guess, they’d say it was in her stomach. For two straight weeks, anytime I was anywhere that was not in front of my sons or coworkers, I was crying. How could I have let her down like that?

Finally on a Saturday morning in June (it was the summer solstice, in fact), I woke up and knew it was time. Gabbie was 15 years old. She had become a great friend to our seven-year-old son (our four-year-old son was still too young), so I had to tell him how very sick she was before I left with her. I’ll never forgot returning from the vet and coming in the door. My son met me half-way up the stairs and saw that I had Gabbie’s collar in my hand.

I didn’t have to say a word. I can still hear him say to me, “But I wasn’t ready for this to be the last day!”

Gabbie loved running, big soft dog beds, and all of her toys. Her love for me gave me purpose when I needed to feel relevant, and I will never forget that.

Rosie

Gabbie had been gone a few years when my family and I moved into our forever home. We all could feel that our family needed another dog to be complete.

While my husband looked online at every dog listed by every animal rescue in a 50-mile radius, I was seeing redheads everywhere. I’d be doing ordinary, everyday stuff when suddenly I’d see Seth Green in my head. Or I’d turn on the TV and Sean White was being interviewed.

I said to my friends, “I have no idea who’s about to come into my life, but I know they are going to have red hair.”

On Father’s Day, my husband got us all in the car, and we headed to a local shelter. We were going to meet a puppy named Tammy that had been rescued with two brothers from the side of a road. When we arrived, the shelter staff took us to a visitation room and they came walking in with the most pitiful dog I ever saw.

She was small and scrawny and shivering. None of us wanted to pet her because her head was all wet and gross. We all looked at each other with a universal look of “uh-uh” and asked if we could see a few other dogs. They said sure; first they’d put Tammy back and then come get us to walk through the kennel.

When we entered the kennel, the first stall on the left had three puppies. In the middle was skinny little Tammy with her two big, plump brothers on either side of her. Each brother had one of Tammy’s ears in their mouths.

Now I could see it. This sweet girl wasn’t pathetic at all. She was stuck living with two brothers who were torturing her and eating her share of the dog food. I couldn’t let her endure that bullying for one more second. I didn’t check with my family for agreement or reinforcement. I simply turned to the staff person and said, “She’s coming home with us right now!”

“She’s coming home with us right now!”

The name Tammy didn’t suit this smart, resilient, soft auburn girl. We considered all the names for redheads: Ginger, Scarlett, Apple, Copper… We finally settled on Rosie.

She is unlike any dog I’ve ever known. The first few weeks she was with us, I used to look her in the eyes and ask, “Who’s in there?” It felt like there were things about me that she just knew.

Rosie is eight now, and she loves ear and belly rubs, playing fetch and family dance parties.

I’m grateful for every day I have to share with her. She’s Zen in a fur coat. She entices me to be calm and mindful. She makes it possible for anyone to love as much as she loves.

So those are the stories of my dogs. I hope you have someone in your life who loves you and inspires you to love others as much as these three have done for me.

Thank you for spending these moments with me, thinking about life. If you like what you’ve read, I’d love for you to share it. Spread some seeds…

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Growing

Remember the time I humiliated myself at the casino?

This weekend I faced my biggest fear since starting my blog. It’s the sole obstacle that kept me from blogging sooner.

What if I can’t think of anything to write?

Writer’s block. When it happens, I don’t try to strong-arm myself past it; I just let it go, confident that an idea will come to me when the timing and mood is right. But when I still didn’t have an idea a few hours before my self-imposed deadline for this week’s blog, I started getting nervous.

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Then for some strange reason, I remembered a really embarrassing story about something that happened to me all the way back in high school. It’s a story I hadn’t thought about in decades.

That’s when I asked myself, “Am I so bothered by the thought of not publishing a blog each week that I’d rather tell an awkward story about myself than not post anything at all?” You betcha!

Have a nice trip…

I don’t remember what year it was in high school when one of my teachers decided to take our class to a casino-hotel in Atlantic City for a career day field trip. We went to learn about the hospitality industry and the kinds of job opportunities that were available.

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This was back in the day when there was a dress code for being in the casino-hotels. People got spiffed up to go out, and since this was a career day trip, I dressed for the occasion. I wore a suit that was first worn by my big sister.

I’ve always idolized my sister. I tell everyone she is the smarter, prettier, and nicer one. As a kid, I loved wearing her hand-me-down clothes. That suit of hers that I wore was a wool burgundy tweed skirt and jacket. My sister was a homecoming candidate her senior year, and this was the suit she worn to the homecoming football game.

When I reached high school and was able to fit into my sister’s homecoming suit, I felt like I could almost fill her shoes. Only, her shoes were a lot less slippery than mine.

…see you next fall!

The day of the trip, my classmates and I had ridden the one-hour bus drive from our school to the casino-hotel. We had sat through the presentation on hospitality careers and taken a brief tour of the main floors of the hotel. As we were heading back to the school bus, we needed to go down one more floor to the transportation entrance.

To get there was a long, grand stairway with ornate red and gold rugs. Meticulously polished brass railings lined the stairs from top to bottom. Overhead, beautiful crystal chandeliers sparkled like diamonds. And alongside the stairs ran two really long escalators.

At the Atlantic City casino-hotels, about 25 percent of the patrons are senior citizens, and on that day, it seemed like all 25 percent were in that stairway heading back to their buses the same time as us.

My classmates slowed and gathered in line to ride the escalator down. I thought to myself, “Why is everyone waiting for the escalator when there’s this amazing stairway that we can stroll down?”

I thought to myself, “Why is everyone waiting for the escalator where there’s this amazing stairway that we can stroll down?”

Hardly anyone was taking the stairs, so I thought I’d be slick by rushing down and being at the bottom to greet my classmates as they got off the escalator. I began scampering down the stairs in the brand-new burgundy flats that I had bought to match my sister’s suit.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t aware how slippery the unworn soles were. All of a sudden both of my feet flew out from under me, and I began sliding down the stairs swiftly on my butt.

After bump, bump, bumping down a few steps, one of my shoes flew off and crashed into a brass railing. It struck such a loud and vibrating “bong” that everyone turned to see what was happening.

An old man in front of me spun around in time to see me sledding on my butt straight toward him. His face lit up like he was suddenly remembering his glory days as a baseball catcher, and I was trying to steal home to win the championship.

He uttered a few “Oh! Ohs!” put up his hands and said, “I’ve gotcha, honey!”

Thank God I skidded to a stop before I had a chance to bowl over the sweet old man. Someone else came over to hand me my shoe, and I walked down the rest of the stairs holding tightly to the railing.

All’s well that ends well

You can imagine the jokes I had to listen to from my friends who watched my not-so poised and graceful decent. But I’m pretty sure everyone had forgotten about it by the next day.

So, yes, there is a seed for thought even in this story. It relates to keeping a clear perspective on things in order to overcome fear or stress. The classic “what if” approach can work if you allow yourself to consider, “what if… a week goes by and I don’t have a topic to write about?” Am I more worried that others will see me as a disappointment or that I’ll see me that way? The truth is that either way life will go on.

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Writing my blog is supposed to be fun, but worrying about make-believe deadlines negates the point. So much of what we worry about and put pressure on ourselves for is not life-or-death situations. Yet we get lost sometimes in our perspective and treat them that way anyway. In doing so, we miss out on the joy, beauty, and laughter of life around us.

It’s more important to enjoy life and to laugh at ourselves–at the imperfections of ourselves–than to try being flawless all the time. For example, on that career day field trip, I wanted to appear sophisticated and all grown up, like how I saw my sister in that suit. But I ended up falling down the stairs and having my friends laugh at me.

But what if… I change my perspective just a little bit. I can see it’s possible that both things happened. What if… I achieved the most sophisticated-looking fall of anyone who’s ever gone down a flight of stairs on their butt. And when I stopped, turned and curtsied to the crowd once I was standing solidly at the bottom of the stairs, what if… my ability to laugh at myself was the most grown-up thing I did that day.

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When we put too much pressure on ourselves — especially around things that are supposed to be fun, we’re not enjoying life to its fullest. Life is too short to sweat the small stuff. Give yourself a break. Also, use sandpaper or a nail file to scuff the bottoms of new shoes. They’re less slippery that way.

Thank you for spending these moments with me, thinking about life. If you like what you’ve read, I’d love for you to share it. Spread some seeds…

Categories
Learning

Gratiness. Happitude.

Where does the balance rest between gratitude and happiness? Do you need to have gratitude to be happy? If you are happy, are you automatically grateful?

The other day I was watching a morning news anchor interview a celebrity. He asked her how she is coping during the pandemic. I heard her say, “I’m grateful to be happy.”

(To be honest, that’s not what she said. Later I re-watched the video and realized her reply was “I’m grateful to be healthy.” The kitchen faucet was running, which caused me to hear her incorrectly, but since what I thought I heard activated my introspection mode, that’s what I call a “happy accident.”)

I started wondering about the relationship between gratitude and happiness. Using the same remedy that appeased my curiosity about confidence and compliments, I began Googling. Here’s what I learned.

If it is peace you want, then it is gratitude you must find.

I don’t remember anyone ever talking about a journey to find gratefulness, but a journey to find happiness is talked about all the time. If happiness is your destination, then it seems like gratefulness will be one leg of your journey.

People with gratitude are seen to be more hopeful, energetic, forgiving, empathetic, and helpful. With all of those qualities taking the spotlight, negative thoughts get upstaged. Gloom is replaced with happiness, which changes your whole perspective, even across the expanse of your lifetime — past, present and future.

Your past

There’s no changing your past. Whether you see mostly happiness or something else when you look back, those days are in the book in permanent ink. Obviously, you can’t go back in time and undo your bad days, nor should you want to. Your life has been a combination of both the good and bad events and decisions that either you have chosen or have been put upon you.

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When you look back on your path, if you choose to focus on only the bad parts or only the parts that made you happy, you’re overlooking half of the story of you. You’re seeing an erratic pattern of random events that don’t add up to a complete picture.

However, when you look back and see how the good and bad stepping stones together define a clear path to where you are today, you can understand how each one has been an opportunity to grow and learn.

Being grateful for the whole path — good and bad, happy and sad — as the sum of your life means you’ve fully acknowledged your role in both your past successes and mistakes.

Your present

I think for you to feel grateful in the moment, your head and your heart need to be in agreement. For that, you may need to take an inventory of what you have vs. what you need — i.e. count your blessings. The way I see it, here are some must haves:

  • Health. You may be waging a major battle for your health, but like my mom always said, you could be in worse condition. Besides, no one is without even a minor health issue. Wherever your health falls within that range, you can be grateful for the good parts, and try not to take a single day for granted. When you feel gratitude for your health, you will work hard to improve the parts of your health that could be better.
  • People. You’ve not gotten where you are today without someone who was kind enough to offer advice or support, or to act as a role model or even an adversary, who sparked you to work harder at achieving your goals. When you are grateful for each person who has walked with you on your path, for however long or short of a time that has been, you expand your ability to feel compassion and love for others.
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  • Security. You can desire to have a bigger, fancier or more expensive house, car, toys, vacations, or whatever, but don’t be ungrateful for the ones you have now. What you have now may be just a stepping stone to bigger dreams, but these give you that perspective to know where you want to go and an idea of the level of work you need to put in to get there.
  • Purpose – Everyone wants to be needed and appreciated. You also need to be able to give warmth and value to others. Be grateful for the opportunities you have to share your natural and acquired gifts with others.

Your future

You’re here today, which means that every moment you’ve experienced from the time you were born until now has been a gift. Where do you want to go from here?

Do you want to repeat the past or go in a new direction? Both could be great options. Your past will forever guide your next steps. Having gratitude for that evolution can give you a stronger chance at steering your future in the direction you want to go.

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Here’s where gratitude can take you:

  • Positivity. Gratitude leads to optimism. Optimism is characterized by positive energy and emotions.
  • Companionship. People want to be around others who are optimistic and positive. In that regard, gratitude will strengthen your relationships with others.
  • Encouragement. When you are grateful for the people who inspire and support you, you let them know what it means for you to have them in your life. In doing this, you are also strengthening their self-esteem by letting them see they’ve made a difference in someone’s life.
  • Resilience. Gratitude is like armor in the face of stress and trauma. It helps you be more proactive in developing solutions. And with stronger relationships, you’ll be more likely to lean on close friends and family. All of this helps you move through difficult times faster and easier. This includes stress and trauma from your past, present and future.
  • Caring. More than just looking at the bright side of things, when you can maintain gratitude for even negative experiences — you can see them as opportunities to learn and grow.
  • Compassion. When you have gratitude, you’re more dedicated to helping others cope with stress and trauma by being positive and empathetic. You are more forgiving.

Think about it some more

I’m just a deep thinker. For insight from educated practitioners, a number of articles I read referenced these experts:

Thank you for spending these moments with me, thinking about life. If you like what you’ve read, I’d love for you to share it. Spread some seeds…

Categories
Learning

What are your words to live by?

I think we all have them — those quotations, sayings, adages, mottos, etc. that we rely on for motivation — a kick in the pants, for inspiration, or to help make sense of the world.

They could be something you’ve heard a family member repeat.

“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

They could come from a character in a book or movie that left an impression on you.

“Be the ball.”

Or they could be what someone crocheted and your guidance counsel hung in their office.

Forget the mistake. Remember the lesson.”

I have three. I’m sure you’re familiar with the first two. The third one I made up myself, but it’s probably a knock-off of something someone else said better.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way

I use this one a lot. I feel it implies that difficulties are a given, and that success is possible regardless. You will face obstacles and frustrations every day, but you will keep trying different approaches until you achieve your goal.

Facing the difficulty is where the learning starts, because you need to think differently than you had when you first started. You create a plan B. Sometimes plan B leads to a plan C or D, or even further. If you will stop at nothing to achieve this goal, you will find a way.

There’s no better example of this saying that I can share than this story about my mom. She was born with poor health — wasn’t even expected to live very long. The two life-long issues she faced were low blood circulation and bad digestion.

To compound matters, for most of her life she didn’t do a lot to mediate these conditions. Her eating habits were far from nutritious — she barely ate vegetables, and absolutely no fruit. Butter and gravy were her favorites. At the same time, she smoked cigarettes for more than 40 years — right up to the day a doctor told her she was going to lose both of her feet due to peripheral artery disease.

First they took her left foot. Then a few months later, her right foot. She was 75 years old, and six weeks after the second amputation, she was walking on two prosthetic legs. The visiting nurses who had taught her to walk were obligated to discharge her early from their care because they had no progress left to report that would justify the expense to the insurance company.

My mom was completely honest with herself and everyone about how her own decisions had brought this drastic condition upon her. But there was no way she was going to live the rest of her life sitting in a wheelchair. She would not accept not walking again, and she didn’t. For her age and as frail as she was, this was a stupendous achievement.

Timing is everything

When I was a kid, the local convenience store had a slushy drink machine behind the counter. There were two flavors — two individually spinning left and right containers. Rotating on top of each mixer was an 12-inch or so tall molded character that sort of resembled the Big Boy mascot.

They each spun at their own speed, which correlated to how much frozen drink was in their mixers. Sometimes the one on the left rotated faster; sometimes the one on the right was the fast one.

I remember standing there time and again watching them spin in their own cycles and waiting for the fateful moment when they’d be perfectly aligned. Each still on their own journey, fast or slow as it may be, knowing that in time their cycles would once again be in sync for just that spilt second.

Watching those little guys spin isn’t what formed my philosophy on life, but it does make a pretty sweet analogy.

I’m a believer that our lives progress in cycles rather than linearly. As your life is coming around on a cycle (imagine you’re the left-side slushy drink guy), there are experiences and opportunities that are cycling near you (like the right-side slushy drink guy). Each time your life comes in perfect alignment with a particular experience or opportunity, you will make a decision to accept or reject it. Sometimes embracing it is the best choice and other times letting it pass is the best move.

Whatever way that decision works out will influence your choice the next time your cycle and this chance come full circle again. The opportunity may not look the same or sound the same as it did the last time around, but the underlying lesson to be learned is the same, and that’s what really matters.

Here’s my favorite story that demonstrates this. In 1999, I had created a fundraiser for a cancer-focused charity organization. Some friends and I had coin boxes at a craft show and were collecting donations from passersby.

I was also waiting for a special guest to arrive. She was the mom of a young boy, Ryan, who had all but won his battle with cancer. I had spoken with her a few times on the phone, and when she heard about my fundraising event, she offered to come meet me. She had planned to arrive shortly after we started, but she was running late. Really late. Like, a few hours late.

In the meantime, many of the shoppers stopped to tell us about their loved ones who were suffering or who had lost their lives to cancer. Many people were asking about how the program helps cancer patients, and I answered their questions the best I could.

In particular, one kind, quiet man approached us and said he lived right up the street. He told me his teenage son had just been diagnosed with leukemia. He had been reading a lot about the disease to try to understand what his son was facing and how he could best help his son through this trial. His wife, he said, wasn’t coping as well with the news. He said he’d tried to talk with her about it often, but she didn’t want to hear anything. She was in denial.

I listened to him. That was the best I had to offer him. But that was really all he was looking for from me. After a few minutes he left.

Ryan’s mom finally arrived a little while later. She introduced herself but before she could get through an apology for being so late, another woman interrupted us. With tear-filled eyes, she said, “My husband told me your group was here, and I decided to walk up to see you. Our son has been diagnosed with cancer…,” she paused, choked back her tears and continued, “And I don’t know what to do.”

Ryan’s mom said to her sincerely, “My son has cancer too.” She embraced the woman, and we all cried.

According to my clock, Ryan’s mom was late, but whatever speed her mixer was cycling on that day, whatever decisions prolonged her from journeying to the craft show, they allowed her to arrive at the exact time as the mother down the street, who decided that would be the moment when she’d start to deal with her son’s cancer. That’s when I realized that timing is everything.

Try something. If it doesn’t work out, try something else.

I have to use my brother as the best example for this one. He’s not had an easy life, and he’ll tell you what his mistakes were that contributed to his occasional troubles. But perhaps his greatest achievement was deciding to make a career change in his late 40s.

Up until then, he operated printing presses. The big ones — 6-color Heidelbergs. He enjoyed print shop in high school — he made me a mirror with my name on it that hangs in my home office. From there he went to a professional printing school. Then he joined the U.S. Navy and was assigned as the printer for a portion of the fleet. After four years of military service, he continued working as a pressman for two more decades.

He printed a couple of things that impressed the heck out of me. One was the official NASA poster of one of the space shuttle crews. Another was the cover of a fantasy novel that was part of a hugely popular series about a young wizard and his friends at wizard school. But that kind of printing was a dying industry. The demand for his skills dropped significantly year over year, and it got harder for him to find work in that field.

He decided to start over. Like Rodney Dangerfield, he went back to school — to become a heating and air conditioning technician. And like Rodney, we was old enough to be the father of most of his classmates. He instinctively took the role of mentor to many of them, some of whom still check in with him for advice.

Today my brother is trusted by his company owners to lead jobs, oversee job sites, and strengthen the reputation and success of the company. His coworkers look up to him, and his customers are immensely grateful for his work. He treats their homes as if he was repairing his own, and they can see he’s giving them that much care.

I’ve always looked up to my brother, and he’s a great role model for me to see that it pays to take chances and try new things. Like they also say, “The bigger the risk, the greater the reward.”

So that’s where my latest “words to live by” come from. I realized I need to be less of a perfectionist and more willing to try new things. To see where they go and to let go of them if I don’t like the result. I can always try something else new instead. Sort of along the same lines as “Go that way, really fast. If something gets in your way, turn.” Wouldn’t you say so?

Whatever your words to live by may be and wherever they came from, they hold meaning for you. Keep them close to your heart and share them with people around you so they can get a sense of your dreams and priorities.

I’d love you to share the words you live by in the comments. Let us know how they help you to keep growing, learning and loving.

Thank you for spending these moments with me, thinking about life. If you like what you’ve read, I’d love for you to share it. Spread some seeds…

Categories
Growing

Confidence part 2 – What’s wrong with this picture?

A few months ago I got the chance at my 9 to 5 job to have my portrait taken. The last time I had a portrait done was for my college graduation. It would be nice to have a professional profile picture, and since I was planning to launch my blog, the timing was perfect.

Right away I began planning what I’d wear. A classic blue blouse would be professional. Not wearing a jacket would make it more casual. And the color would bring out my eyes. That was easy.

Next was jewelry. The pieces needed to be subtle. I picked a simple solitaire necklace and pearl earrings. For a bit of hidden character, you’ll have to look again at the earrings to see the pearls are being held by talons.

Picture day came, and I waited my turn with a few colleagues. Finally I was next. The photographer and his assistant went through the usual routine of trying lighting variances, adjusting the tilt of my head, the lean of my body, smile/don’t smile, look here/look away, and so forth.

At the end, when the photographer typically compliments you to give you confidence about how the shoot went, I was really, really hoping he’d say I had looked beautiful, but instead he said, “You did great. Your pictures will look very… sincere.”

Sincere? What’s up with that? Did he just give me the photographer’s equivalent of someone setting you up on a blind date — “she’s got a great personality?”

OK, I’ll be honest. Remember the old joke about the guy who breaks both of his hands and asks the doctor if he’ll be able to play the piano after the operation? The doctor says, “Of course!” and the guy says, “That’s great because I wasn’t able to play the piano before!”

That’s pretty much me hoping the photographer would say I was beautiful. I may have had a pretty good, long run of being cute, but I know I’ve never been beautiful. If the photographer had said that, he’d be seriously exaggerating. But sincere? Really?

Settling for meh

I’ll admit I was anxious waiting for the proofs to be ready. When the email arrived with a link to the collection, I scrolled past a few of my colleagues – all of whom looked absolutely amazing – and stopped dead when I got to me. “That’s me?” I thought, “That’s what I look like?”

The person who I was seeing in the proofs is not the person who I see in the mirror at home. Somehow I’m confident when I look at myself in the comfort of my own home, but now looking at me in these photos, I felt like I don’t know who I am any longer. Inside my head I feel like I’m still 26 years old and a size six. Where the heck did the last 25 years go… and where did those last 25 pounds come from?

No exaggeration — there were 75 shots of me, and I meticulously examined each one. Teeth look like a chipmunk. Head tilt looks like a terrier. Not smiling enough. Smiling too much. Right eye too droopy, too watery. Finding a shot that I didn’t shake my head at was difficult.

After a really long time, I narrowed it down from 75 photos to six — then to just two. I spent a whole lot of time deliberating over this decision. I was acting as if the lives of my unborn grandchildren rest on it. Finally I gave notice of which photo I picked along with four touch-ups to be made.

When I received the final portrait, the changes had been made with such skill that you’d never know the difference, but I was still not happy with it. My attitude was, “It is what it is…,” as pitiful as that is to say. Slowly I began to accept the “old lady” in this photo and started uploading her to all of my online profiles.

Seeing myself for who I really am

Then a few nights ago, I was binge watching Little Fires Everywhere. Kerry Washington’s character is a photographic artist. Reese Witherspoon’s character suggested to her that she could earn steady income by being a portrait photographer. Here’s how Kerry’s character responded in the book version: “…the thing about portraits is, you need to show people the way they want to be seen. And I prefer to show people as I see them.”

Thankfully, that brief statement brought me back to where I ought to be. I may have been a lot cuter when I was 26, but I was also a whole lot less wise. Back then, I gave more consideration to my looks than my character, and that perspective was leaving a bigger impression on people than I could have ever imagined.

Once again I heard the photographer’s last words to me: “You look sincere.”

I remembered that being sincere is way more important to me these days than being seen as beautiful or cute. External beauty fades, but internal beauty is a thing of character. When my mom died nine years ago, so many people told me how much my mom had inspired them. Not one person mentioned what they thought of my mom’s looks.

That’s when I had decided to honor my mom by working a whole lot harder on being beautiful on the inside. I’m still nowhere near the end of that journey, but I’m loving every step of it. And now I have renewed confidence to keep moving in that direction – in the direction of true sincerity.

So to undo all the pressure I put on myself believing my portrait had to be perfect, here’s what the untouched photo looks like, and below are the things that were changed:

  1. Removed the hood ornament from the car that I was leaning on. It was pointing up out of my left shoulder like a misplaced rhino horn.
  2. Removed the clasp from my necklace. It had slipped around the right side of my neck.
  3. Removed the two bumps near my left brow. Sun damage.
  4. Whitened my teeth a bit. Too many Cokes and other sodas consumed.

If it is your intention to continuously learn and grow, then you need to be reminded once in a while who you once were and how far you’ve come. That backward glance could be to see how much your appearance has changed over the years, or it could be about something actually important, like how much you’ve focused on and contributed to others, to make others happy and to help them have a better life. You shouldn’t continuously focus on the past, but taking a look back once in a while is a great way to see how much further you want to go, and to strengthen your confidence to get you there.

Thank you for spending these moments with me, thinking about life. If you like what you’ve read, I’d love for you to share it. Spread some seeds…

Categories
Learning

Confidence part 1 – The power of compliments

“I will be generous with my love today. I will sprinkle compliments and uplifting words everywhere I go. I will do this knowing that my words are like seeds and when they fall on fertile soil, a reflection of those seeds will grow into something greater.”

― Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free

At my 9 to 5 job, I work with a woman who is as beautiful on the outside as she is on the inside. I admire her poise, gentleness, and intelligence. One day a few months ago I watched as another colleague complimented her on a work achievement. Her response to the kind words was graceful and heartfelt, but then, as if that wasn’t enough, she immediately paid it forward. She thoughtfully turned the attention to someone else with a sincere compliment of their recent achievement.