Excerpt from an article I just read on idealists:

“You have more thoughts before 9 AM than most people have in a day.

Because your mind is the internal equivalent of the Civil War.”

Because your mind is the internal equivalent of the Civil War.

Man, what an apt description.

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Surrounded by Beauty

Lake Michigan

There is so much beauty in this world. Out your window, in the person next to you or the one you pass on the street, sometimes in the cracks in the sidewalk or the most unexpected places. Sometimes in some of the sounds we tune out. Pause for a minute and look for it. Listen. Seek it out. Find the beauty in your days, large and small. Take a moment. Breathe it in. It helps restore your spirit. It lets your soul breathe. Sometimes it’s subtle and you have to really look for it, but if you seek it, you will find it. You’re surrounded by beauty in so many forms. Don’t miss it!

Letter to My 10-Years-Ago Self, an excerpt: Things I’ve Learned

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[I am participating in a 30-day writing boot camp (and pretty jazzed about it). Our first assignment was to write a letter to our 10-years-ago self, and then finish it up with some life lessons learned. Turns out I had a LOT to say to my 10-years-ago self, mostly quite personal (it’s been an eventful and at times very difficult decade). I surprised myself by writing for a solid 90 minutes and roughly 2600 words. Beats staring at a blank page with writer’s block. Anyway. Here’s the excerpt of the things I told my 10-years-ago self that I have learned in life thus far, including the last 10 years.]

1. Middle-age isn’t nearly as “old” or as bad as people make it out to be. You will really not mind being here. You are much more comfortable in your own skin. You worry far less about what you look like or whether people like you. You are much more comfortable with an attitude of “This is me and I make no apologies for being me.” This especially holds true in regard to your being sensitive and deeply feeling, so very high in empathy. You no longer care if people think you’re “weird” in your depth of feeling or the way you think, or look at you like you’re from another planet. This is very freeing. You now think, “Love me or leave me, this is me.” It has taken you a very long time to fully embrace who/how you are. It’s about dang time.

2. One of the biggest lessons of the decade – and most difficult: You need to stop giving your precious time to people who don’t have time for you (we’re still working on this one – Self, we’re bad at this).

AND

3. Other people’s behavior is not a reflection of you. The fact that some people don’t value you does not mean you don’t have value and worth. Your worth comes from within, not from without. You cannot let people mess with your head and your heart in that regard the way you have in the past. (Self – Be patient with yourself. We have to undo years – nay, decades – of negative reinforcement in this area.)

4. One of THE most difficult things to do is to trust again after being devastated, to be vulnerable again after having been deeply wounded, to reach out again after being rejected. Do it anyway, no matter how terrifying it is; BUT be discerning. Choose wisely. Even then, you can (and will) get kicked in the teeth on occasion. You WILL get hurt. But being vulnerable is how you reach people. It’s how you connect and encourage. It’s who you are and when you close yourself off, you’re not being true to your authentic self. You’re being just a mere shadow of yourself and it just feels wrong. I know this is really tough for you, that it would be so easy to close off and become cynical, and honestly, it will hurt like hell sometimes, but fight that and stay open. Believe me, I know how very hard that is to do, how very scary it is to risk all that hurt yet again, but I have to believe some people really are worth the risk.

5. People will disappoint you. Even if you have very few expectations or none at all, people will still disappoint you. We are all human and flawed. It will happen. It’s how they behave next that matters. COMMUNICATE. Always listen and work toward understanding why people do what they do. Be forgiving.

6. You will disappoint people. You are nowhere near perfect. You are very flawed. This does not make you disposable, not good enough, or unlovable. Own your mistakes. Apologize. Make it right if you can. Again, COMMUNICATE. The people who truly care will not leave you because you make mistakes. You are NOT your mistakes.

7. Your dark periods and tough times will show you who your true friends are. The people who draw near when you are at your lowest or most difficult and not great to be around – those are the people who truly care. They are there for you, not because they need or want something from you or because of what you can do for them, but because they care about you. Keep those people.

8. Everyone has hurts, struggles, insecurities. They are often not visible. Be compassionate. It is not difficult to be kind and give the benefit of the doubt. We don’t know what people are carrying, and we all carry something. Sometimes a word can be the straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back or a literal lifesaver. Being kind is always an option. It is a choice. Always choose to be kind.

9. You will never not make a stupid face in photos except for that rare selfie (and you know how hard that is!). Give it up and just laugh at all the many derp faces people capture of you and try not to avoid the camera like the plague. I know you HATE having your picture taken, but your kids will cherish those derp photos some day, so force yourself to be in more photos. You know how much Mom avoided the camera and as a result how few pics you have of your parents, especially Mom, and how much you cherish the few you do have. So do it for your kids so they’ll have those precious memories. (It’s not like they aren’t an accurate reflection of your true goofy self anyway.)

10. Laughter and a sense of humor are still – always – one of the most imperative necessities in life and one of the things that makes life worth living. Never lose your sense of humor. There are bad things coming and your sense of humor will help save your sanity.

11. Time is fleeting. It goes faster and faster. Focus on what matters most (people – it is always people.) Spend as much time as possible with your kids. You will blink and they will be graduating, engaged, starting lives of their own. You won’t believe how fast it goes. I still struggle with it some days.

12. Say I love you. Say it often. Tell people how you really feel about them. Never assume they know. You’ve always been aware of this and pretty good about it, but it bears repeating. We both know how life changes on a dime and people are just gone in literally a heartbeat. Make sure people know how you feel about them. It avoids regrets, yes, but even more importantly, they need to know. Don’t make people wonder where they stand with you or question if you even care. That’s an awful place for someone to be. (You know, you’ve been there.) Remove their doubts by telling them. Trust me, they need to hear it, even if you’ve told them before or 100 times before. It can make all the difference if you take the time to tell someone that they matter to you, that you care. Don’t take for granted that you can do it later. Sometimes now is all you have.

We have much, so much to learn, Self. I swear every year we realize more and more how little we know. Hang in there. Here’s to us both growing in wisdom and grace over the next 10 years and to making 10 years from now me/us proud of who we become.

On Movies, Stories, and Buried Treasure

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Awhile back, I watched Life of Pi. It was beautiful. I believe I had read “visually stunning” and I cannot argue with that. I am sorry that I did not see it on the big screen. Some of the scenes literally had us “oohing” and “aahing.”

What’s interesting to me is that one of my kids was kind of interested in seeing it, one had heard it was about a boy and a tiger and wanted to see it, and one had heard from their friends that it was “long and boring” and not worth seeing, so didn’t really want to see it.

I mentioned that maybe they didn’t care for it because it wasn’t your typical exciting movie, but that did not mean it wasn’t a movie worth watching, a story worth hearing. Some movies have a slower pace and require that you give them a bit more of a chance, a bit more of an investment, but they can surprise you.

After it was finished, they were all glad they had seen it. They all liked it a lot and the one who had heard it was “boring” was glad they had not listened to their friends and had watched it with us.

It wasn’t an action movie. It wasn’t wildly exciting and didn’t have us on the edge of our seats. It required some investment up front to get to know the main character, learning his back story, before we could understand the main part of the story.

The movie really was beautiful to look at, but it also had, I thought, many subtle insights into human behavior, and some subtle lessons, woven throughout. It was well worth the time invested.

And this started me thinking …

Sometimes it is the same with people. There are those who are loud or flashy or charismatic or funny or outgoing (all in a good way) and immediately draw our attention, much like an action movie or a thriller. They draw us in right away.

Then there are those who may be shy, or quiet, or maybe who have been hurt and are a bit more hesitant to engage, or are just a bit different from us, so we either tend to overlook them because they don’t draw our attention, or maybe they are just a bit harder to get to know, for whatever reason.

Those people can take a bit more investment, a bit more persistence, a bit more “work” to get to know them. Some of those people may be written off as “boring” or “not worth the time.”

Take the time. Make the effort.

I often think of people as buried treasure, not unlike a sunken ship or a diamond mine. Some take more time and effort to get to the good stuff, but oh the payoff.

People are treasure and to be treasured. I believe I can learn something from every single person with whom I cross paths. I believe that people matter and that they contain a wealth of good things, i.e., treasure, though often we need to take the time to “dig” for it, as it is not always readily apparent. I like to think of myself as a “treasure hunter” and my treasure is found in people.

You may be surprised at what a treasure people are if you invest a little time, if you give them a chance. They are worth it.

Everyone is.

There is not a person alive who does not have a story to tell.

They might not be the most captivating storyteller. They might not have the most exciting story. Or maybe their story is absolutely stunning, just told in a simple way. Maybe they have a story that you need to hear. It could be a funny anecdote that is just the bit of humor needed to brighten your day. It could be the start of a wonderful friendship. It could be a lesson that is life-changing.

It could be buried treasure.

Time

Saturday evening and it’s quiet.

It’s not truly quiet, which is a rarity when a 12-year-old boy is present, but still, it feels quiet.

My girl left last night and when my girl leaves, for a little while it’s like the air is sucked out of the house. The atmosphere is different without her. It’s as if the house knows she’s gone again too, and it requires a day or two to regain it’s equilibrium, just like me, to adjust to her absence again.

Even though she’s called me twice today and I’ve heard her voice, it’s not the same as her being present. I know it’s only 3 weeks until she’ll be back, and those 3 weeks are ridiculously busy this year and surely they’ll fly by, and yet it will simultaneously be a long 3 weeks.

Time.

Clock

I think often about how odd it is, passing in a blink as well as feeling interminable, sometimes at the exact same time. I often wonder if my perception of time is similar to or different from how others experience it. There are memories of people that are so vivid I feel I can almost touch them and surely they were just a few weeks or months ago, not decades. Then there are other things that no matter how I strain, I can’t quite recall, or that are from the very same time period as the vivid ones, yet they seem a lifetime ago.

Time. 

Memories and feelings can make people feel as near as a heartbeat, just beyond the reach of our fingertips, yet as unreachable as if on the other side of a great chasm.

What Is the Best Thing that Anyone Has Ever Said to You?

What is the best thing that anyone has ever said to you?

A friend posed this question to me awhile back.

I’ve been pondering this for awhile now, and I know there is something I am forgetting, a moment when I remember saying the exact words “that’s one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me.” The fact that I can’t recall what it was now is driving me batty.

I can say that I have been told several times that I am easy to talk to and, even better, the words “I trust you” and “I trust you completely.” When someone says that to me, especially someone who hasn’t really known me all that long, or maybe not even actually met me but communicated with me only through some form of the written word, that means the world to me, that they have that much faith in me, that they feel they can trust me with their more private selves, and I value that incredibly highly. I don’t even know how to aptly put into words how that makes me feel. Deeply honored.

However, one instance in particular does stand out in my mind.

A few years ago while we were out shopping, my kids opted to take a rest around a patio table that was set up in the store while we went to check something out. (My oldest was old enough to be responsible for them.) When we returned, there was an older gentleman sitting at the table with the kids, chatting.

He told us who he was, his age – in his eighties, I believe, and a bit of his personal history, that he had met all kinds of people in his lifetime. He then went on to tell us that he had been chatting with my kids, and what a pleasant exchange they’d had.

He said he wanted to take the opportunity to let us know what a nice little family we were, that my children were well mannered, bright, and how he was impressed with their answers to his questions about various topics. He even went on to say that he thought my youngest could become President one day, that he had leadership qualities, and that he would certainly vote for him.

What really got me, however, was when he made a point to say that as parents we were really doing something right, that we were raising really great kids.

As someone who more often than not has wondered if I am doing anything right as a parent, who has often experienced self-doubt and felt like I have floundered badly, this was really something to hear.

I have keenly felt the loss of the benefit of being able to go to my own parents for wisdom and parenting advice, or even encouragement, so this struck right at the heart of me. After he left, I welled up with tears – and am again now just thinking about it as I write this – and I don’t think I was able to speak much for awhile.

For a complete stranger to take the time to get to know my children a little, to see such good qualities in them, and to make a point to offer such words of encouragement and praise about parenting them, that has really stayed with me, and is truly one of the very nicest things anyone has ever said to me.

Shattered Glass and the Kindness of Strangers

Once upon a time, my family and I were on a week-long road trip. We traveled through several states, stopping to explore places that struck our fancy, with the last leg of our journey being an overnight hotel stay, then a day spent at a large zoo there, followed by the 6-hour drive home.

However. 

When we went out to put our bags in the truck the next morning, this is what we found.

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Someone had broken into about 10 cars in the parking lot of the hotel, smashing in the windows, and stealing everything of value inside.

Unfortunately, we had not thought to remove our car dual DVD player we had purchased for the kids for the trip, the GPS, some games, a power converter we had also purchased for the trip, and a few other items, including our checkbook.

My son, who NEVER left his Nintendo DS in the car, forgot it for the first time ever that night, and it was stolen too. If you’ve ever had a kid who was quite fond of their video games, you can imagine how unhappy he was. None of these things were visible, all hidden under the seats and in seat pockets, but the thief apparently just smashed in random vehicle windows all over the parking lot and then ransacked the insides for whatever he could find.

The glass though. It was like a bomb had exploded inward. It was EVERYWHERE. Thousands of tiny pieces of glass in every nook and cranny of the truck. I couldn’t believe one window could make that much shattered glass. We couldn’t possibly travel in it as it was. It wasn’t safe to even try to get inside. We were 6+ hours from home with all our suitcases and no place to go.

What on earth were we going to do?

We had to rely on the kindness of strangers. The hotel staff was wonderful. They gave us back our room for our kids to hang out in and a place to stow our luggage while we figured out what to do. We filed the police report and made arrangements with a glass company to come and replace the window later that day. Once all those things had been taken care of, we sat down to figure out what to do next while we waited for the truck to be fixed.

The kids were understandably quite upset, though to their credit, they tried to see it as an unexpected adventure. We loved a good adventure, and I’ve always told them some of the best parts of a road trip are the unexpected and unplanned things that happen, but this was not quite what we had in mind to make the end of our trip “exciting.”

While chatting with the hotel staff, we mentioned we had intended to spend the day at the local zoo, but that clearly wasn’t a possibility now. And then something unexpected happened. They happened to have 4 free passes for admission to the zoo, so we would only need to purchase 1 ticket instead of 5. Then the manager and another staff member volunteered to chauffeur us there and back in their personal vehicles.

They stored our luggage safely in their office, gave us the tickets, took us to the zoo, and arranged to pick us up about 5 hours later. I am sure they felt a certain amount of responsibility to us as their hotel customers, but it was no fault of the hotel that someone had chosen to break into a slew of vehicles in their parking lot. Allowing us more time in our room to sort things out was something I think would be fairly common practice in a situation such as that.

However, I think that giving us the zoo tickets and being our personal chauffeurs so that our kids wouldn’t miss the planned trip to the zoo – and to try to boost their spirits after being upset about not only losing their things, but feeling a bit violated after seeing their truck seats covered in shards of glass – was going above and beyond, and it was enormously appreciated.

What started out as a very upsetting morning and could have been a long and unhappy day, ended up being a fun afternoon at the zoo and a rather enjoyable day. When my kids got back and talked to their friends about their vacation, as well as writing those back to school papers about summer vacation, the one statement we heard again and again was, “We got robbed!”

Certainly, it was a memorable event. My kids have been taught to be kind, and I have watched them extend kindness to strangers themselves many times over, but I think being on the receiving end of it in a situation like that and realizing what a big difference those simple kindnesses from strangers made for us that day, really brought it home to them in a personal way how kindness can make a big impact.

For me, that is what is truly memorable.

[Oh, and all that glass? The people who replaced the window vacuumed the car out for us as best they could, we laid our jackets down on our seats, and still found glass all around us. We continued to find pieces of glass coming out of seemingly nowhere not for months, but for years.]

Photo credit: jeffc5000 / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Controversy

“I just can’t believe all the things people say, Controversy …”

Today’s writing prompt asks what is the most controversial thing I’ve ever written on my blog.

I strive for honesty in expressing my opinions in my posts, as in life, but always respectfully and always trying to see the other person’s point of view. I have shared my thoughts elsewhere on the web before starting this blog, and I shared one of those posts, http://www.blogher.com/yesallwomen-yesallmen, on BlogHer last spring.

At the time, it was a trending topic and as it is something that has affected me in various ways most of my adult life, I felt I should share some of that, with the hopes that maybe it would give people who didn’t understand it well a better glimpse into the ways it can affect a person.

I don’t know how controversial it was, since it was just my own personal thoughts and experiences, but it is probably my most read post in any forum, especially considering it wasn’t featured anywhere and it was my very first post on that particular blog site.

“Thirty-Two Plus a Few, Thirty-Four Plus some More”

Do I enjoy growing old or do I fight against it?

Yes.

There are things to dislike about growing old.

Duh. Of course there are things to dislike about growing old. The list is long! There are the dreaded wrinkles and sags. Our bodies begin to creak and groan. Things begin to grow in weird places. Hormones can get whacky. We don’t recover as quickly as we used to or have the same amount of energy we once did. We have far more responsibilities than we did in our younger years. Some days we feel old and tired.

I’d like to say I proudly declare my age and embrace it, but I really don’t share it. People seem to think I look younger than I am, and I rarely feel the need to disabuse them of that notion, I think in large part because my mother ingrained in me when I was younger regarding a woman’s age that “a lady never tells and a gentleman never asks.” She had a thing about no one knowing her age, and for a very long time I really didn’t know how old she was. It might have had something to do with the fact that whenever one of us kids would ask her how old she was, her answer was always, “32 plus a few” and a few years later, “34 plus some more.”

But wait, there’s more!

Indelible Marks

I think …

Some things just leave an indelible mark on your soul.

The words that cannot be unheard.  The sights that cannot be unseen.  The actions that cannot be undone. The events that cannot be unlived.

These indelible marks are imprinted on our souls so deeply that we are forever fundamentally changed in some way.

We can move on from them, overcome them.

Unlike scars, that sometimes can be seen, but do eventually heal.

I think these indelible marks are like invisible ink, unseen, often forgotten.

Until circumstances are just right and, suddenly, like invisible ink, there they are, coming to light, surprising us, making us realize that they were there all along, still affecting us.

I also think …

that these marks don’t always have to be negative.

That you can leave positive indelible marks on another’s soul.

With caring.  With compassion.

With love.

You can mark another’s soul so deeply that those marks can come to light when they least expect it as well.

Giving them something to cling to in a time of grief.  Faith when they are lost.  A warmth in the cold.  A light in a dark night of their soul.  A reason to hold on.

Be mindful what indelible marks you leave on another’s soul.