Category Archives: Life as I Know It

The Last Word on Suffering

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I had an epiphany. I finally understand the crucifixion.crucifixion

It happened like this.

Event One:

I was staying with a friend who told me that she had trouble sleeping. After several days, I asked if I could make an observation about her inability to find sleep. She said “No, I’d rather you didn’t. A lot of people have given me advice about insomnia, and they don’t understand my problem.” I answered “OK. That’s why I asked.” But she continued, and I listened in order to try to better understand her perspective. (I’m paraphrasing)

“Sometimes when there is an experience of deep trauma while you’re sleeping, and then fear of what might happen again, you just can’t let yourself be “asleep at the wheel.” I found her self-awareness and ability to communicate her exact dilemma inspired, but her inability to want to heal it perplexing.

Conclusion: We choose to hold onto our suffering and we believe no one else can understand it.

Event Two:

I watched a woman be a total bitch to a guy who liked her. She actually laughed at him. He turned to me – a person he’d met a few days before  –  and shrugged.  I shrugged back.

Conclusion: People deliberately cause other people to suffer through their unkindness.

Event Three:

I recently related a story about how I was humiliated as a kid. As I told my friend about it, I realized I could still feel the betrayal of people I had believed were my friends. It still brought my eyes to the verge of tears and my throat clenched as my breathing grew shallow. I finished my story in a cracking voice.  I was that kid again. I am that kid still.

Conclusion:  We are all children, wounded and not knowing why.

Catalyst: My 50th Birthday

As this big day approaches, and coincides with the arrival of my first grandchild, I’ve taken to reviewing the journey so far. More to the point, I’ve actually started a travel journal. So, as a good middle-aged adventurer, I’m creating my bucket list.  But, before I could start thinking of all the things I want to do, I needed to make a list of what I’ve already done (and thereby prove I am indeed ready to kick the bucket).

After logging the places I’ve been and cool stuff I’ve tried, I thought I should record other milestones of my life. What have I experienced that other people haven’t or won’t? What traumas have I survived?  I thought about that last one for a few minutes. It’s a long list. And I’m very grateful to say Everything. I’ve survived it all. Not only that, but I’m thriving, happy and at peace. I’m glad I focus on the good stuff because boy, I’d be totally sad if I just thought about all that other crap. And then I questioned the Universe – Why do people hold on to their pain? Why do they cause others to suffer? Why do we tolerate witnessing this abuse?

And the answer came:  Because they don’t get it. People feel alone in their pain yet are too afraid to share it. They even feel that no one could possibly understand their suffering.  They believe that their grief or loss or heartbreak is somehow unique. They insist on describing – sometimes in great detail – all of their symptoms. Often they repeat this list over and over until they believe that the symptoms are the cause of the pain. They hurt others and stand by as others are hurt to reassure themselves they are not the only one suffering.

So back to my original point – the crucifixion.

Bottom line: It seems to me that the only way Jesus could stop people from wallowing in their own ego-driven self-pity long enough to be kind to others and not perpetuate the inhumanity we inflict on each other was to set the bar.  It’s the all-time-great decision of one man to say:

“Look, no one’s suffering is bigger than mine. I totally can relate. Get over yourself. We all know pain. We all have witnessed cruelty. Once and for all, you haven’t suffered any more than anyone else, just differently. If you need an example, look at me. Been there. Done that. I get it. I might not know your particular brand of pain, but then again, you don’t know mine. Just know that we share it. Now stop it. Quit your fuckin’ bitchin’ and put on the big panties. Focus on all you are, have done, and have survived and go help someone else. You’ll be amazed how happy you’ll be when you just do that. Forever.”

You Say It’s Your Birthday. It’s My Birthday Too.

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“Not the Barry Bonds, Mom. Ok? Not the Barry Bonds.” Barry_Bonds_follow_through

It’s been twenty years or so since my son Dylan said that.  Something had ended up broken – probably due to “just messin’ around” – and restitution was owed. Usually, I’d cover what losses were incurred, but for whatever reason, this time I had told him that it was coming out of his money. He smugly replied that he had no money. “Easy fix.” I said “You have baseball cards. I guess we’ll have to sell one of those.”  “The Barry Bonds” referred to the acrylic-encased prized rookie card.

Bonds is now considered to be one of the greatest baseball players of all-time. He has a record-setting seven MVP awards. He is a 14-time All-Star and 8-time Gold Glove-winner. He holds numerous Major League Baseball records, including the all-time Major League Baseball home run record with 762 and the single-season Major League record for home runs with 73 (set in 2001), and is also the all-time career leader in both walks (2,558) and intentional walks (688).

But that’s not what made him special. Not to Dylan. He was special because he was born on July 24th.

That’s a big deal you see. It’s Dylan’s birthday.

Also born on July 24th? Alexander Dumas, author of The Count of Monte Cristo, Dylan’s favorite book.

I remember when he discovered the fact that people who had accomplished great things had been born on his birthday. A look came over him, a look of simultaneous amazement and pride. The look conveyed “Why not me?”

It’s been all downhill from there.

Dylan was convinced from that point on that being born on a day that special was proof of the magnitude of his own destiny.

And who am I to judge? Just a parent… trying to build the confidence of her eight-year-old. So yes, I agreed that being born on July 24th was indeed a most fortuitous event. The universe clearly had big things in mind to have him arrive on such a day. And that’s what I told him “You’re Dylan. And the Universe loves you.”

He’s a grown man now… married to his college sweetheart, expecting a baby girl next month. He works in the industry that has always fascinated him – Finance. He restored a bargain-priced foreclosed house into a very comfortable home in the mountains. And he is, by all accounts, the “nicest, most even-tempered guy” anyone has ever met… at least that’s what people tell me.

On his wedding day, one of his guests asked “Dylan, man, you have it all… a great house, a fantastic job, and now a beautiful wife. You just seem to get everything you want. How do you do it?” With his characteristic laugh and big smile, he replied, “I’m Dylan and the Universe loves me.”

All because of that one special day. And what do we know about birthdays? We all know birthdays are like… well, they’re like opinions… everybody has one. So who are the greats born on your day? Maybe it’s you.

“You say it’s your birthday

Well it’s my birthday too, yeah

You say it’s your birthday

We’re gonna have a good time

I’m glad it’s your birthday

Happy birthday to you.”
~ The Beatles

Are We There Yet?

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Space. The final frontier. Image

At the end of the journey to all of the previous frontiers, man encountered strangers. When the Neanderthal left the cave, he met Cro-Magnon. When the Greeks left the Mediterranean, they met Europeans.  When Europeans searched for spice, they discovered the Asians. When Columbus sailed for India, he met… well, Indians.

And now our explorations take us beyond the solar system to search for other stars and life on other planets.

My first question is, What then?

What’s our plan if we locate a little speck of dust circulating around a little twinkle of light in the dark sky?  What if we determine that on a unique ball of clay, the temperature is not scorching and the atmosphere isn’t poisonous gas? What do we do then?

While you ponder that…

Next question.

What if, after all of our searching and exploration, throughout all of the eons of time and vastness of space, there is no other place like this one?

What if this speck is the ONE with life on it? What if the magnificent diversity of our Earth is as good as it gets? What if everything else in this hot mess of a galaxy is just star stuff, and nothing else breathes?

Maybe the orchestral genius that it took to cool and heat, to crystallize and solidify, to grow and blossom, and to think and love ourselves here has only happened once.  When you think about it, it’s a miracle there’s any life in this universe at all.

And yet, here we are – each of us – more rare and precious than stars… and certainly more accessible – traveling companions for whatever journey awaits.

So what if, the next time you look at a stranger – their eyes and smile, personality and character, unique in the universe of humanity – you see them with the same wondrous awe you have when gazing up at the night sky? And then treat them with mankindness. We are not alone in this Youniverse. We have each other.

Heads, I Win

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Heads

Suffer – to feel pain or distress

“SUFFER” That’s what it said, in caps, in neat print, enclosed in a box.

I was cleaning out some old stuff and came across a letter from my grandmother written to me when I was living away at college. In it, she told me about things going on at home, how much she missed my brother (living on the opposite coast), and wished that I would come home to visit soon. It was signed Love, Nana. But on the bottom of the last page in a small box was written: SUFFER.

Suffer? Was she suffering? Her note seemed typical, cheery enough. She couldn’t mean that she wanted me to suffer? Probably not.  Nana used a regular note pad for her letters, just the usual one that she kept next to her chair so she could have been checking the spelling of the word or something. But it seemed odd to me. Whatever.  It was just a word scribbled on the back of a piece of paper she used to drop me a quick note.

Every now and then though, the concept of suffering moves forward in my mind. People often talk about “putting an end” to suffering.  As a culture we want to eliminate suffering. Pope John Paul II said that there is meaning in suffering. Of course, Catholics are a martyr-loving bunch so I wasn’t surprised; however, when I considered that at the time he said this he was profoundly affected by Parkinson’s disease, it gave me pause. What meaning had he found in his own suffering? As a respected spiritual leader what purpose or lesson did he find in humanity’s suffering?

Recently, when I think about the years spent witnessing my mom’s neurological degeneration, I get it.

The meaning for me has changed.

Suffer – to endure, to bear, to withstand

Tails

My Facebook feed has recently been loaded with inspirational posts referring to “passion”… Find your passion… Follow your passion… blah, blah, blah. In looking at my own life, I have a lot of interests, but nothing I would call a clear “passion.” Don’t get me wrong, I have a very full and satisfying and happy life, but what is my passion? Hmmm.

So what is it? Not only what is my individual passion, but what is passion exactly and how does one go about finding it?

Me being me… I looked it up.

Passion —  an intense emotion, compelling feeling, enthusiasm, or desire for something.(from the Ancient Greek verb paskho – to suffer)

Wait. What?

The word is derived from “suffering,” which brings me back to my original question. What is suffering? And now, how could it be related to passion?

How could the one thing we want to eliminate in life be the same thing as what we’re supposed to pursue?

They seem to be the opposite sides of the same coin. To be passionate about something or someone is to focus your time and attention, your energy and spirit. And there’s the problem. Once we share so much of ourselves, we expose our hearts to suffering because the object of our passion can be taken from us.

Wait a minute. Maybe I’ve been looking at this all wrong. It’s not the passion that causes the suffering. It’s the loss of the passion. Well, there you have it. Something can only feel lost if you expect to get it back. Now I see. If I just give the passion away, I can’t possibly suffer any loss.

All together now.

Suffer – to endure, to bear or withstand + Passion – to give of ourselves without expectation

So how do we eliminate suffering AND live a passionate life?

Literally “Have the courage to love freely.”

So it’s not something I need to pursue after all. Finders-keepers.

The Ex marks the spot

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fire and water

A clenching fist of words reached within

And tore the fibers that bound your life to mine

Alone I am ready to begin

To fill the future’s unending depth of time.

The breath that once spoke from heart to heart

Fueling flames raging in a canyon of years

Scorched the earth and drove our love apart

Escaping on a river of Memory’s tears.

But distance now has changed the view of pain

From leaving me to waste and fear and cry

To knowing that it passes as All again.

Faith renews and Love will not deny.

Carnival of Love

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The other day, an online friend shared a piece of beautiful writing. It was about how nice it would be if we could have – as adults – the innocent joy of teenage love.  I’m sure that even if you didn’t personally experience the starry-eyed, giddy school kid crush, Hollywood certainly provides plenty of reference material for you to understand the “share-a-soda-at-the-roller-rink” kind of relationship. And while little whispers and dreamy romance certainly seem to be love. It’s not. That’s the cotton candy of life – light and sweet, but dissolves too quickly to provide any serious sustenance.

It’s like they say in the song… “I found that love is more… than just holding hands.”

Don’t get me wrong. It’s important to keep romance alive in a long-term partnership. Loving couples do giggle at silly stuff, and keeping fun and play is important in everyone’s life, not just in relationships. So what is it then? True love?

Like the other song says… “I looked at love from both sides now.”  So here’s what I’ve found.  Unlike cotton candy, beneath the sweet surface, there’s got to be substance.

Love IS innocent. When you ask “Do I look fat in this?” Love says “You couldn’t possibly.”

Love IS a giddy laugh. When you screw up Thanksgiving dinner, Love says “Really, I had enough to snack on earlier. Turkey just puts me to sleep anyway.”

Love IS that dreamy look. Even when you’re sitting in bed with the flu and a box of tissues, Love says “Do you want me to make tea? or soup?”

Love IS riding around with your head on his shoulder. When the worst call comes and your knees buckle at the news, Love says “You’re not driving. I’ll get the car.”

And Yes, Love DOES hold hands. Especially when you hear the word “diagnosis.” Love says “Ok, we’ll do what we have to do.”

As wonderful as puppy love is, and despite the fondness I have for those days cruising the summer streets with the music loud, and his arm around me as we strolled the fairgrounds, I’ll pass on the cotton candy. True Love is a caramel apple… sweet enough on the surface, but underneath all that yummy gooeyness is something good you can really sink your teeth into.

Pandora’s Box

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I finally had to do it. It’s been taking up room in my closet since I moved in, and I need the space. Downsizing from full-sized tote to under-the-bed storage is critical. It’s just not something I looked forward to doing.

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It’s fun to go through boxes of old pictures with friends and family, each taking a few out at a time and recollecting the memories invoked by the fading images — rethinking hairstyle decisions and fashion choices, comparing the changing city skyline over the decades, recalling old faithful automobiles, and of course, remembering those who are gone now. It’s always a sweet and sentimental process, laughing through the tears.

By myself however, not so much. I get stuck wondering what to do with all of these pictures. I’ve already put my favorites into frames and albums. This box is mostly full of those candid shots that weren’t the most presentable, but are surely the more honest portraits – kids clowning around, my sister trying to hide from the camera, Mom and siblings around the breakfast table. (Seriously) Who takes pictures at breakfast you ask? Well, if Dad had a new lens he wanted to try or film he had to “use up,” anything was fair game.  And since I bought my first camera at about 10 years old, there’s a whole collection of the world shot from a kid’s perspective. Funny to see what I thought was picture-worthy. My dog “Candy” was a common subject and my little nephews made for cute, albeit blurry, images.

Beyond the captured occasions, I drift into deeply held memories of the people in these photographs — conversations we had, times we told stories and shared laughs, discussions that turned into differences, and decisions that led us to separate paths. Inevitably, I come across photos from events that were overshadowed by someone’s drama… the wedding where so-and-so stormed out, the party where what’s-her-name drank too much, and family gatherings that always seem to be missing the one who could never be there on time.

I really can’t take it. I don’t like spending time in the past. I pitched a bunch of duplicates and poor quality prints, but there are too many years to sift through alone. So I dump the contents of the bigger box into the much smaller box and shift it around until the lid fits.

Then, as I shove it under the bed, I realize:  at least I won’t be adding to this box anymore. Ever since digital pics and online sharing, I don’t have tons of extra pictures floating around. I think I prefer this new photography – take the picture, upload it to all my friends, and be done with it. No more looking back into a musty collection of bygone days. Just sharing what I’m enjoying… now… with people who care enough to enjoy it with me… now… and deleting all the drama.

Silent Song

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In the peaceImage

At the edge of the deep

Silent corner of my mind

Lives the song of my life.

As the music of the clouds

And rustling breezes birth

A symphony in lush woods,

Lingering thoughts of distant places

Remind me of long-ago lyrics

And the rhythm moves me on.

It is the harmony of tides

And frequency of waves

That urge this traveler

To remember the movements

Of the distant past.

Lost in this voyage of time

Peeling back the layered years of my heart

I come to the song I’ve known.

Entering the quiet woods

Of my restless mind

I learn to sing.

Aboard Spirit Airline

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Looking down into the sky

Wisps of mist drifting by

Far above the clouds and sea

A couple things occur to me

What little we know of time and space

How irrelevant we are to this place

The source of power dwelling in our soul

Is all we need to make us whole

And yet daily we act in bitter scorn

As though it was for that we’re born

While in reality we are here to seek

To love, to learn, to serve the weak

If only we would clearly see

We could all live so peacefully

Like the child who at first cries

Is soothed by loving lullabies

To remember is our only task.

Who we are. We need only ask.

Bored to Death

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A woman I’ve been acquainted with for about ten years finished up the dishes, put in a load of wash, sat down with her crossword puzzle and died.

She was 61 and hadn’t been sick.

Apparently, the only thing wrong with her was her attitude.  When I asked her survivor husband what he thought had happened, he said “I think she just gave up.”

She may have been depressed, but that’s not how I would’ve described her. She was feisty and funny and cooked dinner every night. Unhappy, however? Maybe just unhappy.

Could being unhappy actually be the reason she died?  I think there’s a good chance it was.  Her dissatisfaction caused her to do things she shouldn’t have and not do the things she should. What I don’t understand is why she was dissatisfied. She was a good wife; they’d been together 40 years. She was a good mom; the boy’s a lawyer for Pete’s sake, with a beautiful doctor wife! But what about her own life?

What happened, I wonder.

I think it was exactly that… she gave up. First, she gave up working and then she gave up volunteering. She gave up traveling, and she even gave up shore vacations.  Of course, that was after she gave up going to the country house. And she had given up gardening a long time ago.

These were her choices. Just like we all have. Every day.

I never realized it before, but for some of us “having a life” may actually be what saves it.