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Thursday, December 17, 2015

Happiness Is . . .

Back to blogging with my three co-bloggers!  Each week, one of us chooses a topic and we all post a blog entry on that topic, usually on Thursdays.  (Usually we are on time.  Usually.  Ok, mostly.  Sometimes?  Don’t judge me.)

Here are the links to the other fabulous blogs:

Merryland Girl           
Moma Rock

Merryland Girl chose this week, and she asked:  Tell Us Something Good.  It can be about good things that happened in your life or good things you’ve heard about online, from people close to you, etc.  Anything goes!  Here’s my take:

            I’m often guilty of focusing on the negative and not the “happy.”  And lately, I feel like there’s been a spate of bad news:  people getting sick, people dying, people shooting people, etc.  It is so easy to focus on those horrible things, to feel overwhelmed by the unhappy.  It’s tempting to just give in and give up. 

            But then I noticed something.  I began to see a trend where, when something bad happens, something good follows.  A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about Daniel Fleetwood, a young Texan who was diagnosed with a rare, fatal cancer and whose dying wish was to see the new Star Wars movie before its release – because Daniel knew he wouldn’t live to see the opening day.  Daniel got his wish, and he died a few days later.  But the campaign that bears his name – #ForceforDaniel – has not died.  Amazing things happened while Daniel was alive, and they have continued now that he is no longer with us.  People have continued to raise money for his young widow, Ashley.  Moved by Daniel’s story, an artist created a painting of Daniel, which was then turned into t-shirts and posters.  Others are printing out small versions of that painting with the tag #saveaseatforDaniel, and they are taking they picture with them to Star Wars showing across the globe; Peter Mayhew, who plays Chewbacca, took the print to the Star Wars premiere.  A scholarship is in the works.  The outpouring of love for Daniel and his wife and his family is amazing.  It fills my heart.  It makes me happy, even though the underlying inspiration was, at its roots, quite unhappy.

            Similarly, I recently read about a young California man who was killed in an accident mere days after he did a random act of kindness for a total stranger, paying for her food at a grocery store when she herself could not.  When the woman went to find Matthew to repay him, she learned of his tragic passing.  The woman decided to pay Matthew’s kindness forward, and Matthew’s Legacy was born.  If you like the Facebook page of the same name, you can read almost daily stories of people who randomly do good deeds for others, or who have been on the receiving end of such gifts.  I can’t read these without tearing up, but in a good way.  I love these stories.  I want more of these stories.  They truly make me feel good.

            Just this week, I shared on Facebook a story of a little girl who is hospitalized atUCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles.  Lexi Brown posted a sign in her hospital window saying that she wanted a pizza.  Well, Lexi’s room faces one of the tony frat houses across the road, and a few of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon frat brothers saw her written request.  A handful of the brothers went out and bought Lexi a pizza.  They brought the food to her room, along with balloons and a guitar, and they proceeded to serenade her.  Lexi told them she likes soccer, so they told their soccer-playing frat brothers, who showed up with t-shirts.  They spent time with Lexi, passed along positive energy.  And then, as if they hadn’t enough, those young men DECORATED THEIR FRAT HOUSE with a message to Lexi, one she could easily see from her hospital bed.  I cried when I saw the photos.  The frat brothers’ acts of kindness gave me hope:  hope for today, in a world that so often seems overwhelming and unkind; and hope for tomorrow, for a generation I don’t always understand, but which seems filled with empathy and good.

            I love these stories.  I love when someone goes out of his way to brighten someone else’s day.  Sometimes just a little goes a long way.  When we moved to the South, I noticed that women often compliment each other.  “I love your shirt,” one might say, or, “Pretty earrings!”  At first, I found it unsettling.  I mean, I liked receiving the compliments, I just wasn’t used to it.  Now, I try to do it myself.  I have seen the way another person’s face lights up when I just say something nice to them.  “I like your hair!” can make someone’s whole day.  Trust me.

            I was in Target a few weeks ago, just about noon, and I came up behind a woman who had a toddler in her cart.  A tired, hungry toddler, who began to whine out of protest.  The woman became visibly nervous; she was clearly concerned that her child was disturbing me or other shoppers.  She maneuvered her cart toward an empty aisle so she could dig out a snack to appease her child while she hurried to finish shopping.  I walked past and smiled at her.  She smiled back, a look of relief washing over her face.  She was clearly relieved that her child did not bother me, that I understood, or at the very least didn’t mind.  I looked at the little girl and said, “You can’t cry!  You’re too cute to cry!”  The mom laughed and the baby stopped, just for a moment.  I walked on, happy I could even slightly ease these woman’s already frazzled nerves.  It took so little – virtually nothing. 

            The Internet – hell, the world – is full of so much stress, so much negative.  These stories provide a nice balance.  I hope we can create even more good out of all of the seemingly endless bad.  So, now I would love to hear your stories, stories about little kindnesses you have given or received, little things you have read about or heard about or followed online.  These small moments of happiness are worth so much, and these tales fill my soul in a way that no material gift ever could. 

            So, live on #ForceforDaniel, live on #MatthewsLegacy, live on Lexi Brown and the Sigma Alpha Epsilon brothers.  I send you my love and my energy, and I thank you for the gifts you’ve given me, without even trying.


Thursday, December 3, 2015

Well, If I Were You ...

Back to blogging with my three co-bloggers!  Each week, one of us chooses a topic and we all post a blog entry on that topic, usually on Thursdays.  (Usually we are on time.  Usually.  Ok, mostly.  Sometimes?  Don’t judge me.)

Here are the links to the other fabulous blogs:

Merryland Girl           
Moma Rock

            This week, I chose, and I asked everyone to write about advice you give to other people and follow yourself AND/OR advice that you give other people but which you struggle to follow.  Here’s my take:

            Ah, advice.  We mean well, don’t we?  We all have and hear and even heed lots of it.   Lots.  We are inundated with unsolicited advice on a regular basis.  Sometimes, it feels like pressure.  Do this!  Think this!  Avoid that!  I’m guessing the last thing any of you, my Five Loyal Readers, needs right now is more advice, so I’ll just write about it, but I won’t expect you to actually take it.  I can barely follow my own advice as it is (well, not consistently), so I’m going to write about a piece of advice I actually tend to both give and follow, as well as some advice I often give but with which I still struggle.

Feel Your Feelings

            I say this all the time, and I truly mean it.  Nothing makes me crazier than when someone says she’s upset/sad/angry/etc. and someone else tells her to cheer up or get over it.  Telling someone she is “strong,” when she actually feels “weak” is not particularly helpful.  Negative emotions are a part of life, and unless someone feels them to excess, these feelings are normal.  I will never understand why we are so quick to urge others not to feel these feelings.  (I do understand encouraging someone not to dwell on them forever – that’s different.)  If you’re angry, feel the anger.  Yell.  Vent.  Let it out.  Sad?  Go ahead, have the blues; cry if you want to cry, wallow with a gallon of ice cream if that’s what you feel you need in the moment.  It simply cannot be healthy to constantly push away negative feelings, and it isn’t healthy to encourage someone else to act that way, either.

            Overall, I’m fairly good at feeling my feelings.  I do try hard not to remain “stuck” in a negative mode, but some days are easier than others – and I remember that.  I don’t beat myself up if I’m “in a mood.”  You might not see my mood, particularly if I am feeling sad (I don’t like to cry, so sometimes my “sad” looks more like “angry”), but I feel the feeling.  I think about it, think about why I’m feeling that way, think about whether there’s a cause or a remedy, assuming one exists. 

            Good can come out of feeling one’s feelings, even the negative ones.  Change often grows out of feeling uncomfortable.  If you’re constantly angry or negative about your job, by acknowledging and feeling those feelings, you will eventually realize that it’s time to look for a new job, or maybe even a new career.  The same applies when a situation or a person makes you feel sad or angry or tense.  Listen to your body.  You wouldn’t ignore a constant ache or pain – why ignore negative emotions?  Feel them.  Listen to them.  Give them the credence they deserve.  You’ll feel better, I swear.

Don’t Judge

            Although I’m almost an ace at feeling my feelings, I struggle with this one.  I talk the talk, certainly.  I tell my kids, “Don’t judge,” and I remind myself not to judge others.  I know that I don’t know enough to pass comment on other people, and I know it’s not my job in life.  But it is so much easier to say than to do.

            I’ve become fairly proficient at not judging people in situations.  A story:  One of my siblings (my sister) isn’t fond of my other sibling (our half brother).  We three didn’t grow up together, and we have fairly significant age gaps between us.  My sister and I had the luxury of being raised together, in the same house, with both parents.  On the other hand, my brother grew up with only his mother and a small parade of stepfathers (at least one of whom was not good to him).  He has three half sisters and did not live with any of us for any significant amount of time.  His mother (we share a father) passed away fairly young.  Not surprisingly to me, my brother is not sentimental, and he does not put a lot of energy into things like greeting cards and phone calls on holidays.  This?  Does not bother me, at all.  This?  Drives my sister crazy.  She has imposed the paradigm of her own life – timely birthday cards, regular visits to see our parents, spending time together – upon my brother.  Because he doesn’t do things the way she does things, he is wrong.  He doesn’t care.  She’s “not fond” of him.  She excludes him.  That, in turn, makes me crazy.  My brother is a decent person.  My biggest complaint about him is we don’t have a lot in common, but we are also almost 15 years apart in age.  He feels more like a cousin than a sibling – but I love him and I wish I saw him more often.  While I know our father would love if my brother reached out more often, I can also understand why he doesn’t (incidentally, my father is also not sentimental and never buys or sends greeting cards).  My brother wasn’t raised the way we were; he didn’t have the family my sister and I shared.  I refuse to judge him the way my sister does.  I never will – unless I see him mistreat someone.  I am able to refrain from judgment in this situation and in situations like this:  if I haven’t walked in someone’s shoes, who am I to say how I would behave?

            My struggle with judgment comes at a more subtle level.  I unconsciously – and immediately – judge appearances; whether I mean to or not, how someone dresses or speaks instantly pops an opinion into my head.  Once I catch myself, I try to push the judgment out of my head, but I still get frustrated that it showed up there at all.

            Now, I understand that judging each other is both natural and necessary, I do.  We have to assess each other so as to determine whom to friend and whom to fear.  And I know attraction is unconscious; we can’t really help being drawn to someone, or repelled by someone else.  But those thoughts aren’t really what I mean.  What bothers me is that I still think things like, “What is up with her hair?” or “Leather pants?  Really?”  My thoughts are unnecessary and unwelcome – even by me.  They don’t add value.

            Another story:  There is a mom whose child swims at the same time my daughter swims.  I don’t know this mom (her child swims with a different group), but I’ve caught myself judging her.  She caught my eye because she is super loud; she likes to yell to other parents across the large waiting area, or out to her child at the pool (which is noisy and behind a thick pane of glass).  Now, it’s fine that her behavior bugs me; that’s not so much a judgment as a reaction.  But I don’t like that I’ve mentally decided I don’t like her.  I don’t even know her!  She may be a lovely person who just needs a little attention; for all I know, she gives all of her money and time to charity.  I don’t know.  And that’s the point:  I don’t know.  So I shouldn’t judge.

            I am particularly sensitive to this because my first impressions of people are so often wrong.  Knowing this, I truly have no business forming opinions without more information.  And, yet, I still do.

            I hope I will eventually heed my own advice and not rush to judgment based upon appearances or first interactions.  Is it possible?  I’m not sure.  But I’ll give it a shot.  I also hope that, in the meantime, you won’t judge me for judging others.  But, then again, go ahead, feel your feelings.

            Or, even better, forget I said anything.  Who needs that kind of pressure?


Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Force is Strong With This One

            We didn’t have a group topic this week, so I decided to write about something that has been bouncing around my head for a few weeks now, one of those subjects that is not going to let me rest until I let it out on (virtual) paper.  I’ve fought it for a time, because I’ve been having trouble arranging my thoughts and my words and my feelings, and I wanted to do the subject justice.  So, I apologize in advance for the length of this post, and for the disorganization.  But this one is truly from the heart.

            A few weeks ago, I spotted an article on Facebook involving a young man who was dying of cancer but who had one simple last wish:  he wanted to see the new Star Wars movie before he passed.  The Internet is full of heart string-tugging stories, and I don’t read them all, but something in the article’s photo pulled me in.  The picture featured Daniel Fleetwood sitting on a floor in front of a display of Star Wars memorabilia.  On his face, Daniel wore a big smile, and atop his head sat a Yoda hat.  He looked happy; he had a sparkle in his eye, the look of unabashed glee.  He looked too young to have a dying wish.

            I opened the article and read, and my heart began to melt.  A native Texan, Daniel was only 32.  He’d been a Star Wars fan since childhood – it was his special thing, much like my Bon Jovi (like me, he’d camped out overnight for tickets).  I watched the attached video and my heart cried.  Daniel’s illness clearly had progressed from his Yoda picture.  He looked pale and thin.  He swayed as he spoke – an attempt to balance and talk while morphine coursed through his veins, I imagined.  His breaths came rapidly, which made sense, since the news story stated that 90 percent of his lungs were covered in tumors.  The video showed his young wife, Ashley, too, taking care of Daniel as together they faced fears I could not even attempt to imagine (and would not want to).  Daniel spoke slowly, deliberately, about the aggressiveness of his cancer, and I swore I saw sadness in his eyes as he shook his head and mournfully said he didn’t think he’d make it to December 18, the movie’s release date.  Sadness.  Of course, sadness.  What else??  That sadness was compounded when the video ended with Daniel’s plea for everyone to “help” him get a chance to see the Star Wars movie.  I felt his pleas in my core.

            I shared the article, as I’ve shared so many, but I could not shake Daniel after I hit “post.”  I immediately joined the campaign, using the #forcefordaniel hash tag and asking others to do so, too.  I would do whatever I could to get Disney and J.J. Abrams to grant Daniel’s dying wish.  I went on Twitter – which I rarely do – and did the same.  Over the following days, I found myself hoping and wishing that Daniel would get his screening.  I checked online every day, longing to find a story saying Daniel would be seeing the film.  It came as no surprise to me that I got teary-eyed when I finally read that Disney and Abrams granted Daniel’s wish, sending some reps to Texas to screen the movie in Daniel’s home on November 5.  I’ve always had “Disney issues,” but not that day.  That day, Disney made someone’s dream come true.  I thanked the Universe.  I thanked Disney.  I vowed to see the film.  I silently wished for peace for Daniel as he lived out whatever time he had left; peace and painlessness and comfort.  I really didn’t want to think about how little time probably remained for Daniel; after all, at that moment, he had already outlived his doctor’s estimate of two months.  It broke my heart.

            Even so, I thought I’d be able to stop thinking about Daniel and Ashley after that . . . but I couldn’t.  I searched for more stories.  In one article, I read that both Daniel and Ashley worked with special needs people, and it felt like a punch.  These are good people, I thought.  And these are people who don’t make a lot of money because they chose jobs that help people.  So, I went on Ashley’s GoFundMe page and made a small donation to alleviate the estimated $100,000 in medical bills Daniel had accrued.  I didn’t feel much better, so I went on Facebook and found that both Daniel and Ashley had open pages.  Ashley is like me, and she posts frequently, so I didn’t attempt to read all of hers, choosing instead to look at photos of her and Daniel, photos of a happy couple, even in their shared hell.  Daniel’s posts were fewer.  I spent an hour or so reading his words, my already bruised heart feeling heavier and heavier.  In February of this year, he shared news that one of his tumors had grown only slightly and the other seemed to be gone, or maybe not even a tumor.  But just a few months after, his cancer seemingly exploded, and suddenly Daniel was faced with the choice of trying an experimental study – or nothing at all.  Daniel was honest – brutally so – as he openly lamented his painful “choice” between becoming somewhat of a “guinea pig” and taking treatment that likely wouldn’t help him and could potentially hurt him, or certain death.  His fear and frustration were palpable.  Daniel’s words hung in my head:  “I don’t want to die.”

            Daniel was only 31 when he wrote that.

            In September, Daniel posted that his doctor had told him there was nothing medically left to do, and so he signed a DNR and began hospice.  I didn’t know it then, but Daniel was just weeks from his 32nd birthday. 

            From there, Daniel’s posts dropped off, though he shared one about having tumors covering 90 percent of his lungs.  Ashley picked up the slack, posting both on his page and on hers.  She shared photos of Daniel, and the decline was obvious.  But so were the sparks of who Daniel still was and would always be:  a young man with a loving wife, great friends, a wonderful family, an affinity for music, and a true love for all things Star Wars. 

            Now, I didn’t spend all of my time thinking about the Fleetwoods, as mixed in here was my own minor diagnosis of gallstones and my decision to remove my gall bladder to nip the situation in the bud.  My surgery was scheduled for November 9.  In the weeks leading up to my procedure, I was put on a low-fat, bland diet as a means of keeping gall bladder “attacks” at bay.  My limited diet left me cranky and whiny.  I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink at all after midnight on November 8, even though my surgery wasn’t scheduled until 2:00pm on the 9th (and took place two hours later than that).  But whenever I found myself getting too complainy, I thought about Daniel.  I thought about how he wasn’t eating anymore and likely wouldn’t again, about how even my stupid, hated crackers weren’t an option for him.  I thought about the other people who’d be in the hospital alongside me, the ones who were there having tumors removed, the ones who were dying, the ones who wouldn’t be up and around in a week or two, stuffing their faces with cookies.

            I reminded myself to shut the hell up.

            I thought of Daniel while I waited to go into surgery, while I hung out with my pre-op nurse and we talked about how I’d been a hospice volunteer and how I didn’t think I could handle having a young patient and how, overall, you have to somehow separate what you see inside your head from your every day.  I told her about Daniel and how he reminded me to stop complaining already.  I pulled strength from his strength, even though I’d never once met him, even though he was actively dying while I was very much alive.

            The rest of November 9th is a blur:  I remember waking up in the recovery room and seeing my doctor (he was blurry).  I remember the second recovery room and the CNA who was in a hurry to go home and who bum-rushed me out the door.  I remember being in the car and getting my meds and then being at home and eating crackers so I could take the meds and go to sleep.

            I also remember waking up around 2:30am, hungry and in pain.  I remember rousing my husband for some toast and another Tylenol 3.

            I woke the next day clear headed, and I eventually picked up my phone and went on Facebook.  And there in my feed was a story saying that Daniel had passed away overnight.  I went to Ashley’s page and looked at the time of her post . . . and it was right around the time I’d awaken in need of food and codeine.  Coincidence?  Perhaps.  Or maybe it was something more.

            I had a lot of down time after my surgery, and I spent some of it wondering why Daniel’s story touched me so.  I’m not old enough to be his mother, and I wasn’t really feeling a maternal pull, even though he was only 12 years older than my eldest child.  No, it wasn’t that.  I switched tracks.  I remembered back to when I was Daniel’s age, only 32, a third of a lifetime ago for me.  Daniel’s young age explained part of my sadness; after all, when I was 32, I had just graduated from law school and was embarking on a new career.  I was also just three years away from giving birth to my second daughter (born, I would learn later, on Daniel’s birthday) and six years away from having my third.  Daniel died having so much life left to live, so many people left to help, so much for him and Ashley to share, including parenthood.  The realization made me sad.  It made me angry. 

            I felt those feelings and I could explain them, but I still could not explain all of how I felt.  I had a burning need to do so.  I couldn’t really talk about it to anyone I knew and expect them to understand what I myself couldn’t explain, so I reached out to the larger world.  I turned to the Internet, hoping I would read or see something that could help me make sense of why why why I felt so connected to Daniel and Ashley.  And, for once, almost miraculously, the Internet actually eased my mind.  I soon discovered that many people felt the same as I.  Thousands of people, scattered around the world.  I found posts from people as far away as Germany and Spain.  I found videos created by grown men who teared up as they tried to find words to explain why Daniel’s story touched them so, why they felt his loss so sharply.  Their shared feelings in turn made me feel better.  I felt connected, less alone.  Not crazy.  Needing to feed that connection, I joined the #forcefordaniel Facebook group, and there I posted some words that have always comforted me (words I coincidentally noticed on Daniel’s Facebook page).  I also thanked Ashley and Daniel for allowing all of us to become part of something so much bigger than any one of us alone.  Kind of like the Force, if you think about it.  A Force for Daniel.

            I finally felt better, but there was still more to do.  And Daniel, this one is for you:  I jumped over to my email and I contacted the volunteer coordinator at Alive Hospice here in Tennessee and I said, “I’m ready.  What do you need from me?  I train in December.  And then I hit one more website, Paypal, where I sent a small sum to a friend of Daniel and Ashley.  Now, when I am spending time with people on hospice, my ID badge will have a special decoration, something to remind me of the person who inspired me to go back, to get out there, to help:  my #Force for Daniel patch, a fundraising emblem I ordered from a young man named Josh (all of the proceeds go to Ashley, thanks to generous Josh, who hopes everyone will wear their Master Jedi Daniel patch when they go to see Star Wars).

            I don’t know that I will ever fully understand why Daniel and Ashley have had such an impact on me, and on so many others.  My blog group has written before about unexplained connections to people, places, and things, and I guess this is just another example.  And I’m okay with that.  I will allow the connection to two people I’ve never met remain the mystery it is, one of the magic moments that occasionally come with being human.  I will always be grateful that Daniel and Ashley shared their story (and that Ashley continues to do so on Facebook, even though some of her posts make me cry), that Daniel got his wish, that I stumbled into other humans with huge hearts, people who also reached out to help someone they didn’t know.  I will always be grateful that the Fleetwoods reminded me that people are basically good and that empathy and compassion do, indeed, exist, that we are surrounded by love, even when we don’t necessarily realize it.

            I know my friends possess that empathy and compassion.  And, so, now I ask you all, please, in Daniel’s name, go out and help.  Help someone.  Touch a life.  Join in something bigger than you alone.  I don’t care whether you know the people you help, whether you send money or spend time.  Send prayers and positive energy, yes, but do a little more.  Make someone else’s dream come true.  Spread the magic.  Do it now, at this moment, now that we know there is a new, shining star out there, a Master Jedi who has become one with the Force, a young man who reminded me that life is short, that love matters, that spreading joy is a very worthwhile and necessary endeavor. 

            May the Force be with Daniel and Ashley – and with all of us, too. 

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Levmore Theorem

Back to blogging with my three co-bloggers!  Each week, one of us chooses a topic and we all post a blog entry on that topic, usually on Thursdays.  (Usually we are on time.  Usually.  Ok, mostly.  Sometimes?  Don’t judge me.)

Here are the links to the other fabulous blogs:

Merryland Girl           
Moma Rock

This week, Moma Rock chose the topic, and she asked:  We often use the term “unconditional,” as in “my love for you is unconditional.”  On the flip side, is there anything in your life you’d consider to be conditional?  Here’s my take:

            I’d like to say I thought long and hard about my response, but I didn’t.  As soon as I read Moma Rock’s question, I knew my answer.  Other than the unconditional love I feel for just a handful of people on this planet – most of whom came out of my body or fall within my immediate family – everything else in my life is conditional.  I reconsidered my answer here and there over the past week, but it didn’t change.  And, really, there’s no logical reason for it to do so.

            As I sorted my thoughts, my mind kept going back to law school, to my first-year Torts class, specifically.  There, I learned the delicate “cost-benefit” analysis that dominates our lives, whether we realize it or not.  We might think about costs and benefits as to certain situations – spending money, for one – but this analysis underlies almost everything we do, including our interpersonal relationships.

            Think about it.  Do you intentionally spend time and resources with someone who makes you unhappy?  Someone who is toxic?  Someone who treats you poorly?  I sure hope not.  The answer should be “no,” because the cost of that relationship outweighs the benefit.  Now, if that person is your boss, the answer might change, because the benefit has changed.  Or consider extended family, where it might be easier to go along with the discomfort for a few hours than to resist and cause a familial rift.  But, there, once again, the benefit outweighs the cost.  That’s how it works.  It’s really that simple.

            You might be thinking about those people who stay in bad relationships much too long, the ones who seem to ignore the cost/benefit analysis (I’m not talking about abusive relationships).  But I’d argue that these people stay in those relationships because they reap some benefit from doing so.  For example, someone who enjoys acting like a victim (and we all know someone like this) will allow himself to be victimized.  There’s a psychological benefit to the victim (one I don’t understand but one I have seen enough to know it exists).  That benefit outweighs the downside of being mistreated.

            When I was young, I wasn’t able to successfully execute an effective cost/benefit analysis.  I simply did not see the world in that way, at least not consciously.  But thanks to age and Professor Saul Levmore, I’ve learned to perform this delicate balance.  (Note I said “perform” and not “perfect.”)  As such, I’ve learned to appreciate the good relationships in my life and to place great value upon them.  On the flip side, I enter into new friendships cautiously, the result of the pain of past “high cost” relationships coupled with knowing that my life is fairly full and I don’t necessarily “need” a million new friends  . . . thus rendering the “benefit” of a new friend less so.  Although I am chatty (nervous habit), I am actually an introvert at heart, and it isn’t easy for me to let someone in past a certain level.  And, so, I don’t – or not very often.  The cost of doing so – the stress of opening up, the risk of being hurt – outweighs the benefit, which is the potential for a new friendship that I don’t necessarily need.  So, I cherish those friends who know me very well and who allow me the luxury of not putting myself out there too often.

            I’ve also learned to let go when need be, or to at least put a great deal of distance between someone who seems to be more cost than benefit to me.  I don’t like drama, so I count that as a huge deficit.  The same is true for someone who gives me cause to distrust him.  It isn’t easy to walk away from a relationship but, sometimes, it is wholly necessary.  At the very least, sometimes we have to put a large space between one’s self and someone who just feels more like a liability than an asset.  (Am also learning to trust my gut, but that’s a post for another day.)

            Most recently, I’ve become ok with the fact that not everyone will like me, and that I don’t have to try too hard to sway someone’s opinion . . . because I just don’t care.  I have a specific person in mind as I write this paragraph, someone I’ve met through some other people, someone I have chatted with here and there, but whom has avoided all of my attempts to become more than friends of friends.  So, after a couple of attempts, I gave up.  The cost of trying to befriend this person simply outweighs any benefit I can perceive.  And that’s ok. 

            Unconditional love is hard.  It takes immense care and an incredibly strong connection to another human to love him or her, even if they hurt you – or hurt themselves.  I am capable of it, but my circle is limited, and rightly so.  To feel anything without condition takes great strength and commitment.  It comes at a great cost – but it often yields a great benefit.  There is a “logic” to people giving such care only sparingly.  All of which means that when I say I love you, my Five Loyal Readers (and I do), I mean it . . . for now.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Gracie Girl

Back to blogging with my three co-bloggers!  Each week, one of us chooses a topic and we all post a blog entry on that topic, usually on Thursdays.  (Usually we are on time.  Usually.  Ok, mostly.  Sometimes?  Don’t judge me.)

Here are the links to the other fabulous blogs:

Merryland Girl           
Moma Rock

This week, I chose the topic, and I asked everyone to write about a time music touched their very soul.  Here’s my take:

            My Five Loyal Readers know me well enough to make an educated guess that I’m going to write about Bon Jovi.  I certainly could write about the way in which Bon Jovi music has touched me, again and again and again.  I could fill many posts.  Hell, I could write a book.

            But not today.  No, this post goes out to Ben Folds, a musician I rarely talk about, someone whom I don’t follow, someone I’ve seen live exactly twice – and only because he was a co-headliner with someone I do follow, Rufus Wainwright. 

            So, a little background.  I love music.  Love it.  I’m partial to rock, but I will listen to anything once.  I’m not one to say I hate an entire a genre; sure, I’m not a huge fan of current pop music, but you’ll find some Robin Thicke on my iPod, and I kinda like that one Taylor Swift song.  I take songs and artists as they come.  Hell, I’ve even got a soft spot in my heart for Bro Country and all things Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton.  Mock if you must; I like what I like.

            Many years ago, I stumbled upon the music of Rufus Wainwright.  He’d recorded a cover of He Ain’t Heavy (He’s My Brother) for the Shrek soundtrack, which I bought for my eldest, who was then my only.  I absolutely loved Rufus’ voice.  The depth is incredible.  He’s also a talented pianist, guitarist, and songwriter.  I bought his then-current CD and the ones that came before, and I became a fast fan. 

            I happily bought a ticket to see Rufus during his Want One tour, and it was worth every penny.  A few years later, he came to Ravinia, just down the road from my home in Chicago, and I again bought tickets.  This time, Rufus split his stage time with Ben Folds, each using only a piano to play their songs.  I’d never before heard Ben Folds, and I enjoyed him.  His songs were gentle and well written, but I took a particular shine to a song entitled, simply, Gracie.  The song was written for Ben Folds’ daughter.  It’s sweet and funny and I love it – because I, too, have a Gracie.

            I don’t like to use my young kids’ names when I post or Facebook, but many of you know my kids and know that my 12 is named Grace.  When she was little, on her own volition, she started calling herself Gracie.  She would walk up and introduce her little self and say, “Hi, I’m Gracie!”  We went with it – why not?  So, of course, Ben Folds song made me smile, and I went out and bought his CD so I could play it for her.  (She, being a toddler, of course, could not have cared less.)

            Several years after I saw Ben Folds at Ravinia, Grace’s doctor suggested we take her for some testing, as he suspected she had Asperger’s Syndrome or high-functioning autism.  The process took three or four months from start to finish and involved numerous visits to a major medical center in Chicago.  I can’t say the process was hard, because it wasn’t, but it was stressful, because an autism diagnosis – even one of mild autism – is scary and life changing.  But even in the face of the fear, we did what we were told to do, starting with our first consult in September or October, through the final diagnosis at the end of the year.

            The diagnostic process finished with a parent/doctor consult at the hospital in mid-December.  We left Gracie at school and climbed into the car to drive the ten or so miles to the medical center.  My husband and I were both nervous, for the same reason.  We knew what we were about to hear; the tests had really been more of a means of having an official diagnosis and advice as to therapies.  We handled our stress similarly, neither wanting to talk about what we knew we’d hear until after we heard it.  Neither of us wanted to talk about much of anything, really, and so Jerry turned on the radio to distract himself while he drove. 

            Unfortunately, he’d turned on something God-awful (we don’t have similar musical tastes), and I knew ‘80s Chicago songs were going to make me more tense, not less.   So, I pulled out my iPhone and plugged in my earphones and Shuffled my music, trying to calm myself down.

            And then Gracie came on.  And then I ever so quickly turned Gracie off.

            I couldn’t do it.  I couldn’t listen to it.  So full was my heart with fear and sadness and love, I simply could not bear to listen to the song that Ben Folds wrote for his own daughter, the song I’d long identified with my own.  I’m not much of a crier; I don’t like to cry and I didn’t want to cry then, for many reasons.  I didn’t want my husband more stressed out, and I didn’t want to walk into a meeting with messed up makeup.  I needed my wits about me.  Which meant I could not listen to that song at that moment.  

            In fact, it would be a long time before I could again listen to Gracie.  My Grace is coming up on her third anniversary of her diagnosis, and my views on autism have grown and changed.  I no longer feel the fear I once did (not that I have none, because I do).  More importantly, I’ve come to appreciate that my Gracie would not be the child I know and I love without the special wiring in her head.  I see the strengths and benefits autism imparts to her – and there are many.  Of course, I still see the struggles, but I try to focus more on the progress she’s made, the struggles she’s overcome, the incredibly strong young woman she’s turning into.

            I can listen to Gracie now, because I might tear up, but I’m no longer crying for the reasons I once would have.  I’m crying for the feelings every parent shares:  the pride in watching a child grow and change, the love that bursts your heart every now and then (when you aren’t wondering how you’re going to survive the ‘tween and teen years). 

            My husband says he can’t “hear” lyrics, and I feel badly for him.  Maybe that means he will be spared from the reactions I have when I hear a song that truly hits me in the heart, but that’s just sad.  How lucky am I that I can hear a string of sentences set to music by Ben Folds, and my heart can just open up and let go.  It’s not always desirable, but I cannot imagine living without that feeling.  The loss of that ability would be enough to make me cry.

            I’m guessing my words don’t do justice to the feelings inspired by Ben Folds’ song, or to his beautiful, clever words.  So, here’s a link to Gracie, along with the lyrics.  Try reading them in the context of my Gracie.  And try not to cry.  Or, better yet, go right ahead.

You can’t fool me, I saw you when you came out
You’ve got your momma’s taste, but you’ve got my mouth
And you will always have a part of me
No one else is ever gonna see
Gracie girl

With your cards to your chest, walking on your toes
What you got in the box only Gracie knows
And I would never try to make you be
Anything you didn’t really want to be, Gracie girl

Life flies by in seconds
You’re not a baby, Gracie, you’re my friend
You’ll be a lady soon, but until then
You gotta do what I say

You nodded off in my arms watching TV
I won’t move an inch even though my arm’s asleep
One day you’re gonna want to go
I hope we taught you everything you need to know
Gracie girl

And there will always be a part of me
No one else is ever gonna see but you and me
My little girl
My Gracie girl


Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Middle-Aged Woman and the Blog

Back to blogging with my three co-bloggers!  Each week, one of us chooses a topic and we all post a blog entry on that topic, usually on Thursdays.  (Usually we are on time.  Usually.  Ok, mostly.  Sometimes?  Don’t judge me.)

Here are the links to the other fabulous blogs:

Merryland Girl           
Moma Rock

This week, Froggie chose the topic, and she asked:  How does your blogging differ from when you first started blogging?  Here’s my take:

            Although I had already set up my blog when Froggie invited me to join this group two years ago (wow!), I hadn’t posted a whole lot, mostly just stupid stuff I thought was funny, mixed with an occasional “thought piece” that probably wasn’t all that thoughtful.  I posted inconsistently and not very often, and mainly to amuse myself.

            I suppose the latter part hasn’t changed:  I still kind of amuse myself via blogging (or I sure try).  But my posts feel more thoughtful these days, largely because the topics chosen by my co-bloggers often require such depth.  I try to match the level of “heft” of the various topics, and I take a great deal of time writing each post (though it may not seem that way), likely more than it appears when reading my entries.  (I write and then re-write and then edit et cetera, et cetera, et cetera).  (Ten points if you get that reference.  See?  Still amusing myself.)  I take more pride in my blogging now, and that’s because I know that at least three people (my co-bloggers) read it, and that keeps me accountable.  Years ago, my Dad told me that all you have in life is your name and your credit rating.  As a former journalist, I took those words to heart whenever my byline would be attached to something I wrote that would be published in print.  (Also, I’m totally Type A.)  I didn’t feel quite that way when I first began blogging, as I saw the online endeavor as a “goof” – and because I had no idea if anyone would even read my stuff.  I do care more today and I do apply the “byline” rule, so in that way, my blogging has, indeed, changed.

            I also post more consistently now versus then.  I don’t have a perfect track record and have missed a week here and there, but there aren’t any six month-long gaps as there once were.  I could still use some work in this area, as my self-motivation seems lacking when not connected to the other bloggers.  This past summer, when the blogging group took a break, I didn’t post anything.  Not one single word.  I could have written whatever I wanted on whatever topic I chose, but I didn’t feel the urge.  More than once, a topic popped into my head, and I entertained the thought of actually writing about it but, somehow, the motivation never came.  I guess I prefer the challenge of writing on a topic suggested by someone else; I suppose both as a journalist and a lawyer, I’ve always worked off of an “assignment.”  Maybe that’s just easier for me, or maybe I’m just not creative enough to think of my own topics.  I don’t know.

            Froggie did not ask us to look forward in our blogging, but as I looked back, I could not help myself.  I began thinking about how I would like to change my blogging as I go on.  I would like to publish a few of my own posts, ones not connected to my co-bloggers.  I always have a lot to say (part of my charm) – why not reduce it to electronic paper?  Occasionally, I think of a topic that isn’t necessarily right for the blog group, and I have absolutely no reason not to write about it on my own.  So, there’s one goal.

            But more than that, I’d like to be more honest in my writing.  I do try to be true and open when I write, but I have found myself avoiding certain topics out of fear of offending someone who might read the post (I truly have no idea who reads my posts unless a comment is posted).  My natural desire to avoid confrontation coupled with my hopes to never purposely offend someone has forced me to limit what I talk about at times, and I wonder whether I should ever cross that self-imposed line and talk about subjects that, to date, I’ve considered taboo.  Only time will tell, I guess.

            I truly don’t know where this blog is headed; at this moment, I don’t see much change in the pipeline.  That’s fine . . . for now.  But I am big on change, as I believe that change almost always equals growth.  For sure, had I not accepted Froggie’s invitation and joined the group, this blog never would have gone from where it was to where it is now, and that would have been a shame.  So, I can only hope that my blog continues to grow – either in subject or in frequency or both – and I hope that it turns into something that people look forward to reading.  Or, even better, something that inspires them to sit down, set up a blog, and start writing.  I promise I will read and comment, even if you’ve just shared cat photos or observations about the Kardashians.  I’m fairly certain that’s how Hemingway got started, right?