Kindness. Human. Love. Respect. Empathy. Caring. Validating. Joy. Depth. Yes.
Eight years ago today a doctor walked into my hospital room and told me I had leukemia.
Since then I’ve periodically asked a question of myself. Not, as you might expect, why me, or even just why. There is no why. It was random, not predictable, and as far as we know not preventable. It just was. So the question isn’t why, but who. Who was I then, am I the same person now, what did I learn from the experience?
I’ve written here about my philosophy of life a bit… which is basically kindness is key, our love for the people we love and who love us is all that really matters, find joy in the every day, and don’t lose hope about the things that matter to you. But as this day rolls around every year I find myself doing a bit of an assessment.
I believe in forgiveness, in kindness, joy, hope, and love. But, I’m not always the best at those things. And on this day I find myself trying to remind myself who I am. I find myself trying to forgive myself for the ways I know I’ve hurt people, which doesn’t let me off the hook for those slights, but it does let me employ one of my strongly held beliefs which is that each of us is doing the best we know how at the moment. Sometimes our efforts aren’t that great, and we don’t handle things well, but at the moment we are only doing what we can with what we have. It still means we have to try and do better, be better. We owe our people that. But, we also can’t continually beat ourselves up for the things we’ve done. This is where apologizing comes in. Sincere apology. We admit what we’ve done, we feel it in our bones, the ways we’ve hurt someone, and then we say we’re sorry for it. The apology is freeing for both people. So I ask, have I apologized enough and meant it. Have I forgiven others, have I forgiven myself?
Kindness. Have I been kind? To my people, to strangers, to myself. Am I moving through the world as a kind person? Do I say thank you, look people in the eyes, empathize, treat people with respect, watch out for their feelings, simply honor people as the beautiful human beings they are? Am I kind to myself? I hope so, I hope I do all of these things, but I know the answer is, I don’t always. So I need to be more kind. We can always be kinder. I think there’s always another level of kindness to strive for. I think the key for me is to be aware, to be present with people. If I am, I’m kinder.
Joy. It’s easy to get discouraged in life. About our place in it, circumstances we find ourselves in, the state of the world. The enemy of joy is fear. So the key is to not be fearful. But, that’s a tough one. Having gone through this whole life-threatening experience I find myself afraid of the random and unknown. Afraid of what could happen, suddenly, without warning. This fear has no face or name or even bearing on what’s actually happening in my life at the time. It just comes with large amounts of anxiety. And when it comes it eats my joy whole. Like a kipper snack. So I find myself searching for ways to lessen the fear and find the joy. I’m innately a silly, joyful person. I’m a dork. I can find joy in the smallest things when I’m not afraid. So I’ve spent some time working on and continue to work on trying to be present in the small moments of life, which I feel is where joy lives. In smiles and sunsets and dogs and wind in the trees and whispered secrets from grandchildren and laughs over nothing at all. I try to remind myself to be present. Nothing is promised to us, which certainly includes time, so we have to live now. Be alive now. Be joyous now. This is a tough one, but I’m trying. The wind chimes are going strong right now on the front porch, and the sound is magical, and there is joy in that.
Hope. It’s tough to be hopeful when all you see is the stuff that’s not working out. But as I’m taking a look this year I find myself reminding myself that life is perception. We see what we want. Which brings me to one of my favorite quotes of all time. It comes from the movie, The Abyss, “We all see what we want to see. Coffey looks and he sees Russians. He sees hate and fear. You have to look with better eyes than that.” At the time the film was made the cold war was still in full swing, so the Russians were the bad guys. But the point isn’t that part of the quote. The point is the essence of it which to me means we see what we want to see, which is frequently driven by our personal fears, and we have to look with better eyes. So, I can either see the world from a place of love and forgiveness and hope, or I can see fear, I can see enemies. I try to come from a place of seeing people as friendly, as human, as trying. Again, I don’t always succeed in this, but when I do, hope springs and the world looks different somehow. Brighter, fuller, rich in color and possibility. It is hopeful.
Love. I believe in connection and responsibility to and for that connection. Life is about love. Who we love, who loves us. It’s about how we love. Do we say it? Do we show it? Do we let the people we love feel the love we have for them? For me, this brings gratitude into my life and makes me want to share that gratitude. To say how grateful I feel for the people and love in my life doesn’t even cover it. I am sometimes overwhelmed by the waves of it. Struck profoundly silent by the weight of all the love I know I have in my life. But, it’s sometimes too easy to see what we don’t have in life, what we think we’re missing. And in the muck of that, we sometimes forget to take stock of what we have, or even to recognize that it’s there. Who we have and what that means to us. Love is all around us. It’s all around me. So, as I go through this day I let that wave of gratitude for enormous and profound love wash over me. Hold me up. It did when I was sick. It’s what got me through. Even though I was semi-isolated when I was sick, I felt the love pouring into me. Lifting me up. Holding me. I felt it. And luckily, I feel it still. If I sit with it for a few moments I cry. Out of a gratitude so overwhelming it crushes me in all the right ways. That’s where I want to live, where I try to live. Even when things are tough, the love is there. I have it, and I try to give it back. We’re responsible for giving it back. For loving, and loving well.
Eight years. If I think of all the beautiful and strange and magical and messy things that have happened in my life in the last eight years I’m amazed and so moved by it all. It has definitely not all been easy, and there have definitely been sad and heart-breaking times, but there have also been so many moments of joy and laughter and love. And I guess maybe that’s the point of taking stock. Which is to say, it’s a messy thing, life. But it’s in the middle of all that mess we find love and hope, kindness, and joy. And I remind myself, isn’t that an amazing and beautiful thing?
Eight years. Eight years on top of the nearly 45 years before those.
Wow. What a ride it’s been so far.
We see what we want to see. That’s part of the problem.
I was perusing Facebook, which I must say prompts many posts on this blog, and I saw a theme. Negativity. Plain and simple.
There were posts about “those” people. Of one sort of another. You know them, the idiots, the ridiculous, the terrible, the stupid, the crazy, the deluded, the poor things… them. They seem to be everywhere, “these” people. They must be. Everyone is talking about them.
Then it hit me.
We are a beautiful lot, humanity. A tapestry like no other. Preferences, likes and dislikes, and ways of being in the world that differ from each other. We are sad or happy, diet coke or Pepsi, Chevy or Ford, Republican or Democrat, dressing on the side or on the salad, rural or city, cream or taking it black, gay or straight, married or single, serious or silly, tomAto or tomato, and on and on and on. We love our families the best way we know how, we want the best for our kids or grandkids, we want to earn a decent living, take vacations, laugh a lot, and we want the right to live peacefully, with joy. Each and every one of us.
But it’s not that simple. Because what I noticed today, as I was perusing, was that people see what they want to see. They notice what they want to notice. I bet they don’t even know they’re doing it. We seize on information, posts, articles, videos, that speak to us. Things that in some way support our world view. There’s probably a theme to how we post, what we post, etc., only we don’t even know it.
We need to pay attention. To ourselves. Instead of looking out at what that idiot said or didn’t say, which by the way, in and of itself, that language on its own, is wrong. I would hope no one would put me in a class of “those idiots”, just because I happen to align myself with a certain ideology. But they do. Friends have posted many things about liberals being idiots or crazy or wrong or disturbed or… it goes on. I’m shocked by it, every time. Just as I’m sure some of my more conservative friends feel shocked or hurt when a liberal friend of theirs posts something about those idiotic conservatives. Let’s be honest… none of us are idiotic. We just don’t agree with each other. That doesn’t make me an idiot, it just makes a person with a different opinion.
But I digress. This doesn’t just apply to politics. I noticed it applies to many things… the videos people choose to post, the things they choose to put out into the world under their own names…. it’s interesting. Are you a person who posts things that are generally positive, generally informative, upbeat, things that speak to beauty and light and love. I’ve seen those people, and honestly, I hope I’m one of them. Or are you someone who sees the dark and the crazy and the wrong in everything and then feels the need to put it out there? And if so, why? So others like you can agree how bad everything is, or so that you can enlighten those of us who may be Pollyannas who try to look for the good? I’m not being rhetorical. I really want to know.
There are people who feel the need to fight everything, against life and what they see as wrongdoing. I get trying to fight for what you think is right. I get speaking your mind and your truth. What I don’t get is a person coming across some debasing or derogatory or hurtful thing and re-posting it. What’s the purpose of spreading that kind of negativity? If you have strong opinions, if you feel things are wrong in the world and need fixing, find what you think are some solutions, speak to issues from the place of problem-solving, not finger-pointing. Re-posting terrible things, some not even based on truth, just for the sake of talking bad about someone or something, is wrong. You aren’t shining a light on them, you’re shining a terrible light on yourself.
We need to look at ourselves. Decide if we want to be people who create solutions, who seek a more beautiful world for all of us, or are we people who debase, make fun of, and act from fear. Who do we want to be? How do we want to live? What do we want to be putting out there into the world? What do we want to be teaching our kids about how to be in the world? Hurtful to others, or uplifting to others. It’s up to us.
Look in a mirror. Look at your personal news feeds. Look at everything you’ve posted in the last year and judge for yourself. What kind of person are you? Are you happy with that? If not. Change. Let’s lift people up. Let’s inspire with kindness and goodness and love. Let’s try to speak from joy. From positivity. From a place of understanding, humility, and love.
I know there are things wrong in the world. I know there are things that need to be changed. One of those things is people calling other people idiots or other derogatory names. One of those things is people being hurtful just, it seems, to be hurtful. Let’s start being, and communicating, like intelligent humans. After all, we are. Sometimes I think we just forget ourselves. Get swept up. Let’s be better. Let’s look with better eyes and hearts at a world that is a beautiful, wondrous place. Let’s talk about that.
Kindness. Hope. Love. Joy.
Fun. Quirky. True. Lawrence. Family. Belief. Perseverance. Smarts. Success. Yes.
In this second installment of the life lessons learned/what’s important to me at 50 I give you joy. And many other things.
“There are random moments – tossing a salad, coming up the driveway to the house, ironing the seams flat on a quilt square, standing at the kitchen window and looking out at the delphiniums, hearing a burst of laughter from one of my children’s rooms – when I feel a wavelike rush of joy. This is my true religion: arbitrary moments of nearly painful happiness for a life I feel privileged to lead.”
― Elizabeth Berg,
Joy is such a hard thing to define. Elation, delight, pleasure. All those things, and something more, something intangible. I live for moments of joy, mine and those of the people I love. It’s where pure experience meets an overwhelming feeling of YES! It’s the ultimate ah ha moment. I’m always wishing the people I know, and actually even people I don’t know, could experience more joy. There’s never enough. Simple moments of overwhelming joy bring light and life. Joy is the nexus of a meaningful human experience, of meaningful relationships with our fellow humans. Joy radiates hope. It’s electric.
― W.B. Yeats
Magic is everywhere. In smiles and light and the taste of a fresh strawberry. It lives in music and the wings of a butterfly. It flies on the wind and crashes with the waves. Everything around us is a miracle, full of magic. Most especially our family and friends, but also in the breath of our pups, and the swaying of a daisy, and the glint of the sun in a rain drop. There are amazing things all around. We just have to see them.
“Maybe each human being lives in a unique world, a private world different from those inhabited and experienced by all other humans. . . If reality differs from person to person, can we speak of reality singular, or shouldn’t we really be talking about plural realities? And if there are plural realities, are some more true (more real) than others? What about the world of a schizophrenic? Maybe it’s as real as our world. Maybe we cannot say that we are in touch with reality and he is not, but should instead say, His reality is so different from ours that he can’t explain his to us, and we can’t explain ours to him. The problem, then, is that if subjective worlds are experienced too differently, there occurs a breakdown in communication … and there is the real illness.”
― Philip K. Dick
Perception is key. We have opinions and ideas and see things with eyes that were formed from our own experiences. When circumstances happen to us or around us we look at those circumstances with those same eyes. We tend not to look outside of our own box of opinions and ideas. This means we only look at things from one angle. Our own. But looking and seeing are two different things. Perhaps it’s just a matter of perception. If we can somehow change how we view a situation that situation changes entirely. I’ve done this myself and been surprised by it. There’s always another way to look at something. We move around a beautiful sculpture to get a view from all sides if we truly want to see it. We need to learn to do that in our own minds. It would open us up to others, it would create connections where they might not have existed before. We have to look with our best eyes.
“Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky,
Truth can sometimes be so hard, but it’s as necessary as breathing. The more honest and open we try to be with ourselves, with others, about who we are, about what we think and feel, the freer we are. Lies constrict our lives. When we tell the truth, we can leave that moment behind without another thought. When we lie, we live with it, carry it with us, forever. Telling the truth is much less burdensome. Telling the truth opens us up, makes us vulnerable, it puts us out into the world fully, as we are. It says, here I am, take me, or don’t. Risky, but with so much reward. We honor ourselves when we tell our truth. We bring integrity into our lives. We also bring trust, from ourselves, and from those we love. Telling the truth, truly, sets us free.
“Have you ever heard the wonderful silence just before the dawn? Or the quiet and calm just as a storm ends? Or perhaps you know the silence when you haven’t the answer to a question you’ve been asked, or the hush of a country road at night, or the expectant pause of a room full of people when someone is just about to speak, or, most beautiful of all, the moment after the door closes and you’re alone in the whole house? Each one is different, you know, and all very beautiful if you listen carefully.”
Silence is golden. I used to hear that a lot from my Mom. One of those Mom sayings that stuck with me, and so true. Quieting oneself, learning to enjoy and live in silence once in a while is wonderful. It allows you to hear the world in a more profound way. A few moments of silence can breathe life into a day filled with too much noise. Listening to the quiet of the world around us helps us to find the quiet within ourselves. Finding the quiet within ourselves helps us to center our minds, our souls, and our hearts. Silence opens worlds to us we might otherwise miss.
― Shel Silverstein
Hope, remaining hopeful, is as necessary as breathing. It’s easy to become overwhelmed with what is or has been or the worry about what could be. We’re human, we struggle with this all the time. But it’s so important to remember that anything can happen, and that anything can be good as much as it might be instead be frightening. We focus too much on what’s not right, not enough on what is. Hope is a big part of what’s right. There’s always room for it, and it can be cultivated. Trying to think positively, starting with one small thing that is right in your life, is good, can begin to grow a larger garden of positive ifs inside of you. That’s where hope lives. Hope leads to joy and laughter and an energy to get up and live life to the it’s fullest.
― Neil Gaiman,
Sharing ourselves with others speaks to the essence of what life is about. Expressing our feelings, our ideas, our hopes, our fears to another person, to other people, makes those hopes grander and those fears smaller. Opening up our true self to someone else makes our world larger, grander, and fuller than we could imagine. Letting someone know you, the real you, the whole you, is frightening and vulnerable, but also brave. It’s an act of reaching out and of letting go. It’s beautiful and fulfilling and it brings us closer, creates connections that last.
“It’s okay to be absurd, ridiculous, and downright irrational at times; silliness is sweet syrup that helps us swallow the bitter pills of life.”
― Richelle E. Goodrich
Being silly, risking the ridiculous, is fun. It’s enlivening, life affirming, corny, dorky, wonderful, and beautiful. Not being afraid of being ridiculous and possibly absurd, while being out in the world, is a gift. I say this because I’m a total dork, and can be totally ridiculous. Singing in public places, dancing in the grocery store, putting on funny hats, doing a funny little walk because you’re trying to make yourself or someone else smile. Those moments of totally letting go bring so much joy, so much fun to life. And acting in a way that says we don’t care what other people think of us, only of what we feel like doing in the present, brings a strength and certainty in us down to our bones. Silly can generate confidence, and confidence generates silliness. It’s a beautiful relationship.
― Lao Tzu
Love is everything, having and giving it. Not just the love for your partner in life, but love for friends and family. I can’t stress enough how very important it is to let the people in your life know you love them. The most important thing in life is who we love and who loves us. It brings meaning to everything. Nothing else really matters. Love is everything. Breathing joy and hope and compassion into everything it touches.
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
― Stephen R. Covey,
Listening, and not talking, is central to having great relationships with people. When you listen, actually listen without just trying to get your word in edgewise, you let people know what they have to say is important to you. That they are important to you. When you don’t really listen, when all you do is wait for the moment you can speak, you let them know that what you have to say is more important to you than actually hearing them. Listening engenders trust, true companionship, and warmth.
“The greatest wisdom is in simplicity. Love, respect, tolerance, sharing, gratitude, forgiveness. It’s not complex or elaborate. The real knowledge is free. It’s encoded in your DNA. All you need is within you. Great teachers have said that from the beginning. Find your heart, and you will find your way.”
― Carlos Barrios, Mayan elder and Ajq’ij of the Eagle Clan
I’m 50 now. The big 5-0. It doesn’t freak me out, worry me, or make me feel like I’m old and getting older (though I am). It has however made me reflect a bit on the life I’ve lived. There are things I thought were important when I was younger, when I was more self-conscious and filled with angst. Very dramatic. I wrote a lot then. Prose, poetry (some OK, mostly not), letters I never sent, some I did. Now, at 50, I’m much more certain of myself, much more comfortable in my skin, not as self-conscious. I’ve grown. Most of us do.
Through the course of this time I’ve spent reflecting lately I’ve made a mental list of the things I think are important in life. Obviously the people in our lives are the most important, but this list of things/ideals are what I believe make a life more fulfilled, the things that can actually make a life extraordinary. I strive to put them into practice every day. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes not. But life is in the trying, and I try.
In honor of my turning the big 5-0 I’m going to throw the list out to the universe, as a gesture of good will and safe keeping.
I got a little carried away when I actually sat down to make the list (which is in no particular order by the way, just written as it came to me) so I’ve decided I will post it in parts.
Welcome to part 1….
“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
― Mother Teresa
Compassion is paramount to living a fulling life, without it we are acting alone in the world, separate from our fellow humans. We cannot pretend to know another persons story, or how they came to feel and think as they do, but we can honor them as human beings and wish the best for them. We can be open to the fact that they have had different experiences than our own, not expecting them to then act and think as we do. Compassion fills our hearts with love instead of animosity, it elevates us.
“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” ~ Dalai Lama
Kindness is the most important tenet, to me. Above all things. It’s so important to me that I have the above quote about kindness on every email I send out – you might have gotten one. Kindness is always possible. We have to be kind to others, and to ourselves. I’ve learned a little kindness takes us everywhere we want to go. It soothes souls, can make a persons day, and costs us nothing. A smile, a kind word, a thank you, a simple acknowledgement of someone all work toward the common good, and good in ourselves. It is beyond valuable, beyond priceless. Kindness is key.
“Tears are words that need to be written.” ― Paulo Coelho
Sadness happens to everyone in life, let yourself be sad when you are, but don’t live there, wallowing in it. It’s a tough balance, but necessary. You honor the feelings by letting yourself feel them. You don’t let it take control of your life by remembering that there is more to life than just the thing that’s created your feeling of sadness.
Inhabiting yourself – feel your body, know your mind, feel your presence. Things will happen to us in life. Things we cannot control. Things terrible and strange and lovely and warm and awful and on and on. We get through it. We get through it best when we know ourselves, when we feel our own presence and our own power. That knowing helps us to understand that life will happen, but we can bear it, we can step through it. We can move beyond whatever it is that’s happened and into something new, something that could be wonderful in its own way.
“Beauty doesn’t have to be about anything. What’s a vase about? What’s a sunset or a flower about? What, for that matter, is Mozart’s Twenty-third Piano Concerto about?”
― Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt
Beauty is everywhere, if you look for it. Noticing the wind moving the trees, the sun glinting through a fence, the way the dogs have that little walk they have, a phrase, a painting, a blade of grass, my honey breaking into song, in light and love and kindness. Beauty is everywhere. We choose to see it, or not. Life is so much better if you look for it.
“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.”
― Herman Melville
Connectedness Connection is everything. We are not islands unto ourselves. Our actions effect those around us, just as the actions of others affects us. It’s so important to remember that our ideas and ideals are ours and to dwell in the knowledge that other people, other creatures, have their own ideas, wants, needs. What we do, every day; the words we use when speaking to others, the actions we take in kindness, to our fellows and to our planet, all ripple out. One kindness generates another, one word of anger generates more anger, one positive thought spills out to create more positivity in the world, a negative thought spreads negativity. Everything we do has a consequence for others in small, and sometimes not so small, ways. Everything is connected.
“But I can hardly sit still. I keep fidgeting, crossing one leg and then the other. I feel like I could throw off sparks, or break a window–maybe rearrange all the furniture.”
― Raymond Carver,
Anxiety. I have it. Everyone experiences it. It’s not always rational, but it’s a natural part of living, of caring about people, caring about the world, caring about yourself. There is no getting rid of it entirely. The question is, does the anxiety control you, or do you remember to breathe, look it in the face, and try to keep stepping forward. Sometimes I succeed in that. Sometimes I don’t. That’s OK too. We can all wish for a little less anxiety in life, but we have to be careful the wishing doesn’t just lead to more anxiety. Acceptance, stepping into and through it, instead of constantly denying and fighting against it, helps. We have to remember to breathe.
“No one needed to say it, but the room overflowed with that sort of blessing. The combination of loss and abundance. The abundance that has no guilt. The loss that has no fix. The simple tiredness that is not weary. The hope not built on blindness.”
― Aimee Bender,
Temperament and trying to keep oneself on an even keel is important. The energy we give out to the world matters. Not that we should live for others, we shouldn’t, but it’s important to be aware of our impact on others. That we do have an impact. It’s not easy when you’re in a bad mood, but it’s so important to try to be your better self, to try to remember not to inflict that mood on everyone around you. Conversely it’s important to remember that if someone you meet in your day is in a bad space, they may have had a terrible day, or be battling demons you don’t know or understand.
“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
― Frank Herbert,
Fear, or the lack of it, is one of those constants in life. We are afraid of what is happening, or what could happen, or what did happen. Fear eats at us and taunts us and reminds us that we have a lot in life we don’t want to lose. Fear is. I love the line in the quote above about letting it pass through. That rings true to me. We have to face the things we’re afraid of, as best we can, and then let that fear pass through us. We have to let ourselves look at what we fear, look it in the eye. Only then do we begin to take the reins back from it. We can never live entirely without fear. We love, we dream, we hope, and so, we fear. It is a part of living. A part of caring. But we can try to keep it from taking control of us, we can try to be its master, instead of letting it be the master of us.
“The only time you look in your neighbor’s bowl is to make sure that they have enough. You don’t look in your neighbor’s bowl to see if you have as much as them.”
― Louis C.K.
Empathy is central to living a full life. Kindness, compassion, and love all come from a place of empathy. We don’t have to know or have lived someone else’s circumstances to ache for them or to hope for them. We tend to live in our own little worlds, sure of our ideas and opinions, secure in the thought that what we think, the way we think, is the right way. Sometimes we even believe what we think is the only way. We’re wrong. We have no idea what another person’s experience is, where they came from, what they’ve seen, what they’ve lived through. To have true empathy is to say that you might not understand someone, but you want to nourish their souls anyway. It is to admit that you don’t know everything, and that you shouldn’t judge what you don’t understand. To empathize is to step outside of your own set of rules and to say that you feel for another human, regardless of the presumptions you have about them.