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.
“There is no small act of kindness. Every compassionate act makes large the world.” —Mary Anne Radmacher
130. Poem Written in 1991
When the Soviet Union Was Disintegrating
by Ursula K. Le Guin
The reason why I’m learning Spanish
Una palabra, un aliento.
So now I’ll turn right round
Seventy years for nothing.
And the dream that came before the betrayal,
Once I sang freedom, freedom,
–Ursula K. Le Guin
“If we are to survive the most divisive presidency in generations, it’s up to us to climb down our family trees and better understand how we got here. It’s up to us to ask fellow countrymen “where are you from?” with a lot less fear and a lot more wonder.” – Bill Weir, States of Change
We need to understand what drives us, our opinions, our ways of being and thinking in the world. Why do we denigrate people with views different from our own? Where is the wonder? Where is the respect? Where is the humanity?
I was reading the transcript from CNN’s Bill Weir’s program called, States of Change, Homecoming. His show, one I haven’t watched all the way through to fully disclose, is an exploration of his roots. They are interesting to be sure, but that’s not what grabbed me. What grabbed me was the thought that we have opinions, some virulent, strong, unchanged despite our best efforts to be open. Why is that? Where do they come from? Shouldn’t we be interested in that?
It’s easy to pronounce our opinions, to put down other opinions, to think we know best and act as if we do by spouting and re-posting article after article or meme after meme putting other’s opinions, lives, views, down. Way down. That’s low if you think about it. Our opinions are made. Made from our experiences and our feelings about those experiences. We forget this. We forget to put that big old magnifying glass we so easily point at others back at ourselves. We are, none of us, without flaws. Our views, even though we might passionately hold them, are not rule of law, are not even always a greater truth. They are just our truth, our views. We forget that.
What I’m saying is, we should be looking at our own views, at ourselves, to really examine why we feel as we do, and then, shockingly, be open to others who might feel differently. They’ve had different experiences, different influences, leading to different views. It doesn’t make them, or ourselves, idiots. Just makes us humans with different opinions. I can believe something to be true that you do not believe it true, and vice versa, you can believe something I don’t believe, that’s OK. Different opinions lead to varying solutions. Varying solutions solve our problems.
I was also watching coverage of the Harvey rescue efforts. Two rescued sisters were interviewed. During that interview, they said they thought it was beautiful that in these divisive times, when people are standing firmly on either side of an invisible line, both racially and politically, that all is forgotten and the community comes together, no color lines, no political lines, to help. It is beautiful. What’s sad is that we need some disaster to remind us that we’re all human, that we should and do love each other. No qualifiers.
I don’t know what all this means. I feel I need to shout out into the void occasionally to say, remember… remember to love. Remember to be kind. Remember we’re, most of us, just doing the best we can to live our lives. Remember we’re different, we’ve had different experiences. Remember that’s OK. Forget fear. Remember to have wonder. Remember to be fair. Remember to be gracious. Remember to be gentle with the feelings of others. Remember. If we can, if we do, everything changes. Love prevails, even in small moments, or big ones, like what’s happening in Houston.
We need to remember.
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.
Be kind in big ways and small even when it seems a tad difficult. Be present. Listen more, talk less. Close my eyes, turn my face to the sun or the wind or both at the same time and breathe deeply. Spend time on or near the water. Go on long walks with the pups. Drink life in. Be silly and dorky and unafraid to make a fool of myself. We are bombarded with information every day so choose wisely. Life is a matter of perception so remember I can see things in a negative or positive light. Act to change things in ways I feel I can. Meet the world with love and good intentions in my heart instead of fear and anger. Smile at people I know and don’t know. Bridge gaps. Notice a glint of sun. Appreciate the natural world. Think about what it might be like for others. Cuddle the pups often. Laugh and play with the grandkids. Write letters. Tell people I love them. Be honest even when it’s uncomfortable. Share. Recognize joy. Believe in hope. Dance. Cry. Be curious. Give lots of hugs. Accept compliments. Hold my honey’s hand every chance I can.