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The gift of a birthday

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Today is my 44th birthday. 44. That’s weird. I don’t feel like 44 years have gone past me (although I admittedly have aches and pains not seen in my 20s and I now find great joy in a Saturday night with nothing to do). But on this, my birthday, I’ve been reflecting on the past year. And through that reflection, I’ve been given a marvelous gift; that is, perspective. In the great summation of another year lived, I am able to learn about myself…and to find lessons that I hope will make me a better person in my 44th year.

I have learned that trust is a rare and delicate gift. I often give it too freely to those who haven’t earned it, or too long to those who don’t deserve it. And I know I don’t thank those who do enough.

I have learned that the heart has a tremendous capacity for joy and an equally intense ability to feel pain. Sometimes the deepest cuts are made by the same person or thing that once brought you that joy. 

I have learned that the human spirit is amazingly resilient. I am grateful for those who reminded me about that.

I have learned the value of forgiveness. Grudges cause the most pain to those who hold them. Even greater relief is found in the ability to forgive oneself.  

I have learned that despite good intentions and honest effort, sometimes I will just fall short. But if I learned something in the process, the time and energy was not wasted. 

I have learned that you can really only love someone as much as they will allow. That said, I have learned that I can love more deeply and unselfishly than I imagined. I am grateful for those who don’t limit my love and who love me back without restriction. 

I have learned that every day is an opportunity to be happy. But happiness is not something that happens to me. It is something I create. It is a mindset framed in gratitude.

I have learned that many people are happy to settle for mediocre. I’ve also learned that I am not one of those people. And I won’t apologize for that.

And so, lessons learned. Here I am at 44 … still learning. What better gift could there be? 

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Focused on the “Now What?”

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Like many Americans, the results of last night’s election are weighing heavy on my mind. Like many, I am disturbed and disappointed. And if you are a reader of my blog, you know that this is where I often process my thoughts and ideas. I am going to make the bold assumption that you read my words because you find some value in the thoughts I share; that somehow, I inspire you to think about something in a way you maybe haven’t before. And so today, I write this blog for that reason.

I just need to share some of the things I am worried about.

I am worried because I believe that last night’s results are a reflection of this country’s unwillingness to truly embrace a woman leader. I’m not sure people even consciously know it exists. But there is an underlying and archaic prejudice that pervades our country’s values and belief systems. It is one that sets double standards and often calls women bitches when they hold positions of power and are strong leaders. It is thinking that criticizes women for many of the things for which their male counterparts are applauded, and it permeates the way girls are educated, hired, and celebrated. It is evident in white society; it is even worse for women of color. That needs to change.

I am worried because we have elected a bully. Some may admire Trump’s outspoken honesty, even arguing that his honesty, although often offensive, is refreshing. But what we saw throughout the campaign was someone who often used scare tactics, who raised his voice when he felt threatened, and who promised to exclude people who are often on the fringes of society. Now, on the day after the election, he speaks of inclusion and representing all people and their interests. It’s like the abusive husband who kisses his wife’s cheek on the day after he beat the shit out of her. That cannot be tolerated.

I am worried because we are focused on making America great again when, in reality, I don’t think we’ve come close to realizing our true greatness. While we have made strides, we are still a very long way from ensuring that all voices are heard in this country. We are even further from guaranteeing that those voices are heard with the same level of interest and validation. Am I to believe that the perception of greatness lies in a time when white men ruled the roost and women and minorities had less (or no) say? Many people have fought and died over time for the rights we have. Does making America great again imply that those rights have somehow diminished us? I don’t disagree that there are many, many great things about our country. But when we talk about “again,” I think we have to be careful about what exactly that means.

Finally, I am worried about what we will say to our children. Every day, we teach kids not to bully, to be inclusive, to think about how their words and actions impact others. What will we say now when they see all of the qualities we discourage rewarded with the highest position in our country? How will we explain that the person leading us does it not by example, but by modeling exactly how we shouldn’t act?

Someone said to me today that watching the election results come in last night was much like watching this season’s Walking Dead premier (I apologize to the readers who will not get the analogy here). In the case of the election, she said, some voters are like Negan who is swinging a bat named Trump to squash and kill those whose ideas and values are different than his own. Abraham and Glenn, she said, represent the morality and humanity that are killed in that swing. I hope that is not the case.

And so, perhaps the most important question is “Now what?”.

The “now what” is critically important. Sure, the face of politics is changed. Sure, there’s a celebrity in the White House. Sure, history has been made. But beyond that, we must all ask ourselves “now what” and decide how we will move ahead.

I remember when Obama was elected and there was a certain positive energy around the change he promised to bring to our country and to politics. I remember thinking that people saw him like some kind of savior. And now, eight years later the same people are full of criticism and disgust – to the point that they are now looking at more of a fallen angel to be our redeemer. Here’s the hard and honest truth: our salvation is up to us. No longer can we be complacent. Instead, each of us needs to embrace the democratic process and hold our politicians accountable: for their words, for their ideas, for their actions. With a president-elect, a House, and a Senate all representing the same political party majority, we can no longer blame disagreement between parties for our failure to make positive change.

The “now what” will be defined by our ability to be proactive, to advocate for rights for all people, and to hold our elected politicians accountable for representing not special interests and big money, but all of us. Our civic responsibility – and our need to be responsible to and for each other – is now greater than it has ever been. We need to be educated about the issues, we need to invest concern in each other, and we need to pressure our legislators to make decisions that truly benefit all of us.

Most importantly, when our children watch TV or log into social media, we have to make sure the messages they see reinforce for them that every one of us believes in them – all of them – and that the future of our greatness lies in the contributions they will make to our world. No matter their gender, their sexual orientation, their body type, or their color, our children must know that their ideas are respected and considered. I hope that they not only hear “United” States of America, but that when they stand and place their hands over their hearts to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, they feel united in a country that has their backs. That’s what will make America great. It is our duty to get us there.

The Risk in Being Known

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trueself
Have you ever been with someone who knows you? “Knows me?” you might be asking. And your next thought is probably, “Of course he/she knows me. We’re in love.” But I begin this blog thinking that knowing someone – truly knowing them – might be more rare than we think.

I was recently watching an episode of my favorite TV series. The female lead character was talking to a stranger about her recent decision not to marry the man to whom she was engaged. She tells the stranger, “I realized…in four hours I would marry a man who didn’t know me.” The man’s response: “Yeah, who knows anyone? Who cares?”

And so it begs the question: how well do you really know the people you call friends; the people you say you love? How well do the people who say they love you really know you? This awareness goes well beyond a favorite color or food; it is deeper than simply understanding preferences or dislikes.

I write this fully aware of the fact that we wouldn’t want everyone we interact with on a daily basis to know everything about who we are. There are certain suitable lines to draw with strangers, co-workers, and even friends. But I wonder how many of us have at least one person who knows everything – the good, the bad and the ugly, as it were.

Perhaps the even greater question to ask ourselves is not whether we have that one person who truly knows us, but whether we are capable of sharing our authentic selves with another. It is a scary thing to be raw with another human being; to expose our strengths and weaknesses, our good qualities and our faults. There is an underlying risk in allowing someone to see through the facade and truly into what makes us tick. To do so first assumes that we know ourselves – or at least that we are willing to uncover that self with another person. We must be willing to share even the parts that might embarrass us with another; and that person must accept us without judgment or blame. A relationship like that leaves us vulnerable like no other. It leaves us open to deep hurt, and it challenges us to be better in areas where we find a need for improvement. My guess is that not everyone is up for all of that.  It is much easier to settle into a more comfortable arrangement, where we find stability and contentment.

Very often in romantic movies or novels, we hear the term “soulmate” tossed around. The term leaves the hopelessly romantic looking for that perfect partner; the partner they were somehow predestined to meet. Hollywood makes it seem like the relationship with a soulmate is the perfect engagement, free of struggle or challenge because it magically works like no other. I would, argue, however that a soulmate relationship is probably just the opposite. The person with whom we share our soul has a great responsibility to help us grow, to help us love ourselves and them more deeply, and to continue to challenge us in positive ways. None of that is easy. But a true soulmate is, I believe, the one who also loves us for the effort and who celebrates with us all of the beautiful and authentic things that make us who we are. They understand our rough edges and somehow accept us in spite of them.

I read a quote online recently that said,” Some people bring out the worst in you. Others bring out the best. And then there are those remarkably rare, addictive ones who just bring out the most of everything. They make you feel so alive that you’d follow them straight into hell.”

Yeah. I want that.

 

 

 

 

A Patient Egg

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I ordered an egg salad sandwich in Wawa today. It was well after 1 p.m. and I was hungry. I had also just come from a funeral.

I used the automated order machine, went to get a soda and chips, paid for my order, and then went back to the counter to wait …and wait. Suddenly, there were a whole bunch of people around me who were not there when I first placed the order. And the numbers being called were well above the number on my receipt. “Hmmm,” I began to think. “I think I got missed.” I waited a few more minutes.

As I approached the counter, I thought to myself, “Don’t be that annoying person.” And so I wasn’t. I very politely asked if my number had been called and suggested that perhaps I missed it. The young woman said that it had not been called and asked to see my receipt. The order, itself, was missed. The sandwich was never made. Kindly, I thanked them and stepped back to wait.

Just then, a man about my age leaned over to me and commented on how patient I am. This made me laugh because if you know me at all, you know that patience is not always my strongest characteristic. “Most people aren’t that way,” he said. “It’s nice to see.”

And so why am I blogging about an egg salad sandwich? What kind of lesson could possibly be found in a Wawa? Actually, not much of a lesson at all. But where the lesson is found is in the fact that this happened right after a funeral and that the man’s comments to me were about being patient.

Today’s funeral service held a message about moving. No, not moving as in exercise; but moving as in from one place to another. The pastor talked about how much he hates to move; how the places we’ve grown familiar with hold memories, and friends, and all our “stuff.” Moving, he suggested is an inconvenience. But he also affirmed that every one of us – through the nature of our lives – is destined to move at least once. The movement he referred to was, of course, a movement from this life to the next. But between the sermon and the experience in Wawa, I began to think about how we not only move through life, but how we so often rush. For a complete stranger to comment on my demonstrated patience says to me that the norm must be one of hurriedness and haste. There is almost an expectation that we’ll finish with something and move onto the next – the next project, the next chore, the next relationship. If this consideration had not come to me, I would, in fact, have rushed through even my lunch.

But there is no greater reminder about how short life can be than a funeral. And it is not a usual experience to have a stranger comment on a characteristic like patience in a Wawa. So, the combined experience has made me reflective.

How often do you rush through the day? When do you take time to reflect?

I know that life is busier than it should be; that the demands on all of us are far greater than we’d like. But I also know that it is in the moments we take to savor, to think about our actions, and to appreciate our blessings, that we find gratitude, or peace, or even patience. Today I was grateful for that egg salad sandwich – and I slowed down to really appreciate how good it was. It was only a sandwich. But if so much meaning was found in just a sandwich, imagine how much meaning there is to be found when we slow down to enjoy the bigger things. Those things – the things that matter – they shouldn’t be part of our “to do” list. In fact, when we do move to that other life, it will be those things that people remember most about us. Worth considering, isn’t it?

The Divorce that Broke the Internet

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couple getting divorced

I heard on the radio today that the breakup of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie actually broke the internet.  I’m not sure if that’s exactly accurate, but when I heard the report I was immediately struck by it. I mean, it would take a lot of people to actually break the internet, right?

True statement or not, I have no doubt about people’s curiosity to read the gossip. What I do wonder about, however, is their motivation for being so interested. It’s not like Brad Pitt is some hot handyman in the neighborhood and now all the single women have a shot with him (and yes, I’m assuming that most news seekers in this case are women. Terrible how I’m perpetuating a stereotype, I know).  But as I think about it, I believe there are probably two reasons for people’s curiosity: people are either saddened or shocked by the celebrity breakup; or people find some kind of relief in being able to relate to it.

Relationships end all the time. We’ve all known seemingly perfect couples who have called it quits for one reason or another. After all, it is so easy to judge a relationship from the outside with statements like, “Oh, they seemed so happy,” or “They were so good together.” The truth is that we never really know the secrets of a relationship; the things that happen – or don’t happen – in private. It may even be true that in some cases, one of the people in the actual relationship is struggling to understand the breakup, not sure why the person they held closest to them decided to disengage or call it quits.

While Brad and Angelina appeared to the world to be the perfect power couple – blessed with fame and fortune, and enough love to adopt children from all over the world – the media is now in the business of citing blame for the breakup. And as more and more people speculate about what happened to cause such an upheaval, more and more reasons for the split are revealed. I guess I don’t understand why there has to be a victim; why there always has to be someone blamed. I’m stuck on the basics of the story: two people who loved each other have decided that it’s not in their best interest to be together, and in the wake of their relationship stand six children of a broken home. Celebrities or not, these are still people. This is a story full of disappointment and loss. Somewhere in the middle of “happily ever after” and divorce, I bet there was also a lot of turmoil and difficult decisions. Perhaps people pay attention to the story because what looked like a strong and good partnership turned into something very ordinary and disappointing.

In addition to those who might see the sadness in the Brangelina breakup are also those who, I think, find some comfort in it. How many of us experience a breakup and are left wondering, “What could I have done differently?” Even more often, I think people begin to question themselves, making “what if” statements about losing weight, being more patient, having more sex, etc. But to witness the breakup of a couple that was so celebrated seems to say, “Look, even Brad and Angelina aren’t perfect.” And in that statement, there’s an opportunity for all of us to be just a little kinder to ourselves. I mean if they couldn’t make it with all their money and privilege, how will we? Right?

When this story’s 15 minutes of fame are over, the truth is that there will still be a family affected. With a divorce rate in the United States somewhere around 50%, a break-up like this – along with Taylor Swift songs and country music – remind those of us who have had failed relationships that we are not alone. And once again we are reminded that while money is great to have, it can’t buy us happiness and it sure as hell doesn’t buy love.

It’s a Matter of “Who”

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“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” ~ e.e. cummings

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When was the last time you paused to think about who you are? I don’t mean what you are, how you feel, why you did something. I mean under all of that – the WHO.  I’ve been doing that lately. I’ve been taking a sort of personal inventory to assess the who of who I am.

It’s a funny – and really sort of difficult consideration to make. I mean, think about the last time you went somewhere and met new people. How long did it take someone to ask, “So what do you do?” I’d bet it was within the first 10 minutes of the conversation. Am I right? I ask that question, too. It’s a casual ice breaker; one of those questions we learn to ask to demonstrate an interest in another person. The problem with the question is that people often respond with their job title. “I’m a teacher,” or “I’m a lawyer,” or “I work at Target.” And from that response about how they make money, we make judgments about WHO they are.

You’ve only had to live on this earth and deal with people a short amount of time to know that WHAT someone does for a living and WHO they actually are can be complete dichotomies. For example, I’ve known teachers who really don’t want kids of their own and healthcare professionals who make poor decisions related to wellbeing. And so, especially in this day and age of online everything, I think it is so important to look beyond the titles to understand what makes a person tick.

The real challenge in all of this is that I don’t think most people stop to think about the WHO of themselves, separate from the titles they hold. Additionally, the WHO is often clouded by the expectations of others, the list of things we need to get done, or the things we think we need. We spend so much time trying to be all things to all people that I fear we are completely losing ourselves in the process. It is easily plausible to think that today a person woke up and within the first two hours of the day was expected to be dad, husband, carpool driver, bill payer/provider, and CEO … all within the first two hours! When did that person even have a chance to think about his “who”?

But the consideration of the who is, I think, so important to our overall happiness. I mean, how can we really know what we need, how we should spend our time, or even with whom we should be friends, if we don’t have an understanding of our authentic selves? It is so easy to lose ourselves in the day to day. And when we do, we are left open to make decisions or choose courses of action that ultimately leave us unhappy.  A year or a decade suddenly goes by and we’re left looking in the mirror at a person we no longer recognize. This, I believe, is the greatest cause of anxiety and depression we face. And I don’t think people even think about it.

And so I am taking that personal inventory to understand my “who.” I am considering my values and trying better to understand what motivates me. It is not easy work. But my goal is to live a satisfying life – and through that life I’d like to add value to the world around me. Do you know your truth? If not, maybe it’s time to start looking. You might not always live perfectly within that truth, but at least your life won’t be dictated by what everybody else thinks you need.

 

 

Living in a Lonely World…

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The Mermaid
“I believe in the kind of love that doesn’t demand me to prove my worth and sit in anxiety. I crave a natural connection, where my soul is able to recognize a feeling of home in another. Something free-flowing, something simple. Something that allows me to be me without question…” Joey Palermo

As I was getting ready for work this morning, I heard something on TV that caught my attention. It was a Dr.Oz visit to the Today Show where he talked about some specific health concerns of women. The segment probably would not have gotten my attention, except that I heard something I had never heard before. That is, loneliness is now on the list of top health concerns. It affects our immune system, impacts our mental health, and even causes heart disease.

It almost seems unbelievable that in this day and age of “social media,” people could actually be lonely. But, as Dr. Oz points out, social media is the home of “drive-by friendships.” We tend to think that when we “like” a post, or include a comment under a photo, that we are actually keeping in touch. I think the reason I paid such close attention this morning is because I happen to believe that social media does nothing for our feelings of connectedness to one another. In fact, I would argue that technology – as great as it is – is actually helping us forget how to build real relationships.

For a while now, I have been feeling fairly out of touch with people. Certainly, lives are busier than ever and there’s barely a free moment to just breathe. But I have some friends, for example, who refuse to actually talk on the phone. They will text endlessly, but an actual phone call goes to voicemail almost 100 percent of the time, even when it’s made right after a text. There are even those who will tell me not to leave a voicemail because they don’t listen to messages. “Just text me,” has become a mantra. I am guilty of it myself.

I remember being at the theater last year with a friend. Our seats were in the first row of the balcony so we could easily peek over to see the audience below. Shortly before the show began, my friend asked me to take a look below us. What I saw was a sea of blue screens. I estimated that about 75 percent of the people waiting for the show to start were on their smartphones. Despite being seated with friends or loved ones in a beautiful theater (where you actually have to look up instead of down to see the historical architecture), most show-goers chose to check email, Facebook, or an app instead of engaging with those around them. It was a bird’s eye view of how the world operates now in the technology age.

And so how does all of this relate to the idea of being lonely? It’s simple really. I mean, it is a rare and beautiful thing to actually find someone who “gets” you. That kind of relationship takes time and nurturing. It takes conversation that is much deeper than a superficial press of the “like” button, or the designation of an emoji. For centuries, writers and poets have expressed the deep longing of people to find “one of their own,” another soul who matches ours and with whom we can connect. That kind of attachment, that understanding of another, is precious. It doesn’t happen while we are scrolling. Nor is it maintained through casual interactions.

To further complicate my pondering, I googled the antonym of the word “lonely.” I got words like, “accompanied, escorted, together.” But to me, those words are not the opposite of lonely. In fact, I believe you could be all of those words and still, in fact, be lonely. And perhaps that is the deepest loneliness of all.

To be alone is not to be lonely. Loneliness, I believe, is the sadness that comes from not being understood, not being seen, not being known and accepted for who one really is. A thousand friends on Facebook can’t fix that. But one, true, deep, real connection? That makes all the difference. And now we know, it might just save our lives.