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?
“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” ~ e.e. cummings
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.
When was the last time someone said, “I need you”? How did it make you feel? I will make a presumption here and just assume that the sentiment made you feel really good. It is, after all, nice to be needed; to feel like someone relies on you for something important. But I think there’s a better thing to say to someone. That thing is: “I want you.”
For all of those whose minds ventured immediately to sex, let me call you back to my point. I don’t mean “I want you” in any way other than to admit that there are many choices in life. To be wanted among so many other choices is, in my opinion, far more powerful than being needed.
Why do I make this distinction? It’s simple, really. I think we live in a world of disposable people; where we value a relationship or a person when they serve some kind of purpose for us. Maybe they consistently counsel our decisions in a rational way; maybe they have a truck we know we can use to move furniture; maybe they help us pay the rent or can be counted on for a fun night out on the town. Whatever the need, that person fulfills it for us. And so we stick with them, have good times with them, and continue to rely upon them to fulfill that need (and maybe others). But what happens when that need is no longer a need? What happens to our relationship with that person?
I used to have a good friend who would make the distinction all the time between a want and a need. When he would do something nice, I’d say, “Oh, you don’t have to do that.” And he would reply, “You’re right, I don’t have to. I want to.” Or, in other words, “I don’t need to, I want to.” See the difference? The wanting to is what makes the action nice. The wanting to be a support, the wanting to be present, the wanting to stick around – that’s what matters. Anyone can stick around when they need something. True friendship – or even love – is what exists when all needs are removed and you decide you still like the person simply for who they are.
I don’t know about you, but I’d take being valued for me over being valued for what I can provide any day of the week. Sure, you might love me for many reasons. But at the end of the day, if it’s not because of WHO I am (vs. what I provide), I’m pretty sure my life is better off without you.
You know, it’s funny. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how my words, actions, or some combination of the two have the power to make someone feel special. I’ve also been thinking about how my words, actions, or combination of the two – even when well-intentioned – might make someone feel burdened. You see, what I’ve come to realize is that some people –no matter how much we like them – have trouble accepting love. In those cases, short texts that say, “I miss you,” or “I can’t wait to see you,” somehow become guilt triggers. It’s as if my well-intentioned little blip of love somehow becomes an obligation that the person isn’t sure he/she deserves, knows what to do with, or can embrace.
What am I talking about? You’re probably thinking, “Man, I would love someone to text me just to say they are thinking about me.” Well, me too! But I’ve learned over the years that not everyone is like me. And sometimes the baggage people carry is a brand we’d never recognize, even on our worst day.
If you are one of the people who feels anxiety when an “I miss you” is expressed, I can only offer my perspective as a possible way to lessen those negative feelings. My advice is this: take what is said at face value. If I take a moment to say, “I miss you,” it’s not because I want you to say it back (although if you miss me, it would be nice to know). I also am not saying it to make you feel guilty. As a person who literally goes crazy without an ability to express myself, I am simply releasing an emotion that is weighing me down. I am taking an otherwise crappy feeling and turning it into a positive energy in the world. It’s nothing more than a condensed version of: “Hey you – over there – even if I just saw you last night, I am missing time in your presence and I really hope we can at some point, without asking you to commit to a time or place, reconnect.” Moreover, it’s saying, “Even though I am super busy and you are super busy, I am thinking about you and I wanted you to know.”
In addition to the above, I also ask those who shy away from affection to remember that it takes a certain amount of courage to express something like, “I miss you,” or “I’m thinking about you.” The person who initiates that kind of sentiment is trusting that you’ll place at least a little value on what’s in their heart. And so while it may make you uncomfortable to say something similar back, I encourage you to at least find something to say in response (although I’d avoid “thank you”). After all, it’s been said that our legacy is determined by the value of a person’s relationships. And any relationship – with too much neglect – is destined to fail. So step just a little out your comfort zone to appreciate that. Even if you don’t feel like you are, you might just be special to someone. And that’s pretty awesome.
Since this is a blog about relationships, I thought I’d talk a little bit about friendship. Friendship, I think, is the foundation of any solid relationship. Whether that friendship turns into a romance or if it remains platonic, it requires attention. Lately, I’ve been thinking about the friendships in my life. Admittedly, I realized that there are a few very important relationships I have been unintentionally ignoring; but there are also others that I think I’ve been maybe nurturing too much.
To the dear friends who I’ve left feeling ignored, I apologize. Chances are good that if you haven’t noticed my lack of contact, you’re not one of the people for whom that apology was intended. But if you read that first sentence and thought, “Yeah. I haven’t heard from her in a while and I wonder why,” or if you’ve been feeling like I’m distant (maybe that distance has even annoyed you)? Yep. That was for you. There are a handful of you that I could absolutely do a better job of keeping in touch with. I’m sorry. I will try harder. And I mean that sincerely.
Conversely, there are a handful of people who get entirely too much of my energy. I think about those people, I make time for those people, I reach out to those people to see how they are. Some of them deserve that attention; some do not.
In a meditation class I recently took, we spent a lot of time on living in the moment. The goal was to learn how to focus energy on the present, to let go of the energy of other people, and to become more self-aware. Through a series of exercises, I was asked to visualize things outside the present, to release the energy associated with them, and to picture blowing them up. And when I say “blowing them up,” I literally mean visualizing them in the distance and then blowing them up – with TNT, with a shotgun, as fireworks. We were told to use whatever worked for us to make those visualizations completely disappear. I think the whole point was to help us release any energy we were carrying from those people and experiences and to learn to live more fully in the present, but for me that exercise of blowing things up was very stressful. I never really mastered it.
As I think now about letting something go, I realize that we rarely do that with people and relationships in an active way. Instead, we begin to ignore someone or we change the parameters of the relationship in such a way that it simply begins to fade. And, as it is slowly and passively dying, we make excuses for why that’s happening: I’m busy, he moved, we had an argument, I work so much, etc., etc. etc. Often, this process of delay and excuses causes us a lot of undue stress and guilt.
Are there relationships in your life that are dying a slow death? If you can identify one or some, I think the most important question you can ask yourself is whether or not the loss of that relationship truly matters to you. If that person with whom you were once close disappeared completely from your life, would it make you sad? And, if you knew there was something you could do to hold onto that relationship, would you? If the answer to those questions was “yes,” I think you know what you need to do.
But if you answered “no” to those questions, I pose another: Why are you holding onto something that means so little to you? Is obligation or guilt the reason? I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t someone to be my friend for those reasons. And you probably don’t either.
Today’s social media world has transformed the word “friend” into a verb. You can now “friend” someone and instantly access their life, their families, their everyday. In that way, the word “friend” has lost so much of its meaning and significance. And then we are left dumbfounded to understand why people feel lonely. The truth is that there is a significant difference between being a friend and being an acquaintance.
I guess my point is this: It is important to decide what role people really play in our lives so that we can spend our energy wisely. Investing too much energy in someone who is not really a friend is like waiting for a ship at the airport.
“I gave it all … But you can’t stop taking from me…And way down I know…You know where to cut me with your eyes closed.”
I’ve been thinking recently about loss. Not loss as in the sudden and dramatic kind; more the kind of loss that happens over time. In relationships, this kind of loss happens when one person decides they no longer value a connection as they once did, when life situations pull people apart, or when one friend or partner has made a mistake and the other refuses to budge toward forgiveness and reconciliation. It’s the most painful kind of loss. Why? Because you feel it happening every single second and, despite any effort to close the gap, it continues to deepen and widen. In this way, it is not the loss we experience with death. Rather, it is a living loss. Where a loving and thriving relationship used to be, there is now a gaping hole; a monster that instead of just killing us with mercy, simply tears a limb off every day.
How many of us experience this kind of loss? Perhaps we hold onto something too long, hoping something will change. We bury hurt feelings, look away from indiscretions, and make excuses for times when another person hurt us (and maybe deeply) because the idea of just tearing off the band aid is too much to bear. It’s as if we think we might just bleed out uncontrollably if separation happens too quickly. So, instead, we bleed out gradually. How many of us are in a relationship like this? And while we hold on, hoping to preserve some part of what made us happy, how much of ourselves is bleeding out as well?
There are many reasons we allow this kind of slow death to happen in a relationship. If you’ve been there, you have your own reasons. And they are YOUR reasons; no one should judge them. I suppose we all walk away in the time and manner we are ready. Or, in less often circumstances, perhaps we find a way to mold the relationship into some new form that suits our needs. In any case, there is a grief associated with the loss of something that once was. And that grief can be deep and significant. But the pain associated with loss doesn’t mean that letting go is always the wrong thing to do.
More than 15 years ago, I let go of a marriage. We were married young, were too different, and despite our best intentions, just couldn’t make it work. We tried. For eight years, we tried. Then one day in the car on a Sunday afternoon, I was finally able to let go. I don’t know where that strength came from and I’m not sure I’ve seen it since. But during a perfectly normal moment of silence, I was able to say, “I’m done.”
I had a conversation last night with a woman who recently lost her son to a drug overdose. What struck me is that for years, this woman suffered that gradual loss of her son. I’m sure that in moments of hope and optimism, she believed he might someday get clean and rebuild his life. But in her words, she “knew this was coming.” The only peace she now finds is in the fact that the slow bleeding has stopped and her son is at peace. She no longer has to worry. Now, she just has to heal (easier said than done).
I write this with no good words of advice and no real “a-ha” moment of revelation. Instead, I just wonder how many of us are in relationships that are gradually causing us to bleed out. And, I guess I hope that when the bleeding stops – for whatever reason or in whatever way – that we are left able to heal and empowered to grow even stronger than we once were.
(Opening quote is from the song, “Bleed Out,” by Blue October. Hear the song and see all lyrics here.)