A couple of years ago, I broke my tailbone on my birthday, making me the butt of my kids’ jokes (you can expect more of this). It would make a better story if I did it celebrating in some spectacular way, like skydiving, but I’m an accountant, and my life is boring. The truth is, my fall was the result of household dust on the floor, proving I’m also a sloth, but that’s a story for another day. The upside is my mishap has provided eternal fodder for my kids.
I’ve been complimented for how much my kids laugh; I’m as proud of them for that as I am almost any of their other awesome qualities. Humor is a critical coping mechanism for life, especially during tough times. We practice mostly morbid humor in our family, the kind which other people, if they overheard us, might hesitatingly say, “Um, that’s not really funny…” We’re also fans of three-year-old humor. A few years ago, I asked my kids in exasperation if we couldn’t please go just one day…just one day!…without talking about butts. We got behind on that almost immediately.
As the kids and I have gone through some tough times the last five years, we haven’t lost our senses of humor. We’ve found humor in ICU’s and alcoholism and joblessness when I was a bum. We’ll now find a way to laugh about the coronavirus quarantine until it’s in our rear view mirror. I love my kids. I love to hear them laugh. We’ll get through this together, like we always do…laughing.
How many derrière references can you find?
“Humor is just another defense against the universe.” —Mel Brooks
Fear is an omnipresent part of the human condition. So many things can go so terribly wrong, and we can’t see ahead. Everyone finds a way to cope, unless they don’t. Some use a drug of choice. Others withdraw. A few go literally crazy.
I work at work, I work at home, I work at my hobbies. I even work at charity. I have only two speeds: run and crash. It’s not healthy.
The last few years, I’ve been working at developing more speeds, with some success. It was a necessity. My kids’ needs changed. My support system changed. I needed to change. It hasn’t been easy, and it won’t ever be natural, but I’m more moderated. The fear no longer chases me; it’s now a familiar, tolerated companion. When you stare down the monster under your bed now sitting beside you, you learn what you’re made of. I realized I can’t win this race I’ve been running.
And with that realization, I won.
“He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.” —Friedrich Nietzsche
I toured the National Museum of the Marine Corps yesterday. I’d heard of Quantico for years but didn’t know much about it. It was moving.
The building was designed to echo the iconic photo of the Iwo Jima flag-raising and is a head-turner from I95 which runs beside it.
The inside is even more impressive, with various Marine aircraft suspended dramatically from the cavernous lobby. The exhibits in the rest of the building live up to its initial hype.
Arranged in chronological order, the exhibits begin with the formation of the Marines at the birth of our nation. On November 10th, the Corps will celebrate its 245th birthday. It’s been in the middle of every American hot spot ever since.
Several things struck me from the tour, including the racial and gender diversity the Corps has practiced from the beginning, though discrimination was still very real. The tour guides were also unique from other museums, with white hair still cut “high and tight” and instilling an unusual order during the tours. But the biggest impression the exhibits left on me were the horrendous conditions and extreme sacrifice these leathernecks have endured to keep us safe. From the Civil War’s battle on the Galena, which after touring Lincoln said, “I cannot understand how any of you escaped alive;” to the gruesome Bataan death march; to frozen Chosin where frozen bodies were used as sandbags; to the horrors of IED’s in Iraq and Afghanistan; the Marines have always been at the tip of the spear. I‘m in awe of what they’ve volunteered for and valiantly executed. Our debt to them can’t be repaid.
“Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference in the world. The Marines don’t have that problem.” —Ronald Reagan
Years ago I participated in a leadership development event which made a lasting impression. The event itself was an interesting experiment: my company sent us to a “camp” usually attended by youth. It was run by an awesome organization, Heifer International, which donates income-producing animals to families in third world countries in true teach-a-man-to-fish fashion. We were told to pack warm clothes and bedding, that we’d be roughing it. We were told little else.
The twelve of us boarded a small bus in our company parking lot early on a crisp October morning. The forecast was for unseasonably cold nights that week, dipping down into the upper 30’s, but the Arkansas trees were starting to show their fall colors; we’d be spending the next couple of days deep in those gorgeous forests.
Heifer staff took us on a tour of the structures they’d constructed on site to reproduce the homes of their clients across the world. As we toured, I hoped to be assigned to the Ecuadorian or Appalachian huts: they had walls and windows and would retain some heat (though there weren’t enough beds), or the Mongolian yurt (I’ve wanted to stay in one since my visit to China’s Kazakhstan border), but I didn’t get that lucky. I was one of six (and the only woman) assigned to the abandoned building in central Nairobi. It looked like a rail car which had been sitting in the woods for decades.
Our little band took a couple of tattered plastic sheets laying around and did our best while it was still light to cover the holes between the slats, and then joined our luckier Ecuadorian colleagues who had a stove, pooling our limited food rations to prepare an impromptu meal with what we had on hand. I got enough to eat, but barely. We played Uno by the fire and talked until it was time for the long trek into the dark woods to our “room” for the night. I “slept” cold and not very well on the hard wooden floor. Stepping over my sardined colleagues in the dark to go to the frigid outhouse was another treat.
But my other lesson on that trip, besides the reinforcement that I’m beyond blessed for my life, was a team-building exercise they led us through the next day. They blindfolded us and led us to a maze that we were to get through as a team, each holding onto the shoulder of our colleague in front of us. They reassured us that they’d remain right there to keep us safe from the sticks and uneven ground, but it was still unnerving to be on completely unfamiliar turf moving around without being able to see. We stumbled and felt around with our free hand, talking to each other to try to find our way, with constant reassurance from the nearby staff to just let them know if we needed any help. After three or four minutes of going what felt like nowhere, I began to get frustrated. At the next staff member’s gentle reminder to let them know if we needed help, I spoke up to ask a question. I was immediately pulled aside and had my blindfold removed to see a finger held to their lips: in an instant I understood. Our job wasn’t to get out of the maze after all, it was to learn to ask for help. I’d “passed.” I saw a couple of my colleagues already standing there with knowing smiles—they were faster learners than I.
We watched as the remainder of our colleagues slowly took their own path toward knowledge. Stubborn personalities were visibly apparent; it was a reflective exercise. How often do we believe we have to figure things out on our own? How often do we allow our stubbornness to slow our progress? What help is right in front of us right now that would make our lives instantly better? I’m grateful for the lesson and the reminder that there’s no shame in accepting help.
“Until we can receive with an open heart, we’re never really giving with an open heart.” —Brene Brown
My financial advisor gave me a gift this week: he told me he hoped I was proud of myself for having moved halfway across the country for a new job with kids in tow. It hadn’t occurred to me to be proud of doing what it took to survive, but as I thought about it, I guess I am.
I suppose I hadn’t thought about it because it didn’t feel graceful or heroic at the time. It still doesn’t. Instead, it felt flawed and lurching and downright ugly. There were weeks I didn’t get my bills paid or any groceries bought. There were mornings I couldn’t face the treadmill. There were too many nights of getting five hours of sleep, leaving me feeling like crap the next day. On one July morning, I started my new job, then closed on my house that afternoon, and that evening the moving truck unloaded my stuff…all within twelve hours. I had to start up utilities and get a new driver’s license and spend quality time with my daughter and get acquainted with my new team, all at the same time. It was overwhelming, every single day for months.
But I did it. We’re here and making new friends, and we have furniture and no boxes. We have new doctors and have gone to concerts, and I’ve only put on a couple of pounds from the stress. We’ve eaten fish sticks and canned soup more times than I wanted, but we haven’t gone hungry. It hasn’t been pretty, but I amproud of it. As our CEO said this week, he’d take an ugly win over a beautiful loss. I know many of you are struggling through ugly wins. I hope you’re proud of you–I am.
“By perseverance the snail reached the ark.” –Charles Spurgeon
I recently bought my first two Funko Pops of my favorite artists: Freddie Mercury and Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss). Until they began watching me while I work, I’d never really reflected on the fact that these two men whose talent I admire were, I’ve learned, extremely flawed humans, and not in a sympathetic way. Though their work has brought me joy, I’m not sure I’d want to be around either of them. It’s a paradox.
Much has been said about whether celebrities should be heroes. Some are truly role models, while others are downright terrible people who happen to have a talent that others value. It’s a reflection of our culture and ourselves who we admire and why. While I’ll always admire the talent of the greatest singer in the greatest band the world has ever known, and I’m still in awe of my favorite author’s elegant yet accessible use of the English language, they are not my heroes.
My heroes are the lawyers working pro bono to represent in court the immigrant children our country has taken from their parents. My heroes are the 9-year-old son of a former colleague enduring chemo and radiation and a months-long hospital stay twelve hours from home to fight cancer, and a dear friend entering her third year of fighting the same battle. I am in awe of the friend who runs a kids cancer charity out of her home, and another who supports women needing reproductive health services, and yet another with a knack for finding and helping local people in need. These are my heroes… the people who run to suffering head-on, face it with courage, and work to limit its impact. You inspire me. Godspeed.
“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” –Mother Teresa
“How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before its afternoon. December is here before it’s June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?” –Dr. Seuss
A colleague at work will be having a baby any day, and it’s had me thinking about the process of how families are formed. Or, I should say the processes, for there are many ways to form a family. For example, I’ve had one baby, two pregnancies, and three children. I have three more siblings as an adult than I did as a kid, plus several friends who are like sisters. I’m beyond blessed.
We’re born into a family not of our choosing, but then, as we grow up and go out into the world, we decide who we want to surround ourselves with, who will support us. We look for someone we can trust our true selves with to begin our own family. And if we’re lucky, the people we grew up with are people we still want to be around. We become the nucleus of our own chosen family. Eventually, our children and their children repeat the millennium-old cycle.
The cool thing I’ve learned over the years is how many awesome people there are out there. We’re all flawed, but most people are also mostly good. Everyone’s just trying to get through life, and it’s so much easier with the support and companionship of others. I’m the luckiest person alive for the family I’ve made and found.
“Having somewhere to go is home. Having someone to love is family. Having both is blessing.” –Unknown