I participated in one of those development opportunities at work this week which good companies make available, but which take great leaders to make impactful. It was held at the end of a long day, in the middle of a long week and an even longer year. I was tired and knew that I’d be taking work home to attend. But I appreciate these two leaders who invest their time in us, and so I went. The content was interesting, but the last 15 minutes hit me hard. They asked us to write a letter to our younger selves. Here’s what I wrote, unedited and written in a stream of consciousness so powerful it shocked me.
Never, never, never forget it’s the people. None of the other stuff you accomplish will ever matter squat unless you do it taking care of those around you. It’s not a competition: it’s a marathon called life, and you only get one race. Run one you’re proud of. You are a neat person–don’t let anyone make you forget that, no matter how they treat you, or carrying whatever baggage they’ve got. That’s about them, it’s not about you. Don’t let their issues and behavior become yours. Stay true to yourself and what matters to you, and it will all work out as it should. Have a blast!
I’ve recently written that I’m at one of those internal turning points we come to infrequently, which force us to choose what to keep and what to discard, what to run toward and what to walk away from. I’ve been struggling with what I’m willing to adjust for this new season in my life, and what I want to cling to. Writing this letter reminded me, in a few short but powerful minutes, of what I can’t afford to forget as I find my new path. I am strong and sure-footed. The future is bright. I will find my way.
“Keep your face to the sunshine, and you cannot see a shadow.” –Helen Keller
As I’ve reached mid-life, I recognize the patterns eventually, if generally later than I should. Every day, every year is different, but some common themes emerge, and so I adjust based on what I’ve learned from the times before. Then there are the “mega shifts”, the really big shifts that happen every decade or so, at the most. Sometimes the trigger is obvious, like having a child. But some are just the cumulation of everything that’s happened in life until then: age, relationships, deep wounds, personal growth. These tend to sneak up on me. For a long time, I only know that everything’s “off”, but I can’t put my finger on why. Eventually, I realize that I’m the one who’s off, and that something has to change.
It’s in the middle of this realization process that people make radical, ill-advised decisions. It’s a temptingly obvious thought: when things aren’t working, change them. But we’ve all seen people we care about run from their problems, only to realize that they were carrying their problems with them to their new destination. Running doesn’t work for me. A reason to make a change may eventually become crystal clear, but I find that I have to first work to change me. Life hands all of us our share of disappointments and curve balls. If I assume that my old perspective and approach will still work in a new, permanently changed situation, I’m setting myself up for unhappiness. Even though things have changed, somehow in the middle of it, I become the frog which will allow itself to be boiled, if only the heat is turned up gradually enough. The trick, as always, is to notice the rising heat before it’s too late.
The changes in my life have cumulated enough again that it’s time for me to adjust. I must focus on not losing any important part of myself in that process and on protecting my relationships with those important in my life. But I must find a new thought process, I must adjust to my new reality. Most importantly, I must choose happiness.
“Life is the continual adjustment of internal relations to external relations.” –Herbert Spencer
I’m torn. Some days I don’t think I can take another post from a terrified parent whose child was just diagnosed with this horrible disease, or a woman sharing the loss of her boyfriend/ mother/ sister, or a mother sharing the name and memory of her lost child with the one group of people who she can count on to understand why that’s so critically important for her to do. My daughter is recovering. She lived. I’m so grateful, and I just want to move back to the time before I’d ever heard of this 14-syllable disease. But I feel guilty, too. My daughter is recovering. She lived. Too many others did not. So many are still fighting the marathon battle I wasn’t sure how I was going to survive. This group of us who understands need each other. We are a lifeline. At least, I know they were to me, and so I stay. It’s my turn to be someone else’s thread of hope…a weak, fragile thread, separated by distance and an understanding that we’ll never meet, joined only by the thinnest shred of a shared and powerful experience. But sometimes that is enough. Sometimes I may be the one with just the right prayer, just the right reassuring word, just the right tiny piece of knowledge. So I stay, not because it is easy, but because some of us must. I hate it, and I dread it, and I am grateful for it, sometimes all at once. It is the least I can do to pay forward the infinite, unrepayable kindness and understanding shown to me, when it was my turn to be on the dark side. I feel an obligation to try to be a sliver of light where I can, and to be a small voice of love where the light can not yet enter.
“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” –Desmond Tutu
My youngest turns 12 today. Where did the time go? It seems like only a couple of years ago a little pixie with a mop of crooked, coal black hair joined our family. No matter how old she gets, I will always think of her as the little toddler who, just a month after coming home from China, sat on the deck in her purple Disney princess chair with her feet propped up, grinning as if she owned the place. She’s always had what her grandpa calls a million dollar smile that can light up a room. She has brought much sunshine into our lives.
But our littlest one is also our most stubborn. We’ve never been able to make her do anything she didn’t want to do. We’re lucky, then, that she’s a good kid. But still, there are times that leave us exasperated. Or puzzled. One year, when she was about seven, she used her sister’s razor to shave half of an eyebrow off. Surprisingly, it took a day for us to notice. When I did, I quickly realized that year’s school pictures, scheduled for the next day, would be memorable. And so they were. It has become a family legend over the years and tells a lot about our special daughter.
I’m so very proud of the smart, beautiful young woman she’s becoming. She’s a walking encyclopedia on science facts, a gifted cook, can design and build almost anything, and has a big heart for animals. I love her to the moon and back. Happy birthday sweetheart – I told you your eyebrow would grow back!
“Today you are you! That is truer than true! There is no one alive who is you-er than you! –Dr. Seuss
This is the 19th question in Matador’s list of 20 Questions For Every Spiritual Seeker: what is wisdom, and how do we gain it?
This is a tough one…I’m not sure there is a single answer to this question. As I’ve gone through my going on five decades of life, I have learned a few nuggets of wisdom which have given me peace. I do not, however, feel as though I have found wisdom. Here are a few of the most impactful lessons I’ve found for my life:
- My self-worth is based on what I’ve done for others, not on what I’ve accomplished.
- Laughing until I cry is healing, and I try to do it at least once a month.
- I reflect whatever I surround myself with, good or bad.
- The belly laugh of a child is the best sound in the world.
- People are, literally, all that really matters.
- God exists and loves us.
What wisdom have you found?
“The only wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” –Socrates
I said goodbye to a dear friend this month. I hate goodbyes, I really do. It’s not as if my friend is dropping off the face of the Earth, but it will be different now. This is the only part of friendship I don’t like.
This was my first Arkansas friend when we moved here, going back to day two of my new job. You know how you click immediately with some people? This was that. We’ve shared a lot in three years. This friend has seen more of my tears than anyone outside of my family; I’m beyond grateful for his friendship and support. I’m happy for his new opportunity and life, but I sure will miss him. Recent news at work has us realizing more goodbyes are likely coming.
This week was the one year anniversary of closure for the family of a friend and his son, lost in a tragic hiking accident. The overwhelming online support on this anniversary was a fresh reminder of the loss their family feels every day. I remain in awe at the small band of heroes who regularly risked their own safety for three months to bring two strangers home to rest.
I wrapped up this week at a funeral, where a young friend and her toddler daughter unexpectedly said goodbye to her young husband. That’s the worst kind of goodbye. The only thing that keeps senseless losses like these from driving me literally crazy is the profound hope that, while lifelong, these goodbyes are not permanent. We will all meet again.
All of this has made for a reflectful week, for what I’m thankful for and what really matters. I’ve put a card in the mail to a friend dealing with loss who I’ve been thinking about. I’m hugging my family more and being less cranky with them. And I’m going to go visit my parents today, just because…because there are goodbyes.
“Why can’t we get all the people together in the world that we really like and then just stay together? I guess that wouldn’t work. Someone would leave. Someone always leaves. Then we would have to say goodbye. I hate goodbyes. I know what I need. I need more hellos.” –Charles Schulz
“Goodbyes make you think. They make you realize what you’ve had, what you’ve lost, and what you’ve taken for granted.” –Ritu Ghatourey
A friend used this term to describe those who are living in hospitals with their loved ones. Not short stays of days or even weeks, but months with no idea of when it will be over. We got introduced to this quiet society last year during Megan’s illness. I don’t wish it on anyone.
Your world shrinks to not much more than one room. Your outings are trips to another floor for tests or the occasional brief field trip outside for supplies. You learn you can sleep in a fish bowl, and eat and shower communally. The world all but stops. You acutely mourn your life before and all of its normal pleasures, like sleeping in your own bed and eating dinner all together as a family. You feel guilty for your jealousy of the hospital staff who get to leave every day to go home to their normal lives, even as you are beyond grateful for everything they do for you and your loved one. You become hyper-aware of just who from the outside remembers that you exist and who does not, who is sensitive to your ordeal versus those few jerks who act like this must be some exaggerated ploy for attention. You deeply learn what really matters, when all that matters is what’s happening to a single human being now at the center of the universe.
The crappy reality is that this is happening right now. Right now, as we go about our normal routines, spouses are holding the hand of the love of their lives at their bedsides. A few miles away, parents are suspended in a 10×10 sterile universe, desperately hoping against hope for a miracle for their child. Every day it’s happening, thousands of times, right here in our home towns. It’s a by-product of the human condition and modern medicine. But there is something we can do.
Chances are we will all eventually know someone living invisibly. We can let them know that they’re not invisible, that we remember them and what they’re going through. We can text…regularly. We can send a card and a small stash of snacks. We can visit. You don’t have to stay long, and don’t worry about not knowing what to say. Just say “I don’t know what to say.” Offer specific help versus asking what you can do. It’s easier to accept a specific offer than to ask for help. And if you’re so moved, you can donate time or money to an organization which helps very sick kids and their families; there are plenty of them. My friend Angela from church has started her own non-profit, Gifts from Heaven, to bring a moment of joy to kids with serious illness. If short on time, we can send someone like Angela $10 or $25 a month, and let them do the work for us. And especially, we can pray. Pray for those living in fear, their lives disrupted and on hold. And pray that we don’t ever have to learn what it’s like to live invisibly.
“Sometimes the heart sees what is invisible to the eye.” –H. Jackson Brown, Jr.