The Boss

I want to tell you about The Boss.  It’s hard to know where to begin, unless it is in the airport looking for my sister.  We’d both purchased tickets to Florida the night before, a one-way ticket for me and a round trip for 5 days for her.  This sudden need for sunshine had less to do with sunshine (because frankly, it hasn’t been what you’d call warm in the sunshine state) and was more a direct consequence of a seizure my mother had earlier in the day.

The Boss was one of the first people we met at the hospital – a tall woman with a pragmatic, not-to-be-obstructed kind of approach.  She was mom’s nurse technician for the day and she kept things in order with a general’s fortitude and the efficiency of conviction.

But that wasn’t all.

She danced with my mom.  On the way to the commode, but they danced.  And my mom smiled at her with the purity of a child who has just pleased someone in authority.

She prayed with my mom.  My mom on the commode and unraveling because of the sense of shame associated with her loss of control, The Boss prayed with her.  Nothing fancy.  No big words or high concepts.  The kind of prayer you pray when things are ugly and you’ve got nowhere to look but up.

Over the past 10 days, each day bringing a new loss for mom, a new insult to mom’s dignity, The Boss has defended her like this was her own mother.  Fussed at me when she was up without socks, bathed her when she lost the ability to do that herself, always pragmatic, always on top of things, always with a kind of muscular kindness that doesn’t tolerate any less than the right thing at the right time.

In the end, and we are at the end, the doctors have been lovely.  The nurses have been kind and capable.  But it is The Boss that will have been the difference in giving my mother something to smile about at her most vulnerable.  It is The Boss that I will hang onto as a long-lost family member and someone to live up to.

Don’t look above you for examples of who to be.  Look around.  They don’t put these people on TV or in the movies.  They don’t show up at the front of an arena with a band behind them and screaming fans.  They put them in hospitals and schools and in daycare facilities.  If you want to figure out who to be when you grow up, find someone like The Boss.  And hope that they like you enough to let you stay for a while.  Because it’s been nothing less than a privilege to have her with us.

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The Boss

Good Enough

This is something I’ve talked around in various and assorted posts, but not something I’ve ever addressed directly.

Enough is not a meaningful measure.  What is “enough” anyway?  Who gets to call it?  A house that is big enough for me wouldn’t be nearly big enough for a Kardashian.  Enough is a relative measure, entirely subjective, and it moves constantly.  Because as soon as we reach a point where we would have called it “enough” before we got there, suddenly, it is no longer good enough.  Because we’re there and a lot of us (not all, but many) are convinced we’ll never be enough so if we can do it, then the “it” that needs to be done must be a little further ahead.

A year ago, I would have told you that swimming a mile every other day would be more than enough.  Now I’m doing two miles every other day and I wonder if maybe I shouldn’t be pushing myself to do a little more because maybe two miles isn’t good enough.

That’s just ridiculous.

On the other hand, this striving for a target of enough that we move beyond our grasp isn’t all bad.  Doubt is a good thing.  It keeps us open-minded, it keeps us learning, it keeps us growing.

But for functioning in life, for moving forward, for taking a leap of faith, am I good enough is a pretty rotten question.

The reality is that you’ve gotten this far.  You’ve made some mistakes, you’ve screwed some things up royally.  You’re still here.  You’re still breathing.  You’ve survived some shitty days and you still have a sense of humor.  That’s pretty amazing.  Even better, you still have this marvelous opportunity embedded in today (or tomorrow, since it’s late) to show up.  Get the ego out of the way.  Dispose of the judgement and whatever concerns you might have regarding other people’s judgement.  Your gift is your presence, for whatever the task at hand is.  You don’t have to be good enough.  Good enough is a feeling, it isn’t a fact.

You just have to show and you’ll be way ahead of everyone else who is paralyzed by the idea that good enough is a real thing they have to achieve before they can do something great.

Good Enough

The Kindness of Strangers

So I admit it.  The phone needed a breathalyzer.  Or I needed a friend to pry it out of my hands.  My texting aside, I was on public transport home and then I caught a cab for the last 1.5 miles.  As luck or fate or whatever would have it, I landed in a cab with a good Moroccan boy.

On the subject of Morocco.  I miss my former MIL, who remains one of the best examples of humanity I’ve ever come across.  I miss the part where I knew a little something about a world that isn’t the one I grew up with.  I miss going over there, the hamam, preserved lemons, some of the cutest nieces and nephews in the history of progeny…

I don’t miss trying to negotiate the cultural expectations where they so clearly didn’t match up.  I don’t miss my ex husband. I do miss knowing bad words in Mahgrebi.

So there I am in the cab, I find out he’s Moroccan, and so I start asking questions.  He’s got a wedding ring on and so I ask him about his wife.  Remember, I’m thoroughly tipsy at this point.  He’s not yet married, but she’s going to come over as soon as she finishes her degree.  Now I get bossy, because I know this experience.  And I start explaining to him what it’s like to be here instead of there and how his out of the house social life will be much as it was, but her inside the house social life won’t be the same at all, and he’s going to have to make some adjustments.

This is clearly none of my business.  Yet something must have worked, because he gave me his phone number in case I ever need a ride (I don’t think there was any more to it than that) and he gave me his worry beads.

I’m a big fan of the kindness of strangers.  Not out of greed, but because we live in a world that can be so disconnected.  You never know with people.  Good and bad.  You never know what they need to hear, or how small things carry on with them.  You never know what is behind a frown, or silence, or even rudeness.  I mean, some people are just horrible and rude, but even that starts somewhere.  Everyone has reasons.  Everyone has a story.  Kindness is the right choice.  Every time.

And now I’ve got a set of prayer beads in my purse that I suspect will be something I carry with me pretty much full time from here on out.  A reminder of the kindness of strangers, and to pass that kindness forward when I get too far in my head.

The Kindness of Strangers

Enlightenment

Doesn’t happen once.  It’s like that ticket stub you keep because you saw that movie with your first love and it was a perfect night and every time you see it, you think everything is possible because there was that one moment where everything fell into place and there wasn’t a single thing you’d change.   So this ticket stub.  You had the night itself and every time you find the ticket stub again, you can close your eyes and embody the memory.  There are days you go looking desperately for it because you need to remember that perfection is possible, and those are never the days that you find it.  Other times, you’re dusting around the books, you pick one up, open it, and the ticket stub flutters from the pages to the floor and you’re instantly transported to knowing that everything is possible again.

That’s enlightenment.  I think.  Unless someone has found it full-time and ever since, has never had to struggle to get themselves back into alignment with taking a deep breath.

I found it driving to work months and months after my ex husband left.  The sunlight came out of nowhere and irrational joy was mine again.  It lasted for all of 20 seconds, and it hit me.  This is the point.  Joy is the point.  Getting to the place where you can let it find you (since chasing it rarely works) and accept it without question when it comes…  This is why we’re here.  The bad stuff that happens just carves out room in our experience so we can take in more joy when it reappears.  And for 20 seconds, I was 100% at peace with everything, exactly was it was.

Of course I lost it again.  I lose it all the time.  I get wrapped up in the dumbest stuff: people in the pool who occupy a lane only to stand on one end and talk.  Can’t you see that you could just as easily stand and gossip in the part of the pool that isn’t cordoned off for laps and let someone who is serious about swimming use the lane?  And I get irritated even when I’m perfectly situated in a lane of my own.  The mere existence of this selfish oblivion, coupled with the failure of the pool management to step in and point the offenders in the right direction, is enough to upend my internal balance while I’m swimming.  And it doesn’t have shit to do with me!

Trust me.  The enlightenment thing didn’t stick.  This might be a solid argument against my claim to have experienced episodic enlightenment.  Perhaps true enlightenment is the kind of thing you only have to do once.

But I don’t think so.  Just about everything worth having must be revisited again and again.  You can’t work out once and then be done with that for the rest of your life.  You can’t commit once and be done.  Commitment is a practice that you must show up for one day at a time, and every morning, you have to make that decision all over again: you.  No one eats once and call it quits, or bathes once and call that sufficient for the rest of their life.  Any of these things that go into living…  love, health, spirituality…  they all require maintenance.  I just don’t think you get to taste enlightenment once and then you’re good forever and ever amen.  In part, because I’m pretty sure enlightenment, like a lot of the best things in life, happens in small experiences and not in the big events.

Or at least that’s been my experience.

I do realize that it is a lot to claim enlightenment, even incremental or episodic enlightenment.  I’ve been the most unenlightened person ever this week.  The pool incident is recent.  My rage dreams are recent…  Enlightenment did not show up and decide to stay.

But maybe the idea that you can be submersed in everything for brief periods of time and then struggle like mad to get back there is okay for me, and if it is okay for me than maybe it is okay for you too…  And that’s mostly what I wanted to say.  Take it how it comes, and if enlightenment comes episodically, well, that counts for something too.

Enlightenment

1918

We had a pandemic in 1918 – H1N1, then known as the Spanish Flu.  Between 3 and 5% of the population died, most of them healthy young adults.  The healthiest people died because they had the best immune systems.  It wasn’t the virus that got them, it was the full-on counterattack mounted by their immune systems that did them in.  Let’s look at that again:

The virus didn’t kill them, their body’s reaction to the virus killed them.

Kind of like how it isn’t the feeling that’s the problem, it’s your feeling about the feeling.

Just sayin’.

And before someone smarter than me starts explaining to me that this isn’t a universal lesson about viruses, and some viruses really are the problem and will kill you.  I get that.  The analogy still holds.  No one is saying to ignore the issues in your life.  Serious stuff is still serious, and requires the feeling and then some kind of decision about what you’re going to do to change your circumstances.  But we all have the feeling, then the feeling about the feeling.  The trouble is stopping there.

The feeling is the virus.  The feeling about the feeling is your immune system trying to excise that feeling.  Ideally, if you quit with the feeling about the feeling, accept the original feeling as it is, listen to the thing it is trying to tell you, and then use that information to come to some kind of a measured response that takes into account your values and purpose and addresses the thing the feeling showed up to tell you…  you’re in a better place than if you just get stuck between the feeling and the feeling about the feeling.

1918

Somebody Else

A hazard of being the product of millennia of progenitors who were good at fitting into the social construct is the degree to which the idea of what I’m *supposed to be* refuses to budge.  This would be one of those things I keep to myself, except that I hear it from my friends as well.  They confront relationship challenges (not just the romantic ones) with this idea that they are *supposed* to have a reaction or approach that isn’t natural.  Who calls, how long before you respond to a text, what is okay to give for a birthday present.  You don’t want to give too much, but you also don’t want to be outdone by the other guy.  No one wants to show up at the birthday party with a homemade card when everyone else is boasting Hallmark.  Or whatever.

But here’s the deal with success or failure in your social endeavors (to include romantic relationships): win or lose, wouldn’t you rather it be for who you are, not for some role you’re playing?

Say you go down in flames.  If you crash and burn spectacularly because you were playing games or trying to be someone you aren’t, don’t you then end up living with the regret?  I’d wonder what might have happened if I’d just been myself, gone with my gut, followed what I was sure of, set my fears aside, stopped listening to the voice that told me there was something I was supposed to be, or the relationship was supposed to be, and just embraced what I was, what the relationship was, and what made me happy.  What if I’d just said what I feel, what I want, and let the cards fall where they might?

Come to think of it, I do live with that…  I can think of three relationships that crashed and burned because of the supposed to’s:  my first love in college – that never got off the ground because the difference between what it was and what it was supposed to be was insurmountable.  Part of the failure of my marriage can be blamed on me not being able to move past the gap between what it was and what I thought it was supposed to be.  I’ll not try to characterize the third relationship here.  Suffice it to say that we all struggle with the gap between reality and “supposed to.”

Moving on.  What if you succeed on the merits of being someone else…  Have you thought through the part where you’re going to have to sustain that charade.  Indefinitely?

I’m certainly not trying to claim that authenticity is easy.  It takes a lot of bravery to say “fuck it, this is who I am, this is how I feel, this is what makes me happy, this is what I want.”  It’s even harder to say all of that with complete ownership over yourself and no expectation that the world is going to bow to your will and deliver what it is that you want.  Consider the alternatives, though.  You can fake it and feel safe because you’re hiding behind the mask you think other people want to see, but succeed or fail, the long-term consequences are pretty difficult.

Between regret or sustaining the lie and the risk associated with just going with the best I can do with my authentic self, I think I’m aspiring to the risk.  If I’m going to go down, I can live with going down on the truth.  It’s easier to live with than losing something over an ephemeral “supposed to.”

The only possible caveat here is if your authentic self is a creep or an asshole.  In that case, become a nice person and then be your authentic self.

Somebody Else

How to be a Nicer Person

Or how to stop being an asshole.

I keep thinking that it can’t be that hard not to be an asshole.  There has been a lot of stuff coming up about bullies and trolls on the various and assorted social media sites.  I’m lucky, in a way, because I have such a small (and generally like-minded) following that no one has ever been nasty to me in an online forum.  But I read about it happening to other people and for every death threat delivered in a comments section, I have the same thought: when did this become okay?  And how hard is it to just not be an asshole?  Clearly, it’s harder than I think it should be.

Step one: Recognizing if you’re an asshole.

If you have ever threatened someone’s life or physical safety or that of his/her family over an idea, a belief, a game, an opinion, a TV show, a tweet, an article, a religion…  Okay, let’s start again.  If you’ve ever threatened someone’s life, physical well-being, or that of their family (to include pets) you are an asshole.  The only possible exception is if you threaten (or cause real bodily harm to) someone who is in the act of harming you or someone else.  For example, the guy in Texas who beat the assailant of his child to death…  he is not an asshole.  If you are in the military fighting a war, you are not an asshole.  These are the only exceptions.

Losing your shit over things you are guilty of is another good sign.  Road rage over someone not using their blinkers when they change lanes, when you also don’t use your blinkers?  You might be an asshole.

If the only socializing you do consists of tearing other people down, you are probably an asshole.  If you are mean to people you don’t know just because you can get away with it, you are probably an asshole.   If you think someone reacting to offensive language by becoming offended is their problem, you are probably an asshole.

I’m sure I could come up with other symptoms, but that covers quite a bit of territory.

Step Two: Deciding you don’t actually want to spend the rest of your life being an asshole because, let’s face it, the world just doesn’t need any more schmucks.

Are you happy?  Do you have meaningful friends?  Do you have lasting relationships with members of the sex you are attracted to?  Do you feel an incipient longing to create something that lasts instead of just tearing everything down indiscriminately?  It may be time to recognize that you’d like to become a constructive human being.

Step Three: Developing compassion.

Oddly enough, this starts with your relationship with you.  Go easy on yourself.  Stop saying such horrible things about yourself when you make a mistake.  Take a deep breath.  Recognize that you are fighting a hard battle, and credit yourself for making it this far.  Then expand that circle of compassion outward a little.  That guy that just cut you off in traffic.  Probably doing the best he can with what he’s got.  The lady who can’t make up her mind in Starbucks: fighting a difficult battle and doing what she can to make it through.  That person you’ve never met on the internet with an opinion you disagree with.  Probably just wants to make the world a better place to the best of his ability.  Go easy on yourself.  Go easy on other people.

Step Four: Take nothing personally.

See, 99.999% of what other people do isn’t about you, it’s about them.  Unfortunately, this means 99.999% of what you do isn’t because so and so said thus and such.  Taking nothing personally goes hand in hand with taking absolute responsibility for yourself and your words.  No one can make you mad.  No one can make you anything.  You choose your reaction.  We’re all trying to make it through with a collection of challenges and difficulties that are uniquely our own.  We’re all generally so absorbed in our own concerns, we have a hard time seeing other people.  That goes for you too.  Notice it in yourself when you’re getting ready to fly off the handle.  Notice it in people who you disagree with.   Their feelings and how they handle them tell you about who they are, not who you are.  Your feelings and how you manage them tells the world who you are and says nothing about the person you are blaming for your reaction.

Step Five: If you would be mad if someone said it to your mother, don’t say it to anyone else.

I’m pretty sure that doesn’t need further explanation.

Step Six: find something you’d like to build, something that makes the world a better, safer place, and focus on that.

If you don’t like people, do something for animals.  Whatever it is, find a constructive place for your energy, something that benefits someone or something other than yourself.

 

 

That’s it.  Practice a little every day and eventually, you too can become a nicer person.  Just start with the no death threats thing, because the fact that someone has to say that out loud is just sad.

 

How to be a Nicer Person