Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Life Lenses

I'll never forget the first day of an introductory English class my Freshman year of college. I don't remember the course name, it was likely something vanilla and generic like "Literature 101". The class itself would turn out to be nearly useless to me, other than the 3 credits that were easily plunked into my file after the finals were completed and my A penned into the gradebook. I would realize at the end of this very first class when I looked over the syllabus to find that I had already read every novel and short story listed there, most more than once.. However, the experience of the first class was worth an entire semester rereading a handful of cliched classics.

The professor, a bearded man wearing a brown corduroy jacket with olive green patches over the elbows, wore a face of perpetual boredom. He made no introductions, simply telling us that we would begin the semester with an assignment so that he could gauge our understanding of literature. He handed out worn copies of a poem- an untitled poem on paper so well used that the paper was soft and nearly transparent. I remember feeling the freshman excitement of holding a piece of paper that dozens of incoming freshman had held before me. 

I do not remember the words of the poem, except that it was short and seemed intentionally cryptic and full of words that you would never use in regular conversation. You could hear the gentle rustle of pages as we each read  the poem over and over again. The professor had gone quiet and we were unsure what we were supposed to do, so we continued to read it as he peered at us over horn-rimmed glasses with an expression that told us that he expected us to fail this first lesson. 

After a few pensive moments, he cleared his throat while tugging on his salt and pepper beard(a habit he had that would be repeated every few minutes for the entirety of each and every class). He told us that we would go around the room and each of us would tell the class what we thought the poem was about. 

So, we did. Each of us nervously chattering about what we perceived the poem was about. One girl was so nervous that she was shaking as she explained that the poem must be about a competitive athlete and her repeated failures, even though she wanted so badly to succeed. I would find out later that she had been a competitive ice skater who had never quite made it to the Olympic try outs, much to her father's dismay. 

A skinny boy, who looked far to young to be in college, orated proudly about each line, comparing certain lines to a myriad of different poets. He finished his turn be telling us that he had several of his own poems already published and assured us that his poetry would be held in far more esteem than this drivel we were currently reading. This boy was only 13 years old and was taking college classes "for fun". His life experience was little, but his opinions were vast.

A young man, certainly the most nervous of all of us, prefaced his opinion by telling us all that he knew nothing at all about English and was terribly embarrassed to share after the articulate responses that had come before him. He said that the poem was about a plane crashing and the pilot's realization that he was going to die. I would find out later that this young man's life long dream had been to be an Air Force pilot- a dream that was crushed after his vision was damaged in a motorcycle accident during his training. 

My own perception was that the poem was about the descent of a woman into madness after a long battle with depression. So confident was I that this was true, I spoke resolutely and definitively about how each line pointed to this conclusion. The truth, of course, was that I had been battling deep depression for the past few years. In that vague poem I saw the mirror of my own story. 

We each took our turn in small classroom, some orating with confidence and some quietly sharing and looking quickly to the next person to take their turn. The professor had now tugged so many times on his coarse grey beard that the center was pulled straight and was now oddly longer and much straighter than the sides. He turned his head and asked us whose interpretation we thought was most likely to be correct. 

There was much mumbling, but the conclusion was uncertain and we looked back to him for the answer. He told us that answer that we should have, of course, already known. That poetry, any art really, is seen through the eyes of the reader. What the writer writes will be interpreted differently be each and every person. He concluded by telling us that we were expected to be respectful of the opinions of others as each person would see the work we were reading through a different lens. 

In general, that professor was a rather terrible teacher for many different reasons. However, what he taught me that day was the importance of respecting the life journey of those around me, especially when the journey is much different than my own. There is nothing in life that we do not see through the glasses tinted by our own experiences, good or bad as that may be. 

Respect the interpretation of life of all around you. You may be surprised to find yourself open and changed in the most beautiful of ways. We have ever so much to learn from each other.  No two of us has walked the same journey.

road respect


(Oh, and a final note- the poem was, indeed, about a pilot whose plane was descending quickly. The gentleman who seemed least likely to understand, was the only person in the history of the professor's career to have guessed the intent of the author. Indeed, another life lesson. ) 





Monday, April 20, 2015

Self-portaits

I was cleaning out my kindergartner's bag this morning and a self-portrait whispered its way out of the bag and onto the ground. As I picked it up, I couldn't help but smile. She had drawn herself as a princess standing in a castle underneath a chandelier.

I found myself reflecting on my older children's drawings at that age and the similar way that they had drawn themselves. Always in a supremely, empoweringly positive light. A princess. A prince. A hero.

Beautiful.

Perfect.

Happy.

kindergarten drawing








<--Who wouldn't want to be that FABULOUS, right?










I don't like to think about what my self-portrait might look like. I struggle with feeling uncomfortable with my own physicality, my shyness, all the imperfections of myself. I imagine that there may have been a time that I would have drawn myself as a princess, but those days are long gone.

What is not long gone is the longing to feel those emotions tied up with my very self.

Beautiful(no matter what society says about what I SHOULD look like).

Perfect(in the knowledge that my imperfections make me ME and, in that way, I am perfect).

Happy.

Happy.

Happy(hey- this one deserves to be said in triplicate).

So, what in the hell is stopping me?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I am forcing myself in that direction. Towards the light at the end of this dark tunnel.

I'm going to try ever so much harder to love myself as I am. So that I can have all that wasted energy of self-hate to go towards making my dreams happen.

Because my kids deserve to have a Mom that loves herself.

Because I deserve the life that I am trying to give to my children.

One step at time, right? Moving towards that day that my own self-portrait is ripe with sparkles and unicorns.

I hope you'll travel the journey with me.

Shine on, Lovelies.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Deflection and the Power of Receiving

I am a huge believer in the power of politeness. It's such a simple thing, really. Please. Thank you. Excuse me. It just takes a moment and you find everyone reacts in a kinder way when you are polite and kind.


What I am not great at is receiving the very same politeness. Even simple things like a "thank you". A client of mine brought to my attention that every time she tells me thank you, I reply with "No- thank YOU". She wondered if I ever simply accept the gratitude instead of deflecting it back. My answer is a big ole no. I am a chronic deflector.


It is not just thank you's that I deflect, I also deflect compliments- in any form.


"I love your outfit" is responded too with a "This old thing" or "No, you always look so fashionable. I couldn't put an outfit together to save my life!"


"You're a great nurse" is responded to with a "Oh, there are so many that are better." or "I just have the best clients!"


"I love your writing" receives a shamed reply of  "Well, I've never been published, so I can't be that great!"


et cetera. et cetera. et cetera. Gah!


After the comment from my client, I stepped out of myself this week and watched the responses to my deflection. It was a universal response. The joy that the giver felt when gifting me with a compliment quickly fell from their face upon my deflection, even if I was buoying back a compliment to them in response.


In my shy deflection, I have been unknowingly stealing the giver's joy.


I will try harder, Zennies. I will do my best to stop old habits and just ACCEPT THE COMPLIMENT ALREADY. I invite you to do the same.


As grateful receivers we are silently giving a gift to those granting us compliments or even simple politeness.


There is great joy in giving. May we also find the joy in receiving.

Flowers gift





Sunday, April 12, 2015

We Have Forgotten

There are so many young people struggling right now. There has been a rash of suicides in my community. Children that should be just beginning their life are ending it by their own hand. It has started an uncomfortable verbiage. Parents wondering how to prevent these tragedies from rippling inexplicably into their own homes.

There is much blame thrown around. Speculation on the myriad of factors that led to the deceased's final action. Ideas are volleyed back and forth, each of us hoping that by spilling out our thoughts and fears that this sickening feeling in our stomachs- all at once heavy and empty- will be assuaged. Of course, it is not. It never will be. A family, a town, a community, a school district will never be the same. We hold our breaths lest we accidentally whisper out our greatest fear- that this will not be the last one.

I don't know the crux of why depression among young people seems to be at an all time high. I cannot imagine that there is one factor along that must be changed to stop it. We could start speculating- bullying, social media, lonely latchkey kids, increased pressure at school, that electronics have formed a detachment in relationships...I'll bet that as you read that list, you added in some ideas of your own. We could go on all night.

What a do hear almost universally is "How could a child want to take his/her own life? What could possibly so bad in their life as middle school student?". I tell you within all honesty that these remarks floor me.

Have you forgotten? 

The fishbowl that is middle school/high school? That it feels as though every nuance of your life is being seen and judged? Add in social media and cell phones and these children now have lost the opportunity for respite from overwhelming fishbowl of school.

That when you are young it feels that everything is going to be this way forever? You and I know, in hindsight, that of course those years don't last forever(thank God). But, do you remember the FEELING that it would. When even the span of days between weekends seemed endless?

The feeling of loneliness that accompanies puberty because you feel certain that you are alone in the fact that you are at the whim of your hormones and trapped inside a body that is changing so quickly that it no longer feels like your own?

When you didn't yet have complete control over your emotions?

How quickly a bit of gossip spread around the school and how it felt to find that your life had been fodder for the gossip mill?

Do you remember when the adults around you made a point to tell you regularly that "this is the best time of your life!"? I remember. I remember feeling that I was in such a bad place and if this was the best and it was all downhill from here, that was a horrific thought.

I do think that I had a pretty great childhood. I loved school most days, I had a wonderful family and friends. And, yet- I wouldn't call them the best days of my life. Not by far. I think our reflection often rubs our memories shiny.

Maybe your experience was wonderful. I hope it was. But, have we lost the ability to find compassion for the youngest among us?

If we remember our hardest times, can we drum up enough compassion to sprinkle over the young among us?

I wonder if we, as adults, were honest when we said that we know it might be bad now if it might ease the pain just a small bit. If we were to let kids know that this time of trouble will pass and they will move on to better times might they feel less alone.

This is not going to solve the problem. It really is a tiny bandaid on a gaping wound. But it is the only bandage that I have right now, it is one that we each have to give. We each are full of emotional bandaids and they are free for us to give.

Compassion.

Listening.

Love.

Hugs.

Understanding.

It's really all I've got, Folks. It's the only teeny, tiny answer that I have right now. Simply, be kinder. Love harder. Don't minimize the problems of others even if we don't understand.



And, most importantly- if you are someone that is thinking of ending your own life, please please please reach out. To your parents, a trusted adult...or if you have no one personally- to the number below. I swear to you that you are not alone and that this time, whatever awful time you are going through, IS GOING TO PASS. There are far better times ahead- I swear it. I may have never met you, but I am pulling for you. Do not go through this alone.






Monday, April 6, 2015

Rebirth


I spent 35 years in a womb of my own making. 

I sheltered myself within the thick confines of the labels society pasted on me, gaining heft with each passing year. The heaviness was a sick comfort.

Instead of becoming closer to birth, I became more deeply mired,
entrenched,
burrowed into the darkness;


welcoming the bitter on my tongue,
the heaviness of my limbs,
the hunger of my soul.


Until I could not deny the stirring of labor within me.

I was ill prepared for the pain.

The stripping, burning laborious pain of birthing myself.

Waves of torturous, soul-freeing, teeth clenching, muscle burning, exquisitely bittersweet pain.

Alone in the solitary woods of rebirth, shunned. Smited by those who had pasted me with the labels I was so vicariously tearing off of my sweat drenched flesh with each wave of maddened contraction and expulsion.



No one was there to wipe the sweat off my brow. I was alone in my pain, in my grief, in my delight, in my longing.



Alone,  I birthed my true self.

Mothered her.
Gave her shelter to grow underneath. Until she was a strong and worthy companion.

Ceremoniously, we burned our former shell, dancing around the fire as the constraints  I had before allowed to exist within me curled in the heat as if hell itself was below.

And, still, we danced.