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Archive for June, 2012

And I Feel Fine

I am a huge fan of movies that are about the world as we know it coming to an end.  Usually these movies involve good-looking male actors running around in tight shirts doing what they can to stop the disaster.  Not that I don’t enjoy that aspect of the movies…because I do.  But I think what I truly love about these movies are the humanistic aspect that they weave into the plot, usually set to some cheesy song, where minor characters deal with the fact that their days on Earth are limited.

                Enter “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World”, the new movie starring Steve Carrell.  There are no plot spoilers here, just a strong recommendation to go see it.  Because the movie starts out with a radio broadcast telling the nation that a giant asteroid will put an end to all life in three weeks.  And what follows is purely the human emotion that results from this news.  No space shuttles, no fireballs, no heroes.

                The movie has plenty of sad moments (as one might expect from a movie about the end of days) but the moment that truly got me was the scene in which some of the characters are sitting around at a dinner party, all dressed in the jewels and dresses that they had been stowing away in their closets, saving them for some time in the future.  They are talking about what they want to do in their final three weeks and one of the women says “I am finally going to take that pottery class.”

                And it would be silly to advocate that we all start behaving like we all have three weeks left in this little world we’ve created for ourselves.  Because, let’s be honest, we would all probably quit our jobs and eat whatever we wanted.  But it’s more about that dress we never wear, the pottery class we keep saying we’ll sign up for.  What exactly are we waiting for? 

                Life is short.  Time is a gift.  The world keeps on spinning.  You only get one ride on this roller coaster.  You’ve heard it all before—the clichés that remind us that we are not immortal.  These are so hard to hold onto when you are caught up in the day to day life of doing just what needs to be done.  But there’s got to be some happy medium between living like your demise is imminent and living like you have all the time in the world left to do the things you want to do.

                Perhaps you don’t deny yourself that milkshake that you’ve been craving.   Perhaps you call an old friend and tell them how much they mean to you.  Perhaps you forgive an old enemy.  Maybe you wear that new shirt you’ve been saving.  If pottery’s not your thing, you can take that African drumming class…or ballet…or photography.  None of these things will send those around you running into the street, preparing for riot.  They are not desperate acts committed by someone being stared down by a giant asteroid.  They are just small gifts that we give to ourselves, things we can do in case we might not always have another chance.

 

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On Saturday, I travelled to the battleground.  That’s what they called it in the e-mail.  They said that Obama needed my help campaigning in Ohio, a battleground state.  I live in West Virginia, a state which bleeds red in its political leanings.  But I can merely look across the muddy river of my hometown and see Ohio.  I could help there.  So I responded to the e-mail and committed to an afternoon in Portsmouth, Ohio.  I headed out that afternoon, setting the address as a destination on my Iphone, setting my cruise control to a speed that promised to keep me safe from the notorious Ohio state police.  And I crossed the river.

                The campaign office was in a small, unused brick building in what seemed to be the center of town.  There were just a few people that had responded to the battle cry that day and we received maps with dots of houses and spreadsheets listing the names of those that lived in the dots.  Robby, the guy in charge, fresh out of college, hired by the campaign, offered to go with me since I was a bit unfamiliar to both the region and the process of canvassing. 

                As we rode over to our appointed neighborhood, the air conditioning blasting on high as the temperatures threatened to reach the 90’s, Robby told me what he knew of the area.  It was a depressed region, one that had been greatly affected by factory layoffs and prescription drug abuse.  We needed to convince the citizens that keeping Obama in office would give them the best chance at recovering their small town.  It’s no small task in a pocket of the world where the people assume that they have been forgotten.

                We went through the first block together.  We got a couple good responses and then arrived at the door of a man who almost started shaking with anger as we tried to pass him a small pamphlet, showing a graph of blue bars shooting upwards, illustrating job growth since Obama took office.  He started to talk to us and we started to listen.  He was convinced that there were no good options left, no saviors left to do the saving.  He demanded to know if we were from the area and shook his head as Robby admitted his suburban Virginia roots.  I asserted my heritage proudly, told him that just over the river we were dealing with the same issues.  We talked, he listened and finally took our pamphlet, telling us thank you as he closed the door and stepped back into his house.

                I spent the rest of the afternoon on my own, sweating up a storm as I walked from house to house in the unfamiliar streets.  I was greeted with kindness by everyone who answered the door, even if they told me through a smile that they would rather die than vote for Obama.  But I had some good conversations and perhaps I even made a difference.  Perhaps they would think of that poor sweating girl who stood on their doorstep and spoke words of hope when they went to the polls in November.

                On my way back to West Virginia, the landscape seemed to sing to me.  I listened hard.  A few days later, I wrote down my thoughts:

Southern Ohio, you sing to me with your smokestacks

As I drive on roads that claim themselves to be radar patrolled

Your ramshackle buildings scream to me of battles lost

And trains desperately race in the opposite direction

The stoplights proclaim a destination

And so I stop, slow down to adjust for civilization

Fast food, windows covered in plywood, road signs pointing the way away

Southern Ohio, you sing to me your battle hymn in these landmarks

You just want the tide to turn, for someone to take care of you

Oh, this I understand

I knock on your inhabitants’ doors, sometimes falling off hinges

I see their pride and their skepticism all at once

And they smile with me just the same

In a few hours time, I will leave them

I will point the car away, towards the smokestacks, past the stoplights

Southern Ohio, you sing to me a sad country song

One whose refrain keeps running in my head

I turn the radio up louder to drown out what hurts to hear

Everyone knows what is best for you, and we are listening and you are not completely forgotten

But tonight you will still be working your battles

And I will lay myself down in sleep

Southern Ohio, my lullaby is not so different from yours

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Last summer I was walking around an art fair with friends, resolving not to spend any money.  And then we stopped at a tent where a woman sold silver jewelry that she had designed herself.  And there, on layers of felt, was a silver necklace in the shape of a cloud.  Across the bottom, carefully etched, were the words ‘silver lining’.  I broke my resolution, got out my wallet and gave the woman what she was asking without a second thought.

                This piece of jewelry spoke to me.  And you know what it said?  It said “Some days you will need to wear me around your neck as a reminder.  Trust me on this one.”  (As a side note, inanimate objects like jewelry, a cute dress or a killer pair of heels really can speak—to women at least.)

                So I started wearing that necklace quite a bit this spring.  The tiny weight of the silver on my collarbone, resting close to my heart, was a talisman of hope.  I found myself reaching up to it, tracing the letters with my finger.  Every cloud has a silver lining.  The other way I’ve heard it said is “Why is this problem perfect?”, meaning what sort of lemonade can I make with these lemons?  

                And I know I risk sounding a bit like Pollyanna.  But here’s the difference.  I’m not going to go around telling you about the bright side of the horrible losses in your own life….or the possible merits of getting stuck in traffic.  But I am the sole audience for the reel of thoughts that play in my head and these days I try to take the path of silver linings, lessons learned and internal optimism.  It’s a challenge for sure.  The fact that my gas got turned off last week in the middle of drying a load of clothes?  I got to spend time with my mom when I went over to their house to use the dryer.  And it was really hot last week so those cold showers actually felt quite refreshing.

                Those things are relatively easy.  It takes a bit more work to figure out the bigger issues, the issues that leave you up at night.  Without going into too much detail, a couple of weeks ago I found myself in the position of getting into a situation in which I felt like I was losing sight of myself.  I’d been doing so well, making good decisions in my life, being the person I wanted to be….and then suddenly I felt like I was slipping into old bad habits.  I beat myself up a little bit about it.   OK, maybe a lot.

                And then I started to focus more on what I had taken away from the situation…what I would do differently next time.  And it felt a lot like forgiveness.  We tend not to forgive ourselves very easily do we?  In this respect, the whole internal optimism, lemonade, silver lining thing doesn’t feel false and corny…it just feels like being kind to myself.  And since I’m the only one watching this movie, what do I have to lose?

                And if all else fails, vodka lemonade is a very refreshing summer cocktail.

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Unraveling

I have wonderful and caring friends.  I have a small but beautiful family.  I have discovered a new community of likeminded individuals.   And from their eyes, I am forced to see myself as they must see me…a woman who has lost quite a bit in the last six months.  The timing continues to happen like 1-2 punches.  And it sucks.  And I see their sorrow for me.   And I so appreciate the nurturing and the unexpected gifts and the phone calls to check in.  I don’t want any of it to stop when I say this, but:

I am OK. 

I am merely unraveling.  But, this too, is OK.

This morning a beautiful book appeared in the mailbox, a gift from a dear friend.  The pages were soft and a bit shiny, the spine stiff just like a new book should be.  The pages were filled with beautiful photographs and words that were sometime in cursive, sometimes in bold.  I began to thumb through, bending the cover back, hearing that satisfying crack of the book spine; it now belongs to me.

And there, at the beginning, opposite of a page containing a photograph of dogwood blooms, the flower that always reminds me of climbing trees when I was a child, a flower that always makes me think of catching fireflies and sticky popsicles.  There, across from that flower that always leads me home were these words:

Unraveling is not a bad thing.  It’s not coming undone or losing control.  It’s letting go in the best possible way, untangling the knots that hold you back, unwrapping the gifts you’ve hidden for too long, unearthing the potential that’s always been there, finally ditching the labels and the should-haves, and letting yourself be what you were always meant to be.

So that’s why I tell you—my friends, my readers, that I am truly OK.  You may hear me joke that I’m just writing off the year 2012, that the theme of my life is letting go.  You may question my sanity when I tell you that I am doing well.   I saw a friend in Colorado last week and she praised my honesty, my openness.  And I told her that it was all I had at this point in time—that, and a ferocious screaming inside of me that says ‘keep going’, a gentle whisper that says ‘you will get there.’

So it’s from this place of honesty and ferocity and gentleness that I say I am OK.  I am merely unraveling.

 

 

The book mentioned in this post is “This I Know: Notes on Unraveling the Heart” by Susannah Conway

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You Are Now Leaving

Saying goodbye through a dirty windshield

Snap a picture and then it’s gone in a blur of highway

You are no longer my home Colorado

This time I am not entering your mountainous borders looking to be saved

I’m pointing the car towards the plains and the knowledge that I can do this myself

You have given me so much

Sometimes I fear I’ve given you more

Clean the windshield, push the gas pedal a little further

Turns out I’ve always known how to find my way back

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Have you ever written yourself a letter to the you in a year from now?  And then given it to someone to mail after those 365 days had passed so that appeared like a surprise to your future self?  No?  Well, to be fair, I never would have done it either if it hadn’t been required.

Let me set the scene:

One year ago, I was wrapping up a leadership program in Colorado.  As a group, we had spent nine months attending seminars about integrity and community responsibility.  We were learning about ourselves and our abilities as leaders.  And on the last day, we were forced from the comfort of our group and told to take a quiet retreat and go off on our own for two hours to compose this letter to ourselves in a year.  We were on a ranch that sprawled at the base of a mountain and my classmates went in different directions.  I wasn’t wearing appropriate footwear so I sat in the backyard.  And I wrote a letter to me-in-a-year.  It was supposed to be the crafting of a plan—expectations, goals, things learned—and for a rare moment in time, I had writers block.  How was I supposed to predict the year?

Fast forward aforementioned year:

My classmates had mentioned that they had received their letters and I ran to my mailbox each day, looking for my handwriting in the addressee space, the yellow forwarding sticker showing an address in West Virginia that year-ago-me could have never predicted.  The letter didn’t show and last week I made my way to Colorado to retrieve the rest of my things; a bittersweet trip that marked the end of a life that I had known for so long

                In the garage, my things had been packed in boxes and on top of the boxes—the letter.  I left it there and joined my friend Jen in the bedroom to go through my closet.  A few minutes later I told her about the letter.

                “What did it say?” she asked.

                “I completely forget.  Let me go get it.”

                I walked back into the room with the letter, ripped it open and began to read.  And then I began to sob.

                “Wow,” said Jen when I finished.

                So what did it say you ask?

                Hey you,

                How well do you remember that day a year ago—when you sat in the surroundings that you now called home?  A day in the middle of so much busyness.  You couldn’t even be bothered to venture much further than the backyard…worried that you wouldn’t find another spot, worried that you’d be trespassing…that it would be itchy.  And then you sat slightly upwind of a chicken coop, bemoaning your decision…wondering if it was wrong, wondering if you’d regret it, wondering if it was too late to move.  And it was such a metaphor for how you led your life.  And I hope that at this time, a year later, you are working on this.  I hope that you are more present and if you aren’t, I hope you are nicer to yourself when recognizing this.  It’s clear that you are the only hindrance to you doing great things in life.  Throughout this program, you heard so many high compliments and if you could take those and really embrace those, you could take the world by storm.

                The jumpy feeling started to subside a little after about half an hour and you started to realize—I am here…and it’s where I will remain for a little bit.  Have you given yourself that benefit yet in life?

                What are my intentions as a leader?  What should have happened this year?  Acceptance, resolution.  Those are two big things.  Hopefully this past year brought some answers, brought some peace.  Nothing in your external world have to shift that dramatically…maybe it was just a shift within…to allow you to accept, appreciate and LOVE the things that are your reality.  And if you didn’t do that…the ability to let yourself slide on the rules.

Ash

                Wow is right.  Year-ago-me had no idea of the challenges that the year would bring…the dramatic shifts.  Perhaps she felt a little stirring inside, a little hint of what’s to come.  She spoke of strength, she spoke of acceptance.  She had all the tools in her toolbox even if she didn’t know she had them.  So I wish I could thank her…could wrap my arm around her as she sat near the chicken coop….to tell her that everything was going to be just fine.

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