Friday’s Focus—Hyacinths in Bloom

The sounds of the neighborhood waking up with its barking dogs and chirping birds and the ticking of the living room clock keep me company on this rainy morning as I write this. I noticed yesterday that the Hyacinths are starting to come up. They always reminded me of Spring, Easter, and my mom. They were one of her favorite flowers and I always brought her some for Easter. Seeing them start to bloom is bittersweet. It reminds me that it’s been nearly 3 months since she passed away. I don’t know where the time has gone and though I’ve been making peace with her passing there are still some days that are harder than others and I’ve found that a stranger’s condolences and a momentary kindness can still bring me to tears.

The medical bills are arriving and with each one, I’ve needed to make a phone call to verify submission to insurance or to get some clarity on the services charged but not explained. Conversions begin business as usual: name, date of birth, account number, relationship to patient; rote questions coming over the phone from a faceless office worker probably counting the days to Friday like I do.

To help explain why I’m calling about a bill 2 months overdue and that it’s not a shirking of responsibility on our part, I explain that it’s just been forwarded to me from the facilities and that my mom had passed away in December. Suddenly, the numb drone becomes a human being and with a soft intake of breath comes, “Oh, I’m so sorry. Please accept my condolences.” It’s a kind sentiment that’s appreciated and something that still makes me twitch when I hear it, but it’s the personal stories that follow are what brings the feelings of loss fresh all over again.

I can’t begin to say how much it annoys me to have to make these calls to follow-up with doctor offices and agencies, but by the end of the calls, my attitude has completely changed. What starts as a business as usual call ends up with me tearing up listening to sage advice and deep personal experiences that the other person has gone through with the loss of their mother or other loved one.

One woman, now in her late fifties, lost her mother when she was 14. She told me about how she still misses her and the memories they never got a chance to make. She shared with me what she’s learned over time and ended the call with a blessing. I honestly felt that God takes moments and people like this to make direct connections to remind me, all of us, that we are not alone.  

None of us will ever know what can come out of our experiences and how it can help others. There are certain levelers in life that will happen regardless of age, sex, and status, and this is where the human heart comes in if we let it. Those people didn’t have to share their personal stories, but they did, and I was completely changed from each, small conversation. I cried because it was suddenly one grief acknowledging another but I also smiled at the sincerity of the connection. It’s so easy to feel alone because of a death or an illness in the family. 

It’s also easy to feel alone when sometimes the day or recent events have just been difficult, challenging, and going in directions you never imagined. Connecting with a stranger or a friend by one small conversation, one sliver of a share of memory, or genuine good wishes can make the world of difference. It won’t solve our problems or be a miracle cure but when you share your heart, that’s a healing in of itself and a moment you will never forget or regret.

I hope today’s Focus inspires you to keep your eyes open and your heart open wider. You never know what today’s conversations could bring. The birds are still chirping but the rain has stopped. I just looked out the back window and a ray of sun is shining directly on the Hyacinth buds. I think I’m going to go out back and spend some time with the flowers and remember how much she loved them.

#takingitdeeper

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Friday’s Focus—Living Dirty

“Addictions are an attempt to cope with intolerable states. The meager lives we are asked to live, in which we are often reduced to ‘earning a living,’ are themselves intolerable. We are meant to have a more sensuous, imaginative, and creative existence.” –Francis Weller, in “The Geography of Sorrow,”  written by Tim McKee from The Sun, October 2015

This quote comes from an interview with Francis Weller, a California psychologist and author of  The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief from an article my brother recently sent me.  Zoltan texted me last week letting me know to expect something in the mail he thought I’d be interested in. Whatever magazines or newspapers he’s sent in the past have always been interesting and so I looked forward to getting this one. When the big brown envelope finally arrived, I eagerly ripped it open and settled in for the read.  And then I read it again, and then once more. Each time, I kept circling back to that quote.

I love, no I crave, the idea of a more sensuous, imaginative and creative existence. Who wouldn’t? I don’t want to wait until I am old to wear purple with that red hat. Shake it up, shake it down, and shake it out. Boogie through your day. Wouldn’t it be great if it was that easy? For some it may be, but for others, like me, not so, at least not all the time. From experiences in my personal life to those I know around me, I’m no stranger to the irresistible pull of addictions used to numb, move on, and make each day—hell, each hour, palpable. The trip up is that it can get too comfortable being swaddled with a habit that digs its way deeper each day until you forget that you’re really only sleepwalking. You’re not really awake, you’re not really feeling, you’re not really living.

I feel that we’ve become numbed by the barrage of violence that daily fills our senses. Add to that feelings of  discomfort about our personal lives, however deeply unconscious they may be, and we’ve created the perfect cocktail of addictions waiting to happen. We need to get dirty and live our lives as if our life depended on it. Because it does. The period of gestation to when we wake up to our lives can be a long time coming for some, but when we decide to emerge through the other side, to living juicy, is up to us.

I don’t think that we’ve forgotten how to but we’ve certainly  become afraid of letting loose and living in the passion and the dirt because we have the car insurance, health insurance, the kids’ education and so on. So many of us have built up a life of what we were told we should have and so we wanted it by default but as the scales of intolerance and numbness tip, some people find a way to heed the siren’s call and throw off the mask. But it isn’t easy. It’s scary. And when we choose that moment to do it, to rip off our own masks, we need to be able to grieve for the loss of who we were, or more aptly, who we thought we were.

Unless there is a blatant loss of a life is no time to grieve or feel sorrow for what is going on inside us and around us. Even with the loss of a loved one, we’re only given a short time to process it before being required to pick up the pieces again and be back at our desks on Monday morning. We don’t allow time to process not just loss, but all that is making up the fabric of our lives  and I’m  not sure we know how to anymore.

Alternating messages of  “Coming up at 11, the latest on the attacks in [fill in your choice of country, town, state, neighborhood]”  immediately followed by a commercial for a new Lincoln Continental or the Super Sale Days at Macy’s comes at a rate faster than anyone can consciously register. The amount of time we’re given a chance to digest is only as long as a soundbyte.

How do you even start to grab the edges of that mask? Notice anything you read or hear that brings you up short; That grabs your attention and makes you come back. There are some whispering memes that are alarm clocks trying to get through the cocoon we’ve wrapped ourselves in. Listen for it and don’t hit the snooze button. Experiencing loss is a part of life, which no one is immune to. Loss constitutes more than the physical death of someone you know. Loss is missed opportunity, personality, a past place or a regret. Without allowing ourselves to grieve over a loss, it will never go away but will only bury itself deeper until we are lying in our own trough of despair and what I call, “Eeyorness” of how our days have become. (Eeyore, the Winnie the Pooh character was always gloomy, depressed, and  a woe is me. The only thing bright about him is the pink bow on his tail!)

Find something to remind you of the spark and make time for yourself to grieve and even wallow, just for a little while, in whatever sorrow you’re carrying.  I hope you find the inspiration, the red velvet and lemonade, in that space and wake up to the siren call of the life you were meant to live.

#takingitdeeper

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Careers Are a Thing of the Past

I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t believe in careers anymore. I’m beginning to think that having a career is a holdover of a generation that seems to end with mine. Our workforce has become a series of jobs—short-term things we do to earn money versus the pursuit of a career which is basically a longer-term role of employment. A job is not a career. Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines a career as “a profession followed as a permanent occupation”. It doesn’t take much to notice that there aren’t many permanent or long-term positions anymore. I’ve seen too many people lose their jobs due to corporate restructuring and the reduction of staffs based on economically-driven decisions. I’m not blaming the businesses for this turn. As a matter of fact, looking at these workforce changes from a business perspective, it makes dollar sense.

The people I know who still hold a career is really a career in name only. Careers these days have been watered down, twisted, and shaped into something completely foreign to what people had originally intended to work at when they first entered the workforce. I find this sad.

Today’s college graduates are filling out applications for jobs that having nothing in common with the degree framed on their wall. There are many paths one can take to be employed, but the hiring and the duration of the job seems to be at the whim of whatever the economy dictates can be most beneficial to the advancement of the stakeholder’s pocket. Economics 101? Of course.

For those who do end up on a payroll, they are given responsibilities, which they have not been trained for, or are trained poorly, and are showing up each day on jobs because of the need for health insurance and rent and food money. In the meantime, being soul crushing in all other aspects of their personality.

I’ve even found myself in a work environment that turned out to be completely different from what I had started in. I’ve been working within the same industry for over 25 years but my roles have changed dramatically as prescribed by the changing focus of the companies within my industry. If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t have set myself up in education and training to be in a role that has pigeon-holed me and made me all but obsolete. I’ve come to fully accept that I no longer have a career, but rather it’s just a job. One that pays the bills.

People tell me that I should be happy with that. “At least you have a job.” Yes, of course, I am grateful to be employed. But it’s not the same terms of employment that I grew up thinking they would be.

Careers used to be something you aspired to. You went to school to train for it. You interned at a company to get a deeper level of hands-on experience. These things have all gone the way of Mad Men, and in its stead, there are generations of people who have had to turn in their careers for whatever jobs were available, making the best of a situation nobody prepared us for and different from what our parents told us our future would be. Whether we want to or not, current economic climate has made each one of us stand on the cusp of a new way on how to make life better for ourselves.

Our self-worth and identity are very much wrapped into our employment roles as functioning adults in society, contributing our part of paving the American Way. We will always need food and shelter and to provide for ourselves and our families and losing the idea of having a career can be a big adjustment not just for our lifestyle but how we see ourselves.

All that you knew and worked for are no longer available. The rules have changed and are as fluid as they need to be to keep the corporate shareholders afloat. In a way, this can be a blessing in disguise. It’s human nature to seek ways to pursue our happiness and maybe, as our workforce culture has changed with intensified job responsibilities and increased pressure, it is forcing each one of us to reevaluate what our goals are and what we really want our personal energies to feed.

In our discomfort of the modern-day 9-5 we are recreating a culture that though we may no longer have the careers we were promised in our youth, the jobs we hold can continue to take up a corner of our existence but also allow us a way to start thinking out of the box and find talents and desires within ourselves that either weren’t available before or we were never in a position to have to think along that path.

In Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken”, he talks about finding two roads in the woods and trying to decide which road to take. Suspecting he will only have one chance at making the choice, he understands that things have a way of leading to other things and he may not find his way back, he chose the road less traveled, which had made all the difference.

How many of us have traveled the road of anticipated careers and our education? We were so sure we could always come back to walk the other road, but somehow never did because we got caught up in our career. For many of us, we may find ourselves back to that fork in the road, whether from our own hand or that of our employer’s. It can be an opportunity, a second chance to take that road less traveled, and see where it leads.

I don’t think my grandson will ever know the same definition of “career” that I knew growing up and who knows what the workforce will even look like when he’s ready? His will be a whole new generation and the rules will probably change for him, too. I think that the closing of the doors on careers as we know it is jolting but it doesn’t have to be immobilizing. Maybe the window that it opens is one that is more important—having a job but also being able to pursue a more rewarding and richer path and one that we can walk this time with a poet beside us.

Friday’s Focus—Today, and Today, and Today

Earlier this week, I learned of the sudden passing of someone I’ve known for many years. She was a beautiful young woman who always had a kind word and a smile for everyone she met. Many are still in disbelief over this unexpected loss and as those who knew her mourn her and the family she left behind, I can’t help but take stock.  It shouldn’t take someone’s death to shock the rest of us into living, and yet it does.

And so with that, today’s focus is a reminder to tell our loved ones how we feel each day and to put your energy into today. Not tomorrow. Not next week. Today.

It’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture as we go about our lives, but we are all connected and the world needs each one of us to show up and maybe for some of us, to step up.

What are you waiting for? I’m not.

Keeping it light and singing LiLoLa [Live, Love, Laugh] all the way…

Blogging From A to Z: Vulnerable

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A newly hatched bird;
A flower bud;
The first one to say I love you;
Asking your girlfriend to marry you;
Being told you have a disease and there’s nothing more that can be done;
A newborn baby;
An elderly person’s first night in a nursing home;
A bride on her wedding night;
A teenager who just found out she was pregnant;
Openely stating your sexual orientation for the first time;
Writing your first poem, story, post and hitting the “Publish” or “Send” button;
The first public exhibit of your paintings or photographs;
Being interviewed for a much needed job;
Being laid-off;
Burying your loved one;
The first day on your own at college after all the families have gone home;
The first night alone in new a apartment;
All of us in our deepest hour.

Being vulnerable is like standing on the threshold of what was and what will be.

Some of us dance over it, some crawl, some step over it one toe at a time, and some eagerly jump over the threshold with both feet. Being exposed in vulnerability is actually a powerful place to be. Vulnerability is fragility wrapped in hopefulness, hopelessness, security, doubt, wonder, joy, and sadness, all at once.

Are you on the threshold with something that is making you feel vulnerable? Have you made the jump today? Take my hand and let’s walk over that threshold together taking vulnerability and what it means to us deeper.