Tuesday, January 20, 2015

No-Brainer... No Glass Slippers

Smart Women Don’t Wear Glass Slippers
 Beguiling, beautiful, and bewitching in her every manner, Prince Charming could not believe his luck meeting Cinderella, the fairy-tale princess who arrived unexplained at the ball. They danced through the night. She was light on her feet, and light with her wit. Charming and Cinderella spent hours dancing and had eyes for nobody else in the kingdom.
Charming was jolted out of his dismay at having to attend yet another ball in search of a match for him. He had danced with, spoken with, and been bored out of his mind with every available lass within a fortnight’s ride of the kingdom. Beauties they were, light on their feet they were, rich and well bred they were, but when it came to brains, each of them fell short. Several couldn’t even read. Most could not converse beyond the insipid gossip that hovered like flies from kingdom to kingdom.
Charming was surprised that not only was Cinderella beautiful, but she also was articulate, well-read, and interested in the social concerns of residents of the realm. Cinderella had a particular interest in the practice of near-slavery under which most servants were held. She and the prince shared stories they had heard and discussed ways to ensure fair working conditions for all servants in the kingdom, especially those who were poor relations with no other home except the one in which they were kept in conditions similar to prisons.
Charming kept his rapt attention on Cinderella’s every word. The two of them discussed social reforms regarding servants and poor relations. They also discussed the current state of agriculture and how best to tend the land so that all members of the kingdom would be fed.
The clock struck midnight and aghast, Cinderella ran to the door. Charming had no idea why she felt the need to escape so suddenly. The ball would last long past midnight. As Cinderella disappeared down the palace’s marble steps, one of her shoes slipped off her foot. In moments she was gone. Charming was beyond disappointed, because he had no way to contact her. As he glanced down the steps, he saw Cinderella’s shoe. He ran down the stairs, knowing he wouldn’t be able to catch her but nonetheless wanting a memento of the evening and perhaps a way to find her by matching her lost shoe to the one she still had.

Charming knelt down, picked up the tiny shoe, and held it in his palm. He had a puzzled look on his face. “This is made of glass,” he said. “Why would any sensible, intelligent woman ever wear shoes made of glass? I guess she wasn’t so bright after all.” He tossed the shoe into the shrubbery, turned, and walked back up the stairs.

Note: The purpose of the preceding writing exercise was to come up with a twist on a fairy tale. I hope you enjoyed it.

Friday, January 9, 2015

The Bitch Is Out to Get You

The Bitch Is Out to Get You
Deserve It or Not
Have you been cheated? Lied to? Taken advantage of? Used and abused? Most of us can answer, “Yes.” Often, when we bemoan our miseries, someone is apt to say, “He/she will get theirs. Karma is a bitch.”
“Karma is a bitch.” We hear and read the phrase in response to bad behavior foisted on a family member, friend, or worse, on ourselves. Vengeance and its ramifications seem sweet when I consider karma and how it will be a bitch to the person who “done me wrong.” However, if karma really is the bitch of such renown, I first ask myself, “What did I do to deserve karma’s visit to my life?” When Bad Person B does something to me, I must be Bad Person A because karma got me first.
“But, but, but,” you protest, “I didn’t do . . . I don’t deserve . . . It’s not fair . . . ” Karma, unfortunately, is the bitch who doesn’t play fair. If karma played fair, then the innocents of our world wouldn’t experience so much pain and suffering. If karma played fair, natural disasters would single out only unfaithful lovers, muggers, and those who run Ponzi schemes. Religious tolerance and intolerance aside, please don’t tell me about that former life nonsense. The life you are living is your current one.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could wrap up all the bad stuff and tie it into a package labeled “Karma”? It would be convenient because we could always use “If, then . . .” logic to explain away each of life’s events. Rabbi Harold S. Kushner explained our quandary about the origin of bad “karma” in eloquent terms in his book, When Bad Things Happen to GoodPeople. As much as we want an explanation for all life events, many cannot be explained. As much as we want to protect ourselves and our loved ones by using cause-and-effect logic, we cannot always do so. And as much as we want to believe that there is an inherent order to life, we’re wrong; our universe, as orderly as it is in some respects, allows for chaos.
Recognizing that chaos and the random nature of bad deeds cause much suffering frees us by taking away blame when innocent people are hurt. It also frees us from judgment and the sordid delight we claim when someone gets his or her just desserts.
You might be feeling like life, morality, good deeds, kindness, and compassion are pointless endeavors in a world that’s chaotic and random. Not so. Most compassion, generosity, and love you share will be returned to you. Just be grateful when you receive such gifts, and rather than thanking karma, thank the person who was compassionate, generous, and loving.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

I Won't Tell You I'm Honest

Cracked Grace
I Won’t Tell You I’m Honest
Even Though I Am (Most of the Time)
“I’m a person of honesty, integrity, and have high values.” I am suspicious whenever someone lets me know right away how honest he or she is. I wonder whether they’re trying to convince me or convince themselves.
It’s such a cliché, but a person’s actions mean much more and speak much more than their words. I would never tell someone how honest I am. I would never tell someone I have integrity. I would never tell someone I have high values. Why? First, I haven’t felt it necessary to do so and in case I did, I would hesitate. I have lied on occasion. I haven’t always had the highest integrity in my dealings with others. I have high values in my mind, but I don’t always behave in a manner that reflects those high values.
I’m imperfect. I don’t announce that, either (except in this context). I also don’t announce my positive traits, often because I’m busy trying to convince myself that I have them. I’m not particularly humble about my positive qualities, it's just that I know I’m evolving. Today, I might not be as truthful, or show integrity in the best ways, or act with my highest values in mind. Tomorrow I will try to do better with honesty, with integrity, and with living my values. That will take honesty, integrity, and acting on my highest values.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Cracked Grace: Grief’s Presence Revisited

Cracked Grace

I don’t often repost blogs, nor do I have a year-end review. I make an exception today. January 20 of 2014, I said a final goodbye to my friend Kathy Dwyer Fulton. I consider the blog I wrote the day after her death my finest writing of the year. I did not share it on Facebook or other social media, but I share it today. Why today? Each of us is touched by Grief’s presence. We have been over the last year and likely will be during the New Year. As long as we live and love, we are not immune to loss and the pain it engenders. However, it’s important to continue to live and love, because in the end, love is all that matters.

Grief’s Presence

Grief fills the room up of my absent child,
Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me,
Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words,
Remembers me of all his gracious parts,
Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form . . .
King John, Act III, Scene IV
   By William Shakespeare

Grief has a presence, it is tangible, as noted by the preceding Shakespeare quote. It takes up space. We feel it as it moves into and takes the place left by our loved ones when they die. Recognize and honor Grief for what it is. When Grief’s persona comes into our lives, often the only thing we can do is walk with, sit with, and even lie on our beds with Grief.

* * * * *

Grief and I crept into my bed on Monday afternoon.
I curled my body atop the down comforter, warmed from the sleeping cat.
Chocolate, English Breakfast tea, a heating pad, a deck of cards, and a book accompanied me.
Spent beyond tears, beyond speech, beyond communication, beyond sleep,
I set the heating pad on high to rid my bones of a deep, persistent ache.
Chocolate and hot tea were my lunch.
Solitaire and a book were my diversions.
Grief stayed on, its quiet presence perched at the edge of my bed, persistent as the ache in my hips.
Earlier that day, I suggested a half-hearted duel with Grief,
And stretched my mind, heart, and soul to carry on, to walk through, work through the day.
I failed to drop my glove, so Grief was gentle with me,
And recognized that my efforts at avoidance were in vain.
Grief outstretched its hand to mine and together we tiptoed to my room, where I stayed throughout the day and into the night.
At morning light, no longer spent, nor encapsulated in sorrow,
I left the evening-chilled dregs of tea, chocolate wrappers, heating pad, cards, and book behind.

I then ventured with tentative steps toward a changed life.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Cracked Grace: Sitting with, Experiencing the Pain

Cracked Grace
What to Do with the Pain

“Ouch!” It hurt, but not in a physical sense, unless one counts the metaphorical heart as physical. It was a direct snub, so it wasn’t a big thing, just one of the hundreds of things we face because we are human. It feels like I’m home watching The Love Boat while everyone else is at the dance. I tell myself it doesn’t matter, but it does.
Revenge, snide remarks, and disassociation all crowd my head as I consider the pain once, twice, a third time. “Forget it, and move on,” I tell myself. “Take _________ off the list.”
I stopped short in my mental dialogue when I realized I was doing everything to avoid what was most real for me: I’m hurt.
I know that to “move on,” I have to sit with the hurt and experience it, rather than react, rather than respond. In my grand scheme of what I call my life, how I react—or don’t—and how I respond—or don’t—matter to me as a person and reflect how I yearn to conduct my life. I want to be of use to myself, to others, to those I know and love, and those I have yet to meet on my journey. So, first, foremost, I will feel, then I will move forward, and then I will move beyond, absent the pain, but secure in the knowledge that I did not create more.
* * * * *
Rather than react, respond, or seek revenge, what can you sit with today? What can you resolve? How can you continue to maintain and create peace?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

"The tiniest coffins are the heaviest."

Dear Pakistan:
I Am Your Sister in Mourning
 “The smallest coffins are the heaviest.”
(The quote is from a poster held outside the school in Peshawar, Pakistan.)

Evil personified oozed its malicious presence into a school in Peshawar, Pakistan, on Wednesday, December 17. Before being exorcised, Taliban gunmen wrought their cruel, misguided, and dark brand of religious justice on those within the school’s walls. They said their god is great as they rained down a particular hell of their creation. No god of greatness would ever sanction such atrocities.
One hundred and thirty-two children died from their bullets. Thirteen adults died from their bullets. More than 100 people are injured from their bullets.
One hundred and thirty-two children will never again sleep in their beds. Mothers and fathers, siblings, family, and friends now grieve one hundred and thirty-two children. Funerals were held for one hundred and thirty-two children. At least one hundred and thirty-two mothers and fathers stumble in their homes, shrouded in grief, dulled into shock and dismay.
 Peshawar, Pakistan: What seems so far away from my Florida home is not. As I consider this unfathomable loss, it’s here in my kitchen. It’s here in my living room. It’s here beside me as I walk throughout this day, as I walk throughout this life.
I did not bury one hundred and thirty-two children, but I buried one. I know the broken heart of a mother. I know the bitter pill of mourning a life cut short far too soon. I cannot claim to know the particular pain of a parent whose child has been murdered. I cannot claim to know the particular pain of a parent who sent their child to school, believing they would return later that day, and then knowing their child will never come home again.
I do know the pain of loss, though, the pain of missing so many things: my child’s laughter, my child’s kisses, my child’s love. I know the pain of a longing that will never be fulfilled. Because I know that much of the pain of a child’s death, dear Pakistan, I am your sister in mourning. I am your sister in grief. I weep with you from miles and mountains and oceans away. I wish to comfort you, yet know that I cannot, that your journey through this singular agony is your own. I reach my hands toward you in a prayer of peace.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Laughter Opens the Door to Joy

Laughter Opens the Door
And Joy Comes Inside

“Don’t be concerned about being disloyal to your pain
by being joyous.” ~ Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan

The first time it happened, I was confused—a stranger in an unknown land. I stepped off the plane of sorrow and into a foreign place, one where I didn’t know the language and was unfamiliar with the customs. But I knew that language at one time in my past. I had practiced that custom—often.
Where had I journeyed? Into the land of laughter, into the presence of joy.
Four weeks of soul-deadening grief had stripped my defenses bare. My husband, my fourteen-year-old daughter, and I mourned with unceasing tears the death of our child, the death of her sister. It was fitting that even in South Florida, those November and December pre-solstice days were dark, not only in our psyches, but also in the days that had so little sunlight. That lack of light mirrored how we felt as we trudged through the short days and longer nights that signal the most profound grief.
Nowhere was laughter present. Nowhere did joy show its face . . . until one evening at the dinner table. My daughter Vee said or did something zany and laughter seized the three of us. It grabbed us by the collars and refused to let go until its joyous peals rang through the house and echoed from the walls that had been painted with sorrow.
Laughter erupted from deep within each of us, released from that which had bound it for weeks.
Tears of mirth trickled down our cheeks, our noses ran, and we shook with glee. When my laughter faded, it struck me that it was the first time I had experienced joy since Alexa died. I felt no guilt. Never before or since have I been so aware of laughter—so aware of joy.
I welcomed the joy as I might a new friend into my life. My grief wasn’t over; it never will be over, but that laughter opened the door and let joy return to my life.
Often, after profound loss, we take on the cloak of grief as if it’s our new responsibility to wear it for the rest of our lives. We fear that if our sorrow leaves, our love for the one we lost also will leave.
Joy cannot and will not diminish the love we have for those we now grieve. Our pain and loss are not nullified when we once again seek, find, and welcome joy into our lives.
The joy that returns is the same joy that our loved ones brought to us during their livesor we wouldn’t grieve them. It is the same joy that leads us to live meaningful lives in spite of loss—and sometimes even because of loss.
Laughter and joy bring light and even more love into our lives, and for that we should never grieve, but rather be grateful. Laughter and joy are the healing balm that mends our hearts.

In this holiday season and every season, remember to open yourself to joy, to open yourself to laughter, and to open yourself to love.