Every Day is Saturday

Finding Joy in the Here and Now

Giving Thanks

Indian Corn

I love the Thanksgiving holiday for lots of reasons.  Because there are no presents involved there is so much less pressure, financial or otherwise, than some other holidays we could mention.  I love that it is about being with family and friends.  I love that it inspires so many of us to take the time to think about those things in our lives for which we are grateful; gratitude is an actively helpful emotion, unlike the emotions that sometimes get conjured up around those other holidays.  And I love Thanksgiving because it invariably means that I’m going to get some homemade Caramel Cake.  You just can’t beat that.

But this year I’ve been struggling to find that “attitude of gratitude”.  It’s not that I’m unaware of all of the things in my life I have to be grateful for – I am.  And I am also aware that all of these things – roof over my head, car in my driveway, my health and the health of those I love, to name a few – could be taken in an instant.  The constant precariousness of my finances keeps me very focused on how lucky I am to still have all of these things, and more.  So I’ve been asking myself – why don’t I feel it, that deep thankfulness that usually comes so easily to me at this time of year?

There have been many Thanksgivings when I would write a list of all of the people, objects, and experiences that I was grateful for, and as I reviewed the list, I would acknowledge my thankfulness about each in turn.  It’s a great exercise, but it’s not enough this year.  I’ve come to feel that there’s something deeper, something behind that simple act of expressing gratitude that I’ve been missing.   And I think I know now what it is.

It’s humility.

I’m fairly certain that everything good in my life is a gift.  I have done nothing to earn the amazing grace that seems to keep me safe and dry in spite of all the hardship and struggle and loss and anger and resentment that has been a large part of my journey.  But even as I acknowledge my dependence on those forces that continue to work to keep me going, I have yet to relinquish the belief that I still somehow must direct them, that they need my input.  I am afraid to let go of my sense of control.  I’m afraid that if I do, if I just take that leap of faith and surrender my own will to the will of the Divine, I might lose what I do have.  So in a sense, I feel as if I still have what I have because I’ve got a death grip on it, even as I realize I’m like a child trying to hold a snowball in her bare hands; eventually there’s nothing left to hold onto. But until that snow melts I still believe that I’m the master of my fate.  And inside that delusion there is no room for thankfulness.

I know now that to be truly thankful, I must become humble (which, as many of you know, does not come all that naturally to me!).  I have to give up the belief that I had anything to do with the good things I have in my life.  But letting go of that belief is confronting – what about how hard I work?  What about all the things I do for my husband and family to show them how much I love them?  This attachment to cause-and-effect, this idea that any of us gets what we deserve (good or bad) – I have come to believe is dangerous.  Believing that I am responsible for my own fortune whatever it may be is also dangerous, because for every good thing I’ve “earned”, I must also “deserve” the bad.  And for whatever reason, this struggle between justice and grace has arrived at an all-or-nothing point.  I either give up the last vestiges of belief in my own power to direct the course of my life, or I will be unable to feel true, unmitigated, pure gratitude for the gifts I have been given.  As long as it feel like I did it, I can’t be genuinely thankful for it.

I am faced with a choice.  I know what I want to choose – I know that I need to let go of my fear and my pride and acknowledge that the gifts I have been given are just that – gifts.  But the fear and the pride don’t want to let go of me, and they’re fighting back hard.  But I see it now, and that gives me hope that one day I will know how to live my life with no regrets for the past and no anxiousness about the future, when everything I see and everyone I know is a fresh blessing to me. So as much as it scares me, on this Thanksgiving, I am grateful for the awareness I’ve been given that there is a choice to be made.  That’s the only part that IS up to me.

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Thanks for reading my blog!  If you want to know more about me and my journey, check out my book “Everyday is Saturday” on Kindle.  The book is part diary, part memoir, about the first year after I was laid off from my dream job.  I think it has something to say to anyone who is struggling with change.

photo credit: bobosh_t via photopin cc

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For Daniel

Field of Flowers

I found out the other day that someone I know passed away.  I knew he had been having serious health problems for a couple of years, but I didn’t know he had gone back into the hospital, which is where he died.  I have never known how old he is, but I’m guessing not much more than ten years or so older than me.  Too young.

I know him because we did a play together some years ago.  I was the stage manager, he was an actor.  It was the only time we worked together, but as sometimes happens, a bond was forged that has endured.  We were not close; I never went to his house and he never came to mine, we didn’t speak on the phone or exchange birthday cards.  Sometimes a whole year would go by without meeting up.  I had been thinking the day before I heard the news that I was looking forward to spending time with him at a mutual friend’s annual Christmas party.  This was my only expectation of seeing him unless we ran into each other unexpectedly somewhere.  So I don’t suppose you could really describe him as a “friend” in the usual sense of the word.

But his death has knocked the breath out of me, as if I had lost someone very close.  The grief I feel would seem to be all out of proportion to the reality of my relationship with him, and in a way, I don’t feel entitled to this big grief.   Why should the news of this man’s death, a man I truly hardly knew, make me sob the way I have?  Why has my heart been so very heavy since I found out? 

I know that some of what I feel is the sadness of losing someone his age.  When anyone dies before their time I think there is an overwhelming sense of injustice – a life was unfinished.  He had dreams that will never be realized, love that will never been given or accepted.  When an elderly person dies we can say they lived a full life, but we can’t say that of our friend.  He didn’t get to finish, and that’s just wrong.

Some of it is the loss of this specific individual.  For the past several days his friends have been posting their remembrances of him on his Facebook page.  He touched so many people with his wit and kindness, and the tributes bear out the joy he brought to everyone who knew him.  His absence creates a vacuum in the universe of the lives of the people around him, a loss so intense you can almost touch it.  There is no one like him, and there never will be.

Of course, some of my grief is personal.   I did know him, and I did have a relationship with him, albeit a small one.  I will honestly miss him.  He had a way of looking at you with a twinkle in his eye that made you feel like you were the most important person on Earth to him, and at that moment you probably were.  The delight he took in your presence was genuine.  He was such a greathearted man, a gentle man, but full of boyish mischief.  I will miss his bear hugs terribly.  But even this doesn’t seem to be enough to explain the depth of my grief.

I started thinking about when I met him.  As I said, I was his stage manager.  There were only three actors in the cast so it was an intimate experience.  He and I hit it off immediately, and forever after he would introduce me as the best stage manager he’d ever worked with, which I knew couldn’t possibly be true but it sure made me feel loved.  We had that kind of love – the one that happens when you meet someone and right away feel as if you’ve known them forever.  It’s not the connection you have with your best friends who know you so well you can finish each other’s sentences.  It’s a shared moment, frozen in time, which lies dormant until you see each other.  Then it flames up, and all the affection comes back, fresh and new.  Our friendship happened in bursts; infrequent, but no less real.  I adored him, and knowing that I will never again see his face and feel the love warm the air between us devastates me.

So I’ve decided that grief is an individual thing, like the relationship itself.  It isn’t a pie for all of the deceased’s friends and family to fight over who gets the biggest piece.  Sometimes I feel like mourners are in competition with each other to see whose grief is the most justified; I certainly have behaved that way in the past.  But for the first time I’ve started to see grief, and most of all shared grief, as being for the living.  It is a part of life to mourn the passing of someone we love, and to do it together.  So my grief isn’t about my friend, it’s about me.  This isn’t selfish.  It’s an acknowledgement of the impact another person has had on my life.  My grief, even though it is personal, is also part of something larger, and that understanding has made it easier to bear.

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Thanks for reading my blog!  If you want to know more about me and my journey, check out my book “Everyday is Saturday” on Kindle.  The book is part diary, part memoir, about the first year after I was laid off from my dream job.  I think it has something to say to anyone who is struggling with change.

photo credit: Rusty Russ via photopin cc

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The Truth about Lying

Truth

Ok, I’ve been on vacation and since I’ve been back I’ve been really busy, so here’s a little something I wrote a couple of years ago.   Yes, I write stuff like this to amuse myself.  Yes, I know it’s weird.  Here you go:

I recently watched a TED video with a woman named Pamela Meyer, who is an expert at detecting when people are lying.  She started out by explaining how we are all willing participants in most of the lies that are told to us; we know we’re being lied to, and, for various reasons, we collude with the liar to accept the lie.  Most of the lies we tell are simple:  “I’m great!” when we’re not; “It’s nice to meet you” when we couldn’t care less – all that stuff.  Apparently, we lie to our spouses much more than we lie to strangers.  And we all know it, and we do it anyway, because it’s easier, or more polite, or avoids conflict.  Or maybe we’re just lazy – to break the cycle of accepting all the lies told to us, we would have to interrogate the liars – “Are you really great, or did you just say that?”  “Is it really no problem, or have you decided to just do it so I’ll go away?”  Questions like that are, in our current culture, deemed rude or nosy, and nobody likes rude, nosy people.  Apparently we prefer people to lie to our faces.  All the time.

Later in the talk Ms. Meyer starts explaining about the science behind lie detection.  It’s all about involuntary facial tics and body language that can, if observed with the correct frequency or in “clusters”, tell the trained eye that a person is being untruthful.  She showed a couple of videos of people who were both telling the truth and telling lies, and pointed out the “tells” in the liars.  It’s really fascinating and fun, and if you’re like me, makes you wonder if you would be able to fool an expert if you tried.  You start fantasizing about how you wouldn’t smile in that way or cover your mouth like that, or any number of things that would let someone know you weren’t telling the truth.  Of course, most of the lies being told by the people in the video were heinous – one woman had killed her children and told people a stranger had done it – so for the vast majority of us, we (hopefully) would never want or need to know how to tell a lie of that magnitude.  But it makes you wonder.

After I watched the video, I started wondering about something else.  What struck me was how involuntary these physical reactions were; no matter how smooth you are, something will always give you away.  Apparently, our bodies don’t want us to lie.   Our unconscious selves rebel when we are untruthful.  You’ll notice there are no physical “tells” for someone who is telling the truth – except in the case of a fake smile vs. a genuine one.   The physical and psychological imperative to tell the truth is the controlling one, more powerful than our cultural impulse to lie.  Lying, then, is an unnatural act that results in the betrayal of our minds by our bodies.  Isn’t that interesting?

To be caught in a lie is, to the average person, a terrible thing.  We vilify the liars in our midst, demonizing them as unworthy of anyone’s trust, ever again.  It is the unforgivable sin, even worse than the act being lied about most of the time.  And yet we love to be lied to.  Do you really believe everything your favorite politician says is the truth?  Do you really believe if you purchase that product you will be happier and more fulfilled than you are now?

We want to believe the lies, so we invest a tremendous amount of effort into convincing ourselves, and each other, that lies are the truth, and in some cases, the truth is a lie.  We build walls of lies around the things we desperately want to be true, blinding ourselves to any other possibilities.  We don’t ask the questions.  We don’t want to know the answers.  The answers might not be comfortable, so all we do is listen to the people who tell us what we want to hear.   Everyone does it.  We all want to surround ourselves with people who think like we do, who see the world the same way we do – it’s human nature.  But the price of that is often the closing of our minds and the hardening of our hearts.

One of the reasons why we hate the liars that get caught in a lie is that in spite of our deep cultural compulsion to deceive, we all know in our hearts that lying is a bad thing – a knowledge that manifests itself in our bodies’ desire to give us away when we lie.  We raise up people who profess to tell the “unvarnished truth”.  We value “frank, honest” conversations.  We celebrate people who expose their vulnerabilities to the world as having the “courage to tell the truth”.  There is an extreme amount of tension between these two opposing forces.  How do we resolve our compulsion to lie with our desire to know the truth?

As far as I can tell, there are only two ways to find out if someone is lying to your face:  you can either become an expert at lie detection like Pamela Meyer, or you can start asking questions and not stop until you are convinced you’ve gotten the whole story.  But be warned – you might not like what you find.  I think that we, individually and collectively, need to search our hearts for the truth about the truth – do we really want it?  What are we willing to give up to have it?  Would we even recognize it if we saw it?  Do we have that kind of courage, or is that why, when we see someone else telling the truth, we treat it like it’s extraordinary?  Is it really so rare?  Do we even know how to be honest with ourselves and each other, or have we forgotten? 

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Thanks for reading my blog!  If you want to know more about me and my journey, check out my book “Everyday is Saturday” on Kindle.  The book is part diary, part memoir, about the first year after I was laid off from my dream job.  I think it has something to say to anyone who is struggling with change.

photo credit: dullhunk via photopin cc

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