Every Day is Saturday

Finding Joy in the Here and Now

A Thousand Natural Shocks

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My mother almost died last week. At least, she could have died if the blood clots she didn’t know she had had broken off and stopped her heart. Fortunately that didn’t happen, and she’s home now, taking her blood thinners and glad to be alive, as are all of us, her friends and family. I am profoundly grateful that the clots were found and dealt with before the worst could happen, but for some reason I haven’t felt the elation at this outcome that I believe I should.

So what’s wrong with me? Why am I not jumping for joy? I certainly have shed some tears – saying goodbye to the excellent nurses who took such good care of my mother got me all choked up. Hearing her voice returning to its normal pitch and resonance warmed my heart. Seeing her laugh hysterically at a funny story made me smile and laugh, too. But that sense of overwhelming relief, that feeling that “wow, we really dodged a bullet!” and the accompanying lightness of heart – none of that has happened for me, and it bothers me.

Maybe it’s because I still haven’t stopped steeling myself for the possibility that all this could change in an instant. Even after they started her on the blood thinners and instructed her to stay as motionless as possible, there was a period of time, measured in hours, that she was still vulnerable. Even there, in ICU, with doctors and nurses all around her, the worst could have happened, and there is nothing more they could have done to stop it. Even as I arranged the stuff on her tray, and pulled her blankets up around her shoulders, and kissed her head, I knew that she could be taken from me at any moment. For some reason that tension, that fear, hasn’t left me – even though she’s officially out of danger.

Maybe it’s because I’m older, and death is closer to me and to most of the people I love. I haven’t spent a lot of time up to now thinking about death, but the certainty of it has taken up a small but definite place in my mind. So for the first time in my life I know that death isn’t far away, and I’m not sure how to adjust my worldview to accommodate this new presence in my consciousness.

Maybe it’s because I’m feeling a bit weary of life right now. In the Shakespeare play, Hamlet talks about “the heartache, and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to” as he contemplates his own living and dying. I sometimes feel that weight of life, that tiredness that comes from facing, over and over, the trials and tribulations that come with being a human being. It gets old, all the facing up to and dealing with and moving on. I imagine most everybody feels this way at one time or another, and probably multiple times. It’s part of the tour package.

Whatever the reason, I have felt that something fundamental has shifted in me. I’m generally an ebullient person, loud and lavish in my love of my loved ones, and I don’t think that’s changed. It’s more that there’s a new note in my song, a low, solemn tone that runs softly underneath, lending a depth to the music I make. I don’t think it will keep me from soaring, but instead, maybe it’s there to keep me more grounded. If that’s true, then that’s a good thing, even if it’s a bit sad. But maybe we need a little sadness to fully appreciate the joy.

photo credit: juhansonin AliveCor iOS screenshot via photopin (license)

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Like No Time

Like No Time

Today I spoke on the phone with someone I consider one of my closest friends from high school. No surprise, it’s a guy. When I think about him, I think about the things we had in common: our love of Pink Floyd, Monty Python, and Dungeons & Dragons. The offbeat sense of humor we shared. Our general geekiness. I think about the times we hung out together, the concerts and movies we went to see, the times I came over to his house to watch television. The fights we had. I remember the plays we were in together, the hours of rehearsal and building sets. I remember the times we stayed up very late drinking coffee and discussing everything under the sun. Big conversations about God, and life, and love, and death. I learned from him that it was truly possible to be friends with a man, good friends, and that has been a great gift to me in my life.

The conversation we had today was one of the longest we’ve had in a very long time. Life happens, you know, and people drift apart. He moved away, got married, and had kids. I got married, etc. etc. I’ve seen him maybe twice in the intervening years. We don’t talk on the phone. We sometimes say “hello’ on Facebook, to wish each other a happy birthday or something, but nothing consistent. He hasn’t been part of my life for a long time now. He has a life that is full and happy, as do I. On the face of it, you wouldn’t think I have any reason to miss him. But I do. And it made me wonder.

You hear the notion that true friends are those that, when you see them again after a long absence, it’s “like no time has gone by”. You immediately pick up from where you left off, like you’d just left the room and come back – years later. What is that? Why does that happen? I’ve read some things about neurology, and from my limited understanding, memories create pathways in our minds, and when we are confronted with something from our past, our brains seek out those memories and we feel that the something is familiar, known to us. I get that, sure, but what about the people or places that we didn’t like, or are painful or uncomfortable to remember? Does the same “no time has passed” feeling happen then, too? I can tell you that it doesn’t for me – if I am confronted by someone I didn’t particularly like back in the day I don’t get that same feeling as I do from someone I did like or have a close friendship with.  Surely the disliked person created pathways in my brain as well (or I wouldn’t know who they are), but I can look at that person, remember them, but still feel they are a stranger to me. There’s no connection.

So I guess that must be the difference – the person I cared for is the one I still have a connection with, and the person I didn’t care for is still disconnected from me. It’s the kind of connection, not just the familiarity, which gives us that “timeless” feeling.

It’s Love.

Love is the only thing that survives everything – time, distance, even death itself. When we feel love for someone – real love, not possessiveness or the ego-centric self-reflective obsession that we often mistake for love – that love never goes away. It lives forever in our minds and hearts, and when confronted with someone we loved in the past, it’s that feeling of love that melts the time away. Love is eternal – it exists in the NOW – which explains the timeless feeling. Or that’s what I think, anyway.

My conversation with my friend today felt like that. When we were at our best, we had this effortless way of talking to each other, and we fell right back into that today. We didn’t talk about anything deep, just caught up in a general way on our lives and our families. But it was that sense of familiarity, that instant connection, that feeling that I just came back into the room and continued the conversation, that made me miss him. But I know that no matter how much time goes by until the next time we talk, it will be the same way again. The love we share as friends, good friends,  is as vivid today as it was all those years ago, and will remain that way for – well, forever, I suppose.

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photo credit: Emma Fierberg Fierberg_Photojournalism_1 via photopin (license)

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Looking for the Truth

truth

I called my mother on my way home from work the other day, as I do at least once a week. She’s my best friend, and talking with her usually lifts my spirits and helps me see through the fog that clouds my vision sometimes. But this conversation was different. I found myself unable to stop venting about my feelings about the recent election, even though I had promised myself I wouldn’t talk about it when I hit the speed dial for her number. As I ranted and raved I could tell that all I was doing was making my dear sweet mother more and more uncomfortable – and she and I agree on most things. I felt awful when I hung up, because I knew my outburst had caused her grief, and that’s the last thing I ever want to do. She was upset because I was upset, and because there was absolutely nothing she, or anyone, could do about it.

I have struggled to find the words to express how I feel about the insanity that seems to have gripped me and almost everyone I know since the election. In the past I’ve been able to shake off those people who feel that they have to stridently voice and defend their political beliefs pretty easily – I simply ignore them. Being able to block people on Facebook has been a real blessing, as I’ve been able to keep certain people in my life who constantly rail against the evils of the “other side” because I don’t have to fucking listen to them. And I’m talking about people on both sides of these issues.

A few weeks before the election I unfollowed one of my oldest and dearest friends whose relentless political posting was driving me nuts. After I did that I found that my thoughts about this person, which had been trending towards the negative, returned to normal. I have since resumed following that person, but I’ve started to regret it as the rhetoric hasn’t chilled. This person has said that there is a certain issue that is totally unacceptable to them, and if any of any their friends support this particular thing, well, that that’s the end. They can no longer be friends with anyone who is on the wrong side of this line they’ve drawn. The thing is, I’m so far over that line that I wouldn’t make that cut, and I’m pretty sure my friend knows it, which makes me wonder if it’s not the having of the belief that is so offensive, but the sharing of it. I guess the only reason we’re still connected is that I’ve kept my online mouth shut about my beliefs. This line in the sand mentality from someone I have always loved grieves me more than I can say, and I’ve found myself alternatively wanting to put the ultimatum to the test – would you really unfriend me? – and doing what I’ve always done, which is disagreeing in silence.

We’re all so convinced we’re right. We’re all so convinced we know the truth. We’re all so convinced the other side is wrong that we’re refusing to listen to anyone who disagrees with us. And it is this conviction, much more than the actual differences of opinion, that will tear us apart.

The day you stop wondering if you’ve really got it all figured out is the day you stop growing and learning. It is the day you stop being able to empathize with people who are unlike you.

It is the day you make yourself God.

Not questioning why you believe what you believe is the height of hubris. If you are a person of faith, God does not require you to stop questioning; quite the opposite. “Ask and the answer will be given to you. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened.” If you think you’ve got all the answers, ask yourself this question: Where are the answers coming from? Did another person give you the answer? Or did you, with humility and a genuinely open heart and mind, go to your creator, or the universe, or whomever you turn to for guidance – and ask? Or have you already decided that you know what God, or the universe, or whomever, thinks?

I try to question the things I believe and the assumptions I make. When I find myself taking a strong stance on something, I hold it up and I ask these questions:

“Why do I believe this is true?”

“Is it possible that I’m wrong?”

“Does this belief promote love and compassion for others, even those who disagree with me?”

If you won’t ask yourself these questions and accept the answers, whatever they may be, then you have chosen to deceive yourself. And just to be clear, that is a choice. But instead of pretending that isn’t the case, you should own your choice. You should proudly stand up and say “I don’t actually care if what I believe is based on misleading or false information or if what I believe causes pain to others – I’ve decided to believe it.” I see people on both sides doing exactly this, and it’s more terrifying to me than anything else that has come out of this horrible election.

I’m not asking everyone to gather in a circle and sing a song. We’re light years away from that. What I do ask – what I beg – is that everybody step off and take a breath. Stop feeling so self-righteous, and so determined to bludgeon the disbelievers into submission. Just stop. It’s not helping. It’s hurting you and everyone around you. And for what? So you can be right?

Is being right more important to you than your family and your friends? Are you willing to destroy lifelong relationships because you believe with your whole heart that you’re right and they’re wrong? Why?

Look, I get what’s at stake here, and I get just as caught up in it as anyone else – I’m not immune, or above it, or better than anyone else when it comes to things that are important to me that I feel are being threatened. I promise you that I will live my convictions and stand up for the kind of world I want this world to be.

But I’m not going to fool myself into believing that I have all the answers. I don’t. I don’t even know where to start on some of this stuff. So I will continue to hold my beliefs up to the light, and if they don’t pass the test, I will, with an open mind, continue to look for the truth. Even if I don’t like what I find.

And my friends, the one thing I am sure of is that the only truth worth knowing is love. And loving someone means you accept them no matter what they do or say. It’s the hardest thing you can do sometimes, but it’s the only thing that matters. Or so I believe.

Peace be with you.

 

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For Eric

Trevi Fountain 2008

20 years ago this week, I got a phone call at the office. The guy on the other end was an actor I had worked with on a play some months before – I was the stage manager. He was calling to ask me out on a date. I’ll never forget how nervous he sounded, and how the invitation came out in a rush. It sounded like “Wouldyouliketogoouttodinnerwithmesometime?” And when I said “Yes” he said “You would?” It was sweet.

When I got off the phone I went straight to my friend Karen’s desk and told her I’d been asked out. “It’s not a big deal, you know, it’s just a date,” is what I said, or something like it. My words were nonchalant, but I was excited. It had been a long time since I’d been asked out on a proper date.

But at the same time I was on my guard. I had been unlucky in love, as the saying goes, and I had decided that I wasn’t going to make the same mistakes. I wasn’t going to give my heart away only to have it carelessly tossed back to me – again. I approached the whole idea of dating from an aggressively casual posture; there was no way I was going to be out-cooled. I could be just as disinterested as any guy; just wait, you’ll see.

As I said, I had known him for a few months. I had had a little crush on him during the show, and I tried to let him know that I liked him, but he never asked me out. I figured he wasn’t interested.

But we had been running into each other a lot after the show closed. We were on the same Christmas and New Year’s party circuit, so for a few weeks over the holidays we saw each other pretty much every weekend. And then, finally, a few days before Valentine’s Day, he called and asked me out.

We didn’t go out ON Valentine’s Day. I thought at the time that he thought it would be way too awkward for a first date, a sentiment with which I agreed. Now I know that it was because he took someone else out that night! Yes, he was a player – for the first couple of months he and I dated, he was also dating at least two other women. To be clear, he never tried to hide these relationships – I always knew about his “other girlfriends”. It bothered me, but after a while he gave them up.

Just sayin’.

We dated on and off for two years. When I say “off” I mean OFF – we broke up a few times. The last time I didn’t see him for months, and I really thought it was over. It turns out that we were both miserable being apart, and eventually we worked things out and got back together. Not long after that he proposed, and I said “Yes” to him again.

It wasn’t supposed to last. I can’t tell you how many people expressed their surprise that I would consider marrying this man, or who told me to my face that it was a mistake. Why? Well, my darling husband is 29 years my senior.

He’d lived a life before I was even born and much more until he met me, and what a life it had been already! He’d traveled around the world; he’d been married and divorced. He had discovered his passion for acting. When I met him he was 56 and I was 27. It thought he was funny and sexy and talented. He thought I was too young for him.

I tease him that it took me ages to convince him that I was serious about our relationship, and that’s true as far as it goes. What I never told him is how hard it was to convince myself that I could let myself love him.

Yes, love is largely outside of our control – it is chemical, and spiritual, and elemental. You can’t choose who you love, and once you love someone you never don’t love them, so unless you spend your life with the only person you ever fell in love with, all of us wind up dragging a lot of broken relationship baggage around. If you’ve ever had your heart broken, and I mean well and truly shattered, you know how hard it can be to risk it again after you’d finally put the pieces back together. My darling and I both had a lot of mistrust and hurt to work through – me as much as him.

But one by one he put my misgivings to rest, just by being himself. And the wondrous thing is that a large part of being himself is tied up in the fact that he is so much older than me. Our age difference does matter, just not the way most people thought it would when we got together. It has been a huge bonus being married to someone who has lived more than I have, seen more than I have. His perspective is so much different because of it, and I benefit from his longer life experience.

It also doesn’t hurt that he’s the greatest guy ever. I’ve never met anyone as completely without artifice as him. When we started dating, he didn’t know how to play the games, and I had to learn how to relate to a man in a whole new way. With him, I know exactly where I stand, all the time. When he’s mad, he’s mad – about the thing he says he’s mad about, not about some other thing. It took some getting used to, but its one of the things about him that I value the most.

And he loves me. I can’t believe sometimes how much he loves me. He shows me he loves me in everything he does. He is thoughtful, and generous, and kind. He spoils me. He takes care of me, which is not an easy thing to do. He forgives my early-morning crankiness and my episodic bad moods and my self-absorption. He reads this blog EVERY WEEK, and not just glances at it – we have conversations about it. He is my biggest fan, and my firm foundation. I have never been loved as much or as well, and I am so grateful for him. I’m pretty sure I don’t deserve him. He’s the best husband anyone could want. And he’s mine, so hands off!

Happy Valentine’s Day, darling. I’m looking forward to our curry dinner, and cuddling up with you and the cats on the couch to watch TV. That’s all the romance I’ll ever need.

Unless you want to go back to Rome and kiss me in front of the Trevi Fountain again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My Secret Valentine’s Day Shame

Valentine's Day

This secret shame has haunted me for years, but now I think I have the courage to confess it publicly. I know this will come as a shock to many of you, and for all the years I lived in denial about my true feelings, I am sorry. I can no longer pretend. I’m ready to admit it now.

I like Valentine’s Day.

Please don’t judge me too harshly, all of you who knew me from my college days when I protested against “V” Day. You know how passionately I defended those members of our society marginalized by this annual ritual of romantic love. You remember those February 14ths past when, in solidarity with my boyfriendless sisters, I dressed in black and donned my “No Hearts” armband and proudly announced my refusal to buy into the created-by-Hallmark-and-Whitman’s-and-FTD-glorification-of-fake-sentimentality. I mean, why do we need this holiday? Are we likely to forget to cherish the one we love if we’re not reminded once a year? Shouldn’t our significant others be taking us out for romantic dinners and buying us flowers and jewelry as a matter of course? Of course they should! Well, I wasn’t going to be taken in by this transparent attempt by corporate America to force people to spend their hard-earned money unnecessarily! No way!

Of course, my militant stance was buoyed by the fact I never seemed to have a boyfriend on Valentine’s Day either. Every February 14th I seemed to be between boyfriends – either because of a breakup just before, or a new relationship was just emerging and couldn’t stand up to the V-Day scrutiny, or I was just in a dry spell. I started to wonder if it wasn’t a plot by every would-be boyfriend to keep from having to buy me flowers – the timing was just a little too convenient. I mean, I had boyfriends at Christmases and on my birthdays. I had dates to all the important events in college – Inaugural, Homecoming, etc. Just never on Valentine’s Day. It really pissed me off. I remember sitting in the lobby of my dorm watching those long white boxes containing dozens of roses – white, yellow and red – come flooding in, carried by my boyfriended dorm mates or, (and this was almost too much to take), being delivered by a florist. Then I got to see the moment of arrival, when some giddy girl would open the box and wave the offering around the room to her admiring audience. Pretending to be happy for these girls (some of whom were my good friends on every other day of the year) was just too much, so I opted to boycott the whole thing.

I’ll fast forward through the years between college and my first date with my eventual husband (because nothing romantic of note happened – at least nothing I’m willing to share). It was early February 1995 when he finally asked me out. Valentine’s Day was the next week. Great, I thought, here we go again – boyfriend in sight but still no flowers for Amanda! And I was quite right; the whole candlelight dinner and box of chocolates thing was way too much pressure for a second date. I knew it, but I was disappointed nonetheless, and it didn’t do anything to change my attitude about “that stupid holiday”. As it turns out, though, that was the last February 14th that I would spend alone. Ever since, my wonderful, thoughtful, sweet husband has brought me flowers and a beautiful card and we have gone out to dinner at some lovely spot and celebrated our love to the full.

Oh the hypocrisy! Well, yes, you’re right, and at first I admit I felt badly about my shameless embrace of all things Valentine. But over the years I’ve come to look at it in a way that has given this annual money grab more substance.

Valentine’s Day isn’t like other kinds of non-religious occasions that center on human beings. Celebrating an anniversary is an acknowledgement that two people have managed to stay together for another year, which is no mean feat these days. Birthdays are the celebration of an individual life; the completion of another year and the looking forward to the next. But I’ve come to see Valentine’s Day as not being about the individuals involved. Instead, I think it’s about the third thing that exists when two people decide to commit themselves to each other – the relationship itself. As anyone who is or has been in a long-term relationship knows, the relationship has a life of its own that must be nurtured by the individuals involved. It has its own history. It exists both within you and apart from you, and sometimes in spite of you. It is a thing that should be acknowledged and protected if it is to survive. I talk about “my marriage” as if it is a living thing, separate from myself, and it is.

Now that I am in a committed, long-term relationship, I have come to view Valentine’s Day as more than just a commercially driven, shallow enterprise. I now see it as an opportunity to hold my relationship up to the light and admire it anew.  It is an opportunity for my husband and I to pay homage to this third entity that lives with us, the thing that over the years has come to be much greater than the sum of its parts. It isn’t about the flowers or the romantic dinner or the gifts – they are just the ritual sacrifices we offer to the god of Romance. Valentine’s Day is about celebrating the “Us” that is more than just “You” and “Me”.

My friends, I hope you will forgive me for my former hypocrisy and jealousy. I have mended my ways, and I now fully and joyfully engage in all the silliness and manufactured sentimentality that Valentine’s Day has to offer. So, what do my husband and I have planned for this year?  I don’t know, we haven’t talked about it yet. It’s this Friday, right? The restaurants are going to be mad houses . . . Ugh.

We’ll probably just stay home and watch a movie.

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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: Shenghung Lin via photopin cc

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