From The Heart

Have you ever read something that just seems to speak directly to your heart?  That happened to me recently when I was reading Fredrik Backman’s excellent novel “Beartown” and came across this passage:

“Hate can be a deeply stimulating emotion.  The world becomes much easier to understand and much less terrifying if you divide everything and everyone into friends and enemies, we and they, good and evil.  The easiest way to unite a group isn’t through love, because love is hard.  It makes demands.  Hate is simple.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m often troubled by the amount of hatred I see in the world, and frightened by how quickly and easily it bubbles to the surface.  Organized demonstrations of hateful dogma are scary enough, but when I see the endless parade of on-line rants, name-calling and attacks on-line, I’m even more disturbed, because I see just how easily we unleash our hateful side once we’re convinced we’ve found someone who deserves it.   And as tempting as it is, I honestly don’t believe in fighting hatred with even more hatred.

For example, I am an animal-lover who spends her days working with shelter dogs, and I am sickened when I see any kind of animal abuse.  But I am also sickened when I read an article about an abused animal and see all the on-line comments calling for the abuser to be tortured and killed.  I may love animals, but I am not a sadist.  I don’t believe that the proper response to one act of evil is another act of evil.  What I really want is an end to the abuse. And there are plenty of ways to do that without becoming an abuser myself.

Believe me, I get upset when I see injustice, hatred, abuse and evil, and often my gut-level reaction is to lash out in self-righteous fury and indignation.  And sometimes I have given in to that impulse and said things in the heat of the moment that I shouldn’t have said.  Yet when I calm down, I realize that all I did was make the situation even worse by copying the very behavior that horrified me in the first place.  I allowed someone else’s hatred to take root in me, if only temporarily.  And that’s not the person I want to be.

I think it is possible to stand up to hate without being hateful, just as it is possible to stop abuse without becoming an abuser.  We don’t have to leave our best selves behind when we oppose evil, and we certainly don’t have to follow the example of the very people whose actions horrify us in the first place.

As Fredrik Backman so eloquently pointed out, hatred is easy and love is hard. But when it comes right down to it, I want to choose love.

Muddling Through My Middle Age by Ann

Source: Muddling Through My Middle Age by Ann

Here’s a reblog of a post that my blogger friend Kate posted on one of her blogs, “Meet the Bloggers Blog.”  I really appreciate her including me in her interviews of fellow bloggers, and her patience as I tried to figure out how include links to my favorite and most popular posts.  Thanks, Kate!

Quitting Time

Sometimes I just don’t know when to quit.  Maybe I read “The Little Engine That Could”  too many times as a child, or maybe it’s that I can be a teeny bit obsessive when it comes to completing what I’ve started, or maybe I’m just too darned stubborn for my own good.  But for whatever reason, every once in a while I find myself plugging away at a particular goal long after it has become obvious that my chances of success are less than zero, and the only sensible thing to do is give up.  That little train engine may have chanted, “I think I can! I think I can!” but sometimes it’s much more honest to say, “I thought I could, but I was wrong.  I thought I could, but I was wrong.”

Recently, fellow blogger Kate (who writes a wonderful blog called Aroused) invited me to do an interview for another blog she writes called “Meet the Bloggers Blog.”  I was flattered to be invited to do that, and quickly agreed.  She emailed me the questions, with the request that I send my answers back to her, including links to two of my blog posts.  It sounded easy enough, and I had no trouble answering the questions.  So far, so good.  But then I tried to include the links and that’s when everything came to a grinding halt.

My computer uses Word, so I wrote my answers in that, including what I thought were the working links she requested, and emailed it to her.  Now a smart person would have checked those links before she sent the email, but I didn’t.  Draw your own conclusions about that.  Once I realized my mistake, I emailed her again and let her know the links didn’t work, but I would try to fix it.  Two hours later, I had chatted on-line with a Word Press Help assistant, looked up several sites on how to attach a link to a Word document, filled Kate’s inbox with several more increasingly apologetic emails notifying her of each failure, and still haven’t figured out anything about how to add a link except that maybe my word-processing system and Word Press don’t play well together.

DSC03342 2My tendency to keep trying in the face of obvious failure isn’t just limited to technology, either.  I love homegrown tomatoes, and for the past several years have been trying to grow my own.  One year I even succeeded and harvested a few dozen.  But that’s just one year.  Mostly, I grew tomato plants that were massive in size, but were also infested with white flies that kept the tomatoes from ripening properly.  The looked bad and tasted worse.  This year, I have a beautiful, white-fly free, normal-sized tomato plant in my back yard that has at least twenty tomatoes on it.  All of them green, as they have been since early July, and will probably remain that way until the first frost kills them.

Sometimes the only thing to to is throw in the towel and admit defeat.  At best, we can try to salvage something from our efforts that we can put to practical use in another area.  The one good thing that came from my efforts to add a link to my favorite blog post was that I realized the post I liked best was written just a few months after I started this blog, meaning that very few people, other than my mother and my husband, have actually read it.  I’m thinking it could be a good idea to re-post it on my blog, as soon as I figure out how to do that.  Which most likely means that you can expect to see it on this blog sometime in 2020, if I’m not smart enough to give up before then.

A Small Kindness

ScanWatching my kids play team sports as they were growing up didn’t always bring out the best in me.  I liked watching them develop their athletic skills and learn the value of teamwork, and I enjoyed sitting on the sidelines during their games, chatting with the other parents.  But I also took it to heart when I thought a coach or umpire wasn’t being fair, and was just a little too quick to listen to the gossip and drama that are an inevitable part of youth sports.  Which explains, but doesn’t at all excuse, why I was so surprised one night when I was watching a softball game and saw a player on the opposing team performing a simple act of kindness for one of the players on my daughter’s team.

For years, I had heard that this particular team was the arch-rival of my daughter’s team, and that they cheated every chance they got, trash-talked my daughter’s team throughout every game, and that all of them–the players, the coaches and the parents—were just plain mean and nasty people.  And I’m embarrassed to admit that I basically believed it, especially after watching a few games that weren’t exactly what you’d call friendly competition.

So there I was one muggy summer night, sitting on the bleachers behind first base, watching my daughter’s softball game against their “arch rivals” and really hoping we (the good guys) would beat them (the bad guys.)   But then one of our players lost her helmet as she ran to first base, and it landed in the dust, out of her reach.  She couldn’t retrieve it without risking getting picked off the base.  The first-base player from the other team leaned over, picked up the helmet and handed it back to her. And just like that, all my preconceived notions about the girls on this team went down the drain.

I had to leave before the game was over, and I passed by the opposing team’s bench and bleachers on my way out.  The parents were complaining about the mosquitoes, and remembering the actions of their first-base player, I stopped and offered them my bottle of bug spray to use.  Since their girls were on the field at the time, I told them to hang on to it spray their girls when they came back to the bench and to give the bottle to my husband after the game.  They wanted to know who my husband was, and I said the coach of the team they were playing.  Which I could tell surprised them, a lot.

My husband came home late from that game, because not only did they return the bug spray to him, but their coach also offered him a cold beverage from the team cooler.  The two of them stood on the parking lot for a while after the game, chatting about the challenges of coaching kids’ sports teams and generally getting to know each other.  “They were really nice people,” my husband told me, “Who knew?”

My daughter’s team played against that team several more times, and both teams still played to win.  But they no longer felt like arch rivals, and more often than not, my husband and their coach lingered after the game for a friendly chat.  The people we had viewed as “the enemy” became just another group of girls playing a game, and just another group of parents cheering them on and occasionally forgetting not to take it all so seriously.  They were ordinary people, just like us.

And all it took for me to finally see that was one girl picking up another girl’s batting helmet and giving it back to her.

Letting Go

IMG_1116I am the first to admit that I am not particularly good at “going with the flow.”  I may not be fond of schedules (being over-scheduled actually makes me cranky), but I do like to know what to expect in any given situation.  And the reason I want to know what to expect is so that I can prepare for it, fully and meticulously.  Being prepared makes me feel as if I’m on top of things, and  secure in the knowledge that I’ll be able to handle whatever situation happens to arise.  Trust me, I would have made an amazing Boy Scout.

When I’m going to be spending the night at a hotel, I bring along a box fan, a pillow and a night light, just so I can be sure of getting a good night’s sleep.  (I can only sleep on a soft pillow, the night light helps me find my way to the bathroom in the middle of the night, and the box fan drowns out the sounds of my husband’s snoring.)  I don’t set foot on an airplane without a carry-on containing food and water (I was once stuck on a runway for five hours), a light sweater in case they turn up the AC, and a couple of crossword puzzles to pass the time.  The trunk of my car is packed with emergency essentials, including a pair of comfortable walking shoes just in case the car breaks down and I have to walk to the nearest gas station.  One way or another, I like to be prepared.

The problem is that there is so much in my life that I can’t possibly prepare for, and when that happens, I tend to get very anxious.  For example, I didn’t plan to spend last month dealing with complicated dental problems, but that’s exactly what happened.  And the situation was made even worse because I was never exactly sure what to expect at each office visit, which left me feeling completely unprepared and unsure of my ability to cope.  That meant I spent a lot of time and energy in these past few weeks worrying and fretting about dental procedures that weren’t even all that bad when I actually had them done.

I may be almost sixty, but there are still many things I hope to learn in this life.  And one of the biggest lessons I’m hoping to learn is how to let go of my belief that I can actually anticipate and prepare for all the problems that come my way.   Because I realize that my obsession with being prepared is really just a way of trying to stay in control, and there is always going to be a portion of my life that is absolutely beyond my control.   And just like everyone else in the world, I need to find a way to come to terms with that.

A good first step, I suppose, is focusing on the things that I can control (I will always travel with at least a fan and a pillow) and trying hard not to think so much about the things I can’t control.  An even better step might be to remind myself that I am stronger and more resilient than I think I am, and that I am also resourceful enough to find solutions to problems when and if they present themselves.   Because if I can remember that, then it’s so much easier to just let go of all the rest.

The Wall

If I made a list of 1,000 ways I’d like to spend my day, having a root canal wouldn’t make the cut.  I’m nervous during even routine visits to the dentist, where the only thing they remove from my teeth is a little bit of unwanted tartar.  Major procedures where they actually drill into my teeth to remove nerves or advanced decay usually terrify me, and make me wish I had a nice big bottle of Valium handy.  Or morphine.  Or enough anesthetic to knock out a hippo.

So I’d been feeling pretty darned proud of myself lately, what with getting through two root canals in less than a week and managing to handle myself with a certain amount of grace and dignity during both of them.  I did not curse at the dentist, try to exit the chair before the procedure was over, or threaten anyone with grievous bodily harm if they hurt me at all.  I was polite and cooperative, if a bit tense, and even thanked both the dentist and her assistant for their good work before I left the office.

All of which is to say that I had convinced myself that I was finally okay with major dental procedures, and no longer the sort of person who had a hard time sleeping the night before even a minor filling was scheduled.  I won’t go as far as saying that I was looking forward to the three crowns I have to get next week, but I wasn’t overly nervous about them either.  So it came as a complete shock to me just how strongly I reacted last night when I discovered that there was a chance I might actually need a third root canal  before the week was up.

If you’ve ever seen a two-year old throw a temper tantrum, you can probably picture the hissy fit I threw last night.  I stomped around the house, said all the curse words that I had held back during the previous root canals, snapped at my husband when he tried to reason with me, and even cried just a little bit. Eventually, not unlike a two-year old, I took to my bed and slept it off. Apparently, I wasn’t handling things quite as well as I had thought.

What I had assumed was a major change in my feelings about dental procedures was actually just a case of my sucking it up and doing what needed to be done.  Two of my teeth needed a root canal, and so I had two root canals, and behaved like an adult during the process.  But underneath that calm demeanor was a person who is very anxious whenever she sits down in the dental chair, and that person was counting on the fact that there were no more root canals in her near future.  The possibility that I might have to endure another one was more than I could handle last night, and so I had just a bit of a melt-down.

Of course, once I woke up this morning, I had calmed down and realized that I could, in fact, handle whatever procedures, dental or otherwise, I am still facing.  And even though I was just a little embarrassed by my behavior last night, I also realized that it really isn’t anything to be embarrassed about.  No matter how much we try to be strong and cope with whatever life throws at us, there are times when it is just going to feel like too much.  And those are the times when we “hit the wall,” emotionally speaking.  We vent, we cry, we withdraw a bit, and stop pretending to be stronger than we really are.  It’s just part of being human.

And eventually, we find the courage to pick ourselves up and keep right on going, which is all that really matters anyway.

Strong Enough

IMG_0448This morning I was down at the animal shelter where I volunteer, getting ready to take a dog on its walk, when another volunteer turned to me and said, “That dog is kind of hard to get leashed up.  Do you want me to help you?”  I didn’t say it out loud, but my first reaction was, “Seriously?  You want to help me?

I’ve been walking dogs at this shelter for over fifteen years, and the volunteer who was offering to help me was still fairly new.  Plus, I am one of the volunteers who is authorized to handle even the most difficult-to-walk dogs, and I have always sort of pictured myself as someone other volunteers can turn to for help.  Having someone else offer to help me with a dog almost seemed like an insult to my dog-walking skills, and I even opened my mouth to tell her, “No thanks, I’ve got this.”  But then, thankfully, my ego checked out and my common sense checked in.

The volunteer who was offering to help me was probably thirty years younger than I am, and judging by her muscle tone, also much stronger.  And she wasn’t offering to help me because she thought I was incompetent, she was offering because the dog in question was very big, and often so excited to go for his walks that he almost pulls the person trying to walk him down.  And, as long as I’m being so honest, I’ll admit that she was probably offering because she could plainly see that I am no longer young or particularly strong.  Accepting her help just made sense, and so I did.

I have come to believe that the most difficult aspect of aging is the steadily widening gap between who I think I am, and who I actually am, physically speaking.   Accepting the wrinkles, grey hair and sagging skin that come with aging is only part of the struggle.  For me, the more difficult thing to accept is that I no longer have anywhere near the strength and stamina that I did when I was young, which means I’m still a bit shocked every time I try to do something I used to do so easily and find that it’s just a bit too much for me now.  The woman who once regularly carried fifty-pound bags of grain for her horse is now asking for help carrying in some of the heavy bags from the grocery store. And sometimes that smarts a bit.

IMG_4349Still, there is nothing I can do but accept the changes that are happening in, and to, my body.  I may still be young in spirit….and hope that I always will be….but I am no longer quite so young in body, and that means that I have to remember to cut myself some slack.  I need to pay attention to my physical limits these days, and be willing to ask for help when I need it.  I also need to be strong enough to graciously accept help when it’s offered, even those times when I didn’t ask for it.  Because the time is coming, slowly but inevitably, when the only shelter dogs I’ll be walking are the chihuahuas.

A Delicate Balance

I’ve gained almost ten pounds in the past two years, and I’m blaming it on this blog.  It takes a lot of time to write my posts and answer the comments on them, and it takes even more time to read and comment on all the other blogs I follow.  And to make matters worse, once I’m sitting at my computer, I feel the need to read and answer my emails, and then to head on over to Facebook to see if anyone has posted anything more interesting than the latest political outrage or a photo of their lunch.  And all of this takes time, which means I’m spending more and more time sitting, which we all know is not exactly good for our bodies.  Hence the weight gain in the two years I’ve been writing this blog.

And honestly, it’s not just my body that suffering from all those hours spent sitting in front of my computer.  The internet is a wonderful thing, but it can also be incredibly depressing.  The non-stop bad news, the hateful comments and name-calling, and even the photos of lost pets can be overwhelming at times.  If I’m not careful, surfing the world-wide web can leave me thinking that this world is just plain mean and dangerous, and that basic human decency is nothing more than an illusion.

So what do I do?  Do I abandon my blog, deactivate my Facebook account, unplug my computer and live “off the grid” for the rest of my life?   Or do I just pretend that I’m not spending far too much time looking through pictures posted by people I barely know when I could be doing something far more productive?  (And by the way, it’s not “creeping” to look through people’s Facebook posts and photos.  If something is private, don’t put it on social media in the first place.)

I know many people who don’t do social media, and even some who rarely, if ever, utilize the internet.  They’re happy with their choice, and that’s great.  But it’s not the right choice for me.  I like the way I’ve connected with old friends, and keep in touch with far-away family and friends through Facebook, and I’ve become rather dependent on the ability to easily find so much useful information just by Googling it.  Even more, I love blogging because it has me writing regularly again and has connected me to terrific writers and readers from all over the world.  I honestly don’t want to give any of that up.

Which leaves me with only one obvious choice:  find a balance.  There is a huge middle ground between wasting hours every day sitting in front of my computer and abandoning it altogether.  I can write my blog, keep my Facebook account and otherwise use the internet while still making sure I get physical exercise every single day.   I can skim the news stories on the internet, reading only the ones I need to, and skip the comment section altogether.  I can enjoy seeing the photos of my friend’s new grandchildren on Facebook while blocking the posts that I know are going to ruin my mood for the rest of the day.

It’s just a matter of discipline and taking control of my life and making intentional choices about how I want to spend my time.  Of course it won’t be easy, but so many things that are worthwhile and necessary for living a meaningful life aren’t especially easy.  And it’s either that or go shopping for some bigger jeans….

Things I Learned the Hard Way

The older I get, the more I am convinced that many of life’s most important lessons can’t be taught in the classroom.  So many of the things I really need to know I learned from experience, and sometimes through multiple experiences because I have the unfortunate habit of not always paying attention to what life is trying to teach me.  In the hopes of sparing others unnecessary discomfort, embarrassment, and pain, I thought I’d share a few of those lessons.

  1. If at all possible, avoid having a root canal.  If you can’t avoid it, always accept the offer of anything that distracts you from the fact that someone is busy digging all the nerves out of your tooth.  Wearing earphones drowns out the sound of the drills, and keeps you from hearing if the dentist happens to say, “Ooopsie,” or “Dang, I totally didn’t mean to do that!”
  2. When making plans for travel, never prepay for anything that is not refundable, nor tell the relatives you are visiting that you will be there no matter what.  That is a sure-fire way to bring on a major blizzard, an attack of the flu, or a family or household emergency.  I will always remember the Thanksgiving Eve when I came home to discover the upstairs toilet was clogged, the downstairs toilet was in the hallway, and our refrigerator wasn’t working.  I had to call my out-of-town mother and tell her there was a tiny chance we might not be there for Thanksgiving dinner.
  3. If you get home with your new jeans only to discover that the store forgot to remove the little gizmo on them that is supposed to spray ink if not properly removed, go back to the store and ask them to remove it.  Don’t try to do it yourself.  They aren’t kidding about that ink spraying thing.
  4. Set your own limits.  Nobody knows what you are capable of doing or coping with nearly as well as you do, and you are not required to live up to anyone’s expectations except your own.  This includes, but is not limited to, firmly telling your doctor that you don’t want to see the cute but bloody little cyst he just removed from your body.  Standing your ground on these matters beats sitting in the waiting room with your head between your knees, sipping cold water and waiting for the feelings of dizziness and nausea to pass so you can go home.

IMG_1452I could go on, but I like to keep my blog posts short and at least somewhat to the point, so I’ll just close with one final, and yet very important, lesson.  Never, ever, feed your dog or let your dog find and consume something her digestive system can’t handle. (I won’t name names, but some of you may recognize the photo.)  It results in explosive diarrhea, and few things are worse than living with a house dog suffering from explosive diarrhea.  I’ll spare you the details.  You’re welcome.

No Fair

IDentist office‘m going to be spending way too much time in the dentist’s chair in the upcoming weeks.  Last Monday, an upper molar that had been only mildly sore the day before decided it was time to get seriously worse, what with it being the day before a holiday and all.  I found a dentist who took emergencies, who referred me to an specialist for a root canal on at least one tooth, possibly two.  Trust me, that was not how I had been planning to celebrate the Fourth of July.

Things got worse when I got to the specialist’s office, because her exams showed that I did indeed need two root canals, and possibly three, since she could also see some decay under a crown on my bottom molar. Furthermore, I had three small cavities between my teeth that needed to be filled, and I needed a new night guard, as the old one was probably putting too much pressure on some of my teeth.  She was both friendly and professional, but I still got the idea that she thought she was dealing with someone who had never heard of a toothbrush, much less actually used one.

But here’s the thing:  aside from my unfortunate childhood habit of chewing on ice, I actually have good dental hygiene habits.  I go to the dentist every six months, I brush my teeth at least four times a day and floss every night at the minimum.  I’m actually sort of a clean freak (some would say that the words “sort of” need to be removed from that phrase) about everything, including my teeth.  I also wear my night guard faithfully, even after I found my son’s dog hiding under the bed, happily chewing on it.  (I used about a gallon of bleach cleaning it, but I kept using it.)

And I know many people who avoid the dentist like the plague and only use dental floss if they have a bit of popcorn stuck in their teeth and can’t find a tooth pick.  My husband once went five years without a dental check up, and when he finally agreed to sit down in the dentist’s chair, all they found was one tiny cavity.  The rest of his teeth were perfectly fine.  It was not, no matter how you looked at it, the least bit fair.

Which is, of course, the real lesson behind this whole fiasco.  Of course it isn’t fair that someone who tries really hard to take care of her teeth has a set that behave as if they were purchased from the bargain rack at the local discount store.  But it isn’t fair when a person who has never smoked gets lung cancer, or a person who has worked hard their whole life loses their job just because the economy tanked, either.

We live in a world where bad stuff happens to good people, and good stuff sometimes happens to those who don’t begin to deserve it.  It isn’t fair at all.  But that’s life.  It’s random and impossible to predict in so many ways.  I can get in a snit about my situation and complain to whoever will listen (which I admit is often my go-to response), or I can just accept what’s happened and move on.  Because I know that just because life can be unfair doesn’t mean it can’t also be good, more often than not.

I can’t always control what happens to me, whether good or bad.  But I can control how I react to it, and I can choose to focus on the good.  So I’ll put on my big-girl panties and get the dental work done, bearing in mind that it will be over eventually.  And meanwhile, I’m going to remember to be very, very, thankful to whoever invented Novocaine.