If The Shoe Fits….

I was at a party over the weekend, chatting with a couple of friends, when one of them told me how much she had enjoyed my most recent blog post.  She turned to the other friend and asked, “Didn’t you think it was funny?”  The other friend looked embarrassed, and then said, “Actually, I don’t read her blog.”  A few days later, that friend called me an apologized, worried that she had offended me.  She told me that her life was very busy right now, and that she didn’t really have time to read anything, not even a friend’s blog.

I quickly reassured her that there was no need for her to apologize. And there wasn’t.  We’ve been friends for a very long time, and I know perfectly well that she’s not a big reader.  I also know that she is a kind and generous soul who would never deliberately do anything to hurt anyone’s feelings, including mine.  And I have learned over the years not to be offended when I discover that a friend or family member doesn’t read my posts.

I admit that when I first started my blog, I (naively) believed that I could count on all my friends and family to read it, and also figured that they would probably be my only readers.  But I soon discovered that people who didn’t particularly enjoy reading weren’t suddenly going to change their ways just because I had started a blog.  And that not supporting my blog didn’t mean they didn’t care about me, and that I couldn’t count on them in other, equally important, ways.

Our friends and family members are unique individuals, with their own particular strengths and weaknesses.  And if we’re wise, we remember exactly what those strengths and weaknesses are when we’re looking for support or help.  A friend who is chronically late is not the person to ask for a ride to the airport, at least not if you want to make sure you don’t miss your plane.  And if you know someone has a hard time being discreet, that’s not the person you go to when you want to confide a deep, dark secret.

I think the trick is to remember that no one can be “all things to all people,” and to remember that everyone who is close to us enriches our lives in their own, unique way.  Maybe the friend with the loose lips is the perfect person to call when you need a ride to the airport, or maybe the friend who is never on time happens to be excellent at keeping a secret.  It’s a matter of knowing someone well enough to have a pretty good idea of what they can, and cannot, do for us.  Then we don’t set ourselves up for disappointment by expecting something that they aren’t capable of giving. Personally, I really appreciate my friends who take the time to read my blog.  But I also value the ones who don’t.

We don’t do anyone, least of all ourselves, any favors when we don’t see our friends and family for who they really are, and that includes their strengths, their weaknesses, and even just their personal tastes.  And if we really care about them, we’re more than willing to love and accept them just exactly as they are.

Let Your Light Shine

Many years ago, when I was in seventh or eighth grade, I remember buying a teen magazine that had an article in it about how to be more popular.  Like most kids that age, I definitely wanted to be more popular, and so I eagerly read the article.  I remember one paragraph in particular that went something like, “Forget all that advice about just ‘being yourself!’  What’s so special about being yourself?  If you want more people to like you, you need to figure out how to fit in with the crowd!”

I may have been a typical early teenager, struggling with raging hormones, self-doubt and all the other issues that go with that difficult phase of life, I was still horrified by what I read.  Even then, I knew that there was something very wrong with the advice to bury my true identity and simply copy the behavior I saw all around me in order to have more friends.  I’d like to say that from that moment on, I stopped worrying about what others thought about me and always spoke and acted according to my own conscience, but that would be a lie.  In my defense, I was very young and still unsure of so many things, including who I really was and what I really believed.

But now that I’m all grown up (and then some), I no longer have that excuse.  One of the benefits of aging is that we begin to understand exactly who we are and we tend to know exactly what we do and do not believe.  Yet there are still times when I struggle to live according to my own principles, and still hesitate to show my true self or share my true opinions, mostly out of fear of how others are going to react if I do.

Sadly, the times we live in encourages this sort of fear because we’re conditioned to only accept those people who are “just like us.”  And so we keep quiet about any aspect of our personality or any of our beliefs that we think might cause someone else to reject us. I don’t like to tell people I’m a political Independent, because I’ve found that as soon as someone discovers you don’t support their party, they automatically believe you really (if secretly) support the opposing party.  I often hesitate to tell people I’m a Christian, because there is such a variety of beliefs in Christianity that I’m afraid they’ll misunderstand what I actually believe.  I could go on, but you get the picture.

Still, I think the time has come for me to stop being so afraid of rejection (or conflict) that I hide some of who I really am and what I really think.  I guess I’ve reached the age where I’d like to have the courage to live according to my own values, and just accept the reaction that gets.  Plus, I try very hard to accept other people for who they really are, and pride myself on having close friends and family whose beliefs are very different from mine.  If I’m willing to accept other people’s true selves, then shouldn’t I give other people the chance to do the same for me?

I’ve always liked that saying, “just be yourself–everyone else is already taken!”  Words to live by……

My Way

rlMtuR23SC6pZJLH6olOvQMy mother and I have an ongoing dispute over the proper placement of silverware in the dishwasher.  I always place my forks, spoons and knives in the dishwasher with the handles up.  My mother places them in with the handles down, because she says the silverware gets cleaner that way.  And perhaps they do, I tell her.  But what happens after the dishwasher has run its cycle, and then I have to remove the silverware by placing my grubby little fingers on the parts of the spoons and forks that are supposed to go in people’s mouths?  And isn’t it dangerous to handle the knives by the blades?

When I say this, my mother always nods and says, “That’s probably true.”  But as soon as she thinks I’m not looking, she goes right on putting the silverware in the dishwasher with the handles down.

The correct way to load a dishwasher is a relatively small matter in the grand scheme of things, but I think our ongoing disagreement is a good illustration of a much bigger problem.  Because most of us tend to believe that our way of doing things is the best way, and our way of thinking is the only way.  And then we cause a whole lot of trouble by trying to convince everyone else that we’re right.

If you’ve ever had a “discussion” with someone who holds different views from you, especially on such sensitive topics as politics or religion, you know what I’m talking about.  Those are two topics where people have never had much tolerance for disagreement.  But even different beliefs in how we raise our children, how we run our households, how we celebrate holidays….heck, just about anything these days….can cause us to lose our tempers and lash out at those we think of as “other.”

I guess it’s just hard for us to accept that it’s not our place to tell everyone else what to think or how to act.  It seems to be human nature to like our own way best, and to harbor the belief that the world would be such a better place if everyone else just “got with the program” and came around to our way of thinking.  But it doesn’t work like that.  Because the people who are different from us like their way best, too.  And they also think that the world would be so much better if we would just wise up and agree with them.

The best thing we can do, I think, is to live our lives as best we can according to our own convictions, and to be very open about what we believe and why.  And if someone else wants to share their beliefs with us, we can listen to what they have to say and really think about why we do or do not agree with them.  Sometimes minds will be changed, but often they won’t.  And that’s okay, because other people are allowed to be different.  They really are.

So I will keep right on loading the silverware in my dishwasher with the handles up, and my mother will keep right on putting the handles down.  And that’s fine, because either way, we’ll still end up with clean silverware.

An Unexpected Gift

IMG_0448When I became a volunteer dog walker at a local humane society, all I wanted to do was help shelter dogs.  My daily schedule was rather busy at the time, so I only signed up for a two-hour walking shift, one day a week.  That was over fifteen years ago, and I’m still walking dogs there, although now I do it three days a week.  And my “shift” rarely ends before all the adoptable dogs get out, no matter how long that happens to take.

Honestly, walking shelter dogs turned out to be a lot harder than I expected.  Dogs that spend their days alone in a cage are very excited when you leash them up for a walk, and many of them are also rather large.  And strong.  Sadly, I am no longer young and I’ve never been particularly athletic.  But no matter how many times I point out to the dogs that they have an old lady on the other end of the leash, they rarely modify their behavior to accommodate my aging (and often aching) body.

Humane societies do good work and save countless numbers of homeless animals.  But they are also stressful places, both for the animals that live there and for the people who work and volunteer there.  Some of the animals living at the shelter have been rescued from awful situations, and seeing the results of so much neglect and abuse is hard on people who love animals.  Personally, I know I could not have lasted fifteen years at the shelter if it wasn’t for the friendships I have formed with some of the other volunteers and staff at the shelter.

It’s really hard to explain just how close I feel to my humane society friends.  True, we have a common bond in our love for shelter dogs, but there’s more to it than that.  As one friend recently said, “We’ve seen each other at our best and at our worst, so there’s no point in pretending to be anyone other than who we really are.”  And she’s right.

I have been blessed with many friends in my life, but the friends who see me at my most vulnerable, both physically and emotionally, are my humane society friends.  They are the ones who have seen me ugly cry and will hug me if I need it, even when I’m sweaty and beyond gross.  (When I’m at the shelter and find brown stuff smeared on my clothes, I just pray that it’s mud.  It usually isn’t.)  When you volunteer at an animal shelter, you shower after your shift, not before.

Not surprisingly, our friendship extends beyond the shelter.  We get together for social occasions, and often know each other’s families.  But mostly, when tragedy strikes in our personal lives, we know we can turn to each other for the same kind of support that we show each other at the shelter.  We cry for each other’s pain, and celebrate each other’s joy.  We are not perfect people by any means,  but we know that we can count on each other to be there in both the good times and the bad.

I signed up to walk shelter dogs all those years ago because I felt sorry for dogs that lived at animal shelters.  I wasn’t expecting to make new friends, close or otherwise.  Which just goes to show that some of the biggest gifts we get in this life are the ones we weren’t even looking for……

The Age of Technology

My days are filled with reminders that I am no longer young.  I wake up each morning with stiff and aching joints.  I can’t apply make-up without the help of a magnifying mirror, which is annoying because the magnifying mirror also does a terrific job of revealing every single wrinkle on my face.  (When I use a regular mirror I only notice my sagging chin and eye bags, but I found out the hard way that it’s not a good idea to apply mascara when you can’t actually see your eyelashes.)  I am reminded daily that I have nowhere near the strength or stamina I had even ten years ago.  One way or another, it is impossible for me to forget that I am getting old. And while I may not especially like it, I do accept it.

But accepting the fact that I am, shall we say, “a woman of a certain age” doesn’t mean that I enjoy being treated as if the fact that I am old also means I am incompetent and stupid.  Which is why I tend to get just a bit crabby when either my computer or my smart phone decides to act up and I am stuck with the daunting task of trying to get it fixed.

I’m not the sort of person who panics the minute something goes wrong.  I always try to identify the problem and look up ways to fix it before I finally (and reluctantly) ask for help.  And I put off asking for help because I know that as soon as I do, I will be told by someone half my age that the problem must be that I am doing something wrong.  Because if someone who looks like me (see above reference to sags, bags and wrinkles) is having a problem with her technology, the problem has to be that she isn’t bright enough to work it properly.  It can’t possibly be the fault of the computer, the smart phone, or the I-Pad, etc.

I once spent an hour with an employee at a cell-phone store who kept telling me that the problem I was explaining simply couldn’t exist.  Politely but persistently, I assured him it did.  (We old people can be stubborn.)  And even when, after exhausting all other possible explanations, he finally realized that I was telling the truth, he didn’t actually acknowledge I was right.  He just fiddled with my phone some more and handed it back to me, assuring me that it was now working just fine.  And then then went to “help” the next customer.

I know I’m not a whiz at technology, and that I was born back in the days when phones were rotary, televisions were black and white, and there was no such thing as a personal computer.  None of this comes naturally to me.  But I have learned how to operate a smart phone, publish a blog on the internet, and even send a decent text message as long as I remember to put on my reading glasses before I begin typing.  So I think I have earned the right to at least be given the benefit of the doubt when I say that something on my computer or phone isn’t working properly.

DSC01665There’s so much more I could say on this subject, but I don’t have the time.  My 87-year old mother is having problems opening her emails, and I have to go over to her house and figure out just what she is doing wrong…..

 

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.

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.

The Greatest Gift

I don’t know about you, but I have yet to meet anyone who is perfect, or even close to being perfect.  Everyone I know, even the people I love the most, have areas where I honestly feel they could use some serious improvement.  An sometimes it’s so tempting to tell people just exactly what they should be doing to improve their life, and to lay out a few convenient steps they should follow in order to fulfill their potential or simply live a happier, more productive life.  Thankfully, I usually try to resist that temptation.  (Although I suspect both my son and daughter could present lots of evidence to the contrary on that one.)

I think when we care about someone, it’s only natural to want to step in and “fix” what we see to be the flaws that are holding them back.  We might have a tremendous respect for our coworker’s work ethic, but think that his political views need to be corrected.  We might have a friend who struggles with her weight, and think we’re helping if we tell her how often she should be exercising and exactly what she should be eating.  Often, the better we know someone, and the more we care about them, the stronger our urge is to set them on “the right path.”  The problem is, despite our good intentions, we’re usually not helping at all.

Too often, what we’re really doing is trying to “help” the people we know become the kind of people we want them to be.  And if we’re honest, that usually means we’re trying to shape them into becoming more like us.  

As an avid reader, it bothers me to see my husband sitting on the couch in the evening, watching “The Karate Kid” for the umpteenth time.  How can he waste his time on that drivel, when we’ve got four bookshelves in the house just loaded with great books waiting to be read?  So from time to time,  I “helpfully” suggest a book that I think he’d like, and he accepts it politely and puts it on his dresser to read “when he gets the time.”  (The last time I checked, he’s got quite the stack going.)  But seriously, if watching a movie he enjoys helps him relax after a hard day at the office, why do I insist on trying to make him read?   Obviously, because reading a book relaxes me.

The simple truth is that it’s not our place to insist that other people think, believe, or act just the way we do.  They are allowed to form their own opinions, have their own preferences and yes, even their own flaws.  Unless they have actually asked for help, they don’t need us, or want us, to change them.  Rather, they need us to accept them and love them just the way they are.  Which is exactly how I want people to accept me and my many, many flaws.

I have come to believe that accepting people for who they really are is actually the nicest gift we can give anyone.  It gives them the confidence and freedom they need to let their own best self shine through, and what could be nicer than that?

Time Marches On

Jones girlsIs it just me, or is the world really changing so much faster than ever before?  It seems that as soon as I master a new technology, it becomes obsolete.  As soon as I learn the latest lingo, it is no longer used, and I barely have time to wrap my head around the latest tragedy in the news before it it is followed by another one, usually even more awful.  I really don’t want to be one of those old people who is always saying, “things were so much better back in my day,” but there are times when I really do feel that way.

My husband and I were eating dinner at a restaurant the other night, and I couldn’t help noticing the table of eight young women who were seated next to us.  (I admit, I am hopelessly nosy.)  They were all dressed up for a festive night out, but their table was eerily quiet, because each and every one of them was staring intently at her cell phone. Of course it was possible that they were all looking something up that had to do with their night out together, but they weren’t.  Craning my neck, I could see that two of them were scrolling down their Facebook news feeds and another was texting a friend.  (I told you I was nosy.)  And they all seemed to think that ignoring the people they were with and looking to their cell phones for entertainment was perfectly normal.

Living our lives on-line is the new normal for most people, even in my own family.  My daughter routinely posts photos of our family gatherings on Facebook, sometimes while they are still going on.  New parents post tons of pictures of their babies and children on social media, usually in good taste, but not always.  I can’t help thinking that the moms who put up the photos of their toddler on the potty are going to have some explaining to do someday.

But one way or another, I am most certainly not living in the world in which I was raised.  And there are times when I feel a bit overwhelmed by all the changes, and feel nostalgic for the “good old days.”  But then I remind myself that change is inevitable, no matter how quickly it comes, and that it’s not always a bad thing.

Families change significantly, with the older generations passing away and leaving us with only the precious memories of our time together.  But that is balanced as the family gains wonderful new members as people marry into it and new generations are born.  The latest technology may be challenging to keep up with, and only time will tell the true effects it has on individuals and society as we become ever more dependent on it and have less and less need to think for ourselves.  But the latest technology also routinely saves lives in hospitals across the world, and enable us to stay in close contact with friends and relatives, no matter where they live.

I may be a bit fascinated by the past, but I sure don’t want to go back and actually live during the time before air-conditioning, antibiotics and automobiles were invented.  In many ways, the “good old days” weren’t always so good.  Like most people, I remember the good things and gloss over the bad.

So when I find myself feeling a bit cranky about all the changes around me, I remind myself that time does not stand still, and never has.  It may well be true that changes are coming at us at a much faster pace than ever before, but that’s not something I can control.  But what I can do is pick and choose which changes I embrace, which ones I simply cope with, and which ones I just plain ignore.  And for me, that makes it so much easier to cope.

What I Know

I have never claimed to be the brightest bulb on the string.  I have a horrible memory for details, am distracted easily, and have always found it difficult to concentrate on more than one thing at a time.  So it is very rare for me to form a hard and firm opinion about  current events, because I always have to take into consideration the very likely possibility that I am, if not exactly wrong, then at least a bit fuzzy in my facts.

That being said, there are several things that I believe I do know about the recent mass murders in Orlando.  I know that there was a tragic and senseless loss of many lives that night, and that the friends and family of the victims are suffering greatly.  I know that losing a loved one to violence is something that leaves a permanent scar on the soul and forever alters the way a person looks at the world.  I know that even thinking about what happened for too long leaves most of us feeling sad, helpless and frustrated, no matter where we live.

I know that there are many theories about exactly why this happened, and that most people will choose to believe the theory that best suits their own world view.  I know that there will be a slew of posts and comments about what caused this incident and what can prevent it  from happening again, with the authors of them hoping that this will, at last, bring others around to their point of view.  And I know that very few people will change their minds about much of anything, no matter how well-written, extensively documented, or passionate the arguments happen to be.  People like their own opinions best.

I don’t know exactly why the shooter chose his targets, although at this point it seems most likely that it was their sexual orientation.  I do know that in order for him to so callously end their lives, he could no longer recognize his victims as fellow human beings, worthy of respect, consideration, and most of all, life.  He had to pretend that because he saw them as different from himself, that somehow meant they were also less human than him.  I believe that if he didn’t think that way, he couldn’t have done what he did.

Mostly, I know that I never want to think the way this murderer thought.  I never want to think that because someone comes from another country or culture, belongs to a different religion, follows a different political ideology, or has a different sexual orientation, that person is somehow less of a person than me.  Because horrible things happen when we forget that no matter how different we may seem to be, we’re really all just people, fellow humans struggling to find our way in a confusing world.

That much I know.