Reasonably Nice

It’s been very hot and humid here for the past few days, and I don’t seem to be coping with it very well.  Part of the problem is that I walk dogs at a local animal shelter, which means that I’m outside a lot, no matter what the weather.  (The fact that I’m no longer a “spring chicken” probably also has something to do with it, but I prefer not to think about that.)  The upshot is that by the time I was done with my walking shift yesterday morning, I was hot, tired, and and sore.   All I wanted to do was go home, take a cool shower, and lie down.

Then I discovered that there were some dogs in another part of the shelter still waiting to be walked, and that I was the only person still around to walk them.  I’d like to say that I accepted the situation and did my duty cheerfully, but I did not.  I was angry, because now I was faced with two unpleasant choices:  either stay and walk some more dogs, or go home, knowing those dogs wouldn’t get walked that morning.  And like most angry people, I immediately looked for someone to blame:  Why hadn’t someone else walked those dogs?  Why had they “saved them” for me to take care of?   Obviously, someone wasn’t doing their job, or so I told myself.

Luckily, I shared my frustrations with a staff person I trust, because venting sometimes helps.  She listened calmly to my rant, and then gently pointed out that sometimes there just aren’t enough people to get everything done, no matter how hard they try.  No one had “saved” any dogs for me to walk, they just hadn’t been able to get to them all.  Everyone, she reminded me, was just doing the best they could.

It took me a few minutes to stop feeling sorry for myself and to realize the truth in what she said.  It took a few more minutes to actually be grateful for her honesty, because it was something I needed to hear.  When times are hard, it’s only natural for us to react with disappointment and anger, and to look for someone to blame for all our troubles.  But doing so doesn’t help anyone or anything.

I think it’s especially good for us to remember that now, because in these crazy and turbulent times we’re all struggling, one way or another.  And the last thing struggling people need is someone lashing out at them in anger.  What struggling people need, which means what all of us need, is a little bit of patience, kindness, and acceptance, I think.

Or at least that’s what I needed yesterday when I complained to that staff person.  She could have taken my rant personally and reacted in anger, but she didn’t.  Her calm and reasoned response was a gift to me, because it helped me calm down and look at the situation much more rationally.  And you know what?  I did stay and walk those dogs, and while I was doing so, someone else came along to help.  I may have been even more tired by the time I finally got home, but I wasn’t angry anymore.  Instead, all I felt was gratitude……

Reality Check

They say every cloud has a silver lining, and I believe that is true.  We all know how much damage this pandemic has brought, so there’s no need for me to rehash that, especially since I believe we’re all on “negative news overload” these days.  But I have learned a few things from this situation, and some of those lessons will serve me well long after this whole mess is over and done with.

For one thing, I will never again let my house be without a month’s supply of disinfectant, a freezer full of food, and tons of toilet paper.  Before 2020, I thought that the way to prepare for a natural disaster was to have an adequate supply of flashlights, batteries, water and, if at all possible, a generator.  If a snowstorm was predicted, I added bread and milk to that list.  But this year, I’ve learned that the way to react to an new virus is to rush out and buy all the toilet paper I can cram into my shopping cart, as long as I leave room for a container of sanitizing wipes.

I’ve discovered that wearing a face mask isn’t as uncomfortable as I had thought, especially once I found some that fit right.  (I’m not sure why I thought they’d be “once size fits all,” since faces certainly aren’t.)  And as an added bonus, I’ve learned that when you’re a woman of a certain age, a face mask can hide a whole lot of things.  Suffice it to say that I don’t have many wrinkles on my forehead, so really, a face mask isn’t such a bad look for me.  If I could just get one that comes with an anti-aging cream on the inside of it, I’d be all set.

I’ve learned that politicians aren’t afraid to take advantage of a bad situation in order to get free publicity, especially during an election year.  I suspect that most of the daily press briefings we’re seeing will last at least until November, even if this virus doesn’t.  I’ve learned that some people don’t believe in following the rules, no matter how dire the situation happens to be.  I already knew that many of us have a hard time listening to different opinions, but I’ve learned that when people are frustrated and afraid, their levels of intolerance can skyrocket.  And since the things we say and do now are going to be remembered for a long time, it’s best to choose wisely.

But the most important thing I’ve learned is how much of what we think and feel during a crisis comes from our own particular situation and the circumstances we and our loved ones are in.  As the saying goes, “We’re all in the same storm, but we’re not all in the same boat.”  The pandemic and its quarantines are hurting everybody, but in different ways and to different degrees.  Some of us are on a big ocean liner, barely feeling the waves.  Others are in a tiny rowboat with no oars, being tossed around in the water and having no idea how, or if, we’re going to survive this.  And most of us are somewhere in between those two extremes.

So at the risk of sounding like a broken record, all I can say is this:  now is the time to be gentle with ourselves, and accepting of our emotions.  It’s the time to be tolerant of others and to think before we speak, post, or act.  It’s a time to be brave, even when facing very real fears.  Because when we’re moving toward an uncertain future, as almost all of us are, one of the few things we know for certain is that kindness, compassion and wisdom helps.  It always has, and it always will.

Hanging On

My area has been under a Shelter at Home order for approximately five weeks, with no end in sight.  I’m not going to lie, maintaining a positive attitude gets harder with each passing day, and sometimes I manage it better than others.

Worry about the virus is bad enough, but seeing how people are reacting to that worry can be downright alarming.  Social media is full of experts who know just exactly what we all ought to be doing, and who are telling us just that in CAPITAL LETTERS because we all know that our point is made so much better when we yell in the printed word.   Name-calling is rampant, apparently based on the belief that calling someone we disagree with an idiot is a sure-fire way to convince them of the error of their ways.  Obviously, there is a lot going on right now to make us anxious and to keep us anxious for a very long time.

Which is why I have decided that it is incredibly important that I practice kindness, tolerance and compassion just as much as I possibly can.  Even when I don’t want to….or maybe especially when I don’t want to, because when I’m angry or frustrated I’m so much more likely to say something that hurts someone else.  And there’s more than enough pain in the world right now without me adding to it.

One way or another, nearly everyone is hurting.  Those who have lost a loved one to this virus; those who know they are especially vulnerable to catching the virus; those who are slowly but surely going broke from the restrictions; and those who are losing their battle with depression, chronic anxiety or addictions as these restrictions drag on.  It’s easy for those who are financially stable to dismiss the concerns of those who are sinking into poverty, and it’s easy for those who are relatively young and healthy dismiss the concerns of those who aren’t.  Someone else’s pain is always so much easier to bear than our own.   But shame on us if we allow ourselves pretend it simply doesn’t exist.

I don’t know what the answer is, and I’m not interested in debating the details with anyone.  I’m no expert in contagious diseases or the economy, and I have no way of predicting the future.  All I know is that the best shot we have of moving forward as a society is to work together to we try our hardest to beat this virus and minimize the damage that it’s causing for all of us.  And we can’t do that if we’re all hunkered down in our own little bubble, busy lashing out at those who don’t share it with us.

There’s so much I can’t control right now, no matter how much I wish it were otherwise.  But I can control my words and my actions, and I can make sure I’m not making a bad situation even worse by adding to someone else’s pain.  So I’m going to try very, very, hard to be kind.  First to myself, because now is absolutely the time to indulge in a little self-care.  And then I’m going to try being kind to others, even those whose attitude I can’t begin to understand.  Because like it or not, we really are “all in this together.”

A Good Man

l7PvQ+dETJOMWesRIhyYzQAs my regular readers know, I hate being sick.  So I was deeply unhappy when I realized that the sore throat and stuffy nose I came down with last Monday wasn’t, as I had hoped, an allergic reaction to spending Sunday afternoon taking down our Christmas tree.  It was a real cold.  The good news was that I felt a little bit better with each passing day…until last night, when I began to lose my voice.  I couldn’t talk at all by this morning, so I went to the local urgent care clinic for help.

It turned out to be inflamed vocal cords which should go away soon, and I’m already feeling much better.  Partly because they gave me a steroid shot for the inflammation, but mostly because the staff that I dealt with at the clinic were so professional and kind.  They listened to what I had to say, answered my questions, and explained exactly what my treatment would be.  In short, they were ordinary people who took the time to do their job well, and that helped enormously.

I’ve reached the age where I’ve known too many good people who have died, and even more people who are mourning the loss of their own loved ones.  So it shouldn’t have been a shock when my husband received a text from the wife of our handyman telling us that he had died of a sudden heart attack.  But it was.

We’ve known Mike for many years, and liked him very much.  He did high-quality work, and was friendly, dependable, and the sort of person who could fix or build just about anything.  Mike did a lot of projects for us, and also worked on our son’s house, our daughter’s house and my mother’s house.  You don’t spend that much time with someone and not get to know him fairly well, especially someone who likes to talk, as Mike did.  He told us about his wife, whom he loved dearly, and about his beloved granddaughter, whom he adored.  We knew he loved his dogs, and was an avid hunter and fisherman.

One way or another, my husband spent a lot of time talking to Mike, asking for his advice on various projects and often just “shooting the breeze.”  I think it’s safe to say that the relationship between the two of them moved beyond employer/employee to real friendship.  At least I know that’s the way my husband felt.

I’m not sharing this because I’m looking for sympathy for our loss, because that should be reserved for Mike’s family and close friends, who are in deep mourning.  I’m sharing this because I think it’s important for us all to remember just how much good ordinary people doing their jobs well can do, and how much of a positive impact they can make on the people around them.

The people who get most of the attention aren’t really the important ones, in my opinion.  It’s people like Mike and the staff I encountered at the urgent care clinic who really count.  It’s the ones who are kind and honest, and who do their jobs to the best of their ability,  and who are always ready to lend a hand when needed who are the people who truly make the world a better place.  And I believe that they are the ones whose example the rest of us would do well to follow….

Positively Right

IMG_0709Have you ever had one of those dreams that seems so real you had a hard time convincing yourself it wasn’t, and the emotions you felt in the dream stay with you long after you wake up?  I once dreamed that my husband was cheating on me by dating the entire University of Iowa cheerleading squad, and also had the gall to tell me that it was “no big deal.”  I was so angry when I woke up that it was all I could do not to slap him.  And even though I knew it was just a dream, it still took me a few days before I quit glaring at him.

Which just goes to show how easy it is to get worked up about things that didn’t even happen and aren’t even real.  And sadly, I’m not just talking about exceptionally vivid dreams.  Or even all those annoying social media memes that are designed to generate outrage and anger, as dangerous as they can be to our emotional health.  What I’m talking about is much simpler:  how strongly our outlook (or our internal dialogue) can influence our mood and how we perceive the world around us.

When I’m feeling crabby, I have no problem finding things to fuel and sustain that mood.  A friend who is too busy to go to lunch with me is obviously tiring of my friendship;  the receptionist at the doctor’s office who doesn’t return a call right away must be incompetent; the driver who hesitates a bit too long when the light turns green absolutely has to be talking on a cell phone.  None of those things may be true, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling rejected, annoyed or self-righteously outraged.

It’s actually kind of scary how easy it is to react with very real anger and hurt to something that doesn’t exist anywhere except in my tiny little mind.  But the good news is that I can do something about it.

I can pay attention to that little voice in my head, and I can also rein it back in when it becomes too negative.  I can remember that most of the time, I honestly have no idea why people do the things they do and that nothing good can come from automatically attributing the worst possible motivation to other people’s actions.  And more importantly, I can remember that it’s almost always best to give other people the benefit of the doubt, at least until they have given me a good reason not to.

I used to think that people who believe in the power of a positive attitude were the sort of people who never really stopped believing in Santa Claus and who tended to buy into pyramid schemes with their spare money.  But the older I get, the more I realize that my attitude is not only one of the few things in my life I can actually control, but that the harder I try to keep it positive, the happier I’ll be.  And when I am happy rather than crabby, it’s just so much easier to also be patient, tolerant and most important of all…kind.  It really is as simple as that.

Silver Linings

A week ago last Friday, our dog Lucy came down with Vestibular Syndrome, which has symptoms that closely resemble a stroke.  Her eyes flicked back and forth, her head drooped to one side, and when she tried to walk she either staggered in a tight little circle or fell over completely.   She emptied her stomach, seemed to have little control of her bladder, and a steady stream of drool dripped from her mouth.  But the vet at the Emergency Clinic assured us she would recover, and so we brought her home and did our best to keep her safe and comfortable.  It was hard to see her struggling, and I admit I had some real doubts about her quality of life.

IMG_2431But it turned out that the vets were right.  Her head still tips to the right and she is still not as steady on her feet (paws) as we would like, but all the other symptoms have disappeared.  She’s not only eating again, but she seems to have total recall of all the meals she missed when she was too sick to eat.  Furthermore, she’s made it very clear that we still owe her those meals and she’d like them served immediately.  She is back to giving me the “stink eye” when I don’t give her what she wants, and yesterday I caught her trying to dig a hole in the back yard.  Believe me, if Lucy is trying to be bad, then Lucy is very close to being back to normal.

I truly wish my dog hadn’t gotten sick.  I would have rather not thrown out two perfectly good dog beds because she peed on them before we figured out the trick of placing a puppy training pad between the mattress and the cover.  I didn’t want to spend so much time worrying about if she would recover, and the decisions we would have to make if she didn’t.  Most of all, I didn’t want her to suffer, physically or mentally.  Which makes it all the more surprising that, when I look back on the past ten days, what I mostly feel is gratitude.

I’m grateful to have access to an Emergency Vet Clinic, and even more grateful to Lucy’s regular vet, who took the time on a busy Saturday morning to answer all my questions and reassure me that we were doing the right thing to give Lucy a chance.  I’m especially grateful for the kindness and support we received from so many people, whether it was in person, on the phone, or on-line.  It helped to hear from people whose own dogs had suffered from Vestibular Syndrome and fully recovered, and it was incredibly comforting to know that so many people cared.

I hadn’t realized just how much I had taken for granted in my life until Lucy got sick.  I didn’t fully appreciate how many good, kind, and helpful people I know and what a true gift those relationships are.  It’s so easy to get caught up with life’s troubles, both big and small, that we overlook the good things that are right in front of us, day in and day out.  Which is why I’m glad that the events of the past week forced me to recognize that I have so much in my life to be grateful for.  And I’m hoping that I have sense enough to remember it.

Be Nice

IMG_0048My husband and I tried a new restaurant the other night, and at first, we liked it very much.  Our waitress was friendly and knowledgable, the food was very good, and the atmosphere was great, as long as you ignored the young man in the chef’s jacket who occasionally wandered around the dining room, scowling at everything and everyone he saw.   After we had paid our bill, we stopped in the bar area to watch the last inning of the Cardinal game on the TV, and my husband chatted briefly with a few people who were also watching the game.  It all seemed friendly enough until the guy in the chef’s jacket walked by, rolled his eyes at us and muttered something under his breath.  I couldn’t catch exactly what he said, but I certainly caught that it wasn’t anything nice.

I thought it was odd that a restaurant would employ someone who was so surly to its customers until I checked its website and discovered that the man was actually a co-owner.   And that’s too bad, because even though we really liked the food and atmosphere at his restaurant, the co-owner’s rude behavior made such a bad impression that I doubt seriously if we will ever go back.  Maybe he was having a bad day, or maybe he was annoyed because his restaurant was only half full, or maybe he was offended that we were simply standing in the bar, watching the game, rather than ordering more drinks.  I honestly don’t know.  But I do know that, if he had just made the effort to be even a little bit nice, we would definitely have been repeat customers.

Because being nice matters.  If we want people to shop at our stores, eat at our restaurants, join in our groups,  help our causes, and or simply be our friends, we have to be nice to them.  If we want to draw people to us, we have to show them the same common decency and courtesy that we want others to show us.   Rudeness, anger and hostility, even when we believe it’s justified, does nothing more than drive people away.  Always has and always will.

I believe that something as simple as being nice can help build the bridges that are so desperately needed to help people with different values and beliefs connect and communicate.  I know I am always willing to listen to someone else’s point of view, even a point of view that I believe is absolutely wrong, as long as the speaker isn’t resorting to ridicule or verbal attacks to make his or her point.  Being nice doesn’t mean not being passionate about our beliefs; it just means not using our beliefs as an excuse to be cruel to people who don’t happen to share them.

Being nice is about connecting with other people.  It’s about living peacefully with those who are different from us.  It’s about creating a life for ourselves full of interesting and diverse people who can support us, our families, our businesses, our causes, etc., if we can just remember to treat them the same way we want to be treated.  We all lose our tempers sometimes, and we all have our bad days, but that doesn’t mean we can’t always, always try to do better.  So please, let’s just be nice……