Talk To Me

IMG_0237When I was a freshman in college, I became good friends with a young woman who was a Christian Scientist.  We would spend hours talking to each other about anything and everything, including religion.  She once told me that she had never felt so free to discuss her religious beliefs with anyone before, and I felt exactly the same way.  Which may seem a bit odd, because I’m not a Christian Scientist.

I think what made our discussions, and even our friendship, work was the way we talked to each other.  We expressed our own feelings and beliefs, honestly and openly, and then really listened to what the other person had to say.  She didn’t try to change my mind and I didn’t try to change hers.  But I learned a lot from those long talks with my friend, because they forced me to think about just why I agreed with her on some points and disagreed on others.  In other words, she challenged me to really examine just exactly what I believed, and why.

My friend transferred to another college after her freshman year, and we gradually lost touch with each other.  But the lesson I learned from her has stuck with me.  I think of it every time I watch a political debate, read about a religious war, or even just scroll through the news feed on my Facebook page and see all the petty sniping and bickering.  Because here’s the thing:  if you really want someone to listen to your point of view, you need to talk to them.  Not lecture them, or ridicule them, or attack them….just talk to them.  The way you would want someone to talk to you.

Somewhere along the way, it seems that many of us have forgotten how to do that.  We seem to think it’s our duty to point out other people’s faults, usually in a way that degrades them and allows us to feel superior.  While we can do that if we want, it’s not at all an effective way to get our point across.  And as a method for changing someone’s heart and mind, it’s a complete failure.

I know I’m lucky, because I still have a few friends I can talk to, openly and honestly, about anything at all…..even those “hot button” subjects like religion or politics.  We manage it the same way my old college friend and I did, by speaking from our hearts and  listening respectfully to what the other person has to say.  We always say “I disagree” rather than “you’re wrong.”

Sometimes I change my mind after one of our discussions, and sometimes I don’t, but that doesn’t matter.  What matters is that they give me some insight into a different perspective, and they leave me feeling that my voice has also been heard.  And that always reminds that good things can happen when people simply talk to each other.

Beyond Words

One of the first things I learned when I began volunteering at a local animal shelter was the importance of communicating without words.  Because dogs can’t talk, and a rescue dog who has lived its whole life without much human contact can’t understand what my words mean.  The dog can only “read” my body language and respond to the tone of my voice, which means I have to be intentional about the wordless messages I’m sending.  And really, that applies with my human interactions as well.

I was in a deli one day and the man who took my order made a little small talk while he was preparing my sandwich.  When he handed it over to me he paused, and then said, “I’m sorry if I offended you, ma’am.”  Surprised, I assured him that he hadn’t.  It wasn’t till much later that I realized that I was probably scowling at him the whole time he was talking, not because of what he was saying, but because I had a horrible sinus headache at the time.   If anything, I was the one who was being offensive.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been had my feelings hurt when I’m feeling down because it seemed as if my friends and family were avoiding me like the plague just when I needed them most.  It took me years to realize that was likely because when I’m feeling that way, I’m usually sending off a distinct “leave me alone” vibe.  I may have been thinking, “Please come cheer me up,” but the message people were getting was “Stay away from me!”

It’s not easy for me to pay attention to, much less control, all the non-verbal ways I communicate with others.  It’s hard not to scowl when my head is pounding, or to be friendly and engaging when I’m feeling worried or depressed.  Sadly, I have a face that others can “read like a book,” which means that if I’m thinking about something that is upsetting me, I’m going to look angry.  Even when I’m not the slightest bit angry at the person who happens to be standing right in front of me.

But if I can manage to control the “vibes” I’m sending off when I deal with the shelter dogs, surely I can figure out a way to do that with people, too.  Especially since most of the people I interact with do understand my words, and I don’t need to rely on body language and tone of voice to get my message across.  I need to remember to speak up and actually tell people what I’m feeling, which is so much better than, say, trying to smile when I’m feeling badly, either physically or emotionally.

IMG_0448It’s so easy to misunderstand each other, especially when we’re preoccupied or upset, and to be disappointed when others aren’t responding to us the way we want them to respond.  And those are the times when I’m grateful for the lessons that the shelter dogs have taught me, which is that I need to be very intentional about what kind of message I’m sending out, either with or without my words.  Because I’ve found that once others understand what I really mean, their response is often just exactly what I need.

Worth a Try

When I first started this blog, I used to write a new post every four days. As time went by, posting that often became difficult, so I gradually extended the time between posts to a full week. And that’s where I’ve stayed for the past few years, more or less.

Even though it’s much easier to keep up with weekly posts, I have run into a problem. I tend to get what I think is a GREAT idea for my next blog post a few days before I’m actually due to write it. I’ll plan the basic outline and even think of a title. But by the time I actually sit down to write my weekly post, I can’t remember a single thing about the post I intended to write other than I thought it was a really terrific idea.

One of my favorite authors, Andrew Taylor, believes that writers should never write down their story ideas. He believes that if an idea is strong enough, you’ll remember it, whether you want to or not. Maybe he is right, and that great idea I had last Thursday wasn’t really so great after all, since it managed to completely slip my mind by today. Or maybe I just have a truly terrible memory, and therefore am capable of forgetting absolutely everything, regardless of its importance. (Most people who know me would vote for the second theory.) But whatever the reason, I’ve realized that if I’m going to come up with a new post every week, I have to figure out a way to remember the things I actually want to write about.

I tend to resist change, but there comes a time when we have to be willing to set aside the things that don’t work for us, and trying to remember the ideas I get for posts days before I actually want to write them doesn’t work for me. So it’s time for me to admit that, and move on to something that does work. Like, say, writing down my ideas as soon as they come and putting them in a file marked “ideas for blog posts.”

And this is a lesson that goes far beyond blogging. It’s hard to let go of our old ways, even when common sense tells us it’s past time to do so. Sometimes the only way to move forward in life is to shed the habits and beliefs that no longer work for us and be willing to at least try something new. Because often there is a better way, if we can just find the courage to look for it.

I don’t know if my new system of blogging will work or not, because I haven’t tried it yet. (Face it, I could easily forget where I put my idea file.) But I do know that my old way was definitely not working, and that it’s time to try something new. And I also know that if I can keep an open mind and persevere, I’ll find something better eventually.

A Sure Thing

Predicting the future has never been an easy thing to do, but these days, it’s become completely impossible.  If 2020 has taught us nothing else, it’s that life is uncertain and plans are often nothing more than optimistic hopes.  And I have to say that I really, really, don’t like living this way.

One of my coping mechanisms for dealing with difficulties has always been to have something…anything…to look forward to.  Dreaming of our annual January vacation on the beach is what gets me through the cold and dark Winter days, and even something as small as knowing I have dinner reservations at my favorite restaurant can lift my spirits on a particularly stressful day. 

I’m never happy to see Summer end, but knowing that the holidays are coming has always made it easier to accept.  Yet who knows if I’ll be able to host a family Thanksgiving dinner this year, or if we’ll see extended family at Christmas?  These days, it sometimes seems that looking forward to something is a sure-fire way to make sure it doesn’t actually happen.

Which is why I very deliberately didn’t think much about the family weekend getaway we had planned for the end of September.  My husband and I had booked a house at a nearby lake community for three nights and invited our children and grandchildren to join us.  I knew it would be great fun if we managed to pull it off, but I waited until the very last minute to begin buying our supplies and packing our things, just in case.

fullsizeoutput_5ceeAnd miracle of miracles, it all worked out.  The house had a gorgeous view of the lake and plenty of room for everyone, and the weather was great. We found time to relax and unwind, while some of us golfed, fished, visited a nearby winery, made crafts, went horseback riding, played games, or went for walks in the woods.  The lake was warm enough to try the paddle boards and I even managed to go kayaking without falling into the water (another miracle).

All in all, we had a wonderful time and it’s a weekend I won’t soon forget.  Finally being able to “get away” for a while was great, and spending quality time with the people I love was even better.  But perhaps the greatest gift of all was realizing that, even in these crazy and uncertain times, sometimes the things we look forward to really do happen.  And knowing that gives me all the hope I need.

Accentuate the Positive

When my husband and I were first dating, we often went to the movies.  Our tastes were very different, but we both enjoyed a good comedy and there was almost always one worth seeing.  One evening he told me he’d really like to see the new movie, “Grease.”  I was a little surprised but went along with his choice.  After a quick stop at the snack bar, we settled into our seats and the movie began.

Less than five minutes into it, my husband turned to me with a look of horror on his face.  “I think this is a muscial!” he hissed.  I agreed that it was.  Scowling, he took another bite of popcorn and turned his attention back to the screen.   He watched in suspicious silence for a while longer before he began to look even more alarmed.  “And it’s a love story!”  Given half a chance, I’m sure he would have left the theater there and then.  But as far as I was concerned, we’d paid for the movie and hadn’t even made a dent in our soda and popcorn supplies, so we were going to ride it out.

When the movie was over, I asked him how how he liked it.  “It wasn’t too bad,” he admitted.  “Considering.”  I told him that’s exactly what I thought, too.  It certainly wasn’t one of my favorite movies, but it was good enough that I’m glad we didn’t walk out.

Fast forward more than forty years to a recent Saturday night when my husband and I decided to go out for dinner.  There was a slight chance of rain in the forecast so we considered ourselves lucky that the restaurant had a sidewalk table under a big awning, just in case.  We placed our orders and settled back to enjoy the live music coming from a restaurant across the street.  All was going well until it started to rain….very, very, hard.

ORyzU85tSfq3qtjHCpQWe quickly moved our table as far back from the street as it would go, thinking that would protect us.  And it did, for a while.  But soon the street in front of the restaurant was covered in water that was also lapping up against the curb.  Our waitress asked if we’d like to move inside, but we told her we were fine.  (We’re not eating inside restaurants right now.)   By the time she came back with our food, the water was beginning to cover the sidewalk as well.  Every once in a while a car would venture down the flooded street, creating waves that did reach our table, so we learned to lift our feet whenever we saw one coming.

I know this sounds like a miserable experience, but it really wasn’t.  A few other diners had also chosen to stay outside, the servers were all carrying umbrellas to stay dry, and the temperatures were quite comfortable.  The atmosphere was almost festive.  As I told my husband, “it’s like beach-side dining, without the sand.”

Sometimes in this life, things just don’t turn out the way we had expected.  What sounded like a good movie turns out to be a musical love story.  What we thought would be a good night for dining outside turns into a night of heavy rains.  But if we can just let go of our original plans and simply go with the flow, sometimes things turn out to be just fine.  As a wise person once said, “it’s all about attitude.”

Forty And Counting

fullsizeoutput_5b8dAs of today, my husband and I have been married for forty years.  Our wedding day set records for both heat (112 degrees) and humidity (think steam bath), which meant we had to ditch our plans to take outdoor photos in a nearby park.  It was a nice wedding even so, and my main memory is of being grateful for all the friends and family that came to help us celebrate.  Like most newlyweds, we were young, in love, and had absolutely no idea what the future had in store for us.

The ensuing forty years taught us many things, usually a mixture of both good and bad.    Our meager starting salaries meant we made all of our early purchases based solely on price, including our first house.  But it also taught us how to fix up houses ourselves, turning them not only into a home we actually wanted to live in, but one that we could eventually sell at a profit.  Later, we welcomed a son and a daughter into our family, and learned what it meant to be a responsible parent the same way most people do:  through trial and error, tempered with love.

We learned that some friendships fall by the wayside over the years while others endure, and that those long-term friendships are one of life’s greatest gifts.  When hard times came our way, it was always the support of friends and family that got us through them, and that’s as true today as it ever was.  One of the few things I know for sure in this world is the importance of human relationships and that they are worth every bit of the time and effort they require.

When you live with someone for forty years, you can’t help but notice each other’s odd little quirks, and you also figure out that you aren’t going to change them.  My husband knows that when I say “I’ll be ready in five minutes,” I’m not exactly lying, but I sure am being optimistic.  And I know that when his favorite team loses a game I’m going to hear a lengthy rant about poor coaches, inept officials and all the other unfair factors that can snatch victory from the jaws of the more deserving team.  But we’ve both learned that loving someone also means accepting them as they are, annoying habits and all.

I’m not going to lie, it feels very odd to me to be celebrating our 40th anniversary.  In many ways, it feels as if our wedding day was only yesterday.  And yet here we are, grey-haired (under the dye, in my case) and well past middle-age, with forty years of memories behind us.  We have lost people we loved dearly, but also made new friends and added new loved ones to our family, including two beautiful grandchildren.  No life is without challenge and tragedy, but overall, the years have been kind to us.

IMG_2998We’re definitely not young anymore, but we’re still in love and we still have absolutely no idea what the future holds in store for us.   And that’s okay.  The important thing is that we have each other, and I know that together, we’ll make the most of whatever comes our way.

All Grown Up

Ann's photoWhen I was a child, I truly believed that all adults were mature people who knew what was what in the world.  I may have liked and trusted some grownups more than others, but I still believed that being an adult meant no longer behaving like a child.  I thought that the petty jealousies, the playground competitions and “me first attitudes” I often saw in my peers were things that we would all someday just naturally grow out of.   And then I grew up, and realized that many adults, including me, never truly grow out of some of our childish ways.

I may be a “woman of a certain age,” but there are times when my inner child emerges, and I don’t mean that in a good way.  (Because obviously, children have many, many, good qualities.)  I’m talking about how quickly I can become upset about something trivial, or how easily I can feel slighted, or how quickly I feel cheated when things don’t work out the way I had hoped.  As an adult, I know we’re not guaranteed anything in this world, but my inner child can still become enraged at the thought of not getting “my fair share.”

But those are reactions that I can clearly recognize as being inappropriate, and usually talk myself out of rather easily.  My real struggles come more in the area of wanting someone, anyone, to reassure me when things are going so very wrong.  Like a child, I sometimes want someone to tell me that “everything will be alright” during troubling times.  The problem is, there are times when no one can honestly say that.  Sometimes the only way to deal with trouble is to face it squarely and courageously.

I think that is one of the reasons I’ve been feeling a little down lately.  We’re dealing with so many unknowns right now, and although lots of people have opinions on how things are going to turn out, no one really knows for sure.  There isn’t anyone who can promise just when or how this will all get better.  Heck, we can’t even agree on what “all better” even means these days.  Like children, most of us are looking at things solely from our own point of view and waiting, some more patiently than others, for the rest of the world to adapt to our expectations.

There are times in life when we simply have no choice but to stand on our own two feet, listen to our own heart and make our own choices, knowing full well they might not be the right ones.  And I have come to realize that this is one of those times.  Now is not the time for me to indulge my inner child, looking for someone else to fix things or make sense of an upside down world.  Now is the time to embrace adulthood, with all the freedom and responsibility that comes with it.  And maybe, just maybe, I’ll finally become the grownup my inner child was expecting.

Here and Now

There’s an old saying I’ve always liked that says, “Always remember:  wherever you go, there you are!”  When I first heard it, I appreciated the humor of a saying that doesn’t seem to have much of a message at all.  But the more I thought about it, I realized that wasn’t quite true.  Because let’s face it,  there are times in our lives when we find ourselves in a situation that we didn’t plan for or in a place where we never intended to be.  And worst of all, we have no idea of just exactly how we’re supposed to respond to it.

When I first heard about this pandemic, I naively thought that it would be a rather short-term thing, which made it so much easier to cope with.  But as time wore on, I found myself truly grieving for the life that I had before the nasty little virus showed up turned everything upside down.  I missed the little things, like going out to dinner with my husband after a long day, or browsing through my favorite antique shop.  I wanted to be able to buy groceries without needing a face mask, disinfecting cloths, hand sanitizer, and a whole lot of patience.

One by one, trips and events that I had been looking forward to were cancelled:  three weddings, a family reunion, and a week on the beaches of our beloved Sanibel Island.  Birthdays, Mother’s Day, Easter, and Father’s Day all had to be celebrated without our traditional family gatherings.  I hated explaining to my mother that the big 90th birthday party she had been looking forward to so much was going to have to be put off indefinitely.  Worst of all was being afraid to hold my newborn granddaughter because it might not be safe for her.

This isn’t at all where I wanted to be, and yet here I am.  And the only choice I have is how I’m going to react to it.

I’d love to lie and say that I’ve handled it with real maturity and grace.  (This is a social media, where we all put our best, and often false, face on for everyone to see.)  But the truth is that the constant stream of bad news and challenges can wear me out.  Sometimes I find myself just wanting to retreat from it all, effectively putting my life on hold until things are better.

Luckily, I know that’s not really the choice I want to make.  And I know that because whenever I push myself to “get back out there” and live my life just as fully as I safely can, I immediately feel better.  Grocery shopping these days can feel surreal, but when I discover they’ve finally restocked my favorite frozen pizza, the trip to the store seems so worth it.  While I can’t gather with my friends and family in large groups anymore, when we invite another couple over for drinks on our patio, I still have a good time.  And when I watch my son feed his new daughter, I feel nothing but happiness.

I’ve always had a nasty habit of waiting for my problems to go away so that I can begin to enjoy myself.  But the problems this pandemic has brought aren’t going away any time soon, nor are some very real personal issues my family is facing right now.  So I have to keep reminding myself that this is my life now, and that in spite of the challenges, there is still so very much to be treasured and enjoyed.  Because life is always for living, right here and right now.

Changing Times

Coping with change has never been my strong point, which could explain why I’m feeling a bit disoriented these days.  It seems that the very second I adjust to one new “normal,” everything shifts and then I have to adjust all over again.  In my weaker moments, I think that all I want to do is go to sleep and not wake up until this whole mess is over.  Thankfully, those moments are way outnumbered by the times I realize that even though my life is certainly different, it isn’t necessarily bad.

Becoming the primary care-giver for my grandson was a huge shift for me, and not just because he shows up at our door early in the morning, all smiles and boundless energy at a time when I’m just staggering around, still half asleep.  Babysitting my grandson has reminded me of what it means to live in the moment, because that’s the only way that two-year olds know how to live.  It’s given me the chance to enjoy the company of a toddler when I’ve lived long enough to know not to sweat the small stuff, and to realize what a gift it is to be able to spend so much time with a little person that I love so much.

fullsizeoutput_5a0dIf someone gave me the choice, I would never have chosen to add a new granddaughter to our family in the middle of a pandemic, (especially since  she arrived six weeks early) but things worked out just fine.  She’s proven to be a real fighter, spending only two weeks in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit before she was able to come home.  We had to meet her for the first time outside, wearing masks and at a distance, but it was still a moment of pure joy.  Trust me, few things can make your heart quite so happy as seeing your son cradling his new baby daughter.  (She’s not quite as small as she looks in this picture– it’s an odd camera angle and my son has big hands.)

I started this blog over five years ago, and the most I hoped for was that I’d accumulate about one-hundred followers. Sometime in the craziness of the last few weeks, I’ve surpassed the 5,000 followers mark.  I’ve been blogging long enough to know that blogging stats don’t mean much, but that still feels like a milestone, no matter how inaccurate it may be.  Especially since as of June 1, Word Press is changing the system I use to write and edit my posts, which means I have no idea if I’ll be able to figure out how to continue this blog or not.

So if my next blog post doesn’t appear on schedule, or if the format looks decidedly odd, please know that I’m trying my best to learn a new system and to keep my blog going.  I’m not what you would call “tech savvy” and it always takes me a while to learn new things.  But I’m optimistic that I’ll figure it all out eventually, and believe that this will simply be yet another new thing to get used to.  If the past couple of months have taught me nothing else, it’s that I’m far more adaptable and much stronger than I ever would have believed.  And even more importantly, that change isn’t always such a bad thing.

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.