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.

Taking Control

I’m not the sort of person who courts controversy.  In fact, it’s usually something that I avoid at all costs.  No one can run away from an argument quicker than I can, and I  usually read people well enough to know what they do and do not want to hear me say.  Yes, there are times when I slip up and blurt out something that gives great offense.  But that’s usually when I’m talking to my husband or my kids, and can’t resist the urge to offer a bit of motherly or wifely advice that is most certainly not wanted.  In general, I’ve always had great confidence in my ability to avoid offending people or starting an unwanted argument.

Until recently, that is.

I first noticed the change when the Covid-19 virus showed up, followed by the shelter at home orders.  I quickly realized that sharing my opinion on the subject was a risky thing to do, even when I intended my words to be comforting or reassuring.  I also realized that there were times when my own nerves were so raw that I wasn’t willing or even able to silence my true opinion and offer up the words that someone else wanted to hear.  The time had come, it seemed, when sometimes silence was the best response I could give.

And when parts of our country began a gradual lifting of the quarantine restrictions, the situation only became worse.  People had very strong opinions on the subject, and understandably so.  What was harder to understand was the absolute intolerance that many people had for anyone who didn’t absolutely share their opinion.  Once again, silence seemed to be the safe response.

Then came the murder of George Floyd, which triggered the nation-wide protests that have been going on for the past couple of weeks.  The news and social media is full of images of peaceful protests, both large and small, as well as images of mob violence.  And of course everyone has an opinion about it all, which is normal.  Sadly, many people are also convinced that their own opinion and is the only proper one and that anyone who thinks differently deserves to be treated like garbage.

I’m not sure how we have come to this, but I am sure I don’t like it.  Our country is dealing with some very real and very hard issues right now, at a time when most everyone’s nerves are basically shot from being quarantined for weeks.  I get that it’s much easier to lash out at someone that to try, even for a second, to see things from someone else’s point of view.  But I also know that there’s only so much hate and nastiness that the world can take.

I don’t want to live in a world where I have to be afraid of people who are different from me.  I don’t want to hesitate before I push the “like” button on a Facebook post because I’m afraid someone who disagrees with that post might be upset.  I want to be considerate of other people’s feelings, but I don’t want to remain silent solely out of fear of the response I’ll get if I dare to say what I really think.

Which means I have, basically, two choices.  I can live in fear of offending people who are all too ready to be offended,  or I can find the courage to be my genuine self and risk being attacked for it.  And I’ve decided to go with the second choice.  Because if I want to live in a world where people really are allowed to be true to themselves, then I have to be willing to be true to myself first.

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.”

Legacy

fullsizeoutput_b0When I was a kid, I often heard my grandparents talk about the Great Depression.  I grew up knowing that my grandfather felt very fortunate to be a dentist, because that was something that was always needed, even in hard times.  He had to keep his prices extremely low, but he said he was grateful to be able to earn enough to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table.  I knew that my grandmother always made sandwiches for the people who knocked on their door, asking for help.  She said she didn’t have any money to spare, but she could make sure that no one went away hungry.

Listening to those stories shaped how I understood my grandparents.  I grew up knowing that they were grateful for what they had, and willing to share with others in need.  I’m sure they had their moments of worry, fear and frustration as they lived through those dire times, but my general impression was that they were essentially strong and caring people.

I know we will be talking about this current pandemic for a long time to come, and that for many of us, this will be the defining crisis of our lives.  And that made me wonder what I’ll be able to say about how I coped with this, and even more importantly, how I’ll know I reacted to it.

When this is over (and it will be, even though no one knows exactly when), I’m going to look back on this time and ask myself, “Was I brave or fearful?  Was I wise or foolish?  Did I make the best of a bad situation, or did I made a bad situation even worse?”  And I’m going to have to live with those answers for a very long time.

I know I won’t always like my own answers, if I’m brave enough to be completely honest with myself.  I’ve had my moments of fear, frustration and self-pity, and I suspect that most everyone else has too.  We’re human, and we can’t possibly be strong all the time, especially with a crisis that just seems to go on and on.  But when I’m feeling down, it does help to remember my grandparents and how they somehow managed to stay in touch with their best selves even at a time when it must have seemed as if their entire world was falling apart.

And so I’ll try to do the same.  I’ll try to find things to be grateful for, every single day.  I’ll resist the urge to lash out at others who say things that “trigger” my own fears, and I’ll refuse to use this pandemic as an excuse to attack those whose politics, religion, or any other belief system is different from mine.  I won’t remind anyone that their predictions about how this crisis was going to play out were wrong.  And most importantly, I won’t let the uncertainty about how long this will last and how much damage it will do to our society to push me into stockpiling supplies so that others have to do without.

Because some day I will be asked about how I handled this dark time, and I’d like to think that I learned a thing or two from my grandparents. Which means that I want to follow their example, and try to stay in touch with my best self too.

Stepping Up

When I first heard about social distancing and rumors of an impending “shelter at home” order, I started planning how I’d spend my extra leisure time at home.  I wanted to paint our guest bedroom, and clean out the storage area of our basement since all the shelves are, once again, completely full.  (I honestly believe that stuff knows how to reproduce, because no matter how many times we clean out our storage shelves, they fill right back up with junk I have no memory of ever bringing home.)  Knowing that I’d need something to keep my spirits up, I also planned to read tons of books, and even bought a jigsaw puzzle because I’ve always found it soothing to work on a puzzle.  Unfortunately, the walls are still unpainted, the storage shelves are still full of mysterious junk, and the jigsaw puzzle is still in it’s box, unopened.

TH7p4prHTY2Lj2gFkx6NfAMy daughter and son-in-law were lucky to keep their jobs and be able to work from home.  But since his daycare closed, I’ve been spending my days caring for my two-year old grandson.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to do it.  I love being with him and I know that in times like these, families have to support each other any way they can.  I’m just saying that there was a reason I had my own children over thirty years ago, when I had much more energy and stamina.

I knew my life was going to change drastically when our area went into “shelter at home” mode, I just misjudged exactly how it was going to change.  And that made me realize that even though all of us who aren’t essential workers are basically in the same boat, these restrictions don’t necessarily mean the same thing to everyone.  I see so many postings on social media about how to fill our idle hours, and I can’t even begin to relate to that.  I’m busier now that I’ve been in a long time, and I haven’t been this tired at the end of the day since my own kids were toddlers.

It’s only natural to assume that the way  these life-saving changes affect us is the same way they affect others, but that’s not true.  For some of us, it’s nothing more than a minor inconvenience, but for others, this can mean financial disaster because they’ve been laid-off, or heartbreak as they watch the business they put all their time and money into slowly die. Some of us almost welcome the break from our normally hectic lives, but for those who suffer from anxiety and depression, being told to self-isolate for a long period of time is devastating.  And they don’t need anyone telling them that this “isn’t so bad.”

Obviously, we all need to do everything we can to slow down the spread of this horrible virus.  But I think we need to remember that these necessary social isolation measures and mandatory “shelter at home” orders are much harder on some people than others, and so we need to be careful not to tell others how they should feel about it.  And we need to let them tell us their own truth, without judging them, even if we can’t really relate to what they’re saying.

My truth is that I’m feeling everyone of my sixty-one years these days, and I hate dire speculations about how this pandemic is going to play out because they rob me of my ability to cope.  But when I’m snuggling with my grandson while he drifts off to sleep, I also feel incredibly lucky for this temporary opportunity to be such a big part of his life and to witness first-hand how quickly he’s growing and learning new things.   Which means that my days may not be idle, but they are still, in their own way, very blessed indeed.

My Choice

I like to think I’d have made a great Boy Scout, because I have based so much of my life on their motto, “Be prepared.”  I have an emergency kit in my house at all times because I live in an area that is overdue for an earthquake.  And having been through a few blizzards and enduring a five-day power outage in the middle of a very hot and humid July, I know first-hand that advance preparation can make a huge difference in the quality of life following a natural disaster.  As I said, I’m a firm believer in being prepared.

So it should come as no surprise that I have enough supplies in my house to get us through a two-week quarantine if that should become necessary.  I’m also washing my hands regularly, avoiding large crowds, and in general following CDC recommendations.  I’ll miss the annual March Madness tournament this year because that’s one of the few sporting events I actually look forward to, but I understand why it was necessary to cancel it and most other large gatherings.  Following safe-practice protocols in the face of a global pandemic requires a certain amount of sacrifice from each of us, and I’m okay with that.

What I’m not okay with is how quickly we are judging those whose emotional reaction to the Corona virus is different from ours.  Even in the best of times, people are going to react to bad news differently, and this is uncharted territory for us all.  Some people are in full-on panic mode, while others are calm and confident that this will pass soon.  Some people are making jokes about the situation, some are tired of talking about it at all, and some can’t seem to talk about anything else.  And all of that is okay.

Each of us responds to crises in our own way, and we have the right to do that.  The problem is that we sometimes assume we also have the right to tell other people exactly how they should be feeling, but we don’t.  We just get to control our own thoughts and feelings, and we are absolutely not in charge of anyone else’s emotions.

Personally, I don’t do panic mode well.  I’m concerned about the Corona virus, but I’m choosing not to be in a panic because when I panic, I can’t do the things that I need to do to stay healthy and sane.  I can’t eat, I can’t sleep, and I can’t take care of those who are depending on me.  So my choice is to check the CDC site regularly to make sure I’m following the government guidelines, to be prepared for a possible home quarantine, and then….to just live my life as normally as I can.  And yes, I sometimes joke about the situation because humor is, and always has been, one of my coping mechanisms.

I believe that we will get through this pandemic, and that we will also get through the economic downturn that will most surely follow.  I believe that the best way to get through this is to realize we’re all in it together, and that taking pot-shots at one another is a sure-fire way to make the situation even worse.  In other words, I choose to be as realistic as I must be and as positive as I can be in the upcoming weeks.   Because personally, that’s the only choice I can live with.

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……

Freedom

IMG_1463In just a few short days, those of us who live in the United States will be celebrating our Independence Day, also known as the Fourth of July.  Traditionally, the holiday is observed with parades, bar-b-ques and fireworks, and I’m sure this year will be no exception.  Despite the many serious issues that our country is facing, I think it’s a good thing for us to acknowledge and celebrate the “birth” of our nation and try to remember that, like it or not, we’re all in this together.  My personal opinion is that we would do well to start concentrating far more on what unites us and far less on what divides us, but I know that is wishful thinking.

Still, when I think of Independence Day, it reminds me to be thankful for the freedoms I do have, and I’m not just talking about those that are guaranteed in our Constitution.

I may live in a world where there is far too much hatred and intolerance being spewed from all sides, but I am free to choose just exactly how I respond to it.  I can join in the argument, trying to shout down those who disagree, or silence them with fear and intimidation.  But I can also choose to express my own views confidently and politely, and to do my best to truly listen to those who see things differently.  In other words, I have the freedom to decide if I want to add to the problem, or if I want to try to be one of the much-needed voices of tolerance and reconciliation.

I’ve never been particularly good at saying “no,” even when my schedule is already over-crowded with commitments.  I know I have been blessed with a relatively good life, and I believe that I have a moral obligation to help others whenever I can.  But I also need to remember that I have the freedom to create my own boundaries, and to protect myself from the overwhelming stress that comes from trying to take care of everyone else’s needs while ignoring my own.  Freedom comes with responsibility, not only to others, but also to myself.

I’m not exactly sure how I’ll be celebrating this Independence Day, although I do hope I get the chance to see some nice fireworks and eat some good food.  But I’m hoping that whatever I do, I’ll also remember to be thankful for my own personal freedoms to choose the way I want to live and the kind of person I want to be.  And I hope that I’ll have the strength and wisdom to choose wisely, and live a life that is as free and independent of hate, guilt, intolerance and ignorance as I possibly can.  Because I believe that’s the kind of independence that is truly worth celebrating.

One More Time

I can’t say I wasn’t warned.  Lots of people told me how wonderful it was to become a grandparent, and how much I was going to enjoy this new addition to our family.  They told me exactly how I would fall in love, instantly and completely, the first time I saw the baby, and what a huge change he would make in my life.  I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t quite believe them, because so often in my life, the reality doesn’t live up to the hype.  I tend to set the bar really high when I hear such glowing reports, and I’m almost always disappointed by what I actually experience.  So I took all those predictions about how awesome it was to be a grandparent with a grain of salt.

IMG_3509 2Luckily, I’ve reached the stage in life when I no longer have trouble admitting that I am, every now and then, absolutely wrong.  Because I was wrong about this grandparent stuff:  it’s just as wonderful as I was told.  If anything, it’s even better.

The best part of being a grandparent isn’t having a cute little baby to hold, cuddle and rock to sleep.  It’s not the wonder of seeing my daughter and son-in-law in a whole new role as loving parents.  It’s not even feeling my heart melt every time my grandson smiles at me.  Of course I love all of that, but the absolute best part of becoming a grandparent is the chance to do things over, and better, than I did with my own children.

I had my children when I was still young, struggling to find some sort of writing career, and far too worried about what other people thought of me.  (And believe me, when you’re a mother, everyone has an opinion of just exactly how you’re supposed to be raising your children. Which they will share with you.)  At some level, I actually believed that when my children misbehaved or weren’t entirely happy at all times, that had to mean that I was doing something wrong as a mother.  One way or another, I spent way too much time “sweating the small stuff.”

But my children aren’t the only people who have been growing up in the past three decades.  I’ve matured as well, and now have more patience with myself and more tolerance for others.  I no longer care very much about what others think of me, and I have a much better understanding of what is, and isn’t,  worth worrying about.  All of which means that when I look at my grandson, I just see a little person to love and accept for exactly who he is, without all the worry and angst about “doing things right.”

Obviously, it’s not my responsibility to raise my grandson, and I know that his own parents will do a fine job with that.  But even so, whenever I interact with him, I can’t help but notice how much calmer and confident I am compared to how I felt when my own children were small, and how much easier I find it to settle down and simply enjoy holding a baby that I love so deeply.

Life is a journey that can teach us many things if we’re willing to learn.  And if we’re lucky, every once in a while something (or someone) comes along to let us know that we’re moving in the right direction.

I Believe

When Cara Sue Achterberg over at  anothergooddog.wordpress.com  asked me to review her book Another Good Dog, I was a little hesitant.  The book is about how she became a temporary foster for a rescue group that pulls dogs out of overcrowded shelters (usually in the South) and places them in foster homes until they can be adopted.  I volunteer at a large, open-admission animal shelter, and I know that sometimes people involved in this sort of rescue have nothing good to say about animal shelters.  I didn’t want to write a review for a book that badmouthed the animal shelter workers and volunteers that I have come to respect and admire.

Turns out, I had nothing to worry about.  Another Good Dog is an interesting and well-written account of the joys and challenges of fostering rescue dogs, and Cara never once trash talked animal shelters or the people involved in them.  She simply told her story and at the same time made a compelling case for the need for more foster homes.

I wish more people followed Cara’s example, not just of fostering dogs, but also of sharing her beliefs without also putting down those who do things differently.   It seems to me that too many of us tend to believe that we can’t be for one thing without also being against another.  Sadly, we usually talk a whole lot more about what (and who) we are against than what we are for, and not just in the animal rescue world, either.  Think about it:  how often do you determine someone’s political leanings by listening who they trash-talk about, rather than listening to their actual beliefs and convictions?

But it doesn’t have to be that way.  You can support one group, or one way of doing things, without attacking another.  You can be an atheist without sneering at those who believe in God.  You can be a stay-at-home Mom (or Dad) without criticizing parents who have full-time jobs.  In short, you can believe that your way is right for you without feeling the need to criticize those who don’t share your views, values or lifestyle.

Life really isn’t just one big football game where we are required to cheer for one team and loudly boo the other.  Sometimes, it’s enough to simply cheer for what we believe in.  And when we manage to do that, the walls that separate us can begin to come down, allowing us to work together in ways that accomplish so much more than we ever could alone, or just in the company of those who are “on our side.”

I know from experience that people involved in saving homeless animals tend to be very passionate about their work, and rightly so.  That passion is what keeps them going when they get discouraged, overwhelmed, or just plain tired.  But it’s also a huge job that really does require multiple solutions.  Good quality physical shelters where people can drop off unwanted or stray animals are still very much needed, particularly when they have the ability to do large-scale rescues of animals in dire need.   Well-run small rescue groups also do an amazing job of saving animals by placing them in loving foster homes until they get adopted.  Still other groups spend their days advocating for increased spaying and neutering, or stronger laws on puppy mills and other sub-standard breeders.

IMG_2212None of these organizations or people can solve the problem of animal overpopulation by themselves.  But each of them holds a piece of the solution, and between them all, they just might get the job done.  It’s amazing what can happen when we remember to work together.