Right Now

Recently, I was in line at a drive-up ATM, behind a man who was obviously conducting several banking transactions.  He was definitely taking longer than usual and another car pulled up behind me as I waited.  When I glanced in my rear-view mirror, I could see the woman behind me shaking her head and getting more and more agitated.  Suddenly, she pulled out of line and roared across the parking lot to the walk-up ATM.  Ignoring several dozen empty parking spots, she parked in the driving lane right in front of the bank, jumped out and ran up the the ATM.  I guess she was in a hurry to do her banking.

When did we begin to believe that having to wait, even for a few minutes, was such a bad thing?  When did it become a huge imposition to have to actually stop for a red light, or wait in traffic for a few seconds while the car in front of us tries to make a left-turn?  When did we begin to think that we deserve everything we want right this very second, and heaven help anyone who happens to get in our way?

I know there are times when we all get impatient.  When I’m in line at the grocery store and the person in front of me hands the checkout clerk a thick wad of coupons, and then argues vehemently and at great length when the clerk scans them and declares that most of them are expired, I feel impatient.  I do believe that people who behave that way are being inconsiderate to the rest of us.  But waiting in line is still a part of the personal shopping experience, and it’s really not that bad.  (There’s a reason the grocery stores display the tabloids by the check out counters:  it gives us something to read while we wait.)

For me, it helps to put things into perspective, and remember that the world does not revolve around me and wasn’t designed to enable me to rush forward at top speed all day long.  Year ago, my family was driving to Chicago to visit my parents.  We’d been zipping right along for most of the trip, when suddenly the highway traffic came to a complete halt.  We sat for forty-five minutes without moving an inch, for no reason we could see.  Both my husband and I complained bitterly, especially after our young son told us that he was going to need a bathroom break very soon.  We were all feeling well and truly sorry for ourselves, and angry that the authorities hadn’t managed to get the traffic moving yet.

Then we noticed the Med-Vac helicopters flying overhead and realized that there must have been a really bad accident ahead.  Obviously several people were hurt so badly that needed to be flown to the nearest hospital.  And just like that, our anger and indignation about sitting on the highway for so long disappeared.  Getting to Chicago “on time” didn’t seem like such a big deal anymore.

IMG_0136I believe we are quickly becoming a society of people who operate on the false assumption that immediate gratification is something we are entitled to.  We aren’t.  Sometimes we do have to wait in a slow line, and sometimes we are going to have our busy schedule interrupted by other people and things we can’t control.  When that happens, we can choose to fly into a self-centered rage, or we can take a few deep breaths and realize that sometimes, these things just happen.  And that learning to wait patiently now and then isn’t really such a bad thing.

True Colors

It’s been a week since I banged my eye socket into the corner of my nightstand, and the resulting black eye is still going strong.  I wake up every morning hoping that my “shiner” has finally begun to fade, but one look in the mirror tells me that it’s actually looking worse with each passing day.  (Or as my husband so eloquently put it when he checked out my eye this morning, “Oh, my God!”)  It’s not nearly as sore, and the area immediately underneath my eyebrow is fading to a sickly yellow, but the eyelid itself is still a stunning reddish-purple, with bruises at each corner.  And the dark purple color is steadily spreading underneath my eye, giving me the mother of all eye bags.

Right after the accident, I could hide the worst of the damage with carefully applied make up, but that’s not working anymore.  Unless I’m wearing oversized sunglasses, my black eye is on display for everyone to see.  Some people ask what happened, others maintain a tactful silence, but everyone who sees me can’t help but notice it.

At first, I was very self-conscious about my black eye, and hesitated to go out in public.  But I soon realized that I had only two options:  stay home and hide until the colors faded away, or just go on and live my life, even if I did have an ugly, swollen eye.  I choose to go about my normal life, and learned a few things in the process.

I have always tried hard to look my best.  I dye my hair, put on make up, and try to wear clothes that are at least somewhat flattering.   And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with any of that.  But having a black eye made me realize that no amount of effort was going to make me actually look good.  And I was surprised to realize that I didn’t really care about that nearly as much as I thought I would.  Once I got used to the idea, I really had no problem just heading out into the world, scary-looking eye and all.

It was actually rather liberating.  I stopped worrying about my outfits when I was getting ready to go out, and stopped getting annoyed when my hair insisted on choosing it’s own style, as it so often does.  I still applied make up, but if I messed it up a little, I didn’t take it off and start again.  For the first time in a long time, I felt very comfortable in my own skin, with no need to hide the flaws.  And I think that is a very good thing.

The irony is that I have always been most attracted to people who are genuine, and who are just as willing to acknowledge their flaws as they are their strengths.  And I have worked hard at trying to live my own life as honestly as I possibly can, putting my real self out there, emotionally and intellectually.  But it took getting a black eye to make me realize that it’s perfectly okay to let people see my physical flaws as well.

So this past week has actually been good for me.  It reminded me that I don’t always have to put my best foot (or face) forward, and that my appearance is such a small part of who I really am.  I’m not saying I’m glad I got the black eye, but I really believe the lesson it taught me was worth it.

What Will They Say?

IMG_4471Yesterday, I attended a beautiful and moving memorial service for the husband of a long-time family friend.  Afterwards, we all gathered at her brother’s house for some food and drinks, as is often the custom after such services, so that family and friends can comfort each other and share stories and memories about the one they have lost.  I’m sure most of us have been to several of these gatherings, but there was something especially touching about this one.  The toasts and tributes were so heartfelt, the memories were so special and the sense of loss so deep, that there was no doubt that my friend’s husband was not only a very special person, but was also dearly loved but all who knew him well.  Clearly, he had left a powerful legacy of goodness, tolerance, and love.

Afterwards, I couldn’t help but wonder how different our lives might be if we thought just a little bit more often about how people we will remember us after we are gone.  I don’t know about you, but whenever I’ve attended a funeral or memorial service, people don’t really talk about the sort of things that seem so very important to us as we live our daily lives.  No one mentions what car the deceased drove, how much money he made, how she always looked ten years younger than her actual age, what advanced degrees he earned or what a prestigious job she held.  Sure, some of that information might make it into an obituary or be a part of the life story shared during the service, but when the time comes for people to share their own memories of their loved one, that’s not what they talk about at all.

In the personal tributes and toasts, people talk about the real gifts that their loved one gave them.  They talk about how he was always ready to listen to their problems, without judgement, and without jumping in to offer quick and easy advice.  They talk about how she always made time for them, no matter how hectic and stressful her life happened to be.  They talk about the good examples he set by the way he lived his life, or how she had the courage to follow her own dreams and encouraged others to do the same.  In short, they talk about the important things, and not the inconsequential stuff that occupies far too much of our attention.

I have always been taught not to worry about what people say about me (easier said than done), and I understand that is meant to be good advice about not letting other people’s opinions dictate how I live my life.  But I’m beginning to think that it’s a good idea to consider what people are going to say when I’m gone, and how they are going to remember me.  Am I a positive and encouraging influence on other people?  Am I helping others when they need it, and not just when it’s convenient for me?  Will anyone be able to say, honestly, that I left this world just a little bit better than I found it?

The beautiful tributes and heartfelt toasts I heard yesterday are the kind that can only be earned by living our lives as fully and compassionately as we possibly can.  And I can think of no better way to be remembered, and no better legacy to leave behind.

Winter Time

IMG_0963Like most people who are on the “wrong side of fifty,” I’ve reached a stage in my life where time has become a precious thing.  I know that I have more years behind me that I do ahead of me, which means I have to be more intentional about how I use the time I have left.  And this time of year, with its ever-shortening days, can make it particularly hard to find time for all the extra activities that Christmas brings for those of us who celebrate it.  I love all the baking, wrapping, decorating and parties that Christmas brings, but I really wish it came with a few extra hours each day just to deal with it all.

Since I have yet to figure out a way to find those extra hours, I try very hard to use the time I do have wisely.  When I was young enough to believe I had all the time in the world, I didn’t think twice about taking on new commitments, but now I do.  It may have taken me a few decades, but I have finally figured out that when I’m over-committed, I am also frazzled and cranky, and not pleasant company at all (just ask my husband).  The key, I think, is to keep a clear set of priorities in my head of what is necessary, what is important, and what is just plain fun.  Because if something I am being asked to do doesn’t fit into one of those three categories, then what’s the point of doing it?

The necessities are pretty much the same for most people, as they are the things that keep us going and our households running.  What’s important to us and what is fun for us is much more individual, and requires some thought.  For me, it’s important to spend time with the people I care about, to help others in need whenever I am able, to use the few talents I have been given, and to always find a way to be creative.  My definition of fun changes as I age, but I still know fun when I see it, and sometimes what is important is also fun.

Last night I was lucky enough to spend time with my family walking around the “Garden Glow” at the Missouri Botanical Garden.  It was an almost magical experience with the beautiful music playing as we walked among the gorgeous lights, stopping now and then to take some family photos.  Sure it was the weekend before Christmas and all of us had a long list of things we still need to do, but this was more important, and more fun, than wrapping the rest of the gifts, etc.  It was time well spent, no matter how I looked at it.

IMG_0973There are times when I find the shorter days of early winter a bit depressing, and the chaos of the holiday season a little overwhelming.  But then I realize that those things can also be a gift, because they help me remember that I must always be careful to choose how I spend the time I still have, and how important it is that I always choose wisely.

 

 

Legacy

IMG_0911I love a good estate sale.   Nothing is quite so much fun as spotting an estate sale sign when I actually have time to stop and check it out.  I’ve found good pieces of older furniture, lovely glass serving dishes, antique Christmas ornaments, books, tools, old linens that I can donate to the Humane Society, and lots of other useful stuff.  I especially like going on the second day of the sale, when there isn’t quite as much to choose from, but everything that remains is marked “half off.”  I’ve found some terrific bargains that way.

But even though I love estate sales, wandering through the houses in search of bargain-priced treasures is also just a little bit sad.  I can usually get a pretty good sense of who lived in the house, even though I’ve never met them.  As I go from room to room, I can see what the person’s taste was in books, home furnishings and clothing.  Sometimes, looking through the remains of their worldly possessions, I can even tell where they went to church, what their hobbies were, or what they did for a living.   I am reminded that the items for sale belonged to a real person at one time, and some of those things were probably very special to them.  And yet now they are sitting in an empty house with a price tag attached, being pawed through by total strangers.  I can’t help but wonder how that would make the person who owned them feel.

IMG_0346Even though I’m a minimalist at heart, I know that sometimes I still spend way too much time and money acquiring possessions, especially the things that are special to me.  I have certain authors that I love and I buy every book of theirs that I can get my hands on, and I have eight prints hanging on my walls by my favorite local artist.  Even though the two Christmas trees I put up every year are already loaded with glass antique ornaments, I still buy more, if they are in good shape and reasonably priced.  Every single room in my house has at least one thing in it that I treasure. And yet I know that some day (hopefully in the distant future), any and all of it could end up in my estate sale, priced to sell quickly.

The thing is, no matter how much “treasure” we manage to accumulate in our lives, there’s no guarantee that any of it is going to be valued when we’re gone.  Our stuff is not who we are, and it’s not what people are going to remember us by.  When I shop those estate sales, I can understand only a little bit of the person whose possessions I’m sorting through.  I may see their tastes and some of their life story, but I have no idea how they acted, how they treated other people or what their deepest values were.  Because I didn’t know that person, and I only see the stuff they’ve left behind.

So I don’t want to make the mistake of putting too much value on my things, even the things I value the most.  When I’m gone, I know that what I’ll really be remembered by was whether I was kind or cruel, generous or selfish, willing to take risks or always playing it safe, etc.  In short, I’ll be remembered by how much I was willing to try, in my own clumsy way, to make the world around me a better place.  That’s not something that will be put in my will or sold at my estate sale, but ultimately, it’s the only legacy that really matters.