Every time I attend a large conference, I am struck once again by how immense this country is, the regional differences, and the incredible similarities of the people. Last night, I sat at a table with people from California, Nebraska, Illinois, Delaware, and New York. While there were slight differences in our accents, there was no communication barrier even as thousands of miles separate our homes. Basically, our cultures are the same. We all do similar work, and our daily issues are quite similar. There is a huge comfort in the neighborliness of conferences and the willingness to meet new people to discuss new ideas.
This morning, I received an email from my friend Tom. Tom is a former fellow band member from back home. T and I have stayed in touch (somewhat) with Tom and his wife. He was emailing to tell me that our former bass player, Bob, had recently died. While that was sad, it wasn’t surprising news. Bob was well into his eighties, and I had known that his health had been failing. What surprised me most was that Tom asked me to call him as soon as I had a chance to talk. I replied that I would give him a call when I headed out for lunch.
I shut down the blog for a few months. I needed to detach myself from those things which were causing me stress. By detaching myself from the stress, my intention was to come home in the evening and be present in my life instead of, even for a short time, refocusing on the stress. Did this help the situation? Looking back over the past few months, I think it did. The stress still exists, but over the past months I have spent time cherishing and cultivating the good things in my life. Continue Reading »
I turned 50 a few months ago. There. I said it. (Or wrote it.) I’ve refused to acknowledge the fact that I’m past the half century mark. Most likely, my life is more than half over. What do I have to look forward to besides wrinkles, sags, and memory loss? I’m struggling to find anything good about aging. I’ve tried on a few platitudes for size. “I’m grateful for all the good things in my life.” “Life has been an amazing journey.” Blah, blah, blah… My children are wonderful, happy, and healthy. I have a successful career. I don’t have the financial worries that plagued my life in younger days. Yeah, great. I also don’t have my youth. That was worth something, wasn’t it? Continue Reading »
I’ve made a decision. I’m going to deactivate my Facebook account for the entire month of December. For those of you who are my friends on Facebook, you’ll know that this will be a shock to my system. I am a FB junkie. I update my status several times each day. (It’s a great way of venting…or cheering!) Some days, I update my status MANY times. I use Facebook on my cell phone, at work, and at home. While I don’t necessarily spend a great deal of time on Facebook, I frequently check in to see what’s going on. I check Facebook in my office, while I shop, while I drive, before I go to bed, when I wake up in the morning, and numerous times throughout the day.
I have enjoyed reconnecting with old classmates on Facebook. A group of us have begun meeting for dinner or drinks occasionally, and it has been fun to catch up and revive old friendships. Facebook has been a good networking tool for my career as well. I have deepened what would have been only surface work relationships by getting to know my colleagues as friends on Facebook.
On the other hand, I have encountered old “friends” who have attempted to take a Facebook friendship to another level. Those guys have quickly been unfriended. Then there are the people who are so “MY LIFE IS WONDERFUL” that it makes me sick when I know that the reality of their lives is far from what they portray on Facebook. Others use Facebook as a political or religious platform. I don’t unfriend those folks, but I don’t read a darn thing that they write, either.
I will miss keeping up with all of the various activities that my boys post on Facebook. I suppose that I will have to email them or call them more often. T has a Facebook account, and he can share any interesting pictures that the boys post. Lord knows, I won’t miss seeing the college dorm party pics!
I’ll miss playing Bubble Witch Saga. I’ll miss playing Bingo. I’ll miss the quirky funny posts. I’ll miss the jokes. I’ll miss knowing every move that every one of my friends is making. I’m very nosy, and Facebook is a fine outlet for us creepers!
Obviously I enjoy Facebook, so why would I impose this hiatus upon myself? Recently I have been thinking about the amount of time I spend “plugged in” to my computer or phones. What in the world did I do before I had this obsession? What did any of us do before Facebook, computers, and cell phones? I don’t know what any of you did, but I once did a lot of things that I no longer do. I read books. I owned a loom and wove rugs. One winter, T and I learned how to paint with watercolors. I played the piano, or the clarinet, or the saxophone. Sometimes, I talked to real people face to face! I baked bread, pies, cookies, and cakes. I had sex! I exercised. There was a whole world of things that I once did without being connected to an electronic device. For one month, beginning on December 1, I am going to see if I can get back to basics once again.
Today was a long day, and I am surprised to find myself writing a blog post. I didn’t get home from work until after 9:30. It was a draining day, and on top of that, I haven’t been feeling well. All I wanted to do was sit down and relax for a while before going to bed, but the words were brewing and bubbling up inside of me, so here I am, writing again.
As I sat here quietly trying to unwind, my head was replaying moments from my busy day. It was a strange day that seemed to take place like scenes from a play. Scene I: a morning phone call. Scene II: a quiet, contemplative drive to work. Scene III: a meeting with mega-rich hoteliers. On and on, my day went from one scene to the next. The only player that was constant was me. I walked out on the stage never knowing what I was going to get. Everyone else seemed to know their lines, but not me. Maybe I was feeling a bit scattered because I didn’t feel well. I felt like I was a step behind. I felt uncertain and unsure.
As I sat here tonight replaying the scenes, I thought about the interactions I had today with such a wide variety of people. My work day ended by giving a presentation to a large group of business owners and residents at a public meeting. Each scene of my day had a different tone, and I thought about that as I sat on the couch trying to relax. Moments can go well, or they can be fraught with difficulty. It can go either way. So much is dependent on the people involved. Kindness seems to be the key element. The addition or the lack of kindness can tip a situation in one direction or the other. Continue Reading »
During my lunch break today, I called a friend. I needed to hear a friendly voice. I was feeling sad and stressed out. I needed to talk to someone who cared. Basically, I needed a friend. Instead of keeping those feelings bottled up inside, I called someone I knew would understand. We talked about many things, but eventually we discussed what depression feels like. She had written in her own blog a description that I had found terrifyingly beautiful, accurate, and true. She wrote that depression is “like some thick, wet, blue, velvet cloak trying to smother the life out of your heart….” I understood. I have been feeling the weight of my own depression these past few days, and had been describing it in my own mind. Maybe that’s part of the process, the trying to understand and interpret that crushing, muddled feeling.
Her description is a whole lot prettier than my own. I told her that my depression feels like cotton. My mouth, nose, face, every part of me, feels like it is stuffed with cotton batting. I am unable to make facial expressions. If someone were to ask me to smile, my brain could not tell my face what to do. That must be where the “cotton” feeling comes in. I feel like a rag doll. I have a face, but it is blank. Fighting for expression, fighting to act like a human and not a stuffed inanimate object, is exhausting.
Last week, when I received a funny text picture from a friend I see infrequently, I replied. “Thanks, that made me smile. In fact, I laughed out loud.” He responded that he was glad and that I needed to smile more often. He said that I’m pretty when I smile. I felt embarrassed. I knew just what he was referring to. We had seen each other at a conference in May. I could see that he felt I had changed. I was not the same person I had been just a few short months ago. I was sick. I didn’t laugh or smile like I once did. I wasn’t any fun. I was the expressionless rag doll, and that made me feel ashamed of myself.
Talking to my friend today helped me tremendously. Our conversation went from serious to silly from moment to moment. We are two people struggling with loss, fear, pain, and depression, but we are also able to laugh. God, I find strength in that. There are good people in this world, and I am learning to reach out to them. I am learning to accept help when it is right there for the taking.
I’m not sure why I have so often been faced with loss in my life. Actually, I try not to think about it too much. I do know that I have had way more than my fair share of bad luck and loss. It would be staggering if I were to write it all down. On the other hand, I have had so many wonderful blessings, too. The one thing I have learned as I have been faced with adversity in my life is that there is an OTHER SIDE. Climb that hill, keep putting one foot in front of the other, trudge through the crap that life throws your way. There IS an OTHER SIDE. Right now, though, that other side seems so very far away.
Of course, I am feeling bogged down. There is so much on my plate right now, and not much of it is good. That’s when the depression kicks in. It’s almost impossible to fight off when life is throwing buckets of crap my way. I feel myself sinking under, and I’m tipping my head up to try to catch a breath of air. I need to BREATHE, but there does not seem to be a place of comfort. I’m trying to trudge along and get to the other side of this. I want to get to the BETTER SIDE. I’m trying. I keep putting one foot in front of the other, but it feels like I am fighting a pretty strong wind.
As I drove home from work tonight, like always, I listened to my iPod. The song “Drink Me” by Anna Nalick came on my player. Drink me. That made me think. The words of the song made me think. “Drink me, baby. Slowly, I’ll disappear… I’ll get smaller with every swallow.” Wow. That is how I feel. Little sips of me have been taken. Just a little bit at a time. A little here. A little there. My glass, which was once full, is now almost empty.
I allowed it to happen. “Here, take a little bit more. Is there anything else you want or need? Is there anything else I can do for you? I am strong. I will bear the weight. Here, have a little bit more.” I gave too much. I emptied out my own glass.
I have been remembering a scene from my childhood. For the last few days, this particular moment has been nudging me at the oddest moments. The memory is so vivid, I can almost smell the dinner waiting for me on the table. The memory is set in my parents kitchen. I was probably an eighth-grader, 14 years old. Dinner was on the table, and we were about to sit down and eat. I was standing next to the table talking on the corded phone that was mounted on the wall next to the counter. My dad was looking at me, and he wasn’t very pleased. He had asked me to finish up my phone call so that we could all sit down and eat together. I don’t remember who I was talking to. It was probably my friend, Kara. (Ugh….I hate to even use the word friend in association with that girl!) Well, whoever it was…they were not too happy that I had to get off of the phone in the middle of whatever extremely important middle school tale they were telling. I kept saying, “I have to go, Okay?” And my dad was saying, “Don’t ask OK. Just say Goodbye.” I was trying to please both this demanding teenaged girl AND my father all at the same time. It was impossible, and I was stuck in the middle. I kept telling Kara (or whoever) that I had to go (OKAY?) and she kept talking. Meanwhile, my dad, who NEVER got mad at me, WAS getting madder by the second. If I remember the story correctly, my dad walked over and flicked down the silver bar that hung up the phone. I was horrified. I could imagine Kara calling up all of the other girls in our little group. “Pam hung up on me.” Or…”Pam’s dad is psycho. He made her get off the phone to EAT DINNER.”
My middle school years were a turbulent time. I was in the “most popular” group, and it was horrible. Girls are so darn mean to each other at that age, especially at that particular social echelon. In eight grade, there was a vote among the student body for a number of silly things: Best Couple, Cutest Boy, Cutest Girl and so on. I was voted “Most Popular Girl.” When I came home to tell my mother, she said, “The way you treat people, the way you act, I can’t believe you have ANY friends.” Well, that’s my mom for you! What she said rang true, though. It made me think about what kind of person I really was. What kind of friend was I? I attended all the right slumber parties, but I hated it. I had a cute boyfriend, but he was a mindless jock that didn’t even interest me.
The summer before high school, I realized how unhappy I was with my friends and with MYSELF. When I look back on that summer, I look back with pride. I was a young girl who was on the brink of a major change. I took my life back into my own hands. I realized that my dad had been right. “Just say Goodbye.” It was as simple as that.
I spent the summer before my freshman year in high school doing what I enjoyed. I didn’t go hang out at the baseball diamond with the other girls to watch the jocks. I hated that kind of thing. Instead, I remember playing a LOT of piano that summer. I planted a garden. I went to spend a couple of weeks at my grandma’s house. I cultivated friendships that summer based on the people who I truly liked, not their level of popularity. I remember calling a girl named Kim and explaining to her that I wanted to hang out with her because I liked her. How weird is that for a 14-year-old?
I have good memories of that summer. I think of it as the summer I re-positioned my life. The changes I made that summer impacted all of my high school years. When I went back to school that fall, I was a new, more self-confident person. I joined choir again. I joined the Drama Club. I spent my time with people who were like-minded and who were actually nice to me. I had friendships based on friendship, not popularity. Yes, some of my friends were out-and-out nerds, but they were wonderful friends.
I have been thinking a great deal over the past few months about what true friendship really means. Having horrible life experiences really weeds out the REAL friends from the casual acquaintances. Once again, it makes me think of orbits. Some friendships sail out of our daily orbit from time to time, but when a friend is really needed, they come back like shining stars. Other friendships are part of the orbit of daily life, but when the going gets tough they speed out of the orbit and are nowhere to be found.
I often remember my daughter Grace’s funeral. It was a cold winter day very close to Christmas. The funeral was in a remote country church an hour’s drive from our hometown. It still hurts my heart to remember the number of friends who were not able to give up an afternoon during the holiday season to be by our side as we laid our dear daughter to rest. On the other hand, there were others, who I would never have imagined even cared, who made the trip and touched our hearts. I will never forget a dear man from our town who made a cross from pine bows to lay on her grave. I saw him as I sat in the pew waiting for the ceremony to begin. One of the few memories I have of that day is seeing him pass by the window of the church with a cross of pine bows carried on his back. I looked past Grace’s casket and out through the window. I thought of Jesus carrying the cross as I watched that man trudge up the hill to the cemetery behind the church. This one good deed has lasted a lifetime in my heart. It’s almost 24 years later now, and that good man is no longer alive. He died two days after my father’s funeral. I spent Christmas Eve morning crying at his funeral, but my heart remembered with love and kindness how he touched my life. While I had not seen him often over the years, his act of friendship will forever be special to me.
Through the years, I have been amazed time after time by the people who have proven to be true friends. Often times, it has not been those whom I most imagined would be there when I needed a friend. Thankfully, my best friends don’t let me down, and while we may lose touch from time to time, they are there, a part of my life like family.
I’m feeling a little bit like that eight grade girl again this summer. I have been trying to please too many people. I’m not sure if some of them are worth my effort. Are they really my friends, or I am once again trying so very hard to be liked or to be popular? Thirty years later, and again I am feeling like that 14-year-old girl who was so afraid of rejection. Once again, I am hearing my dad’s words ringing through my head. “Just say Goodbye.”
I wish I could plant a garden, but I don’t have time. I wish I could go spend a few weeks with Grandma, but she is no longer there. This summer will be different from that summer so long ago, but I am determined to once again make this a summer of change.