Never forget

Humankind-Be-Both-Button-(0127)Yesterday I left my family’s Thanksgiving festivities feeling full, not only of food, but also–and especially–of love and warmth and goodwill. Compared to most of the world, I have a lot. My modest house might need a good cleaning, but it keeps me safe from the elements and has more than enough room for my kids, my dog and me. I live on a budget like everyone else, but my family has never lacked food or clothing or health care. I’ve gotten to see much of the world, Most importantly, I have a big, quirky, loving family with open hearts.

All those things were in my psyche, if not my consciousness, yesterday when I saw a woman standing on a corner not two blocks from the feast I had just left, tapping her wrist questioningly in the universal symbol of “What time is it?” I slowed to a stop, rolled down the passenger window, and leaned across my daughter to tell the woman it was close to 5pm.

She needed a ride to the next bus stop, she said. She wanted to take the city bus downtown to the Greyhound station, where she would catch a ride to Wisconsin and her grandmother’s funeral. She was sad and she needed help.

As my so-called street smarts kicked in and an invisible voice told me “Drive away, Tammy, this is a bad idea,” I heard myself telling my son to make room for the woman in the back seat. I’ll spare you the details, but the ride to the bus stop turned into tears and a donation of $40 for the ticket. By the time I let the woman out of the car to make her way to Greyhound, I felt more than a little uneasy and wondered if I had been the one who had just been taken for a ride. I’m doubtful that the woman actually took that bus trip.

I had helped someone in need, but I felt bad. It bothered me all night long and into today, until I recounted the scenario to my brother.

My big-hearted bro had no words for me but my own. He reminded me that over the past couple of weeks, as I’ve taken offense to the knee jerk reaction of many to recent acts of terrorism, I’ve staunchly supported continuing to help Syrian refugees. All refugees, really. I rarely get into political discussions, but this one is more human than political to me. My deep-seated belief is this:

We can’t sacrifice our humanity for the sake of our existence.

We have to keep helping people, even when there may be danger involved, simply because it is the right thing to do. It sickens me when others use a cry of Never forget! in response to acts of violence or terrorism, not to make the world a better place, but to justify their own prejudices.

And yet I still felt silly for having tried to help that woman. I wondered if I had put my children in danger, if she was really who she said she was, where that money was really going to be spent.

With a gentle nudge, my brother told me, “Anything we do that opens our hearts is not a wasted effort. You cannot control what happens in someone else’s heart, only that you yourself were kind. Why should you ever feel ashamed or foolish for having human empathy and caring for the suffering of others?”

Then I remembered something I had posted on my Facebook page just last week.

To the people who cite our nation’s hungry and homeless population as a reason to close our borders, please tell me what YOU’RE doing to help the people you call “ours.” If you’re just spouting statistics that you found on the internet from the comfort of your warm house with a full belly, I’m not listening.

And if you want to do something about it but don’t know how to help, contact Donnie/Kelly Foster (MISFITS), Street Reach for the Homeless, Samaritan Homeless Clinic (Dayton), or just head downtown with blankets and food.

If you really care that much, let’s do something about it.

You know what? I DID something about it. I don’t know how it turned out, but that’s not mine to judge. I walked my talk, and today I feel good about that. This year, more than anything, I’m thankful for a heart that sometimes has to guide my mind when I try to think too much, and for a brother who keeps me pointed in the right direction.

The next time you hear the words Never forget! be sure that what you’re remembering is how to be a better person and how NOT to let the actions of a few justify anger and hatred, no matter how scared you are.

Never forget that preserving our existence is not worth the sacrifice of our humanity.

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Kick in the pants

muffin-topOver the past year, I’ve gotten away from my running routine and let my eating habits erode. You can guess what that’s done to my shape; the wardrobe additions I’ve made in the past months look as if they belong in someone else’s closet if you compare the new size tags to the old.

I know all this academically, of course, but I’ve gotten pretty darned comfortable in my new jeans. It’s easy to ignore the obvious when you accommodate by updating your accoutrements.

I muddled along happily in self-imposed oblivion until late last week I pulled on an old pair of jeans. Oomph. They were so tight I could barely breathe. I thought I had been doing better–time for a reality check.

Guess I’d better get back to work on the old self.

Of course, those jeans got me thinking. It’s so easy to measure ourselves by our current circumstances rather than the actual standard. We compare our work to what others around us are doing  and think it’s good enough when the result is better than theirs–but we forget to look at our job goals or performance measures. We look at our kids and think they’re great because they’re not flunking out, pregnant, or high–but we forget that we are also responsible for their character. And yes, we look at our physical being and consider ourselves ahead of the game because we have clothes that fit and feel fine–but we ignore the long-term health consequences our actions (or inaction) may be inviting.

Simply put, we get comfortable where we are.

We need to check our status against our goals, not our surroundings.I don’t know about you, but sometimes I need a kick in the pants to get out of my comfort zone.

Tying the knot

Nœud_d'huit

“Always do what you’re afraid to do,” Ralph Waldo Emerson’s visionary Aunt Mary advised him. We tie ourselves in knots to sabotage the energy that might be unleashed if we move resolutely ahead. The risks of making changes are great. . . especially great changes. — Gail Sher, One Continuous Mistake

I found this passage while poking around some writing prompts, and it struck me between the eyes. The second sentence, in particular, stopped me cold; knots sabotage our energy, and we tie them ourselves!

I remember one time when I had to make a particularly difficult HR decision. Actually, the decision itself was pretty straightforward, but delivering the message had me tied up in, well, knots. I agonized over it for a week. It consumed my daytime thoughts and kept me awake at night. My productivity level plummeted.

When the big day came, the message I had to deliver went without a hitch. Not only that, but the recipient also received it in an incredibly gracious manner. All that worry for nothing.

Of course, even if there had been hitches, I still had to do what I had to do. And it still would have been over the next morning. Life would have gone on regardless.

Yet I tied myself in knots for a whole week beforehand. I added layer upon layer, spending so much time securing that metaphorical shoe that I never actually used it to get anywhere. That’s some object lesson, huh?

It’s okay to feel bad. It’s okay to be afraid. It’s okay to worry about others. We just can’t let those things keep us from moving forward.

Be kind. Be considerate. Be gracious. But do what you gotta do.

Don’t let the knots trip you up.

Log jam

Photograph_of_Log_Jam_-_NARA_-_2129372Communicator though I am, I have my issues, too.

Sometimes when faced with a problem that seems beyond my reach, I’ll actually *gasp* ask for help. That’s great; after all, haven’t I espoused–right here in this blog–knowing your limits and reaching out to those whose strengths complement your weaknesses? The issue is that I often don’t wait for the help I’ve summoned. I dive in and work to figure it out myself.

Like the time I was faced with a tax issue that didn’t make sense to me. I asked a couple of accountants, but before they could get back to me, I worked it out myself.

Or the time I needed to redirect a URL to another domain. I put out a cry for help, but before I could sit down with my expert friend, I had it all worked out.

I could go on, but you see the pattern. These scenarios happen more often than I’d like to admit.

Here’s my problem. I think it’s fine to ask for help. I also think it is admirable to work things out for myself. Either one is a great way to solve a problem. Is it such a good idea to keep a foot in both camps, though? If I ask for help, I should probably give the person the opportunity to deliver. If I were in his place, I’d probably find that insulting–or at least annoying.

I’m not sure why the cry for help dislodges my logjam of thought and allows me to proceed on my own. Maybe it’s because I don’t like to look as if I don’t know something. Maybe it’s because it turns my issue into a competition to finish first. Maybe it’s just cathartic.

Whatever the case, I haven’t been able to solve this one yet. I know I’ll be better for it when I do.

Dreamgirl

Dreams_quotes_07I don’t have a vaguely interesting back story for this post; it’s just the culmination of years of self-examination and, finally, realization. (Remember, I’m the girl who puts the anal in analyze.) So I’m just going to hit you with it.

Don’t try to become someone else’s dream. Instead, become the person you’ve always dreamed of being–and let him (or her or them) love you for it.

Whether you’re a child whose parents want to live vicariously through you, someone’s prodigy, or that person who has wrapped up another’s heart, I’ve got news for you: you won’t fit. Sure, you might come close, or some parts will fit–but others won’t. But you’ll never be a perfect match for someone else’s expectations. That’s a fantasy.

Be yourself. Pursue what you love. Get better at it every day.

They’ll love you for it.

Babes and their mouths

Bhs_int_classroom_ssWinter weather has arrived, and with it have come the requisite school closures. This year, my kids have the benefit of e-learning: online coursework assigned on cancellation days to keep them in the swing of things and, more importantly, to allow the school to avoid tacking extra days to the end of the year.

Lately my 13-year-old daughter has been asking me to take her to school on those days. (Strangely, though the weather is bad enough to cancel school, they open the doors for kids to come in and access their computers.) I questioned her about this.

Last night you begged and pleaded and hoped for a cancellation. Now that you’ve got it, you want to go to school. What’s up with that?

She told me that while she didn’t like to be IN school, she liked to be AT school. And I couldn’t argue one bit with what came out of her mouth next.

School just ruins the purpose of learning, Mom. Learning is so much fun, but the way they want to define everything by a letter just messes everything up. It takes away the incentive to really learn anything–just what they want you to know for the test.

I’ve long been concerned for the dwindling critical thinking skills in our society, (see one of my very first posts HERE), but my middle schooler got to the heart of the issue better than I ever could. If we just start with what she said and get back to really learning–asking questions, making discoveries, connecting the dots–the rest might just take care of itself.

Give that girl an A.

Fireflies

fireflyFor a long time–well over a year, for those of you keeping track–I didn’t think I had anything to write about. I froze up.

Oh sure, I’d jot down tidbits of ideas (just like always), and later I’d try to flesh them out (just like always).

But I froze up.

I couldn’t make those ideas turn into anything, until eventually they stopped coming at all. No matter how many stops and starts and excuses I made, I couldn’t figure out why. And then it hit me.

I had started worrying about my audience.

Who would read it? Friends? Coworkers? What would they think? Would someone be offended? Would what I wrote be interpreted correctly? After scores of questions like that, the tiny seed of self-doubt we all carry somewhere deep inside began to grow, until finally it full-out blossomed.

Not only could I not make sense out of my jotted tidbits, but I also stopped being able to find new ones. While I used to pull them out of the air like fireflies, I stopped even lifting my hand.

All because I forgot that I was writing for me–not for you. And even though I said right here in this blog that I would keep writing even if not a single person reads my ramblings. And even though I’ve really, really missed this visceral part of me.

A few weeks ago, a blogger/author I follow added a page to her site called Make a Memory. There’s apparently a whole movement behind it, but what really stuck with me were the words, “Turn ‘I wish I had’ into ‘I’m glad I did.'”

So I finally started that book I’ve always wanted to write. I’ve only knocked out a couple of chapters, but it feels good. Really good. And guess what!

I started seeing fireflies again.

I’ve even caught a few.

So here I am–right back where I started, writing because it’s my outlet, because it makes me whole. As much as I love my readers and hope that one of my fireflies will light up your life in some way, I’m doing this for me.

So let me ask you this: is worrying about your audience keeping you from doing something? Maybe it’s time to go catch some fireflies.