On Giving

As the holidays draw near and I finish up the preparations I cannot help but wonder how I failed to teach you the the joy of giving.  I think back on all the holidays and birthdays where you can see the thought into providing a memorable moment and wonder why it did not transfer to you in a way you felt compelled to wish to provide the same joy.

We did the Angel Tree each Christmas to anonymously provide gifts to children in need. You shopped for that child with me and thought of what might give them the most joy on Christmas day.

When the scouts came knocking during food drives, you watched me open our pantry looking for non perishable items to set out for families. As your schools had food drives you helped me pick out what was needed on the list your teacher provided.

Was there any time during these activities where you felt like you were part of something good? Did it ever make you feel good to make someone else feel good?

You helped me shop for cousins’ birthdays and Christmas, but there was never an excitement in doing so.

I don’t know where I went wrong.

It makes me question if the ones who experience joy in giving are those with such low self esteem that the gesture is all that they have to provide joy in themselves. Is that why you wish not to give? Because you don’t feel you need to experience joy in the joy of others?

If it was Christmas tomorrow and no one gave you a gift or recognized the holiday, would there be sadness in your heart? If you were with someone you care deeply for and others recognized their birthday but you did not, would you feel remorse for not celebrating that person’s special day?

I wish I could ask that you try to give at least something, whether it is volunteer time, a special gift to someone in need, or help someone struggling to see if there is something which sparks happiness in your heart during the holiday season.

I think that’s why I am so partial to the film “A Christmas Carol” the 1938 version starring Alastair Sim. The scene where the Ghost of Christmas Present shows Ebenezer how the spirit of giving and good tidings gladdens the heart, is such a joy to watch. Some day when you want to give it a chance, please watch this film. 

The Final Curtain

Today I had a bit of a scare; just as I was informed that my father-in-law fell whilst out walking Daisy. Turns out it might have been another heart event. He’s in the hospital undergoing tests. Within an hour, I myself, felt a familiar dizziness followed by clammy hands which made me very concerned that I too, was having another heart event.  I couldn’t say for sure that I had chest pains or any of the other pains that go alongside the classic symptoms of a heart issue, but the wooziness and the clammy hands seemed very familiar to the ones from the past; which, over time, ultimately led me to the emergency room having the stents put inside me.

The cost was outrageous and I vowed that I could not go through that hardship again. As it was far too expensive and I am in a current massive debt as a result of having to defer my budgeted obligations to credit while paying of medical bills. I figured if this happened again I might just as well let nature take its course and take me.

As I sat at work today, deciding whether or not to take the nitroglycerin pill (which I ultimately did) I was wrestling with my selfishness to survive and my need to accept my fate. I do feel much better, but after several internet searches, I found this could be the warning shots to the actual attack. As I read those words I thought, “Well, this is a very inconvenient time. I just committed to several things. Work is a mess. I just started binge-watching a new series and the next season starts soon. I have a commitment very early tomorrow morning for charity work. I have a lunch date Sunday.”

I want to know for sure if I am having the warnings of a heart event. Have the off again/on again neck and shoulder pains over the past month also been warnings? Why isn’t there a quick way to be sure like an at home test? Blood pressure cannot be a good predictor. Why isn’t there a home scanner that can say, “You are having a heart attack, please act accordingly.”?

I do feel tired now, and I have that shitty post nitro headache due to the blood vessel dilation. But my hands are no longer clammy. Could it have been a panic attack because of the news of my father-in-law? I might never know. Because anyone reading this would say, er rather…scream “Dammit! Go to the hospital!”

They say this because they care. Maybe. Or are they just selfish because they want me around and do not want to accept that nature has other plans? It is quite the dilemma when seeing someone whose hard living and is the cause of their poor health. I made this bed and I must lie in it. I do what I am willing to try to exist longer, but I also know there’s a shitload more wrong with me than just my heart/vascular. So why try? If my heart doesn’t get me, will the genetic predisposition of RCC get me?

Remember when I said the only person who can fail you is you? I am your example. I love sweets too much, creamy casseroles, the occasional cheeseburger and smoking. I gave up the alcohol because of the heart event and pizza and fried, fatty foods. You know –  the real obvious things. I turned to smoothies and more vegetarian fare. I drink loads of water. But I cannot seem to break all my vices. I need just one soother to my stressors.

My maternal grandmother had a friend, Bette who smoked.

A lot.

Ultimately she was diagnosed with emphysema; but she did not quit smoking. We were seated at her kitchen table where she explained that she enjoyed smoking and it was too late to quit now. Her fate was sealed. Why face death miserably in withdrawal when you can face it doing the very thing you enjoy?

I can understand her point of view. As it is also mine.

A ton of people will be judgemental about my decisions, but there are a lot people on this earth cheating the inevitable every day because they want more time that nature really does not want to give them.  Our earth is overpopulated. We need to recognize when our time is up and take a bow. Be thankful for the life we had, the people we met along the journey and hope that we left a nice enough legacy to keep them thinking happy thoughts of us long after we’re gone.

I will leave you with this little gem.  And don’t listen to the Elvis version because it sucks.

More Than Words Can Say

I am reading a book entitled “Breakfast with Buddha” and there’s a point where the protagonist writes a letter to his daughter, simply providing a lighthearted status of his current road trip; but mostly to tell her he misses and loves her. The author states in a roundabout way that parents do not have the best method to express the love for their children.

In a way, I agree. It is clumsy sometimes. We feel like our children simply do not get the depth of this love;  which feels to us parents like a failure to communicate. While reading this portion of the book, I felt compelled to try to capture my feelings in order to communicate them to my son. I’d like to take the time to do it before it is too late to do it. In doing so, I know for sure he understands exactly how I feel.

Dear Ev,

I want you to know, that when I say “I love you” it’s just not a simple platitude. Those words contain a myriad of dimensions behind it. You are a gift to your father and me. An embodiment of the best and worst of both of us. And I love every aspect of you. From your smile to your moodiness. Your laughter tickles the heck out of me to my core. When you were conceived, I could feel an inner joy within me that did feel like a playful tickle. I could only smile and giggle with the spark of life I was promoting in those 9 months.

As young parents your father and I never wanted to share you with anyone. Reluctant to share you with Grandma and Grandpa because we loved spending time with you. You never had babysitters because we took you everywhere with us. The one and only time we ever had been separated from you was on our wedding anniversary after you were born and we chose to take a night out as a couple for dinner. We hated leaving you, and cut the dinner short to just be with you.

You taught us a depth of loving and caring I don’t think either one of us really understood until you were born. When you hurt, we hurt. When you found joy we were over the moon. When you were angry, it took all of ourselves not to burst in laughter over the triviality over which set you ablaze.

The man you are becoming makes me beam with pride. You are organized and so very considerate. It has always been a source of joy knowing how you care for others (your network of friends and family). When I hear you ask “How was your day?” to either me or your dad with a genuine interest and concern, I feel so very happy to know you are exactly the person we hoped to have in our lives and in others’ lives.

Even in your youth you have been a caregiver. Your heart is the best part of you. I hope you know how much of an impact you have on everyone you mentor and befriend. I respect the heck out of you and your values. I had always hoped you would have the integrity I lacked and avoid the weaknesses I had.

As you grow older, I pray and encourage you to become more independent and self sufficient. The pride in knowing you did it all yourself is the best feeling ever. Use your resources – your network of friends, coworkers, and family as well as technology to help you find your solutions and answers to the problems at hand.

Know that there are little pockets of notes to you in places in the house. Your baby book for example has letters to you from both me and your father. I kept a journal while I was pregnant with you to let you know how I cared for myself in preparation for you. And every book I have kept in the house, I kept because the stories were so profound that I hope that you pick one up and read it too.

It is a constant fear of mine that you may not find true happiness and life will deal you some hard lessons. But in the end, it is a part of the growth process. Whenever you are faced with an obstacle I hope you have the presence of mind to step back after the brief freak out and know that there is an opportunity to learn from the experience in order to grow and be a better version of you in the end.

Life is a constant path towards learning. The more you experience the more you grow. When I encourage you to travel and meet people it is to expand your experience. I know at this point you are not a fan of just getting out there but I hope that changes over time and you do get to go to fun places and meet outstanding people and become lifelong friends. Expand your circle of friends as they become your extended family when both your dad and I pass on. Know that I hated that you had no other siblings because I wanted you to always have someone you can count on to share your feelings and frustrations like both your dad and I had with our siblings.

And in every journey out you have, no matter how mundane, always be open to those moments that makes you smile. Take nothing for granted. Be present in the moment. It could be a pleasant exchange with a complete stranger or it could be a funny bumper sticker on the car in front of you. Find reasons to go through life observantly and not like a mindless automaton. That last way is easiest but it’s the least fun. So empty.

Also know that I am so excited to see ultimately the man you become. I bargain with the reaper every day to let me have this one indulgence. I want to see the fully grown you. It is what I live for. It’s not just the cats.

All my love,
Mom

The Trap

It’s easy to get stuck in a rut. There is comfort in predictability for some things. I must warn however, as my mum did, sometimes people prey on your predictability. It is better to be unpredictable in certain situations.

For example:  Never take the same route home every day. If a predator is out there, they can lie in wait based on your predictable route.  (Mum was a very paranoid person)

Office workers prey on your predictable reactions. Spouses too. Best to always leave them guessing. (Mum said the secret to a long marriage was to keep your spouse on their toes – though, she divorced after 8 years so I don’t quite know how sound that advice is…)

What I do know for sure is, that getting stuck in a pattern of behavior or point of view is pretty easy. Sometimes one can unwittingly get trapped into a pattern without really understanding they’ve been caught. One that particularly ensnares me off and on in life is negativity. For me, it starts with a whinge here or a whine there; but then after a while, it’s like all I can see. All the negative things people say or do. My sense of humor goes out of whack and gets sardonic and black. Snarkily so.

If it goes on long enough, it affects my happiness. Then I become bitter and bitchy. At that point, all I can see are what’s falling apart or going wrong and missing all the bits which are going right.

It hit me the other day that when I get home and I’ve been asked about my day; that’s really all I do is bitch and moan. God! How much of a drain am I to the family in doing so? Or anyone around me for that matter?

There was a meme out there that helped me identify being caught in the trap of negativity.  Disclaimer: I do not know if this is copyrighted…. so please do not sue me. I looked around to find the source and could not seem to locate the exact author/artist of this image.

Cartoon captioned Happiness I created it myself

It became all too clear that when I get caught in negativity, I have control to create my own happiness. I cannot rely on things changing for me, I have to make the changes to be happy. Rather than allowing all the negative events or interactions to cloud my world view; I can choose to select and search for those positives which occurred as well.

For a long time, I looked to my spouse for happiness and realized that would never happen. So I broke free of that expectation and found activities and projects which would generate happiness within me. Whether it was volunteer work, random acts of kindness, crafting for causes, taking on commissions for art, hash-tagging, or reading for pleasure.

The lesson I learned here was that happiness starts with a choice from within. So rather than focusing on what went wrong today, I deliberately also took note of what went right or what caused happiness today.

It’s a work in progress and I need to keep working at it; but that’s with anything in your life. Constant growth and maintenance.

 

On Good Deeds

Clare Boothe Luce once said "No good deed goes unpunished." From a cynic's perspective, the response is "Amen, sister!"

I'd like to think that the sentiment behind that witty statement was not fueled by selfishness and cynicism, but it is.  Usually there is an expectation by the deed do-gooder that some sort of recognition for the act is necessary or a positive response from the recipient is required. They come away shocked when no one notices or when met with hostility or sadness.

The television show "Friends" did an episode in 1998 which exercised and illustrated that very concept. Doing good is inherently a selfish act. To set the scene: Joey, the actor has volunteered to work the phone banks on the PBS annual fund drive. Early he admits his intent is to help raise funds for the station but also to get exposure on television for more work opportunities.  The exchange between Phoebe and himself explains how this deed is selfish and how other acts of kindness are as well:

Joey: I'm sorry Pheebs, I just, y'know, I just wanted to do a good deed. Like-like you did with the babies.
Phoebe: This isn't a good deed, you just wanted to get on TV! This is totally selfish.
Joey: Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! What about you, having those babies for your brother? Talk about selfish!
Phoebe: What-what are you talking about?!
Joey: Well, yeah, it was a really nice thing and all, but it made you feel really good right?
Phoebe: Yeah. So?
Joey: It made you feel good, so that makes it selfish. Look, there's no unselfish good deeds, sorry.
Phoebe: Yes there are! There are totally good deeds that are selfless.
Joey: Well, may I ask for one example?
Phoebe: Yeah, it's… Y'know there's—no you may not!
Joey: That's because all people are selfish.
Phoebe: Are you calling me selfish?!
Joey: …. Yeah, well sorry to burst that bubble, Pheebs, but selfless good deeds don't exist. Okay? …
Phoebe: I'm gonna find a selfless good dead. I'm gonna beat you, you evil genius.

I had to smile during that exchange because Freud first indicated the self-centeredness of all people in his theory of Id, Ego and Superego. This episode calls that out to let people examine the ways in which selfishness exists even when the intent is selfless. Phoebe promises to find a way to prove Joey wrong and in her attempt she fails:

Phoebe: I cannot believe I can't find a selfless good deed! Y'know that old guy that lives next to me? Well, I snuck over there and-and raked up all the leaves on his front stoop. But he caught me and force-fed me cider and cookies. Then I felt wonderful. That old jackass!
Rachel: Maybe Joey's right. Maybe all good deeds are selfish.
Phoebe: I will find a selfless good deed! 'Cause I just gave birth to three children and I will not let them be raised in a world where Joey is right!

We tend to do nice things for others not so much for how it makes that person feel; but how it makes us feel. The more positive the impact, the more likely we are to do good deeds for others.  Phoebe later tries again and gives Joey a status update thinking if she did something which made her feel bad for the good of another then it would be selfless:

[Scene: The Telethon, Joey's phone rings and he answers it.]

Joey: (in a bored voice) PBS telethon.
Phoebe: (on phone from Central Perk) Hey Joey, I just wanted to let you know that I found a selfless good deed. I just went down to the park and I let a bee sting me.
Joey: What?! What good is that gonna do anybody?
Phoebe: Well, it helps the bee look tough in front of his bee friends. The bee is happy and I am definitely not.
Joey: Now, y'know the bee probably died after he stung ya.
Phoebe: (Thinks for a moment.) Aw, dammit! (Slams the phone down.)

This attempt shows how little thought into the result of the deed can actually do more harm than good. In this case, no one benefited. Sometimes we need to think through our actions to see if we may be doing a disservice. Know the person for which you are helping and think through if you are really 'helping' them. Giving food to a food bank may seem like helping, but giving money is more helpful. In the short term the food bank throws out most of the donated food items due to expiration and would rather have cash so they can stock shelves intelligently.

Phoebe tries one more time…

[Scene: The Telethon, Joey answers his ringing phone.]

Joey: (in an unenthusiastic voice) PBS Telethon.
Phoebe: (on phone) Hi Joey.
Joey: Hey Pheebs!
Phoebe: I would like to make a pledge. I would like to donate $200.
Joey: $200? Are you sure Pheebs? I mean, after what Sesame Street did to ya?
Phoebe: Oh, I'm still mad at them but I also now that they bring happiness to lots of kids who's moms didn't kill themselves, so by supporting them, I'm doing a good thing, but I'm not happy about it. So there, a selfless good deed.
Joey: And you don't feel a little good about donating the money?
Phoebe: No, it sucks. I was saving up to buy a hamster.
Joey: A hamster? What, those things are like 10 bucks.
Phoebe: Yeah, not the one I had my eye on.
Gary Collins: (on TV.) It looks like we have surpassed last year's pledge total! Thank you viewers! The pledge that did it was taken by one of our volunteers…(He walks over to where Joey is sitting.) Oh boy! And may I say one of our sharpest dressed volunteers, (Joey stands up.) Mr. Joseph Tribbiani!
Phoebe: Oh, look-look, Joey's on TV! Isn't that great? My pledge got Joey on TV! Oh that makes me feel—Oh no! (Realizes that her deed made her happy and therefore it's selfish and covers her mouth in horror.)

So the show stood by the statement that there is no such thing as a selfless good deed. I tend to agree. But I also like feeling good. Where I see good deeds go wrong is when the deed do-gooder is showboating their action, whether in a post on their preferred social media account or recording it on YouTube. I admire those who keep their acts private and anonymous. No one needs to know but you. Not even the person/people you are helping.

My husband does not understand my sense of philanthropy and feels like the only charity that should be donated to is the family itself. I cannot live that way because I like to be happy. Which is selfish. I keep donating my time, money and goods to help because I like feeling good. I just don't tell everyone when I do it. I don't want to be punished, or judged and I certainly don't want pats on the back. I already did that when I did the deed.

Make sense?

View Me As a Cautionary Tale

I am far from perfect. In fact, I can count on both hands all the comments I have received in the past which point out my flaws. Here are a few:

“You and your sister are so selfish.”  – My father in the 1980s
“Why do you have to be such a bitch?” – My Sister in the late 80s
“You don’t care about anybody but yourself.” – My mother (pretty much all the time)
“I may have to love you, but I don’t have to like you.” – My maternal grandmother
“You need professional help.” – A High School teacher
“All I can think of you is a liar. I cannot trust you.” – Ex-fiance
“You’re not a good enough person to be a girl scout.” – My mother when I expressed interest in becoming a brownie
“You can be so nice and generous sometimes but then so hurtful and severe for no reason.” – Internet acquaintance
“You’re the worst mother ever!” – My son after I said no to something
“I couldn’t give a crap about you. I’m done.” – My current husband
“You are mercurial.” – Professional colleague
“Remind me to never get on your bad side.” – Professional colleague
“You’re such an asshole.”  – High School peer

These are the things the brave ones said. I am sure when my ears ring there are hundreds of other like statements in which the cowardly say behind my back to others. I have always cringed when hearing the positive remarks about me because I know otherwise. I would like to think I am a good person underneath it all but, I know I am human and I make horrendous mistakes and lapses in judgment. Sometimes out of stupidity, hedonism, or as a response to a hurt that I am dealt.

The one thing that I wished I had done was get to know my family more deeply to see the kinds of mistakes they’ve made in the past to know I am not a one of a kind asshole. My maternal grandmother on her deathbed alluded to a similar life with the statement “Heaven can’t take me and hell won’t have me.” One had to wonder what would prompt such a self judgement. Was it the guilt over the mental and physical abuse she dealt to her family over the course of her life? Or was there something oh so much more heinous?

I’ve worn much of my bad qualities as a badge of honor, deeply believing that if I was a truly good person I would die young. So keeping evil just enough to keep me living longer.  Breaking 9 of the 10 commandments and succumbing to all of the deadly sins at one point or another, shows I am far from perfect.  Since I know that I failed in really learning the human side of my elder family members, I can safely guess that my child will fail at that task as well. Although he has seen some of me at my worst to know where I fail, I wish to show him all of it so he understands what not to do in life.

I’d like to think that all of us have elements where we serve as a cautionary tale to others. Failures in which we are not proud and have dealt hurts which cannot be undone. But somehow I think I am part of a smaller faction on the outside looking in.

 

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

You won't get too far in life without this one key principle –

If you want respect, you have to give respect.

I've seen some disturbing aspects of your personality which I'm astounded because I didn't raise you this way. But when you want to get your point across, you have to allow yourself to hear others' points of view –

  • Even if it differs from your own
  • Even if that person has misinterpreted what you said
  • Even if that person is misinformed

You respect them and give them a chance to speak.

Relationships are give-and-take. If you want to good relationships you must be willing to meet them halfway. If you cannot do that, all of your relationships will be broken, damaged, or simply not there. One cannot survive on superficiality.

I listen to your remarks to others with words like "stupid" or "ignorant" and I'm shocked. All I can think is that the receiving end of those words regard you as close minded, hotheaded and disrespectful. They will close off to you because they feel they cannot speak to you. Like I do.

If you want someone to listen to you you must allow them to respond, to react, to offer input. Even if you simply want to vent, they're going to want to give you some supportive commentary or give you another point of view to you calm you down. They may even want to give you some perspective -a story of their own to share so you may see a different solution. You've got to give people value.

The less you give in respect the less you receive. It's a road of bitterness and loneliness and heartache if you continue this path. I only say this because I know.

You may think you know everything at this point in your life, but I can tell you from experience, you don't. You're constantly growing. You're constantly evolving. What you think you value now is not what you're going to value 10 years from now.

I had a lot to say in our conversation tonight that I was not allowed to say that I felt was valuable for you in your frustration –to hear constructive ways to solve your issue. I believe that I have enough life experience to help you advance your career and improve working relationships if you would only let me share.

For example: You're in a shit job assignment right now and although it seems like you may be stuck there forever, you're not. My coworkers had heard about the can assignment and felt only positive that could come from this; which is more experiences and more opportunities if you do well. The more times you say "Yes" the more times you will get opportunities. You can't look at these as punishments. You have to look at these as putting your time in and doing your best to shine in the eyes of your employer. You want to become irreplaceable. Some aspects of your job will be humbling and it will challenge your pride. Go at these with determination and dependability and you will be rewarded.

If you feel that you are at a dead end and you know people who were there who got out you ask them how. Network with the people in the positions where you want to go so you can get there too. If you remain negative and resolute in the fact that your stuck, you will be stuck.

Your attitude is everything and people notice positive attitudes and reward those. If you are negative and complain they noticed that too and they will not reward. They will ignore you. You can be like the other guy and quit but then you shut the door and burn a bridge and that looks bad for your future work experience. You need to overcome challenges with a go-getter attitude to get far.

The thing is there are hundreds maybe even thousands of people just like you who can do that job and maybe do it better than you and you can be replaced. That has to be in the back of your mind every day you walk into work. You need to be able to demonstrate to your superiors that you are worthy of this job and any other job task they assign you.

Just because this job is a grocery store position and you feel it's beneath you; it is a job. It pays you money you probably can't get by sitting in the basement playing Overwatch. Your work history is your reputation. When called for references, your prior employers will speak about the kind of worker you are. You want to behave in a way every day that assures that that recommendation will be glowing.