So much truth here, so much of her journey that feels very familiar.
Originally posted on eleventhbeatnik:
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do, so throw off the bowlines, sail away from safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore, Dream, Discover.
As I’ve written about here before, there have been a lot of big changes going on in my life over the last year. So many in fact that my head spins when I stop to consider it all.
My circumstances could certainly be classified as one of those situations where some pretty miserable experiences turned out to be in my best interest. Not that there is any way in hell I could have been able to recognize the larger picture while it was all happening . Fighting to stay afloat in a slew of emotional pain doesn’t exactly allow for broader philosophical-based thinking.
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Much of what follows has been percolating in me, in some form, for ages. Thomas Fiffer articulates very eloquently what I have never been able to say in this piece, offering up 10 ways women often misunderstand the 21st century man. Not everything resonates completely with me, but there are some great nuggets of insight here.
Here’s what this article is not. It’s not a list of what men want or sure-fire ways to snag one. You can go read Cosmo if you want to be misinformed about that. It’s not a dating guide. Men don’t want partners to play by a rulebook. Just have the courage to be yourself. It’s not a laundry list of men’s complaints about women. We love women, even those of us who love men. And it’s not definitive. It’s simply one hetero man’s window on what makes the 21st-century guy tick. It’s also not meant to endorse what’s known as heteronormative love over any other type. I’m just an average guy who wants people to be happy in relationships. God knows I spent enough time being unhappy in mine for reasons it took me a long time to, uh, understand. And since understanding—and the respect, patience, devotion, and commitment that go with it—forms the core of lasting partnerships, I thought I’d offer this up to help women “check your stereotypes” so you can better understand the objects of your affection. And if it also helps men who love men, well, that’s terrific. All in the name of more better understanding.
1. The 21st-century man doesn’t care about your appearance nearly as much as you think. Guess what? We know the models in the magazines aren’t real. Oddly enough, a woman who centers her life on surface beauty and lacks depth isn’t attractive. She’s just a shell, and we want what’s inside the package. We do want you to make an effort, but one that accentuates your own best features. There’s no need to starve yourself down to Kate Moss weight or style yourself to match the model in a Photoshopped spread. So relax and enjoy your dessert. Here are some things we do find attractive in women: a warm smile, laughter, lack of self-consciousness about your looks, a healthy appetite, clothes you’re comfortable in (especially shoes), loving your body as it is, taking good care of yourself, not comparing yourself to others, and confidence in your own opinion about what makes you look good.
2. The 21st-century man has feelings and those feelings can be hurt. We may have hard edges compared to your soft curves, but our egos are no less fragile and our hearts no less sensitive when they get hammered. We’re steady and reliable, but we’re not the emotional equivalent of granite. Before you say, “You’re a man, you can take it,” think again. Poke a stick at us, and we feel pain. We may not express upset in the same way you do, because we’ve been conditioned to suck it up and suffer silently, to cry on the inside. But our silence doesn’t mean your words didn’t sting us, and we may be feeling wounded and suppressing rage. We need you to be respectful of our feelings and tuned to our moods just as much as you need this from us, and we also don’t want a relationship that’s only about your emotions. Give us the space and security to express our full range of feelings, and you’ll be rewarded with a lot more—you guessed it—intimacy.
3. The 21st-century man is not fantasizing about or even interested in every attractive woman (or man) he sees. Honestly, let’s put the whole wandering eyes thing to rest. Turning our heads and glancing or even staring at an attractive woman is not virtual cheating or demeaning you by comparing you to someone born with different features. Men appreciate beauty, in nature, in art, in machines, and in human form, whether it’s next to us or across the room. But just because she’s pretty doesn’t mean we want her—or want her more than we want you. And if we look twice at another man, it doesn’t mean we’re gay or bi. Check your worries. If we’re committed to you and happy in the relationship, no other woman, bombshell or not, constitutes a threat. We actually find insecurity about this unappealing and get frustrated if you self-righteously deny ever sneaking a glance at a hot hunk with a six-pack. A secure man isn’t threatened by your celebrity crushes. If you can’t be secure enough to acknowledge, yes, she is pretty, ask yourself who’s doing the comparing? And if our eyes are truly wandering, it’s not because of the candy but because the relationship isn’t meeting our needs.
4. The average man is not thinking about sex every seven seconds, or even 19 times a day, regardless of what the studies say. Most of us are busy, productive, and engaged in thoughtful, meaningful mind work or useful physical labor that (unless we’re in the porn industry or writing romance novels) keeps our minds off sex. We might think about sex when we’re bored, and we do certainly look forward to it when we know it’s coming, but we’re not some sort of primal, lustful animal constantly thinking about whipping it out, sticking it in, and getting our rocks off. We want sex to be loving, caring, emotional, mutual, and special. We want it to be about companionship. If we initiate, we don’t want to be swatted away and told, “That’s all you ever want.” Believe it or not, sometimes, we actually don’t want it, or we’re too exhausted to perform. And if we fall asleep afterwards and start snoring, it’s not because we’re inconsiderate or dislike pillow talk or don’t appreciate post-coital closeness; it’s just because we’re tired.
5. The 21st-century man respects your independence but needs a woman to let him be a gentleman. Men are wired with the need to feel useful. If you refuse every offer we make to help you with anything, get snarky when we go to open a door or pick up your suitcase, or never let us pay for anything, you’re thwarting our instincts and denying us acts that make us feel good. We’re not patronizing you. We’re expressing our love. We know you can open the door for yourself or shoulder five grocery bags while checking your email and unlocking your car. But we’re creatures of habit, and we’re programmed to be caring and protective. Letting us do something for you is not a sign of your weakness but an acknowledgment of our strength and our desire to use it to your benefit.
6. The 21st-century man enjoys conversation. We may not like to talk about all the same things, but we do like to talk, and we have a lot to say on topics we feel passionate about. Let’s replace the myth of the strong, silent type with the strong, expressive type. We’re interested in your interests and issues, and we want you to take an interest in ours, too. Not to be harsh, but if we’re not interested, you might stop to consider whether what you’re saying is … boring. It’s a valid question. We may not always initiate conversation, and we appreciate your ability to draw us out. We’d also rather say nothing sometimes than run the risk of boring you. If we have the courage to bring up something sensitive, please have the courtesy not to mock us or shut us down. If you do, you can be sure it won’t happen again. And if a man is uncommunicative, it’s not because he’s a man; it’s because he’s an uncommunicative person. Sometimes, silence is just silence and not emotional withholding.
7. The average man likes to cuddle. Sure, we love sex and especially hot sex. But we thrive on affection. There’s a huge difference between the joy of release—the feeling of being sexually satisfied—and the satisfying feeling of being loved. Embrace us. Cradle our heads in your arms. Run your fingers through our hair (assuming we still have some). And don’t worry that we’ll always interpret your affection as a green light for intercourse then feel like you led us on if you beg off. Consistent affection—not making yourself seem desirable, playing hard to get, or using sex as a reward when we do something nice for you (a distasteful cheapening of making love)—is the most effective way to engage our interest, win our hearts, maintain our trust, and keep us happy.
8. The 21st-century man loves kids and knows how to parent. Changing a diaper is not rocket science, and neither is raising children. Parenting is hard work that requires patience, good judgment, and an abundance of love—three things on which neither gender has the market cornered. And all parents make mistakes. Stop for a minute and think about your own insecurities. Do you ever worry if you’re “a good enough mother?” Now think about how a man feels when you joke, even gently, about how ineffectual he is, especially in front of your kids. Many kids are being raised by two dads, and there’s no evidence that these children are lacking for nurturing or not getting their lunches packed. Expect the 21st-century man to be a full and fully-respected partner in childcare. We might even be that thing some women seem to simultaneously desire and make fun of—a stay-at-home dad.
9. The average man is not stupid when it comes to women. We get relationships. We get women. We get love and commitment and responsibility. We’re capable of understanding your feelings, and we’re capable of an empathic response. Few words make us feel worse than, “Forget it. You wouldn’t understand,” especially when spoken with dismissiveness or contempt. The fastest way to make a man retreat into his shell? Make him feel like a failure. Then complain that he’s stopped trying. We need your support, not your criticism. As with being talkative, if we don’t get it, it’s not because we were born on Mars or made of snips and snails instead of sugar and spice. It just means we both have to work harder to achieve complete understanding.
10. The 21st-century man is, above all, his own man. We don’t fit a model or a mold. And we’re proud of our uniqueness. We’ve worked hard to reject the stereotypes, to escape from the man box, to define ourselves by our own meaningful standards. This means we don’t want to be typecast or boxed in or compared to other men. Forget about the bad boy, the mama’s boy, the boy toy, the nerd. Drop the tool, the douchebag, the strong-sensitive type, the wimp. We’re neither hero nor clown—just men. Open your minds and broaden your perspective and accept that 21st-century men are more complex and more complete than a simple sobriquet can suggest. Feminism broke women out of stereotyped roles years ago, and as 21st-century men, we want the freedom to be ourselves. Just call a man … a man, or even better, use his name.
Bonus 11. The 21st-century man doesn’t have all the answers. We’re just as full of doubts and insecurities and uncertainty as you are. We’re just as vulnerable and need just as much to feel warm and loved and safe. We’re still figuring it out, so please, be patient. And do try not to misunderstand us.
- See more at: http://goodmenproject.com/ethics-values/men-not-as-complicated-fiff/?utm_source=Thursday+May+6%2C+2014&utm_campaign=Constant+Contact+May+8+2014&utm_medium=email#sthash.FgXaY78c.dpuf
“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured and far away.”—Henry David Thoreau
Well, I made it. I celebrated my 50th birthday last week, singing my little heart out, surrounded by family and friends. On the day, exactly how I wanted to do it. Stepping to the music.
Many have asked if it feels different, hitting this milestone. I can report that there have been no great earth-shattering epiphanies between March 27 and March 28. But there have been many gradual realizations, especially over the past two or three years. Things slowly coming into focus.
Someone asked me recently if I thought I was an adult. I do not feel grown up, and I am not sure I know what that even means. I still find it hard to believe I have 50 years under my belt. Physically, I have to say that I am not wild about what happens to me as I age, and would happily trade myself in for a younger model at times. Benjamin Button has the right idea. Mentally, I don’t feel like I imagine a 50-year-old should feel. I still think I think young.
But spiritually and emotionally, I would not trade now for any time in the past. Up and down, good and bad, happy and sad, I have tried (and not always succeeded) to do the right thing, and treat others the way I want to be treated. There are things about my life that I wish had turned out differently, despite my efforts, but I have no regrets. Everything that has happened has made me who I am, and overall I am happy with the result. My friend Tommy reminded me of this recently, in a few more words.
I would do it all over again. It has been a good run.
Here are a few more insights, brought on by friends, family, and other great thinkers. As always, these always seem to come exactly when I am ready to receive them.
“It is a mistake to try and look too far ahead. The chain of destiny can only be grasped one link at a time.”—Winston Churchill
I used to think I had it all mapped out, and everything would happen as I planned it. Not so. There is a much bigger plan unfolding, most of which I cannot control nor understand. So I just keep moving forward, less concerned about figuring it all out, and more concerned about what I wish to create. Trying not to let my past dictate my future.
My friend Rel wrote: “maybe you can move on now and find that big THING in life that will leave you feeling content, my friend.” I have no idea what that big thing is yet, but I am open, and I am ready.
“If you continue to pursue the goal of salvation through a relationship, you will be disillusioned again and again, but if you accept that the relationship is here to make you conscious instead of happy, then the relationship will offer you salvation.”—Ekhart Tolle
Slowly learning this the hard way. Relationships exist as mirrors, reflecting who we are. I understand the concept, but it’s very tough in practice.
“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”—Rumi
And there are many. Trying to knock them down, one painful brick at a time. The dance of intimacy is and will continue to be my greatest life challenge.
My father said to me recently that he will always support me. Even though he may have reservations about my chosen paths, I am still his son, and he will always be proud of me. He also expressed that he was only sorry that he hadn’t told me this before. I can’t tell you how meaningful it was to finally hear these words.
It reminds me (loosely quoted, unknown source) that “I have and will incur the misunderstanding and perhaps even the wrath of those around me for having the temerity to march to my own drumbeat, which I am finally starting to hear. I will try not to take it personally. We are all on different paths and timetables, but we all seek and need unconditional love and support, especially from those closest to us.” That helps me feel worthy, confident, and better able to accept the good that comes my way.
And from my son Ben: “As always, the flow of life is unstoppable. But my paddle is wide, and my stroke is just. So I go where I need to.” When I asked Ben if this is an original quote, he replied “why of course…I live this shit, yo.” Wow…19 going on 50! Profound words from an old soul. You just never know where the wisdom will come from.
For me, getting older means learning to see things as they are, accepting them, and letting go. Externally, I control virtually nothing. All I can really control is what happens on the inside, and how I choose to experience life. Understanding how, why, and what I feel…a heightened awareness of everything. Learning to live with contradiction and ambiguity, and understanding that this is the way things are. Learning that fear is not something to be overcome, but rather something to face and move through.
Life is becoming much less black and white. I am learning to see the many, many shades of grey in between.
If this is what adulthood means, then I guess I am certainly well on my way.
I met a very interesting guy in Toronto a few weeks ago, Austin Repath, author of the Pilgrim Cards and other spiritual books. It was the unlikeliest of meetings…I wrote to him many months before to compliment and thank him for the inspiration I get from reading these cards. After that, every once in awhile, I would get a quick email from him.
I didn’t even make it to the first meeting, in fact I stood him up because I was caught in traffic! But we managed to reschedule. We sat for about two hours together and talked about very personal things–life issues that usually take months or years to get to with most people. There is something very different about Austin….wizened, knowing, and profound. I came away from that feeling changed somehow, like I had connected with someone or something much more powerful than the norm.
I have heard from him once or twice since then, and yesterday he sent me a long note with his thoughts on our time together, and the challenges I was and am facing. Challenges that I suspect we all face at various stages of our lives. I was very moved by this. His words have captured the essence of my difficult journey. And opened the door to healing. And somehow make me feel that it will be OK.They will roll around in my head for many weeks to come as I try to incorporate the depths and wisdom of what he has given me. I share it with you now in the hopes that his words may also resonate with you.
We sat over breakfast and your told me where you were in your life–unhappy split with your wife of ten years, your decision to leave your job, and the fact that you were about to turn fifty.
Looking at you, warming your hands around a cup of coffee, I saw a good man, in the prime of his mature life, hurting and at a loss of what to do next. You had the style and image of a man well able to get ahead in the world. However, I could see from the way you presented yourself that you were armoured with style and personality.
You did indeed create an image in my mind of a knight in shiny armour. One who had just received the healing wound that could make all the difference in the rest of your life.
I could offer understanding, advice, help you on your way. As I am much older–in my seventies–I knew of breakup and heartbreak. I knew what you were going through, knew also, that in truth the best I could be was a witness to a changing time in your life, one that could drag you down into cynicism, misogyny, and unhappiness for years to come. Or be with you as you endured a rite of passage that would give you fellowship with all who suffer and live from the open heart–the deeply and truly human among us all: a man on the street begging for some change, an older woman looking directly at you, a child sitting by her mother across from you. You sense a caring and a connection with each of them that was not there before. You begin to grasp that you are being accepted into a gathering of others who hurt, vulnerable to the vagaries of life, and yet are open to you and to life in a way your never allowed yourself to be. You see their innate dignity. You feel touched that you are one with them. This is your reward, and of course there is more.
Being much further down this road, some call life, I knew the lay of the land that lay ahead for you. I sat there trying to frame the words that would guide you forward, make your way easier. And yet I knew that although what I would tell you was the way it was, anything I said would not help you move forward. It might ease the pain and that might be sufficient, but it would be doing you a disservice.
Now a few days later sitting at my computer, I want to try to give you what I can.
Jonathan, it was good to be with you the other afternoon. I saw and could grasp the cusp in your life where you stood, anguishing not in grief or sadness, but in that place that seems given over especially for those who have lost love, been given the wound of a broken heart that no one can cure.
I know and you know in some desperate, hopeful way that one day this exquisite pain will wear itself out. I could tell you that one day you will look back on this time and realize that much of the anguish and pain that you are going through was unnecessary. This is helpful? I think not.
I could tell you that you are within a learning process, but learning in such matters is not what it is about. I believe that you are within the realm of possibility that even articulated will have little meaning for you. Right now is not the time for doing. Right now is a time to to trust and endure.
However, you do have some choice and some responsibility in the matter. For if you are patient enough and can endure, you might one day see this as a time of transformation. Think of yourself as in a crucible. If the term crucify comes to mind, you might not be too far off. If you are happy with the alchemical term think alchemical.
In very simple terms, something is happening to you. You are breaking down. Falling apart. Your task is to stay within the process.
I doubt if you could, but don’t jump out of the crucible. Stay within and let the lead of your being transform into, dare I say it, gold. You will come out of the process different. A bit like a creature of the sea who has its hard outer shell cracked open, you will feel soft and vulnerable. You will be the same you, but not the same old you. Some shell of protection, some outer layer of sophistication or stance will have been burnt away. This is the alchemy of such a moment.
You find that people are more open to you. You sense a way of being with others that is less manipulating, less controlling and more fun, more satisfying. You find delight in your own weaknesses that somehow seem playful and harmless.
People want to be around you. You are not sure why. You are safe to be with. You are not demanding, pushy. One day you connect with another and feeling the energy between you, you both you now realize what love is like.
And you would never had known this if you had not endured the cauldron.
Of course there is so much more. One’s life is an endless infinite series of such moments, but they become less painful, less traumatic. More important, you begin to realize that you have been initiated into the adult world of humanity. And you begin to see that life has given you….what some call grace.
If we are fortunate, life blesses us with this, the greatest of human gifts.
Blessings my friend,
From January to March, I traveled to Mozambique, Africa to do volunteer work. I did not speak the language. I did not understand the culture. I was immersed in a completely strange world for two months.
In April, we put our house up for sale. The prospect of uprooting and moving is destabilizing, and one of life’s biggest stressors.
Then in May my marriage failed, and I separated from my wife. We had been together for almost nine years. I became well acquainted with pain beyond anything I had ever known.
In June I decided to pursue my lifelong dream of singing in a rock band—mid-life crisis or perhaps an awakening of sorts. Either way, it has been a whole lot of fun doing something I love to do.
In August my son left home for university. It was a very exciting and emotional time for all of us, the end of one chapter and the beginning of another. Both sad and exciting, and I am incredibly proud of who he is and who he is becoming.
And in September my last remaining grandparent, my grandmother, died at the age of 97. She was an incredible woman who saw so much change, and packed a whole lot of life into her years.
In the past year, amidst all the turbulence, a few insights have gradually revealed themselves to me. Maybe they will resonate with you.
1. Nothing is permanent.
Yet we are programmed for the opposite. We want life to feel safe and secure. We want life to be predictable. Permanence gives us the illusion that it is.
But the reality is that nothing is permanent, and the only thing we know we can count on is change. The more we push for permanence in life, against the current, the more disappointed we become when we find it is not achievable to the extent we think it should be. But if we can accept the fluidity of life, our entire approach to it changes.
2. Give it time.
Why is it that life can look hopeful one day, and so very dark the next? Very little of my actual situation has changed from one day to the next. But my perception of it can change minute by minute based on how I am feeling in that moment—tired or rested, peaceful or angry, whole or damaged.
I am learning not to overreact in the moment, or make important decisions when I am feeling down. I am learning that painful and difficult things will pass. I am learning to allow time to heal.
3. Practice gratitude.
In the midst of difficult times, I have a strong tendency to dwell on the negative. And then everything looks dark, and it tends to snowball.
But there are always things to be grateful for in life—my friends, my health, my relationships, or even my next meal. I often think back to my time in Mozambique and remember the crippling poverty that most people live with every day. And yet they are, by and large, happy and grateful for what they do have.
We can make a huge difference in our state of mind by focusing more on what we do have, how lucky we are, and counting our blessings.
4. Be gentle with yourself.
I am my own worst critic, often focusing on my perceived failings and inadequacies. All this does is reinforce the bad. And by reinforcing it, that is the reality I create for myself. So I am slowly learning to cut myself some slack, and perhaps even start liking who I am. What a concept!
And I am starting to see is a direct correlation between how I treat myself, and how I am with others out in the world. By treating ourselves gently and with kindness, we treat others the same way. And maybe this is how we learn to love.
5. Be here, now.
I have a lifelong tendency to look back or forward—anything but being present. Guilt and shame looks back, worry and anxiety look ahead. In either case, it is wasted energy.
If I feel that I need to do something to set things right, I should simply do it, then let it go and not allow these feelings to linger. For me, engaging in activities that force me to stay present helps: skiing, surfing, and singing. It’s not easy, but I am trying to be present in all that I do, and recognize when I’m not.
6. Give up control.
The need for control is very deeply rooted, and comes from a place of fear and insecurity.
We can plan all we want, but there are much bigger forces at work out there. And the bigger plan for us may not coincide with what we think should happen or the planned timetable we have in our head.
I will have faith that the universe wants to help me. My job is to step out of the way and let it work its magic.
7. Be yourself.
I have been a people pleaser for most of my life. There all kinds of expectations out there about what I should do, how I should do it, who I should be, and how I should fit in. And it is impossible for me to keep up; to satisfy everyone else’s preferred version of me. I push my needs aside, and eventually that turns to anger, depression, and resentment. It’s far less stressful for me to just to be me, and to be comfortable with who that is.
We can give ourselves a powerful sense of peace by learning who we are and allowing ourselves to be that. And let the chips fall where they may.
8. Eat. Sleep. Exercise.
This may seem basic, but when my life is in turmoil, I find that basic self-care can be the first to go out the window. I skip meals, or eat badly. My sleep suffers, and when I am not rested, my whole perspective on life changes for the worse. That’s usually when I make bad decisions and think dark thoughts. I feel lethargic and tend to want to skip exercise.
But these three are all connected, and they are some of the few things we actually can control to some degree. And when we force ourselves to practice good self-care, we feel better, stronger, and life seems brighter.
9. Don’t fight the pain.
It’s taken me a long time to learn this one. And I have a history of doing or using anything I can to not feel the pain. I know this doesn’t work because when I mask the pain, it never leaves. It just gets stronger, and comes out in other ways.
Pain demands to be acknowledged. And by letting ourselves feel it, it loses its grip, and passes through us much more quickly.
I have certainly not mastered any of these insights, in fact I continue to struggle with all of them. But underpinning it all is a sense of heightened awareness about the feelings I have, and where these feelings come from.
This is the first step in learning, accepting, and rolling with the perpetual changes, challenges, and pain that life offers up. And perhaps this is how the healing begins.
I wish us all the very best for 2014.
The best part of the Christmas season for me are those unexpected gifts of goodness, insight, connection, and light that sometimes come our way. They are gifts of magic. And they are all around us, when we are open to receiving them. Here are two from my world that may lift you up.
The first story is about Sister Lorraine Malo, a beautiful woman I have known for many years who died in June at the age of 76. She was born in 1936, and entered religious life in 1955 at the age 19. She was a woman of unshakeable faith, who lived through unspeakable horrors, and yet spent her life serving others–always smiling, always hopeful. For most of the last 10 years, she helped orphaned and very sick children in Haiti–befriending them, teaching them, consoling them, and playing with them. I just found out recently that she had died, and it made me very sad.
On my way out of Toronto last week, I stopped in at the Sisters of St Joseph to make a donation towards the work she started in Haiti. I also hoped to speak to a sister who knew Sister Lorraine, and was with her at the end. And as luck would have it, I ended up having a very emotional chat with Sister Pat Boucher who shared with me some of the final days, moments, and memories with her. We both cried. Towards the end I noted that Sister Lorraine died just a few days shy of her 77th birthday. Sister Pat had asked her what she wanted to do for her birthday about two weeks prior to that.
Sister Lorraine said: “there is nothing to plan for me, Sister Pat…because I will be in heaven.”
If anyone deserves to be there, it is surely Sister Lorraine. And I have absolutely no doubt that she is there now, watching over all the souls she touched.
The second story happened just this past week. I stopped by to say hi to the Wongs, my next door neighbours for 15 years. I usually pop in once a year since since I moved away in 2008. Mr. and Mrs. Wong don’t speak English very well, but somehow we manage to communicate, at least superficially. Mrs. Wong and I had never shared more than a brief hug, but on this day, it was very different.
Mrs. Wong asked me for my address. I tried to explain that I don’t really have an official home address right now, following the profoundly painful experience earlier this year of separating from my wife. She locked onto my eyes and started crying. Then she held my hand, grabbed my arm, and tried to explain to me that her son was going through a similar experience, and how worried she was about him and her five-year-old granddaughter. I shared with her some thoughts on how I am somehow getting through this, and how important her family’s support and the support of her son’s friends would be over the coming months. She told me to be strong and to never doubt my goodness. And for the next 20 minutes or so she held onto me tightly and did not let go. She never stopped looking in my eyes.
It was an extended moment of very close, intense physical and emotional connection that I have very rarely felt in my life, in particular from a relative stranger. We locked onto each other, and somehow in those moments, we gave each other the gift of comfort.
“It is only in love that the human heart is happy and in loving action that fulfillment and peace reside.”–Sister Lorraine Malo
This is an expression that has always bothered me. I hear people say it and it just gets under my skin. It feels to me like a very simplistic way to look at the world, and that it glosses over the intricacies and complexities of life.
I do think we all have choice in how we view things, and that seeing the glass half full is a better, more helpful, more evolved approach than seeing things half empty. But being positive at all cost ignores what is real. It denies the feelings of being human, and for me, this is the rub. It represses.
For most of my life, I denied that I had feelings, and tried to pretend everything was OK. I felt somehow that I was not allowed to have feelings. And I can see now that this did not serve me well. They would end up coming out eventually, in mostly self destructive ways.
So I am learning to acknowledge the feelings, and allowing myself to feel them. And as a result, they are not able to grip me the same way they used to. They seem to pass through me more quickly now. Most of the time. I still am not always able to articulate what it is that bothers me, nor do I always know what I like, don’t like, or want.
I see shades of grey where others see black or white.
But at a very deep level, that I can only sometimes tap into, I know that it is in fact “all good,” and that I have so much to be grateful for. I know that everything happens for a reason, and for my highest good, even though I may not always understand what that is in the moment. I recognize, at times, that I am not always able to see the forest though the trees, as the saying goes.
And this recognition in and of itself, is progress. I am learning to trust that things are unfolding as they should, even though it tests my faith time and time again.
A few days ago I was playing cards with some people I had only very recently met. I laughed and joked and tried to be friendly. One of them, Dick, an elderly man of about 70, barely acknowledged me, and was actually quite rude. “Crusty old bastard,” I thought. “What could he possibly have against me? He doesn’t even know me. Why doesn’t he LIKE ME?” My first instinct was to lash out, but I didn’t. Instead I began thinking about how I would be rude back. I lost focus on the game, and this thought began to consume me.
A few minutes later, he left the table to get a beer. While he was gone, Earl, one of the other players, told me that Dick had cancer “real bad,” and had only about six months to live. All those negative thoughts that had been swirling around in my head immediately dissipated. Instead, I redoubled my efforts to be friendly and took every opportunity to compliment him on his play. Then he calmed down and was a little friendlier. Only a very little mind you. He still is a crusty old bastard.
But I am so glad I held my tongue in that moment.
In the days since, I have been thinking about that episode. How I almost fell into the trap, and contributed to its escalation. Why it took hearing about his illness to let go of my negative thoughts and change my approach with him. And why is it so freakin’ important that I feel liked by others?
Giving people the benefit of the doubt and showing them love and compassion is always a better option than fighting fire with fire. Easy to do when the love is returned. Far more difficult when it is not.
I suppose we’re wired to see the world through our own lens. I am trying to be more compassionate. It’s hard sometimes. I continue to be a work in progress.
But you just never know why people do what they do, and what they may be going through.
I recently returned from Halifax, Nova Scotia, visiting my son at university. We had a wonderful time together and I was pleased, and proud, to see him thriving in this new environment away from home. I also stayed with friends that I have not spent time with in many years.
There are a few moments in life where you can feel something shift, that cause you to see things differently. What follows was one of those moments for me.
One couple I stayed with, Tina and Sean, have a five-year old son, Hunter, and three-year old daughter, Kiana. This kid, in her short little life so far, has been through hundreds of medical procedures and surgeries to try to correct a serious intestinal disease she was born with. She recently underwent an ileostomy, a procedure that allows intestinal waste to be collected in an external pouch stuck to the skin. She is deaf in one ear. She also at high risk of brain tumours.
Most of us would feel sorry for little Kiana, and think how unfair all this is. How from the get go she has had the deck stacked against her. Some would say she is strong. Others might say she is brave. And I guess she is all of that. But Kiana knows no other way, and she is definitely not sorry for herself.
She has almost died several times. She has spent most of her life in the hospital, her parents worried sick each time she goes in that she may not come home. I simply cannot imagine the toll this must take, and how they somehow manage to cope. She has been through more adversity in the last three years than most of us will ever see in our lifetimes. Or in several lifetimes.
And yet the light that emanates from her is almost blinding.
I wonder how this is possible. How can a kid so young, who has been through so much pain and hardship, be so joyful? But it’s as though she doesn’t even realize the seriousness of her situation, and how tough she has it, compared to many of us.
Inspired only begins to scratch the surface of how little Kiana and her parents made me feel. And now when I think of them, it changes my perspective on my own life. Something shifted.
They say that there is always a silver lining, a gift hidden beneath the pain, struggle, and suffering. I find this really tough to accept, especially in someone so young. But still it makes me wonder if it is precisely the intensity of her journey that fuels her powerful flame, that makes her shine as brightly as she does?
To me, Kiana’s gift is that she is fully, truly alive. Through her life-threatening illness she has somehow gained the freedom to live.
And through this freedom, she offers her gift to the world.
And her gift to us is light.