This is a story of Three Little Kittens.
They were found behind a diner on a very busy road in Connecticut. It was a Greek diner, so the rescuer gave them Greek names:
Thor. (The rescuer may not have been an expert on Greek names….)
These tiny kittens were so small they had to be hand-fed for several weeks. But they were strong and they thrived.
There were no takers for these kittens, however, and the rescuer still had them when they were fifteen weeks old. The rescuer thought that for sure they would be adopted by that time – and she had vacation plans that were made a long time ago.
So she asked a friend – the PUSHOVER #1 in this story – who happens to be married to ME – to take the kittens while she was on vacation.
So Pushover #1 agreed.
So we got 3 little kittens for ten days.
On August 10th.
Oh, they were so cute.
Niko and Athena were very timid.
Thor was very, very cuddly.
And we had sadly lost our sweet Stewart just a month before.
So it was decided. We would keep Thor.
He had an eye infection. But Pushover #1 brought him to the Veterinary Opthamologist. (Yes, there is such a thing. They have little tiny eyecharts with with mice pointed in different directions. Just kidding. But not about the Eye Vet.) Thor got his medication and his vision is okay, although his eye will always be a bit deformed.
But we love him just that way. And with his weird non-directional eye, he sort of looks like a pirate.
He certainly has read lots of pirate stories. Here he is playing the pirate’s parrot, with some shoulder-sitting.
He is also a wonderful hairdresser, and so very valuable.
When the ten days were up, we still had all the kittens.
The rescuer was in stealth mode – a gentle, loving stealth mode.
“We need to decide,” Pushover #1 said. “Of course, we should keep Thor, but I think Athena is just the prettiest cat ever. Maybe we should keep her too.”
And Athena was indeed very pretty.
And so it was decided.
And a few weeks later, we still had all three kittens. And they were getting big.
The rescuer – in a gentle, stealthy mode – warned us that if she need to place Niko, we had to give him back right away, before he was too big.
And Niko was still very very spooky.
“Oh Lord,” said Pushover #1, “Niko is so timid, and he depends on his brother and sister for everything. He will be lost without them. He NEEDS them. We cannot separate them.”
And that is where PUSHOVER #2 laid down the LAW.
“Okay,” said Pushover #2.
And we now have THREE LITTLE KITTENS.
Lillian and Theo are adjusting.
It may take a while.
Over my many years, I’ve received lots of advice.
Overwhelmingly, it’s been good advice.
Like from my mother:
“If you have to choose between getting a chore done and having fun, pick the fun. Years later, you won’t remember how many chores were done late, just how much fun you had.”
And from my father:
“If you need a really big favor, go right to the top. People with only a little bit of power are often stingy with it. People with lots of power don’t have anything to prove. They can afford to be generous.”
And from my “Aunt” Rachel:
“Use the good china. Treat yourself like company every day.”
And my first boss:
“Hire the brains, not the experience. You can teach someone smart any job. You can’t someone to be smart.”
I’ve had lots of good advice like this over my lifetime, and it has served me well. And I’ve been happy to be able to pass it along.
But as I was thinking about all the good advice I have been lucky enough to have, I started to think about the bad advice I’ve received too.
And interestingly, I can’t really think of too many times I was given bad advice.
There are a couple of reasons for this:
First, because I was lucky enough to have extraordinary parents and extended family. I had mostly good advice because I was raised by good people.
Secondly, because I think I was prone to dismiss stuff that just didn’t suit me. I don’t remember bad advice because I disregarded it so readily. And how did I know as a kid what to disregard? Because of the first reason.
Here’s a piece of advice I dismissed that I do remember – because I was not a kid any more, and because it is part of a time that was important to me: An unpleasant boss told me in a review that I was too soft on my subordinates. I needed to be tougher. I never considered for one moment taking that advice. Because I did not want to be tougher. I like being kind. That boss was mean. I am not mean.
So what was the worst advice I ever got?
I’ve thought about this a lot lately.
I can’t think of anything too terrible.
But there is one piece of advice where I can clearly see a consequence that did not serve me well.
I’m not sure whether this advice came from my mother or my father. My guess is both. Because it is part of an ethic that runs very strong in my family.
“Don’t brag. If you are good at what you do, people will see it. Excellence shines on its own.”
I can see the truth of this.
There’s a lot of mediocrity in the world. At best, there’s a lot of average shit. That’s why it’s AVERAGE, for God’s sake – because there’s so much of it. So good performances do stand out.
And it worked for me – in some ways. I worked hard and I was bright, creative and honest. So I got ahead. In school and in work.
Here’s how it didn’t work for me. And doesn’t work for a lot of people. Most especially: For GIRLS.
Being modest. Not bragging. Waiting to be noticed.
I’ve had ideas dismissed. The same ideas that are praised when someone more forceful (like a MAN) presents them. And I’ve had ideas stolen… because no one noticed when I said it.
Worse – way worse, and I mean it – I have belittled my own ideas, because I presented them with overly modest disclaimers.
“This may sound silly, but….
“I’m not sure this would work, but what if we try….”
And what I should have said? What most men WOULD say:
“I’ve got a great idea! We should….”
Self-deprecation with girls seems to be insidious, pervasive, and counter-productive. We seem to apologize for even having ideas.
We girls need to stop it.
(Some might criticize me for saying ‘girls’ instead of ‘women.’ But I’ve always liked the the word ‘girl’. It’s not a subset of ‘boy,’ like ‘woman’ is to ‘man.’ I like being a girl. I am a unique person – and a girl.)
And for a very practical reason, we girls should brag a lot more.
I NEVER (and I’m not exaggerating) got the same pay of any man who had the position before me. NEVER. If I got a job – or a promotion with the same employer – and a man had held the position previously, I was offered less money than my predecessor.
And here’s the real crime: I took it. I ALWAYS took it.
And the reverse is also true. For every job I left – through promotion or whatever – where I was replaced by a man, he ALWAYS was offered more money TO START than I ever made at the SAME JOB. ALWAYS.
No wonder girls make 80% of what men make at the same job.
Check out this chart from the Department of Labor. It doesn’t matter the occupation, girls make less.
And look at the HUGE gap for Financial Managers. Guess what position I held before I retired?
And this haunts girls all their lives, since Social Security and pensions are based on your earnings.
I am not entirely blaming my employers for paying men more. Although they certainly seemed to have little problem offering me less and offering men more.
I did not sing my own praises. I did not claim my own worth. I was modest.
The man who replaced me when I retired last year is paid considerably more than I ever made on the job. I’m not angry with this guy. From what I hear, he’s doing a great job. But the company DID NOT KNOW he would do a great job when they made him the offer. I WAS doing a great job, and they DID know it. So why did he get more money? BECAUSE HE ASKED FOR IT.
And I did not.
On job interviews, when asked about salary requirements, I always started my answer with:
“Well, although salary is always negotiable, I think….“
Oh, how I wish I had said:
“I know that the responsibilities of this position usually command $xx – and I am worth every penny of it.”
I sound like I am blaming myself for a societal problem. Yes and No. I will say again that my employer may have been more than willing to pay a man more. Which is just not right. But we girls have to help make it right.
Of course, there is a risk to women speaking up. In claiming their worth. In bragging. Oh, my, it is SO unattractive for girls to brag. Am I right?
Here’s my advice to girls today:
Brag more. Claim your worth.
Isn’t wonderful how our loved ones are completely perfect?
My loved ones drive me crazy.
A single friend once told me she admires the way I so generously accept my husband’s faults. I laughed really hard at that one. I don’t accept his faults. They really irk me. (I love the word ‘irk’, don’t you? We don’t use it often enough.) Marriage does not mean you love someone’s faults – it means you love someone DESPITE his faults.
Oh, and HER faults. It’s quite astonishing that my husband loves me – despite my mass of insane insecurities.
But let’s not just talk about marriage.
All my loved ones make me nuts.
But, oh, how I love them.
I love someone who just never, ever feels good. This person complains constantly about headaches, stomachaches, backaches, foot aches, fingernail aches… whatever it is, the suffering continues.
I love someone who frequently criticizes someone else I love. Person #2 will start telling a story, and Person #1 will say, “Oh, no, it didn’t happen like that.” Person #1 just will not let Person #2 have his own memories.
I love someone who works part-time (out of choice) and yet cries incessentantly about not having enough money. Time is precious – and that’s what this person chose. So don’t moan about the bills mounting up.
I love someone who insults my taste. If I say I like a book, this person says, “I detested that book.” If I like a movie: “That movie was a waste of time.” If I like a song: “I hate, hate, hate that song.” (I get a lot of triple-hates.)
I love someone who will tell you about a TV show in such detail, it takes longer than the original show ever did (including commercials). And sometimes more than once.
But here’s the thing:
I don’t love these annoying bits of those people. I hate those bits.
I love THESE bits:
In no certain order:
I love someone who took several days off from work to drive a friend 300 miles during a family tragedy.
I love someone who brings a tool kit to my mother’s – just in case there is something that can be tightened up, loosened up, oiled up.
I love someone who makes me laugh till the tears roll down my nose.
I love someone who rescues dogs and cats – and children.
I love someone whose clothes are so cheerful, everyone feels better.
Which group of traits are more important?
I think of my loved ones’ faults like this:
Oh, we’ve all been there.
We go to a restaurant – sometimes a little hole-in-the-wall where the eating implements are wrapped in a paper napkin, sometimes an upscale restaurant where there is a plethora of sterling spread before you, and the waiter can hardly wait to bring you more.
And there it is – wrapped in the paper napkin or basking in candlelight – a spoon with a dried speck of something stuck to the bowl.
And oh, we are so annoyed. We are grossed out. We are ready to complain.
And sometimes, mostly when we are aggravated at something else anyway, we do complain.
But most of the time, we just discretely wipe off the dirty spoon.
And then the meal comes. And it is SO DELICIOUS. Whether it is a cheeseburger or duck confit, it’s glorious. Our mouths sing. Our bellies celebrate. We toast our good fortune.
Even if the spoon wasn’t perfect.
So what the hell…
We love someone whose chronic lateness is an annoying dirty spoon.
We love someone who buys wigs for cancer patients.
The spoon is dirty. There’s no denying it.
But what a magnificent entree!
So just wipe off the spoon.
As I watch the scenes from the Texas floods, I am overcome with awe for the bravery I see. People heading TOWARDS disaster, not away, in order to save others. I watch the confirmation that all Life is precious, especially as I watched one woman working with others to save baby bats from the rising water under a bridge. This is what she could do, and so she did it.
And I am struck not only by acts of significant heroism, but by the ordinary bravery of ordinary folks.
Because I see how brave you have to be just to leave your home for a makeshift shelter, not knowing if you will have anything to return to. How brave it is to wait – if that is all you can do. Or even to be safe somewhere, and wonder who you know that may not be safe yet. To reassure your children when you are so very frightened yourself.
I was thinking about writing about this ‘ordinary’ bravery, when I listened to an old radio interview from 1989 with John Updike. He was speaking, without excess emotion, about growing up with a stutter, and about living with disfiguring, but oh-so-ordinary, psoriasis.
And I knew I was on to something. I knew I had to write about ordinary bravery.
Updike spoke of how impossible it was to pass by a reflection in a window without stopping to glance – to see if maybe he had changed.
And I think of the bravery of people with disfigurements – however simple or complex – who get up every day and face the world anyway. The very bravery of people with limps who walk by us on the sidwalk. The boys with acne who ask girls out on dates The girls with crooked teeth who smile at us.
Those bats under the bridge may have been afraid – but most likely they have no knowledge of what could happen next. They live in the moment. But human beings can imagine all sorts of futures – all sorts of bad things that could happen next. And yet they go on.
I am impressed by the bravery of first-time parents as they bring their infants home. Women who have never been mothers, and men who have never been fathers. They are so very aware of the magnificant and terrible responsibility in their arms. And they smile with true joy and take this grave responsibility and go on.
I admire the bravery of every person who signs a mortgage or a new lease – or even a buys a car. No one is sure he has made the very best decision. Nor is sure it will all work out. But after a sleepless night or two, plunges ahead. Makes it work.
And like Updike with his stutter, how brave it is for those with speech impediments, or thick accents, or the unheard voice of the deaf, to speak up. To say what needs to be said, in spite of their imperfect sound. And even those with clear voices – how brave to address a meeting, or answer a question in class. There is always the danger they will be wrong, will be ridiculed. But they speak.
How brave it is to face the judgment of others. To risk criticism in small actions – singing or dancing, selling a handmade item, writing a book that some may not like. Putting it out there anyway. And even the very private bravery of every overweight person – and there are many in this country – who worries at the supermarket that someone will criticize what they put in their cart.
And those who start a new job, as they enter a strange building where they have no mastery of the job, no friends, no lunch plans, no map to the restroom. Yet they get dressed up in what they hope will be appropriate attire and walk through the unknown door in the hopes of a future.
And children trying new foods, taking the training wheels off the bike, jumping for the first time off the diving board. And teenagers figuring out their high school schedule, trying out for track, getting behind the wheel of the car for their first lesson. College kids being dropped off at the dorm. What trepidation they must feel in growing up. We all felt it – that combination of exhilation and apprehension. How brave they are every day.
There is also bravery in growing old. In coping with illness. With taking new steps after hip surgery. With managing on a fixed income. With confronting death that visits now with more frequency – friends, family, a spouse of fifty years. Saying, “Thank you for coming,” at the funeral, and then returning to a now-emptier home.
And here is my own small bravery:
Three times a week, I put on my skimpy gym clothes and go off to Yoga or Zumba class. I stand at the front of the room. And everyone behind me can see that I am not perfect. I have scoliosis. I show my crooked back to the world. But I still go. I still smile. I do my best.
We are all brave.
In honor of the new school year, here’s a post from five years ago:
THE BEST DAY
When I was a kid, do you know what my favorite day of the year was?
Yeah, okay, Christmas. (Good guess.) After all, I was a little girl who loved dolls and clothes and anything wrapped up. And unwrapping stuff. And tree-trimming and angel decorations. And parties and singing. And staying up late and getting up early. And Christmas lights, and cards in the mail. And tiny hot dogs wrapped in dough. And cookies. And having my hair curled. And money. And pie.
That’s pretty hard to beat.
So you do know what my second favorite day was?
The first day of school.
I loved summer – long hot days filled with swimming and biking, and warm evenings with night-time hide-and-seek and fireflies and the ice cream man and late bedtimes.
But by September I was ready to go back to school.
And that first day of school was so very thrilling.
I went to parochial school that required homely navy jumpers. But we didn’t have to wear our uniforms the first day. I got to wear something pretty. And new too. My mother would buy me a special first-day-of-school outfit. No hand-me-downs for that day. And the whole school would go to Mass first, where I also got to wear a mantilla. A dress AND a lace headscarf. Very special. I loved that triangle of white lace, but if I could go back I’d like to wear my mother’s black lace mantilla. How cool.
I’d fidget all through the long Mass, and then Father What-Ever-His-Name-Was would come to the pulpit and start reading names.
“Grade One,” he’d start. “Sister Saint Adelaide: Denise Nadeau, Stephen Bernier, Janice Houle…” and all the way up to Eighth Grade.
And the children would get up as their names were called, and go stand by the Sister. And she’d line them up two by two and they’d march down the aisle and out the door and over to the big brick school across the street.
It was so exciting to find your new desk in your new classroom, and discover who would be your classmates for the year. Saint Anne School had two classes for each grade, and it took just that one day to be certain you had the better teacher and the best kids. You’d sneer at the “other class”, even if your former best friend was in it.
The September weather was fine and we’d go out at recess and run around the schoolyard. We had jump-ropes and cat’s cradles.
We’d get new textbooks. Well, not new, really – most of them were written about 1910. But they were new to us and we took them home in our new bookbag (I liked red plaid) and covered them that night with brown paper cut from old grocery bags. And I always had a new pencil case with ticonderoga pencils and a pink pearl eraser. And a protractor – though I had no idea what to do with it, except I could rub my pencil along the ridges and make a design on my new composition book.
Sister would give us lots of tests that first week to see what we knew. I sucked up like nobody’s business.
I got to write on the big old blackboard.
And be almost the last person standing in the spelling bee. Damn you, Andre Dorval.
Of course, it didn’t take long before I couldn’t wait until my third best day – the last day of school.
But that first day was so sweet.
I went to school until I was thirty. (My parents told their friends that I was majoring in Transferring.)
But that first day was glorious every single time.
When I retire, I am going back to school. I’ll find a class in an ancient brick building with heavy scratched-up desks and a real blackboard. The whole semester will be worth it for that first day.
There was a large old bottle on the floor of my parents’ closet. What it originally held -wine or whiskey, I don’t remember. The neck of the bottle was just big enough for a dime. Pennies and nickels didn’t fit. Just the dimes.
And when my Dad emptied his pockets at the end of the evening, if he had any dimes and he could spare them…which wasn’t all the time, they went in the bottle. Mom too, I think… once in a while a dime from her purse went in the bottle.
(Mom kept her quarters so we kids could go to the Saturday matinee movie – fifteen cents to get in and ten cents for snacks – and you got a double feature!)
But back to the bottle of dimes. We kids all knew where the bottle was, and during the course of the year, we’d watch the dimes start to grow. None of us would ever touch the bottle. I never once in all those years stole a dime.
Because I knew what it was for.
Yes… that was our spending money for vacation.
The factory where Dad worked would always have a shutdown in the summer – a week, sometimes two, and that is when all the employees planned their vacations. Families made their plans around the factory schedule.
And when the time came, my mother would pull out the (hopefully) heavy bottle of dimes and give us kids some coin wrappers and we’d count out the dimes. OMG, we were rich! Some years there were THREE HUNDRED dimes in there! THIRTY DOLLARS in there!
Of course, we could never go away for two whole weeks. One week was rare. A few times, my parents rented a little cottage on Highland Lake in Winsted, Connecticut – only about 25 miles from our home. And those were amazing vacations! A full week on the lake! Swimming right in the backyard! And company! Because it was so close to home, all the relatives would take at least one day and come up. That was the best part. (The worst part was rainy days. With no TV.)
More often, we would travel up to Vermont for just a few days. Staying in a motel instead of renting a cottage was a bit more expensive, so three days was about our limit.
But it was LUXURY!
A Motel With A Swimming Pool!
I did not want anything more.
We had no exotic vacations. We didn’t see the world. We didn’t get on an airplane – although once in a while we would drive to the airport on a Sunday and watch the planes take off. (I was 20 before I flew for the first time.) Trips to restaurants were scarce. The farthest I ever traveled as a kid was to Washington DC. We went by train to attend my father’s military reunion. It was like a dream come true.
But, OMG – A Motel With A Swimming Pool!
We’d go during the week – to avoid the higher weekend rates. Sometimes my parents’ best friends and their kids would come, and we’d play follow the leader in the two cars.
There was a racetrack near the motel. Green Mountain Race Track, near Bennington Vermont. Horseracing, which my parents loved. (I do too, even now.) My parents would go to the track one evening of our vacation – especially if their best friends had come along. Of course, kids were not allowed at the track. And although I love the horses, not being allowed was… Spectacular! Because: PIZZA! For us kids by ourselves at the motel! We were absolutely forbidden to swim at night, but who cares – we had pizza and TV and we were in a Motel!
We ate out for breakfast. We could have pancakes! OMG, pancakes in a restaurant tasted so good! The cream for the grownups’ coffee would come in a tiny glass bottle – like a miniature bottle that the milkman left in the aluminum box on our porch And my mother would let me keep the bottle!
Lunch was usually a cook-out by the side of the road. My father had a little hibachi in the trunk and charcoal, and we’d have hotdogs. Hotdogs were my favorite thing in the world. Besides pancakes. Lunch would take a really long time, because it took forever to get the coals going, and then another forever to cool off the grill enough to put it back in the trunk. Our day often consisted of breakfast in a diner, driving to a good spot for those take-forever hotdogs, and then back to the Motel With A Swimming Pool!
We did some sightseeing. A musuem or a monument. Vermont is not exactly the museum capital of the world. But we’d find something. And we could buy a souvenir! Oh those dimes! I liked little change purses with embossed leather. Or colored pencils. Or a miniature monument. My sister Claudia leaned toward tiny dolls made of brittle china dressed as Indians. Christine liked charms for her charm bracelet. I don’t remember what my little brother liked. Anything, I’d guess. He was always really easy to please – happy with anything he could hold in his hands.
We all liked this:
So did my parents, since at least one of us would be quiet in the car. I was not allowed to play with this in the car, though. If I looked at anything but the road, I threw up.
We sometimes went out to dinner. Usually it was a Howard Johnson’s, or any restaurant that was almost identical to Howard Johnson. I had a hotdog. But this was different than the hot dog I had for lunch. It had a grilled roll. And it came with french fries rather than the potato chips we had for lunch. And the best thing of all: we were On Vacation – in a Motel With A Swimming Pool – so I could have a hotdog for lunch and a hotdog for dinner if I wanted. Because: Vacation!
Sometimes other relatives came too – I remember my great-aunt and uncle, Catherine and Rocky, came once. We went, I think (I can check with my Mom, but I love remembering it in my eight-year-old mind, and so I don’t really want to be corrected), to see some property that my Uncle Rocky had bought or won, sight-unseen. We drove through wooded nothing for miles and miles until everyone had to pee so bad we had to stop the car and pee in the woods – which I had never done before and so was both mortified and enthralled. And when we got to this “resort” property there was nothing there. The swimming facilities that were promised in the brochure turned out to be a muddy hole dug in the dirt.
The grownups laughed themselves silly. Which was just wonderful. How I loved seeing adults laugh like that!
And, so that the trip was not a total waste, we went to a local ski resort that ran their ski lift in the summer for a ride up the mountain. A ski resort! I had never heard of such of thing, except in a Bing Crosby movie. The ride was amazing – better than any ferris wheel for a great high-up view and a cool breeze. My uncle Rocky was so scared, he would not get back on the lift for the ride down, and the operator had to go up in a golf cart and bring him down. It did not upset me to see a grownup so terrified – somehow, it felt reassuring – that it was okay for everyone to be afraid once in a while – even when you grow up.
My father had my brother with him in his chair lift, and my mother was on the chair behind them with me. And she hollered the whole time for my Dad to hold my little brother tight and not let him fall to his certain horrific death. Miraculously, Dad managed to keep my brother alive.
And my father had the opportunity to save my little brother’s life later too. Back at the Motel With A Swimming Pool, enjoying said pool, Tommy inadvertently waded to the drop-off at the deep end, and went under – and Daddy jumped into the water fully clothed and fished him out.
So sometimes grownups are afraid and sometimes grownups are heroes.
That’s what I learned on vacation.
In the last few years I have seen several instances where seeking a second opinion has saved someone’s life – or at least saved someone from unnecessary treatment or surgery.
An incorrect diagnosis nearly doomed someone I love. I am grateful every day that he sought that second opinion.
No one person has all the answers. Sometimes listening to someone else can make all the difference.
I am certainly NOT the one person with all the answers.
But I thought I would offer some second opinions on the everyday (but still important) stuff in your life. Just so you can consider an alternate view.
Opinion: “This job sucks.”
Second Opinion: I have found with most jobs that suck, it’s not the job so much as the boss. Most jobs are a series of rather boring, but not horrendous, tasks. But working with a jerk can make tedious work into a nightmare. So here’s a different way you might want to think about it, if you are stuck with an unpleasant boss – either momentarily or for the long term: You have an idiot boss, but this idiot is actually helping you pay your bills. Isn’t it kind of cool that you can use this idiot that way?
Opinion: “I’m devastated that I didn’t get the promotion.”
Second Opinion: So you don’t have a job that sucks, but you were up for a promotion and someone else got it. Instead of hating yourself – or the person who got the job you wanted, just consider the possibility that – in this instance only – the person who got the job was the best qualified to do it. The very best response I ever heard from a person who didn’t get the job was the time the rejected guy came into my office and said, “I really wanted that job. Tell me what I can do so the next time that kind of position opens up, I WILL be the best person for the job.” And I told him where he could improve, and he worked on it. And got the next promotion.
Opinion: “My house is a wreck.”
Second Opinion: If you are have trouble keeping your house clean, or your yard neat, it is not from a lack of effort on your part. Things can so easily get out of control, and then they overwhelm you. But you have plenty of self-discipline – just look at how you don’t swear at your idiot boss and how your kids are still alive. Every once in a while, I check in with FlyLady.net – who truly helps people get the clean house they deserve in just 15 minutes at a time. Certainly you have enough self-discipline to clean for 15 minutes.
Opinion: “My childhood was awful.”
Second Opinion: It saddens me that you do not have sweet memories of being a kid. There are a few people that have true horror stories, but most people’s childhood was not unrelentedly despicable. Most of us had parents that weren’t perfect, but they did their best. And once in a while they succeeded. Can you think of one nice day? How about two? How about a day when you went to the beach? Or laughed yourself silly? The writer Anne Lamott said, “Forgiveness is giving up all hope of having had a better past.”
Opinion: “My life has no meaning.”
Second Opinion: It’s true that your life probably has little meaning to anyone but you. It has meaning to YOU! But since you are insignificant in the schema of the whole universe, then you are free to give your life whatever meaning you want. Do what you want. No one else cares that much. Don’t be depressed over that fact. Try revelling in it. And if you want to be remembered, try making someone else happy. But only in addition to you.
Opinion: “I can’t …. dance, sing, draw, balance my checkbook, give a speech…. “[whatever – feel free to fill in the blank]
Second Opinion: This is literally a second opinion – a second-hand opinion. Handed down to my from my very wise mother. She told me, “You can do everything. You won’t be good at everything, but you can do everything.” So give it a try. You can do it – even if it turns out to be one of those things you can’t do well. Just get through it. And once in a while you will find that you might actually be pretty good at something. And most of the time, you will find that not being great at something isn’t even close to important.
Opinion: “I’m ugly.”
Second Opinion: No you’re not. You’re fine. All you need to do is shower, comb your hair, dress in something that makes you happy. That’s all there is to it.
And if that opinion is not enough, here is another:
Third Opinion: No you’re not. Yes, there are some gorgeous people in the world. And they are us. Gorgeous You. Me. Gorgeous. Period.
Last night I was vegging out with my favorite mindless pastime – reading makeup reviews on Sephora – when the following lipstick review intrigued me.
That was it. No explanation. Just three stars and the words “exceptionally ok”.
And as I considered this short phrase, I started to like it. I started to love it.
Now I have often extolled the virtues of staying true to what you love (Five Things You Deserve Now). I strongly believe you should be passionate about even simple things. I know I feel wonderful wearing something I love or using my great-aunt’s china. Or reading a great book. Or even finding the perfect shade of lipstick.
But I realize that there are many things that are just fine without needing to be fantastic. Exceptionally OK is more than good enough.
Everyone’s lists are different… things that need to be excellent and things that might be fine if they are just ok.
Here’s a few of my exceptionally ok stuff:
Movies. Oh, I used to be a film snob. (…and you can usually spot one because they say ‘film’ and not ‘movie’….) But now I’ve come to enjoy lots of not-so-great movies. I can watch a classic gem like “The African Queen” one day, and happily laugh at “Ted” the next day. Entertain me. Many days, a few hours of entertainment is exceptionally ok for me.
Houses. My house is gorgeous, and I love it. I’m enormously fortunate that my husband is such a great homebuilder and that we have such a lovely home. But I am also aware that although I love my home, I would also be happy with a simpler place. I have lived more modestly. I was fine with it. Because loving your house has more to do with how you take care of it and what you do in it than with how many amenities you have. I was happy in my first one-room apartment. And if I moved back tomorrow, I know it would be exceptionally ok again.
Cars. I appreciate great automobiles. But I also like one that starts when you turn the key and gets you where you need to go.
Music on the Radio. There are some folks I know who can’t hit the button fast enough when a song comes on that they hate. But for me, most of the time, any music is fine. I know three and a half minutes later, I get another chance to hear a better song. How exceptionally ok is that?
Tea. I’m fussy about my coffee. A fabulous cup of coffee will brighten my whole day. And a lousy cup of coffee gets on my nerves. But tea? I guess I am not a connoisseur of tea. It pretty much all tastes the same to me. My favorite cup of tea is whatever my mother makes. Because she made it. She is my favorite boiler of water.
Restaurants. My food has to be completely inedible for me to complain in a restaurant. First, because someone else cooked it for me. Second – and even more important – someone else is going to wash the dishes. And third – and most important of all – if I am out to eat, nearly all of the time, I am not there for the food. I am there for the company. My friends and family. Delicious food is a bonus. But a hot dog is exceptionally ok. Just as long as it lets me be with the people I love.
Gifts. Anything you buy me is good. Don’t fret about it. And by the way, I no longer fret about what I give you either. I’m happy when it pleases you. But I know it’s just a little insignificant representation of our significant affection for each other. What it is doesn’t matter. It’s exceptionally ok.
Kid’s Art. Any story or drawing or musical offering by anyone under twelve is absolutely exceptionally ok. Do I appreciate talented kids? Sure. Do I like average kids too? You bet I do. Especially if they are related to me. But even if they are not. (But if they are, the age limit goes away. You can be in your sixties or seven years old – I will like your song, your painting, and your dance steps. Guaranteed.)
What’s on your list?
I am ashamed of myself.
Oh, I was often ashamed of myself as a kid.
Mostly ashamed if I had been naughty. And when I was naughty, I would sometimes attempt (with no success) to lie my way out of it. And so then I would be doubly ashamed. Ashamed I had misbehaved and ashamed I had lied.
And as I grew older, I realized that the lie was worse. That was a good lesson to learn, and it served me well as an adult. I found it much better to confess to a mistake right away, both in my personal life and in business. To say, “I was wrong” and get on with my day. Better for all those around me, and much much better for my peace of mind.
I find now that I am not too much ashamed of anything I say or do. I try to be kind and honest and try my best.
I’ve been thinking about actions over the past several years that I am ashamed of. And I can only think of one. A few months ago, while shopping, I dropped a rather expensive makeup compact and it smashed to pieces. There was no one around, and in a weak moment, I walked away. I know I should have brought my accident to someone’s attention, but I did not. That shames me. So last week, I took one small step towards making it right. I didn’t have the nerve to confess, but I went back to the store and bought another identical compact. But I know that’s not really good enough – I gave them my money, but I have a nice product in return. I should have a smashed product in return. Maybe next week I will be braver.
But that is not why I am ashamed today.
I am not ashamed for something I have done.
I am ashamed for something I did not do.
Not long ago I was speaking to an acquaintance. A person who is not a close friend, but someone I have known for a long time. I have always liked this person. I’ve thought her funny and spunky and tough.
When I ran into her rather unexpectantly, she complained about her job. No big deal. She always complains about her job. Everyone always complains about their jobs. So I nodded and smiled sympathetically. Yeah, work can be irritating. I’m retired, but I remember.
And then she said something not funny or spunky or tough. She said something blatantly racist.
And I said nothing.
I nodded and smiled. And eventually said goodbye and went on my way.
And I have felt ashamed ever since.
My silence is so much more shameful than not paying for makeup that I broke.
In order to be pleasant, in order to be ‘friendly’ – I became complicit in hate.
I cannot make it right. I cannot take back my silence.
But I promise to never be silent on hatred again.
I need to speak up. To say:
I do not like that kind of talk.
I do not feel that way.
Some folks today sneer at the concept of political correctness. As if it is a sign of weakness to rein in your ugliest thoughts. That it is fine to even have such ugly thoughts. I am appalled that so many people feel that they are now permitted to say whatever hateful thing they want. This is not right.
I want our future to be better than that. I want our present to be better than that.
I want to be better than that.
So I’m ashamed.
I was saying “Happy Anniversary” to my brother yesterday, and I remembered a happy little experience from his wedding.
I danced with a man I did not know. But not just any man. A big tough-looking biker type – (although he could have been an actuary for all I know) – who wore a leather vest over his great bare chest. And not just any dance. With this rather scary looking thug (although he could have been a flight attendant for all I know) – I danced the chicken dance.
How many people can say that? How many people are allowed a memory like that?
I am very lucky indeed.
Last week I met a talented famous woman who charmed the hat right off of me. And I am allowed to keep that memory too.
I have had a few “important” experiences: I flew on the Concorde, which no one will ever be able to do again, and I attended a meeting at the top of the World Trade Center, which no one will ever be able to do again.
And I have also had some “medium” experiences – not crazy rare, but still stuff that not everyone gets the opportunity to do. I attended a World Series game. I saw Peter Paul & Mary in concert. I rode a cable car in San Francisco. I watched dolphins play in warm Delaware waters. I shared an elevator with Donald Sutherland – and he wore a cape, for heaven’s sake!
But for me – the very best experiences are the simple personal things I got to do and see that have meaning to just me. Like my chicken dance with the biker dude. Like the restaurant encounter with the wonderful old producer. They are MY experiences. My memories. I can share them if I wish, but their meaning is special only to me. And even if I share them, I don’t give them away. I get to keep them.
I keep small memories like:
– My parents surprising me one Christmas with a gift of oil paints, brushes and canvasses. At sixteen, I was overwhelmed by the idea that my parents thought I was an artist, good enough to paint with the real thing.
– Going with my family to the Drive-In (a precious memory in itself) when I was nine, and having my three-year-old brother fall asleep in my lap. I remember watching him sleep and being astounded even at that young age by how completely I loved him.
– The Beatles appearing on the Ed Sullivan show for the first time – on my 13th birthday.
– Looking up from my morning coffee one Sunday a few years ago, and seeing the face of a little bear pressed up against the glass patio door, looking in at us.
– Taking my oldest nephew (now 41, then 6) to see E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. And Oh My God, being completely destroyed as he sobbed uncontrollably when it appeared that ET had died. I took him in my arms and assured him that the little creature was not really dead and he was about to show everyone how fine he was. I never ever want to make a child cry again.
– Overhearing my husband telling someone that I was smart.
– Tasting creme brulee for the first time – in Paris, no less. How amazing are the French people for creating such a beautiful city and such a delicious thing to put in my mouth!
– Going to a nude beach and not dying of embarrassment. Actually loving it – and loving my body and everyone else’s.
– Publishing my first novel. Holding it in my hands for the first time. Knowing that I did it. I wrote it. And knowing it’s good.
– My father walking me down the aisle on my wedding day. Seeing friends and relatives all smiling at me. Seeing my husband smiling at me.
All these experiences are more than a part of me. They ARE me. Along with thousands of others – thousands of kisses from my mother, hugs from someone else’s children, small victories at work, road trips with my husband, playtimes with pets, giggles with my sisters, beach days and snow days.
And the incredible thing is – that every one of us has our own unique experiences. Little and big events that are ours alone. We are memories that mingle and merge and become human beings.
How fortunate are we that we get to be human beings?