About five years ago, when I was in one of my rare poetic moods, I wrote a poem about Reincarnation.
Here it as, and it’s short, so if you are one of the millions of poetry-averse souls, be assured that you can get it through it very quickly and go on without much long-lasting trauma.
Okay, all done. You will be able to breathe normally again in just a second.
Lately I have been rethinking my position.
Not that I have any background whatsoever on Reincarnation. But knowing nothing about a subject has never stopped me from expounding upon it at length anyway.
So that’s my beginning disclaimer. I am not referring to the concept of Reincarnation within Hinduism or within any established belief. I am talking about Reincarnation as I have imagined it – as a wrinkle in my own little curlicued brain.
I have always pictured Reincarnation as your just desserts. You live a good life and you get a really nice next life. You live a bad life and you are punished in your next one. A straightforward Karma.
I am now at the age where my next life is looming closer – perhaps closer than I know. But let’s face it, if Reincarnation is real, our current lives are just the roller coaster ride that leads to the next roller coaster ride. Or perhaps bumper car to the next bumper car, or perhaps even more accurately – laugh-in-the-dark to the next laugh-in-the-dark.
And I see a fallacy in my conception.
What is the point of reward or retribution if you don’t know that it is? What have you learned if you don’t see the continuum of the lesson?
I mean, if you get a horrible life because you were bad in a previous life, but you don’t remember the previous life, how in the world can you understand that your current hell is punishment for being awful, when you don’t remember the awfulness of your earlier self? Wouldn’t you just think, “Holy shit, my life sucks!”? You wouldn’t necessarily know the reason why it does.
And on the other hand, if you are having a great life because you were a gem of a guy before, why wouldn’t you be thinking, “Holy shit, I can do no wrong!”? And perhaps you would end up being quite a prick, and you’d be bouncing back to Bad Life the next time. You’d be a ping-pong ball in tabletop Karma.
So you’d HAVE to remember your previous lives to make my notion work.
And we don’t. Or at least – I don’t. I do wonder sometimes if other people know about all their previous lives and just aren’t telling me, because this is my first go-round.
Perhaps most people are saddle-sore veterans and this is my first rodeo, and they don’t want to spoil the surprise.
Okay. That’s my share today of crazy, inane metaphors.
But it is my best hope for Karma – that I am new to the game but I will remember my past in the future. As everyone else does, but is too polite to tell me.
And the best Karma I can think of – for everyone – is this:
That we get to be the opposite of what we are. That if we are rich, we will be poor in our next life. If we are illiterate, we get to be knowledgeable. If we are lonely, we get friends. If we are hateful, we become the object of hate.
And we SEE.
We see what it like on the other side.
And maybe understand each other.
I’ve had a lot of great jobs in my life. I’ve also had a couple of miserable jobs. But even when the job is miserable there are great moments in there. And even when the job is great, there are bound to be some miserable moments.
I don’t have to tell you that you should concentrate on the little great moments. Well, that is, I don’t have to, but I seem to tell you that a lot anyway.
My long work history has now become history, since I am finally retired from outside employment. I am doing what I love – writing.
Even in pursuing my joy in writing, there are still moments that suck.
But not as many as in working at ‘official’ jobs. And that’s why my writing is a joy – the dramatic decrease in suckfilled moments.
Over the years, though, I learned a lot about getting through the lousy bits.
Here are a few of my acquired coping strategies.
– 1 –
Unskilled work is not so bad. In fact, it’s pretty good. If you have a complicated or stressful home life, or an outside passion that takes loads of energy, work that is repetitive and simple may be just what you need. You get a paycheck and you can devote your energy elsewhere. And even if you have a stressful job, there are often pieces of that job that are easier than others. I had a job early in my career where I did very intricate calculations (or at least they were to me, at that time). But I had one simple task – sorting and listing payments. I saved that piece for the last hour of the day. It was a great way to unwind. Even as I moved up the ladder in that organization, I didn’t delegate that part of the job. I needed that easy piece.
There are often good things to eat. The bigger the organization, the more often it is someone’s birthday, shower, retirement, promotion. Oh, the cake! And in small organizations with fewer birthdays, you can make this happen yourself. Years ago I had a coworker who loved coffee cake. She didn’t want all those calories tempting her at home, so she brought a coffee cake to the office for breakfast almost every morning, and left it (except for her one piece) in the break room for us all to enjoy. When she would go on vacation, the rest of us took turns bringing in the cake.
This one can almost be considered 2(a)… because it also entails food. I once had a job where a good portion of my work required me to file various status reports to corporate headquarters. I soon learned that most of the other employees called me “The Spy.” People tended to avoid me, which not only made me feel pretty bad, but also it made doing my job almost impossible. However, my office was right on the way to the restrooms, so lots of folks tiptoed past. I started putting out a dish of candies – good ones – in an obvious spot on my desk. And little by little, folks started stopping by for a minute as they returned from their bathroom trips. And they started to talk to me. And tell me stuff. And I did my job, and they liked me anyway.
I’ve had mostly decent bosses, but a couple of miserable ones. I coped in two different ways. First, my main strategy was to be determined to outlast the bastard. If a boss is a bad boss, he/she is usually a bad boss to more than just you. So for me, I kept my head down and waited for the boss’s lousy temper or horrible management style to catch up with him. It usually did. And if it didn’t, and everyone else loved him, he usually got promoted – and so, voila! – he wasn’t my boss anymore anyway. Second, I hung up on the idiot. Not in real time of course. On voicemail When I had a voicemail from the boss, I’d slam the phone down in the middle of her message. Sometimes a lot. It would often take multiple tries to get through a whole message. Slamming the phone down on that awful voice felt pretty damn good. Then, of course, I would remind myself that this idiot was paying my rent. And I’d do my job.
If someone had told me how much of a manager’s time was spent in meetings, I would never have gotten my MBA – and would have turned down every promotion (if I had been offered any). OMG, meetings are so boring. But I made them sort of tolerable with a few little practices. For one thing, I gave myself the gift of beautiful notebooks, calendars, and pens. Not just okay. Stunning. So taking notes was a pleasure. And I changed the way I took notes. I perused some calligraphy books and tried out different handwriting styles. I added some flourishes. And most important, I changed what I wrote. I made my notes personal. I listened to what people were saying, and wrote down what I thought was the best thing they said. Each person in the meeting – I recorded their best thoughts. And I began to think that I worked with some very brilliant people. I liked listening to them.
What these strategies have in common is Control.
I concentrated on the stuff I could control. The stuff I could do to make everything just a little better.
I couldn’t control my boss, or my job duties, or my coworkers – or even my commute. But I could have a pretty notebook. I could make it easier for people to talk to me. I could listen more carefully when they talked.
And I could have a piece of cake once in a while.
The other day, I saw this little weed growing up through the patio stones.
I posted this photo on Facebook with the caption:
This little weed dreams of growing up to be a palm tree.
But the more I thought about it – and the more I looked at the perfect shadow that was cast by this weed – I changed my mind.
This weed is not dreaming of growing up to be a palm tree. This little weed is ALREADY a palm tree. His reflection shows me what he is. He is the palm tree of our patio.
What do you dream of becoming?
Maybe you are already there.
You are already beautiful. Just look at those eyes. That smile. When you put your bright eyes and pure smile together, there is nothing quite as lovely. See your gorgeous hands – so capable of both strength and tenderness. And that beautiful skin. And your shoulders. I love shoulders – especially men’s shoulders. Whether they are like marble or like ebony. They are perfect.
You are already intelligent. Why, you got out of diapers and learned to use a fork. You went to school. You can count. You learned to read. You are reading this right now. You even FOUND this page – amongst the millions of pages on the internet, you got here. When a song comes on the radio, a song from when you were thirteen – all these years later you still remember every single word. You remember all the words from dozens, maybe hundreds of songs. Your brain is amazing.
You are already athletic. You go up and down the stairs. Sometimes you run up and down them several times in a row, as perhaps you forgot for a second (only a second, because of your wondrous brain) what you went up for. You climb a ladder and hang the curtains. Oh yes, you have great muscles – look how many grocery bags you can carry in at one time. Some of you may roll around in a wheelchair or use a cane – that takes a ton of strength too, as you use parts of your body to shore up the lesser parts. Maybe you ride a bicycle. How old were you when you learned to ride? Seven? What a fantastic accomplishment.
You are already lovable. And not just because someone cared enough to give birth to you. But because of who you are. You are honest. Remember the time you gave the dollar back to the cashier because she gave you too much change? You are not a cheat. You get your work done at your job. You even do the tasks you don’t like. Because you should. You are conscientious. You smile at old people and hold the door. You even smile at your great-aunt when she is telling you the story she has already told you eight times. Because you are kind. You have slammed on your brakes for a squirrel.
Maybe you want to be even better. And maybe you can be.
But know that right now –
right as you are –
you are magnificent.
Like a magnificent palm tree growing up through the patio stones.
It’s Theo’s Birthday!
He’s three years old. All grown up. I cannot believe how fast the time went. And I can’t imagine my life without him.
Truly, he is my best friend.
Theo has taught me so much in the last three years.
In comparison, I’ve taught him so little. He pees and poops outside. He sits (for a reward). Sometimes he comes when I call. Sometimes.
That’s about it.
But what he has taught me is immeasurable.
Patience. Joy. Forgiveness. Love.
I’ve learned so much.
And for the last month or so, I have been sharing all Theo’s wonderful advice on Twitter.
He is becoming way more popular than I am. And he deserves his growing fame.
Here for your edification are some of Theo’s best tips:
Happy birthday, sweet Theo!
You are the light of my life!
I dispense a lot of advice on this blog.
Clothing advice, dog-raising advice, aging advice, housekeeping advice – and most often – happiness advice.
But it’s a lot harder to give advice in real life than it is to write about all my incredible (incredibly small, that is) wisdom.
I really do believe my advice is good… and that I truly possess a bit of wisdom.
Theoretically, I am a genius.
Everything seems so clear to me when it is not actually me.
In real life, I struggle.
But there are some things I know from my own experience, and not just from watching everyone and everything (which is my job, being a writer).
And there is something I need to share. A lesson I learned the hard way.
Stick your nose in someone else’s business.
Twenty years ago, when I worked for Humongous, Inc., I hired a smart, lovely young woman as a financial analyst in my department.
I had interviewed Lynn six months earlier for a different position, and though I liked her very much and was impressed with her skills, I hired another candidate, whose experience was just slightly more relevant to the job. But when I had another opening months later, I called Lynn and asked her if she were still available and interested. And so I just hired her over the phone and didn’t even bother to bring her back in.
When Lynn showed up for her first day of work, the change in her appearance was dramatic. While she had been very thin six months earlier, she was now emaciated. I asked her if she was well, and she told me she had been fighting with anorexia for years, and some periods were better than others. She was getting professional help though, and was responding again. She was open and optimistic.
Her work was accurate and timely. She was insightful, reliable, well-liked and cheerful. But she did not put on any weight. She became thinner and thinner.
Her co-workers became concerned. They came to me with reports that she ate a lettuce leaf for lunch, and then vomited in the bathroom. That she came in early so she could park as close to the building as possible, because she could not walk more than a dozen yards. That she took the elevator even when it was only a single floor to climb.
I worried. But I didn’t want to interfere. I didn’t want to intrude on her personal life.
I wanted to mind my own business.
I told my husband one evening that I thought it was only a matter of time before Lynn ended up in the hospital. I cared about Lynn, but I have to be honest and admit that I also worried about covering her responsibilities if she had to be out for an extended period.
The next time Lynn came into my office with an analysis, I asked her to stay a minute. I closed the door.
“I’m worried about you,” I said, “You seem even thinner than a few months ago, and you look so pale.”
“I know,” said Lynn. “I’m working on it and I’m in counseling and my family is really helping. Things are turning around and even though I look thin, I’m feeling better.”
“Your friends say that you don’t eat.”
“It’s hard for me to eat in front of people because I have lots of weird habits I’m trying to break. But I have a decent dinner with my parents every night.”
“We want to help you with anything you need,” I offered.
“Everyone is great here. I love working here. And HR has talked to me too, and they are very supportive.”
“That’s great!” I said. And I was extremely relieved. Relieved that she said she was feeling better. And relieved that HR was involved. And that perhaps I didn’t have to be.
Lynn called in sick on Friday. She said she had been in a minor car accident and was just a little sore.
And Monday morning Lynn’s sister called me. Lynn had died over the weekend. Her heart just gave out. She was 32.
I learned later that our Human Resources department had briefly spoken to her, but had not been very involved. I learned that she was not in counseling. I learned that there had not even been a car accident. I learned that Lynn was very good at telling people what they wanted to hear.
Could I have saved Lynn by intervening? By being more insistent? By interfering?
But I will never know for sure. What if I had been just a bit more interfering? And a few other people had too – perhaps our cumulative interference might have made an impact.
But it haunts me.
Because the truth of it is – I did not want to know. I wanted to mind my own business because it was EASIER. On me.
There are other words for Interference.
Concern. Involvement. Responsibility.
Please listen. Listen to me and listen to those who are in pain.
Don’t back off.
Don’t mind your own business.
You may not be able to save someone.
But you might.
What if you could?
In the parking lot at the Petco store, I watch a dad with his three kids. Two boys and girl. The boys are maybe seven and eight; the little girl perhaps four. At the entrance to the store, Dad stops. I see him tell the boys to wait a second. Dad has noticed that the girl’s sundress is all bunched up at the waist. He hair looks like it has been the victim of the open car window. Dad straightens his daughter’s dress. He adjusts her headband and runs his fingers as a quick comb through her hair. He nods his head. They all go into the store.
This is what a father does.
He takes care of his kids, whether it is making sure they are wearing their seatbelts or whether they need a hair repair.
Some people think dads are mostly oblivious.
Good dads should notice.
Good dads should be the dads of small things.
I come from an older generation. The generation where your parents took on the most traditional of roles.
Many of us had fathers who worked incredibly hard to support their families. My father-in-law, who I sadly never knew, always worked two jobs. He may have worked too much. He may not have spent as much time as he would have liked with his family. But he showed his love by working for them. I don’t undervalue that enormous sacrifice.
Dads may have been strict – the unwavering tough guy and breadwinner – back in my day.
But they also had a softer side – that today may be more common, but was just as cherished then as it is today. Maybe more cherished. A father’s time with his children was often limited, so we loved it when we were so fortunate.
My father never took us shopping, like the dad I describe at the beginning of this story. I don’t think he would ever have even thought of it. But he took us skating in the winter and swimming in the summer. And he took us out for ice cream cones. And he often didn’t have one himself (neither did my mother) even though they loved ice cream. Dad spent his money on us. Years later, he told me that he often put only a dollar’s worth of gas in the car so he could spend his only other dollar on ice cream cones.
And rides. Traditional fathers were good at rides. It seems today that Mom is mostly the chauffeur, but in my day, Dads did a lot of driving. Of course, we kids didn’t go to that many places that we didn’t walk to. But when we did, it was Dad waiting in his car at the end of our day.
I especially remember my best friend Doris’ father. His shift at the factory ended at 3:30. And if we could get to the town swimming pool, often by walking the long, hot uphill mile-and-a-half, he would be there in his big old Ford at 3:45 to give us a ride home. Always. And always cheerful.
Traditional Dads would teach you things. My father-in-law taught my husband to fix a car. My dad taught me how to play Cribbage and how to follow a football game.
My father taught me how to slow dance.
Traditional dads held you to a high standard. Good grades, chores, politeness – these were required. But they also let you slide on the stuff that was important to you, but what didn’t matter in the long run. They let you blow bubbles in your milk. And they let you – at least once – take a sip of their beer.
And while expecting great things of you, these old-fashioned dads let you know that it was okay to fail. My father may have taught me to play Cribbage, but he didn’t let me win. And all us kids got a “Good try!” when we didn’t make the team or get the part in the play.
These dads let you be silly. They told corny jokes and made funny faces. And they told you stories about the dumb stuff they did as kids. They made you roll on the floor.
Although my father was the traditional dad of the fifties and sixties, he was amazingly ahead of his times, especially when it came to traditional roles themselves.
My father was proud of my mother’s education and work as a nurse. And encouraged his three daughters to try everything and expect success.
Recently a Twitter hashtag game called for responses to the following:
Think there was anything a girl couldn’t do.
All three of his daughters (and his son) went to college and earned graduate degrees. We were all successful in our careers and our personal lives.
Dad believed that there was nothing we could not do. He supported every effort, every dream.
Here is a story about my traditional, old-fashioned dad that I have never told anyone.
When I was thirty, I was unmarried but desperately wanted to be a mother. I had heard about a woman who was bringing orphans from El Salvador to the U.S. for adoption. El Salvador was in the midst of a civil war and it was a dangerous place. I contacted this woman and found out what I would need to do in order to adopt one of these children. I completed reams of paperwork, was fingerprinted, and registered with the El Salvadoran embassy.
I waited. It was very difficult. Most of my friends and family and work associates were not supportive. Not out of any meanness or xenophobia, but out of worry. What if the child was ill? What if she could not adapt? How could I manage as a single mother? And the situation in El Salvador was so volatile that the regulations and standards for adoption changed repeatedly.
In the end, El Salvador shut down its U.S. adoptions before my source could find me a child. So it was not to be. Which I grieve for to this day.
But when all was still up in the air, when I still had hope along with fear, when my family was still trying to talk me out of it, my father took me aside one day.
“This is just between us,” he said. “But if you get the chance for a child, and if things change and the child cannot be brought to you – if you need to go to El Salvador to get her – I just want you to know, I will go with you.”
A father has many duties.
A good father will fix your hair.
Or go into a war-torn country to keep you – and your dreams – safe.
Happy Father’s Day.
Yesterday, I went out on my patio to enjoy the sunshine that had finally appeared after a few days of rain.
I noticed that on the patio stones were six little worms. I am no biologist, but I pride myself on being an expert anthropomorphologist, so I figured the worms were doing the same thing I was doing – basking in the warm sun.
However, I also know from my vast experience of childhood worm-watching, that these worms would very quickly shrivel and die in the sun.
Why do they do that? Put themselves in such dire circumstances? Again, I am no biologist but I have been given to understand that worms breathe through their skin, and when it rains and the soil is completely saturated, they come out of the ground so they don’t suffocate. And they can move pretty freely when the ground is wet.
But the ground – especially the sidewalk (and my patio stones) dry very quickly, and then they can’t move. And they are stuck.
The poor worms don’t understand that.
They don’t have the brain power. As a matter of fact, earthworms only have about 300 neurons in their whole nervous system. Even an ant has 250,000. Cats have 760 million. Dogs have 2 billion (sorry, cat lovers). And human beings have 86 billion.
So worms are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to reasoning skills.
And consider the bell curve of intelligence. If worms have a bell curve like human beings, just think about the poor worms on the wrong end of the bell curve. No wonder they ended up on the patio. And it isn’t their fault. They were born that way.
If we can feel a little compassion for the brain-challenged earthworm, let’s spare a little for human beings too.
That bell curve.
Because you are reading this essay, I am guessing that you are at least in the middle of the curve. You actually read the word ‘anthropomorphologist’ – which you probably understood even though I totally made it up.
So if you are at least in the middle of the curve – or maybe even on the high end, since you are smart enough and patient enough to read about worms – just consider all the people in the world in the lower half.
They struggle, I think. They haven’t got nearly the intelligence of you or me, and yet, just like you and me, they have to get through childhood, find jobs, raise a family, learn how to get where they need to go, buy stuff, prepare meals, and pay their bills and their taxes.
And yet somehow they manage. With less intellectual resources, millions of people do okay. They live. They love.
Sometimes I am more in awe of the mentally-challenged person who cleans her house than I am of the genius who lives in a mess.
And we should be willing to cut some of those people a break. To help those on the lower end of the curve with a measure of financial help and as much education as we can give them. We can give them medical care and food assistance. We can be kind.
After all, we are the privileged ones – the ones to whom the world is not an unending mystery.
We should help.
And – back to the earthworm story:
I took a stick and picked up each little worm and gently put it back on the lawn. Even the one that I was too late to save. I scooped up his tiny body and gave him a soft spot in the grass as his final resting place.
Reincarnation could be a thing.
If I come back as a worm, I hope that Karma is kind.
When I was out driving yesterday, I was suddenly engulfed in a blizzard.
A pollen blizzard.
The sun lit up the millions of pollen bits and dandelion fluffs floating through the air.
It was the Dance of the Allergens.
And I just laughed. Because those awful things reap havoc on me… and yet they were so beautiful.
Which makes me think about other things that are terrible and lovely at the same time.
When I was a kid, I lived near a very big factory, and I used to love the puddles in the parking lots after a summer rain. Not only was there a rainbow in the sky. There were rainbows in the puddles. Oh sure, you may call them oil slicks. But they were so pretty. The blues and purples and golds. Those beat-up cars left these portraits just for me.
Then there’s food that I just can’t stand – but I have to admit these comestibles are just lovely. Oysters and mushrooms. And most of all, bleu cheese.
The world is full of scary things that are beautiful too.
Sharks and octopus, lions and crocodiles. They can be awesome as well as frightening.
But even the simplest cobweb can take your breath away.
And then there is the category of things that I used to find ugly… that with time I have found beautiful.
Perhaps not ugly, perhaps only invisible, unnoticed.
The gorgeous way the leather has aged on my thirty-year-old checkbook:
And getting back to Dandelions – why do we not consider them beautiful?
Just think how much easier your gardening would be if we suddenly realized that these persistent and prolific petals were also … perhaps pretty.
And of all the things that I did not appreciate – whether they were scary, or threatening, or invisible – where I now see incredible beauty:
A few years ago I wrote a post – Oh, Grow Up! – in which I wrote about the childish things that we need to leave behind.
Don’t get me wrong. I think we should act like children a lot more often than we do – especially because we mostly still feel like children inside. And so we should let our little angels and monsters out to play a lot more often.
As a matter of fact, a friend of mine posted recently on Facebook that she was feeling uninspired. She has recently moved out of state, and she has been very busy. She has been devoting a lot of time to volunteer work – at a hospice, at the local library, as a literacy tutor. But she writes: “Why does it not feel like it’s enough? What am I missing?”
Many of her friends told her she was wonderful, terrific, selfless. “Hang in there,” they said.
But I wrote and said, “FUN. You are missing FUN. Have some.”
And she said. “You are right! Everything feels like work.”
So I believe in Fun. I believe in experiencing childlike joy. And I even wrote a blog a while back – “In Praise of Childish Things” – extolling the virtues of returning to those simple pleasures.
But I also wrote about the annoying immature stuff that adults should leave behind.
And one thing I wrote, in particular, haunts me.
No one cares that it’s your birthday. Everyone has one. You aren’t special. Don’t expect your co-workers to remember. Consider yourself ahead of the game if your spouse remembers.
Well, I’ve changed my mind.
I was wrong.
Your birthday is important.
You should celebrate the day you were born. Everyone you know should celebrate the day you became our companion in this world.
Your presence should be celebrated every day. But if we have to pick just one day, let it be your birthday.
Years ago, my brother-in-law called me on my birthday to say “Happy Birthday.” He asked what I had done that day.
I said, “I went to work.”
He said, “Why didn’t take the day off?”
“Because I’m not seven,” I answered.
Once again let me say this:
I was wrong.
Not because I didn’t take the day. off.
Because I didn’t think it was big deal.
It’s a big deal.
I have a sweet friend that NEVER forgets a birthday. She keeps a special list and every single one of her friends gets a birthday card. She must buy cards by the hundreds.
And I have another, newer, friend, who has some inside information on people’s birthdays and brings cards to Zumba class for everyone to sign.
And another friend who is the best cake maker in the world. And if you work in her office, there is birthday cake in the conference room almost every week.
Today is my husband’s birthday. He joined the human race today.
And we’ll celebrate his existence.
And share the cake and ice cream, please.