One fascinating discovery for me, as I wrote my latest book, LUCINDA’S SOLUTION, was researching the Influenza Pandemic of 1918.
What a horror that outbreak was. Do you know that more U.S. soldiers died of influenza than on the battlefield? And that the death toll was greater in one year than in four years of the bubonic plague? People truly feared that it was the end of the world, and that the whole human race would die.
One of the scariest elements of the pandemic was the unprecedented death toll of the strongest people. Rather than striking the old and the sick, this outbreak decimated the population of young healthy adults.
There are several reasons for this – but there is the one that particularly struck me. It’s called a Cytokine Storm.
Simplistically (and ‘simple’ is the best I can give you, not being any kind of epidemiologist… I’m an accountant turned writer, for God’s sake) – a Cytokine Storm is an overreaction of one’s immune system.
In the influenza pandemic of 1918, and with some other flu outbreaks, the body can respond with an overproduction of antibody immune cells, which causes major respiratory and cardiac distress. The lungs, in particular, are flooded with these immune cells – which in turn can lead to a secondary, often lethal, case of bacterial pneumonia.
And who is most likely to experience a Cytokine Storm? The overreaction of the immune system occurs in people with the most active immune system. If your immune system is weak (as when you are elderly or sick or still in infancy) – it is not capable of a strong reaction. The BEST immune systems are the ones to overreact. They do their job too well. And so, in 1918, the immune systems of young healthy adults were their very downfall.
That’s probably a long-enough medical history lesson, but I could go on and on. I think maybe I should go on a lecture tour for the 100th anniversary of the Influenza Pandemic. (which is this year, by the way).
But the Cytokine Storm phenomenon intrigues me.
Because your immune system is your physical defense mechanism. And in the Cytokine Storm, your defense system fails you. It harms you rather than saves you.
And that makes me think about our nonphysical defense mechanism. Our emotional defense system.
We all need to protect ourselves emotionally. We don’t want our feelings hurt. We don’t want to be sad or lonely or afraid.
So we have these wonderful brain mechanisms that help to keep us safe. That rationalize our failures, that excuse or ignore those who insult us, that look to the future when the past is too painful.
But what if? What if the strongest of our emotional defenses can also act like a Cytokine Storm?
What if our defenses are so strong that they are sending cells into our brain to destroy our feelings?
I recently met a wise woman who said that she doesn’t particularly like the expression, “Let It Go.” She prefers “Let It Be.” Rather than bury her sorrows, she likes to think of them as sitting on a shelf, where she can look at them if she needs to. She can even take them out and hold them once in a while, or she can let them gather dust. But they are there for her to keep.
That woman’s advice made me remember the time a doctor told a dear friend that he would prescribe an antidepressant to help her get through the death of her husband. “Get through?” Really? Is the death of the love of one’s life like a broken toe? That some pain medication will fix it? My friend told this doctor: “My husband died. I think I am SUPPOSED to feel sad.”
I know we all need to protect ourselves. I believe in being as nice to yourself as you can. I’ve written before (“Maybe I Like Sour Grapes”) – that a little rationalization might be fine. That you can cut yourself a little slack once in a while. Sometimes you might need to be brutally honest with yourself and your failings. But it doesn’t ALWAYS have to be quite so brutal.
And just maybe protecting your feelings isn’t the same thing as denying your feelings. Maybe denying your feelings is the Cytokine Storm that will ruin your life.
In the same way, protecting yourself from the outside world may keep you from going insane, but becoming deaf and blind (and even just inured) to atrocity might be harmful to ourselves – and the world. While going insane is not be a helpful reaction, sometimes some righteous indignation may actually be appropriate.
Do not protect yourself from pain.
We are bombarded with horror and evil and catastrophes. We are invaded like the influenza virus invaded our ancestors. Some of the strongest of those infected found that their defense mechanism turned out to be worse than the disease.
What if –
like Influenza –
Numbness is a terrible way to die?
How My Sister’s Embarrassing Mishap Led Me To My Passion
This incident occurred about 50 years ago. So I am not saying that I remember it all accurately. And although I could ask my sister – since it is her incident, not mine – I really don’t want her to screw up my memories with facts.
Because, after all, it is the way I perceived it then and the way I remember it now that makes it important to me.
So I don’t care whether all the details are 100% correct. And if you are wondering whether any of this is exaggerated… well, holy crap, I am a writer! Of course, it is exaggerated.
But probably not much.
It was a small, but crazy, event, and I don’t have to embellish it very much to bring out the crazy.
So here goes:
About 50 years ago, my sister had a weird accident.
She was commuting to college because she liked living at home. She liked my mother and father and my other sister and my brother, and even inexplicably liked me too, a brooding high-schooler.
Her college required her to take a phys-ed course. This was back in the war-protesting, hippie days, and no one wanted to take phys-ed. But it was a requirement, and so she signed up for the least offensive course she could find – Bowling.
Once a week, she went to a bowling alley near campus and bowled for an hour with her other classmates. How the school thought Bowling would advance her higher education or prepare her for adulthood, I do not know. Perhaps the math skills portion of life. Or the cheerful wearing of someone else’s shoes.
The bowling alley was very old. She described it to me once as “dark and sticky”. So although I never went there, I had a very distinct idea of the place.
Not all the equipment worked well. And on the day of the “incident”, it was the ball return machine that was being cantankerous. It was really slow and the bowlers would have to wait so long to get their balls back that they were bowling with two balls to speed things up a bit. And there did not seem to be quite enough power to spit the ball out of the return. And so the bowling ball would sort of just sit inside the edge of the bowling ball cave.
The solution was to just kind of stick your hand in there and coax that sucker out.
So that’s how the kids bowled that day – alternating between two balls and prying out reluctant balls from the return machine.
And at some point, my sister put her fingers into the top of the ball return to pull a ball out exactly when another ball came up the return and smacked the first ball. And jammed her fingers between the machine and the ball. And she was painfully (but not too dangerously) stuck. Everyone tried to get her fingers out. They tried pushing the ball back into the hole – but it was completely immovable. They pulled at her fingers and pushed at the ball, but it just got tighter and tighter.
The bowling alley manager called the fire department, who might have been able to put out a fire or save a cat stuck in a tree, but who could not get my sister’s fingers out of the ball machine.
Someone got my sister a chair. In the meantime, her fingers were starting to swell, which hurt and only made matters worse as far as how tightly they and the ball were wedged.
The only thing they could do was take the machine apart. But they could not power off the ball return. They had to shut off the power to the whole building. Everyone had to stop bowling. Leagues went home.
And so the utility company shut off the power and the bowling alley maintenance guy took the machine apart.
And my sister came home with fingers as big and red as Polish sausages.
My mother was distraught. She’s a nurse and she realized how close my sister had come to losing her fingers. But nothing was broken – only very badly bruised. And once my sister began to recover (or perhaps a little before, since we are a cruelly sardonic family), we could not stop howling over the sheer hilarious insanity of the whole incident.
But here’s the thing:
I adored my sister. (Still do.) And I wanted to be like her in every way. I copied her shamelessly as a kid. Dressing like her and taking up her hobbies. Tagging along. (And by the way, she generously let me.)
But I imagine that most people would be thinking, “I’m so glad that wasn’t me!”, and guessing that this would have been the day when I stopped envying my sister.
But you’d be wrong.
Because the thing I remember most about that day, half a century ago, was that I was JEALOUS.
Yes, I was jealous of my sister’s humiliating idiotic bowling alley incident. Jealous of her sitting in a chair with her fingers stuck in the machine, with the fire truck in the parking lot and the utility company shutting down the power. I kind of hoped they had to shut down the whole city.
And WHY was I jealous?
Because it was SUCH A GOOD STORY!
And that was my first inkling that I wanted to be a writer.
I am always delighted when something I write provokes a discussion.
I like to be agreed with as much as the next person – (OK, hubby, a LOT more than the next person), but I also love it when Disagreement is not disagreeable at all. But thought-provoking. And just plan Interesting.
My last blog “You Are Entitled” generated this kind of conversation. In that blog, I wrote that although I understood the sentiment that the world doesn’t owe you anything, I didn’t necessarily agree. I feel you are entitled as a human being to:
It was the last point – Respect – that initiated many comments – (all polite and therefore “respectful”, by the way.)
Many commenters – both on the blog and some in person or emailed by friends – felt strongly that Respect is not something you are entitled to. But rather, something you EARN.
And I see their point.
The notion of Respect is very nuanced. And although in my blog post, I defined it as the simple acceptance of You as you are, the very word ‘respect’ conveys so many other concepts Not only acceptance and tolerance, but also appreciation and approval – and even admiration. And certainly Approval and Admiration aren’t inalienable rights.
But what about Respect as defined this way: The recognition of the dignity in each of us, for who we are? And maybe, just maybe, for who we are capable of being?
Here is a story:
About fifteen years ago, my husband built the beautiful house we live in today. He was the general contractor, but he is not a general contractor by trade, only by his great talent and building knowledge. So he had to hire subcontractors for the first time in many many years. He stopped at many job sites and talked to people and watched them work. And little by little, we had framers and carpenters and roofers and tilers and electricians. My husband hired many of these subcontractors by the level of carefulness and attention to detail he witnessed in their work. Not by any big portfolio of success stories. Our house was a very complex project. Some of our subcontractors had never worked on such a big and complicated house. But if they were intimidated, they soon overcame it, because my husband demonstrated that he had confidence in their abilities. He told them,
“You can do this because you have great talent and because you’ll get so much satisfaction by doing work you are proud of.”
And the result was this:
These contractors did the best work of their lives.
They took pictures. They made scrapbooks. They brought prospective customers to see their work. And, I think – most importantly – they brought their families over to see what they had built.
So here is what I offer based on this experience.
Perhaps you are correct if you think that Respect has to be earned.
But what if –
What if –
We all just started to respect each other even BEFORE it is earned?
The hardwood floor in my foyer. Individual pieces of wood that were designed, cut, and installed by a local carpenter who had never laid a parquet floor before.
Yesterday, a friend posted this meme on Facebook.
And in a way, I agree.
It aggravates me (like it probably aggravates everyone) to hear people complain that Life is not fair.
No. Life is not fair.
Sometimes you don’t get the job, even though you deserve it. Sometimes your marriage ends even though you gave it your best. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. And sometimes, good things happen to bad people.
Sometimes you have a right to complain your ass off. Cheating and discrimination and abuse should be exposed. By screaming.
But sometimes people bitch about trivial shit that – although certainly unfair – is just too bad. Just suck it up.
Someone cut in line and got waited on first. Someone got praised at the office for work that you did. Someone happened to be born richer than you.
Suck it up.
So, yeah, in some ways, I agree with my friend’s meme – that the World doesn’t owe you much.
But I think that you ARE entitled to some things.
The World DOES owe you.
So let me revise that meme:
1. Children are entitled to be loved. You didn’t ask to be born, but you were and someone – hopefully more than one person, but at least one – should have held your little body with love.
(And by the way, I hate the way the word “entitled” has been demonized. Entitled means you have EARNED it. It is yours. Social security is not a handout which you selfishly think the government should just give you. It is YOUR money that you earned and your employer matched because your employer owed that money to you as part of your wages. You are entitled to it, because it is YOURS. Rant finished.)
2. Not to starve. All living creatures – human and nonhuman – deserve enough nourishment to stay alive. Clean water. Decent food. We owe that to each other. We should not resent making sure that everyone eats, for God’s sake. And I will add this to the idea of starvation: the body can starve because of disease. We have amazing medical science. We should all be allowed access to it.
3. A formal education that transforms you into a literate, rational adult is the optimum goal. But at a minimum, the world owes you the benefit of the knowledge of those who have come before. Whether in school or in the community, adults need to share their knowledge. Someone should show you the ropes.
4. You are entitled to a place to live. And to feel safe in that place, both physically and emotionally. Your home should not be dangerous. It should not be full of poison or life-threatening hazards. It should be sturdy and clean. And no one should abuse you in your home. You should experience no violence, no threats. Everyone needs a place to be safe.
5. Respect. You have a right to be here. Your home may be your safe place, but you need to venture into the scary, unsafe world. You will contribute to that world with your body and your mind. You will give the world your effort, your ideas, and your children. Whatever you give deserves – if not appreciation – at least acceptance. Acceptance of you – the way you are, not the way someone thinks you should be.
I have always loved the phrase “the pursuit of happiness.” I think Thomas Jefferson was exactly correct. No one owes you happiness. But they do owe you the right to pursue it. As long as your pursuit of happiness does not endanger anyone else. Because that is Disrespect.
And we all deserve Respect.
We’re ENTITLED to it.
Now that I am finally retired from my income-producing vocation (as opposed to Writing, my income-reducing avocation) – I have found that is is really easy to slip into hermit mode.
I am solitary by nature.
Sitting at my computer most of the day, and sometimes not leaving the house for days, I have to protect myself from too much isolation. Because solitude is not the same as isolation.
And though I love blogging and tweeting and instagramming, and all the other online activities that fill my non-novel-writing hours – I know I need to get away from the screen and see people. Really see them. Look into their eyes, feel the warmth of their smiles, enjoy how their dimples crinkle when they laugh, how their eyebrows rise when they question, how they brush back their hair with a flick of the hand.
So I have been making an effort to find or create opportunities to connect.
At the beginning of the year, I started a book club, and we had our first meeting last week. I met with eight strangers who are now friends. Intelligent, thoughtful friends. What a delight. I can’t wait to meet with them again.
I’ve taken a few classes – even a makeup class at Sephora is a chance to smile at others. I go out for coffee occasionally, even though I have good coffee at home. I sit at a table and look around and make eye contact with human beings.
And today I drove a friend to her medical appointment. It’s a long ride to her doctor’s office, so having a companion passes the time for her, and gives me the pleasure of real conversation.
But I am always on the lookout for new possibilities to make human connections.
The other day I saw a posting for a poetry workshop. Just a casual get-together with other like-minded people to talk and create poetry. And I thought – that would be great for me! A different kind of writer – a chance to open my mind, and perhaps make a literary friend or two.
But then I saw the schedule. The poetry workshop group meets on Friday evenings. Well, that is just incomprehensible to me. You don’t discuss poetry on Friday nights. It just doesn’t feel right. Monday maybe. Fridays are for beer and pizza. Maybe bowling. Even a movie is stretching it for Friday.
Did you ever notice that some things just don’t feel right?
Just like Poetry on Friday night.
Or orange juice with a hot dog.
Knee socks and sandals.
Cats named Fido.
Going on a Twitter rant because you didn’t get the Yoga Instructor job.
Or even – that although women’s underwear is beautiful in a nude beige, men’s underwear in beige is just plain weird.
But now that I have been silly and trivial in these things I find incongruous, and as much as I wish that I can remain lighthearted forever –
I need to be serious.
Because I am looking for Connection, and I see how incomprehensible it is the among the billions of people on this earth, there is so much loneliness.
How in this beautiful world, and especially in this beautiful friendly country, can there be so much loneliness?
And in a land of so much wealth, how can there be homelessness?’
In a place of such abundance (and waste), how are people, especially the elderly, going hungry?
In an era of astonishing medical advancement, how can there be sick people without access to decent healthcare?
Or such a richness of natural resources that are not protected and cherished?
And – speaking of cherished resources –
How – please tell me how –
Can we let children be murdered?
Although I recently posted about giving people the benefit of the doubt, I admit that this practice doesn’t always work.
Most importantly, we should never explain away or excuse bigotry, violence, or abuse.
But even in more simple everyday ways, we need – when giving the benefit of the doubt – to make sure we are being generous to the right people.
Here’s a story a friend told me:
She and her husband were driving home from dinner. He was behind the wheel. They came to a four-way stop. Another car on their left got to the stop several seconds after they did. Just as her husband stepped on the gas to go, the other car jumped into the intersection and sped off, causing my friend’s husband to hit the brake hard in order to stop in time.
“Jesus H. Christ,” the husband yelled. “What an asshole!”
And my friend, trying to calm him down, said, “Maybe he just didn’t see us.”
And later, telling me this story, my friend said to me, “That was such a stupid thing for me to say.”
And I understood right away what she meant.
Why not be on your husband’s side? What would it have cost her to be on his side?
If, when he had said, “What an asshole!” – she had said:
“I KNOW! It was YOUR turn!”
Because what she really said didn’t make a single difference to the asshole driver – and it didn’t calm her husband down any either.
Believe me, I know.
I do it.
All the time.
I constantly tell people to think the best of others. I make excuses for people I do not know. And while thinking the best of others is the right thing for me to do, telling others to do so is not necessarily thinking the best of the people I am lecturing.
For as much I want to give people the benefit of the doubt, the people I love don’t always need a sermon on giving people the benefit of the doubt when they are upset. Sometimes they just want to be heard.
And have someone on their side.
So here is some advice – that you may find inconsistent with my earlier advice on giving people the benefit of the doubt. But I don’t think it is. I think maybe it’s that just a matter of choosing which person to give the benefit of the doubt to.
When you are not dealing with hatred or abuse, and when it won’t make a difference in any material way – BE ON THE SIDE OF THE PERSON YOU LOVE.
Be on the side of the person you know, even if it’s not quite love.
My boss once complained to me that the new HR directive added a ton of paperwork to her already busy day. I personally thought that the new documentation was long overdue, and I nicely said so. But it didn’t go over well with my boss. She was still angry and now she was angry with me too. What I see today is that it would not have betrayed my core values in any significant way to say, “I KNOW! What a lot of extra work this is for you!”
I could have been on her side.
I know someone who often complains about a close relative. She’s hurt because the relative never includes her in his plans. In fact, he goes out of his way to keep his activities a secret so that he doesn’t have to include her. Or at least, that’s how my friend feels. I used to say, “I don’t think he meant to exclude you. He just probably didn’t think you would be interested,” or some such ‘benefit of the doubt’ platitude. Yes, I am contradicting myself. Yes, I was practicing my philosophy, but I may have (I know I was) giving the benefit of the doubt to the wrong party. But I am learning. It happened again recently, and I said, “That’s terrible. He should be nicer to you!”
I was on her side.
I didn’t have to fix anything. I didn’t have to make it better. I just had to be on her side.
And I know that we should all teach kids to be nice. And to share. I believe there are so many moments when we can teach kids to be generous. But sometimes we can let up a little. Not long ago, I heard a kid crying to his mother that his brother took the last cookie that he wanted for himself. And I expected the mom to say something about being generous and letting his little brother have that cookie, and that would have been quite nice, but what she said was, “Well that sucks! Let me give you a hug!”
And she was right.
She was on his side.
So here is what I am trying to say:
The next time someone you love or just someone you know is bitching about something that is not an affront to humankind, instead of saying “Consider the other guy’s point of view” – or – “Oh, that’s not so bad” – both of which are the equivalent of saying “Calm down!” (and we know how well THAT works) – try saying this instead:
Give the benefit of the doubt to the person in front of you.
Choose a side.
Oh, not the kind of debt that includes credit cards and mortgages.
Of course, I have that kind of debt.
But today is another birthday, and I’m deeper in debt because of all the people and things that help me cope – that help me be happy, when sometimes in this crazy year it would have been more natural to be miserable.
This has been a stressful year – natural disasters, divisive politics, senseless violence.
And yet, although I have moments of true sadness, I have not been unrelentingly sad.
More often, I’ve been happy.
So here is my Birthday Thank You List:
My Husband. He has always been able to keep me safe and build anything and fix everything and somehow even think I am pretty. But this year, I owe him an even more special thank-you. Because he showed me this year that there is no age limit on doing something crazy if it makes you happy. He’s 72. He bought a horse.
He also taught me once again that you can be as tough as you need to be when you need to be, all the while maintaining a soft heart. He taught me this because we still have all three kittens we were supposed to foster for just 10 days, six months ago.
My sisters. My sisters are just a few years older than I. And they are more than just funny as hell and understand everything about me – and so are the perfect friends. They are also a preview of my own future. In my current book-in-progress, the teenage girl watches everything her older sister does, and then watches the result to see if it’s something she might want to do too. I did that with my own sisters, but I didn’t have to worry about whether it would be wise to be like them – it always was. And since we are so alike, in them, I can see myself just a few years down the road… which is 70, OMG. But you know, thanks to my sisters, I think it looks pretty good.
And speaking of graceful aging, that’s my precious mother in the middle of her three girls. She’s 94 now. And in the past year (as in every year), she has given me her exquisite example of intelligence, independence, optimism, and a generosity of spirit.
This year I also say thank you to my good friend Chris – truly a bonus sister. This summer she invited me to her painting class. And oh my! I rediscovered my love for painting and it has given me satisfaction and pleasure every day since.
Theo. My best friend. (That’s his portrait above.) I know I wouldn’t be half as kind without him. Because he teaches me the simple happiness in living in the moment. And most of all, he’s taught me forgiveness. Not in how easily I forgive him, but in how readily and completely he forgives me. I lose my patience with him a dozen times a day. He never loses his patience with me. He loves me anyway.
And then there are all the friends – both personal and here on my writing space – that encourage me and always make me want to try just a little harder to do or say or write something that matters.
This is the first complete year that I have been retired from my career. And it is amazing how quickly the days go by. I enjoy being lazy – truly, there is no limit to the number candies I can crush. But thanks to my family and my friends, and all my blogging buddies here, it is also amazing how much I have accomplished. I have written 70 (!) blogs in the past year. AND – I can hardly believe it – published my second novel.
I am as proud of that book as anything I have done in my life. So thank you for your steadfast support and the joy of your friendship.
Some people can accomplish wonderful things in their youth. For me, it has taken a long time. It has taken a long time to become the writer I wanted to be. And it has taken me a long time to become the person I wanted to be. And less important (but still meaningful to me), it has taken me a long time to like my outsides as well as my insides.
Every year on my birthday, I publish an unretouched photo of myself. To tell the world – and myself – that Aging isn’t so bad.
So here I am – 67 today.
Hooray for Late Bloomers.
It’s the middle of Winter, and it’s gone on way too long. Four days of Winter is probably enough for me. One day of snow, One day of Christmas, One day of sitting by the fire… oh wait, I hate the fourth day too. Make that three days.
Anyway, here’s a reprise of my Winter tale from SIX years ago… wow, that’s a long time. Almost as long as this Winter has been.
I like this oldie especially because in it I reminisce about meeting my husband… and it also has one of my all-time favorite drawings (and yes, I was a brunette back then).
I’M A FAST LEARNER
I hate the expression, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
Learning has nothing to do with age. Why just this year, I have figured out how to write and manage a blog, how to install and use a scanner, how to work my new iPhone – I’ve even downloaded two (count ’em: 2!) apps.
I drove my husband’s truck with the plow attached. (I am not claiming to have parked it.)
And I learned how to make pretzels.
(I may need a bit more practice on the shape.)
But even though I believe you can learn anything at any age, I will admit that there are some things that are better learned when you’re young.
I learned to cross-country ski at age 32, and I did pretty well. Of course, cross-country skiing is sort of like how you skated across the kitchen floor in your stocking feet when you were eight. And there’s nothing to be afraid of. If I come across a steep descent, I just snap my boots out of my skis and walk around it.
But at age 37, I met a man who ‘ski’ skied. Like downhill. Downhill skiing isn’t really downhill, it’s downmountain.
But I was game. (Actually, I was in love, and therefore insane.)
So I went to a medium-sized local mountain with this man and his son. I persuaded Boyfriend not to watch me, and so he happily went to the black diamond hill with his eleven-year-old. I rented boots, skis, and poles, and inched my way to the instruction slope.
‘Slope’ was an exaggeration. The grade was about the same as the floor of my shower, so that the water runs into the drain. But I was cool gliding down the gentle path with the rest of my class. The rest of my class were toddlers.
“Don’t feel bad,” said the teacher. “Toddlers have a very low center of gravity. You are much more tippy, so it’s harder for you.”
I was pleased by this, since I thought by ‘tippy’, he might mean ‘stacked’, and that made me like my new ski jacket quite a bit.
After about half an hour of easy practice, I graduated. I went to the bunny hill. I had to get on the little ski-lift and take a short ride. Getting off was very brave. and then I made slow, wide (almost horizontal) zig-zags down the hill.
My boyfriend showed up and I did it again with him. I was very pleased with myself. And I had that little tag on my jacket that told the world I was a skier. It was exhilarating.
We broke up the next week.
The following year I met the man who became my husband.
And unbelievably, he was another skier! But okay, I could tell him that I skied ‘a little’.
More unbelievably, he seemed to be in love with me. He planned a ski vacation, and when I told him I would rent equipment, his smitten little self took me to the local ski shop and bought me skis, boots, poles, goggles, and an even cuter ski jacket with matching pants, mittens and headband. I was a doll.
So we go to a REAL mountain in Vermont. I donned my new ensemble and we headed for a very big ski lift and a very tall mountain. Only it was called The Bunny Hill. “This can’t be the bunny hill,” I told my sweetheart.
And I got to the top and fell off the ski lift. “I’m okay,” I said cheerfully.
And we started down. DOWN.
My boots hurt, I couldn’t control my direction, and I was unable to make those big sideways swaths I had learned the previous year. I went straight downhill like a racer, only with my poles flailing like cockeyed windmills.
For about thirty feet. I managed to stop by using my face as a brake.
After I got my head out of the snow, I sat down and cried a little bit. My sweetie tried to coax me back on my feet, and I cried harder.
“Can’t I take my skis off and walk down?” I asked.
Eventually we took it little by little, and he guided me slowly down the mountain. I skied all the way down in snowplow position. Which is exhausting.
And I didn’t ski again. And he married me anyway.
But I learned to ski as an adult. So don’t be telling me you can’t teach an old dog new tricks!
P.S. – I’m no coward. Why just this morning I brushed my teeth with that lethal weapon called the Spinbrush.
I stopped for gas a few days ago at one of the busiest gas stations near my home.
So, yes, it was a Cumberland Farms. I don’t really know if these convenience stores exist all over the country or just in New England, but if you aren’t familiar with Cumby’s, let me just say that they usually have a multiplex of gas pumps, lots of junk food, lottery tickets, and relatively nonpoisonous coffee. Oh, and milk. That’s where the ‘Farm” in Cumberland Farms came from. My father always swore their milk was fresher than the supermarket but I have my doubts. (Of course, now that my father has passed away, he is conferred with absolute perfection, so it must be true.) I will say this for Cumberland Farms – their English Muffins are about the best in the world. Thick, hearty and inexpensive. I often pick up a couple of packages when I stop for gas.
As usual, Cumby’s was jammed. All twelve pumps busy – oh wait, except that one over there… I swerved over to that lane. No wait again, that pump had a yellow hoodie over the nozzle. Which is why no one was there. But I was now in that lane, so I figured I would just wait here for the person at the pump ahead of me to pull out. No swerving required.
So I sat and watched all the folks stand by their cars and pump gas.
And so, thanks to the little gas pump with the bag over its nose, I got to witness a kindness.
In the passenger seat in the car to my left was a young teenage girl. If I had to guess her age I would say probably around 14. She had long brown hair parted in the middle like most girls her age. She had glasses. In my imagination, I thought that she was deep into her phone while her mother pumped gas.
But then… she got out of the car. She walked over to the car directly in front of me. In that car, in the backseat was a very old man. And an old woman had just exited from behind the wheel as the girl approached.
As the old woman swiped her credit card, the young girl picked up the pump handle, unscrewed the gas cap from the car, and started filling the tank.
I did not see any conversation between the two. The old woman exchanged pleasantries with the man who was pumping on her right. The girl just sort of stared into space and pumped.
The pump did that little jumpy thing to shut off automatically when the tank was full. The girl replaced the nozzle in its holder and strolled back to her own car, and got in.
She still had not spoken with the old woman whose car she had just gassed up.
She just did it.
I tried to catch the young girl’s eye, and when I did, I smiled at her.
She smiled back and gave me a ‘thumbs up.’
Now it’s possible that the girl’s mother told her to go over and pump that lady’s gas. But I didn’t see that.
Or she knew the old woman and was expected to help her. Except they never even had the shortest conversation.
Or she was dreaming of getting her driver’s license and pumping gas let her fantasize that she’s taking care of her own car.
Or she was on her mother’s shitlist for some reason, and thought that she could score some points to redeem herself.
Or even – perhaps there was a boy at one of the other pumps she wanted to impress.
Yes – there are a number of rather selfish reasons the girl might have had to do an unselfish thing.
But here’s what I prefer to think:
The girl thought of her own grandmother when she saw that woman and she hoped that someone would be just as nice to her grandma.
Because isn’t that what all of life is?
Everyone is loved by someone, and we should treat everyone like we would want our own loved ones to be treated.
We are all each other’s loved ones.
I recently heard someone I love very much say,
“At my age, I am not afraid to say what I think. I’ve earned the right to express my opinion.”
And I agree.
At my age, I expect civility, kindness, and respect.
If your comment is needlessly hurtful or disrespectful – even in the smallest way – I don’t want to hear it.
Keep your unkind thoughts to yourself, please.
And by the way, let me also say this:
WHY ARE YOU EVEN HAVING THOSE THOUGHTS?
I read an article not long ago about happy marriages. One of the keys to a happy marriage is to ascribe GOOD INTENTIONS to your partner.
I think this is true not only of marriages but in all of life.
We all need to try harder to judge people more kindly. Not to assume the worst but to assume the best. Or, if you cannot assume the best, to assume at least – ‘not the worst.’
Be generous in your judgments.
A few examples:
1. You are meeting your husband after work for dinner at your favorite restaurant. He’s late. Again. And you build up a nice steaming pile of anger. You think: ‘He knows I’m waiting, but as usual, he is shooting the breeze with friends, and leaving me sitting here alone. He is so thoughtless.’ And Hubby finally shows up, forty minutes late. “I’m sorry,” he says. “Jerry called and he was feeling really down. He’s so lonely right now. He didn’t realize when he moved how much he would miss his friends.” So, yes. You were right. He was shooting the breeze with his friend.
2. A co-worker promised you the data you need for your report by 2 PM. But it’s now 3:30 and you’re still waiting. Your report will be late because, once again, your co-worker let you down. She’s so unreliable. You stomp over to her desk to let her know that you are going to have to work late because of her. And when you get to her cubicle, you see that she is just sitting there looking at the phone. And you are about to let go with your frustration, when she says, “My son is sick. And he’s home alone. I was talking to him on the phone earlier and the boss came in and he screamed at me for goofing off. The kid’s eleven. He’s just a little boy and home by himself, and now I want to call him again, but I’m afraid I’ll get fired.”
3. The car in front of you with the out-of-state plates is making you crazy. First slow and then fast, then slow again. Then the turn signal is on. But no, it’s off. Not horrible, not dangerous, just annoying. You think: ‘What an asshole. Get off the road if you don’t know how to drive.’ They finally pull over, and as you pass, you see a woman at the wheel with two kids in the backseat. Two kids and a pile of suitcases. And one kid is crying. And the other one is trying to show his mother a map.
Here’s what you could think instead:
1. Instead of ‘He’s shooting the breeze with a friend; how thoughtless to ignore me,’ you could think – ‘He’s probably listening to someone’s troubles again; he’s always a good friend when someone needs him.’
2. Instead of ‘She’s so unreliable, and now I will have to work late,’ you could think – after giving her just a little time, and yourself less time to get angry and more time to get the work done – ‘I wonder if she’s got a problem getting the data together… I’ll go ask her if there’s anything I can to do help.’
3. Instead of ‘What an asshole – get off the road,’ when the turns signal goes on and off, you could think – ‘I bet they are looking for their turn. It’s so hard to read the street signs when the traffic is moving so fast.’
When you give people the benefit of the doubt, you automatically assume that they are nice people trying their best. And your anger dissipates.
And it’s so nice not to be angry.
When you assign benevolent motives to people instead of assuming unpleasant motives, the world itself becomes a more benevolent place.
And that friend who ignored you in the supermarket just didn’t see you.
And the guy who cut in front of you in Starbucks simply thought you had already been waited on.
And the boss who snapped at you for questioning his decision had a fight this morning with his teenager who also was challenging his authority.
And the waitress who brought you the wrong order is exhausted from working a double shift because her kid needs his asthma medication and she has no health benefits.
And the friend who wrote on Facebook that she absolutely hated the movie you and other friends are raving about just wanted to be part of the conversation and didn’t go about it in the best way.
And your kids who didn’t come right away when you called them aren’t brats – they weren’t paying attention because they were having so much fun.
And that’s what you want.
For the world to be a nicer place?
Try seeing it that way.