When I was a freshman in high school, I had a pretty long walk to school. And I added to my long walk by meeting up with some friends who did not live near me. I had to walk several blocks in the opposite direction of the school in order to join them. I could have met them closer to the school and saved myself the time and extra steps. But I really liked these friends – and I wanted the full distance of their company.
One day on this long walk, as we were walking under some trees near St. Anthony’s Church, a bird shit on my head.
This was not a slight speck of shit. No. This was a ponderous plop of poop.
I was horrified.
So were my friends. All three girls dove into their handbags to come up with as much Kleenex as possible. And they pointed me the right directions to clean it off. They did not touch it themselves, it was too disgusting.
At fifteen, I was not yet as prolific at swearing as I am today, but this occasion called for something extra, so I said, “Holy Shit – that was truly some holy shit coming right from the church and all.”
We all laughed.
We went on to school where I immediately went to the lavatory and stuck my head under the sink, drying my hair with paper towels and knowing that I looked horrible but at least I was clean.
And then I worried.
– I worried that the girls would be laughing at me forever.
– I worried that they would tell everyone and I would be ridiculed by the whole school.
– I worried that all the boys would find out and think I was creepy (I’d seen “The Birds”) and no one would ever ask me out.
– I worried that I would get some terrible disease that is carried by birdshit, and all my hair would fall out.
– I worried that the girls would think it was a bad omen and that I was unlucky and wouldn’t want me to walk with them anymore.
– I worried that if it ever happened again, the girls would be right.
– I worried that my mortification would be so permanent, I would never be able to face my girlfriends again.
– And I worried that the stupid bird KNEW something, That is was a SIGN. That I had deserved to be pooped upon. It was my fault because I was an idiot.
Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?
But we do this every day.
We worry about every dumb mistake, every stupid fluke accident. We worry about what people will think of us. Whether our friends really like us. How anyone could like us when we are so stupid.
So what is worse – having the bird shit in your hair or having your hair look lousy because you washed the shit out?
Just fix the birdbrained, birdshit mistakes and don’t worry about it.
Because here is what happened after my birdshit incident:
– My girlfriends only laughed that one time, and maybe once or twice more. After all, a bird shit on my head.
– My friends did not tell the whole school – because although friends might laugh at you, they don’t want anyone else laughing at you.
– Boys found me shy and gawky, but not creepy. And the boys who were shy and gawky themselves dated me once in while.
– I didn’t contract any bird disease and my hair was the same catastrophe after the birdshit catastrophe that it had always been.
– The girls may have thought I was unlucky, but they still walked to school with me, and we walked AROUND that fucking tree.
– It never happened again.
– I stayed friends with those girls. They even thought I was sort of stylish and pretty, especially without birdshit on my head.
– That bird DID know something. It WAS a SIGN.
It was a sign that when shit happens to you, just clean yourself up and get on with the day.
A wise friend commiserated with me about the frustration and anger that engulfs me in dealing with some of the awfulness in the world.
I remember an old “Far Side” cartoon. I will not repost it here, because Gary Larson has asked that people not do that, and I respect him too much to go against his wishes. But in this cartoon, the dinosaurs are having a meeting, and the dinosaur keynote speaker says something like,
“The news is bad: The climate is changing, the humans are taking over the world, and we all have brains the size of a walnut.”
That’s often how I feel. The news is bad. It seems unrelentingly bad. And I have a brain the size of a walnut.
I can’t handle the bad news anymore. My walnut brain can’t cope.
But this smart and thoughtful friend gave me some loving, practical advice.
She didn’t recommend sticking my head in the sand.
“You are a citizen of this world,” she said, “and you have a duty to live in the world and understand what is happening. And deal with it. Participate.
“But you also have a duty to be kind to yourself. Your health – both mental and physical – requires you to protect yourself so that you will be strong enough to participate.
“So, yes, pay attention to the world – but not EVERY MINUTE.
Her advice is transcendent.
I was reminded – and told her this story – of the time I was a teenager and was anguished over some environmental disaster, and my father said to me that I needed to find my composure. “You can’t change anything if everything makes you cry.”
My friend suggested I give myself a break every day – more than once a day – to unplug. (I dislike that word ‘unplug’ by the way, but it is literally the correct word here.)
I need, as my father advised fifty years ago, to find my composure.
So I am seeking refuge.
It’s so hard.
I admit that I am addicted to the news in general, and to Twitter in particular.
I heard someone say that the reason why social media is so addictive is the same reason why gambling is addictive. It is the quest for instant gratification. Your phone chirps and you say, “What did I get?” As if the notification were some kind of prize.
And on top of that, there is the satisfaction of just being “in the know.” I can see every moment what has just happened. I can be the most informed person in the room. And I love that. But of course, it means that I am not noticing anyone else in the room.
It also means that – much of the time – I am the angriest person in the room. Because I am addicted to the news. And I hate the news.
And I need to stop being angry.
So I need to shut off the news.
I need to seek refuge. I’m trying.
I am seeking refuge in books and music.
In writing – my blog, my next novel.
In spending time with my family.
In seeing old friends and making new ones.
In enjoying a nice meal, a glass of wine, a cup of good coffee.
But I’m worried about how much refuge will be enough. I still feel such an urgent need to know what is happening. I just popped over to Twitter just now. I fell off the wagon that quickly.
Will a small bit of unplugging be enough? Can I do it?
Today, instead of checking my phone as soon as I got to my car after Yoga class, I did not look. I made it for forty minutes.
And I did not look at my phone during lunch.
And I read a few chapters of a book at the hairdresser.
I feel anxious and unsettled. I NEED to know.
But here is what I am hoping.
I am hoping that those few moments of refuge will eventually calm me, not agitate me.
I am hoping that it will add up.
I am hoping that refuge is cumulative.
There is an author I greatly admire.
She is a novelist and essayist, a columnist and, well, I guess although the word is out of fashion, you could also call her an orator.
She is profound and brilliant.
She is also on Twitter.
And so I am following her on Twitter.
I am a fan.
But something confounds me. I think something has changed with the terrific writer. Or perhaps, it has just taken me a while to notice. Perhaps my admiration got in the way of my perception. (which, in today’s world, is probably often true)
Her tweets are not exactly profound.
As a matter of fact, they consist mainly of the same thing:
Oh dear, how she complains. Nothing makes her happy. Everything displeases her. And there seems to be no tiny incident not worth her scorn. There is no sense of proportion. She is as upset that her hairdresser kept her waiting as she is outraged about sexual harassment. She doesn’t like the temperature in her hotel room. She’s angry at restaurants and hotels and cars and clothing. And she can be ruthless and sometimes embarrassingly petty to anyone commenting on her posts.
How disappointed I am that she is not happy.
After all, she is a successful and renowned author. Shouldn’t that make her unceasingly happy?
How dare she be unhappy??
If she is unhappy, does that mean that if I become a successful and renowned author, I may also not be unceasingly happy?
I think I would be unceasingly happy.
It confuses me.
So I go back and reread her tweets. I reread hundreds of them.
I look for happy ones.
And I find some.
Actually, I find quite a few.
So I am confused again.
Why did I think ALL her posts were so angry and unpleasant?
I suppose it is because the angry ones stand out – not because she was disappointed, but because she disappointed ME.
How dare she be human?
From now on I am going to concentrate on the tweets that express her pure joy – and there are many – because they will bring joy to me.
And the petty, sad, irritated, angry tweets?
For those, I will comment once in a while, and risk her withering wrath.
What I will say:
“Oh, I’m so sorry. That must feel so bad!”
Come to think of it, I think I will say that to everyone feeling sad.
Exactly one year ago, I wrote – albeit indirectly – about mashed potatoes (Humbled). That post was really about learning from animals to be a better human, and the mashed potatoes were an example of Excess.
But here I am again, using Mashed Potatoes in another metaphor. A metaphor for one of my favorite subjects: Being unashamed of what you like.
On Sunday, my husband and I went out to Sunday dinner. We have done this a couple of times now – had a traditional Sunday Dinner in the middle of the day, like both of our families used to do when we were kids. Not that either of us actually went out to a restaurant for Sunday Dinner – that was something rich people did – but our mothers would put on a nice roast after church, and we’d all stay in our good clothes and eat off the good dishes.
So it feels pretty sweet and nostalgic to have a nice meal on a Sunday afternoon.
This Sunday though, we were busy and it was getting a little late, so instead of a fancier restaurant, we chose one of those big Chinese buffets. Because you can start to eat within 17 seconds of entering.
I have written numerous times that you should be unashamed of what you like, whether it is romance novels or coloring books or fuzzy dice for your car or “Say Yes To The Dress.” You like what you like. That’s okay. That’s more than okay. It’s what makes you YOU. And you are just fine.
So here’s the first part of being unashamed of what you like. Why do I feel the need to explain away our choice of the Chinese buffet?
Because it is not classy enough for classy me? Classy me who likes poetry and opera but also potato chips and YouTube videos with makeup gurus? And… yes, “Say Yes To The Dress.”
A couple of years ago, I said something about the Chinese buffet (I cannot fathom the reason now) to a young man I know and love, and this 14-year-old kind of sneered at me and declared, “Well, if you like that I guess you don’t like REAL Chinese food.”
And I was taken aback. For a moment, I was a bit embarrassed. And ashamed. Fortunately, I recovered quickly by remembering that this kid was fourteen. I leaned over to him and whispered in his ear: “I guess I may NOT like real Chinese food. And I also guess that you might be a little snob.”
And it was his turn to be taken aback.
But you know, his words did get to me a little. They must have, as I rationalize why we went out this Sunday to the all-you-can-eat Chinese Buffet. Saying we went because we could get our food quickly. Not because we like it. But guess what? We LIKE it. We don’t do it often because of the calorie count, not because it is beneath us. So when we go, it is a TREAT. We don’t just like it. We LOVE it.
Gee, that feels kind of good to say.
And here’s the second part of being unashamed of what you like.
As I wandered over (okay, trotted really quickly) to the copious food laid out for our gluttony (and speaking of gluttony, they had a sign on the door stating they had a three-hour limit), I noticed a woman sitting by herself.
This is not unusual… lots of folks appear to be sitting by themselves, because one person always watches the purses and coats while the others are loading up. What was unusual is what she had on her plate: A HEAPING PILE OF MASHED POTATOES. And just mashed potatoes. Nothing else. Just the potatoes.
And for a second, the inner me was fourteen years old, and I kind of sneered. That this woman would go to a Chinese buffet and eat MASHED POTATOES. How dumb.
But fortunately, I recovered quickly.
For heaven’s sake, if she likes mashed potatoes, she likes mashed potatoes. GOOD FOR HER!
Maybe her friends wanted to go to this place, and she just wanted to be with them. GOOD FOR HER!
Maybe she is allergic to Chinese food, but she wanted to please her kids. GOOD FOR HER!
Maybe someone else took the mashed potatoes but decided not to eat them and she didn’t want good food to go to waste. GOOD FOR HER!
This Chinese Buffet makes the BEST mashed potatoes in the whole world –
And I was the one who was missing out!
The next time I go there, I am going to try the damn mashed potatoes.
Every once in a while I see an essay or blog or video that looks back to the author’s childhood – hoping somehow to make it better.
Invariably, these stories are titled something like, “What I Wish I Could Tell My Younger Self.”
I can see the appeal of it. From a decades-later perspective, when we know how everything turns out and what matters and what doesn’t, how we wish we could revisit the children that we were and ensure their happiness and spare their hurt.
If I could send a message to little Nancy, I would tell her not to care so much what others think of her. That little girl was so desperate for approval, she often became who she thought others would like her to be. And yet she already had the approval of those who mattered. Just the way she was.
I want to whisper in her ear – or perhaps shout – “You don’t have to please everyone.” That not everyone has to like you. And that’s it okay if not everyone likes you. Just listen to Mom and Dad. And to your own little heart. You are sweet and pretty and smart. And those who don’t see it are missing out on your funny unique soul.
But I can’t tell her. And if I could, and she learned how not to care about approval quite so much – well, she might have turned into a self-centered brat. Or at best, if she stopped trying to become what someone else wanted, if she stopped trying on so many personalities, maybe she would not have developed such an imagination. Little Nancy might not have become Grownup Nancy the Writer.
Instead of envisioning messages and advice to my younger self, I think it might be more useful the other way around.
Instead of Grownup Nancy sending Little Nancy her post-facto counsel, I think I would prefer if Little Nancy sent Grownup Nancy her innocent advice. Instead of trying to change the past, which I can’t do anyway, how about changing the future? Maybe go where the possibility of change actually exists?
Little Nancy might have important things to say.
Just because you aren’t the best athlete doesn’t mean you aren’t an athlete at all. Get dirty and sweaty once in a while.
The same goes for drawing and painting. Not about getting sweaty. About doing it.
Kiss your mother and your sisters and your brother.
Write that children’s book. Make funny rhymes.
Eat more vegetables, which includes potato chips.
Be a good friend. Be loyal to your old friends and generous to new ones.
Go to the beach every chance you get. Live there if you can. And most probably, you can.
You don’t have to please everyone. You are just fine the way you are.
A few days ago, while I was driving, I had an overwhelming urge for the piece of chocolate that I knew was in my purse. My mother had given me two Dove chocolates the day before, and I had eaten one immediately. But the second one was in my purse. And it was calling to me.
My bag was on the passenger seat, and as I drove, I rummaged with my right hand, trying to find the wondrous little foil square. But I couldn’t. I felt a lot of lipsticks, and a few stray falling-apart sheets of Kleenex, a nail file I had looked for previously and could have sworn was not in that bag, some loose change that felt like sticky pennies, and a ballpoint pen – that even though I could only feel it and not see it, I knew would never write, since none of the pens in my purse ever wrote. It’s like once they jump in there, they dry up in dark sorrow.
But no chocolate.
But I was not discouraged. I knew that when I came to the next red light, I could actually look in the purse, and find the chocolate.
And guess what? For the remainder of my 35-minute ride, I did not once have to stop at a light. Only green lights for more than half an hour.
And I was so annoyed. I wanted that stupid chocolate so much.
But it got me to thinking.
How lucky is it to drive that far and hit only green lights? I should have been delighted instead of annoyed. And how many lucky things have happened to me that I did not appreciate because I was distracted by being annoyed at something else.
Aggravation seems to be stronger than Appreciation.
I remember studying my ass off for an exam, only to wake up to a snow day. Sure, I was thrilled that I didn’t have to go to school, but I was really annoyed that I studied so hard, when I had a whole extra day to study a little more leisurely.
I felt exactly the same emotion when I prepared for an important business meeting like I was taking the entrance exam for heaven. I so badly wanted to make a great impression. But the executive I was trying to impress had a last-minute conflict, and the meeting was rescheduled for the following week. I had a whole extra week to be even better prepared, and that should have been wonderful. But I was disappointed beyond belief. (and did not do any extra prep in that whole week, by the way).
And there was the time, I fell down some steps and was sure I broke my leg. And the doctor in the emergency room said it was only a sprain, and I should just elevate it. He didn’t even give me crutches for God’s sake. I really wanted crutches AND a cast.
Or even when my sunscreen works TOO well, and I come up from a glorious beach day as white as when I left the house.
And I rehearsed the most excellent argument to force that horrible store to take back the item I bought and instantly regretted. And that horrible sales clerk said, “Of course, we’ll take it back. So sorry it didn’t work out for you.” And then what the hell am I supposed to do with all that hostile and perfect outrage?
And most of all, I am annoyed when someone I really dislike does something sweet. I hate having to change my opinion. Why do unpleasant people have to be so damn nice?
I am a product of the Woodstock generation.
I graduated high school in 1969 – the year of Woodstock. Not that I was even aware of Woodstock at the time. I was clueless (which was not even a word back then) of the concert/festival/free-for-all until after it had already occurred. But I wholeheartedly jumped onto the Peace Train of sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll as soon as I stopped being so ‘out of it’ – which was 1969 for ‘clueless.’
It wasn’t all sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll. The rock-n-roll was serious. The sex and drugs were more of a tentative experiment.
But, besides our incredible music, there were other serious issues for us Woodstock kids.
War, the struggle for civil rights, assassinations, a government that was lying to its people.
And we wanted things to be better.
Growing up in the sixties, we barely remembered the powerful and harrowing fight for civil rights in the fifties. We only knew that things were supposed to be better, and people were now supposed to be equal – and we were distraught and often angry as we realized it wasn’t so.
We saw our leaders and our role models assassinated, and we felt adrift and bewildered. We thirsted for new heroes and yet our sudden loss of innocence caused us to distrust those who might lead us.
Women often found themselves, at best, dismissed and belittled. At worst, powerless and excluded. From good jobs, financial security, a voice in politics, and even from physical safety itself.
And most significantly – we faced War. We watched our friends and brothers drafted into a war that no one could explain or justify. We saw Vietnamese citizens and our own soldiers die on TV. Government lied to us and we knew it. And when it was apparent to the Establishment that we knew they were lying, then WE became the enemy.
And so we rallied, we marched, we protested, we defied.
For a while.
And then we slowly surrendered. We BECAME the Establishment. Indoctrinated into the cult of status quo and the gorgeousness of money.
To be fair to us Woodstock kids, we did not abandon all of our idealism. We brought some of our principles with us.
And some things DID change for the better.
The Vietnam War was recognized as the failure and tragedy that it was, and it was brought to an end. I think our protests made a difference, but I also believe that the Pentagon Papers and even Walter Cronkite made more of an impact than we did.
Some changes were more gradual. Inevitably, as we aged and so gained the reins of power, our dormant (but not dead) beliefs gained power as well. There is no denying that there has been an improvement in opportunity and acceptance for women, for people of color, for same-sex love. But there is also no denying that it is imperfect and that there is still such a long way to go.
And that it has taken way too long.
But now – fifty years later – there is a new generation of kids who want to change the world.
They want to save the planet.
They want Government to represent all the people, not just the rich; not just the white.
They want to be happy again – and safe in their homes and in their streets and in their schools.
And I want for them to succeed. I want them to see that our mistake – all that time ago – was to accept that ‘gradual’ was good.
I want them to be impatient for justice.
Fifty years ago, I thought that kids would change the world.
I might finally be right.
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.