Blame the Sixties

I am often glad the my mother died when she did.  I remember just two months after she died, was September 11, 2001.  I couldn’t locate one of my brothers who I knew was either in New York City or Washington D.C. on a rare vacation.  Phone lines were so jammed they all went down and it was difficult to communicate with anyone the first day or so. Everyone walked around in a stunned silence.  I was glad in the months following that my mother never had to experience all of that.

I am glad she isn’t experiencing what we are now.  There are a lot of things I thought would have changed since I was growing up in the late sixties and early seventies.  I thought we would be “further along” in our progress in a lot of areas.  I suspect we could be but there are mechanisms in the way keeping us from it – money, power – those things often prevent illnesses from having cures, lives from being lived, freedoms from being enjoyed.

I know people who exhaust themselves running about on social media railing at injustices and the horrible state of our country and the world.  Mom would have shaken her head at them.  She would know how little change they are going to bring about by ranting and raving and only looking at the negative. She would only have to glance around in her own community to know what to do and how to help – quietly, locally, personally.

There are so many things that the shouty people obsessed with newsbytes fail to notice.  Things that are going on right in front of them, the things they really could make a difference at if they reached out and touched the living in their communities instead of only believing in the ones on their screens.

I am not a shouty type (I am like my mom in that way) – it takes a lot to get me to that point.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve written my rants to the newspapers way back when that was what you did.  I still have a couple of the clippings. My mom did not agree with my point of view at the time, but she accepted that I had it and was proud of me for speaking my mind.  I’ve changed a lot. I don’t speak my mind as much as I used to.

I absolutely believe, perhaps naively, that if you keep an eye on the negative, but promote positive alternatives, positive solutions, positive events, that the love and kindness inherent in the positive will grow and the negative will shrink away.  There is far too much over-sharing and over clicking on the negative in the world today.  It deepens wounds.  It infects and it corrupts and it fails to really provide a forum for the good that is out there if one is willing to look for it, stand by it, lift it up and shout about it instead.

Good can heal.  Bad can heal, but it heals in a twisted, stunted manner.  Good can heal and continue to spread and grow.  Over time my world has become very small for many reasons.  Perhaps that limiting feeling has actually been a plus for me.  I notice the world closest to me in minute detail.  I feel the sounds, taste the colors, listen to the sensations….It’s the physical world closest to us in which we can affect change. (I wanted the verb there to be “effect” change, it feels more powerful, but the grammar gods say no….)

I think overexposing yourself to the negatives eats away at your soul (or your character if you don’t think souls are a real thing).  Look at anyone who has had to live with an overly negative person.  It feeds on them.  It hurts them every second they are exposed and they grow into a life where they share the same negativity.  We learn from those closest to us.  I think obsessing over the negative is eating away at the core of people and when they share the negative it is as though they are sharing a nasty disease with their closest friends.  Why would you want to make your friends sick?

The worst thing you can do for an enemy is validate them by constantly thinking about them and worrying about them and saying their names.  Stop speaking to the negative, the evil – speak about the good, shout about the wonderful, only voice peace, love and kindness.  It’s okay, I heard you groan just there.  I heard how kum-ba-yah it sounded myself.  (Blame the Sixties – I read a lot of Flower Power propaganda and listened to a lot of pop music.)  But it is true.  You attract what you put out there.  The more negative you put out there, even if you are only sharing “news” with others, is going to come back at you.  Don’t you deserve better?  You do, you deserve better.

Sure, when I do this, when I walk around trying to get people to smile, I get knocked down once in a while, like last week when I tried to connect with the clerk at the ticket counter at the movies.  I walked away and could not participate in her hate, her anger, her negative speech.  It hurt my feelings quite a bit that I extended a smile and words of kindness and they were essentially spat upon and ripped to shreds in seconds right before my eyes.  But it is her loss.  I won’t accept her negativity.  It’s catchy and best for me if I am not near it. I will move on to the next person and try again.  One person at a time.  We can make a difference one person at a time, because of the ripple effect.

What if people tried, just for one day, to ignore all the bad news and be with those closest to them connecting over the laundry or walk in the park?

What if people tried, just for one day, to experience their community instead of their politics?

What if people tried, just for one day, to share  their spirituality instead of their religion?

What if people tried, just for one day, to connect their souls and not notice skin color?

Everyone has an identity  and that includes their politics, their religion and their race.  Those things are important.  But as we move about the planet, couldn’t our identity be less about the labels and more about what’s on the inside and our mutual hopes for a brighter day?  We really only have today.  Not one of us is guaranteed tomorrow.

 

Excerpt from “Every Kinda People” written by Andy Fraser, sung by Robert Palmer  (I really miss him).

“It takes every kinda people
To make what life’s about, yeah
It takes every kinda people
To make the world go ’round

You know that love’s the only goal
That could bring a peace to any soul
Hey and every man’s the same
He wants the sunshine in his name

It takes every kinda people
To make what life’s about, yeah
It takes every kinda people
To make the world go ’round”     (from https://goo.gl/eACQHY )

 

Maybe listen to it here:

Dinner is Over

This is a piece about several endings.

Whenever I went out for lunch or dinner with a lady named Bonnie*, I always knew when the meal was over.  Her purse would snap open and she would draw out her lipstick like a magic wand or a light-saber bent on conquering the world. She would apply it with an air of self-confidence I always envied to a mouth out of which words came that I did not always envy.  Bonnie could make me laugh until I wet myself or cut me ‘til I bled all over my soul without a second thought.  And she never seemed to realize that she was funny or that she was sometimes hurtful.  She was just being herself. She was being honest.

She had a bird, a cockatiel that had his own room in her house.  I found all birds amazing and I thought he was stunning.  Even when he was dive bombing my head or biting my toes, I thought he was beautiful.  And she loved that I was the only person who cared about him.  She called me on the phone weeping the night he died.  I drove over in the darkness on a freezing cold November night.  I took with me a special decorative box I had emptied some special keepsakes from. I knew we would need an appropriate coffin.  Under the light of a full moon, I helped dig a grave in frozen ground in her back garden.  I stood with her while she said a few words about him.  Then in true Lucy and Ethel fashion we wrangled a large boulder to cover the grave so that wild animals would not dig it up.

Years later when her husband died, the love of her life, she announced it to me by text.  I would have to say that is one of the biggest pieces of news I’ve ever received by text.  I had to read it several times before I believed it.  I know from personal experience that sort of news can be difficult to say out loud. For her it was also a challenge to face the questions and the condolences.  She was angry with him for dying.  I went immediately.  I was “family” in her eyes and so in my mind I had an obligation to go to her.  This time I didn’t need to bring a box or shovel, thank goodness.

For the four months after his death, I was there for her two to three times a week, baking her sweets because she wasn’t eating, taking her out to lunch, going to the movies or watching television with her – pretty much doing anything that might help her not be alone with her grief.   These bad things had happened to her at a time when my life was turning around.  I was figuring things out about myself. I was changing.  My changes didn’t always fit well with her grief.  I was no longer willing to accept things she said to me that were hurtful.  Her negativity had deepened and my positivity was growing.  It was an unstable combination.

Over the years I had just taken a lot of her verbal hits shrugging them off, telling myself “Oh that’s Bonnie, she doesn’t really know how she sounds.” Or “She doesn’t mean it the way it sounds.”

“Your bag looks like a piece of shit,” she once told me sneering at my much loved hobo bag from a consignment shop. She gave me a used but designer purse as a birthday present.  It looked ugly to me and too dated even for someone my grandmother’s age. The only thing about it I found useful was it had an old Xanax rolling around in the bottom.  I accepted it as graciously as I could and buried it in my closet.

“You’ll never know what real love is. You don’t have children,” She said to me once in the car.  That one was hard to keep my bare lips silently pursed for, but I did.   “After all Bonnie doesn’t know how she sounds.”  Thank goodness we were at a red light when she said it.

Over the years she criticized my clothes, my makeup, my hair, my car and pretty much anything else that came up. As I began to change I realized, as I had with my father, that I did not want this negativity in my life.  But I was her friend and she was my friend.  You don’t throw away friendship, right?  She’d suffered a great loss, the love of her life.  I needed to be there for her.  I wanted to be there for her.

Five months after the funeral, she decided that she would go on a trip to help her feel better and that she would let me watch her dogs.  I did not want to be there for that.  But she hadn’t asked me to watch the dogs, two extremely overweight elderly retrievers that were both in ill health, she ordered me to watch the dogs in front of other people and somehow made it sound as though she was doing me a favor.  I suggested that I could cancel my client meetings for the planned week, cancel those billable hours at a time when I needed the money.  I pointed out quietly that I would have to drive home each day (an hour each way) to take care of my own pets.  I could manage this for seven days, I said to myself, because she needed me.  I had talked myself into it.

In the weeks before her trip, she called regularly talking about the plans as they became closer and more concrete.  At some point it came to my attention that the week long trip had stretched into nearly two weeks.  I held up a virtual hand for attention and pointed out that it was not a week long trip anymore.

“Well, I wasn’t counting travel time,” she said in response.    I was, I thought.

One day she called with what she thought was great news!  She’d found someone to watch the dogs on the weekends so that I could go home and do my own thing those days.  I made the mistake of opening my mouth to point out that I didn’t work on weekends and I generally stayed in, so it was the better time for me to be at her home.

“It would really help me out if they could do Tuesday and Wednesday?” I said. Look at that I was speaking up for myself. I was asking for something for me.

“Of course they can’t do that,” she shrilled at me over the phone line, “they have real jobs.”  Oh right. And I didn’t in her eyes. I froze. My head felt bigger than it was and it was completely empty. I couldn’t seem to open my mouth.  I hung up.

I failed to say good bye or I had to go or you inconsiderate cow….I just hung up.

The next day I got an email.  There was no subject, but she never wasted time with subjects.  The email itself was short and sweet.

“I can’t take anymore of your petty bullshit,”  it read, “I’ve found someone else to watch the dogs.”

That was that.  I should have been elated and somewhere in my mind I was, but I was stuck on that one phrase, like a splinter the size of a redwood tree had just been rammed underneath a fingernail and absolutely nothing else could take attention from it and the throbbing it was causing. “your petty bullshit.”

I did what any other completely insanely pained person would do, I picked up the phone to have this conversation full of emotion in person.  She didn’t answer, of course.  Damn her, taking all the power again. I was left with the voice mail and I managed to get out a rather lengthy message.  I believe I covered the high points of all the petty bullshit I’d experienced for nearly eight years.  I don’t even recall what I’d said fully. I was shaken and angry and finally speaking up for myself.  It was like moving muscle you hadn’t used in such a long time.  It ached and moved awkwardly but felt good to stretch it out.  I had to take responsibility for allowing her to treat me the way she had all those years. It was my own fault.  But she was going to hear what petty bullshit really was.  It was quite a bit of stretching.

When I hung up and I knew that a weight had been lifted and I was free from a friendship that never really was one. I’d never felt anything quite like it. It was an amazing feeling.  It was at that point that if I wore lipstick, I would have opened my purse and pulled it out and applied it with confidence knowing that this dinner was over.   It was a dinner I would never have to eat again.

 

*name changed for privacy