In Celebration of Boobs

Stefanie

Photo belongs to Stefanie LaRue

This afternoon, I was listening to an NPR show about National Breast Cancer Awareness and the meaning of the pink ribbon, and thinking of my friend who died of breast cancer. How all the awareness and early detection in the world couldn’t save her.

Then in the shower tonight, as I examined my own pair, I started thinking about how such an insidious enemy can come in such a pretty package. How something so warm and curvy can foster so much fear.

A few years after my friend died, I developed an abscess in one of my breasts. It grew to the size of a ping pong ball. It made me so sick I could barely walk. I went to my gynecologist and he said, “Oh, honey!” and patted my back while I cried. Actually, that’s what happened to someone else, and it sounds really comforting, but it’s not what happened to me. *My* then-gynecologist said, “Wow! How did that get so big?” and casually suggested it might be cancer. And then looked extremely uncomfortable when I burst into tears.

The ordeal was horrible all in all, but it turns out I’m one of those for whom it wasn’t cancer, one of the luckies who will probably get to watch my kids grow up. Mine was just an ordinary–if rather large–breast-feeding-related infection that had abscessed. Nevertheless, that scare changed my relationship with my boobs. I started to see them as the enemy, a potential source of pain and fear. I became obsessive about breast exams.

So tonight I was remembering all that, and then also thinking about all the other ways women learn to fear or hate their boobs. They’re too small, too big, not perky enough. Uneven, saggy, bumpy, hairy, too dark too light not enough cleavage. As we age and give birth and nurse children, they develop stretch marks and then they sag. They grow dark hairs around the areolas and sometimes they get varicose veins. One of mine has a flaccid white scar on one side, a physical memory of the abscess.

Tonight I stood in the shower and looked at them, cradling them in my hands under the warm stream of water, and I thought about how much breasts have become a symbol of dirtiness–dirty sexuality, dirty old men, “slutty” women, hookers… And how that feeds our fear and fascination and hate and discomfort with them. We’re afraid to see someone breastfeeding because a piece of skin or nipple might show through. We’re fascinated by a “wardrobe malfunction” that splashes the news of a boob sighting across the front pages of every public medium. We wear bras that emphasize them, make them bigger, make them cleavage-ier, make them smoother, make them perkier. Mask the reality of what they actually are.

I’ve done most of these things at least once in my life. I wear a push-up bra that disguises the fact that these boobs have nourished three young children. I pluck the dark hairs when they appear. I gaze at them in the mirror looking for imperfections, and tuck them into shapes to look a certain way under my clothes. I’ve bemoaned the fact that they are no longer the double-Ds that being full of milk made them, nor the perky don’t-need-a-bra shape they were before they were ever filled with milk. I’ll probably continue to do all those things from time to time.

But tonight, I’m going to take a few moments to lavish my boobs with the love that they deserve, for exactly what they are: soft, warm, round, and slightly saggy. Because Really. Boobs: They rock.

Here are some things I love about my boobs. They have funny mis-matched nipples (one is round and one is oblong) and, under the left boob, is a dark “birth mark” that turns out is actually a third nipple that never fully developed (for which I’m grateful…). They are soft and round and look nice, especially when clothed. With a little lift from a good bra, they detract from any extra bulge in my hips, providing an eye-pleasing curve to my body.

Kate Hansen's stuff also totally rocks

Art credit: Kate Hansen

But most especially, these are the boobs that all three of my children nursed from. For several years (not all in a row, though very nearly so), they magically produced an amazing liquid that nourished each child in turn, providing the absolutely perfect blend of nutrients, liquid, and antibodies to help each child flourish and thrive at each stage of his growth. They provided each child and me with countless peaceful, quiet moments in which words were unnecessary and affection all-encompassing. Many times they have hushed a screaming toddler or quieted an unhappy infant, for which fellow plane passengers have almost certainly been grateful. They have fed each of my children through illnesses in which no other fluid or food would stay down.

And those are just some of the obvious ways in which my boobs rock. I love them, really. Thank you, boobs.

Maybe your boobs are different. Maybe they’ve never done any of those cool things. Maybe yours or those of someone you love have been besieged by breast cancer and if so, I’m sorry. That sucks.

But if breasts are particularly susceptible to cancer, maybe it’s just because they’re so amazingly awesome it wouldn’t be fair to the other body parts if they didn’t also have a major weakness. I don’t actually think the world works that way, but still.

In any event, I’d be willing to bet that if you have a pair, yours also are totally awesome. Round, warm, saggy, white, dark, hairy, big, small, uneven. They are part of what makes you beautiful. One of the rockingest parts. Love them.

Colonel Mann (A Slightly-Late Sunday Celebration)

I’ve known him all my life. Always he’s been there, around the edges and sometimes right in the middle of memory. Sometimes swinging an axe, other times sitting behind a cheap desk smiling at me with those perfectly even white teeth. Those preternaturally blue eyes. Later I think of him drinking an amber beer. The same kind I drink.

I know he was there before, but my earliest memory of him begins when I was four. I’ve seen pictures–my soft brown curls, blue-green eyes. In this memory, I suspect they are sparkling with anticipation, because I know a delicious secret. Beside me, my mom in a long black dress. In front of us, a long wooden casket. My dad’s coffin.

The visitors file in, groups of two or three at a time. They say a few words to my mom, compliment her on her outfit. Ask about my dad. Then meander to the refreshments and stand in groups, talking. They are talking about their day, about tonight, about my dad. But mostly just talking.

I know he is here. Waiting. I smile.

Then someone sits on the coffin. And I start to laugh. Because here he comes.

The lady on the coffin jumps and looks behind her, her eyes wide. She has heard something. Felt something. My laughter increases as she backs away from the coffin and clutches her husband’s hand, her knuckles white, her mouth open halfway between a scream and a hysterical laugh. The coffin is opening. A pale hand reaches out and clutches the edge and a moment later, there he is, sitting up and glaring at the visitors with a baleful eye. Dracula.

My dad.

He wasn’t always this way. Scaring people. Although I do think it was a large part of his job description. He certainly scared me often enough. But he could also be jovial, smiling and laughing. That was, after all, the whole point of the Dracula escapade–to make people laugh. When they got done screaming.

We had spent weeks preparing for that Halloween party, the ghost that swooped down on the visitors, the bowls full of “brains” and the apparitions that haunted the passage to the party room. Most of those memories center around my mom, the witch in the long black dress and the pointy hat, the one with the cackling laugh and the frighteningly creative ideas. Dad only arrives at that pivotal moment, that dramatic “Gotcha!” instant.

I think that’s probably how it often is with dads. They’re gone 40 hours a week or more (always more in my dad’s case), working to support their families. To a child with a stay-at-home mother, this looks like the mom is the center of the universe, and the dad just shows up for the big important stuff, swooping in from the periphery to provide special effects. As a result, he gets to be the Knight in Shining Armor, and also the Enforcer.

Dad was good at the Enforcer role. He was strict, stern, and no-nonsense. We wore shirts and shoes to the dinner table, ate everything on our plates, and never talked back to Mom (ahem, within his earshot). If we complained about something on the dinner table, we got more of it. If he arrived at a party to take us home, all he had to do was hook his finger at us and we were up and out of there.

One time, he beat a 400-pound crazed male llama to death with a baseball bat and then slaughtered it with a butcher knife and put it up in our freezer for Mom to turn into chili and hamburgers.

He was a colonel in the U.S. Air Force and it wasn’t just his subordinates who called him “sir.”

So who was the guy standing out by our old Peugot with a rifle in his hands, crying and shook up so bad he couldn’t shoot a dog? That was my dad too. I was eight, and our big dog, Diana the Huntress, had been hit by a car for the second time in several weeks. The first time, we had the vet stitch her up. The second time, the damage was too extensive. I was in the kitchen pacing the tiles in a square and thinking. Thinking about my big, tough dad out there crying. Waiting for the sound of the shot that would signal it was over.

The shot never came. After a very long time, Dad’s footsteps sounded in the doorway and he came into the kitchen and looked past Mom and shook his head. It’s too late, he said. She’s already gone.

This is the same man who drove two hours to a specialized vet to save a baby llama when I was a teenager. And the one who wrote an essay about my cat when she died. The cat he pretended to hate while she was living. Also the same man who graduated at the top of flight school and could have chosen to fly anything he wanted for the Air Force. Who chose to fly boring cargo planes instead of fun, glamorous fighter jets, not because he was afraid–not my dad!–but because my mom was pregnant with her first child and he didn’t want to leave his son an orphan.

Nevertheless, for most of my childhood I stood in extreme awe of my dad. And also in love with him, in that young-girl way where I hoped viciously that my future husband would be as handsome and charming and intelligent as my Daddy. If there is one thing he didn’t do very well, however, it was letting me know that he was proud of me. OH how I wanted him to be proud of me.

I remember after a mock trial competition in which I had shined in glory and absolutely trounced our rivals, that one of the other dads came up to me with an enormous grin and kissed me loudly and enthusiastically on the forehead. For weeks, I thought about how much I wished it had been MY dad who had given me that victory kiss.

So perhaps that’s why this particular memory sticks in my mind so heavily. I had gone on a youth trip at the age of 18 to Honduras, where we had been doing mission work. The leader of the group was a young preacher who, in my young estimation, was a complete and bumbling idiot. Mom and Dad had also clashed with him over a wide variety of church issues, and during the course of the trip I found many occasions to take issue with him.

Upon our return, I stood beside Dad’s car and listened to the preacher telling him that I obviously had “no respect for authority.” Dad never flinched. He stood there and nodded once. He looked away briefly, and then returned his gaze to the preacher’s. “Well,” he said in a perfectly level tone, “You’ll find that my daughter’s a lot like me. She knows quite well how to show healthy respect for authority when the authority is deserved.”

I have never forgotten that moment, in all my life.

For all his sternness, when it came down to it, he was also my Knight in Shining Armor. And he was right, of course, on all counts. I am a lot like him. I do know how to show respect for authority. I know how to show respect ANYWHERE it’s due. And I’m pretty discerning about where that is.

He taught me how important it is especially to respect those closest to us. I remember at the age of five that Mom and Dad had an argument ending with Dad holding a newspaper up in front of his face and proceeded to not speak for several minutes. And I remember thinking the End had Come because THAT was the largest show of animosity I ever saw between my parents. And it only ever happened once.

Dad didn’t read Playboy (Mom knows this because she used to surprise him in the barber shop where the guys all gathered to have their hair cut and to read girly mags, and he’d always be sitting in the barber chair reading Field and Stream), and he didn’t talk down to her. They made decisions as a team, and Dad enthusiastically supported all my mom’s craziness–like raising llamas, running country stores, and throwing wild Halloween parties. I deeply suspect he found them all as amusing as she did, but they always seemed to me like her projects, and he the cheerful supporting partner.

When Dad retired from the Air Force, he and Mom moved to 35 acres in Colorado, where they still live. He took a second Master’s in counseling (his first was in International Relations) and then a doctorate in psychology. He works with sex offenders, providing them that tough mix of compassion, intelligence, no-nonsense and toughness I grew up with, and that they so desperately need. Mom took a Master’s in counseling and they practice together part-time, driving down to Colorado Springs regularly from the enormous house they built by hand on their property. Mom learned to shoot, and they have target practice on their frozen pond in the winter. He taught me to shoot down there on the pond too.

Dad is still kind of scary. I don’t think he plays Dracula at Halloween any more, but I’m sure he still could. His eyes are steel-blue now instead of piercing blue, and they don’t have that same extraordinary sharpness that once earned him the nickname of “Eagle Eye.” But he still sees more than most people, and I don’t just mean with his eyes. Also, I know now just how proud of me he is. And those two things–how much he sees, and how much he sees IN ME. Well, those two things make me awfully glad he’s my Dad.

Dad and me ... and Monty and Eli and Everett ... on Everett Ridge, Christmas 2009

Happy Birthday, Dad. And of course: Happy Halloween. I love you.

Why I Believe God Has No Plan for You

If you’ve been reading for a while, you may have noticed that I talk about Jesus from time to time, and a lot about God. I am a great admirer of both.

But I don’t believe a lot of the things people around me seem to believe about God. For instance, when someone stands up and testifies as to how God saved their child’s life because everyone prayed so hard, I want to say (but never actually do): Hogwash!

If God steps in and saves people because other people are praying for them, then where the heck was God when everyone was praying for my friend J who died of breast cancer even though her five-year-old and three-year-old daughters needed her so badly? Were we just not praying hard enough? What about when the choir director at a local church and her daughter were blind-sided by a drug-high driver? When the father arrived at the scene, the mother was already dead. He couldn’t go with his daughter in the medical helicopter because he was throwing up so much from horror and fear. The daughter died too, on the helicopter, and he never saw her again. Did God not love them enough? Didn’t care? Were there not enough righteous people praying for these well-loved church leaders daily?

I don’t believe it.

I also don’t believe God has a plan for our lives. I don’t believe he has it all mapped out and moves things around like pawns on a board to make it all come out beautifully. When a young lady gets pregnant and becomes a single mom, and the baby is born with Down’s, I don’t believe it’s because she’s so special in God’s eyes that he’s given her a bigger task than most people have (or that he’s punishing her for having sex, for goodness sake). When a friend is diagnosed with Lyme Disease and her daughter is autistic and her husband loses his job and they end up having to file for bankruptcy because they can’t hold it all together any more, I don’t believe that’s part of some noble plan. That they are only being tried because they’re so amazing and can handle it.

In short, I don’t believe in a God who messes around in our affairs and takes people and things away from us and gives us other things and orchestrates it all to come out just so. And I don’t believe the adage that God won’t ever give us more than we can handle, because I don’t believe God is constantly giving us things at all.

Here is what I do believe: I believe in a God who gave everyone free will and now lets us muck around as much as we want.

And then. THEN. When we are all screwed up and messed up by our own and other peoples’s choices and all the other bad stuff that happens to us, and we finally (finally!) say, “please help me!” he (she–yeah I don’t believe God is a boy either) does, but not by changing the STUFF that is happening or making everything okay or fixing anything. He does it by transforming IN OUR HEARTS everything that happens, and making it beautiful. Making us beautiful.

I learned many lessons when J was dying of breast cancer. If I could go back and change only one thing about that time, it would be this: Her older daughter, L, wanted to play a pretend game in which her mother died. Over and over. I kept trying to make everything come out okay in the end of the game, I wanted her to believe that her mother was going to be okay, that she wasn’t going to die. It is what I believed at the time.

If I could change it, I would do this. I would help her pretend her mother was dead. I would let her explore it, in her mind and through our acting. I would let the death be as gruesome, traumatic, sad, scary, and desperately grievously awful as L wanted to pretend. I would play it with her over and over. I would cry with her and have pretend funerals as many times as she wanted to. I would hold her hand through the stages of that practice grief over and over again.

Because I believe the things we fear most, we fear only because we haven’t faced them yet. Ralph Waldo Emerson: Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.

And so, in fact, I do believe that God never gives us more than we can handle. Because I don’t believe there IS such a thing as more than we can handle. It turns out that J’s daughters are fine. They moved with their father to Colorado and have a beautiful, wonderful stepmother who loves them as her own. They will carry their mother in their hearts all their lives, and if they let God transform her death in their hearts, it will polish them into the amazing and unique people that only they can be.

The choir director’s husband? I don’t know. Last I heard he was sunk in a deep, deep depression, suicidal even. Maybe sometimes things ARE more than we can handle. It turns out, I don’t really know. Because another thing I believe: It is not my calling to judge other peoples’s journey. Only he knows whether it is more than he can handle. Only he knows whether he will be transformed and beautified by what has happened to him. But I do believe it, I believe that if he asks for it and waits for it, it will be transformed in his heart. When he’s ready.

And so I close with this blessing:

May you and yours always have the courage to face what you fear so that the fear may die. And may everything that happens to you be transformed in your heart into beauty.

P.S. The core of this post began with a comment I posted to one of Glennon’s beautiful posts at Momastery.

Where I’m At When I’m not Here

Switch-Tasking.

That is the short answer to where I’m at when I’m not here. In his recent article “Want to Succeed? Stop Trying so Hard,” Peter Bregman points out that even tasks we enjoy have a limit to them before we wear out and need to switch. He calls it task fatigue. He says the best way to be productive is to let go of tasks when we start to fatigue on them, and do something else. Then to switch back when we’re ready.

Sometimes I beat myself up about task fatigue. I look at my blog and realize I haven’t posted in two weeks and I think it’s because I’m no good at follow-through. Then I get stressed about it and think I absolutely must do something soon. The idea of it grows in my mind, and looms over me, a big accusatory pointing finger: Why Aren’t You Updating Your Blog? Why Aren’t You Commenting On Other Blogs?

And the more it grows, the harder it becomes to pick it back up again and do it. The task begins to seem overwhelming, a difficult and time-consuming job that Must Be Done.

It used to be that weeks would turn into months. Eventually I’d give up, throw up my hands, and start fresh with something different. Excited about the fresh start and also worried that I was just going to do the whole thing over again, the whole sordid cycle. So of course I did. Again and again.

I’ve been learning to let go and not expect so dang much from myself all the time. The amazing thing about that is, when I demand less, I tend to give more. Win win.

So that’s where I’m at when I’m not here. It’s also where I’m at when I’m not commenting on your blogs or posting on the forums we enjoy together or updating Facebook. I’ll be back. I’m not making any promises about WHEN because I refuse to point a big accusatory finger at myself any more. But I WILL be back. I love you, your blogs, your comments, and myself–too much to give up.

I am Exactly the Person that I Want to Be

In my Sunday Celebrations I’m practicing loving people–easy, weird, and hard people, every person, everyone. I think it’s valuable work. However, one Wise Person recently pointed out to me that it’s all good and well to love everyone, but you can’t do a very good job of it really if you don’t first love yourself.

Well, heck, yeah.

Jesus (who is right about a lot of stuff) says, love your neighbor as yourself. Not better than. Not instead of. AS. Two thousand years of research into human nature has backed him up on the validity of that approach. Trouble is, it’s often hardest to love the people closest to us, and who is closer to me than me?

I’ve been working on it, though. For a long time, actually. And it’s been awfully hard work. I’ll tell you why. I throw temper tantrums. I’m undisciplined. I’m scatter-brained and moody and unpredictable and not always very nice to people–especially the people closest to me. I’ve done a few awful things I won’t even put here because they’re so awful. Also, I let people walk on me and then I get all pissy about it. And blame all the wrong people, like my kids, who don’t even know what the heck I’m so furious about. Often I ignore my kids until they are stir crazy and starving and then I get mad because they interrupt me while I’m blogging to tell me they’re hungry.

Also, I waste time on games and playing with baby chickens when clients are waiting on work from me. I go overboard and take in too many animals and then don’t have time to take care of them properly. I don’t recycle and sometimes I pull loose hair out of my head and throw it out my car window instead of putting it in the compost.

You can see how I might be a difficult person to love.

But, like I said, I’ve been working on it. A couple years ago I started doing therapy work with a wonderful woman named Joyce, and she has helped me so much I can hardly express it. She helped me find the beautiful child inside of myself. In fact, very early on, she had me write a letter to the little girl I was when my early trauma occurred. Actually, I had an exchange with her, that little girl that was me–she wrote me back. And I answered her. This was very weird. And also wonderful.

Here are some of the things I wrote:

“You are better than what is happening to you and you will come through. You will be strong… and you will transform what is happening to you into something beautiful some day.”

“Right now, you are probably wondering whether I could possibly know your deepest secrets. You think that if I did, I couldn’t possibly think such loving things about you. So I’ll just tell you: I know. And I am telling you that you are strong, and good, and pure.”

“Don’t worry. Be a kid. Enjoy yourself. Everything’s going to be okay. I love you.”

I’m going to be quite frank here. I am crying right now. Tears of relief and joy. Reading these words to myself … it’s powerful therapy, right there.

That’s not the only thing Joyce helped me do. But it was the start of unveiling that beautiful child, setting her free and letting her be the proud and brave and wonderful person she is. And helping me see that the proud and brave and wonderful person is ME.

Now I’m also getting to know not only that beautiful child at the core of my being, but also all the other bits of myself that have been protecting her over the years. My coach, Cathy (yeah, I have a therapist AND a life coach. That’s how messed up I am. Or enlightened. Whichever way you want to look at it. Also lucky–definitely that), has encouraged me to explore all these facets of myself with gratitude and curiosity, to get to know them. And maybe write letters to each of them too.

So I wrote a letter to my “submissive part” (I’m calling her Meek Girl now–I think they all need names), here, and it moved me out of paralysis. And now I’m gonna have a little talk with Tantrum Girl, because I want her to help me add more structure to our life. She’s the one who throws a fit when she thinks someone is trying to control me. Like when I “have” to go to bed  because I have responsibilities in the morning, or I “have” to work because I have deadlines, or I “have” to stop writing in my blog because the kids are hungry, she’s the one who throws herself on the floor screaming, “I don’t HAVE TO DO ANYTHING!!! YOU CAN’T MAKE ME!!! LA LA LA LA LA!!! I CAN’T HEAR YOU!!!!!!!” So here we go.

Dear Tantrum Girl,

Maybe you don’t care to be called “Tantrum Girl.” It’s not a very nice name. But I’m having issues with you right now and I am not sure what else to call you. But I’m going to try. Because I have faith that you really have my best interests at heart and maybe if we talk long enough, we’ll be able to figure out a way to get along.

I’m guessing your job has always been to prevent me from getting trampled on too badly. You noticed at some point that parts of me were letting other people do really bad stuff to me. So maybe you learned to step in when it got especially bad and make it stop before it got worse. Like when I was dating the abusive bigot in college and I just kept saying “okay” to everything, eventually you stepped in and had a temper tantrum and gave me the strength to walk away. And when I was studying Greek classics in graduate school and plugging away at it because everyone expected me to do great things and I didn’t want to let anyone down, you stepped in and said, “They can’t make me do this crap. I’m not even going to try very hard. La la la la la!” and eventually I had to admit you were right and give it up and try something different. Same goes for being a school teacher and being a waitress.

La la la la la

Your job has been a big one. You must have felt sometimes like you were on the opposing team and all the rest of me was trying our hardest to make you miserable. That’s a really weird sentence but I’m not sure how to fix it. The point is, sometimes I’ve hated you, thought of you as the bad part of me, wondered how you could even BE a part of me. That must have been so hard for you. But you stuck it out. You’ve always been there saying “I don’t have to, I’m not gonna, ha ha ha ha ha!” And you’ve been so faithful about it. Because you didn’t want to see me taken advantage of. You have always wanted me to be free.

And now I am. You see? You helped get me here in one piece. Thank you. We’re here and we don’t need the tantrums any more. But that’s okay, because you’re not really Tantrum Girl. You’re Freedom Girl. And the next time you start to holler, I’m going to say, “You’re right. We don’t have to. Are we gonna?” And we’re going to figure out together whether we are. We’re going to decide together whether we’re doing it for US, and for freedom. And if we’re not doing it for freedom, we’re not going to do it at all.

But a lot of the time, we’re going to look at things and realize that just because it’s structure, doesn’t mean it’s control. That when I decide to go to bed at 10, it’s not because I “have” to or someone is “making” me. It’s because that is genuinely better for my health and sanity, and I enjoy being both healthy and sane. Also that when I have scheduled two hours to work on a client project, it’s not because I “have” to, but because I like taking care of clients and I enjoy not racing around at the last second to finish projects, and because I enjoy being able to make money on my own terms and have all the flexibility and autonomy that the lifestyle affords. We’re going to learn together that structure not only isn’t the same as control, but that it can actually enhance and support our freedom.

And when an element of structure supports our freedom, we’re going to say “yes” to it. Not because we have to, but because we want to.

Thank you, Freedom Girl. You rock. And I love you.

I do believe this is your song:

Yes, Heather. Yes, me. Yes, I love you. Yes. Weird and funny and beautiful and dawdly and sometimes-embarrassingly open. I am exactly the person that I want to be. I love me.

(If you read this and decide to write a letter to yourself or a part of yourself or your childhood self… will you drop me a line and tell me about it? Here or by email or whatever–I would love to know.)

The Complainy Guy at the Yard Sale

The doomed lemonade stand. The children were not nearly so cheerful about this as the picture might indicate.

I have exactly 1 hour and 18 minutes in which to write this Sunday Celebration before it is officially no longer Sunday. I apologize if it comes off a little less polished than usual.

In the interest of getting this done quickly, I decided to celebrate the first person who popped into my head. Oddly, that person happens to be a deeply wrinkled, grey-headed gentleman who drove up in a pick-up truck yesterday and complained about how few yard sales there were in the neighborhood.

But let me begin at the beginning.

The reason I am so late getting started on this entry is that I’m freakin exhausted. One of our neighbors kindly arranged for a community yard sale to occur yesterday. She placed the ad, put up the signs, and contacted all the neighbors, so we figured it was the least we could do to gather up a bit of the junk we have lying around and haul it out to the curb with price tags. Except, it was actually more than we really should have been doing because we’re way way overwhelmed with all the stuff we need to do already.

So of course we procrastinated and ended up Saturday morning stumbling out of bed at 5 am to label and sort and argue and groan and finally get everything set up by about half an hour after we were supposed to be ready. And then it was another half hour before it occurred to us that the reason NO ONE had come by to look at our junk was that we hadn’t put a sign by our entrance to the neighborhood (there are two entrances), so we hastily took care of that. And about nine o’clock the kids all got up and wanted to set up a lemonade stand. In 50-degree weather. It performed as one might expect.

I won’t bore you with the details, but it was exhausting. Everything about it was exhausting and for our trouble we netted less than a hundred dollars. We did score a few neat things at the neighbors’s yard sales. Did I mention that it was also cold? But I digress.

Eventually we gave up and decided it was time to pack it in so we could go back to bed. We loaded all the leftover stuff in my Honda Fit and Carey backed up the driveway to take it all to Goodwill. And right when he got to the top of the driveway, a pickup truck pulled up (facing the wrong direction on the road), and stopped, blocking him in. The pickup sat. Carey sat. The pickup pulled slightly forward, but not enough to let Carey out. Carey sat some more. I considered walking up and asking the truck to move. Then it backed up. Just enough to come to where I was, but not enough to let Carey out. The driver rolled down a window. Finally noticed Carey and backed up a smidge more. Carey left.

Driver proceeded to tell me that we were the only yard sale in the neighborhood, even though it had been advertised as a community yard sale. It wasn’t true. There had been several other families involved, but most of them had already packed up. I told him I was sorry. He said there was a big ad in the paper about what an enormous community yard sale we were having. So, he said, he got up and came out and this was all it was. I told him I was sorry again. I said I always get frustrated when I go out for a yard sale and it turns out to be almost nothing. He said darn right and what was the deal anyway with there being only one yard sale when it was advertised as a community yard sale. I said I didn’t know, that I hadn’t organized it nor did I have any control over whether anyone else brought their stuff out for the sale. He said it was awfully aggravating to drive all the way out here and waste his time on a single yard sale when it was a community yard sale that was advertised. And so on.

If you read all that, thank you. You have more patience than I do.

But now it’s my job to stop complaining and love the guy. Aggravating as he was to me.

First, empathy. I used to yard sale all the time, before baby #3 arrived. Every Saturday morning. I’d go through the ads the night before, pick out a few likely ones, and plan a route. I’d get up and hit the early sales first. And community yard sales were always the gold mines. Sometimes, though, people would advertise, “GIANT COMMUNITY YARD SALE” and you’d drive halfway across town to find two families with a bunch of shintzy stuff lined up in a single driveway. Irritating.

So here’s this guy, he’s done his planning, driven halfway across town, and discovered exactly two yard sales. Maybe he didn’t even find the other one that was still open because it was down a side road. And gasoline is darned expensive. He sees us sitting out there and he thinks, “These guys lied in their ad so they could get more traffic. I’m going to tell them about it!” Because he’s angry.

And you know what makes a person feel anger? Chemicals. I’m not saying the chemicals are the trigger–all kinds of things can trigger anger–but it’s the chemicals that cause the *feeling* of anger. That boiling, roiling, can’t-control-myself, gotta-say-my-piece anger. And chemicals take a while to wear off, even when the logical cause of them wears off. So this guy is driving around, getting angrier and angrier, and he pulls up to our driveway and he’s so angry he can’t even see that we’re trying to back out of the driveway. He can’t see that we’re freakin exhausted and haven’t even had a chance to feed our three kids breakfast and they’re hanging around our legs picking at us because they’re so hungry. And he finally works up the courage to say something to us, because he figures if he doesn’t we’ll just keep doing it year after year, and that just isn’t right, so he’s going to tell us what an imposition it is…

So then he starts telling me, and he’s probably feeling a little sheepish which just makes a person feel even more angry, really. And those angry chemicals, they don’t listen to logic, at least not right away. So he hardly even hears when I tell him we didn’t even place the ad, that we aren’t even responsible for his inconvenience, that we’re really doing the best we can. He can only hear his anger right then.

And then he drives off and maybe later, when those chemicals have coursed through his body and he’s feeling a little more rational, maybe then he thinks about our conversation, and maybe then he feels even more sheepish because he realizes he was overreacting and taking his anger out on someone unfairly. Or not.

It doesn’t matter.

Because under the gruff exterior, under the frustration and anger, is a person. A person who gets up every Saturday morning and drives around looking for good deals. Maybe this is how he feeds his family–finds good deals and resells them in a different market. Or fixes them up and resells them. Or maybe finding the good deals is how he can afford to support his family despite unemployment. And lately with gas prices going up, it’s even harder to make ends meet because the cost of yard saling has gone up, so the profits go down.

And now I wish I’d taken a few moments to get to know him. Maybe he has grandkids. Maybe they climb up on his knees and he finds candy behind their ears on Saturday afternoons. Maybe he takes them to the 7/11 for slushies like my grandpa used to do. The grandpa who used to drive around picking up cheap carpet remnants and scrap lumber from construction sites so he could build doghouses and sell them for $20 here or $60 there.

Maybe under different circumstances we’d be friends. After all, it’s a pretty minor thing to block a driveway and chew someone out for a few minutes. I’ve done worse things and I’m still a pretty good person all in all.

So here we are. I love you, Frustrated Guy in the Pick-up Truck. Whoever you are, whatever you do, I love you. I believe in your heart you are good and worthy. I wish I could tell you in person, but more than that I hope you find fewer reasons to be angry in the coming weeks. I hope next week, and all the weeks after, yield many reasons for you to be grateful. I hope you have a family who loves you and whom you love, and friends and hobbies that fill you up. I hope you are happy more often than not. I hope you have joy always.

I love you. Happy Yard Saling.

Paralysis

This is where I am now: Paralysis. I have tons of work, all of it paying work, waiting for me. I make money only if I do the work. That is how I make money. It’s all writing. It’s all EASY. I guess. But it’s time consuming. And there’s so MUCH of it. And it all HAS to be done if I want to maintain my reputation, honor my obligations, and, you know, make money.

Also, I started this blog, and I started two weekly features–one for this and one for Curiosity Cat. I’m also receiving coaching from a leadership/life coach and I have assignments for that. I need to send emails to several people who are waiting on miscellaneous stuff from me, and respond to emails from others. I hope they’re not reading this.

I want to add pictures to a post that is scheduled to come out in Curiosity Cat tomorrow. I’ve got to plan lessons for the kids for tomorrow. And reserve spots for them in some homeschool science classes. I also have six new baby chickens coming in the mail on Friday, plus a few new birds I picked up last weekend. Which of course I want to blog about for Curiosity Cat.

But I’m not. I’m not doing any of that. I’m sitting here feeling paralyzed. I keep looking at my list and thinking, “Just do something, Heather. Just do something. Anything.”

But then I don’t.

I have a long list of techniques I use for breaking out of this spot. None of them are working right now. Which is why I’m writing. Maybe THIS will work.

It reminds me of what happens when I wake up from a truly horrific dream. I read about the phenomenon once, it’s called–of course–sleep paralysis. I wake up with my heart palpitating and my eyes wide wide open in terror. But I can’t move. I can’t move a single muscle. Sometimes I can call out, but I can only groan incoherently and Carey is never wide enough awake to understand what is happening.

Recently, my horrific dream started with a writer’s group meeting. I had brought two famous authors–one I made up just for the dream (apparently), and the other was Lev Grossman. I was so proud to have brought them. But then no one would let me introduce them. Instead, they all got up and started a brutal, horrible, scary game that ended in two people on the floor with their throats slit. They lay there staring, unseeing, at the ceiling. They were on their stomachs but their heads were bent all the way backwards and lying on their backs.

I said, “Well, that didn’t turn out very well for them, did it?” I felt sick. The other girl said, “No, but they’ll be all right.” And I said, “What do you mean? Aren’t they dead?” And she said, “No, but they’re not going to be happy about this when they wake up.”

And then they did wake up. One of them came up to me and I tried to be all nice and normal, but his throat was still cut open and his head was wobbly on his broken neck, and the skin around his chin and mouth was hanging loose. And he tried to lean in and kiss me because I was his girlfriend but I didn’t want to kiss him but I didn’t want to hurt his feelings either. And then the other girl ganged up on me and said I was being rude and shallow to care about appearances and not want to kiss him. And I tried to get away, but the two slit-throated people were trying to grab me and drag me down.

And then I woke up paralyzed.

That’s kind of how I feel now except the horror has more to do with worry about clients wondering where the heck their stuff is. And wondering if I’m really cut out for this whole freelance thing. And what the heck is wrong with me that I’m writing a freakin blog entry when I have magazine articles and marketing statements to write.

And I think the two things are related. I think maybe the source is the same. My coach, whose name is Cathy, talks about how we all have a core self, the part of us that we were born with, our inner self. She says this part, which I think is the same as the beautiful child I wrote about here, is vulnerable and innocent (like a child), and so from an early age we build fortifications around it, protective parts of ourselves. Some people have bossy parts because they learned to protect their inner self by taking control of other people. Some people have angry parts. Pleaser parts. Exile parts.

I have, among others, a submissive part. This part of me, which has been in control of my actions for years, feels most secure when it can attach itself to someone else and just do as it’s told. I’ve struggled with this part for a long time, because in my paying work it’s important that I speak with a certain level of confidence and authority. This has been very difficult for me. And one of the things I wanted to talk with my coach about was how to overcome that.

And I think everything here comes back to that submissive part of me. She is terrified right now. She is absolutely freaking petrified. She’s afraid that if I finish all that work, she’ll have to stand aside and let me be more assertive, and she’s terrified that I’ll get hurt. She’s afraid that if I try to get all that work done and fail, that I’ll get hurt that way. And I think she’s afraid that if I succeed, I’m not going to need her any more. Maybe, in fact, all this nonsense about a leadership coach is my way of trampling her into the ground to be rid of her, she thinks.

So here we go. I think I’ve written my way to the answer. Cathy says I don’t have to trample my submissive part–or any other part–into the ground. In fact, she says to explore those parts with “gratitude and curiosity.” Which, frankly, is really just another way of saying it’s time to love them. In fact, gratitude and curiosity may well be one of the best definitions I’ve heard for love recently. My assignment from her for the week is to explore some of those protective parts, with gratitude and curiosity, and maybe even to write a love letter to one of them.

So. Here we go. I am not missing the irony that in one week I’ve made an attempt to love terrorists and an attempt to love a part of myself, and that in both cases it was difficult. Weird. Anyway:

Submissive part of me, I love you. Thank you for protecting me when I needed you. In my childhood, you kept me safe from the major traumas, the ones too private to share here–but you know what they were, and you were my guardian. You also taught me how to succeed in school, and succeed I did! In my early romantic relationships, you protected me from worse abuse and from rejection by helping me keep my head down and uttering the words my inner self could never manage–the apologies and words of agreement that were so alien to my inner self. In adulthood, you’ve continued to stand guard and watch over me with vigilance and generosity, unflagging loyalty. Thank you. I love you.

And now it is time for you to get a break. You’ve kept me safe over the years so that I would be here for this. I’m learning to be stronger and braver than ever before. I am less easily hurt and faster to heal. I’m ready. But I don’t want you to go away. There will be times when I will need you. I’ll need your advice, I’ll want your suggestions, I’ll ask you to help me with things from time to time. But you aren’t going to have to work so hard any more. You’re going to get lots of long vacations, and time to sit on the sidelines and just watch and relax. And all the time I’m going to want you to teach me, so together we can benefit from your years of experience as my guardian.

Thank you. We are going to be an amazing team. I love you.

And. I just finished one of my assignments. I guess the paralysis is past.

Cool.

Why I Love the Hijackers

Rais BhuiyanThis is part of my Sunday Celebrations series.

If you’re a U.S. citizen and not living in a barn in the boondocks, and maybe even if you are, you know what today is. It’s “Patriot Day,” “9/11 Day,” “The Day The Twin Towers Fell.” Or whatever. And it’s the tenth anniversary of that. And it’s been talked about already so much I just want to scream and kick the radio every few minutes. Seriously, in all due respect to the victims and families and everyone who has been hurt by the events of 9/11/2001, I am sick of hearing about it.

And now I’m going to talk about it.

Because when I decided to do Sunday Celebrations, my stated goal was to learn to love EVERYONE in the world. Not just the easy people. Not just the people I’m close to. And not just the distant people, like people in Africa who are starving or women in the middle east who are underprivileged. But EVERYONE. The perverts and the convicts and the annoying teenagers playing music too loud in the car next to me at the stoplight. Everyone.

So when I realized that this Sunday Celebration would fall on the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks that brought down the world trade center, rocked Washington, D.C., attempted to burn up the White House–not to mention launching a decade-plus war–I knew it would be my opportunity to put this to the test. I could write about the firefighters, or the dads with unborn children who would never meet them, or the heroes who carried a woman in a wheelchair all the way downstairs when they could have just run for their lives. I could. And it would be lovely.

But it would hardly be much of a challenge to love them. Everybody already loves them.

So I decided to do something much more difficult. I decided to love my enemies, those who would do me harm. I decided to love the hijackers.

That’s right. The people who lied and deceived and in cold blood studied and plotted to take thousands of lives, draw a nation into a terrible war, and strike fear and terror into the hearts of all my countrymen. The men who boarded planes, manhandled passengers, killed crews, and flew the planes to their earth-shatteringly destructive ends. Those are the men I’ve decided to love today. Yes.

I started with history. I believe that every human has a beautiful pure child inside, somewhere, no matter how hideous and distorted and twisted the adult has become. So I thought I might be able to see that beautiful child if I looked hard enough at their histories. But it didn’t work. There is so little information available about their childhoods or anything, really, that might make them seem human. I did learn that most of them were loners, outcasts. And extremists from an early age. Most of them had plenty of hate wrapped around themselves, that much is pretty clear.

One exception seemed to be Ziad Jarrah, who piloted the flight intended to take out the White House. He had a girlfriend (some sources say they had secretly married), friends, was close to his family. He wrote love letters and called his girlfriend the night before he died to tell her he loved her. Most who knew him found it hard to believe he was involved. Apparently, he was easy to love in life.

Sadly, also easy to hate in death. After all, he was responsible for the deaths of all on his flight. He tried to take out the White House. He was in cahoots with the terrorists who planned the entire terrible scheme. The fact that he had a girlfriend hardly excuses that fact.

So… I worked on trying to find a reason to love these men and essentially came up with nothing nothing nothing. I started to think that maybe it was fruitless. Maybe some people are evil in their core. Maybe there is no beautiful child to find. And if it’s there, what is the point anyway? Why bother? I almost decided to throw in the towel and do another blog entry about one of my children and ignore the 9/11 anniversary altogether.

Then I heard an interview on the radio with a man named Rais, and everything clicked into place. Rais was one of three men shot in convenience store raids shortly after the attacks. He was shot in cold blood by a white supremacist acting in hatred, attempting to wreak revenge against all Muslims for what a few men had done. Rais was shot in the face at close range. He says it was like a million bees stinging his face at once, and then he felt blood gushing out of the side of his head. He remembers trying to hold his brains inside his skull. Afterward, he endured months of painful surgeries. His attacker, Mark Stroman, who had also murdered another gentleman, was convicted and sentenced to death.

And this is where it gets really strange. Because Rais forgave Mark Stroman. But he did more than forgive him. He found a way to love him. But he did more than that. He found it in his heart to HELP Stroman. He decided to FIGHT for Stroman. In fact, he spent the rest of Stroman’s life petitioning to have Stroman’s sentence commuted to life.

Yes, that’s right. He wanted the man who had nearly killed him to live. If there were a prize for “loving someone difficult to love,” Rais would have earned it in spades.

Why did he do it? Here’s what he says:

“Hate doesn’t bring a peaceful solution to any situation. Hate only brings fear, misery, resentment and disaster into human lives. It creates obstacles to healthy human growth, which, in turn, diminishes society as a whole.”

And he should know. After all, it was hatred that brought terrorism to U.S. shores. And it was terrorism that spawned the hatred that shot Rais in the face.

So I figure… if Rais can long for, work for, FIGHT for a world without hate, after what hate did to him… if he can forgive, love, help, FIGHT for a man who tried to kill him… then maybe just maybe I can manage to love a few terrorists.

So how did Rais do it? He says he believes that Stroman acted out of ignorance, and an inability to distinguish between right and wrong. He talks about how painful it is to be driven by hate. How, given an opportunity and the grace of forgiveness, even a murderer may be rehabilitated. Perhaps even become another voice against hatred.

The 9/11 hijackers are dead. They will never have grace or an opportunity for forgiveness, at least not in this life. They will not be rehabilitated, and they certainly won’t ever be a voice against hatred.

But I believe, nonetheless, that there is very good reason to learn to love these men who are easy to hate. Even though they are dead. You see, hate is like a magnet for pain in our hearts. It attracts, collects, and holds all that is painful and ugly. Gradually, the collection weighs us down. It intrudes on our happiness, on our peace. In time, it makes us miserable.

And the only way I know to let go of that big old prickly mess of hate is to open it up, look really hard at it, and then just love it out of existence. The more we can do that, the more we can keep purging the pain with love, and the more peace and joy can enter and fill our lives in its place. I believe love transforms hate and transforms US into beautiful, powerful beings.

And I believe THAT is worth working for.

So, here we go.

Ziad Jarrah, I love you. Mohammed Atta, I love you. Walleed al-Shehri, I love you. Wail al-Shehri, I love you. Abdulaziz al Omari, I love you. Satam al-Suqami, I love you. Marwan al-Shehhi, I love you. Fayez Banihammad, I love you. Mohand al-Shehri, I love you. Hamza al-Ghamdi, I love you. Ahmed al-Ghamdi, I love you. Hani Hanjour, I love you. Khalid al-Mihdhar, I love you. Majed Moqed, I love you. Nawaf al-Hazmi, I love you. Salem al-Hazmi, I love you. Ahmed al-Haznawi, I love you. Ahmed al-Nami, I love you. Saeed al-Ghamdi, I love you.

I honor the fact that you were willing to die for something you believed in, even as I grieve for your ignorance in thinking that others should die also for your belief. I honor your dedication even as I weep for the fact that your dedication was expended on a terrible act of hatred. I honor your courage and your intelligence and your dedication in the face of challenges, even as I sorrow over the lives you took. I believe in the child who lived in your hearts, the one capable of love if only you had known how to love. The child who longed for connection and forgiveness and rightness in the world. I grieve for your deaths, and even more for the loss of that beautiful child who lived in you and who could have done such wonderful things if only he had known how.

Yes. Hijackers. I love you.

I love you.

Comedy or Tragedy: You Decide

So Glennon at Momastery recently posted about Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink, in which he talks (among other things) about the major underlying principle of improvisational comedy, which is, in short, the power of agreement, ”the notion that a very simple way to create a good story … or humor … is to have characters accept everything that happens to them.” In other words, if another character says, “Oh no, the bucket fell on your head!” and you say, “no it didn’t,” nobody laughs. That’s boring. But if the other character says, “Uh oh! The dog is chewing on your ankle!” and you say, “Ow! Let go!” and begin prancing about the stage with an invisible dog attached to your leg, and fall backwards over the imaginary chair pushed in behind you, well, that’s comedy.

Glennon then went on to talk about how life is kind of like that, how if you want a good story and plenty of laughs, the key is just to say yes to everything that happens to you. To stop railing against it and wishing things were different and trying to change things you can’t change, and just to say, “Yes, this is what is. What’s next?” Here is what she said (in part):

“So I thought . . . if life is like improv, would a good rule be to accept life’s suggestions, to say yes and respond? To allow my ideas and expectation about my life to remain fluid? To allow what happens to me to change my life and my heart? Because isn’t life about change, too? Isn’t life about allowing conflict to change me into who I was meant to be?”

Which got me to thinking about the flip side. If the principles of improv theater apply to real life, could the principles of tragic drama apply as well?

After all, the thing that makes most tragedy tragic is that the main characters are forever saying “no” to everything that happens to them. Hamlet: “No, I can’t live with the fact that my father is dead. I won’t accept that my uncle married my mother. I can’t believe that my friends are in his pay. I’ll murder and fight and die before I accept these terrible things! No no no no no!!” Oedipus, “No, I won’t let a king block my way, no the woman I love can’t be my mother, I’ll gouge out my eyes and banish myself to the wilderness before I accept these terrible things. No no no no no!” Juliet, “I won’t accept Romeo’s banishment, I can’t live without him, I’ll kill myself before I let these things happen, no no no no!”

Imagine if one of these characters had said “yes” to their life and then let it change them, let it make them into who they were meant to be. Maybe not very good drama… but could it be comedy? What if Juliet, for instance, had decided to accept reality and roll with the punches? What if she had said “yes” to the things she couldn’t change? What if, in fact, she had had a Sassy Gay Friend (warning, foul language alert):

Funny, right? But is life really that way? Is it really so simple to choose, tragedy or comedy?

I am beginning to believe it is. Yes. Not that we have to say “yes” to everything we are asked to do or everything that we have an opportunity to do. As sassy gay friend says, “Look at your life, look at your choices.” You don’t have to take the roofie from the priest or marry the guy who killed your cousin. Or bring a casserole to the neighborhood potluck or meet an old friend for coffee if you don’t want to.

But if we want humor, fun, comedy, and a good happy story, we can choose to say “yes” to everything that HAPPENS to us, the things we DON’T have control over. We can let those things transform us into who we are meant to be, let them change us into something extraordinary and beautiful.

And then, quite simply, our life becomes what it is meant to be: Good fun. Good comedy. Good story.

In the immortal words of Shakespeare: All the world’s a stage, all the men and women merely players. And in the probably mortal words of me: We get to choose: Comedy or Tragedy?

I choose comedy. Yes. Comedy. You?

 

 

Sunday Celebration: Easy to Love, Hard to Love

Welcome to Sunday Celebrations! If you want to know more about what this is, go here first.

This is my first Sunday Celebration, and I’m starting with someone who is both easy to love, and hard to love. His name is Everett. He is three years old and was born to us in this very house.

I do not, by nature, adore very young children. For instance, this one has tantrums if A) His food is sliced the wrong direction, B) Five more minutes, or C) Anything happens. He’s messy, mischievous, and sometimes a little sneaky.

And this is what my house sounds like with him in it: Good morning

If I weren’t legally, morally, and hormonally obligated to harbor him, I probably would have kicked him out a long time ago. Maybe.

He exhausts me, but I love him anyway. Here are a few reasons why:

1. He reminds me to enjoy simple pleasures.

Ignore the mess in the background. It's the swinging that matters.

2. He Keeps Things in Perspective. He says “I love you Mommy!” “I will miss you Mommy!” AND “Have a good day!” when I leave. In addition to “Goodbye” and “Hugs and kisses!” (accompanied by actual hugs and kisses). Even if I’m only going to the corner gas station. The kid understands what’s important.

3. He assumes the best of people, and treats everyone he meets like an old friend. The sort of dear friend who appreciates having his size, weight, and personal peculiarities pointed out to him loudly in public.

4. He relishes all the outdoors has to offer.

All of it.

5. Without him around, I would never have conversations like this one:

Him: I’m going to sit here while you pee and just watch.
Me: Umm.

Or this one:

Him: I’m not going to poop in my pants. I’m going to go poop in the potty. And not on the edge of the potty. Because then the water won’t flush it down. I’m going to go poop in the water. And then I’m gonna flush it down.
Me: Okay.

And really, this would be an impoverished world without these conversations.

6. He makes winter cuter.

7. If you’ve seen this already, I apologize. But I think you understand why it belongs here. Because This. Is. It:

I love you too, baby. I love you too.

(Next week: Trying very hard to love someone who is easy to hate… this should be interesting…)

  • A Few Beautiful Things

    Inspiration and Community for Writers
    Fun prompts, great community, opportunities to be published.

    What Happens Now
    A tale of survival and recovery and beauty. You'll be angry and glad and amazed.

    Officer Superhero
    This one makes me laugh and cry at the same time. If you're a mom, an NVC advocate, or human you should definitely not miss this one.

    Sowing Dreams
    Hope and tears from this one. If you know an autistic child, love someone, or have ever yearned for more hope, this one is for you.

    Writing is a Beautiful Violence
    This pretty much sums it up.