A Subtle Sunrise

Easters were special growing up.  We colored dozens of eggs.  Mom made homemade candies and molded bunnies.  I wore a new dress every year.  Some years Mom made the dress for me.  The white shoes came out of storage (forget Memorial Day!) and we posed for pictures in the back yard in our finest.

My Aunt would buy bags and bags of the left-over Easter candy and a week or so after Easter, we would have a big candy hunt with all of the cousins.  Life was simple.

We didn’t always attend sunrise service, but I remember being excited to go.  Some years, it would be very cold, and I would insist on wearing my thin Spring dress (often sleeveless) no matter how loudly my teeth chattered.  Although I can vividly remember some of those dresses (and the hand-crocheted shawls Mom made to go with them), I cannot remember the sunrises.  In my imagination, they were vivid  – as we sang hymns, the bright ball of the sun peeked over the horizon and the angels sang.  In my imagination, it was quite a spectacle – worthy of motion picture awards.

This morning, My dear sister-in-law and I decided to go to sunrise service.  It was cold (low 40s), and the service was being held on the shores of Lake Erie, where ice covered the water mere days ago.  I had no Easter dress, and as an adult, common sense ruled and I wore my heaviest wool pants, two sweaters, a winter jacket and woolen socks under my winter boots.  I carried a travel mug of steaming coffee.  I was prepared.

The rest of the early morning worshipers dressed like me.  Nary a light spring dress with bare arms was to be found.  In the pitch black darkness, we sat on rough wooden benches, our backs to the frigid lake.   As the service began at 6:45 a.m., the sky began to lighten just enough to read the prayer on the bulletins we were handed.

Our Pastor shared the scripture from Mark 16 – “…trembling and bewildered, the women found the empty tomb and fled from the tomb.  They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”

This account lacks the drama from the Passion Play.   Mark doesn’t tell us about Jesus’ appearance to his followers.  There are no vivid beams of light streaming from the empty tomb.  No heavenly chorus – no trumpets – only frightened women fleeing.

As we said the closing prayer and sang the remaining hymns, the sky continued to brighten. There was no startling contrast, no brilliant colors.  The lake didn’t sparkle.  It was quite dreary (and still very cold).  Pastor told us how some evenings when vespers is held at the same location, the sunset is stunning.  Other times, like this morning’s sunrise, it is just a subtle transition from one day to another.

I wish that I had more time this morning to sit and contemplate that subtle sunrise.  Instead, I came home, downed a cup of coffee and cooked breakfast for seven.  After breakfast, I boiled eggs to color with one of the grandchildren who had spent the night. As my daughter helped him dye the eggs, I began preparation for the family celebration as we came together to enjoy fellowship (and food!)

After lunch, the children scampered through the yard looking for brightly-colored plastic eggs filled with candy.  While I was inside the house being busy, the day had transformed completely.  The cold had disappeared and the sun shone brightly. It was too nice to go back into the house, so we visited on the front porch.  It was a wonderful time.

With the last of the family guests gone, I took my opportunity for that quite contemplation that I missed earlier.  I donned my running tights and shoes and headed for the high school track.  I reflected on the cross, and the excruciating pain that would be involved in crucifixion.  I remembered Christ’s pleas for forgiveness for the people who were torturing and killing him.  I imagined the empty tomb, and this time my mental movie included this morning’s subtle sunrise, as the black night gave way to the soft gray of a cloudy morning.

My own life has changed a lot in the past year or so.  It’s been a slow process.  Some days I am disappointed that the changes aren’t mind-blowingly vibrant.  Other times, like today, I am grateful for the calm that fills me when I’m alone with the only sounds being those of nature around me and my feet striking the pavement.  As I took my final lap around the track, the sun began it’s gentle descent toward evening.  The bright ball in the sky was too bright for me to capture with my iPhone camera.  It was the kind of light that chases away any kind of sadness left in the corners of your mind.

I sat in the car and watched the light.  It was the kind of brightness that would be perfectly accompanied by angels’ voices and trumpets.  It filled me with awe, and calm.

Last week was difficult.  My mind was occupied with current events and political thoughts.  I spent energy uselessly pondering issues that are beyond my control and problems that aren’t even mine to solve.  While I was alone, in that moment, none of it mattered.

My subtle sunrise brought me calm.  The light that ensued brought me joy – and peace.sunset

The emotions today brought with it may be lost in translation, but the message for me came loud and clear – even a dreary, subtle sunrise can become a breathtaking day.

As the Easter hymns of my childhood echo in my mind, I am filled with joy.

He is risen [He is risen indeed!]

All Stuffed Up [Learning to Let Go]

I have a huge job ahead of me.  I’m loving and hating every minute of it.  I have too much stuff.  Some of the “stuff” I have hasn’t seen the light of day in years.

My husband lived in this house when he met me.  He had stuff already when I moved here, and when I added my stuff to his “stuff,” the house was stuffed and we both had to give things up.  The years passed, and we each tossed some stuff and bought some more stuff to take its place.  Before long, he lamented to me, “we have too much stuff.”

I did my best to pare down the stuff.  I went through the boxes and tossed some stuff, but there were things that held too many memories.  I couldn’t bear to give up some stuff, so I stuffed it back into (fewer) boxes.

Some years later, my mom and dad moved from their four bedroom home into a two bedroom apartment.  They had to get rid of stuff, but they let me go through their stuff before they sold their stuff at auction.  I loaded up a car or four with more stuff.  I was opening my professional office, so some of the stuff went there, which made room for more stuff at the house.

More years passed, and the ‘rents moved into an even smaller place with less room for stuff.  Once again, I carted boxes of stuff to my house.  I couldn’t bear to let them get rid of the stuff that I had grown up with.   The stuff has sat, stuffed into boxes and untouched since I stuffed it into the garage, basement and attic.

Mom got sick, then Dad got sick and died, and Mom got sick again.  I was so stuffed full of feelings that I couldn’t bear to go through the boxes that stuffed the corners of my life.

I [re]discovered thrift shopping (thank you, Macklemore!) and brought home even more stuff.  Recently I needed to get something from the basement, but the floor was so stuffed full of boxes stuffed full of stuff that I couldn’t find the stuff I wanted.  I realized I had a stuff problem.

My darling, patient husband understands.  The stuff is stuffed full of memories.

When I hold my grandma’s old root beer mug, it ceases to be just stuff. It takes me back to Grandma’s kitchen.  I can see the Hires root beer bottle (the glass kind that you have to open with a bottle opener).  I can taste the vanilla ice cream that has crystallized root beer on the edges.  I feel the long-handled spoon she gave me with my root beer float.

The caddy of red-striped glasses stuffed with newspaper take me to the dinner parties my parents would host.  Mom’s fancy glasses would come out only on special occasions. I felt like a grown up when I could drink my iced tea or lemonade from those glasses instead of the jelly jar glasses or the plastic cups we used for every day.

There is the birch bark tee pee and the Indian chief doll that my Dad bought on a trip out west before I was born. I hold them and hear Dad tell about the steak dinner he bought in Texas for 10 cents with a steak that was bigger than the plate that held it.

It’s all stuff.  The real value is in the memories that are stuffed in this head of mine.  The older I get, the more my house looks like my parents’ home circa 1975. I have my parents’ coffee table, my Dad’s desk lamp, and the piano that Dad taught dozens of kids to play on.  I almost brought home the church organ that he had… but there was no room.  The place was stuffed.

My head is stuffed full of memories.  They are sweet and bitter. Each doo dad and knick knack triggers a mental movie. Dear husband brings the boxes for me one at a time. It’s like Christmas when I unwrap the stuff that was carefully stuffed in newspaper years ago.

I have to let go. There is so much old stuff – mine, my parents’ and my children’s that there is no room for new stuff to make new memories.  I have to part with my stuff.  I’ll keep the treasures that hold extra-special meaning.  The other stuff stays only if I would buy it if I saw it in a store.  As I send the other stuff on to other people who will appreciate it, I will savor the memories that I unwrap. Perhaps I will photograph the items that have the best stories.  As I stuff boxes full of stuff that has no place to be displayed, I should save those memories somehow.

Perhaps one day my children will receive an album stuffed full of photographs and words from their mother recalling moments from the years she spent collecting the stuff.

So far, all but one item has been unpacked intact. The lone casualty is a painted cookie jar.  I’ll admit I nearly cried when I saw it lying in piece.  I asked my husband to glue it.  He said he would… but I’m not sure it’s necessary.  As “stuff,” it’s not worth much.  There’s nothing special about it.  I have the cream pitcher, tea pot and sugar bowl that match. Any one of those things would evoke the same memories.  I’ll never use it as a cookie jar.  Now that it’s broken, nobody else would want it.  Instead of repairing it, I think it’s time to (reverently) stuff it in the trash.

When it comes right down to it, it is, after all, just stuff.  The memories are inside me, waiting to be shared.

Ohana Means Family. Family Means Nobody Gets Left Behind or Forgotten

I spent the day with family today.  Legally, we have no relationship.  On paper, we are strangers.

I was born in 1967 and surrendered for adoption.  I grew up always knowing that I was adopted. I can’t remember learning the fact.  My Mom always told me that she and Dad picked me.  Some days that made me feel very wanted and very special.  Other days, it made me feel sad, because for my mom and dad to pick me, someone else had to leave me behind.

Like many teens and young adults, anything that made me “different” made me feel a little awkward and self-conscious.  Adoption was one of those issues.  I sometimes wondered what my birth family would think of me if they could see me at that time in my life.  Would they be proud when I won the lead role in the musical, or when I was accepted to the university of my choice?  Would they have come to the football games to watch me march with the band?

When I gave birth to my first child and felt that bond like no other, I wondered what it must have felt like to leave the hospital without me.  My birth mother didn’t have a face for me then, but she was not forgotten.  She was a part of me, and I was sad for her.

I didn’t know much about my birth family.  My Mom always told me that the adoption caseworker had told her that my birthmother wanted me.  I hoped it was true.

I found my birthmother in 1997. In-home internet access was a relatively new thing.  I was bored one evening, and I put the details that I knew about my birth into a database on AOL, never thinking it would lead anywhere.  After all, adoptees often searched for years and spent lots of money on investigators to try to find their birth families.  I was shocked when, a few short minutes later, I received a phone call advising me that someone in the database matched me, and asking if I wanted to speak with my birthmother.

I called off work and drove 30 minutes from home the next day to meet her.  I was terrified, but as I stepped through her door, the fear melted instantaneously.  She and I were wearing the same earrings.  She gave me a glass of water in the same drinking glasses that i had in my kitchen cupboard.  We had some of the same artwork hanging in our respective homes.  The meeting convinced me that nature plays a strong role in development.

As our friendship grew, we began finishing one another’s sentences.  My mom would always be my mom – she, my “mum” felt more like a big sister.  Like many sisters, we had a falling out one day over something silly, and we didn’t connect again for years.  Neither of us was still angry, but both of us were afraid of reaching out – afraid of rejection.

We connected several more times over the years.  There was no anger, no hard feelings.  There was only love.  Somehow, years would pass between visits.  Life got in the way.  It’s funny how life does that.

This week, she asked me to lunch.  I was delighted to accept, and excited that my grandparents, too, would be available.  we spent hours and hours today talking.  We didn’t talk about adoption.  We didn’t talk about what it felt like to grow up somewhere else.  Instead, we talked as parents or grandparents and the younger generation would talk.  We talked about pets and experiences.  We talked about travel and hotels and antique stores. We talked about first jobs and cooking.

My adoptive family is my family.  My birth family is my family.  My husband’s family is my family.  “Family” is that affinity we have for others when we are tied together by blood, shared culture, or the bonds of marriage.  Family is Ohana.  I like the concept of Ohana – it is much broader than a mommy, a daddy and the children who reside in the same residence.  Ohana signifies the respect and cooperation that family members should have for and with one another.

Finding my birth family forced me to reconcile some feelings.  I still remember looking at my “new” family’s pictures and seeing faces that really looked an awful lot like mine looking back.  I remember some of my adoptive family – the only family I knew – questioning whether I would still want to be a part of that family now that I had found my “real” family.

I took the search farther a few years later and found the other side of my adoptive family living in another part of the country.  We haven’t met face to face, but they are a part of my Facebook world.  They, too, are Ohana.

I was adopted into a big, big family.  My concept of family already included ten aunts and uncles, their spouses, and a whole slew of cousins.  It wasn’t difficult to mentally expand that arrangement to include a few more.  Somehow, life kept the birth family from becoming a close-knit part of my family, but we were, and remain “Ohana.”

Although we didn’t discuss my adoption or the facts and feelings surrounding it on this particular occasion, we discussed it enough in the past that I knew that I was never forgotten.  Although I was elsewhere, I was safe and loved.  I was never truly left behind.  Likewise, the family I grew up with remains my family.  I love them dearly, and although I don’t see many of them often, either, when we talk face to face, it’s like we are picking up where we left off a month or a decade ago.  Ohana means nobody gets forgotten.

Yesterday was a special day for adopted persons in Ohio.  For the first time, thousands of Ohioans who were adopted between 1964 and 1996 can apply to receive a copy of their original birth certificate and adoption files.  For over 400,000 of us, finding lost family is a viable possibility.

More than 400 people waited outside of the Bureau of Vital Statistics yesterday to apply in person to see where they came from.  My birth family and I have never petitioned the court for an order unsealing the records to confirm that we are “Ohana.”  I haven’t decided whether I will apply to open that record.  Having found Ohana, there is a fear that when opened, the family I lost and then found again might not be on that piece of paper.  I don’t think that’s the case, but it’s possible.

As was stated in the Disney Film, “Lilo and Stitch,” “Ohana means family.  Family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten.”  In my world, it doesn’t take blood to make you family.  It doesn’t take marriage.  Ohana, to me, are those people who are a part of me.  Ohana is stronger than friendship.  Family are the people who care about you even when you mess up.  They are the people who love you even when you say hurtful things or turn your back on them.  We may be separated from family for a time, but they are not left behind.  They are not forgotten.

As thousands of adoptees apply for their birth records, there will attempts to contact people separated for years – for decades.  Some of those people will have happy reunions.  Some will meet and be glad that they were able to fill in the blanks on their medical history forms.  Some will have doors slammed in their faces and phone calls ended abruptly.  I pray that those who don’t have a happy reunion will be able to cope with the fact that the rejection isn’t about them – it’s about facts and feelings over which they had no control.

My husband has finally figured out much of my complicated family tree.  I had to draw him a picture.  It’s okay.  My tree branches like crazy.  Some branches die off, and new ones grow.  The ones that aren’t with us leave a mark.  Nobody gets left behind or forgotten.

Ohana.

They Call it the Present Because it’s a Gift

There is no time like the present.  I really mean that.  Right now is the time to start doing whatever it is that you know that you need to do but have been avoiding.  You may think it’s too big.  You may think you’re not ready.  Whatever idea it is that you have in your head that’s holding you back, get RID of it.

I’ve spent pretty much my entire adult life being overweight, obese, or morbidly obese.  I’ve used every excuse out there.  I can justify anything.  I’m the master procrastinator.  I’d go see my doctor and he’d bug me about my weight.  My line was always, “One thing at a time.  I’ll deal with (fill in the blank), and then I’ll work on the weight.”

I dealt with the broken leg, the thyroid, the illness and death of several people close to me, undergrad, law school, setting up a law practice, and countless crises that come with the territory of being a wife, mother and human being. When I had bloodwork, my numbers were good.  Although I was borderline hypertensive, my A1C and lipids were good.  I prided myself on being “healthy fat.”  I had a love affair with Ballreich’s potato chips and anything sweet or salty.

Just about a year ago I was sitting at my office conference table with three friends who were in my Rotary Club.  We were discussing what needed to happen and how to get things rolling.  As one of my colleagues was talking, I realized that the room was fading.  I broke into a cold sweat.  My heart was doing weird jumpy things, and I couldn’t concentrate.  I considered asking one of my friends to call my husband to take me to the hospital.  I was feeling that strange.  However, I said nothing.  I concluded the meeting, went upstairs to my office and collapsed into my chair.  I was chilled and clammy. I wondered if I was sick or dying, and at the moment, I wasn’t sure if I cared.  Life wasn’t much fun.  I had a hard time moving on the best of days.  I was tired of watching the people who I cared about get sick and die.

Whatever happened was happening to me passed.  I went about my business and finished up the day.  I didn’t pass out, die, or get sicker.  I also didn’t say anything to anyone about what had happened.  In retrospect, it was probably an anxiety attack, but in that moment it felt like death was knocking at the door.

I got up the next morning and realized that something had to change.  I had put off going to the doctor because I didn’t want to have the conversation about my weight.  I hadn’t been on a scale in months.  I don’t know exactly how heavy I was, but it was a big scary number, and it was only one of my problems.

I posted in a Facebook group full of ladies I met on another internet site that I was having some troubles in my life that had me feeling very discouraged.  One of those ladies suggested I look for a group called Moms Run This Town.  She said that not only would I feel better getting some running in, but the other ladies would be great listeners as I worked through my issues.  I thanked her, and laughed silently at the thought of me running anywhere.

Over the course of the next week or two, more people suggested I try running.  One offered to train with me for a 5K race.  Although we lived miles apart, and the training together would be virtual, I agreed to give it a try.  That night I put on my walking shoes and dusted off the treadmill.  I walked a mile.  It took a good, long time, but it felt good.

I remembered a line from The Shawshank Redemption.  Red said, “get busy living, or get busy dying.”  I decided to get busy living.  I’d been just simply going through the motions for far too long.

When I first started exercising, it felt like I would never be able to “run” a mile without stopping.  In those first weeks, I spent lots of time holding on to the side rails of the treadmill and supporting a good part of my weight with my arms.  Still, I faithfully got on that treadmill night after night.

Time passed, and I got up the courage to go to a running store for a pair of real running shoes.  They didn’t laugh at me.  I didn’t get sarcastic comments or rude remarks.  I left the store with a box with a pair of shoes that cost a good chunk of change and I vowed not to let them gather dust in the closet.  I vowed that if God would just let me live long enough to undo some of the damage I had done to my body, I would enjoy life again.

As I progressed, I left the safety of the house for the high school track and then trails at local parks.  I began participating in 5K and 10K races.  I marvelled as a doe and fawn watched me run.  I came alive listening to the sounds of nature.  I began looking for new places to run.  I visited parks and neighborhoods in my town that I had never been to in the 15 years that I have lived here.

I’ve listened to music of every genre, waved at hundreds of strangers, learned to enjoy a good sweaty run, and I’ve enjoyed (nearly) every moment of it.  I’ve learned that chocolate tastes better if you have to run a mile to earn a piece, and that potato chips are still my kryptonite.

Since that day in March 2014, I have run over 450 miles.  Today, I ran a half marathon on the indoor track at my gym.  In two weeks, I will repeat that feat at Walt Disney World dressed as Ursula from The Little Mermaid.  I can hardly wait.  I’m still 100 pounds overweight, but I can run a half marathon.

half marathon

I’ve done a lot of reviewing the past year.  What does it have to do with the present?  I’m still here.  I’m healthier than I’ve been in years.  I’m happier than I’ve been in years.  My life is still not perfect, but life is sweeter because I received a wakeup call.  Only when I thought that I might possibly be dying did I realize how sweet life really is.  I don’t take my life for granted any longer.  I want to live long enough to dance at the grandchildren’s weddings.  I want to jump out of a perfectly good airplane on my 65th birthday.  None of those experiences are promised.  Life is sweet and it can be cut short in a moment.  When you “get busy living,” every moment, even the sad ones, is a gift.

I don’t know what you’re struggling with.  I don’t know what battle you are waging and which side is winning.  I do know that whatever you want to happen, there is no better time than right now to start doing something about it.  If you want to lose weight, get up and walk right now.  Don’t wait until Monday to start your exercise program.  If you want to write a book, grab your pen and write an outline.  If you want to learn to play Rhapsody in Blue, get up and play the first page as slow as you have to play it to get all of the fingers in the right place.

If you want to run a half marathon, put one on the calendar.  Pay the registration.  Recruit a partner.

There is no time like the present.  Tomorrow is not promised.  You will never regret starting right now.  A year from now you’ll wonder why you waited so long.  I promise.

A Clean Heart (and the Cone of Shame)

Once upon a time, I had a little cat and a little dog.  They were sworn enemies.  One day the little dog gave chase to the little cat and caught her.  Little dog created two tiny punctures in the little cat’s side.  We washed them and treated them with antibiotic.  They scabbed over and nearly healed, but they must have begun to itch.  Little cat ripped off the scabs and the little holes became a little bigger.

We cleaned them again and they began to heal.  They were looking great when little cat once again ripped the scabs off and the holes became even larger.  This happened once again, and the two holes became one large gaping wound.  There was still no infection, but it was a scary looking wound.  We took little cat to the vet and he said that he couldn’t stitch it because the risk of infection would be too great.  Instead, he fitted her with the cone of shame.

dug

The cone of shame worked its trick.  She stopped picking at her wound, and the wound got smaller and smaller until it healed once and for all.

Yesterday I spent a lot of mental energy dwelling on something someone said to someone else that wasn’t even directed at me. My child brought home an illustration from class that I thought was inappropriate.  I posted it on Facebook and garnered support from my friends and began to feel self-righteous.  I presented my point of view in an email to the person who originated the distasteful example and went to my “zen den” to try to let it go.

The joy of sitting in a darkened room lit only by candles, listening to soft sounds and wrapped in the warm embrace of a soft blanket is that in the stillness, God can speak to our busy minds.  Last night I had such an experience.  As I watched the thoughts drift in and out of my mind, a bit of scripture turned into song came into view and stayed long enough to stick.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.

-Psalm 51:10

I did not dwell on that thought last night, but the subtle experience made its impression.  My husband came to find me and we watched some television together and slept peacefully.

This morning I received an email in reply to my message.  The person who used the example that upset me failed to understand where I was coming from.  The peace I had found in my private sanctuary last night dissolved, and I experienced, once again, the sting of perceived rejection.

I got ready for work, leashed Jimi the Wonderdog and drove to the office.  My office is in disarray right now.  I’ve been trying to fit too many things into too little time while worrying about too many things.  I realized that no meaningful work could happen until I took care of the piles and restored proper order.

As I tidied piles and washed dirty mugs, the psalm/song came back into my mind.  Sometimes we need to take a moment to clean our heart so that we can get back to work, too.  Holding onto resentment allows us to go back to it time after time, picking and picking until the wound becomes larger and larger.   I asked God for help to forgive and forget and to renew a spirit of tolerance, kindness and forgiveness within my heart.

 I really don’t want to wear the Cone of Shame.

Love and Light,

*Be*

It isn’t all about you

It’s sometimes difficult to look at the big picture.  I’ve often been guilty of seeing only how something affects me and not how the same circumstance affects those around me.  It’s human nature.  I don’t wear the other person’s shoes, so it’s not always easy to know how they feel.  At the same time, not knowing what is plaguing others, it’s easy to misinterpret bad moods, scowls and just plain lack of friendliness as a personal assault when it’s quite possible that the person is actually distracted or consumed by events that have absolutely nothing to do with me.

Nearly two decades ago a very wise woman listened to my complaint of the day and said, “Betty, it’s not all about you.”  I was taken aback.  I felt attacked.  I was pouring out my heart to someone who was there to listen, and she had the NERVE to tell me that my pain wasn’t about me.  Seconds later, she said, again, “It’s not all about you...  and you can be so glad it isn’t.”

I learned all about “Jesus Christ Syndrome” from that wise woman.  She told me that I “take on the sins of the world.”  I really do tend to blame myself for a lot of things.  I say “I’m sorry” a lot.  My friend once challenged me to go an entire week without apologizing to anyone for anything (I didn’t make it).

This morning I had a reminder that “it’s not all about me.”

My husband and I go to the gym together.  I had a rough start last year.  Actually, I had a (couple of) false start(s) last year.  I was extremely obese, self conscious, and absolutely sure that everyone would be starting at me at the gym.  I invented errands to do on the way to the gym and the errands gave me opportunities to become very upset with my poor husband about something dumb and as a result, I had an excuse to demand that he take me back home without setting foot in the gym.

After two of those incident, I finally made it past the front desk.  The staff were smiling and the other members were not staring at me.  I had a good time and it soon became a habit.  I’ve been going regularly now for about 6 months, and until recently I’ve never had a negative experience.  Recently, though, things changed.

There is a male staff member at the gym whose actions today reminded me that it isn’t all about me.  I smile a lot and I say good morning to just about everyone.  It’s just how I am.  This guy never smiles back.  Sometimes, when I am walking my warm-up laps around the track, he stands in the middle of the track to watch Fox news.  He never smiles.  He rarely makes eye contact.  He exudes contempt.

I was really very happy this morning.  Think about Tigger from Winnie the Pooh, and you’ll get a good idea of how bouncy I was feeling.  I was jamming out to Time Warp, Funky Town, and other favorite tunes as I walked around the track when I came upon Mr. Muscles directly in my path.  I gave him a big smile and said, “good morning!”  He looked right at me, locked eyes for an uncomfortable second or two and said NOTHING.

I checked my clothing for stains.  I sniffed to see if I smelled funny.  I ran my fingers through my hair, made sure that I was walking the correct direction around the track, checked my shoes for dog poop and concluded that I was okay, but that he either has a problem with women in general or just with fat women.  Whatever caused him to stare me down was obviously my fault.  I wondered what I did wrong.  I finished the workout avoiding all possibility of making eye contact with him.  I lost the bounce in my step, and felt my Tigger mood transition to Eeyore.

I finished my workout and dashed down the steps, collected my belongings from the locker room and got in the car.  Once we were in the safety of our car, I turned to my husband and asked him if he had noticed the tall blonde staff member wearing the Lifeguard shirt.  He said he knew who I was talking to.  I told him that I thought I must have irritated him because he wouldn’t even say “Good Morning.”  He chuckled and said, “it’s not about you – it’s him.”  Darling Hubby, too, had tried to engage Mr. Muscles.  He didn’t get as far as I did because Mr. Muscles wouldn’t even make eye contact.

Darling Hubby said, “It’s obvious that guy doesn’t like his job.  He doesn’t want to be here.  He doesn’t like the members.  He doesn’t like the work.  He probably won’t be here long.”

I don’t know if Darling Hubby is right on all accounts or not.  Mr. Muscles may work at the gym for a long time, but I do think he’s likely correct in stating that Mr. Muscles isn’t a happy guy.  It’s not all about me, and I’m so glad it isn’t!

Today was a good reminder that it’s not all about me.   Just as nobody else is responsible for my happiness, I’m not likely to single-handedly ruin someone else’s day very often – especially not a stranger.

One key to my happiness is to live my life trying to do the right thing.  The words below have often been attributed to Mother Teresa.  I don’t know if she actually said them, but  I love them.

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.

What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.

It’s not all about you, and aren’t you glad it isn’t?

Nobody else can “make” you happy

My blog is titled “just write what you know.”  I know a lot of things about a lot of things.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I am an expert on any subject, but there are areas where I am well-versed.  This post isn’t about one of those subjects.  This post is on a lesson learned hard, and one I may never master.

Nobody else can make you happy.

The moment you depend on someone else for your happiness, it’s all over.  People can certainly say or do things that make you UNhappy. Don’t get me wrong – other people can do things that help you feel good about yourself, and their actions can give you happy moments.   However, most of us aren’t content to go through life unhappy with little bursts of happiness that depend solely on someone else’s actions.  To me, at least, that would be an unhappy existence.

If what you seek is a life that is full of peace, joy, contentment and satisfaction, you must take responsibility for your own happiness.  As a first step, being happy requires that you learn about yourself.  Do you consciously seek out experiences that you enjoy, or do you just go along for the ride with your friends or significant other because you don’t want to rock the boat?  I like to do things that make other people happy. Doing for others is sometimes easier than doing for myself.  Doing things that make others feel happy feels good.  Doing something just for me can feel selfish.  If you know that feeling, it’s time for you to understand that doing something for yourself or buying something for yourself is not selfish.

What experiences or things do you enjoy just for the sake of pleasure? If you could spend an hour alone, what would make that hour enjoyable?  If you had $10 and had to spend it on yourself right now on something completely unnecessary, what would you buy? If you can’t name at last five answers to either question, it’s time to figure it out!

With my hour alone, I would run alone on a trail in the fall woods.  I would crochet in my zen den with all of the candles lit and soothing music playing on the stereo.  I would brew a pot of tea in a real tea pot and drink it out of a china cup while looking out the window.  I would lose myself in a novel wrapped up in front of the fire in the afghan my mom made for me.  I would sit in the sun watching waves lap at the sand.  Those would be happy hours.

With a ten spot in my pocket, I could buy an abandoned treasure at the thrift shop and imagine a story for it.  I could buy a bar (or two) of hand-crafted soap that smells sweet and makes me look forward to a hot shower or a soak in the tub.  I could buy a couple of dark chocolate covered sea salt caramels to savor (and have $8) left over.  I could buy a book for my kindle that would take me to a far away place I’ll never see and pull me into a story rich with imagination.

The next thing you need to learn is that happiness doesn’t come from things – it comes from a place deep down inside.  Happiness is an emotion, and it is subjective.  What I label “happy,” you may label “content,” or “peaceful,” or maybe “giddy,” “joyful,” or “downright crazy.”  What you call it is unimportant.  What matters is that I know what happy feels like to me, and I know when I’m feeling it.  I can be happy and feel sadness at the same time.  I can be happy for others while I suffer disappointment.  I can be happy for myself when seeing others in pain.  Happy is a state of being.  Having things we love or doing things we enjoy can give us glimpses of happiness.  Once we become accustomed to those glimpses of happiness, it becomes easier to remember what happy feels like.  When you feel down, you can remember those happy moments and summon up the strength and the emotion to recall what it feels like to be happy.

I remember being in relationship that ended badly and feeling that I would never be happy again.  I remember people doing things that hurt me, or things that I didn’t approve of and feeling that they were responsible for my dark emotions.  What I had not learned yet was that although those events saddened me, I still retained a choice regarding how I would respond to those events.  I could choose to be bitter because my love found someone else.  I could choose to be angry because someone else did something negative, OR, I could choose to accept that their decision caused me pain but that I could still choose to be happy.

Once you’ve mastered the art of creating your own happiness, you can experience the pain, anger and sadness without allowing it to overcome you.  Taking a moment to reflect on what is good in your life, to enjoy something that soothes you, and to react to the negative experience in a healthy way allows you to move back to your peace, contentment or happiness.

My own quiet life includes prayer.  I believe in a higher power.  When there are issues that I cannot solve, praying for wisdom brings me peace.  Even if you do not have a belief in God, learning that worrying over things you cannot change changes nothing allows you to put the worry aside.

When I began my fitness journey, I discovered Diamond Dallas Page’s DDPYoga program.  One of DDP’s pearls of wisdom is that “Life is 10% what happens and 90% how you react to it.”  DDP is a smart guy.

I’m in a place in my life where I have a lot of things to be thankful for and a lot of problems to face.  The people in my life are mostly adults with free will.  Sometimes they make choices that I approve of, and sometimes they don’t.  Learning that I can be happy even when things don’t go my way is difficult.  I’m not close to mastering that skill.  I’ve accepted, though, that my happiness is my own responsibility.

 I’ll admit that the journey is much more enjoyable with someone who cares about my happiness.   I don’t need someone else to make me happy, though.  I have to learn to get there on my own.