Live In Between Right and Wrong – from the Kindness Blog

I read this the other day in the Kindness Blog, and it hit home with me. It’s all about what ultimately matters and what doesn’t. I hope you get as much out of it as I did. Read on….

Live In-Between Right and Wrong – By Kathryn Eriksen

“I was waiting in line at the Post Office yesterday, when I heard loud voices on the other side of the glass doors. Someone was angry and expressing it in a loud voice that demanded attention.

“Everyone standing in line raised their eyebrows or shook their heads. Suddenly, the glass doors flew opened and a young man stormed inside and demanded to see the supervisor.

“Sally (OK, so I know her name…I am in there a lot) said in her most professional voice,

“I’m sorry sir. But you were already speaking to the supervisor.”

“Silence for half a heartbeat.

“Instead of beating a hasty retreat, Angry Man decided to notch it up one step further.

“Then I want to see his supervisor!”

“To her credit, Sally retained her poise. Everyone else in line was slightly appalled by Angry Man, but of course, no one said anything. As Sally left her customer to get the supervisor’s supervisor, Angry Man glanced at the rest of us. He didn’t received the sympathy he thought he deserved so he stormed out of the room, slamming the glass doors.

“I happened to get Sally when it was my turn. I complimented her on keeping her composure in the face of such anger, and she shrugged her shoulders.

“All in a day’s work,” she said.

“I found myself in the same Post Office the next day, mailing another package. This time, it was a young woman at Sally’s station who grew visibly upset as Sally patiently explained the procedure for registered letters. Angry Woman shouted something in another language, slammed the glass doors (they apparently take a lot of abuse), then abruptly turned around and came back inside, demanding to see the supervisor.

“Another public display of rage.

“I couldn’t believe it – was this a pattern at this particular Post Office or was something else going on?

“I began asking friends and family if they noticed an increase in these types of incidents – where normal, rational people allow their emotions to overrule their reason.

“The answer was a resounding “YES!”

“While this very informal survey of a very small group of people is not scientific or regimented, I do believe that people have become disconnected to others, but more importantly, to themselves.

“Disconnection breeds contempt and judgment. When you see another person as separate and apart from you, your ego has space to scream, “I have been wronged!” and that, my friends, is where Angry Man and Angry Woman made their mistake.

“They missed an opportunity to choose differently.

“There is a moment…between the choice of “being-right-at-all-costs” and passively accepting the situation.

“A heartbeat in time before the decision is made to rail and rage. A drop in the eternal cosmos where you are presented with a choice of how to respond. Not react.

“Reaction is charged with emotional turmoil. It is fueled by strong feelings that prompt people to say and do things that they regret later, when the emotional tsunami has cleared. Reaction is usually based on a triggered, habitual response. No thinking is required – just re-action.

“Response is thoughtful and purposeful. Instead of allowing the ego to stir up the emotions, response is connected to your values, your mission and yourself. Response is the reflection of who-you-are, rather than the intense “how-dare-they” reaction.

“How do you respond instead of react? My Post Office friend, Sally, has a great attitude. She is harangued every day by people who bring their frustrations with them, along with their letters. She has to deal with different languages, different rules to mail packages to different countries, and difficult people.

“And she does it with easy grace and calm.

“After watching Sally handle these customers, I realized her technique.

“She did not take the customer’s barrage personally and she always responded with kindness.

“Instead of fueling the reaction with her own emotional reaction, she used a kind tone and words to bring the person off the emotional cliff.

“The great news is that it works. Angry Man and Angry Woman both felt like their complaints were heard and they both came in later and apologized to Sally.

“I can’t speak for either of the Angry People, but I do know personally that when I choose to respond instead of react, I stay peaceful. My peace of mind remains intact and I am calm, clear and focused. The situation usually resolves, just like it would if I had chosen “how-dare-you,” but with less upset, turmoil and anger. If it doesn’t resolve to my satisfaction, it was not worth losing my peace of mind by reacting with rage.

“How do I make that choice – to respond instead of react? It’s simple.

“When I feel that rush of emotion and know that I could follow that siren call, I close my eyes and breathe.

“Stopping the visual information helps me find my peace of mind. Breathing slows down the physical adrenaline rush that is taking place in my body. Emotions do not take over my rational side and I am able to choose how I want to respond.

“Or as a friend of my mine loves to say, “Is this worth losing my peace of mind?”

“If you are on the reception side of customer rage, try kindness. And know that the anger is not directed at you personally. If you are the person about to unleash your fury at a perceived mistreatment, close your eyes and take a deep breath.

“Your peace of mind is worth it.”

 

 

Stuff That Never Happened in the ’50s

I was born in 1951, and believe me–things were very different than they are today. Take the huge hoo-hah about “shaming kids” now when they do something wrong. Their parents may make them stand by the road wearing a sandwich sign that tells their crime, they may take over the child’s FaceBook account and upload pictures of the humiliation for all their friends to see, and so on. It sounds very radical today, but not if you grew up in the 50’s.

Back then, if you stepped out of line, your punishment fit the crime (to quote the Executioner in Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Mikado”). For example, in our grammar school, a girl I knew stole candy from the store across the street from school and was caught. Our principal marched her to each and every classroom and told each class what she had done. He also made her hold her hands out to show what she had taken.

I remember thinking that I was NEVER going to steal anything ever–I would have died of embarrassment if I had to be paraded around like that. Back then, school and your town was your “FaceBook;” everyone knew everyone. Chances are that, if that poor girl still goes to her class reunion, that story will still be told about her.

Is this *humiliating? Of course it is–it’s meant to be. That’s what a punishment is; you are punished for bad behavior. The idea is that the punishment is tough enough so that you don’t do again what you originally did to get in trouble in the first place.

The other part of the 50s-style punishments was the unspoken premise that whatever you did reflected on your entire family. Back then, things got carried through from start to finish with the same people; the parents. There was no liaison between kids and parents, and the very idea of government interference was unheard of; the only buffer you had was perhaps your grandparents or aunts and uncles. But they were all part of your family, so while they might have softened the blow of your particular punishment, they stood with the parents on it.

When I was growing up, my mother was the editor-in-chief of the local newspaper, and she had a lot of responsibility. Dad was starting his photography business at the same time and making a good name for himself and his work. If I had done something stupid, like steal something from a store, people might have thought that I had done it because my parents either knew about it and were fine with it (they certainly would NOT have been), or that they stole themselves (also no). But you see how this thread goes—a child’s actions back then reflected heavily on the child’s family.

We also had a family tradition, the three of us; every week or month or so we held a family council. The rules of the house were confirmed each time:

  • No leaving the house unless I told one or both parents where I was going
  • No taking money out of Mom’s purse or Dad’s pocket without asking
  • No lying
  • No swearing
  • No borrowing Mom’s clothes or jewelry without first asking
  • No cheating in school
  • No swimming unless I let one or both parents know about it
  • No using the telephone without permission

The rules of the house were always followed by the type of punishment that would happen if the above transgressions happened. This way there was no ambiguity; if I did <insert whatever no-no was on the list> than this would happen <insert suitable punishment>. As sure as night follows day, I could count on that cause and effect equation. I had no reason to kick if I left the house without telling one or both parents where I was going; the punishment was what it was, and I had been warned.

My parents were strict but fair. I never felt humiliated or abused or picked on or made fun of; we were a family, and we all knew and respected the rules. I also knew that the reasons for the rules were because they loved me absolutely. It’s hard to be a parent and harder still to enforce rules that you know will make your child unhappy, even if for a short time. But the reason for rules is to help a child become a rational, healthy, honest, capable and strong adult, ready to live and function in the world.

Also we reviewed the chores that each of us was responsible for; mine was vacuuming the house every Wednesday after school, helping with the dishes each night, putting my own clothes away, putting my dirty clothes in the hamper, and other jobs that needed doing. This was what being a family was all about; everyone helped out, everyone knew the rules and everyone had their own free time and family time together.

I didn’t then and I don’t now think that that was such a bad system. Look at where we are now with all the entitled kids, drugs, bullying, violence, etc. Where are the parents in all this? Are there clear rules and standards laid out and adhered to? Are more parents trying to be their kids’ best friends instead of being their parents? Does every family member know what is expected of them? As Dr. Phil would ask, “So how’s that workin’ out for ya?”

Not good. Not good at all.

*Please understand that I am not saying that public humiliation is necessarily a good thing. When both parents and children understand what the punishment should be for this, that, or the other thing, then they are on the same page. That’s fair. The child might not like it, but at least he/she has been warned in advance what the punishment will be. The he/she can consider if breaking the rules is worth the punishment that will surely come.

 

What I Found When Looking Through Some Old Scrapbooks

The other day the Crankee Yankee and I were shifting boxes around upstairs; long story short, he is renovating the second story of our house. That space was originally divided into two small-ish  bedrooms with a half bath between them. His plans are to upgrade the bathroom to include a shower stall, new toilet, etc., and make one side a guest bedroom and the other side a combination storage and hobby area. So while all this has been going on, we’ve used it for storage of things such as seasonal clothes, books, paperwork, etc.

I wanted to locate two scrapbooks; one was a small one that Dad put together for me when I was a senior in high school; I played Anna in “The King and I,” and Dad took photos from several scenes during dress rehearsal. He spent nearly the entire night developing the prints and putting the scrapbook together to present to me on opening night. That scrapbook did and does mean a lot to me.

The other scrapbook was a compilation of trips that Mom and I took over the years. It also had several old photos of some of our old 4th of July get-togethers, featuring pictures of some dear relatives and friends long gone. There are also many pictures of my parents dancing, wearing their finery and looking as if they owned the world. Then there are several pictures of the cats we have adopted and loved along the way; gone but still very much alive in our hearts. There is even a photo in there of my ex-husband sitting with the Crankee Yankee, who would later become my current husband.

In going through this last scrapbook, I threw out a lot of pictures that have ceased to mean anything to me. I saved out a few pictures of myself and my fellow instructors when we ran a Tae Kwon Do karate school back in the 80’s, also some of our karate tournament pictures. I ended up keeping the pictures of my first wedding because there are photos in there of my late aunt Dottie, also a few shots of people I want to remember.

I also found several journals I had written all through the years I was married to my ex-husband (nearly 10 years). I looked through them briefly, and decided to burn them all. The reason? I’m not that person anymore—the one who made constant excuses for bad behavior or situations I found myself in during that marriage.

The great thing is that I finally forgave myself for making a very human mistake; I saw clearly the kind of man my first husband was but refused to acknowledge it. He wasn’t a terrible person, just not the right one for me. These days I wish him well, and relegate him to just one more blip on my past radar.

In going through those scrapbooks, I saw the young and vulnerable me, too. I also noticed how pretty I was as well. Isn’t it strange how we never seem to give ourselves credit for much of anything until some years pass by? These days I can still see my young self in the mirror from time to time, and even age and all it brings doesn’t dim who I am. Let’s face it–young people are generally beautiful and graceful. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to look wonderful when you are young. But youth and looks will only get you so far; the rest is up to what you have inside.

It’s strange and amazing–in aging it’s as though we somehow become lit from within, and that light softens most obvious signs of aging. The things we have learned along the way, like kindness, love, compassion, forgiveness, empathy, understanding, joy and happiness in the moment; these are the things that illuminate us as well as teach us.

These late-blooming gifts come to us at exactly the right time. Funny how that works, isn’t it?

 

 

Stuff I No Longer Worry About….

I have to say that, the older I get, the easier life gets–well, in some ways. For instance, there are so many things I just don’t need to worry about or even think about. Example: I no longer work five days a week; it’s part-time for me, and I love it.

Some other things that are off my radar are these:

  • High heels: I know that they used to make my legs look fabulous, but comfort has become my constant watch word. The highest heels I wear these days are about 1″.
  • Panty hose: Honestly, I can’t remember the last decade I wore panty hose. They were kind of a package deal along with the high heels.
  • Lip liner: Nope. I used to have a whole suite of lipsticks with matching lip liner–now I make do with Burts Bees colored chapstick. At my age, my lips don’t need any further definition.
  • Shaving: Say what you will about menopause, but it’s the greatest depilatory there is. All of a sudden, I had no more leg hair, arm pit hair, or upper lip hair. Oh, and my eyebrows….but for that I can use my trusty eyebrow pencil. (Oddly enough though, I still have toe knuckle hair. Go figure.)
  • Long eyelashes: I can’t believe now that I used to wear false eyelashes. It made sense at the time, and they actually looked pretty good. But now? At this age, less is definitely more.

The vanity I had when I was young and pretty has morphed into a more doable, more sensible reality. As always, I keep up a good skincare routine, and change up products as my skin changes. I also find I need a lot less makeup; a win-win for me. I look good and spend less.

It is a great mistake to try to hold on the looks we had when we were younger. I find that looks, when cared for and not amplified to a ridiculous extent (botox, plastic surgery, etc.), will take us nicely from middle age to older age.

Not long ago, I was shopping at our local grocery store, and happened to see an older employee there. I had to do a double-take; she had to have been in her middle-to-late 70s, but there she was, wearing long blonde curls, bright blue eye makeup, too much mascara and rouge, and vivid red lipstick that was rapidly bleeding into her lip lines. It was sad. I’m sure that that look was great when she was in her 20s or even 30s, but she hadn’t changed with the times and her age, so she just looked clownish and old.

I wished I could have taken her home and given her a makeover, but how can you offer that to a total stranger? Besides, maybe she thinks that she looks good that way. Who am I to judge?

So these days, I take good care of my skin, choose flattering clothes and low heels. My only real vanity is the skill I’ve had to develop to sketch on pretty good eyebrows to supplement the seven or eight real eyebrow hairs I still have. Oh, no, wait; there is one more vain thing I haven’t given up: my love of wearing jewelry and lots of it. I love a big dramatic “look at me!” piece of jewelry, and I’m comfortable with how it looks. It’s also a good conversation starter.

So these days I celebrate the “less is more” (except for jewelry, that is) look, and I don’t miss those damned pantyhose one bit.

Some of My Favorite Things

Mom and I talk just about every evening around 7:00pm. We talk about our health, Dad, the Crankee Yankee, our cats (her one; Bailey, and my three; Nala, Pookie and Plumpy-Nut), the day’s events, what funny thing happened today, what books we are reading, and so on. All this takes me back in time to when I still lived at home with Mom and Dad.

Except for my horrible age 13 self (that age is just the worst!), I have to say that Mom and I always got along well; loved, liked and enjoyed each other. Dad just enjoyed us as a package deal–he and Mom  began dating when I was about three years old. Mom had been divorced for a while, and Dad had never married. I took to him right away; he spent time with me, listened to me, picked flowers with me; until one day I asked if I could call him “Daddy.”

Evidently that was ok with him, because soon after he proposed to Mom. Years later, he said that he might have been able to walk away from one of us, but not both of us. The rest is history.

Beyond that, we all got along well. Mom and I always liked to be with each other, and we did a lot of things together. Here are just some of the highlights I remember well:

When I was old enough to wear a real bra (thankfully, I skipped that whole ‘training bra’ business), Mom presented me with a Christmas present; a box filled with at least 10 different bras! (My favorite was an orange and white striped one.) The handwritten gift label on the box read “How Firm a Foundation.”

Years later, we were shopping together at one of our favorite discount places. Mom grabbed my hand and hissed, “LOOK! There’s a big box full of <our current favorite brand of bra at the time>! Let’s go!!” Well, we charged over there and started tearing through the box to get our sizes. A few women came by to look, too, but we glared at them like timber wolves over a bloody deer carcass and they hurried away. I think we each bought about five bras at a great price, but the best part was laughing about how we savagely defended “our” territory!

We did pretty much the same thing at *Marden’s (where you can literally find everything from designer clothes to floor wax) once. They had a sale on women’s shoes; $5 per pair. We walked out of there with shoes we would never have bought at full price–I bought three pairs of heels; black velvet, lipstick red grosgrain, and ivory with rhinestones on the toes. As we said to each other later on, ‘at $5 a pair, who cares?’

Mom and I used to belong to the local church choir; she sang alto and I sang soprano. One Saturday afternoon, we were practicing a hymn together, the hymnal resting on both our legs. Our cat, Henny, must have either loved or hated our singing; she kept walking back and forth over our legs and the hymnal!

When I was in high school I fell in love with theater. Our school had just started a drama club, and they announced that each year the school would put on both a dramatic play and a musical. The first musical was called “The Guy From Venus.” I got the lead, and was more thrilled than I’d ever been in my life. What followed was four very happy years of high school because of the plays. The days I tried out for the leads (for some reason I was crazily confident about trying out for the “big” roles), Mom would always caution me not to get too worked up about it; that I might not get it.

So on the day after auditions when the all the parts had been chosen, I would walk home after school all the way down the street to our house, head down, looking like I’d lost my best friend. I knew that Mom would be watching my progress through the kitchen window, and start figuring out how to cheer me up because obviously I hadn’t gotten the part I wanted. When I opened the door, there was Mom standing at the top of the stairs, with a loving and consoling look in her eyes. Slowly I would raise my head, break into a huge grin and yell “I got it!!”

In my junior year of high school, I was asked out for my first prom. I knew perfectly well that the boy who asked me out had asked someone else first; in fact I knew he had a huge crush on her. She had gently turned him down as another boy had already asked her to go with him. So he asked me, because he knew I would say yes. He was the funniest boy in school, and I adored him for it. He was also in some of the shows with me, so we already had a connection based on that. So when he asked, I jumped at the chance to go to my first prom AND go with the boy I liked!

When I told my parents about it, they were happy for me. They knew the boy and his parents, and liked him. Dad told mom to take me out and buy me a pretty dress, shoes, the whole works. Words can’t describe how much that shopping trip meant to me–Mom and I settled on a beautiful pure white sleeveless gown; satin with an overlay of white lace that looked like snowflakes. I had my first pair of white high heels, and our neighbor kindly lent me elbow-length white gloves and a rabbit fur shrug.

Many years later when I came home to visit Mom and Dad, we went to the local coffee shop where my old prom date’s daughter worked. When we came in, Mom introduced me to her, and she said, “Oh! You’re the one who went with Dad to the prom!”

Mom and I wrote a children’s book together–accidentally. We were staying overnight somewhere on one of our travels, and after we shut out the lights to sleep, we started making up rhymes. They became rhymes about animals wearing clothes, and they just kept getting funnier as we went along. One of us said, ‘hey, we’d better write this all down; it’s pretty good.’ Months after that, we submitted a manuscript called “Shopping at the Ani-Mall.” It was published in 1991 by **Windswept House on Mt. Desert Island, ME.

A few years ago, Mom invited me to go up to Alna, ME and stay overnight at ***Wabi Sabi, an incredibly great bed and breakfast. One of the rooms features two old-fashioned bath tubs placed foot to foot, so that two people could soak luxuriously in their respective tub. There was also a handy wire basket on a wire shelf that spanned the top of each tub so that you could shelve your glass of wine (and/or Mr. Bubble) on it in easy reach.

So Mom and I did just that, and killed off a bottle of wine, laughing and talking and telling terrible jokes. By the time we got dressed and came down for dinner, Joan, the innkeeper exclaimed, “Well! You two sounded like an entire sorority up there!” then laughed her head off. Since that visit, Mom and Dad have gone there often. Joan, who loves them, refers to us all as “Snap” (Mom), “Crackle” (me), and “Pop” (Dad).

There are many, many more stories to tell, and many more favorite things to share with you. But for now, these few will give you an idea of how very lucky I am to have my parents and how many lovely memories we all share together.

There will be more–stay tuned….

*See http://mardens.com/

**Sadly, Windswept House is no longer.

***http://wabisabicottage.com

Technology and Me

This new technology and me–

We don’t and won’t and can’t agree

That it’s any better than making a call

On a phone that’s just a phone after all–

Or sending a note written by hand with real ink,

Instead of a hurried text that reads in a single blink.

Do we have to be connected every night, every day?

Does life really have to be that way?

I’m sick of selfies, social media and Twitter,

About which everyone seems to titter

About this and that and things that don’t matter–

It’s all gone as fast as chocolate cake batter.

I long for things that keep my senses wide open

And for all those things for which I’m hopin’,

Like the welcome voice of a friend on the phone,

Or a song in my head that won’t leave me alone

Until I’ve sung it out loud for anyone to hear–

I’d sooner that than a device in my ear

That sings for me, not to me–

That just wouldn’t be me!

That’s not the way I want life to flow

With gadgets and gizmos and do-dads that go

“Beep” and “boop” and “bing” and “bong”–

Sorry, for me, that’s gone on too long–

So I think I’ll ignore them, all those neat-o devices,

And just stick to my books, my pen and all of my vices

That keep me amused and out of trouble,

And far, far way from this big technology bubble!

 

 

 

 

 

 

All Because of Sara

Yesterday I went to see my doctor, the wonderful surgeon who performed my lumpectomy. In her practice, she works with many Dominican women who come to her for treatment for their breast cancer. So her waiting room is usually filled with Spanish-speaking folks.

Yesterday was no different; I was the only non-Spanish-speaking person in the waiting room. Sitting near me was a grandmother, her daughter, who had her own daughter (who looked to be about 10 years old), and her toddler, whose name was Sara. She was downright adorable, with dark curls flopping down around her ears, wearing a cute pink and white striped dress and pink sandals with pink silk flowers on the straps.

Curious as only a little girl can be, Sara walked around to check out her surroundings. She didn’t bother a soul; just looked around, walking and babbling contentedly to herself. None of us could help smiling at her. She smiled back, charming everyone. The women next to me said softly, ‘she is cute,’ and I said she sure was. A few of us made eye contact and smiled while watching this sweet little girl.

The waiting room in a doctor’s office isn’t always much fun. It’s usually sterile, cold and off-putting. There are long waits, lots of people, lots of complaining, and the chairs are often unkind to the behind. You can feel the worry, frustration and fear all around you, and it puts a lot of people on edge.

But my doctor’s waiting room was different. Sure, the chairs are uncomfortable over time, and you may be scared or anxious, but there is still a feeling of hope and comfort there. The receptionist and staff are friendly, welcoming, and bilingual. As many of the patients do not have much English, this is a great help to them.

But just having little Sara in there with us all brightened up everything. You could see warmth and humor in those women’s eyes as they watched the little one in her pink dress. You could see that they were thinking of their own daughters and granddaughters, and that kind of unified us all. I remember when my Ava, my 4-year old granddaughter was that age, and how cute and funny she was. I think we all were comforted and charmed by her, and somehow she unified us all.

Imagine–an entire room filled with women of all ages, and this little girl kept us all together; keeping us thinking positively and fondly and making us feel less afraid and alone. All because of Sara.

Don’t tell me that angels don’t walk the earth!