Personal ponderings from a natural night-owl!

Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

Today I Am Perfect

I hate taking pills. In fact, in another lifetime (before I had kids) I declared that I’d better stay healthy when I got old because there was no way I could EVER take a pill a day, let alone several.

Then I had kids. Kids taught me, in so many ways, to never say never. After my second pregnancy, I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism. The treatment? A pill a day.

Treating thyroid conditions requires consistency. The medication is slow to build in the body, so it takes about 3 months to reach peak efficacy. This means that you can skip a day without much negative effect. I tried taking the pills. It would work for a day, a week, maybe even a month. But then I’d forget  for a day. One day became two, then four, then 20. Failure. I’d try again, but inevitably, I would fail at taking my pill consistently, which meant that the pills weren’t really going to help me. They were a mental pain, a sign of weakness and failure. I hated thinking about them every day. I felt demotivated, sick, and old – at age 31.

I did some further research about hypothyroidism, educated myself thoroughly, and decided that my condition wasn’t worth treating. (Or at least, that it wasn’t worth treating if I couldn’t treat it perfectly). My case was mild, my symptoms minor and not at all bothersome, and the pills seemed to be taking over my life. My doctor didn’t understand or agree with my choice, but he acknowledged my autonomy as a patient. I continued to have my TSH levels checked yearly to make sure nothing was changing. I didn’t deny that I had the condition. I just chose not to treat it, because if I couldn’t treat it perfectly, I wasn’t going to treat it at all. And this way, I didn’t have to face the daunting spectre of imminent failure every singe day.

This coping mechanism worked fine for 8 years or so, but then in 2009 early pre-menopause and hypothyroidism became contributing factors in an apparent radical hormone imbalance that resulted in depression. As I got on the road to recovery, it became clear that I really needed to start consistently treating my thyroid condition to maintain good mental and physical health. So I started taking a pill a day.

The first year was on-again, off-again – just like before. But this time, I was also seeing my lovely therapist who helped me examine what I was doing and how I was feeling. Somewhere in our conversations, I had the idea that I could change my definition of “success.” Maybe “success” didn’t need to be synonymous with the “perfection” of  taking a pill a day and never skipping. Maybe I could lower the bar and re-define success as “taking a pill a day until I didn’t – THEN taking a pill a day even after a skip.”

So in January, 2011 I started a chart because I’m a firm believer in the concept that you pay attention to what you track. I made a little calendar that could fit inside my pill box, and I started writing “P” every day that I took my pill. I did pretty well! I went a whole 37 days before I missed a few days from being sick. Ugh. I gritted my teeth and started taking the pill again.

This “failure” was now progress – and success! All of a sudden, the very thing would have made me feel like a failure – missing a few days of pill taking – made me feel successful – all because I’d changed my definition of success and accepted the inevitability of human imperfection.

I went 47 more days without missing, then I missed a day, took pills for two more days, and missed an entire WEEK. Here was a challenge. Could I stick to my new definition of success and start again? I could, I did, and life was good. It was summer of 2011 and I wasn’t perfect, but I felt successful – I WAS successful!

Or was I? Maybe I was cheating. Is changing the definition of “success” to make it less than perfection really succeeding? It sure is. And in a weird way, it enabled perfection. Because you see, I didn’t every give up the notion that taking the pill a day, every day, was the ultimate goal, the perfect goal. I just stopped making it the ONLY goal.

I am a Christian and my Lutheran faith tells me that Jesus died for my sins so that I could be perfect in God’s eyes. God wanted perfect obedience from his creation, but he also wanted it freely given from us, so he gifted us with free will and the ability to choose obedience – or not. Satan is real and Satan is allowed to tempt us, try to part us from our loving creator God. Sadly, from the very first human, we’ve chosen temptation and disobedience over perfection. We are a corrupted creation.

But God changed the definition of success for us through Jesus. Instead of heaven being reserved for beings who never make a bad choice, heaven is now for those who acknowledge their failures, regret them, and come to terms with the inevitability of them. To attain heaven, we must let go of our human lust for pride and power, admit complete defeat, and accept God’s superiority over us by accepting Jesus as savior.  We can’t even do that perfectly, so we have to do it over and over again, never losing faith that through God, our imperfection can be made perfect. In holy communion, I accept Jesus as my savior again. I acknowledge what I have chosen to say and do (and what I have chosen to NOT say or NOT do) that goes against what my omniscient and omnipotent God knows would ultimately make me happiest. My sins are forgiven and I am made perfect.

In other words, when you are a Christian, every day is New Year’s Day.

I continued trying to take my pills. I missed most of April, May, June, and July, 2012. In the past, I would have considered that an EPIC failure. But because of my new definition of success, I instead had the opportunity for epic success. I started taking my pills again on July 26th. And this time, I didn’t stop. So today, December 31, marks the last day of 5 consecutive months of not missing one day of pill taking!

Today I am perfect.

I know that I will fail again. Maybe not tomorrow, but some day. I am human and I simply am not capable of attaining perfection in my present form. But now I know how to shrug off the curse of perfectionism that tells me I will never succeed, change my definition of success, start over, and achieve. I wish you nothing less in 2013.

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End of the Innocence?

For 10 years, I’ve been quiet about my personal reaction to and feelings about the events of September 11, 2001 and the aftermath. But it seems fitting on today’s 10 year anniversary to let my perspective finally be heard.

Nothing in my experience of the day or my feelings as it unfolded was unique or remarkable. I was a stay-at-home mom of two young children ages 2 and 2 months who took her kids to a morning gym class and came home to news reports of tragedy. Millions of Americans saw the same scenes I saw and were glued just as voyeuristically to the horror unfolding on television as I was. It was what happened in the days, months, and years afterward that came to shape how I feel today about the events of that day.

People associate a wide variety of feelings with their personal experience of 9/11: grief, loss, fear, confusion, insecurity. Personally, I associate 9/11 with shame and anger – for my own country. If today’s ten year anniversary is about loss, and here’s what I believe we truly lost on 9/11:

* We lost over 3,000 civilian lives in a horrifically tragic way – as tragic as the millions of innocent lives which continue to be lost in horrific ways all over the world from violence, preventable disease, human cruelty to fellow humans, and wars which we ourselves are perpetrating.

* We lost our sense of fiscal responsibility, led by a President who told our citizenry that to spend money to avoid recession was their patriotic duty. Is it a surprise that we are in the economic situation we are today?

* We lost our sense of security at home, just like we lost that sense when Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941. We vowed we’d never forget the lessons we learned following that particular national tragedy, never repeat the mistakes made in the aftermath.

* We lost the recognition of individuality for which we were admired throughout history. We blamed an entire religion instead of a handful of radical zealots. We feared and institutionally discriminated against Americans who practiced Islam, making them feel fear in their own country and depriving them of individual liberty, just like we did to Americans of Japanese descent after Pearl Harbor.

* We lost the very foundation of freedom that defines us as a nation. Instead of being MORE vigilant to protect that for which the world envied us, we gave it up for the illusion of action to create a false security which never did, never could, and never will exist.

* We lost our pride in our freedom to question those in power. We pretended unity and called it patriotism. We called traitor those who disagreed, rather like the very extremists we abhorred.

“Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty – power is ever stealing from the many to the few…. The hand entrusted with power becomes … the necessary enemy of the people.” Wendell Phillips, 1852

After the events of 9/11, we vowed not to let the terrorists and the extremists win, but when we allowed them to take our sense of security in ourselves, when we allowed our priceless American liberties to be eroded, we gave up our power. “We have met the enemy – and he is us.” (Walt Kelly, 1953)

“The world changed that day,” they say. But did it? Or was it just your personal perception of the world that changed? “We will never forget,” they say. But that’s what a generation before us said after Pearl Harbor.

I believe with all my heart in what the United States of America truly stands for, in the ideals on which it was founded. But I feel we have fallen far away from those ideals as a result of our reaction to the events of 9/11 – and THAT is what saddens and angers me even more than the loss of innocent life. I pray that as a country, we will stop cowering behind bravado and return someday to what made us truly great: to embracing the REAL American values of individualism with respect, openness without fear, and freedom with hope that made us a target that fateful day.

Back to the Future

There are times in your life when you look back proudly at how far you’ve come. And in those moments, you know that you will NEVER be that old self again because you are now (you think smugly) a better version of yourself: more wise, more secure, more YOU. Then you go to a high school reunion and in an instant you are once more that insecure version of yourself all over again.

In the 1985 film “Back to the Future,” the main character travels back in time, makes a few inadvertent changes, and returns to a present that is altered from the one he left.  This week, I have done the opposite: traveled ahead to the past and returned to a present that is somehow changed.

Just 9 days ago, a Facebook page was created called, “I Grew Up in Hudson, Ohio.” This page quickly became a repository of shared memories for  people who attended school in Hudson. The snippets posted there – and the discussions that arose as a result – are addicting to read. Over the last week, I’ve found myself spending hours each night lost in a sea of memories.  I’m not alone – in 9 days the group has amassed over 1600 members!

At first, the online space was like a giant class reunion that erased the artificial barrier of graduation date. People from many graduation years – and even decades – were posting memories and those of us who shared them chimed in. Of course, as more people contributed, more familiar names from the past popped up and more memories were rekindled. Once we all got past some of the surface reminiscing, the “where are you now” and “what do you do” started, similar to what happens in a face to face reunion.  But at a face-to-face reunion, that’s about as far as you ever get before the hour gets late, the alcohol is cut off, the kids need attending, and everyone drifts back to their lives.

But in our online space, something more started happening than ever happens at face-to-face reunions. Something…well…magical.

The people we are today started talking about how the people we were then had felt. (Yes, that’s a confusing sentence, but important. Go read it again!)

Popular kids confessed their insecurities and how unpopular they felt. Apologies were made to kids who were bullied decades before. Gratitude was expressed for little things that carried meaning far beyond what could have been imagined. Crushes that had been secret for decades were confessed – and some people discovered that they had been reciprocal! It sounds trite and mundane, but the stereotypes and boxes we were in then disintegrated and we discovered that we were more alike – and less alone – than we ever imagined, if only we’d realized it all those years ago.

Some of us started chatting more deeply through post replies. One thread had a discussion that went on for HOURS in real-time, through consecutive text replies. Then the questions posted got more introspective, like “what were your biggest regrets in high school?” And the answers weren’t flip or sarcastic – not one. They were serious and poignent…and real. After 20 plus years, most of us have “grown comfortable in our own skin” as one person put it. We were now discovering that these people we thought we’d known, with whom we shared our formative years, had been strangers to us all along, much as we’d been strangers to ourselves as we struggled to find our place in the world.

Then another deviation from a standard reunion: teachers joined the group. Long retired most of them are, and struggling to connect new and old names with new and older faces. (“I am reading this and picturing all of you as I knew you at 13!” someone said.) But their students – still addressing their teachers as “Mr.” or “Mrs.” started posting heartfelt thanks for what was taught.

Here’s what one former teacher, who must be in her 70’s by now, posted : “Dear ex-students, I am STILL growing up, near Hudson, and you now know our secret: all of us adults weren’t really all that adult. !!!!!!!!”

And some of the replies she got:

“I became an English teacher because of YOU, (and against my family’s influence.). Through your quarter course in creative writing senior year, I found my voice. Thank YOU.”

“I have taught my kids how to diagram sentences and a few of their teachers have commented on that method. I remember learning so much from your class. You made a great impact in my life. I enjoyed the speeches. It has helped me with my career since that is what I do everyday, getting up in front of people and speaking. Thank you!”

“I still have my first Yamaha guitar and the folk book that started my love affair with music that continues to this day. Thank you for your patience, inspiration and guidance when I needed it most.” [Yes – same teacher, who taught ENGLISH, but evidently inspired someone in music!]

“The impact you had on our brains is hard to put into words, but thank you so much for making me think and care and stop just going through the motions. You recommended I read “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” outside the novels required in class, and the experience changed me tremendously.”

It moved me to tears.

But then something even more amazing happened, at least, to me.

My facebook profile has my married name, with my maiden name in the “my info” space. Someone put two and two together, figured out who I had been, and was genuinely delighted to see me! She said she’d thought of me over the years and wondered how I was, and how my mom was. Me? You wondered about ME? And my mom?! I honestly didn’t think I was that memorable to much of anyone.

And then the conversation turned to my sister, who was killed when I was 12. Someone who had been her good friend posted. People started chiming in about how horrible it was when she’d died, how bad they’d felt, how they still remembered that, and how it impacted their lives to this day. THEIR lives – now. My 8 year old sister who died 29 years ago.  Mind = blown. I got more than one personal message of people recounting their memories of that time in their lives. I am still processing what those messages mean to me, but it is profound.

I frequently hear people talking about how impersonal technology is, how sad it is that our kids spend so much solitary time online, how we as a society can’t possibly connect like we used to “back in the day.”  I’ve never believed it, and now I’ve added one more personal example of the profound ways technology can connect us in deeper ways than we ever imagined.

So forget “Back to the Future.” I’m going to keep going ahead to the past, rewriting the old story to incorporate the new perspectives I’ve gleaned.

That’s The Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be

I understand now how people “get behind the times” or “out of date.” It’s how we were taught.

In the ongoing educational debate over the so-called “21 century skills,” I’ve argued that we need to change how we learn without enough cogent, eloquent thoughts addressing WHY we needed to make that change.  But earlier this week, Kate at Sweet|Salty tweeted a link to this article on typography that rocked my world and really brought together in a personal way my thoughts on this subject. The article states – unequivocally – that putting two spaces after a period while typing is outdated, unnecessary, and just plain WRONG. There are few things I hate more than being wrong, let alone wrong AND outdated, so I applied my skepticism and my 21 century skills and set out to prove that I, who ALWAYS puts two spaces after a period, was NOT a dinosaur. To my shock and horror, I discovered that my name should be changed to Sue.

When I first read the article, I was so shocked by this revelation, and so sure it was wrong, that I only read the first 6 paragraphs. But then I started wondering why I use two spaces after a period? My eager-to-please, perfectionist, school-girl self immediately wondered if I’d *gasp* LEARNED IT WRONG?! But then I read the article in its entirety and realized that no – I’d learned it right, but the definition of “right” has changed. [The practice actually goes back even further than the typewriter, as explained in this article, for those of you REALLY interested!] The bottom line is this: what I learned had become outdated and because I’d never learned WHY two spaces were “right,” I didn’t know when it was time to change.

With a startling burst of insight, I realized that this problem – knowing what but not why – permeates our society (and our educational system) right to the core. I started thinking of other examples of things we do here and now because we were taught that way. Then I solicited examples from others and the floodgates opened.

My friend Rhi (say REE like “Reece’s Peanut Butter Cup”) on Plurk shared my favorite hilarious anecdote: “My mom was over at a friend’s house once, while her friend was preparing a whole turkey for roasting. Before she put the turkey in the pan, she cut off both legs and threw them out. My mom was surprised and asked her why she did that. The friend’s response: ‘Well, that’s how you’re *supposed* to do it. My mom always did it that way.’ So my mom told her that *nobody* else did it that way, and had the friend call her mom to find out why. Turns out, the friend’s mom never had a pan big enough to hold an entire turkey. For decades, the rest of the family had been throwing out the turkey legs just because they thought they were supposed to!”

So let us all be reminded that change is constant, youthful inquisitiveness imperative, and single spaces after full stops the new standard – for now!

[Note: typing this blog post with only one space after each period was insanely hard. Sometimes re-education is painful!]

Ch-ch-ch-Choices

Everything is a choice.  Do you believe that?

Whether you work, or not – and where: choice.  Whether you eat, or not, and what – and why: choice.  What activities you use to fill your time, how busy your life is – or isn’t: all choices.

I hear through space and time your vigorous denials. “But…but…I have to work! I have to go to school. I have to eat. I have to get out of bed.  I have to be president of the PTA!”  But really – you don’t.  You don’t HAVE TO do ANY of those activities – you choose to do them all – every single one. And yes, there will be consequences for every choice (after a while, not eating will cause some problems), but that doesn’t make it any less of a choice.

I think many people live daily lives doing what they think they HAVE TO do, never acknowledging the CHOICES they have, ruling out myriad possibilities of action before they are ever considered.  When your eyes are opened to the vast magnitude of choices we all have every single day, it can be incredibly empowering, uplifting, inspiring, and motivating!  It can also be completely paralyzing, overwhelming, and debilitating.

I was first presented with the reality of choice by a counselor in college while I was facing a pivotal, life-changing decision.  I told her I had no choice in the matter and she pointed out that not only did I have several choices, but that the illusion of lack of choice was in fact a construct of my own unspoken choices.  The box of stress into which I had painted myself was built by my own hand. At the time, this concept of broad choice was empowering, possibly life-saving.

Nearly a year ago, I embraced the extension of reality that EVERYTHING was a choice.  And I stopped doing nearly everything.  I was tired of getting ready for Christmas, so I. just. stopped.  I did laundry only when I ran out of clothes.  I cleaned only when it bothered ME.  I didn’t want to go to work, so I quit my job.  I was tired of helping at the kids’ school, so I stopped going in. Some days, I did not want to get dressed, so I lounged around in pajamas. For days.

At first, I told myself that this was just the usual holiday break, that things would pick up again to the usual frenetic pace come January.  But the “break” lasted for 4 months and eventually I figured out that my “break” was depression.  But that period did remind me that everything – EVERYTHING – is a choice.

As a society, we are also conditioned to blame some mysterious outside force for our perceived lack of choice. “I was so busy…” or “I had no time…” or “I couldn’t get to it…”  We are somehow trained not to own our choices.  And let’s face it – putting the blame on something outside ourselves is easier than admitting that we just didn’t want to do something!  But we all have the same number of hours in a day.  What really happened in each of those situations was that we MADE A CHOICE.

The start of the new year is all about resolutions, but resolutions are really about different choices we’d like to make in our lives.  I’ve read a few thoughtful blog posts since New Year’s Day that also speak to making choices. They are worth your time and thoughtful consideration, should you chose to read them.  Zac Chase blogged about choosing to be vegetarian, but not vegan.  And Kimburly VanderHorst blogged about making purposeful sacrifices on the altar of change in order to accomplish a big goal.

Me? I’m choosing to continue my success at taking the medicines that help me balance my system and be more healthy.  I’m also choosing to keep trying to find and incorporate fun physical activity into my life.  I’m choosing to give myself permission to fail and try again, and again, and again!  And finally, I’m choosing to live a less busy, but more meaningful and joy-full, life. That doesn’t mean there are fewer activities to occupy my life, but it does mean I won’t be trying to do all of them at the same time anymore.  And I won’t apologize for making choices that please me.

What choices – large or small – will YOU make this year?

The Glance

She walked in to the vet’s office as I was getting ready to walk out yesterday.  Our eyes met, briefly, but that glance told me everything I needed to know.  It was a look of anguish, embarrassment over being seen with such red-rimmed eyes full of tears.  I quickly looked down, she looked away, struggling with a large chocolate lab on a leash in one hand and a baby carrier in the other.  The person at the desk took on a hushed tone and gave her a sympathetic look as she choked out the “yes” that confirmed who she was.  But I already knew.  Why else would someone be crying as they entered a vet’s office?  I just knew.

One of the office assistants helped her through the door from the waiting room into the hallway with the examining rooms.  An older looking but happy, bouncy Labrador with a very obvious skin problem came through first, most of his belly bare and large patches of fur gone from the top of his back, too.  He greeted my dog, they touched noses for a bit, then the entourage was gone.  When they disappeared, I whispered to the person at the desk, confirming my suspicions.  Yes, that’s why they were here.  Yes, it was the skin condition, much pain and suffering, they’ve tried everything, she’s been with that dog through so much.  I could barely sign the credit card slip for the shake in my hand and the tears in my own eyes.

I went out to my car and cried with her, for her, and I waited.  I imagined her having to come out with just an empty collar and leash where only minutes before, there had been a friend.  No one should have to go through that alone, or worse, with a baby in tow. It was early in the day – was she going to be alone trying to cope all day today while her husband was at work?  I imagined just going up to her when she exited the vet’s office, giving her a hug, telling her I was so sorry for her loss, giving her some tissues.

But all my pets have died naturally, so I had no idea how long she’d be.  I started constructing other scenarios – maybe someone was meeting her here, maybe she would go to the grief counseling place immediately behind the vet’s office. Finally someone DID come out, and my heart jumped, but it wasn’t her.  I pretended to look for something on the floor of my car, just so my own red-rimmed eyes wouldn’t give me away.  10 minutes went by, then 15.  I started to feel like a stalker and it occurred to me that maybe she wouldn’t appreciate my gestures at all.  Maybe she was a private type of person who didn’t like hugs.  What complete stranger does that, anyway?  So I got embarrassed and I drove away.

I felt sad.  Not depressed – pushed down – but simply sad.  Grief over a tangible loss like that – a dog, a parent, a child, a friend – grief over those makes sense.  Is it possible to experience that same kind of sadness, of grief, over lost ideals, lost identity, lost dreams, over mistakes made unintentionally?

I paused to think of her this morning when I got up and he got up, too, stretching as he does, then coming to push his nose under my hand in greeting.  I imagined fleetingly how she had to come home to a quiet house, no sound of four feet running to greet her, no tail wagging in complete acceptance.  I felt a brief stab in my own heart for the pain in hers when she remembers to feed a friend who is no longer there except in memory.

My own will get some extra love today (but no extra snacks, because he’s got a few pounds to shed).  And I’ll put away that grief of loss for another time, hopefully far in the future, when it’s my turn to hold an empty collar and leash.

Knot. Well.

The rope was rough, the slide to the – bottom? – so gradual, I almost didn’t know it was happening.  No bloody hands, no frantic scrambles for footholds, no fear of falling.  But a very definite slide down nonetheless, the more frightening, really, for its lack of drama.

It was dark.  Very dark.  Like darkness I’d heard about but never experienced.  Not pitch black, though, not THAT dark.  There was the occasional shaft of sun that made its way through the molasses night, but it would fade and I’d wistfully watch it go, straining for the dance of dust motes I knew must be there, but was hidden from my eyes.

There was a knot.  A big knot.  So the slide stopped.  But I was never good at climbing in gym class.  I always tried – I was so determined to get to the top!  And for a while, I could navigate the knots and pretend I was climbing the rope.  But I was really climbing the knots.  So the knot below me held my feet, and all I could do was hang there.

Hey?

You ok?

What’s wrong?

You can tell me.

No I can’t, because I don’t know, I don’t understand, I have no words for what’s happening. So I say yeah (-: and he believes it and I hang there.

Night comes for real.  And morning, according to the clock.  But still night.  Brilliant sun, a glorious day – but still night.  A much anticipated road trip to a place of fond memories – but still night. All day, just night.  And night again.

Then … jarringly … the rope is gone, the pit is gone.  Not forever, not for always, but for a blessed time.  There are clouds and lightness – below me?  Below me!  I feel the sun, blossoms of joy again like so many daffodils welcoming the spring.  And I remember normal. And I like it.  And I realize that the slow slide, that was NOT normal.  And it scares me.

I come through the clouds, toward the ground.  I come down.  There are spikes waiting down there – spikes everywhere.  But they AREN’T spikes – they are hands, hands reaching up to catch me, to cushion the falling, to welcome me back, to protect and to hold.

They are hands with voices that speak, that tell me, “Never forget what a wonderful person you are,” and “I’m going to tell you MY story,” and “You are not alone.”  They are loud and joyous and insistent these hands – many of whom belong to people who sometimes seem to be none of those things.  They say, “We heard, and we wondered, and we weren’t sure, but we were watching.”  They say “It can happen to anyone.”  They say, “I’m sorry,” and “It’s ok” and “Hey!” and “It’s our turn to hold you up.”  They say, “I love you,” and “I need you,” and “Be patient.”  They say, “HUGS.”  They just say.  And there are many.  So very many.

So I close my eyes and drift…down? toward reality? toward hands.  And down isn’t as scary as it was on the rope.  I know, for now, it’s ok.

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