The Buck Stops Here

I am horrified (and a tiny bit amused)  at the games of Pass the buck, Hot potato and Telephone being played at the White House. It’s very Stormy!  Personal responsibility, integrity and truth are distant memories. He said, she said, No, I mean yes, that’s the truth until it isn’t, I didn’t do it, that’s not my job, ask Michael, ask Rudy and it’s all up to Sean. A perfect storm of  “I am not responsible!” While I would love to just point fingers at guilty parties in Washington, I must confess that I have a few hot potatoes in my closet, plenty of excuses, and some lies and  blame too.

Let’s define terms:

excuse: something (such as a condition or set of conditions) that explains improper behavior and makes it acceptable

lie: to make an untrue statement with “intent” to deceive

blame: to say or think that a person is responsible for something bad that has happened

Looking at these definitions in black and white is pretty scary isn’t it?  My first reaction is that I am a “better” person than those sleazy people, the liars, blamers and excusers. I have a sneaking suspicion that I “…doth protest too much.” How many times have I used the “I am sick.” lie to get out of work or an unwelcome invitation? Some of my excuses are long winded because I am justifying or explaining. If you ask me, it’s not my fault. So now what?

What happens at the Whitehouse is out of my hands(I vote),  but I am responsible for my own behavior. No excuses! The buck stops with me.  President Truman accepted responsibility for dropping the atomic bomb on Japan so certainly I can own my own behavior.  Not every lie I tell is devious, at times I “misrepresent” my feelings.  When I respond “I’m fine.” and the truth is I am anything but fine, I am lying. I heard recently that “fine” is not a feeling. The lies I tell myself are often motivated by my desire to protect myself. I can lie without saying a word i.e I don’t say anything when a group of people are laughing at a racist joke or I don’t say I feel like Mexican food when my partner says Italian food. One of the beauties of truth is that it is so much simpler, I don’t need to concoct a story or pretend. How will I know if someone loves ME if I don’t show them who I really am?

When we say someone is jaded we usually mean they are not innocent or of good character. Deb E. in the March 2018 issue of The Forum has a perfect acronym for J.A.D.E.:

                         Justifying my actions

                         Arguing my position

                         Defending myself against blame

                         Explaining why I’m right

I turned this into a rap for myself, and it is bad, very bad.  My rap helps me to remember jaded is not an adjective I want used to describe me. 

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Right now I have 3 orchids blooming and 2 more budding and soon to bloom.  I remember hearing and reading about how difficult orchids are to grow, but with benign neglect and the  southern sunlight, mine are thriving. For years my vision for my front bed along my driveway has been a show of hens and chicks of many kinds and colors amid a rocky landscape. I have pulled out the tulips in the bed many times and the damn things keep coming back. Guess what? I have decided that the tulips are beautiful and I would miss them terribly if they were not greeting me each spring. In spite of my best efforts to kill them, they present themselves each spring and I have grown to love their determination to win me over. Both my orchids and tulips are not coaxed into blooming, they just do.

Like with my flowers, I have found that a hands off approach to the people I love seems to be the best way for me to witness their uniqueness and beauty. I can stop coaxing, manipulating, begging, giving advice and be amazed at the beauty of the human spirit. Doing less and staying out of the way allows others to bloom in their own way and at their own pace. My hands are not for molding, they are for holding others with love. I don’t always remember this, but this is my intent and I am making progress. People bloom when they are ready and nothing I do can change that fact.

But what about my relationship with myself? Surely letting myself just “be” would result in me becoming a nasty and mean fat blob, smoking up a storm and guzzling liquor every Saturday night. Without will power, vigilance and my inner drill Sargent what would I do? Would I even get off the couch? Getting older gives me a longer history to learn from and decide if more of the same is likely to encourage me to grow and bloom. My inner Drill Sargent may get me to follow orders for a bit, but when her back is turned I may be reading, crocheting, or walking. No marching when I am off duty! Wait a minute! I don’t even remember signing up for the “I’m not good enough, try harder!” platoon, but I must have got drafted in my childhood. So hind sight is 20/20 and going forward I can choose to do less and play more, to be less fearful and explore more and to love myself as I am and as I grow. I take lots of photos of flowers so perhaps my intuition is telling me that I can bloom too.

The next time you see a bouquet of flowers, especially one you have bought or grown for yourself take time to appreciate each bloom. Give each flower the gift of your attention and awe. Do the same for yourself!

Autobiography in Shoes

One, two buckle my shoe…. I loved them, the black patent leather Mary Jane shoes I had in second grade. I shined them up with just a tiny dab of Vaseline and lots of buffing. The pure white anklets I wore with them were just perfect. Of course I also had my school shoes,   serviceable but boring black oxfords. My Mom insisted that I save my patent leather shoes for church and special occasions, the oxfords were for school. My boots were red rubber ones with the single side button closure. My genius and somewhat devious plot was to wear my patent leather shoes under my boots and waltz out to school. It worked a few times, but on good weather days I had a hard time justifying the boots and besides my Mom had found my ugly shoes hidden in the back of the closet. So began my shoe obsession.

Shoe wise, elementary and high school were a bit boring, except for platform shoes and go-go boots. I had the best platform shoes, at least 2 inches of platform and they were cool. I still miss them and wish I had held on to them. Go-go boots, were not in my shoe wardrobe, but I do remember a couple of the popular girls had them.  I also had “gym” shoes for PE, which were like Keds with a bit of attitude and we could wear them all day-if it was gym day.  This was long before running shoes, cross trainers, and a  $200.00 price tag. I am so embarrassed to admit I used white shoe polish on the canvas to keep them pristine white. Flip flops “came out”of the shower and could be worn as sandals. Nail polish on toe nails?  Of course!

As a single young woman, I was willing to sacrifice comfort for high heels that showed off my legs. High heels were sexy and being sexy was good. To hell with the pinched toes and blisters, I looked pretty damn good in high heels. Often the heels tapered to less than a dime in size and I cringe to think of my wobbly ankles. Very pointy toes were also the norm, my foot was  wider than the shoe but somehow I got my foot in my glass slippers. When the toes of shoes got rounder I joined other women in a collective sigh of relief. For every day you might have caught me in Earth shoes, the heel of the shoe was lower than the toe because this was better for the foot.  Gym shoes had graduated to a casual shoe for everyday wear, think Converse for guys and classic Reebok’s for aerobic classes.

And then it happened. I came down to earth. I started to run every day and running shoes were my obsession. One shelf of athletic shoes exploded to shelves and shelves and even whole departments, and that was in my closet! I was on my feet all day at the bookstore and decided down with the heels, and up with the flats. Tired of suffering, my new mantra was comfort. My pregnant shoes were more the size of snowshoes, but my swollen feet needed lots of room .When I met Roger my one concern was he was just my height. Flats were important so I did not tower over him, which I considered a fate worse than death. Soon I grew to love how I could look into his eyes without craning my neck. 

These days I have shoes and boots for every possibility. Running shoes, hiking shoes, walking shoes, sandals, boots for looks and boots for snow, dressy flats, casual shoes for hanging out, black shoes, brown shoes , lace ups, slipons and many cool sneakers/athletic shoes I never use for athletics. I even have slippers which Roscoe chews on and runs around the house with to taunt me.  I challenge you to walk a mile in my shoes!

A Happy Ending

When Roger was in rehab after a hospitalization I realized he would not be coming home after his “rehabilitation”, and in fact would never be coming home again. It was the deepest loneliness and sadness I have ever felt. I would go home after my nightly visits and search for videos of dog rescues on You Tube. You know the ones where a poor dog is on its own, starving, dirty and afraid of humans. I  knew that no matter how bleak things looked the dog would be rescued, cared for, cleaned up and adopted by a loving owner. I was obsessed with the happy ending. I watched countless rescues because I needed to know that happy endings were possible.  But not for me….

Movies, books and lives should not have sad endings. If I ask about a book or movie and I hear the ending was sad I am very reluctant to read or watch it, sad endings are silly when the human creator can control the story.  Sad endings are the tornado from the Wizard of Oz, I don’t want to be carried away by sadness. Sticking my head in the sand, whistling Dixie or just plain old denial haven’t  stoped sadness and sad stories from infiltrating my awareness.   What was the point I asked my college friends, if everyone was going to die? Isn’t death the ultimate sad ending?  No human can edit death out of the human story.  Roger died and none of us will escape death.

Can we talk about Death?  It seems to me it is easier to talk about wars, murders and  yucky bodily functions, or almost anything,  than it is to have a conversation about death. The philosophy or psychology supporting hospice care is the concept of a “good death”.  Do we lose our “battle” with cancer when death occurs? How long do we “fight” to defeat death?

I think surrendering to death may be the best path to a good life. Staying alive at all costs is not cheating death, it could be cheating life.  Acceptance, peace, reconciliation, freedom and surrender are pillars of a good death. I was honored to be with Roger when died; I felt like I was witnessing the birth of his soul. A happy ending.

Hide and Seek

Almost everyone has played the child’s game Hide and Seek: the “It” person tries to find all the other players who have hidden from “It”. The game is not rocket science or brain surgery. Don’t you wonder what actual rocket scientists and brain surgeons say to each other? It’s not sentence diagraming or soil analysis? Back to Hide and Seek! The seeker has to count to an agreed upon # with their eyes closed, and everyone runs and hides. When the counting is done the seeker begins to seek. Child size bodies fit in much smaller hiding places than adults do and children can run faster too, so there is a measure of difficulty.  Quick thinking was also important as the time frame for hiding was only minutes long.

We, meaning my brothers, sisters and a Roman Legion of cousins, took Hide and Seek up a notch and played it outside in the dark. We called it No Bears Out Tonight!  Don’t think about bears! Our farm had a HUGE lawn, trees, bushes and out buildings so there were lots of places to hide. In the dark, alone and fearing lions and tigers and bears and bugs. I can still remember laying on my belly in the grass hoping and not hoping that I would be found before a monster got me. Living on the edge of fear and excitement was what was so much fun…

Smart phones and lap tops have put technology front and center in the adult version of Hide and Seek. There’s ghosting where a party hides from the other party by going silent on their phone: texts and phone calls are not returned. This is the easy way out of a relationship and very hurtful to the party being ghosted.  The seeker seeks and does not find the hidden who has decided not to play anymore. On the opposite spectrum, cyber stalking is relentless negative contact seeking to frighten the other party. The threat is “You cannot hide from me!”. Of course we all know about hiding in plain sight: phubbing is eyes focused on the tiny screen of a phone hiding from personal contact with the person in front of you. 

Flipping back and forth between being the seeker or the hidden is the normal state of affairs. When I close my front door and I am alone I usually sigh with relief . I want to be hidden for awhile, hidden from the demands of the day and the people who expect me to play my role. After my fill of peace and solitude I seek relationship with family and friends. I call my friend to see if she is up for taking the dogs for a walk, or call another friend to meet for coffee. I just did a mental zigzag and realized that “friend” and “fiend” are just 1 letter away from each other. My mind does work in odd ways. 

“The Diary of Anne Frank” was one of my favorite books as a teenager.  I was fascinated by how her family hid from the Nazis in the attic of a building and how Anne still wrote in her diary knowing that they could be found and killed at any moment. The confines of her hiding place did not stop her from seeking the best life had to offer her. I think I would call that courage.

Just a Number

I am 65 years old, just a number right? 6+5=11, 6×5= 30, 6-5= 1 and 6 divided by 5
= 1.2; just playing around with numbers. I know my years add up to 65, but nothing else seems to add up except wrinkles! If I could, I would multiply all my good times and subtract the bad, but dividing the good from the bad is not as easy as it sounds. Hindsight sometimes reveals what I once viewed as bad ends up being the catalyst, the “learning experience” propeling my life forward in a positive direction. Doing the math fails to quantify the mysteries of life.

When I was a child we said: 5 takeaway 2 is 3. I like that old-fashioned way of explaining subtraction, takeaway, not minus or subtracted. People pass away, they are not subtracted from our world. The world minus Roger is not the reality of death and grief for me. 5 minutes waiting for Santa does not equal 5 minutes waiting for biopsy results. So this relationship between numbers, time and life and death is a conundrum. Einstein proved that energy equals MC squared but even he did not find a formula for what equals a “good” life or for that matter a “good” death. What really counts in our lives?

At times I have added up all the things that were wrong with the world and with me, and the total was: it’s all wrong! It never occurred to me that reality is more like a balance sheet with some days in the red and some days in the black. What counts is that I am blessed to add entries every day because I am blessed to be alive! The running total is what life is all about.

The universe is infinite and numbers are infinite; I can never reach the biggest number there is. When I was a child I found the concept of infinity to be unfathomable. There has to be an end somewhere doesn’t there? Inside, outside, beginning and end contained and limited my childhood world. Infinity and forever were scary concepts for me. I thought about counting my entire life and still not reaching the end, or traveling through space and never being able to stop at a final destination.

“How much do you love your Momma?” or “How much does Momma love you?” Tyler would spread his arms wide and say “This much!” As if the space between his left arm and right arm could contain Love. I have learned a few things and I am positive Love is infinite and forever and is the only thing that counts.

Easier Said Than Done

We all know that actions speak louder than words and most New Year’s resolutions are forgotten by February. I make promises to myself and others, and I am ashamed that I have a trail of broken promises behind me: “I will never have another cigarette.” or “”I promise not to tell.” I meant them when I said them. When I don’t act with integrity, guilt and shame are my emotional costs. We all want to believe that we are people of integrity even though we may not always act with integrity.

“Talk is cheap. Put your money where your mouth is.” Money is one of my most precious resources. Recently Colorado Public Radio had their fund drive, and even though I listen to them a lot and “thought” it would be a good idea to contribute, I didn’t put my money where my mouth is and actually contribute. It’s easy to talk about saving money and budgeting, but I often just give it lip service instead of really saving money. I can talk, and talk …and never get around to “Just do it!”

12 step programs and fellowships are full of wonderful axioms regarding actions and words. You can “talk the talk” or you can “walk the talk”; basically are you doing the work of the 12 steps or just talking about it. Question: How do you know when an alcoholic is lying?” Answer: If their lips are moving, they are lying. Matching words and actions is difficult and not only for the alcoholic. What parent hasn’t wanted to say to their child “Do what I say, and not what I do!” Kids are great bullshit detectors. I cringe to think of what kind of example I was to my son Tyler in my crazy moments. Fortunately, he turned out pretty good in spite of me.

When I find myself trying to rationalize my choices or behaviors I know I am on a slippery slope and may slide right past my self respect. Freud was on target when he defined the ways we humans attempt to evade responsibility for our choices and behaviors. We blame, deny, project and rationalize and then double down on our excuses. The longer my excuses the more likely I am fibbing, stretching the truth or just plain lying.

Saying just one word can be the closest we come to saying what we mean and meaning what we say. “Help” is very direct and transparent. “No” really is a complete sentence and doesn’t need further explanation. Sometimes our “yes” is compromised, it’s more I am afraid to say no or I want to manipulate your opinion of me. The most honest yes is the “Yes” punctuated by arms raised in the air in victory. Yes!

In the meantime I will be learning to do the right thing so I can love the face I see in the mirror.