Friday, December 20, 2013

...merry, happy, whatever Christmas/holiday/whichever to you, too

I had an experience at the grocery store that confirmed what I have long suspected: labels are at best generalizations. Liberals, conservatives, folks of all beliefs and non-believers...within each circle there is a spectrum of characters and some are downright intolerant, smug, obnoxious people. For some reason, Christmas, the season of peace on earth and good will to men/women/children/pets/the good earth, seems to bring out the worst at times. To-do lists are long and time is short.

Sometimes the label switches in mid-stream. I’d always been considered a “Mary” in those Martha/Mary debates of yore. An art major, you could count on me to enter into a discussion and occasionally burn/forget something. But I managed to sling together countless Christmas Eve dinners and Christmas brunches for the family and for friends after work on Christmas eve. Keep in mind, the planning and  cooking went on for weeks before the events...because I loved it. Those recipes brought my grandmother, my mother, and aunts back for brief, fragrant moments. Even though I was hurried, those were Mary Christmases. Days of Adoration (insert tinkling chimes). Then I hit the first Christmas that I cooked for strangers. I wasn’t feeling well and a head cold gets no sympathy. No one offered to help. I listened to one extoll the virtues of not cooking all that “bad” food (which, might I add, he ate with ease). One bragged about not cooking...period. Another joked about being no help at all. When all had gone home - stuffed to the gills, she says with a lifted eyebrow - a thought occurred to me. I was running on empty. The jokes weren’t funny and the waiting crowd was little more than a vexation. I suddenly had become Martha. This had been a day of necessity, void of (more tinkling chimes) Adoration. These label shifts are downright inconvenient.

Which brings me back to the Safeway. Some woman wearing Peace earrings, a complete stranger, said, as I picked up a pound of thick-cut bacon, “I would NEVER put that in my mouth.” Which is good because it was the last package of my favorite brand.  I gave her the village idiot smile and mused about the holidays. While I’m aiming for a "one-size-doesn’t-fit-all”, personally honest, non-judgmental, grateful season, I’m batting about .375 at the moment. Here’s the deal...

I hereby promise not to talk about happy childhood Christmases unless asked. Yours may have been dreadful. This also means I will only play the twenty-four hour a day Christmas/holiday/whatever music station when I am in the car alone. If I start to hum the Alleluia chorus, mea culpa on several levels, since I can’t carry a tune in a bucket. Just be glad I’m humming instead of kvetching.

If you are grieving, feel free to talk about it. Or not. I’ve been there and can tell you there is no right answer. Know that in the silence of caring hearts you are loved...even if you don’t feel it. Try not compare your loss to another’s. Grief is an absolute and can’t be measured. Maybe you (and I) miss Granny and Christmases past, for instance. Maybe a loved one has died. Maybe you want to be with people. Maybe you want to be alone. You get to decide according to the Grievers’ Bill of Rights. Do whatever it takes. (There’s that “w” word again.)

It takes all kinds to make the world go round. People-lovers, dog-lovers, cat-lovers, ferret-lovers, plant-lovers of the world unite. No one of us is better than another. And no one of us can do it all. Together we can care for all of this good earth and all who inhabit it. If you are spending the holidays with carnivores, bring a vegan dish. Look at pictures of folks' children/grandchildren/pets/African violets with forbearance and at least try to oooh and ahhh a little bit.

If every child were loved, cared for, disciplined, and taught to respect others, the world would operate quite differently. But every child isn’t. Some people are just plain ornery. May this time be a reminder to love a little better those who aren’t easy to love. Those who differ from me...and love to point out the differences. I will try my best to put up with their non-[bacon-eating] ways. NOTE: Consider [...] a placeholder for the person/personality/class/political party/whatever du jour.

This next part just became personal. My daughter called. She has the flu. In Colorado. Adrienne, I want to run over with Sprite and broth and heating pads and I can't. Mama loves you. I have a theory that the reason so many people get sick during the holidays is due to the “gotta get it done, gotta go” stress that compromises the immune system. Sickees go shopping, go to cantatas, go to parties, and spread the cheer aches, fever and pains...a gift that keeps on giving. Attention,Walking Petri Dishes, please stay at home and throw a pity party. It’s allowed. Marcella, I am sorry you are sick but applaud that you are at home taking care of yourself. Thank you.

Re season greetings: habits are hard to break, hard to form. I’m a Christmas person so I draw from this. Note the picture at the top of the blog. Out of respect, I usually - or not (oops) - say “Happy Holidays” to those with different - or unknown - beliefs who might celebrate a different holiday. Or Holy Day. There are differences between these two. For those "darn, I just slipped and said 'Merry Christmas' to a Druid friend (yes, I have one) and 'Happy Holidays' to the head of the Adventist Sunday School” moments: please file this under “get over it”.  Frankly, my dear, I don’t give I don’t care how you greet me if you smile and/or hug...unless you are sick (refer to previous paragraph). It’s the meaning behind the words that counts, in my humble opinion.

I will try to do something to assure than at least one or two folks - strangers - will celebrate warm, non-hungry, loved lives...and practice this for more than a day or two a year.

I will try to remember that Sneezy, Dopey, Grumpy, Just Plain Tired, and Critical are people, too. I’m at least one of these at the moment. Just before the office door last opened, I was thinking of one of our cerebral palsy kids who came in for care yesterday. Of how precious and brave he is, of his parents and the struggle they all face every moment of every day. In truth, Feeling all good about my heart. Then in came another child, with his dad. Dad has never met the therapists. Knows nothing of the care given his son. He was a bit unpleasant. I tried really, really hard not to forget what this family faces daily...or what I’ve just written. The unpleasantness continued. The silence within me was now deafening. I knew the obvious: maybe this is all that Dad can do in this moment, in the face of ungodly, unrelenting cheerfulness broadcast everywhere regardless of his circumstances.  So I drug out the village idiot smile and suggested that he might like to observe the care. He became less confrontational. We all breathed. A conversation ensued. Not a Kumbaya moment but civil. “Fake it til you make it” ushered in a “this too shall pass” moment.

Five minutes later we gathered around a little child and loved on him.

A star fell on Ukiah.

For me, Christmas happened. Again.

In the words of a wise friend, I won’t “should” on you. Please don’t “ought on me”. At least not today. May this season be a time of healing and hope. Happy, merry, whatever to all...

Friday, December 6, 2013

...i am powerless over a lot*

Some days Advent is an exhausting journey. Worthy. But exhausting.
[photo, Atlanta Zoo 2009]

* [see title] - ...and given to hyperbole.

I was all set to write a post (AKA a vent) about the cowardice of passive-agressive behavior. Betrayal has struck recently. First, an e-friend who is a mature, caring person recently discovered that she had been mocked online in, as we say in the south, a very tacky manner. My response, in part: “Some things hurt. But Advent is a reminder that those moments pass. And hopefully we become more compassionate. We grow stronger rather than harder.”

Quick words. Sincere. Incomplete. Within days, another betrayal occurred. The worst sort...because, this time, it was all about Me...yep, with a capital M. A harmless enough but (here it comes again) tacky chat between two people I know. No great scandal that would rock my world, much less anyone else’s. A purposefully private conversation I’d had with The Repeater about things political was, well,  repeated. No people had been sliced and diced nor had any animals been injured in our exchange of ideas. Was the gossip a thoughtless joke fest? Or an attempt to curry favor with someone who holds differing views but a degree of (perceived) power? Or simply that moldie oldie, “I know something you don’t know and I can’t wait to tell” perhaps?

Oddly enough, the Repeater and I share similar views. An unexpected sting seems somehow more painful. I am grateful for safe places which allow me to move outside my comfort zone. If you’ve ever visited unsafe places, you can appreciate this. A place where I can acknowledge feelings and thoughts that mirror my authentic self. Where I can explore, unformed but open, ideas - and questions - that this southern girl was raised to leave unspoken. Oh, I ignored politically correct advice in most ways. But a nagging feeling has long persisted: that I held back, that my silence was complicit betrayal...of myself, of all that I hold holy.

I don’t know what prompted the gossipy exchange and I wish to goodness I didn’t care. At almost every level, I don’t. But there is this tiny part of me....the one that says “I trusted you with a vulnerable piece of myself and, in the words of the late, great Lewis Grizzard, you stomped that sucker flat.” Funny, how these things seem to come around, isn’t it?

Dialog can’t happen. At least not now. Perhaps never. Dialog requires two people who not only want to talk but who are interested in listening. Most importantly, between people who hold trust inviolable. In truth, I’m the one who misjudged. The one who invited the “talker” into my trust.

Here’s what takes all joy out of denouncing the betrayer. How do I denounce another’s passive-agressive behavior with consummate sincerity when I haven’t totally denounced my own? I thought I had given this up for Lent a few years back. Maybe not. Do I too often pull back rather than offend tender sensitivities. Is this born of compassion or a desire not to rock the boat? If the latter, I’m not a real friend. Because a real friend is honest...kind, but honest...willing to give you the space to walk away if you choose.

The argument that I should have the courage to be public with every view I hold has its merit. But the choice is not always simple. I’m a parent, a step-parent, a friend to people who are questioning, who are vulnerable in their own relationships. I want them to feel safe in their journey of discovery. In order to keep the lines of communication open, I am honest with them. And private. In conversation with casual acquaintances, I try avoid shrillness. My sin is usually queasy politeness. Some days I do better than others. I’m a work in progress. As the old saying goes, I’m not what I want to be, but at least, thank God, I’m not what I used to be.

I’d say I wish I were more like Bill (I do) but I’m hesitant to do so. Because I grew up in a culture where wives were sometimes deferential in the most manipulative sense of the word. My own mother couldn’t believe I voted for a different presidential candidate than my husband. “Well, I never!” And I’m sure she wasn’t lying. Her opinion: if she voted against my dad, she’d cancel his vote. When I pointed out that this was my intent, her eyebrows went into overdrive. “Where did I go wrong?”  I asked if they rotated elections so that each had an opportunity to exercise this most sacred democratic privilege. You would have thought I'd asked to murder my second cousin. Or clip my fingernails at the dinner table. In our polite little world, these options carried the same weight. Just for the record, I questioned my dad. He shook his head and said, “You know your mother. Bless her heart.” I speak “bless your heart” fluently. I heard him, loud and clear. And I now understand her world more clearly. I stand on the shoulders of women who paid a high price to rock some boats and trim the sails that pointed us in a different direction.

Based on conversations and the respect that passes between us, I know that Bill wants me to form my own thoughts. To grow. He’s given me space. Lord only knows, he was my first real sounding-board. Helped me with Lamaze breathing (and my occasional curses) through the labor pains of birthing authentic expression. Fact is, we don’t cancel each other out.  I married my BFFLB. (The first part of that acronym is obvious. The second, private. I’m allowed. Get over it.) Hallelujah, I’m  more authentic and enjoying it more these days.

Please understand, I won’t betray a friend because you think I should. If you don’t like my friend’s lifestyle, opinions, politics, or religion, take it up with my friend. All of them are perfectly capable of speaking for themselves. If pushed to join in the denouncement, I will not. No how, no way. If you don’t like this, fine. It’s a free country. [See above “walk away” reference.]

Feel free to disagree with me about anything. To my face, preferably, rather than behind my back. I expect the same of myself. Because if I take the coward’s way out, I invite not only you but others, indirectly, into a gossip-fest that distorts truth and hurts everyone. I can paint my words nine ways to Sunday with Christian outrage and concern. Alas no one would be able to hear what I'm saying over the noise of my - you got it - tacky actions.

I believe in attraction over promotion, in the healing power of a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T, in trust. Even when others forget. I have found that when I mirror - in words and actions - what I believe, without acrimony or judgment, even those who disagree tend to hear a little bit. Dialog happens. Sometimes.

To my “daughters", to struggling sisters, don’t just take my word for this. Listen to that great thinker, Yves St. Laurent,: “The most beautiful makeup of a woman is passion. But cosmetics are easier to buy.” My own experience is that passion trumps fashion. Our messy bits are touching places. In the book, Ahab’s Wife, or the Star Gazer, Sena Jeter Naslund writes, “If you meet a woman of whatever complexion who sails her life with strength and grace and assurance, talk to her! And what you will find is that there has been a suffering, that at some time she has left herself for hanging dead.” Find comfort in this. May not be what you want to hear but it’s true. Don’t settle for a one-size-fits-all life. Madeleine L’Engle, one of my heroes, wrote, “I do not think that I will ever reach a stage when I will say, 'This is what I believe. Finished.’ What I believe is alive...and open to growth.” I suggest to trust no “finished” person nor a finite “fact”. Facts and Truth are separate things. Truth is a living thing that cannot be quantified and is no longer true if qualified.

As for beliefs, we don’t have to travel the same road to get along. In my own experience, “God” is a much-abused synonym for some cosmic butler/State Farm agent that acts when summoned or handed a wish list. For me, God is The Great Goodness. That cosmic (as in “bigger than me”), collective Absolute. Love. I believe this because I have seen great can’t exist without the other. I also believe in the discipline of science. These are not mutually exclusive for me. Ours is an individual journey. Here’s to consummate respect. For each other. For sacred anonymity.