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I live in a 29-unit apartment building in downtown Waukesha. The tenants who live here cover a pretty wide swath of the variety possible in the human family. I love our apartment, I love the location, I love the atmosphere of the old building we live in.

What I do not love is that I am noticing a disturbing trend happening here. On several occasions, I’ve noticed bags or boxes of garbage appearing in our hallways. Usually they disappear in a timely fashion — as though just placed outside the door in preparation for removal to the dumpsters outside. That is fine — I’d prefer that the bags containing the refuse of my fellow tenants’ lives be kept within the sanctum of their own living space and not shared with the rest of us, but if they’re taking it right down, it’s not a huge issue.

What is more disturbing is the appearance of several collections of, well, junk in the hallways. This time, another concerned tenant wrote signs that said, “Please take your trash to the dumpster or put it back in your apartment” and placed them on the junk piles. I thought that this was a positive move. The junk piles remained there for two weeks (I was kind of conducting an experiment — I’ve toted other people’s stuff out before). I wanted to see how long these piles would sit there, note attached, before someone did something about it.

Today, I got my answer. On my way out to run errands, I ran into another tenant who said, “Have you seen the stairs?” I said that I hadn’t, and she went on to tell me that it looked as though someone had a temper tantrum.

Someone had taken a box of the junk — containing Christmas decorations — and THROWN it down the stairwell. It covered the entire stairwell, and all of the glass ornaments broke in the fall, leaving behind a shattered mess.

Sighing, I left to complete my errands (time sensitive). I was fuming a little bit. It’s directly against our lease to leave any belongings or trash in the hallways, and moreover, we are required to take out our trash in a timely fashion from our apartments. Um, I find that not only infinitely reasonable, but common sense. I have no desire to live in a pig sty. My mistake was in assuming that I lived among other responsible adults who felt similarly.

When I got home today, I grabbed a bag, and cleaned up the stairwell. My vacuum cleaner cord isn’t long enough, or it would have gotten vacuumed as well. I did not put the box in the hallway. I did not throw it down the stairs like an enraged child. But I live here, and so I cleaned it up, and took it to the dumpster. Because I am not a pig, and I have no desire to live in a piggish environment.

I am fighting the urge to write a strongly worded letter and post it around the builidng, but that seems childish as well. So, I called management to report the broken glass and the circumstances of its origin. I guess that’s the adult thing to do, since I cannot remedy the situation myself.

What’s most disturbing to me is that of the many adults living in this building, none of them had enough care or concern about their own welfare to take the necessary steps to address the issue (I’ve called about it before). No one took out that box when it became evident that its former owner had no intention of doing so. Presumably, no one called management to inform them that someone was breaking the terms of their lease. No one did anything productive.

What someone did do was make a bigger problem, a bigger mess. I’ve worked in service-industry jobs throughout my life, and I’ve seen this time and again in all the possible permutations. People get a bee in their bonnet, plant their flag, and decide that this, right here, is the hill that they want to die on. Most of the time, it’s a bump. It’s so small that it couldn’t even be considered a geographical feature. But they’re hot and they’re gonna let everyone know how outraged they are.

All I have to say to that is: Who cares? Who cares how outraged you are? What I want to know is, now that your flag’s planted and you’ve chosen your stand, what are you going to do about it? Holler? Stand there and bleed?

The box of stuff thrown down the stairwell was someone planting a flag — and worse, doing so passive agressively. It makes me tired. It makes me disheartened that people would choose to make it worse, instead of taking a small and simple step to make it better. It required more effort to throw the box down the stairs with all that anger than it did to just truck it (whole) out to the dumpster.

If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem — and what makes me tired is all the people standing on their bumps hollering away about all the problems, and doing nothing other than getting in the way of those who’d like to be part of the solution. Grow up, people.

No, a box of trash in the hallway is not the hill I want to die on. I’m saving that stance for when it matters — because when I do plant a flag it will be in a hill, something big — and I’ll do more than stand there and shout about how big it is. I’ll grab a shovel, or a sword, or whatever tool is required, and do something about it. Now, who’s with me?

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I attended and graduated from Mount Mary College in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, and I – like every woman to pass through those hallowed halls of learning – was required to take a course entitled ‘Search for Meaning.’ The class was four credits – two of which were philosophy-oriented, and two of which were spiritually-oriented. We had two instructors – translation: we had two times four credits of homework for the class, and we ended up christening it all sorts of things like ‘Search for Sanity,’ or ‘Search for my Lost Social Life.’

And despite the workload, it was one of the best classes I’ve ever taken. It was a deeply important part of the formation of my growing spiritual and philosophical nature.

Every student to pass through Mount Mary was required to take that course, and despite the differences in content for each section, one requirement never wavered: we all read Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. (Viktor Frankl was a psychiatrist who’s path led him to witness and endure some of humanity’s most horrific acts against its own members (the Holocaust) – his suffering and the suffering of those around him inspired him upon his release to write it out and send it out into the world anonymously. At the last moment, a friend talked him into at least putting his name on the title page. And this short book stands as a testament to humanity’s quest to discover the meaning of life, even and especially amidst great suffering.)

I’ve found myself thinking about that book on and off in the years since I took that class, since I graduated, and a lot of life happened, and a lot of change happened. I found myself thinking about it for a few weeks, so I finally dug it out and I’ve been curling up with it for a few minutes a day since I unearthed it from the depths.

It’s interesting to see the places where I marked the pages. What I underlined then, what I underlined now. The differences in perspective. The ability to see deeper than before, and to catch nuance and meaning in things that all those years ago, I didn’t know would become important.

I thought I’d share a few of my favorite parts with you tonight. I’ll let them stand alone, because they speak for themselves.

“When the impossibility of replacing a person is realized, it allows the responsibility which a man has for his existence and its continuance to appear in all its magnitude. A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the ‘why’ for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any ‘how.’”

“…the meaning of life differs from man to man, and from moment to moment. Thus it is impossible to define the meaning of life in a general way. Questions about the meaning of life can never be answered by sweeping statements. ‘Life’ does not mean something vague, but something very real and concrete, just as life’s tasks are real and concrete.”

“Emotion, which is suffering, ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it….The prisoner who had lost faith in the future – his future – was doomed. With his loss of belief in the future, he also lost his spiritual hold; he let himself decline and became subject to mental and physical decay. Usually this happened quite suddenly, in the form of a crisis, the symptoms of which were familiar to the experienced camp inmate. We all feared this moment – not for ourselves, which would have been pointless, but for our friends….He simply gave up….and nothing bothered him anymore.”

“We who lived in the concentration camps can remember the men who walked through huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

“What you have experienced, no power on earth can take from you….human life, under any circumstances, never ceases to have a meaning, and that this infinite meaning of life includes suffering and dying, privation and death.”

I’ve been going through some tough stuff lately, and learning some hard lessons. Revisiting this helped me put things into perspective, and to remind me of some of the things I believe in. It helped me refocus on the core of what I hold to be true in what sometimes feels like a world gone mad. Hope you found something here for you, too.

Um... Yeah. It looks kinda like that for all of us. The comfort is that I'm pretty sure it's supposed to 🙂

Come have a look through my kaleidoscope eyes. Come walk with me, as I make my way down the Path of Mastery (complete with fits and starts and pitstops and potholes). Our very impermanence is what makes us burn so brightly, and struggle so valiantly, and feel so deeply – it’s what makes us seize the day, and the moment. Come in, settle in, share a moment with me.

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"Who are YOU?" said the Caterpillar. This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, "I--I hardly know, sir, just at present-- at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then." (Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter 5)
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