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For the past few weeks, things have felt really intense. A few different things have been chasing around and through my thoughts – mantra-like – that wanted to be written. And every single time I sat down to write them, the words wouldn’t come, and nothing I felt was translated onto the page. It was obnoxious. So, today, I am determined to expel at least one of these imps into the blogosphere, even if it doesn’t come out quite right.

I keep thinking about my past selves. I keep coming back to the summer I was fifteen. It was a super sucky time in my life – my family life had entered turbulent waters, I was a teenager (‘nuff said), and I was dating a boy two years older than myself who was intensely controlling and abusive. Not a whole lot of bright spots there.

On Mother’s Day, the boyfriend and I were in the car, and we’d had a fight (can you call it that if you aren’t able to rebut anything? Then it’s really more attack-like – or at least that’s how it felt). On the way to an outing with his family, I already smelled trouble – he was in a dangerous mood, and on the road we took to get to our destination, the same set of train tracks crossed three times. He charged the train with the car at each crossing, as though determined to send the both of us to oblivion.

Things did not improve from there, and I ended up demanding to be taken home. On the return trip, I was alone with him and his anger, which poured out of him, came out and spilled over, seething. He sped – he knew it scared me, terrified me. The needle on the little car was buried, and I know that we were going over 100 miles an hour. And then he had a moment of clarity, of sense breaking through the rage. He tried to stop, but it was too late. The wheels on the car locked up, and we were still careening endlessly toward the T-stop, and the field of trees beyond it.

A strange thing happened then. I relaxed. I surrendered, knowing that there was nothing I could do to change it. I closed my eyes, and we crashed into the rear end of a van sitting at the corner, waiting to turn.

I leaned my face over the plastic console – I was bleeding profusely, and even then all I could think about was that he’d be furious that I’d ruined the upholstery in the car. It never even occurred to me that the car was demolished. He plucked me from the side of the car, and set me in the ditch.

A woman came, and she put her arm around me. She had a white sweatshirt on, with a pretty lace collar – the kind my mother wore. I never saw her face – too much blood and glass in my eyes. I pulled away, saying, “I don’t want to ruin your shirt.” She made me feel safe, and somehow, I felt no panic, no fear. She tucked me back into her, and said, “Don’t you worry about that now honey.” I didn’t see then or know then what she knew, what the boyfriend knew – that my face looked like hamburger.

The lady called my mother, on Mother’s Day, to tell her what a mother never wants to hear. There’s been an accident.

They strapped me in, and carted me off in the ambulance. I cracked jokes the entire time they scrubbed my raw skin with gauze and antiseptic. I laughed in the dark. They x-rayed my knees and told me the cartilage behind one kneecap was cracked vertically, and would eventually give me problems. That there was nerve damage. That there would be physical therapy. The only time I cried was when the doctor told me that they’d have to stitch up the cut on my eyelid (I sincerely detest needles – and there was going to be one repeatedly heading toward my eye. Shudder – still gives me the heebie jeebies).

I overheard the policeman telling my mother that if any one thing had been different, we would have died. That we should be dead. That it didn’t make sense because when cars hit like that, the engine comes up into the passenger compartment and crushes legs, and that didn’t happen. That we should have flown through the window, since we hadn’t had seatbelts on. That we shouldn’t be here. That somehow, miraculously we were.

They wouldn’t let me go to the bathroom alone – later my mom told me that she was afraid of what would happen when I saw my face. They took me home, and I lay there – a bundle of nerves and pain. I reacted to the ointment they slathered liberally over my cuts, and it burned. I looked like someone had taken a blow torch to that side of my face.

Finally, I went into the bathroom. Alone. I stared in the mirror at the stranger there. Scabs from hairline to jaw line, from ear to nose. Grotesque. Somewhere deep inside, a caged thing stirred. I sobbed, staring at this ugliness on the outside, feeling the ugliness inside. Who will ever want me like this? Who, who? Who will ever want me like this?

I’d had the appropriate amount of teenage vanity – I was no beauty queen, but I had liked my face. I had a pretty porcelain complexion, with rosy cheeks – the kind that turns absolutely crimson and livid with too much sun. I had a smattering of freckles, and my mother’s eyes. I had my mother’s face, reimagined. And now, I was a monster.

The boyfriend was shades of remorse for about two days and five minutes. It took far longer for my face to heal, much less my spirit. The scars stood out fuchsia and angry on my cheek – slashes. My friends said, “They look cute, like cat’s whiskers.” That so did not help, but I knew what they were trying to do, and I let them have that – I let them feel like they could make it better.

Who will ever want me, like this?

At the checkup, my mom asked the doc about plastic surgery. He recommended someone, and we made an appointment. Somewhere in my fifteen-year-old mind was the desperate hope that they would be able to work magic, to make it all disappear.

We arrived at the office and met with the surgeon. He said that if they attempted to fix any of it, it would likely make it worse. I would just have to heal on my own. I was choking on tears, but I thanked him for his time, and we walked out of the office.

I made it to the elevator, my mom rubbing my arm. I couldn’t hold it in anymore – I needed to grieve for the girl I’d been and would never be again. I sucked in hard, and started sobbing, quietly asking, Who? Who will ever want me like this?

The elevator stopped to let a woman on, and I felt ashamed for crying. I felt exposed – and still, I couldn’t stop the hiccupping sobs. My mom briefly told the woman what had just happened. And the woman, this stranger, tucked me into her and held me. Told me that I was beautiful, and that someone, somewhere would see that and know. She held me in all my grief and sorrow. She said the words I could never have believed out of my mother (your mother has to love you, has to see you as beautiful, no matter what happens). She held me and rocked me, and there were tears in her voice when she comforted me.

Years passed, the scars healed and lightened, blending into my natural paleness. I still have to avoid the sun, because that whole side of my face is more sensitive. For more than ten years, I picked small glittering shards of glass out of my cheek and forehead. Tiny diamonds. Everyone who saw me then, broken, thought that I would never look the same. For the most part, I do. But I never was the same, and that was the important part.

I made decisions following this that came from a deeper well of strength and courage than I’d been able to access before. I became more assertive. I wore the scars, for a time, as a warrior’s badge of honor. I wore them in daring, and with a chip.

And then I didn’t need the warrior so much anymore. And I was able to soften. Eventually, I was able to see in this what I was meant to see – that cry, that Who? Who will ever want me like this? had been there before the scars, and lasted far past them. That cry is universal. That cry reflected the brokenness and ugliness I felt inside, about who I was – and my fear that I was far too flawed for love.

I softened. Each time I think about the woman on the side of the road, and how she tucked me into herself, and held me, I cry. Each time I think about the lady on the elevator, and the compassion she showed a stranger, the way she held me tight like I was sobbing for both of us, I cry. And I know that we are angels to one another.

We turn to each other in elevators and lobbies, in checkout lines and on street corners, and say, “I see you. You matter. Someone, many someones, want you – just like this.”

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I once had a garden filled with flowers that grew only on dark thoughts but they need constant attention & one day I decided I had better things to do.  (Brian Andreas)

At my “regular” job, my desk is directly next to a humongous picture window – and it is one of the few reasons that my day behind a desk is tolerable. I get a front seat to the doings and happenings out there, the comings and goings, the small dramas of mothers pushing toddlers or lovers hand-in-hand (or not as friendly, and therefore, more dramatic).

Most of these passersby don’t ever even notice I’m there. But every single morning, without fail, the elderly man who does outside maintenance for the company next door, walks by with his scoop bucket slung over his shoulder, and he waves. Every single morning. I wait for it – in my head he’s the scoop-shovel-man. I don’t even know his name. I know nothing other than that every morning, we share a wave and a smile – and that he’s an important part of my day because of it.

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.  (Leo Buscaglia)

I marvel at these moments when virtual strangers are able to connect and share something important – a small moment, a small mutual experience of being human. I tend to be something of a Pollyanna (I hope you all know who she was – Disney made a movie about her a loooong time ago, based on a 1913 novel by Eleanor H. Porter). According to Dictionary.com, a Pollyanna is an excessively or blindly optimistic person – I wouldn’t say that I am quite that extreme, but I make a real effort to see the sun peeking through the clouds on more days that not.

I don’t know if any of you have felt the energy shifting lately, but I sure have. It was funny – I was on facebook the other night, and one of my friends posted something along the lines of, “Is it a full moon or something? What a really weird, intense day!” I posted back, telling her that it was, in fact, the new moon that day, and those energies could be just as – if not more intense – than that of the full moon. Not sure what she made of that, but I hope her day went more smoothly, anyhow.

This shift links to something that keeps coming up for me in the everyday – a newer unwillingness to put up with things and people in my life who bring bad juju. And this brings me to the phenomenon of the Negative Nellies. A Negative Nellie is the antithesis of a Pollyanna. I am sick unto death of people who, when asked how they are, heave a deep and mournful sigh, and proceed to tell you how everything in their life is utter crap. Aack. Tired of it. These people leave a legacy trailing off behind them like a comet’s tail, too – but, instead of kindness, they sow sorrow.

When confronted with a Negative Nellie, don’t even think of mentioning the weather – this is one of their favorite whipping boys. If it’s a clear sunny day, it’s too bright; if you have a warmer day after a lengthy stretch of bitter winter, they’ll tell you how horrible it is that all the snow is melting and everything is wet. If you are in a ten-year drought, and the long-awaited rains have come, they’ll tell you how there is not enough rain, or too much, or the water just isn’t quite wet enough.

The dismal outlook of the Negative Nellie extends to literally every event, emotion, occurrence, or happenstance that could be conceived of by man (and some that haven’t yet). If you see a silver lining, they’ll find a spot of tarnish. And, lately, I find myself less and less willing to give them even a moment of my time – which presents me with a bit of a moral conundrum: I believe that one of the most important things we can be is kind, and I believe that there is good in every person (somewhere) – but then, I find myself wanting to absent myself from these folks who propagate and spread negative-vibes (which also eliminates some opportunities to show kindness).

I find myself unwilling to be subjected to or held unwilling captive to the Eeyore-ish moanings of these nay-saying doom-and-gloomers. So, I absent myself from their presence, from the conversation, and from the bubble of negativity that they cultivate & surround themselves with – and it made me feel just a bit guilty. Aren’t I supposed to be spreading sunshine and daisies wherever I can?

And then, I came across the following quote from George Eliot: It is good to be helpful and kindly, but don’t give yourself to be melted into candle grease for the benefit of the tallow trade. I had to read that a few times before the depth of her (George Eliot was a woman) message sank like a pebble into the still pond of my heart and rippled outward. How can I go on spreading kindness and a helpful hand if I allow it to be devoured by all and sundry? And, especially if I squander that energy on those who don’t WANT to think or see anything positively? (Depending on how you look at it, I either do the Negative Nellies a disservice by attempting to inject positivity into their contented discontent & melancholy – or, I make them deliriously happy: whenever I make a positive statement, they get the chance to spread negativity seeds with each rebuttal).

So, I think I’ve devised a new modus operandi – I will continue to extend kindness, politeness, courtesy, generosity, and compassion to all I meet – but, when I note the presence of an ‘event horizon’ surrounding these black holes of energy, I will pull back, retain my energy (and my integrity), and move on to offer the gift of my being to others (I realize that “gift of my being” sounds unbelievably conceited – but, I swear I don’t mean it that way – I see everyone in my life as a gift, so it’s hypocritical not to think of my self that way, too).

This new determination is all well and good, but I know there will be times when I slip into the maelstrom with the Negative Nellies and that’s fine – I’d rather take a chance with someone than squander the possibility of a wonderful interaction out of fear of being burned. I’ll just have to continually tweak my Nellie-o-meter.

What it comes down to, really, is this (said by those who’ve said it best):

Treat everyone with politeness, even those who are rude to you – not because they are nice, but because you are.  (Author Unknown)

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion. (Dalai Lama)

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. (Plato)

The other night as I was trudging up the colossal flight of stairs stretching up to our apartment, lost deep in thought, and laden with bags & belongings, an elderly gentleman who I’d seen around the building was making his way down. He has extreme difficulty walking – it takes him minutes to traverse what I can in a few seconds. He said something to me, which broke me out of my myopic fog, and I said, “Pardon?” And he says, “Oh, you shouldn’t have!” And I look about for a moment, uncomprehending – until I realize he means the fake grass thingie I’m carrying under my arm (it looks like the wrong end of a hula skirt all tied up). And I just started laughing!

My laugh is a booming, chest expanding one – I hold nothing back. And I said to him, “Have a good night, sir.” And he said, “Thank you. You, too.” And I got the feeling that he was thanking me for more than my well-wishes. I hope he knows that my laughter was a thank you, too – for a moment shared on the stairs with a stranger, who saw an opportunity to reach across the silence, and make a connection.

 

Try not to become a [wo]man of success but rather try to become a [wo]man of value.  (Albert Einstein)

I have never questioned the fact that I am here to be of service to others. I have, at times, questioned where the line between service to others, and disservice to self, lay. But, I have never for one moment believed anything other than that we are to be helpmates to one another. This whole concept has been popping into my screen for days now, and I find myself devoting a lot of time and thought to it. And then tonight, I read one of the blogs I follow, and her post drove it all home for me (http://bonesigharts.blogspot.com/2010/02/payments.html ).

I can remember a lot of times when my father gathered up his tools, and went to build something for one of his siblings. He never expected payment – he only knew that he had the necessary expertise, and willing hands. My mother has spent her life in service to others – to her family, to her extended family, to her friends, to her students. They cast a long shadow. Growing up, we were expected to do for others, and it was taken for granted that helping out is just what you do. Of the many gifts that my parents gave me, for this, I am the most grateful.

I went to Mount Mary College in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, and one of the pillars their entire educational philosophy rests upon is service. Each class seemed to include some service component – in the course of pursuing my degrees, I have done an intense amount of fieldwork and volunteering. And I can remember wondering, when some of my classmates would complain, and argue that there was no educational value in these experiences – if they could see no educational value in reaching out to their fellow human beings in friendship and kindness, what on earth did they believe we were doing here?

I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve. (Albert Schweitzer)

I am no Mother Teresa, I am no Gandhi, I am no great humanitarian. But, I look for the moments where I can be of service in the every day, in the small ways. The other day, I was on my way to lunch at work, and I saw a very elderly lady struggling to get her groceries from her cart and into her car. Without hesitation, I was there, like the stereotypical Girl Scout, with a “Can I help you with that Ma’am?” And she was really grateful. When I first saw her, she looked anxious and she was struggling – and when I walked away, she was smiling.

And afterward, I thought about the fact that I never even considered doing anything else. (I also thought about the fact that elderly people might be wary of offers of assistance, and that this was something that I was going to have to start taking into consideration, even though the entire reason for their wariness makes me intensely sad). And I realized that this was the kind of thing that makes life GOOD, and makes us feel GOOD about being here and being human.

Happiness cannot come from without. It must come from within. It is not what we see and touch or that which others do for us which makes us happy; it is that which we think and feel and do, first for the other fellow and then for ourselves. (Helen Keller)

I’ve encountered all sorts of people who believe that we aren’t here to be of service to others, that God expects nothing from us, and that we are only here to experience happiness. I find that a hard bite to swallow. I find that line of thinking impossible to believe – if that is true, then I am bereft and adrift. If that is true, then why do anything?

I think what I am really getting at here is the concept of empathy. Of being able to feel what it is like to walk another’s path, and to reach out to them based on that understanding. I have always been an insatiable reader, and when I read, I joined those worlds, became those characters – I struggled with them, wept with them, laughed aloud with them. I sank into the experience of what it would feel like to be them. I think that this is what has really helped me grow my already empathic nature.

If you have empathy for someone, you have compassion for them – you reach out to them in a way that preserves their dignity, and honors the bond we share as living beings. This is different than pity – pity puts you on a pedestal, and others somewhere beneath you. Compassion is one person reaching out to another laterally, and with detachment.

In Milwaukee, a twenty-one year old man was shot and killed by the young men who were attempting to rob him, because he had no money to give them. They shot him in the back as he fled. At the trial, one of them turned and grinned at the murdered boy’s parents, as if to say, “This doesn’t touch me. None of this affects me. I have no remorse.”

One of my coworkers was set upon on his way home from work by a group of six young men, and they attempted to beat him – when he wouldn’t go down, they ran off. When they were caught and questioned, they said that they did it because they were bored. Things like this happen every day, and I cannot understand how or why. If these attackers could empathize with others, they would not do these things, because they would know that to hurt another is to really hurt yourself.

Great and wonderful acts of generosity and kindness and compassion happen every day, too – large and small acts of service, performed out of empathy and compassion. That is what I choose to focus on. That is what I choose to spread along my path. The final Reiki Principle states, “Just for today, count your blessings and be kind to every living thing.” This is one of the easiest for me to follow (not always the count my blessings part, but I’m working on that!). This is the one that I wish was indelibly tattooed on my forehead. This is the one that I want to permeate my being – and the one I most want to spread to others.

So, this week, I plan to make a special effort to honor myself by honoring others. By looking for all the quiet moments where I can be of service. By setting my foot soundly on the path with purpose.

Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile. (Albert Einstein)

‘Nuff said.

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)