Thursday, October 14, 2010

Looking Toward the Past

Recently, I have found myself being consumed by anger. Why am I angry? That is what I am attempting to sort through. I was raised to believe that if you work hard for tomorrow, you will be rewarded. I know now, that I perverted that notion into believing perfection was the reward. I have vigorously applied this ideology in my life, and thought that by reading everything I can get my hands on, educating myself to understand our world, and by working hard; that perfection was possible. But the truth is: life is brutal and the moments of pure joy and so called perfection are fleeting. Anger comes from craving that pure joy all the time, but it is not possible. Perhaps D.H. Lawrence understood this feeling as well when he said, "You'll never succeed in idealizing hard work. Before you can dig mother earth you've got to take off your ideal jacket. The harder a man works, at brute labor, the thinner becomes his idealism, the darker his mind". Letting go of idealism is part of growing up, and as much as I know I am a grown up, I am still growing.

Wanting to let go of my anger has led me on a journey to let go of the past. Not because my past is horrible, but because it was so good. I was raised in a family with it's fair share of troubles and hurtles. I have always thought of the hurtles as a challenge to discover the beauty in life. All I have been remembering was the hard work, and the imperfect vision of perfection.

That leads me to where I am now, when life has become unfair. More and more frequently, as I grow older, pessimism and anger have found a way into my world. Lost is the: work hard and you will be rewarded. Found is the: work hard and you might get sour cherries. I can think of several examples where working hard has not delivered happiness: my best friend who overcame many childhood hardships only to discover she has stage 4 cancer, my brother in law who lost his daughter, my friend who lost her husband to melanoma and her young children who lost their father, and my grandparents who worked hard for so long, only to end their lives in a demented state with 24 hour care givers. Honestly, this is an abbreviated list of the hardships I have witnessed lately. All of this brutality has lead me to anger, and now I am on a journey to find the answers of how to let go of the anger.

I found this parable in my readings and wanted to share it with you:

Once upon a time there was a little boy with a bad temper. His father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, he should hammer a nail in the fence. The first day the boy had driven 37 nails into the fence. But gradually, the number of daily nails dwindled down. He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence.
Finally the first day came when the boy didn't lose his temper at all. He proudly told his father about it and the father suggested that the boy now pull out one nail for each day that he was able to hold his temper. The days passed and the young boy was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone. The father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence.
"You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the fence. The fence will never be the same. When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like this one. You can put a knife in a man and draw it out, it won't matter how many times you say 'I'm sorry', the wound is still there."

Just like the little boy, except for the fact that I am a grown woman, I am seeing what anger can cause. It is only making the path that I walk on more difficult to traverse. Life will never be the one I envisioned as a child, it can be more exhausting and cruel than any fairy tale I ever read. Not only is life unpredictable and unfair, it never ends like a fairy tale. But I now understand this: happiness is found in the soul, in the quiet peacefulness of forgiveness. Every 24 hours is new and every 24 hours is not a given. One morning, those 24 hours will be gone, and all that will be left of my life is the memory others hold of me in their minds. I want those memories to be filled with inspiration and hope, so I am going to let go of my anger.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Passing of a Teacher

This is the first time I have posted a story that someone else has written. It is a obituary my 10 year old daughter wrote about her teacher who passed away this weekend. All of my children had him as a teacher and they are each coping in their own way. I believe writing can be a release for difficult and unmanageable emotions, and I hope this helps my daughters as they mourn.

Carl W. Schneider was my teacher at my school. He was 35 years old at the time of his death. I had him for 4 years as my Italian teacher. I was at a bonfire when I found out what happened to him. Imagine having fun, talking to your friends when all of a sudden your good friend comes up and tells you that your teacher just died. He was in Blackwater Falls state park, kayaking down a reserved area only for expert kayakers. He was trying to go through a rough part of the river and ended up going over a steep part, and getting stuck under a 4 foot fall. He was a teacher at St. Bede, a waiter at Legume. He also earned the title of Eagle Scout, the highest rank in boy scouts. He earned a masters and bachelors degree at Pitt. He was also an expert kayaker. All of the teachers are really sad; it’s hard to replace someone who’s developed a relationship with our school. He also was a really good friend to all of the kids. If you asked an Italian student things they remember about him, probably 9 out of 10 would say, like my friend Brian, “ I’ll miss his moustache and ponytail.” It is so far over my mind I do not know how to react. Everyone is going to be upset for a while but I know that somehow our school is going to get over this event. We are a small school so almost everyone knows each other. Everyone will make one another feel better and we won’t forget this tragic thing. If have ever lost anyone you were really close to, you know how our school feels. If you haven’t, well you couldn't imagine how deeply affected all my friends are.

Friday, October 1, 2010

What Is Under The Covers?

There is a common English idiom, that everyone has been told by their parents at least once in their life time, "Do not judge a book by it's cover". The funny thing is, the only way I survive, is to judge books by their covers. What other choice do I have? In our fast paced, high tech gadget world, multitasking is the norm. Having several thoughts racing through my brain at the same time make it impossible to take time to intimately acquaint myself with every aspect of everyday life. When I go to the grocery store, I might be searching the aisles for a bottle of laundry detergent. I might even have all three kids with me as I try to decide what type of laundry detergent I want. I might base my purchase on a some claims by the manufacturer on the bottle and ring it up. I have a certain level of trust that the bottle contains what I want, and will do what it claims. It might not be until I get home and a rash develops on my child's skin that I will realize I need to read the next bottle more carefully. Next time I go to the store, I do some research on the Internet about allergens and detergent. Of course, the Internet sites I browse are the ones Google suggested, and I look over the most visually appealing sites, with the least amount of advertisements. I trust the medical research I have just read and feel as though I am not going to fall victim to the aforementioned idiom. I will buy my next bottle of detergent based on a well thought and researched game plan. When I buy my next bottle of detergent, I am armed with a list of brands that the American Medical Association has recommended. I see all three brands on the shelf, and I grab the bottle the catches my eye and pleases my senses the best. What is the difference between the bottles at this juncture? Nothing but the packaging. I have done exactly what my mother told me not to do. Time and time again, judging a book by it's cover can work, until it doesn't. The times I am wrong, are the moments in life I generally remember the most. The "light bulb" moments, that nothing or no one can be as exactly as it claims, are what remind me that life is not predictable and never will be. This unpredictability keeps me awake as I walk through life everyday, appreciating that at any moment a skunk can cross my path or the trail can come to an abrupt halt.

After trials and tribulations, filling our minds with research, and attempting to be as informed as possible; the final choice of which proverbial path to walk along or which book to pluck off the shelf, is decided by the cover. We knowingly proceed with our instinctual choices, based on appearance, because sometimes we have no other choice. Time restrains us, and honestly, we want to trust what our senses reveal. We want to be instinctual. Consider these commonplace scenarios: simultaneously cooking dinner, talking on the phone and helping little Johnny with homework, or working through a meeting while our spouse texts us about something to pick up on our way home, or talking to a doctor who finally calls, while you are in the bathroom changing your daughter's diaper, and your other child has just escaped your line of sight. Examining things at face value becomes a survival technique. When we do get a quiet moment, we want the world to remain predictable, because it is comforting.

Looking at the mating habits of different species is a great example of successfully judging a book by it's cover. The brighter colors and more ornate plumage are the bragging rights of male birds. Knowing the most effective way to lure a female is to have the most elaborate feathers and a captivating mating dance, the male birds of paradise have evolved with fancy long tails feathers. Their ostentatious feathers serve no other purpose than being eye catching to females. Even birds have a busy life: migrating, hunting down food, building a nest, and raising their young. The best way to attract attention is with a good cover. It makes courtship seems like a no-brainer, but that is when the surprise left hits us. Just when we become comfortable with the norm, that is when the curve balls come at us.

Recently, I was carpooling some kids to choir practice. In my car, were my girls and my 4Th daughter Mona. I call her my 4Th pseudo daughter, but she is my 16 year old neighbor. She has been coming over to hang out with my family since she was 8. She also has a sister, who is my 5Th pseudo daughter, but that is a whole other story. The point is, Mona is in the car, and we are waiting for our carpool companion, who is still at track practice. We are parked on the side of a busy road waiting, along with hordes of other parents, for track practice to end. Suddenly, a fancy car pulls up in front of us. The driver of the fancy car opens her car door, disregarding her poor, parking/stop in the middle of the road technique. As she steps out, she looks like a movie star. She is a beautiful woman and dressed to the nines. She has long, blond hair that is blowing elegantly in the wind. She is completely unaware, or does not care that her car is precariously making it difficult for others to squeeze their cars past. In this moment, Mona turns to me, and with her smug little 16 year old attitude, and says, "Whose trophy wife is that?" Hysterically, I start laughing because Mona could not be more far from the truth in her assessment. I gain my composure and tell Mona this: "Funny thing, you are WAY off the mark! Actually, she has a trophy wife of her own and she plays football in a female football league". The look on Mona's face was priceless. She has this perplexed expression, she does not understand what I just said. So I say again, "Mona, she is a lesbian with a wife of her own. She is no one's trophy wife". In that confounding moment, in which Mona was dead wrong, Mona learned a great lesson: do not determine the character of a person based on their appearance.

Life is short, and looking for loopholes to make it less complex, is sensible. I sometimes think I would love to make life predictable. If every person with tattoos, multi-colored hair, and dressed like a punk were jerks, then how simple would life be? But they aren't. Sometimes, they are your beloved 5Th pseudo daughter and the babysitter of your treasured children. Sometimes that blond, busty woman in the Prada heels and the Vera Wang dress, with a rich, good looking older man on her arm, is a retired Army colonel with a PhD, not a trophy wife. Sometimes the trail that looks the most peaceful and mundane, is actually the most treacherous. Even though I will continue to lead my crazy, fast paced life, with multitasking as my standard. Even though, I will usually be right about the contents of a book, based on it's cover. I am going to look forward to those moments in which I am dead wrong.