Have you ever run into someone you once thought you’d have a bright future with, but it didn’t work out? It’s a very disconcerting feeling. You are standing there in your present, getting a glimpse of a life you could have had. You’re peeking down a parallel timeline.
It’s a very bittersweet feeling. It reminds me of that scene in The Way We Were when Barbra Streisand runs into Robert Redford with his new love and says to him, “Your girl is lovely, Hubbell.” That movie always makes me cry. Memories…
But such encounters can also be a stark reality check. On more than one occasion I’ve come away from them thinking, “Whew! I dodged that bullet!” Because it’s blatantly obvious that the person in question is not in a place where I’d want to be. Perhaps their health has deteriorated, or they’re now abusing a substance, or they’ve moved to a hellish location, or they’ve become inexplicably obsessed with collecting traffic cones. No thanks.
If you’ve been pining away for that person, absorbing this new reality into your worldview might take some time. But what a relief to no longer pine. Pining takes a lot of energy. (That, and the sap is hard to get out of your hair.)
I suggest that when confronted with loves past, you take that opportunity to assess, and hopefully appreciate, where you are now. Now is your reality, and hopefully it is your gift. Your life could have unfolded in a multitude of ways, but here you are.
Having done that, resist the urge to tell that person, “This happiness could have been yours, you big dummy.” It might be satisfying, but in the end, it doesn’t do anyone any good. Life has a funny way of going on. (And for all you know, he or she is thinking the same thing.)
Most of all, crossing paths with futures past should make you aware of how many options you have. You can’t control other people, of course, but you have a multitude of opportunities to write your story in the best possible way, even if it isn’t going the way you once predicted that it would.
Recently, someone I know spent a great deal of time trying to talk a friend out of getting a divorce. She was convinced that this divorce would be the worst possible thing her friend could do. She applied a lot of pressure and created a ton of doubt. The jury is still out as to whether she changed her friend’s mind.
But the whole time this was going on, I was thinking, “How dare you?”
First of all, you have no idea what goes on behind closed doors in any relationship. And it’s not for you to decide how someone else is to live life. Even if what that person is doing seems like a monumental mistake, it could be the catalyst that brings on greater things for him or her in the future. At the very least, the experience may be an important life lesson. The choices one makes are what shape that individual. You don’t have the right to determine someone else’s shape.
In my opinion, the only time you should try to intervene in another person’s decision-making process is when that person is contemplating suicide. Because that’s the one choice in life from which one cannot turn back. Give your opinion about other things if asked, yes. But don’t get all definitive unless someone is about to step off a cliff.
I came by this belief the hard way. Once, I was in a relationship that was making my life so miserable that I decided it was time to move on. I had all my stuff packed. I had decided what to say. I was ready.
And then I made the mistake of telling my oldest sister. And she screamed at me. Because she liked the guy.
At the time, my self esteem was so low that that was all the discouragement I needed. Maybe she was right. Maybe this was a huge mistake. I mean, he was a nice guy. A great guy. Was it his fault that he left me feeling unfulfilled and alone? Was it his fault that I felt as though we had no common goals, that we were working toward nothing, and that our future would forever be exactly the same as our dreary present? Was it his fault that I felt more like his mother than his partner? It’s not like he beat me or cheated on me. What were the odds that I’d wind up with anyone better?
And so, with tears in my eyes, I unpacked. And he never knew. And we stayed together for another 12 long, miserable, unsatisfying years. What a waste. What an unbelievable waste. For both of us, because he certainly deserved more, too. It’s one of my biggest regrets.
Discouragement is an interesting word, when you think about it. It basically means that you are taking away someone’s courage. No one has a right to do that. Ever.
It happened again the other day. I heard someone use “Communism” and “Fascism” interchangeably, like they are the same exact thing. And that thing, in that uneducated person’s mind, seemed simply to be a synonym for “bad”.
I can’t criticize oversimplification. I tend to use that crutch quite a bit in this blog, and could arguably be accused of it in this very post. But I’d like to think that I shy away from utter ignorance and stupidity. Most of the time, anyway.
So to break it down for you into nice bite sized pieces, I’ll start by saying Communism does not equal Fascism. If you have any doubts on this subject, read up on the Spanish Civil War. (But that can get pretty darned complicated in and of itself.)
A big difference in the two ideologies, in OversimplificationLand, is what they worship. Fascists worship a past that never truly existed. They tend to use slogans like Make America Great Again, implying that America used to be just how they want it to be: A lily white land where everyone of “value” is rich and there’s no crime or conflict, and women stay in their places and everyone is heterosexual.
Communists, on the other hand, don’t worship the past. They claim to worship a future that can never truly exist. Their slogans run along the lines of Workers of the World Unite, implying that there’s some magical yet not-too-far-off place where everyone is going to agree on everything and play fair. They think we’ll all work as hard as we possibly can (“From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.”) and that we’ll equally share in the world’s bounty, as if greed and corruption doesn’t exist.
Indeed, Communism stresses equality in all things, in word if not in deed, as if no one is going to keep score and be resentful of those who they feel are found wanting. Fascists have a slightly more uncomfortable problem, because their unspoken truth is that they stress inequality. They don’t want minorities to have equal rights. They don’t want women to have equal power. They certainly don’t want homosexuals to lead equally comfortable lives. That’s what attracts people to Fascism: the idea that they deserve to be better off than others.
Neither ideology appeals to me. Neither one is realistic. Both require corruption and cruelty and lies to survive. They are at opposite ends of the ideological spectrum. But we make the mistake of looking at the spectrum as a straight line to our peril. Because they are so similar in their evil intent to control the masses and get what they want and to hell with the common man that they bend that spectrum like a horseshoe. They are at opposite ends, and yet they practically meet up.
(Don’t even get me started on capitalism, here, which is also greedy, corrupt, and attempts to control the masses. Our ideology is complicit, too. What does that do to the shape of this hypothetical spectrum? It boggles the mind. Maybe it’s one big cloverleaf with greed at the intersection.)
Most of us aren’t on any team, and never will be. We won’t even be invited to play. We are cannon fodder. As mentioned in Galaxy Quest, we are the collective redshirt guy a la Star Trek. No one knows his name because he’s only there to die halfway through the episode to prove that s**t just got real. We serve our purposes. It might be fun to get us all riled up every now and again, but in the end, we only have bit parts in this grand power play.
But dammit, Jim, the least we can do is not use Communist and Fascist interchangeably. Yeah, in OversimplificationLand, they can be used as synonyms for bad, as can capitalism, but they’re different kinds of bad. At least get that right.
It happened again the other day. A friend told me about the outrageous treatment she received from a high school guidance counselor. She was basically told to stay in her place and look for a husband. The nerve.
I’ve heard so many horror stories over the years about people in this particular field that it leaves me sputtering. Either they discourage you from pursuing your dreams and try to send you down another path, or they tell you to give up because you’re a loser, or if you’re a high achiever, they try to push you beyond what you’re financially or circumstantially capable of achieving. Some of them simply throw diagnostic tests at you and try to fit you into a nice little box based on the results.
Because really, how hard is it to tell someone that every human being has potential, and each one is unique, and with some effort, can find his or her calling? Why not say, “Go for it. Your life will be what you make it, so make it great.”
In most cases, their “sage” advice is ignored. Thank goodness. But occasionally their slings and arrows hit the target and they negatively influence someone for life.
Guidance counselors can be a force for good or for evil. If you are one of the ones who is a force for good, I sincerely thank you, and hope you’ll keep up the good work. I wish we could clone you. Unfortunately, based on anecdotal evidence, the bad apples seem to take up most of the space in the barrel.
It must be a heady experience, sitting up on your throne and predicting someone’s entire future. But the fact is, it’s about as accurate as soothsaying. Some people with really bad grades and unruly behavior in high school go on to be quite successful in life. And some valedictorians wind up in prison. You just never know.
Personally, I’m thrilled that I am no longer the person I was in high school. I don’t particularly like who she was. I didn’t even like her at the time, which was half the problem. If we met today, we would not be friends.
I was expected to become this super successful CEO of a fortune 500 company or something. Everyone thought I’d be a smashing success, and that’s what success would look like.
But that kind of life would have made me miserable. I tried for it, for a time. But I kept throwing up subconscious roadblocks in front of myself. Even then, I knew, on some level, that that wasn’t supposed to be my path.
Decades later, I’m not rich. I don’t own a penthouse or a fancy car. I won’t be able to retire early, if at all. But I’ve learned to measure success by a different yardstick. I’m content. I like my job. I’m happy with how I turned out.
And I still have absolutely no idea what I want to be when I grow up.
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It never occurred to me that going to college wasn’t mandatory. My mother had been drumming it into my head since the age of six. You will go to college. College was the next grade after 12th. That was what one did.
I don’t know why, but it shocked me that everyone didn’t feel that way. Many of my high school friends never went for higher education. They had other goals in life. Now I know that there’s nothing wrong with that.
It wasn’t until I met someone with no ambition at all that I realized how important goals truly are. This guy will probably always live in the same city. He’ll always have the same job, and the same struggles. He is so stuck in the past that he never looks toward the future. He works toward nothing. He looks forward to nothing. He never gets excited about anything. He has absolutely no imagination. He doesn’t want anything because he thinks he doesn’t deserve it. He never takes risks because he is too afraid of failure.
He is the most boring human being I’ve ever met. Being in his presence is depressing. I feel sorry for him. But I also have no respect for him.
Ambition is what makes life worth living. Striving for something is why you get out of bed in the morning. And your goals don’t have to be financial. That’s no yardstick to use to measure your life. Accumulation of stuff is meaningless. You goals should be about achieving something, or going somewhere, or creating something, or checking something off your bucket list. Those goals should be unique to you.
I’m not telling you what goals to have. I’m just saying, for heaven’s sake, have some. Otherwise, what’s the point?
I grew up always having cats. So imagine my surprise when I went away to college, and my eyes stopped itching and my nose stopped running. Holy crap. I’d been allergic to cats that whole time and didn’t even realize it. It was just status quo for me.
Similarly, people have been telling me my whole life that I’d feel different when I got married. I didn’t believe them. I mean, I’m an adult. I know myself really well. And I’ve been in two long term relationships. So why would this be any different?
And yet, it is. It’s completely and utterly different. Why is that?
It had been confounding me for a few days. So, one day while sitting on my drawbridge, I decided to do some inner dialogue with myself to try to get to the bottom of this feeling. What’s changed?
After meditating on it for a bit, I figured it out. And It brought tears to my eyes. Because here it is in a nutshell: For the first time in 53 years, I’m not afraid.
And I’m not just talking about feeling more financially secure because of our combined incomes. (Although, yes, that’s a part of it. We are saving a fortune in insurance and utilities and in so many ways it’s insane. You don’t realize how much the capitalist system is stacked in favor of married couples until you join that elite group.)
But that’s only a small part of it. Here’s what’s huge: I had been living in fear for so long that I didn’t even realize that free-floating anxiety had always been in the very air I was breathing.
Fear of spending the rest of my life alone. Fear of dying on the weekend and it being days before anyone found my body. Fear of getting so sick that I couldn’t call for help. Fear that this painful loneliness would eventually kill me. Never feeling completely safe.
For the first time in my life, I feel like someone has my back. Always. Unfalteringly. There’s someone I can count on, and someone who can count on me. That’s incredibly new. Before, if I screwed up, I was on my own.
And if I triumphed, I was on my own, too. You don’t realize how freakin’ lonely that feeling is until you actually have someone to share the triumphs with. And that makes me really excited about the future!
The fact is, I’m part of a team now. A mutual admiration society of two. We are each other’s roofs and foundations. While past relationships have dragged me down, this one lifts me up, and if we go down, we’ll go down together, and climb back up together, too.
It seemed as though in past relationships I had to do the bulk of the heavy lifting. In this one, we are more equally balanced. We work toward the future together, and we want to go in the same direction.
So yes, this realization brought tears to my eyes, and they were complex tears, indeed. Tears of joy for the amazing place I find myself in now, and tears of sadness for the person I was a month ago, who had absolutely no idea how afraid she always had been.
If you’re lucky enough to be on a winning team for life, go and hug that person right now. Right this minute. And never let go. Because that connection is every bit as precious as the air that you breathe.
When my mother died, I hung on to this bottle of deodorant she had given me until long after it had been used up. Because she gave it to me. I think I got it into my head that getting rid of that bottle would be like losing my connection with her. I just couldn’t do it. Not at that point.
I have other things that belonged to my mother, of course. Jewelry. Family heirlooms of one kind or another. Photographs. These things make sense. But an empty deodorant bottle? Come on, now.
Then, four years ago, my boyfriend died quite unexpectedly. Since we weren’t legally married, I was left with very little of his to cling to. Once again, I had a bottle of deodorant. This wasn’t a gift to me. But it had belonged to him. It smelled like him. Again, I held onto it for years.
Finally, several weeks ago, almost without thinking about it, I reached into my medicine cabinet with my eyes closed and threw that sucker out. Just like that. Just like I had eventually done with my mother’s bottle. It was time. My life is moving on.
And guess what? The world kept right on spinning. The sky didn’t crack open. My connection is every bit as strong. My memories are intact. All continued to be right with the world. And now I have more room in my medicine cabinet.
It’s okay to let go of things. Things aren’t people. Things only have an emotional charge if you give one to them. Yes, hold onto those photos and heirlooms. They are part of a family legacy. But don’t cling to someone else’s clutter. Make room in your life for your life.
No pressure, though. You’ll know when and if it’s time to let go. Only you can decide that.
Since the deodorant disposal (not because of it), my life seems to be progressing at a rapid pace, and I love the direction in which it’s going. So just the other day I decided it was time to let more go. It was time to scatter the last of Chuck’s ashes.
The fact that I even have any in the first place is a pure miracle. Some of his relatives felt I didn’t deserve any after “living in sin” with him for four years. Others, though, who knew how much we loved each other, liberated some and slipped a tiny bottle of them into my purse. So I had this tiny bottle, and have cherished it ever since. But it was time to set Chuck, and myself, free.
Where would I do this, though? He’d never even been to Seattle. He’d have had a love/hate relationship with it. I think he’d have loved it this time of year, but not in the winter. I think he’d have loved the many things there are to do, but not the politics.
He’d have loved the water and mountain view at my work. So that’s where I decided to do it. When I got there, though, it occurred to me that the only window that actually opens out over the water is the one in the bathroom.
You had to know Chuck. But trust me, he’d have appreciated that irony. He’d have thought it was freakin’ hilarious. So, after depositing a tiny bit of him in a perfume locket that I have (where he’s encountering my mother for the first time), I held the bottle in my hands and opened the window.
“Chuck,” I said, “I love you. I think you know that my life has become magical and wonderful again, and it’s time to let you go. I truly believe you’re happy for me. I’ll miss you. I’ve still got pictures and memories, and you’ll always have a piece of my heart. But I’m still alive, and it’s time to live again. It’s time to embrace the joy of the here and the now and the future. I know you get that. You probably get it more than most people do. So here goes. Safe journey.”
And as I scattered the ashes, a sudden gust of wind blew some of them back into my face. The bathroom and I were now covered in Chuck. I laughed as I cried, because he’d have laughed. I could hear him in my mind, that wonderful, infectious, breathless, delighted chuckle of his.
And it was good.
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When you make plans for the future, you’re demonstrating a delightful amount of optimism. Because life is fragile. It can pop like a soap bubble at any time. I’ve seen that happen more than once.
John Lennon said, “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.”
Sorry, John. You know I love you. But I disagree. I think life is making plans. The alternative, making no plans at all, or sitting back and letting the world kind of wash over you, is a form of death.
We are not meant to live like moss on a tree. The fact that we feel the need for religion shows that we struggle with accepting fate. I don’t think we are meant to be so accepting. We are meant to be the architects of our own lives.
Plans give you purpose. Purpose is what makes life worth living. I find the best antidote for depression is having something to look forward to.
Even more evidence of optimism is making plans with someone. It says, “We’re in this for the long haul.” “I have great expectations for us.” “You are the person I want to spend time with.” “I have faith in our relationship.”
The only thing I can think of that’s better than anticipating your future is anticipating your future while holding someone’s hand.
The older I get, the more people I know who are mourning the loss of a partner. Along with that, inevitably, comes the mourning of the loss of your future. Because couples make plans. That’s what they do. They have an image of what they’re working toward. When your partner dies or you get divorced, that image turns to dust.
That’s unsettling. Suddenly you have absolutely no idea where you are going. It is as if you’ve been blindfolded and spun in a circle. You spend a lot of time swinging your arms around in attempt to orient yourself and avoid crashing into things. And while you’re doing that, it seems as if the rest of the world is cruising merrily past you, intent upon one destination or another, not even having to rely on a GPS. You feel as though you can’t keep up. You’ve been left behind.
It can take many years before you’re able to find the strength turn your face toward the sun again. And when you do that, it feels really strange at first. What is this warmth I’m feeling? It feels good. Do I deserve to feel good? Should I feel guilty?
And then a funny thing happens. You start doing things that you like to do that you perhaps had abandoned because your partner wasn’t into them. And you stop doing things that you only did because your partner enjoyed them. In other words, you begin to take back your individuality.
Being an individual takes strength and courage. It takes confidence and creativity. At first you’re going to feel like a newborn giraffe. Not quite steady on your feet. A little confused about how you got here and why you’re suddenly towering over things that you never knew existed. The world will seem new.
But with any luck, one day you’ll wake up and you’ll realize that you’re actually kind of excited about the fact that the world seems new. Colors are brighter. Smells are more intriguing. Food has regained its flavor. Everything seems rife with possibilities.
And just like that, you begin to plan a brand new future. It may not look anything like the future you once imagined for yourself, but my wish for you is that it’s an adventure that you’re eager to begin. Onward!