It’s so easy to take shortcuts in life. Frozen vegetables. Fast food. The elevator instead of the stairs. The less than optimal and yet oh-so-convenient partner.
While these things may save time and effort, in the long run, or in the grander scheme of things, they aren’t the best choices. My inner voice tries to tell me this all the time. I’ve just gotten too used to ignoring that voice over the years. But it’s still there.
I know that when my husband and I prepare a delicious meal from scratch, with a variety of fresh vegetables, I can hear my inner voice saying, “Yes!” When I exert myself to the point that I know I’ll sleep well that night, it says, “Yes, yes! Oh, yes!” When I stand up for myself and don’t accept rude treatment, “YES!!!!”
I need to get back into the habit of listening to the yes. Even better, I need to do things in anticipation thereof. I need to encourage the yes. Live the yes. Be the yes I want to see in the world.
If you’ve managed to go through life without having made a really big splash in a swimming pool, then I respectfully suggest that you haven’t lived. Sometimes you just have to go for it. Put yourself out there. Cowabunga!
Not that there’s anything wrong with being cautious. Stick your toe in. Test the waters. Make sure there are no sharks. I get that instinct, too. I just tend to be a cannonballer, myself. Even more so, the older I get. If I don’t jump right in, I just might chicken out.
I suggested to someone recently that he and I are at the opposite ends of the cannonball spectrum. He’s very much a toe-dipper. I didn’t intend that to be a criticism. His caution is probably why he’s more successful than I am. But apparently he took that on board and the next day, told me that he loved me for the first time. (I was over the moon!)
I guess there’s a time and a place for both philosophies. For example, even I wouldn’t jump into a pond if I wasn’t absolutely sure of its depth, or of what might be beneath the murky surface, aiming jaggedly at my highly perforable flesh. It really is important to use your head.
But without risk, there’s no reward, right? Leading a healthy life means finding that happy medium. So, yes, look before you leap, but leap!
The day I wrote this, it was a sunny Saturday here in Seattle. It was probably one of the last ones we’ll have until May. And yet, all shift long I hadn’t had a single request to open my drawbridge. Not one sailboat. I could have phoned it in. If I had a boat and the day off, I’d have been out there! Where was everybody?
I’ve long since given up trying to predict how busy my work day will be. Sometimes it’s cold, rainy, and raw, and the sailboats are out in force, demanding bridge openings every 10 minutes. And that could be on a Wednesday. Go figure.
Anyone who followed the last presidential election can tell you what a monumental waste of time predictions can be. Polls? No one ever asks my opinion. And yet, we spend an inordinate amount of time trying to guess the future.
It’s only natural to want to know where you’re going to land when you jump into an abyss. Looking before you leap only makes sense. And if we were all forced to face up to the fact that, for the most part, we are fumbling in the dark, the world would be a scary place indeed. I totally get why people are comforted by the concept of a higher power.
But I often wonder how much time is wasted anticipating things that never come to pass. Worrying. Agonizing. Wondering. Altering one’s behavior based on… what, exactly?
Not that I’m different than anyone else in these situations. I’m not some enlightened being who lives in the now. I wish I were. The fact is, I grew up in such an unpredictable atmosphere that I learned to plan ahead to an almost obsessive degree just so I could survive.
I have no solutions. But I feel the need to point out that perhaps we are all so focused on what we see through our figurative binoculars that we are missing those wonderful people, places, and things that are right under our noses. Don’t forget to pause and look about you every now and then. Beauty is in the present tense.
I admire people who have faith. Religious faith in particular is a quality that seems to have eluded me most of my life. I would truly love to be able to let go and let God, as the saying goes.
It has to be comforting to think that there’s a higher power who has ultimate control. It must be liberating to not have to think you are the primary decision-maker in your own life, that the buck doesn’t stop here after all, that some cosmic being is on your side, and therefore a large amount of the responsibility belongs to someone or something else. It would be so nice to guess that your fate has already been mapped out for you. That there’s a plan. What a weight would be lifted from my shoulders! I’d also love to think that prayer could solve my problems.
I just can’t do it. I like facts. I want evidence. Proof. Otherwise, how is it different from believing in unicorns?
I wish there were unicorns. I’d love to see a unicorn. I’d love to live in a world where unicorns wandered the streets. But I live in the real world.
Here’s what gives me comfort: we’ve learned so much about the universe and how it works that it becomes increasingly easy to not rely on the great unknown to answer the decreasing number of unanswerable questions. We know what causes eclipses these days. Nothing is devouring the sun.
Now, the trick is to maintain a moral compass when you technically don’t answer to anyone other than yourself. Perhaps that’s the kind of faith I need to nurture: the concept that humans have the maturity to be capable of morality without oversight.
For me, there is nothing quite as satisfying as those brief, random moments when the chaos that usually swirls about me suddenly becomes a comprehensible, stable, solid whole. Maybe it’s because I’m a worrier and a planner, but that “All’s Right with the World” feeling often eludes me. That makes it all the more precious when it does stop by for a short visit.
For example, during this whole home buying and moving process, I’ve had a to-do list that’s 12 pages long. I’ve often woken up in the middle of the night, thinking of something important to add to it. If I don’t sit up, turn on the light and write that thing down, I’ll lie awake and go over it in my mind for hours. I’ve taken to leaving my to-do list on my night stand. If you want to see me absolutely wig out (and trust me, you don’t), just hide that list.
My stress level spikes around those to-do items that require me to rely on other people. Is it a West Coast thing? No one around here seems to be the least bit dependable. That drives me up a wall. If my friends need me, or I’ve made a professional obligation, you can count on me to follow through. If I say I’m going to do something, I do it, unless I’m dying. How hard is that? Apparently it’s pretty freakin’ hard if you are anywhere near the Pacific Ocean. Go figure.
But every now and again, all the puzzle pieces seem to fall into place. People show up on time and do what you so desperately need them to do. And maybe a little extra. “Oh, you’re trying to get rid of a washing machine? I’ll be happy to take it off your hands, too!” “Need some extra money? Well, here’s some overtime!” “Sure! I’m available to clean your carpet on the only possible day you have available for me to clean your carpet!”
I love that feeling of weight being lifted off my shoulders. At times like those, I can breathe. I never realize I’m holding my breath, but apparently I do it quite a bit. But then, all of a sudden, whoosh! Oxygen to the system! It rarely lasts long, and those moments are always unexpected, but I’ll take ‘em!
I’m on the brink of amazing change, and it all stemmed from a giraffe. You just never know when a figurative cue ball will send your eight ball careening off in an entirely different direction. That’s what makes life so exciting.
I have been watching April the Giraffe’s live feed on Youtube since February. I watched her pregnant belly as the baby kicked. I watched any number of contractions. She kept me company at least 8 hours a day. She became a big part of my life. So when I woke up on April 15th to discover that the birth was in progress, I got really, really excited.
Unfortunately, I still had to go to work. I broke all land speed records getting there, believe you me! And then I immediately logged back on again. Fortunately, the front hooves and the head where the only things that had made it into the world up to that point, so I got to watch the rest of the birth, live.
I’m not ashamed to say I cried some ugly, joyful tears when her calf finally made his entrance, and even more when he stood up an hour later. Life, man. Life! You know? What a miracle it is.
And just like that, I realized I hadn’t been living, not really, for quite some time. It occurred to me that life is like a flowing river, and we float downstream with it. As we go, we see things come toward us and we experience them and then they recede into the past.
But that’s only if you’re facing forward. Many things can cause you to face backwards. Trauma. Grief. Fear. Depression. They all cause you to focus on the past. And if you’re like me, you get stuck there, and try to recreate the past in your present. You want to get back to where you were before everything went so wrong.
The problem with that is you’re still floating down the river. Life goes on. But now you’re not seeing it. Because you’re facing backwards, by the time current events flash past your peripheral vision, they’re already a thing of the past. That’s no way to live.
Time to face forward again. Live in the present. Plan for the future. And don’t do so as half a person, presenting yourself to the world as a broken shadow of your former self.
For example, if you’re grieving, don’t avoid music or experiences that you shared with the person you lost. Why are you narrowing your horizons like that? Would the person you lost want you to only be half of yourself? No. You’re still alive, and to have healthy relationships moving forward, you need to be able to give the next person ALL of you. Yes, grief changes you, and that’s okay. But it shouldn’t limit you, and you shouldn’t feel guilty for continuing down the stream.
So I’m making a conscious effort to face forward again. I’m house hunting, and I’m exercising, and I’m eating right. I’m trying really hard to live in the now. Because life is happening right now, and it’s a precious and limited commodity. I plan to make the most of it, rather than putting it on hold.
And I got all that from a giraffe. Imagine that.
As my friend Carole likes to say, “Onward and upward, into the future!”
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Not long ago, I had a good dog. He was my best friend. He was my emotional bedrock. In a time when all the sand seems to be shifting beneath my feet, he was the one living thing that I could count on.
And then I went to dinner.
And when I got back home, he was dying.
I didn’t know it at first. I didn’t want to see it. But he was lying on the living room floor, listless. He wouldn’t eat. He never does that. He wasn’t acting as if he was in pain, though, so I thought I’d take him to the vet first thing in the morning, and everything would be fine. Just fine. Just like he had been before I went to dinner. After all, he was only 10.
I dragged a mattress into the living room and we slept side by side for the last time. Not once did it occur to me that it would be the last time. I thought maybe he had had a seizure. I’ve had dogs that suffered with seizures before. We could handle this.
At 8 am I was waiting with him as the vet unlocked the doors. By 9:30 I was putting him to sleep. I kept thinking, “This isn’t how the day was supposed to go.”
It seems he had a tumor on his heart, and it burst and filled up the pericardium, the sac around his heart, with blood. That pressure was making it hard for his heart to beat. They say he felt no pain. He was just getting increasingly sleepy as his blood wasn’t giving his body the needed oxygen. So I did the right thing.
Next thing I knew, I was burying him.
This wasn’t how the day was supposed to go. And now nothing will ever be the same.
This isn’t the first time I’ve experienced a sudden transformation. I think we all experienced one on 9/11. And I definitely experienced one when the sheriff called me to tell me my boyfriend was dead. And many of us experienced one when Trump was elected.
That there is so much potential to wake up and find your world irrevocably changed terrifies me beyond words. You can’t anticipate it. You can’t control it. Things happen.
I know it will happen to me again, probably many times in my life. I can’t predict these things. There’s nothing I can do to prepare for them. And that makes me feel sick. So I try not to dwell on it.
Not all transformations are necessarily negative, though. I love waking up to a snow-covered landscape when I went to bed to one that was green. I love those rare moments of clarity that we call epiphanies. I love meeting someone that I can tell is going to influence me in one way or another. I love learning something new.
But I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t trade all that to have my dog back.
I thrive on routine. If you are into astrology, you could say that’s because I’m a Capricorn. If you study psychology, you might say it has something to do with my introversion.
Regardless. I may not have all my ducks in a row, but I can usually predict where they will wander off to and when. And I derive a great deal of comfort from that.
I’m also a planner. When I travel, for example, I generally know where I’m going and when and how. When something upsets my itinerary it tends to rattle me. This is why I am never comfortable at airports. There’s nothing quite like an airport to eff up your plans. Airports should have their own circle of hell in Dante’s Inferno.
I’ve been working since I was 10 years old. I like when I’ve gotten so familiar with a job that I can organize my tasks. It’s nice to have some idea what the day will probably look like. Tell me your end goal and then let me loose with a certain level of autonomy, and I’ll have my job running like a well-oiled machine in no time.
Which leads me to the one mistake upper management tends to make in every place I’ve ever known. They spend a great deal of time either fixing things that aren’t broken, or not consulting the stakeholders when something genuinely needs fixing. Either way, they always seem sincerely stunned when they have upset the apple cart and we mere underlings have to waste an enormous amount of time scrambling around to pick up the apples.
Here’s a thought: communicate. Get feedback before you make changes. Assume that your staff actually has some insight. Not only will morale improve, but chaos will also be kept to a minimum. What a concept.
It’s very easy to feel put upon when your best-laid plans go astray, but why bother? Stuff happens. And not just to you. Every one of us gets blindsided every once in a while.
If you think about it, concluding that things are going “wrong” is really the height of arrogance. Things might not be going according to your plan, but what makes you think that your plan is the plan? What makes you think that there even is a plan in the broader scheme of things?
As my dear friend Caly once said, it is natural to make your own reality from the chaos of life. Otherwise you’d go nuts. But I think we then have a tendency to veer off course and assume than our reality is, or should be, cast in stone. That’s when things get messy, because the world isn’t always going to cooperate with your view thereof.
Instead of thinking that things are going wrong, perhaps it would be better to think, “I made a plan, and then something else happened.” And maybe with luck and the beauty of hindsight you’ll discover that that “something else” wasn’t so bad after all.
Here are a few examples from my life:
I planned to live happily ever after with the love of my life, and then something else happened. He died quite suddenly and unexpectedly. And because of that I’m now in Seattle, and while I miss him so much it’s physically painful sometimes, I do love it here.
I planned to take my degree in Dental Laboratory Technology and Management and start my own dental lab in the mountains of North Carolina, and then something else happened. After graduating with honors, I couldn’t get a job with anyone else to get the requisite training, which turned out to be a good thing because I then had to have wrist surgery and wouldn’t have been able to do the work anyway. (And North Carolina has turned into a place where you aren’t free to pee in public bathrooms without having your gender questioned, and I’d have found that intolerable.)
I planned to grow old with someone, and then something else happened. Someone forgot to tell me that it’s nearly impossible to find love after 50. I haven’t given up entirely, but another “something else” has happened, too: I’ve discovered I quite like my life as it is, so if someone comes along, that’s great, but if not, it’s all good. Most of the time.
I think the true definition of happiness is not becoming so wedded to your itinerary that you overlook the alternate routes. There are many paths you can take. Relax. You’ll get to where you’re supposed to be one way or another, even if it’s not where you expected to go.
That sounds counterintuitive, doesn’t it? Who would be crazy enough to jump without having a visible net below? It’s much better to plan for all contingencies, right?
First of all, let me be clear that I’m not talking about literally jumping off something here. If you step off the ledge of a high-rise building without a net or harness of some sort, we will be scraping you off the pavement with a shovel. That’s just common sense (you’d think).
No, what I’m referring to are figurative leaps: Leaps of faith, embracing change, making your move. Getting your butt off the couch and making a decision. Leaning into your transformation rather than resisting it. Those types of net-less leaps can be very rewarding, or at the very least, enlightening.
When it comes to life changes, it’s often impossible to know what the net is even going to look like until you’re halfway through the plunge. By all means, do your homework whenever possible, but don’t be closed to the possibility that you’re not supposed to know it all until you have benefit of hindsight.
Even if a leap of faith doesn’t work out, it brings you to a new place with brand new options. You are allowed to hesitate, you are allowed to choose your time and your trajectory, but please don’t freeze. Freezing gets you nowhere. And besides, it’s cold. Very, very cold.