‘Til Death Do Us Part

Most married couples have included that phrase in their wedding vows. But how many of them actually think about it? I suspect that it gets thrown in there because they want to stress the fact that they’re not planning on a divorce. But the truth is, if your marriage truly is for life, unless you both die in a plane crash or something, it’s only going to be for life for one of you.

Yep. Death will part you. And even though we all know that on a basic level, it still comes as a great shock to the person who is left behind. The grief of losing the person you love most in this world is indescribable. You don’t truly grasp it until you’re in it. There’s no real way to prepare for it. There are no shortcuts. You will either be the one who dies or the one who mourns. Frankly, I’m not sure which one is better off.

It’s a really strange feeling to have your future all mapped out with someone and then one day, poof, it’s gone. It’s unsettling. It’s like having the tablecloth ripped out from under your feast. It’s messy. It’s destructive. Shit is gonna get broken. There will be stains in the carpet that will never come out.

Why am I telling you this? Because it’s important to have this conversation. Not that it will mitigate the damages. But at least you’ll get a sense of where each of you stand, while both are still standing. Just a thought.

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Structure

An interesting conversation with my friend Amy recently made me realize that there seem to be two types of people in this world: Those who thrive on structure and those who chafe when forced to be structured. I fall firmly in the former camp. I like planning things. I flourish with boundaries. If I don’t know what to expect it makes me extremely uncomfortable.

Want to go and do something with me? Give me a couple days’ notice so I can get used to the idea. I’m not a spur of the moment type of person. And for the love of all things holy, do not show up at my door unannounced. Not if you want me to be genuinely happy to see you.

I like having a steady job with a steady paycheck and benefits. I admire anyone who can make a living as an entrepreneur or a freelancer, but it would give me ulcers. Never knowing how much money was coming in from one week to the next would freak me out.

Most of the people I knew in Florida were structured types, too. After decades of that, it sort of became my default expectation. But now I’m in Seattle, which seems to be a more freewheeling, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type of place. I’m making more and more friends who are free spirits, and it’s been absolutely delightful and inspiring. It’s also been a learning experience.

I struggle to remember that my way isn’t the only way. These are just two different angles by which to approach the world. Naturally, I have a comfort zone, but this does not mean that it’s the “right” zone. It’s just my zone.

I’m loving the enthusiasm of the folks in the other camp. But I’m not wild about the lack of follow through. I love how they feed my creative side, and they also teach me not to take myself so freakin’ seriously. But it would be nice if they could show up on time. They bring me joy. They also frustrate the hell out of me.

When I collaborate with non-structured individuals, I have to learn to be more flexible, and that is growth for me. I’m discovering that there’s more than one way to reach a goal. My well-worn path isn’t the only one. In fact, the view might just be spectacular if I took another route every now and then.

And when I see my friends trying to adapt to my need for structure by giving me time frames and being open to my planning, for example, it means a great deal to me. True friends accommodate each other, and by doing so, everyone grows. So a HUGE hug to all my twisty-bendy friends out there! Thanks for bearing with me, too. It goes both ways.

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And Then Something Else Happened

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.

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Failing Forward

The older I get, the less I view failure as the end of the world. Yeah, it’s depressing, or at the very least embarrassing, but I’ve been shown over and over again that things that might seem as though they are a catastrophe while they’re happening are generally happening for a very good reason.

Case in point, back in 2012 I got what turned out to be my third useless college degree, and then made absolutely no progress in trying to change my career. After literally hundreds of attempts to break into the field of Dental Laboratory Technology, I finally had to accept the fact that it just wasn’t going to happen.

It felt like a death. I went into a period of deep mourning for a future that I had been working toward for years that was never going to come to pass. It was like someone yanked the tablecloth out from under my feast.

Fast forward with me a couple of years as I fall down a flight of stairs. I did so much damage to my wrist that it required surgery, and I can tell you right now that there’s no possible way I would currently be able to do the fine repetitive movements required to fabricate dental appliances. So if that career had worked out, I wouldn’t have had it for long, and I’d have been in a world of financial trouble.

And it turns out that I managed to keep a job I love and find a way to actually do it and get a living wage plus benefits. So everything turned out exactly as it should have. My failure propelled me forward.

Thank GOD I failed. In retrospect, that failure is a cause for celebration. I am happier than I have ever been. So take heart! Failure is just another step in your journey, which will always be more complex and exciting than you can possibly imagine.

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I Can’t Be Bothered.

When I was younger, I used to think a lot more stuff was urgent or important. I’d make mile-long to-do lists and experience unbelievable stress when I didn’t complete those tasks in what I considered to be a timely fashion. Now, not so much.

Now, in order to even make my to-do list, things have to meet certain criteria. Will not doing these things result in starvation, homelessness, or nuclear disaster? Then yeah, maybe I should jump on that. Otherwise, screw it. I’d much rather take a nap.

The closer you come to your expiration date, the more you understand what the term “life is too short” really means. I just worry that if this trend continues, in about a decade I’ll be living in squalor. Ah well. I’ll worry about that some other time.

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[Image credit: rantchic.com]

Best Laid Plans

‘Twas a rainy Seattle morning, and I was looking forward to a nice quiet shift on the bridge. Most boaters would not be out in this muck. I planned to drink my green tea, write my blog, and just relax.

Then a maintenance crew showed up. I had forgotten they were coming. No big deal. They’re professionals. They know what they’re doing. They need very little help from me. I just need to ensure that I don’t open the bridge while they’re hip-deep in machinery. Easy enough. We have safety procedures in place.

Then I heard the skidding of brakes. That sound instantly puts me on edge. I looked out the window, and there’s a bicyclist lying unconscious in the middle of the street. Not good. In fact, very, very bad. A crowd is already gathering. Traffic is backing up. I call 911. The first responders arrive with lightning speed. Then I call traffic control to let them know the road is blocked. Then the paperwork begins.

All told, the situation lasted less than an hour, but I’m still rattled. Why is that? The woman is going to be all right, but from the looks of her, she won’t be eating soup for quite some time. She landed face first on the grating.

I’m sure part of my feeling is the aftermath of an adrenaline dump. That’s never fun. But there’s also this feeling of being uprooted. I expected to be in one place (a nice quiet control tower, with my green tea and my blog) and was instead thrust headlong into another (your basic SNAFU). I almost felt as though I’d been abducted.

In addition, my ability to plan and organize was ripped from me. I had no time to prepare. These are comfort zones that I dislike having to depart from.

I didn’t panic. Everything went as smoothly as it could, given the circumstances. And while I wish this hadn’t happened to that poor woman, if it had to, it went as well as it could.

And yet I’m still rattled. But I still have my green tea and my blog.

I think I need a hug.

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Vancouver Not Exactly According to Plan

I just got back from my first ever visit to Vancouver. What a fantastic time I had! I was meeting up with a friend (more on him in another blog entry) and I figured he’d be more comfortable with a specific game plan, so I read my guidebook from cover to cover, and set out an itinerary so that everything would flow like clockwork. Ha! The Gods must have been laughing.

I was to meet him at 1:30 on Sunday at a coffee shop. I wasn’t expecting to have a 5 mile long line at the border crossing. Since I don’t follow sports very closely, I didn’t realize that the USA women’s soccer team would be playing Japan for the FIFA world cup that day in Vancouver, and it seemed that half of Washington State wanted to see it for themselves. And a lot of the downtown streets were blocked off, too, when I finally arrived in town. So I got to the coffee shop around 3:30. Fortunately my friend was still there, patiently waiting.

My first impression of Vancouver was…my God, is that pollution? Everything was enveloped in a smoky grey fog. But no, it turned out that there were forest fires to the north, and the smoke was blowing down into the city. I know that this city is near mountains, but I didn’t get to see them at all during my visit. But I view it as a good excuse to go back.

So the plan was to pick up sandwiches from I place I had read about that I was dying to try. It’s called Meat and Bread, and it sounded delicious. So we walked over there, and my mouth was watering. Turns out they were closed on Sundays. Picnic crisis! But we found a shop next door and I managed to get a really delicious hummus and eggplant panini. Crisis averted.

The next plan was to go to Stanley Park, check out the totem poles, and then picnic at Lumberman’s Arch. But by then I was ravenous, so we sat on a hill and watched a couple teams play an enthusiastic game of cricket. I’d never seen cricket outside of TV, and I find the rules incomprehensible, but we enjoyed our picnic and were happy when the people cheered, even if we had no idea why they were doing so. It was a pleasant way to pass the time. And the whole time I was thinking to myself, “I’m in a foreign country! And with a great friend! This is so awesome!”

Cricket in Stanley Park, Vancouver.
Cricket in Stanley Park, Vancouver.

Then we made it to the totem poles, and they were as impressive and amazing as I thought they would be. I love seeing things I’ve never seen before.

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Then we wandered amongst the immense cedar trees. It was hard to believe we were in a city. We drove around the park, too. It’s huge.

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After that we hung out for a while at my friend’s apartment, and then the plan was to go to the Chinatown Night Market. The guidebook really talked it up and I was excited. But it’s no longer there. On line they said it was at a new location, but it wasn’t there, either. Major bummer. We did drive through Chinatown, though, which was pretty amazing.

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We also intended to see a sunset, but the dense smoke pretty much destroyed that plan. So we went back to the apartment and had a kind of slumber party. I offered to paint his toe nails and gossip about boys, but for some reason he wasn’t into that. But it was nice catching up with a friend. I fell asleep to the sounds of the city, and it was really nice to be with company for the first time in ages. I slept well.

So pretty much nothing went according to plan, and I’m so glad it didn’t, because it was a perfectly lovely day.

More about Vancouver tomorrow…

Learning to Fall

The other day at work I had Fall Prevention training. As a bridgetender, there will occasionally be moments where I’m called upon to work at a dangerous height, so this training is essential. The fact that I never received this type of instruction in my thirteen years as a bridgetender in Florida tells you everything you need to know about the difference in work culture here in Seattle. My current employer actually cares if I live or die. Yeah, yeah, part of that is due to litigation, I know, but I genuinely believe they value me much more than my former employer ever did. Heaven knows they pay me more.

The class was actually rather interesting. Not only did I learn how to properly inspect, wear and maintain my harness, but I learned some basic physics. To oversimplify things to an extreme degree, there’s no point in attaching your harness to a 60 foot rope if you’re standing on the edge of a 40 foot drop.

I also learned something rather fascinating. If you do fall and you’re dangling in a harness for more than a minute or two, expect to pass out cold when you are finally rescued. That harness is going to cut off the circulation to your legs, so your body will be taking all the oxygen out of the blood in the lower half of your body to survive. So when you finally stand up again, all that deoxygenated blood is going to rush to your head, and, basically, it’ll be lights out. You can count on it. They don’t show you that in the movies.

But of course, since I live in my head most of the time, I also learned a few philosophical truths along with everything else. Learning how to fall is important. If you do it right, you’ll survive. It’s okay, it’s even attractive, to be vulnerable, but it’s also critical to have contingency plans and put serious thought into everything that you do. Prevention is key, but plans are necessary, too.

It’s also about educated faith. Trust the equipment, but inspect it first. If you’re going to fall, make it a knowledgeable fall. If I had a coat of arms, I think that should be my motto.

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[Image credit: mubi.com]

What do you want to be when you grow up?

When you are young, people ask you that question all the time. Unfortunately that gives you the impression that someday you will actually know the answer. Poppycock. Most of us never do. That’s the great secret that no one tells you.

Maybe that’s best, because how can you face the world if you realize that you’ll never reach your goal because you haven’t a clue what that goal is? I envy those who find a calling and successfully pursue it. But they are the exceptions.

As a child, my stock response to that question was always, “I want to be a teacher, because then I can yell at all the kids.” That always got a laugh. I like making people laugh. I never really wanted to be a teacher. I don’t even like children. Good thing I had the sense to never have any.

While it’s good to make plans and work toward something, the fact is that most of us kind of stumble into our lives by accident. The question I like to ask adults is, “Did you ever think that this is what you would be when you grew up?” I’ve never had anyone answer that in the affirmative. Not even once.

So perhaps the road to happiness isn’t pursuing your dreams but rather learning to find joy in the present moment. Don’t focus on the destination, but rather revel in the journey. That way your dreams will come true every second of every day.

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[Image credit: iwantcovers.com]

Turning Points

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the paths we take in life. None of us are on the same path, and none of us can really see the road ahead. It’s like driving with a blindfold on. Sure, you might be able to anticipate the occasional pothole or speed bump. You may even be able to correct for such things to a certain extent. But for the most part, we are along for the ride.

We cannot know what curves our paths will take. And then there are those sharp unexpected turns. Divorce. Death of a loved one. Loss of job. Health scares. Violence.

Not all sharp turns have to be negative, though. You might meet the girl of your dreams at the grocery store tomorrow. Or win the lottery. Or find out you’re finally pregnant after years of trying.

The thing I’m interested in is that exact moment when one’s life is forever changed. What is that like, and what is the catalyst? What energy exists in that moment? And why is it occurring right then, instead of 10 minutes or 10 days later? Could it somehow be altered? Is there a way to anticipate it?

When I had to tell my sister that our other sister had passed away, I remember thinking that I was about to hit her like a bumper that impacts with a pinball and sends it careening off in an entirely different direction. It had to be done, of course, but it’s an odd feeling, knowing that you’re about to effect someone to that extent.

There are also sharp turns that we bring upon ourselves, such as my decision to quit my job and go back to school. I had this image in my head of how everything was going to work out. Little did I know that I was making a huge mistake. That moment in time, that instant where I turned off the road into a dead end, is a moment that I wish I could take back.

How strange to think that each one of us could be heading for a sharp turn and it could happen at any second. I suddenly understand why people become agoraphobic. It’s not unreasonable to want to limit your opportunities for impending doom. But that also means you’ll limit your opportunities for impending joy.

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