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Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves

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I remember the day my sister was born like it was yesterday.

I had just moved in with my Dad and Stepmom. Theoretically she was supposed to have been born before I moved in, but school was in progress, and she was making her entrance when she darn well felt like it (if you know my sister, you know that getting her to do what she doesn’t want to do is nigh on impossible).

So a day after I moved in, I sat on the floor at Mama’s feet, trying not to cry. I failed. Miserably. I wasn’t always the best at showing it, but I loved Mama dearly and seeing her in pain (no matter how skillfully or gracefully she bore it) was too much to bear.

For a kid who once asked Santa for a younger brother, having a baby sister wasn’t exactly all I’d wished for. She cried. A lot. Life got louder, the house got more chaotic. There was a lot less playing with cute baby than I thought, and when I did get to, it was less playing and more, yuck.

I was an utter ingrate as older sisters go.

Still I was utterly enamored.

Mama and our Dad divorced and we were not in contact again until my sister was 16. I was the married mother of a toddler, and even then, I was awestruck by her. In many ways, she was more mature than I was, and certainly had herself more together than I had yet managed.

As I’ve navigated my way through the complexities in life, particularly in the last 5 years, she has been my role model. Always reminding me what it means to be fierce, something she got in spades from her Mother. I don’t know that I’ll ever have the strength or resilience either of them have. I know I don’t have the drive, although it’s a skill I’m trying to learn, and they are my most dependable examples. I completely lack her confidence, or self-esteem. I often joke she’s the belle of the ball, and I’d swear on a stack of bibles she knows everyone in her town.

I’m still a work in progress, and she’s one of my main sources of inspiration.

As I look back over the last year, I’m amazed at how far I’ve come. I owe more of that to her than I’ll ever have words for.

It’s A Sad Sad Situation

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Whether or not you’re a fan of Dennis Prager, I once heard him compare relationships to bank accounts. Something along the lines of some people are savers, and they will make deposit after deposit but rarely make a withdrawal. Some people will put just enough in to open an account and establish some credit and then will bleed you dry until you finally drop the hammer on them. He made the comment that those people were the definition of being “morally bankrupt”.

As helpful as that was, I’ve used the concept of triage in relationships, particularly friendships, especially those where there is an element of mentoring going on.

It’s not just about pouring resources into someone or something. The person or situation has to actually be ready, willing and able to benefit from those resources. By my way of thinking, if I continue to use resources for someone who isn’t ultimately benefitting from them, I’m actively stealing from others who may well be able to use what I have to offer.

As an empath, knowing when to call it quits has never been my strong suit. Having some kind of metric to help me make these decisions about gifts and help and relationships has been incredibly helpful. My instinct is never to say no to a wounded soul, knowing that sometimes it’s the person who says yes that makes the difference. I can’t say this metric has stopped me from making that first attempt, rarely is someone so far gone that I know they are beyond my help. It has taught me to be more measured in my approach, and more watchful for the ensuing response.

I’ll admit, I still struggle with this conceptually. On some level it feels heartless to be that… calculating about the welfare of others. But I have extremely limited resources, and as far as I can tell, the people who are pulled back from the brink usually turn into healthy givers when they get their own house in order. So the most efficient and effective plan is to give to those you know can be returned to solid ground. Thinking about the long term chain reaction helps soothe my empath soul a little bit, and keeps me focused on the long game.

But walking away is never going to be easy or natural for me. It’s at best a well-practiced skill.

My Christmas Dreaming

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Christmas has always been a treasured holiday for me. It hasn’t always been a happy one. My parent’s split on Christmas, my Mom and I almost never celebrated it, but I love it all the same.

I was a choir girl; and for choir kids, Christmas starts in the fall, in preparation for winter concerts. So I love the music, but also the baking, the lights, the magic, the pageantry. It fills that part of my heart that longs for dreams, romance and beauty.

As an adult, I’ve often hopped in the car to drive while listening to music. Singing at the top of my lungs as the dark road stretches ahead does me a world of good. It’s therapeutic. Cathartic. There is little that cheers me more than a travel mug full of something steamy, a container full of homemade Christmas cookies, and a collection of my favorite holiday music. It’s something that became a family tradition (one that sadly waned when we lived on our farm).

So when my first son was due on Christmas eve, I couldn’t be more excited. I felt like he was the most precious gift I’d ever receive (turns out he was one of three of the most precious gifts ever).

I spent many weeks before his birth driving around while listening to music and looking at lights, dreaming of the day I’d finally hold him in my arms, feeling a certain kindred spirit with Mary. I battled fear and confusion and insecurity my whole pregnancy, knowing that learning to be a good parent would be an uphill battle for me. Those drives brought me peace, and gave me a measure of courage to face what lay ahead.

And they provided enough inspiration to help me dive into the whole parenting experience.

Whenever I go on these holiday drives now, there’s always a part of me that remembers the joy, the intense love, the overwhelming protectiveness…I look back fondly, and  smile with immense pride at the young man that wee babe has become.

He exceeded my wildest dreams so effortlessly.

You Were Always There For Me When I Needed You Most

I get a ping, and after some roaming around the block and a few false starts, an unspeakably handsome Englishman (who shares a name with my youngest, and I share a name with his daughter, hello Kismet!) gets in. He tells me we are picking up his friends.

Two more shockingly adorable young brits get in the car and we’re off. And I’m about in heaven because they could just chatter the whole way to their hotel and I’d be happy as a lark.

But the delicious accents aren’t all that’s worth telling here. Nor were their very notable looks. They were charming, highly intelligent, and funny, with such impeccable manners that they were simply a joy to have in the car.

Me, being the bigmouth that I am, I was full of questions and they were for the most part very talkative. Particularly the young man in the seat next to me.

Being from LA, and hearing them talk a bit, I had a suspicion they were musicians and had played one of the larger venues that night. They were also much closer to my son’s age than mine, and I mostly listen to passengers’ music if any, so I’m not really conversant in what the kids are listening to these days.

Finally I couldn’t take the curiosity anymore (major violation of native Angeleno standards, but when in Denver… was my rationale), and I asked, “so what band/performer?”. The young man in the front seat says “well, that’s ….. …… back there, innit?”. And I gasp “no”… and they go “so you know his music”? And I say “that song” and they go “that song” and proceed to tease me about my utter lack of knowledge about his music (in a completely charming and friendly way, no malice intended).

Inside I’m kicking myself because I can’t remember the name of that damn song. Because I’ve got it saved on Pandora, I love it, it’s breathtakingly beautiful and for someone who’s spent her entire adult life married to the same man, only to have her entire world crumble to pieces… That song is both too hard for me to listen to, and in those moments when I feel stronger and happier, I listen and I believe again in love. I believe that people really do feel as I feel and that all can really be right with the world, and that the heartache I see too often around me doesn’t have to be the norm.

But I couldn’t remember the title because every time I hear it the tears flow freely from my eyes and I’m too busy experiencing it to worry about things like remembering words.

Which, let me tell you, that’s a rare occurrence for a singer. Usually we’re all about those words, yo.

There aren’t many songs that impact me with quite that level of emotional intensity, and here I felt like I left this young man with the impression that his music was unremarkable, when nothing could be further from the truth. That song destroyed me in the most beautifully epic way the very first time I heard it.

I’ve been kicking myself ever since.

Talent like that truly deserves to be honored, even if it violates my LA “code”.

And young men that remarkable in every possible way deserve to know they are admired, even if it’s by a lady old enough to be their mother.

Maybe especially by a lady old enough to be their mother. It is certainly my fondest wish that I’ve raised my sons as well as these young men were clearly raised.

How A Young Heart Really Feels

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We used to hang out at lunch, a whole huge group of us. I was introduced by my best friend.

It took him a while to talk to me, but pretty soon we spent most of every lunch sitting together.

It never occurred to me he might be interested. My best friend had kind of a thing for him, and she was everything I wasn’t, beautiful, smart, a good student, Catholic. They went to the same church, they had known each other for years. In my mind, they were perfect for each other and he in no way deserved the mess that was me.

Whether he deserved it or not, he wanted me to be his.

I said no. For months. Partly some girl code kind of thing. Partly feeling unworthy. Partly fear.

I finally told him he had to let her know he wasn’t interested, and then yes, I’d go out with him.

He wrote me letters literally every day. The three of us went to dances, we all went to summer school and spent a lot of time together. When he didn’t have to work he’d walk me home, hang out after, until he had to leave (or bolted out the back door the times my Stepdad came home early).

One night someone crashed their car into my house. He walked over after a long day at work to comfort me. I often couldn’t sleep because of the whole crazy Night Stalker thing going on at the time. He wrote more notes, lent me tapes of our favorite music to listen to while I fell asleep.

I never, ever, deserved anyone who treated me as well as he did. I’ve joked a time or two that he dodged a bullet, and he snarks back that he was a naive idiot. And yet in some ways he’s the model of what I hope to find someday. That’s really the only thing that would make a relationship worth it again for me. I give too much. I don’t hold back. I don’t know how. And I have a full life that I love, so compromising isn’t remotely interesting. On some level, I’m not sure I believe in love like that anymore. Or maybe I just don’t believe I can have it again.

She’s Got The Magic Touch

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“I’m a bitch, you know that, right?”

“Duly noted” I grinned at her; a little too adoringly.

Most of the time I can’t stand drama, pot-stirrers or other nonsense. I’m a little too earnest, a little too loving, and a little too free with my heart; so my only defense is to keep people who might abuse the privilege at, well, much more than arm’s length. Like, maybe a football field.

She’s the one exception. I love her, one might say worship. One wouldn’t be overstating things.. Maybe because she is who she is, and she doesn’t hide, lie, manipulate or play games. She’s completely comfortable with who and what she is, and she feels no need to pretend otherwise. No fucks given at all about your opinion. Ever.

But she’s fun and brash and has a rapier wit that she wields masterfully without being overtly mean. She walks that oh-so-fine line with precision and skill. She’s drop-dead-gorgeous which doesn’t hurt, and she has a voice like melted chocolate, a laugh like a room full of crystal during a toast, and this delicious accent that makes you wish she’d just keep talking. About anything. Weather, sports, beheadings, you don’t really care, you just don’t want her to stop.

This group is so jam-packed with extraordinary people that I could write a hundred love letters before ever feeling the need to write a “Dear John”, but when you walk into a room and she’s there, you know things just got magnitudes better.

There is no crappy week that can overpower her many charms.

Nevermind These Are Hurried Times

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People have such a hard time simply being present with someone else’s pain.There are a multitude of socioeconomic reasons for this. Essentially, we avoid pain, and we have been avoiding it as long as humans have existed. Avoidance of pain is a biological imperative, sure. An unavoidable survival instinct. But we humans overcome many instincts in order to participate efficiently and effectively in modern life. So why do we struggle so when it comes to experiencing or witnessing pain?

There’s nothing like experiencing pain (first or secondhand) to trigger a massive bout of cognitive dissonance. We “move past”  hurts and injuries; illnesses and loss. We do as we are told and put them behind us. Leaving the past where it belongs. There’s some wisdom to that, but it’s only part of the equation. If we don’t first learn whatever we can from those moments, they are wasted. We have failed to take from that experience the power to help ourselves and others in a time of crisis.

But there are no classes and precious few books that really tell us how to help someone actually heal. There is pop psychology and there are platitudes and the things we think we should say because they seem to make sense at the time, but which may in fact be horrifically invalidating or in other ways harmful.

So people fall back on the simplistic and the trite and they run for the nearest exit. They rationalize away the impact of their reaction because they aren’t sure what else to do or how to handle things differently, so they just put it out of their minds. Just as previous experiences with pain have taught them to do.

But all that pressure to say the right thing is usually misguided. Often just saying to someone “I wish I knew what to say but I don’t, no words seem equal to the magnitude of what you’re experiencing, but I’m going to stay right here with you and be present with you and take care of you in whatever way you need until you tell me it’s time to go” (or some truly meant variation on that) is more than enough. Often it’s the thing that can actually bring a moment of peace, comfort, and feeling loved and nurtured. Sometimes those are exactly the wrong feelings and the offer will be rejected. And that’s ok, the person is not rejecting you, they are asking for what they need. So you simply offer “please, reach out, ask for what you need, and I’ll be on my way now” and then you leave.

Really, most of us didn’t have great examples of how to handle our own pain, let alone someone else’s. So why don’t we talk about this more? Why don’t we have these discussions? Why don’t we share and problem solve and tweet tips and tricks on how to be a loving and supportive human the way we share financial tips or makeup tutorials or game walkthroughs?

This issue is the key to solving all the greatest ills we need to solve in our world.  Empathy is truly the force that makes the world go round.

If You’re Ever In A Jam, Here I Am

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Being an introvert and a little too comfortable being an introvert, I don’t make friends easily. The raging case of RBF I’ve had since who knows when doesn’t help.

So I’ve been a little taken aback at how many friends I’ve made in this singles group. I’m just not generally the type to reach out to others. I always look around a room and think everyone is better looking, more entertaining or smarter; so I figure who would want me to send them a friend request? Thankfully this group has decided not to stand on any kind of ridiculous formality, and they’ve reached out to me, or I’d still be hiding in my cozy little hidey hole.

I’ve had to grow and stretch and learn to be a bit more social of a social introvert, and it’s good for me. Not always comfortable, but I have to admit I needed to do some growing and stretching.

There’s one friend I’ve made that has restored me in ways others couldn’t. Probably because we’re alike in many ways. We are both people who deeply care about others, we see the best in them, are nurturing and protective, probably to a fault. We both have a dark side, and neither of us is afraid of it. We just choose not to cultivate it. But it’s there, and can be called upon if the need arises. Since we don’t live in a preschool storybook, sometimes the need arises. But there is a peacefulness to be had when you acknowledge your darkness while choosing the light. You know that you have the tools to do what needs doing, but you also know you needn’t fear getting carried away or taking up permanent residence, because the light truly is where your heart lives.

But we humans tend to fear darkness, for good reason. Not everyone with a dark side chooses the light, or uses it for a greater purpose. There aren’t many Gray Jedi, there are too damn many Sith. So those of us with a dark side tend to hide it. Some for nefarious reasons, but for the two of us, it’s really not representative of who we are, so why go advertising a side of us 99% of people will never see?

But this is the power of those kindred spirit friendships. When the parts of you that are too vulnerable or protected to show, and you recognize that in each other. It’s a heady feeling to let your hair down and just admit the truth. Not with words, but with the things you don’t skirt around. The things you own, unflinchingly. Particularly when that other soul is such a beautiful one.

When you feel lost and you aren’t sure if up is still up or if right has suddenly become left, finding someone to join you in your center is such a relief.

And As The Years Go By

We are the unlikeliest of friends. I’m not the only (or first) person to make that comment. It’s undeniable on the surface.

He’s the classic BMOC, he’s smart (brilliant actually in a Will Hunting sort of way, although it’s not the first thing you notice about him); successful, he has a smile that lights up any room. He’s the center of any crowd; he’s the glue that holds many diverse personalities together. More than that, he’s the secret ingredient that makes them all blend harmoniously. He’s the definition of gracious, in spite of his frequent reminders that he has no filter. He can say things nobody else would ever get away with because you see his heart, it’s right there on his sleeve. He can be a mischievous imp, but he doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. He’s also the man in our singles group who tends to have many eyes following him. Not that he notices.

I am not the see or be seen type. In fact, if there’s a plant to hide behind, a dog to pet, or a child to chat with, I’m happier than a pig in, well, you know. I’m a social introvert. I’ve been accused of being an ambivert, but that’s not quite true. I love people. I enjoy getting to know them, I love nothing more than talking to someone, and trying in little snippets of time to heal their wounds, to see the things other people miss, I think people are for the most part heartbreakingly beautiful; but I have my peopleing limits and it doesn’t take me long to reach them; and then I need to retreat to a cold, dark room and pretend the outside world doesn’t exist for a while. Kind of an odd trait for a person who loves being a rideshare driver, right? Yeah, I haven’t quite figured that out myself.

So not exactly two people who would seem like they’d become great friends, right?

I’ll sum it up for you in just a handful of letters.

ENFP/INFP

We met on the heels of similar personal disasters. I’m not particularly skilled or gifted or successful at anything, but the one thing I say I do well is love. And I am good, I guess, at reframing things. For helping people connect dots they might not otherwise see. We’ve all been hit by that hurricane relationship that leaves you breathless by the side of the road wondering what the hell just happened; and when you’ve landed in another country and you don’t speak the language, your odds of piecing together where you are and how to get back to where you were (if that’s even possible, which, it isn’t) are slim to none. For months we talked almost every day. In part because I was able to help him figure out where he was, and since going back wasn’t a desirable (or available) option, how to go home again.

He’s courageous in a way few people are. In an odd way, some of that is fear. Who wants to keep hurting when you’ve just been mortally wounded. It’s an evolutionary imperative to stop the bleeding. But few people have the courage to turn in the face of such assaults, draw that line in the sand and stand there saying “cross it one more time…”. So we wandered that path together, both of us unafraid to look pain in the face, because continuing to hurt like this was not an option.

You can’t share that kind of experience and not forge a rare bond. The fact that we’re both a little empathic, both lean towards the live and let live side, the fact that my barely there filter sometimes rivals his nonexistent one. I could go on, but the moral of the story is your mother was right when she told you never to judge a book by it’s cover.

We’ve become friends. Maybe even family. I’m not sure I have a label that can really encompass the place he has in my heart and my life, but can say I have few friendships I cherish as much as this one.

The fact that on the heels of tragedy comes the most beautiful of blessings is one of the reasons I haven’t become hardened. The beauty is always there, if you stay open to seeing it.

This Girl Is On Fire

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Tonight I’m celebrating the birthday of a new friend. I adore her. Everyone adores her. That really isn’t the story.

Every so often you run into those people who make you realize that whatever you’re prideful about, you really aren’t all that. You know that commercial with Rod Stewart and Rachel Hunter where she’s building a house and doing all this other amazing stuff?

That’s her. She’s equal parts Pink and Mary and MacGuyver. I always thought I was a good wife and mother but I am not even in the same universe as her.

And she does it all with a smile on her face, a hug for every soul who needs one, making friends and having fun and breathing life into every moment.

I really don’t have words to express how phenomenal she is, or how grateful I am to have her in my life.

Happy Birthday love. And thank you for helping my battered soul find a smile and a whole lot of peace.

 

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