Aging Ain't For Sissies.

Don’t Fence Me In

I can’t remember a time in my life when I felt comfortable setting boundaries. There was a part of me that believed I was obligated to help anyone who asked me even if it was to my own detriment. I believed I was not worth more than the way I was treated. I believe I wasn’t good enough. I believed what I was told about myself.

Now I don’t.

So…what changed? I don’t think it was any one thing but a combination of things. Watching life intersect with death. Facing the fact that all the time we have is all the time we have. Sometimes the only way to make the best of this time is to set a boundary or three.

Boundaries tend to piss people off. Too bad. One of the good things about boundaries is they help you weed out who has your best interests at heart and who doesn’t.

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The truth seems to piss people off too. If I have learned nothing else recently it’s that the truth really will set us free. Truth is liberating and boundaries assure that our liberation is not short lived.

We’ve heard it all before…”life is short!” “Live life to the fullest!” “You only live once!” There is truth in every one of these sayings. There’s another truth and that is we cannot live fully if we don’t set boundaries. Without boundaries too much crap can get in and stifle us. Life is not meant to be lived this way.

Setting boundaries is completely outside my comfort zone. It feels weird and awkward yet strangely right. I have 54 years behind me. It is unlikely that I have 54 years ahead of me. I want to make the most of whatever is left. Maybe this comfort zone hasn’t been so comforting after all.

comfort_zone

Who Am I?

At the age of 54 I look in the mirror and ask….how did I get to this point in my life? What am I going to do with the time I have left? Who am I?

There were a lot of paths taken that got me to where I am today. Some were the paths less traveled and others were beaten down by the footsteps of many. There were rocky paths, rigid and dangerous. Others were paved smooth and straight. One thing all these paths have in common is that the destination of each was unknown from the first step. Every path I took was a gamble. Some paid off and some didn’t.

Path

I look in the mirror and see eyes I don’t recognize. They belong to someone older don’t they? I don’t feel like a mature 54 year old woman should feel. I still feel like an awkward, insecure, tortured teenager who doesn’t have a clue yet the mirror shows a woman with lines that run deep in places where a lifetime of worry is most apparent.

I look at my hands. Wasn’t it just yesterday they were young and pretty? Now they are getting a bit ragged and worn, perhaps from being clenched far too often. The underside tells another story though as my palms are smooth and good for holding hands and petting puppies.

old-womans-eyes

What will I do with whatever time I have left? Staying on this path doesn’t seem quite right for it has become as worn as my hands. I‘m not sure which path I will take (or be forced to take) next. I think if I were to die today it would all feel far too unfinished. The problem is I don’t know what the finish line is supposed to look like.

So…who am I really? I am covered with a lot of labels, some good and others not so much. A portion of the labels were self designated and some were given by people in my life. There are some that are accurate and some that aren‘t. But labels don’t make me who I am which leads me to ask yet again…who am I? Maybe there is no concrete answer. Perhaps I am a culmination of everything I’ve ever done, seen, heard, felt and believed along with everything I‘ve ever missed, neglected, torn down or left behind.

lost

I may never know who I really am until I step out of this earthly body someday. Perhaps the not knowing will push me to be better than I am now. Maybe it’s always pushed me and I didn’t realize it. I am a person who desires answers to everything. (I can be quite annoying in this respect.) I ponder just about everything from the origins of, well, everything to why things happen the way they do, when they do, how they do etc. Maybe in searching for answers I’ve overlooked the value of not knowing, for it would appear it’s the not knowing that propels me forward. Something else for me to ponder.

Who I was, who I am and who I will become are different. Yet all of the “I’s” are me now and forever. I don’t think it can get more unexplainable (I told you I can be annoying with this stuff) so maybe it’s best I leave it to the wide world of the unknown.

For now.

hubble

For now.

(hubble)

No Apology Needed

Aging has a way of encouraging a person to look back on where they’ve been, forward to where they’re going and most importantly to where they are in the present moment.

When I look back on my life I see that I spent a sizable chunk of it apologizing for who I am.

During my most impressionable years I was labeled temperamental, moody, silly, stupid, ridiculous. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry I said. I was weird and no one knew what to do with me. I’m sorry I said.

I went out into the world with few people skills. I took jobs that I probably shouldn’t have because I didn’t know what else to do. Some of them I did okay and others I failed. I’m sorry I said.

I did not know how to give and receive love and my relationships, platonic and otherwise, failed. I’m sorry I said.

People that found their way into my life were those who were stronger than me emotionally. I allowed them in without realizing what was happening until it was too late. It was how I was programmed and I didn’t know I had the power to change it. The bullies, the bosses and sometimes the friends. If a confrontation was needed and I could find the guts to speak up for myself I was told I was being defensive, emotional, not rational. I’m sorry I said.

trust_denied I met Fred and he didn’t expect any apologies. He didn’t want them. But still there were others I allowed to walk over top of me. To talk down to me. To treat me like I was lesser than them. I wasn’t supposed to have an opinion. I’m sorry I said.

When we moved away from the home that we had lived in previously I was able to say goodbye to one of those people. That person did not let go easily but for me it was one of the best things I had ever done for myself. I was not sorry. Not anymore.

Getting on the Internet, specifically the Prodigy network back in the early 90s, opened a whole new world of people to me. It was also the beginning of me finding out who I really am.

excuse

 Prodigy is long gone and now there is Facebook and Twitter etc. We can hide behind our little screens and be whoever we want. I prefer to be me – the me that no longer apologizes for who she is.

 
I no longer apologize for being an emotional and highly sensitive individual. I will never again apologize for being an empath nor for the gift I have of being able to read people. To being able to know when someone is lying to me. To know or feel what others are feeling. I will not apologize for being different or for not conforming to what is considered the norm. To apologize for being who I am makes no sense.

I have experience to share with those who want it. And for those that think they have all the answers, more power to you. I will not apologize for trying. I will not apologize for calling out blatant bullshit or lies. I will call it as I see it yet I will be the first to call myself out if I am wrong or out of line. And then you damn well better believe I will apologize.

I_myself

To me there is nothing more liberating than being honest and accountable for my actions. When I screw up, saying I’m sorry isn’t for me. It’s for the other person. A way to acknowledge they are important enough for me to take responsibility for my actions. Hell, I apologize to my pets when I screw up.

For those that cross the line with me? I’ll get over it. Eventually any grudge I feel will disappear. Grudges are a waste of time. What I won’t do is let you back in. It will be your loss. It will be my loss. Another life lesson learned. No apology needed.

 

When I Die…

When I Die

When I die do not talk of heaven and forgiveness and redemption. Release me to the cosmos. It is where I belong and where my heart yearns to be. Let me stand on the edge of the galaxy and inhale the splendor that only a creator undistorted by human beings could create.” ~ (Terri Onorato)

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If I think too hard about the vastness of the universe it’s overwhelming. When I add to the fact that there are countless galaxies beyond ours and countless more beyond that I fear my brain will explode. A positive side effect of pondering such things is it brings into perspective just how big creation really is. It also makes the god that I learned about in years past appear much smaller and less loving.

God…sigh…who has been so painfully distorted by humans as to become unrecognizable. The truth of this creator long-ago buried between the lines of a book written by humans and reinterpreted ad nauseam by anyone who did not like what they read. A god of rules and regulations and the threat of hell. A god I do not recognize.

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To live life under the threat of going to a very bad place when we die is not living at all. We were given life so that we may live and a conscience so that we may live well. Love and hell cannot go hand-in-hand.

Do not call me a sinner. I am a flawed human being with a flawless but imprisoned soul. I do the right thing and I make mistakes. I possess a good side and a dark side. My ego gets the best of me one moment and I feel humbled and unworthy the next. I am all this and more all at once. I am who I was created to be. My choices are a by product not a definition of who I am.

People speak wistfully of meeting their maker upon death. But we meet the creator of all that is every day in every nuance of nature and every person with which we interact. To wait for death for such a meeting is to completely miss the point of being alive.

Contrary to what our ego insists, we no more understand who created us than we do the true depth of the universe or life in the darkest, most inaccessible recesses of the ocean. Our concept of God has been wrapped up in a neat, often legalistic little package adorned in judgement and placed within the pages of a book that no one can agree on.

I will take my chances with the creator I see in the stars and hear in the wind. The creator I meet in the eyes of an old woman and feel in the heartbeat of a sleeping dog. The creator who makes my heart ache and makes it burst as well.

When I die do not talk of heaven and forgiveness and redemption. Release me to the cosmos. It is where I belong and where my heart yearns to be. Let me stand on the edge of the galaxy and step off, taking my chances on the one I know will catch me.

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When I read the story about Kyle my immediate reaction was to cry. Not only because he died needlessly. Not only because he was so tormented by bullies that at 12 years of age he took what might have been a simple household item, put it around his neck and hung himself. I cried because I felt his pain.

From a very young age I was bullied. At home, in school and later in the work place. As a child I had no power to stop it. As a young adult I didn’t know how. It took many, many years before I found out how to stand up for myself. Sadly, Kyle and far too many like him will never get the opportunity to fight back.

It’s hard for me not to write this out of pure anger – anger at the bullies but also at those who overlooked (or ignored) what was happening. I have to wonder how many more young people are going to end their lives over bullying before the rest of us start paying much closer attention to the signs. I won’t sugarcoat it, kids can be cruel. And often times they don’t realize the absolute devastation they can cause with a word or an action.

As someone who spent her entire childhood trying to figure out why she mysteriously sucked so bad that kids (and a few adults) bullied her and everyone else ignored it, I can tell you that these kids who are being bullied need empathy. They also need protection not only from the bullies but from the adults who sit back and do nothing.

This world will never be an easy place to live in. It will never really be safe either. It will always have a spattering of assholes and bullshitters. There will be suffering and neglect and ignorance. And I guess I will never understand most of it. But what I do understand is why a child who is bullied mercilessly ends their life. I can empathize. I know first hand the pain and the loneliness of being bullied. (I still tend to attract people who like to bully but I don’t allow it anymore.)

I find it perplexing that we are all different, we are individuals, and yet all too often we are singled out and treated horribly because we are exactly what we are meant to be…different.  Or sadly we do the singling out. We are all guilty of it at one point or another.

If I see someone who is overweight, well, so what? Their weight tells me nothing about them as a person. Unless I choose to be a judgemental asshole and assume, based on looks alone, that they are lazy or eat too much or some such crap. And if I want to be a real flaming asshole I will take a picture of that person (whom I don’t know but am judging based on how they look) and put it online for everyone else to make fun of too. Yeah, that really makes the world a better place.

Personally I don’t give a damn if someone is black, white, brown, whatever… it’s not for me to decide if people are good or bad based on a physical characteristic like color. Judging actions is one thing, judging color is another. And sexual preference – holy hell – who gives a flying shit anyway? It is not for us to decide that a particular sexual preference is good or bad. And don’t even get me started on religion. It’s about actions people, actions.

Apparently my soapbox was a little bigger than I realized. Regardless, I believe we have to find a better way to help young people see that being different is how we are meant to be. Being different is something to embrace not ridicule. Whether we are a parent or not is irrelevant – it’s certainly not going to hurt to try and lead by example in how we treat others. If our actions make one kid stop and rethink the way they treat people then we’ve accomplished something.

And lastly, I hope that young people like Kyle are at peace and the ripples their lives set in motion will forever lap the shores of this life reminding us that being different is a BEAUTIFUL thing.

 

Take My Advice

Since joining Facebook I’ve witnessed any number of different ways people interact and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a gathering place as overflowing with unsolicited advice as Facebook. I find it amusing and kind of sad. Amusing because we are so sure our advice should be required reading material (without even considering it might not be wanted.) And sad because we have expectations we never voice.

It’s not a hard concept – if you don’t want advice when you post something then say so! Tell people what you need. Some will listen and some won’t. Appreciate the people who do and flip the silent bird to those who don’t.

Some time ago I saw an exchange on Facebook that illustrates what I mean. I’m changing the names and context of the subject matter to protect the innocent and the asses.

Clarice was upset and posted, “My poor Charlie has a hair ball! I feel so bad for him.” :( :( Notice that Clarice does not tell anyone what she expects from her statement – does she want sympathy, empathy, advice, a pie in the face – what? She leaves herself open and encounters these typical responses:

a) “Aww so sorry. Hope he feels better soon.” **hugs** – (Short, sweet and nice.)

b) “Omg, that’s nothing!!!! You should hear what happened with my kitty!!!!! She had a hair ball the size of a Mack truck engine!!!!! We had to have it surgically removed and then send her to therapy because she was so distraught and then we had to put her on Prozac because she loved that hair ball!!!!! Just be thankful Clarice that your kitty’s hair ball wasn’t worse!!!!! Hugs!!!!” – (Do I even have to explain what is wrong with this? The minute someone says “Oh that’s nothing…blahblahblah” they’ve proven they could care less about you. Intent, intent, intent.)

c) “Sorry to hear about Charlie’s hair ball but sometimes it all comes down to the food you feed him. And the quality of the water. And what size bed he sleeps in. And whether or not you vaccinate him. And what time of day you flush your toilet. And if your sheets are 500 thread count. If you don’t do everything the way I do, because my way is the only way, then you’re just going to have to deal with hair balls Clarice.” ;) (A winking smiley face never makes a know-it-all look better. They still look like an ass. A winking, smiling ass.)

d)“Clarice you might want to consider electroshock therapy for your kitty. My mom’s friend’s dad’s cousin’s uncle’s nephew’s masseuse did this to her mouse because it was obsessed with some kind of ferris wheel thingy in its cage. Apparently it was successful because the mouse is so quiet and timid now. It worked for the mouse so it might work for your kitty‘s hair ball. Good luck!!” (Bad advice is bad advice is bad advice.)

e) “I don’t know why you bother even having a cat Clarice if you’re going to let him get a hair ball. Did you not research cats before you got him??? Did you get him from the pound??? No wonder he has hair balls, he has no pedigree. I don’t understand why anyone gets a cat and then lets them get hair balls. If cats are properly cared for they will not get hair balls Clarice. Sheesh.” (There is nothing to say to someone like this. They live to make another look foolish because that’s what their deflated ego requires. Don’t feed the beast. Move on.)

Clarice, understandably pissed off, chimes in, “For your information Charlie is an IGUANA! That’s right people, an IGUANA. An IGUANA with a HAIR BALL. And I’ve ALREADY taken him to the iguana DOCTOR. If you’d JUST ASKED ME instead of ASSUMING Charlie is a CAT then maybe you would UNDERSTAND that I DON’T need advice about CATS. I DON‘T want your advice AT ALL!”

Can we count all the mistakes made here? Firstly, Clarice did not tell people that Charlie is indeed an iguana and she did not inform them that she wasn’t looking for advice. People aren’t mind readers. If you don’t tell people what you’re looking for you won‘t get what you need. So if you’re one of those few individuals that actually has an iguana with a hair ball then you damn well better state it upfront. Details people details!

As for those who answered Clarice, they naturally assumed Charlie was a cat (understandable) but they went a step further and assumed their advice was welcome. No matter how many passive-aggressive emoticons someone places in and around their words, it is the words that matter and it is the intent that shows a person’s true colors.

"ugh, I don't feel so good."

“ugh, I don’t feel so good.”

Misunderstandings happen but damn we need to cut each other a little slack. There will be times when something serious is posted and we feel a strong moral nudge to respond because we see harm in someone’s future but those type of posts are not nearly as frequent as the ones where we could actually, you know, just shut up.

And while I’m at it let me call it like I see it in regard to advice in general – not every piece of advice is good advice. This is coming from someone who was told my fibromyalgia could be knocked right out of my body if I would simply partake in a daily juice concoction that the giver-of-unsolicited-bad-advise read about in a book she got with a juice machine. Yeah. No.

So go forth and Facebook to your heart’s content dear readers. (Yes I made Facebook into a verb. Just let it go. ) Be kind, be fair, cut each other some slack and watch out for iguanas with hair balls.

Listen

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” (Stephen R. Covey)

I’m big on personal responsibility and confess that there are occasions when I’ve been guilty of listening with the sole intention of responding. These are instances when instead of really listening to who is talking I pay more attention to the response forming in my own head. I’m not proud of the times I’ve fallen into this trap because it’s rude and disrespectful.

I see an unwillingness to really listen all_the_time. It’s born of an inflated sense of self. We are so intent on offering our opinion and advice that we mow right over the person talking. Once we have shared our necessary pearls of wisdom we can sit back feeling quite satisfied in our rightness. Hey world! Look at us, all wise and oh so right and everything. (Fist pump!)

“Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk.” (Doug Larson)

Everybody has opinions. But guess what? We don’t have to express every single thing that crosses our mind! Yeah, because you know, not everyone is interested in our responses. Maybe all they were looking for was someone to listen. Novel concept, no?

One of the most basic human needs is to understand and to be understood. It’s a need we can fulfill for people simply by listening. It doesn’t cost us anything other than time. All we have to do is be still and pay attention to what they’re saying, not what is being said in our own heads. We do not have to fill lulls in the conversation with opinions, advice, or observations unless we are asked.

There is a time and place for what we have to say and a time and place for what others have to tell us. We have to learn when to be quiet and let someone else do the talking. It’s not easy. We have things to say! Things that we believe are of the utmost importance. But let’s call a spade a spade – sometimes it’s only important to us. Ouch.

The great thing about listening is it helps build trust and it can make someone else feel a lot better. It may not benefit us (or so we think) but that’s where we have to put our egos aside and not worry about whether there’s anything in it for us. We should do it because it makes someone else’s life a little bit better for that moment in time.

There is an entire industry filled with people we can pay to listen to us. People who, at the end of the day, go home and deal with their own problems. People who don’t actually care about us in the deep, familiar way as friends and loved ones. Yet for a price they are the ones who will listen to us. I’m not saying there isn’t a place for therapy, I know better, but I believe we could all improve our listening skills.

Even though I’m someone with a lot to say I don’t always need to say it and oftentimes I don’t. Listening isn’t as easy as talking but it has a great deal of importance.

“Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. The friends who listen to us are the ones we move toward. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.” (Karl A. Menninger)

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