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Forces of Nature

I’ve never been one of those parents who wants to keep their kid home from school whenever possible. I operate on the theory that school is preparing young people for the world of employment, which doesn’t stop every time there is bad weather.

So yesterday, as high school students were already on school buses and a few were even at school when they got the text that our school system had changed its status from two-hour early dismissal to closed for the day, I rolled my eyes.

I had, after all, been closely monitoring the weather situation. I had heard all of the dire predictions that we would get a big snowfall on the first official day of spring. But only 14 hours earlier, I had been out on my bike enjoying spring-like weather. Not only that, but I’d had my eye on the National Weather Service forecast believing that, unlike for-profit weather companies, it would give me accurate information without all the hype.

And, the last time I checked, it was calling for a mix of sleet, snow and rain until 2:00 in the afternoon when the temperatures were supposed to drop below freezing. The sun hadn’t even risen when I took the dog for a walk while our cat trotted behind. That cat hates snow, ice and cold temperatures, so I trusted her more than any weather forecaster.

I shouldn’t have.

As I got ready for work, I put on clothes intended for looking good rather than for battling the elements.

I shouldn’t have.

I left for work after texting a couple of co-workers that the roads were fine and they didn’t have any worries.

I shouldn’t have.

By the time I drove the eight minutes from my house to my office, the temperature had already dropped two degrees. And I had only been in my office for a short time when big, heavy snowflakes began to fall.

By the time I was on a 9:00 conference call, I was watching a truck slip and side in front of the office.

And by the time I got off my conference call, the National Weather Service forecast had changed.

Needless to say, I closed the office, went home, shoveled the driveway and sent a text complaining about the weather to my friend.

But here’s the truth. There’s always something enjoyable about unusual weather. Maybe it’s how it breaks up the predictability of our lives. Maybe it’s because it brings us closer to neighbors, friends, co-workers and even the paper delivery guy as we collectively fight the elements. Or maybe it’s because these moments create memories that last a lifetime.

Yesterday afternoon, I sent a message to a group of college friends telling them about the local weather and reminding them of another freak snow storm.

It was April 1987 at Ohio University, and we were all looking forward to the warm days on South Green where we lived. When the temperatures rose, barely dressed  students would sunbathe on towels while groups of guys played hacky sack nearby.

I had taken all of my winter clothes to my parents during spring break, so I didn’t have a coat, or boots or even any warm sweaters.

Which means,  I wasn’t prepared to walk around campus in 17 inches of snow in tennis shoes:  April 1987 Snowstorm

But I was 20 years old, so I did.  To keep warm, I borrowed  highly stylish 1980’s big, bright sweaters from my roommate Amy, who was from Rochester, New York. She knew spring didn’t necessarily mean it was time to pack away the sweaters.

She also knew where the best parties were. And so a group of us tramped through knee-deep snow to go to a party where, for some reason, we took photos.

Today, those photos hold so many memories. They don’t just represent a snapshot in time during a freak snowstorm. They represent a part of me that used to be… that part that only still exists only because I can share it with the people who were there with me.

Mother Nature may be temperamental, but Father Time is as predictable as he is relentless. His march forward stops for no one. He leaves his footprints on our relationships and our circumstances while etching wrinkles on our faces. But in each of those footprints, he also leaves a memory that can be taken out and enjoyed in any kind of weather.

Life is short. Snowstorms are even shorter. But friendships and memories? With the right people, they can last forever.

The Bad Relationship

bad-relationshipWe’ve all been there.

We’ve had friends in relationships that we know are unhealthy for them.

To us, the problem is so obvious: our friend is being manipulated, or lied to, or charmed by money, good looks, popularity or power.

We know that our friend is being used by someone who doesn’t have his/her best interests at heart, and we try to warn them.

But they don’t want to hear what we are saying. “The relationship is special – you just don’t understand,” they tell us. “They are in love,” they say. And sometimes they even accuse us of being jealous.

When the relationship falls apart, our friend asks, “why didn’t anyone warn me?” And, because we care about our friend, we stifle the “I told you so,” and support then in their time of need.

Recently, I realized how many Trump supporters are like those friends in bad relationships. I’ve read articles about how the more we try to be rational, the more the more they cling to their presidential choice. Trying to argue using facts is pointless when they trust only information that affirms their own belief system.

They are so wrapped up in their sense of triumph, winning, and ideology that they refuse to see who Trump really is, how little he cares about other people, and how he is using lies to appease his base of support.

In other words, staunch Trump supporters are still in the honeymoon phase of their new, yet dangerous, relationship.

But in this case, I can’t accept that I will someday be forced to stifle an “I told you so.”  That is simply unacceptable.

Unlike other relationship choices, this one not only affects me but has a devastating impact on those who have lived their lives trying to overcome poor relationships with people in power.

Individuals who have been marginalized because of their race, religion, sexual orientation or even country of birth have too often been on the losing end of bad relationships.

And since many of the individuals who chose that relationship for them are actually delighting in those struggles, I must say this to Trump supporters:

  • I’m done trying to convince you that you are being manipulated.
  • I will no longer warn you that our President does not have your best interests at heart.
  • And when things go south, I will not say “I told you so,” nor will I expect you to say “thank you” for all I did to try to save you from this relationship.

Instead, knowing that I fought hard for everyone, despite their bad decisions, will be good enough for me.

The Gift in the Dead Man’s Email

rip-laptop-2About ten years ago (before social media reconnected me with people who I never thought I’d hear from again), I received an unexpected email at work.

It was from a guy I’d known more than a decade earlier and who had faded into my memory like the vague shadows of a rear view mirror. He and I had once run in similar circles, but I’m fairly certain we never had a conversation that endured more than five-sentences. He’d certainly never occupied much, if any space, in my conscious or subconscious mind.

Which is why, when I’d received a chatty and rather lengthy email from him, I was more than just a little surprised.

He’d contacted me after reading a newspaper article in which I was quoted. He hadn’t known that I lived in the same town where his daughter and ex-wife resided, and seemed genuinely excited to re-connect.

I responded, and we exchanged a few more emails.

And then he died.

I learned about his death in the same way he’d found me – by reading about it in a newspaper article in the local paper. He had been in a head-on collision after apparently falling asleep at the wheel.

At a glance, there’s nothing particularly meaningful about this guy who was a small part of life, then wasn’t, then was again, then exited it completely.

We hadn’t been close nor do I imagine we ever would have been.

And yet, his random appearance after so many years then his abrupt disappearance after only a few days have stayed with me. Perhaps that’s partly because they serve as a reminder of how random and fragile life is. But they also suggest something more essential about how we live our lives.

We never know what the implications of our simplest interactions with others may lead. Acknowledging the presence of the quiet person in a group or sharing a smile don’t seem like  grandiose gestures in a world overwhelmed by people who scream for, and often get, attention.

But then again, maybe they are actually bigger and more relevant than any action on a stage, or screen, or political platform can ever be.

Mark’s email all those years ago was a surprise because I never thought there was much worth remembering about me in those early days of my adult life. I certainly didn’t think someone I barely knew would reach out to me more than a decade later.

Yet he did. And even though our interactions were brief, he gave me something in return: a new-found understanding of my relevance in the past, in the present, and in the future.

As the Year 2016 ends and the Year 2017 arrives, the majority of my friends and acquaintances are glad to say goodbye to a year in which so many people died and the future of our democracy began to crack. Because of that, they are fearful of what 2017 may bring.

And yet, in truth, we can’t really live if we spend our energy in a soup of regrets, resentment and concerns about the behavior and actions of others.

All we can do is follow the Golden Rule and treat others in a manner that no one can criticize. And sometimes, when we do that, our actions may stay with others long after our own memories of them have faded.

A guy I once barely knew taught me that.

Rest in peace, Mark.

And rest in peace 2016.

 

Since I’m Not Catholic or a Lesbian…

On Sunday morning, I’ll be worshiping at a Catholic mass. I’ll also be briefly speaking about the Catholic who-am-iorganization for which I work.

The Catholic Church has always been a part of my life during the Christmas season. My parents met on the campus of Notre Dame University back in 1961, and their annual Christmas cards from Father Theodore “Ted” Hesburgh always held a place of honor in their home.

Despite that, my parents aren’t Catholic, and I’m not Catholic.

Just learning to call their church service “mass” was an accomplishment for me.  Less than a month after I started my current job, I made the mistake of walking into a Catholic Church on a Sunday morning and asking two women about “the service.” They looked at me blankly until one of them, with a note of disbelief, asked “do you mean the mass?”

I did. Since then, I’ve also discovered that a Catholic priest doesn’t deliver a sermon but instead gives a homily and that Catholics don’t say The Lord’s Prayer. Instead they say a shortened prayer called the Our Father. It has the exact same words as The Lord’s Prayer, but it ends sooner. Which means, if you are a Protestant (like me) in a Catholic Church, you quickly become the center of attention when you are still loudly reciting the end of the prayer you know while everyone around you is silent. That may actually be more embarrassing than loudly saying “Amen” at the end of the Pledge of Allegiance during a school program. Yeah – I did that once too.

But back to my original point: many people assume I’m Catholic because of my job (unless, of course, they get the opportunity to observe me during an actual Catholic mass.)

I had a similar experience back in the early 1990’s when I worked for the statewide AIDS Program. At that time, the popular belief was that AIDS was a gay disease. Therefore, many people assumed that I must be a lesbian, especially since my job required my going to some very interesting events at some very interesting places. Needless to say,  I became quite familiar with the gay community.

But here’s the deal: not being Catholic doesn’t prevent me from doing my job or serving people in need any more than not being a lesbian prevented me from addressing the growing AIDS epidemic in the early 1990’s. And I’m fairly confident that the people who know me and have worked with me will agree.

What my work does require is that I accept people for who they are just as I hope they will accept me for who I am. In doing so, we can all work together for the common good.

During the last few months, I’ve witnessed too many individuals make negative comments about people who don’t share the same religion, the same sexual orientation or even the same skin color.

I just don’t get it.

Considering our differences as negative will never, ever allow us to work together. It certainly won’t help us identify and use our various strengths to build a better country. Most of all, it won’t help us eliminate hate, which is an enemy to all of us.

As a small child, one of the first Bible stories I learned was a parable that Jesus told  in the Gospel of Luke. It went  like this:

 “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”    Luke 10:25 -37

I’m not a Biblical expert. Instead, I’m just a lowly social worker trying to do a small bit of good in a world that can be harsh, brutal and often downright cruel. But to make even the slightest difference, I have to work with and be a good neighbor to people who are extremely different to me.

I can only hope that this Christmas, all of you will “go and do likewise” as well.

For Just One Perfect Moment

giles-and-trina-with-shepherdDuring all of my nearly 50 years, I can recall only one time that I literally stopped to think “This is one of the moments that I need to treasure. I need to store it in my memory right next to my heart so I can pull it out when times are tough. I need to remember how the sun feels on my skin and how I’m surrounded by people who only want the best for me. I need to capture the absolute essence of happiness that is permeating all of my pores so I can remember that life’s most important moments aren’t always big events but sometimes rather uneventful instances that actually mean everything.”

These thoughts came to me on a warm spring afternoon my senior year in college. My friends and I had skipped class to spend time at the lake at Strouds Run, a state park near the campus of Ohio University. My future was a complete unknown, and I had absolutely no idea where any of us would be in just a few short months. I had little if no money and no prospects for a job. And yet, I was completely happy to focus on enjoying an absolutely perfect moment.

It was so perfect that now, nearly 30 years later, I still remember how I wanted to hold on to it forever.

After that, life got more chaotic and often more serious. New people entered and exited my life. Circumstances changed often and significantly. And I changed.

Amid all that, I never again stopped long enough to recognize the importance of  pausing to breathe in then hold on to a simply perfect moment.

That’s not to say I didn’t appreciate such moments. I did.

But there is a difference between appreciating something and treasuring it.

And lately, the person I used to be has been sending that reminder to the person I am now.

Maybe that’s because, with my son in college, I’m thinking more and more about that time in my life. Or maybe that’s because in two weeks I’ll be going to my college homecoming and reuniting with friends I haven’t seen in almost 30 years. Or maybe (and this is what I choose to believe), it’s because I’m tired of always worrying about what will happen when those perfect moments end and the complications, heartache and struggles return.

Because they always return.

But I’ve now lived long enough to know that the return of life’s problems provides even more reason to embrace those moments when all seems right with the world.

And I had one of those moments today.

I hadn’t seen my son since the beginning of August when he left for band camp at West Virginia University. With the exception of a few texts and posts on social media, my husband and I haven’t heard much from him. But today, the Pride of West Virginia WVU marching band made a stop in our town in route to a game at Fed Ex Field.

We joined a handful of other local parents and fans as well as students from three schools to watch the band perform. When the show ended, we waited until the musicians had taken their instruments to the buses before coming back into the stadium for bag lunches.

And that’s when I saw my son for the first time in almost two months.

He broke into the same wide grin that he used to give me when I was picking him up at preschool. He doesn’t smile like that much anymore, and I don’t think it’s been captured on camera since he was a toddler. But he was looking right at me, broke into that wide smile and said “Hi Mom!”

And before I walked over to him for a hug and a photo opportunity, the me I used to be started whispering in my ear. She told me to treasure that moment. She told me I needed to  store it in my memory and right next my heart so I can pull it out when times are tough. She told me I needed to remember how the sun felt on my skin and how I was fortunate to have people who care about me. And she told me that life’s most important moments aren’t always big events but sometimes rather uneventful instances that are measured by the smile on a child’s face and a love that is greater than any problem we will ever encounter.

And I listened to her.

Touched by an Angel

rubyFor several years, National Public Radio ran a series called This I Believe that encouraged listeners to share short audio essays about core beliefs that defined who they were and how they lived their lives.

I always had a secret desire to submit my own essay, but I never did.

I just couldn’t identify only one belief that defines  me.

I believe in karma.

I believe that the worst circumstances in our life are intended to teach us critical lessons that, in the end, will make us better people.

And I believe that angels show up in our lives when we need them most.

So it was last night when I got home from work in a foul mood. I was worn down by trying to do the right thing in a world often controlled by manipulative people. I was so angry that I had an almost physical need for everyone else to know exactly how I felt. I was already writing the words for this blog in my head,

But that was before I saw the package on my front steps.

My curiosity immediately overshadowed my anger. The return address was from my long ago babysitter, Carrie, in Oregon.

Growing up, I adored Carrie just as I had adored her mother, Ruby.

My childhood was spent living thousands of miles away from my own grandparents, and Ruby had stepped up and stepped into the role of foster grandmother.

Since Ruby had several daughters of her own, I never understood how someone as special as she was could possibly think I was special too. Not only was she was kind, gentle and loving, but she had the innate ability to draw into the light all the good in people while ignoring all that was ugly. When spending time with Ruby, you couldn’t be angry at the injustices in the world because you were too busy rejoicing in all its beauty.IMG_0161

When Ruby died in January  2007 at the age of 92, I never thought I’d hear from her again.

I was wrong.

The package on my front steps contained a photo album with the letters, announcements and photographs that my mother and I had sent Ruby over two decades. It also included a note with instructions.

As I read the note from Ruby and flipped through the pages of my life since I’d left Oregon, tears streamed down my face and my anger disappeared.

I had been touched by an angel who was reminding me not to focus on the negative. There is just too much in life to celebrate instead.

And so, thanks to Ruby, that’s exactly what I did.

IMG_0163

The Cat Burglar (A Weird Valentine’s Day Love Story)

heart and pawWhen I told the following story to my co-workers, they shook their heads and said, “This would only happen to you.”

When I told my husband the same story, he shook his head and said, “You know, you create these situations.”

I agreed with both statements, although I had to remind everyone that I do attract more than my share of odd people.

Take, for example, the random stranger who stopped me in the greeting card aisle at Target to ask how to get to Dunkin’ Donuts. Since the nearest Dunkin Donuts is on the other end of town, I had to wonder 1) why she was looking for the doughnut store in Target, 2) out of all of the people in Target why she chose to ask me, and 3) if I looked like I eat too many doughnuts. (For the record, I don’t. I may have my weaknesses, but craving doughnuts isn’t one of them.)

As I was giving directions, the woman took out her smartphone, presumably to take notes. Since most people use their smart phones to access maps so they don’t have to ask strangers for directions, I began to wonder if I was being recorded on a hidden camera somewhere.

I wasn’t. The woman happily left Target presumably in search of  Dunkin Donuts.

But I digress. This story isn’t about doughnuts or how I have an innate ability to attract odd people. It’s about my crazy, obsessive love of animals and how I make really weird and not always rational decisions because of them.

And so it was on a frigid morning before dawn when my beloved German Shepherd, Rodney, insisted on going for a Rodney in e.r.walk. He’d been cooped up because of an injury and was going stir crazy. So I layered up. (Winter cap with built in light for walking in the dark: check. Sweatshirt with hoodie: check. Hood to cover my face: check. Winter jacket with hood: check.)

Yes, I was bundled up and had four hats covering my head, but I was visible and I was prepared.

Or so I thought.

I hadn’t planned for Artemis, our tuxedo cat who thinks she’s a dog.

Her inability to understand her that she’s a feline and not a canine isn’t an issue as long as she’s in the house. But when she’s outside, she thinks she’s a dog.

That morning, while I was bundled up with no peripheral vision. Artemis got out of the house and tagged along as Rodney and I set out for a brisk jaunt through the neighborhood. Rodney stopped frequently, smelled often and did his business. Artemis dashed, hid, and pretended to stalk us. Everything was fine until, halfway through the walk, Artemis was no longer happy.

And she let us know.

She began to talk, and talk and talk.Artemis in bags

If you aren’t fluent in cat language, you aren’t alone. Neither am I. I thought she was tired or cold and just wanted to be picked up and carried for the rest of the walk.

I was wrong.

What Artemis wanted was for Rodney and me to follow her through a shortcut that involved navigating the neighbors’ backyards rather than taking the long way home via the street.

Apparently, Artemis thought Rodney and I were idiots for opting to take a longer walk in frigid temperatures when we could trespass and get home more quickly.

And, because I love my cat and didn’t want to disappoint her, I followed.

With a cat leading the way, with a German Shepherd in tow, and a bright orange hat and light on my head, I decided to cut through the neighbors’ yards to get home.

That was a mistake.

At the same time I was navigating trees and branches, the city police were investigating a break-in at a house in my neighborhood.

To be more precise, they were investigating a break in at the same house whose yard Artemis decided we should take me in winter garbas a shortcut.

I can’t imagine the police really thought I was a burglar. What thief wears an orange hat with headlamp, has a large German Shepherd on a leash and takes directions from a cat?

But my neighbors’ house (the one whose yard we had been trampling) had an alarm system. And that alarm had recently gone off prompting the police to arrive. And when the did, they had to stop the only human suspect they had: me.

“Ma’am,” one of the officers asked, “Is this your house?”

I didn’t just say no. I gave him my own address as proof that I belonged in the neighborhood. What I couldn’t easily explain why I was tramping through the neighbor’s yard before dawn in frigid temperatures. Tying to justify trespassing because you are following your cat is always rather difficult.

So I didn’t try. Neither did I stop my trespassing,

Apparently, though, I was suspicious enough to warrant further investigation. The police officer turned on his extra powerful flashlight and shined it directly on Artemis.

“Ma’am?” he asked. “Is that your cat?”

“Um, yes,” I answered.

That seemed to satisfy him, and he starting shining back and forth across the trees.

I don’t know why he expressed interest in Artemis. Maybe he thought she was the cat burglar who had tripped the alarm. Maybe he was looking for a cat of his own to adopt. Or maybe, just maybe, he too is an animal lover and understood that love can sometimes make us behave in crazy and irrational ways.

Whatever his reasons, he let me and my animals go home with yet another story to tell.

Something tells me it’s not the last.

 

That Place You Belong

The  senior high school student walked into the concession stand with tears in her eyes.

“This is my second to last football game ever,” she said. “It is all ending too fast.”

I empathized with her.

I too can sense time slipping away too quickly. It has the the strange ability to swiftly turn every moment into a mere memory regardless of our desire for meaningful moments to linger a little longer than normal.

Just last year, I openly cried as I watched my son’s friends and their parents march onto the football field for senior night. As they announcer said their names and their future plans, my chest tightened, my eyes watered and I felt a sense of dread. I knew that in exactly one year, I would be doing the same.

And I was.

This past Friday night, my husband and I stood on the edge of the high school football field, were handed flowers and given instructions to escort our son for recognition during the last home football game of his high school career.

Despite all of my concerns that my overly emotional tendencies would sabotage the moment, I didn’t get a bit nostalgic. I was too busy laughing.

I should have known my son wouldnShep senior night‘t take the moment too seriously, and my suspicions grew stronger when other parents were handed a sheet of paper with all of the information that the announcer was going to read about their child. My son snatched his paper out of my hands with a smirk on his face then stuffed it down his pants (his band uniform doesn’t have pockets). I had no opportunity to see his written words prior to their being proclaimed over the loudspeaker for hundreds of people.

My son’s best friend, who was directly behind us in line, started laughing.

“I can’t wait until they read yours,” he told my son.

Since we were lined up in alphabetical order and my husband and I decided not to complicate our children’s lives with hyphenated last names, we were near the end with the last name of Snyder.

That meant we had plenty of time to listen to the impressive future plans and meaningful expressions of support from my son’s classmates.

It also meant that, instead of feeling nostalgic or the least bit weepy, I was overwhelmed with a sense of curiosity about what my son had said.

Finally, his time in the limelight arrived.

At first, my son’s moment of recognition was similar to that of his classmates. He mentioned his future plans – or what he thinks they will be – and his appreciation of the friends, teachers and family for their support.

That’s when normal ended for him.

He also extended his appreciation to Goku from Dragon Ball Z (I have no idea) and the people who invented hot wing flavored-Doritos (I don’t understand).

While my initial reaction was to do a face palm, I soon realized that other people appreciated that at least one senior hadn’t said what was expected. The people in the stands were applauding and cheering as my son stepped away from my husband and me to take a bow.

The cheers and applause got louder.

At that moment, I realized that my son is in an incredibly different place than I was at his age.

While I was seeking the place where I belonged, my son simply creates his.

Not everyone appreciates his off-the-wall humor or his need to make light of every situation, but that doesn’t bother him.

He creates moments instead of waiting for them to happen or lamenting their loss.

He innately knows that for every milestone that passes, another one is on the horizon. He also knows that waiting for milestones isn’t enough. Every minute can be a moment if you decide to seize it rather than stand back and watch.

He is only three months into his senior year of high school. Between now and May, I have no doubt that there will be times when I get weepy and nostalgic as the final chapter of his childhood comes to an end.

But I also have no doubt that the laughter and smiles will outnumber the tears.

Because that’s what happens when you are in the place where you belong.

The Dance

Every year,  at least one news source releases a list of everything that the latest class of incoming college freshmen have never experienced. The articles are often written under the guise of reminding professors that they are teaching to a group of students whose life perspective is completely different from theirs.

That’s the “supposed” reason for the release of these articles.

I think they are really intended to remind people like me how old we are.

Generally, I can feel old without being told that River Phoenix died before this year’s college freshmen were born, that Ferris Bueller would be old enough to be their father or that they have always been able to download music from the internet.

I don’t need the news stories because I have teenagers who constantly remind me that, if I were a car, I’d be a categorized as a “classic.”

Despite my best efforts to be hip, my kids let me know that just using that word dates me. To them, hips are a part of a body and the word “cool” is to describe something that is getting cold. They deem things they like as “chill.”

And while “chill” has yet to make it into my vocabulary, I feel fortunate to even understanding what my kids are saying when they use that word. At least it is a word.

Much of what they communicate is in a code that grew out of their love of text messaging. I once thought I was keeping up with the times (I actually did Laugh Out Loud when my former boss, a retired Army Colonel, expressed confusion that a male colleague was responding to his emails with Lots OLove), but those days are over.

Now, I find myself constantly googling random groups of letters that mean something to my kids and their friends.

But there are many things that I can’t Google – like the nuances of the high school culture in which my kids spend most of their waking hours.

Take, for example, the dynamics of the homecoming dance.homecoming ask

When I was in high school, there were only two options for attending the homecoming dance. The first was that you went with your significant other, and that significant had to be a member of the opposite sex. Thankfully, that tradition has been kicked out the door and down the street. People can go as best friends, as same-sex couples or by themselves. That’s cool, or uh, make that “chill.”

Also back in my day, if you didn’t have a significant other, you hoped that someone (always a member of the opposite sex) would ask you to the dance. If not, you knew you were destined to sit at home on the night of the dance watching the latest episodes of The Love Boat and Fantasy Island.

Now that no one has to have a date to the homecoming dance and students can attend with whomever they like, I thought the issue of the homecoming dance is a simple one. You either go or you don’t go.

I was wrong.

Asking someone to the homecoming dance now requires a creative and/or romantic proposal that is social media worthy. This is even more critical when you are already dating someone – the ask has to be huge.

If you don’t have teenagers in your life or you’re not keeping an eye on Instagram, you haven’t had to endure the onslaught of photos showing just how creative adolescents can be regarding the “big ask.”  The whole trend makes me roll my eyes. On one hand, it’s cute. On the other hand, it’s completely ridiculous.

But then, most of our most treasured memories grow out of ridiculous moments.

I may be old (according to my kids) and I may have a great deal of life experience (according to the annual list about the experiences of college freshmen), but I am still young enough to appreciate the need to seek joy wherever we can find it.

So much of life doesn’t follow the script we attempt to write for ourselves.  Life can be complicated and disappointing, and teenagers today understand this more than my generation ever did. They have to because the world is literally at their fingertips

But instead of simply accepting that life can be difficult, they are finding ways to enjoy it  whenever and however possible.

If that means making a big deal out of asking someone to a dance, then I shouldn’t roll my eyes.

Instead, I should be using my eyes for something else – looking at the list of all things my kids have never experienced from a different angle.

I shouldn’t be seeing how old I am and how young they are. Instead, I should be looking at all of the possibilities my children still have in front of them. Even more importantly, I should be looking at all the opportunities they have to make their dance through this life as joyous and memorable as they want it to be.

 

 

A Backward Glance at Happiness

happinessI was having dinner with a group of friends who were celebrating life despite the handfuls of crap it sometimes hands us, when I realized something.

Despite the tears and hugs and prayers about several painful situations, hope was in plentiful supply while despair was being left behind.

I was so struck by this not because we were being unrealistic but because we were being completely realistic. No one was hiding from the truth. We recognized that there are no scales of justice in real life: bad things happen to good people, relationships sometimes crumble,  illness doesn’t  pick victims based on age or virtues and people with large egos sometimes prevail.

But we also knew that attempting to make sense of this imbalance only results in one thing: wasted time. So instead, we chose to simply acknowledge life’s imperfections while spending our energy enjoying  what we could.

That’s when I realized that happiness is not something that exists only where sadness, frustration and anger don’t.

Instead, happiness exists despite them and right alongside them, and it doesn’t require an absolutely perfect moment.

It jumps into your lap while you are feeling lost amid hundreds of other students at an elementary school assembly when one of the performers walks off the stage and asks you to dance.

It reassures you when you skip classes during your senior year of college to hang out at a lake with friends because you know you only have days left before you will go your separate ways. Despite the  fear of leaving the safety of a college cocoon and  being forced to test your wings, you know you are enjoying a fleeting  moment that will quickly become a treasured memory.

It stays with you when a few people are saying unfair and untrue things about you yet even more people surround you with their love and support.

And it embraces you at a funeral service when you  laugh at a funny story about someone you loved  but who can no longer share your amusement.

I would never attempt to define happiness anymore than I would attempt to define love.  But I know I can see it in every memory I have. Sometimes it is silent and sometimes it is loud. But it is always there and, even more importantly, I know it will always be in the memories I have yet to make.