Sunday, May 31, 2015

I know why the caged lion paces

Ever been to a zoo? Most of us have. Growing up I would visit the Lion House at Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. The big cat house was a particularly popular stop. You could walk in and immediately smell the animal musty scent. You would hear a muffled roar or yawn that was loud and terrifying echoing off the ceiling tiles way overhead. A crowd would be clumped together by a railing. You walk past cages were you see a bit of a sleeping lion or cheetah until you get to the clump. You look up and there in front of you is a very large very dangerous cat pacing along the front of the cage.

Back and forth. Back and forth.

Come closer it seems to say.

Back and forth.

I could tear you to pieces.

Back and forth.

I could eat you alive.

Back and forth.

I remember feeling two things: One, very glad for the bars and two, empathy for that poor animal trapped in a little cage. It must be so bored and pent up with emotion that all it can do is pace.

Or maybe it is acting on its natural instincts so that all it can do is go back and forth because if it stops it may explode.

And that is exactly how I feel sometimes too.

Several years ago, I had a relationship that didn’t go the way I wanted it to go. I realized I liked him and he realized that he needed to move across the country. Which he did.

(Please don’t take out the violins, it is for the best I know. Yada yada.) 

Afterwards I was angry, hurt and confused. Pent up with emotion. I stayed that way for months.

Now I am a praying person. (Sidenote: I don’t mean to make you uncomfortable if you aren’t and I am not here to preach at you. I share because it is part of my story and a part of this one. And please know I whole-heartedly respect your story)

When I pray, I communicate my deepest groanings and longings of my soul. It is one of my purest forms of expression and a way I can connect to God.

After this man left my life I couldn’t pray. I felt like I was numb.

I was wrong.

The first crack came while I was sitting in a field in Gettysburg. I remember looking at the field where so many died. It was such a mournful hallowed space. It was a beautiful field. My heart was moved. The protective shell started to break, but it took sitting there in that scared place to begin the process.

Days later, still cracked and still unable to pray, I found myself on vacation in Wisconsin. I decided to jump on the Jet Ski.

In the beginning it started like a normal ride. I was alone zipping over the water. My face was wet from the spray. I came down hard on the waves. I was flying over the surface. I wanted to go chase something and run away from something at the same time.

I remember that I yelled. 

And then I realized I was mad, really mad. And hurt, really hurt.

 I began to feel so much. I felt I wanted to burst open.

And I prayed. Well, it was more like a scream but it became a prayer.

I was finally at a place where my surroundings and my internal heart matched, roaring across open water heading to nowhere. In a place where the angst, pain, fear, doubt, shock and anger in my heart felt safe to express itself.

Eventually, I healed.

I remembered this moment because in the last several days I can’t seem to stop moving. I find myself not being able to stay in one spot. I pace. I pace some in morning. I pace some in the evening. I go for extra long walks. I drive my car. I drive in my car a lot. I listen to a few lines of music and then stop. I swing back and forth from tears to fears to elation. But mostly, I pace.

Back and forth. Back and forth.

My heart is working something out.

And I know I need to let go and surrender. Embrace the unknown. I know I do. But like a stubborn toddler I refuse to be quieted. Like a little child I need to exhaust myself before I rest.

It is just how I am sometimes.

And I think that is okay. And I hope you feel it is okay for you too.

I know that we live in a busy culture. I am not talking about that. I am talking about allowing your thoughts and feelings to work themselves in the way that they need. 

I am talking about giving yourself permission to let your heart speak to you in it’s own language. Mysterious that it is.

Sometimes your heart needs to move and therefore you do to. 

If you find yourself in a cage somewhere I hope you give yourself permission to let yourself out.  

I said I know why the caged lion paces. And I do. But there is a difference between me and that poor animal. 

And I think it is hope. The kind of hope that feels awful for a long time. But it is there. Waiting for us as we go back and forth. 

This evening I went for a walk again. My heart still full with many questions that either I don’t want to accept the answers to or they haven’t presented themselves yet. I don’t even know which is which. 

I feel many things but one of them is gratitude. 

I sigh yes, but I also get to look up at the stars.

I may feel some really hard things but I am least feeling them. 

And unlike some I feel that this too shall pass.

My heart is full and heavy but it is also free. 

Live cageless.






Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A Summer Seduction

This is not that kind of post if that is what you are expecting. Sorry to disappoint. In fact if you are expecting even a little bit of that you will be entirely disappointed.

Do you know the story of the Snow Queen? (Wow Carrie, jump from that to a children’s fairy tale? I know, bear with me.)  It features a wonderful girl named Gerda who is on a mission to save her brother Kai from the evil Snow Queen. She goes through many adventures and at the climax of the story is told that the true power to save her brother lies within her.

It is a lovely story with a strong heroine long before Hermonie Granger was ever dreamt of and I could spend a long time examining the truth of finding strength from within to save the day. 

Except I am not going to be doing that.

I am going to be discussing something entirely different.

Beware the seduction of summer. 

It came to me a few weeks ago while I was on a walk. I saw a cute house with a surrounding garden that looked pleasant with a gated white fence. It was so enticing. Such a seduction. I was tired and wanted to rest. It would be so nice to have house like that with a cute little porch. Shut myself off from the world.

Immediately I was reminded of something  from the Snow Queen.

In one scene of the story a sorceress entrances Gerda. The sorceress has a house and a garden that is perpetually in the season of summer. She doesn’t want Gerda to leave so she banishes the rose bush from the garden because she knows if Gerda sees a rose she will be reminded of her brother, will get out of her trance, realize she needs to keep going on her journey and leave her.

For Gerda, it seemed like a good place to rest.  She was cold and lonely and was looking for comfort. She forgot about the hardship. 

There is a problem though. It distracted her from what she was called to do.

Summers can be like that can’t they?

Feel so good. Comfortable. Warm. Pleasant. Makes you forget your troubles.

You say to yourself I will just stop here for a second. Seconds turn into days, then months, then years.

We do that a lot I think. We find our call. We set out our quest. We get cold. We get tired. We get discouraged. And just when we are at our wits end we are presented with a sweet escape from all the trouble.

But what is the cost?

It is certainly cozy and it makes a warm happy life.

I think it also makes you numb.

Beware the seduction of summer.

When you stop and stay in summer you say I don’t need to go any further. I am done. Forget the journey. Feel the breeze. Feel the sun. I don’t feel the pain. I don’t feel anything. How long have I been here? Where was I even going?

Yes I miss the spring. I miss the new. The adventure, the meaning, the purpose. But fall really is terrible. And who needs winter? It is cold, disappointing, dead.

If I am honest with myself there are things that I have done over the years that distract me from my true calling. Where I set out on a mission only to get seduced by money, jobs, even relationships that seem good, warm and cozy at the time.

Until they aren’t.

That is a funny thing about a call. It nags at you. Picks at you. Yearns inside of you. Makes for sleepless nights and restless days. It won’t let you go. You can warm it up as long as you want. And if you continue to resist, eventually, you won’t feel anything at all. Even the warm summer breezes lose their comfort. Too much sun and You will be burnt out.

And don’t forget, there will be well-intentioned people in your life who want company in perpetual summer and will actively scheme against you from leaving. It is too cold. That wasn’t your mission. You are crazy for trying. Why would you give up a perfectly good, (insert security blanket here) to do (insert crazy idea here that you can’t get out of your head and every time you think about it your heart feels like it is waking up) thing.

Beware the seduction of summer.

There is an alternative to being perpetually seduced. It involves being shocked back to life. It involves waking up from the trance. You find rose in the garden and you are reminded that you are on a very important mission. In an instant you feel all the feelings that were seduced into slumber. Your call starts to matter again. You feel free and terrified and completely undone.

And now, you are faced with a choice.

You can stay here in summer where it is warm and familiar.

Or, you can open the door and go back out into the cold and answer the wild call.

It may be painful. No, it definitely will be painful. You will have toils and triumphs. You will get scared; your heart will grow larger. You may fail. You may succeed.

You will definitely live.

But oh, the bliss, when you see sights that make the summer garden look nothing more than a pitiful pile of plants.

Don’t stay in summer. Please. The world needs us to be present. It needs us to answer our calls. It needs US in all of our cold clumsy imperfect wonderful selves.

Wake up O Sleeper.

There is a chill in the air.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Naptime

This morning I babysat for a few adorable little babies. It is a fun time for me, I like babies, and for the most part babies like me.

For the most part.

Today was the other part.

Two cute crawling, toddling little dudes were not excited to spend time with me today.

One little guy wiggled, fussed, wiggled some more, wiped his eyes, doo dooed his pants and refused to give in to his obvious sleep cravings.

The other sleep deprived, slightly terrified little guy seemed to be operating on three basic principles.
  1. He was upset.
  2. His mom was the only person in the universe who could provide him comfort.
  3. I was not her. 
I survived the morning and the little darlings did too. (One eventually concluded I was okay but still refused to sleep, the other one’s mom, aka the Calvary, was summoned and saved the day.)

So imagine then, a few hours later, I am acting very much like the little fellas I just tried to soothe into slumber. I was sad, moody, irritated. I found myself vacuuming like crazy, doing the dishes and generally working myself up into a frenzy instead of doing what I knew I needed to do.

Take a $#&%@ nap.

The symbols were warranted.

Thinking back on this week, I realized I was stressed. I had work things going on. I had a dear dear friend’s surprise birthday party to help with. (She was surprised and happy.) I have big life things on my mind. And I had spent several days last week in bed with the flu, throwing off my week and my mood. (Don’t worry, I was not contagious today when I was with the little fellas.)

Why didn’t I just rest when I needed to? 

It got me thinking….

Why don’t we all just rest when we need to? 

How many of us go from social thing to social thing. Work insanely long hours. Watch netflix instead of sleep. We check email at stop lights. Our phones come with us to bed. (See previous post.) If we all stopped and thought about it, it's kinda nutty how much on the go we are. We hate the pause button. We don't have the patience for it.

It seems like we are building a society at where sleep is optional and rest is frowned upon. To take a few minutes to restore and rejuvenate is slapping efficiency in the face. It is just wasted time. And time needs to be filled.

I don’t know about you but the majority of the people I know answer the following question like this:

Me: How are you doing?

Them: I am good, tired, but good.

Variations on tired include: busy, stressed, under the weather, frazzled, things are hectic, work is hectic, kids are stressful, kids schedules are stressful, eventful, things are crazy

And here is my question to all of us:

When did we decide that stressful, busy, tired, crazy, etc, fit in so easily with the phrase good?

Are we REALLY doing good if we are so tired out all the time?

Why do we call that kind of life good?

Could it be different?

There are many reasons why I think we are all tired. Many that I want to discuss another time. But for now, I want to start with a simple premise to help all of us out.

Naptime.

That’s right, it's time to channel kindergarten. Remember days at camp when you took a nap after lunch before you swam. Resurrect the Sunday afternoon nap. If you are a boss, put a nap room in your corporate break room. Let’s put them in teacher lounges too. Start looking for more hammocks. Rocking chairs. Leave pillows. Cool grass. Sweet gentle breezes.

The babies this morning and (me this afternoon) would have had a much better day if they just closed their eyes and rested. They just needed to nap.

I think we do too.

So, in light of the fact that we are supposed to be role models to the next generation, I am heading off to bed.  

Sweet dreams everyone.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

It's getting hot in here

I remember one summer growing up, I lived in constant fear every time the air conditioner went on in our home. It wasn’t just the air conditioner either; every time I saw someone with an aerosol can I thought they were spraying the black plaque of death in the air.

The end was near.  Our ozone layer was depleting. 

And when I heard that low hum of the AC turning on, I imaged that hole getting bigger and bigger. We were all going to die. I even convinced my parents to not use the AC unless they really needed to. (This was in Illinois in August… my parents really love me.)

Now I can’t remember what I actually knew about the Ozone layer. I remember learning that the Ozone layer kept out the bad ultraviolet rays. (Which, saying out loud, sounds extremely terrifying. Not just violet rays but ULTRA violet rays).  I remember that having an Ozone layer was very good for our environment and not having an Ozone layer was very bad. I remember the hole. I remember it was in Antarctica.  I remember that our use of certain things like air conditioners and hairspray caused it.

That is what I remember most. We were the cause.

Fast-forward a few (ahem) years. Here we are today talking about rising seas, ice shelves melting, polar bears and greenhouse gases. 

Now before I get any further, I want to do a brief 60-second pop culture history.

In the beginning it was called Global Warming.  Scientists began noticing that parts of Antarctic and the North Pole were no longer there. Average sea temperatures were rising. Normal climates cycles weren’t normal anymore. Droughts were larger. Animals were disappearing. This caused some scientists to sound the alarm in an alarmingly fashion.

And all hell broke lose.

Oil companies cried foul. So did Al Gore. Which made Republicans cry foul. Which made Democrats cry foul. Which made lobbyists cry foul. Which made businesses cry foul. Which made foreign governments cry foul.

Pretty soon everyone was crying foul.

Studies were published. And more studies were published to contradict the first studies. Thanksgiving dinners got really tense. People on every side were knee deep in suspicion about everyone else’s real agenda.

And nothing was getting down. Wait, something got done. They changed the name. It is now called climate change. 

The waters kept rising.  

Here we are today. 

Some people believe climate change isn’t happening. Some people believe it is happening but we are not the cause. Some people believe we are absolutely the cause. Some people believe it can be reversed. Some people believe we are already doomed. Some people don’t care. Some people don’t care we are already doomed. Some people don’t know how to spell climate change. I will not tell you where I personally fall on this spectrum. Instead, I want to ask this question.

Does it matter who is right?

A few hypotheticals:  

What if we re-framed the issues?

What if we stopped pointing fingers?

What if we sped up progress by practicing collaboration and humility instead of slowing progress and blaming the other side?

What if explored better ways to grow food and clean our water because it is moving us forward into a better future?

What if we went on a mission to find alternative energy sources because we can?

What if we treated our planet as our home and not a hotel room?

What if we strived to be the best caretakers of this world that we can possibly be regardless of whether climate change is upon us or made up?

And what if we did all of these things simply because it is the right thing to do?

I know it is hard. I know for some of you, if you hear one more hippie get mad about some salmon colony, or go on about their hybrid or give you a critical look for not going organic, you will scream.

And I know for some of you if you hear one more person say drill baby drill, or go on about their F150 or give you a critical look when you mention you listen to NPR you will scream.

I would imagine both of you want the other to choke on their carbon credits.

But the problem with walking in two different directions when you live on a sphere is that eventually you will end up where you started.

I say, if the climate is changing let’s change with it.

And if it’s not changing, let’s change anyway.

Respect not ravage. Honor not exploit. Protect not destroy. Entrusted not entitled.

You know what is cool to have? Smart friends. I have a number of them but the one that comes to mind right now is Carrie, she is a scientist. (It is an actual friend, I am not referring to myself in the third person.)

She said something really cool. I don’t remember all the technical terms but it goes something like this. We need a lot of energy to make this world work. The sun produces a gazillion times more energy than we need.

All we need to do is harness the sun.

Impossible you say?

I don’t know. We've already been to the moon.

You want to know something else? That Ozone layer that I was worried about when I was little? The hole stopped getting bigger. It may even be showing beginnings signs of repair. Why? We banned together and then banned CFCs.

We came up with different ways to do things.

We were the cause. We were the solution.

We changed.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Texting One Two Three

Have we all become one big old married couple?

You know the kind. The kind that you see sitting across from each other at the restaurant with so so food, soup, pie and dated d├ęcor? The kind not saying a word.

I don’t mean silence is bad. I think sitting sweetly silent with someone is magical. 

I mean the distant silent. The kind you half swear not to be and half fear you will be someday. The kind you wonder how they every got together in the first place. The kind that never seem to smile. The kind that when they do talk it is about the weather, dinner options, picking up cat food or the weather again. 

We just don’t talk anymore.

And we don’t do we?

I mean we talk to each other but not REALLY talk to each other.  And we are doing it together. All of us, everywhere, are collectively not talking together.

Not to bring you down in the middle of the week. (Too late Carrie) I am just observing something going on with myself, my friends, my work colleges, construction workers, carnies, soccor moms, corporate execs, you know, people in general.

We don’t talk. We text.

And we are on our phones constantly.  All. The. Time.

If we aren’t texting, we are emailing, or surfing the web or playing a game. 

I saying texting is bad? No. Is email bad? Probably not. Is triumphantly taking down zombies with plants bad? Definitely not.

Is being so absorbed in our phone that we miss out on not only what is happening but who is happening around us bad? 

Again, I don’t want to bring everybody down. (Still too late Carrie) I am just wondering here, so please wonder with me. 

Why are we doing it? What do we get out of it?

More time? I don’t know, I think we live in a culture with a disease called busyness.

The ability to connect more with loved ones? Yes, this one is cool. I can say I love you to my mom. (Hi Mom! Yes, my mom texts) We can do facetime to distant relatives and send family photos to one another. But I must admit,  I read some of the love letters that the average Joe wrote to average Jane in the 1800’s and compare  it to an “ I luv u” text of today and find myself daydreaming of waist coats and pantaloons.

Temporary escape?  This is handy. If we need a small “time out” from our day we can escape into our phones.  You can plan a fake vacation or look up Halloween costume ideas for next year in seconds. 

Quick upper? Yes, I think a lot of us do this. I don’t know how to handle the fight I had with my boyfriend or the impending deadline at work so I am going to feel better about myself by totally rocking candy crush right now.

Avoidance? I don’t want to talk to my neighbor so I will check in with the news instead. I lose something though, I never really get to know my neighbor.

More opportunities to know more things? This is true. But again, we lose something. The TV show “How I Met your Mother” summed it up perfectly. It showed the main characters several years ago arguing about what the most consumed food is. Fast forward to present and they are all on their phones. Someone calming says “bread.”  Today the rousing debate takes a back seat to the all knowing Google.

It is not all bad. I love having a smart phone.

I have no need for a GPS. I can know what the weather will be like in 5 days anywhere in the world. I can look stuff up on Wikipedia. If I want to know what a celebrity is thinking I can look it up on Twitter. If I want to know what my friend from high’s schools kid looks like I can look on facebook. If I want to know what is happening in Nepal I check out BBC news. It I want to know how many calories I burned I turn on my run app. If I want to feel bad about the state of my home I look up pictures  on pinterest of immaculate crafty storage units that look amazing and are made out of q tips and junk mail. And if none are satisfying I ask Siri (who has VERY selective hearing) to play music and she does. Most of the time…

Smart phones make us smarter.

But do they make us better?

Something is bugging me. Something about me is bugging me. And it has to do with talking and connecting and being present with my surroundings. Mostly though, it has to do with listening.

I used to be much better at it.

I used to sit with someone and look in their eyes and want to hear what they had to say. I still do that with my inner circle. But I used to be much better at it with people who were not in my inner circle.

Now I find myself wanting to look something up while someone is talking or go on to the next part of the conversation or interject my thoughts or insert my opinion or play a stupid game more that I want to give the person in front of me my undivided attention.

And the person I am talking to I am sure notices this. They are probably thinking, “Hello! Can you hear me? Is this thing on? Testing one two three...”

Maybe not. Maybe all they are thinking is that they can’t wait to get home to check out the latest Game of Thrones episode.

All I know is listening is important. It is the first step toward intimacy. Have you ever had someone that you have known for years say something revealing about themselves to someone else and you were standing right there and you turned to them and said, “You never told me that.” Or “ I never knew that.” And the person answers back, “ I told you this", or "You never asked.”

I used to be better at this. I used to love to talk with people about anything or everything. I used to LOVE to talk to people about the stuff that really mattered, the important things. The things we live for and long for and love for.

The things Google can’t tell us.

So lovely readers please hold me accountable. I am going to start putting away my phone when there are people around me. I want to do with this with my friends. My  acquaintances. With strangers. People in the grocery store. People that live next door. People that are lot like me and people that are nothing like me.

I want to learn to listen again. And maybe then we can talk. REALLY talk. 

And mom, if you are reading this, I love you and will call you soon.