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There’s a commercial making the rounds (for an investment firm, I believe) that asks, “How do you measure success?” The point being, you ought to be saving for your retirement so that you can do bucket list-y things like climb rocks or volunteer teach. But there is a finer point to be discussed: What makes a life successful?
Is it the accumulation of money or things? As nice as things can be, they cannot be taken with you after you shuffle off this mortal coil. (Unless you’re a pharaoh, and even then, tomb robbing can really put a dent in your feline sarcophagi collection.) People talk about “successful businessmen.” I assume they mean a person who has made more than he’s lost. But often that’s not really the case. The “successful businessman” has often accomplished his feats through financial manipulation, the sweat of other people’s brows, or outright chicanery. That doesn’t spell “success” to me. More like “not caught in the act and appropriately punished.”
So what is success? I posit to you that it means being a good person. Specifically, if you were to die tomorrow, could others remember one good deed you did? It’s not as easy as it sounds. Start digging and see what you come up with: “I loved my parents” (except when you didn’t); “I gave to charity” (sometimes, and maybe only for the tax break); “I cared about the environment” (unless you’re that one young woman who hasn’t created any garbage in three years — and you’re an American — you probably flunk this one outright); “I wasn’t actively hurtful to people” (congratulations, you’ve lived up to the minimum requirement for morality). The list, disappointingly, goes on.
I don’t say these things to make you feel bad, Unspecified Reader. I put myself through this test and came up with a review not much to my liking. Most of us have not done one shining, unselfish deed in our whole lives. Mostly we do good because it makes us feel good. But is that enough?
Is it enough to require of ourselves that we more often do right than wrong? Will our lives be summed up on an old-timey scale, balancing the good against the bad? Will it take more than a preponderance of evidence to convict or acquit us in the final scheme of things?
I think we were put on this earth to be our best selves, to live up to our God-given potential not as athletes or businesspeople or celebrities, but as fully functioning, empathetic, loving humans. And whatever we do that does not push us closer to that goal is probably a diversion at best and a trap at worst.
So, I put it to you: Are you a success? Have you done one good thing? Name it.
In a dream the other night, I was given some sage advice. I was told, “It’s not solve the problem. It’s resolve the energy. How do you get from down to up. That’s what matters.”
That’s been true in so many situations in my life.
When the Great Gatsby came out a few years ago, I was really looking forward to seeing it. I got my ticket and found a seat in my local theater. About two hours into the movie, I noticed it was sapping my spirit and affecting my energy. It’s not that it was a bad movie, but it got so sad that it was really bringing me down and I felt like I wanted to ditch it. I held off, thinking that others in the audience might look askance at me if I did.
Due to health issues, I was using a crutch. I’m visually impaired. If I were to leave, I’d have to find my way down the steps in the dark, tap-tapping as I go, drawing attention to myself. Should I stay and feel deflated by this bummer of a movie?
As I was pondering this question, a character said, “Sorry you have to be going.”
I thought, hm. Is that for me?
The other character replied, “Yes, sorry, I have to be going.”
Does that confirm it?
“Here, let me show you to the door.”
Okay, God. I get it.
It’s okay to decide that how you feel matters. We spend so much of our time pre-processing our potential actions to run them through the filter of norms and expectations that we don’t even put our own state of mind on the list.
Honor how you feel. If something/someone is bringing you down, catch the bus on out of there. You’ll thank me for this public service the next time you’re in this situation. Just do me a favor – send me your Milk Duds when you leave the movie! 🙂
Since we lost our cat Bella two weeks ago, the house seems empty. The irony is, we still have three cats. They are elderly, quiet, less active than they used to be. They are also the last three of a “pride” that once numbered eleven. Going from 11 to three is a dramatic decline. We feel like empty nesters.
Two feelings have arisen in me simultaneously: A desire to adopt more cats plus an equal desire to never adopt again. It is difficult for me to not want to help every stray and needy animal that’s out there. On the other hand, every time we lose one, it hurts dreadfully. I don’t want to hurt again, even though I know I will as three becomes two becomes one becomes zero. Each of our adoptees filled a special space in my heart. They taught me about patience, nurturing, joy and love. As they leave the earth, they take that piece of me with them.
I’ve had to analyze why it is I want to reopen what’s left of my heart to another animal. I think it’s because it’s easier to love animals than to love people. Cats appreciate the smallest luxuries, especially after a life on the streets: a warm bed, plentiful food, a clean box. But people? They’re complicated. Jealous. They come with baggage. It’s harder to please them. It’s harder to show them love. There’s no guarantee that they’ll purr in response to your efforts.
I clearly have a lot of love to give or I wouldn’t have adopted so many animals in my lifetime. What makes it so difficult to transfer that loving from animals to people? Maybe it’s because I understand cats. I can communicate with them. People, not so much, even though we do share a species, language and culture. You’d think it would be the other way round.
And it brings up the following question: Why can’t we accept the simplest acts of love from one another? Why do we look into every gesture, every word, for subtext, motive, hidden agendas? Probably because we’ve been hurt by those things before. If we could give and receive love as easily and freely as animals do, we’d probably be a lot better off. If all it took to restore someone’s good mood was a scratch behind the ears, I’d be doing a lot more scratching. And those good moods would be creating a mountain of good will.
So don’t be put off if some lonely looking woman comes up to you and offers you a sardine or rub under the chin. It’s just me, looking for connections in a simpler, stranger language. Take it as a compliment. Or hand me a kitten. Either way, I’m good.
At the mall, I picked out three pairs of shoes and waited for the salesman to help me. It was a very busy day, and he caught my eye. “I’ll be right with you, ma’am,” he said, breathlessly.
“Don’t break your back,” I said.
He stopped in his tracks, dropping one of his boxes.
“How did you know?” he asked.
“Know what?” I replied.
“That I broke my back. This is my first day back on the job.” He sat down, looking a bit ashen.
I sat down with him. “I honestly don’t know why I said that. But I … I think it means, pace yourself. You’re just finding your feet,” I said, as he laughed at the shoe pun.
We spoke for a few minutes and he went back to work, this time at a slightly slower step. He smiled over his shoulder and nodded good-bye.
I thought about the exchange. It was the first time in my life I had ever used the phrase, “don’t break your back.” If you think about it, it could be taken as sarcasm. I didn’t mean it that way – just that I wasn’t in a hurry.
It was such a small moment, but it made me think. How many times do I want to speak words of encouragement, of praise, of inspiration, and I hold myself back? What if they take it the wrong way? What if they just aren’t in the mood to hear it?
In a previous post, I wrote that I know I don’t have all the answers. What gives me the right to offer advice to anyone else?
It may well be that none of us has all the answers, but together, we can find a way to wend our way down the path of life.
Sometimes God puts words on your heart for a reason. It might be just the small sustenance someone needs to make it over that next hurdle.
Slow down and travel at Godspeed. Speak kindly to a stranger. Say it from the heart and you may end up making someone’s day.
When my niece was just a tiny thing — four, maybe five — we went to Disneyland together. Spotting a cast member (that’s Disney-speak for “employee”) dressed up like Jack Sparrow from “The Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, surrounded by (mostly female) fans, Sami piped up, “Captain Jack has quite the entourage.” Of course we laughed. What child that age says “entourage”? But of course she was right.
The other day, a lady I met at church phoned me about a party she was hosting. “Bring your girlfriends!” she suggested. I found myself conjuring up a fantasy life for myself, one where “me and the girls” went places together (possibly even during the week), drank wine liberally, chatted about the latest twist on our must-see TV shows. This vision lasted all of three seconds. Then I found myself awkwardly explaining that this was not, in fact, my life. Unlike Captain Jack, I do not have “quite the entourage.”
My friends are long-term and loyal. And few. One of them has been my “BFF” since fifth grade. Another has seen me through 30 years of living — I was the first person she called after she had her first child. My sisters-in-law are fully sisters to me. Our closest “couple friends” are, and have always been, my brother and his wife, Jennifer (parents of the aforementioned Sami). I consider Ruth and SueBE, with whom I share this blog, some of dearest friends…and I have never met either in person. The friend I talk to most lives in Indianapolis. I live in Kansas.
I often think it would be nice to have an ebullient, enthusiastic pack of friends who wanted to go out into the world with me and just have fun. But I realize I was not built for such things. I’m a homebody. I prefer books to parties. Like Greta Garbo, I “vant to be alone.” And that’s okay. Having fewer friends doesn’t mean I prize them any less. In fact, I cling to them.
You know who did have “quite the entourage”? Jesus. Mounds of people followed him. But he designated just 12 as apostles. And of the 12, we hear mostly of a chosen few: Peter, John, James, Andrew. Even fewer actually have speaking roles in the Gospels. Mostly, it’s Peter, the lug-head, who says something profound followed immediately by something profoundly stupid. And yet Christ built a church on him.
Jesus accepts us as we are, introvert or extrovert, mystics and simpletons. But what’s beautiful is that we all have the opportunity to be close to him — as close as any human beings can possibly be and more so. Your relationship with him can be deeply intimate. So can mine. With Jesus, there’s no need for an entourage. You’ve got all you need in one person.
Human beings are such touchy-feely creatures. I think that’s why God gave us friends. Certainly, all of my friends have moved my spiritual journey along in wise and wonderful ways. They are, in a word, good people. They are of God. Maybe that’s not the litmus test for everybody’s friendships, but it is for mine. Maybe quality, not quantity, counts in the end. Anyway, I’m grateful. Thanks, friends.
A friend is going through a divorce, and I felt for her right away. I’ve been through it, and it’s not easy. I’ve thought about what to say to encourage her, and decided that it wouldn’t help to go into detail about my own saga. It boils down to one thing.
If it didn’t stay, it wasn’t a blessing.
Better days are ahead instead.
A man can leave, taking away the blessing of an intact family.
But my son is a blessing that stayed. My dog (God rest) was a blessing that stayed. My humble/wonderful house is a blessing that stayed. Even my car (despite five recalls, still running – knock wood) is a blessing that stayed.
There’s something else that happens when you go through dark nights of the soul. Once you get to the other side, you really appreciate the good things and kindred spirits that stayed in your life. And you find that those hardships helped you earn your stripes in the boot camp of life.
Peace of mind is a blessing I earned. A positive attitude is a blessing I earned. This unwavering laser focus on what’s beautiful, uplifting, encouraging, magnificent, fantabulous in life. It’s all good. All the time.
I didn’t have it in those tumultuous times during a stormy marriage, or a job that sucked the life out of me, or situations that weren’t good for me.
In days past, I didn’t fully appreciate the simple blessings in life, like a beautiful sunrise. A peaceful home. Food on the table. Restful sleep. Friends you can count on. A cat on the couch.
Take the “no” out of nostalgia and put the “yes” in yesterday. If it brings you down to think of the pain of the past, put it behind you. Let it go. Move forward. Trust that God knows what He’s doing.
There are things that happen in a lifetime, but a good life is built on the good in life.
And no matter that the storms may come. Remind yourself: you don’t live under a dark cloud. You live under the silver lining.
Just wondering. Ladies, why did we decide painting our fingernails would be a thing? Why not our kneecaps? And why do we pluck our eyebrows, yet embellish our eyelashes with mascara? Why the eyelash favoritism? What, do eyelashes have a louder lobbying group? Payola going on in some back room? Hmmm?
We spend most of our youth wanting to be older. Boys can’t wait to shave. Girls can’t wait to put on make-up. Once we’re adults, we’re perpetually trying to look younger. What’s wrong with this picture?
When did we un-learn wonder? That feeling we had as children, looking with awe and astonishment at each petal on every flower.
One day my ex-husband’s daughter came to visit and saw a sponge on the counter. Just a toddler, she found this sponge to be the most amazing thing to behold. “This!” she exclaimed, surrounding it with her hands, leaning in to examine it. Eyes huge, she looked at me as if to say, are you seeing this too?!?
The adult in me was thinking, of all the mundane things to be amazed by, but the child in me understood. It’s an interesting texture, this sponge. It’s wet, but not really. It’s bouncy but it isn’t a ball. It holds water, until you press it, and then it spurts liquid into the sink. Really kind of a marvel, if you think about it.
Tapping into the wonder of childhood is something of a virtual fountain of youth.
I still feel wonder when I read a great line from a poem, like this one by Rudyard Kipling: “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you…”
Also, when I hear beautiful harmonies in this song from Alison Krauss and Union Station.
But I think it’s just as important to indulge in goofy fun to add quality of life to the day, like this video of NFL Bad Lip Reading on YouTube.
Maybe Your Second Childhood will become a thing, too. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be the next internet sensation. It’s a Wonder-ful Life!