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In a conversation recently, I had a disagreement with an acquaintance around my age (53), and I was struck by how civil we both were. “If I may,” he interjected, as I made my point, “That’s not the case.” He continued for a moment, and then I interrupted politely, saying, “I’d like to point out…” and I made my argument. At the end of the conversation, we were still cordial.

It made me wonder if civility is actually an extinct language. It may have gone the way of Latin. It still exists, but very few people are fluent.

It can be difficult to remain calm when you’re talking to someone who’s being decidedly uncivil. Being civil doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to say what’s on your mind. Bluntness may even be required, but never belittling, or using pejorative or profane terms.

When I feel angry, hurt or offended in some way, I try to put it into words immediately. My son knows that when I come to him and say, “You know my policy; I have to tell you how I feel about what you just said”,  that’s the time for him to speak plainly as well.

Recalibrating my communication settings to say what I mean freed my soul from the clutches of grudges. That toxic energy only takes up space that’s meant for grace. Once you clear that parking spot, you’ll find you’ve made room for incoming blessings. Who knows? They might be circling overhead right now, waiting for you to wave them into your life.

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When my son was younger, one of the kids from the neighborhood came over just as my son and his friends were getting ready to ride their bikes. Landon (not his real name) didn’t have a bike, so I told him he could borrow mine.

When Landon came back he looked guilt-ridden. One of the other kids was saying to him, “You’re in big trouble, man. She’s gonna get real mad at you. She’ll tell your mom, and you’ll be on punishment forever. Nothing you can do about it.”

When Landon finally came up to me on the porch, he apologized. “For what, honey?” I asked. “I broke the bike,” he said. “My mom gets paid on Friday, so I’ll ask her to pay for the bike, and I’ll do chores to pay her back. Might take me a year, but I’ll make it right.”

This was both touching and heartbreaking. What a long ride back it must have been for that young man. Especially with the other kid bending his ear, piling guilt upon fear.

“No need for that, son. That bike was already hinky. One of Cole’s other friends messed it up, and didn’t even apologize. Don’t worry about it for a minute. Come on. We’re having Jiffy Pop.”

I wanted to say to the other child who’d appointed himself chief guilt-inducer, You should be ashamed! But it was too late for that. He already was. Misery loves company, and that’s the only language he knew. Someone had said these things to him, too, in his lifetime. I decided to extend hospitality to him instead. “Popcorn for you?” I asked.

Shame can be contagious, but luckily, there’s an antidote: grace.

Due to my visual and memory issues, I’ve asked Lori and SueBE to proofread my posts for me, and for one post, Lori showed me how to use an “em-dash” as opposed to an “en-dash.”

Hold on. There are two types of dashes? How long has this been going on?!? I can’t seem to find that button on my keyboard. Is there one? I don’t remember it from school (insert em-dash here once I find it) eons ago (em-dash again) and, in all my years (em-d) over 50 of them (em-d) have been punctuating incorrectly.

It’s like finding a new/retro toy! How does this thing work? Where can I use it? Let me think of sentences in which I can insert this new (to me) kind of punctuation. Bear with me (em-dash) just for a moment (em-dash) while I collect my thoughts.

Okay, I found the secret code online. To insert an “em-dash” on a laptop, you press the “Alt” key, and on the numeric keypad, type 0151.

The em-dash seems like a parking spot for a pause. It’s longer than an en-dash and more meaty, if you will. Yes. Maybe it stands for the letter “M”, as in “Meaty.”

Or maybe the “M” stands for “Metaphor.” Sometimes, you put your own needs on hold to take care of everybody else. You might fall into the trap of Placeholder Syndrome. The spot you’re in now is a pause in your own life’s sentence, like a jail cell that you carry with you.

You think, I’ll just wait until retirement to pursue my dreams. Or, I’ll wait until the kids are squared away, and then I’ll put myself first.  Maybe that “M” stands for “Me.” So I’d say to you — respectfully, of course — today is the day.

On Twitter, I only ever followed positive accounts, and one was a website known for heartwarming pet videos. One day, I was shocked when they posted a video of a baby seal being clubbed to death, with the narrator saying sadly, “He never stood a chance.” They’re trying to raise awareness to put an end to the gruesome practice, but seeing it can do psychological damage to viewers. It’s as if they were clubbing us over the head as well. I unfollowed them and eventually left Twitter altogether. Social media can be used for good and for not-so-good.

The whole concept of viral videos is ethically murky at times. If you share footage of someone else’s bad day, aren’t you just making that person’s day even worse?

Last month, a man attacked actor Arnold Schwarzenegger at an event in Africa, and his reaction was laid-back. He said he was fine; in fact, he didn’t even realize he’d been kicked. He thought he’d just been jostled by the crowd. “And if you have to share the video (I get it), pick a blurry one without whatever he was yelling so he doesn’t get the spotlight.”

He went on to suggest that they post video of athletes from his event instead. Good advice for life, really. Give your attention to what’s good in life. And don’t put a spotlight on the negative.  

After doing a bit of introspection, I’ve decided that I’m an old soul, but I’m young at heart. I feel like I was born old. I’m 53 now, but I’ve always been a homebody. Don’t like to travel. Really don’t like change (in my pockets or in life). Love cats, knitting, classic movies. Love my son with all my heart, and am always coming at him with positive platitudes. “Always do the right thing, son,” I’ll tell him. I know what you’re thinking: That’s so Mayberry!

At 21, I got sciatica. At 36, I got a macular hole. Around that time, I was diagnosed with MS as well. I got the medical issues that normally occur later in life, earlier than expected.

There’s always something hurting, somewhere in my body. There’s always a bill on the counter I can’t yet afford to pay.

If that’s just how it is, I decided, I’ll work around it. I’ll be in a good mood. Not as good a mood as circumstances allow. You can’t make the situation your supervisor. It doesn’t get to decide how you feel right now, in this moment. You do.

When you set down roots in the place where peace resides, you’re safeguarding your own soul. Until you improve a situation, at least don’t make it worse by focusing on that problem alone. Take your mind off it when you can. Give yourself permission to be okay. And in that positive frame of mind, you might just change things for the better.

BugZooka WB100 Bug Catcher VacuumYesterday, I saw a silverfish in my bathroom and stopped in my tracks. Zowie! That’s a big bug. Four inches across. I got my trusty BugZooka (a tiny vacuum that sucks up the bugs so you can release them outside) and tried to capture her, to no avail. Undeterred, I went to the kitchen and got a plastic cup with a lid but couldn’t redirect her into the cup, so I talked to her. I’ve got to get you into this cup to relocate you or I’ve got to squish you. Sorry.

Surprisingly, she went into the cup. I went to the door and asked my son to open it for me and took her outside. Now mind you, I probably let in two flies while I was releasing Sylvia (the name I give to all silverfish. That, or Sid) but she had to go.

While I was chasing her around the bathroom, I realized she was afraid of me. For all she knew, I was the grim reaper, and I may well have been if I hadn’t caught her.

She was reacting in fear. I was reacting in fear.

What if everything that we’re afraid of is actually afraid of us?

As you go about your day, take note of what makes you anxious. Is it people passing by on a busy city street? Hold on. Are they looking at you the same way?

Pay attention to your fears today. They might be telling you they’re not so scary after all.

PS: This is not an endorsement of the BugZooka (although I like it). I only included the picture to show you what it looks like.

In SueBE’s post on her writing blog, One Writer’s Journey, she writes about finding a creative outlet for her downtime. What does this busy author with deadlines, family obligations, church work, bills to pay, etc., do to recharge her batteries? More work, of course! She takes an online course. But it’s work she loves to do, so it’s not work at all.

It would be more work for her to sit on a beach and do nothing. Suppose you said, “You’re now mandated to sit here and sip a drink under an umbrella and look out at the ocean. It’s for your own good!” I don’t presume to speak for her, but I do believe she’d hate that. Hate! I think her brain would still be formulating ideas, and she’d secretly use a lipstick and a coaster to jot them down when no one was looking. Idea for picture book: marathon runner trapped in starting gate, unable to run her race, teleports herself to the finish line. It’s something inside.

It would be like saying to Lori, “Don’t find the poetry in all that you see. Today, for twenty-four hours, you must think in a linear, black-and-white fashion. We’re re-training your brain to improve your overall health.” I believe she’d hate that. Hate! Even if you put shutters on the windows so she couldn’t see the clouds, trees and birds and be inspired to write a poem, she’d find a haiku in a dust bunny. A whole world would magically appear in her imagination and that poem would spontaneously create itself. It’s something inside.

When it comes time to recharge your batteries, plug into what works for you. Maybe knitting isn’t your thing, so how about painting or photography? Find the thing you enjoy. It’ll do you a world of good.

There are some left-overs I really look forward to; others, not so much. I’ve started to realize that I know very quickly what should really go right into the trash. We may think we’re going to eat it tomorrow, but we didn’t like it the first time. Why re-hash it? Especially if it’s actual scorched-earth-style corned beef hash?👎

Today is the day to go all Marie Kondo and really sort through the things that take up space in your psyche.

Keep  

  • The attention you give to your core responsibilities (take care of family, pay the bills, feed the cat.)
  • The things you are already doing efficiently (keeping track of appointments on your phone’s calendar, washing towels right after a shower so you have towels next time you need them.)
  • The comforts and keepsakes that light you up from the inside (the coffee mug with a lid that looks like a jaunty beret, that tiny candle that looks like a lighthouse, the faith that sustains you like a wood-burning stove of the soul even on the darkest winter night.)

Discard

  • The memories that pop up when you experience the slightest hint of happiness (Remember that thing you did that time? You should’ve done it differently.)
  • Self-defeating habits (Since I gained five pounds, I might as well go all in and demolish the snacks in the house with the word “sugar” or “chip” in their name.)

Once you’ve got your cognitive closets cleared, take a moment to breathe. Congratulate yourself on taking small steps to improve your life. That first step is always the hardest one.  The past is a left-over. You don’t need a make-over. A good habit that you carry over to the next day? We’ll call it a blessed-over.

My son and his friend are going to see a concert in Washington DC, and when he told me, I said, “That’s nice, honey, have fun.” I assumed he’d be taking the train.

This morning I realized he was taking our car on this road trip. Oh! That’s a three-and-a-half hour drive. In our old car. I love my car, Carrie (pronounced Kahr-ee, if you would), but she’s been through a lot. Six recalls thus far. She’s been in an accident and is a bit banged up. Is she up for this challenge?

There’s no spare tire in the car, which concerns me, but he countered that he’s got Triple A. He said he’d be careful and that I shouldn’t worry. Okay! Check.✅ Then I won’t. Har har. I offered some snacks and juice for the road, and he and his friend were on their way.

Then I looked out the window at the latest iteration of varmint-trap the wildlife company had set for my resident groundhog, Grady. They’d come out last Thursday to set the first trap, and he dug his way out it. Then the next day, they set two traps, pushed together. He dug out of that one too. Today, they covered the ground with some mesh wire and set up two more traps.

At this rate, if Grady finds his way out of the trap, I’m just going to call it a sub-let and start charging him rent!

You can’t fix everything that’s broken in life in one day. You can’t cover your kids with a golden shield to protect them. All you can do is this: all you can do. Worrying isn’t the same as doing. When you stop running in place, you’ll be amazed at how much ground you can cover.

Started out the day with cereal, a cup of coffee and a knot in my stomach.

My feet hurt. The fence needs fixing. How will I….? What do I do if….?

Paused.

Had to take a moment just to be in the blessings I already have.

You can’t come at troubles with a troubled mind and make them better.

Not to be redundant, or repetitive, or say the same thing in different ways, 🙂 but, looking at a problem through a problematic mindset won’t solve the problem.

If your mind is churning, unsettled, anxious, that’s problem number one to address. Calm your mind. Leave the room where you sat, wringing your hands. Go into a room you designate as your peace room. For me it’s my sunroom, but it can be any room you choose. Breathe deeply. In through the nose, out through the mouth.

Be where you are right now. Not in the fearful future yet to happen. Get to the place inside where you know all is well. That’s not to minimize the issues you need to address. But you can only do that when you’re in the state of knowing the world hasn’t ended. Gravity still works. So does grace. Your feet are still on the ground. The sun is still shining.

In that peaceful place, an idea may come to you. If not a solution, a stopgap measure. Be still in your blessings and listen for an answer. Some way will find its way to you.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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