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What if empathy was a finite resource that only existed in a fraction of the population? Imagine what would happen if the ones designated as caretakers of compassion went on strike. Or their kindness soured into cynicism. What would become of humanity then?

I’m concerned that compassion will be elbowed out eventually, especially since those in charge seem unwilling or unable to model it. The younger generation is growing up at a time in which “Instagram Influencer” is an actual job. We’ve even learned to condense our coarse critiques into 140 characters.

Now tell me, when did we decide as a society that pulling pranks was “all in good fun?”  This “heartwarming” (not to mention “housewarming,” but in a bad way)  video of a firefighter fooling his girlfriend into thinking their house was on fire so he could propose to her is (as all of our fathers used to say, say it with me now:) everything that’s wrong with the world today.

If I were that woman, not only would I refuse that marriage proposal, I’d throw my now-ex-boyfriend in jail for causing a public disturbance. Not to mention misuse of tax dollars. Of course, then social media would obliterate me for being a spoil-sport, I’m sure. I can’t even believe this needs to be said, but here goes. Terrifying someone you love is not kind.

A different video of a child in China who walked to school in weather so cold that his hair froze caused an outpouring of kindness. And this one of a stranger who drove 2300 miles to return a family dog to this sick boy shows that focusing on the positive is the antidote for negativity. Despite everything wrong with the world today, there’s still hope for humanity.

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This phrase in the Bible shows up more than once: “And it came to pass.”

I’ve always taken that tiny snippet of Scripture as inspiration.

Here’s why: it didn’t come to stay. It came to pass!

Whatever it is in your life that’s holding you back, getting you down, tearing you up. It came here for a reason. And it’s just for a season.   

Even though I reside on the sunny side of the street, we’ve all been down that dark alley. I’ve learned some things that have helped me stay in a positive frame of mind.

Tell but don’t dwell. Tell your story but don’t dwell on the pain of the past.

Follow but don’t wallow. Follow your heart and share what you’ve been through so others know they’re not alone, but don’t wallow in the negative emotions of it.

Make sure it’s useful and truthful. It’s not helpful – to you or those around you – to talk trash about your ex or go into gory detail about the ways life hasn’t been fair to you. It is helpful to be human about it. Here’s something I’ve been through. Maybe it’s happened to you, too. Let’s share what we’ve learned from it, and if it’s still in our life, how to deal with it.

Bask in the positive. You learned from it, lived through it, found a way to rise above.

Be in the present. The past is a springboard. It may have refined you, but it doesn’t define you.

Moving forward with optimism is the antidote to a painful past. No matter what your life may have been like before, every new day is a chance to start again.

“Be independent of the good opinion of others.” Abraham Maslow

Would you rather be universally liked by all, or loved by a loyal few?

If we could sum up the eras of a lifetime, it might read something like this:

Childhood: you want to belong.

Early adulthood: you want to be loved.

The rest of your life will be about this: you want to be yourself.

That’s good news, if you think about it. Early on, we may look to others as we determine how to “be yourself.” It takes years to figure out that everybody else is doing the same thing.

Ancient mariners didn’t have GPS. They used the stars, sun, moon and planets to navigate. Somehow, they found their way across oceans. In modern times, we tend to use landmarks to map out the course of life. First love. First job. First child.

But that’s also the beginning of comparisons. Net worth. Number of followers. Measuring yourself against others does nothing to improve your life. It can lead to feeling insecure and envious.

What if we didn’t feel the need to compare our place in the world to others? We might find the meaningful mile markers that fly just under the radar. Doing projects you love that allow you to contribute in your own way. Helping the community with all the tools at your disposal: time, talents, teamwork. Money if you can spare it. A prayer if you’re so inclined.

Life isn’t all about being first, you know. These days, second-hand clothes are sold as “vintage.”

“On second thought” can save you a lot of heartache.

A second wind will keep you going through long days.

This is your second chance at a first chapter. Set your own course starting today, and soon it will become second nature.

Well, it takes a lot to get a kindly Auntie-type to the brink of physical violence, but it does happen. Years ago, a contractor that I’d hired to re-tile my bathroom trudged into the house carrying his equipment and the new tile I’d picked out. I noticed that he had a lit cigarette in his mouth. “Oh, this is a non-smoking house. If you would, please put that out,” I told him. He did, and I left him to his work. Hours later, I poked my head into the bathroom to see how the job was going. “Just checking in,” I said. “How’s it go-” I stopped mid-sentence. He had lit another cigarette and was blithely puffing away. “Oops!” he said sheepishly. “You caught me!” His face said, Sorry, not sorry.

I was livid and read him the riot act, but by then it was too late. He had puffed that smoke right into the grout of the new tile. As a result, the bathroom smelled like smoke for the next two months, even after I’d opened the window every day to air it out.

To me, this man’s total disregard for my wishes was a metaphor. When you put negative energy – or in this case, smoke – into a project, the end result usually stinks.

In my experience, a positive attitude and respect for those around you will lead to a better outcome. And, most importantly, you won’t get socked in the shoulder by an industrial-strength handbag (for you younger folks, that’s a purse – usually ginormous in size to accommodate Early Bird leftovers.🍝) This has been a public service announcement by the generally-mellow, neighborly Nanas who live on a street near you. We’re kindly, sure. But don’t cross us! PS Don’t slouch.

Faithful readers of our humble bloggie know that I lost my pet partner, KitKat, recently, so forgive me as I ramble on with stories about him for the next few posts. He meant so much to me and my son, and I realized today he was not just a cat. He was a counselor.

My son has dealt with exhaustion due to a medical condition his whole life. It’s affected his quality of life immensely, and, as a mother, it’s pained me that I can’t fix it for him.

One morning, I couldn’t wake up Cole, so I cried for a moment in the kitchen. My cat came into the room. “I don’t know how to help him. He’s not sleeping well or feeling good. I don’t know how to help him live well,” I said to my cat as if he understood.

KitKat came over to me, bumped against my leg and stayed there, waiting.

Pet me, he was saying. You feel good when you pet me. So if you feel good, you’ll be in a better mood. Let go of what you can’t solve now.

Still tightly clenched, I went over to the couch in the living room and he came to sit near me. As I patted his furry head, he purred. The tension was dissipating, and even though I still didn’t have a solution to this fatigue that never went away, I felt my shoulders start to relax.

You can’t reach out and grab hold of life with your hands clenched. Even if you’ve been running in circles for the whole week, find a way to have a day of rest. Lay your burden down and be at peace. If you can’t solve the problem, resolve the energy. You’ll find that things will look brighter tomorrow.

Every so often, someone, somewhere, will be mad at the world and will eventually say these words: I didn’t ask to be born!

Now, this is not to minimize the pain of those going through a hard time, but I wonder.

What if you actually did ask to be born. In fact, what if you even paid to come here. Better still, what if tax dollars were used? Maybe your loved ones in heaven (or wherever souls are stored) are working hard there to support you here. You’d do your best and get to work on meaningful projects then, wouldn’t you?

Maybe they’re spending their afterlife populating your dreams with what seem to be mundane activities (Oh look! There’s my mother, folding towels. What does that mean?) Maybe those are really metaphors and bread crumbs, guiding you as much as they’re allowed by universal decree (maybe the dream’s meaning was: Take care of work first, play later.)  Like the Prime directive from Star Trek. They’re only allowed to gently encourage without revealing too much, allowing for your free will.

But then you’d have to figure out what those meaningful projects are. No pressure! It’s only the peace of mind of your late loved ones, giving it their all so you can have the gift of life!!

Okay. That’s probably not the case. But “projects” is another word for “purpose.”

This fanciful tale was brought to you by all those you’ve loved and lost. I’m no medium (I’d honestly have to admit that I’m more of a “large”), but I don’t think they’d want you to fret as much as you do. They’d only want you to do your best with the days in front of you. And when you look back? To do so with a smile and keep moving.

Picture this, if you will. You get to Heaven and God says, Listen, we’ve got a backlog of cases up here, so we’d like you to decide the fate of the people who mistreated you in life. Okay? Thanks.

Suddenly you’re behind a judge’s bench with gavel in hand. A stream of familiar faces flows into the courtroom. People from your past. They’re led to a table to await your decision. So. If you cast them all away forever, aren’t you doing to them what they did to you? Now who’s the perpetrator?

Isn’t it true that people who treated you poorly justified it that you hadn’t met their expectations? Or that you weren’t trying hard enough. Pulling your weight. That boss who yelled at staff. Didn’t she believe that employees need to fear the boss or they won’t meet deadlines? That ex who was cruel to you. Didn’t he feel he had a right to do that, since you weren’t the person he wanted you to be?

So this is the case for forgiveness. If you were in a position to mete out justice, it’s possible you’d throw the book at people – or even your gavel if you were in a mood – and become just as bad as them.

Not only is it better for your mental health to let go of the things you can’t change anyway. It’s possible that you’ve mistreated others without even realizing it. When you felt someone wasn’t trying hard enough, did you yell or give them the cold shoulder? Someone’s in the passing lane on the highway driving too slowly. Did you tailgate them? Of course, these are relatively minor infractions, but it all falls on the spectrum of disrespect. Keep your own karma clean: forgive, forget, and put the past behind you.

Photo by Matt Collamer on UnsplashShowing up as someone other than your true self can be wearing.

As long as I can remember (!) I’ve had trouble remembering things I’ve done, people I’ve met, conversations we’d had. So I learned to make up for it with humor and this unrelenting cheerfulness that has become a lifelong habit. In my 20s, I’d use the phrase, I had a senior moment there! when I’d forget basic things. Co-workers would laugh and say, You’re too young to have those! and the infraction would be forgiven.

If I’d said, I don’t know why I can’t remember anything, and to be honest, it’s kind of upsetting, it would’ve gotten a moment of discussion or a shoulder shrug, but you could only do that so often. People would assume you weren’t applying yourself, or were just not that bright.

So most of the time I would flip a switch and turn into this upbeat version of myself, which meant I was always presenting a persona instead of being who I am. I needed to write lists of every task. Not a general to-do list, but pages of what I needed to do, checked off as I went. If it wasn’t documented there, I honestly couldn’t remember if I’d done it.

It was only after I was diagnosed with MS that I realized there was a reason for my forgetfulness.

It made me wonder: What is it we don’t know about the people with whom we interact? Is everybody grappling with something? It’s possible that someone in your life right now is feeling this way, but doesn’t know how to express it, or where to turn to make it better.

Maybe we’ll never know what others are going through. Assuming there’s a story might be enough for our collective compassion to kick in.

I just read a biography of Buddha, who’d been born a prince and lived a life of luxury, then gave it up. He came to believe Nirvana would be achieved by eliminating all desire.

I think the key to enlightenment is to stay in the Heaven in your head all the time instead of expecting some event, thing or person to complete you so you’ll feel worthy. Waiting for some momentous change may make us forget that there are blessings all around us, every day.

In a previous post, I wrote of how I was reminded during a power outage of all the daily gifts God sends to me. Love letters such as lights that turn on with the flick of a switch. Hot and cold running water. Toilets, faucets, gas burners. A little laundromat in my own basement.

Right there, in the dark, in the cold, I got into a warm fuzzy space in my own soul and I find that I can get there again, every time I read this line:  This was a gift to me today. A reminder to appreciate the power, all the way up to the power source.

The light-bulb moment comes when you accept that you’re blessed. You remember you’re remembered. You’re not forgotten. God loves you enough to send countless provisions your way every single day.

My moment of enlightenment came when the lights went out. I didn’t need the heat to work at that moment. I literally felt warmed up. I hadn’t felt like that when all of the systems in my life were percolating on as usual. It took a moment in which God blinked to remind me he’s always got his eye on me. That interruption in my life’s regular programming reminded me never to take grace for granted.

So I bought a frozen pizza that was on sale for less than a dollar. Turned on the oven and put the pizza in to cook. Once it was done, I tried to pull it out of the oven, but it got stuck on the rack. After a struggle  to get it out of the oven, I was really hungry and took a bite. Instantly, I regretted it, as it was still too hot and it burned the roof of my mouth. To boot, it was flavorless, as if I was eating the box it came in. All that work and it tasted like cardboard.

And I thought, how many life experiences are like that?

You twist yourself into contortions for someone else (insert situation here: a peer group, a romantic interest, a potential employer, etc.) and end up looking back on it with regret. They didn’t like you anyway, even after you changed yourself to make them like you. And you didn’t like yourself in that context either. That wasn’t you.

When the past comes at you with all the weapons in its arsenal – shame, guilt, and regret – whip out the shield to fend off all efforts to get under your skin and into your soul: faith. Faith that every day is a clean slate and a chance to start again – on your own terms. Faith that the choices you made in the past were your best efforts at the time, and helped you build an acumen for action going forward. Faith in the fact that life is good and you deserve every good thing it has to offer.

And as for that negative narrator in your head, reminding you of times you’d just as soon forget? Put on your boots, kick it to the curb, and keep moving.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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