May 28, 2013

Grading My Life......

School's out and my mind is cast back to the days when this meant you got grades that reflected what you had accomplished, or not.  Those days are gone, of course, but  it has had me ruminating on accomplishments and the tangible evidence of them in our lives.

Grades are no longer a good example, any more than promotions or raises are now.  In the olden days, you not only got graded on your school work, but later, in your career, promotions and raises took the place of grades for your lifetime accomplishments.  Unfortunately, Affirmative Action took those away too.  Now having a job only means that they needed a person of a certain age, gender, etc. and you filled the slot.  It can be very depressing because so many jobs seem to have absolutely nothing to do with your effort or worth.

Just because we live in a world now lacking tangible proof of accomplishment does not mean our lives are without accomplishments.  It just means it's up to us to keep improving, a lesson we should not need to be taught to us.

Stay at home mom's have the hardest job in the world simply because most of what they do is never noticed, graded, promoted, raised, or even thought about consciously.

Sometimes what seems to be a dark period turns out, in retrospect, to be a period where you got your most intense training, without which, you would have never been strong enough to have made it through.  It's hard to find the words that are capable of conveying this.  Trying to explain how being isolated and working ceaselessly at small tasks for no pay, sense of accomplishment OR lasting results is like trying to tell a friend about a bad dream: only when you say it out loud does it sound crazy.  This can leave you in a awkward position socially, but it will never leave you in an awkward position spiritually-speaking.

At some point, and I'm pretty sure that point is middle-age, barring a wake-up call from cancer or some other life-threatening disease or disaster, we take stock of ourselves.  Not because we think we will get a raise or even recognition, but just because we accomplish milestones in our lives, and are disappointed or proud of ourselves, and hold ourselves to account.   At least, we should. Our lives pass us by on a daily basis.  If you don't wonder how you are measuring up, I wonder about you, and so, probably, does your mom.

Recently, during a visit with a dear, old friend, she said these words "When my mother died, it changed my life.  It changed everything about my life, and what I found worth in."  I felt the truth of those words in my soul.  Losing your mother, assuming that your mother is not an addled drug addict or abusive alcoholic, is probably the biggest life changing event that will ever happen to you that you expect to happen.  Cancer can come to be seen as a gift, with all the time to get things in order and pay up accounts and say lasting goodbyes.  But you are never prepared for the death of a parent, never, simply because you have never, ever, for one moment up until that time, known life on earth without them.  No matter how you prepare, you will feel like someone has jerked the covers off you in the middle of the night, vulnerable and not equal to the task.  You will feel like you now have to take a huge, long test, and did not remember to study.  How could you not?  Love them or loath them, your parent is always the call you could make, if you had to.  The last best bet, even if you would rather bite your tongue off instead of ask, again, for help.  Your parent will be the last person to help you, again, simply because they love you.  That's the thing about love, it just is, regardless of making sense, and few people ever do anything to actually deserve it.  It just is.

In the 9 years since my mom died, I have set various areas of self improvement for myself.  My mother was very private and non-invasive, polite, deeply spiritual, and gave little away in regard to her personal feelings unless there was a reason for her to do so.  I was always the exact opposite, louder, more opinionated, unconcerned with how I appeared to other people, a bit abusive on occasion,  and wore my heart on my sleeve.  Anyone who didn't like it, well, that was their problem, not mine.   She thought I was brave.  I thought she was wise.  Between the two of us we made the perfect woman.  Were we really brave and wise?  Sometimes.  But the thing about life is that sometimes it is more important to believe in something being true than it actually being a fact.  Without her quiet grace to balance out my bold brashness, I felt imbalanced, expose, and terrified.  Unequal to the task ahead, and for the rest of my life!  I realized how much balance her quiet obedience had always given me, and frankly, without her I felt I better get myself together and start acting like a grown up.

I will never forget the moment I realized that I was on my own, even though my mother was still living.  It was as I entered the dreaded Wal Mart, and some child was having a kicking, screaming good old fashioned temper tantrum, blocking the door.  This seemed like such a small problem to me, at the time, that I almost envied the young mother, red of face and sweaty of body, who was trying to be forceful with her child but keep from being turned in to DFS for "abuse" simultaneously, a fine line for poor parents these days.  Suddenly I went from being serenely sure that I would jerk that kid up and go into the bathroom and soundly paddle that little butt, to realizing that should I give into the (great, powerful, and ever increasing) urge to throw a kicking, screaming, fit of my own, that the only people who would show up would be the police, and even they would probably draw straws for that call.  It's true.  Police do not enjoy this aspect of their jobs, not that I blame them for this.  They signed up to fight crime, not haul off adults who lose control and have temper tantrums in public places.

In other words, I was on my own.  Despite preparation, meditation, prayer, and practical lessons learned along the way, I didn't really feel like I knew squat.  Deep down, I was as scared as I've ever been.  I could see it coming, clearly, and yet there was not one thing I could do to stop it or change it in any way.  Each life has these moments.  Know that they will come, and try your hardest to be ready.  This is my advice now, and it was the only thing I could think to do at the time; not because I was so smart, either, it's nothing more that a survival technique.

The areas I set for myself to improve upon were 1) the elimination of participation in gossip and 2) having more faith that God was truly in control.

It was only 2 areas, but they are two of the biggies, at least in my life.

Eliminating the participation of gossip in my life was relatively easy.  It was one of the parts I hated most when my mother was ill, but I had always hated it.  I bet you know what I'm talking about, too.  You know the way  some people get a light in their eye when they hear something "juicy", which actually really means "hurtful" to someone else and how they can't wait to blaze off and be the first to tell others?  Always a turn off for me.  During my teen years this was one of the ways in which to manipulate others the easiest.  Gossip, for teens or adults similarly emotionally undeveloped, is a currency whose value never decreases, and it's always welcome almost anywhere.  Almost.  I launched a tactic to keep it out of my life, and it has been very successful.

I will never forget how horrible it was to be caught buying groceries, then have someone who seemed to mean well ask about my mother, and then be struck by what to say that could not be bent, however innocently, to come back to my mother's ears, causing pain.  My favorite reply to "How is your mom?" became "Still alive."  It was true and was as much as I was willing to give anyone, because I strongly felt that it really wasn't any of their business anyway.  This may have been a poor attitude to have, I freely admit it, but once you have someone come up and blurt out the most hurtful fact of your life and are so taken by surprise that you immediately fall apart in tears, you may understand that poor attitude a little bit better.  I hope that never happens to you, actually.  It should never happen to anyone, but it does, continually.

So one day I just quit listening to the filth.  I started saying things like "I don't want to hear this", only to have some poor wretch with nothing to offer but hurtful gossip about other people say "That's what I heard!", seriously.  Let's parse semantics for a moment, something I usually avoid.  By saying "that's what I heard", the person is absolving themselves from any responsibility for truth while at the same time trying to entice you into listening, since it's not to be taken literally, it's "just a rumor".  I replied with "Be that as it may, I really don't want to hear it."  This may be too bold for some.  It requires a level stare and no blinking, and it your eyes can shoot lasers out it really helps.  Even with just the level stare and no blinking it usually causes visible signs of upset, like sweating and rapid blinking, followed by rapid changes of subject.  Those are just the immediate results.  Long term it will have the wretches avoid your presence like the plague, which I find immensely freeing.  You trips to Wal-Mart will forever be improved.  The best response, though, when a tidbit has been tossed into your lap, is to use the level stare and no blinking, and say "That's your business?" in a convincing, sincere tone that manages to convey that you generally think well of that person and you are resisting thinking badly of them.  It works almost every time.  If it doesn't work, then you are dealing with the very most obtuse of the wretches, and stepping over that line and actually shaming them with a tongue lashing, especially in a public place, should earn you the equivalent of a medal of honor.  If you choose to take this step, I commend you, and want you to know that you are doing a service for continued, as of yet unknown, generations, who will hopefully be spared the hurt that wretches like this can cause, if taken seriously.  Not that they are usually taken too seriously, even by the people who listen politely, not yet in touch with their inner God/Goddess of hell fire.  Sooner or later, you will be in this position.  It is my prayer for you that you will be the injured one, not the injuring one, and that you will be prepared to take action.

The only downside to this change in my life is that I often am unaware of people having gotten divorces and remarried, or having had other painful scandals in their personal lives.  I'm good with that, as I assume if they feel obliged to share their troubles with me, then I will do everything I can to help them reach peace with it.  I just draw the line at their own troubles, though, and not anyone else's.  It has worked out well for me, and cleared my life of much filth that used to cause drama and heartache in my life.  I don't miss it, and I can't recommend minding your own business highly enough.  At least give conscientious thought to what comes out of your mouth.  Is it true?  Is it kind?  Is it any of your business?  Will saying it out loud to this particular person help or hurt?  I hope it turns into a grass roots effort.  There are entirely too many wretches out there, and it would not take that much to clean them up.

On having more faith that God is truly in control, this one is trickier.  It's easy as long as things go well, but something always happens.  It may be financial, emotional, or physical, but things occasionally happen that just take you out at the knees.  When these things happen, we are confused, often they do not make logical sense, and they leave you so afraid that you realize you want to have faith that God is truly in control more than you actually believe that God is truly in control.  You rationalize that if this is truly happening, then God must want you to go through it.  But it's not fair, you feel victimized, you wonder what you did to deserve this thing that has happened.  I've had a lot of experience dealing with whether or not you deserve things, and it takes some brutal self honesty and examination to accept responsibility for contributing to circumstances.  I will let you work that one out for yourself, but that is a bitter pill of truth.  We all have to take some, do not feel like the Lone Ranger.  I usually get really down and feel in despair, and then what I call my "F-U attitude" kicks in and I go through a period of rebelliousness and something inside me just stands up and says  "Well, troops, we may be down, but we are not beat yet, and we will not go down without a fight."   It carries me through and over the hump of the despair and that's when I realize that what faith really is; choosing to believe.  It's choosing to believe that, despite these trying circumstances, God  really is in control, and while it may be hard to go through, there has to be a reason.  Even if we don't know what that reason is.  Even if that reason does not come to us clearly for years, or even never.  It's choosing to believe, despite evidence.  We are not promised understanding, we are asked to trust and obey.  That can be the scariest thing in the world, but if God be for us, who can really be against us?  If you don't believe that, then I can tell you what your problem is, and the good news is, it's fixable!  It really is that simple, and I think we do ourselves a disservice when we have the arrogance to expect to understand.  Arrogance is unique to human beings, and certainly has it's uses, but ultimately is almost always our undoing.  My advice is to humble yourself, pray for the peace that passeth understanding, and make sure you are in touch with it every single day of your life. You never know what waits around the bend, and no human yet has been prepared for everything.

I am feeling very proud of the work I have done and the progress I have made.  Unlike our jobs in this life, our "work" has no set hours or tangible finish lines, promotions, or rewards on this earth.  Yet, our "work" is what we are here to do.  Choose freely but choose wisely, it all counts in one way or another.  Sometimes, when I take my measure, spiritually speaking, I think God uses us right where we are, all the time.  I really do believe that.  Let's make the most of it.