Monday, November 23, 2015

The Problem with Morality? It's a Battle We All Lose...

We've heard it all before, "I don't have a problem with God, it's religion."  "I don't have a problem with people who are Christians, Muslims, etc., it's the church."  To some extent, there is truth in these sentiments.  Religion has taken on a very divided state in our culture, and in cultures around the world.  My question is, do we really need it?

Can God, or even just morality, exist without the influence of religion?  Can we figure out, without someone telling us the answers, the difference between right and wrong?  I say yes.  In fact, by definition, NOT being able to know the difference, puts you on a slippery slope for being diagnosed as "clinically insane."  Therefore, even our judicial system, which has a baseline for everything they do locked in Christianity, in the USA anyway, declares that you MUST know the difference between right and wrong, or else, you are not deemed worthy of living freely in our society.  You will be institutionalized.  You will be medicated.  You will not be able to learn the difference.  But you will no longer be a threat to the rest of us because you will no longer be free to make the choice between the two. 

Yet, once a "clinically insane" person is out from under a doctor's care, they are not able to be forced to medicate.  Thereby allowing the cycle to continue.  We have set our institutions up to free and consequently, protect the morally abject.  It is those of us who DO know the difference between right and wrong who are sentenced to institutionalization when we screw up.  Oh well.  No one ever said the judicial system as fair.  Wait...?

Truth is, we all "sin" if you even believe in the term at all.  Let's go this route.  We all commit moral ambiguity.  Every day. And will continue to do so.  For the rest of our lives.  Religion is merely the institution concocted to point it out to us, blame us, guilt us into not doing it again. 

Each religion, however, believes we will pay for what we do regardless.  In Christianity, "you will pay for the sins of your fathers."  Well that doesn't seem fair.  As one movie explained this concept, if a diseased tree bears fruit, will not the fruit bear the same disease?   My father is an alcoholic.  I am not an alcoholic.  This doesn't work for me.  I have never been an alcoholic, nor have I ever had much of a taste for alcohol, other than the occasional college binge, and some wine here and there.  I have never been dysfunction because of it.  My house doesn't smell of stale beer.  I have never lost a job over it, a friend, or even my car keys.  The sins of my father are not my responsibility, nor are they my burden.

In Hinduism and Buddhism, Karmic law states that the sum of a person's actions in this and previous states of existence (lives, consciousness) is viewed as deciding their fate in future existences.  (We often look at karma as being much more immediate; however, true karma is meant to affect you in your next life, not another person, and typically through reincarnated payback). 

Islam, and I kinda like this one, sets forth a "hierarchy of sins" if you will, and so long as the good deeds of your life outweigh the bad ones, you're solid.  Doesn't this bode well with most of us?  I mean, if we're all born into "sin", moral confusion, or what have you, shouldn't we at least not have it count against us if we're trying to make a positive effort?  If not, we've failed before we've had a chance to begin.  Hence, the precepts of Christianity. 

No, I am not a Muslim.  Allah forbid I declare such a thing in our current state.  (That was a joke).  No, I am not a Christian.  I have a hard time believing that a God above would spend one's time pointing out our wrong doings all the while supposedly telling us to love and be good to each other.   With all that negativity coming at me, I have a hard time focusing on what is right!!!
No, I am not a Buddhist.  Frankly, I just don't know enough about it to make such a declaration, other than the fact that you may not convert to Buddhism in the midst of life and be accepted into the "religion"; rather, you must be born into it in your next life.  So, there goes that one. 

What I claim to be is an educated and moral human being.    I know what's right and wrong.  But I'm screwed.  So, I have decided to stake claim in my morality and tell the rest of the world to Fuck Off.  Christian standards would have me stoned to death because according to them, I have literally broken every single Old Testament Commandment they outlined.  By my standards, I adhere to the teachings of Jesus.  Love, without expectation, and give of yourself freely.  According to the Koran, I have long since broken any moral code allowing me to claim the religion my own by way of being able to read the doctrine itself.  So be it.  Buddhism, simply by declaring that it itself is not entirely a religion, rather a way of life, appeals the most to me. 

Christian thought created a building that brought people together to worship in the way of the holy book; immediately there was undeniable discord.  The church, the one church in existence, split.  Again, and again, and again.  Currently, there are approximately 34,000 different CHRISTIAN denominations in the "united" states alone.  This cracks me up.  A moral code that is not up for debate has divided itself over 30,000 times.  NEXT.

Islam believes in peace and tradition.  There are five major sects of Islam, each of which is divided further into levels of extreme / neutral adherence.  Not quite 34,000, but still, if each of these is divided by the level of extreme interpretation, it's easy to watch the news at night and realize we have no concept over the differences in Islam.  The Koran itself would not condone the acts of groups such as Isis, just as the Bible would not condone acts of Ten Commandment Killers we have become familiar with in movies like "Seven," or television shows like "American Horror Story". 

Buddhism claims a total of five sects.  Each sect disagreed mostly on the path to enlightenment, rather than what the end goals themselves are.  Divided as they may be, nirvana, zen, enlightenment, the end result is the same.  The divisiveness has rarely caused controversy, other than in the initial separation, and arguably, there has never been a war erupt in the name of Buddha. 

As a child, we grew up with, what is safe to say, no religion.  Sure there were the occassional bouts of church-going, I assume, when we children randomly asked something or did something that required the attention of a god.  But it quickly faded.  A five year old with more curious interests than sunday school accomplished very little.  That is not to say that there aren't religious people in my family.  One set of aunts and uncles spend five days a week in church.  They were ridiculed often out of apparent hypocritical acts of life.  (Though I agree, we are all hypocrites.  Life changes too frequently for us not to be.  It is a word I find worthless.)

Growing up, different events made me become interested in the fascination of one's attachment to religion.  Freud stated that an emotional void in each of us has enabled us to create the religions that have manifested in our society as an attempt to make us feel whole, and even hopeful.  Interesting.  There were also particular things that occurred in my personal life that made me question whether or not I should be paying attention to a higher calling.  So I began to investigate.  For those of you who know me, know my educational pursuits are rather "obsessive" to say the least.  I read the Bible.  I read the Koran.  I read tons of books arguing various positions on both.  I began to meet local Christians who sparked my interest and thus I went to church.  It felt right.  I got baptized finally, in 2010.  Shortly thereafter, very shortly thereafter, I realized I made a mistake.  Church, organized religion, is the problem with maintaining faith.  Only if one is able to stay blind to the pretentious nature of the church can one remain within it.  And that, is defeating the purpose. 

According to Christianity, all sins are the same in the eyes of God.  Well then, since they're all the same as far as degree of devastation, I decided to pick the ones I like and stick with it.  If they're all the same, then why not embrace what you're good at?  We're all set up to fail anyway, right?  I've chosen fornication and cursing.  The Bible mentions cursing, maybe, twice, and not necessarily the words I use today.  Some have said that cursing is for the person who doesn't know what else to say.  Actually, my vocabulary is quite extensive, and I have no problem expressing myself in less vulgar terms.  I enjoy the catharsis behind the vulgarity.  That's all.  There is no intent to harm another, there is no violence or aggression behind the majority of it.  Just...release.  As far as fornication goes, if sex is reserved solely for those attempting to procreate, then every single person you know in this moment on this day is guilty of fornication.  There is not one person alive now who reserves sex only for an attempt at having a child.  Except maybe those insane Mormons on tv with 20 some kids.  They don't know the difference between right and wrong.  I'm just waiting on the episode with the padded room.

Either way, there is no intent of having kids on my watch.  There is no interest in me to be married. So call me a common street whore if you must, those of you set in your old testament ways.  I don't mind.  If I can't have children, am I to be deprived of the act which god himself apparently gave us the ability to perform?  Not buying it.

The intentions of my heart are pure.  I intend no harm to anyone.  Even those I loathe.  My enemies get no aversion from me.  I am a person of peace.  I chose not to murder.  I chose not to fight.  I chose not to lie.  I chose not to steal.  And on and on.  What I chose to do is something that "Religion" has not taught me.  I chose to be positive, and to do. 

When we focus on the teachings of religion, the things we learn are constantly focusing on the negative.  Don't do this, don't do that.  Few and far between are the passages telling us to be good, love one another, embrace your fellow persons' differences, lift each other up.  Yeah, that guy Jesus talked about it toward the end.  But when, or how often, do your religious peers or administrators focus on Jesus?  We spend so much time in our culture pretending that we are on a "sin hierarchy" and therefore, mine are less exposed than yours so I can judge you publically, that we forget to do any good for each other. 

I am tired of listening to Adam and Steve arguments and Muslim extremist being made the face of Islam.  Religion has turned into one of the biggest sources of hate, negativity, and outright judgment and evil that the world has ever seen.  My religion is right, yours is wrong. That means I am better than you and you're going to hell.  Wake up people.  We're already there, and your moral compass paved the way!

If the peace and love inherent in the world's religions were actually our goal, then where is Buddhism in the West?  Where is peace in the middle east?  It isn't sexy, it doesn't sell, it gives us nothing to watch at night, it requires no belittling of one other because we feel good about the fact that we didn't do whatever the big horrifying story of the day is. 

So back to my original question: Can God, or even just morality, exist without the influence of religion?  I charge you with this answer, only in the absence of religion in its current state is it even possible.   I live a moral life, by my standards.  According to religion, I am destined for hell, because I cuss.  The fact that I can't pass a homeless person without reaching into my pocket and handing them what I can, doesn't matter.  The fact that I have volunteered my time at various organizations for the past 15 years, says nothing.  My continued donations to charities are irrelevant.  My genuine acceptance of every type of human being in spite of their moral state, does not reflect on my character.  I give when you ask.  I love when you don't.  My carcass will burn, because religion says so. 

Morality exists within us. We need only to be guided by our own heart.  It is the voice inside that heart that starts the cycle of love, which hinders the acts of depravity.  Judgment, when no one is perfect, to me, sets as the greatest evil I know.  Live by the moral code written on your heart; let no one tell you your worth. 

I leave you with a quote from one of my favorite movies.  "No one fits in one hundred percent of the time. Not even you. Why would God make us all so different if he wanted us to be the same?"  Ponder that next time someone tries to stifle you, or, when you consider doing the same to someone else.  Peace, love, and enlightenment people.  That is where we find our worth. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

Losing the Game with Humanity; This One's Gonna Hurt

Yes, this one's gonna hurt.  Thinking about writing it hurts.  But, I am who I am.  Thoughts don't stay inside my head.  They're much too implosive. 

I'm losing in the game of life and I don't really know why.  I've always been losing, I've just sometimes caught a case of hope and carelessness that the future has seemed worth it in my mind.  But nothing has changed really.  Not a thing in my whole life, other than having new stories of struggle and despair to tell others about.  Others, being people who aren't overly invested in my life.  Others who will feel sympathy, momentarily, then become thankful they're not me.  I'm glad to be of help, honestly.

I have a few friends who seem as though they've been around my whole life, and probably will be.  It's nice to know people can be loyal to you.  My ex-husband taught me a lot about loyalty.  He loved me, he said, in a way he could never love anyone else, for over twenty years.  (Granted, he didn't teach me much about honesty, but loyalty, yes.  I believe they can come separately).  I feel he was sincere.  I think I got the best out of him.  I only wish I could say the same in return.  I was a lousy wife.  Though he probably got the best of me too; I don't think I've ever been so committed to someone. It lasted a short time, but when our marriage fell apart, I knew I would never be able to have that sort of hope for another relationship again.  I just knew.  No one would ever love me as much as he did.  I've only had two since then.  And a few encounters.  No hope.  No expectations.

Recently, there was a man in my life.  We kept it to ourselves, I thought, because we didn't know what we were doing.  I've realized though, he was probably ashamed of me.  I'm not exactly at my best right now.  Unfortunately, it was the first time I had hope again, but for no reason.  The hope wasn't about any expectation I had, because honestly, I've maintained that I have none, for anyone in my life.  Simply put, I had hope that for the first time in a long time, I was free, able to be myself, and enjoy time with another person, authentically, time with someone who was so much like me, in the good ways, that life was going to be ok.  I hadn't laughed so much in, I don't know how long.  I hope (there it is again), at least, that he knows that.  There were no nerves, only us, naturally.  And then he was gone.  I got no explanation, no words.  I got nothing.  You never feel so lost than when in a constant state of misunderstanding. 

Such is seeming to be, the story of my life.  I get nothing.  Day after day, I turn inward on myself, criticizing all I've done wrong, and all that I've lost.  I do it, at this point, because I have to admit, it has to be something about me, and not them.  I see functional people every single day, drawing others in, being close to friends and loved ones, building relationships and moving forward.  Me, on the other hand, I lose something new every day.  Even if it's only respect for myself.

Yes this seems to be a depressing blog.  But I have to admit it.  I'm no good at being close to people.  Maybe I never learned how. 

Maybe my level of openness, which was an attempt to create real bonds with people, is what turns them away.  People have a hard time with honesty, myself included, or else this wouldn't be so hard.  Looking in the mirror for very long, you begin to see every flaw and wrinkle, every blemish and bruise.  But it's all I ever do, turn inward, because I'm the only one ever here.

I was told that when I was a child, I would often wander off on my own, fearlessly, barely walking, but moving on, not waiting or asking anyone to be at my side.  Family would lose track of me, only to find me somewhere lost, happy as could be.  When I got a little older, we moved around a lot, and schools changed on the regular.  I made new friends, some of whom I have to this day.  As a teenager, the rebellion set it at its greatest platitude and I made sure I was THE nonconformist to end all nonconformity.  College, it took me a few days, and I had forged bonds that would last me to this day with people I hold close to my heart.  Though I was the unlikely character in their stories; I was the non-religious girl at a Catholic school, with a mouth that never shut (literally some of us talked through the night for what seemed like days on end), among peers who did what they were told and never heard of someone like me.  I was lucky to be accepted by them all.  

For years, there was hope.  It seemed like my life was actually going to be worth a damn.  I was going to be significant, somehow.  I don't know where my path changed, or what really went wrong.  All I know now, is that I'm sure of nothing, know not where to go, or really, how to be in this life some days at all.

Since Michael and I were together, I've lost contact with a lot of people.  That's what happens in abusive relationships; they cut you off from others so that you become dependent upon them, for everything.  While I am rarely comfortable in groups, I will be the one who is the loudest in a crowd.  Go big or go home.  I can speak in front of hundreds with no problem, I can carry my own one on one, but get twenty or so people together and I become utterly dysfunctional and perfectly awkward.  But it's gotten to the point that I wonder, am I really functional one on one.  I've lost track because there are so few chances to see my ability, or lack thereof. 

What I want, or wanted, from this life, differs from no one.  I wanted the chance to be myself, the chance to be happy, the chance to be loved, authentically.  I wanted to matter, to be close to someone like no other, and some moderate success in displaying my gift to the world.  I wanted peace, inside of myself, a future that warranted progress, and people who would fight for my time.  I wanted friends who were sincere, loves who were true, and freedom to be truthful in the middle of the day, when few others could.  I've always had the guts to be strong.  Being weak is where things go wrong.

I admit it.  I suck at this game.  I am an ideas person. I start things.  I never finish them. I create bonds, I never see them through.  I am a lousy friend, a lousy partner, and lousy idol for discipline.  Life has taught me to fight, not to win. 

Where do I go from here?  I have no one close enough to me that I am any type of priority.  I understand that.  I am an afterthought.  Ouch.  That was a painful thing to put into print.  But it's true.  I am no one's first thought, last thought, daily thought.  Everyone in my life has someone greater, bigger, closer, truer, more meaningful, more precious, more sacred to them than me.  Can you imagine how hard it is to face each day, knowing you are no one's everything?  And yet my heart has been broken often, because I have been so willing to make the people in my heart, the direction of my soul. 

I wonder if the disease, the diseases, I'm fighting are a gift, an out, an easy way for me to slide away unnoticed.  A way I can disappear, fighting a brave fight, and giving me one last battle to take on.  Is it my time to go, since all my bonds have seemed to have fallen by the wayside?  Other than my cat, what is it that I am fighting for?  Potential?  Possibilities?  Dreams?  Hope?  I just don't know if I am that person anymore.  How long can a person fight and walk away with no victories?  How long can a person be in battle before they give in!

I have matching tattoos that say "battle,"  and one that says "brave."  They are my favorites because I feel they are truer to me than any of the others.  I've always been in battle, and I've always moved forward, brave.  I had no reason, no one to lean on, and no answers as to why.  But I did it anyway, because I felt like there was something more, something greater coming for me.   I've lost sight of that though; I feel, sometimes, that these battles have been misread, and that I was to take them for what they were all along.  I was stronger than they expected, lasted longer than believed, and held on longer than most.  I was supposed to lose, a long time ago. 

I don't mean to make anyone sad.  Life simply comes to a point when you have to ask yourself, what are you fighting so hard to hold onto?  I used to just be strong.  Now I teeter-totter between the strongest and the most desperate person I know. Though truthfully, there aren't many I know enough to stake any claim in that as an acceptable means of measurement. 

Is it possible that this mentality is just ingrained in my being, even if my spirit hasn't been able to accept it fully?  Is it likely that I am ruined and accept my fate as an isolated, dysfunctional, loving member of this rotting world?  I seek no answers; my belief in them currently does not exist.  I see no resolution; there is none to be had.  Regardless of which way this ends up, know this of me:

If I gave you my time, then I gave to you a piece of my heart.
If I gave you a piece of my heart, I wanted nothing in return, only for you to accept it as a gift.
If I gave you that gift, then you will never leave my thoughts.
If you're in my thoughts, then you're in them every day.
Every day I think of you, it's a day I love you more.
By loving you more, you become part of my soul.
As part of my soul, I will take you with me wherever I go.
Wherever I go includes if it's no longer here.
If it's no longer here, then I will shine on you from above.
If I shine on you from above, then it's so you'll be able to see in the dark.
If you see in the dark from my light, then you move forward in a place of love.
In a place of love that I give you, is meant to pass on to someone you want.
Someone you want, if it was never me, is someone so lucky to have known you.
Because to have known you, is all I ever wanted.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Finding Out You Know Nothing About Life, One Day At A Time

And it finally happened.  I have cancer.  Great. 

This isn't the coursing through your veins, destroying your organs kind of cancer.  Well, I guess I don't completely know that yet.  But every kind of cancer is the omg what the hell just happened kind of cancer.  It's "malignant melanoma". God why can't they name this shit something at least appealing to the ear.  Why does it have to sound so ugly and undesirable!  My uncle survived it four times.  I'm pretty sure I'm a little bit stronger than him.  My grandmother survived it once.  I know I'm stronger than her.  So I have few worries, at least, for now.

I am 35 years old.  Alone.  Losing my job in six weeks.  And now I have to go in for invasive surgery to try and save my life.  I don't even know if I should be writing this because I am not sure I have had enough time to process that statement.  How do you continue on with day to day activities knowing that this is growing inside of you, knowing how ever many people you have known have died from various cancers, knowing you have no control, and not let it consume your mind? 

I have no idea how. 

So what in the world can come out of this experience to make it valuable for me, for you?

The first thing that I know...People often say that life is short.  I don't believe that.  Life is long.  We just block out all of our wasted moments.  Think of all the times you have said, "this day is dragging on forever," or "I'm so bored," or "I wish there was something to do."  Or even think of what it is that you do with your time.  Sitting idly by the tv, soaking in the tub (though I don't consider this wasteful, personally), twiddling our thumbs in the hope that something will happen TO us.  Well, I am here to tell ya, plenty has happened TO me, and frankly, I'm over it.

I want to be responsible for things happening, not the object to which things happen.  I want to live, not exist.  I want to create, and no just maintain this life.  I have always felt that way.  I just don't know how.  This blog has helped me do that though.  I see how many people read it; I get the random comments.  I will never know if I have impacted anyone, through this or just in life in general, but it is my hope.  I try to be positive, honest and open, and educational.  Yes, I've been called "preachy, blunt, bitchy, rude," etc., etc.  Will that ever stop me?  If you think that isn't rhetorical then you don't know me very well at all. 

So I do say life is long, our own lives.  When something happens to someone else, we are courteous in saying , life is too short.  But we squander by so many missed opportunities every day, it's astounding.  I know I'll get pity for this, but I don't want it.  I have been lazy most of my life.  I know people don't generally see me that way.  But I know my mentality, trust me, I'm lazy.  I've always worked, sure, since I was fourteen.  All through school, all through life, I have worked.  Typically I've worked two jobs at a time. This is the first time in my life I have only carried one job, and I'm working 50-70 hours a week.  I always play on that my jobs are mentally stressful though, so it appears to have significance. 

Truth is, I don't feel that way.  I have watched more moments in my life go without any significance whatsoever that I am now ashamed.  It won't change, but I recognize it.  I am an idle mindset; I am a writer, not an actor.  I am an office worker, not a laborer.  I manage, I don't "do."  My spirit, though, wears me out.  I wish I knew what to do with it.  It is so driven that I feel like I will implode one day.  Maybe this is what's happening.  I am not good at mentally processing information, stressors, emotions, ideas.  I've always heard of dissociative disorders. I've always assumed that's why I am so physically present in this world.  (Don't laugh at that).

I encourage you to not be like me.  Honesty is necessary, but maybe I am kidding myself.  My honesty, my blunt ways, are always pushing people away.  Maybe people in general are not prepared for open books.  Maybe they need to skim the cover and assume to know the plot, going on always in partial darkness, missing the key twists, flashlight in hand just in case. they want to go back and read a chapter in the middle of the night.  I can't change my ways though.  My honesty is so ingrained I catch myself off guard at some point, most days.  I'm okay with that.  But I miss people.  I miss Audra and Jamie, Missy and Ryan, Sara and Amy, Paluga and Dustin, my grandma and the rest of the family.  I miss all of the wonderful people who have come through my life and been removed from it for one reason or another.  I miss being close to people, having secrets, knowing these moments aren't wasted because they're laughing with a friend.  We all know that kind of bliss is incomparable. 

Audra and I once spent three hours at Sprint transferring phones over and going through the whole process; we literally had the best time just laughing and joking.  That, my friends, is the only thing in life you need.  Someone who will make the dullest moments into the greatest memories.  If you have someone like that in your life, keep them.  Cherish them, because not everyone is capable of that. 

What exactly is it that I am feeling?  Not as much as I thought.  I think my life is in such a state of internal chaos most of the time that death never feels very far away.  God, I don't mean it at all that I think I am going to die! Most people just see it that way.  The big C, it's named for a reason.  We all know those who have succumbed to its forces.  My grandpa died at 50 from lung cancer.  Well, it went into his throat, mouth, brain.  He was on a ventilator and the family eventually pulled the plug. My uncle died at 16 after battling leukemia for three years.  My great aunt died from colon cancer a mere month after her diagnosis.  It's too widespread not to have seen someone undergo treatment, go into remission, have it come back, and finally be taken away.  But, on the flip side, it's also so widespread not to have seen someone undergo treatment and live out the rest of their life in the clear.  I'll take my odds.

Physically, yes, I am in pain.  It has been interesting.  The amazing amount of discomfort I am enduing, makes it nearly impossible to NOT think about it all the time.  I had a mole on my back; I won't indulge you in the details of the grossness of it all, but needless to say, I knew something was wrong.  Finally, after about six months of questioning it, I went to the doctor.  Two days ago.  Now, lesson one, if the doctor calls you back within two days, prepare yourself before you accept the call.  You should know it's not good news.  The nurse was so over the top sympathetic (she was quite stoic in the office) that her change in tone had me more concerned than had she maintained her carelessness.  "Now honey, don't google it too much, because it's always worse than it really is.  We are so glad you came to see us (I'm wondering if it's not for the paycheck), we just can't tell you.  If you have any problems you call us and we will get you in immediately."  A doctor's office. Really?  I've dealt with enough doctors to know.  Lesson two.

The part where it gets tricky, insurance.  They want to send me to the "best professional in the area," University Hospital, Cleveland.  Yeah, I'll just bet he takes my insurance.  In the meantime, I'll make sure to hold my breath while I wait. 

While I wait........

While I wait, I'll chalk it up to yet another beautiful life lesson brought to you by the loving hand of Ms. Mother Earth.  It's as if she wants me to know it all.  That may have come from a place of dormant anger.  All I can picture is the scarred up back and legs of my uncle who went through this three times (the last time I saw him) and how disfigured he became.  Only if he would show you would you know, but still.  To think of skin graphs and mapping and removing skin from one place to move it to another, it's just all a little much for me right now to not be slightly angry about it.  Hell, I always figured it would be colon cancer for me. 

While I wait, I will continue to plan my trip to Europe, my concerts in the summer and fall, I will look for a new job, keep budgeting six weeks at a time, somehow assume I will be here for thirty more years.  I will keep buying things I don't need, contemplating the most complex notions, loving my fellow person, and honoring the divinity within myself.  I will keep on investing in my future, planning out new blogs, reading ten books at a time, and trying to make new friends.  I will always look for new ways to lead, love, laugh, and share.  I am never going to stop passing on knowledge, giving my spirit away, hoping for the best, and remembering as much as possible. 

While I wait, I will open myself up to you, even more so than before, making sure you are with me during this journey.  I will continue to be honest, sharing as much as you want to know (probably more), and keeping my head high.  I will fight the good fight, become every clique known to man, and be as dramatically hopeful as I know how (maybe I'll reach normalcy).  While I wait, I will encourage you to take advantage of a few of those idle moments, and do something great.  Love someone harder, laugh longer, leave work at work, and kiss your family goodnight.  Learn something new, pass on a lesson, love with all of your might. 

Life is long.  But, that's a good thing.  There's so much to be done. 

Monday, November 2, 2015

Ending the Indifference: Accepting Your Family for Who They Are to You

November 1st-the holiday season begins. . . the most bittersweet time of year.  I absolutely love it all, and yet I have no reason to, according to most.  I usually spend it alone, if not working for someone with a family, with my cat, the ultimate spinster iconic image, eating take out, watching Hallmark, and alternating between smiling and crying like an idiot.  Going back and forth between memories and hopes, pictures and movies, past and future, reality and wishes.  I sit, paralytic, in a state of battling despair and bliss.  Not because anything catastrophic ever happened during the holiday season to me or my family.  My great-grandmother did die on Thanksgiving, but I was one, so it hasn't impacted me much.  More so because when you love the holiday season as much as I do, spending it alone with memories of better days, is one of the hardest things a person can manage to make it through. 

Recently, a friend expressed some aggravation to me about spending a holiday with ALL of the family.  It's just all too much, too many, too loud, etc.  I kept my hurt inside.  There's no reason to make someone feel bad over something they have no control of.  I haven't had a traditional "family meal" in over ten years, and by most of your standards, more like twenty.  But it's never gotten the best of me.  I still sit, whether its Buddy the Elf, or Jenny McCarthy pretending to be the daughter of Santa Claus, and I enjoy the beauty and love of the season that surrounds me; even if it isn't directed toward me, I relish in the notion of what others are receiving.

When I was a child, family came together so often, at least every Sunday, for a dinner, that it seemed as though that's how family's interacted.  Sometimes there were members from hundreds of miles away.  It was noisy, full of hugging, story telling, second and third plates, laughter. 8mm slides and photo albums, and always plans for next time.  And this was just our Sunday dinners.  Our holidays were comparable, drawn out over many more hours though, with games, more kids, and no expectation of it ending anytime in the near future.  As a kid, you couldn't have asked for anything more.  Sure, sometimes when the slides went on a little long, or the stories were about things you didn't understand, it might get a little boring, but me, I always tried to hang with the adults, even if I was at a complete loss.

I remember specifically, one very special year, my grandma's cousin (at the time, somewhere in his 70s) visited for the first time, well since I had been born anyway.  He had worked for the government and was rarely around.  His breeding had taken off in his day and the sizable mass he had embarked upon this earth kept him away, into the midst of his own line of kin, most of the time.  But he was fascinating.  I tried so hard to keep up!! I had heard, in my eavesdropping attempts as a tot, many wildly ambitious stories about that side of the family and knew this would be a treat.  He had written two books, written a message to my grandmother in both of them, signed them, and sent them to her.  I had never read them (they were about his years spent living in Africa while he worked for the government) but always saw them sitting around the house like beacons of light and considered him our family's very own star!

His work for the government lasted decades.  Many years ago, he and his wife had a child who had passed away young.  She is buried in Arlington cemetery.  My distant cousin was considered an honorable man.  This had occurred somewhere around the time he was working in the White House under JFK.  To even put this story in print seems outlandish to even me, though I heard it all with my own ears.  There wasn't much he would ever divulge about his time there, as he said he couldn't, legally, but he did tell us of the time he met Marilyn Monroe, the first time, and helped to sneak her up a secret stairwell in the White House to visit with the president.  He confirmed nothing; only those details.  It was the FIRST time he met her, and they snuck her in to visit JFK.  I felt like I was in on a national secret!  He went on to speak more of his time in Africa, not about his work, but about the geography, the landscape, the people, the life he led.  I was enthralled.  I think I blacked out in an imaginary world at some point because I remember very little after that.

I wrote to him once in my adulthood.  He sent a picture of his massive family and wrote a very kind, long letter in return.  I always felt my family was very kind.  They were story tellers, always getting at someone, or reminiscing til the sun went down.  I suppose, now that I write that, that maybe I do get it honest.  There are pictures of us renting out the banquet room at the Holiday Inn, people dressed to the nines and smiling so authentically.  It was magical.  At least, I thought. 

Holidays went on much the same for a little while.  Though we had no rockstar present on a regular basis, we did have tradition.  We always had a "starter party" at home with the 4-6 of us, then moved it to one of the grandparents houses, because kids need to be with their grandparents on the holidays. . . especially Christmas!  Christmas Eve, I believe was always the most magical.  My uncle was a police officer, my grandma was a big kid, and I was the ultimate spectator.  If you are a local, you know that the Green family always put together a Christmas sleigh which accepted toy donations for the needier families in the area and the police department helped them pass them out on Christmas Eve because it was always such a huge undertaking.  My uncle was usually one of the Santas who went in a side car off route to cover some of the overflow.  My grandma was one of the ones hanging out of her front door to watch the sleigh come through her neighborhood and throw out candy as though it were the Macy's parade.  She adored Santa Claus more than a six year old at the mall for the first time.  It was her favorite day of the year.  Plus she was always more than proud of my uncle for the things he did.  She wanted to be supportive.  (Though she claims to still believe in the big man).  Who knows.  But we always had Kennedy's donuts and Domino's pizza on hand for the night, waiting for the sleigh, watching Rudolph, the Grinch, and Frosty, opening one present, and trying, unsuccessfully to sleep, while granny basted a turkey all through the night.  The smell didn't help us get to sleep at all!  Just Magical.  What is better than junk food, pizza, toys, cartoons, grandparents, giving to the needy and staying up all night as a kid! Umm, nothing.  

As a child, everything is loving and easy and uncomplicated.  Because children are filled with love, and live a simple life.  As an adult, truths are no longer hidden from you, and people begin to be more than honest, because adults are full of disappointment and live a dramatically overwrought life.  Once I was a teenager, our family dinners were holidays only, sometimes birthdays, and sat approximately 5-10 people.  Total.  It was quieter, shorter, and a lot less enjoyable.  By the time I became an adult, there were five of us left, the only ones who regularly spoke, and we sat most of the day in silence, or, if someone was feeling particularly joyous, listening to many of the same stories we already knew.  It always kind of broke my heart a little.  But I was happy to have what I had. 

Ten years ago, I began spending holidays with my ex-husband's family.  It was big and loud and full of second and third plates as well.  Reminded me much of my own.  A little more snobbish, but still.  It was family that wanted to be together even if I wasn't included as anything more than a bystander.  (In-laws).  That went on for the next five years.  Then we move on to my most recent ex's family.  Much more like my own, except often more alcohol involved. Oh well.  That lasted me three years.  I still had a family; they had their own traditions.   I was happy to be part of them. 

For three years now, I have "celebrated" the holidays alone.  One year in college I had to; I was stuck without a ride home after I totaled my car, but the intentions were all still there.  Five years ago the family that I did have moved to Florida and we haven't spoken since.  The reasons for which I will not embark upon now.  Holidays aren't supposed to be complicated.  Most of the holidays though, I have worked, willingly, because I know it's important to be with your family.  I enjoy giving that ability to others who work in places who don't respect the concept.  But even alone, nothing has changed for me.

I still watch Elf, Rudolph, The Grinch, and every tacky Hallmark movie I can because there is nothing better than the feeling of holiday love.  Nothing.  I still gorge myself on second and third plates and reminisce on the good times, repeating stories and memories in my head.  I have my own traditions I suppose.  Yesterday I saw Christmas lights on someone's house.  I smiled.  Embrace the season whoever you are!  Don't let the neigh-sayers get you down!   

But in my house, there are no Christmas decorations or cards in my mailbox.  There are no presents under my non-existent tree.  There are no long distance phone calls wishing anyone a happy holiday.  There are no leftovers, carols, donuts or sleighs.  My holidays exist only in the spirit that I bring. 

It's not always utterly void of any human emotion, however.  My mother, god bless her, teaches me so much about myself.  The need to be alone sometimes, I get it honest.  Her kids are full-fledged adults, she shouldn't have to cater to anyone.  And I don't expect it at all.  Sometimes she provides the food.  She always provides the support and love.  I respect her notions.  I have no complaints. It isn't the idea of being around someone or having something to do on the holidays.  It's knowing that it was once meaningful and picture perfect, and choices had been made to change that.  The possibility is there, yet no one makes a move.

I have a pretty sizable family too.  My mom's side is set with unlimited numbers of cousins.  My dad is one of twelve kids, all of whom have 3+ of their own.  How is it possible that I sit, each year, without my family, without tradition, without stories, without any love at all? 

People make choices in their life that often impact more than they're willing to think of.  Forgiveness isn't in the vocabulary of so many, let alone within their abilities.  My family turned out to be full of disregard, hostility, and devious ways I wasn't prepared for.  I have forgiven them all.  I had to.  I was becoming one of them.  Looking back, I see the patterns of cutting people out after an argument, walking into rooms where people were fighting, and whispers around the corner.  I hate that my memories became tainted.  I'll always long for the days of disbelief. 

In this life, there are so few people who are willing to stand up beside you regardless of what you do and declare, I love this person no matter what.  Most of the time, when there is, those people are part of your family; their blood courses through your veins and they have had a say in the person you have turned out to be.  Those people are to be cherished every day of your life; you can't fake love like that. 

If I could tell you one thing, and have you listen to me, it is, accept their love every chance you get.  You'll never be able to manufacture it from someone who doesn't belong to you.  I can't create a picture vivid or stark enough to walk you down my path.  But I assure you, you don't want to feel it for a day in your entire life.  Christmas spent alone, speaking to no one, is potentially the most desolate, hurtful thing a person can feel.  You wouldn't think, but to know that during the one day each year when people are practically required to be together, that there is no one who chooses to be with you, not even your bloodline, it can empty your soul.

So you will never hear me complain about early Christmas lights, or even ones left up after the new year.  You will never hear me moan about too much to eat at the holidays, (though that's most days), too many Christmas ads, traffic from parades or the absurd amount of people in the stores.  I will never bark back at anyone who says Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays; any sentiment is acceptable to me.  I will never turn down the offer to work for someone who has a family to reach out to, or refuse to proudly display any card I receive, even if it is on my door alone.  I will never walk away from the ability to volunteer or turn away someone in need of holiday cheer.  I am that person, full of it to give.  And while we complain that it is too commercial and superficial around the holiday's, I accept that; it is our attempt at being together, and those intentions are what counts most.  It is what we have been taught; it is all we know.  

This post is not an attempt at a pity party or any motive comparable.  It is a request, to love your family, accept what you have, and love that you have it.  Everyone has people in their family that they can't stand, wish would not be so obnoxious, feels as though they have to give advice to, or is too negative to be around.  So what.  Accept them.  You may be the only one who does.  All I am asking is that this year, this holiday season, every time you feel a little disdain, you feel a little uncomfortable, you feel a little indignant about being around so much chaos, think of those who wish they had your problem.  Think of those sitting alone with their cat, happy as can be to have memories to hold onto, when no new ones are to be made.  For once, love the ones you are with.  One day, you will be, without.