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Monthly Archives: August 2015

Good vs. Evil

power of one

Yesterday there was another shooting, but this time it was near my hometown. By another person who was inspired by Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Charleston. Who wanted to go out in a blaze of glory. And killed two young journalists in the process. Two people doing a feature story on the Chamber of Commerce on the morning news–because he wanted to make sure he got on the news.

In general, I believe that love is stronger than hate. That good trumps evil. But in moments like these, I sometimes wonder. Because one person’s hate has the power to destroy so much love. One act of evil can put an end to all of the good that these two people brought to the world.

The killer got his wish. No one may have paid attention to him before, but now he will be remembered forever. People will know his name. His act of evil has been immortalized. If I were to try to do the opposite of what he did–to perform one grand act of love, of goodness–it would not have the same impact. What does that say about the power of good vs. evil?

Still, in my state of helplessness, I do what I can. I pray. I send compassion. I’m sure it does something, but I’m not sure what. If I ask God to send them extra angels–even some of mine, and just leave me one–will they be surrounded by them? Will angels be there with them while they grieve? Will they sit with their pain? Will they make them feel God’s love?

If I send compassion, if I feel their pain, will it lessen their suffering? Make the pain more bearable? If I cry for them, will it absorb some of their tears? Or maybe sending love and compassion becomes a force that sits side by side with the grief, anger, and confusion. Maybe it helps to balance out the good and evil in the universe.

The people affected in these tragedies always say they feel the outpouring of love. During 9/11. Sandy Hook. And yesterday. During natural disasters. And even during our private tragedies. The friends who bring food when we are sick. The people who prayed for my father when he was depressed. Even though they didn’t know him. Just because they love me. I was deeply moved by how much other people cared about my family’s suffering.

When I went on the self-compassion retreat in May, we did this exercise where we imagined someone we knew who was suffering and we sent them compassion. And then we sent it to ourselves, because we felt their pain deeply. The whole time I was doing this, I thought, is this really going to help? Is sending compassion going to actually make a change in this person’s life? They didn’t even know I was doing it.

The instructor’s response to this question was perhaps one of the most helpful things that I learned in this retreat. He said that he didn’t know if it helped the other person to send them compassion, but it helps him to send it.

That’s a good enough reason for me. Sending angels and compassion helps me feel less helpless. And it helps me to put love and goodness at the forefront of my mind.

Because that’s one way that I won’t let that guy win. I won’t let him fill me with hatred.

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Adam Ward and Allison Parker

Prince Eggshell

Humpty Dumpty

I have another guest post today from one of my former clients, Elizabeth Barbour, who also wrote the post Self-Disclosure is the Hardest Work I know. In today’s post, Elizabeth talks openly and honestly about the dark side of knights in shining armor and rescue fantasies.

***

A previous entry in this blog identified a tendency to judge ourselves harshly for negatively judging the inappropriate behavior of our romantic partners. As if forgiveness trumps self-preservation. As if our emotional freedom and mental health are not in the balance. As if denial is an option. As if yelling is not…well, yelling.

But enough is enough. I have learned that verbal abuse is dangerous to my emotional freedom and mental health. After decades of robust living, four careers, adopting a child during a 20 year marriage that ultimately ended, earning a couple of advanced degrees, and a lot of therapy, I feel blessed with a sense of entitlement to living without being anyone’s emotional hostage or whipping boy. Like the Princess and the pea I developed a feeling for eggshell in my slipper.

My post-divorce Prince swept in on a white horse, a Mercedes and a Porsche and sent poems. Dressed me from head to toe. Added to my larder. And my coffers. He asked me to marry him after, three weeks.

A Prince coming to my rescue fulfilled a story I had inside about being a damsel-in-distress who needed to be rescued. He was as charming, as the sky is blue.  As accommodating, as the day is long. His smile could melt a sidewalk in January. His European accent rang my bell. For a while there was no eggshell in a stocking, on the floor, or anywhere at all.

Then came a few tantrums which my self-possessed teenage child and my wise-best-friend overheard. They both assessed the Prince as needy and over-sensitive. I began to think I was being backed into some kind of submission. The Prince has broken horses and trained hunting dogs and has bred, raised and trained racing pigeons, too. He called me every morning at 8:30 sharp, because it made him feel less anxious about our relationship. He called every night at 9:30 sharp or as soon as I returned home. The reason he gave for this was that as a child his father had beat his mother most often at night, so knowing I was safe allowed him to rest easy. I began to feel over scheduled. He was paranoid and anxious if I did not return his calls or texts right away—and snippy about it happening even when at the time of the not-taken call or text I had clients in front of me. Nipping at my backside, eggshell in my shoe.

Eggshells chaffed the soles of my feet as he talked non-stop for an entire surreal day about our future together. The present moment was nowhere in sight. I felt controlled and exhausted by his incessant chatter and could not claim any inner peace. From the bottom of my soles I said firmly—Enough. Enough. Enough. Stop talking. This was met with a lengthy, heated diatribe about my breach of manners.

Over 16 months a pattern arose of romantic dinners, shopping and gifts, trips to sunny places; and, occasional royal hissy fits over petty items, a few stern talking-tos about what will not do; and, heightened insight into the Prince’s emotional makeup.

On the last day of our union, I mentioned my hope to go on an adventure in a foreign country with my daughter next summer.   The Prince blanched and proceeded to label me too financially reckless; and, therefore fatally flawed to be his wife. My financial state has never stopped me from traveling. If it had, I would never have used a passport. He nearly blew smoke out of his ears as he yelled at me for 30 minutes before he stormed out of my life. I know he was yelling because I worried the neighbors would complain. It wasn’t the first time I knew he was yelling, because several times before I worried about others overhearing his outbursts.

The Prince has shown a pattern of reacting in a hot-tempered, hostile, vitriolic and condemning manner when he does not like what I say. I am not in this lifetime to be upbraided. Nor, am I a damsel in distress. I can meet life on its own terms. The Prince is out of my life and so is the damsel.

Elizabeth Barbour is a perennial student of Life, recent law grad, avowed Late Bloomer, proud Mother, and writer coming into fruition. 

Just An Ordinary Day

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Sometimes I think God tries to help me wake up with text messages. And by having to pee every hour after 6 a.m.

Even though I keep my phone on vibrate at night, I still wake up when I get a text. Am I that light of a sleeper that I can hear the buzz? Am I so happy to get a message that I can sense it in my sleep?

Whatever the reason, for me, the typical pattern in the morning is to wake up, check my phone, go to the bathroom, and go back to sleep. Repeat every hour until I finally get out of bed. Which is usually several hours later.

Even in this state between sleep and wakefulness, my inner critic is hard at work. Right before I look at my phone, it says no one gives a crap about you. Which kind of hurts my feelings. I guess it’s trying to be helpful by mentally preparing me for the disappointment of not seeing a message. As I have mentioned in several blog posts, not having anyone to check in with in the morning is one of the hardest parts of being single.

Yesterday, however, I woke up to several texts. (Take that, inner critic!) One of them was from a friend who asked me if I had gotten the paper. For people who keep up with the news on a daily basis, their first association would probably be to the newspaper. But since I am not one of those people, I had no idea what she was talking about.

Like my inner critic, my anxiety was also wide awake and coming up with catastrophic situations that this mysterious paper might be referring to. Did I mess something up? Was there a 9/11 type attack going on? Was there some kind of tennis emergency?

Luckily, she was referring to an editorial about a former NFL player who struggled with bipolar disorder but did not know it until much later in life. Whew! I mean, I felt bad that the guy had to suffer, and I was glad that he was making the public aware of the importance of funding for mental health issues, but I was also glad that the world wasn’t coming to an end.

Even in this half-asleep/half-awake state, it made me think about how much we take for granted that ordinariness can be a good thing. When something bad happens, we are acutely aware of how in a moment’s notice, our lives can be turned upside down. An illness. An accident. An affair.

I’m not trying to be morbid or anything. In fact, I was genuinely happy that, in that moment, my life was exactly the same as it had been when I had gone to bed. Ordinarily I would have felt bad about waking up at noon, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s really not that big of a deal. It was par for the course. Just an ordinary day.

Thank God for ordinary days.

I’m Bored

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Of all of the feelings I’ve written about, I’ve conveniently avoided describing boredom in detail. Because boredom is perhaps the hardest one of all for me to tolerate. And it’s the hardest one to write about when I’m experiencing it because I have no motivation to do anything.

I think of the way my niece Sadie says she’s bored. A fleeting feeling at a party where she’s been riding go carts, dancing, and playing with her cousins all day because, at the moment, she’s not doing anything exciting. So then she’ll ask me to play with her and she is no longer bored. Problem solved.

As a child, I experienced boredom in the same way. But as an adult, boredom has become much more sinister. It feels personal. Like I have failed at something. Like I am the only loser who is sitting here at home doing absolutely nothing while other people are getting sunshine or being productive or having fun. Which doesn’t make any sense, because I know that at some point I will be motivated to get sunshine and be productive and have fun. But in this moment, I feel trapped in this endless nothingness.

Actually, nothingness doesn’t seem to capture the intensity of how I experience boredom. It is actually some agitated state. Some less extreme hybrid of depression and anxiety combined with paralysis of will. Yes, I could go read my book. Or knit. Or call someone. Or write. Or anything, really. Except I can’t. Boredom has me in its grip, and it won’t release me.

Last week I was having lunch at the lake with some friends, and I asked one of them if she was enjoying retirement. To my surprise, she said no. She was having a hard time with the quietness of lake life. She missed the city. Missed activity and excitement. And she’s been retired for 2 years. That’s a long time to be bored. I felt bad for her, but in a way it was a relief to know that boredom feels as terrible to other people as it does to me.

I know that’s why some people are workaholics. Why some people don’t take vacations and don’t want to retire. Plus there’s a kind of pride in being stressed, even if it’s not enjoyable. It’s almost like a contest. I bet I’ve had less sleep than you! I bet I can juggle way more than you can! Whereas there is nothing to be proud of when you’re bored. No one brags about how they slept 15 hours because they had nothing better to do.

Perhaps boredom is necessary in order to feel excitement. Sort of the way ordinariness is necessary in order to experience something extraordinary. Or how paradise cannot exist without living in some place that you want to escape from. The whole yin yang thing. No one likes darkness, but without it, there can be no light.

Do you think Adam and Eve would have gotten bored in the Garden of Eden eventually, even if they hadn’t eaten from the Tree of Knowledge? Maybe they were already getting bored. Maybe they were like, it might be nice to try some different fruit for a change, just to spice things up.

Maybe boredom is inevitable, even when you live in paradise.

I’m trying to treat boredom the way I treat any other feeling. I remind myself that it’s just a feeling. Nothing to be alarmed about. Everyone experiences boredom. And it will pass eventually. You might even feel better later today.

And you know what? I do feel less bored than I was when I started this post.

Although I still might take a nap.