I have a confession to make, I am a complicated mess. A fucking disaster in a sea of muck, and bad decisions. I curse, a lot, I drink wine, a lot, I experience road rage in the supermarket, I give my husband the finger behind his back once in a while, ok once a week! I yell at the dog when he wants to play and I’m too tired to move, I get pissed at my kids sometimes and fantasize about moving to Oklahoma and leaving my life behind. Ok not Oklahoma, I am not a the Pioneer Woman, and I love the beach. Some of this is tongue in cheek, I will let you decide which is which. But the point is, I own my flaws, my bad decisions, my moods, my life. All of it. Not once will you ever hear me assert blame for my life on any one but me. I have been in therapy long enough to know I may not have been a willing participant in many things, but it was my life and I chose to be silent, to be present, to be oblivious, and to speak up. Sometimes all at once, sometimes unintentional, sometimes not.
If it is true that between each person there is only six degrees of separation, than by virtue of that theory, everyone that I know, have known, or ever will know, has, or has had, the potential at any given moment to be a friend, a potential friend, more than a friend or an enemy. For the ones who have come into my life as friends and left as less than, I do believe that there was always a lesson that my soul needed to learn, or a lesson that their soul needed to learn. To the ones who stayed, and walked through it all with me, I am different because of the love, compassion and friendship they showed me. One of the greatest gifts you can give someone is to believe in them, let them be themselves, and not seek to change them or deny the divinity that dwells inside of them.
See for me I can look at someone who is pure evil and a pure text-book sociopath and see that there is some grain of goodness in them, some semblance of good, present in some small way. It is much harder to understand this though, with molestation, abuse of a child, murder, and rape. However, even in my case, in my molestation, I see the man he is today, and as angry as I am, I can see that he is now a father, has a successful career and has made a difference to those around him. To me he altered the trajectory of my life, but I do see that it made me compassionate and a better human being as a result. It is hard to see that, in truth, but in my heart of hearts I see that.
I do believe that every encounter is a planned interaction that is meant to keep you on your path, it is a soul’s intention in some small way, a lesson that the soul needs to learn. I also believe that a piece of you stays with each person in one way or another. There are many people who have stayed with me, and left an indelible mark, because of their kindness, their intelligence, their smile. Not anything they gave me that’s tangible, but what they gave my soul. Pieces of themselves, as I left pieces of myself with them. Even just a brief encounter of speaking with someone at a concert, a parking kiosk, the dentist, has often felt like a reuniting of a kindred spirit of sorts, as if we met before, but knowing that logically cannot be the case.
Here’s another example, say you go to the supermarket, and you are checking out, for me, I am always friendly, I make eye contact, and say hi, this is my way of being polite, but wanting to leave a positive imprint on someone, who for a few brief minutes is sharing their space, their time, and their experience, with me. Now in those brief moments, I can either chose to be a complete bitch and make them regret that I came into their checkout line, and believe me I have on a few occasions, made some rude person regret that I did come into her line, but I try to remember that I am impacting someone’s experience and I don’t want to be a party to negative energy. Now I am not suggesting that a brief encounter will have a great impact your future or theirs by that brief encounter, but what if you begin a dialogue, and what if in the course of bagging your eggs, you find out that the reason she is so standoffish and moody is that her daughter is was just diagnosed with cancer, and she is scared and heartbroken and doesn’t know how she will pay for treatment as a single Mom. Then you begin to offer comfort and make her feel as if you understand her pain and want to help, and you mention that you just had a friend who coordinated a fund-raiser for a coworker with cancer and can put her in touch with this friend to see if she would be able to help. Suddenly, you have impacted many lives potentially with that interaction. It seems innocuous, but it began as a seemingly perfucnctual interaction, but it now binds people in their experience in some way. Yes this is an extreme example, but I have had these seemingly innocous encounters that stayed with me becasue someone said something my soul needed to hear at the time, or I offred comfort to someone I just met, with kind words and an ear, after they lost a loved one, you will never know the impact you can have on someone, no matter how grand or insignificant it may seem.
One of the easiest ways to begin to understand this and the human condition, is to learn how to be grateful where you are in your present moment. Take me for instance, this morning I am in an old dated, make shift office in a garage, that to many would seem like a bleak space on a raining, gloomy day, it’s far removed from my corporate corner office with the glass all around that I once called work, but in my office today, I have beautiful white flowers in a vase, I have my ocean scented wax diffuser on with a glorious fragrance, tunes cranking, and I am warm and dry. There is beauty all around if you stop and recognize that what you have in this moment is perfect.
I know some think well, yes it’s easy to be so positive with superficial things like flowers, and wax diffuser, a roof over your head, but I am here to tell you that in my worst tragedies, I always found a positive way to make the encounter make sense, when my father was in my care in his final days in my home on hospice, I created the most beautiful space for him, fresh flowers, all his Yankee memorabilia, pictures of he and my Mom, of us as a family, his grandchildren, his great-grandchildren, new sheets, a beautiful quilt, I was weary from lack of sleep, from administering meds to him so he would feel no pain, arguing with him to let me bathe him, here I was watching this man, who was my first hero, slowly slip from me, and I was in the depths of tremendous sadness and despair which I hadn’t known since the death of my mother and sister, yet all I could see was the love between he and I as father and daughter, all the times he held my hand and made things ok, and yes, all the sadness of unfulfilled dreams and lost potential, but at the heart of it all was beauty and a peace I never experienced before. It was a deeply spiritual and moving life event, and both my children and my fireman talk about that time, not with sadness but with a deep reverence and love for life. I truly believe you are not any closer to understanding life, compassion, and your higher power, than you are when you face the reality of yours or a loved one’s own mortality, all of the preconceived notions I had about what death looked like, was nothing like what I experienced and I can truly say that I was never more in tune with my father than on his death-bed. I instinctively knew when to go in and see him, when he needed me, when he was leaving me, it was not all sadness and tears, I would really find peace with being in his room watching him sleep. I remember one morning I was in his room sitting in my rocker, and he wasn’t speaking much at this point, and he began talking out loud, while doing so, he had the most angelic smile and look of contentment on his face I had ever seen on any human being, truly, and all at once he opened his eyes, and he told me he had seen my mother, and it was a beautiful place with white light and angels, he said my mother was waiting for him and she was going to take him home. I gave him a kiss and told him I never doubted that she would be waiting for him. He drifted back to sleep and his Hospice nurse dismissed it as a hallucination common in those who are near death, but I know it was my mother and that is all me my Dad needed to know! He forever left his beautiful pieces with me!
It was similar when my beautiful mother-in-law passed away the following year, at her home. The love that her sons and husband showed her in her final days will always stay with me. These big burly firefighters, three sons, and one son a police officer, who are meant to be strong and authoritative , softened with pure love, devotion, an admiration for a woman who gave them life, who cared for and loved them, and always put her family selflessly first. I cry as I remember these two events because they were so fragile and so gut wrenching, but there was beauty in such a negative place. And in those negative places, was beauty in the pieces that are with her, them, me, with us all. All of life is that way.
A while back I talked to a friend of mine Michael Rhode, whom I have known since I was 5 years old, and use to annoy the shit out of when his sister Kathy, God rest her soul, and I were best friends, and I would sleep over her house. Mike experienced a life changing accident, while on Ski Patrol at Hunter Mountain several years ago, altering life as he had known it, and forever changing the trajectory of his life, of how he would spend his days, what his life would now entail, how dependent he would now become on others to some degree, yet in spite of all of that, he is still fiercely independent and more badass than anyone I know! However, when the accident occurred, he was in the prime of his life, at a point where one is raising a family, forging a career, and starting to see the fruits of their labor come to fruition. What happened to him was not supposed to happen, it was a freak accident, he was a proficient skier and had skied that mountain hundreds of times before, for many years, yet that day, simply unforeseen circumstances. Today, he is one of the most positive, inspirational people I have ever known. He never complains or wallows in sorrow, he doesn’t want sympathy and he is still the same man, who is insanely funny, loves his Mets, Rangers, and Giants, who appreciates intelligence in a woman, as well as an ample set of tits. He is still the man he was before the accident, and still the person I have known for many years. There is humility in him now though that wasn’t there before, and a reverence for life that is awe-inspiring. He is a true hero who looks to inspire and educate people on spinal cord injuries, and is a crusader for stem cell transplants for SCI, and it is my hope that in our lifetime we see injuries such as his eradicated. I hesitate to define this as a negative place in which he dwells, or should be, for it is not, it is beauty, unspoken beauty. So, he has, in all his encounters with his friends, myself included, left a piece of himself with me, as well as countless others.
I will never claim to have all of the answers and you will never hear me say I have it all figured out, what I will say is this, we can choose to wallow in sorrow, in misery, in a tragedy, we can continue to be self indulged and delusional, believing that life only involves us, and that we are not responsible for encounters with others. We can choose to see the hideous and grotesque side of humanity, of our space, of our soul, but if for one moment, we can begin to see the divinity of others, and the beauty that remains in those encounters, those beautiful pieces, then maybe, just maybe, we will begin to collect those pieces, the way we once did like sea shells on the shore, and begin to see them for the treasures in which they are, and we will begin to see, the abundance of beauty in all the negative places, and every place in between.
*** Special thank you to Michael Rhode for agreeing to let me use his story in my blog. You are and always will be a good friend and a true inspiration, the piece of you that is with me, and I will continue to be, your friend, and a big pain in the ass, like back in our hood, that’s the piece of me I leave with you! Hugs!