Grateful Enough? Thanks!

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Every morning, I try to meditate. I don’t actually meditate every morning, but I’ve read that it helps, so I try.

Part of that meditation is an accounting of the things I’m grateful for, because I’ve read that helps, too. Helps with what, exactly? Well, helps to make me the calm, accepting person I always wanted to be. There’s a whole industry around gratitude journals.

Gratitude is a good thing, right?

Because the opposite of gratitude is entitlement, i.e. “Why should I be grateful? I deserve this!” I worked hard to be sure my daughter never felt that way, and she couldn’t even play with toys she received until she’d written a thank-you note to the sender. I am suspicious of people who don’t write thank-you notes. When I was hiring, it was the people who wrote thank-you emails or, even better, notes, after interviews whom I favored.

But now, the scientists who study such things say that some people aren’t wired to be thankful. The ones who are the most independent feel like being grateful means they owe a debt of gratitude, and they are profoundly uncomfortable with owing anybody anything.

I get that, because I will go to extreme lengths to return a book or a loan. I have not run for office because I can not stand the thought of asking for money. It’s funny, when I did public relations for causes, I could easily ask for support for the good cause, but asking for myself? Just can’t.

Gratitude interventions – like the popular gratitude journals — don’t work for everyone, despite the marketing, according to the psychologists. Not everyone benefits from forcing gratitude.

But gratitude is still important, even if we’re not wired for it. The psychologist in the story about the gratitude research says that he would, “worry that people who are uncomfortable with gratitude and with receiving gifts may be undermining their interpersonal relationships.”

So, how do we balance the importance of gratitude with the need to be independent and strong?

Maybe we ought to share some of that gratitude with ourselves. For example, “I am so grateful to be published, because a lot of talented people are not. But I am also grateful for my own talent and perseverance that led to my being published.”

Maybe the secret is giving credit where it is due, not with arrogance, but not with false modesty either.

Oh, and thank you for reading to the end. I’m grateful.

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Hitting the Target

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I write streams of words nearly every day. Many of them are money-making dreck, not horrible, but not horribly profound. Some of them feel like I am coming close to finding the words that will capture my thoughts. And some…some find their target.

I was reminded of this over the weekend when I moderated a reply to a blog I had written so long ago, I had to re-read it to remember. It was last summer. I had been thinking about the word, “schadenfreude,” a German word that implies taking pleasure in the earned pain of others.

The word came to me because I had been watching news coverage about a woman living her worst nightmare: in the moment she looked away, her three-year-old son ran into the water and drowned before anyone knew where he had run. The interviews with other parents seemed a bit holier-than-thou, a bit judgmental. In my blog, I argued that no parent can watch a child all the time and, in fact, it’s not even healthy to do so. I defended the mother and then I forgot the blog.

Until this weekend, when she wrote to me.

She thanked me for defending her in her worst time. I will not quote the reply without her permission, but she is, as you may imagine, still grieving, still trying to cope with the tragedy. And it sounds as though my words brought her some comfort.

It is a good and humbling reminder when you are sending out reams of words that it is easy to be clever, but important to be honest and to be kind. Because sometimes – and you never know when – your words will find their target.

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Please Prove Me Wrong

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I would like to be wrong.

I spent Saturday obsessively watching television and social media, amazed by the tide of pink protesting the misogyny, racism and bigotry that people fear the new president will bring.

I watched despite my hearty agreement with the sentiments because, as I said in my last blog, I have never seen a protest create real change.

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Instead, I signed up for local government committees, I joined a few new organizations, and I gave money to causes likely to be stripped by those in power.

But the march was massive…it was creating a conversation. The new administration tried to lie about the numbers, and the media – and the images – weren’t having the lie.

And now?

Now is where I hope I am wrong.

Now is when the exhilaration of the unified march breaks down into the disparate pet causes, the drudgery of hard work, the glacial pace of social change.

Now is when the dilettantes drop off. All the administration has to do is wait for boredom to creep in. And after boredom, apathy.

Or not.

And here is where I hope I will be humbly begging for forgiveness for underestimating everyone. I might even don a pink knitted pussy hat if I’m proved wrong.

Please – prove me wrong.

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March On!

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The older I get, the more this rule applies: there has to be a really good reason to put myself in the position of too few bathroom facilities. PortaPotties count, but barely. A corollary to that is that there has to be a really good reason to be friggin’ cold, even though the cold certainly makes the PortaPotties less odorous.

So, you might think those are the reasons I’m not joining the Women’s March on Washington.

And you would be partly right.

But as one who joined the Million Mom March against gun violence only to see gun deaths increase with the years, I am done with marches.

If someone could prove that I could save a life by marching, I’d be on it.

But I worked in D.C. and I put in my time with Congressmen. I was a press secretary for two Congressmen and I may sound jaded, but I can tell you, marches count for nada. They are good optics but they don’t change policy. I can’t name one politician who saw a big march, hit his or her forehead, and said, “Eureka! I’ve been blind, but now I see!”

The Tea Party had great optics – mostly white people in patriot costumes with flags urging the government not to tread on them. They co-opted, and some would say perverted, patriotism and they made for great TV. But it wasn’t until the little worm Ted Cruz stopped government in its tracks with a filibuster that included a reading of “Green Eggs & Ham,” that anyone realized the Tea Party had a little bit of political heft. When the Tea Partiers marched, they were easily dismissed as crackpots.

Don’t get me wrong: I completely support the cause behind this women’s march. I do not want to see women’s health and women’s rights rolled back to some mythical Leave it to Beaver days. I do not believe that the only love that is valid is that between someone born male and someone born female. And I know that immigrants made this country diverse and strong, not weak.

So, march on, sisters and brothers. I just won’t be there.

Rather than marching, I will be working quietly – and not so quietly – in the background. I’ll be signing up for some political committees because I think change starts local. I’ll be sending money to the organizations likely to be gutted by a Trump presidency.

I will be hanging out in places that are warm and have bathrooms – and I will be inviting any gender to use whichever bathroom works. Because, the Halls of Power? They’re warm and they have bathrooms. And they are where real change happens.

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Good Riddance, 2016!

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When the clock strikes midnight (or, in our case, when the glowing white numerals silently flip), I will scrape 2016 off my shoe like something nasty I stepped in.

Because I am done.

I am done with family members dying, I am done with friends dying, I am done with beloved celebrities dying.

I am finished with truculent Trumps on the television and emboldened bigots spewing hatred on social media.

I am over hurricanes that topple ancient trees, and floods that send creatures skittering into our walls for shelter.

I am beyond over zippers that strain and jowls that jiggle and photographs that capture a funhouse mirror version of me.

That is not to say these things will be done with me in 2017. But, like the polite person who pretends to ignore the malodorous lingering of 2016 on the sole of my shoe, I plan to just carry on as though there is no stench. Even if it means I have to hold my nose a bit in order to do so.

Happy new year – finally!

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Christmas is a Puppy

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Christmas is coming like a big, over-eager red and green puppy. It wriggles in earlier and earlier every year, and it speaks in uppercase letters: “NOEL!” or “JOY” or “HOMEFORCHRISTMAS.” It makes everyone around it speak in uppercase too: “TIME IS RUNNING OUT!” and “ORDER NOW FOR A BONUS” and “WE PICKED THESE DEALS JUST FOR YOU.”

Television movies turn mushy with curmudgeons finding true love, or the meaning of life. Ads aim for the tear ducts with returning war heroes, children snuggling up to lonely elderly neighbors, strangers reaching out to other strangers in friendship.

I am caught up in lists directing myself to pick up the perfect rib roast I’ve ordered before the butcher closes early, to select the serving dishes for the big meal, to get the ornaments down from the attic. I buy one more gift for someone hard to please. I give out holiday tips like I’ve won the lottery. I am too busy for joy.

Christmas comes bounding over and places its large paws on my legs and I can not resist its enthusiasm to go running alongside it with more busy-ness.

But even the most rambunctious creature must sleep and this is when I treasure Christmas.

In the soft carol that brings my mother back alive. In the slow sipping of the eggnog. In the first fierce hugs of family and friends returned for the holiday.

I am not religious, but the kitchen where my daughter makes her famous biscuits becomes my cathedral, and the silly laughter becomes my hymn.

The frantic pup sleeps and stretches and I remember why I love it.

I wish you all a sleeping Christmas.

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The Witching Hour & Ghost Voices

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In traditional Roman Catholic teaching, 3 am is the witching hour – when the forces of evil mock all that is good.

Certainly, when I wake up at 3 am, it is never good thoughts that flood my mind. It is shame over my inadequacies, worry over things that probably won’t happen, but might. A few times, I have even been awakened by the silence from my husband’s side of the bed, convinced that I’ve been ultimately abandoned by his death. He does not know how many times I have rested my hand on his chest just to feel him breathe.

Sometimes, as I lay in bed, I hear muted voices. It sounds like a conversation, a calm conversation, but I can never quite make out the words. Maybe it is the neighbor’s television, through thick antique walls and over a driveway. It could be. Charleston is funny that way; sometimes I can hear my neighbor’s laughter louder than my husband calling from the kitchen.

Or maybe it is the voices of ghosts, trapped within this 175-year-old house, words that echo across generations. The tone is so measured, that it is not arguments or passion captured here. If these are ghosts, they are discussing the mundane, chores and meals and minutiae.

You might think that ghost voices would add to the dread of the witching hour. But I treasure voices of the past.

There are some voices I would give anything to hear again.

I recently switched cell phone carriers. They assured me I would keep the speed of my connections, that my old text messages and contacts would appear like magic. They neglected to mention that I would lose voice mails, and I never thought to ask.

And so, the message from a friend, her voice already a bit breathy from the lung cancer that would kill her – gone. The message from my dad, wishing me happy birthday, the one I planned to play next March when I have my first birthday without him – gone.

I have photos so my eyes can remember, but already the feel of my father’s big fingers in mine, gone. The smell that was uniquely my mother’s – I think I would recognize it, but I can no longer describe it. And now, the sound of my father’s voice, a memory growing more distant.

Hearing, robbed. Another sense gone.

So the ghost voices of the witching hour?

They don’t frighten me; they offer comfort even if I can not make out the words.

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