Category Archives: relationships

12 Years Today – 4,380 Days

I’m glad I’m not French. No offense to the French, I actually love the country, the food, and the people… but twelve years ago on Bastille Day, our lives changed forever. If it were any other normal day, I maybe wouldn’t remember the anniversary (which is a weird thing to say) of my dad’s stroke. But it’s Bastille Day in France, and I remember hearing the Marseillaise on the news in the airport as we waited for our flight from Dallas to Chicago. Now the Marseillaise is forever associated with my father’s stroke (hence, I’m glad I’m not French), which means every July 14th – I remember. Extreme crisis can do that: take one thing and affiliate it with another unrelated thing – forever. I’m just glad it wasn’t pizza.

In the back of my mind, I’m writing a book about this experience, I’ve tentatively called it 4,092 Deaths and Counting. The title is a work in progress, because today is officially 4,380. Four thousand three hundred and eighty mornings of “different.” Of love, of loss, of joy, of heartache, of gratitude, of patience, of frustration, of fear, of anger, of relief, of hope. 4,380 days of being human and living alongside dying. It’s not for the faint-hearted, I can tell you that.

Almost exactly a year ago, dad transitioned to a care facility. So, we’ve now had almost 365 days of a different kind of “different,” one that requires both more and less fortitude. Easier, in some ways, and more challenging in others – overall, though, this doesn’t get easier. I think there was a time when I thought it would. Alas, I was wrong. I wrote about it in an article a few months ago: Trapped Out of Love. (If you haven’t read it – you can read it here.)

For his part, Dad seems to be doing well. He enjoys the activities and commotion at his new residence, something that was sorely lacking here at home. The staff love him and call him “smiley,” because he is always smiling. Some call him “Judge,” because he was a lawyer – which, as you can imagine, he gets a kick out of. Mom goes to visit him several times a week, and I am able to get there every weekend – usually bringing him his favorite contraband in the form of lunch. (The pizza gene is strong!) In nicer weather, we take walks outside where there are ponds and wildlife galore. Dad also really enjoys plane-spotting, as the campus is somewhat in the flight path of two airports. All in all, it’s a simpler life for him, one with a grace and ease that accompanies living in a care facility.

For us, it’s a relief to know he’s being looked after by medical professionals 24/7, while still causing some guilt over not being able to keep him at home. That’s the conundrum of aging and illness, isn’t it? Deciding on what’s best for the patient, as well as what’s best for the family. Often times, those needs don’t match up. And even though he’s not physically at home, he’s still here in some intangible way, every day.

So, each time I think of counting the days, I hear the lyrics from Rent in my mind: “525,600 minutes, how do you measure, measure a year… how about love?” I’m pretty certain we’ve measured 12 years in love… alongside all the other emotions that come with the territory. And so, we continue to do so – for how many more days, nobody knows.

Now, perhaps, there’s a reason for the Marseillaise after all, with it’s simple echo of: “Marchons, marchons!” And so we do.

Afternoon walk with Dad on a summer day

The ‘One Size Fits All’ Myth

Life is not “one size fits all.” It never has been, and never will be… thankfully. Our health, our bodies, our faith (to name a few) – they’re all beautifully individual and unique, as they were meant to be, despite Madison Avenue’s best efforts to convince us otherwise.

Where we have found overlap and commonality, we have created fellowship or community. But those communities survive (and thrive) not because of our similarities, but because of our differences.

Unfortunately, so many industries are built up (and thrive) on this notion of convincing us that we are all meant to be the same, or “within normal limits.” [That’s actually a term used in medicine: WNL, and that’s what it stands for. But the internal joke among medical professionals is that it can also mean: “we never looked.” Sigh.]

We strive for “normal” because it’s what we’re told we should be. Normal height and weight, normal mental health, normal eating habits, normal exercise routine, normal grades (which, interestingly, translates to “above average”).

But what if you don’t fit into the “normal” categories you’re inundated with on a daily basis (and most of us don’t, in one way or another)? What if your genetics, DNA, pant size, skin type, or blood type don’t follow the guidelines for “normal?” What do you do then?

Well, if you buy into the paradigm of “normal” or “one size fits all” thinking, you begin to bend over backwards to become anything that fits the mold. Unfortunately.

Because humanity is anything but “one size.” It’s not meant to be. Just like no tigers have the exact same stripes, humans are meant to be as diverse as possible, with as many expressions and combinations we can have. We’re meant to flourish and grow, ever-expanding… exponentially. In fact, the only “normal” thing about being human is being unique.

Being uniquely you is what creates the diversity that allows communities to thrive. If everyone were a doctor, we’d fail. If everyone were a teacher, an artist, a banker – we’d fail. We need each person to be who they are… to be the cog in the wheel they are meant to be, and there’s nothing “normal” or “one-size-fits-all” about that. Being unique is healthy, striving for sameness is not.

More importantly, it’s the very nature of the Universe to be expansive, to continually be changing and growing. (Look at evolution!) So, to subscribe to a notion that promotes sameness is to go against the very nature of our being, and makes life so much harder. And who wants that? Yuk!

The connections we create in our overlap is what makes the journey more rewarding. When you find someone who loves the same things you do, you celebrate and form a bond. Hooray!But it’s the differences we get to experience in one another that actually makes us human.

The Importance of Gratitude

I still write “Thank You” notes. By hand. And put them in the post. Not for everything, but for a lot of things. People ask me why, and it’s because I believe saying “Thank You” is one of the most important things we can do to support and grow our relationships – both professional and personal.

When I worked in fundraising, we were taught that we needed to “thank” our donors or volunteers seven times. This didn’t mean that we said “thank you” seven times (or sent seven thank you notes – yikes!), but that in some way we expressed gratitude seven times between when they made their gift or volunteered their time until the next time they would do so.

For some people this may seem excessive, but for others it’s just the right amount. Wherever you land on the spectrum, what matters is that we have an understanding of why it’s important to say thank you.

Thank you

Firstly, simply acknowledging receipt is important. In this day and age of electronic gifting, it’s not always possible to know if someone received your gift (or message). So, we need to acknowledge receipt, and saying thank you is the easiest way to do that. It’s very embarrassing to be on the giving side of things and have to call someone to see if they received something we sent. It’s one of my least favorite things, to be honest, and I’ve had to do it more often than not.

Secondly, it’s important to express gratitude for the gifts in our life. There’s a simple truth that states: what we give, we get. Many spiritual thought leaders have taught this over the years, and it’s true. You get what you give. When we are grateful, and express our gratitude, we are actually inviting more blessings into our life. (There’s a reason we call it “giving thanks.”)

Now, we don’t give in order to receive, but it’s all part of the flow. You can’t escape it. So, if you are receiving and not giving in return, you will eventually stop receiving. (Nobody likes giving to people who don’t say thank you. Hint hint.)

In truth, saying “thank you” is more than the simple act implies. It’s about expressing appreciation and gratitude for someone else’s actions, actions that were born of thought… and that thought was of you. So, say thank you. It’s important.

 

When “Tomorrow” Never Comes

You always think you have more tomorrows, until suddenly yesterday’s “tomorrow” never comes.

tomorrow never comes quote

My sweet bird passed away yesterday (May 16, 2018). I am broken-hearted. She was with me for 17 years, 10 of which she was my closest companion during difficult times. She was my first “child” and loved to be kissed on the head. I kissed her goodbye last night, and cried. Today was the first day I haven’t heard her chirp in the morning when she heard me come downstairs. Nothing can prepare us for loss, no matter what or who it is we are losing.

My one wish is that I hadn’t said “tomorrow” as much as I did.RIP Sprout

 

Sour Grapes Make Bad Wine

Sour Grapes Quote

I was talking with a friend the other day, and we were both sharing similar stories of what happened when we had announced something successful in our lives. The common denominator after each announcement? We both “lost” followers/friends on online platforms.

*sigh*

Why do we do this? It takes a certain amount of thought and a deliberate action to “unfollow” or “unfriend” someone, and when it’s done in response to that person sharing some happy news, it simply causes me to shake my head in wonder.

But we’re human, right? We feel things and we get reactionary. I know I do. I do my best not to, and it’s definitely not my immediate “go-to” anymore, but sometimes it still happens. And when it does, I actually recoil myself and take a minute to pause, breathe, and reframe whatever is going on in my head – which is usually a story (hint: It’s always a story), as in:

That person doesn’t like me.
I’m not good enough.
There isn’t enough to go around.
They’re stealing my share.

Actually, I had a conversation a long time ago with someone who told me that somebody famous had “stolen her story,” which to her was her identity. In truth, it was both of their identities in some way, but because the famous person had said it first on an international stage, this person in front of me was convinced that she could never share her story, because there wasn’t room for her anymore. How sad.

That one conversation has stayed with me for years. I imagine it will stay with me forever. Why? Because it’s a tangible example of what happens when we live a life from a place of lack and fear, instead of a place of abundance and possibility. No two stories are exactly the same, however similar they may sound. The main difference is that no two people would share their stories in exactly the same way, which is what makes each person on the planet unique: their voice. It’s when you think otherwise that you leave room for resentment and envy to plant seeds.

Which brings me back to my original statement: Sour grapes make bad wine. 

When we approach someone else’s success or uniqueness with envy, resentment, frustration, or even anger, we are turning ourselves into sour grapes. And nobody likes that. Furthermore, when sour grapes are added into the barrel of life, they taint the wine, and nobody likes that. Eventually what happens is people start to exclude us, because they simply don’t want to be around something so bitter.

The flip side is also true, and for me it’s what I focus on. If someone is going to unfriend, unfollow, or even talk badly about me or my work – I can now choose to happily let them go, because I don’t want their sour grapes tainting my delicious barrel of wine. While the initial realization may sting a bit (again, we’re all human, and it obviously takes effort to unfollow someone), the truth is the best the balm I could ever imagine. And then I can find gratitude that they have removed themselves and self-identified as someone that doesn’t blend well with what I’m offering.

Or, to put it another way, as my friend Jen Pastiloff says: Instead of getting caught up in who doesn’t like you, get caught up in who does. 

Ahh… what sweet wine that is!

We Teach Expectations

One of the simplest truths came up again today when talking with a client: We teach people what to expect of us.

We teach expectationsIf you’re always willing to give, you teach people to expect that you will always give. And then when you don’t… watch out! They often get mad, and/or take offense.

Likewise, if you’re always taking, you teach people around you to expect that you won’t contribute, and eventually, they choose not to be around you.

Because nobody likes a one-way relationship. Right?

Expectations are the quicksand we were always told to fear in our youth. They catch us unaware and all too quickly snare us while slowly taking us under. And just like quicksand, we often need external assistance to help us get back on our feet.

Gossip, Connection and Feeling Valid

I was sitting in a coffee shop the other day waiting to meet someone, and I overheard the conversation going on next to me. It was two women talking about another woman, who had yet to join them. They weren’t saying anything particularly harsh, but not particularly nice either. When their missing friend showed up, and one of the first two women excused herself to the restroom, the conversation turned. Now the remaining two were discussing the new absentee. Again, not particularly cruelly, but not lovingly either.

I felt genuinely sorry for all three women. As I sat there waiting for my meeting, I found myself lamenting the fact that even the “safe” places we create are not as safe as we might think. And then I thought about gossiping in general and how it seems if someone is willing to talk to you about someone else, they’re probably willing to talk to someone else about you.

So, why do we do this?

Well, I think the answer is simple, yet twofold: 1) we want connection, and 2) we want to know that we, ourselves, matter.

We want connection. This is a simple human need. Brené Brown’s research has suggested that it’s a hardwired (biological) component of being human, much like dogs are hardwired to live in packs, or deer in herds. We’re wired that way. And, in lieu of making positive connection, we’ll take anything we can get – even if it involves disparaging another human in the tribe.

I think it’s that last sentence that gets me. We are willing to “disparage another human in the tribe” in favor of our own self connecting. This puts the individual ahead of the group. Which is somewhat antithetical to our tribal hardwired nature. Which brings me to point #2: We want to know that we matter.

i think we have gotten so disconnected from each other (for SO many reasons I can get into at another time), that we have begun to feel like we don’t matter. Like our lives are not valid. And the way to find validity in a situation like that is to create a hierarchy of worth. Hence, we put people down, in order to connect ourselves up – to belong “more” to the tribe than the other person.

Sadly, this is cyclical and feeds on itself.

So, how do we break the cycle?

  • We reach out.
  • We create deliberate and intentional connection in communities, fellowship, or tribes that share our common values.
  • We seek out connection without hierarchy or measurements of worth.
  • And, perhaps most importantly, we learn to value ourselves enough to not feel the need to put anyone else down and gain some sort of temporary balm from disparaging another.

This is not easy work, but it’s doable. I know, because I have done it. I’m not perfect. I have certainly joined in on my fair share of gossip over the years, but over the years it has decreased more and more as I have become more aware of how it made me actually feel inside (aka: awful).

Years ago, my tolerance for gossip increased like an addiction until I was living almost entirely outside of myself, relying on anecdotal stories from my external world… and I almost died. My spirit almost died, and, frankly, my body probably wasn’t far behind.

While the externalizing (gossiping) has pretty much ceased, my life is still a work in progress as I am still slowly cultivating my tribe, or my community, and that’s ok. I’ve learned to love my own company more than anything, so I rarely feel lonely – which means I rarely feel the need to gossip or disparage another in order to feel worth. It’s quite amazing, really. And the conversation I was unintentionally privy to last week was a beautiful reminder. It reminded me of how wonderful it can feel to love oneself, because it means many of my self-loathing-fueled externalized behaviors have been replaced. Thankfully.

Mutual Admiration Society

I’m a member of MAS: the Mutual Admiration Society, and I wish everyone could feel this way. (Wouldn’t that be a game-changer for our planet?!)

I wrote to a friend and colleague last night and shared a few simple truths as I see it, or my two cents. Nothing earth-shattering, in my opinion, no eloquent words or faux-flatterings… just truth from my observations. She woke up to that email. Then I woke up to this:


And now we have both felt WOW upon starting our days. See? Mutual Admiration Society. And all because we shared the simplest of truths: our experience of each other’s loving presence… which is our true nature, of course.

It doesn’t take special glasses to see it in others. It’s not a “gift” – it’s natural. Everyone can do it. The reason we don’t, I think, is because we’re too busy looking for everything else in what we’re seeing, and preparing ourselves to respond to what we think might be there that we don’t like. We’re always on guard. Or, we’re so focused on maintaining our own facades, that we haven’t reconnected with our own loving nature, so we no longer recognize it in others. Neither one of these scenarios make for a very loving society. Alas.

But I know that can change. How? Because I did it myself, and I’m a stubborn reluctant learner. Or I was. I used to look externally for everything, and I was miserable inside as a result. It took me a while and a lot of hard work to come out the other end of the tunnel, but I did. And frankly, if I can – then I know that anyone else can, too.

So, Mutual Admiration Society — who’s with me?? 😁

Don’t Fix, Listen.

Recently I had to go shopping for some new boots. Hiking boots, to be exact. Now, I wasn’t looking for boots in order to go on some big trek, or, indeed, even to be hiking. I was looking for good hiking boots that I could wear on a regular (almost daily) basis, in order to try to support the possible healing of an injury in my foot. After trying numerous other solutions, and practically exhausting our options, my doctor came up with this idea: If we really stabilize the foot and ankle and give it the space and support to rest, even when in use, it might begin to heal on its own. This is perfectly aligned with what I believe: Space and time create possibility for healing.

So, one afternoon I found myself in the outdoors store, feeling somewhat out of my depth, looking for a new pair of hiking boots that would meet this need. Luckily, the footwear sales associate was a young woman who was pretty knowledgeable about their selection of footwear, which was vast. I say luckily, because what I learned during my 2 hours of experimenting with different boots was that she was the only associate who listened to me and tried to meet my needs. Everyone else wanted to simply fix it.

When I arrived in the shoe section, she was helping a male customer, who upon listening to my conversation with her decided that for the next 30 minutes, he should chime in and tell me ALL the things I should be doing for my foot, as he has had a similar (but not the same), problem for nearly 15 years. I listened, patiently, and repeatedly explained to him that I had, in fact, already tried most of what he was suggesting, without success. He didn’t believe me – because he didn’t hear me. As I continued to try on boots with my sales associate, he continued to offer unsolicited advice based on his experience, without ever actually listening to mine.

If it had stopped there, I probably wouldn’t be writing this post. But it didn’t.

Over the course of the next 90 minutes (and at least 25 pairs of hiking boots!), about 5 other sales associates all decided to come and “help,” without actually helping. Here’s why: not one of them listened. They were all experts in knowing footwear, but they weren’t experts in knowing my foot. Currently, where my foot is concerned, I’m an outlier. I don’t even fall on the spectrum of normal, and so I need to search for solutions that match my needs, not solutions that match a statistic of information.

For some reason, Zoe, the sales associate who helped me throughout, seemed to understand this, and the only reason she did was because she listened.

Toward the end of my shopping experience, after 2 hours and narrowing it down to two pairs, I felt relieved and simultaneously frustrated. I looked at Zoe in appreciation and said, “Thank you.” She replied simply, “You’re welcome.” And I took a deep breath, but then I paused. What was I thanking her for? Obviously, I was thanking her for her help, but it was more than that. I felt grateful to her for listening, for trouble-shooting with me, and for massaging a solution. So, I told her that. And without ceremony, she turned to me and said, “Well, I’m glad. Because that was a lot of mansplaining going on.”

I admit to being shocked and surprised at her response. But as soon as she said it, I agreed. I realized that each additional sales associate (all of them male) as well as the original customer who thought himself helpful had all tried to fix my problem, but none had actually listened to it. Instead, they took the approach that they probably knew better, and offered their solutions, ideas, and unsolicited advice without once asking me a question. I’m not saying their intentions were wrong. I actually think they were trying to be helpful, even though they were anything but. It wasn’t until Zoe confidently and casually named it (she wasn’t being derogatory in her words) that I realized what had truly happened. There was a clear gender divide in the approach to the problem and the solution. There was even a female customer who had been looking for boots at the same time as I was, and upon reflection I can say that her words and actions reinforced my statement about this divide.

Personally, I have never used the phrase “mansplaining,” though I can certainly look back at my life and find ample examples of it. Zoe’s introduction of the word so effortlessly in conversation shows me just how much things are shifting. How much the old paradigms are falling away (often while putting up a fight). And I’m glad. I’m glad for many reasons, but in this instance, I’m glad for one:

If we are to come together more as a society, we need to communicate better.

The first step to communicating is listening. We can’t fix a problem if we haven’t actually listened to what’s wrong. Only then can we tease out the best and most appropriate solution, often through a period of trial and error. Trust me, I didn’t want to try on 25+ pairs of hiking boots (my poor fingers were rubbed raw from the lacing), but I did because I needed to find the best solution available to me. And the only way to do that was to listen. I needed Zoe to listen to me, and then I needed to listen to my body – my feet – as I zeroed in on what felt best.

So, while I wish it weren’t true (I’m ever the optimist), I accept that I was mansplained during my hiking boots excursion. What this means for me is that I will double-down on my listening, in the hopes that I can share, embody, and teach a different way. Or at the very least, I can offer a respite from a society focused on “fixing” as Zoe did for me.

xoxo,
Martina

My NEW boots!

My NEW boots!

The Surprising Gift of Triggers

I’ve recently been having conversations with a friend that are proving triggersome. (Is that even a word? Ah well, it is now.) Basically, the sharing and exploration of ideas, dreams, and desires is bringing up a decent amount of triggers for me – triggers that I didn’t necessarily expect, though probably knew were there, lurking behind some vision board somewhere. In other words, though delightful, they are also somewhat challenging at times.

What is a trigger? Well, it’s something that can blind-side you and almost always causes a reaction much greater than the stimulus itself. I liken it to poking the bear. One poke in just the right spot might awaken it and turn it into a crazy raving animal. The reaction outweighs the stimulus.

In all my years of traveling on this journey of mine, I can safely say that I’ve never welcomed the pokes… until now. Now, something has shifted, and I see the triggers as little gifts. I see them as opportunities to address and release (or properly catalog) something that needed attention, something that was unknowingly holding me back from being my whole self more consistently.

It’s a different approach that I am enjoying discovering and playing with. On the one hand, rather than just being triggered, I am also aware of the triggers, which actually makes the trigger less powerful. It also splits my attention between that of witness and main character, which is intriguing and leads to a tiny bit of a fog sometimes as I navigate the new terrain, but is pretty cool to walk through. And on the other hand, I find myself feeling excited for the shift and the change that I know is in progress, and so I am more tolerant of the ebbs and flows of thought, emotion, and questions that are arising. In short, I am finding that I am more peaceful and compassionate with myself, while also feeling curious about what’s going on.

The result is that it’s allowing me to engage in these discussions with my friend from a different place. A healthier, stronger, more curious place, because I don’t have any specific attachment to anything. I don’t have an agenda other than to be open to the change in me that these interactions – these triggers – are manifesting.

There is an old saying that people come into our lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime, and I believe that to be mostly true. (I think everyone is in our life for a reason). I think some folks move in and out of our lives seasonally, like stitches in clothing; while others run alongside us for lifetimes like sidewalks across a road. Both are worthwhile, and both can trigger us at different points – hence, both have their reasons. We just don’t always know what the reason is.

For me, these conversations are a gift, because they’re allowing me to create awareness to things that needed my attention. So, I don’t mind being triggered. It means I’ve been given an opportunity to let go of something that no longer serves me. It also means I’m creating an opportunity to live more fully, deeply, and with greater joy, passion, and meaning. The definition of ‘win-win.’

xoxo,
Martina

The Gift of Triggers