“Your task is to build a better world,” God said.
I answered, “How?…this world is such a large, vast place,
and there’s nothing I can do.”
But God in all His wisdom said,
“Just build a better you.”
~ Author Unknown ~
When I glanced at myself in a mirror the other day, I thought I saw my mother.
That’s pretty hard to do when she passed away more than 25 years ago. But really – I thought I saw my mother. Or at least someone who looked an awfully lot like her.
That someone was me.
Wow. What an eye-opener…
When did I get so old? When did my jowls start to sag and my hair start to show some gray? What about those lines in my face or that strange growth underneath my neck? The swollen ankles? The beginnings of an apple shape when I used to only be a pear?
Like I said, when did I start to look like my mother? When I looked in the mirror and a stranger looked back, it was me. That’s sobering.
Remember when your parents used to warn you about how “time flies” when you get older? I think time must have flown on the wings of a supersonic bird for this transformation to have taken place. Maybe even a pterodactyl…
It’s time for a reality check. Let’s survey this venerable temple of mine to see its history.
That knot of muscle sticking out of my left shoulder? That formed the day my son got his tonsils out in 1st grade. I hadn’t met the surgeon ahead of time, and the thought of having my only child go under the knife with a stranger had me at the Emergency Room the night after his successful surgery, in pain. That knot gets worked on every two weeks by my faithful massage therapist, 20 + years later. A badge of honor…
crevice line on my forehead, just between and above my eyes? That’s from hearing hour after hour of tragic situations from my patients/clients/students over the years – the loss, abuse, addiction, mental illness, shame, suicidal thoughts… It takes its toll.
That vertical abdominal scar that no amount of vitamin E could make disappear? That’s the Caesarean section (almost) 28 years ago for the birth of my son. I can still remember the feeling of the two surgeons’ hands inside my body (yes, you do feel pressure, but no pain with an epidural). Or else it’s from the hysterectomy that was recommended I have 2 years later because of my cancer history.
That cough that turns up when I laugh too much? That’s from 7th grade, when my teacher used to actually take points away from all my tests (I almost always got 100’s because I studied all the time), explaining to my parents and me, “Theresa doesn’t need all those As; other students in the class need them more.” It was weeks until our family doctor determined that my cough was stress-related; after all, it wasn’t fair that the As I worked so hard for were taken away from me, was it? What a fine example of a teacher…
Those cracked caps on my back teeth? Those came from when I fainted in the bathroom while recovering from “GOK (God Only Knows) Disease” and clenched my teeth when I hit the floor. After which my brain couldn’t put together thoughts, let alone sentences for almost 2 months… The only way this wordsmith could survive that frustrating period was to figure out that maybe God wanted me to be quiet and listen.
That tiny scar in the upper right quadrant of my abdomen? That’s the emergency gall bladder surgery, where my gall bladder went from 100% to zero percent functioning in what seemed like the space of a day. I never really liked fried foods that much anyway…
Those skin indentations on my face that look like scars every morning? That’s from the face mask that I have to wear because I stop breathing 11 times every hour while asleep – that’s with the C-pap machine. The good news is that the impressions disappear about an hour after I start the day.
That shadow of sadness that lurks deep within my eyes? That goes along with the
crevice line on my forehead (see above) along with struggles with depression. You know – that “melancholy” that fueled Abraham Lincoln’s greatness and made him the perfect leader during our Civil War; that illness that Winston Churchill called his “black dog” and helped win World War II.
The graying hair that I put a rinse on now and again to make me look less “frumpy?” [An aside here - why is it that gray hair in a woman is often considered "frumpy" while gray hair in a man is often considered "distinguished?"] I think the most recent contributor was my husband being sick with his own GOK Disease, in the hospital for a week and unable to work for almost a month (see: “My Pilgrimage to ???“). That, along with the fact that there is yet to be a diagnosis… Oh, and let’s not forget my own hospital visit last fall and the mini-stroke that brought about my stepping aside from my job.
The occasional swollen ankles? I don’t use salt, I drink plenty of fluids and I’m not going into congestive heart failure. I think my legs are just tired of carrying me around for so long. Plus, they outran wildlife on the Serengeti Plain – that’s no small feat!
The addition of a telltale apple shape on top of the always present pear shape? This one, I must say, is from the release of gallons of Cortisol caused by stress, which is directly related to belly fat distribution in women. Why it hasn’t disappeared since I took time off from working is a mystery to me. But, I just ordered an abs wheel and exercise mat on-line, so I’m going to get back to just a pear shape in the next few months. And I must say – I never thought I’d be glad to return to “just” a pear shape…
The road map of lines that cover my face? Let’s see – almost 12 years of higher education after high school, marriage, divorce, setting up my own practice, building a house and an office, moving, changing careers, death of both parents, multiple surgeries, responsibility-laden jobs, death of 3 cats in the past 14 months (see: “In Memory of Peanut“), my husband’s hospitalization, being a mother and wife… I’m stopping before I get too depressed; those transitions can do a person in! (see: “The In-Between Time“)
Last, but not least, what’s with the loose pouch of skin fat under my chin? The one that my Mom thought for sure was a tumor growing when she first noticed hers. The one that makes me look like I’m related to a turkey. This one is another mystery, but I know it must be related to the gravitational pull that influences ocean tides and sunspots.
But this seasoned body – so flawed, scarred, exhausted, sagging – is also the body that is still standing. It’s weathered a lot of storms, and by doing so, forged my own unique path that has gifted me with the privilege of being present with others while they examine their own scars – the kind that we don’t actually see.
And perhaps most sacred of all, 28 years ago, this maturing body delivered the miracle of my son, who I count as my greatest blessing.
So, I’ll ask again: when did I start to look like my mother?
I’m thinking that with everything she went through in her life (see: “Remembrance“), that’s not a bad way to look. Even in the last month of her life, battling breast cancer at 59 in the hospital, head shaved, feverish, swollen – she was beautiful.
She never complained, she knew the life stories of the nurses who brought her special foods and drinks to tempt her appetite, and she faced her cancer with courage for as long as she was physically able.
Like I said, Mom was beautiful. The essence of who she was – her spirit – the part of her that could not be diminished regardless of what was destroying her body – shone forth.
Now that I think of it, I’m honored to look like my mother.
‘Every Human Life Is Worth The Same’
Mark Bustos is a hair stylist at an upscale salon in New York City, but not all of his clientele have to be wealthy to get a quality trim. Sometimes, they don’t need a penny.
Bustos spends every Sunday — his only day off from work — venturing through the city in search of anyone in need who’d appreciate a haircut. Approaching each person with the same, simple phrase — “I want to do something nice for you today” — Bustos provides cuts to up to six people every Sunday, capturing many stylings on his Instagram account.
Bustos has been cutting hair for the less fortunate since May 2012, when he traveled to the Philippines to visit family members. While abroad, he paid an owner of a barbershop to rent a chair and provide services to impoverished children in need of a fresh look.
“The feeling was so rewarding, I decided to bring the positive energy back to NYC,” Bustos, 30, told The Huffington Post in an email, noting he’s also given haircuts to the needy in Jamaica, Costa Rica and Los Angeles.
One of Bustos’ clients, Jim from Long Beach, California, who’d just been released from prison two weeks before his haircut. “Every human life is worth the same,” Bustos wrote in the caption. “We all deserve a second chance.”
Of all the meaningful haircuts Bustos has given over the years, one recipient sticks out.
“Jemar Banks — I’ll never forget the name,” Bustos told HuffPost. “After offering him a haircut and whatever food he wanted to eat, he didn’t have much to say throughout the whole process, until after I showed him what he looked like when I was done … The first thing he said to me was, ‘Do you know anyone that’s hiring?’”
Bustos made sure to catch Jemar’s haircut on camera:
Bustos said he cuts hair all over New York City, often accompanied by his girlfriend, who asks recipients what food they’d like to eat.
“One response we’ve gotten is, ‘Nobody ever asks me what I actually want. I usually just get leftovers and scraps,’” Bustos told HuffPost.
Bustos said he intentionally cuts hair for the homeless in open, well-traveled spaces like street corners and sidewalks so that the public can watch — “not to see me,” he notes, but so that others can find inspiration in the good deed, and be kind to those less unfortunate as well.
“Even a simple smile can go a long way,” Bustos told HuffPost.
Source: Mark Bustos
Blog: The Kindness Blog
I wasn’t enough.
When she came for her first counseling session, everything about her screamed a hard life. You could see it in her slumped shoulders, how she shuffled her feet, the weary sigh when she collapsed in the chair, the emptiness in her eyes. Her deeply lined face with its weathered features belied her chronological age of 37. If that wasn’t enough, it was confirmed in the ankle bracelet that peeked out from the ragged cuff of her jeans.
“Tell me why you’re here today.”
“My parole officer sent me.”
“How can I help you?”
“I don’t know if you can.”
She was under house arrest, her license had been suspended, and she’d been through this before.
That’s how our therapeutic relationship started. Trust was going to be difficult. I asked for her patience while I got through an initial history, since she hadn’t been through this before with me. Polite but distant, she waited for whatever was to come. She’d get through it; she’d been through a lot worse.
Family history is important; we are the sum of our experiences. A therapeutic tool known as a genogram is something I perform with every client/patient – it is a family tree that shows marriages, divorces, step-children, siblings, relationships, suicides, substance abuse, imprisonment, mental illness – all important ways to know where the person is coming from, in order to determine where they need to go, and how to get there.
Hers was a very common story for the general population our county mental health clinic served – never knew her father, had an alcoholic mother and several half-siblings, had been sexually abused by an uncle and physically abused by a stepfather, dropped out of high school, had her own child when she was 15, battled alcohol and prescription drugs off and on for the past 20 + years, and was married to an alcoholic. She had several arrests for DUI and shoplifting. Her teen-aged daughter was pregnant and living with an abusive boyfriend.
Oh – and she always wanted to be an artist.
She was depressed. No surprise there. Whether she got depressed when her life fell apart, or her life fell apart causing her depression…her use of alcohol and other drugs only complicated matters. It’s hard to know which came first, but depression and addiction go hand in hand far too often. And they were tough to beat…
Textbook – depressed mood, hopeless, helpless, emotional withdrawal, difficulty falling asleep, but sleeping excessively, weight gain, trouble concentrating, not interested in any social activities. The fact that she had been clean and sober for almost a month was wonderful, but terrible at the same time – these feelings were raw and painful; unwanted and unfamiliar; after all, for most of her life, her feelings had been numb from the drugs.
“I’d like to make a deal with you,” I said to the eyes that grew more wary. “How about if I hold onto your hope until you find it again yourself?”
“Okay,” came out softly, along with a slight sense that perhaps I was the one who needed help, rather than her.
Her parole officer wanted her to talk with someone about how to deal with her husband, who wouldn’t stop drinking with his buddies at their house several nights a week. It was too much of a temptation for her; she craved the alcohol even though her husband put a combination lock on their keg; she desperately wanted the Oxycontins and Vicodins and Percosets that her daughter offered her, but still found the strength to refuse. But she was losing ground…
Where to even start? Here, it was one day at a time, one hour at a time. By the end of the fourth session, she had managed to get her husband’s beer nights moved out to the garage, along with the keg, and to tell her daughter to not bring any of the meds when she came to visit. They were giving her some grief about it, but she stood firm.
Baby steps? No. In actuality, they were huge. She took control of those two things in her environment, and her sense of empowerment brought a smile to her face and a slight squaring of her shoulders.
“I’m so proud of you!!!”
She covered her face with her hands, sobbing. “No one ever said that to me before.”
“Well, they should have. You are a strong, courageous woman; a survivor. Right now, as is, you are enough…”
Her blue eyes, glistening with tears but clearer without the effects of the drugs, met my gaze with something different, something lost that was slowing being found.
For an instant, I saw the beautiful young girl she would have been had all of the terrible things not dragged her down and worn her out and bruised her soul. Innocent, expectant, full of hope for the future. It was staggering. It was humbling.
Sacred ground. She felt it too.
She missed her next appointment, but when I called to reschedule, I could tell she was excited about something. She had just gotten off the phone with her parole officer; he arranged an interview for her at a local family run convenience store that took part in a county program for ex-offenders. It was part-time, but a start. Plus, it was in walking distance from her house. The interview was next week.
Hope. There it was again, tinged with a girlish excitement.
We spoke briefly about what she might expect from the interview, and what she planned to wear. I congratulated her again, wished her luck, and assured her she would be fine. She signed off with a breathy, “See you next week.”
And that was the last time I ever heard her voice.
When I came in to work on Monday, my supervisor showed me her obituary in the local newspaper. Dead, at 37 years old.
Why? What happened? I was in shock as I relayed our last conversation in full.
I called her husband, looking to offer my condolences, and hopefully, for some answers.
They had some friends over for a party to celebrate her job interview. She cooked lots of food and seemed happy and excited. He remembered drinking too much and falling asleep on the couch. His daughter woke him up and asked if he’d seen her mother; she was nowhere in the house, and the keys to the truck were gone. At first, he didn’t understand.
When they found her, she was already dead. By her own hand.
A. Successful. Suicide.
I couldn’t speak.
He mentioned how much his wife had liked coming to her appointments at the counseling center, and that she seemed to be doing better.
I asked him if I could help in any way; he said no, but thanked me for calling, and for helping her.
I hung up. Helping Her? Hardly.
Suicide meant that at that moment, for a reason that we would probably neither know nor understand, she had been in such emotional pain that she just wanted to stop hurting; she just needed to escape. She hadn’t been thinking clearly enough to realize that the feelings of hopelessness and helplessness would pass; that they were only temporary; that she would get through it and survive, just as she always had.
Survive and thrive. Clean and sober. Perhaps at a new job. Or so we had hoped… Or so I had hoped…
The tenents of good practice dictate that involved staff and supervisors hold a “psychological autopsy” for any patients who suicide. We sat around a conference table on speaker phone with administration at our other office. I presented her history, from start to finish, along with treatment plan, progress, appointment schedule, recommendations, contact with her parole officer and family, patient compliance. Every detail.
Why? What happened? What could we have done differently?
Nothing. But she committed suicide. Everything? No, I knew that wasn’t true. Delayed it, perhaps. But change takes time, and there hadn’t been enough of it…
After about 25 minutes of this, I started to cry. In front of 2 supervisors, and over the speaker phone “in front of” the CEO of the county mental health offices and two attending psychiatrists.
“She has a name; she’s not just a case.” I struggled on. “And for just a brief time in her 37 years, she felt good about herself. It wasn’t long, and it obviously wasn’t enough, but it was something.” Silence in two rooms filled with people. “And she was important…”
I couldn’t sit there with it being so impersonal. We health care professionals do that so often by necessity; we need to retain distance and objectivity in order to do our job well. It’s not about us, but rather always about the patient.
But I had to remind them, and myself, that she lived and loved and hoped and dreamed and fought as long and as hard as possible. And I admired her for that. And I loved her for that. And I would remember her for that.
Be well, lovely lady. You touched my heart. I know that you are free of any of the torment that weighed so heavily upon you, and that your eyes and thoughts are clear. And that you have hope again…
Paint with bright colors, with abandon, with your heart…and paint outside the lines, without limits or restraint.
My time with you was too short, but it was my privilege.
And remember – right now, as is….you are, and always will be, enough.
Eternal rest, grant her, O Lord, and perpetual light shine upon her.
May the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.
September 13, 2014
The day is finally here. You’re getting married. To a lovely young woman, too. Another milestone in your life. You learned how to walk and talk and use the potty and swim, gave up diapers and bottles and pacifiers, graduated from high school and college, went to prom and got your driver’s license, passed your boards, became a second degree black belt, learned krav maga and so much more… But this milestone is huge. This is being an adult, big-time.
I’ll spare you the “it seems like only yesterday” that I remember so and so or such and such. Well – maybe just one – it seems like yesterday that I held you in the hospital, the baby against the odds…my Alex. Here we are, 29 (lightning) years later.
Now you’re to be someone else’s Alex besides mine. I’d like to impart age-old wisdom about marriage, but if I had all the answers, your Dad and I wouldn’t have gotten divorced. But that had nothing to do with you, only to do with us. None of us gets married expecting to part, and neither should you.
But I have learned some things along the way – important things; vitally important things.
Like the need for trust, respect, honesty, equality and communication in a relationship.
To trust the other person with yourself. To respect the dignity of another human being at all costs. To seek the truth and be honest, always. To recognize your spouse as different, but equal. Above all, to keep the communication channels open, even when you don’t feel like it.
If you remember these things, almost any differences – and there will be plenty of those – can be resolved in a mutually beneficial way.
Marriage is not easy. Sometimes it’s a challenge to remember those vows, even on a day-to-day basis. But it’s worth it. Human beings were made for companionship, to work in partnership, to experience love.
And remember that you can love someone but not always like them. Go easy on yourself; you’re only human. And so is your wife. No one is perfect, and no one has all the answers. Everyone has good days and not-so-good days. But when the two of you work together, you’ll get through just about anything that life puts in front of you.
Remember, too, not to lose yourself in another person. There’s that wonderful part of the two of you that no one else can touch, but it’s so important to allow each other your own identities as well. You’ll be Marissa’s husband, Theresa’s son, Ed’s partner, Poppy and Mimi’s grandson, Aunt Pat’s nephew and godson…but you’ll also always be simply Alex, with your own interests apart from those as a couple. The Alex who never loses himself, yet becomes better because of his partner in life. That’s so important.
There are some rules in fair fighting, and one of the biggest is to let the past rest in the past. Once you have resolved something, don’t keep bringing it up to re-hash it. That’s not fair. Once it’s done, it’s done. End of story. While we’re on rules for fair fighting, here are some more suggestions: no name calling; don’t let the sun go down on your anger; no physical fighting or hitting – ever; no mind-reading; what you say at home stays at home.
Remember, too: don’t keep score; marriage is not a competition. It’s a partnership of equals. And don’t be afraid to ask for your own space…everyone needs to breathe, some times more than others. Also remember that your happiness is not your spouse’s responsibility – you are responsible for your own happiness. As for drama – well, keep that to a minimum. And don’t let friends or in-laws interfere – period.
I wish you happiness and joy, contentment and peace. But most of all, I wish you love. Always love…
The Wedding Song
He is now to be among you at the calling of your hearts
Rest assured this troubador is acting on His part.
The union of your spirits, here, has caused Him to remain
For whenever two or more of you are gathered in His name
There is love, there is love.
A man shall leave his mother and a woman leave her home
And they shall travel on to where the two shall be as one.
As it was in the beginning is now and til the end
Woman draws her life from man and gives it back again.
And there is love, there is love.
Well then what’s to be the reason for becoming man and wife?
Is it love that brings you here or love that brings you life?
And if loving is the answer, then who’s the giving for?
Do you believe in something that you’ve never seen before?
Oh there’s love, there is love.
Oh the marriage of your spirits here has caused Him to remain
For whenever two or more of you are gathered in His name
There is love, there is love.
It was a little thing, really.
But it was a little thing on the way to a big thing.
The big thing of peace and serenity in a world filled with anything but.
Each morning while in Assisi, my husband and I would get up and be “on the road” for breakfast by 7 am. “The road” being cobblestone streets barely wide enough for a compact car, paved stairways that wound up and around and up yet again, making one pause to catch their breath before moving on. Our mode of transportation – protesting muscles and blistered feet on a 20-minute walk. Past storied apartments made of light brown stone, windows shuttered against the morning chill, flower boxes brimming with vibrant color. Shopkeepers opening their doors, sweeping and washing down their entrances with a brace of cool water.
Even the dogs, tails wagging, seemed to greet the morning and the visitors with equal enthusiasm. Then another pause to catch your breath – this is, after all, the hilled and terraced town of Assisi – giving you a chance to look down at the wide expanse of countryside in the distance with domed churches, plowed fields and stone farmhouses. The mist burning off in the rising shafts of sunlight, layers of color gently touching the horizon.
On the way to a local pasticceria for breakfast, this became a pilgrimage of a different sort. A pilgrimage of ordinary time, of community, of quiet before the trappings of a busy day, before the busloads of tourists arrived looking to honor a humble saint.
Good Morning. Good day. Hello.
A meeting of sorts; an interaction, a welcoming, an acknowledgement.
You matter. I see you. I wish you well on this day of all days, this most beautiful of mornings.
Assisi reached out to me with its embrace and I felt its warmth. Each and every person deserves that same sense of peace, of importance, of worth.
The most important thing is to say a huge thank you. What an insubstantial way to express something so big, but thank you all the same. Your compassion made the bleakest moment of my life strangely inspiring too.
Now, when I think back to that awful moment when I heard that Dad had died, I don’t just recall the horror and how hard it was to comprehend, I also remember being overwhelmed by your kindness. I remember the strangers who somehow came together and supported me. Despite being so bereft and alone, I also felt so safe.
It still surprises me what a shock the news was. After all, we’d been expecting it for several years. Or perhaps we’d just been expecting it for so long that when it happened, it seemed as much of a shock as if it really had come out of the blue.
Some parts I remember very clearly. I remember making a phone call in the train carriage to my sister in A&E, then hearing myself say “He hasn’t died, has he?” I remember the long, long pause as my sister tried to respond, her silence telling me everything I didn’t want to hear. I remember the absurd mutual assurances that followed (“Of course I’m OK. You?”) and making eye contact with the woman across the aisle.
It’s blurry after that. Someone got me water. Someone helped me to control my breathing and headed off a panic attack. Someone (perhaps the same person?) assured me that I was only shaking so much because I was in shock – something I’d entirely missed at the time.
Staff were fetched and, along with some of you, my fellow passengers helped me into to an empty first-class carriage. My bag was packed for me, my hand held and my back rubbed all the way on that long, slow walk down the train. People then sat with me, helped me to work out who I needed to call and how to work the phone. No one flinched when I said I thought I needed to puke, though I’m glad I didn’t need to test this kindness any further.
Crucially, everyone then left me when I said I wanted to be left – albeit keeping a close eye on me from the next carriage. One passenger – or was it two? Or three? – even came back to check on me several times during the rest of the journey, asking if I wanted company or privacy.
The railway staff were amazing. They were young but responded with such maturity. I was given hot, sweet tea and made to drink it. Before I found out that a family member had been dispatched to meet me off the train, they even arranged for a taxi to ensure I wouldn’t have to get across London by myself.
When the train finally reached its destination, they gave me food for the onward journey and carried my bags, holding my hand and steering me through the crowds until I was safely passed over to my brother-in-law. They refused my clumsy attempt at a tip, and I really hope that my similarly clumsy letter of profuse thanks a few weeks later reached them.
As for my fellow passengers, I don’t know how many of you stepped up to help me that day. It felt as if there were hundreds but there may have been just a few. I know I’d never recognize any of you again. I’ll never be able to express how grateful I was. And how sorry to all those others on the train who weren’t directly involved but whose previously uneventful journey I disturbed with my distress.
Someone more emotionally controlled than me, might have handled the situation differently but I think that in moments such as this you simply react. Instinct and my general faith in the kindness of strangers made me take a risk and reach out. I’m so glad I did. (Most) people are amazing.
Source: The Guardian
Blog: The Kindness Blog
Everything you see has its roots
in the unseen world.
The forms may change,
yet the essence remains the same.
Every wonderful sight will vanish,
every sweet word will fade,
but do not be disheartened,
the source they come from
is eternal, growing,
giving new life and joy.
Why do you weep?
The source is within you
and this whole world
is springing up from it.
~ Rumi ~