Great opportunities

I was sorting through some papers recently when I stumbled upon the statement, “Great opportunities are being missed.” It was scrawled on a piece of paper, notes from a Zoom meeting back in the spring when the strangeness of the COVID world was still new and uneasy.

This meeting note-quote made me reflect on our life in COVID times. So many times, I hear people talk about how much we have lost this year. They focus on the school children, high school athletes, the students who didn’t get the big graduations and parties they deserved in the spring, adults who had planned weddings or other large gatherings, and all the funerals that were attended by only a small group of close family. We have lost so much this year.

It’s true, we have lost a great deal. We have lost hundreds of thousands of citizens globally and a quarter of a million in the United States. We have lost friends, siblings, parents, cousins, and children. We have lost health and jobs and homes. The losses have been immense and heavy, and they just keep piling on.

But I would argue that we have also gained a great deal. This year, a year unlike any other, we have been given an amazing opportunity to step back and examine the life we are living. We have had the time to reconnect with family and close friends in ways that we were too busy to do in the past. We have discovered hobbies and talents that previously slipped our notice.

We have gained an opportunity to look at life from a different perspective, turning situations upside down and staring at them until they make sense. We have stepped out of the boxes we once shut ourselves in to figure out how to do the impossible. We have learned to use technology we never imagined we would use. Often, we have constructed something from nearly nothing. We have learned to make substitutions and to be creative. We have developed flexibility. And we have grown our patience.

We have set aside our devices and connected with our families. We have spent more time in nature and outside with friends and neighbors. We have sent messages of hope and healing. We have read books, learned new things, and eaten meals together.

We have begun to rediscover the long-lost art of living.

If we focus on all that we’ve lost, we won’t notice all that we’ve gained. We will miss the opportunities presented in this horrible, terrible, tremendous, amazing year. We won’t see what is clearly in front of us. When we focus on the things we’ve lost, we miss the things we’ve gained.

As you are contemplating the past few months, take the time to reflect on the lessons of the year. Reach out to others who might be struggling. Look for opportunities that present themselves in this moment. Instead of focusing your sights on 2021, take a moment to appreciate the many lessons we’ve learned in 2020. It has been a year like no other, and the lessons we take away… they hold great opportunities we won’t want to miss!

Distraction

I’ve been distracted lately. It’s apparent in the fact that I haven’t been writing and posting as often as I would like. Ideas have not been flowing as readily as they sometimes do… as I wish they would. I’ve been caught up in the drama of society, and my distraction has inhibited my creativity and landed me in a stuck place.

I’ve been distracted lately. We all have. It’s evident in the way we treat each other. It’s obvious on social media where we choose sides and call each other undeserved names and spew hate. It’s clear that when we can’t see each other—from the other side of the computer screen, for example—our distraction encourages behavior we might consider unacceptable in a face-to-face interaction.

We’ve been distracted lately. We have allowed the messages of society to push us apart, to convince us that humanity only exists in select groups of people. The messages we’ve been paying attention to paint a picture of fear, devastation, despair, and disaster. And urgency. Apparently, the world is falling apart before our very eyes. The slant of the media manipulates audiences into believing the worst. These messages have convinced us that we have nothing in common with our fellow citizens, our neighbors, and even our family members. They want us to believe that humanity doesn’t exist in everyone. But it does.

We have been so distracted that we have forgotten how much we have in common. We want what is best for our families and our friends. We want to be able to make a living and support ourselves and our loved ones. We want dignity and respect. But these commonalities are things we have to look for. To see them requires that we step away from our divisive devices. In order to make true connections with others, we have to do the work to see the humanity in each person in order to recognize and respect our similarities.

I want to teach my students about distraction since they are in the thick of device dependence. I want them to understand how constant phone use can affect their brains and their ability to think—not only about the material they are learning in class, but about each other and the world around them.

I want them to know that distraction prevents them from focusing on their studies, from being creative, from generating ideas, from recognizing their own strengths and talents, and from connecting with others. I want them to know that distraction can be good and necessary in small doses as a break, but too much distraction will take away from who they are. It will diminish their ability to know themselves and will separate them from a very important reality—the reality that in most cases, people are good.

I want young people to learn about themselves and others—up close and personal rather than through the filters of screens and devices. Knowing oneself and being willing to connect with others—face-to-face and moment by moment—will provide the essential building blocks to bring us back together as a united society based in humanity.

Because we are all one humanity.

If you look around, there is beauty, and it is everywhere. People are engaged in serving their community and performing acts of kindness and good deeds. People are helping people. Look carefully and see what is going on. It is amazing.

Think about your own distractions. Do what you can to minimize them. Engage with those around you and watch what happens. Your relationships will grow, positivity will bloom, and your perspective may just change for the better.

{Photo by Todd Trapani on Unsplash}

Disappointment

Today, we are introducing the newest and most prevalent of flavors for 2020: DISAPPOINTMENT. This new flavor will be the one to taint everything in your life this season. It is the flavor of pumpkin, but instead of the normal cinnamon-sweet spices, it’s tinged with a hint of bitter licorice and way more salt than is necessary. After all, 2020 has been nothing if not salty. This new flavor is not the best combination, but it’s not the worst, exactly. That’s what makes it disappointment.

Disappointment is the flavor you will get when you send your child to school on the first day. You spend the morning reveling in your time alone—the first time in six months! You decide you might be able to get used to this again, but when your child walks in the door at the end of the day, he is carrying a mask you don’t recognize because he traded the one you sent with him for one he liked better.

Disappointment is the flavor of the day when you arrive at college (or high school or middle school) only to determine that nothing, and I mean nothing, is the same as it was when you left. The hallways have one-way traffic mimicking the aisles in the grocery store. The furniture in the lounge and common areas has been removed, and meals are now a grab-and-go affair—there is no sitting with your friends at your favorite table. Disappointment is all you can taste.

Disappointment will run through your veins and ooze out your pores when all the plans you made—for fall and the holidays—are cancelled, yet again. These are the plans you made while you sat at home twiddling your thumbs all spring and summer, itching to go out. Cancelled. Because, as it turns out, children can catch COVID; they can spread it faster than runny peanut butter, and in fact, they are itty-bitty super-spreaders.

Disappointment is the flavor that rolls around on your tongue when you need to do something different. As you scroll your social media, you see pictures of your friends at the beach, camping with large groups of “family,” attending parties and weddings and large rallies, and you want to be out there, too. You wonder, did I dream the whole pandemic thing? Because you just don’t feel like all those options are available to your cautious self.

Disappointment finds its way in the when you venture out to eat a meal at your favorite venue. It’s the first time that you and your friends/family are all available, so you arrange to meet up for dinner. But the clear skies that have prevailed for a month have clouded over and it’s pouring rain. The only available tables are the ones that are outside and not under one of the small tents.

Disappointment leaves its licoricey bitterness when you are driving an hour from home for an event. Halfway there—and too far from home—you realize you forgot your required mask, and you kick yourself because you have been so good about remembering. And now you’ll have to spend hours in a disposable mask that smells vaguely of sweaty socks.

Disappointment leaves the sharpest aftertaste when you travel three hours to check in on your mother. You confine yourself to a small space just inside the door of your childhood home. When, after a few hours of conversation, you turn to leave, you remember you cannot hug your mom good-bye.

If you get sick of the taste of disappointment, think about new and unusual ways you can enjoy the fall, despite the restrictions posed by the coronavirus. Gather school supplies to donate to a local charity. Join some friends for a bonfire and s’more making. Host an apple-picking party or an outdoor crafting/pumpkin carving party. Go on a hike or bike ride. Create something new.

Disappointment may be the overwhelming flavor of fall, but CREATIVITY and OPPORTUNITY are amazing flavors that will wash away the bitterness of disappointment.

{Photo by Pedro da Silva on Unsplash}

Clearing Out

Throughout my life, I have spent a good deal of time quieting the voices of others that ring through my head. These are the voices that have attempted to direct my life, to make me someone other than who I am, to make me listen and behave.

These are voices that, at one point or another, I have taken on and considered part of me, and yet, these voices are not me and do not reflect my reality. These voices reflect who I am or was in the reality of the speaker. But these voices—these words—were designed to make the speaker of the words feel better in his or her own life.

Over the years, the messages have been many:

You are not good enough.
You are not strong enough.
You are too negative
You are not smart enough.
You are selfish.
You are too sassy.
You are not pretty enough.
You are weak.
You are not feminine enough.
You are not…. You are not…. You are not….

But I am not these things that others have projected on me. Admittedly, I am broken. We are all broken.  And the only way I’m able to address my brokenness is to grab hold of the fact that life is short (and it feels even shorter while a pandemic is raging). The time to be fully me is now. The time to work on becoming whole is now. Time is running out.

If not now, when?

My life is shifting. I am shedding the me others think I should be. I am clearing out their voices from my head. My thoughts are mine, and that is enough. I will respect who I am and who I want to be, and that is enough. I will shed the ideas of others, letting them slip to the floor before sweeping them up and tossing them away.

I am making a shift in my life, respecting my thoughts, my ideas, and my wishes. I will not entertain others’ perceptions of who or what I should be as my own reality. I will be me—more me than I have ever been. And every day, I will know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am enough.

{Photo by David Clarke on Unsplash}

Kaleidoscope

        

Have you ever looked into a kaleidoscope and seen the beautiful patterns that emerge when you hold it up to the light? With only a slight twist of the lens, you can change the pattern to something completely different but just as beautiful.  A slight twist, and the shapes and colors shift and move and fit themselves into spaces that other pieces have vacated, providing a new and differently beautiful vision to the viewer.

Life is like this. There is a constantly shifting balance that rises and falls as life is maintained and the various pieces work together to create a whole and beautiful picture. Over time, some elements move from our lives while others fill in the spaces that have been left behind. There is a tremendous beauty in the constant motion and workings of this rhythm.

Just when we think we have things figured out, they change. We shake our heads to clear out the cobwebs that settled there in our complacency. And at first, we might think, No! I liked things the way they were! Because they were comfortable and familiar. We get so used to our environment—as it is right now—that we stop taking risks and making changes. And, in fact, we stop seeing the beauty as we settle into the safety of the mundane.

But life… it’s dynamic and constantly changing. We have to change with it, or eventually, we will be dragged along, kicking and screaming, headlong into the changes.

This is where we are now. We are being dragged headlong into a change over which we have very little control. But if we are among the lucky, if we are among the thoughtful, if we are among the introspective, if we are among the creative… we can make the most of this change. The people, the businesses, the services that are thriving right now are the ones that have been able to see our new circumstances, examine them from all angles, and see a new perspective. They are the ones that have noticed what the world needs,  taken a risk, and attempted change what they deliver to fill that need.

Maybe it wasn’t comfortable. Maybe it wasn’t what they wanted. Maybe it wasn’t even cost effective. But it was something. And from that something, they can continue to grow. From that something, they can fit themselves back into the whole in a way that makes sense—in a way that will contribute to the shifting beauty.

We are all part of the kaleidoscope. Take the time to step back and take in the bigger picture. The togetherness. The introspection. The opportunity to reevaluate and reset. The family time. The slower pace. Take a moment to figure out how you can take your talents and fit them into the direction the world is going. It may not be comfortable at first (taking a risk never is), but it will give you a glimmer of control over the direction you may go when this is over. Look around you. Find the pieces that work—the building blocks of the beauty that is emerging. And fit them back into the life that you want.

Moment by moment… recognize the beauty that is this kaleidoscope we call life.

Struggle

I am struggling to find something to write about, to find a topic that works, that fits with where my head is. I have been thinking and striving and trying for a while now, but for the life of me, I cannot come up with a topic that works. In fact, I’ve written several blog posts recently, but none is right to post, though I may come back to those someday. Who knows?

I know this is part of the process, this struggle and striving. Writing is not as easy as it seems. Sure, it seems like all I have to do is string a bunch of words together to make some sense of the world. Anyone can do that, right? But there are times—so many times—when there is just nothing. No light shines through the cracks in the walls as it usually does, bringing with it a flood of new ideas on which to focus. No light.

Just a dark silence that reverberates through my brain, voiding my imagination of all… well, imagination. My creativity needs a new igniter.

I know this is a temporary situation; I’ve been here many times before. And I also know that pushing through it to write something—anything—will help me begin to move beyond this creative vacuum more quickly.

And so, press on I do. I have written those several aforementioned blog posts that are too bad to share. I have written letters and freewrites and quotes that might make me think. And still, the struggle continues. Over the weekend, I will work on some writing exercises. Anything to get some ideas flowing. And who knows? One of these days, the floodgates of creativity may just give way to a fast and furious overflow of ideas.

{Photo by DJ Johnson on Unsplash}

Traditions

Sometimes, traditions come about in unusual ways.

For example, this Christmas, I was visiting my mom, and I brought her some cookies. This is something I do every year. I bake a gazillion different types of cookies, and I make up plates that I then distribute to neighbors and friends and coworkers.  It just so happens, I have a plastic container that I fill with cookies for my mother, so she gets more than anyone else. Most of these she puts in the freezer so she can enjoy them throughout the long months of winter.

Keep in mind, these are homemade cookies that have been baked with much love.

This year, I brought an extra plate with me. These cookies were on a paper plate—the type I typically use for people other than my mother. I had made the plate up as an extra, and I brought it with me so I wouldn’t feel bad about eating some cookies while I was visiting. In the car on the drive there, a couple of the cookies on this plate were broken by the bumps and potholes of the journey.

Somehow, my mother came to call this extra plate, “the garbage plate.” One night, she walked into the living room with a cookie in her hand. “I took this from the garbage plate,” she told me. I’m not sure where the name “garbage plate” came from. These cookies were far from “garbage cookies.” They were simply “extras” as I decide that traveling with extra cookies might be a good idea.

However, there is no doubt in my mind that in future years, the “garbage plate” of cookies will become a new tradition. I will bring the normal cookies, and I will also bring a “garbage plate” of cookies, so there will be extras. After all, once you have brought extra cookies, you can’t go back to the normal quantity.

Traditions are funny things. Sometimes they have important and respectable beginnings, and sometimes they emerge out of a silly joke. But joke or not, you can never have too many cookies!

Spinning

On a recent afternoon, I was working with one of my regular students. She is a first-year student, with whom I have developed a relationship comfortable enough that we joke around a fair amount. In reality, I joke around with most of my students because it helps them to relax and work better with me when I am … redirecting … their writing. And their academic focus.

This particular student has been working with me weekly—or semi-weekly—all semester. During our appointments, we laugh. A lot. And every now and then, we cry because that’s just the way life is.

On this afternoon, however, I was tired—silly tired—and she was working hard on developing a couple of her points before she moved on to her conclusion. As she took the time to think and compose, I started to spin in my desk chair.

“You keep working,” I advised her. “I’m just going to sit here and spin.” And with that, I spun the chair in one direction and then the other. (My office is just small enough that I couldn’t quite spin all the way around without hitting her backpack on the floor or my desk against the wall).

With that announcement, her face lit up with a smile. “You should!” she exclaimed. “Adults don’t take enough time to have fun!”

And you know, based on my experience as an adult, I have to say she’s right. Being a single mom put lots of responsibility squarely on my shoulders, and even though my children are now grown and fully capable of taking care of themselves, I haven’t quite figured out how to shake the weight of my parental duties. I still have a tendency (as we all do) to get busy with the mundane tasks and duties of adulthood, and I don’t take the time to be present, enjoy the moment, and have fun.

So I’m making this my goal into the first few months of 2020. I am going to be intentional about taking time to have fun. I will spin at my desk, regardless of who is watching. I will find opportunities to get away for an hour, a day, or a weekend. I will dance in the rain and play in the snow. I will decorate my house, go to the movies, find some new friends, look for rainbows, and wish on falling stars.

And hopefully, you will too!

{Photo by Scott Higdon on Unsplash}

The Letter Z

Today’s nonsensical post will be brought to you by the letter Z. It was going to be sponsored by X, but my fingers inadvertently hit the wrong key. So Z, it is!

Lately, my thoughts have been somewhat Zigzaggy as they skip from one subject to another, seemingly at random and with little warning. I believe this to be the result of new responsibilities while trying to tie up previous commitments. And a lack of a stable and steady landing pad. Or perhaps I am just becoming sentimental as my last child zooms through his senior year of high school and contemplates the next steps on his journey.

I have zero tolerance for these mind-wanderings as they make me feel freakishly unfocused. Perhaps some invisible zombies have taken over my brain, and I am halfway to zombie-state, myself. Having recently made it through Halloween, this is a distinct—though distant—possibility.

Adding zombies to the zany zoo of my life might be a bit crazy, eh? Then again, it is likely that I wouldn’t recognize the difference between the animals, the kids, and the zombies. While we’re at it, let’s throw in a lizard or two. But now maybe we have gotten so far off topic that we are conjuring a magic potion that will cure the zombies: tongue of lizard, eye of newt, and two chicken teeth, ground to green pulp….

Together with the magic potion, all of the words in this post will be stuffed into a tiny Ziploc freezer bag (because freezer bags are stronger). I will zip them in where they will stay—until further notice—in the zone of the Zodiac in Xanadu.

Oops. That was meant for the X-sponsored post…. I need to catch some Zzzs!

Drawing Memory

As I sort through the fifteen-plus years of stuff that has built up in my home, every now and then I come across interesting souvenirs from my children’s younger days. Slips of paper tucked long ago between the pages of notebooks, books, files.

Recently, as I sorted through a pile of old magazines, I came across a bin of notepads. Years ago, I had used these pads to write “lunch notes” to my oldest child. [By the time the others were eating lunch at school, life had become too harried and chaotic to continue this practice.] One pad was made up of sticky notes with sweet messages pre-printed on them. As I picked up this pad and began to flip through it, a small scrap of paper slipped from the pages and fluttered to the floor.

I bent over and picked it up. It held a drawing from that brief period where images begin to emerge from the early scribbles of a child. The drawing was a vehicle of some sort—the favorite subject of art for my youngest child. Memory drew me back in time, and I could see him sitting in the brightly colored booster seat that was strapped to one of the kitchen chairs. He was bent over the table, working studiously to create this picture. His blond head bobbed a bit as he drew, tipping this way and that as he created the perfect picture. His glasses slipped down his tiny nose, and he wrinkled his face to push them back up. Many days were spent in this position as he produced drawing after drawing.

When this now eighteen-year-old arrived home from work that night, I handed him the drawing. “Look what I found when I was cleaning this morning.”

“A tractor!” he said on first glance.

“Do you remember drawing that?” I asked him, amazed that he knew exactly what it was.

“It’s obviously a tractor, Mom. The big wheel in the back gives it away.”

Yup, silly me. “I hadn’t thought of that. So what’s this?” I turned the paper over to reveal another drawing and handed it back to him. On this side were three things that might possibly be cars. Each was connected to a line that ran willy-nilly across the page. A map? Directions? Lightning strikes? The image was crossed out, so it clearly was not the image of choice on this paper.

He smiled and shrugged. “I have no idea.” I took the paper from him

and tucked it back in the notepad. Someday, I would once again unearth this drawing. An

d I would take another trip through my memories to the time when a little blond boy would sit at the kitchen table and create drawings that I would puzzle over long after he’d grown.

Next time, I’ll tuck it into his box of memories, so it can become his puzzle. And maybe, before it winds up in the trash, it will give him a smile of memory.