Friday, August 16, 2013

On Kindness and its Absence

I just read this powerful article.

It resonated with me, especially now, as I turn over in my mind what makes a person kind. I consider myself quite fortunate, as I've probably encountered two or three people in my adult life that I would describe as truly unkind. That is, lacking a basic compassion and care for others that I've always assumed is present at birth and either expanded or diminished according to one's life experiences.

What I realize now, at almost 38 years old, is that there is a connection between kindness and hardship. Nearly everyone I know has experienced it: loss and its attending grief, illness, emotional pain, disability, health catastrophes, accidents, and the list goes on... For the few (very few) that I've encountered over the years that truly showed little to no compassion, empathy, or even basic kindness, they had one thing in common: they've ambled through their lives with no real bumps in the road. Not that life is perfect for anyone, but these few folks have experienced no traumatic stresses, no real want, no heartache. Their lives have been sheltered from the first, and they have wandered from year to year, unable to relate to other's pain, unable to tap into the depths of their souls that life normally creates as it hands out its hard knocks. Unreal.

Conversely, the kindest people I know are the ones who have suffered the greatest. These folks have been through things that would have left me crushed like a bug on a windshield. And I hate that they've had to endure so much, but I'm also in awe of the light they project, the kindness, the awareness of life outside of themselves. 

So, as we allow our various heartaches to soften into kindness, I offer the words of George Saunders, from the above linked speech: "Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth? Those who were kindest to you, I bet."

Monday, May 13, 2013

May Days

I can finally say that the month of May is not what it used to be. This weekend was my happiest Mother's Day to date, and I'll be silently wishing my Mom a happy birthday on the 18th in a happy-sad way, not a sad-sad way. I can't help but to think back in gratitude to how far I've come from my first Mother's Day--it was both my first as a mom and my first without my mom. What compounded the difficulty was how it was spent: At a Chinese restaurant in Moraga with my in-laws. No one mentioned my Mom. No one addressed the particularly bittersweet day or asked me how I was doing. In short, I gots no love. At the time, I didn't want to come off as me-me-me (that's what a blog is for, right?), and I didn't want to force anyone to acknowledge my pain. So I went, I remained polite, I listened to a speech about what a great day it was for my MIL, (hell, I even fended off a coupla pot-shots regarding my brand new parenting skills!) and I crumpled in an exhausted heap of tears and post-partum sobs when I stepped back onto my own hearth and slammed the door shut in relief. In other words, I held it in rather than bring something up that would ruin that day for others. But would it have ruined the day? How hard would it have been to extend a warm embrace, a few words of encouragement? A squeeze of a hand and a simple "We're here for you, and everything is going to be okay?" Apparently, too hard. Too hard to even try.

So I went to brunch that day, 10 weeks post-partum, maintained my usual quiet/polite public face, walked around the too-sunny shopping center after brunch in a hormonal daze, wondering if it was just me or if people could really be that clueless? I don't know why that particular day remains so clear in my memory, but it was a day in which I learned the strengths I was capable of and the relationships that should (and eventually would) be shed.

Today, I have come into my own. No longer is Mother's Day or my mom's birthday a few days later so heartwrenching. I have taken steps to make sure I am surrounded by those who I can reveal my truest self to and trust that they are my soft place to fall. And having lived this experience, I have been able to comfort those who have faced similar losses, holding their hand and telling them all those things I so desperately needed to hear that first Mother's Day without my Mom. This isn't a memory I think of often, but when May rolls around, I am more grateful than ever that it is firmly in the past.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

We live in an angry world.

I feel compelled to write because that's what I do when I'm anxious. And then I go to the gym and I sweat it out.

My mind, like so many others, has been plagued with thoughts of the Newtown shootings. And while we try to make sense of the perfect storm that created this mess of a kid who would do such a thing, there are so many factors that I'm sure we'll be debating them for months or even years to come. But one thing I'm sure of--we live in a very, very angry world. There is anger everywhere--I encounter it on a daily basis.

There is the lady who threw a fit the other day in my local post office because the line wasn't moving fast enough--complete with calling someone a "queer ass"--all the while wearing a Christmas sweater. A Christmas sweater, for goodness sake!!! And I'm sad to say that I've seen her type all over town. (yes, I'm about to stereotype...) Middle-aged White Christian women tearing down the street in their SUVs, lattes sloshing, cursing other drivers, then getting home and posting biblical Facebook memes complete with glittering angels to all of her friends and family. Wow. But God is on her side, right?

Then there is the guy at my gym, with the bumper sticker that reads "Instant Asshole...just add" something or other. Really, dude? Proud to be an asshole? What are you so angry about? It is that angry, aggressive attitude that pervades our world. I'm not saying that road rage or crude bumper stickers created the terror in Newtown, but for goodness' sakes, people, enough with the assholery! (The irony here? I'm angry about people being so angry. Ha!)

Listen, Instant Assholes, I'm tired of drivers riding slower drivers back bumpers, I'm tired of seeing stickers on cars of pissing Calvins and gunshot holes, I'm tired of young men with their pants halfway down mugging eachother, I'm tired of people in Christmas sweaters yelling profanities at postal workers, of everyone losing their shit over petty, trivial things. The anger that I see out there on a daily basis may not have caused Newtown's tragedy, but it certainly contributes to the massive amounts of angry, aggressive energy, when as human beings we should be contributing to the good. And good people abound--yes, they do---people who smile at strangers, hold the door open, volunteer as Santas, and try to make the world a better place. But shouldn't we all be contributing to the good, even if it is just by adjusting our attitudes? But God forbid I tell Americans to do anything with their attitudes that they don't want to do.

The angry people in my community aren't evil--but they aren't being good people, either, and as human souls we have a choice to make. You can make the choice to be pissed off, in a hurry, and quick to mouth off to strangers, or you can make the choice to take a deep breath, let another car take that parking spot, smile at the post office worker, pay for the coffee of the driver behind you at Starbucks, and tread gently in this world.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

And as Usual, I Disagree.

I keep seeing these car stickers and their message irks me a bit. Perhaps you've never seen it, but it refers to a Christian-themed brand called "Not of this World". It is a Christian idea, this detached-from-the-world-living-in-God's-kingdom stuff. As a cradle Catholic, I completely disagree with this logic. Are we truly called to live our lives with our head in the clouds, proclaiming to others that our hearts and minds are in the heavens, all the while (let's be honest) partaking in all the human drama and emotions that define our lives? Nope. Is the point of life truly to detach oneself, in a ironically Buddhist sense, from the world that God has placed us in? Again, nope.

In my opinion (this is my blog, after all), we should never seek to remove ourselves from our own human lives, but occupy them, touch others' lives, fully engage in the life that God gave us. What is the good in pretending like you're "not of this world," other than to give yourself a false sense of security and others a sense that you are somehow holier than you truly are? I believe that if we fail to engage in life on it's terms, as fully human beings, we fail at what we are here for to begin with.

So as I am stopped at a red light behind a giant SUV with a NOTW sticker, filled to the brim with *ahem* human stuff like sports equipment and divorce papers and personalized iPhones, I can't help but to send them gentle thoughts and hope that the person in that car comes to terms with their humanity and begins living life within this world, a beautiful place indeed.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Attack of the Killer Boobs

Six months ago, I found a lump in my breast. I'm a big advocate of regularly feeling yourself up, because I've walked the breast cancer walk with my mom (not the fundraiser, the real thing) and I'm determined that my kids won't have to go through what I went through with her. So while it is empowering for me to regularly check myself for lumps, it takes some major courage to monitor that aspect of my health. Hands trembling, I do it anyway.

That night I hadn't expected to find anything, as a week before I had seen my doctor for my annual checkup and breast exam. So when I found this lump--this hard, marble shaped mass just below the skin, I freaked. I tried hard not to ask Dr.Google his advice, and I tried so hard not to compare myself to my mom. I'm 35 years old--I never smoked (like she did for 14 years), I breastfed my two kids for a year and a half each because I've heard it lowers your risk for breast cancer, and I eat my 5 fruits and veggies a day. I work out at the gym two to three times a week, unlike my mom who never exercised. I load up on antioxidants on a daily basis--turmeric, broccoli, kale, blueberries, you name it--I'm a walking farmer's market. My mom never did any of those things--I can't end up with her disease, right?

After a preliminary appointment with my doctor, faxed referrals and more scheduling, I'm finally standing in the mammography room. Not so bad--a bit of squishing, arranging, more smashing--whatever, just tell me what this thing is! Then an ultrasound--back to the scene of a happier time when I was pregnant with my boys--a dark room, warmed-up gel, gently whirring computers and sounds of the technician clicking and typing. After playing the worst-case-scenario scenes in my head (I'm really, really good at this), the doctor takes me in the dark image viewing room. The news is good--WHEW--just a fatty deposit. A big, round, hard? fatty deposit. After three years of breastfeeding and a bout of mastitis, it should be no surprise. A few clustered calcifications to check back on in 6 months and I'm good to go. So, so very good.

...and here I am, 6 months later! I'm just back from the re-check, and although I got no sleep last night and I was scared to death of what they might find, again I'm in the clear. Just a simple "Everything looks good, come back in six months so we can keep charting for changes, then every year after that!" from the doctor and I walk out of the Women's Imaging Center, a new (and very relieved) woman. When will I stop feeling like I'm walking in my mother's steps? When will I forget those nights spent by her hospital bed, the days spent in the chemo clinic with patients of all ages and ethnicities, fighting for their lives while the cars zoomed by outside on their way to work, ignorant (or perhaps not) of what life is like on that side of cancer?

Scary stuff, hard stuff to bear, but stuff that I need to start letting go. Although it is a tired metaphor, it is so very much like a war, and those survivors have all the battle wounds you would expect from someone who has stared death so closely in the face. It changes you. You never look at life the same way, you always have a sense of the fragility of life and if you let that sense become the center of your life, you run the risk of letting some of life's greatest moments pass you by. Others may not understand the fear you still carry around like an overstuffed purse, the anxious sense of waiting for the other shoe to drop, the heavy burden of memories that never seem to fade. But as life continues to (try and) teach me, it is meant to be lived. So here's to life, to hearty laughter, to becoming a better person, and to simply enjoying my good health. I lift my cup of green tea with a long sigh of relief.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Sometimes, this is what love looks like

I attended a women's retreat at a Franciscan retreat center when my youngest was just a few months old, toting him along with me and sharing a room with a friend of mine who had also just had a baby. I remember those early days with my son, staring at his tiny new face, marveling at his fingers, his toes, his wispy dark hair and feeling an overwhelming sense of mama-bear love. It's the love of fabric softener commercials, Hallmark specials, baby announcements and the first buds of spring. But there are other kinds of love, of devotion, of moments that you find yourself willing to do whatever it takes for another person. A tougher, more raw kind of love. A love that has grown strong, shredded, raspy with time and pain.

That weekend at the women's retreat we listened to a story about a woman caring for her alcoholic husband, and one thing the speaker said really hit me. She said, Sometimes, this is what love looks like. It hit me because I know what it's like to love a family member who is in the pit of despair. I know what it is to feed a loved one, pull down the shades when he wants them pulled down, put away fresh groceries while praying that they are eaten, putting dishes away quietly so as not to disturb troubled sleep. And at the end of the day as I drive the hour back to my own home, to hope that I've made a difference. But the almost impossible challenge? To know when it's time to step back into my own life, to care for myself in the same tender way, to remember that my life is just as important. And the even harder part? To acknowledge the fact that I did not cause this, and I cannot control it's outcome. In the meantime, I'm learning these lessons and doing the best I can to live life with gratitude and the enthusiasm that life deserves.

Friday, October 22, 2010

I'm Getting a Boob Job at 40

Hear me out. I'm 35 now, but I already know what I'm getting myself for my big 40th birthday: a BRCA test. Usually covered by insurance if you have a strong history of breast cancer in your family, it is a blood test that will tell you your likelihood of developing breast or ovarian cancer. More info can be found here:

After testing, they send you to a genetic counselor, who advises you of your options once your test results are in. If my test were to come back with no BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation I would let it be, and continue to keep up on all of my healthy habits as its still no guarantee that I'm not at risk. If it were to come back positive for the mutation, I'm preparing myself for a prophylactic mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. Breasts seem to be a pain in the ass these days for a lot of women, and I'm prepared to replace them with some fakies.

The good news is that my mom is the only one in the family who has had cancer. Also, hers was estrogen positive, likely caused by the hormonal replacement therapy she was on in the 80s and 90s, like so many other women in this country. (There was a steep drop in breast cancer rates once women started dropping their HRT regimens.) I likely do not have the genetic mutation, but if I do, I'm whacking these things off and getting reconstructive surgery. I will not let this effing disease bite me in the ass. I'm sick of seeing pink on every package of Oreos. I'm sick of hearing about breast cancer foundations. I'm sick of women getting sick. And I'm sick of time standing still each and every time I run my hands over my boobs feeling for something that shouldn't be there. A mastectomy may seem pretty drastic, but I'd rather be safe than sorry. And I end up with new boobs, so I have the cleavage of a 40 year old when I'm a healthy, active, alive 80 year old.