Gratitude and giving thanks, by way of a life’s perspective.

2016… man. I don’t think anyone I know would disagree that this has been a really hard year, for a lot of people, and a lot of reasons. I’m tempted to use much stronger language and get real specific, but I think John Oliver and his team pretty well covered it. And it’s not over yet. I had another post in the works as a continuation of that last one about trust and truth, but I realized this morning that I needed to interrupt the cycle of fear and despair about the state of our nation and humanity, and instead just take a moment to find some gratitude. Shine a positive light on things, even for just a moment, so as not to get completely lost in the morass.

This time last year, I left a job that, for many reasons, was not a good fit and was wearing me down and out. My first day at my current job was the week of Thanksgiving, and there isn’t a day that goes by where I’m not reminded of what it used to be like, and how fortunate I feel to work where I do. To have made that change, to brave the unknown for a chance at real fulfillment. There are hard days, certainly, but the level of support and encouragement and challenge I feel there is really special.

This time last year, I’d severed all ties to the pathological liar I’d dated, and had settled into something of a peaceful surrender to the very real possibility I might never find a real partner to spend life with. I was busy with school, had started a new job, and my life was full enough that it didn’t scare or sadden me that much; it seemed like a logical conclusion, based on past experience… and then, on February 9th of this year, everything changed when C. showed up for our first date. I think I knew, that night, but certainly after having four dates in three days, it became readily apparent there was something special to – and with – him. And now, to finally be living what I always thought love looked like but never really knew… my heart is full to overflowing, every day. He makes partnership easy; I never feel unheard, unseen, or unloved, never doubt my place in his life, and never feel like the “work” of being in a relationship is anything other than easy and worth it, because it means we’ll be closer because of it.

This time 18 years ago, I was sleeping in the parks and on the streets of San Francisco: strung out, full of shame, and tired. I remember one morning, waking up to the sound of a father and daughter walking through Buena Vista park where I’d been sleeping. I heard the daughter ask her dad why there were people sleeping in the park, and the father making some disparaging remark about us being losers and needing to get jobs, and that maybe they should bring us some coffee or something so we’d have the motivation to get up and work. They laughed and kept walking, leaving their lack of empathy and laughter at my expense behind for me to pile on top of my own already suffocating self-loathing.

A few days later, on Thanksgiving day that year, I knew my sister, her (now) husband, and several family friends were just across the Bay having dinner, and there was a place at the table for me if I wanted it. I was too ashamed, though, and felt like I didn’t deserve to be there. In all honesty, I don’t know that I was completely done with drugs, either, and going to their house would have meant giving everything up. “Everything” = no home, no money, no job, no self worth… but the escape from feeling that drugs provided was enough to convince me it was better, somehow.

So that day, instead of humbling myself to be with family, my junkie pride took me to the Panhandle of Golden Gate Park. There was a Mexican family there, serving Thanksgiving dinner to the homeless. They made the food themselves, and made enough of it to serve maybe 50 to 100 people. They didn’t speak English, but they didn’t need to; their kind faces and their actions told the story of their hearts. I remember sitting there, eating in the rain, and something about that day finally drove home the point that I could – and should – do better. That there was so much more to life, and there was a whole lot more I wanted for mine. And that it might actually be possible.

I can’t help but equate the kindness shown by that family to the light that finally started to flicker in my own heart, shining just bright enough to light the way out. And, in comparison, the denigration shown by that father and daughter serving only to drive me further into the hole I was already in. The former was in keeping with who and where I wanted to be, and it’s a torch I’ve carried with me ever since. So, every year at Thanksgiving, I’m reminded of where I’ve been, and what a gift it is to be where I am now. Especially today.

I’ve been given the gift of home, which is what I’d been looking for all along.

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Trust and truth.

Who do you trust to tell you the truth? Assuming you want to know and hear the truth, I mean. How do you know the truth when you hear it? What is “truth,” anyway? I guess that’s a better place to start. You kind of have to agree on what truth is before you can have a conversation about it… so I looked it up. According to Merriam-Webster

Simple Definition of TRUTH
the truth : the real facts about something : the things that are true
: the quality or state of being true
: a statement or idea that is true or accepted as true

And then to take it one step further… one of the definitions of TRUE:

a (1) :  being in accordance with the actual state of affairs <true description> (2) :  conformable to an essential reality (3) :  fully realized or fulfilled <dreams come true>b :  ideal, essential c :  being that which is the case rather than what is manifest or assumed <the truedimension of the problem>d :  consistent <true to character>

So, for the sake of this post, when I say “the truth,” what I mean is a factual account, whether of an occurrence, that person’s feelings for you… you get the idea. What really happened, how they really think or feel about you (at that moment, since those things change and are way more fluid than an event or occurrence), stuff like that.

Oh, and (what I think is) an important reminder/clarification: Opinions are not facts, and feelings are not evidence. 

Back to the original questions. Those people you trust… why do you trust them to tell you the truth? Why do you trust them at all?

I started thinking about this after the events of the last week and a few days (ahemELECTIONahem). Temperatures are running so high, everyone is so sure they’re espousing truths and condemning the liars – you know, basically anyone who disagrees – that I had to stop and evaluate some things. Like, why do people believe what they believe?

 

I just watched a really good video about how we decide what to believe. He talks about the four things that go into testing/examining a claim being made: intuition (gut feeling); authority (relying on credibility of source); logic (systematic reasoning); and evidence (verifiable information). What’s interesting to me is that only one of those four things involves actual facts; the other three are basically dependent upon you, your brain, your feelings, and your own past experiences.

How reliable are your gut feelings? Where do they come from, and what life experience colors your perception there? Are you aware of the emotional and mental lenses in place when you’re evaluating a claim?

Why are certain sources more credible to you than others? Why does one person trust Fox News implicitly, while another person places their confidence in PBS?

Is logic inherent in human beings, or is it learned? Is what’s logical to you, also logical to everyone else? Or is that a personal thing based on experience again? I mean, I know there have been many times when something I did – a project I developed, a route I took to get somewhere, the order instilled in my closet by hanging things in a certain way – seemed completely logical to me, but it may very well make no sense to anyone else.

So, then we’re left with evidence. Verifiable information. On the surface, this seems straightforward (ZOMG FACTS), but then, I guess we have to lend credence to the fact that if there are two witnesses to the same event, what they’d each report back could very well be completely opposite from the other depending on their personal spin. So, then, does evidence mean what we see with our own eyes? How can we be sure we’re witnessing something and evaluating it without prejudice or bias?

I’m not getting too far into that here, though, because what I think happens is that most people are relying on gut feelings and what they deem to be credible sources in order to decide what they believe. Whether it’s due to information overload, a lack of time for conducting their own research, a lack of interest, a lack of ability (or desire) to do the work themselves, and instead rely on their feelings, and they rely on people who strike them as trustworthy to tell them what’s true and what’s real. People are reposting things online without verifying validity, and it’s all because of that bastard called confirmation bias. There is SO MUCH OUT THERE… how in the hell do wade through it all to find what’s real, and what’s true?

You see the problem here. And this isn’t a partisan statement, either; everyone is guilty of it, myself included. I have decided which side I’m on, I’ve decided what’s right and wrong, I’ve decided what and who I believe. And not because I’ve done a ton of research and have deemed these sources the most credible, either. I’ve decided what to believe based on my own gut feelings, based on who I’ve deemed credible sources, and based on my own logical conclusions resulting from mild to moderate critical thinking skills.

Which, by the way, isn’t a skill we’re born with; it’s something that has to be taught, and encouraged, and nurtured, and maintained. Critical thought allows you to evaluate effectively, and ideally, get your feelings out of the way to land in a justifiable and reasonable place.

I’ve been trying to make sense of the huge disparity in beliefs in our country. The division is palpable, and the difference between someone like me and someone who heartily embraces DJT and his proposed band of merry bigots feels enormous and overwhelming. I would even go so far as to say, insurmountable (and I am totally okay with that).

Everyone has ideas about why we’re divided and what would fix it, but in my opinion, there’s no fixing it. There’s managing it, there’s overcoming it, there’s governing people into acting right whether they want to or not… but the division, to me, reveals some distinct groups: people who only care about themselves; people who care about others; and people who just don’t care at all. There are people who approach life from a place of love, community, and equity; and there are people who approach life from a place of hatred, fear, and division.

These qualities, these temperaments, these personality types… they drive how you engage with the world. Who knows how we would turn out, what personality traits and world beliefs would come about without the influence of those around us? Are humans born good? Or are we born hating and then hopefully have it loved/nurtured out of us? Or, conversely, are we born loving, and have that abused out of us emotionally, mentally, physically?

I think most of this is taught. Human beings are blank slates when they’re born.  We teach them to love, to respect, to embrace the world and everyone in it… or we teach them to fear, to fight, to find fault in those around them, to compare and to be “better than” instead of “equal.” Or, to deem anyone different as an “other” and certainly “less than.”

And so I guess I’m coming out of this long, rambling train of thought with two things:

  1. A reminder to do better with my own fact-finding and evidence collection with respect to my own beliefs. I’ve got a pretty solid gut reaction, my logic could use a little work, I’m sure, and those credible sources? More of those, please.
  2. A reminder that there’s a lot that goes into what a person believes, and why they believe it, and I would do well to remember that.

It doesn’t mean I’ll ever understand, nor does it mean I won’t challenge what I believe to be wrong, but I guess I’m hoping this will help ME from inserting some of that “better than/worse than/less than” language in my head. Or, at least, keep from inserting it into conversation.

Remember, kids: If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

A lesson in empathy.

A reminder: Just because it’s not happening to you or not affecting you, doesn’t mean it’s not happening.
 
If you are a straight person, talk to someone (or a lot of someones) from the LGBTQ community about what it’s like to have people deny you services, have your government deny you rights, and have people view you as evil, vile, unworthy, or sub-human, all because of who you love. Ask them what it felt like to be granted the right to marry, only to be faced with the very real prospect of having that taken away.
 
If you are an able-bodied person, talk to someone with chronic health issues or a disability of some kind… aka “pre-existing conditions.” Ask them what it’s like to be denied healthcare, to be excluded from consideration for basic necessities all because of how their body works. Ask them, too, what it’s been like to finally have access to healthcare, and what’s going to happen if/when the ACA is repealed and how that’s going to impact them financially, physically, and emotionally.
 
If you are a white person, talk to a person of color about what it’s like to grow up in a country that killed and worked to suppress the native population out of the belief they were all “savages.” A country that was built on the beaten backs of black people believed to be and treated as sub-human. Ask them what it’s like to be denied services, jobs, or healthcare, all because of the color of their skin. Ask them what it’s like to see hate in the eyes of other people to whom they have done nothing but ask for equality. Ask them what it’s like to grow up afraid, what it’s like to just want to be seen and treated as completely equal, only to be met with resistance because so many people can’t seem to believe or accept that there is a real problem and, by doing so, continue to perpetuate it.
 
Ask a woman what it’s like to have her healthcare dictated by the government. Ask her what it’s like to not be able to make her own medical decisions without her morality being called into question by people who aren’t impacted by the situation and won’t have to live with the outcome. Ask a woman what it’s like to be treated like property instead of like a human being, to be denied rights because of her gender and the assumption that she is somehow less competent or capable. Ask a woman who has been raped what it’s like to be told she should carry that baby to term. Ask a woman raising children on her own what it’s like to be viewed as a drain on the system, regardless of her circumstance, because of the assumptions made when she applies for SNAP. Ask a woman who works what it’s like to be passed up for promotions or paid less money because of the body she was born into.
 
If you have a good-paying job, talk to someone who works two or three minimum wage jobs trying to make ends meet (and doesn’t have healthcare provided by any of them). And then ask them what it’s like to be told, “You’re just not working hard enough.” Ask a person who relies on social services to put food on the table what it’s like to live with the shame of not being a good provider, because in our country if you don’t succeed, it’s your fault. Ask a person who grew up unable to afford a quality education what it’s like to be faced with the rest of the country’s denial that their experience was at all different or that it impeded their ability to succeed, that the playing field wasn’t level from the start.
 
If you’re a Christian, ask a person of any other faith – but particularly Muslim – what it’s like to live in a country where its leaders encourage blind hatred and racist rhetoric against you. Ask them what it’s like to walk down the street and be called names, to be viewed suspiciously all because of what God you believe in, or the color of your skin, or the clothes you wear, even though this country is supposed to encourage religious freedom (for ALL, not some).
 
TL;DR If you don’t believe something is a problem, even after talking to people who tell you it is, maybe ask yourself why that is. Ask yourself how you would feel to experience something, only to be faced with an entire nation who doesn’t believe you.
 
And if you DO believe it’s a problem but don’t care because it’s not affecting you… well, your heart ain’t a place I want to be.

The privilege of mourning twice.

I’ve wanted kids – to be a mom – for as long as I can remember. I love babies and children more than most adults, and I think a lot of that comes from their straight-up innocence. The clean slate of humanity, the capacity for love and greatness ever-present. No walls, no shields, no hatred, no bigotry… nothing but the real. I identify with that a whole lot stronger than I do with most of the stuff grown people carry around; it’s beautiful, and I have always had the compulsion to protect it, to love and appreciate it, to nurture and encourage it, even as I stand by and watch the whole world seemingly conspire to squash it.

As I navigated my way through addiction in my 20’s, recovery and growth in my 30’s, and a return to my roots before 40, that desire to have kids – to be a mom – stayed strong. But I wanted it to be the “right” time, with the “right” person. Occasionally I’d entertain the notion of being a single mother and figuring things out, handling it all myself, and that was usually at the tail end of another failed relationship. Since I couldn’t seem to get things right when it came to love, maybe I should just give that part up and have the kid anyway. With so much love to give, why not?

But something always held me back. Circumstances, the desire for a partner, fiscal responsibility… I was convinced that things had to be a whole lot more secure and perfect and right than they were, if I wanted to shoulder the so very big and important responsibility of having and raising another human being. It’s such a decision of whimsy for some, not even a second thought for others, I often wondered if I were the only one who thought so much about what a huge commitment it was that I managed to think my way out of it.

As I entered my 40’s, the driving force and desire to have a baby began to dissipate. I realized one day that it just wasn’t there like it used to be; the emotional, the physical, all of it seemed to have faded, with only the occasional cropping up of desire, coupled with a small dose of regret. And maybe not regret so much as a realization that the time had passed, the opportunity was lost, and one of the things I’d wanted to experience most in life was likely not going to happen.

And so I mourned the loss while I worked to let go of that particular dream. With that came a slow acceptance, an understanding that it was just how life worked out for me.

Still, I held onto the idea that 45 was the age at which I would give up entirely, that if it hadn’t happened by then, I would move along. For some reason, 45 seemed like the appropriate age at which a woman would no longer consider giving birth; I’m not sure where the arbitrary number came from, but in my head, the years leading up to 45 seemed viable, and really, JUST as viable as any year before it. So even though I’d mostly let the dream and desire go, there were still the last vestiges of hope attached to every day leading up to my 45th birthday – which, by the way, still has yet to pass.

2016 has, so far, been the year of the universe conspiring to shower me with blessings. I have a job that I enjoy and am challenged by, working alongside people I admire and appreciate. I met my person, the one to whom I am so perfectly matched, I am blown away most every day by the magic; to finally know what it’s like to be loved, and to love this way in return. Ours is the stuff of history, of poetry, of novels and artwork and music; every day, my heart expands to accommodate our love, and my gratitude. We bought a home together – my very first. We have two of the sweetest kittens who are currently curled up on either side of me, keeping me warm and holding presence while my love is away on tour.

And so, having found that perfect person and our perfect home, the idea of having a child (and the desire to do so) was reignited. To create another human together: a perfect combination of him and of me; a tiny little creature who has my eyes and his nose and ears and a heart as big as both of ours; to raise a person knowing only love and support and compassion and happy – both inside the home and out.

But I am 44 years old.

And that means my eggs are 44 years old, too. What I never really considered or researched but now know is that, at age 40, your fertility hits a sharp and rapid decline. The potential for chromosomal abnormalities (aneuploidy – Down Syndrome, etc.) due to deterioration of egg quality hits a sharp and rapid incline. Miscarriage is a lot more likely. And even if you wanted to pursue IVF, if you use your own eggs, the chance of a live birth after the age of 43 is less than 4%.

All of that science to say… I’m getting to mourn it again.

I say “getting” because it is, indeed, a privilege to find myself in this place. The place where I am so well loved, and so in love in return, that it would have even been a consideration to have that baby together. To realize that I am finally in that perfect place, with the perfect person.

Don’t get me wrong: I am sad as hell. But in paying attention to the sadness, I think back to when I learned about primary and secondary reactions. The primary emotion or is the true and real response to something; the secondary reactive emotions are the ones that crop up as a defense mechanism. You usually have to sort through the secondary reactive stuff in order to get to the heart and the meat of the matter.

So, like, there’s a part of me that would love to sit here and beat myself up for making such “interesting” dating decisions for the last 20 years. I’d love to beat myself up for waiting so long and not just doing it myself. There’s a part of me that wishes I were the type of person who believed “everything happens for a reason!” because then I could spend my time looking for what possible reasons there might be for us to have come this far, to finally find each other, only to be denied this thing we both want so much. There’s a small part of me, too, that wishes I believed in God so I’d have someone or something to blame, to be angry with, to question the timing of all of this and the legitimacy of His choices. A place to deflect the blame, as well as a spiritual shoulder to carry the hurt.

But I am not that person.

There is no need to blame myself for the past; it does no good. There is no need to regret anything; that does no good, either. I don’t need to shake my fist at the sky and demand answers for how things are; this is, in fact, just how it all worked out.

Acceptance.

Anger has no place here. Life happened in its own time, in its own way, and to find myself now in the love and company of that perfect-for-me person, someone with whom to share the disappointment and move forward in grace and love, is really, truly, enough. I can sit with being sad and disappointed without having to cover it up in blame or anger or regret, and that, to me, is huge.

There are, of course, other options if we decide to pursue parenthood together. I know that. But I think it’s important to take each situation on its own merit and its own unique circumstances instead of trying to make the hurt of one situation go away with the potential promise of another that may or may not be an option, or realistic.

So for now, with this one piece, I am simply mourning the loss (again). The beauty is that I no longer have to mourn it – or anything else – alone.